Late spring can be an interesting time for Vineyard birders. Although the migration of dicky-birds as well as shore birds, waterfowl and hawks has finished for the season, there are always surprises. The sandhill crane that appeared last week isn’t a bird one would expect to see during a normal Vineyard spring migration. The return of the nesting pair of merlins on Chappaquiddick, which were reported by Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings on May 14, is an ornithological dividend. Lanny McDowell, Allan Keith, Pete Gilmore and I saw one of the merlins on May 23 and located the nest following Rob and Dick’s directions. The merlins are quite defensive and are probably already on eggs. These will take around a month to hatch and then the young merlins will need a month to mature enough to take wing. It is interesting that these merlins returned to the same area where Mary Adelstein and Margaret Fowle first saw them in early June 2008. We are still the only location for nesting merlins in Massachusetts! We hope our merlins will be as successful as last year.
Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings conducted the first survey of the Island’s osprey poles over the long weekend of May 14 to 17. They discovered that there are 65 active nests with eight poles being used by housekeeping pairs. This is down five pairs from last year.
If you have been watching Rob’s Web site you can have some idea why the Vineyard has lost five pairs of these fish hawks. Rob has tagged 30 birds and not one has returned to breed here on the Vineyard. We know that four of these ospreys have been shot in the Dominican Republic over fish farms and as Dick Jennings noted, that is just the ones we know about. Rob’s Web site (bioweb.uncc.edu/Bierregaard/ospreys) shows the migratory routes of the birds Rob has fitted with transmitters. These trips are perilous at best and are completed yearly.
We have a pole near our house on the Tisbury Great Pond which is bare. When I asked why it wasn’t occupied I received a long reply from Dick Jennings which basically said there are 10 osprey poles around Tisbury Great Pond; only two are active and one has housekeepers on it. The poles that have active nests have been occupied for quite some time. The remaining poles would theoretically become occupied by fledglings which were raised around the pond area in previous years. Unfortunately the two pond nests probably produce only two birds each year (if that). Migration takes its toll on young birds so it will take a good long time to fill all the empty nests on the pond. We can wait.
Audrey and Michael Straight wondered why they had a pair of housekeeping osprey on their Quitsa pole last year and then again this year. It seems that osprey housekeepers, which are essentially teenagers, need at least two years to decide whether they are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a family. So hopefully the Straights’ pair will make it back again next year and be together enough to raise young.
Conomo is a young osprey from the Lobsterville nest that was fitted with an older transmitter that does not give GPS data. We had hoped he would be back by now but he is taking his sweet time. After strange detours from Cuba to the Florida Panhandle and through Alabama, Conomo is in Connecticut in a location close to the triangle that is formed where Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island meet. I hope Conomo decides to use the pole by our house on Tisbury Great Pond, but he will probably find a vacant pole in Aquinnah near where he was born.
A few interesting late-moving migrants seen include a white-throated sparrow at the Quenames feeder on May 14. Susan Shea had a snowy egret at Quitsa on May 18.
Pete Gilmore and Allan Keith spotted a male orchard oriole at the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station on May 22. The same day Katharine Colon, Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore heard and spotted a bay-breasted warbler at the same location. Allan Keith spotted a male black-throated blue warbler at Squibnocket later the same day.
On May 23 and 24 Pete Gilmore heard whippoorwills off Old County Road between 8:30 and 9 p.m.. Flip Harrington and I finally spotted a rose-breasted grosbeak at our Chilmark feeder on May 23.
Lanny McDowell, Allan Keith, Pete Gilmore and I birded Cape Pogue and Wasque on May 23. Our best birds were a Canada warbler and a salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow.
On May 24 Marianne Thomas, Barbara Pesch and I checked out the Gay Head Moraine property for late migrants and were not disappointed as we spotted a magnolia warbler. We also heard scarlet tanagers.
Allan Keith had four purple sandpipers at Squibnocket on May 25. This is getting late for these shorebirds. He also had a male orchard oriole singing its heart out at Squibnocket and also a willow flycatcher. Allan spotted two great egrets at Menemsha the same day. On May 26 Allan had a wood pewee at Highmark in Chilmark and two blackpoll warblers at the Gay Head Moraine.
Felix Neck’s barn owl box now boasts five fluffy owlets. On May 22 a chimney swift flew over the Neck and many of the nest boxes have families of tree swallow. Suzan Bellincampi is pleased to announce that the Bird-a-thon has raised close to $4,000 for Felix Neck. We should try for double that next year.
Please report your bird sightings to the bird hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.