I guess I will call him lonesome George for want of something better. Last year Gus Ben David got a call from someone at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport saying they had a weird partridge-like bird hanging around. Gus identified the bird as a chukar.
Skip to Friday, Dec. 7 of this year when Jane Hawkes e-mailed a photo of what she correctly identified as a chukar to Matt Pelikan. Matt passed the picture on to me, and there was lonesome George up on Jane’s back porch. Jane lives fairly close to the airport, so it is very likely that this is one and the same bird.
What is a chukar, one might ask. In the words of National Geographic’s Complete Birds of North America, a chukar “resembles an overgrown short-tailed quail.” The chukar is not from the United States, but was introduced in the western part of this country from Europe. This species was brought over for the express purpose of providing people with another game bird to hunt. Probably lonesome George was brought to the Vineyard for the same purpose. People release ring-necked pheasant and bobwhite (quail) to hunt as well.
The chukar that has been seen on Island is a male. It is not surprising that the voice of this bird is “chuck, chuck, chuck,” however the alarm call is sort of a squeal followed by “whit too.”
Last summer Paul Magid called me to say he thought he saw a ruffed grouse. I doubted him and with this new information I figure what Paul saw running across the road near Deep Bottom was probably lonesome George.
The best two birds of the week in my book are a short-eared owl seen at Wasque on Dec. 8 and a fox sparrow seen on the Panhandle in West Tisbury on Dec. 10.
On Dec. 5, Gus Ben David had a pine warbler at the feeder at the World of Reptiles and Birds in Edgartown. The same day Philip Hunsaker called from Felix Neck to report a great blue heron, a belted kingfisher at the Turtle Pond and the normal collection of waterfowl on Major’s Cove.
Bert Fischer has his bird feeders set up as usual and has fifty red-winged blackbirds, ten tree sparrows, and dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows. Bert is pleased to have Carolina wrens back after a couple of years without them. Bert says they hang out in his hen house, often spend the night with the girls and fly out in the morning when the hen house is opened to let the hens out to peck and feed. On Squibnocket Pond there are around 150 scaup and sixty-plus common goldeneye. Bert also added that he spotted a Cooper’s hawk by Tim and Laurisa’s driveway. Eastern bluebirds are also around the Fischer house.
Sharp-shinned hawks have been terrorizing many people’s feeders. Gus Ben David’s resident sharpie has figured out a very effective way to hunt. This small hawk makes a pass by the feeders on Gus’s porch. The birds that are feeding freak out and often hit the window and stunned land on the railing. Immediately the sharp-shinned hawk swoops down and takes the stunned birds.
Tom and Barbara Rivers’s sharpie has taken a black-capped chickadee for breakfast, a downy woodpecker for lunch and a mourning dove for dinner. The sharp-shinned hawk at our feeder is so arrogant that he sits on top of one of our feeders waiting for an unsuspecting suspect to land on a nearby feeder.
On Dec. 7, Tim and Sheila Baird had a red-bellied woodpecker at their Edgartown feeder, an unusual sighting for them. The same day Allan Keith birded Chappaquiddick and spotted a drake pintail and an American coot at the lagoon at Wasque. Along east beach he spotted a single Lapland longspur, horned larks and seven snow buntings. At Shear Pin Pond at Cape Pogue Allan spotted a ruddy turnstone.
The following day Tim and Sheila joined a great crew including Gus, Jules and Barbara Ben David, Joe and Mary Cressy, Tom and Cathy Chase, Ivo Meisner and Anne Lemenager, Sally Mitchell, and Ralene Williams to bird Chappaquiddick. Their best birds include the short-eared owl seen at dusk at Wasque, a merlin, and many northern harriers. This crew was surprised that they saw not one red-breasted merganser.
The same day Luanne Johnson was at Chappaquiddick with Nan Harris and spotted twenty-five species, including lots of common goldeneye and a good-sized flock of snow buntings. The next day Luanne spotted undoubtedly the same merlin seen on Dec. 8, hunting snow buntings at Wasque.
Allan Keith with two off-Island birding friends returned to Chappaquiddick on Dec. 8 and had one common redpoll, five ruby-crowned and one golden-crowned kinglet, six red-breasted nuthatches and the northern pintail at Wasque. At Mytoi he had a hermit thrush, an American robin, an eastern towhee and a brown creeper. At the Lagoon at Wasque, they added a pied billed grebe and ring-necked ducks. At his home in Chilmark, Allan spotted two pine siskins.
We really need more people to watch and note the birds that come to their feeders on Jan. 5 for the Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count. Please call 508-693-4908 or e-mail Rob Culbert at email@example.com to volunteer.
And don’t forget to call in your sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922.