The Winter That Wasn’t is merging into a spring whose nature has yet to be revealed and birds, accordingly, are in motion. Most notably, common grackles and red-winged blackbirds have landed on the Island, raucous males (as always) leading the charge but with the first females of both species arriving over the past week. Meanwhile, more species and more individuals are lending their voices to the morning chorus, with cardinals, Eastern bluebirds, American robins, and brown creepers singing this week at multiple locations. Every day brings change.
Northbound waterfowl are arriving even as wintering sea ducks begin to thin out. Lanny McDowell photographed a snazzy drake green-winged teal at Makonikey on March 11. Bob Woodruff and Bob Weaver turned up a nice mix of sea ducks (including four harlequin ducks) at Gay Head, and ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers at several freshwater locations. Jeff Bernier found a large flock of red-breasted mergansers at Katama Bay on Monday. This is the point of the season that produces the highest counts for this duck. Flocks can often be observed engaging in cooperative feeding, lining up and trapping schools of fish against the shore.
Cedar waxwings were widely reported during the past week. Linda Ziegler noted a large flock near Crystal Lake, Oak Bluffs, while Tara Whiting encountered a flock (on cedars, appropriately enough) at Misty Meadows Farm, West Tisbury. Steve Rose noted a flock at the old Ag Hall in West Tisbury. Gregarious at this time of year, and energetic but unpredictable in their movements, waxwings could turn up nearly anywhere on the Island in coming weeks.
Surely among the toughest of birds, a couple of species of shorebirds winter amid the surf that rings the Island. Camille and Ray Shea reported two purple sandpipers on the Menemsha jetty last weekend, and this species has been intermittently present along the Oak Bluffs waterfront, as well. A dark-colored shorebird with orange legs, purple sandpipers almost invariably turn up on rocks. Bob Woodruff and Bob Weaver reported a group of sanderlings, which probably wintered here, from Sengekontacket.
The Bobs also submitted what appears to be the first report of an arriving piping plover this year, a single, very early bird from the beach west of Lambert’s Cove on March 9. Luanne Johnson also noted this species at Long Beach on the March 13. And American oystercatchers, likewise arriving very early this year, have been noted at several down-Island locations; Jeff Bernier, for example, photographed a pair on the sandbar visible from the Tisbury Marketplace parking lot.
Bob Shriber, glassing from Pilot’s Landing in Aquinnah last weekend, reported hundreds of razorbills streaming by. Oddly, there was no sign of this movement from vantage points in Oak Bluffs. I wonder if these birds stopped to rest somewhere in Vineyard sound or swung west and headed up the Cape Cod Canal. In any event, what Bob witnessed is an annual phenomenon. Small, dark, and generally flying fast and low, razorbills can be hard to spot, but their numbers can be truly impressive.
Andrea Hartman observed eight turkey vultures in West Tisbury on the March 11, and this species has been obvious in Vineyard Haven, as well. Bob Woodruff reported one dead barn owl and, more encouraging, a pair that he thinks are tending eggs at Hardscrabble Farm, West Tisbury. Red-tailed hawks, which like barn owls are permanent residents on the Vineyard, are courting actively and beginning to nest; look for their dramatic aerial courtship displays high overhead.
From Tara Whiting came a report of displaying woodcocks, and if you haven’t been out on a warm, calm evening to see these birds do their thing, then you’re missing a great show. The time to watch is after sunset (the birds typically start displaying just a few minutes before it gets too dark to see them), and woodcocks are worth checking for in any field that is near moist woodland. Tara also reported a golden-crowned kinglet retrieved, dead, from the grille of a car and noted a belted kingfisher on the Tisbury Great Pond. Tara lost a chicken to a Cooper’s hawk this week — happily, says Tara, the victim was a superfluous rooster that already had a date with the stew pot. The hawk, which got itself trapped in the coop, is lucky Tara has a modern sensibility about birds of prey!
This column surely speaks for the entire Island birding community in extending sympathy to the families of Julian Robinson, who passed away Feb. 24, and Ed Sibert, who died on March 5. Julian’s bird photos (most famously his outstanding shots of ospreys) and witty poems had become an Island institution, and Ed’s cheerful personality and unrivaled appreciation of the beauty of birds brightened many a Christmas Bird Count or morning at the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station. Both will be long remembered and greatly missed.
With improving weather and arriving birds, we’re entering one of the most rewarding times of year for Island birders. Make time to spend in the field, and please report what you find to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or, by e-mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org.