I must deviate from bird news to speak of other winged creatures, the snowberry clearwing and the hummingbird clearwing. These two belong to a group known as the sphinx moths and they mimic hummingbirds in shape, size and behavior. They have been everywhere this summer. The hummingbird moths are about an inch to an inch and a quarter long and their swept-back wings are about two inches long. Snowberry and hummingbird sphinx moths’ wings are mostly transparent, boasting black or reddish orange borders and veins. Both these hummingbird moths feed with a long hollow, straw-like proboscis, which they keep curled under the head until they are on-site ready to sip nectar from a flower.
The snowberry clearwing is the smaller of the two and has a yellowish thorax (upper body) and black abdomen (lower back) with a yellow stripe across the rump. I have seen large numbers of these at Black Point feeding on the flowers of one of the mint family. They also feed on honeysuckle nectar.
The hummingbird clearwing, the larger of the two has, a rusty red thorax and chestnut veins and borders to their wings. They tend to prefer beach plums and cherry blossom although they also love honeysuckle as well.
Both these clearwings can beat their wings up to 25 beats per minute and their larger cousins have been clocked traveling at speeds close to 30 mph. So if you see a critter that doesn’t fit the description of any hummingbird, it is probably either a snowberry or hummingbird moth.
A memorial service was held at the West Tisbury Cemetery for Johnny Mayhew. He was my cousin and was an avid shell and fin fisherman and duck and goose hunter. Before I knew him, he was a fighter pilot and flew many missions during WWII. His family asked for a flyover as he retired from the Navy with the rank of commander. That honor, however, is reserved for those pilots who die in action. But what happened at the graveside was amazing. A flock of Canada geese in V formation flew over the people gathered at the graveside. And just before they finished their flyover, one duck that was at the tail end of the flock, peeled off and flew in an opposite direction.
In the Navy this is called a missing man flyby with one jet peeling off the formation to honor the person who has died and represent the person’s voyage to the heavens. This Vineyard version of a flyover was a perfect sendoff for a man who loved the natural world.
Susie Bowman reported having a belted kingfisher fly over the Felix Neck parking lot on July 24. The next day she spotted an eastern kingbird catching an insect on the road into Felix Neck. Steve Allen and Allan Sgroi spotted an immature black-crowned night heron at Felix Neck on July 24.
Alex Greene and his father spotted the first whimbrel of the year on the marshes of Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick on July 27. Rob Culbert counted three spotted sandpipers on the shores of the Lagoon Pond in Tisbury the same day.
Jeff Bernier shared photographs of great egrets and immature black-crowned night herons he took at Crackatuxet Cove on July 28. He also had good photos of banded American oystercatchers. One can find where oystercatchers are banded by visiting amoyhwg.org.
The morning of July 28, Luanne Johnson birded Little Beach from Eel Pond with Courtney Jones, Eva Faber, Sammi Chaves and Isla Abusamra. Their highlights for 45 minutes were a great egret, two yellow-crowned night herons, two willets, American oystercatchers with two fledglings, semi-palmated sandpipers and plovers, a ruddy turnstone, short-billed dowitcher, piping plover, sanderling, large numbers of least terns and fewer common terns.
Rob Bierregaard just updated maps for our two 2010 juveniles. Belle is the Vineyard’s 2010 juvenile who is hanging around Tisbury Great Pond. While no one’s moving, we’re getting really interesting data on how the birds shift their feeding areas around as the season progresses. Check Rob’s website for more information at bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/migration12.htm.
Page Rogers photographed a loon off Lobsterville Beach on July 29. After much ado, I have decided it was a red-throated loon. Page also shared a photo of a flock of greater yellowlegs and least terns with chick,s from Eel Pond on July 30. Keith Jackson was greeted by a greater shearwater as it surfaced off the North Shore of the Vineyard on July 30.
Lanny McDowell spotted a merlin hunting over the Farm Institute fields on July 30. This is very early for migrants, so is probably an adult from the Chappaquiddick nest. Word from Matt Pelikan is that there was a pair of merlins on Nantucket last year, so the range and nesting behavior of this falcon is definitely changing.
Lynn Fagan was sailing off Tashmoo on the S/V Ena and spotted a Wilson’s Storm Petrel. David Damroth shared a photo of a bobwhite which he took at Squibnocket on July 29.
Warren Woessner and I birded Norton Point on July 30. We found the usual suspects: American oystercatchers, willets, short-billed dowitchers, black-bellied, semipalmated and piping plovers, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings and semipalmated sandpipers. We missed the black skimmers but did find the three species of nesting terns. Our best sighting was a family of salt marsh sparrows. At the Farm Institute we found killdeer in the plowed field.
The Chilmark Community Center birders joined me on Lobsterville Beach on July 31. We found the red-throated loon that Page Rogers had seen and also counted nine great egrets in the West Basin marshes. Along the Lobsterville beach we found a good selection of shorebirds including black-bellied, semipalmated and piping plovers, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings and semipalmated sandpipers. We found four species of gulls: herring, ring-billed, laughing and great black-backed; three species of terns; least, roseate and common and three species of swallow: barn, bank and tree. At the end of the West Basin marshes we spotted a very pale red-tailed hawk and decided that it was either a pale male, the red-tail that nests in New York down for the summer, or one of his offspring here for a summer break.
Sarah Mayhew flushed a screech owl from her yard in West Tisbury the evening of July 31.
On August 1 Warren Woessner and Lanny McDowell went to Norton Point and found two good terns, a royal and a black in with the rest. The same shorebirds were around as were there on July 30. At the Farm Institute they discovered that semipalmated sandpipers and black-bellied plovers had joined killdeer in the plowed fields.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to email@example.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com