The Vineyard’s salt marshes and beaches are extremely important habitats for a variety of nesting birds. These include several species of terns (common, least and roseate), piping plovers, American oystercatchers, willets, saltmarsh sparrows and rails. This summer two groups have been monitoring and studying these species. One group hails from Massachusetts Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, the other from Biodiversity Works, a private nonprofit organization which focuses on wildlife research, monitoring and mentoring and is headed up by Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin of skunk and otter fame.
Both groups requested permission to access land and beaches from individual owners and explained what their intent was. Felix Neck’s crew was headed up by Caitlin Borck, who with the help of the Felix Neck staff, found volunteers to help monitor tern species, piping plovers and American oystercatchers in different areas. Katherine Colon and Vasha Brunelle were the standout volunteers for Felix Neck. Their task was to determine the location of nesting sites of the tern species, piping plovers and American oystercatchers at Eastville Beach, Harthaven, West Chop, Quansoo and Ferry Boat Island in Lagoon Pond, as well as to fence the areas and erect enclosures around the plover nests and monitor same.
Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin contacted the Vineyard bird-watchers, including Margaret Curtin, Nan Harris, Lanny McDowell and yours truly. We all took turns assisting her with a survey that will be carried out during 2011 and 2012. Luanne was given 21 sites by the University of Maine which is conducting the survey with volunteers from Maine to New York. This project is called SHARP, which stands for Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program. The salt marshes Luanne and crew monitored included three sites on Menemsha Pond, six on Chappaquiddick, four on Edgartown Great Pond, one on Oyster Pond, five on Sengekontacket Pond and two on Eel Pond. In addition, Luanne and Liz Baldwin and volunteers were monitoring beaches at Lobsterville, Squibnocket, Black Point and Chilmark Pond for tern species, plovers and oystercatchers.
Both groups found the barrier beach species had a very bad start this spring and early summer. As Suzanne Bellincampi of Felix Neck noted, “The nesting shorebirds and terns had many challenges.” The long periods of rain in the spring combined with predation from skunks, raccoons, crows and gulls resulted in the failure of most of the first nests. However, Luanne Johnson is encouraged as “the late season is looking better for our beach nesting birds.”
Suzan Bellincampi and Caitlin Borck report that from the 15 sites they monitored they found 14 pairs of piping plovers 12 chicks hatched and only three survived to fledge. The Felix Neck crew observed 11 pairs of American oystercatchers producing 11 chicks, with five surviving to fledge. There was only one colony of common terns found and eight least tern sites, none of which was really successful; there might have been 15 least terns which made it to fledgling age.
Here is an overview of the season for Biodiversity Works thus far: “It’s been a long season but the end is near. It’s been great to see all our migratory birds back on the beaches; nothing new and exciting to report, just cool to see them all! Out of the 16 sites we monitored 12 nesting American oystercatchers, 24 nesting piping plovers, and five sites with small colonies of nesting least terns, none of which were productive. But currently we have a late colony of least terns on Little Beach with a count of about 55 incubating adults and they should be having chicks soon. The skunk fencing has been working great so this colony should be successful!
“For chicks we have two fledged American oystercatcher chicks and two due to fledge on August 18. We also still have a bird incubating a nest up at Dogfish Bar but we are pretty sure it is not going to hatch since her mate has already abandoned her and it’s about 10 days overdue.
“Oyster Pond was our winning site this year where both piping plover pairs fledged their entire hatched brood....good parents! Edgartown Great Pond was also a very productive site! Dogfish Bar was not very productive but the one chick that did get off the ground was from our banded piping plover from the Bahamas!
“[According to] the final report for last year ... we had 39 piping plover pairs and 46 fledglings for the entire Island; that gives us a productivity of 1.18. This year preliminary reports show we have 55 piping plover pairs and 25 fledged piping plover chicks and 21 unfledged. If all those unfledged chicks fledge, which they probably won’t, that will give us a productivity of 0.83...bummer. So we are up on pairs this year but down on productivity. We are looking for a 1.24 chicks per pair to keep our population stable.”
Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings report that the 1,000th osprey has fledged from the Vineyard nests. Gus Ben David reports that the three musketeers, the three young ospreys that Gus raised from the fallen nest, have fledged and flown the coop. Gus is pleased to say they haven’t returned.
Gus Ben David also reports that a young eastern phoebe landed on his porch railing on August 10. Al Sgroi saw not one, but two adult yellow-crowned night herons at the Bend in the Road on the Oak Bluffs/Edgartown Road on August 7. Sarah Mahoney spotted a yellow-crowned night heron at Sengekontacket Pond shore on August 8. Monday Al was fishing off Skiff Island and counted six Wilson’s storm petrels fluttering around his boat.
Luanne Johnson spotted a ruddy turnstone on Little Beach on July 22 and on Dogfish Bar on July 30. She also spotted an early pectoral sandpiper on Dogfish Bar on August 1. Luanne added she and Margaret Curtin had great birding at Little Beach on August 8. They counted about 10 least tern chicks with more to come (at least 28 incubating). They also spotted a good number of common terns and fledglings (not sure from where); ruddy turnstones, greater yellowlegs, American oystercatchers, black-bellied plovers, semipalmated sandpipers and plovers and a great blue heron.
Jeff Bernier birded at Edgartown harbor on August 4 and spotted both yellow and black-crowned night herons, greater yellowlegs, large numbers of semipalmated sandpipers and a northern harrier.
Nat Woodruff and Ken Judson spotted seven great egrets and semipalmated plovers at Lobsterville on August 9. Suzan Bellincampi e-mailed to say the barn owl at Felix Neck has laid the first egg of her second clutch this year!
Jami Ruben, Lanny McDowell and I birded Norton Point on August 5 and were surprised to see so many terns. We estimated around 500, about a third of which were immatures and those mainly roseate tern immatures. We also spotted short-billed dowitchers, killdeer, American oystercatchers, as well as both semipalmated plovers and sandpipers and piping plovers.
Flip Harrington and I watched four yellow warblers land in the rosa rugosa in front of our Quansoo home on August 6. The Chilmark Community Center bird walks went to Quansoo on August 2 and to Lobsterville on August 9. We concentrated on shorebird identification at Quansoo and did the same at Lobsterville although we had a green heron and great egret to add to the mix. We observed the osprey nest at Lobsterville and decided that a house sparrow that is nesting below the nest had planted a squash seed in the nest. Abbe Burt decided it was a houseplant for the osprey’s home!
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.