The internet is a great boon to birders. We can share our sightings daily, or if you are really intent, hourly. The net is also a way to keep birders honest.
Last week I mentioned that J. Burris might not have seen a snowy owl at the Herring Creek in Katama as it is late for this northern visitor. I received two e-mails and a call to say, one, that a snowy owl was photographed at Pt. Judith, Rhode Island on March 20 (thanks Hank Golet), and, two, Kendra and Oona Buresch spotted a snowy owl on the backside of a dune on the west side of Edgartown Great Pond (Jobs Neck Cove) on March 13, and finally that Lee and Fred Domont spotted a snowy owl off Atlantic avenue in Katama on the 15th. So, I shall eat a little crow and apologize to J. Burris. There was a snowy owl still around the beaches and fields of Katama on March 17. It may have flown to Pt. Judith from there!
As a matter of review, both the snowy and barn owls are white in flight. The male snowy owl is pure white with piercing yellow eyes. The female snowy owl is white with dark stripes on her chest, back and top of her head. She also has piercing yellow eyes. The snowy owls stand about two feet tall, have short legs and have a wing span of about four and one half feet.
The barn owl has a heart-shaped face. The male has a white chest and face but a buff and grey back and long legs. He has jet black eyes. The female barn owl has a white face, a buff breast and back and long legs. She also has jet black eyes. The barn owl is only 16 inches tall and has a wing span of three and one half feet.
In flight is the time that these owls can be confused. It you see one sitting and check their eyes and backs, there will be no doubt as to which owl you are seeing.
And speaking of owls, the report from Marion Hammond at Felix Neck is that the barn owls have mated and the female laid her first egg on March 19. The public is welcome to come and see it on the webcam at Felix Neck. Other news from the Neck is that the annual birding fundraiser, the Bird-a-thon, will be held between 6 p.m. May 15 through 6 p.m. May 16. For more information, go online to firstgiving.com/suzanbellincampi or firstgiving.com/junstenwalker.
American oystercatchers have been spotted in a couple of areas. Lee and Fred Domont saw their first pair of the season at Sengekontacket on March 11. John Nelson had a pair at Harthaven on March 21 and also a greater yellowlegs at the Bend in the Road at Sengekontacket on the same day. Liz Baldwin spotted a single bird at Menemsha Basin on March 23 along with a piping plover. She also spotted an osprey over the Menemsha Pond the same day.
Laurisa and Tim Rich saw their first osprey of the season on March 18 on the Aquinnah/Chilmark line. A day later Margaret Curtin spotted her first of the season osprey at the head of the Lagoon on March 19. She joked that usually the ospreys follow the trout truck and arrive one minute after the truck has dumped its load of fish. However the Lagoon hadn’t been stocked yet. Guess the osprey was jumping the gun.
Allan Keith, newly back from Virgin Gorda, Virgin Islands, added two new birds to his Virgin Gorda list, an English sparrow and a Eurasian collard dove. Both are birds that have been introduced to the United Stated and have spread far and wide. At home at Turtle Brook Farm, Allan noted that the female pintail is still in the farm pond as of March 24.
Lanny McDowell and Rob Culbert both had pine siskins return to their feeders after being absent for quite a while. Rob had the siskins at his Tisbury feeder on the 21st and 22nd and Lanny at his West Tisbury feeder on the 24th. Lanny also noted that the yellow-rumped warblers are gleaning suet scraps now as they convert these goodies into body fat for their migration north to their nesting grounds.
Matt Pelikan mentioned that he had seen several Cooper’s hawks in the last few days, so they are probably moving north. At the Lambert’s Cove office of the Nature Conservancy, Matt spotted a brown creeper on March 19 and heard a golden crowned kinglet on March 24.
Tim and Sheila Baird had a female brown-headed cowbird show up at their Edgartown feeder on March 19. At the other end of the Island Amy Sapp and Gary Haley of Aquinnah have had quite a collection of blackbirds around their feeder in the last couple of weeks. They have had common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, both male and female, European starlings and brown-headed cowbirds. They also had a couple of mystery blackbirds show up on March 21 and are trying to determine whether they were rusty or Brewer’s blackbirds. Both would be good birds — the rusty’s becoming very rare in this country and the Brewer’s more common west of the Mississippi, although we have a handful of records for the Island, but usually single birds. Amy and Gary have their camera ready if the mystery blackbirds appear again. Also at the Sapp/Haley feeder are as many as 20 northern cardinals!
A great e-mail arrived from Nancy Huntington of Scotchman’s Lane. I hate to bring up the breeding behavior of turkeys again after last summer’s escapade, but this was fascinating. Nancy for the last week has been watching a tom turkey circling her station wagon, always counterclockwise, and pecking at his reflection in the inch-wide chrome strip on the front bumper and side of the car, which is at turkey eye level. The tom turkey pecks away, accompanied by occasional elaborate tail displays and gobbling for about a dozen times, then retreats to the shrubbery in Nancy’s yard where the hen turkeys are foraging and paying no attention to the tom. I checked with Gus Ben David and he said this was a common phenomenon in turkeys during mating season. These toms are essentially attacking their rivals. Gus added that in some cases they will attack their reflection in shiney cars and can cause damage to vehicles. If anyone has this problem they can either cover the cars with a blanket or car cover or try to divert the turkey’s attention to “another rival” by putting a mirror in another place at eye level. Thanks Nancy and Gus!
Please report your bird sightings to the MV 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 Vineyard Birds II. She leads walks for the Chilmark Community Center and trips for Osprey Tours to Central and South America.