Tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 5 is the Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count. We hope for good weather, although last Saturday, Dec. 29, Nantucket had lousy weather and a good number of birds still were seen on that Island’s count.
Rob Culbert, Lanny McDowell, Flip Harrington and I went to Nantucket to help them with their Christmas Bird Count. Lanny flew over in the morning directly from the Vineyard to Nantucket, but Flip, Rob and I had to go through Hyannis. Thanks to the able staff at Cape Air, we were easily swept off the Vineyard-Hyannis flight and onto the Hyannis-Nantucket flight.
It was a gorgeous day, not a breath of wind and sunny. As we lifted off from the Vineyard airport, a gray ghost (male northern harrier) flew along our starboard side at close quarters. As we flew over the Vineyard and Nantucket sounds, we could see dots on the water which, undoubtedly, were sea ducks: eiders, scoters and long-tailed ducks.
We were greeted by Nantucket birders and taken to our hosts’ houses. We grabbed a dinner at a nearby restaurant and then went out to the University of Massachusetts Field Station where, thanks to co-compiler Edie Ray, we met the members of all the different teams and made plans for where to start and when. Technically the count would start at one minute past midnight. Nantucket is divided into six sections and Flip and I were assigned to an area around Surfside.
Unfortunately when we woke at around 5 a.m., it was pouring rain. That made it impossible to go out and try to lure in owls by mimicking their calls. We opted for a decent breakfast and then Ginny, our driver, picked us up and off we went to pick up Robert and bird our section. The rain was light enough so we could walk around in our rain gear, but the birds really were hunkered down and I can’t say that I blamed them. We worked very hard just to find what I call basic, everyday birds like white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees and American crows.
By 11 a.m., when we met at the Nantucket Airport for brunch, the members of the seaside teams had found a good number of species, but very few of each. We had missed some birds that had been seen the day before during the marvelous weather, which was irritating. At the end of the day we were wet and tired, but felt good that we had been able to help our neighboring Island complete their bird count.
We ate an early dinner and then returned to the field station to compare notes with the other Nantucket teams and find out exactly how many species we had seen. Slowly but surely everyone read off what they had seen while Ken Blackshaw entered the data into the computer. When all was done, the combined efforts of the Nantucket birders had seen 129 species. We felt that was pretty darned good considering the weather. It was clear from the totals that the numbers of each of these were way down from the previous year. One would hope that was just a function of the weather and not global warming or other environmental factors.
The following day we joined the Nantucket birders who meet every Sunday for a couple of hours of birding. It was a beautiful day — if only we had had that weather the day before! Our objective was to find birds that were not seen the day before. These species can be added to the Nantucket Christmas Count tally as those seen Count Week, but not on the actual day of the count.
Seventeen additional species were spotted on either the Friday or Sunday before or after the Nantucket count. They included a couple of goodies: western kingbird, little gull, red and white-winged crossbills, fish crow, and red knot. We also picked up some of the more common birds that we missed the day before including Eastern meadowlark, killdeer, and eastern phoebe.
The Vineyard birders enjoyed their time on Nantucket and it was a pleasure for me to see that Edith Andrews, who was the Christmas Bird Count compiler when I was many years ago, is still birding at age 92! Not only was Edith on the count, but also showed up Sunday morning.
Don’t forget the Christmas Bird Count for the Vineyard is on tomorrow, Saturday. We need people to check the birds at and around their feeders. Please keep a list and call in your results of what you have seen and how many. Bird feeder watchers should call in their reports between 2 and 4 p.m. to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-627-4850. We are particularly interested in hearing if you have seen bobwhite, Baltimore orioles or any of the winter finches including siskins, crossbills, and grosbeaks.