Soo Whiting, on her annual southbound migration, asked me to fill in for this week’s Bird News column. While Soo and Flip Harrington are navigating their way to Florida, it seems a perfect time to wrap up the story of this year’s osprey migration.
This is the fifth year that I have been tracking juvenile ospreys, as regular readers of this column will know. This summer Dick Jennings and I tagged three Vineyard ospreys a week or two after they had fledged. With three other young I tagged off-Island (in South Carolina, Delaware and Eastham), I have now followed the migration of 21 young ospreys (11 from the Vineyard).
The Class of ’08 has proven as exciting and unpredictable as any — just what one would expect from a bunch of teenagers with their first driver’s licenses.
Penelope was tagged at Long Point and is half-sister to Homer, tagged back in ’05 at the same nest. She was the only really normal bird of the bunch. She left the Vineyard on Sept. 9, taking the safe route mostly overland to North Carolina. From there she headed out over the Atlantic. All the adults that do this hit Florida about 500 miles later. Penelope skipped FL, blowing through the Bahamas, Cuba and Hispaniola, en route to Venezuela. She made the whole trip in just 13 days, in full migration every day, which is unusual. She must have hit the weather just right. Still in migration mode, she pushed right on into Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, where she has finally settled down, over 4,000 miles from home (as the osprey flew).
Mittark was one of an amazing four young fledged out of the Lobsterville nest, which is far and away the most productive on the Vineyard. It does help to have Dogfish Shoals loaded with flounder just a few hundred yards from the nest. Prior to migrating, Mittark pretty much stayed on the Island until he decided, on Oct. 6, to take on 1,150 miles of open Atlantic in one 35-hour, nonstop flight. He landed in Florida and then pushed on through Cuba to Hispaniola. On the 19th of October he left the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, headed for Venezuela. Four hours later he decided to take it easy and landed on a ship headed south. We followed him on the ship for 3 more hours before his GPS shut down for the day. The next morning we picked him up flying north back to the D.R. He settled down around Santo Domingo, where we had a bird shot last year. Sadly, we lost Mittark’s signal a couple of months later. Most likely he was the victim of a hunter. That makes three out of three birds that tried to overwinter in the D.R. lost. We are working with the authorities down there to start an educational program. One of the benefits of satellite tracking is being able to identify sources of mortality, as we have done here.
The hands-down winner of the wildest migration ever recorded by an osprey goes to Meadow, a young tagged on Lake Tashmoo in early August. Meadow stayed on the Island until August 17, when he took off, migrating ... due north! He flew into Canada, crossed the St. Lawrence River, and passed within 250 miles of Hudson Bay before finally finding himself on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the southern shore of Lake Superior, where he camped out for almost two months. By mid November, with temperatures below zero and snow on the ground, some neurons in his little osprey brain told him that this just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, so he rebooted the travel computer and finally headed south. Eight days later he was in Greensboro, N.C., just a couple of hours up the highway from me.
On the 4th of December he was spotted and photographed by Melissa Whitmire, a local nature photographer and birder. Naturally, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see one of the birds I’d tagged, so I hopped in the car the next day and got to the lake five minutes after he had taken off on the next leg of his most convoluted trip. In Greensboro he was 600 miles from his nest, but had flown 1,200 miles to get there!
Sure enough, the next day he was on the South Carolina coast, where I suspected he would spend the winter. With the day length shortening, I couldn’t imagine he would still be feeling the urge to migrate. And then, of course, the next locations we had from his satellite transmitter were out over the Atlantic, bound for the Bahamas. He arrived in the D.R. on Dec. 12. We’re hoping he keeps on going.
These birds will spend the next 18 months or so down on their wintering grounds before returning north. Two birds tagged last year should be heading north this spring.
Next summer we hope to tag four or five more Vineyard birds in what will be the last season of the study.
Details of all the birds tagged on the Vineyard and elsewhere are online at bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/migration08.htm.
Susie Bowman spotted an immature blue phase (morph) snow goose from the ferry on Dec. 12 and had a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers at her feeder for the first time this winter — no doubt inspired to seek feeder freebies by the cold weather.
Whit Manter reported on Dec. 10 that a female shoveler had been on the West Tisbury Mill Pond for several days.
Nancy Abbott of Lambert’s Cove Road spotted a leucistic (leucistic birds lack pigment in some or all of their feathers) American robin in with a flock of other robins on Dec. 11. The back and head were white, but the breast the normal rosy red. As is often the case with leucistic birds, the bill color had its normal, dark pigmentation.
Bob and Edo Potter spotted two snow geese, an adult and an immature on the 14th and also one hermit thrush on Chappaquiddick.
Lanny McDowell was also on Chappy on the 14th. He reported two snow geese (probably the same birds spotted by the Potters) with some Canada geese in the channel between Cape Pogue Bay and Poucha Pond. He also reported a female canvasback with some black ducks over Cape Pogue Bay.
Suzan Bellincampi of Felix Neck called to report a great blue heron in the Felix Neck marshes on the 12th of December and a half dozen red-winged Blackbirds at the feeders the 13th, 14th and 15th.
Flip Harrington, Soo Whiting and Brad Winn joined the crew on St. Catherine’s Island, Ga., on Dec. 14 for their Christmas Bird Count. All three spotted a life bird, a yellow rail!
Gus Ben David reports the sad news that one of the snowy owls that have been on the Island was found dead along the side of the road, probably hit by a car, near Edgartown. There’s still one on Chappy. This is apparently a big year for snowy owls, with one reported all the way down in Virginia.
Don’t forget the Vineyard Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 3 this (next) year. Call the hotline at 508-627-4922 to report your sightings or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.