Coming home to the Vineyard’s common birds is always a pleasure. “Our” black-capped chickadee with an unusual white blaze is back on the shelf feeder. The red-headed woodpecker looks very uncomfortable as it balances on the Droll Yankee tube feeder extracting seed. The white-breasted nuthatch is working upside down on the sycamore maple headed for the suet cage. The regulars are around the feeders.
There are eastern bluebirds in two of the boxes and tree swallows in the rest. Darn, I forgot to tell someone to open the barn door a crack so the barn swallows could get in to nest. I opened the door and within a few seconds a barn swallow swooped in. I hope this isn’t too late for them to successfully nest this summer. Doubtful, as often they nest twice in a season. The hummingbird feeders were up for less than a half a day before the first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived both at Quenames and Quansoo. The killdeer are back on the croquet lawn performing their broken wing act to lure us away from their nest. Simon Thompson found the nest and has marked it so no one would step on it or run it over with a mower. The chipping sparrows and pine warblers are singing from the pitch pines and, as always, I have trouble telling them apart, but know they both are nesting. Common yellowthroats are twitchity, whichity from the scrub oaks and eastern kingbirds are chattering over the fields. But the nicest welcome home was hearing a whippoorwill at Larry Hepler and Alice Early’s on Quansoo Farm the evening of May 30.
I was shocked, however, to visit the Vanderhoop Homestead (Aquinnah Cultural Center) in Aquinnah and see the huge habitat change that had been made by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. The old red pine snag which was the perch for many a weary warbler or flycatchers coming in off the ocean is gone. The snarl of vines and shrubs below and climbing up the same pine are no longer there. This thicket of vegetation provided a haven for passerines (dickie birds) to duck into to avoid the talons of peregrine falcons and merlins. The berries from these vines and shrubs were the savior of many passerines as they provided fuel for same. Gay Head is a stopover to rest and refuel for the trip south for a great variety of bird species. If the food and resting places are gone it may cause the demise of many of our feathered friends.
It will be interesting to see what affect the cutting and mowing will have on the bird migration at Gay Head this fall. It would be helpful if the land bank contacted Vineyard bird watchers for suggestions on managing habitat for migratory birds before they do any further “habitat restoration.”
Dick Jennings and Rob Bierregaard conducted their annual Vineyard osprey nest site inventory. They checked on the 173 osprey poles now present on the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. The results of this census are that there are 69 breeding pairs of ospreys on eggs and six pairs of housekeepers. If you had forgotten, housekeepers build nests but are just fooling around and don’t get around to laying eggs. The number of active nests is down from last year when we had 74 pairs. Although 10 osprey pairs did not return to previous nest sites, there are seven new breeding pairs. One is at the Priscilla Hancock Preserve and Rusty Walton would be pleased as the pole had never been used. I would like to think that Rusty is back watching over the property in another form.
The nest that was put up last winter along the marshes of Poucha Pond in hopes of luring the pair of ospreys that tried unsuccessfully to nest on the dunes worked! There is a pair on eggs. Another interesting note: The female osprey on the Tashmoo nest is banded. Rob and Dick were able to read the numbers off the band and discovered the bird was banded in a nest in Westport in 1996. This makes the bird almost 15 years old! I was impressed but found later that there have been banded ospreys found that were 20 and 32 years old off-Island. I am still impressed! Earlier this year an osprey carrying a transmitter was spotted on the south shore. It was not one of Rob’s currently transmitting birds.
Just for kicks I counted the active poles in each town. There are two in Aquinnah, 13 in Chilmark, 14 on Chappaquiddick, 16 in Edgartown, eight in Oak Bluffs, five in Tisbury and 11 in West Tisbury.
Dick Jennings wanted me to urge, plea, beg the fishermen to take their spent fishing line off the beach and dispose of it properly. There have been two ospreys found dead on-Island; both were entirely entangled in fishing line, one still had hooks!
Liz Baldwin spotted a brown thrasher on Oxcart Road on May 30. Luanne Johnson and Margaret Curtin also saw a brown thrasher at Squibnocket on May 26. Luanne noted that the first piping plover to hatch on the Vineyard did so at Chilmark Pond on May 29. She also found a piping plover nest at Cedar Tree Neck, the first in 20 years!
Warren Woessner birded Norton Point on May 28 and found the regular shorebirds plus a couple of short-billed dowitchers. He mentioned that there were many fewer least terns out at Norton Point. Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin mentioned that there are numerous small colonies of least terns spread out along South Beach.
Randy Rynd and Steve Proper called to report they have baby barn owls in their Tisbury barn owl box as of May 25. Steve spotted a great crested flycatcher the weekend of May 20.
Warren and Iris Woessner went to Aquinnah to bird. Their best bird was a singing willow flycatcher along the path to the beach. They also had a single late staying yellow-rumped warbler and heard many common yellowthroats.
Pete Gilmore, Jean and Bob Cohen and Lanny McDowell birded Waskosim’s Rock on May 28. They commented that there were blue-winged warblers in several locations, had good looks at scarlet tanagers and wood pewees. The same evening Pete heard whippoorwills off Old County Road. On May 29, Pete, Lanny and Richard Cohen birded the head of the Lagoon to try to find the immature yellow-crowned night heron that Rob Culbert had found the day before. They found black-crowned night herons, but no yellow-crowned. Warren Woessner tried to find the yellow-crowned later the same day to no avail.
Rob Culbert found a summer tanager along the wetlands trail behind the Oak Bluffs school during his first walk of the season from the regional high school on May 28.
The following is an e-mail that I received from Margaret Curtin in response to Kim Manter’s concern over the lack of Baltimore orioles.
“In your article, you mentioned that people were reporting the lack of orioles this year. If people are wondering where the orioles are, they’re all in Vineyard Haven. I’ve been helping Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin do piping plover exclosures, and Luanne and I were just discussing the plethora of orioles. We both agreed, only half-jokingly, that they’re more common than robins this year...Actually we have had a good number of orioles ever since the cankerworm invasion of several years ago. My crackpot, off-the-top-of-my-head theory about why there seem to be even more orioles than usual is that we in Vineyard Haven are — maybe, God forbid — on the upswing again in the fall cankerworm/winter moth cycle, so that there are, relative to the rest of the Island, more larvae available here.”
Bill Jones sent me a series of photos of a battle between a mute swan defending its goslings from Canada geese. The photos were great and we agreed it reminded us of bar fights on Circuit avenue; eventually everyone went their own way.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.