There is a three-way tie for the bird of the week; sightings of not one but two Connecticut warblers, an American bittern and a buff-breasted sandpiper are all worthy, although they are somewhat expected at this time of the year.

Two different Connecticut warblers. Wow. These warblers are not seen on the Island every year; not because they are really rare, but because they are shy and secretive, tending to stay concealed in the dense shrubbery. Allan Keith spotted one at the Gay Head Cliffs on Sept. 16, the first one he has seen on the Island in maybe 20 years. And even more amazing is that he got to study the bird for about two minutes before it disappeared into the shrubbery. Then, on the morning of the Sept. 18, Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmour found and photographed one at the Phillips Preserve in Vineyard Haven. It was the first time Mr. McDowell had spotted one on the Island.

Simon Athearn found two American bitterns in a somewhat unusual location — in a hayfield at Katama Farm. He got within 20 feet of the birds and studied them carefully, noting their size, long thick neck and head that pointed upward. When he got home he looked at this month’s photograph of a bittern in the Felix Neck calendar, which identified the bird for him.

Another one of my favorite bird sightings is of a buff-breasted sandpiper, which Allan Keith found on the tidal flats near Crab Creek at Quansoo on Sept. 17. While pastures and hayfields with short grass are the typical habitats for this species, it seems that they also utilize the extensive tidal flats when Edgartown and Tisbury Great Ponds are open to the ocean.

Bird Sightings

A lot of people have been out this past week, after all it is mid-September, a prime time for southward migrating birds of all types. And there are still many reports of large swarms of tree swallows and red-breasted nuthatches.

Dan Waters reported an active hummingbird feeder on Sept. 17. While the adults have apparently left already, the young hummers are still feeding heavily, gaining weight for their first migration south. But they still have enough extra energy to squabble over access to the feeder. These squabbles are always fun to watch.

On a related note (not a bird), Judy Farrell reported a hummingbird moth on Sept. 15 at their Oak Bluffs house.

Simon Athearn also reported hearing screech owls calling every night. And he heard another owl at his West Tisbury farm which has a clear Hoot Hoot call, which sounds like it must be a great-horned owl. Now that this latter species nests successfully on the Island, as it has for the past decade, we can expect their population to increase and colonize new areas.

On Sept. 15, Olsen Houghton

reported an escaped bright yellow parakeet on West Chop. This bright yellow bird was hanging out with house sparrows, which were much smaller than this bird. Probably this same bird was photographed by Susan Schallau.

On Sept. 18, Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmour birded the Phillips Preserve and report “gazillions” of pine warblers, at least 30 or more anyway, along with a brown creeper, hairy woodpecker and Eastern bluebirds.

On both Sept. 18 and 19, Penny Uhlendorf observed four purple finches at her Vineyard Haven feeders. There were three females and one male.

Allan Keith has been out in the field quite a bit this week and his highlights included a willow flycatcher at his house on Sept. 11, and on the 12th he observed both magnolia and black-throated green warblers in the woods along the eastern shore of Crackatuxet Cove, an upland sandpiper and killdeer at Herring Creek Farm and a western sandpiper and a merlin on Norton Point beach. He observed three whimbrels and a western sandpiper at Little Neck on Cape Pogue and three salt marsh sparrows on Norton Point. He remarked that he did not observe the black skimmers, so they apparently have left for the season.

Of course, there has been a lot of activity at the Gay Head Cliffs. Ken Magneson, Allan Keith, Lanny McDowell, Pete Gilmour and I were all there at least once this week. This seems to be the year of the dickcissel; they are still around and they seem to frequently give their flight call, a very distinctive loud, low-pitched electric buzzy sound, perhaps best described as bzzzzzt, or fpppt.

Other highlights include the following warblers: common yellowthroat, blackpoll, redstart, black and white, prairie, black-throated blue, and Nashville. White-throated sparrow, indigo bunting, scarlet tanager and Swainson’s thrush have also been spotted. And a non-birding highlight has to be what must be thousands of monarch butterflies that have been swarming around the cliffs area, with 50 to 100 of them wherever you look. Some years these migrating monarchs have been quite scarce, but not his year!

Despite all of these sightings it seems to be unexpectedly quiet this week, only single birds here and there. It may be partly the weather, as we are waiting for another major front to come through, bringing another wave of migrants to the Island. It is raining on Wednesday morning as I write this, so maybe a pulse of migrants will arrive tonight.

There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them, and be sure to report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or email

Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours ( and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.