A good mystery, whether bird or bush, is rewarding if it is solved. Ginny Jones frequently entertains her grandsons, Everett and Kent, by walking along the shores of Tisbury Great Pond by Tississa. On Dec. 3 the threesome observed a raft of scaup off Sepiessa and a few buffleheads. Then they found a corpse of what they thought was a duck. Although no photos were taken, Ginny and I sent e-mails back and forth with descriptions and thoughts. After much ado I suggested the bird in question was probably a dovekie which had been blown ashore. Everett and Kent were e-mailed photos of a dovekie and there was agreement that the mystery bird was indeed a dovekie.
Next I received an e-mail from Bert Fischer that Barbara Beichek had placed a photo of a mystery bird on Facebook. Bert correctly identified it as a dovekie. Barbara spotted this dovekie on Dec. 11. It was located at the base of the Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah. In Barbara’s words, the bird seemed disoriented. Barbara wasn’t sure of the identification of the bird so asked Mark Jellows to photograph it, which he did and Barbara posted it.
Dovekies are pelagic birds that spend their whole lives offshore. They spend a short time on land when they breed. Their legs and feet are placed aft of center on their bodies, so they are unable to run on land. This makes it impossible for them to take to flight. If you find a dovekie on shore, gently pick it up and place it in the water where it can get up to speed and become airborne. The onshore winds were undoubtedly the cause of the dovekie invasion.
On Friday, Dec. 10 Gus Ben David, Dick Jennings and crew erected two osprey poles on Chappaquiddick. The first was placed near the Dike Bridge in the marshes along Poucha Pond and the second at Wasque. Both are on The Trustees of Reservations properties. A full story can be found on Page Nine of this newspaper.
On Dec. 8, Gus Ben David spotted two female shovelers at the head of Sengekontacket Pond. He also saw a black-crowned night heron and a flock of buffleheads.
Several people have called or e-mailed me about large dark birds that they have seen fishing off Squibnocket, Wasque and even Edgartown Harbor. Skip Mayhew guessed correctly. The mystery birds are northern gannets. The confusion came because the birds were dark, not white with black wing tips. The immature northern gannets are black or mottled dark grey and white. Young Bill Brine photographed an immature northern gannet from the Chappaquiddick ferry a couple of weeks ago and sent the photos via e-mail. Skip Bettencourt saw the photos and noted that he had seen similar birds off Wasque Point.
Janet Sigler reports a nice variety of birds at her Edgartown home including 12 dark-eyed juncos, both white and red-breasted nuthatches, and tufted titmice. Mary Miller had a golden-crowned kinglet hit her Edgartown house window. Luckily it was just stunned and left on its own; it recovered and flew off. If this happens in your yard, make sure your pets are inside to give the birds a chance to recover safely.
Ring-necked pheasants have been seen at Katama and Deep Bottom Cove in West Tisbury. Dan Pace and the Bairds spotted them and, as Sheila Baird noted, they were probably newly released birds. Tim and Sheila Baird had a ruby-crowned kinglet and cedar waxwings in their yard on Dec. 4 and a brown creeper on Dec. 10.
Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks continue to harass the birds at people’s feeders. I have no solution to that problem. All birds, hawks or not, have to eat. Several staff members at Dr. Bigby’s office complained of raids by these hawks, as did Cathy Minkiewicz, a Cooper’s hawk in her case. Abby at Dr. Bigby’s office watched a hawk hunt the fields at Misty Meadows. Her description gave me the impression she had seen a male northern harrier.
Bob and Phyllis Conway and company watched their Chilmark bird bath visited by two tufted titmice, 10 dark-eyed juncos, two red-breasted nuthatches, four song sparrows and six black-capped chickadees. The Conways have watched a black vulture swooping over their driveway by Stonewall Pond. Phyllis mentioned that “many crows continue to plow up parts of our yard for grubs.”
Allan Keith spotted three killdeer in the Turtle Brook fields and six green-winged teal in the farm pond on Dec. 9. On Dec. 1 Allan found a late semipalmated plover on South Beach and on Dec. 13 an eastern phoebe and eastern bluebird visited his yard.
Lanny McDowell stopped by the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station on Dec. 14. He spotted a redhead and Eurasian wigeon in with a flock of American wigeon. Lanny sent the word out, and Flip Harrington and I drove down. At 3 p.m. the redhead and Eurasian wigeon were still there and had been joined by a gadwall. We counted seven black-crowned night herons in the trees along the pond and a flock of mixed gulls near the flock of buffleheads.
Matt Pelikan stopped by the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station the next morning, Dec. 15, and found the redhead, gadwall and American wigeons, but the Eurasian wigeon had flown. Matt added another black-crowned night heron for a total of eight and also a pied-billed grebe. Matt said the flock of gulls included both herring and ring-billed. At Cedar Tree Neck on Dec. 11 Matt counted four winter wrens. The Vineyard used to be important wintering grounds for redheads in the early 1900s. Now these ducks are very rare and this is only about the third record since 1998.
Flip Harrington and I watched a fox sparrow feeding with our white-throated and song sparrows on Dec. 15. We also had a brown creeper feeding on a nearby oak tree.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.