March 14 was the magical day when several signs of spring flew in, even though they were accompanied by a tad of snow in the afternoon. Fortunately, the snow did not stick around, but the signs of spring will.
In mid afternoon, as I left home and headed toward Tisbury School, I was greeted by the sounds of flying grackles and blackbirds. They were flying up-Island by the hundreds, and there must have been well over a thousand of them, as more were flying by as I arrived at the school. They had to be spring migrants, as there were way too many of them to have lingered here through the winter.
But the best was to come after sunset. On a hunch, I went to the frisbee golf course off Barnes Road in the State Forest. And sure enough, between the noisy cars driving by was the unmistakable and amazing courtship of the American woodcock. Regular “peents” were heard while the male woodcock was on the ground, only to be interrupted by the amazing variety of whistles, squeaks and chirps of their courtship flights. You must hear and see this display to believe that these sounds are made by a bird. Susie Bowman reported the first courtship flights of the season back on Feb. 17 at Felix Neck. Perhaps both of these birds spent the winter here and were starting to express their spring urges. There will be more widespread reports of their courtship once the northward migration of woodcocks really gets going, perhaps with tomorrow’s full moon. Then they will be heard displaying in a variety of fields, but the Frisbee golf course will still be the best place to find them down-Island.
Reports of common redpolls at various bird feeders continue to be made. Otherwise, it seems to be a fairly quiet time at our feeders, with Leigh Smith reporting a northern flicker sunning itself atop a rose arbor every morning; a flock of robins has also been present recently. Susan Schwoch reports a flock of yellow-rumped warblers at her suet feeder, and a pine warbler showed up recently.
On March 6, Tara Whiting reports an American kestrel in her backyard and a pair of hooded mergansers on Parsonage Pond.
On March 12, Buddy Vanderhoop of Aquinnah had an indigo bunting show up at his feeder, tying the earliest seasonal record (from 1963) for this species. The early arrival of colorful spring migrants, carried north by spring storms, has become an annual event of the spring. In the next month or so, especially in April, we can expect more indigo buntings and perhaps blue grosbeaks, rose-breasted grosbeaks, summer tanagers and scarlet tanagers to show up at scattered feeders across the Island. Please report them if they any of these splashes of bright color show up in your yard!
I went out in search of ospreys and oystercatchers on the afternoon of March 12. I did not find either, but there were a few other noteworthy species. A large flock of about 250 greater scaup was at the southern end of Katama Bay; this may be the same flock that spent the winter in Lagoon Pond, as I have not seen them there recently. There were also common goldeneyes, red-breasted mergansers, and black ducks in Katama Bay. Black-bellied plovers (25), sanderling (100) and dunlin (10) were feeding and running around on the tidal flats at the western end of Norton Point.
Probably the same short-eared owl that was mentioned in last week’s column is still around; I watched it for 15 minutes in the middle of the afternoon on March 12. Seeing it and studying its irregular floppy flight path reminded me of the 1970s, when they were still common year-round residents. It was a rather darkish individual — some adults can get quite pale — that was foraging near the white shrink-wrapped hay bales on Katama Farm before it moved westward and out of sight onto the Katama Airpark. A red-tailed hawk was perched in the grass, hardly moving at all, the whole time I watched the owl. As I was getting ready to leave the southern end of the farm, a ring-necked pheasant screeched and there were three eastern towhees perched in the bushes.
Lanny McDowell reports one glaucous gull mixed in with the more common herring, great black-backed and ring-billed gulls. All were feeding on large worms that they were plucking from the shallow waters along the rocky point just west of Squibnocket Beach.
And last but not least, Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens report that owls have been out and about. They heard great horned owls, screech and saw-whet owls all calling simultaneously at the Phillips Preserve on the western side of Lake Tashmoo. They found and photographed the diminutive saw-whet owl! They also report an eastern bluebird scouting out a nesting site (time to get your bird houses cleaned and ready to go), and they have both seen brown creepers and heard their high pitched song.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.