I hope you all had a merry Christmas and that you are now thinking about spending some time outside scouting different Vineyard habitats for birds. This is important because Jan. 3 is the day set we aside for the Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count.

Frank Chapman started the Christmas Bird Census in December of 1900. He was trying to encourage people to watch birds, not just hunt them. Over the years the Christmas Bird Count, as it has been called, has provided important data which has been a valuable tool for conservation.

The compilers on the Vineyard divide the Island into sections with a leader in each. That leader is given a team of volunteers who spend the day and sometimes part of the night, counting all the birds in their section. This data is then sent to National Audubon where it is available to scientists and lay persons alike. It is this collection of data from every state in the union as well as Canada, Mexico and areas in the Caribbean and Latin America that has made it possible for scientists to create a watch list (birds that are in trouble) and also a list of common birds in decline. Other scientists are analyzing the bird count data trying to figure out how global warming is changing birds’ behavior and distribution.

We can use help for the Vineyard bird count and if you are interested, have a pair of binoculars and are willing to give your time to spend in the field counting birds, contact Rob Culbert at 508-693-4908 or e-mail him at rculbert@gis.net. We also can use people reporting what they see at their feeders. You can call Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary (508-627-4850) and read your list of the birds seen at your feeder on Jan. 3 to our volunteer.

If you join us in the field you will meet some new people, see parts of the Vineyard you might not see otherwise and learn about the winter birds of the Vineyard.

Bird Sightings

Dyan Redick e-mailed to report an interesting sighting. Dyan has feeders at her West Tisbury home and a Cooper’s hawk swooped in without her knowledge. She heard a lot of racket near one of the pine trees 20 feet from the house. Dyan walked toward the screeching sound and found the Cooper’s hawk had a blue jay in its talons on the ground. When Dyan approached, the hawk dropped the blue jay and took flight. The blue jay shook itself off and flew up into the pines to live another day.

And speaking of survival, Penny Uhlendorf received a call from Marie Doebler of Pilot Hill Farm on Dec. 21 to say she had a dovekie in her yard! Luckily Scott Stephens was able to catch this little pelagic cousin to a razorbill and put him in the sound. The dovekie immediately started diving and swimming away. Scott and Penny knew that dovekies cannot take off from land, they must get to water to survive. Another bird was able to live another day. Scott Stephens spotted a yellow-breasted chat on Dec. 20 at the Tisbury waterworks.

Tim and Sheila Baird spotted a fox sparrow at their feeder on Dec. 13 and 20. A red-breasted nuthatch arrived in their yard Dec. 14. A chipping sparrow joined the fox and white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos on Dec. 20. On Dec. 22 Tim and Sheila were pleased to spot a pine siskin at their feeder. It had been a few years since their last siskin visit. Golden-crowned kinglets were in the Baird’s yard on Dec. 18.

Gus Ben David reports that his yard also has been visited by golden-crowned kinglets and that both he and his brother Julie Ben David have huge flocks of American goldfinches at their feeders. Gus counted 75 on Dec. 20. Gus added that there are sizeable flocks of greater scaup in both Major’s Cove and Edgartown Great Pond.

Lanny McDowell spotted 18 brant on the Vineyard Haven breakwater on Dec. 18 and up-Island he spotted a common yellowthroat in the Squibnocket parking lot.

Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon were birding in Tisbury on Dec. 19. They found a palm warbler downtown and hooded mergansers, greater yellowlegs and great blue herons in the pond by Maciel Marine.

Claudia Rogers was on Norton Point by the cut and spotted a green-winged teal in with the mallards and red-breasted mergansers. She also had a Bonaparte’s gull fly over, all on Dec. 20.

Jay Jaroch just e-mailed me a picture of an ovenbird on the snow in his yard near Waskosim’s Rock. This ties an old record for the same date in 1992. As Jay said, the bird is looking very cold and confused.

Please report your bird sightings to the bird hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to birds@mvgazette.com.


Susan B. Whiting is 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.