Great excitement on Norton Point and also on Chappaquiddick!

Dick Jennings called to inform me that the merlins have returned to Chappaquiddick. A resident of Chappy stopped Dick when he was surveying an osprey pole near her house and said she had two hawks making a racket and wondered what they were. Dick went over to the property and discovered the hawks in question were merlins. Lanny McDowell was able to take a photo of what we figured were a male and female merlin who were very agitated by the presence of humans. A nest was found, but it is not clear whether it belongs to the merlins or is an old crow or red-tailed hawk nest. Hopefully the family that contacted Dick Jennings will let him know if young merlins appear. As you may recall, the merlins that nested on Chappaquiddick several years ago were a first for the Island and also Massachusetts. We missed finding the pair last year, so it is nice to have these incredible falcons back.

There appear to be four pairs of black skimmers nesting on Norton Point. Jeff Bernier photographed one pair with two chicks and then several days later the same pair hatched a third and fourth chick. Nearby another black skimmer pair that was on eggs now has one chick, and not one but two other pairs of black skimmers are on eggs! As Jeff said “it looks like a skimmer summer.”

I have to correct myself. Lanny McDowell reminded me that on August 8, 2010 he photographed a pair of black skimmers with a very young chick and also a nest with three eggs. Those two pairs of 2010 black skimmers were not successful in raising their young. So Jeff Bernier’s photo was not the first black skimmer chick on the Island, but hopefully one of the offspring of the four pairs he has photographed this year will fledge and return to nest here next year.


Bird Sightings

Page Rogers spotted an ailing lesser black-backed gull and the corpse of a greater shearwater on Norton Point on July 7. Page also photographed a royal tern at Norton Point the same day. Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner, Flip Harrington and I spotted a royal tern in Katama Bay the same day. Unfortunately, no one has seen an elegant tern, so probably the “possible” elegant tern seen on Sarson’s Island was a non-breeding royal tern. The black terns that were reported on Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah seem to have moved down-Island as they have now been seen and photographed on Norton Point as recently as July 8.

Scott Stephens was birding on the fire lanes near the Mobil Station by the Martha’s Vineyard airport on July 6 and thought he spotted a Townsend’s solitaire. This western bird has been seen only twice before on the Island. Unfortunately, no photograph was taken and although Flip Harrington and I went down to check, we were unable to find the bird.

Shorebird numbers are building. Luanne Johnson called to say that a wave of semipalmated plovers and a few semipalmated sandpipers arrived at Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah on July 8. Greater yellowlegs have been seen, reported and photographed by many Vineyard birders. Sarah Mayhew sent a series of photographs of a greater yellowlegs. Sophie and Max Chalfin-Jacobs spotted their first greater yellowlegs at James Pond on June 29 and John Banks had one at Sarson’s Island the same day.

Alex Greene spotted two short-billed dowitchers at Sarson’s Island on July 1. Warren Woessner spotted ruddy turnstones, dunlin, greater yellowlegs and short-billed dowitchers, and numerous willets at Norton Point on July 6. The next day Warren Woessner, Lanny McDowell, Flip Harrington and I counted six short-billed dowitchers and two least sandpipers at Norton Point along with a green heron, black skimmers, common, roseate, royal and least terns. Page Rogers has sent photos of least sandpipers and short-billed dowitchers, and Ken Magnuson sent a shot of a ruddy turnstone.

Great egrets continue to be seen around the Island. Sue Strang spotted one at Black Point on June 24 and Bill Post saw one at Sengekontacket on June 28.

Two black-crowned night herons were spotted at Lambert’s Cove by Sophie and Max Jacobs on June 30 and one on June 22 at Menemsha.

Green herons have been seen at Sengekontacket by Alex Green and at Quansoo by Ken Magnuson this last week.

Tom and Monica Danti were visiting us from Stuart, Fla. We took them to Aquinnah and spotted both surf and white-winged scoters on Devil’s Bridge on July 5. Luanne Johnson reported both species off Dogfish Bar on July 8.

Many people are reporting young great-crested flycatchers in their yards from Lambert’s Cove to Quansoo. Pete Gilmore related an interesting exchange between a great-crested flycatcher and a white-breasted nuthatch which occurred on Hopps Farm Road in West Tisbury. Pete watched in amazement as a great-crested flycatcher attacked a white-breasted nuthatch. Young great-crested flycatchers are around, so Lanny McDowell figured that these flycatchers might be starting their second nest. Both the flycatchers and nuthatches are cavity nesters and probably the nuthatch was looking for a place to nest and wandered into the cavity already occupied by the great-crested flycatcher. A case of breaking and entering, I’d say.

Patrick Mitchell called to report seeing six bobwhite crossing Middle Road near Mermaid Farm on July 8.

Tim Leland reported watching four ospreys circling over his house in Wasque. I would wager these birds are non-breeders looking to fish in the area as the young of the year haven’t fledged yet.

For the second year, Bob Woodruff has at least four young barn owlets. He is able to see all four outside the box that he built. (He now feels he should have built it larger.) One night the family (with Anna’s grandkids, before they headed back to New York city) watched the fledglings take turns doing wing exercises, standing on the shelf at the entrance. They faced the entrance while clinging to the shelf, which is no more than four inches wide. One of them made it to the roof and back somehow without falling. Within a few days Bob figures they will all be perched in the adjacent Pitch Pine, flapping and shrieking.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is