It is that time of the year again! Any visitor to a wide variety of beaches can find roping that marks off the places where piping plovers, American oystercatchers and least terns nest. The first two species are back and the first oystercatcher nests are now present — the first one was reported on April 13. Plover nests will not be far behind. And the least terns will return to their nesting colonies in early May. It is important to follow the restricted area signs so these first nesting attempts — weather permitting — can be successful. These early nests that are started in April or early May can fledge young by the Fourth of July. If these early nests are successful there will be fewer beaches with restrictions during most of the summer season. If the early nests fail, the pair will re-nest, so restrictions may stay in place well into August.
Intensive efforts by several organizations (Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, BiodiversityWorks, The Trustees of Reservations and Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation) spearhead the protection efforts. These and other similar efforts elsewhere in the state have lead to a remarkable recovery of piping plovers, whose Massachusetts population has increased tremendously, from 126 pairs in 1987 to approximately 730 pairs in 2012.
Please let one of the above organizations know if you find a plover and there is no protective fencing nearby. And be sure to keep your distance from them, maybe staying along the waterline, allowing the birds to go about their business on the beaches they have been using for thousands of years.
The most notable sightings of the week are two reports of great-crested flycatchers on April 11. This common Island breeder does not usually return until late April, so they are about two weeks earlier than expected. Lanny McDowell heard one in the woods west of Lake Tashmoo, while Anne Lemenager heard one not too far away, in the woods at Tisbury Meadow. It is not necessary to see this species as they can be identified by their quite distinctive voice.
The first brown thrasher report of the year is a bit grizzly. Luanne Johnson found little more than its head on the beach on April 10; likely a merlin caught the bird as it was flying from the ocean to the land. The merlin must have stopped to eat part of the bird on the beach before carrying away most of the carcass to finish the meal elsewhere.
Waterbirds are on the move. Jeff Bernier observed both short-billed dowitchers and greater yellowlegs at Crackatuxet Cove on April 14. Meanwhile, the same day at Norton Point Beach Lanny McDowell found an almost adult Iceland gull and a breeding adult lesser black-backed gull. Ken Magnuson photographed a great egret in Chilmark on April 14. Albert Fischer also spotted this bird. And bufflehead are getting ready to leave the Island and head north to their breeding grounds. Vasha Brunelle reports a large flock of 300 buffleheads in the west arm of the Lagoon on April 13. This is a much larger number than usual, and they were very active, repeatedly flying and landing.
Multiple birders have reported seeing and hearing eastern phoebes across the Island. This is another species whose call is distinctive enough that we do not have to see them to identify them. Pine warblers also seem to be everywhere now, as there are multiple reports from across the Island. But be careful identifying these largish warblers by sound alone, as Matt Pelikan reports hearing his first chipping sparrows, and their songs are very similar! There are also multiple reports of brown creepers; there must be a lot of these inconspicuous cryptic birds around for there to be this many reports.
Jeffrey Bernier found a kestrel at Katama on April 13. He also spotted a male northern harrier at Crackatuxet Cove.
April 13 was a busy day. Janet and Jay Sigler spotted their first male eastern towhee near Edgartown Great Pond.
Penny Uhlendorf was out observing the early-blooming mayflowers on April 10 when she heard a flock of crossbills flying overhead. Has anyone else observed crossbills, pine siskins or red-breasted nuthatches recently? Or have they all headed north back to their breeding grounds? Also on the winter residents heading north idea, Matt Pelikan found a flock of ten red-throated loons close to the Katama shoreline, just outside the breaking waves, on April 14. How much longer will they hang around?
Edo Potter reports that a white pigeon has been present at their farm on Chappaquiddick for a few days. It has two bands, blue and pink. Gus Ben David suggests that it might be someone’s escaped racing pigeon.
Jeff Bernier found a dead common murre on the beach at the western end of Crackatuxet Cove on April 10. He also spotted a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in the woods near the Edgartown Highway barn on April 11. On April 14, Ken Magnuson spotted a sapsucker that was tending the unique sets of horizontal holes it drills in trees — so it can suck the sap that flows out and consume the occasional bugs that get stuck in the sap.
Finally, Gus Ben David observed tree swallows in the field at his World of Reptiles and Birds Park on April 9. The barn owls nesting there have seven eggs that will hatch soon.
There are lots of birds around as migration increases its intensity, 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 email@example.com.
Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.