Ross's goose — Lanny McDowell

While the famous holiday song has geese-a-laying, I think that geese-a-grazing is more apt, as that is what they do. And we have four species of geese on the Island.

Most notable is the immature Ross’s goose spotted by Warren Woessner on Dec. 19; it was carefully observed on a small private pond near Katama. Experience with this small goose helps to identify them, as it is very similar to a snow goose. It does not appear to have hung around, as no one else reported it.

The blue phase and white phase snow geese reported on Dec. 19 were seen again. Jeff Peters saw them at Katama Farm on Dec. 21 and Warren Woessner spotted them on Dec. 23 at Muskoday Farm, where I first saw them. They were always with a flock of Canada geese. The fourth species of goose is the brant that frequent Ocean Park, often with their larger cousins.

Songbirds are not to be outdone. Norma Costain and Geoff Kontje had a strange bird in their yard on Christmas Day. It had white around the eyes, a yellow-green back, a butter-yellow breast and did not have wing bars. Luanne Johnson sent them a picture of a yellow-breasted chat. Their response was, ”That’s our bird!” It was a really nice yard bird; usually, they hide deep in a dense, wet thicket.

Another lingering songbird is the tree swallow. Danguole Budris spotted a flock on Dec. 27 at Quansoo Beach, flying out over the water in search of aerial food and landing to rest on the beach. On Dec. 24, Allan Keith and Tucker Drummond spotted a flock of 30 or more swooping around the fields at the Keith Farm. Late December records are not unusual but they are mostly small flocks or even single individuals.

Red-winged blackbird — Lanny McDowell

Tracy Winn found a second blue-headed vireo, another lingering species. You may recall a sighting along Shubael Weeks Path in Vineyard Haven on Dec. 14; now another was found on Dec. 23 near the Aquinnah circle. There have been several other sightings in New England this month.

Red-winged blackbirds are scarce at this time of the year but we have two reports this week. Cynthia Bloomquist and Thaw Malin spotted one in their West Tisbury yard on Dec. 24, and Margaret Curtin and Nancy Weaver saw two at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Dec. 26. They may try to survive the winter here only to trick us in February when we think they are early spring migrants.

Brown-headed cowbirds are even more scarce than red-wings at this time of the year. Lanny McDowell reports a female brown-headed cowbird visited his feeders on Dec. 23. The following day two chipping sparrows appeared with the light dusting of snow.

Allan Keith and I were talking about the scarcity of eastern towhees. I still prefer their former name of Rufous-sided towhee since it so exactly describes them. They are not as common and widespread as they are in the summer but in winter they can usually be found in dense thickets. We have only two reports this week; Sea Williams and Bridget Dunnigan spotted two at East Pasture Shore Road in Aquinnah on Dec. 22 and Bob Shriber spotted two at Lobsterville on Dec. 24.

On Dec. 20, Shawn Barber spotted a snowy owl on a beach. Thanks to all who have kept the locations of these northern visitors fairly secret. The owls thank you for that because some people get excited by seeing one and get too close, causing unnecessary disturbance. Remember that if the owl is constantly staring at you, then you are too close and need to back off.

Roger Cook observed a kestrel atop a Squibnocket-area osprey pole on Dec. 23. Ebba Hierta came across a flock of 10 turkey vultures feeding on a deer carcass in the woods on Christmas Day. Gus Ben David still has the flock of vultures visiting his yard.

Pintail drake with mallard — Lanny McDowell

Bob Shriber found two lingering greater yellowlegs at Lobsterville on Dec. 24. Are these the same birds that successfully overwintered at that location last year?

Tisbury Great Pond is a great place for ducks this season. Amidst the usual bufflehead, mallard and black ducks on Town Cove, Shea Fee found three gadwall and three green-winged teal on Dec. 21. Allan Keith and I spotted a huge flock of 500 greater scaup that were mostly in the southwestern corner of the pond on Dec. 27. Lagoon Pond is another great place: Lanny McDowell spotted the male Barrow’s goldeneye on the pond side of the drawbridge on Dec. 23, and at the other end of the pond at the Oak Bluffs pumping station. Margaret Curtin and Nancy Weaver picked out two ring-necked ducks on Dec. 26. Allan Keith found four ring-necked ducks at Deep Bottom Pond on Dec. 23 and Lanny McDowell found a pintail on Dec. 27 at Duarte’s Pond.

Double-crested cormorants are also lingering, as they do more frequently with each passing winter. Bob Shriber spotted two at Lobsterville on Dec. 24, Margaret Curtin and Nancy Weaver found two at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Dec. 26, and Allan Keith and I spotted at least one at Deep Bottom Cove on Dec. 27.

Hermit thrush — Lanny McDowell

Matthew Born visited Lobsterville Beach on Dec. 20 and observed two gannets flying past Menemsha Bight.

Finally, a reminder to all that Sunday Jan. 2 is the big day; there will be many birders out and about ,participating in the 62nd annual Christmas Bird Count. Give us a wave and a friendly smile as we brave whatever weather comes our way to count as many birds as we can find!

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