Bird watchers the world over experience the frustration of “the one that got away.” It isn’t that we don’t spot the bird, it is that we did not see enough of it or have the bird in sight long enough to make a final call (identify it).

On Saturday, June 26, Lanny McDowell, Pete Gilmore and I were birding at Katama along the edges of the fields at the Farm Institute. We spotted a bird hovering over the west end of the field. The bird then perched on a fence post by the hedges along the Katama Airport Road. We all looked at it and stopped. It appeared to be a kingbird by its behavior and shape, but something was wrong.

“Hey, doesn’t that bird have a yellow belly?”

“Yes and its chest appears to be quite gray.”

“Did anyone see white tips on the tail feathers?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Lanny, can you get a shot of the bird?”

“I’ll try.”

So, dodging between wild roses and viburnums we all tried to find a position to view the mystery bird so as to see the necessary field marks to make a positive identification. Lanny was able to take a few distant photos of the bird which, unfortunately, were into the sun. Then we “lost” the bird; we couldn’t find it anywhere in the area. Lanny even returned to the scene the following day in hopes of finding THE bird, to no avail.

Next came the discussion and theories.

“Its head was too dark to be a Western kingbird.”

“It looks just like a thick-billed kingbird except the bill is too thin.”

“I wonder if it is a hybrid between a Cassin’s or great-crested flycatcher and an eastern kingbird.”

“Maybe it is an eastern kingbird that landed in yellow pollen.”

We decided to wait until Lanny had put his photos onto the computer so we could study the bird more carefully. Lanny also sent the photos to off-Island birders for their opinions.

Lanny’s photo drew many suggestions from on and off-Island on the mystery bird’s identity. None of them was conclusive by my way of thinking. I guess we will never know. Bummer; the one that got away, indeed. Or maybe someone will find this mystery bird at Katama another day!

Bird Sightings

David Damroth had a regal visitor on June 27. An immature bald eagle arrived at the pond by his Blacksmith Valley house in Chilmark. Nicely, the eagle remained long enough for David to take a super photograph. Skip ahead to June 29, when I received a call from Susie Bowman from Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary to say she and Philip Hunziker had seen an immature bald eagle being harassed by two black-backed gulls over Sengekontacket Pond. This eagle will probably be around all summer, so keep an eye out.

Immature bald eagle. — David Damroth

The American oystercatcher that Joe Wheelwright spotted at the Abel’s Hill Beach that had the yellow bands with Y 4 has been identified. Liz Baldwin e-mailed that Y 4 had nested at Stonewall Beach in Chilmark a couple of times this year, unsuccessfully. The Y 4 oystercatcher was banded by Sean Murphy, who is working with the American Oystercatcher Working Group to band oystercatchers across the state and New England. The group is trying to assess population size, demographics and movements between and within breeding and wintering sites. All American oystercatchers with yellow bands are from Massachusetts, red banded birds are from Georgia and orange is New Jersey.

Liz Baldwin also noted that there are three pairs of these oystercatchers which have fledged three chicks each on the Vineyard this summer!

Matt Pelikan scoped out Katama Plains and Herring Creek Farm to determine if there were any grasshopper sparrows nesting. Unfortunately he came up empty-handed.

Phyllis and Bob Conway counted 12 turkey vultures circling the Mill Pond in West Tisbury on June 28. Their comment: “What died?” I suggested that the vultures had come off their nightly roost and found a nice warm thermal to ride on.

Susan Sellers e-mailed to report that the flock of turkeys that had an unattached female has been accepted by a mother (pen) turkey and is helping to raise the brood, which, thanks to local predators, has decreased from twelve to eight young.

Rob Pecchia, a shorebird monitor for The Trustees of Reservations, spotted a black-crowned night heron at the Dike Bridge and a great egret at Shear Pen Pond on June 23.

Osprey Penelope is on the Merrimac River in New Hampshire.

Bill Post and wife spotted yellow warblers, cedar waxwings and a black-crowned night heron at Slough Cove in Edgartown on June 22, and on June 28 they spotted a willet in the marshes of Sengekontacket Pond.

Tom and Barbara Rivers have been listening to a black-billed cuckoo calling around their Tea Lane home.

Susan Straight called to say that barn owls have finally occupied the nest box that Gus Ben David erected for the Straight family years ago. Susan fondly remembers as a child taking a flashlight and going with Roger Baldwin to his barn at Windy Gates to see the barn owls and their owlets. Susan added it was fascinating to watch the comings and goings of the adult barn owls at dusk and to hear the racket the young owlets make.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is