Summer visitors are beginning to arrive. I have a few reminders for them and for locals as well. It is important to keep your cats inside. There are several bird species that nest on or very close to the ground on the Island. Ground nests containing young birds are very vulnerable to cat predation. Adults are fair game for cats as well. You say you feed your cat well and therefore they don’t hunt. Not so! Cats have a hunting instinct and no matter how full they are, they will hunt birds. And the bell you put around the cat’s neck does not effectively warn birds of cat strikes. A bit of information from the American Bird Conservancy: “Indoor cats live an average of three to seven times longer than those that are outdoors.”
Hang mobiles, string, hawk silhouettes or some other objects in your glass windows to prevent birds from hitting them. According to an article by Marcia Fowles of Chappaquiddick, the new energy-efficient glass is a substantial menace to birds because it is more reflective. The birds see the reflections of trees, shrubs or just sky and fly to those images. More than 100 million birds are killed annually by hitting glass. So whether you have new or old glass windows, interrupt the reflection for the birds’ sake.
We all hope to have a nice sunny summer. It is important to provide drinking water for birds. A bird bath is great if it is kept clean; if not it can potentially harm birds and provide a breeding habitat for mosquitoes.
Don’t forget to clean your hummingbird feeders frequently and also refill them more often in hot weather as the sugar solution can become moldy. Certain models of hummingbird feeders become diluted after a rain so refill these feeders with new sugar water after a shower or storm.
If you are starting a new garden, try to stick to native species whether they be flowers, shrubs or grasses. These will attract more birds and you will have fewer insect pests as a result of your efforts.
Enjoy the summer and drive slowly as birds are passing across the roads to find food and take the catch back to their nestlings.
Watching birds is a great way to spend part of your summer whether on vacation or not. Take some time to enjoy our feathered friends and then please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great egrets continue to be a more common sight on the Vineyard. Dick Burt spotted one at Look’s Pond on May 29. Heather Sommers, whose father Hank birded Chilmark regularly in the summer months, and Ron Ehlers also saw the egret. Ron paints egrets on his clay vessels! Tim and Sheila Baird have spotted a great egret almost daily during the month of June at Sengekontacket Pond. Tim counted four willets on Sylvia Beach on June 15.
Feeding birds is always fun. Tim Baird goes out daily to fill his feeders and when he sets out he has a jar of jelly for the Baltimore orioles and gray catbirds. He has found if he sets the jar down to fill the seed feeders first, one oriole flies down and tries to peck at the side of the glass to get the jelly. Eventually the oriole figured out how to go to the top of the jar!
Eleanor Waldron, Barbara Pesch and I joined Kristen Fauteux and Matt Pelikan at Quansoo Farm to see if the grasshopper sparrows that were found last year are back. After some coaxing, we spotted a single bird that perched on a grass stalk and sang his heart out. A bit later we spotted two others! Hopefully there are at least two pairs of these rare sparrows. We will be watching the area closely in the next week to 10 days to verify if the grasshopper sparrows are carrying food to their young! Stay tuned.
During his bird tour on Saturday, June 12, Rob Culbert spotted an adult broad-winged hawk flying over the regional high school football field. This is a very unusual sighting as there are very few records for the Vineyard of this small buteo. The records we have are for early spring (April and May) and for fall (September and October). Matt Pelikan adds that he heard there is now a pair of broad-winged hawks nesting as close as Falmouth. Maybe Rob had a visit from one of the Falmouth pair! Rob added that the western kingbird was still at Misty Meadows on June 12.
Bill Post reported seeing a little blue heron at Caleb’s Pond on Chappaquiddick on June 14. This heron is not a common summer visitor, but, as with many species, climate change has affected their distribution. And speaking of changes, Bill noted that there are more northern cardinals around than he remembers from the past. When I was young, there were none on the Vineyard or Chappaquiddick!
Mary Beth North had a pair of bobwhites on Great Plains Road on June 12, the first she had seen in years. She also commented that although there may be fewer Baltimore orioles on the Vineyard this summer, there are many more in Ithaca, N.Y. She suggests that this might be a shift in migratory patterns for this oriole. We should watch next spring and see if there is a similar movement.
Shirley Miller has decided she is in American woodcock heaven. On June 15 she spotted one adult woodcock on Old Indian Trail, Chappaquiddick, about a half mile from where she had seen the group of three last week.
Flip Harrington, Paul and Zack Magid were fishing on M/V Dovekie on June 9 south of Noman’s Land and spotted a black tern, sooty, greater and Cory’s shearwaters and a Manx shearwater. The fishermen also noted a good number of northern gannets.
Larry Hepler called to say he had heard a cuckoo on June 2. Flip Harrington and I heard a black-billed cuckoo on June 15. I saw a spotted sandpiper along the shores of Tisbury Great Pond on June 14. Flip spotted an eastern screech owl crossing the Quansoo Road in broad daylight the same day.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.