Early last week the members of five bird-a-thon teams and feeder watchers watched in horror at the weather predictions. “We better not have rain Friday and Saturday — it will kill the birding!” was the cry. Strategies changed as 6 p.m. on Friday, May 16, approached. Where can we bird from our vehicle and still find birds? I cannot speak for all the teams, but I know that shortly before 6 p.m. on Friday, Allan Keith, along with Lanny McDowell and Ken Magnuson, headed to Squibnocket to try to find birds offshore and in Squibnocket Pond. The weather was very iffy and it actually started to rain so hard that the team had to retreat. Flip Harrington and I tried to cover Black Point and Tisbury Great Ponds and surroundings, but after a while even with windshield wipers flapping, we could not identify what we were seeing and had to quit. Other teams had similar experiences. We were all bummed as we hit the hay and hoped it would rain hard and blow itself out by morning.
Saturday morning the bird-a-thon teams woke to driving rain at 4:30 a.m. It was beginning to decrease by 6:30, so Flip Harrington and I filled the bird feeders at Quenames and revisited the Quansoo and Black Point areas. We were able to pick up several species, although the weather was not conducive to out-of-vehicle birding. After checking our feeders and adding a few more birds, we met Allan Keith at Alley’s at 8 a.m. Allan had returned to Squibnocket and found a few new species but was stymied by the weather as well. We loaded up into one truck and headed down-Island to catch the low tide at Norton Point. The rain was becoming light and intermittent and we hoped it would stay that way as wearing foul weather gear and boots as you are getting in and out of a vehicle all day is a drag.
Norton Point turned out to be a bonanza for shorebirds and gulls. The waning gibbous moon (a few days after full) had set the hormones going in the horseshoe crabs and they were on the beach mating and laying eggs. As fast as the crabs were laying eggs, the shorebirds and gulls were wolfing the “caviar” down. I don’t think Allan Keith, Flip Harrington nor I had ever seen so many ruddy turnstones on the Vineyard as we saw Saturday! We found 10 species of shorebirds, the most interesting being red knots and ruddy turnstones, both of which are famous for feasting on horseshoe crab eggs on the beaches of Delaware Bay as they make their way to the tundra to breed. While we were watching the shorebirds from Norton Point, Rob Culbert and Ken Ivory were watching from Bluefish Point. They picked up a red-necked phalarope, which is a primarily pelagic species that gets blown ashore on occasion and luckily this was one of them. Rob called around to announce his find and we turned back and headed to where Rob and Ken had seen the bird. Unfortunately we missed the phalarope but did find a black-legged kittiwake and an Arctic tern.
Shortly thereafter Lanny McDowell and Richard Cohen arrived to try to find the phalarope, kittiwake and Arctic tern. They found and photographed the kittiwake, missed the phalarope and tern but did observe and photograph an Iceland gull. Inland two teams worked to find field and forest birds. Penny Uhlendorf and crew added a great horned owl and a brown creeper, as well as many resident flycatchers and warblers. Whit Manter and crew found many resident warblers and also added a white-eyed vireo.
The weather became beautiful and by late afternoon we were down to T-shirts and no more foul weather gear. The bird-a-thon participants’ joint effort found 121 species of birds, which, according to Suzan Bellincampi, is one more species than last year’s bird-a-thon tally. We can only hope that next year we have better weather, although we all agreed we had a great time and found good birds while we made some money for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Don’t forget to send your checks to: Felix Neck, P.O. Box 494, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
The list seen on the bird-a-thon follows:
Brant, Canada goose, mute swan, American black duck, mallard, common eider, surf, white-winged and black scoters; red-breasted merganser, ring-necked pheasant, wild (domestic type) turkey, common loon, northern gannet, double-crested and great cormorants; great and snowy egrets; green and black-crowned night-herons, turkey vulture, osprey, northern harrier, Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, Virginia rail, common gallinule, black-bellied and piping plovers; killdeer, American oystercatcher, greater yellowlegs, willet, whimbrel, ruddy turnstone, red knot, sanderling, semipalmated and least sandpipers; dunlin, short-billed dowitcher, red-necked phalarope, black-legged kittiwake, and Bonaparte’s, laughing, ring-billed, herring, Iceland and both lesser and great black-backed gulls; least, common, roseate and Arctic terns; black skimmer, rock pigeon, mourning dove, barn owl, great horned owl, eastern whip-poor-will, chimney swift, ruby-throated hummingbird, belted kingfisher, red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers; northern flicker, American kestrel, merlin, eastern wood-pewee, eastern phoebe, great crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, white-eyed and red-eyed vireos, blue jay, American crow, tree, northern rough-winged, bank and barn swallows; black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, Carolina and house wrens; eastern bluebird, gray-cheeked and wood thrushes; American robin, gray catbird, northern mockingbird, European starling, ovenbird, blue-winged and black and white warblers; common yellowthroat, American redstart, northern parula, blackpoll, pine, prairie, yellow and black-throated green warblers; eastern towhee, chipping, field, savannah, saltmarsh and song sparrows; scarlet tanager, northern cardinal, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, orchard and Baltimore orioles; house finch, American goldfinch and house sparrow.
Most of what others have seen this week can be found in the list above. One nice find was a Kentucky warbler seen on May 19 by Lanny McDowell outside his home on Tashmoo — more on that next week. Barbara Pesch had a brown thrasher visit her porch on May 19. Where was that thrasher when we needed him or her?
Dick Jennings and his helper David Kold have been canvasing the osprey poles over the last couple of weeks. They have estimated that there are 180 osprey nests this year. More on this next week, so stay tuned.
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.