“I’m seeing a weird warbler, it looks kind of like a chickadee” said Flip Harrington. That was the beginning of an exciting morning at the Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah. The bird was identified by the two birders who have spent time in western United States, Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore. The mystery bird was a black-throated gray warbler. This was a life bird for me, Flip and Pete Lenkowski, which means in birding jargon, that we had never seen the bird before anywhere.
Black-throated gray warblers are warblers that spend their breeding season (springs and summers) in western United States, rarely coming further east than New Mexico, Colorado or Wyoming. This warbler spends its winters in Mexico and Central America, only as far as northern Guatemala. What was it doing flying between junipers at Aquinnah?
Now if you recall the Aquinnah Pow-wow was this weekend; perhaps the warbler came to attend the festivities. Maybe this warbler was caught in part of the winds from Earl. We will never know. Nor did we determine the cause of the arrival of two black-throated gray warblers to a feeder in Vineyard Haven in December of 1996. Those warblers remained at the Sibert’s feeder for almost a month. R. Veit and W. Petersen in their Birds of Massachusetts published in 1993 show 10 records for black-throated gray warblers in the state. All of the 10 were seen between the months of September and December.
Although this was the second verified sighting of a black-throated gray warbler on the Vineyard, it was the first time all six of us had seen this species on the Island. It was a treat to watch this bird feeding for an hour at the cliffs. Lanny McDowell was able to take great photos of the bird for verification of this warbler that, due to its rarity, is considered a vagrant in eastern United States. The photos showed clearly that this black-throated gray warbler was a female as it possessed a white, not black, throat.
Unfortunately the warbler did not stick around. Several other Island birders, and the ones that had seen it the day before, returned to Aquinnah on Sept. 12 but the warbler was no longer visible.
Peregrine falcons have been seen in several areas on the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. Dick Jennings spotted two between the Dike Bridge and Wasque on Sept. 9. Jared and Anne Nedzel spotted two peregrine falcons on East Beach at Cape Pogue on Sept. 10, probably the same birds, but one never knows. Six birders spotted a peregrine falcon at Aquinnah on the same day. Buddy Vanderhoop watched an American crow being harassed by a peregrine falcon at West Basin Sept. 10 as well.
On Sept. 2 Tim and Sheila Baird had three purple finches in their Edgartown yard. On the Sept. 11 they had a new yard bird as they watched a laughing gull fly over. They also spotted an American redstart. At Sengekontacket Pond, the same day, they counted two great egrets. The Bairds still have two hummingbirds in their yard. They checked their records and found that their hummingbirds usually leave around Sept. 17 or 18. We’ll see.
On Sept. 9, Flip Harrington and I joined Pete Gilmore and Allan Keith at Aquinnah. At the cliffs we spotted a turkey vulture, common terns, ruby-throated hummingbird, a least flycatcher, four eastern kingbirds, red-breasted nuthatches, a brown thrasher, prairie, palm and bay-breasted warblers, two scarlet tanagers, a rose-breasted grosbeak, and a lark sparrow. We also spotted a dark-eyed junco, which we discovered was a new early record for the Vineyard. At Red Beach we added a spotted sandpiper and a laughing gull and further along at the Gay Head Moraine we spotted a tufted titmouse, and three downy woodpeckers. Allan Keith continued on to Squibnocket, where we added three yellow, one black and white, two Blackpoll and one Wilson’s warblers. He also saw a northern waterthrush, a Baltimore oriole, two least flycatchers, a lark sparrow, two red-eyed vireos and a Swainson’s thrush.
On Sept. 10, Bob and Betsy Bogle joined me, Flip Harrington, Allan Keith and Pete Gilmore. At Aquinnah our best birds sighted were a turkey vulture, an osprey, a northern harrier, sharp-shinned, Cooper’s and red-tailed hawks, a merlin and a peregrine. We also a spotted black-bellied plover and a killdeer. The flycatchers we spotted included eastern kingbirds, eastern phoebes and a great-crested flycatcher. The warblers we saw included black-throated green, Wilson’s and prairie plus an American redstart. We saw the lark sparrow again. At Squibnocket, Flip, Allan and I added veery, hermit and Swainson’s thrushes, warbling and red-eyed vireos, Magnolia, Blackpoll, black and white and yellow warblers as well as northern waterthrush and three Baltimore orioles.
Sept. 11 was the great day at Aquinnah when six of us spotted the black-throated gray warbler. We spent most of our time watching this great western visitor but did also see three sharp-shinned hawks, a Cooper’s hawk, two red-tailed hawks and a merlin. We spotted one eastern wood pewee and three eastern phoebes, 20 northern mockingbirds, a Philadelphia and a red-eyed vireo, two Cape May warblers, six palm warblers, an American redstart and a Wilson’s warbler. We also spotted a female rose-breasted grosbeak, a dickcissel and a lark sparrow. Rob Culbert was near the Oak Bluffs School and found a pine warbler and a common yellowthroat at the State Forest. Rob has still had a few Baltimore orioles at his Tisbury home.
The following day there were many birders at Aquinnah hoping to see the black-throated gray warbler. Unfortunately it had gone but we did spot two northern harriers, a red-tailed hawk, two palm and one Blackpoll warblers, and the lark sparrow. Cedar waxwings and bobolinks have been seen every day we have birded in Aquinnah. Rob and Anne Culbert birded Great Rock Bight and found a chestnut-sided warbler, a peregrine falcon and a common loon. Ben Richards watched a female American redstart cavorting on the ground at the Aquinnah dump on Sept. 12.
Allan Keith and Matt Pelikan met at Aquinnah on Sept. 14. Their best birds were a blue-gray gnatcher, a Cape May warbler, two merlins and an American kestrel. They also had a female Wilson’s, two Blackpoll and one palm warblers and a common yellowthroat. Matt had spotted a Lincoln’s sparrow and a house wren before Allan arrived. Matt continued at Aquinnah and found a willow flycatcher, two black scoters and a yellow-breasted chat. At the Gay Head Moraine Matt found a red-eyed vireo and a blue grosbeak. Marie Scott mentioned that she had been seeing blue grosbeaks around her gardens at Beetlebung Corner.
Allan Keith continued on to Squibnocket where he added a Philadelphia and six red-eyed vireos, a prairie and yellow warblers and an orange-crowned warbler. He was unsure of his identification of the last until he went home and studied several guides. With research he determined that the orange-crowed warbler he saw had a plumage that is common in the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains. Yet another westerner gone astray.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to email@example.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.