There has been a fallout of snowy owls on the Vineyard. It all started on Nov. 7 when one was spotted in the Squibnocket area. Now there have been sightings of this large and powerful white owl in Chilmark, West Tisbury, Edgartown and Chappaquiddick. Gus Ben David and I figure there have to be at least two different snowy owls on the Vineyard and possibly three.
Snowy owls are known to munch on lemmings. It is presumed that when the lemmings are scarce in the tundra, where both owl and rodents are usually found, the owls move to where food is more plentiful. However snowy owls don’t eat just lemmings, they will eat squirrels, rabbits and voles when inland. The snowy owls that visit the coast will actually feed on grebes, ducks and geese and even some songbirds.
Keep you eyes open and check South Beach, State Beach, East Beach on Chappaquiddick and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, you may have a chance to see this majestic white owl with it stunning yellow eyes.
It is time to catch up on the birds people have spotted during the month of November and into early December.
Laurie Walker and Sally Anderson were at Aquinnah on Nov. 11 and spotted northern parula, brown thrasher and two Baltimore orioles. On Nov. 17 Laurie Walker spotted a snow goose, Bonaparte’s gulls, northern gannets, a pied billed grebe and American widgeon.
Nov. 14 brought a hermit thrush to Nancy Palmer’s yard in Edgartown.
Menemsha had a super bird show up. On Nov. 17 Bette Carroll had a white-winged dove arrive at her feeder. The dove stayed for two days and most of the Carroll family was able to see the bird. This is only the fifth record of this tropical dove on the Island.
Nov. 19 John Nelson visited Crystal Lake in East Chop and watched a flock of 14 hooded mergansers. Off East Chop he counted 87 northern gannets, a flock of Bonaparte’s gulls, 14 long-tailed ducks, 82 buffleheads and one female peregrine.
Lanny McDowell spotted a marsh wren skulking around the reeds off the parking lot at Squibnocket on Nov. 24.
Patrick Best (age 10) was birding with Nancy Weaver on Lighthouse Road in Aquinnah on Nov. 26 when he spotted a late-staying osprey and pointed it out to Nancy. Good spot, Patrick!
Margaret Curtin, Patrick’s mother, counted five American coots at the Pumping Station in Oak Bluffs on Nov. 30.
Nov. 26 many people called in their bird sightings. Bird watching is a great way to work up an appetite for turkey it seems. John M. (one of our UPS drivers) called to say there was a snowy owl on what is called the Pepsi building at the airport. Roger Cook, who spotted the first snowy owl of the season back on Nov. 7, also saw the airport owl. The same day, Warren Woessner birded Squibnocket and found gadwall, American widgeon, one lesser scaup, two great blue herons, several Bonaparte’s gulls, northern gannets and a flock of purple sandpipers. Debby Carter called to report that she finally had tufted titmice at her Katama feeder as well as two red-bellied woodpeckers, dark-eyed juncos and red-breasted nuthatches. Debby and Jim Carter spotted a female eastern towhee on Nov. 28.
Gus Ben David watched four turkey vultures soaring overhead and a great blue heron passing over the World of Reptiles and Birds on Nov. 26.
Sue Silva reported that a fox sparrow appeared in her yard on Indian Hill Road on Nov. 26.
Larry Hepler called to report a snowy owl on the South Beach shore of Tisbury Great Pond on Nov. 27 and another family reported a snowy owl the same day at Oyster/Watcha Pond in Edgartown.
Phyllis and Bob Conway announced that they had a Northern oriole exploring their feeder on Nov. 30, probably looking for an orange.
Janet Norton finally has tufted titmice at her farm in Edgartown. She also had a male pintail at her farm pond on Nov. 27.
Flip Harrington and I went to Felix Neck on Nov. 27 to check on what we might see the next day during the Fall Festival. Our best birds were common goldeneye and swamp sparrow. The next day a good number of birders joined me, young and old. We had a fun walk and spotted about 25 species including hooded mergansers, brown creeper, hairy woodpecker, turkey vultures and a barn owl in the camcorder.
Hearing there was a snowy owl nearby, Lanny McDowell, Pat and Sally Hughes, Lainie Merritt, Hal Minis and I went to Black Point to try to spot the owl. We found a beautiful snowy owl in the dunes. It flew toward Quansoo and later Lanny found the bird again and photographed it. We also had spotted red-throated and common loons, northern gannets, great blue heron, American widgeon and ring-necked ducks, northern harrier, sharp-shinned and red-tailed hawks, sanderlings, dunlin, eastern bluebirds, savannah sparrow, snow buntings, eastern meadowlarks and a late-staying great egret which Lanny spotted again on Dec. 3 at Quansoo.
The next day Lanny and I were joined by Richard Cohen and Warren Woessner. We started at Black Point and struck out on the snowy owl and were looking at other species when the sleet started. We had the same shore birds as the day before as well as the loons and gannets.
Whit Manter had a great bird on Nov. 30, a male king eider off Squibnocket. He also spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker on Old Courthouse Road on Dec. 2.
Gus Ben David called to say that on Dec. 1 he received a call that a snowy owl had been hit by a car at Katama. Unfortunately the bird was killed. Gus is sure that the bird was the same bird that was at the airport. It was an immature male. It is being sent to the State Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bert Fischer counted 125 red-winged blackbirds, six common grackles and four tree sparrows around his yard in Aquinnah on Dec. 1.
Claudia Rogers reported that she spotted a great blue heron, two pair of hooded mergansers and black ducks at the end of Fuller street in Edgartown on Nov. 2.
Bob Woodruff had a yellow-bellied sapsucker in his yard in North Tisbury on Dec. 2 and the day before watched a great blue heron settle down for a short spell in pitch pine.
Finally Gus Ben David is frequently visited by raptors as he has a coop of racing pigeons. Dec. 4 he watched a Cooper’s hawk swoop down to try to catch a pigeon. The pigeons exploded into the air and luckily none were caught by the Cooper’s. That was in the early morning. The same scene occurred around noon — again the pigeons won. At 2:30 a large female peregrine falcon loomed on the horizon. The pigeons erupted and the peregrine took off and singled one bird out of the flock. Pigeons, Gus says, fly straight up trying to stay above the bird of prey so they can’t be killed. Gus watched the falcon and pigeon until they were out of sight. Gus had never seen the pigeon/hawk fly so high. We will never know if the pigeon got away! On the bright side, a dozen bluebirds are feeding on the pokeberry in Gus’s yard.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail 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 to Central and South America for 30 years.