It is a call that every Vineyard bird watcher yearns for: “Soo, Ken just called me, he has a rare one at Lobsterville, a Pacific loon.”

“Thanks Lan, Flip and I are out the door. Where are you?”

“Down at the West Basin side of the Menemsha jetties, look for our cars.”

We grabbed binoculars, scope and my idiot camera, which was a joke as I was on my way to meet up with two of the best photographers on the Island, and climbed into the truck. Driving up-Island we watched two red-tailed hawks soaring in a thermal heading ever upwards. A few sparrows jumped from the shoulder of the road into the pucker brush as we passed by. No time to figure out now what species they were, we had a potential date with a Pacific loon.

Ken and Lanny’s cars were parked side by side at the West Basin lot. We headed out towards the jetties and found the two birders glued to their spotting scopes. We set up our scope, checked out the loon’s location by peering into the standing scopes, and then found the bird in our scope. Wow, the Pacific loon was in with three other birds, all of which were common loons. As we were watching and talking about the identifying field marks Allan Keith arrived. We got him on the bird quickly as he was about to meet a boatful of relatives and had very little time.

What an opportunity for comparison. The Pacific loon possessed a more slender bill, smaller rounder head, a dark eye that lacked the white edging the common loons had and wore what I would call a necklace of dark feathers and what the lads called a chin strap. The Pacific loon was more petite than the rugged common loon. The 32-inch common loon loomed over the 25-inch Pacific loon.

Ken Magnuson first found the Pacific loon on Saturday, Dec. 26, around 9 a.m. This loon species has only been recorded nine other times in Vineyard waters, the first being in 1980. Four sightings of the Pacific loons have been in the winter, the remaining in the spring months. Lanny, Flip and I decided that Ken did a stellar job of observation as it is oh so easy just to scan over a flock of loons and not check out individuals. Thanks for the late Christmas present, Ken.

Bird Sightings

Purple sandpipers at Menemsha jetties. — Lanny McDowell

As reported above, but for those of you who just read the bird sightings, a Pacific loon was spotted first by Ken Magnuson the morning of Dec. 26. Other Vineyard birders were able to find this rare visitor from the Pacific. Earlier Ken also spotted two razorbills off Lobsterville Beach the same day.

On Dec. 26 Flip Harrington and I spotted a greater yellowlegs in the Lobsterville marsh and watched the same flock of purple sandpipers that Sarah Mayhew photographed first on Dec. 23 and again on Dec. 26 on the Menemsha breakwater. Sarah also photographed a great egret in the Lobsterville marsh and spotted a razorbill offshore on Dec. 23.

Bert Fischer spotted and photographed a western kingbird at Squibnocket on Dec. 23.

On an early morning Christmas walk around West Chop beach, Christie and Hannah Coon each found good birds. Christie saw one surf scoter with his back of neck and forehead white markings, and weird orange beak, one common loon and about 20 buffleheads courting a poor female running for her life while the boys argued over her. Hannah saw two razorbills at West Chop light beach.

Jerry Davidson spotted two turkey vultures off North Road on Christmas Day.

Janet Norton reports that on Christmas Eve day she was surprised to find a red-winged blackbird at her Sweetened Water Farm feeder in Edgartown.

Shep Shove and Sharon Gamsby of West Tisbury reported a yellow-bellied sapsucker arrived at their feeder on Christmas Eve day. This was a treat as they usually only have downy woodpeckers visit.

Again on Christmas Eve day, Christie Coon at West Chop light beach spotted about 40 red-breasted mergansers, two buffleheads, one eider and one northern gannet.

Warren Woessner spotted two eastern meadowlarks along the Katama Bay side of Norton Point on Dec. 23. The same day he spotted two Baltimore orioles and a flock of cedar waxwings along the Winnetu driveway at Katama. Both he and Lanny McDowell commented that many fish and American crows are working the fields at the Farm Institute.

Do not forget the Vineyard’s Christmas Bird count that will be held on Jan. 2, 2016. If you want to join a group or watch your feeder and call in your tally to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary between 2 to 4 p.m., email Luanne Johnson at

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds 2. Her website is