R.K. and Kathryn Warburton of Chappaquiddick were pleasantly surprised to have a rare raptor land in their yard for a spell on August 20. The Warburtons profess to be amateur birders, but they certainly knew that the bird in their backyard was one they had not seen before on the Vineyard. Kathryn was able to take several photos of the bird and their son sent them to me. Wow, a swallow-tailed kite! I wasn’t totally convinced until I saw the photos.
The normal range for swallow-tailed kites is South Carolina to Florida and west to Louisiana and a sliver of eastern Texas. These kites are no fools and spend their winters in Central and South America. My husband and I have seen communal roosts of swallow-tailed kites in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. When we asked why kites did this in Central America and not in the United States, the answer was for protection against predators. Ah, the old safety in numbers!
Swallow-tailed kites have been seen in Massachusetts and even as far north as Nova Scotia on the east coast and also have wandered as far west as Arizona and Ontario in the west. The sightings of this elegant kite are usually in the spring after prolonged southwesterly winds. There are now eight records of this kite on the Vineyard and all but two were in the spring.
The first sighting of this kite was again on Chappaquiddick in May of 1993 by Robert and Edo Potter and K. Kadey. The most recent record before the Warburtons’ was a dead bird that William Marks (Waterway) found at Katama in March of 2008. The arrival of the swallow-tailed kite in the Warburton’s yard is the first August recording for the Vineyard.
So why did the swallow-tailed kite visit Chappaquiddick now? I can’t say for sure, but there has been an amazing migration of dragonflies recently and that is one of the favorite foods of these kites. Maybe the kite followed the food. The swallow-tailed kite is an agile flyer as it swoops down and snatches insects off a tree branch and continues on without a touchdown.
Thanks are in order to the Warburtons for contacting the Vineyard birding community to alert us to this special visit of the swallow-tailed kite.
First, a couple of items from the osprey team of Dick Jennings and Rob Bierregaard. They have found that there were 72 breeding pairs of ospreys on the Vineyard this summer, not 71, and those 72 pairs fledged 88 young not 87. Rob sent me an amazing static shot of one of the ospreys that has a transmitter going up on a thermal on the August 17. The osprey (Edwin) climbed 2,110 feet in five minutes (that’s 4.77 mph). His transmitter was fully charged, so Rob got locations once a minute as he climbed up in the thermal. Then he glided off to the south. Rob followed the rest of his track for the day — it was definitely a day for thermals. To keep track of the ospreys that have been fitted with transmitters and geolocators go to bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/.
Connections make the world go around and that is the case with bird watching as well. Mike Zoll, golf pro at Farm Neck and a birder, met Dr. James Watson who was visiting Lucy Gordon. During conversations Mike found that Dr. Watson has been a bird watcher since an early age. Could someone take him birding? Mike called Gus Ben David who unfortunately had a previous commitment but was able to have lunch with Dr. Watson prior to the day set aside for birding. Gus called me to ask if I could take Dr. Watson and Lucy Gordon birding. I jumped at the opportunity to take the author of The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA and who, with Dr. Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA and won the Nobel Prize for the same. I knew that Warren Woessner had a background in biochemistry and also had a four wheel drive vehicle so I asked if Warren could take us all to Norton Point. On August 18 Warren Woessner, Dr. Watson, Lucy Gordon and I birded Norton Point. We had all the regulars and the birds that were of the most interest to Dr. Watson and Lucy were the black terns, the adult and juvenile black skimmer and a handsome northern harrier that was hunting the dunes. Unfortunately, we missed seeing short-billed dowitchers but did see all the other shorebirds that are now at Norton Point. Thanks Mike, Gus and Warren for a great opportunity.
John Nelson and Jan Rapt birded Chappaquiddick on August 14 and found a mix of over 100 adult and juvenile common terns. They had large numbers of both immature and adult ruddy turnstones as well as ospreys but their best bird was a Foster’s tern at Cape Poge. Later at dusk John and Jan spotted a barn owl by Crystal Lake in Oak Bluffs.
Steve Allen and Al Sgroi led a Felix Neck bird walk on August 15 and found sanderlings, black-bellied plovers and ruddy turnstones. They counted good numbers of cedar waxwings and northern flickers, and an immature black-crowned night heron. Steve also mentioned that the wood ducks are still around and an American redstart visited the area of the bird feeders on August 14.
Rob Culbert birded the Farm Institute on August 16 and found the first bobolinks of the fall. He also counted five American golden plovers in with the black- bellied and semipalmated plovers and a possible buff-breasted sandpiper.
Larry Hepler spotted a willet at Black Point on August 16 and at his feeder he had four cedar waxwings and four ruby-throated hummingbirds. Then on August 18 Larry watched a Cooper’s hawk terrorize his feeder, and at Black Point spotted a merlin and three American oystercatchers. Bill and Sue Glazier spotted common loons off State Beach on August 17. Claire Harrington spotted an eastern bluebird on her bluebird box near Caleb Pond on Chappaquiddick on August 18.
David Stanwood sent several photos of a yellow-billed cuckoo he took in his Lambert’s Cove yard on August 17. Sarah Mayhew counted over 75 laughing gulls at James Pond on August 16 and sent a superb shot of an adult and immature black skimmer that she took at Norton Point on August 20.
Lanny McDowell, Porter Turnbull, Flip Harrington and I birded Norton Point on August 19. Our best birds were a Foster’s tern, four black terns and juvenile and adult black skimmers. Although there were still many common and roseate terns, we only saw a couple of immature least terns. They have moved on.
Jeff Bernier sent an excellent shot of a greater and lesser yellowlegs standing next to one another that he took on Norton Point on August 20.
Flip Harrington and I spotted a green heron flying by Big Sandy on Tisbury Great Pond on August 20. The next day I spotted an immature common yellowthroat, a red-eyed vireo, a northern oriole and a downy woodpecker in our Quansoo yard. We still have two ruby throated hummingbirds dueling by our feeder.
The Chilmark Community Center’s final bird walk of the season took us to Red Beach, West Basin and Gay Head Moraine in Aquinnah on August 20. We had a sizeable flock of laughing gulls at Red Beach, three American oystercatchers and five great egrets at West Basin and a few nice passerines at the Moraine. The Moraine birds included ovenbird, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, black and white warbler, red-eyed vireo, great crested flycatcher, eastern wood pewee, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmice, eastern towhee, Carolina wren and gray catbirds.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to email@example.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.