The tide is changing for the bird population. The summer residents are slowly departing and other species are arriving to fill that niche. The most obvious difference for beachgoers is the terns. Where there were a good number of terns in early August, there are just a few lingering souls. The smallest of our nesting tern species, the least tern, is extensively gone, headed for Florida and points south. There are many fewer common and roseate terns loafing on the flats and beaches. Bird watchers at this time of year spend a bit more time looking over the tern flocks as new species of terns traditionally show up.

The first of the “new” terns to arrive on-Island is the black tern. This petite dark tern nests in the middle of Canada and this country and after nesting disperses south and east. When breeding these terns have black heads and chests, dark gray backs and red legs. We rarely see them in this breeding plumage. Instead we see a mottled gray and white tern or a gray tern with a darker cap and a spot behind its eye. We can easily pick out the black tern from the flock due to its small size and darker feathering.

The next tern to arrive is the Foster’s tern. This tern is about the same size as “our” common tern, but can be separated due to its electric white breast/chest and black eye patch. This eye patch is a dead giveaway in a loafing flock and in flight the white breast separates this tern from the common tern, and the slow wing beat is different from the white-breasted roseate terns.

Now this whole scenario would change drastically if we had a hurricane. Then a whole other flock of southern terns would be added to the mix.

Bird Sightings

Suzan Bellincampi emailed to say that the barn owls at Felix Neck are once again on eggs, two to be exact. To watch the process of nesting, hatching and fledging, check out the camcorder at

Ken Magnuson reported two Baltimore orioles (an adult and a juvenile), an eastern phoebe and four ruby-throated hummingbirds in his yard on August 21. Clare Harrington still had an eastern kingbird by Caleb Pond on August 21. The same day Warren Woessner found three snowy egrets and four black terns on Norton Point.

Jesse Reinfelder and his mother found two black-bellied plovers and a ruddy turnstone along the shores of Sengekontacket Pond on August 22.

Gus Ben David reports that the pair of eastern bluebirds is nesting for the third time this summer in one of the bluebird boxes in his Edgartown yard as of August 23.

Luanne Johnson and Greg Polermo spotted a few terns on Edgartown Great Pond on August 23 including two least terns in non-breeding plumage. Biodiversity Works, which monitors the terns, found two very late nesting pairs of least terns at the west end of the pond that had fledged chicks around August 15.  

Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner and Winnie Spar were thrilled to count 15 blue-winged teals as they flew in from offshore and landed by the condos at the southwest corner of Katama Bay on August 23. This is by far the most blue-winged teals I have ever seen on the Vineyard! The other special bird we saw that day was a lesser black-backed gull.

We also spotted a black-crowned night heron, four piping plovers, a spotted sandpiper and close to 400 laughing gulls. The least terns were gone, but we had two black terns, a few roseates and around 50 common terns. The 13 black skimmers were still around.

Yann Meerseman who delivers our newspapers and takes photos along the way and posts them on Vineyard Colors took marvelous shots of great blue herons and great egrets at Stonewall Pond on the evening of August 24.

Allan Keith, Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner, Flip Harrington and I birded Quansoo and Black Point on August 24. Our best bird at Quansoo was a Bonaparte’s gull and at Black Point a pectoral sandpiper and four green-winged teal.

At the other end of the Island, Bob Shriber spotted bobolinks at Gay Head and several ruby-throated hummingbirds buzzing around. Bob also commented on the large number of tree swallows at the cliffs. Down the road at Philbin Beach he spotted one of the few least terns still around. Bob also reported spotting a first year Bonaparte’s gull in with laughing gulls at Pilot’s Landing in Aquinnah on August 15.

Over on Chappaquiddick, Dale Carter has been entertained by the visitors to a salt pan in the marsh next to the Dyke Bridge. On August 24 she watched four snowy egrets, one great egret, two black ducks, four wet American crows and three greater yellowlegs working the pan. The next day, north of the Dyke Bridge in the pitch pines, Dale reported a group of 14 egrets, some snowy and some greats.

On August 25 Tim Leland called and also sent a photo of a black and white warbler that hopped up on the foot and arm of a visiting friend out at Wasque. Tim asked about this kind of behavior. I would wager the warbler just migrated in from some place north (say Nova Scotia) and was pooped and landed on the first available spot.

Lanny McDowell sent some nice photos of lesser yellowlegs he photographed at Black Point on August 25.

Allan Keith birded the Gay Head Cliffs on August 25 and found a female Cape May and a prairie warbler. He counted three eastern kingbirds and an eastern wood pewee. At Squibnocket, Allan found two yellow and a black and white warbler, an American redstart and six common yellowthroats. One lone bobolink flew over Allan’s head at Squibnocket.

On August 26 Warren Woessner and Bob Shriber found a whimbrel and lesser yellowlegs at Norton Point. Warren added that a young Cooper’s hawk was terrorizing a flock of European starlings at the Farm Institute the same day.

Jeff Bernier took several interesting shots of a Bonaparte’s gull in Edgartown Harbor on August 27.

Bob Shriber checked out Quansoo on August 27 and found three black terns, an adult peregrine falcon and two lesser yellowlegs.

Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her web site is