Why is it when an accidental (rare, unusual or vagrant) bird arrives on Martha’s Vineyard there is always a scenario where there is a good cop/bad cop gig? In this case Allan Keith is the good cop. On March 24 and then again on March 25 he spotted and spread the word that a male common teal arrived in the pond at Turtle Brook Farm, Chilmark. Lanny McDowell took great photos of this bird and a male green-winged teal that was in the same pond.

Enter the bad cop, me. I immediately figured it was not a wild bird, but one that may have escaped from Gus Ben David’s World of Reptiles and Birds. Also, if we were to follow the American Ornithological Society rules, the teal that Allan spotted would not be a full species (common or Eurasian teal), but a subspecies of the green-winged teal.

I was wrong about the escapee. Gus does not, nor does anyone else in the Northeast, captive-raise this subspecies of green-winged teal. Gus also shared some fascinating information with me. He is pretty sure the bird Allan saw was a wild bird, but if we were to be 100 per cent sure we would check on the bird’s right foot. The U.S. Federal Government requires that any waterfowl that is farm-raised when hatched must have the hind toe of its right foot clipped. This is easily seen on geese as they tend to feed in fields and so can be observed with a scope. Teal and other ducks are more difficult as they are usually in the water.

Now as to the name — is it a green-winged teal subspecies or a common or Eurasian teal? It depends on whom you want to follow. The Europeans and Asians consider the common teal a full species and have since 2000; the North Americans consider it a subspecies of the green-winged teal.

Whichever you choose the teal that Allan Keith spotted is a rare bird for Martha’s Vineyard. The difference between the male birds is the vertical white bar. If the male teal has one it is a green-winged teal; if it doesn’t it is a common (Eurasian) teal or subspecies of the green-winged teal.

Bird Sightings

Bob Woodruff and Anna discovered a pair of barn owls in the nest box of their barn. Although Bob and Anna observed some activity of a barn owl pair last spring, no young were hatched. Bob noted that if the barn owls are successful in producing young this year it will be the first since the big snows of ’05 wiped out the last pair.

We would like to hear if you have barn owls nesting on or near your property so we can determine how many pairs are now nesting on the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. Please leave that info on the hotline 508-645-2913 or e-mail the info to birds@mvgazette.com.

Belle, the Vineyard’s osprey which was fitted with a transmitter last summer and is being tracked by Rob Bierregaard, is in the Brazilian state of Rondonia. As a yearling she will remain in the area for 14 months or so. The second year ospreys from Nantucket, Long Island and Connecticut are heading north. To see their routes check out the following web site: http://www.bioweb.uncc.edu/Bierregaard/migration11.htm.

Larry Shubert spotted an osprey at Lobsterville on March 23 and there was a misprint in last week’s column. Martha Moore and Joe McConnell spotted their osprey at Long Point on March 23, not March 2.

Catching up with Tim and Sheila Baird is always fun. They had a gray catbird in the Edgartown yard on March 15 and 18 and not since. Undoubtedly this was a migrant and not “their” yard catbird. Tim and Sheila had a white-headed (leucistic) black-capped chickadee in their yard all winter. They still have both red and white-breasted nuthatches and ruby-crowned kinglets in their yard and a northern mockingbird arrived on March 28. They saw their first double-crested cormorants on Sarson’s Island on March 19.

Nat Woodruff sent me a fabulous photo of two male surf scoters that she took off East Chop on March 6. Scott Stephens spotted an American oystercatcher in Menemsha Pond on March 17.

Luanne Johnson counted two pair and two single piping plovers on Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah on March 23. She also saw a pair of American oystercatchers at West Basin the same day. She has been catching eastern towhees on her otter cam photos recently.

Rob Culbert with a group of ACEMV students found two tree swallows at the head of the Lagoon on March 27. They also spotted three black-crowned night herons, five bufflehead, an osprey, lots of common grackles and red-winged blackbirds. Late in the morning he joined up with Terry Baker of New York and counted 50 horned larks and an Ipswich (savannah) sparrow. The two birders also counted 100 courting red-breasted mergansers in Edgartown Great Pond. At Sarson’s Island the men counted 25 double-crested cormorants and a pair of American oystercatchers.

Margaret Curtin saw the same birds at the head of the Lagoon on March 26 and added there were a good number of yellow-rumped warblers along the road to the pumping station. Allan Keith added a hermit thrush, a couple of golden-crowned kinglets to the head of the Lagoon bird list for March 26. Allan spotted three tree swallows, seven killdeer, a northern harrier and an American kestrel at Turtle Brook Farm the same day.

Bert Fischer spotted tree swallows flying over Squibnocket Pond on March 30. Rob Riley, while working on Abel’s Hill, spotted an early eastern kingbird.

Eastern phoebes have arrived. Margaret Curtin heard the first one singing at Mermaid Farm on Middle Road on March 17. March 24 and 25 Allan Keith heard two phoebes at Turtle Brook Farm in Chilmark. March 30 Penny Uhlendorf, Luanne Johnson and Matt Pelikan heard phoebes singing, Penny at Pilot Hill, Luanne in her North Tisbury yard and Matt at the Tisbury Waterworks.

Margaret Curtin e-mailed me to report that Kyle and Katherine Carson spotted an osprey at their little pond in the Bayes Hill subdivision off Barnes Road on March 15.

William Waterway watched two American oystercatchers wandering along the western shore of Katama Bay on March 29. Andrew Woodruff reports that there are several killdeer in the fields at Whippoorwill Farm.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to birds@mvgazette.com.

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.