Protecting Piping Plovers

I joined Allan Keith on July 20 and we did the mid-Island area for the butterfly count. The Vineyard butterfly count is organized by Matt Pelikan each year. It was hot and windy but we still were able to find 18 species. The total number seen by the butterfly counters was 31 species and 579 individuals. The skippers and hairstreaks were the most numerous, and for me the most difficult to identify.

Gull Week

This week’s heat wave doesn’t seem to have bothered one group of feathered friends, the gulls. We had quite a show of rare and unusual gulls on the Vineyard’s South shore this week. The first gull to catch birders’ attention was created by a blurry photo of a bird with a strong black/white and gray wing pattern and a dirty looking head taken on July 14. The gull had a fine bill with a yellow tip. Sarah Mayhew took the original photo at Quansoo which was used to identify the bird.

Young Birds Abound

Peter Huntington will be glad to hear that not only was the scissor-tailed flycatcher that he spotted at Pond View Farm last week found again, but it was photographed. Wendy Elsner found the scissor-tailed flycatcher cavorting with eastern kingbirds in the dunes off Edgartown Great Pond on July 8. She was able to take several photos of the birds. This is approximately the tenth record of this southern flycatcher on the Vineyard since it was first seen in 1942! Most of the other sightings have been in the early spring or fall.

On Starlings and Sparrows

There are a couple of birds that I actually do not like, amazing as it may seem. The two are the European starling and the house sparrow. Why, you ask? Well, neither species is native and both are overly aggressive. This aggression is detrimental to many of our native songbirds.

Tracking and Tagging the Elusive Willet

At 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning near the Poucha Pond salt marsh at Chappaquiddick, a few fishermen lined the shores and a handful of binocular-bearing biologists and birders walked through the dunes. Otherwise, the land was bare of human activity.

But in the sky a bird with deep black and bright white striped wings swooped nearby. The binoculars went up.

“That’s a willet,” said Luanne Johnson, director of the nonprofit BiodiversityWorks dedicated to wildlife research, monitoring and mentoring.

Be a Good Birder

I broke two Cardinal rules of birding and blew it for my two birding companions, Lanny McDowell and Warren Woessner. We were birding around Crackatuxet Cove by the old Pearl Factory where we understood that there was a willow flycatcher nesting. Willow flycatchers are not a common nesting species on the Vineyard, so we wanted to see it. We were in the car driving out slowly toward the Katama Airport when all three of us spotted the flycatcher at the same time. Warren stopped and without thinking I quickly jumped out of the car.

Tracking Wandering Willets

Luanne Johnson and crew from Biodiversity Works recently had an opportunity to help capture willets and fit them with geolocation data loggers, which are also known as bird loggers, geologgers, geolocators or GLS. Joe Smith, a research ornithologist from New Jersey and a pioneer in geolocator tagging, came at the request of Biodiversity Works. The crew went to three locations: Little Beach in Edgartown, the Narrows and the beach next to Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick.

Vulnerable Plovers Abound on Storm-Washed Beaches

While winter storms have threatened some waterfront homes, they’ve been a boon to nesting piping plovers, who prefer the scoured beaches left by storms and hurricanes. But this year’s population of the tiny migratory shorebird still face challenges from predators.

Nesting Season for Shorebirds

The nesting season for the birds of Martha’s Vineyard is upon us. Last week’s discovery of the brown creepers’ nest nudged other birders to sharing their bird nesting stories. And I started thinking about all the different nests I have seen on the Island. The variety is amazing and the different architecture and material choices is immense. The range in size and shape is incredible, from the tiny one inch across and one inch deep cup of lichens and moss woven together by our ruby-throated hummingbird to our fish hawk’s massive old nests.

Counting Ospreys

The monitoring of Vineyard fish hawks, or ospreys, is an ongoing project. Although osprey comings and goings have been recorded since 1913 on-Island, the study of the osprey population did not start until the 1970s by Gus Ben David. Osprey nests had been documented in Lambert’s Cove, Chappaquiddick and on the Takemmy Trail (the road between West Tisbury and Edgartown) in the 1950s. Then came the 1960s and the uncontrolled use of the pesticide DDT. The Vineyard’s osprey population dropped to two or three pair.