I may have to change the name of this column to the raptor report. Great excitement on Chappaquiddick, first the Fowle family observed four merlins on August 14. Two were immature merlins. How did they know they were immature? One merlin was being fed by the adult female and the other was begging food and fluttering its wings. So the Chappaquiddick merlins fledged at least two birds!
Second, Dick Jennings and his Trustees of Reservations tour group on August 13 watched a peregrine falcon swooping along Wasque at a furious clip and carrying, of all things, a fish. Checking with my raptor experts Gus Ben David and Rob Bierregaard, neither of them had ever seen a fish carrying peregrine, but that both said it was very possible. Rob added that the peregrine probably stole the fish from an osprey.
Third, Victor Colantonio spotted an immature bald eagle out at Cape Pogue on August 15. Dawn Colantonio kindly called the bird hotline. The eagle was sitting on a dune and appeared to be having a balance problem. It would fly a few feet and land in a loopy way, falling when hitting the sand. It stayed in the area and Victor called Trustees of Reservations crew and Dick Jennings answered the call. He went out, checked the bird out and photographed it. Dick agreed that the bird wasn’t well and called Gus Ben David. Gus, Dick and Liz Baldwin, another Trustees naturalist, went out to Cape Pogue and captured the bird so that Gus could take it to the World of Reptiles and Birds to rehabilitate it and hopefully release the majestic bird back to the wild.
Frequently young birds don’t learn how to hunt right away and weaken. It was presumed that might be the case with the Cape Pogue eagle. However, once Gus had the bird in hand, he determined that it was a second-year bird so there was something else troubling the eagle. Gus said the bird was feeding well and so far seemed to be all right. It will take some time to determine what the cause of the eagle’s problems are and hopefully cure them so he can return to the natural world.
Fourth, six of the eight barn owl eggs at Felix Neck have hatched. Four of them hatched around August 13 and the rest since then. The four early hatchlings are still quite reptilian in looks, but are beginning to tear apart the food that the adults are bringing in. The smaller ones are still being pampered by the adults. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the cam to see the barn owl activities, you really have missed a fascinating experience.
The Chilmark Community Center bird walkers and I were at the Farm Institute on August 19 and watched a flock of bobolinks feeding on the corn. We spotted other birds as well, but the most interesting was a pair of very pale red-tailed hawks. The birds were sitting on the Farm Institute’s tractor at the end of the field nearest Katama Beach. We drove around to get a better view and were stunned at how pale they were. Their heads were almost entirely white, save a dark patch on their cheeks and their tails were a pale red. The backs of these two red-tails were mottled brown and white and their wings were shorter than their tails. If we had been in the Great Plain of the United States I would have identified these hawks as Krider’s morph of the red-tailed hawk. Again, I checked with my raptor experts, Gus Ben David and Rob Bierregaard and Rob Bierregaard and both said a Krider’s would be darn near impossible although the Vineyard has been the location of unusual bird sightings in the past (red-footed falcon being our most recent star). Gus added that older red-tailed hawks do fade with age and molting red-tails can also be oddly colored. Lastly I spoke with Matt Pelikan who said that there have been reports of a light plumage red-tailed hawk at Katama for the last couple of years. It seems that this bird reproduced and now there are two. In the end, no matter what, we spotted an unusually colored pair of red-tailed hawks.
Lanny McDowell counted 148 laughing gulls on Dogfish Bar at Aquinnah on August 17. On August 19 he spotted a peregrine falcon and a flock of bobolinks at the Farm Institute.
Rich Stanton from the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird Survey has noted banded shorebirds recently including a sanderling at Chilmark Pond and a ruddy turnstone at Harthaven. Rich also spotted a spotted sandpiper with young at Chilmark Pond on August 12.
Rob Culbert and group spotted a lesser yellowlegs and adult laughing gull at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs on August 16. At Thimble Farm they had killdeer and osprey overhead.
Bill Lee heard and spotted an eastern wood pewee, a hairy woodpecker and a possible least flycatcher on Flanders Lane on August 14 and a lesser yellowlegs, green heron and least sandpiper at West Basin in Aquinnah on August 16.
Two black skimmers were spotted on the Katama flats on August 14 and 16.
Lastly an Edgartown family had an unusual visitor in the form of a double-crested cormorant in their swimming pool! Luckily it didn’t stay long and was able to take off and find a body of water with fish to feed on.
Please report your bird sightings to the M.V. Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and newly published Vineyard Birds II and led bird tours for Osprey Tours for 30 years to Central and South America. In July and August she leads Bird Walks from the Chilmark Community Center on Tuesday mornings.