Our Southern Ocean trip is still fresh in our minds. We have visited Chatham Island with you but we still had many miles of ocean to go. The islands we visited included: Mangere, Pitt, Bounty, Antipodes, Campbell, Enderby, The Snares, Ulva and Stewart. There were special sightings and views whenever we stopped, and to tell it all would require a tome!
The routine was to sail during the nighttime hours and awaken to a new flock of birds around an island. Our daytime activities were primarily spent in Zodiacs cruising around the islands. Each island was different in both structure and habitat from the one before. Some were devoid of plant life and others covered with specialized plants unique to that particular island.
Chatham Island was really the only inhabited island we visited except for Stewart. Chatham’s neighbor, Pitt Island, had a single house inhabited by a research team from the New Zealand Department of Conservation, so that didn’t really count. Pitt’s terrain on one side was steep and rocky with low growing plants. The other side sloped down to the sea, and it was there that we spotted the critically endangered shore plover feeding along the edge of the low-lying, pebble-strewn shore. Flying high in the cliffs we spotted both the rare red-crowned and yellow-crowned parakeets. It seemed so strange to be watching parakeets and fur seals in the same place!
Our next stop was Pyramid Rock, and you will never guess why this name! Thrust up from the bottom of the Southern Ocean during geological plate movement, this rock hosts thousand of nesting albatrosses. This is the nesting site for the entire world population of Chatham Island albatrosses! What a spectacle, watching thousands of birds wheeling over their nests or sitting on the surrounding waters. The birds were not afraid of the ship (we didn’t need Zodiacs here) and from even the top deck we could observe the albatrosses eating huge jellyfish in the waters alongside.
Pyramid Rock is the perfect location for nesting albatrosses. Their feet positioned way aft, the albatrosses can barely waddle on land. Pyramid Rock’s steep slopes, from which the birds can jump and become instantly airborne, are perfect for nesting. Add to that multiple horizontal shelves on which the eggs are placed and no predators; what else could an albatross ask for?
It was hard to leave the scene at Pyramid Rock, but onward we sailed, headed to Bounty Islands. Bounty is now a part of the World Heritage Park due to its density of wildlife and high rate of endemism, so we were not allowed to set foot ashore. Aboard the Zodiacs we were thrilled to watch rare erect-crested penguins, Bounty Island shags (one of the world’s rarest cormorants) and thousands of Salvin’s albatrosses as we cruised among the islands. An introduction to a species of bird that has, to my knowledge, never been seen in Massachusetts was common around the Bounties. These were small sea birds known as prions. A prion, also known as a whalebird, is a small grey bird — a little smaller than the Manx shearwaters we see off the Gay Head Cliffs. The prions are fast flying seabirds that feed by dipping into the ocean waters. They don’t follow ships and are silent except on the offshore islands where they nest. They were hard to see at sea, but in the nesting colonies on the Bounties we got good looks!
Rarely visited in modern times, this cluster of 20 minute islands was discovered by Captain Bligh in 1788. Cpt. Bligh named them after his ship. The Bounties were a popular destination for the whaling fleets. Many of our ancestors from the Vineyard, both American Indian and Yankees, hunted this area. Mayhews, Mannings, Vanderhoops and Tiltons had all been there before us.
The Baltimore oriole that Laura Wainright spotted on Jan. 5 seems to be making the rounds on Lambert’s Cove Road. It has visited Blackwater Farm’s feeder and also checked in to Brian and Nancy Abbott’s feeder on Jan. 12. No doubt this first year male is figuring out who has the best food.
Sarah Mayhew spotted a hairy woodpecker in West Tisbury on Jan. 5. And speaking of woodpeckers, Susan Sellers seems to have woodpecker heaven at her Edgartown home. She has numerous red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, and an occasional northern flicker or hairy woodpecker at her suet or Droll feeders.
Janice and Ed Belisle had eight robins sipping water from a puddle in their driveway on Jan. 8. They also have had two pairs of American goldfinches and white-throated sparrows at their feeders and unfortunately a hawk, probably a Cooper’s, has been lingering on a porch railing nearby hoping for a delectable lunch — nothing so far.
Tim and Sheila Baird started their yard list the first of the year and so far have spotted 34 species. Their best birds so far have been a fox sparrow which they saw on Jan. 7, an eastern towhee seen on the next day and two brown-headed cowbirds seen for two days starting Jan. 10.
Gus Ben David announced the arrival of his 67th yard bird for the World of Reptiles and Birds. The species was an American wigeon that arrived with a flock of mallards and black ducks. Gus also wanted to alert people with fireplaces to cover their chimneys with screening in the winter months. He was called to an Edgartown house to extract a red-phased screech owl which was trapped in the chimney. Unfortunately uncovered chimneys can be a death trap for both screech and barn owls looking for shelter in the winter months.
Katharine Colon and Laurie Walker went up to Squibnocket on Jan. 12 and counted five purple sandpipers on the rocks.
Matt Pelikan watched a winter wren bounce out of a woodpile in North Tisbury, no doubt wondering why it hadn’t gone further south.
Allan Keith has had field sparrows at his Chilmark feeder since November. Lanny McDowell noted that the waterfowl are at the ends of coves in the great ponds and at the Lagoon. He photographed lovely ring-necked ducks at the latter.
Now for those of you that don’t see Rob Bierregaard’s Web site, a synopsis of the osprey work: “We have the old good news/bad news scenario, with the bad news outweighing the good. It was a rough end of the year for our juveniles. We lost Moffett in Cuba, Caley in Guyana, and Bea in Venezuela. The only good news is that we’re getting Bea’s transmitter back (very interesting story, told on her map page). We would have gotten Isabel’s as well, but apparently a herd of feral pigs got to the patch of savanna where her transmitter was sitting out in the open, happily transmitting away, just waiting to be picked up, a week or so before our colleague Adrian Naveda-Rodrigues arrived on the scene. The pigs either ate the transmitter or stomped it into the ground as they turned that bit of savanna into a pig wallow.
“The lone survivor of this year’s crop of juveniles is Buck, our South Carolina bird. He’s still in northern Venezuela, and still exploring, although he’s got a couple of spots he keeps coming back to. Seems a bit like Claws.
“Penelope is doing fine down in French Guiana. She should be heading home in March or April. The three adult males are all fine and hunkered down in very localized areas. They should head north in February or March.
“Overall, the loss of the young is about what we expect, but we’re delighted to have recovered three of the six transmitters that were on birds that died. That’s pretty remarkable.”
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to email@example.com.