Laura Campbell of Rainbow Farm asked with concern about her barn swallows. For years they have had numerous pairs of barn swallows nesting in their big barn haymow. In recent years Laura said the population has dwindled — why? I checked with a few folks and found that several things might be involved.
First, house sparrows have competed for barn swallow nesting sites and won. An increase in house sparrows in the barn might be part of the problem.
Second, last spring we had a horrid cold and rainy spell. This affected many bird species but was particularly hard on the barn swallows as it reduced the availability of insects, so not only did the young go hungry, but even the parents.
Third, the use of pesticides Islandwide has increased and reduced the amount of insects. No food — no swallows.
Just an aside, the barn swallow is found on more continents than any other swallow. You can find these blue-backed swallows in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The barn swallows from the Americas are migratory and so can decrease in numbers due to problems during migration. Although there has been a 30 per cent decrease in barn swallows in some areas, they are not considered endangered because of their huge range. Other areas still boast a good population of barn swallows.
Margaret and Marsha Fowle invited me to Chappaquiddick on August 10 to look for the merlin nest. We walked all around the pitch pine grove where we had seen and heard the adult birds. No bird was heard or seen on Sunday. However near the end of our search, Margaret found what looked like an American crow or squirrel’s nest about 35 to 40 feet off the ground in the crown of a pitch pine. We looked around the base of the tree to see if there was any trace of the merlins being there. Unfortunately it had rained a great deal, plus there are skunks in the neighborhood which would have cleaned up any tidbits.
Although we did not see the merlins in the nest, we did determine that merlins do take old crows’ nests. Yet another piece of circumstantial evidence to convince me and the world that there was a pair of merlins nesting on Chappaquiddick and that they fledged one young!
Lanny McDowell and I spotted a whimbrel near the ferry landing at Chappaquiddick on August 1. The following day Lanny spotted a black tern at Sarson’s Island.
Steve Allen reports that the flycatchers are well represented at Felix Neck. On August 4 he saw eastern phoebes, eastern pewees and eastern kingbirds. Yellow warblers were seen at Felix Neck on August 5 along with cedar waxwings and common yellowthroats. Spotted sandpipers, great egrets and great blue herons have been seen daily since August 5. The barn owls have begun to hatch.
The crew of The Trustees of Reservations at Chappaquiddick report that tree swallows are beginning to form migrating flocks and there are good numbers of semipalmated plovers along the Chappaquiddick beaches. The same is true on the Vineyard as there have been reports from Bill Lee in Menemsha, the Chilmark Community Center walks to Little Beach, Edgartown and Lobsterville and from Claudia Rogers at Lighthouse Beach in Edgartown. Claudia also noticed a huge flock of tree swallows gathering over the dunes at Katama on August 10 and both little blue and great blue herons at Lighthouse Beach the same day.
Matt Pelikan noted that last week there seemed to be spotted sandpipers at every pond he visited — Blackwater, Duarte’s and Farm Pond. They also have been around Tisbury Great Pond.
Isaac Taylor and Elizabeth Dale have called me and Gus Ben David about double-crested cormorants that have had broken wings or are grounded in an odd place. These birds, according to Gus, are usually the young of the year. If they are able to be caught by a Good Samaritan without being further injured or causing damage to the collector, they can usually be rehabilitated. Catching them is tricky and should not be attempted without knowledge.
Sad news from Chappaquiddick — one of the young female ospreys died after hitting an electric line. Unfortunately this is common with young birds.
Janice Belisle welcomed her Baltimore oriole back. She watched it this spring — it disappeared to rear its young and now one is back to feed up before migrating south.
Anne Carmichael Lemenager spotted the first peregrine falcon of the season as she was riding her bike along State Beach on August 9. The peregrine was immature and although Anne tried to keep up with the bird in flight, her bicycle couldn’t compete with this magnificent falcon. She also spotted both little blue and great blue herons at the Bend in the Road.
Bill Lee reported spotting an immature bald eagle over Quitsa Pond on August 7. On August 9 at Sarson’s Island and The Bend in the Road he had a good collection of shorebirds including willet, short-billed dowitchers and greater yellowlegs. He also watched a Cooper’s hawk fly overhead on Barnes Road. On August 12 at West Basin Bill, and at a different time the Chilmark Community Center birders spotted two American oystercatchers, two young laughing gulls, two roseate terns along with both least and common terns and six common eiders. We all saw turkey vultures. The community center group also went to the Gay Head Moraine trail and found eastern phoebes, young osprey with fish and tons of mosquitoes. At Herring Creek we spotted a red-tailed hawk — Bill saw a pair near Chilmark Chocolates.
Dale Carter spotted twelve great egrets just north of the Dike Bridge on August 12.
Lanny McDowell spotted two immature indigo buntings at the Farm Institute on August 13.
Gus Ben David heard a Northern bobwhite along Herring Creek at Katama on August 5.
Please report your bird sightings to the Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922.
Susan B. Whiting is co-author of Vineyard Birds and newly published Vineyard Birds II; she led Osprey Tours for 30 years to Central and South America. In July and August she leads bird walks from the Chilmark Community Center on Tuesday mornings.