It is that time of year again — a season when I truly become a bird-watcher with disambiguation (split personality). One of my alter egos is excited by the return of red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, and to a considerably lesser degree brown-headed cowbirds, to the Vineyard. The red-winged blackbird males are perched on high grasses in the fields and marshes of the Island singing their hearts out, waiting for the females to return and hopefully choose them as a mate. Waterfowl are beginning to pair off and build nests.
Wintering yellow-rumped warblers are beginning to take on more colorful plumage and are tuning up so they will be in full voice when they migrate to their northern nesting sites. Eastern bluebirds are checking out nest boxes here and there to find one that suits them. Vineyarders are taking bets on when the first osprey will return to one of the over 100 osprey poles on the Island to raise their families.
My other ego is watching purple martins return to nest boxes in Florida. In the mangrove swamps female anhingas have developed an electric green eye ring as part of their breeding plumage and are either on eggs or feeding young. Little blue herons’ eye rings are a vivid blue and tricolored herons have developed a light brown mantle of fine feathers down their back. Brown pelicans, great blue herons, great egrets, double-crested cormorants and wood storks all share small mangrove islands for their nests. What a ruckus is raised if you pass by.
Brown pelicans have taken on a chocolate brown nape and are feeding young that are all shades of brown. The elegant plumes that the great egret sport during breeding season are so fine it is no wonder they were almost wiped out by the hat manufacturers. Great blue heron eye rings become green and their pantaloons a rusty red. Floridians are taking bets on when the first swallow-tailed kite will return from Central America.
The winter doldrums are nearly over. It is the birds that seem to usher in the end of that season, and to celebrate the change they put on their ceremonial dress for the breeding season and tune up for the spring chorus.
Matt Pelikan reports that mourning doves started singing around his Oak Bluffs house the weekend of Feb. 19. Matt spotted a common grackle flying over his house on Feb. 21. He wandered around the state forest on Feb. 20 and counted four red-tailed hawks, two brown creepers, a white-breasted nuthatch, a few black-capped chickadees and American crows.
Joel Graves sent me a photo of a black-crowned night heron he photographed at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary on Feb. 11. Joel took the photo; Olsen Houghton made the identification.
Jay Banks spotted a variety of birds by his Sengekontacket home recently. On Feb. 11 he had two field sparrows; on Feb. 14 he had a pine warbler and six eastern bluebirds arrived on Feb. 19. Jay birded Katama on Feb. 14 and counted eight snow buntings, two savannah sparrows, a horned lark and a northern harrier. He visited Felix Neck on Feb. 12 and watched a barn owl leave to hunt in the evening.
Amanda Dickinson watched a sharp-shinned hawk dive into the ivy by the Vineyard Haven post office on Feb. 19. We figure it was after a flock of house sparrows. Amanda watched the hawk fly to a perch on top of the post office, empty-talonned, and then fly off over the harbor. Jean and Tom Cargill watched a red-bellied woodpecker feeding in their Edgartown yard on Feb. 21. I asked if they had a pair — they are watching, but so far only the male has visited their feeder.
Luanne Johnson counted 12 snow buntings on East Beach at Chappaquiddick. She also watched a couple of horned larks conducting breeding flights and singing — spring fever no doubt.
Lanny McDowell had red-winged blackbirds and a brown-headed cowbird arrive at his West Tisbury feeder on Feb. 20. At Quansoo he spotted an immature black-crowned night heron and a great blue heron.
Bert Fischer announced that six common grackles arrived at his Aquinnah feeder on Feb. 23.
Happy Spongberg counted a flock of 10 yellow-rumped warblers on Bijah’s Way in Chilmark on Feb. 23.
Please report your sightings to the bird hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail email@example.com
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds II; her new Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.