It was 6 a.m. on June 30 when Charlie Finnerty and Flip Harrington motored out of Menemsha on the M/V Lucayan to go fishing. They went to several of their favorite spots off the south shore and didn’t have much luck. They decided to go to Noman’s Land, where they were about to start casting when they spotted gulls working over bait. They continued offshore about a half a mile south of Noman’s Land.

When Charlie and Flip arrived at the area where the birds were fishing, not only did they spot ring-billed, herring and black-backed gulls, but also six other non-gulls working over the pod of baitfish. Flip knew they were shearwaters and described the bird, noting in particular its yellow bill. We decided the shearwaters he and Charlie had seen were Cory’s shearwaters. Then I asked Lanny to send a photograph of a Cory’s shearwater, and I showed it to Flip, who clinched the ID.

Shearwaters are a part of a group of birds known as pelagic species. They spend all their lives, except during breeding, on the open ocean. Their breeding grounds are located in the southern hemisphere on islands or islets. In the case of the Cory’s shearwaters, their main nesting area is in the Cape Verde Islands, the Azores, the Canary Islands and Madeira.

The shearwaters must have fresh water as well as food to survive. How do they do this when they are on the ocean so much of the year? They have developed special salt glands, located in their skulls near their eye socket. These glands process the sea water and rid the birds of excess salt. This extra salt is excreted (dribbles) out of holes, or nares, in the bill of shearwaters. The shearwater’s bills are made up of tubes. These tubes are very sensitive to odors, which make it possible for the shearwaters, also known as “tubenoses,” to smell their prey offshore, and perhaps to find their nests ashore. Shearwaters are long-lived and one actually lived 50 years!

If you have a chance to go fishing or to get offshore, watch for these dark-backed, white-bellied, heavy-set birds with yellow bills as they fly slowly over the water, catching fish or squid from the surface of the ocean.

Bird Sightings:

We are watching the crew at Biodiversity Works with bated breath. Will they catch the female (“Can’t Even”)? The latest report is that the Biodiversity Works team caught an unbanded male willet yesterday at Eel Pond and put the fourth new geo tag on him. He is the male of the nest in the marsh across from Little Beach in Edgartown. The morning of July 1, Liz Baldwin of Biodiversity Works was working on “Can’t Even,” the female fitted with a geo tag at Little Beach in 2013. Luanne Johnson noted that “Can’t Even” is pretty wiley, but they will try their best to recapture her now that her chicks are older and perhaps feeding themselves a bit. And speaking of willets, Bill Post spotted and photographed two along the shores of Sengekontacket Pond on June 24.

Karen Mead of Aquinnah sent a report of what she observed between from June 16 to 20. Karen included a series of great photographs of barn swallows from the stage of huge mouths filling a nest to nestlings about to fly. Her observations and photos were of two nests around her Aquinnah house. She spotted six cedar waxwings by Herring Creek on June 20 and listed the common birds seen, including common yellowthroat and great crested flycatchers. There were many swallows back nesting at both Zacks Cliffs and Gay Head Cliffs, according to Karen.

Karen was saddened to find a mourning dove that had hit one of her windows. She sat the corpse next to a tree where she had seen a pair of mourning doves frequently. Shortly thereafter, the mate arrived and sat by the deceased dove all day mourning. This is a reminder to hang something in windows to prevent bird collisions and deaths.

Jeff Bernier sent a photograph of a ruby-throated hummingbird nest that he found at the Polly Hill Arboretum. He noted that it was between a golf and a tennis ball in size. It was a thing of beauty, the outside of which was decorated with lovely lichens. Then boarding his kayak on June 30, Jeff paddled out in Katama Bay near the shore and photographed a black skimmer preening. It was a great set of photos showing the interesting skimmer bill.

Larry Hepler checked the owl box in his barn this week. He left quickly as he spotted owlets, and he didn’t want to take the time to count them. Later he can watch the fledgings take to the wing and make his count. On June 29 Larry counted three American oystercatchers wandering outside the fenced areas at Black Point. Hopefully, beachgoers will give these chicks a wide berth.

Dick Jennings is still working on tallying the number of successful osprey nests and number of fledglings. We received an email from Chuck Dowe that the nest on Pennywise Path had been abandoned. Dick was unaware that the nest had been occupied this year, so he will check it out.

Paul Karasik reported that two bobwhites skipped across his lawn, which is located off Tiah’s Cove Road in West Tisbury, on June 28.

Tara Whiting startled a great egret outside her summer home on Tisbury Great Pond on June 25. On July 1, Flip Harrington and I spotted one coming in for a landing on Big Sandy, also on Tisbury Great Pond on the Chilmark side.

Rob Culbert led a morning bird walk at Fulling Mill on June 29. He found the following species: wood thrush, scarlet tanager, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, downy, hair and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as gray catbirds and eastern towhees. He was concerned not to see northern parulas.

Margaret Curtin, Nancy Weaver and Luanne Johnson were pleased to spot an orchard oriole by the Dyke Bridge on Chappaquiddick on June 29.

Please report your bird sightings to
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is