The time has come to write my annual piece on what to do with young critters, either feathered or furry, that you come across. Last weekend Prudy Whiting and I were walking on Hancock Beach and came across a young gray seal. At first we thought it was dead, but as we approached the youngster raised its head. We kept our distance and watched it for a while. The seal didn’t have any wounds or obvious problems except perhaps a gimpy left flipper. What to do?
We should start with what not to do. First and foremost, keep your distance and do not try to pat the seal. This is a wild animal and might be tempted to bite. Further, do not run to Larsen’s Fish Market and buy fish to feed the seal, nor bring it water to drink.
Observe the beast from afar and if you have a digital or other type of camera, take photos. Then go home and call the New England Aquarium at 617-973-5200, extension 4, for the marine mammal stranding hot line. Then listen carefully and follow their instructions: they may ask you for photos which should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The crew at the aquarium has a team on the Vineyard who will deal with strandings or injured marine mammals if that is the case.
I was told to photograph the young seal and e-mail them to the aquarium, which I did. They also asked me to report back if the seal was still on the beach the next morning and the next evening. The seal was gone the following evening, so there was no need for rescue. The animal was just loafing on the beach.
Now let’s change gears and think about what to do when you find a baby bird out of its nest. If the youngster has fluff, fuzz or no feathers, the best thing to do is find the nest and put the bird back in the nest. Birds do not have a good sense of smell and the parents will not reject their nestling because you have handled it. Now if the young bird has feathers and can hop around, it has probably fledged (left the nest) and is hopping around strengthening its legs, wings and all and practicing flight. Leave it be — it will be taken care of by its parents until it can achieve sustained flight.
If, on the other hand you find a nestling and cannot find the nest, try to clear the area of cats and dogs and curious children who might pick the bird up, then wait. The bird’s parents will eventually come once the coast has cleared.
Do not try to care for any baby bird by yourself as you most likely will do more harm than good. The United States has laws that make it illegal to keep any native wild species. This applies to mammals as well, so enjoy and let nature take care of herself; she has been doing so for a lot longer than we have been around.
Patrick Best helped one of the teams during the Felix Neck Birdathon and he found an egg near the osprey nest at the Oak Bluffs pumping station. Shortly after finding it, Patrick spotted a wild turkey.
Now which one laid that egg? The egg was taken to Felix Neck and it was determined that it was the wild turkey.
Rob Bierregaard sent an e-mail that was very encouraging. He is about to take the final census of osprey pairs on the Vineyard but feels that the total will be close to 70 pair and at least three housekeepers. Rob added that this will be close to a record as 75 was the highest count for breeders and housekeepers. We are waiting with bated breath. Phyllis and Bob Conway are pleased to report that they have a single male northern bobwhite hanging out around a stone wall by their Chilmark home. Phyllis added that he seems quite lonesome without a mate. Hopefully she is on eggs somewhere close. The Conways also have a pair of northern harriers nesting nearby as they are frequently seen dive-bombing American crows and turkey vultures.
Jay Jaroch was at his Chilmark home for the week between May 14 and 23 and spent much of his time birding. He spotted 11 species of warblers, the most noteworthy being a black-throated blue at Waskosim’s, a Cape May at Vineyard Gardens in West Tisbury and a Nashville in his yard which abuts Waskosim’s. Jay also had two male indigo buntings in his yard and two pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeders. Jay also has seen our Island flycatchers return including eastern kingbirds, eastern phoebes and eastern wood peewees.
And speaking of eastern kingbirds, Tim and Sheila Baird spotted five at Katama on May 21. However, their best bird and probably the best of the week was a dickcissel which they had at their feeder on May 21 and 22. This is an unusual bird for the Vineyard in the spring.
The Bairds keep careful track of the comings and goings of the Island brant. This year they saw the last four brant on May 19, which is four days later than their last sightings.
Rob Culbert has another good spring sighting on May 15. He spotted a blue-gray gnatcatcher on County Road in Oak Bluffs. Although this bird once nested on Tea Lane, it is not a common visitor in the spring. On May 25, Rob spotted a warbling vireo at the Oak Bluff pumping station along with the regulars.
Tom Rivers had a Blackpoll warbler and great crested flycatcher at his house on May 21. The same day Matt Pelikan and I spotted three willow flycatchers at Katama; either there are two pair and we missed seeing one, or one female and one male and soon there will be only one male.
Barbara Pesch and I found an eastern phoebe nest on the sign at Fulling Mill. On May 25, Pat Hughes joined us and we birded Great Rock Bite and had five species of warblers including large numbers of both male and female American redstarts and blue-winged warblers.
Prudy Whiting and I walked to Hancock Beach and spotted the gray seal and a yellow warbler, a male harrier carrying food and a red-tailed hawk.
Sally Anderson spotted a wood thrust at Waskosim’s on May 24 as well as a brown creeper and an Acadian flycatcher plus the regulars that have been mentioned in recent columns.
Lanny McDowell photographed a golden plover at Katama on May 27 and four red knots at the Norton’s Point breach on May 26.
Please report your bird sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and newly published Vineyard Birds II.