There have been several interesting sightings in the waters in and around the Vineyard recently. The first I heard was a very unusual report on June 24 when a Facebook report claimed several Atlantic puffins were flying into Menemsha Pond up the channel. Razorbills have spent the summer in Menemsha Pond in the past and they are similar in shape and flight. However, when questioned, the Facebook observer said the birds had bright orange bills. Without a photo, I was unable to verify the sighting and let it go.

Atlantic puffins are rarely seen around the waters of Martha’s Vineyard. The few sightings we have records of were primarily of dead birds that had washed ashore in the winter months. Then in January 1991 and March 1996 puffins were seen flying or swimming off South Beach and Gay Head, again in the winter months. Now there have been a couple of spring/summer sightings since then. On April 10, 2009 Scott Stephens counted three Atlantic puffins south of Noman’s Land. Tom French spotted a single bird on June 12, 2001 between Gay Head and Noman’s Land. Do I believe the June sighting?

I attended a Nature Conservancy event on July 11 in Gay Head/Aquinnah. As is my want, I talked to most everyone there. One couple stated that they had seen an Atlantic puffin in Menemsha Pond recently. I told them that someone else had claimed they had seen puffins in the area, and that I had not “accepted” the record. To add more heat to the fire, I received an email from Mark Mattson who said that around July 3 he was on his boat “trolling slowly through terns and birds diving into the water after sand eels about a quarter mile off the Gay Head Lighthouse at Devil’s Bridge and I saw swimming in the water a small bird that had a big bill like a parrot right next to the boat. I thought it was a puffin but can’t be sure.”

I asked Matt, the Facebook observer, and the couple from the Gay Head Nature Conservancy event to please, please take a photo if they see the bird again. I will also ask any fisherman, lobsterman or sailor to keep a sharp eye open around Gay Head and Noman’s Land. We may have an American puffin taking a summer vacation off the Vineyard’s south shore.

Bird Sightings

Birding is pretty slow at this time of year. The migrants, whether be passerines (dickie birds) or shorebirds (sandpipers) are not present. The local birds are still in molt and quite silent, although a few are beginning to pipe up. The Canada geese are finally able to fly again and Tisbury Great and Chilmark ponds have large flocks with their goslings.

Great blue heron surveys the scene. — Lanny McDowell

On July 16, Jeff O’Sullivan spotted a black-crowned night heron, a great blue heron and a great egret at the pond near Mink Meadows Golf course. The same day, Allan Keith and Bill Post birded Chappaquiddick and said it was slow. It was fun to see a family of green herons perched on a bush at East Beach. They observed all three species of terns — least, common and roseate — and counted around 40 American oystercatcher along all the Chappy beaches.

Robert Culbert joined Noah and Donald Reither on July 15 and birded Katama. They found two fledgling northern harriers near the Katama Air

port. The next day Noah and Donald returned to Katama and found a third fledgling northern harrier. It is nice to see that the pair of northern harrier in this area has produced three birds. The chances of three surviving in one nest are quite slim.

Jane Sigler and several other folks have mentioned that their Carolina wrens are returning. Seems the few pairs that made it through last winter have had at least three fledging per nest survive. Hopefully they will second nest and we will have our Carolina wren population back to “normal.”

Kate Meleney was “delighted to report the return for the third summer (and to our neighborhood the fourth), of our leucistic song sparrow. We last spotted him in bushes between Crystal Lake and Vineyard Haven Harbor over Thanksgiving weekend last fall.”

On July 18 he (or she) returned to Kate Meleney’s feeder on Crystal Lake and the sparrow was spotted again the next day.

Flip Harrington and I report that there has been a great blue heron joining a couple of great egrets on Big Sandy on Tisbury Great Pond for the last week. The number of double-crested cormorants on Big Sandy has increased, so the young of the year are moving away from their nesting areas in the Elizabeth Islands, Noman’s Land and Sengekontacket Pond. Two ospreys are fishing the Great Pond daily. Green herons fly by frequently, and Merrily Fenner and I spotted two in a tree by Hancock Beach on July 19. The red-eyed vireo is back singing by the crossroads of Quenames and Blue Barque Road, but otherwise there isn’t much singing in the woods at present.

Please report your bird sightings to:

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is