Lanny McDowell was invited to visit and survey the flora and fauna of a beach near Squibnocket with Liz Baldwin and Luanne Johnson on Sept. 10. Lanny was watching and photographing a group of sanderlings and semipalmated sandpipers when a new shorebird came in for a landing near the group. Lanny not only photographed the bird landing, but also several other shots of the new arrival wandering amongst the rocks. The bird was a Baird’s sandpiper, a rare fall migrant on the Vineyard.

Baird’s sandpipers, according to a write up by W. Moskoff and R. Montgomerie, were one of the last sandpipers to be described in North America, and were named after the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1861. Unlike the vast majority of sandpipers, the Baird’s prefers insects. As a result, this sandpiper is much more at home in fields and dry coastal edges instead of mud and sand flats. Their feeding behavior, therefore, is not probing for their food, but pecking. They tend to peck and run; catch that bug or spider, eat it and run along until another is spotted, pecked and eaten.

A high Arctic breeder, the Baird’s sandpiper takes off from the tundra of North America and eastern Asia after nesting season. They stop over (stage) in a few areas of the United States for fuel (food), but primarily head directly to South America and spend the winter in the Andes of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, and the fields of Paraguay and Uruguay. The majority of Baird’s sandpipers travel 6,000 km (about 3,730 miles) directly to northern South America and then another 5,590 miles to their winter haunts. The total distance traveled in kilometers is 15,000 and is accomplished in around five weeks, not bad for a six-inch bird.

The female Baird’s sandpiper gets my award as the best mother in the world. She flies up from South America to the tundra using all her fat to fuel her flight. She immediately lays four eggs, one per day for four days! Wow, talk about exhausting! Luckily, both the male and female participate in nest building, and they both incubate the eggs and feed the young. The data from ornithologists found that the male incubated more than the females during several days after the female finished laying her eggs. I should hope so, she must have been totally tuckered out and wicked hungry after her long flight and egg laying!

Bird Sightings:

It is that time of year. The ruby-throated hummingbirds that nested here are leaving to head south and their young are not far behind. Charlie Kernick and Bill Jones reported “their” hummingbirds gone as of Sept. 10. Flip Harrington and I no longer spotted the ruby-throated hummingbirds at either our Quansoo or Quenames feeders as of Sept. 11. On the other hand, Nat Woodruff, Katherine Long and Mary Makepeace still were spotting hummingbirds in their yard on Sept. 11, and Suzan Bellincampi had two at Felix Neck on Sept. 15 and Barbara Pesch watched three at her feeder and probably a couple more in her garden on Sept. 16. Now, I wouldn’t take your hummingbird feeders in quite yet as there will be hummingbirds moving down from north of here that could use a shot of sugar water. And one never knows, we might get a different species for a change! Liz Baldwin and Luanne Johnson spotted two ruby-throated hummingbirds at Stonewall Beach on Sept. 10, which undoubtedly were migrants.

Ken Magnuson found and photographed a northern waterthrush at the Gay Head Moraine on Sept. 12. Flip Harrington and I found a northern waterthrush in the same swampy area at the Moraine on Sept. 14, and Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore re-found the northern waterthrush in the same swamp on Sept. 15.

Ellen Leverenz and Cynthia Berg found a yellow-headed blackbird and merlin at the Aquinnah Cultural Center and the northern waterthrush at the Gay Head Moraine the afternoon of Sept. 15. Cynthia Berg was treated to a sighting that is rare on the Vineyard on Sept. 11, a hooded warbler. She saw this warbler in the same swampy area at the Gay Head Moraine where the northern waterthrush has been feeding and hanging out for the last few days.

Lanny McDowell photographed a flycatcher at Katama on Sept. 14 and Matt Pelikan helped him ID the bird — a least flycatcher.

Ken Magnuson found an American kestrel, a house wren, a northern parula warbler and a brown thrasher at Gay Head on Sept. 12.

Flip Harrington and I spotted a whimbrel at Gay Head on Sept. 14. On Sept. 15 I found an American kestrel, two sharp-shinned hawks and a merlin along Moshup’s Trail in Aquinnah.

Dick Jennings reported that an immature bald eagle was sighted at Wasque by a Trustees employee. Dick saw the immature eagle at Cape Pogue on Sept. 12. Dick also watched a merlin dive bombing a northern harrier out at Cape Pogue as well.

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