Rain or shine, the Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count will take place on Jan. 2, 2011. We hope you will participate either in the field or by counting the birds at your feeders. Contact Rob Culbert if you are interested in joining a field team at 508-693-4908 or call in your feeder sightings between 2 to 5 p.m. at 508-627-4850.

The hunt, whether it be for fern or feather, is always a challenge. My idea of hunting is to find a bird or plant that is unusual or rare for the area. This summer I took a goldenrod identifying course at the Polly Hill Arboretum and we were given a test of sorts. There were two species of goldenrod that should occur on the Vineyard which had not been located and verified. Many of us took the challenge and we found one of the two. That exercise took us to areas where there were many plants in bloom for us to enjoy and identify.

On Dec. 24, Paul Shultz, a Trustees of Reservations employee, was patrolling the Norton Point beach. He observed a short-eared owl. Paul also spotted the owl on Christmas Day. This bird, which is crepuscular and hunts only at dawn and dusk, used to nest on the Vineyard and frequent the south shore fields. It is now very rare so the hunt was on.

Lanny McDowell

Flip Harrington, Richard Cohen, Lanny McDowell and I met at Lanny’s house and before the snow fell, motored out to Norton Point. It was blowing and beginning to spit slush but we were determined. Just past the Trustees’ shack we spotted two birds, one in the jeep tracks in front of us and the other in the wrack line. We were treated to great views of American pipits.

The breach was a few hundred feet ahead, but the surf was over washing the beach so Lanny decided this was the end of our over-sand trip. Flip, ol’ eagle eye, noticed a falcon in a pile of flotsam and jetsam. We crept up by car and determined that we were seeing a nice male merlin. The weather was taking a turn for the worse so we headed toward Katama and watched two more merlins in a brief dogfight. No, we did not see the short-eared owl, but our hunt provided us with the opportunity to observe other birds.

Don’t forget to provide water for the birds when everything is frozen over. Happy New Year!

Bird Sightings

Our team was a day late. Paul Shultz spotted the short-eared owl on Dec. 24 and 25 on Norton Point and Jeff Verner saw a short-eared owl, undoubtedly the same one, at Katama the afternoon of Dec. 25, a nice Christmas present.

And speaking of Christmas presents, Luanne Johnson had a brown creeper creeping up a tree in her West Tisbury yard on Dec. 25.

Jeff Verner’s feeders in Edgartown have lured in a couple of tree sparrows Dec. 27 through Dec. 29.

My neighbor on this page, Lynne Irons called to ask if she could blame a Cooper’s hawk for killing a couple of her chickens. Yup, the Cooper’s hawk was probably the culprit. Red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks have the nicknames of hen hawks or chicken hawks for a reason! Lynne will probably have to figure out a method of protection for her flock, for once a hawk finds “easy prey” it will return!

The Felix Neck barn owl pair has fledged three youngsters. They can be seen leaving the box at dusk and returning at dawn.

There is an adult bald eagle in the West Tisbury/Chilmark area. Bonnie George was driving past the Polly Hill Arboretum on Dec. 24 when she spotted an eagle landing in a tree in the field across the road. On her way home she met Peter Huntington who was stopped on the Quansoo Road checking his bird field guide. The two started to chat and discovered that they had both seen bald eagles within an hour or so of each other. Probably the same bird and we hope it stays around for the Christmas Bird Count.

Winkie Keith called to say she spotted a juvenile snow goose in with a flock of Canada geese in her Turtle Brook Farm driveway on Dec. 20.

Kristen Fauteux was behind her house at Cedar Tree Neck on Dec. 14 when she spotted a tiny round-headed owl. It was a saw-whet owl. Matt Pelikan suggested she try to call it in on the day of the Bird Count. Great idea Matt!

Daniel Waters was the host of a sharp-shinned hawk at his feeder on Dec. 26. He was pleased to have a female hairy woodpecker stop by his suet on Dec. 27.

Lanny McDowell heard a yellow-bellied sapsucker calling around his West Tisbury home on Dec. 23.

Sarah Mayhew had a belted kingfisher at James Pond during the Christmas week.

Allan Keith and Warren Woessner each had both male and female red heads at the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station, Allan on Dec. 17 and Warren on Dec. 22. Warren also had a common goldeneye and two coots.

Everyone has been seeing the large flock of brant in Oak Bluffs; Flip and I counted around 100 but Allan Keith counted 105 and we all agreed it is the largest flock of brant we have had on the Vineyard in ages.

Allan Keith had an American pipit in his Turtle Brook Farm on Dec. 27. His best sighting was a late staying American oystercatcher he spotted by Farm Pond on Dec. 23.

There is a battle of the cardinals up-Island. Joan Jenkinson has 12, Happy and Steve Spongberg have the same, but Bert Fischer counted 22 cardinals at his Aquinnah feeder recently. He also has “a million” mourning doves. I know how you feel, Bert; the other “million” are at our feeders.


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

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is: vineyardbirds2.com.