July and August are exciting times for birders on the Vineyard. We check the tide tables daily to find which beaches have low tides at a time there aren’t a zillion beachgoers scattered across the sand and wading along the flats. The location found, we grab our spotting scopes and head for the flats produced by the perfect tide. Low tides changing to high tides appear to attract the best selection of shorebirds. These sandpipers and long legged waders have the food source produced in and on the mud and sand flats, plus the birds are concentrated closer to shore by the incoming tide.
Bird-watchers, however, never go directly to the chosen flats but make a circuitous route checking out other habitats on their way. That is, unless it is a rare species — in that case it is a direct and speedy trip. It was one such side track that produced a nice bird for Warren Woessner on July 10. Warren was headed for Norton Point to look for shorebirds. On a small pond in front of the Mattakesett condominiums in Katama, Warren noticed a night heron perched on a rock. On closer inspection Warren was excited to see an adult yellow-crowned night heron. An uncommon transient and summer resident before the mid-1990s, yellow-crowned night herons have become more common recently. The appearance of an adult yellow-crowned night heron in June (Whit Manter) and July at Katama gives weight to the thought that these herons nest on the Island.
Black-crowned night herons are colonial nesters. The yellow-crowned night herons are solitary breeders, therefore their nests are more difficult to find. The yellow-crowneds have nested along the Massachusetts coast since 1928 but have yet to be confirmed on the Vineyard. We have seen both adults and immatures on Island in the late summer, which adds more credence that yellow-crowned night herons nest on the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick.
Immature yellow and black-crowned night herons are similar. It is important to check the bill color of the bird in question. The juvenile yellow-crowned possesses a dark bill, and the black-crowned has a light and thinner bill with a dark tip. There are other characteristics to tell the two immatures apart, but you will have to do some homework!
Please keep those birdbaths full; the birds need water in the heat as much as we do!
The annual Butterfly Count will be held on July 17.
Prudy Burt has been finding abandoned bird nests while landscaping. She has brought me two beautifully built nests and with the Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds’ Nests, we have identified one built by, on first impression, a Carolina wren. Now, with further research, I think the nest was constructed by a gray catbird. Another was constructed by a chipping sparrow. Both were elegant in their own ways, the catbird’s nest was made of grapevines, small twigs and grasses, the base of which was surrounded by leaves. The chipping sparrows nest was very compact and neat, and made of grasses and weed stalks. It was lined with reddish hair.
Back on June 29 Adam Moore found a dead northern harrier at Quansoo Farm. He was concerned it was the female of the pair nesting in the area. Tim Simmons of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Division of Fish and Wildlife collected the specimen to try to figure out the cause of death. Tim determined that the bird was not a female but an immature. The report on the cause of death has not come in yet. On July 9 Flip Harrington, Pete Gilmore, Warren Woessner, Lanny McDowell and I were birding at Quansoo and watched a food transfer between the male and female northern harrier at the Quansoo nest, further proof that the pair is alive and well. The immature that was found was a first-year bird from last year’s brood.
The flock of American oystercatchers on Tisbury Pond is making the rounds. Ginny Jones and her grandsons, Everett and Kent Healy, counted 12 at Tississa on July 9. Mal Jones has seen several at Deep Bottom this summer and Flip Harrington and I observe the flock at Big Sandy frequently. Ginny also spotted a great egret at Tississa on July 9.
Pete Gilmore heard a black-billed cuckoo calling near his house off Old County Road between the July 3 and 9.
Sarah Mayhew spotted a snowy egret at Quansoo on July 11. She also commented that many least terns have appeared after none had been around. Matt Pelikan noted that the least tern colony at Minimusk (a sandbar off Muskegat Island) was lost due to the waves overwashing it. Matt suggests that some of the 1,100 least terns may have moved to Quansoo. Hopefully some will use Norton Point also. It will be interesting to see if late nestlings are able to migrate.
Nat Woodruff sent me a photo of a barn owl nestling that was photographed by her grandson, Kyle Joba-Woodruff, at his grandfather Bob Woodruff’s barn. Nat also sent photos of a greater yellowlegs she took on July 7 in the marshes along Sengekontacket Pond.
Christine Coon spotted a bobwhite on Main street in West Chop. On July 12 she spotted one by the gut at Lake Tashmoo.
Rob Culbert’s July 9 bird tour went to Norton Point where greater and lesser yellowlegs, willets, short-billed dowitchers, semipalmated plovers, least sandpipers and, best of all, two whimbrels were spotted. The next day Rob went to Lobsterville and spotted a brown thrasher, spotted sandpiper and greater yellowlegs. Later in the day at the Sailing Camp in Oak Bluffs he saw chimney swifts.
John Banks spotted a salt marsh sparrow at Katama on July 9. Sofia Anthony, who lives on Meshaket Way, reported that she saw one of the leucistic downy woodpeckers in June that Margaret Curtin presently has behind her Tisbury home.
Tom Rivers was awakened at 4:30 a.m. on July 13 by three whippoorwills.
Lanny McDowell, Pete Gilmore, Warren Woessner, Flip Harrington and I birded Quansoo on July 8. We counted 150 short-billed dowitchers, 25 least sandpipers, 10 American oystercatchers, four greater yellowlegs, three killdeer, 10 black-bellied plovers, eight piping plovers, one roseate tern, 10 least terns, four common terns, one black-crowned night heron, an osprey and a male northern harrier. Our best bird was a lesser black-backed gull. The next day the same group went to Black Point where we added a green heron, great egret, bank swallows and an immature black-crowned night heron.
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.