Everywhere I go, the post office, the grocery stores, exercise center I am asked the same question. When should I start feeding the birds? There is no single answer for that question. Some say wait until the first frost as the insects will perish and some fruits and berries will become more inedible. Others say the first of November and still others feed year-round.
I do not feed all year, but I make sure there is water available for the birds every month. This means that either you purchase a heater to keep your bird bath from freezing or you crack the ice and put water in daily.
I have friends who keep suet up all summer as well as thistle seed along with their bird baths.
My two bugaboos are one: If it snows or is wicked cold make sure the birds have plenty of food and water, and two: If you start feeding in the late fall/winter and are in an area that is a good distance from others who have feeders, don’t stop. Birds will expect the food from your feeder and can perish under harsh weather conditions.
Use a variety of different seeds as well as suet and you will encourage an interesting variety of birds to your yard.
It has been a while since I had contacted the Bairds, but they had some good sightings when I finally did. The birds they have seen included: a merlin on Oct. 3, an American kestrel on Oct. 6, both at Katama, a yellow-breasted sapsucker in their Edgartown yard on Oct. 6. They also saw a peregrine falcon at Katama on Oct. 8 and both white-throated sparrow and golden-crowned kinglet in their yard on Oct. 13.
A yellow-bellied sapsucker arrived at our Quenames yard on Oct. 8.
Katharine Colon, one of the Vineyard’s birders, has been ill and we wish her a speedy recovery. She did spot a rose-breasted grosbeak at her feeder on Oct. 4.
Dick Jennings sent me a great photo of a peregrine falcon sitting on the beach by Cape Pogue Bay. He noted that there has been a pair of peregrines out on Chappaquiddick for a couple of weeks as of Oct. 12.
Sad news from Rob Bierregaard that Homer, Rob’s favorite osprey, seems to have perished in Virginia. Rob lost the signal from Homer’s transmitter around the Oct. 7. Hopefully the transmitter will send another signal so Rob can find the transmitter and perhaps determine what happened to Homer. One can only hope that the transmitter fell off and that Homer lives, although that is a pretty remote possibility. And speaking of ospreys, there are still several around the Island. Sue Silva has been seeing them frequently around Tisbury Great Pond — two as of Oct. 14, and Sue, Pat Hughes and I spotted three at Black Point Oct. 15. Other reports have come from Menemsha and Aquinnah.
On Oct. 10 Allan Keith, Lanny McDowell and I were at Aquinnah. We spotted a great cormorant along with the usual double-crested cormorants. We had a small collection of warblers including black-throated blue, blackpoll, yellow-rumped and American redstart. We also had ruby-crowned kinglet and a handsome clay-colored sparrow. Allan and Lanny continued to Cape Pogue and Katama and found several good birds including six great egrets, two green-winged teal, a white-rumped sandpiper, nine American oystercatchers, a black and white warbler and they heard a yellow-billed cuckoo. Their best bird at Cape Pogue was an American bittern. However the bird of the day/week was a Sabine’s gull which was in with a flock of over 200 laughing gulls at the Katama opening.
Six birders were at Aquinnah on Oct. 11. The best birds were a yellow-bellied sapsucker, one tree swallow seen by Lanny McDowell, brown creeper, orange-crowned warblers, indigo bunting, dickcissel, white-throated sparrow, dark-eyed junco, purple finch and a rusty blackbird. Later the same day Allan Keith spotted two brant at Sarson’s Island. Flip Harrington and I motored out to Noman’s Land and as we circled the island we counted six peregrine falcons, five grey seals, a great cormorant, and six tree swallows.
Rob Culbert was at Katama the same day and had numbers of bobolinks, Savannah sparrows and a couple of black-bellied plovers. He also had palm warblers galore, at Katama, Blackwater Pond Preserve and Lake Tashmoo.
Al Sgroi spotted the two brant at Sengekontacket on Oct. 12 as well as common loons offshore. At Gay Head there was “a cast of thousands” looking for birds including yours truly, Allan, Lanny, Laurie Walker and P. Gilmore. The best birds were large numbers of woodpeckers including red-bellied, downy, and northern flickers, brown creeper, eastern bluebirds, and several warblers including common yellowthroat, yellow-rumped, palm, blackpoll and best of all a Wilson’s warbler. We saw several species of sparrows, the best being a Lincoln’s sparrow. Sally Anderson spotted a rusty blackbird and showed Luanne Johnson, Nancy Cox. The three women also had an indigo bunting and two yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Luanne and Nancy continued down to Oxcart Road and had palm warblers and then a belted kingfisher at Lobsterville; at Long Point Luanne had a yellow-billed cuckoo and a Swainson’s thrush. Sally Anderson flushed a woodcock at Waskosim’s Rock later the same day. And Allan had a common nighthawk fly over his house in Chilmark mid-day.
Oct. 13 Brooks Robards, Lanny, Allan and I were at Aquinnah. Our best bird was a red-headed woodpecker; we saw as well a white-crowned sparrow. Allan split off and spotted American pipits and yellow-breasted chat in the same area. The same day Al Sgroi had a sizeable flock of American pipits at the Farm Institute as well as a sharp-shinned hawk. At Felix Neck Al spotted a sizeable flock of bluebirds and palm warbler. Allan had two swamp sparrows on Oxcart Road and at Squibnocket he had a winter wren, northern parula, and black and white and blackpoll warblers. His best bird was a grey-cheeked thrush. Rob Culbert spotted two American pipits overhead at Crackatuxet Cove beach the same day.
Flip and I had a Baltimore oriole appear at our hummingbird feeder on Oct. 14 and it was still there on the 15th.
Hans Solmssen has a smaller peacock running with the turkeys next door to Rainbow Farm in Chilmark.
Please report you bird sightings to: firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Martha’s Vineyard Hotline at 508-627-4922.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds II and led birding tours to Latin America for 30 years. Susan will lead a bird walk at Felix Neck on Nov. 28.