The thought of alerting bird watchers to make sure their bird baths are full on Oct. 31 never crossed my mind. However, I find that with this drought, the birds in my yard and the woods and fields that surround my home are looking hard for sources of water. So do keep your bird baths full and if you don’t have a bird bath you can jury-rig one. Happy and Steve Spongberg went to the West Tisbury Dumptique and found a discarded large skillet. They placed it in their backyard. Knowing that it might be too deep for the birds, the Spongbergs placed a rock in the center for a perch and perhaps to weigh it down a tad. Presto, an almost instant bath was created, which was reasonably priced and a source of water for our feathered friends.
John Nelson and Jan Rapp were lucky enough to find a western kingbird at the Farm Institute on Oct. 27. Word of the kingbird’s presence spread amongst Vineyard birders and Ken Magnuson made it down in time to take a photograph of one. Lanny McDowell missed the western kingbird but did find two lark sparrows along the edge of the Farm Institute fields the same day.
Western kingbirds should be west of the Mississippi River, right? Not necessarily, though most of the western kingbirds spend their winters in Central America, there is a population that can be found during the winter in Florida and up as far as South Carolina. Most of the Vineyard records are in the fall between late August and December. The first record of western kingbirds in Massachusetts was in 1887, but the first records I know of for the Vineyard did not occur until the 1950s. There have been three crazy sightings: one in June of 1986 by the Kraetzers, one in July of 1967 by Ed Chalif and Manning Sears and one in August of 1986 by Bert Fischer. A single western kingbird was seen on a Christmas count in 1984.
The western kingbird’s food choices include ants, bees and wasps. These insects comprise almost 40 per cent of their diet. There certainly are plenty of bees still in the flowers, although they are logy as are the wasps that seem always to get into houses in the fall. Ants seem to be around all year round, although I know they hibernate. So until we have a killing frost, there will be plenty of grub for the western kingbird to enjoy.
There are several birds of the week; number one is the western kingbird found at the Farm Institute by Nelson and Rapp on Oct. 27. On the same day Lanny McDowell had two lark sparrows also at the Farm Institute. Number three was Allan Keith’s spotting of a blue grosbeak in the fields of Katama. And number four, up off Tea Lane Happy and Steve Spongberg had an elegant gray bird land in a tree in their yard. Once they studied the bird and the field guides they figured it was a Mississippi kite.
Rob Culbert had the second sighting for this fall of a common nighthawk on Oct. 26 at the regional high school. He found a greater yellowlegs at Matakesset.
Tim Spahr plus two Ryans (Scain and Merrill) visited the Vineyard and birded with Allan Keith on Oct. 22, 23 and 24. Some of the highlights of their birding bonanza included their time at Gay Head on Oct. 22. That day they saw marsh wren, two orange-crowned, a Nashville and 12 palm warblers, including two with yellow, not white, bellies. The yellow-bellied palm warblers, which breed in the east, are usually long gone by now. At Katama they found three vesper sparrows and an American pipit.
Oct. 23 the group with Allan Keith found an American kestrel at the Gay Head Cliffs, two red-breasted nuthatches, a brown thrasher, a house wren, an orange-crowned warbler, 70 palm warblers, five Blackpoll warblers, a Lincoln’s sparrow and two rusty blackbirds. At the Gay Head Moraine the crew found a Swainson’s thrush and 16 hermit thrushes. At Katama two dickcissels were found as well as a yellow-bellied sapsucker. At the Farm Institute two eastern meadowlarks were spotted. Then on Oct. 24, Tim Spahr and Allan Keith went to Squibnocket where they spotted six bufflehead, two pied-billed grebes, a blue-headed vireo and a hermit thrush. At the Gay Head Cliffs the two birders found two American pipits and two rusty blackbirds.
Many other species were seen, but these were the outstanding sightings.
Buffleheads have arrived as Margaret Curtin spotted several at the head of Lagoon Pond as well as some American coots on Oct. 29.
Ken Magnuson counted 25 at Trapps Pond on the same day.
Flip Harrington and I had a yellow-bellied sapsucker hit our window on Oct. 27. We placed it on a tree branch and soon it recovered and flew away.
Ginny Jones spotted the same species near Sepiessa on Tisbury Great Pond. Ginny also spotted what we figured was a second juvenile bald eagle in the same area. At the head of Town Cove in West Tisbury, Ginny heard screech owls. All these sightings occurred last week.
The marbled godwit is still hanging out at Little Beach. Jerry Twomey saw and photographed it on Oct. 26 and Jeff Bernier found and photographed it again on Oct. 28. Jeff also found an American oystercatcher and seven greater yellowlegs.
And speaking of yellowlegs, Lanny McDowell found eight greater yellowlegs in Chilmark Pond. When they ran out of beach from which to hunt, they swam around the grass to the next patch of beach. Then down at Lake Tashmoo on Oct. 27, Lanny took Ken Magnuson and Kelly Spencer along the shore where they spotted three lesser yellowlegs. In the Phillips Preserve, Lanny, Ken and Kelly spotted a brown creeper, a blue-headed vireo and golden-crowned kinglet.
October 25 Lanny McDowell found a Lincoln’s sparrow, a ruby-crowned kinglet and he took a great shot of a Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawk in an aerial tiff over the Gay Head Cliffs.
Flip Harrington and I had a sharp-shinned hawk move into our yard to feed off our feeder birds on Oct. 26. Two days prior on Oct. 24, Tim Johnson photographed a Cooper’s hawk that was canvassing the Felix Neck feeders.
Joe Suozza visited the Vineyard on Oct. 26 and birded Gay Head where he found all three species of scoters, five northern gannets and a red-throated loon.
Flip and I watched a gray catbird, two hermit thrushes and a golden-crowned kingbird taking a bath in the bird bath on Oct. 27. In the Quansoo woods we found four more golden-crowned kinglets. Flip Harrington spotted a brown thrasher at Black Point on Oct. 29.
Finally, a calliope hummingbird was seen on Nantucket until Oct. 27, and on Oct. 29 one was spotted in New Hampshire. One may show up here; one never knows.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.