The Vineyard weather has been the pits, so I hear. I flew to Florida to join Flip to bring our boat back to the Vineyard. While you have been under gray skies and drizzle, we have been running in hot and humid weather. The temperatures inside the boat have hovered around 93 degrees. The water temperatures have been 82 degrees in the Intracoastal Waterway and 76 degrees offshore. The nights have been cooler bringing the boat’s interior temperature down in the 80’s.
Our trip has been fascinating, weather aside. We have been traveling both inside (in the ICW) and outside (Atlantic Ocean) depending on the weather and the boat’s idiosyncrasies. We always have our binoculars nearby and try to find at least one new species of bird each day. At the beginning that is easy, but as we travel north (actually east) we have trouble finding something new.
So far our best bird was seen early on in the trip. We were along the western edge of the Gulf Stream off Vero Beach, Florida when Flip spotted what, at first glimpse, he thought was a shearwater. Flip showed me where the bird was so I could verify what he saw. We changed our heading and approached the bird. Neither of us was comfortable with calling it a shearwater. We stayed with the bird and between bird books, binoculars and field marks we finally decided that what we were seeing was a black-capped storm petrel. Neither Flip nor I had ever seen this pelagic species before, so it was a “lifer” for both of us. Great start.
Our boat started acting queerly so we headed in shore to analyze the problem. Northern gannets, brown pelicans and royal terns reeled overhead along with one magnificent frigatebird. The bird life changed as we entered Sebastian Inlet. Now least terns fluttered over the flats hunting small fish. We were stunned at how low the tides were until we realized it was the summer solstice. The low, low tides provided acres of flats for tricolored and great blue herons, great and snowy egrets to feed on. One day we were pleased to watch a reddish egret dancing on the flats holding its wings out, forming a shadow and scaring small fish into a school so the egret could easily catch a meal.
A family of mottled ducks (the black ducks of Florida and the Gulf Coast) swam across in front of us near the end of the Florida section of the ICW. One day while I was making sandwiches, Flip hollered swallow-tailed kite off the starboard bow. Sure enough at eye level flying along the ICW near St. Augustine was the black, white and grey swallow-tailed kite. These elegant kites eat flying insects, snakes and lizards primarily. So the kite we saw was either hunting the dragonflies that were along the water’s edge or skimming water to drink in the same fashion as swallows. Certainly the closest we had ever come to a swallow-tailed kite!
We were surprised that virtually no shorebirds were present on the flats. Obviously they had migrated north to their tundra breeding grounds. The shell mounds and oyster bars did boast American oystercatcher pairs in northern Florida and Georgia. White blobs perched in trees became white ibis as we passed close at hand while larger white blobs in the marshes turned into wood storks. Pink lumps on the flats turned into roseate spoonbills swinging their bills back and forth to glean a meal of plankton at close quarters. A couple of Sandwich terns flew by one afternoon while we traversed one of the Georgia Sounds.
The land birds were harder to see, although the marshlands harbored many boat-tailed grackles and red-winged blackbirds. Fish crows announced their presence in a nasal sounding ark, ark. Purple martins hunted over the fields and perched atop masts in the marinas. Under the bridges we had rock pigeons and perched on power lines we spied an intruder, the Eurasian collared dove. This dove was introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970’s. By 1982 it had started colonizing Florida and has moved west and north. The Eurasian collared dove is thought by some to fill a niche that was vacated when the passenger pigeon become extinct. The collared dove does not seem to compete with our mourning doves or the rock pigeons.
The waterway markers (the ICW buoys) all seemed to boast osprey nests and most with young. Turkey vultures play in the thermals created by the intense heat. As we sit in Charleston, South Carolina waiting for another part for our boat, we are able to watch laughing gulls hawking insects and, one of our favorites, the black skimmers gracefully skimming the top of the water catching minnows with their lower mandibles. The heat doesn’t seem to affect the bird life — why are we so hot? We don’t have down or feathers?
Not much to report due to the weather. Dale Carter mentioned she had a funky nest in her kayak. Left standing against her clothesline over the winter, Dale discovered a Carolina wren nesting behind the seat. The wren produced two broods and therefore made it impossible for Dale to use her kayak for most of the summer!
Happy and Steve Spongberg have been housebound by the inclement weather. They have, however, been watching black-capped chickadees carefully selecting certain fibers from their sisal doormat. The chickadees are undoubtedly “hand picking” the strands for their nests.
Al Post spotted two American oystercatchers on Little Beach in Edgartown on June 20. He also mentioned that he has seen many more northern cardinals than he remembers both on the Vineyard and in Vermont.
Janet Woodcock called to say she had a pair of great crested flycatchers nesting in a bird box in the woods near her house in Tisbury.
Sue Bowman mentioned seeing more yellow warblers than she had remembered. I checked with Massachusetts Audubon and other birders in the state and discovered that the yellow warbler population is the same. It is steady and has not increased.
Linda Sibley asked about the effects of wind turbines on barn swallows. Unless the bird hits the turbines, there does not seem to be any adverse effect. So check below your turbines to see if the birds have run amok. Other creatures will eat fallen birds, so you have to check frequently to determine if there is a problem.