The recent obituary for Norm Asher reminded me of what bird-watching was like in the 1970s. Norm Asher was one of many Vineyard summer residents that were “turned on” to bird watching by the Chilmark Community Center bird walks. Norm signed on to participate in the CCC bird walks in the early sixties when Eddie Chalif was the charismatic leader. I didn’t join in until the very late sixties, early seventies. By that time there was a devoted group of friends and fellow bird-watchers that had met at the community center who would go out almost daily.

The birders — the core group included Norm, Jay Eliasberg, Dooley Rosenwald, Mike Hoffman and Lyle Warner — would start early in the morning and return to their respective homes around noon. Jack Asher remembers his father, upon his return from the field, “regaling his family with the latest news of the unusual avian visitors and additions to his life list.”

Lanny McDowell

I was invited to join the birders by Lyle Warner, the only other woman, and was a bit intimidated at first. Not only were the group members excellent birders, but they also were brilliant and extremely entertaining. I knew they were my kind of birders when I discovered that they made a point of stopping at Humphrey’s Bakery in North Tisbury, if they were anywhere nearby, during their morning bird trip. I recall this was one of Norm’s favorite pit stops!

The Ashers’ summer cottage on Chilmark Pond was a great spot for observing the bird life on the pond. The few birders that remained on Island year-round had permission to bird from Norm’s deck in the winter months. The marsh in front of the deck was a perfect spot for wintering waterfowl and usually gave us a late-staying tree swallow or two. I miss that captivating group of birders!

Bird Sightings

The Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count will be on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011. More information will be available at a later date.

An intrepid group of bird-watchers joined me at Felix Neck on Nov. 27 to check out the bird life prior to the Fall Festival. The barn owl cam provided us with peeks of two of the three owlets and one of the parents preening. The waterfowl in Major’s Cove and Sengekontacket Pond was varied and included Canada geese, mallards, buffleheads, red-breasted mergansers and common loons. We had a nice comparison of Bonaparte’s, ring-billed and herring gulls and distant views of northern flickers. A ruby-crowned kinglet joined a feeding flock of black-capped chickadees, white and red-breasted nuthatches. After the walk we joined the fun at the festival, which was a great success!

Rob Bierregaard reports that the Vineyard osprey Belle has settled in to an area in Venezuela for the winter. All the other ospreys Rob is tracking are also settled in except for Thatch, a bird from Delaware. He is still moving and is south of Belle in Venezuela. Check out all the ospreys’ locations at

Bert Fischer counted 25 cedar waxwings feasting on crab apples in Aquinnah on Nov. 20.

Lanny McDowell counted 480 greater scaup, two pintails and one long-tailed duck on Tisbury Great Pond on Nov. 23. The next day I joined Lanny and Allan Keith at the pond and we counted 300 black ducks along with the greater scaup and pintails. We missed the long-tailed duck, but the little blue heron was still in Crab Creek.

Allan Keith birded Squibnocket on Nov. 22 and found a black-legged kittiwake and 75 red-throated loons offshore and in Squibnocket Pond there were 12 coots, 12 ruddy ducks, 10 lesser scaup and 10 hooded mergansers. At his home at Turtle Brook Farm Allan had a visit from a late staying Baltimore oriole and eastern phoebe.

Nov. 14 Allan Keith counted eight black-crowned night herons at Maley’s Pond in West Tisbury.

Warren Woessner took his grandchildren to Felix Neck on Nov. 26 and showed them a red-bellied woodpecker, white and red-breasted nuthatches, two northern flickers, and a song sparrow. Warren heard a brown creeper and Philip Hunziker spotted a belted kingfisher and told Warren. The next day Warren counted five pine siskins at his Edgartown feeder. On Nov. 28 Warren found both purple sandpipers and harlequin ducks offshore at Squibnocket. On the pond side he counted three gadwalls, three greater scaup, six ruddy ducks and 10 coots. At the Oak Bluffs pumping station Warren added a mixed flock of American wigeons, lesser scaup and buffleheads.

I joined Warren for a trip out to Norton Point. Our best bird was a peregrine falcon that was sitting on a log digesting its meal. We also spotted horned grebes, red-throated and common loons and all three species of scoters offshore.

Pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches continue to visit our Chilmark home feeders. The downy woodpeckers are occasionally joined at our suet by a red-bellied or hairy woodpecker.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to

Susan Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds II. Visit her Web site