What a weekend! A sandhill crane, western kingbird and Say’s phoebe are the three western species that were present this past weekend. It must be the fall migration for all these western strays to be here at the same time.
Roy Riley first observed and reported the sandhill crane on Oct. 6, foraging in the stubble of a harvested corn field across the road from the Agricultural Hall and Polly Hill Arboretum. Many people have been able to observe this cooperative and sedentary bird. Several observers have commented that the crane was being chased around by a flock of turkeys. It was still being chased on Oct. 11. This species is becoming more common, with two sightings last century (1977, 1984) and now three sightings in six years (2005, 2008, and this one). And a few years back they even started nesting in western Massachusetts. Their call is a distinctive rolling bugle, which is most memorable when visiting one of the midwestern wetlands in late fall when thousands of them noisily fly in at dusk, to roost overnight (the nearest that I am aware of is in southern Michigan).
The other two western species were both found at the Gay Head Cliffs. The western kingbird was observed on Oct. 8 and 9, while the Say’s phoebe was observed and photographed by Lanny McDowell on Oct. 10.
Ebie Wood reports a late ruby-throated hummingbird on Sept. 29 at Wesleyan Grove in the Camp Ground visiting the impatiens near her house. The hummer also flew up and perched on one ofthe overhead wires.
Margaret Curtin had a red-headed woodpecker at Gay Head Oct. 6. Sue Hruby reports that she still has two eastern towhees coming to her feeder in West Tisbury. And Scott Stephens and Penny Uhlendorf were out at Katama, where they saw four northern harriers and got great looks at a Caspian tern thatdove into the water several times right in front of them at the Edgartown landing.
Kathi Flack had an adventure on Oct. 7 — a screech owl was flying around inside her house! While she enjoyed watching the owl fly around, she happily reports that the owl made it safely out of the house.
Oct. 7 started a few days of ideal weather for bird migration, warm and sunny with a northwest wind. Lanny McDowell found white-crowned, swamp and Lincoln’s sparrows, golden-crowned kinglets and blackpoll warblers at Squibnocket and the Gay Head Cliffs.
Mary Beth Norton reports a flock of over 100 cormorants attacking and chasing a large school of baitfish acrossTisbury Great Pond. And several people have reported large flocks of migrating cormorants; like geese, they will fly in large V-shaped flocks.
My final (of the season) Saturday morning guided birding tour got quite a treat, as we found six species of woodpeckers within one hour. Downy, red-bellied, and hairy woodpeckers were accompanying a flock of bluebirds and robins at the high school’s student parking lot. Two northern flickers and at least three juvenile red-headed woodpeckers were spotted near the pond at the state forest headquarters. And a yellow-bellied sapsucker was spotted at the head of the Lagoon. I think this is the first time I observed all six on the same day! We also observed many pine warblers at the high school and all along the road down to the state forest headquarters. At least two of the pine warblers were much brighter yellow than any I have observed before. Other species included common yellowthroat, magnolia, Cape May, prairie, and Canada warblers, one northern waterthrush (at the pumping station), red-eyed vireo, eastern phoebe, eastern wood pewee, one unidentified Empidonax flycatcher, green-winged teal and American wigeon.
Sometime over the weekend, Skip Bettencourt photographed a dead yellow-billed cuckoo hanging on someone’s clothesline. Most likely, the cuckoo died as a result of flying into a window or being hit by a car.
Also from Chappaquiddick, Paula McFarland reports 35 species from Caleb’s Pond and on one of the Cape Pogue natural history tours with The Trustees of Reservations. Her highlights include great blue heron, great egret, black-crowned night heron, turkey vulture, American kestrel, peregrine falcon, yellow-billed cuckoo (this one was alive), tree swallow, blue-headed vireo, golden-crowned kinglet, pine warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, chipping sparrow, white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco.
In addition to the above-mentioned Say’s phoebe on Oct. 10, Lanny McDowell also found Nashville, blackpoll, and Tennessee warblers, eastern phoebe, golden crowned kinglet, and an aggressive sharp-shinned hawk attacking a Cooper’s hawk. When he got home and looked at the photo of the blackpoll warbler, he was surprised to find a dickcissel was also in the picture.
On Oct. 11 I observed a flock of five Forster’s terns roosting and flying around at Red Beach on Menemsha Pond. Also in the Lobsterville area I found three great egrets, yellow-rumped and parula warblers, blackpolls, and golden-crowned kinglets. At the western end of Aquinnah, Lanny McDowell found a few more species: eastern meadowlark, house wren, palm warbler, black-throated green warbler, orange-crowned warbler, lots of yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglet, field sparrow; dickcissel, white-winged scoter and black scoters. Laurie Walker and Meg Orlando were also in Aquinnah, and they added merlin, yellow-bellied sapsucker, cedar waxwing, black-and-white warbler, white-crowned sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, brown thrasher and dark-eyed junco.
By my quick count, that is more than 70 interesting species — read not widespread and abundant — mentioned in this column! This certainly suggests that October is a good time to go birding.
Even though it does not have feathers, I will take liberties to report a displaced chipmunk at the headquarters of the state forest on Oct. 8. Matt Pelikan also spotted a chipmunk there recently; we do not remember seeing one in the state forest before. This chipmunk is quite a ways (for a small mammal) from where it is common, along the Vineyard’s north shore from Tashmoo to Menemsha, and on the northern part of Chappaquiddick.
There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them. Report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.