Last weekend Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin of Biodiversity Works asked for volunteers to help celebrate World Shorebirds Day. There were two surveys done, one by Sarah Mayhew at Quansoo, and another at Little Beach by Luanne, Liz and Lanny McDowell. The results were submitted to eBird at Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Shorebirds are declining and it is hoped that this event might make people aware of this fact, and also collect data on the numbers of shorebirds seen during the selected day.

The team at Little Beach spotted a nice selection of shorebirds on Sept. 6: two American oystercatchers, 20 black-bellied and five semipalmated plovers, 43 greater yellowlegs, five ruddy turnstones, 72 sanderlings and five least and nine semipalmated sandpipers. The team also spotted one least and eight common terns and 21 black skimmers, with one family still feeding a chick. But the prize of the day was not a shorebird, it was a sparrow. Lanny McDowell found a seaside sparrow in the marsh grasses at Eel Pond. Seaside sparrows are very rare on the Vineyard, although they used to nest here according to old records. A bird that lives, feeds and nests in salt marsh, the seaside sparrow is becoming more rare each year as salt marsh is being destroyed. A sparrow with a hefty bill and big feet, it wanders in the marshes eating both insects and seeds. The large bill is definitely necessary for seed crushing, and the big feet to wander in their watery habitat.

On the other end of the Island, Sarah Mayhew found several different species of shorebirds. Her list included 45 black-bellied plover, five American golden plovers, 11 semipalmated plovers, two American oystercatchers, 13 greater yellowlegs, five eastern willets, four ruddy turnstones, three red knots, 46 sanderlings, 16 least sandpipers and her best bird — a white-rumped sandpiper. Sarah also photographed nine greater yellowlegs that were feeding like skimmers — a common feeding behavior for a group of yellowlegs, but not one that we often see.

Gus Ben David rescued an immature bald eagle last month and was able to feed it well, so the bird was up to the weight it should be. On Sept. 3 he released the bird at Katama. There was a small crowd that came to watch and Gus gladly gave a talk about bald eagles before he released the bird. The eagle hopped out of the cage and flew low to the ground, headed for the ocean and stopped briefly in the dunes. We all wish this eagle well! Thanks for taking care of her, Gus.

Rob Bierregaard sent news that there is now an app for your cell phone to follow the ospreys fitted with satellite transmitters. The application is called Animal Tracker and can be downloaded for free. Once you download this free app, click on the northeast section and go to ospreys. Rob also added that “Snowy was the first to head south — just a day later than she left last year. We had been calling Snowy a male, but after another August departure (typical of adult females, not males) I had a look at the banding data and saw the weight was awfully high for a young male and fairly typical for a fledgling female, so Snowy’s a “she.” Glad we picked a sexually ambiguous name. ...Snowy was a bird on a mission. She arrived back at her wintering area in northern Cuba just eight days after she left her staging area in Long Island.”

In other Island bird news, warblers and other passerines are beginning to move south. This is obvious as Gay Head is now becoming the place to be for bird watching in the mornings.

Back on August 31, Matthew Jackson had a male yellow warbler land on his hand, stay for a spell and then take off. Probably the bird was just arriving from the north, was exhausted and landed in the first spot he saw.

Sept. 3, Bob Shriber found a clay-colored sparrow and six bobolinks at Gay Head. The sparrow was still there on Sept. 5 along with a dickcissel, a brown thrasher, a magnolia warbler and both a sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks. Bob went down-Island and at Norton Point found three red knots and at Little Beach, a western sandpiper.

Sept. 4 Ken Magnuson spotted a female purple finch hanging out with house finches at the Edgartown Golf Club feeding station.

Sept. 7 Ken Magnuson and Bob Shriber were at Gay Head where they spotted small flocks of cedar waxwings, bobolinks and a prairie warbler. On Lighthouse Road they found a Cape May warbler, and at the Gay Head Moraine they found a Wilson’s warbler. Ken and Bob continued down-Island where they found 20 American golden plovers.

Non-passerine sightings include a Wilson’s storm petrel seen in Cape Pogue Pond near North Neck by Boyd Oster, and David and Julianne Mehigan on Sept. 3. These folks also noted that there were still least and common terns around as well as a little blue heron and an osprey.

Dick Jennings sent a photo of a merlin that he took at Cape Pogue on Sept. 3. Earlier he watched the falcon snacking on a tree swallow.

Ken Magnuson took some distant shots of shorebirds and was unsure of their identity. This was an excellent move as when he got back and downloaded the photos on his computer he discovered that he had two whimbrels and what he thought might be yellowlegs. When he posted the photos, Lanny McDowell and Ken worked out that the two lead birds were actually Hudsonian godwits. This is an example of an excellent use of a camera for birding.

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