Even the best, most advanced and careful observers can misidentify birds. Last Friday, July 24, I received a message from two good Vineyard birders that they had spotted an upland plover in the plowed squash fields at the Farm Institute. This is a common fall migrant in small numbers and is fun to see. I couldn’t make it to the Farm Institute Friday, but made a date with Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore to go on Saturday.
It was foggy, but not so as to keep us from using our spotting scopes and scanning the Farm Institute fields. We found the bird and checked it out. Slowly but surely all of us began to question the upland plover identification. When it flew a short distance and alighted I was surprised it didn’t call. Uppies (as upland plovers are called) almost always call when flushed. Pete mentioned that he thought the eyes were to small for an uppie. Lanny said he remembered the bill being light, not dark.
We hit the books. Out came the Sibley’s Guide to Birds, National Geographic Field Guide and Peterson’s Field Guide. We were right. The bird we were seeing was not an upland plover but instead met the description of a reeve, which is the female of the ruff. An active sandpiper a bit smaller than a lesser yellowlegs, the ruffs and reeves hail from Europe. They are rare visitors and this is only the fifth record of this shorebird on the Vineyard.
The field guides made us return to the scopes to check the breast and belly color as well as the overall color. Lastly we realized the neck was too short and head too large for an upland plover.
We worked the bird long and hard and were pleased when we all came to the conclusion that we had a rare visitor.
Young birds abound. Larry Hepler’s yard’s northern cardinal fledged five a couple of weeks ago and the yard house wren, that chose a ceramic bird house in which to nest, fledged five young. The adult red-bellied woodpeckers are trying to wean their offspring and are chasing them away from Larry’s feeder. I can hear them: “Get your own feeder food.” On July 25 Larry watched three brown northern harriers hunting over his fields at Quansoo. The light was dim, so it was hard to tell if the group was three immatures, or a female and two immatures. Anyway, the young harriers have fledged.
Killdeers have been seen in many areas on the Vineyard in the last week. Claudia Rogers spotted one at Cracktuxet Cove in Edgartown and they are common in the plowed fields at the Farm Institute. Claudia also spotted a green heron at Little Beach in Edgartown on the July 18. American oystercatchers are parading their young around on many Island beaches including Stonewall, Quansoo, Black Point, Norton’s Point and several beaches on Chappaquiddick.
Bill Lee watched two pelagic species off the beach at Squibnocket on July 16. He spotted 20 Cory’s shearwaters and three greater shearwaters. He also had white-winged scoters and common eiders off Stonewall Beach in Chilmark. On July 17 Bill found a black skimmer along with greater yellowlegs and short-billed dowitchers at Sarson’s Island. July 19 Bill was at Lobsterville and walked around the edge of Menemsha Pond. He spotted a roseate tern, three white-winged scoters, 13 piping plovers, a willet and three laughing gulls
Paul Daniels counted 140 mute swans between Swan Neck and Jacob’s Neck in Edgartown Great Pond. He figures it is more than there have been in that pond in his memory.
Peter and Rich left a message that they had spotted the immature bald eagle off the North Road in Chilmark on July 18.
Lanny McDowell found a dead greater shearwater and a healthy black tern on Norton’s Point on July 19.
Bill Lee and I birded Quansoo on July 24 and counted 23 piping plovers, three species of peeps, short-billed dowitchers and a black skimmer. The skimmer was still there as of July 28, as Liz Baldwin spotted it at the Quansoo opening. At Black Point we spotted a nice male harrier hunting the fields.
Bette Carroll called to say she saw a black and white warbler in her yard on July 27 for the first time in ages.
Allan Keith spotted a solitary sandpiper on the pond at Turtle Brook Farm on July 23. He also saw a flock of tree swallows. Seems a bit early for that activity!
Allan spotted a long-tailed duck at Pilot’s Landing in Aquinnah on July 25.
Jake Harper, an Audubon member from off-Island, visited Felix Neck on July 28 and photographed a willet with one chick.
I took the Chilmark Community Center birders to the Farm Institute on July 28 hoping to find the reeve. Unfortunately we were unable to find this shorebird. We did see a distant American kestrel hunting over the fields. We then went to Bluefish Point where we saw three species of terns, least, common and roseate, as well as ruddy turnstones.
Tim Simmons and Paul Goldstein found a spotted sandpiper at Black Point and ruddy turnstone at Squibnocket on July 29 and a few common and least terns feeding fledglings. The same day Flip Harrington saw a spotted sandpiper on Tisbury Great Pond.
There are two unconfirmed reports this week. Bill Lee described what could be a white morph reddish egret that he watched at Sepiessa on July 27. No other observer was able to find the bird. All Tisbury Great Pond residents should be watching for this bird. Peg and Fred Weiss and Cindy and David McGrath spotted a small owl at the edge of the Quansoo Road on July 25 they thought was a saw whet owl.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.