Finally, the winter weather is breaking as temperatures have soared all the way into the 40s. As far as I am concerned, it is about time! Maybe now we can start finding some avian signs of the coming spring.
One of the most conspicuous signs of the coming spring is the return of the osprey. The earliest date for their return is March 14, so keep an eye out for them. Or even keep an ear out, as their call is easily audible and quite distinctive.
Gus Ben David reminds us to also keep an eye out for any ospreys that are placing sticks on or near power lines. Such activity can short out the electricity and can kill the birds. Contact Mr. Ben David immediately if you see this, so that he and NStar can correct the situation before there are problems.
There is a tie for bird of the week honors. Frank Creney observed a woodcock in his yard on March 5 as it repeatedly probed the ground with its long beak. I am guessing that this is a migrant since this winter most woodcocks in southeastern Massachusetts came on Feb. 23 or later, at least according to the five sightings reported on ebird. Given the cold temperatures, frozen ground and snow cover, I have a hard time imagining any of them surviving through this past winter. The second species is a remarkable whippoorwill that Meghan Ottens-Sargent heard calling several times over the weekend of March 7 to 9. There are no other “sightings” of this species north of Georgia so far in 2014. The earliest date I recall seeing this species was from two early April sightings in the early 1980s, when dead whips were brought to me after heavy snowstorms. Is anyone else hearing these crepuscular and nocturnal callers?
On Feb. 27, Patsy and Steven Donovan spotted a short-eared owl as it flew up out of the dunes at South Beach. Ken Magnuson spotted another short-eared owl at Katama — maybe the same individual — on March 10.
Bucky Burrows has had a yellow-rumped warbler visiting his feeder for a few days in early March. It will be fun to watch these dull winter-plumaged warblers as the males gradually develop their more colorful breeding plumage over the next two months. Also watch your goldfinches as the bright yellow plumage of the males gradually returns.
On March 4, Geoff and Norma Kontje had two hermit thrushes in their yard exhibiting an unusual foot-quivering behavior as they patrolled the leaf litter searching for food. And Rick Karney watched a hermit thrush catch and eat a worm outside his house on March 9.
Jeff Bernier observed an unusual sight — a red-tailed hawk eating a crow, while being mobbed by the rest of the flock of crows on March 6.
On March 7, Lanny McDowell and Ken Magnuson made the trip out to Norton Point Beach. Their highlights included a Savannah sparrow, long-tailed ducks and a first winter Iceland gull.
Laura Wainwright had a red-winged blackbird at her feeder on March 7, which could have been either a migrant or an overwintering individual. They usually come back in late February, but this year they seem to be a little late, perhaps because of the unusually cold weather. A sighting of migrant red-wings was made by Nancy Weaver at the Head of the Lagoon that same day. She observed them on their breeding grounds and heard them singing, both of which are evidence that the first of our breeding red-wings have returned.
Christie Coon reports three pairs of common goldeneye, 20 bufflehead and a pair of surf scoters off West Chop on March 8.
On March 8, Sharon Simonin saw a flock of turkey vultures at a pile of scallop shells. She observed that they looked much prettier when flying. The turkey vultures are still roosting at the yellow house on Pine Street near the Tisbury School. They were leaving the roost at about 8:30 a.m. on March 11, and have been returning to the roost between 4 and 5 p.m.
Lori Robinson Fisher observed the large flock of Oak Bluffs brant as they were swimming in the water on the morning of March 9.
I commented in last week’s column that snowy owls might be getting scarcer as their urge to migrate north is kicking in. But they are still here and have been reported by a wide variety of people. On March 10, Rosemary Knowlton Hildreth saw the dozens of swans at Trapp’s Pond (near the Bend-in-the-Road Beach) and stopped to take a photo. She was then pleasantly surprised to discover a snowy owl was watching her from the opposite bank. Nelson Smith saw what was most likely the same owl just 15 minutes later at the Bend-in-the-Road Beach. Jeffrey Bernier observed one on March 8 on the Nantucket Sound side of State Beach in Oak Bluffs.
There are lots of birds around, so please enjoy the warmer weather, and get out looking for them. Be sure to report your bird sightings here.
Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.