It was 5:30 a.m. and still barely light over Tisbury Great Pond. I noted motion over the pond and saw two birds chasing one another. Then I heard a distinctive rattle and realized that the silhouettes I was watching were two belted kingfishers. I put the kettle on and settled in to sip my tea and watch the sun come up. As dawn broke the two kingfishers raced by low to the pond, then they banked and rose up over the embankment and flashed a single broad breast band: two male kingfishers.
There has been a family of belted kingfishers around Tisbury Great Pond all summer and the chase I witnessed was one of three scenarios: the father chasing a son away, two male young of the year fooling around, or a migrant kingfisher being pushed out of the local kingfisher’s turf. It was too dark to determine if the blue-gray band across the chests of either bird was flecked with rust color. The young of the year show these rusty spots.
Belted kingfishers are also known as halcyon. Their Latin name Megaceryle alcyon means big kingfisher. Alcyon is a shortened version of Halcyon, who in Greek mythology was the daughter of the god of the winds, Aeolus. Halcyon married Ceyx, the son of morning star. As a couple, the were very impudent and called themselves Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the gods. As punishment, both Halcyon and Ceyx were changed into kingfishers.
Halcyons are solitary except when they are courting and raising a family. Their courtship involves the male offering the female food and uttering a strange mewing call. After they mate, both kingfishers perform a lovely flight as they stow their wings and dip to the surface of the water and then swing up and open their wings. Both male and female excavate a nest in a sandy bank. They use both their strong heavy bills and their spade-like feet to burrow into a bank to a depth of four to six feet. This endeavor can take up to three weeks where the bank is hard to dig. In this area the sand is loose and it takes only about three days.
The females lay around six white eggs and incubate them for 23 days. Then it takes another 23 days for the young to fledge and it is at this time the fledglings are at risk as they are not strong fliers.
It is fun to watch the parent kingfishers teach their kids how to fish. The adults drop meals in front of the perched youngsters to give them the idea of how to fish. (Another version of meals on wheels.) After about ten days, the young start hovering and diving for their own food.
The halcyons also fish from a perch, as I can readily attest to as I am frequently cleaning the Sunfish deck from deposits left by the kingfishers who choose the mast for their fishing perch.
The belted kingfisher is present on the Island year-round but is most common in April and May during spring migration and September and October for fall migration. If you hear a dry rattle from the sky while you are walking near the water, look out for the crested blue and white belted kingfisher.
Rob Culbert was greeted on Sept. 1 by a chorus of three or four red-eyed vireos at his Tisbury home. At Norton Point the same day, he and his weekly bird watching group, which meets every Saturday at 9 a.m., spotted a northern harrier and both barn and tree swallows along with the regular shorebirds. Rob and group did spot two late-staying juvenile piping plovers, a whimbrel and three Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrows as well.
On Sept. 6, Rob returned to Norton Point and spotted a merlin chasing a sanderling that luckily got away, and seven red knots. On Sept. 8, Rob took his group to Duarte Pond where they had many eastern wood pewees.
David Bramhall and Danny Bryant both called to say that there has been a red-tailed hawk roosting very close to their houses. David and Danny were both concerned that the hawk would go after their dogs. The hawk would have to be mighty hungry and enough rodents are around to keep the hawk full for the time being.
Marianne Flanagan called to report an adult and immature American oystercatcher at Lobsterville on Sept. 6. The oystercatchers are now a common sight on the Island as breeders and summer residents.
Rose Treat has had ruby-throated hummingbirds around her flowers at her Sengekontacket house all summer. She also has been interrupted by the sound of a northern flicker on her roof.
Dick Jennings continues to report goodies from his Trustees of Reservations tours at Chappaquiddick. This time it was a yellow-crowned night heron he spotted at Little Neck on Sept. 11. Dick also spotted the lone brant on Sept. 8 that the Keiths had seen earlier in the week. This is undoubtedly a crippled bird that stayed the summer in Cape Pogue Bay.
Allan Keith spotted two golden plovers at Herring Creek Farm at Katama on Sept. 10.
Tim and Sheila Baird still have hummingbirds at their feeder in Edgartown and we are jealous as the hummingbirds have left our feeders at Quansoo. The Bairds mentioned that both red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches as well as downy woodpeckers showed up in their yard on Sept. 10. The next day, a sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper’s hawk appeared in their yard. As Sheila noted, it’s the end of summer.
Ozzie Fischer also reported the appearance of red-breasted nuthatches in the last week and was pleasantly surprised to spot a hairy woodpecker in his yard two weeks ago.
Gus Ben David reported that he has been spotting Cooper’s hawks daily around the World of Reptiles and Bird Park and that he had a merlin fly through on Sept. 5.
Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon joined forces on Sept. 10 and birded Aquinnah, Lobsterville and the Gay Head Moraine property. At Aquinnah they spotted a great blue heron, bobolinks, two common yellowthroats, a lesser yellowlegs, a laughing gull and a Carolina wren. At the pond at Lobsterville/Lighthouse Road junction they spotted wood ducks, two solitary sandpipers and a wood thrush. At Gay Head Moraine they spotted a blue-winged warbler and finally at Lobsterville they spotted a cock pheasant.
Pete Gilmore was at Aquinnah the weekend of Sept. 8 and his only good bird was a blackpoll warbler. On Sept. 12, I joined Pete and his wife Kathy and Lanny McDowell for a short time at Aquinnah. We spotted a blue grosbeak, black-billed cuckoo, a Wilson’s warbler, bobolinks, cedar waxwings, a red-tailed hawk and an osprey.
Please report your sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922.