Lesser scaup — Lanny McDowell

To my eye, one of the most difficult identifications is to distinguish between greater and lesser scaup. The major differences are the shape of the head and the amount of white on the primary wing feathers when seen in flight. Gus Ben David, Julie Ben David, Matt Connelly and Phil Stanton saw a flock of the not-as-common lesser scaup on Oak Bluffs harbor on Feb. 12. They also spotted the shoveler that is still hanging out on Crystal Lake and a male harrier and 80 or so snow buntings at the Cape Pogue Gut. They could not find a snowy owl. I counted 23 lesser scaup at the Oak Bluffs harbor the next day.

Shea Fee had better luck; she spotted an eastern meadowlark and a snowy owl at Long Point on Feb. 7. Matthew Born observed one at Lobsterville on Feb. 11. He also found a lone tree swallow — in February! The closest tree swallow that I know of is on western Long Island.

On Feb. 13, Margaret Curtin, Nancy Weaver and Luanne Johnson visited Short Cove Preserve and observed three killdeer in addition to 163 scaup, a green-winged teal, 42 bufflehead, seven common goldeneye and two red-breasted mergansers. Are they early migrants or are they attempting to survive the winter?

Speaking of possible early migrants, John Ripley heard his first American woodcock peenting of the year at the frisbee golf course on Feb. 9; Joshua Robinson-White heard it, too. Thaw Malin and Cynthia Bloomquist heard one peenting at Aquinnah Circle on Feb. 11 but Bob Shriber has occasionally heard them calling along Moshup Trail through January. So let’s consider them to be overwintering individuals.

Winter wren — Lanny McDowell

Recent sightings of red-winged blackbirds are likely overwintering individuals, too. On Feb. 14, Gail Arnold spotted four red-winged blackbirds near Cedar Tree Neck as well as a fox sparrow and two eastern towhee. Luanne Johnson spotted one at Crystal Lake on Feb. 10. I heard a red-wing singing at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Feb. 12; I think a lot of us were happy that afternoon when the temperature almost reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit! A small flock has been there all winter.

Winter wrens can be hard to spot: they are a dark wren that skulks around in thickets and/or is only seen as it disappears into a thicket. Matt Pelikan spotted one as it dove into a brush pile behind the Oak Bluffs School on Feb. 9.

Common mergansers are always a good find around here. Jeff Bernier spotted a female common on Slough Cove on Feb. 13, right next to a female red-breasted merganser, making the slight differences much easier to observe.

Sandpipers and plovers have not been mentioned recently; they seem to be scarce this winter. But that doesn’t mean they are not present. Matthew Born spotted a dozen sanderlings and six purple sandpipers on Lobsterville Beach on Feb. 12-13. Luanne Johnson found 13 black-bellied plovers and 62 dunlin at Norton Point on Feb. 12.

Common raven — Lanny McDowell

Common ravens have been elusive this winter, but not so on Feb. 9. Wendy Culbert heard and saw one on the Tisbury water tower near the Park and Ride lot in the middle of the day. Later that afternoon I spotted one as it flew over the Martha’s Vineyard Bank in downtown Vineyard Haven. Keep an eye out for them: they will soon be heading back to their nesting terrritories!

Shea Fee found a small flock of chipping sparrows across from the Chappaquiddick Community Center on Feb. 11. She also spotted an eastern towhee there. At South Road near Quenames Road, she found a flock of four snow geese on Feb. 8. Lanny McDowell spotted seven snow geese at the Allen Farm on Feb. 11.

Jerry Twomey has screech owls nesting in a nest box every summer. When he put up another one in his yard on Feb. 9, he spotted a screech owl poking its head out the next day. Also on Feb. 9: Claire Ganz spotted a bald eagle at Native Earth Teaching Farm which then flew south toward Middle Road. On Feb. 13, Margaret Curtin saw the peregrine falcon that regularly perches on the Old Whaling Church clock tower. John Montes found an immature merlin at Long Point on Feb. 13.

Chipping sparrow — Lanny McDowell

Yellow-rumped warblers are seen regularly but usually only one or two individuals at a time. So it is noteworthy that Luanne Johnson spotted 14 of them at the headquarters for BiodiversityWorks on Feb. 8. Twenty or more years ago this species was a lot more common. The late Tom and Barbara Rivers used to host a thousand or more of them roosting on their Nashaquitsa pond property.

Lisa Wright from Cuttyhunk reports that she has had a Virginia rail living under her wood pile. Apparently there are a lot of them that live year-round between Vineyard Sound and Cuttyhunk Harbor.

A quick reminder that the annual Great Backyard Bird Count takes place Feb. 18-21. Look it up online to participate; this is another citizen science event that aids the study of bird populations.

More Bird Photos

Please email your sightings to birds@mvgazette.com.

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