Oh, good grief. It is an Empidonax flycatcher. They all look the same, they are not very bright — drab greenish, as one bird field guide suggests. They all have whitish wing bars during nesting season and they all boast eyerings.
Is this pert little flycatcher a willow, alder or Acadian flycatcher? They all have been seen and on occasion nested on the Vineyard. Even with three field guides open I haven’t a clue; well, maybe some inkling. The Acadian flycatcher is more likely to be found high in deciduous trees near water, while the willow and alder tend to inhabit lower brushier areas near water. Now some say the alder flycatcher prefers moister nesting areas than the willow, but in the same paragraph state they have nested side by side. Nuts. Let’s hope it sings. The only sure way to tell these flycatchers apart in the field is by their song. The two more commonly seen (heard) on the Island are the willow and alder. The willow’s call is “fitz-bew,” the alder’s “fee-bee-o” and the Acadian’s call is “pit-see.” The photograph that Lanny McDowell included for this week’s Bird News is probably a willow, but he did not hear it call. Your guess is as good as mine. If you find one of these “Empies,” the nickname the birding community gives these flycatchers, stick around and listen for it to call, otherwise you won’t know what you are seeing.
I start with upsetting news. This report is from Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin, who are monitoring piping plovers, American oystercatchers, common, least and roseate terns on many of the south shore beaches. “Someone stepped on and killed a piping plover chick on Chilmark Pond shore on Sunday evening, June 19. The chick was within an area posted as a feeding area. It is very important for everyone to be vigilant in this section of beach. In particular, please do not play or linger in front of areas with signs and posts. There is a lot of outer beach available for people. Once the chicks fledge (by July 4), the fencing will be reconfigured and provide as much access as possible to beachgoers.” Please be thoughtful during nesting season and watch for signs delineating nesting areas and watch where you put your feet!
On a nicer note, Keith Cruikshank called in to report that there was a bobwhite around Mink Meadows Pond in Tisbury on June 11.
The eastern bluebirds at Quansoo seem to be starting another nest. I can’t tell if the first failed, hopefully not. In Tisbury at the Phillips Preserve, Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stevens watched fledgling eastern bluebirds being fed by a female on May 30. The bluebirds are undoubtedly on their own now.
Baltimore oriole sightings continue to come in. Simon Thompson saw a male at Nab’s Corner in Chilmark on June 15. Esther Brandon and Harriet Bernstein saw one at the Polly Hill Arboretum on June 18. Susan Catling of Ocean Heights, Edgartown has had two visits by a male Baltimore oriole. She notes that the appearance coincided with the arrival of guests from Baltimore. To honor these guests the Catlings flew the Maryland flag, which is orange and black. Sarah Mayhew is back in town. She put out oranges in her West Tisbury yard on June 18 and a red-bellied woodpecker took the bait and was photographed. June 19 a photo of a male Baltimore oriole arrived perched next to the same orange. Later in the day Sarah photographed a singing prairie warbler at Quansoo.
Tara Whiting watched an eastern phoebe by the Quenames barn on June 17 and at Black Point Pond watched three black-crowned night herons fly off. Roy Riley spotted a male American redstart on Pepperbush Lane in Chilmark. He pointed out that the pictures in the bird guides did not do justice to this orange and black warbler.
Matt Pelikan heard a hooded warbler at Waskosim’s Rock on June 16. On different trails, he also heard four blue-winged warblers, northern parulas and scarlet tanagers. The next day Pete Gilmore and I went to Waskosim’s and were able to hear and see the male hooded warbler. Matt, Pete and I noted that this was late in the season for a migrant, but no female is around to our knowledge. Pete told me that at the Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, there was a male hooded warbler that came back for three years and sang his heart out, never finding a female. Local birders in Hingham figure a sharp-shinned hawk may have been the reason the bird didn’t remain all last season. The Waskosim’s Rock male reminds me of the last heath hen that sang his heart out every spring, hoping a female would appear. Hopefully one will find her way here next spring.
Pete Gilmore and I also found at least one and probably two nesting pairs of grasshopper sparrows at Quansoo Farm in Chilmark on June 17 and watched two black-crowned night herons fly by. Pete is hearing whippoorwills and seeing field sparrows by his house on Hoft Farm in West Tisbury. Pete joined Lanny McDowell on June 18 at Norton Point. They were discouraged to see so few common and least terns. They did see piping plovers and American oystercatchers.
On June 20 Karen Mead called to say she is sure there are cedar waxwings nesting near her Aquinnah yard, as she watched them carrying nesting material. Her yard also is visited by eastern kingbirds, common yellowthroats, and yellow warblers.
Flip Harrington and I had our first visit of a male ruby-throated hummingbird at our Quansoo feeder on June 16. We counted six American oystercatchers on Big Sandy on June 20 and 21.
Joan Jenkinson and Linda Massaro watched a pair of green herons sneak out of their nests at the Mill Pond in West Tisbury on June 21.
Tim Johnson sent a nice photo of the pair of Felix Neck ospreys with three chicks poking their heads above the nest on June 20.
Finally, Matt Pelikan conducted his annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Breeding Bird Survey. He makes 50 stops between Lobsterville and Tisbury. He was excited that in three of his 50 stops he had northern parulas and blue-winged warblers. He had a willow flycatcher singing away on Moshup Trail in Aquinnah. Matt was discouraged to find no indigo buntings at any of his stops. These lovely indigo birds have been nesting here for the past several years, but seem to have disappeared. If anyone knows of nesting indigo buntings, please let us know.
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.