Tisbury Great Pond looked like a Japanese painting, flat calm with a fine mist hanging just over the surface. It was so quiet it was eerie. The silence was broken by the honking of a flock of Canada Geese. The birds rose up in a V-formation through the fog and headed directly towards my kitchen window, creating quite a din for such an early hour. At what seemed the last second, the flock sailed over the roof and headed towards Black Point Pond.
The Vineyard Canada Geese do not migrate. They are year-round residents. The reason for this stems from an activity that occurred at the turn of the last century.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were several hunting clubs on the Island. These clubs kept flocks of pinioned Canada Geese which they used as decoys to lure migrating geese down within shotgun range. The hunt masters would throw out corn either in the fields or in shallows of the pond near the hunt clubs’ blinds. The pinioned geese would feed on the grain and passing waterfowl would see the food fest and drop in. This practice of live decoys was made illegal in the 1920s. By that time the Canada Geese of the Island had forgotten how to migrate, so they remained on the Island year round. Very reminiscent of many of the Vineyard summer residents.
Honkers, as Canada Geese are frequently called, probably mate for life. Depending on which waterfowl expert you speak to, there are seven to 10 subspecies of the Canada Geese, all of different sizes and occupying various habitats in the United States and Canada. The Vineyard Canada Geese start their breeding behavior in February. The female picks a location, designs and constructs the nest. A wise female honker places the nest near water and on a rise so there is good visibility in case of a predator attack. The coolest nest I saw was one built on top of a muskrat house. The nest was just a bowl-shaped affair, quite shallow constructed with grasses, sticks, flower stalks and moss and then lined with down. Definitely comfortable.
While the male honker stands guard, the female lays between two and 11 white eggs. If you find an old nest with an egg that was not fertile, it does not appear white as the nest frequently stains the eggs. Twenty-five to 28 days later the eggs hatch and within a couple of days both parents lead their goslings to water. The youngsters are able to feed themselves, but are guarded by their parents. Flight occurs between eight to nine weeks later.
Although there are many bird species that are in decline due to global warming and habitat destruction, the Canada goose is increasing. Some ornithologists feel there are more than five million Canada Geese in North America. Although our geese do not migrate, their flights around the Island are a sure sign of fall: the honking of geese is one of the many cues to the onset of autumn. Enjoy.
Rob Culbert and a crew of dedicated birders braved the rain on Saturday. They first went to Sarson’s Island and observed 200 laughing gulls and several hundred double-crested cormorants. They also spotted a lone whimbrel. At Herring Creek Farm they spotted an American golden plover mixed in with the black-bellied plovers. Finally at Norton Point they had a tern bonanza: 200 common and roseates and 50 least terns. At the marshes, at the west end of Katama Bay, Rob and the group spotted five salt-marsh sharp-tailed sparrows snacking on cord grass seeds.
On Sept. 16, several birders were in action at Aquinnah. First on the scene were Bob Shriber, Al Sgroi then Lanny McDowell, and Allan Keith who spotted an upland sandpiper in the bowl between the Gay Head Cliffs and the Vanderhoop Homestead. Laurie Reese and Katharine Colon were next, then me. The three women spotted several red-breasted nuthatches, a scarlet tanager, a blue-headed vireo and black-throated green and magnolia warblers. Everyone enjoyed several Blackpoll warblers, cedar waxwings, bobolinks, Northern flickers, red-tailed hawks and osprey. Several of us went on to the Gay Head Moraine trail and added an American redstart. Laurie and Katharine spotted four belted kingfishers and five wood ducks on the way up to Aquinnah.
Later that day, Allan Keith picked up a blue-winged warbler at Squibnocket. On Sept. 10, Allan went out to Norton Point and counted six salt-marsh sharp-tailed sparrows, two Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrows and one seaside sparrow. At Wasque, Allan spotted a golden plover, four great egrets and two lesser black-backed gulls.
Rob Bierregaard tagged five ospreys this summer, three on the Vineyard and two in Delaware. This is the first year they have global positioning system equipment on their transmitters.
Felix, the osprey tagged at Felix Neck, made a spectacular flight unlike anything Rob had observed for a young osprey. Felix left his nest on Sept. 16. At 1 p.m., he was headed south over the ocean. Twelve hours later, he had flown over 400 miles of open water. Felix finally put down in the Bahamas having flown 31 hours non-stop and over a thousand miles. No other tagged osprey has ever flow that far over the ocean and non-stop.
Please call in your sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922.