It is July on Martha’s Vineyard and there are baby birds, fledgling birds and parent birds galore. The adults are frantically procuring food for their youngsters, the nestlings are noisily begging for food with open mouths. The youngsters are exercising their wings to develop their flight muscles and the fledglings are making short flights. It is a time to make sure your cats are inside your house, you drive more slowly so you don’t hit an adult carrying food to their young, and you keep your distance from an active nest.
Our tree swallows have all fledged and they line up on the ridge pole of our roof to sally forth and try out their mosquito-catching ability. The barn swallows are exercising their wings and depositing goodies onto my workbench in the tool shed, and the grey catbirds and eastern bluebirds are hawking insects from the ground around the hummingbird feeder every five minutes to fly off to their opened-mouthed nestlings.
It is also a marvelous time to be an avid observer. How long is it between feedings at the nest? How many days does it take for the young birds that are exercising their wings before they fly? How much trouble do the fledglings have on their first flight — usually it is the first landing that is tough! Do the ruby-throated hummingbirds at the feeder have shorter bills? Do the American oystercatchers have brown or yellow eyes? The brown-eyed ones are the youngsters. There is so much to learn about the rearing of birds, so keep your eyes open and enjoy.
Ellen Leverenz e-mailed me a series of photographs of three fledgling red-tailed hawks that had made a first flight and landed on the splitrail fence in her Howell Lane, Chilmark home on June 28 and 29.
Back on June 21 Linda Ziegler e-mailed to say there were ospreys nesting on the WMVY radio tower. I checked with the osprey crew and they felt the nest had failed. Then on July 4 I spoke with Dick Jennings and Gus Ben David and found out they saw a young osprey nestling’s head pop up out of the nest; looks like this pair is pretty sneaky. Thanks, Linda.
Rob Culbert, who leads trips from the regional high school on Saturday mornings, was at Eel Pond on June 26. He found two brown-eyed American oystercatchers, a lingering black-bellied plover on Little Beach and a white-winged scoter in Eel Pond. The next day Rob observed a brown thrasher and cedar waxwings at Lobsterville. Rob and I agree that although the Baltimore orioles may be scarce elsewhere, they are common on the Vineyard. They do however have a time while on nest and feeding young when they are elusive. Now, after the young have fledged, they are more commonly seen.
Scott Stephens spotted either a parasitic or pomarine jaeger off Gay Head that was harassing a Wilson’s storm-petrel. The jaeger succeeded in stealing food from the storm-petrel, a true example of kleptoparasitic behavior.
Jim Greer e-mailed and called to determine what bird had ended up on his porch on Chappaquiddick on June 28. Seems an American woodcock hit the window, was stunned, and eventually revived and returned to the wild.
An immature peregrine falcon has made its presence known. On June 29 Richard Purington e-mailed to say there was one sitting on the flagpole at 15 Starbuck Neck in Edgartown. Richard said it returned on July 2 and July 4 as well. Al Sgroi called to say he watched an immature peregrine falcon fly over State Beach in Oak Bluffs and then head over Sengekontacket Pond. I checked with Gus Ben David and he felt that this peregrine was not an early migrant but rather a fledgling from a Massachusetts pair. Peregrine falcons were reintroduced in Massachusetts in the mid 1980s after they were practically decimated by DDT in the 1950s. Now there are numerous pairs in the state and the young leave the nest site shortly after fledging and go walkabout, exploring and looking for food. Eventually these falcons might even nest on-Island.
Al Sgroi saw a green heron in Harthaven on June 30; Lanny McDowell photographed and Pete Gilmore and Warren Woessner observed one at Little Beach on July 6.
Bobwhites have been seen and heard recently. Joan Ames saw one at Seven Gates on June 27 and noted that it was almost the same as seeing the extinct carrier pigeon. Bobwhites are definitely in decline on the Island. Peter Enrich watched three young bobwhites eating spillover from his bird feeders on North Tabor Road in Chilmark on July 5. Prior to this sighting Peter had heard the bobwhites but not seen them.
Bob Shriber spotted a first-year bald eagle being harassed by a northern harrier on Moshup Trail in Aquinnah on June 29. The next day Bob found two dead sea birds on Philbin Beach. The first was a common tern which was banded. Bob went online with the number and found out that the bird had been banded in this state in April of 2011. The second bird he found was a sooty shearwater. Bob’s yard produced a Cooper’s hawk, nesting black-and-white warblers, American redstarts and ovenbirds on July 1.
Tara Whiting spotted an early tricolored heron flying over Black Point on July 3. She also watched a cedar waxwing with food on Quansoo Road on June 30.
Sarah Mayhew has been busy photographing birds around the Island. Her June 29 photo was of a great crested flycatcher on a perch at Quansoo. On June 30 she photographed a common yellowthroat singing his heart out at Quansoo and a great egret at Menemsha, and on July 1 a piping plover at Quansoo and an eastern bluebird at the state forest.
Warren Woessner heard and spotted the hooded warbler at Waskosim’s Rock on July 1.
Dorothy Packer sent an e-mail which described a beautiful sighting of a great egret and two great blue herons in the marshes of Lake Tashmoo on July 3. She approached the marsh slowly and watched the birds fishing; their heads came up as she approached, but sensing no threat, they returned to their fishing. The same day Flip Harrington and I spotted our first great blue heron of the season on Big Sandy.
On July 4 Margaret Curtin and I met at Featherstone during the opening of Allen Whiting’s retrospective show. She told me that while she was on her deck on the Tisbury side of the Lagoon, she saw a leucistic downy woodpecker on her suet. Another woodpecker caught her eye in a nearby oak and to her amazement another leucistic downy appeared. Each was all white with some faint black barring on the back and pure white heads. Margaret thought that the suet might be spiked! Who knows?
On July 6, Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner and Pete Gilmore birded Little Beach. They were surprised to find just three least terns and five common terns. They also saw two willets, two American oystercatchers, one black-crowned night heron, a piping plover with one young and a white-winged scoter.
Tim and Sheila Baird aren’t birding much these days. They had a great-crested flycatcher in their Edgartown yard and a pair of Baltimore orioles. The Bairds, Tom and Barbara Rivers, and Flip and I all had ruby-throated hummingbirds for a while; they disappeared and now they are back at our feeders. I would wager they weren’t present during the time they were incubating their eggs. Eric (I couldn’t get the last name) from Main street in Edgartown called to say he has a nest of a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds on his house’s patio. Nice way to observe nesting behavior!
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 email@example.com.