Only 15 birding days left until the 53rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count! December 29 is Count Day, and we will have a lot of intrepid people divided into a dozen field teams, with each team scouring their assigned territory to count all the birds they can find. Our high counts are 134,963 individuals and 130 species, although in the past decade we have averaged around 50,000 birds and 120 different species.
For me, as the principal compiler for our count, this is the pinnacle of the birding year. And the data we generate helps to monitor bird populations on both a local, regional, national and international level. Over 2,000 counts are held throughout the Americas, making this the largest citizen science project in the world. Some counts have been conducted annually since 1900, while the Vineyard’s count became an annual event in 1960. All the data are online at the National Audubon Society’s website (audubon.org).
The Christmas Bird Count is a tradition that you can be a part of, too. You can either join one of the field teams for all or part of the day, or, just as important, you can watch your bird feeder and report the numbers of each species you see. For more information, or to sign up for this fun day, please leave a message on the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or email email@example.com.
Allen’s Hummingbird Update
The Allen’s hummingbird that showed up on Nov. 29 at Scott Stephens and Penny Uhlendorf’s house is still hanging around. The hummer is observed daily and is regularly hawking insects as it perches regularly in the shrubs around their yard. They are also serving the hummer room temperature sugar water by rotating their two feeders — one of the feeders is always inside warming up. In the light rain on Dec. 8 they watched the hummer take a shower as it perched on the pineapple sage. It stretched one wing and then the other, fluffed his tail and then vigorously shook its body, shedding the water from its feathers.
Other Bird Sightings
Dan Waters has been watching a yellow-bellied sapsucker at his Christiantown feeder since early December, commenting that it had been a month or two since his last sighting.
On Dec. 6 Jeff Bernier photographed a flock of eastern meadowlarks at the Katama Airport. On that same day, Tom and Barbara Rivers watched a large female Cooper’s hawk as it killed and plucked a luckless mourning dove from their feeders.
On Dec. 7, Allan Keith was on the ferry to Woods Hole. The seas were flat calm and Vineyard Sound looked like a mill pond, so the birds were easy to spot. In addition to the usual gulls, he spotted four razorbills, three dovekies and one thick-billed murre. The latter two species are unusual finds.
Adrian Wright went to the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Dec. 7 and observed eastern bluebirds, American coots, American widgeon, bufflehead, mallard, black-crowned night herons and mute swans. The next day he observed and photographed a rather ratty-looking horned grebe, which was way out in Vineyard Sound off Menemsha. While this is not an unusual species, the bird photographed does not show the usual stark black and white contrast of the head and neck, and has a much sleeker than normal appearance of the head. The photo posted has sparked discussion about its identity, though at present it still remains a horned grebe. And then on Dec. 9, in Menemsha and Squibnocket beach, he found both adult and immature razorbills (the young ones lacks the large distinctive bill that adults have), harlequin ducks, white-winged scoters, black scoters, common eiders, red-breasted mergansers and common loons.
Lanny McDowell observed 23 black-crowned night-herons at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Dec. 9. This is the largest count of this flock so far this winter. They can best be observed as they perch in the shrubbery along the shoreline opposite the herring run, though sometimes they are on the Oak Bluffs side of the pond and at other times they are further upstream, west of the pumping station itself.
Happy Spongberg and a friend were walking at Philbin Beach at low tide on the morning of Dec. 9 and found several dozen lingering tree swallows, three purple sandpipers, sanderlings and an eastern towhee. She also observed a brown creeper at their Chilmark home on Dec. 12.
White winged crossbills are out and about now. Martha Moore reported a flock on Dec. 11 at the end of Middle Point Cove in West Tisbury. Nancy Hugger and Skip Bettencourt found a flock of them at Wasque. And Lanny McDowell has been hearing and observing at least one red crossbill and multiple white-winged crossbills near his house daily, hanging out in the tops of pines rather than coming to his feeders. These two species are part of a long list of irruptive species that usually spend their winter well north of here. They only come south when their food is scarce in their normal wintering grounds. This has been a good season for irruptive species, including the red-breasted nuthatches and pine siskins that were so abundant earlier in the fall, the crossbills reported here, and the yet to be observed common redpolls.
On Dec. 9, I found that there were no ducks in the Town Cove area of Tisbury Great Pond, which is highly unusual. I did find field sparrows, American tree sparrows, gray catbirds and eastern towhees.
Michael Ditchfield observed a pine warbler at the Sweetened Water Preserve in Edgartown on Dec. 11.
Gus BenDavid reports that three pine warblers are still coming to his feeders. He has never seen that many at his suet in December. He also reports red-breasted nuthatches, eastern bluebirds and pine siskins are still utilizing his feeders. And finally, a dovekie was found at Squibnocket and brought to him at the World of Reptiles and Birds. If you find one of these seabirds on land, please give it a chance to survive by immediately releasing it in a large body of water.
There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them, and be sure to report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.