We ran away. The reason was the 15th annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Fla. Now, Flip likes to look for birds, but fishing is his real passion. So when we first heard about this festival 16 years ago, run by a female commercial fishing boat captain, I had no problem convincing Flip to attend.
Capt. Laurilee Thompson comes from a fishing family, but is also an avid bird watcher and environmentalist. She decided to start a birding and wildlife festival in the Cape Canaveral area to make people aware of the environmental problems facing both the marine and terrestrial environments. Laurilee joined hands with the Brevard Nature Alliance and the rest is history. Since the start of the festival Laurilee retired from fishing and is now “the captain” of the family restaurant, Dixie Crossroads, which specializes in seafood, especially shrimp.
The festival consists of field trips, classes, vendors and keynote speakers. This year there were four keynote speakers and our favorite was Richard Crossley, who published an awesome new bird book called The Crossley ID Guide. A fabulous talk, in Yorkshire brogue, emphasized his goal of popularizing nature and the outdoors through multimedia and books with the hope of encouraging the youth of today to become “the game-changers” of tomorrow. Richard moved to the United States when he was 21 years old and is based in Cape May, N.J.
Our favorite field trip, the “gull fly in,” was full as we were blasé and waited too long to sign up. So we attended a workshop on sparrow identification given by Adam Kent of the Florida Ornithological Society. Adam’s presentation made it clear that we should learn to recognize similar groups of sparrows first by their habitat and a few basic characteristics and then narrow them down to species. Adam noted there are always exceptions to the rule and that he couldn’t cover all the northeastern sparrows in the time allotted.
The first group includes the large sparrows with long square tipped tails, clear breasts and streaked heads that prefer bushy habitats. These include the white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. The second are small sparrows with long notched tails, small bills and unstreaked breasts that prefer open fields. Chipping, clay-colored and field sparrows belong to this bunch. The third groups contain small sparrows with short tails and flattish heads and are weak flyers of fields. They included the grasshopper, Le Conte’s and Henslow’s sparrows. The fourth are sparrows of the marshes and adjacent shrubby areas, are medium sized, chunky and have longish tails. They have streaked breasts. This includes the song and Lincoln’s sparrows, as well as the swamp sparrow, which has streaks on its flanks, not breasts. Sounds confusing but try it out and see if this grouping doesn’t shed some light on the “little brown jobs!”
We highly recommend the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival as a post-holiday getaway — a great bird-watching opportunity as well as an educational experience.
The hot bird this week was seen by Gary Mirando on Jan. 30. He saw, and luckily photographed, a yellow-throated warbler in his Tisbury yard. This is a rare visitor to the Vineyard with only about 25 total records. Before Gary’s sighting the latest record was Dec. 3, 1956! This is a southern bird and very common in Florida and I figured we sent it north while we were at the festival.
An ovenbird is still around as of Jan. 30 residing at Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stevens’s Pilot Hill feeder. These two birders also found a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a brown creeper and four pine warblers at the Phillips Preserve in Tisbury the same day.
Lanny McDowell counted three chipping sparrows at his Tisbury feeder on Jan. 21.
Good sized flocks of cedar waxwings have shown up in several locations on Jan. 21; one near the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury and another seen by Kate Greer on Poucha Road on Chappaquiddick. Phyllis and Bob Conway had quite a scene on Jan. 25 what with a large flock of cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds and American goldfinches all crowding into their birdbath. But the bonanza was a flock of 80 cedar waxwings seen by Laura Murphy drinking water in the puddles at the parking lot between Up-Island Cronig’s and Fella’s in West Tisbury on Jan. 25.
Unfortunately, a dying barn owl was found by the Granary Gallery Jan. 21. It was presumed a young bird from owlets fledged in October. On a brighter note, Tara Whiting spotted a barn owl alive and well at Quenames on the same day.
Cynthia Boomquist spotted a pheasant in her Skiff’s Lane, West Tisbury yard and figures it probably wandered over from the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest on Jan. 25.
Tom Rivers reports seeing hermit thrushes on Tea Lane in Chilmark on Jan. 30.
On Feb. 1, a glaucous gull was gleaning food off the scallop pile at the end of Skiff Avenue in Tisbury, as reported by Rob Culbert. And speaking of Rob, he spotted a loon that didn’t seem to fit any loon he had seen before. His description was upturned bill, appearing larger than a red-throated’s bill, and the bill was very pale ivory all over. No darkness or black on the bill at all. The top of the head, back of the neck, wings and back were all pale grayish/brownish, separated from the lighter undersides by a continuous and relatively straight line. There were no darker or lighter bands around the neck, and the back appeared to have light wavy lines across it (side to side, not front to back).There were also two common loons diving and feeding a little bit farther into the pond, and they were obviously different (darker, heavier straight bill held parallel with the water) from this individual.” Without a photo or others seeing the bird we will have to presume it was a red-throated loon, not a yellow-billed loon.
On Jan. 28 William Waterway walked along South Beach to the Edgartown Great Pond opening and spotted a snowy owl. Too bad the bird wasn’t around during the Christmas Bird Count!
Jeff Bernier photographed a snow goose in Allen Farm field in Chilmark on Jan. 30.
Ken Magnuson sent a fine photo of an eastern bluebird taken on Jan. 25, and Marie Laursen watched two eastern bluebirds bathing in her bird bowl on her back porch in Tisbury on Jan. 19.
Bert Fischer heard a northern cardinal singing in his Aquinnah yard on Jan. 30. Happy Spongberg watched an American crow in her bird bath combining taking a drink and cleaning his feet. A crow pedicure?
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to email@example.com.
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 bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.