An update is the first order of business. The pair of merlins that were seen on Chappaquiddick in late June and early July has caused quite a stir. The male and female were both observed by several people and reacted in a very territorial fashion.
Mary Adelstein called to report that the pair of merlins that birders were stunned to see and hear were possibly nesting on Chappaquiddick have now become three. Mary saw three birds, two brown birds and one gray flying together. Although no one has been able to find the nest, the fact that there are now three birds pretty much verifies that Chappaquiddick now has the distinction of having the first pair of merlins that have nested in Massachusetts!
Lanny McDowell and I went over to Chappaquiddick early last Friday, August 1 and found only one bird, although we heard calls from two different locations. I watched one bird for quite a while and Lanny took many photographs. We figured the bird was a youngster as we noticed that it hopped along the pine bough it was on, not walking or sitting still as the adult had done in July. Then when this brown plumage merlin flew, the flight was very fluttery, not the steady strong flight of an adult merlin. We spent some time wandering around looking for the nest to no avail.
We were leaving to go to Wasque and spotted another merlin, or was it the same bird? Then on our return from Wasque we saw a third merlin or was that the same one as well?
The following day, Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings went over to try to find the merlin nest. They saw three birds together and noticed that one was begging food! A sure sign of a youngster: if they aren’t standing in front of a refrigerator, door open, they are asking for food!
The photos that Lanny took show a brown merlin with very fresh feathers. We thought that these photos would be enough to use to verify that the bird in question was a young of the year. However after doing some research we find that it is almost impossible to tell the female from the young.
Matt Pelikan and Gus Ben David added that molt is important to separate the young and the old. Gus said that all raptors start their molt right around the time they breed. Female merlins, Gus added, don’t start a molt until after they have finished incubating. So if there were some worn feathers on the bird Lanny photographed, it would be an adult. All fresh feathers would be a youngster. I am not an expert, but feel that there were no worn feathers on the bird Lanny photographed last week.
We are still going to look for a nest and try to take pictures of all three merlins together — but as far as I am concerned Chappaquiddick has the first breeding pair of merlins in Massachusetts.
Rob Bierregaard and Dick Jennings announced that they found another osprey chick when they were banding and putting transmitters on the three young ospreys last weekend. This brings the total number of osprey chicks fledged on the Island to 122!
Those of you that follow the movements of Vineyard osprey should know the following: The young osprey banded at Long Point is Penelope. The Lobsterville bird is called Mittark (who is the last legendary sachem of the Wampanoags) and the youngster at Tashmoo is Meadow. Meadow may be a male and if so Rob may change the name. Stay tuned.
Jami Rubens was kayaking on Squibnocket on August 5 and found and watched an American bittern in the tall grasses at the edge of the pond.
Dale Goldsmith and I spotted an adult little blue heron and a snowy egret at the Bend in the Road along Sengekontacket Pond on August 4.
Andy Stevenson heard northern bobwhite at Stonewall last weekend and Rich Stanton spotted northern bobwhite at Stonewall on August 4. Rich added that there are four late-hatching least tern nests, two at Stonewall and two at State Beach.
Dick Knight has been watching a great egret roosting in his swampy backyard for four years. On August 2, he counted 16 great egrets in the same swamp. Were these young or migrants? Hopefully they will stay around so we can check.
Page Rogers sent some fabulous photos of the shorebirds along Sengekontacket Pond. They included American oystercatchers, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, willets, short-billed dowitchers and immature black-crowned night heron, to name a few.
Please report your bird sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and newly published Vineyard Birds II.