A is for American avocet. B is for hurricane Bill that probably brought this fancy shorebird to our shores. C is for the camaraderie caused by this unusual sighting for the Vineyard birders.

Saturday, August 22, Rich Stanton was out on Norton Point checking out the tern colony for banded roseate terns. He was excited to find a lone American avocet feeding on the flats on the Katama side of Norton Point, about half way to the breach. The word went out. Lanny McDowell and Allan Keith both spotted the bird from Bluefish Point on August 23. Monday the 24th, the entrance to Norton Point looked like the start of the Christmas Bird Count. Three four-wheel drive vehicles full of birders waited patiently while The Trustees of Reservations decided whether to allow vehicles on the beach. Several people stopped to ask what we were looking for and we told them. Another vehicle joined the group. The Trustees opened the beach and the caravan of binocular-clad folks hit the beaches.

Nan Harris led the group with Rich Stanton and Luanne Johnson, next was Lanny McDowell and Porter Turnbull, then Warren Woessner, Allan Keith and me, and finally Fred and Winnie Spar. We spotted the bird from afar feeding with greater yellowlegs. We moved toward the breach and were able with spotting scopes to have great views of the American avocet along with a collection of shorebirds including ruddy turnstones, black-bellied, piping and semipalmated plovers, American oystercatchers, ruddy turnstones, and semipalmated and least sandpipers. We also found black skimmers, and four species of terns: black, common, roseate and least. The one nice passerine we spotted was a salt marsh sparrow (recently changed name from a salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow).

American avocets are rare vagrants to Martha’s Vineyard. They are a western U.S. species which has only been spotted on the Island four other times previously; and all between the end of July early December. Our American avocet is a juvenile as it shows a gray cap in Lanny McDowell’s photos. It is probably a female, as they tend to have more of an upturned bill than the males. It was fascinating to watch the avocet feed as sometime it picked up small morsels and other times it swung its bill back if forth much like a spoonbill, no doubt to stir up goodies from the bottom of the water covered flats.

The A,B,C’s of birding was quite an occasion and we hope to have many more.

Bird Sightings:

Perry and Kathy Becker reported a ruddy turnstone, a whimbrel and short-billed dowitchers on Chilmark Pond on August 16. The same day they counted six great egrets in the Menemsha marshes and had a hairy woodpecker and two ruby-throated hummingbirds by the Beach Plum Inn.

Bert Fischer spotted three sharp-shinned hawks in Aquinnah on August 18 — more raptors moving through. On August 23 Bert saw a pied-billed grebe on Squibnocket Pond.

Warren Woessner found five black terns, but adults and immatures loafing on Little Beach on August 21. He also spotted two lesser yellowlegs feeding on the flats.

Both Walt Looney and Rich Stanton spotted black skimmers at Little Beach on August 23. Rich had four and Walt spotted two. Rich added that the black terns were still present at Little Beach the same day. Rich went on to Norton Point where he spotted a marbled godwit and five whimbrels.

Allan Keith spotted an olive-sided flycatcher in his yard in Chilmark on August 23.

Dick Jennings sent me a fabulous photograph of an American kestrel that he photographed at Wasque on August 23.

Warren Woessner, Allan Keith and I drove through the Farm Institute and Herring Creek Farm and picked up a dozen or so American golden plovers.

This is an e-mail I received on August 24. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call from Marjorie on the Lagoon reporting an odd pigeon with a strange bill about the size of a mourning dove. “Hi, about a half an hour ago I took a picture of a Racing Dove(?) in my backyard in Bayes Hill, Oak Bluffs but when I looked online to try and identify it I wasn’t sure what type of dove it was. It was much larger than any I’d seen and the beak was unusual — wasn’t sure if the recent storm blew something unique to our area in. Would you know what it is? Please let me know if I’m right. Thanks, Katherine May-Waite.”

Hurricane Bill did not bring us a rare dove, but instead this is a white racing or white homing pigeon from the loft at Gus Ben David’s World of Reptiles and Birds. Gus opens the lofts and lets his pigeons out but on certain days Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawks appears and scares the birds so that they scatter. The pigeons return a few days later after they settle down. The bird Katherine and Marjorie spotted is one of these white racing pigeons.

Gus frequently takes his white doves to help people celebrate an occasion. He releases the flock during the festivities for the pleasure of the guests and hosts. The pigeons “home” to the World of Reptiles and Birds.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to birds@mvgazette.com.