Be vigilant, for you never know when you might see an unusual bird.
On Jan. 21, during the snowstorm with about one and one-half inches of snow already on the ground, Lanny McDowell spotted an ovenbird as he was looking out a window from his house near Lake Tashmoo. It was about five feet below him, hopping on the snow. He went outside and briefly saw it again, flying weakly into an evergreen hedgerow.
Now we do not expect an ovenbird in January. They are a species that breeds here and their southward migration peaks in mid-September, as most of them spend the winter in south Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. One was observed on Jan. 3, 1993, on that year’s annual Christmas Bird Count, so this is not the first January record for Martha’s Vineyard.
And there are likely two ovenbirds on the Island! On Jan. 23 Matthew Dix saw and photographed an ovenbird at his feeder at North Tabor Farm in Chilmark. The ovenbird was two feet away from him, just outside a window, scratching through some sunflower seeds on the ground under his feeder.
Everyone with a bird feeder needs to be vigilant, as it is possible that these ovenbirds may show up again. One text claims that the ovenbird has overwintered in Massachusetts before.
Being vigilant for birds is always a good idea, even when it does not yield highly unusual sightings. I stepped outside the Airport Laundromat on Jan. 24 and promptly heard a killdeer call once — not as vociferously as it would be if it were on its nesting grounds, but loud enough to be distinctive. I was able to find it in the storm drain basin behind Vineyard Decorators. Killdeer were not observed on this winter’s Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 2.
And on Jan. 17 I observed a flock of 25 grackles flying away from me as I was crossing Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs (as reported in last week’s column). Only one grackle was observed on this winter’s Christmas Bird Count.
On Jan. 18, while standing in my driveway, I heard a birdsong I did not recognize. I was not ready and two minutes later, when I had my binoculars, the bird was silent. Despite a thorough search of the area, I could not find it.
So be vigilant, for you never know when you might see (or hear and want to see) an unusual bird.
It is not fair to compete against two ovenbird sightings in January, but there are other birds around.
Tim and Sheila Baird report sighting a short-eared owl at Katama on Jan.19. Earlier in the week they observed a flock of more than 200 greater scaup in Sengekontacket Pond.
It has been a mild winter so far, and multiple observers have reported that there have been relatively few birds at their bird feeders. This does not necessarily mean that birds are not around, but that they are feeding on natural food in the wild. We then expect that the birds will start showing up at feeders when the temperatures get cold and/or when snow covers the ground. Sure enough, Matthew Dix reports that during the snowstorm on Jan. 21 he had a flock of 18 red-winged blackbirds at his feeder. And Tom and Barbara Rivers had several flickers show up at their suet feeder during the storm. Otherwise, feeders still seem to be relatively quiet.
Matthew Dix also reports seeing a female red-wing in mid-January, which is unusual as most of our wintering flocks of red-wings are all males.
Tom Rivers got several reports that the razorbill is still hanging out in the Menemsha channel. This would be a good place to go to see these often hard to find seabirds.
Albert Fischer reports a greater yellowlegs at Red Beach on Menemsha Pond in Aquinnah on Jan. 22.
And finally, Scott Stephens reports a glaucous gull wading in some of the puddles in the parking lot at Eastville Point Beach on Jan. 24. Lanny McDowell was able to photograph it, which is good because it can be tricky to separate this species from its smaller cousin, the Iceland gull.
There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them, and be sure to report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail email@example.com.
Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.