It appears that Vineyard bird watchers have a raging case of spring fever. The “bug” began on Feb. 23 when Laura Wainwright thought she spotted an osprey over James Pond. Then flocks of American robins showed up all over the Island. The largest flock — over 100 individuals — was seen worming in the Farm Institute fields in Katama. John Nelson thought he saw a fieldfare in the flock on Feb. 24. Unfortunately, neither of these birds was photographed or seen by others.
Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings, our osprey gurus, feel that the osprey should start moving north soon, but as Matt Pelikan noted, they usually do not show up on the Vineyard until mid-March. On Feb. 19 Bert Fischer spotted and photographed a dark morph rough-legged hawk over Squibnocket. Now, I know this might be a stretch, but with the fever of spring, perhaps a dark morph rough-legged hawk could be mistaken for an osprey. The flight from Squibnocket to James Pond is a piece of cake for a rough-legged hawk.
Fieldfare is a northern European thrush species that winters in Iceland, southern Scandinavia, Great Britain and central Europe, south to the Mediterranean. It usually hangs out with other thrushes. John Nelson’s sighting makes sense in that regard. The fieldfare is essentially the same size as a robin. It has a gray head and brown back, a heavily spotted breast and a black tail. Pale adult female American robins have a gray head and in the right light, their tails can appear to be black. Sometimes the spotted breasts seen in the juvenile American robins can be present into the winter, but the brown back is a field mark that is unique to fieldfare. There is, to my knowledge, not only no record for fieldfare on the Vineyard, but only one record in Massachusetts, which was in Concord in 1986. It could be that John saw a fieldfare, but to count it there must be a photograph or other observers. The same is true of Laura’s osprey, however birds have wings and anything is possible.
There are two birds of the week: first was the rough-legged hawk seen by Bert Fischer on Feb. 19 at Squibnocket, and second was a Townsend’s solitaire seen in Oak Bluffs between the fire barn and the elementary school by Allan Keith on Feb. 20. The solitaire was in a crab apple tree snacking on remaining fruit. Many of us went over to search for the solitaire to no avail. Townsend’s solitaires have been seen three other times on the Island. The first sighting was in 1981 and was the first Massachusetts state record. Continuing on the same day, Allan found a flock of American wigeon near the bend in the road on Sengekontacket Pond. Among the flock was a lone Eurasian wigeon. Allan went out to Norton Point, where he spotted the two snowy owls, and in front of the Matakesset condos he found a first winter glaucous gull.
On Feb. 24, Timothy Johnson took a handsome photograph of a peregrine falcon in the grasses along the shore of Katama Bay.
Rob Culbert found the leucistic song sparrow at Crystal Lake on East Chop on Feb. 22. This sparrow has to be at least two years old. Many of us, including Rob, saw this bird in the fall, but not all winter. Lanny McDowell took photos of the sparrow two years ago. At the Farm Institute Rob spotted the snow goose in with the Canada goose flock the same day.
Lanny McDowell and Jeff Bernier have been busy with their cameras. Jeff sent a series of shots of great cormorants hanging out at the South Beach parking lot taken on Feb. 20, and a group of shots of black scoters at West Chop on Feb. 23. Lanny McDowell offered up a nice selection of photos of common loons eating crabs in Menemsha Creek, and purple sandpipers feeding and playing on the Squibnocket rocks on Feb. 21.
John Nelson spotted the snow goose in with the Canada geese at the Farm Institute again on Feb. 24. Flip Harrington and I went to the Farm Institute in the late afternoon the same day. We spotted the snow goose, a single eastern meadowlark and a surprisingly early killdeer, as well as at least a hundred American robins in various plumages.
Pat Hughes and Hal Minis from Brewster joined Flip Harrington and me on a mission to find a snowy owl on Sunday, Feb. 23. Pat and Hal had missed seeing a snowy this winter. We first went to Hancock Beach and struck out. Then at Quansoo, we were looking in the dunes along the barrier beach on the south end of Tisbury Great Pond and again found nothing. I turned around and there on the bridge was a snowy owl, and a couple hundred feet behind it was another sitting in the dunes! We then concentrated on the birds on the pond and found black ducks, mallard, a pair of green-winged teal, white-winged scoters, buffleheads, common goldeneye, and hooded and red-breasted mergansers. All of a sudden all the ducks took to the air and Flip spotted an eagle. As it came closer, we all had a good look and determined that we were watching a juvenile bald eagle. Prescott Walsh and Jennie Greene had seen an eagle over Tisbury Great Pond earlier in the month, which was probably the same bird. Our group also spotted two red-tailed hawks, a horned grebe and a couple of common loons.
Luanne Johnson watched a brown creeper skulking along a tree trunk outside her Lambert’s Cove office window on Feb. 25.