Three southern species which are now seen on the Vineyard are making news this week. As our climate changes and warms, these southern birds are moving north to spend the summers and some to breed. The southern birds of interest to Bird News this week include black skimmers, Wilson’s plover, chuck-wills-widow and great egrets.
Great excitement from Norton’s Point; there are not one, not two, but three pairs of black skimmers nesting in the tern colony. This colony is being monitored by the Trustees of Reservations and they ask beachgoers to stay out of the roped-in area. The black skimmer, a fascinating bird with a lower bill which is shorter than the upper bill, has tried unsuccessfully to nest on the Island before. The reason for their demise — and that was only one pair — was that the spot on the beach they chose to scrape out their nest site was washed over by an early summer storm. Hopefully, all three black skimmer pairs will be successful this year. It will be interesting to see if the black skimmers return next year to breed, as small colonies tend to shift breeding sites frequently, whereas large colonies are faithful to their nesting location.
If you recall, Liz Baldwin and Luanne Johnson found a Wilson’s plover in the company of a piping plover at Squibnocket several weeks ago. Now Alex Greene of Felix Neck spotted a Wilson’s plover in the company of a piping plover at the Edgartown end of Sylvia State Beach. One wonders if these two plovers are the odd couple and are cruising around the Island. Hopefully the Wilson’s plover will find a mate and bring him or her north next season.
William Waterway sent a recording of a bird that he heard from his Katama home on June 14. The recording was of a chuck-wills-widow. Now we have heard this southern nightjar on both Chappaquiddick and the Vineyard. Although the chuck-wills-widow has been heard on and off during the summers between 1970 and now, there has been no nest verified. In fact, according to Massachusetts Audubon’s Wayne Petersen, there has been no verified nest in the State. Let’s be the first to find one!
Dick Brown of Meshacket Cove of Edgartown Great Pond has his own way of telling when summer officially starts; the arrival of a great egret on the cove on June 19. Tim Johnson photographed a great egret landing in the marshes of Sengekontacket the same day, and Bill Post and his bride spotted a great egret at Slough Cove, Katama on June 16. This southern species has increased in numbers each summer and must be nesting on the Vineyard or Chappaquiddick somewhere. Again, it would be nice to verify if this egret is reproducing on-Island.
A bird that is normally found nesting north of here has been seen in Chilmark. Emmett Carroll spotted the razorbill in Menemsha Pond on June 6. I would love to hear from other people fishing or boating on Menemsha or Quitsa Ponds if they have seen this alcid, which spent summers here back in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Why is this northern species here in the summer? Is it nesting? More questions to be answered.
Northern bobwhite, aka quail, are in the news, big time. On June 6, Pete Cruikshank reported hearing one on the east side of Mink Meadows Pond on West Chop. Luanne Johnson heard a bobwhite calling at Watcha Pond on June 7. Then Luanne heard a bobwhite calling at her home on Lambert’s Cove Road on June 13. Sarah Mayhew, fresh from California with cameras in hand, moved into her new digs on the Panhandle in West Tisbury and was awakened by a bobwhite on June 16 and heard it again on June 20. Flip Harrington and I were astounded to hear a bobwhite calling by our Quansoo home on the mornings of June 17 and 18. Flip and I figured we hadn’t heard a bobwhite along the shores of Tisbury Great Pond for 25 years! Sarah Mayhew figured about the same for her West Tisbury bird. Suzie Bowman heard a bobwhite on the Panhandle in West Tisbury on June 20, exclaiming she hadn’t heard a bobwhite in years. This bird is probably the same one that Sarah heard. There are a couple of theories about why bobwhites are decreasing in population. One is that their habitat is being lost as fields grow into forests, however, although that is the case on part of the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick, not all open fields have grown in. My thought is that newly introduced predators are causing havoc. Feral cats, raccoons and skunks readily feed on ground nesting birds and are probably the main reason for the decline in the Vineyard’s bobwhite population. Perhaps the Northern bobwhites have gained smarts and are nesting off the ground. Whatever, it is great to hear these new world quail again!
Bonnie and Bob George called to say they had seen an immature bald eagle over their house off Quansoo Road on June 15.
Rob Culbert, on his Saturday June 16, walk heard a house wren in the State Forest.
Tim and Sheila Baird spotted a horned lark on Sylvia State Beach on June 7 and noted that the Baltimore orioles that were in their yard earlier this summer disappeared but returned on June 20. No doubt they were busy building a nest and incubating eggs. Now they are probably feeding young from the oranges the Bairds put out daily. Sally Williams spotted an immature Baltimore oriole at her Oak Bluffs yard on June 19 and noted it was the first of the season for her. Alex Greene spotted the first of the season Baltimore oriole at Felix Neck on June 13. Morgan Donn spotted a Baltimore oriole by the Scottish Bakehouse on June 14. His mother, Karen Mead spotted cedar waxwings in Tisbury and a yellow warbler on Moshup’s Trail in Aquinnah.
Alex Greene watched a downy woodpecker being snatched off his feeder on the West Tisbury/Tisbury town line on June 14. On a nicer note, he has a ruby-throated hummingbird in his yard. Alex conducted a breeding bird survey at Edgartown Great Pond on June 19 and noted that there were two ovenbirds, over four pine warblers and one eastern phoebe. Alex is noticing many more roseate terns at Mink Meadows, Eastville and Harthaven than I have heard reported in several years.
At sunset today, June 18, from their home on Seven Gates Farm, Oakes and Louise Ames spotted a stately flotilla of ten common loons swimming (or drifting) slowly southward on Vineyard Sound, two or three hundred yards offshore. Alex Greene saw a common loon off Harthaven on June 16.
Sally Williams watched an eastern kingbird on East Chop on June 11
Diane and Walt Looney had a lovely morning at Pennywise Preserve on June 17. They spotted two northern flickers, red-bellied hairy woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles, brown-headed cowbirds, a red tailed hawk and many eastern towhees.
Many people are reporting seeing American oystercatchers and willet on the shores of Sengekontacket Pond and Little Beach, Edgartown. Young tree swallows bearing brown backs are being seen perching near where they were born from Aquinnah to Katama.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.