The boys are back in town, or are they the girls? A much awaited event for bird watchers has begun. The shorebirds have started migrating from their nesting sites in the tundra. On Friday, July 10, a group of birders were scoping the sand flats of Chilmark and Tisbury Great Ponds and were delighted to see a good selection of shorebirds.

The short-billed dowitchers were the most numerous, followed by least sandpipers, semipalmated sandpiper sand semipalmated plovers. There were a few greater yellowlegs and sanderlings. It was my impression that the first shorebird migrants are the young; I was wrong. Some of the birds we saw on Friday had quite worn plumages and therefore had to be adults. After a bit of research I discovered that adults who did not have successful nests leave the tundra about a week or so before the adults that have produced young.

Next to arrive from the breeding grounds are the adult females who flee the scene at least a week before their male partners. No doubt weary and worn down by the rearing process, the females leave to find areas of abundant food items. They must regain their weight and strength for the final leg of their long migratory route which can be up to 6,000 miles.

The males arrive subsequently having flown during the night at speeds of between 30 to 50 miles per hour. The young arrive last about a week after their fathers. The females and immatures also fly at night and do so at incredible heights. Shorebirds have been known to move north and south at heights of close to 20,000 feet!

There are always exceptions to the rule. Certain adolescent shorebirds take longer than others to mature. In those cases the shorebirds can be seen all summer long in good feeding grounds between their breeding and wintering areas, or remain in their wintering digs.

So, we are pretty sure the shorebirds we saw were a mix of unsuccessful breeders and females.

Bird Sightings

Phyllis and Bob Conway had an immature bald eagle perched in a tall pine in their back yard on July 11. They were alerted to its presence by a murder of crows harassing it. Ten minutes was all the eagle could take of the razz from the crows and off he flew.

Several families have called me about young red-tailed hawks. Bob and Mary St. Germain of East Chop have been entertained by their two immature red-tails, that not only use their birdbath but also fly around in their sprinklers. Along with great entertainment, the St. Germains have seen a welcome decline in their rabbit population!

Polly and Tom Bassett in West Tisbury also have two immature red-tails in their yard that spend an inordinate time screaming from the top of their trees in their yard starting a 7 a.m. Polly observed one youngster feeding on a black-and-white object and discovered from the remains left on the ground that the hawk had fed on an immature skunk. I was surprised, as I understood that the only avian predator for skunks is great horned owls. However, Polly and I decided that young skunks that haven’t the intense odor that their parents do may be fair game to young naive red-tails.

A great anecdote was related to me during my aerobics class at the airport. It seems a young lady was at South Beach and had removed her retainer and placed it in some tinfoil on her beach towel. As she was sunning, a herring gull swooped down and picked up the tin foil, retainer and all, and flew off. Luckily the gull dropped the tin foil at the edge of the pond and the girl was able to recover her retainer. I remember wearing a retainer, and I probably would have chased the bird away, tinfoil and all!

Paul Magid and I were pleased to hear from Josh Engel, the young birder who was our guide in Namibia and Botswana last winter. He was on Island visiting his great-aunt, Judy Birsch, and wanted to go birding with us. The three of us joined Judy Birsch, Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner and Pete Gilmore and birded Chilmark, Black Point and Tisbury Great Ponds. We saw a great selection of shorebirds (see above). The oddest sighting was a one-legged dunlin. Dunlins are not found on the Vineyard at this time of year, and if so, not in breeding plumage. This bird probably was a non-breeder that left the tundra early. Aside from great sandpipers, we also had an interesting flock of bank swallows loafing on phragmites at the edge of Black Point Pond.

Bill Lee has been birding daily in Chilmark. His highlights include wood thrush on Old Woods Road and Baltimore oriole in his yard on July 8, four great egrets and 20 cedar waxwings in Menemsha on July 9. Bill heard a bobwhite from his Chilmark yard and spotted bank swallows, eastern kingbirds and eastern phoebes along with four great egrets and one snowy egret in Lobsterville July 10. Bill spotted a scarlet tanager on the Old Woods Road in Chilmark on July 11.

Gabriel and Carol Cohen saw a spotted sandpiper at the Felix Neck duck pond and a female northern harrier at Katama on July 9.

Great egrets are definitely on the increase. Ginny Jones spotted one on the Mill Pond on July 11 and Dale Carter has counted up to four in the Dyke Bridge marsh on Chappaquiddick during the week of July 14.

Brooks and Jerry Deblois have had a visitor from Rhode Island. They have a racer pigeon, complete with band. After a call to Gus Ben David of the World of Reptiles and Birds, the Deblois put out some water and food for the bird. It is hoped that the bird will become “organized” and fly back to its owner.

Karen Tross spotted a bird skulking around the marsh at Hidden Cove in Oak Bluffs. The bird book and Internet were consulted, and she determined the bird was a black-crowned night heron.

Laura Roskind of East Chop has been watching a common loon feeding around her dock during the week of July 13.

Rob Bierregaard reports that the osprey called Penelope is still cruising between French Guiana and Suriname. The sad news is that Rob has lost the signal from Conomo’s transmitter over western Connecticut. Rob will be on Island to tag four young ospreys in late July/early August.

The group that birded with me from the Chilmark Community Center on July 14 counted 11 piping plovers and all the shorebirds that were seen on Friday July 10. The bonus bird was a whimbrel that flew in just before we headed for home.


Please report your bird sightings to the MV Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or at