Bonaparte’s gulls are some of my favorite birds. These birds, unlike their larger cousins, are a delicate small gull, found in the harbors and close to shore in Vineyard and Nantucket sounds and off South Beach. The best place to see the Boneys, as these gulls are called, is along the sea wall in Vineyard Haven harbor. Look for a small grey gull with a very white band on the leading edge of its wings. Sporting a very petite black bill and a black dot behind his eye, the bird is hard to miss.
The Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count will be held on Jan. 3, so save that date and contact Rob Culbert at 508-693-4908 if you wish to volunteer.
Tufted titmice are taking hold Islandwide. Tom Rivers reports that he and Barbara have had three of these grey crested seedeaters daily at their Tea Lane, Chilmark feeder for three months. Tim and Sheila Baird watched a tufted titmouse arrive at their yard feeder in Edgartown on Nov. 1. These were firsts for both families.
Tim and Sheila Baird have a small flock of house finches that come to their feeder, as many of us do. On Dec. 2, however, they spotted an orange variant house finch. House finches are normally red on the head and chest, but can come in orange and yellow versions, which are called variants. Researchers found that the color of house finches is determined by diet. If the food that the male house finch eats is high in carotenoid pigment, it grows in feathers that are red. If, on the other hand, their diet was high in beta carotene, the feathers take on an orange or yellow color. Yet again proof that you are what you eat! The Bairds had a female purple finch arrive on Dec. 4 and a snow goose flew over their house on Dec. 8.
The best bird of the week was a rusty blackbird which visited Tim and Sheila Baird’s feeder on Dec. 3. This blackbird is becoming increasingly rare due to habitat destruction. The same day, the Bairds watched a Cooper’s hawk land on their shelf feeder, sending all their song birds helter-skelter. The hawk stretched his wings, looked around as if he owned the place and then took off. It was a while before the birds returned to the feeder.
Tom Rivers had a hermit thrush in his Chilmark yard on Dec. 5 and a great blue heron just before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the great blue found the Rivers’ goldfish pond and while Tom and Barbara were gone to the mail, it pigged out and left only one goldfish in the pond. Dec. 7, Tom went out to check the grey feathers that were what was left of a bird that had been lunch for a Cooper’s hawk when he slipped and broke his leg. We send wishes for Tom’s speedy recovery and were glad to hear that Tom figures that the bird that had met its demise was a junco, not a titmouse.
Suzan Bellincampi reports from Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary that she heard and spotted a screech owl the evening of Dec. 4 and two days later she watched a flock of eastern bluebirds in the Felix Neck fields. The same day, Flip Harrington spotted two Wilson’s snipe, a great blue heron, a great egret, and two eastern meadowlarks at Black Point in Chilmark. On Dec. 3 he spotted a cock ring-necked pheasant at Seven Gates Farm in West Tisbury.
Another good bird for the week was a short-eared owl spotted by Flip Harrington the evening of Dec. 6. Margaret Curtin walks her dog and watches birds at the pumping station in Oak Bluffs frequently. On Dec. 5, she spotted American coots, belted kingfisher and a shy but beautiful pair of wood ducks.
On Dec. 6 Lanny McDowell, Pete Gilmore and I joined forces to do some birding. A list of our best birds included four pied billed grebes, American coots, wood ducks, and American widgeon at the pumping station. At Vineyard Haven harbor we had a nice flock of Bonaparte’s gulls. Matt Pelikan mentioned seeing the same group and was surprised to see them diving underwater in the harbor. Their usual feeding behavior is picking food from the water’s surface. At East Chop, Lanny, Pete and I spotted long-tailed ducks, common goldeneye and great cormorants, but the best birds were three razorbills feeding close to shore. We continued on to Farm Pond where we had a nice flock of hooded mergansers and bufflehead and on the shore we had purple sandpipers.
Ozzie Fischer reported having an oriole at his feeder on Dec. 3. There was some discussion about which species, so on Dec. 5 Allan Keith stopped by and found two Baltimore orioles at Ozzie’s feeder. The same day, Allan went to Black Point and found that the great egret and ring-necked ducks were still there, as well as a good sized flock of green-winged teal. At Quansoo he spotted a black-crowned night heron and a cock ring-necked pheasant.
Pansan Beattie of Oak Bluffs called in to say she spotted a huge long-legged wader in her frog pond on Dec. 4. After a nice conversation we determined it was a great blue heron.
A great hawk sighting was made by Lanny McDowell and John Anderson at Wasque on Dec. 8. Lanny spotted a rough-legged hawk flying overhead and stopped to get a good view of it. Nice spot, Lan. They also spotted a long-tailed duck off the south shore.
Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon were at Squibnocket on Dec. 6 and found a red-necked grebe and harlequin ducks. In the thickets around Chilmark Pond they spotted a brown thrasher and two belted kingfishers.
Lynn Silva reported flushing a covey of 10 to 12 bobwhites at Quenames. We hope they make it through the winter.