New Research: Island's Extinct Heath Hen Was a Unique Bird

Now a genetic study of the skins of scores of heath hens, all of them from the Vineyard, shows that the Island bird, although it looked and behaved much like its supposed parent species in the Midwest, was a wholly distinctive creature. Genetically it was more different from the greater western prairie chicken - that supposed parent species - than the Midwestern bird is from any other family member in its genus, which includes the lesser prairie chicken, the endangered Attwater's prairie chicken of eastern Texas, and even the sharp-tailed grouse. It is possible that instead of being a subspecies of the prairie chicken - which scientists have considered it to be since it was first typed in the last years of the nineteenth century - the heath hen might have been a species unto itself.

Plovers Abound, Stripers Are In: Katama Breach Boosts Ecology

The forces which punched a hole in Norton Point and opened Edgartown harbor to the Atlantic Ocean might present a headache for town officials, but from an ecological viewpoint, they have all the benefits of a big natural spring cleaning.

Vineyard Canada Geese

Tisbury Great Pond looked like a Japanese painting, flat calm with a fine mist hanging just over the surface. It was so quiet it was eerie. The silence was broken by the honking of a flock of Canada Geese. The birds rose up in a V-formation through the fog and headed directly towards my kitchen window, creating quite a din for such an early hour. At what seemed the last second, the flock sailed over the roof and headed towards Black Point Pond.

This Journey to Save the World Begins With a Dwindling Flock of Red Knots

W e had committed to spending the last week of May along the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay, on the beaches that stretch north from Cape May. One of my two partners in this project, Porter Turnbull, had set up our first meeting at a service stop far down the Garden State Parkway. Our discussion was with a longtime fisherman who has been an advocate for commercial horseshoe crab harvesters. The meeting outlined the complexities of balancing the interests of crab fishermen, shorebird researchers and the wildlife that served both.

Katama Snowy Owl

The internet is a great boon to birders. We can share our sightings daily, or if you are really intent, hourly. The net is also a way to keep birders honest.

Norton Point Shorebirds

Bird watching or birding, you may call it what you wish, is great hobby, occupation, form of relaxation, and more than anything else is an ongoing education. The learning experience involved in birding is one that has kept me hooked on watching, reading about, talking to others about, and surfing the net for information about birds for lo these many years.

Beetlebung birds

Beetlebung Corner is really the center of Chilmark. The library, the school, the community center, the town hall, two banks, a restaurant, a general store, a real estate office and the post office are all within a few steps. This is all well and good for humans. However, for the birds Beetlebung Farm, which provides fresh vegetables and flowers in the summer, is their main attraction. By now the vegetables have been harvested and most of the flowers gone. Luckily there are still a few hardy nasturtiums blooming and a very late visitor arrived on Nov. 2 to enjoy the nectar of these nasturtiums. Marie Scott and Suzie Bunker, both daughters of Ozzie and Rena Fischer, spotted the hummingbird and alerted their father and their brother, Bert.

Scientists Study Bird, Sea Life Before Turbines Go Offshore

Wind farms have long provoked a certain cognitive dissonance among environmentalists, who favor renewable energy but oppose the negative impacts of turbines, including bird strikes and habitat displacement. The effects of turbines on bird populations are fairly well understood after a decade of European experience but less is known about their impact underwater, especially on local species of whales and sea turtles.

Keep Your Cats Inside

Summer visitors are beginning to arrive. I have a few reminders for them and for locals as well. It is important to keep your cats inside. There are several bird species that nest on or very close to the ground on the Island. Ground nests containing young birds are very vulnerable to cat predation. Adults are fair game for cats as well. You say you feed your cat well and therefore they don’t hunt. Not so! Cats have a hunting instinct and no matter how full they are, they will hunt birds. And the bell you put around the cat’s neck does not effectively warn birds of cat strikes. A bit of information from the American Bird Conservancy: “Indoor cats live an average of three to seven times longer than those that are outdoors.”

Butterfly Count

Betsy Wice asked about this year’s butterfly count. The Vineyard’s butterfly count took place almost a month ago, on July 17. Six people participated including yours truly. It was hot, in the mid-80s, which is good for butterflies, but the wind was too strong. Butterflies don’t like to be blown away, so stay grounded in high winds.

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