There is a hint of good news concerning the disease outbreak that has temporarily paused the use of bird feeders.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has announced that the northernmost cases of this disease have been from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and appear to be declining. They suspect the disease has something to do with the outbreak of cicadas that mid-Atlantic states experienced this year. Nevertheless, MassWildlife asks us to continue refraining from feeding birds and putting out bird baths. This will encourage the social distancing of birds to prevent the spread of this not-yet-understood disease.

This week. a new species for the Vineyard was seen and verified! Seven black-bellied whistling ducks were observed and photographed by Jim Shoemaker on upper Chilmark Pond behind Lucy Vincent Beach on July 30. So far, nobody else has seen this flock, but the photographs confirm the sighting.

Black-bellied whistling duck — Lanny McDowell

This species usually resides along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. So, they are far from their normal range, although they regularly wander northward at this time of the year, and there have been several reports of this species elsewhere in Massachusetts, including one that has been on Nantucket since early June and was most recently sighted on July 15. Readers may recall that Joe Melrod found a black-bellied whistling duck on a brackish pond off Katama Bay on June 29, but it was not photographed to confirm the sighting.

Grasshopper sparrows are seldom seen as they skulk around grasslands on the bare ground between grass stems, and their song is soft and hard to hear, like that of a grasshopper. Small numbers of them nest in the grasslands of Katama, but they have not been seen yet this year. So, David Padulo was pleasantly surprised on August 1 when he heard one singing, then saw it perched on the fence next to the road through Katama Farm.

Samantha Greene watched an aerial argument between four ravens and two hawks that continued for at least 20 minutes in the sky above her house. Speaking of large birds, on July 28 ,Will Turner saw a peregrine falcon at Lake Tashmoo and on July 30 Gus Ben David reported an incredible aerial display by an immature peregrine falcon as it chased his pigeons and dive-bombed his ducks. He also notes that spotted sandpipers are still visiting the pond in his yard. This was the earliest in the year that Gus has seen one.

Common raven — Lanny McDowell

Susan Whiting has a pair of house wrens nesting in a bluebird box in her Quansoo yard. In the past few weeks, Susan’s highlights include four Baltimore orioles, female scarlet tanager, common yellowthoat, eastern kingbird, eastern bluebird, and ruby-throated hummingbirds. On Tisbury Great Pond, she spotted two killdeer, great egret, belted kingfisher, and her first great blue heron of the season. On July 21, she and Warren Woessner led the first Chilmark Community Center bird walk of the season; they went to Red Beach and observed semipalmated plover, piping plover, sanderling, least sandpiper, short-billed dowitchers, semipalmated sandpipers, greater yellowlegs, willet, laughing gull and ring-billed gull.

Those same species plus ruddy turnstone, willet, oystercatcher, and black-bellied plover, have been spotted by Jeff Peters, Bob Shriber, Caroline Heald and myself at Norton Point, Little Beach and Chappaquonsett. Two whimbrel were spotted by Caroline Heald at Norton Point on July 26.

At Felix Neck, Steve Allen photographed an immature bird that was either a snowy egret or a little blue heron. These two youngsters are very similar and opinions are mixed about which species it is. He has also seen laughing gull, great blue heron, green heron, black-crowned night-heron, snowy egret, and great egret. On July 28, Matthew Born observed a great blue heron that spent a few hours at a pond near his house. 

Red-breasted nuthatch — Lanny McDowell

Thaw Malin and Cynthia Bloomquist spotted an orchard oriole in their yard on July 30 and again the next day. Bridget Dunnigan and Sea Williams spotted six red-breasted nuthatches in the northeast corner of the State Forest on July 31; it is a couple of weeks early for migrants, so they likely spent the summer here and hopefully nested.

Michael Cochran and granddaughter Evie Graves saw an immature screech owl in the middle of the day, perched on the rail of the boat in their Vineyard Haven driveway on July 31.

A bobwhite was seen and heard by Chris Daly on July 30 between Ridge Road and Tar Barrel Road in Aquinnah. The same day, Meg Higgins saw a covey of a dozen bobwhites as they foraged in a flower bed on Nomans Watch Road in Aquinnah.

Peregrine falcon — Lanny McDowell

Last: I was thinking about chimney swifts this week, so wouldn’t you know there were no reports this week! But there were 18 reports of them in July, reflecting my knowledge of their distribution across the Island. The sightings are: South Road near West Tisbury — Chilmark town line (Seth Factor); Lambert’s Cove Cemetery (Seth Buddy); South Beach (Kiera Scott); Felix Neck (Steve Allen); Edgartown downtown (Stu Wilson, Susan Whiting, Cathy Paris, Jeff Peters, Jacob Looney and Dennis Main); Oak Bluffs downtown (Michael Hartwig, Shea Fee and me); Vineyard Haven downtown (Dennis Main, Andrew Jankowich and Brian Genge); and, finally, West Chop/Mink Meadows (Seth Buddy, Krish Maypole and Caroline Heald).

Please email your sightings to

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant with Nature Watch LLC living in Vineyard Haven.