On Sept. 7 Tim Spahr, an excellent birder from the mainland, was birding with Allan Keith in the Gay Head Moraine. They were on a small bridge over a trickling stream when Tim heard a chip note that Tim said was a hooded warbler. Allan Keith and I both have difficulty hearing and identifying chip notes so we are always willing to bird with someone with good ears. Allan was stunned that Tim not only heard the note, but identified it. With a little coaxing the bird came closer and Tim was able to photograph an immature female hooded warbler.
Now, female and male hooded warblers are very different. The male has a full black hood and the female just a partial one. Matter of fact if you looked quickly at an immature female hooded warbler, which has no hood, you might mistake it for a common yellowthroat female or maybe a Wilson’s warbler female. However if you watch the bird for a bit and are lucky, you will see it spread its tail and show its white outer tail feathers. Tim and Allan were fortunate and saw just that. Tim photographed the warbler with its tail spread. So the combination of the chip note and the photograph of the hooded warbler’s tail clinched the ID.
There have been only about 35 sightings of hooded warblers on the Vineyard and they usually occur in the first two weeks of September or mid to late April. This hooded warbler was right on schedule. Bob Shriber arrived at the Gay Head Moraine as Tim and Allan were leaving and was able to re-find the hooded warbler. Flip and I heard about the bird when we were at the Gay Head Cliffs but we were two hours late and missed seeing the hooded warbler. Better luck next time, we said! Thanks to Tim Spahr’s fine ear, a hooded warbler was found! You are welcome to come and bird on the Vineyard anytime, Tim, just let us know so we can follow you!
Tim Spahr was on-Island for a week and found several fine birds. On August 30 he was surprised to find a broad-winged hawk at the Gay Head Cliffs. This is a rare hawk on the Vineyard, particularly in the fall. On August 31 Tim was back at Gay Head and found two purple martins, an unusual migrant on the Island. At Menemsha Hills the same day he spotted a whimbrel.
Barbara Pesch called to say that all her adult ruby-throated hummingbirds had left by the first of September. Barbara remembers that Dolly Minis noted that the adult hummingbirds leave first and usually are quite aggressive at feeders as they double their weight in order to have enough fuel to migrate south. Now the juveniles are tanking up to double their weight so they can move south as well. It will be interesting to see when the youngsters leave.
William Waterway, Greg Palermo and Donna Vose all had trouble identifying immature and winter plumage brown cowbirds last week. The cowbirds are a strange combination of grays, blues and blacks at this time of year, so they look nothing like the standard field guide pictures. It is helpful to either go online and check websites that show photos of cowbirds in many plumages, or use The Crossley Guide to Eastern Birds, which has a good variety of photos of birds in many plumages.
On Sept. 4 Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner, Pete Gilmore and I went to Chappaquiddick and birded the Cape Pogue area. Our best bird was a lesser black-backed gull which didn’t look exactly right. Lanny sent the photos around to some hot shots off-Island and although we thought we might have seen a hybrid gull, the panel came back to say it was a lesser black-backed gull. We also counted five whimbrels along the shore of Cape Pogue Bay.
Also on Sept. 4, Greg Palermo and Liz Louchs observed hundreds of tree swallow moving west near Little Homer’s Pond.
Dick Jennings photographed an immature bald eagle that was at Little Neck on Cape Pogue on Sept. 5. He also reminded me that he saw a merlin at Wasque on August 22. Although we did not find merlins nesting on Chappaquiddick this year, one wonders with this sighting if they didn’t nest on Chappy after all and did so in such a sneaky manner that we missed them.
On Sept. 5, Connie Ellis noted that a northern harrier had been hunting the edges of Chilmark Pond since the beginning of September and a belted kingfisher had been fishing the pond since mid August.
Luanne Johnson and I conducted the ISS (shorebird) census at Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah on Sept. 5. The most common shorebirds were sanderlings, next were the semipalmated plovers. We were pleased to find four piping plovers still on the beach. A northern harrier was hunting the dunes and we spotted three bobolinks hunkered down in the beach grass.
I joined Tim Spahr and Allan Keith at Gay Head on Sept. 6. We had several good birds including a cliff swallow, two chimney swifts, two blue-gray gnatcatchers, two house wrens, two peregrine falcons, two Cooper’s hawks, and a Baltimore oriole. We spotted good numbers of bobolinks, cedar waxwings and red-winged blackbirds heading south. We continued on to Squibnocket where Tim heard a northern waterthrush and we saw a warbling vireo, another blue-gray gnatcatcher, a chestnut-sided warbler, an ovenbird and three American redstarts.
Lanny McDowell spotted 10 great egrets and one snowy at the Bend in the Road at Sengekontacket on Sept. 6. On Chilmark Pond Jack Asher spotted a great egret and a pair of American oystercatchers on Sept. 7 and noted they all had been on the pond since the first of September. William Waterway sent a lovely photo of a great egret he took at Stonewall Pond on Sept. 9. William added that three more egrets were perched nearby.
Sept. 7 found Tim Spahr and Allan Keith at the Gay Head Moraine where they found the immature female hooded warbler. They also found two veerys, an ovenbird, a Nashville warbler, and both chestnut-sided and Blackpoll warblers.
On Sept. 9 Allan Keith, Matt Pelikan and Betsy Bogel arrived at the Gay Head Cliffs before I did. Allan and Matt had spotted a warbling vireo in the lower parking lot. When I arrived Allan was pointing out a western kingbird that was in the company of about eight eastern kingbirds. Allan and Matt left and Betsy and I went down to the lower parking lot and were able to find the warbling vireo again. Scott Stephens picked up the warbling vireo again later in the morning.
Sarah Mayhew sent a lovely photograph of three snowy egrets coming in for a landing at James Pond on Sept. 10.
Report bird sightings to the bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or email email@example.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.