The 114th annual Christmas Bird Count will take place Jan. 4 between dawn and dusk. Teams are already being formed and strategies discussed. The one question the compiler Rob Culbert and I are very interested in answering is: What is the real number of snowy owls on Martha’s Vineyard? So we are asking everyone involved to please note the exact time and exact location of every snowy owl you see in your area on Jan. 4. Now, Nantucket reported 33 snowy owls during their CBC last weekend, but I wonder if that will be the final count once the compiler checks to see what time and where the owls were seen. It could be that some of the owls were counted two or three times.
If you are interested in participating in the bird count please contact Rob Culbert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-693-4908.
The Christmas Bird Count also needs volunteers to report the birds that visit their feeders during the day of Jan. 4. Please make a list of these birds and the number you spotted at your feeders and call that information into Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary between 1 and 4 p.m. on Jan. 4.
The press release from National Audubon mentioned that “last holiday season you came out in record numbers to count birds for the 113th Christmas Bird Count. More than 70,000 of you joined 2,369 count circles besting the previous year’s record of 63,227 counters across 2,248 circles.” Why do we do this? Part of it is competition because we want to know which Massachusetts count will have the highest number of bird species spotted. Can we beat Nantucket’s 126 species? Others realize that the information from the CBCs is a major contribution to bird science. According to National Audubon, “Each time you record a bird sighting you are contributing to more than a hundred years of data on bird populations that directly inform Audubon’s conservation decisions.” Many of us join in to learn about birds, meet other people with similar interests, and to have a great outdoor experience. Whatever your reason for joining the CBC, we thank you. Enjoy!
Anne Carmichael Lemenager counted 18 snow buntings along State Beach on Dec. 18.
Wink Winkleman watched a first-year Baltimore oriole taking a bath in his East Chop yard bird bath on Dec. 19.
John Nelson counted 56 black-bellied plovers and 43 dunlins in the plowed field at the Farm Institute on Dec. 21. The same day Ellen Gallager counted over 400 scaup in the Lagoon.
Justin Bryant photographed a snowy owl at Black Point, Chilmark with his iPhone on Dec. 24. The week of Dec. 23, Debra Moore reported seeing two snowy owls at Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah on several occasions.
Christmas Day there was a flurry of birding activity. Jeff Bernier’s neighbor in Edgartown photographed a leucistic blue jay. A much washed-out jay if I ever saw one. Ken Magnuson let people know that there was a snowy owl on State Beach and many people dropped everything and went out and saw and photographed the owl. Nat Woodruff sent a great photograph and Jan Pogue and her two offspring found the owl as well. Luanne Johnson went over to Chappaquiddick to visit Norma and Geoff Kontje and the three of them found a snowy owl on Tom’s Neck. They also spotted two golden-crowned kinglets and several yellow-rumped warblers.
Larry Hepler found a single snow bunting wandering along his Quansoo driveway on Dec. 26. Rob Davey found a snowy owl by the lifeguard stands on the right fork of the Katama Beach Road the same day.
Roger Cooks found two snow buntings and a snowy owl at Squibnocket on Dec. 27 and Sarah Mayhew photographed a snowy owl at Katama. The same day John Nelson called to say he had spotted a gyrfalcon which had killed a gull at the Farm Institute. This is a very rare bird for the Vineyard. The word went out to Vineyard birders and many with cameras in hand tried for hours to find the bird on the following day. Unfortunately the bird was never found. Allan Keith did however find a red-shouldered hawk at the Farm Institute, which is another rare bird for the Vineyard. No photo was taken of that hawk either.
Hannah Evans sent photos of bufflehead and an eastern meadowlark taken at Norton Point on Dec. 28 and one of a merlin taken at the Katama airport on Dec. 30. Jeff Bernier photographed a snowy owl and snowy buntings at Norton Point on Dec. 28. Warren Woessner found an eastern meadowlark and snow buntings at the right fork of Katama Beach parking lot. On Navy Way, Warren and Sarah Mayhew each spotted American robins, cedar waxwings, white-throated and song sparrows and dark-eyed juncos drinking from puddles. Sarah took some great shots of these birds.
Rosemary Knowlton Hildreth sent a fine photo of a snowy owl taken on the jetties at Eastville on Dec. 29. Ken Magnuson was taking a photo of a snowy owl at the Farm Institute the same day. Bingo — two very differently marked birds taken the same day at different locations, proving that there are at least two snowy owls on Martha’s Vineyard.
Warren Woessner found spotted sandpipers on the Oak Bluff jetties on Dec. 29. Deb Carter photographed a snowy owl at the Farm Institute the same day.
Richard Gilfillan counted 20 bufflehead and two red-throated loons off Dogfish Bar on Dec. 30, and Allan Keith was pleased that the clay-colored sparrow and snowy bunting were still hanging around the feeders at his Turtle Brook Farm.
David Damroth and Barbara Lee spotted at least two and maybe three different snowy owls at Squibnocket on Dec. 30. Someday I will find time to put all these photos of snowy owls together and try to get a handle on how many snowy owls there really are on Martha’s Vineyard in the winter of 2013/2014.
Please report your bird sightings to email@example.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.