They are baaack! They have been coming every year since 2013 and usually stay through the winter. Everyone wants to see them and admire their size and command of the dune and grassland habitats.

The first two snowy owls showed up on Thanksgiving Day. Jessica Roddy was the first to report her sighting of one near Chilmark Pond. Later that day, Sheila Schlageter spotted one at Cape Pogue. Connie Alexander spotted one on Dec. 4 on the ocean side of Edgartown Great Pond in the late afternoon. Chris Mayhew reports that his friend saw one at Wasque on Dec. 5.

Brown thrasher — Lanny McDowell

Prior to 2013 they were a scarce and short-term visitor. They were extremely abundant during the winter of 2012-3, with a maximum count of 25 present for much of the winter. Now they are less common but we will likely have several of them present for a few months, if not the entire winter.

But please be careful when you are fortunate enough to find one; you are too close if the owl is staring at you. Please be careful not to disturb these Arctic-nesting owls. How would you feel if some creature more than 10 times your size was using binoculars and cameras to watch you in your home? Do not become an owl paparazzi!

Most of the sightings this week are of birds that live on or near the water. Most of the other many migratory birds have already departed our shores for warmer southern climates; many of the remaining migrants may not arrive until freezing waters to our north force them southward.

Red-necked grebe — Lanny McDowell

Foremost among the arriving seabirds are razorbills, red-necked grebe and dovekie. All are much more common offshore than they are near the Vineyard. Susan Whiting and Bob Shriber spotted 10 razorbills and five red-necked grebes in the ocean off Black Point Pond on Dec. 3, along with 10 horned grebes, 30 red-throated loons and two gannets. On Black Point Pond itself they spotted five lesser scaup and one pied-billed grebe.

On Dec. 5 Matthew Born visited Squibnocket Beach and found 15 razorbills, six horned grebes, 25 red-throated loons, 10 common loons and eight northern gannets, as well as a marsh wren. That same day, Margaret Curtin and Luanne Johnson spotted 25 razorbills, eight red-throated loons, two common loons, 10 long-tailed ducks and six great cormorants at the Gay Head Cliffs. And on Dec. 6, Bob Shriber spotted a flight of razorbills and one dovekie off Dogfish Bar.

The Martha’s Vineyard Bird Club held a Birding 101 course at Squibnocked Beach on Dec. 4. Matt Pelikan led the event with Luanne Johnson co-leading. Twenty people attended and their highlights were harlequin ducks, 44 hooded mergansers, four horned grebes, one red-breasted merganser and one pied-billed grebe.

Lingering waterbirds include an American oystercatcher and a laughing gull that I spotted on Sarson’s Island on Dec. 4. How much longer will they stick around? I also spotted a northern harrier on State Beach and a flock of 150 fish crows that were flying from Lagoon Pond to Vineyard Haven harbor. Tracy Winn spotted a lesser black-backed gull at Wequobsque Cliffs on Dec. 3.

Fox sparrow — Lanny McDowell

The songbird migration continues at a much-reduced rate. The lark sparrow first reported in last week’s column was seen by Thaw Malin and Cynthia Bloomquist on Nov. 30. It was seen again on Dec. 1, when Lanny McDowell spotted it and there was a fox sparrow next to it. We see fox sparrows every winter. Bob Shriber saw it again the next day, and on Dec. 4 he spotted two Ipswich sparrows at the cliffs.

There are three species of mimic thrushes that are on the island, but it is unusual to see all three in the same location. Margaret Curtin and Luanne Johnson accomplished that on Dec. 5 at the Herring Creek in Aquinnah, finding a catbird, a brown thrasher and a mockingbird, as well as a swamp sparrow. At the Gay Head Cliffs they added four lingering tree swallows.

Hermit thrushes have been observed by two observers: on Dec. 3 Allan Keith spotted one at the Oak Bluffs pumping station and Irene Ziebarth had one visiting the edge of her Chilmark yard. Luanne Johnson saw a red-breasted nuthatch in her yard on Dec. 5. And that day Rich Burman reports a wood duck, kingfisher, peregrine falcon at Felix Neck.

And here is a much overdue correction. I reported that Allan Keith spotted a summer tanager on Nov. 18 and 21 at Squibnocket Point. But it was a western tanager, which is not seen as frequently.

Pied-billed grebe — Lanny McDowell

It is December already; how time flies! The 62nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. Circle that date on your calendar; more information about how you can participate will be in future columns.

And I need to close with a tribute to John Hughes, who chased birdies on the golf course but not the feathered kind. I first met him at Farm Neck, where my Dad tried unsuccessfully to teach me how to play golf. He and Dad were golfing buddies. John Hughes was one of the nicest men, always greeting me with a kind word whenever we crossed paths. My condolences to his daughters -– Pat, Sally and Ellen, who contribute to this column –- and the rest of the Hughes family. John Hughes will be missed.

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