Bert Fischer had a spectacular avian experience on May 29. He was returning on his tractor from doing work in the field when he spotted a kettle of hawks flying overhead. A kettle of hawks is a basically a flock of hawks enjoying a thermal and circling in the sky. Bert didn’t recognize the hawks, so he drove home and ran and grabbed his camera and took two quick shots. He then called me and described what he saw. Flip and I suggested that it might be a kettle of broad-winged hawks, but suggested he send us the photos. Bert not only sent us the photos, but also posted them on Facebook so other Vineyard birders could see and help him identify them.
Matt Pelikan suggested that the hawks Bert photographed were Mississippi kites. The bird Bert photographed was a juvenile bird. Lanny McDowell then put a photo that he took of an adult Mississippi kite in New Hampshire last year so we could compare it to Bert’s. Sure enough, what Bert saw was a kettle of 15 Mississippi kites!
This is an i ncredible sighting as they are rare vagrants on the Island. When Barbara Pesch and I wrote Vineyard Birds 2 in 2007 there had only been one record of this bird, which was found dead in 1985.
It is not unusual to see multiple Mississippi kites in kettles in the south. Vineyard birders figure that the kites Bert saw were probably blown north by the tropical storm that hit the southern coastal states. Whatever brought them here, it was great that Bert not only saw them, but photographed them. Bert Fischer noted that after he took the Mississippi kites photos they headed north.
Although Mississippi kites breed across the central and southern United States, their breeding territory has expanded in recent years. These kites, like many other southern species with climate change, are moving north. They have been seen in New England fairly often and even nested in New Hampshire. They spend their winters in Central and South America.
Biodiversity Works is an organization formed by Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin to “promote conservation of biodiversity through wildlife research and monitoring while providing opportunities for people to engage in hands-on nature study.” The team has three projects and they are looking for volunteers. Luanne and Liz would like interested people to help survey for nest cavities of kingfishers and swallows. In order to volunteer, log on to their Web site, biodiversityworksmv.org, and visit their volunteer page. If you are a landowner with nesting belted kingfishers and you would like to include your property in surveys, Biodiversity Works asks you to contact them through the same Web site shown above.
Alex Greene, the shorebird monitor for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, spotted a Sandwich tern off Harthaven on May 30. Birders should keep their eyes open for this southern species at Sarson’s Island and Little Beach — or any beach; they have wings.
Paul Sowizral was off Gay Head by the green buoy and called the hotline to say there were whales everywhere and they might be visible from shore. I was unable to reach him to determine what species, but they were probably humpbacks. The day before, on May 23, Paul was at Eel Pond and spotted the two black skimmers that have been seen around. He mentioned that he saw them flying and sitting in one area on the beach. Liz Baldwin also reported the black skimmers at Little Beach and felt they might be making a scrap for nesting. Let’s keep our fingers crossed; it would be nice to have a successful nesting of black skimmers on Island.
Liz Baldwin saw red knots at Edgartown Great Pond on May 26 while surveying shorebirds for Biodiversity Works.
Nestling birds are being seen around the Island. Matt Pelikan has a nest of common grackle nestlings making a racket in his Oak Bluffs yard. Doug Rich of Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs sent a photo of four robin nestlings with wide open mouths waiting for their next meal.
Black-crowned night herons have been reported from several spots on Island. Ginny Jones spotted one flying over the Mill Pond in West Tisbury on May 29 and Claudia Rogers saw one by the corner of Little Beach and Edgartown harbor on May 24.
Green herons also have been seen in several spots; Pete Gilmore saw one at James Pond in West Tisbury on May 28 and Claudia Rogers saw one at Little Beach on May 24.
Eastern kingbirds have been seen on Chappaquiddick by the swimming beach of The Trustees of Reservations by Kate Greer on May 29 and by Myron Stoll at East Chop on May 26. A yellow warbler was photographed by the Morriessette Family on Lookout Hill, Chappaquiddick on May 28.
Pete Gilmore has prairie warblers, field sparrows and scarlet tanagers calling around his West Tisbury home. Pete, Lanny McDowell and Richard Cohen birded Norton Point on May 26 and saw hundreds of least terns and were pleased to see several pairs on eggs. The threesome also saw several pairs of American oystercatchers, one with three chicks, and another gave the birders quite a show with a broken wing distraction display. Lanny photographed handsome saltmarsh sparrows on that same trip.
Happy Spongberg birded Tea Lane and Old Farm Road on May 24 and counted 14 species of birds, including a pair of red-eyed vireos and great crested flycatchers. The Spongbergs have two males and one female ruby-throated hummingbird in residence.
Eleanor Waldron and Barbara Pesch are asking people using Abel’s Hill, Hancock, Quansoo or Black Point beaches to please report to the bird hotline any sightings of northern harriers (marsh hawks). Larry Hepler saw a male harrier hunting the fields at Quansoo Farm on the evening of May 23, and Merrilee Fenner and I watched a male harrier hunting Priscilla Hancock Beach around 8:30 a.m. on May 30.
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 co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.