Joe, Elizabeth, Ingrid and Ian Jims, along with their dogs Brillo and Brawney, were walking on the land bank property at Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs when they spotted a weird purple bird.
Joe and his family were puzzled as they knew it was not a bird they normally see, so they called Richard Greene of West Tisbury. Richard couldn’t identify the mystery bird from Joe’s description, but when Joe sent Richard a fuzzy digital photo, Richard went to his bird book and figured it out. Joe had seen a purple gallinule. Richard knew the bird was rare and so called Lanny McDowell, who then set the Vineyard bird hot line in motion.
The Jims’s purple gallinule is the 12th record for this southern species on the Island. These colorful chicken-like birds usually occur on the Vineyard after a spring storm and then only hang around for a couple of weeks.
The purple gallinule loves marshes and other wetlands. They prefer fresh water to salt and also they choose to walk on floating vegetation rather than to swim. To communicate with each other, the purple gallinules sing to each other early in the morning. And surprisingly enough, the male and female have different songs to sing. They also have a series of clucks and cackles which they give when in flight or when surprised.
The breeding population of purple gallinules is located from South Carolina around the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. Rarely is this gallinule found nesting north of those areas and if so, just in small numbers. The purple gallinule moves to Central and South America in the winter, although purple gallinules are present in Florida year-round.
The purple gallinule is without a doubt the most colorful of the marsh inhabitants, so take some time to sneak a peak of this casual Vineyard visitor.
Wow, look what the winds brought us. The migrants came pouring in last week.
A couple of corrections first: the three pair of piping plovers that Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens spotted back in April were from Tashmoo, not the Lagoon. Also, after talking with Rob Bierregaard and Gus Ben David, the decision is that Pete Shea spotted a kettle of broad-winged hawks, not osprey back in April. The only time you get a number of ospreys together is when they are pushed together by geography — going through a mountain pass — or when young and adults are feeding together. Ospreys do not migrate together and do not form kettles.
Where to start on our bird influx? Local residents have moved back after a winter in the sunny south. But let us start with the more unusual.
The purple gallinule is the best bird of the week, spotted first on May 4 and still seen on May 7.
The summer tanager that was at Sally Anderson’s feeder finally left on May 3. Pete Gilmore watched and listened to a northern waterthrush singing its heart out at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on May 3. Marie Scott had a white-eyed vireo singing on South Road in Chilmark on May 7. Matt Pelikan spotted a black-throated green warbler on May 5 and a lovely chestnut-sided warbler on May 6, both on East Chop. Joan Jenkinson had a male bobolink at her feeder on North Road in Chilmark on April 30. Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens had a female indigo bunting at their feeder on May 2.
Allan Keith spotted a blue-gray gnatcatcher at Squibnocket and a yellow-breasted chat singing at the Head of the Lagoon both on April 30. On Vineyard Sound, Allan watched a common murre fly next to the ferry on May 5. He also counted 15 common loons and 12 red-throated loons moving north down the Sound the same day.
Rose breasted grosbeaks were seen by people both up and down-Island starting May 1, although most were spotted on May 3, including males in Edgartown and West Tisbury spotted by Robin Gray and Luanne Johnson respectively.
Baltimore orioles fell out of the sky last week by the zillions. The orioles started showing up on May 3. They were reported from every town on the Island except Aquinnah. Patricia Donovan of Vineyard Haven wins the prize. She had a flock of 10 Baltimore orioles on the oranges she had put in her yard on May 5. She also had a scarlet tanager the same day. Lanny McDowell and Matt Pelikan also reported the arrival of orchard orioles in their West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs yards.
Both tree and barn swallows are back. Sally Anderson spotted the swallows over the Oak Bluffs pumping station on May 5.
The terns have returned. Allan Keith spotted a lone least tern at Norton’s Point on April 27 and John Nelson counted 26 common terns along with three willets at Sengekontacket Pond on May 7.
Brown thrashers started arriving on May 1. Allan Keith heard one singing at Squibnocket. Rob Evans and his wife spotted two on Old Farm Road in Chilmark on May 4, and Sally Anderson had one at Farm Pond on May 5.
Gray catbirds are amazingly prompt. They almost always arrive near May 1. On May 5, Sally Anderson spotted one at the Oak Bluffs pumping station. Tim and Sheila Baird had two on May 6 at their Edgartown home and Andrea Hartman had three in her West Tisbury yard the same day.
Warblers are moving back for the summer. Birders started seeing these birds on April 30. Allan Keith had an American redstart at Squibnocket. Sally Anderson spotted prairie and black and white warblers at Waskosim’s Rock. The next day, Scott Stephens spotted the same warblers plus a northern parula and a blackpoll warbler, while Sally Anderson picked up a yellow warbler at the Oak Bluffs pumping station.
The last of the yellow-rumped warblers are moving north. Sally Anderson had several at the pumping station on May 1 and Patricia Donovan spotted one in Vineyard Haven on May 5.
Basil Welch and Coco Adams watched an incredible show of diving northern gannets off Squibnocket on April 30 and Emily Wilmerding watched an immature gannet diving in Vineyard Sound on May 2.
Please report your sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922.