There are times when I receive a bird sighting from individuals that I morph into a person resembling a detective. I proceed to grill the bird-watcher in a similar fashion to an investigator questioning a perpetrator of a suspected crime. So how do you think I felt when I heard that Tim Rich, the past chief of police of Chilmark, had reported an immature red-headed woodpecker at his Chilmark feeder?
The first step was to double-check that my facts were correct. Red-headed woodpeckers used to breed in very small numbers on the Island, but since 1990 they no longer are found on the Island year-round. It may be the increase in the numbers of their cousins, the red-bellied woodpeckers, that chased the red-headed woodpecker away. However, it is more likely that the European starling competing for nesting sites with the red-headed woodpecker caused the demise of this handsome woodpecker on the Island.
Yes, an occasional red-headed woodpecker is seen on the Christmas Bird Count, and they do migrate through the Vineyard in October and November, so the sighting is possible. I still had to check. “So, Tim, did you take a picture of the bird in question?” “No, I wasn’t able to.” “Are you sure you didn’t see an immature yellow-bellied sapsucker?” “No, I am sure it was the red-headed woodpecker. It had the white V patches on its back.” “The sapsuckers have white in the wings also.” “Yes, I looked but they’re not in the same pattern.” “What bird book are you using?” “Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, 5th edition.” “Okay, thanks Tim. I appreciate your call, nice bird!” This exchange, the reversal of roles, was weird but fun and informative.
On Nov. 5 John Nelson counted 22 brant at Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, 14 bufflehead in Farm Pond, a couple of horned larks on Sylvia Beach and at the Farm Institute he found a golden plover in with the black-bellied plovers. John also found six eastern meadowlarks, a northern harrier and turkey vultures over Katama. The next day, Nov. 6, John returned to the Farm Institute in Edgartown and was unable to find the golden plover. He did find red-bellied mergansers in Katama Bay and snow buntings on the beach. At the Regional High School there are pine and yellow-rumped warblers and at the little pond at the state forest several green-winged teal are still hanging around.
On Nov. 9 Flip Harrington and I counted 100 white-winged scoters, 200 black scoters, 300 greater scaup, 30 buffleheads, 15 red-breasted mergansers, six American coots, one common goldeneye, one horned grebe, one immature northern harrier and laughing gulls. On Black Point Pond we added nine black ducks, one pied-billed grebe and nine hooded mergansers.
Pete Gilmore joined me Nov. 11 and highlights included six black-bellied and one golden plover on the Quansoo Beach, northern gannets and both common and red-throated loons offshore. In Quenames Cove we had one pied-billed grebe, 25 lesser scaup, and two ruddy ducks. At Priscilla Hancock Preserve we saw an eastern towhee, northern flicker, three red-tailed hawks and 10 yellow-rumped warblers.
The best bird of the week was a yellow-billed cuckoo that was seen by Pete Gilmore, Lanny McDowell, Flip Harrington and me at North Neck on Chappaquiddick on Nov. 11. Other birds seen during that Chappaquiddick trip included northern gannets, long-tailed ducks, Bonaparte’s and laughing gulls, field and white-throated sparrows, two sharp-shinned hawks, four red-tailed hawks, three pied-billed grebes, and both hooded and red-breasted mergansers.
Pete Gilmore spotted a glaucous gull while onboard the ferry. Pete saw the gull mixed in with both Bonapartes and great black-backed gulls in the waters between East and West Chops.
Rick Dwyer and Will Geresy spotted several flocks of snow buntings at Cape Pogue on Nov. 11.
Nat Woodruff was photographing sanderlings on the Inkwell beach in Oak Bluffs when two American oystercatchers appeared. This is somewhat late for this species, although they have been seen on Christmas Bird Counts in the past.
Jeff Bernier watched seven turkey vultures soaring over Menemsha on Nov. 12. Jeff also sent photos of a common eider chowing down on a crab.
Ginny Jones reported a flock of tree swallows swooping over the grasses next to Tisbury Great Pond on several days as late as Nov. 15.
Lanny McDowell photographed a mixed flock of songbirds around Tashmoo including eastern bluebirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, pine warblers and golden-crowned kinglets on Nov. 15.
Robert Green and Linda de Witt were pleasantly surprised to find an American coot is their pond located off Watcha Pond on Nov. 16. A first for this pond.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.