This last weekend Flip Harrington and I headed to Boston’s Logan Airport lugging binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, foul weather gear and boots, plus clothing for warm and chilly weather. We met up with Brad Winn, a biologist with the Manomet Center for Conservation of Manomet. Our final flight destination was Brunswick, Ga., but we would continue on by rental car to a dock in Midway, Ga. The dock is owned by the St. Catherine’s Island Foundation and when we arrived four 24-foot outboard boats were waiting. There were birders milling around the dock greeting each other and catching up. Many of us had not seen each other since the last Christmas Bird Count (CBC) at St. Catherine’s Island the year before.
Finally all 34 birders, mainly from Georgia and Florida, were accounted for and we loaded our gear onto the waiting boats. We set off winding our way through creeks and canals cutting through vast acres of salt marsh. We found three bald eagles, a northern harrier, great blue herons, spotted sandpipers and boat-tailed grackles before we crossed the Intracoastal Waterway and finally arrived at the St. Catherine’s Island dock. We all had received our “roosting assignments” prior to arrival so we spread out and found our cabins and dropped off our gear. We were to meet at the dining area to receive our schedules and hear announcements. Sadly, our leader Emil Urban was recovering from an illness and wasn’t there, but Royce Hayes, the director of the island, and his gracious wife Christa who was armed with a three-page set of emailed instructions from Emil, easily prepared us for the St. Catherine’s CBC.
We feasted on oysters and clams for appetizers followed by a “Low Country Boil,” which is similar to the New England clam bake. Whole new potatoes, local spicy sausage, onions, corn on the cob and shrimp — right off the boat — are placed In a huge pot. The lidded pot was put on the flames for the proper cooking time. I should have watched to see the order in which the food items were added and how long the “boil” was cooked! The end result was spectacular. Our bellies full and our area assignments settled, we hit the hay.
Flip and I were assigned to area five, and our leader was Brad Winn who has worked at St. Catherine Island in the past and was a Felix Neck graduate. We had the longest ride to our area, which was a long narrow strip from midway along the barrier beach and salt marsh on the east side of St. Catherine’s Island to the southern tip. We left well before sunrise. There were eight of us on the team and we divided in half and each had the use of a Gator to ride out to the areas. We would ride a spell and walk a bit. In the marshes we walked in a line to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I flushed a clapper rail and I am not sure who was more surprised! Unfortunately, we were only able to bird for about five of the nine hours, as we were hit with a torrential rain squall. The spirits weren’t dampened although the birders were.
The final wrap-up was the next day as we feasted on a pig roast and participated in a beer tasting event the night of the count. Sunday morning all the leaders had tallied their lists of birds seen in front of them. A bird species was called out and we went around the dining room hearing from the leaders how many of that species had been seen in their territory. Our final tally was 125 different species, which was not bad, considering the weather. The best birds as far as Flip and I were concerned included a brown pelican, wood storks, little blue and tricolored herons, Caspian and royal terns, 16 bald eagles, red-shouldered hawk, clapper rails, common moorhen, many piping plovers, red knots, semipalmated and least sandpipers, and short-billed dowitchers, common ground and white-winged doves, Carolina chickadee, brown-headed nuthatch, and yellow-throated vireo. Our favorites, however, were American avocets and 60 marbled godwits! Now, that is the way to do a Christmas Bird Count!
Sharon Pearson spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker off Lambert’s Cove Road on Dec. 11. Allan Keith had an eastern phoebe at Turtle Brook Farm on the same day. On Dec. 14 Allan found, at his feeder, a clay-colored sparrow in a flock of dark-eyed juncos. He noted that back on Nov. 11 he had probably the same flock of juncos along with a single clay-colored sparrow. Hopefully the sparrow will stick around for the Christmas Bird Count.
On Norton Point Jeff Bernier photographed a northern harrier on Dec. 14 and a merlin on Dec. 12.
William Waterway and Nat Woodruff both had yellow-rumped warblers at their bird baths on Dec. 12
Sioux Eagle sent a photo of a northern flicker that was enjoying her West Tisbury heated bird bath on Dec. 13.
Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens had quite a gathering at their Pilot Hill bird feeders on Dec. 13, including a fox sparrow, a good size flock of red-winged blackbirds, several brown cowbirds, and the best bird was a rusty blackbird. Penny and Scott watched two chipping sparrows at their feeders on Dec. 12.
Bill Smith posted a nice photo of a red morph or phase screech owl he took off the Menemsha Crossroads on Dec. 15.
Eileen Maley and Shirley Mayhew are sharing a flock of American robins off Music street in West Tisbury. Eileen noted that the robins were collecting near her house, first tail first and then head first. She figures the robins were doing what humans would do at a fireplace, heat our backsides first and then our front sides. As the snow started on Dec. 17, a flock of American robins descended on our Quenames holly trees to feast on the berries. I hope they left me some for our Christmas decorations!
Jan Norton emailed to say on Dec. 16 she watched a large flock of Canada geese come into her yard and there was a lone snow goose in the bunch. The flock returned complete with the snow goose the next day.
Bill Cassidy reports that the male northern harrier that was hunting the Martha’s Vineyard Airport fields this summer/fall is still doing just that. Bill hopes he finds a mate this spring.
Andrea Hartman reports that this week she frequently spotted a Cooper’s hawk checking out her West Tisbury feeders.
Flip Harrington on Dec. 17 watched a barn owl being mobbed and beaten to the ground by a flock of crows at the Allen Farm in Chilmark.
Snowy owls continue to be reported by one and all. The most recent was one seen by Dick Brown on Dec. 17 as he drove down Beach Road between the Bend in the Road and the Big Bridge. The owl settled briefly on a post close to the road then presumably not liking all the traffic, flew off. Bert Fischer photographed a snowy owl at Long Beach in Aquinnah on Dec. 14 and one on the compost pile at Bettlebung Farm on Dec. 15. Allan Keith spotted undoubtedly the same snowy owl at Turtle Brook Farm on the same day. Ken Magnuson spoke to hunters who had spotted what they figured were snowy owls on the Farm Institute fields on Dec. 13 and 14. Liz Baldwin sighted a snowy owl at Tashmoo being harassed by American crows on Dec. 13. Nat Woodruff photographed a snowy owl awake and asleep on the breakwater at the Big Bridge off Beach Road on Dec. 12 and Hellie Neuman spotted a snowy owl at Lucy Vincent on Dec. 8.
My computer decided to spell an eruption of snowy owls instead of the correct way which is an irruption of snowy owls. Sorry I missed it.
Please report your bird sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.