On Feb. 19, Flip and I were in the Florida Everglades with our old birding friend, Paul Bithorn from Tropical Audubon, coleading a birding trip for Audubon of Martin County. We were leaving the Anhinga Trail where we had seen both dark and light morph short-tailed hawks and purple gallinules when I received a call on the cell phone. It was Edo Potter. She was very excited and proceeded to tell me that her sister, Ruth Welch, had alerted her and Bob that there were four greater white-fronted geese in the pond behind her Chappaquiddick house. I explained that I was in the Everglades and that she should call Lanny McDowell so he could take photographs of these rare visitors to the Island.
Lanny recalled seeing a couple of greater white-fronted geese at Katama in the 1990s. Barbara Pesch and I had received no recent sightings of this arctic goose when we redid Vineyard Birds in 2006. Our old records did not identify the geese down to one of the three subspecies. These three subspecies are greater white-fronted goose, Greenland white-fronted goose and Tule goose. The Tule goose is found in the Cook Inlet in Alaska in the summer and in California in the winter. The more common New England visitor is the subspecies which breeds in Greenland and winters in the British Isles, the Greenland white-fronted goose. The greater white-fronted goose, which nests in the tundra of Alaska and the northwest territories of Canada and winters south along the Pacific Coast to Chiapas, Mexico, is a rare New England visitor.
Allan Keith joined Lanny McDowell on Feb. 20 for a trip to Chappaquiddick in hopes of finding the white-fronted geese. They were please to find not four, but 10 of these stunning geese. Lanny took many photos and he and Allan tried to determine what subspecies they were. The main difference is size and bill color. Not convinced they were sure of the identification, Lanny sent the photos to off-Island birders. Marshall Iliff, the e-bird coordinator for Cornell University, came back with a report after reviewing Lanny’s photos. He was of the opinion that the flock in the Potter’s pond was the greater white-fronted geese, not the more common Greenland white-fronted goose. His main reason for this call was that the bills were pinkish, not orange and the heads slender. For the complete text from Marshall Iliff, go to surfbirds.com/birdingmail/Mail/MassBird/885391.
Once again I was away and missed these geese, but was able to enjoy the photos that Lanny McDowell took. This is the first official sighting of the greater white-fronted goose on Martha’s Vineyard. Thanks to the Welch and Potter family on Chappaquiddick, we have another great bird for the Vineyard! They were still on the Potters’ pond on Feb. 22.
Ruth Welch’s sighting on Feb. 19 of four greater white-fronted geese on Chappaquiddick is the most exciting news of the week.
Further harbingers of spring are in the news. Barbara Bassett counted 14 American robins in her Aquinnah yard on Feb. 17, and she is hearing the Canada geese gabbling. That same evening Suzie Bowman was conducting a moon walk at Felix Neck and heard her first American woodcocks displaying. I think that is the first of the season!
On Feb. 19 Bert Fischer spotted the first of the season common grackle at his Aquinnah feeder; Bert notes that he has had a flock of red-winged blackbirds all winter, but recently they have been more vocal. Saskia Vanderhoop counted four red-winged blackbirds at her Aquinnah home and Lanny McDowell reported two common grackles and three red-winged blackbirds at his West Tisbury feeder. Joe Jims reported a red-winged blackbird on Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs on Feb. 22 and Allan Keith spotted a common grackle in downtown Edgartown on Feb. 20. Matt Pelikan spotted a hermit thrush by the Nature Conservancy office off Lambert’s Cove Road on Feb. 19 and heard mourning doves cooing — trying to find a mate?
Common redpolls are still around. Katherine Deese had a pair at her feeders on North Road on Feb. 20 and Dan Waters watched several at his Christiantown feeders on Feb. 20 and 21.
Arnie Fischer and Ned Rice spotted an American pipit in the fields next to Short Cove in West Tisbury on Feb. 22.
Allan Keith birded Squibnocket on Feb. 18 and found hooded mergansers and a common gadwall and one lesser scaup. On Feb. 18 at Cape Pogue he was stunned to see no sparrows but did see one sharp-shinned hawk, one peregrine falcon and two northern harriers. I think if I were a sparrow with that crew around, I would keep out of sight. Allan also counted eight myrtle (yellow-rumped) warblers, and one razorbill off Wasque Point. At the Farm Institute he spotted an eastern meadowlark and twenty horned larks. At his Turtle Brook Farm feeder there was a lone field sparrow. Emmett Carroll called Allan to say he had seen killdeer in the Keith field on Feb. 21. Allan figures they are probably the same group he saw the week before.
Hawks still are harassing peoples’ feeders. Fala Freeman had a Cooper’s hawk in her Lagoon Pond yard on Feb. 14; Tina Miller had a sharp-shinned hawk in her West Tisbury yard and Dan and Sandra McCormick sent me photos of a sharp-shinned hawk next to their Major’s Cove house.
And speaking of raptors, John Nelson was at the Regional High School on Feb. 19 correcting tests when he noticed three turkey vultures sitting on the athletic field. He went out to let them know they were not in uniform and they took off and starting circling him. I’ll bet the vultures received good grades on their tests! John later went to Squibnocket where he found a small flock of purple sandpipers.
Luanne Johnson was watching a myrtle warbler (yellow-rumped) in her West Tisbury yard on Feb. 22 when another warbler came into sight. She was puzzled by it and after a call to me and a bit of book work, we decided it was an orange-crowned warbler.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.