It was the Vineyard’s ospreys best year yet!

It is truly amazing to recall that in the early 1900s ospreys were considered transients, just stopping by the Island to and from their wintering and nesting sites. The first verified nest on the Vineyard was in Lambert’s Cove in 1952, and the first on Chappaquiddick was in 1954. Two other osprey nests were reported in 1954-1955. Now, fast forward ahead to 2014, and thanks to the hard work of Dick Jennings and assistant David Kolb, the number of osprey nests sighted on the Vineyard and Chappaquiddick combined is at an all-time high of 83!

Why so many now? The banning of the use of DDT, which, when ingested through the fish the ospreys caught and ate, resulted in soft egg shells that broke when incubated. The lack of suitable trees on which to erect their nests was another reason for the lack of Vineyard nesting ospreys. Gus Ben David and crew’s osprey poles are now the proud surfaces on which the 83 osprey pairs are nesting. Eighty-three pair equals 166 ospreys that were flying around the Vineyard before they settled down to incubate their eggs!

Dick Jennings has just completed his nest survey and in his words “the tally winds up at 83 breeding pair, 10 pair of housekeepers . . .” Wow, that means that 20 more ospreys (the housekeepers) were circling the Island in the spring for a total of 186 ospreys in the air. One wonders who was doing the air controller’s job of collision avoidance over the Vineyard’s air space.

Dick has discovered that unfortunately there have been 13 nest failures. He added that three nests are giving him a fit as he cannot determine whether there are young nesting in the Oak Bluffs harbor nest, the nest at Lily Pond and one on the Floyd property on Chappaquiddick. If those three nests have failed, that will bring the total failures to 16; if not, that could increase the number of youngsters. Stay tuned.

Dick Jennings, David Kolb and others counted the young ospreys in these 69 (83-13) working nests and the total is 96. This is now becoming a math problem — or a rerun of the movie The Birds — not a bird column. If all these young ospreys survive and join the other 188 in the air, it will bring the total to a whopping 284 ospreys flying over and fishing the waters on and around the Vineyard! A final inventory will be compiled by Dick Jennings and Rob Bierregaard in August, and it will be very interesting to discover how many nestling ospreys fledge! We’ll let you know.

Bird Sightings

Another shorebird migrant just now showing up, a semi-palmated plover, is very much the same design, size and shape as a piping plover. — Lanny McDowell

On July 3 Warren Woessner, Lanny McDowell, Rose Styron and I had the pleasure of taking Victor Emanuel of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) to Norton Point for a morning of birding. Unfortunately, we were a couple of days early for shorebird activity, but did give Victor excellent views of saltmarsh sparrows and 58 roseate terns. Victor commented that it was the best views of the saltmarsh sparrow he had ever had, and also more roseate terns in one place than he had ever seen.

Shorebird migration has started. On July 5 Lanny McDowell spotted one short-billed dowitcher at Bluefish Point, Katama, and then at Norton Point he counted three short-billed dowitchers, one semipalmated plover, one winter plumage laughing gull and six semipalmated sandpipers.

At the other end of the Island the same day, Liz Baldwin spotted two Whimbrels at Zach’s Cliffs. Winnie and Fred Spar spotted a whimbrel at Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick on July 6, and Betty Surbeck found a whimbrel in the surf at Long Point in West Tisbury on July 7.

Rob Culbert, on a bird tour on July 7, found 20 short-billed dowitcher, two semipalmated plovers and two sanderlings at Norton Point. Rob mentioned that a staff member of the Trustees of Reservations spotted two black terns at Norton Point. On hearing that, Warren Woessner went to Norton Point on July 8 and found three black terns and one semipalmated sandpiper.

On land, Rick Karney sent a great photo of a red-morph screech owl that he took in his West Tisbury driveway on July 5.

Sarah Mayhew has been busy with her camera and sent fun photos of piping plovers at Dogfish Bar, Aquinnah, and common terns at Quansoo, Chilmark. Luanne Johnson of Biodiversity Works reports that there are nine pair of piping plovers in the area where Biodiversity Works tends. Unfortunately, two nests failed due to wash over, one at Tisbury Great Pond and one at Edgartown Great Pond. Luanne added that she doubted that they would try nesting again at this late date.

Jeff Bernier sent a series of fun photos of young barn swallows at Katama, and Flip Harrington and I watched the parents feeding four young on our Quansoo rooftop.

Charlie Kernick had either an immature or female yellow warbler visit his West Tisbury yard on July 8.

Sharon Simonin sent a photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird that had very mottled plumage. I checked and discovered that this was probably an adult going into a fall molt. Sharon also found a great egret at the Vineyard Haven seawall on July 3.

Flip Harrington and I have been watching two great egrets fishing across Tisbury Great Pond from our home.

Many reports of young birds continue to pour in. David and Libby Fielder of West Tisbury have a yard full of juvenile Baltimore orioles, eastern bluebirds and tree swallows as of July 4.

Mary Beth Norton reports that there is a green heron frequently fishing behind the Menemsha Galley.

Tom Rivers reports that he counted seven bobwhite near his Tea Lane home 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