The news that many a Vineyard and off-Island birder has been waiting for: the Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. If you are interested in joining a field team or submitting a bird feeder report, please contact Robert Culbert at email@example.com. Rob will assign you to a team or inform you of the time to report your feeder list and the number to call to do so.
Rusty blackbirds, as Barbara Pesch and I stated in Vineyard Birds II, are “very rare throughout their range and the Vineyard is no exception.” The few that we find on the Island are usually in the company of red-winged blackbirds or common grackles and are found in the fall months. Once in a while the rusty blackbird has been found on our Christmas bird counts, but in all cases it is usually only a single bird or a small flock. Ornithologists are vexed as to the reason this bird species has declined by 90 per cent in recent years. The rusty blackbird’s habitat of choice is wooded wetlands and no doubt many of these have become dry or filled-in limiting the places these birds can survive. This blackbird breeds in what is left of the boreal forest in Canada and spends its winters in states east of the Mississippi and usually south of Washington, D.C., except along the coast.
Ken Magnuson was at Gay Head on Nov. 2 and photographed a bird the identity of which he was unsure, but had an inkling it was a rusty blackbird. When he returned home to his computer and enlarged the image, he found that the bird was indeed a rusty blackbird. Once again, the use of a good camera with a large lens coupled with a computer are fantastic tools for bird watchers.
At the end of October the following birds were reported: John Nelson found 14 buffleheads on Caleb’s Pond on Chappaquiddick and nine brant flew into Ocean Park in the company of Canada geese on Oct. 27. Allan Keith spotted a wood duck in his farm pond, three white-crowned sparrows and a flock of 40 red-winged blackbirds around his feeder, all at Turtle Brook Farm in Chilmark on Oct. 26. On the 29th, Allan birded several spots around the Island. At Crystal Lake in Oak Bluffs he found three hooded mergansers and along East Chop he found a Bonaparte’s gull. At Sengekontacket Pond he counted over 100 buffleheads and three greater yellowlegs. At Hart Haven, Allan found two American oystercatchers.
Allan also found three greater shearwaters and 20-plus common loons off Squibnocket Beach. In the pond he counted 14 gadwall, three black-crowned night herons, 15 ruddy ducks and 120 lesser scaup on Nov. 1. In Katama on Nov. 2 Allan found a golden plover, five killdeer and two drake ring-necked pheasants in the Farm Institute fields, and a single a semipalmated plover on Norton Point.
On Nov. 2 Ken Magnuson found the rusty blackbird at the Gay Head Cliffs and harlequin ducks off Squibnocket Pond. The next day Tim Johnson emailed a handsome photo of a northern harrier he took at Katama.
Jeff Bernier spotted two American oystercatchers at Sengekontacket, a large number of buffleheads were still in the pond and offshore were two species of scoters (white-winged and surf) and common eiders also on Nov. 2.
Nov. 3 was the day of the dark-eyed junco. Dan Waters of Christiantown, Marianne Thomas of Edgartown, Laura Wainwright of Lamberts Cove and others all announced that they had dark-eyed juncos at their feeders.
Also on Nov. 3 Bob Shriber along with Ken Magnuson found three harlequin ducks at Squibnocket, at Katama a golden plover, a merlin, a sharp-shinned hawk and a ring-necked pheasant. Up-Island Bob and Ken found 20 green-winged teal, six gadwall and 15 greater yellowlegs in Chilmark Pond. Earlier in the day Bob and Ken joined Lanny McDowell and me at Black Point and Hancock Beaches. Our best birds were an eastern meadowlark, eight black ducks and four green-winged teal at Black Point, and at Hancock Beach an osprey, palm warbler, eastern towhee and several American robins. The following day Bob Shriber spotted several northern gannets off Gay Head and counted 40 green-winged teal, five greater scaup and eight gadwalls in Tisbury Great Pond. There were 15 harlequin ducks off Squibnocket.
Suzan Bellincampi reported a flock of red-winged blackbirds at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary on Nov. 4. At Chocker’s in Menemsha Pond, Roger Cook found two greater yellowlegs. At Squibnocket a golden-crowned kinglet and a male kestrel were spotted the same day.
On Nov. 5 Rob Culbert checked Little Beach to see if the marbled godwit was still there. It was not, nor was the greater and lesser yellowlegs. Rob did count 35 sanderlings, three black-bellied plovers, four dunlin and three American oystercatchers. His best birds at Little Beach were a flock of 40 snow buntings. At the Farm Institute Rob counted 16 tree swallows, five savannah sparrows, 50 dunlin, killdeer and black-bellied plovers, many American robins, a merlin, a northern harrier, but his best birds were a flock of 20 American pipits.
Bob Shriber found a red-throated loon off Lobsterville and a flock of red-breasted mergansers off Red Beach in Aquinnah. Bob’s best bird was a lesser black-backed gull he spotted on Chilmark Pond where he also spotted gadwall and green-winged teal on Nov. 5.
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 co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.