Have you ever wondered where our nesting birds spend their winter? I have. Well, thanks to a study conducted by Dr. Cheri Gratto-Trevor, a research scientist for Environment Canada, we now know that at least one of “our” piping plovers spends its winter on Andros Island in the Bahamas. I put our in quotes because it probably spends more of its year in the Bahamas than the five months it is here.
Andros Island, the largest island in the Bahamas, is more than 100 miles long and more than 40 miles wide. Along its eastern shore is the third longest barrier reef in the world. The plovers, however, are attracted to the beaches with large expanses of tidal flats (just as they are here).
Dr. Gratto-Trevor wanted to know where the piping plovers that spend the winter in the Bahamas breed. Sid Maddock and Peter Doherty were hired to band plovers in the Bahamas. They captured and banded 57 plovers during the winter of 2010, but one in particular was banded in February 2010, at Cargills Creek on North Andros Island.
Liz Baldwin observed this banded plover at Dogfish Bar on April 10, 2010. The plover stayed for the summer and attempted to nest three times. Unfortunately for the plover, skunks depredated all six eggs.
Forty other banded plovers were observed during the summer of 2010. Thirteen of them were observed in the Cape and Islands area, while the other 27 were observed along the Atlantic Coast from New Brunswick to Virginia.
In November 2010, the Dogfish Bar individual was seen three times by Sid Maddock in the same Cargills Creek area on Andros Island, the same place it was banded the previous winter. Forty-three other color-banded plovers were also observed that month. According to Dr. Gratto-Trevor, these 44 plovers are probably all the marked birds that were still alive one year after banding.
And now our banded plover has returned to Dogfish Bar! It returned this year on April 9, almost exactly a year after it first showed up. Right now he still doesn’t have a mate. And Luanne Johnson reports that as of April 23, no plover eggs have been laid yet at Dogfish Bar.
Dr. Gratto-Trevor requests that anyone finding one of these banded plovers contact her at email@example.com. If you do find one, please be sure to carefully note the pattern of color bands on each leg, as this is how individual birds are identified. Photographs will help you remember the exact details, such as the color banding pattern of the Dogfish bar plover: black flag (band with a tab sticking out from the leg which usually indicates location of banding or bander) on the upper left leg, light green over orange color bands on thelower left leg, no bands on the upper right leg, and one white color band on thelower right leg.
The best bird of the week is the April 23 sighting of a male hooded warbler at Mytoi on Chappaquiddick. Joyce Tilton was the first to see it, identifying it after she went home and consulted a bird book. Then Ms. Tilton returned with Rand, Jane and Adam Burnett; they were fortunate to find the hooded warbler again, less than 50 feet away, and study it carefully with binoculars. This species is a rare transient on the Vineyard, with spring sightings in the second half of April and May. This mostly southern warbler probably gets here when it is carried beyond its normal range by storms.
On April 16, Nat Woodruff observed and photographed a pine warbler at his feeder.
And now we learn of a second all-white zebra finch. Elizabeth Greene called Lanny McDowell on April 21, asking for help identifying an all-white finch with orange feet and beak. Sound familiar? Let’s refresh our memory from last week’s column, where a zebra finch matching that description was reported by multiple observers, first on April 6 by Chris and Sheila Morse at the Granary gallery, then Susie Bowman observed one on April 16 at her house, and finally Tom Clark observed one in his yard on April 19 as it staggered around briefly, and dropped dead. And now, on April 21, there is another one at the Granary Gallery! It would behoove whoever had zebra finches that have escaped to visit the Granary Gallery!
Speaking of birds out of place, did anyone else note the immature Cooper’s hawk that showed up during a baseball game in Milwaukee on April 24? There is a short video of it unsuccessfully chasing a pigeon as it flew around the enclosed stadium.
On the first fairly warm day of the year, Lanny McDowell was out and about, and observed a brown creeper on April 22 at the Phillips Preserve.
The first ruby-throated hummingbirds are back! Molly Cournoyer e-mailed to report her first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year on April 22 at her feeder. Susie Bowman had her first hummer on April 25, and Gus Ben David reports his first hummer on April 26. Dorie Godfrey hung her hummingbird feeders on April 26 and was rewarded by having two hummers visit her feeders on April 27.
April 23 had considerably less favorable weather, and it was a good day to stay inside and watch your bird feeder. It paid off for Bob and Edo Potter, who spotted an immature male blue grosbeak at their Chappaquiddick feeder.
Gus Ben David reports a pair of purple finches in his yard on April 26, the first time he has observed them in quite a while.
As I am writing this on the afternoon of April 26, I see a flash of bright orange and black flying through the trees outside the window. There is my first Baltimore oriole of the spring!
Please get outside and watch the birds — we are starting the peak season for birds migrating northward to their breeding grounds. Last week a prothonotary warbler was observed; this week it was a hooded warbler and a blue grosbeak. What will it be next week?
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.