I was asked recently just how many birds have been seen on the Vineyard. This is a question that, depending on the birder, will result in different answers. Barbara Pesch and I list 386 species in our book Vineyard Birds II. Allan Keith and Stephen Spongberg in their book Island Life on the other hand report 405. Why is there such a gap in the two lists one might ask?

First, Allan and Stephen list not only the birds that are still being seen, but also those that are now extinct such as the heath hen — the number of extinct species listed is four. Allan and Stephen’s book was published a year later than ours and in that time a crested caracara and black-chinned hummingbird were seen. Barbara and I chose to take only the records that were accepted by the Massachusetts Avian Record Committee. Allan and Stephen did not and therefore have 12 species that we did not. Barbara and I did not include common shelduck, cinnamon teal and Eurasian teal, as we discussed these exotics and western species with other birders and keepers of waterfowl and chose to decide that these birds were escapes from waterfowl collections. Barbara and I accepted the yellow-nosed albatross and Allan and Stephen didn’t, and finally. Allan and Stephen were more forward thinking in their taxonomy and split two species that we didn’t, the Pacific golden plover and the western willet, The plovers have been officially split by U.S. ornithologists, but the willets, however, have not been separated officially.

So the math isn’t exactly right but you get the idea. The number of birds on Martha’s Vineyard really depends on whom you ask and whether you want a list of what we have seen that is still alive, that includes exotics, or birds that have been seen by only one person without a proper photograph which has been submitted to verify the identification, or the most recent list which includes birds that have arrived since the last list was written. Somewhere between 386 and 405 is the answer.

Bird Sightings

Allan Keith’s yard in Chilmark produced the best bird of the week. On Sunday. Sept. 13 Allan was motoring in his driveway in his new truck when he spotted a Say’s phoebe. This is the fourth Vineyard record for this western species; the most recent before this was on the 10th of September, 2003, by Whit Manter in West Tisbury.

Cynthia Bloomquist e-mailed that she had been seeing a mostly white downy woodpecker at her West Tisbury feeder for the past two weeks. Earlier this summer a leucistic (partially white) common grackle was seen on Indian Hill. It appears that a white common grackle was spotted in a flock in Boxford on Sept. 13. Leucistic birds appear to be quite common. Ms. Dahl spotted a pair of belted kingfishers in Town Cove on Tisbury Great Pond on Sept. 13.

Sept. 10 Flip Harrington, Allan Keith and I checked out Quansoo area for birds. Our best bird was a black vulture; others of note were green-winged teal, merlin and both blue-winged and prairie warblers.

Sept. 12 Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore checked out the Tisbury Great Pond beach and found a western willet, a Hudsonian godwit, a short-billed dowitcher and two juvenile willets. Hard to tell whether the juvenile willets were western or eastern. Stay tuned!

Dick Knight of Chappaquiddick e-mailed that there is a swamp behind his house that has been used as a great egret roost for the past several years. In the past it was a black-crowed night heron roosting area. In 2008 Dick counted 24 great egrets in the roost and last week he counted 27. Dick added that they usually stick around until early October. Dale Carter counted seven great egrets in the marsh by the Dike Bridge on Sept. 16 as well as a great blue heron and two black ducks.

Dick Jennings sent me two photos of an immature night heron on Sept. 12. Both of us determined that it was an immature yellow-crowned night heron.

Sept. 14, Allan Keith, Pete Gilmore and I spent most of the day birding on Chappaquiddick. Our best birds were a whimbrel, a red knot, a ruddy turnstone, an adult and an immature black-crowned night heron, two white-eyed vireos, black and white and black-throated green warblers, an American redstart, magnolia and parula warblers and three Baltimore orioles and over 1,300 tree swallows! We also heard a screech owl, a Carolina wren and a bobolink. We saw three merlins, seven ospreys and two sharp-shinned hawks.

Jared Nedzel and Anne Leifer sent me two excellent photos of a peregrine falcon sitting on East Beach on Chappaquiddick that they took on Sept. 15. Thanks.

Sept. 14 Allan Keith, Pete Gilmore, Lanny McDowell, Whit Manter and I met at the Gay Head Cliffs. Allan saw a clay-colored sparrow before I arrived, then Allan and I spotted a Cape May warbler. All of us spotted peregrine falcons, merlins and sharp-shinned hawks.

Rob Bierregaard sent me an update on the young ospreys he fitted with transmitters. The star is Isabel who was fitted with a transmitter at the Lagoon on August 1 and made it to Bonaire (2,500 miles) in seven days! Wow! The rest of the Vineyard birds are not doing much, Rob says, especially the two females from Chappaquiddick which, he is convinced, are total couch potatoes. Check for yourselves online at: bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/maps09.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to birds@mvgazette.com.