Eek, what do I call this winter visitor — black chipping bird, white-bill, slate-colored snowbird, eastern junco, slate-colored junco or dark-eyed junco? Presently the ornithologists are calling the junco that visits the Vineyard most commonly the dark-eyed junco.

The dark-eyed juncos arrived on Island during the past two weeks. There is a flash of white as they fly into the bushes or tall grass. What you have observed is the distinct tail feathers that one cannot miss as a junco flies away. Now have some patience and wait a bit. The juncos will creep out of hiding to feed in the open. It is then that you can see their distinctive whitey-pink bills and slate-colored head, breast and back. They are cousins to all the sparrows and prefer feeding on the ground and are seed eaters.

The vast majority of dark-eyed juncos migrate through the Vineyard in mid-October and they seem right on schedule. Many winters we have large numbers of juncos spending the winter and enjoying our wild seeds and bird feeders. The juncos that winter south of here usually migrate north inland. Slowly but surely our wintering junco population disappears with the last of the flock departing around mid-April.

On occasion the Vineyard is visited by a different variety of junco. The juncos are a bit confusing to say the least. At present there are eight subspecies of dark-eyed juncos. The slate-colored is the subspecies that is the most common on the Vineyard. We have records of Oregon juncos on Island. They are similar to the slate-colored except they have brown backs and flanks. There are also white-winged juncos, gray-headed juncos and pinked-sided juncos. Instead of ranting and raving about the differences, check a recent birding field guide to see the different characteristics which separate the various juncos. No matter whether you are watching a dark-eyed, slate-colored or an Oregon junco, these birds are a pleasant addition to the winter landscape on the Vineyard.

Bird Sightings

Purple finches continue to be seen on the Island more so, say many birders, than they have seen for years. Lanny McDowell has had two, a nice male and a female at his West Tisbury feeder since Oct. 9. They were still there on Oct. 18 when Warren Woessner and I checked out the feeder. Gus Ben David had two at his feeder on Oct. 17, waiting for him as he returned from the International Wild Waterfowl meetings in Belgium and France. Tim and Sheila Baird also attended the Waterfowl meetings. Bob Shriber and Allan Keith had two purple finches at Aquinnah on Oct. 18 and Flip Harrington and I still have a female purple finch at the Quenames feeder as of Oct. 19.

There is sad news on the osprey front. Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings report that Penelope, born on Tisbury Great Pond, who had hitched a ride on a boat out of the Dominican Republic, left the vessel in the Virgin Islands only to be lost at sea about 25 miles from the coast of Venezuela. Then to add insult to injury, two more ospreys were lost. Gunny from Westport was also about 20 miles from shore when he went down, and this after resting on Bonaire. Mr. Hannah dropped off the map in the middle of downtown Curacao. To see the details check the Web site at

A report came from the Vineyard Gazette. Dave Erickson came into the office and reported that he had seen a scissor-tailed flycatcher at Herring Creek at 11 a.m. on Oct. 11. This is a rare southern visitor and needs verification. Mr. Erickson reported the sighting on Oct. 13. I need more before this can be verified. Thanks.

A hawk puzzle wasn’t solved to anyone’s satisfaction. Susie Bowman and Margaret Curtin were at Cedar Tree Neck on Oct. 2 and spotted a large hawk that they said was the size of a red-tailed hawk, which was dark on the back and underneath and had a straight tail. They did research and figured it was a Northern goshawk. This hawk is a very rare visitor to the Island and usually doesn’t arrive until November. The earliest date seen was Oct. 22, 2006. Take a picture with a cell phone if you don’t have your camera! I would like to believe it.

On Oct. 12 Nelson Smith had his first tufted titmouse at his Edgartown feeder.

Dick Jennings reported seeing an immature bald eagle at Tom’s Neck on Chappaquiddick on Oct. 13. He also added that the immature yellow-crowned night heron was still in the marshes by the Dike Bridge and that he counted 12 greater yellowlegs and a great blue heron near Little Neck.

Tom Rivers had pine warblers, golden crowned kinglets and four dark-eyed juncos at Squibnocket on October 11.

Allan Keith, Flip Harrington and I were at Tisbury Great Pond on Oct. 14. It was slow, but we did see two dunlin, six black-bellied plovers, one adult gannet, two American oystercatchers, two American wigeon, one immature turkey vulture and one Ipswich sparrow. On Oct. 15 I spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker at Quansoo and Lanny McDowell counted five green-winged teal and one female pintail on the Pond in Keith’s field in Chilmark. On Oct. 16 the first white-throated sparrow appeared at Flip and Susan’s Quenames feeder. Paul Goldstein caught a Carolina wren in his butterfly net quite by accident. He let the feisty bird go as it scolded him unmercifully.

On Oct. 17 Lanny McDowell, Richard and Tony Cohen birded Norton Point and watched a female peregrine falcon hunting. They also heard a marsh wren and spotted an immature Bonaparte’s gull. The same day Warren Woessner was at Wasque and watched windblown dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows. One great yellowlegs and sanderlings were the only shorebirds he spotted. Both great blue herons and great egrets were flying off. Four white-winged scoters, two red-throated loons, one northern gannet and one northern harrier were also seen by Warren as were a flock of tree swallows over Edgartown harbor.

At Aquinnah on Oct. 17, Bob Shriber spotted an immature red-headed woodpecker. Whit Manter joined him and they spotted an eastern meadowlark, an American kestrel, white-crowned and swamp sparrows, both golden and ruby-crowned kinglets and a couple of turkey vultures. At Squibnocket Whit and Bob added pied-billed grebe, green-winged teal, ruddy duck, American wigeon, all three species of scoters, a great cormorant, a red-breasted merganser and a bufflehead.

Bob Shriber was joined by Allan Keith on Oct. 18 at Gay Head. Their best bird was a white-crowned sparrow (the Gambel’s race), two purple finches, Blackpoll, pine and yellow-rumped warblers, American redstart, a merlin, six sharp-shinned hawks and an indigo bunting. They continued on to Squibnocket where they added American wigeon, green-winged teal, both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, field sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. At Turtle Brook Farm Allan added seven killdeer which he saw in the field. Claudia Rogers counted two great blue herons at Fuller street and Little beaches.

This author, Warren Woessner and Lanny McDowell were at Aquinnah later than Bob and Allan and saw many of the same species that they did. We did add four male wood ducks which were in Turtle Brook Pond in Chilmark on the way to Aquinnah. Additional sightings included an osprey, a northern harrier, four more sharp-shinned hawks, and two red-tailed hawks. An Eastern phoebe, a red-bellied woodpecker and several northern flickers were also flying around Gay Head. We had 12 dark-eyed juncos and both white-crowned and white-throated sparrows. Lanny and Warren heard purple finches. Later in the day on Oct. 17 Flip Harrington and I watched a Swainson’s thrush in the Quansoo woods.

Liz Baldwin sent a handsome photo of an American bittern.

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

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is