It could not have been a more perfect morning. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the temperature was well above freezing. A perfect scenario for very early morning owling! The dedicated few, Tim and Whit, were up well before O’dark-hundred. At two a.m. alarm clocks went off and, with Ipods and Iphones in hand, complete with small speakers, the owlers were off to the State Forest, Squibnocket and Aquinnah to listen for owl calls.
The procedure for owling is as follows: 1) Drive or walk to a known owl location. 2) Listen for owl calls. 3) If no owl calls are audible play an owl call from your Ipod or Iphone or similar electronic device. 4) Turn off device and listen again. 5) Identify the call and hopefully see the owl.
It was so still the morning of the Christmas Bird Count that owl calls were capable of being heard at a distance. Whit and Tim were very lucky owlers. Their first stop was a location at the edge of the State Forest. On arrival they exited their car and there in the road was a great horned owl! Talk about luck. The two continued on until around 6 a.m. when they joined their teams and started looking for all species of birds. Whit and Tim were able to find not only a great horned owl but also screech owls and northern saw whet owls.
A nice start for the 59th annual Vineyard Christmas Bird Count Day! Twelve teams divided the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick into sections and counted the number of each species of bird they saw. Many other volunteers counted the birds they saw at their feeders. The weather continued to be favorable until around 1 p.m. when the rain started. We were able to do a bit more birding from our cars, but soon the rain was so intense that even car birding was out of the question.
The team of Penny Uhlendorf and her elves put together the food for the wrap-up. Rob Culbert was the co-compiler of the Vineyard’s Christmas Bird Count with me. Rob is very good with computers and has brought the Vineyard’s CBC into the 21st century. This year we could send our sightings by computer or smart phone to Rob’s computer which saved hours of compiling time at the wrap-up which was held at the Wakeman Center.
At the end of the day we had seen or heard 121 species of birds. An owl was heard near the Hoft Farm which was not identified and a team of birders will revisit that location to try to determine the ID. We all hope that what was heard turns out to be a long-eared owl, which was missed by all other teams.
Our best birds were the Allen’s hummingbird that continues to visit Scott Stephens and Penny Uhlendorf’s feeder at Pilot Hill. A Nashville warbler seen at the Fischer Farm in West Tisbury is a warbler not commonly seen this time of year and the Baltimore oriole that has been frequenting the Edgartown feeder was seen. But, unfortunately, shortly after the oriole was sighted, it was taken by a sharp-shinned hawk. The final list will be available in a week or so and will be published for all to see. We thank all the participants from on-and off-Island and the folks who watched their feeders and reported those birds.
The good news is that the Allen’s hummingbird at Pilot Hill is still alive and at the feeder as of Jan. 2. Also, Dr. James Riley photographed another hummingbird at his Edgartown feeder on Dec. 31. Lanny McDowell got other photos of this hummingbird on Jan. 2 and we believe the bird is a ruby-throated hummingbird. That and hopefully a long-eared owl will be added to the CBC as birds seen during count period. John Nelson counted 12 tree swallows at the Farm Institute on Dec. 26 and Martha Moore counted nine by Deep Bottom Cove on Tisbury Great Pond on Dec. 28. Martha also had both white-winged (5) and red crossbills (3) drinking in a puddle on Middle Point on the West Tisbury side of Tisbury Great Pond.
Gus and Deb Ben David had a flock of red crossbills arrive at their feeder at the World of Reptiles and Birds on Jan. 1. Robin Bray and David Mash had their first white-winged crossbill (a male) at their Katama feeder on Dec. 30. They also had a brown creeper the same day.
Up-Island Warren Woessner found a common redpoll at the feeders on North Road at the West Tisbury/Chilmark town lines.
Claire Hall called to report two American robins, two Carolina wrens and one red-winged blackbird in her Edgartown yard on Dec. 28. Randi Rand counted 100 brant in Crystal Lake on Dec. 27. Trudy Ulmer was thrilled to see six eastern bluebirds against the new snow in her yard at Dodger’s Hole on Dec. 31. Debby Rosenthal also spotted a couple of eastern bluebirds in her Edgartown yard on Dec. 29.
Matt Born spotted a great blue heron at East Pasture on Jan. 1 and thought it should be south. He was correct, although some great blues and other herons try to make it through the winter. If there is open water somewhere so they can feed, they may make it.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.