There are times when I wish I was not the unofficial keeper of the Vineyard’s bird sightings. Last week is a perfect example. Adam and Rand Burnett of Westmoreland, N.H., sent me an email which included their sightings from April 19 to April 26. All the birds reported were seen on Chappaquiddick, where father and son spend a week each spring. Unfortunately, I did not pick up the email until April 29 due to a weekend full of birthdays and weddings, plus a town meeting on Monday.
Now, to the meat of the email — it seems the Burnetts have added two new species to the Martha’s Vineyard bird list: a zone-tailed hawk and a common raven. Adam Burnett sent a video of the raven that he took in the pines at Wasque. Luckily, the video included a quick clip of the raven calling as the photo showed the bird in the sky and flying away. This large crow-like bird had a rounded tail and the harsh “croak” vocalization which is not the call of either the American crow or fish crow. The common raven is present in western Massachusetts and has been extending its range. Vineyard birders have expected to spot ravens on-Island for quite a while.
The second bird is the more exciting — a zone-tailed hawk. The photo Adam Burnett sent was quite fuzzy, but after sending it around to the Vineyard birders, American Birding Association and MassBird, the consensus was that the bird in the photo was indeed a zone-tailed hawk. There are no sightings of this turkey vulture mimic in Massachusetts, and very few in the U.S. Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are where one sees the zone-tailed hawk and then not during the winter months when they migrate to Central and South America. Jerimiah Trimble of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and Ornithology Department noted that there have been a couple of records of zone-tailed hawks in Nova Scotia and Florida.
The first time I spotted a zone-tailed hawk in the states was when I was in southern Texas last spring. I thought I was seeing a turkey vulture. The hawk was gliding and circling like a TV (as we call turkey vultures) with its wings held in a shallow upturned V shape. It was all black with long, wide wings, and it wasn’t until I looked again that I noticed the white band across the bird’s tail and its lack of red head. I realized I was looking at a zone-tailed hawk, not a TV. Vineyard birders should check out all the birds they think are TVs as it might be the zone-tailed hawk again, and it would be nice to get a clear photo of this rare bird!
I love to hear about young birders. Dardy Slavin reported that with the help of her two young sons, Quinlan and Corrick Slavin, she was able to identify a bird they had never seen at their Chilmark feeder. The bird was a rose-breasted grosbeak that visited their feeder on April 27.
I also appreciate those who keep good records of bird sightings. Earlier in the week on April 23, Pat Ingalls spotted a rose-breasted grosbeak at her Oak Bluffs feeder. The first bird sighting Pat has added since 1966! A northern mockingbird also appeared that day. Pat also spotted a flock of cedar waxwings at Iron Hill in Oak Bluffs on April 17, and her first eastern towhee of the season was seen in her yard on April 20.
Patsy Donovan watched a northern bobwhite parade through her Tisbury yard on April 25 as well as her first of the season eastern towhee.
Ken Magnuson photographed a house wren at Waskosim’s Rock, along with pine warbler and eastern towhee on April 25.
On April 28, Penny Uhlendorf heard a house wren singing its heart out at Ripley Field in Tisbury, and watched a pine warbler in her yard snatching suet.
The now famous Burnetts, Adam and Rand, heard whippoorwills most nights or early mornings the week of April 19 to April 26 off Wasque avenue on Chappaquiddick. They also heard American woodcock.
Lanny McDowell had his first ruby-throated hummingbird at his Tashmoo home feeder on April 28. He also spotted a few rough-winged swallows in with both tree and barn swallows over the Oak Bluffs pumping station water source. A day earlier, Nelson Smith spotted mainly tree swallows with some barn swallows in the same area, and heard several yellow-rumped warblers warbling.
Bob Greene and Linda DeWitt announced that the barn swallows have returned to their barn as of April 28. They were pleased to see so many. Send some over to us, we have fewer than usual.
Liz Baldwin was pleased to find a female willet at Eel Pond on April 27 and then to discover it was the bird that Biodiversity Works had placed a geotag on last season! The willet's first round-trip migration completed! The same day Ken Magnuson photographed six willets at Lobsterville. Earlier on April 25, Adam and Rand Burnett found two willets at Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick.
David Holahan and Andy Schroeder found a lingering group of harlequin ducks, including one male and several females off the Gay Head Cliffs on April 23. The same day, Allan Keith, Warren Woessner and I were birding on Chappaquiddick. Our highlights included three lesser black-backed gulls, a horned grebe, Northern gannet, a great cormorant, one bank and one tree swallow and three American oystercatchers off Wasque. At Mytoi we found two eastern phoebes, a red-breasted nuthatch, two white-throated sparrows, a barn swallow and two pine warblers. At Cape Pogue we found a snowy owl, eight American oystercatchers, five ospreys, a northern harrier and a tree swallow.
Warren Woessner finally found a flock of four fish crows behind the film society building in Tisbury on April 25.
Ken Magnuson sent a handsome photograph of a black-crowned night heron he took at Katama on April 25 and a green-winged teal at Crackatuxet Cove on April 27.
Luanne Johnson has been watching a belted kingfisher at Daggett’s Pond at Cedar Tree Neck in hopes that it will nest there.
Nelson Smith and Sarah Mahoney spotted a snowy owl by the Big Bridge on Sylvia State Beach on April 24. Rob Culbert saw probably the same bird at the Big Bridge on April 27 and another at Katama the same day.
On April 21, Adam and Rand Burnett found three pair of piping plovers on East Beach. Caitlin of the Trustee of Reservations found a piping plover nest with three eggs on East Beach on April 24.
Jeff Bernier found piping plovers and a pair of American oystercatchers on Little Beach on April 22. Sarah Mahoney found a pair of piping plovers at Red Beach in Lobsterville on April 24, and a pair of American oystercatchers at Sarson’s Island the same day.
On April 25, Luanne Johnson found a piping plover nest with one egg on the North Shore. Liz Baldwin and David Bouch found a piping plover nest near Edgartown Great Pond with three eggs on the April 27. They are back!
Adam and Rand Burnett spotted a drake wood duck flying in off the water at East Beach on April 24. This sighting reminded me of last year when we spotted several wood ducks coming in from offshore, settling for a spell on the ocean (a highly unusual behavior for a wood duck) and then flying inland. They also spotted a northern gannet. During the week of April 19 Adam and Rand found red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers at Mytoi.
Rob Culbert found a singing brown thrasher at the Vineyard Golf club on April 27 and a peregrine falcon and Northern harrier at Katama.
Please report your bird sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.