Hippie, beatnik, bohemian are all words that have been used to describe someone who is different than the norm. Other definitions of the adjective bohemian are wanderer or vagabond. And that is exactly what is occurring in Massachusetts with a particular bird which was given a perfect name: bohemian waxwing.
On Dec. 18, Allan Keith spotted a bohemian waxwing in with a flock of cedar waxwings in the crab apples near the Cow Barn at the Polly Hill Arboretum. The word went out and many of us went over to see this western species. Then Lanny McDowell found one of these vagabonds in the West Tisbury Cemetery and two over at the Polly Hill Arboretum on Dec. 21.
The word got out off-Island of our find, but it was vastly overshadowed by the 710 bohemian waxwings that were counted on the Cape Ann Christmas Bird Count that took place Saturday, Dec. 22. More reports have come in from Cape Cod as well as Cape Ann. Off-Island ornithologists noted that “nothing close to the numbers currently being noted on the North Shore and on Cape Cod (and the Island) have ever been recorded in Massachusetts previously.” Because the bohemian waxwing invasion has been on the North Shore and the Cape and Islands the thought is that the birds were pushed down south from Maine or the Canadian Maritimes.
Why are these waxwings in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes? Well, they are a Holarctic species which means they are from the northern sections of the New World (Nearctic) and Old World (Palearctic). The bohemian waxwings breed and nest in Alaska and parts of northwestern Canada. They migrate south into the northern western United States in the fall and in certain years flocks venture over to the Canadian Maritimes and Maine.
Both cedar waxwings and bohemian waxwings are addicted to fruit. A flock of waxwings can wipe out a tree full of crab apples faster that Santa can come down the chimney. When the bohemian waxwings do appear in Massachusetts, they are found with cedar waxwings. Lucky for us birders, the bohemian waxwing is larger than the cedar waxwing and has an all-gray breast instead of the pale yellow of the adult cedar waxwings. In both species the immatures are streaked, but the size difference is obvious.
If you want to walk off a little turkey, try hiking from the parking lot at the Polly Hill Arboretum over the field to the crab apples by the Cow Barn and check out the flock of cedar waxwings for a bigger bohemian waxwing — a nice Christmas present for beginning or advanced birders.
Don’t forget the Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 5. We need people to call in what they have seen at their feeders. Please call in your reports to Felix Neck between noon and 4 p.m. on Jan. 5 at 508-627-4850.
James Santacroce called to say he and friends spent Dec. 10 through 14 birding and hunting on Chappaquiddick. He mentioned the lack of red-breasted mergansers that Gus Ben David and crew noted the week before. They also spotted a merlin and several sharp-shinned hawks as well as all the regular waterfowl. James and crew also were surprised by the large number of northern cardinals on Chappaquiddick.
Bert Fischer spotted three drake pintails, a pied billed grebe and a female wood duck around Squibnocket in Aquinnah on Dec. 14. He also has two common grackles at his feeder.
On Dec. 17, Suzie Bowman spotted a female pintail in with the mallards at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.
On Dec. 19, I had a common redpoll at our feeder at Quenames, Chilmark. The next day Deborah Swanson spotted a common redpoll at her feeder at Black Point, Chilmark.
Eric Peters of Vineyard Haven has joined the ranks of folks that have resident sharp-shinned hawks in their yard.
On Dec. 20, Bert Fischer had 14 common grackles and a fox sparrow at his feeder in Aquinnah.
Mathew Dix had an evening grosbeak at his feeder at North Tabor Farm in Chilmark on Dec 21.
Charlie Finnerty had 12 common redpolls and an evening grosbeak at his feeder on Tea Lane on Dec. 24. That might be the same bird that Mathew Dix had. Charlie also has had a partially leucistic black-capped chickadee at his feeder in recent months. This chickadee has white head feathers.
Judy Grain from Oak Bluffs called to report five eastern bluebirds in her yard on Dec. 22.
Hope you had a Merry Christmas. The bird hot line number is 508-627-4922. Please call in your sightings.