In 1974 my brother in law, Brian Harrington, while working at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, developed International Shorebird Surveys to “gather basic migration information on shorebirds and the wetlands they use.” Later the Atlantic Canada Shorebird Survey joined in and the data collected by huge numbers of volunteers from both organizations showed that many species of shorebirds depend on flats and other wetland habitats to fuel up on food as they often move up to 11,000 miles per year. This distance is between their nesting areas in the tundra to their wintering haunts in Central and South America.

This data has shown that the numbers of shorebirds has declined drastically due mainly to habitat loss, specifically coastal and inland wetlands. This means there are fewer pit stops available to migration shorebirds. So more information is needed to figure out how to help protect these pit stops. The ISS data will be used not only to identify the areas used by the migrating shorebirds but also to develop an atlas so conservation and wildlife professionals can use the information to conserve and manage the areas that the shorebirds need to fuel up.

Luanne Johnson volunteered to organized Vineyard birders to team up with her Biodiversity interns to survey the areas suggested by the off-Island team for New England including Stephani Koch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Scott Melvin of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program and Brad Winn of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

The Vineyard birders rose to the call and we have joined the leaders of Biodiversity Works, Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin and their interns to start these annual surveys. We will be surveying each site between August 15 and October 15. The sites we have been asked to check are State Beach, East Beach on Chappaquiddick, Norton Point and Little Beach/Eel Pond. We are adding Dogfish Bar and may add others down the road. Thanks to Biodiversity Works for taking on this useful and fun set of surveys.

Bird Sightings

Rob Bierregaard emailed to say he has a new website set up to monitor the ospreys that he has tagged and fitted with transmitters. It is It seems that both Captain Liz and Caleb, two young ospreys that were fitted with transmitters on the Vineyard, were still on-Island as of Sept. 1.

The most exciting news comes from Scott Stephens who photographed a South Polar skua five miles south of Noman’s Land on Sept. 2.

Suzan Bellincampi releases a ruddy duck.

Other new species for the week include two Baird’s sandpipers and one buff-breasted sandpiper seen by Liz Baldwin, Pete Gilmore, Nika Slade and photographed by Lanny McDowell during a shorebird survey done for Biodiversity Works on August 30 on Chappaquiddick. The same crew also found a first of the season great cormorant. Other shorebirds seen included three whimbrels, four greater and one lesser yellowlegs, three western willets, four American oystercatchers, two ruddy turnstones and a spotted sandpiper. These birders also spotted two horned larks and noticed that the whimbrels were hawking insects in the dunes.

Nancy Weaver, Margaret Curtin and David Stanwood noted that they had seen laughing gulls on Lambert’s Cove Beach and Ice House Pond hawking insects as well. Rob Culbert added that common terns also are known to hawk insects as are other gull and tern species.

Another new species for the week was a ruddy duck that was found in Smith Hollow in Edgartown, captured and taken to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Not being sure of the health of the duck, it was taken to neighbor Gus Ben David who pronounced the duck fit and suggested it be released in Crystal Lake in Oak Bluffs. It was released and was as happy as a clam! This is early for ruddy ducks to appear on the Island as we usually don’t see them around until late September.

Luanne Johnson, Greg Palermo, Luke Elder and I conducted the shorebird survey for Biodiversity Works on Sylvia State Beach on August 30. We found nine species of shorebirds, semipalmated plovers being the most common. We spotted a juvenile northern harrier hunting the dunes along Sengekontacket Pond. Warren Woessner found five golden plovers and 300 black-bellied plovers at the Farm Institute the same day. The next day Luanne Johnson, Warren Woessner, Allan Keith and I surveyed the shorebirds of Norton Point for Biodiversity Works. We counted 13 species of shorebirds. The most numerous were black-bellied plovers and then sanderlings. We were surprised to find five least terns, two adults and three juveniles and two red knots. We counted five piping plovers and 16 American oystercatchers, one of which was banded. Other birds of note were 10 black skimmers and a young peregrine falcon that had captured a sanderling. We swung by the Farm Institute and found two golden plovers in the field the same day.

Larry Hepler counted three juvenile northern harriers at Quansoo on August 31; at East Beach on Chappaquiddick Winnie and Fred Spar spotted two northern harriers. The Spars also had a spotted sandpiper near the jetties on East Beach and a great egret spearing fish at Poucha Pond.

Debbie Hancock and Patrick identified a golden plover on Lobsterville Beach on Sept. 1. Warren Woessner counted two golden plovers at Herring Creek Farm on Sept. 2. Pat Widra heard a screech owl calling in her yard near the Martha’s Vineyard Airport on August 29. And speaking of owls, Penny Uhlendorf heard a great horned owl at the Phillips Reserve in Tisbury very close to where they had nested in the past, but not this year. We hope they will return to nest again.

Barbara Beicheck is noticing an increase in American robins and Martina Mastrononaco had a nice selection of shorebirds at Squibnocket on August 30 including least sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, sanderling and semipalmated plovers. And Jody Angevin sent a photo of a huge flock of tree swallows on the road at West Basin she took on Sept. 2.

Rose Styron and Rona Kiley joined me at the Gay Head Cliffs on August 28. It was quite foggy but we still found a couple of nice birds including a Baltimore oriole, an American redstart and several common yellowthroats.

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

Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is