Once upon a time a small finch known as a linnet lived in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains. There were a group of sleazy pet dealers in California that went out and captured many of these linnets. These caged wild birds were shipped to New York to be sold in pet stores as “Hollywood finches.” This was totally illegal as the linnets, we know them as house finches, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife realized that the birds were migratory and illegal and stopped the shipments from California. The New York pet shop owners, worried that they would be fined for possession of these illicit birds, released them on Long Island and maybe in the city. The first house finches were reported nesting in Babylon, N.Y. in May of 1943. These finches spread like wildfire and now are all over the U.S.

House finches arrived on the Vineyard in April of 1965. They may compete with our native purple finches for nest sites and food, although purple finches are more boreal and with global disturbance may tend to nest north of the Island now. It is difficult to determine the cause for the lack of purple finches on the Vineyard. Is it house finches or global disturbance? Probably ’tis a little of both.

Recently several reports have come in that people have purple finches at their feeders. Be sure that you know the difference between the house and purple finches. Check your bird books for important field marks; once you know the difference it is quite easy, especially in the case of the females of both species, to separate the two.

Bird Sightings

Back on Oct. 3 Laurie Walker spotted a single sandpiper on the rock to the left of the parking lot at Squibnocket. She did not have her scope but figured it was a purple sandpiper as it was acting like one, running to one side of the rock when a wave broke over the side it was standing on.

There has been so much activity this last week I will note that there have been peregrine falcons, merlins, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks around the Island, but in particular at Aquinnah, daily. The remaining news will go by date:

On Oct. 8 Whit Manter at Aquinnah spotted four white-crowned sparrows, three dark-eyed juncos, one brown creeper, and pine, palm and yellow-rumped warblers. Matt Pelikan at Whippoorwill CSA spotted two blue grosbeaks, one Wilson’s snipe, 10 bobolinks, flocks of cedar waxwings, brown-headed cowbirds, American goldfinches and song sparrows. Matt also saw a few palm warblers. Simon Thompson watched a merlin crossing Tisbury Great Pond. Bob Shriber counted 20 peregrine falcons, two American kestrels and one merlin at Aquinnah between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Allan Keith had green-winged teal, 17 American wigeons, a blue-headed, a red-eyed and a Philadelphia vireos, an orange-crowned, one Cape May and five palm warblers, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a female blue grosbeak, and several eastern phoebes. At Turtle Brook Farm he added another two blue-headed vireos and more eastern phoebes to bring his total to six for the day. Pete Gilmore, Lanny McDowell, Barry Burden and Pete Lenkowski were at Aquinnah and had large numbers of Blackpoll and yellow-rumped as well as one pine warbler. They spotted both golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets, a yellow-breasted sapsucker, both house and Carolina wrens, one killdeer, swamp, white-throated, white-crowned, and field sparrows, a purple finch, one brown creeper, and a common yellowthroat.

On Oct. 9 the same crew was at Aquinnah and added two brown thrashers, a female Baltimore oriole, four purple finches, a swamp sparrow and commented that there were many fewer Blackpoll warblers. They counted 20 to 25 sharp-shinned hawks, three merlins, one American kestrel, two Cooper’s hawks, a red-tailed hawk and one northern harrier. Rob Culbert and his birding tour found a juvenile black skimmer around Sarson’s Island. They also found 11 brant, three American oystercatchers and five greater yellowlegs. Rob will be continuing his Saturday morning walks through October. I took the Garden Club ladies to Aquinnah and we had a good lesson in hawk identification as we watched sharp-shinned, and red-tailed hawks over the Gay Head Cliffs as well as merlins and one American kestrel. We also learned yellow-rumped warblers, and the difference between song, white-throated, white-crowned and house sparrows. Allan Keith spotted a black-billed cuckoo and an American redstart at Aquinnah. Flip Harrington and I birded Tisbury Great Pond in the afternoon and found two American coots, one white-rumped sandpiper, 350 double-crested cormorants, two American oystercatchers, sanderlings and black-bellied plovers. At Black Point we counted four immature and one adult male northern harrier. Sue and Chip Strang found a fall plumage, yellow-headed blackbird. I joined Sue later to try to find the blackbird to no avail, but we did see one blue-winged teal, one greater yellowlegs, dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned and white-throated sparrows and many yellow-rumped warblers. Bert Fischer watched an American pipit walking along Long Beach in Aquinnah. Dick Jennings counted two peregrines and three merlins as well as black-bellied plovers and greater yellowlegs on Chappaquiddick. He also spotted a totally black loon in Poucha Pond and was curious to know if anyone else had seen it and figured out what species it was.

On Oct. 10 Lanny McDowell birded Norton Point and Katama. His best bird was a Hudsonian godwit. He also counted 11 red-breasted mergansers, five common terns, one short-billed dowitcher, two dunlin, eight semipalmated plovers, one peregrine, one merlin, a flock of tree swallows and a sparrow which was identified as a Nelson’s sparrow once the photo was put on the computer. At Aquinnah Matt Pelikan spotted an orange-crowned warbler and an indigo bunting. At Clay Pit Road Matt found 15 golden-crowned kinglets, one Lincoln’s sparrow and two Blackpoll warblers. At the Aquinnah dump Matt added another Lincoln’s sparrow. At Quansoo Matt spotted a pair of wood ducks flying over and two pied-billed grebes at Black Point. Flip Harrington and I hit Aquinnah as well and joined Bob Shriber and our best birds were a blue-headed vireo, a brown creeper, white-crowned sparrows, 10 dark-eyed juncos and 5 surf scoters. Later Bob spotted a clay-colored sparrow. Pete Gilmore and Lanny McDowell joined me and Flip at Tisbury Great Pond where we added black-bellied and four semipalmated plovers, two American oystercatchers, 35 sanderlings, one semipalmated, one pectoral and one white-rumped sandpipers, three dunlin, three Forster’s terns and a horned lark. At Black Point we added two female pintails, one wood duck, 30 black ducks, three pied-billed grebes, one osprey, two northern harriers and a possible blue-winged teal. We also found a red-breasted nuthatch swimming in Black Point Pond. We looked up to watch a merlin take off. The merlin had dropped his prey, the nuthatch. Lanny, who had the only boots, waded out and retrieved the nuthatch which unfortunately had a broken wing. Rob Culbert spotted a peregrine falcon over the Tisbury School during the Harvest Festival.

On Oct. 11 Allan Keith and Tomas Diagne went bird-watching on Chappaquiddick. Their best birds were one Hudsonian godwit, dunlin, red-throated loon, pied-billed grebe, two female pintails, three Forster’s terns, four common terns, one Bonaparte’s gull and a white-eyed vireo. Matt Pelikan counted six American pipits at the Farm Institute. Bob Shriber counted seven peregrine falcons, 10 sharp-shinned hawks, one northern harrier and numbers of surf and black scoters off the Head.

On Oct. 12 Lanny McDowell photographed two golden plovers at Tisbury Great Pond. Allan Keith was at Aquinnah and along with the usual group of raptors, he spotted a Nashville warbler, field sparrow, and flocks of brown-headed cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and tree swallows. Along Moshup Trail Allan added blue-headed vireo, brown thrasher, a black-billed cuckoo. At Squibnocket he added a hermit thrush and another blue-headed vireo and counted 17 American wigeons.


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