First of all, the photos herewith are not all of recent sightings (except for the female blue grosbeak, which is). I realize it’s a tease, but here’s why:

Last weekend while birding with friends, I learned of Ana, the tropical storm that is pounding Charleston, S.C., as I write this column. The news that an early and significant storm might be heading up the Atlantic coast was more exciting to me than any of the spring avian arrivals sorting out property boundaries. Ana may have fizzled out, alas, but it had me going for a bit, thinking of May storms past.

Blue grosbeak is a distinctive find. — Lanny McDowell

Almost any major disturbance in the weather has profound effects on the bird population. How could it not? A spring or fall storm that coincides with the seasonal migrations of many millions of birds promises better than the usual odds of finding something different. Because? Because storms sweep up and carry flying things in their path, and because many birders pay more attention to rarities than to the expected and are out looking for new varieties. When you consider the wind speeds of even moderate tropical storms — let’s say somewhere in the 45 to 65 mph range — a bird resisting the dominant winds will lose that battle quickly. If the bird can’t get out of the wind’s grip, it’s anybody’s guess where it will end up when the winds dissipate enough for the bird to control its direction of flight. This could be over the open ocean many miles from land, which may only be inconvenient for a seabird, but fatal for a land bird. Conversely, a land bird will find shelter, rest and food sources after being deposited over forests and fields by the waning storm, while the seabird over land may be in a disastrous predicament if it has used up energy reserves or if it can’t find open water.

Fall hurricanes are the systems we usually think of as conveyors of unusual southern birds into our environment. Think of pelicans, of frigate birds, of sooty and bridled terns. However, a strong springtime blow out of the east can sidetrack northbound migrants that otherwise would be traveling well offshore. Twice I have experienced this phenomenon in May on the Vineyard, once right in the middle of May, in 2006, when events took me by surprise. I was out birding in the storm by habit, but the avian action that I stumbled upon blew me away, partly because I did not anticipate the birds, and then even more because my experience photographing them was so unique, so solitary and so thrilling.

A pelting rain stung me as I ducked into the wind to get from my parked car to the shore of State Beach just south of Little Bridge near Harthaven. I had seen small dark birds moving among the wind-torn waves, which charged to the shore in endless frothy sequence. I squinted against the wind and water, freshwater from the rain and salty from the spray, and sheltered my camera inside my slicker. The hood would blow back, then slap me. The small dark birds were red and red-necked phalaropes, working the waves for whatever small food items were churned up. When the birds got closest to shore, where all the waves were breaking, each would spread its wings to rise easily on the wind, fly over the oncoming crests and settle back down to sit on the water and frenetically probe for food. As the rain modulated to a more tolerable intensity, I was able to stand right at the sea’s edge, leaning into the gale, taking photos of birds that spend the vast majority of their lives on the open ocean, shunning landfall. My memories of this scene are still quite exciting, even years after.

Bird sightings (which, by the way, are gleaned mostly from posts to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Alert, a Facebook group):

I want to first mention a standout find that did not make it into last week’s column, an evening grosbeak found off Panhandle Road by Susie Bowman back on May 2.

There’s been a lot of conversational heat generated by expected but new arrivals to people’s yards, their feeders and also to the Island’s beaches. Great crested flycatchers have been heard or seen starting about May 5, by Penny Uhlendorf, Rick Karney, Rob Culbert, Susan Shea and Suzan Bellincampi. About this date, I heard a single wood thrush at Waskosim’s Rock.

On May 6, Luanne Johnson had her first eastern kingbird at Hoft Farm and Sharon Simonin both saw and photographed an all-white leucistic (song?) sparrow at East Chop, perhaps the one that has been seen there off and on for the last few years.

Jeff Bernier has been busy documenting the arrival of nesting seabirds and shorebirds, mostly at Little Beach in Edgartown. His photographs include black skimmers (four), common, roseate and least terns, a large flock of dunlin, which ought to be out of here very soon, American oystercatcher couples and piping plover pairs battling over territory.

On May 7 and 8, Ken Magnuson found a male bobolink at the Farm Institute, a token throwback to better times for this species, and a nice solitary sandpiper at the Edgartown Golf Club. Ira Certner mentioned the welcome arrival of whippoorwills to the state forest.

On May 8 Luanne Johnson and Elizabeth Ford found two brown thrashers near Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah, and the next day Sheila Muldaur had one off Meetinghouse Road.

This last weekend was very active for birders reporting new arrivals, most of them birds that will nest here. Backyard feeders attracted Baltimore orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, eastern towhees, hummingbirds and gray catbirds and, for Daisy Kimberly, a scarlet tanager, competing with all the other arrivals for the orange halves. The main threads of conversation were about watching nesting ospreys, whether people were seeing Carolina wrens after such a harsh winter, people extending warm welcomes to returning hummingbirds, and their success in attracting orioles and other species with oranges, suet and jam.

Susan Shea had an eastern phoebe at her place in Ocean Heights on May 9. Matt Pelikan heard an orchard oriole for two days near his Oak Bluffs home. And most recently, over this past weekend, good reports of summer resident wood warblers started showing up, mostly from walks through the Waskosim’s Rock preserve.

Nora Papian and Lee Domont recorded prairie and blue-winged warblers, least flycatcher (notable), eastern wood peewee (expected) and blue-headed vireo (handsome and passing through). I would add to that warbler list American redstart, black and white warbler and northern parula, along with many ovenbirds singing throughout the woods (in the company of Kelly Spenser, Ken Magnuson and his mom Debra Magnuson). On the foggy morning of May 11, at the Farm Institute, Ken found, perched on a fence wire, a female blue grosbeak — a southern overshoot and probably the most distinctive find of the past week.

In closing, a reminder that BiodiversityWorks can use more volunteers with baby shorebirds coming; and please consider joining Felix Neck’s Birdathon this coming weekend.

Lanny McDowell is an artist and bird photographer living in the Tashmoo area of Vineyard Haven. His website is