Whoa, Vineyard birders have quite a challenge ahead of them. The Nantucket Christmas Bird Count was conducted last weekend and the unofficial total was 134 species! Ouch — we are going to have to work long and hard to match or hopefully beat that total. We are definitely at the mercy of the weather, so let’s hope Mother Nature is good to us.

The highlights of the Nantucket count were: yellow rail (for the second year in a row, I might add), dovekie, American woodcock, cattle egret, brown thrasher, long-eared owl, pine siskin, common redpolls, American pipits, vesper sparrow and four species of warblers (pine, palm, yellow-rumped and common yellowthroat). One interesting sighting was of a peregrine falcon that was fitted with a satellite transmitter. Seems Rob Bierregaard isn’t the only person who wants to know where young hawks migrate to after they leave the nest.

We have several very good field teams this year comprised of on and off-Island birders. We also are asking for people to help the Vineyard Christmas Count by becoming a feeder counter: wWe are hoping many of the folks that have feeding stations or a feeder or two will fill these to the brim on Jan. 3, 2009. All you have to do to qualify as a Vineyard CBC feeder counter is write down what you have seen Jan. 3 and then, after 1 p.m. to please call the crew at Felix Neck Wildlife Trust (508-627-4850) and report your sightings. We want that list to include all birds, including the common black-capped chickadees and northern cardinals, as well as the descriptions or photos of birds that you don’t know. Over the years many of our best surprises have been birds reported by the feeder counters. Unusual sparrow species, pine siskin and common redpolls are a few species feeder counters should be on the lookout for.

The count will start officially at one minute past midnight on Jan. 3 and go until midnight the same day. A couple groups will go out in the evenings and hopefully find owl species. The rest of us will be in the field at sunrise and will bird until there is no more light. Field teams should keep an eye out for northern shrike, black-headed gull, great egret and tree swallows to name a few.

We will gather to conduct a count down — the birds seen by each team — and come up with a tentative total. Later the compiler will have to add the feeder count information. Rob Culbert is the official compiler for the Vineyard CBC, and if you want to volunteer to join a field team, give him a call at 508-693-4908. It is unnecessary to call to do a feeder count, just contact the Felix Neck crew with you list.

Bird Sightings:

Dec. 18, Rob Culbert went to Black Point and spotted a northern shrike, a Bonaparte’s gull and a black-headed gull. No other person was able to spot the black-headed gull unfortunately.

Dec. 20, Whit Manter had a vesper sparrow at his West Tisbury feeder. Allan Keith and Lanny McDowell were able to see the bird before it left.

Dec. 22, 15 ring-necked ducks were seen by Allan Keith in Uncle Seth’s Pond. The next day Allan and Winkie Keith spotted a peregrine falcon at Gay Head, nine purple sandpipers at Squibnocket and six field sparrows at their Chilmark feeder. Dec. 26 at Squibnocket Pond Allan Keith tallied eight gadwall, 20 hooded mergansers, one American widgeon a great blue heron. At Menemsha he added a belted kingfisher. Dec. 27 while I was on the phone with Allan, Winkie spotted two snow geese in the field along with a flock of Canada geese at Turtle Brook Farm. Allan added that one was an adult and one an immature.

Tom Rivers pointed out an interesting phenomenon. It seems that birds can sense when bad weather is imminent. They come into feeders and practically Hoover seed at such a rate that one can see the level go down in your feeders. Tom had a good variety of birds, including tufted titmice, at his feeder on Dec. 22, but also spotted a gray catbird at the corner of Tea Lane and North Road on Dec. 19. On Christmas Day, Tom drove down to Squibnocket Beach and spotted a white-winged gull. He was pretty sure it was an Iceland Gull, but due to being incapacitated with a broken leg, he was unable to get close to the bird. He also spotted a light morph rough-legged hawk over Quitsa the same day. Dec. 27 brought a yellow-breasted chat into the Rivers’ Tea Lane yard.

Dec. 21, Dale Carter counted 20 brant in Ocean Park, Oak Bluffs. Jan Pogue was excited to see what she thought were two ring-necked pheasants in her Edgartown yard. As owner/operator of Vineyard Stories, she had a copy of Vineyard Birds 2 and read that they were unusual and therefore e-mailed me. Thanks Jan — good spotting and good research!

Warren Woessner spent a bit of time Dec. 23 birding down at Mattakesett. On the flats on the Katama end of Norton’s Point he spotted a Forster’s tern on the flats with the usual shorebirds. This is the second latest record for this tern according to Vineyard Birds 2. Warren also had a snow goose at the Farm Institute the same day.

Lanny McDowell and David Stanwood tried to find the black-headed gull at Black Point Dec. 25. They didn’t find the gull, but did, unfortunately find a barn owl which had died. The bird will be taken to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. On the 29th Warren birded Squibnocket and was treated to sightings of tree swallow. At Menemsha he had a quick look at a black-legged kittiwake that was chased away by ring-billed gulls.

Claudia Rogers was still seeing a great blue heron at the end of Fuller street on Dec. 25. She also spotted a northern harrier and a turkey vulture at Katama the same day.

Coco Adams was walking around the back of her and Basil Welch’s house in Chilmark on Dec. 19 when she saw a bird fluttering in the leaves. She went and fetched Basil and the two of them determined that they had a stranded Dovekie. They shoed it into their pond and the next day it was gone. Undoubtedly there was enough water in Basil’s pond so the dovekie could take off and hopefully return to sea. Basil also mentioned that there was a female pintail in with the mallards on his pond.

Valerie Sonnenthal of Edgartown called to say that when she went for a walk along Little Beach on Dec. 26 and spotted a stunning snowy owl on the beach near Cow Bay.

Happy new year!


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

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.