There is an idiom we are all familiar with: eating crow. I was curious as to the derivation of such an unusual phrase. Wikipedia suggests the exact origin is unknown. The Wikipedia entry goes on, however, to suggest a couple of possible explanations. First, the phrase was originally “to eat boiled crow.” The bit that followed was my favorite, however: Wikipedia figured it might be similar to “eating humble pie,” an English phrase that was something of a pun — “umbles” were intestines or less valued meats of the deer. People of lower classes than the kings, lords or governors were served pies made of these “umbles” (humble pie). These lower class folks were also served rook (a crow’s cousin) pie.

In the process of traveling across the Atlantic, the American English definition of crow in the 1600 to 1800s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was the intestine of an animal. Anyway, eating crow, whether the bird or intestines, is a humiliating experience. No matter which, it surely was foul-tasting and therefore hard to swallow.

So now to my eating crow. Rob Culbert called to say he had seen five marsh wrens at Tisbury Great Pond on Oct. 21. I doubted him, as marsh wrens not only do not nest on Martha’s Vineyard, they are very rare during spring and rare during the fall migration. They prefer cattail marshes of which the Vineyard has very few. So Lanny McDowell and I went down to the area Rob had seen the wrens the following day and found nothing. However, now we fast forward to Oct. 30. Lanny was down at Black Point when he heard an interesting scold from a bird in the phragmites. Earlier in the day Luanne Johnson was in the same area studying otters and heard a wren scold that didn’t sound like our common Carolina wren. Lanny was very patient and eventually the bird came out from the center of the phragmites enough so he identified it as . . . a marsh wren. Luanne went home and played the CD of bird songs and determined what she was hearing was a marsh wren.

Oct. 31 Lanny McDowell, Bob Shriber, Flip Harrington and I returned to the scene. It was blowing a gale, but we did hear the scolding, and Bob and Flip had very good views, and Lanny and I had less good views, of a marsh wren. The bird flitted around a good deal and at one point we thought we might have two birds, but ultimately we decided we only had one.

Rob Culbert actually saw three marsh wrens in the phragmites by Tisbury Great Pond and shortly thereafter heard two more. Were there five or three . . . we will never know, but there were marsh wrens, and the crow was delicious!

Bird Sightings

Michael Holtham was at Quenames on two occasions around Oct. 16 and saw a barn owl perched in a white pine tree near the barn. Flip Harrington and I checked the barn during the day in hopes that the owl might take up residence. No such luck.

Hilary Blocksom sent me a great picture of a fledgling barn owl sitting on the late Bill Honey’s workbench. The photo was taken on Oct. 25.

Oct. 29 Susie Bowman was leaving Felix Neck and as she turned her car the headlights caught a bird in a puddle. It was a greater yellowlegs, and a first for Susie this fall. Greater yellowlegs can pass through the Vineyard late into the fall and have actually been seen on a couple of Christmas Bird Counts.

Deb Cini called the hotline and then e-mailed me a series of photographs of a leucistic downy woodpecker that has been visiting her feeder since around Oct. 25. Although Deborah called it an albino, technically it is not an albino as there are faint dark markings and it doesn’t have red eyes. It is still a strange looking woodpecker.

And speaking of woodpeckers, Ginny Jones mentioned there seems to be a sizeable increase in these birds on the north side of the Vineyard where there are so many dead oaks. These dead trees provide habitat for insects which the woodpeckers relish.

Oct. 30 the news from Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary includes Cooper’s hawks, buffleheads and Carolina wrens.

Both Roger Cook and Lanny McDowell reported the arrival of harlequin ducks at Squibnocket on Oct. 30. Lanny counted 21 harlequins in the surf. At Black Point Lanny had the marsh wren, 31 eastern bluebirds and eight American pipits. The same day Larry Hepler spotted an osprey at Quansoo and an immature peregrine falcon.

Oct. 31 Bob Shriber, Lanny McDowell, Flip Harrington and I were at Black Point. We had a marsh wren, 10 eastern bluebirds, a northern harrier, an American robin, a red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, turkey vulture, a great blue heron, four common goldeneyes, six buffleheads, red-breasted mergansers, a sizeable flock of white-winged scoters and large numbers of northern gannets fishing close to South Beach. Flip and Lanny watched 18 ring-necked ducks pitch into Quenames Cove. At Squibnocket we counted eight harlequin ducks and a sanderling.

Nov. 1 Flip and I watched in awe while one common loon was chasing the other and calling constantly in Tisbury Great Pond. We counted three great blue herons, six greater scaup, around 400 white-winged scoters, four common goldeneye, 24 red-breasted mergansers, an Ipswich sparrow and a peregrine falcon. In North Tisbury, Luanne Johnson had her first dark-eyed junco of the season at the feeder. Bob Shriber and Flip Harrington spotted the osprey at Crab Creek on Nov. 1.

Nov. 2 Bob Shriber birded the Gay Head Cliffs and spotted three merlins, a peregrine falcon, two harlequin ducks at Philbin’s beach.

Nov. 3 Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin were on Chappaquiddick and out on Cape Pogue at the Self Pond: they spotted several hooded mergansers and a green-winged teal. They had eastern bluebirds at the Potter farm.

Rob and Wendy Culbert had a winter wren skulking around the flowers by their front door in Vineyard Haven on Nov. 3. They also had a flock of cedar waxwings eating their crabapples. Rob spotted five green-winged teal at the Wakeman Center Pond.

Bob Shriber and Mark Foster birded Aquinnah on Nov. 3 and spotted four sharp-shinned hawks, four Cooper’s hawks, a kestrel, two northern harriers and 12 harlequin ducks. At Squibnocket they added a pied-billed grebe, eight American wigeon, three lesser scaup and two greater scaup, a turkey vulture, all three species of scoters and two harlequin ducks.

Lanny McDowell and Bob Shriber again birded Aquinnah on Nov. 4, their best birds being a brown thrasher, seven purple finches, three eastern meadowlarks, a sharp-shinned hawk and dark-eyed junco.

Janet Norton had a brief visit from a strange waterbird which neither she or anyone else ever saw again. The closest thing I could come up with listening to the description was a common loon in winter plumage.

Whit Manter called to say he joined a birding crew that went to see the Allen’s hummingbird on Oct. 31 in Marshfield, Mass. This is a western hummingbird and has only been seen one or two times before in Massachusetts.


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