Imagine that you are a thick-billed murre. You and the other alcids are black and white, reminding the people lucky enough to see you of penguins in the southern hemisphere. You are not at all related to them, though, as you can fly and they cannot.

You prefer to swim, and you live on the ocean for 10 months of the year. You go to land only to breed and raise a family. And then the land you live on is a narrow ledge on a sheer rock cliff above the ocean. The rest of the year you live in the North Atlantic, generally from Cape Cod northward to the edge of the Arctic ice.

You are an expert diver, and can dive to depths of 200 meters or more, and you can stay underwater for more than three minutes. When underwater, you are a sleek and fast swimmer. You flap your partially extended wings to propel you through the water and your feet trail behind you. Your grace and speed enables you to catch the fish and other creatures that you eat.

Flight is more difficult and labored. Your long, narrow wings flap rapidly to keep you airborne. Strong winds can blow you to places where you do not want to be. On land you cannot get airborne again. You need to be on water, running along the surface to get airborne.

So you find yourself on Martha’s Vineyard on Jan. 27, likely having been blown there by the gusty 30-mile-per-hour southerly winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean the previous night.

Fortunately, Julie Verost and Scott Hershowitz are driving along the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and notice a black and white penguin-like bird by the side of the road. They capture you and call Felix Neck, which advised them to release you on a pond. So they carry you to nearby Deep Bottom Pond, where you readily take to the water. And the pond is big enough for you to get airborne and fly back to the ocean, where you belong.

There are two species of murres: thick-billed and common. Oddly, the common murres are not the most common. We are more likely to find thick-billed murres in waters around the Vineyard, although they can be tricky to distinguish. Experience with the species is needed to distinguish its thicker bill and less white on its cheek and side of the neck.

Bird Sightings

John Nelson was out and about on Jan. 24, the day after the blizzard. He found four razorbills off East Chop and one of the great egrets was in the marsh at Menemsha. Is this the most recent sighting of this species? I was in Menemsha on the morning of Jan. 31, and there were no egrets. Did the three great egrets of mid-January finally migrate south to warmer climes? I tried, also unsuccessfully, to find the Pacific loon.

On Jan. 25, before the snow melted, Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens observed two fox sparrows at their feeders.

Allan Keith found two first year vesper sparrows in his yard on Jan. 26 and 27. Although he has not seen them since then, this grassland specialist could well still be in the area.

On Jan. 27, Ken Magnuson found a male wood duck at the head of the Lagoon. A couple of days later, on Jan. 31, Lanny McDowell spotted a male pintail in with a flock of mallard on the Lagoon Pond side of the causeway at the head of the Lagoon. On Jan. 30, Mr. McDowell found a tree sparrow at Crackatuxet Cove.

Elizabeth Toomey reports seeing cedar waxwings every morning in the cedar trees lining the field at the beginning of New Lane in West Tisbury. This species can be very nomadic, so they will likely stay there only as long as there are juniper berries.

Spring is on the way; black-capped chickadees have been singing. — Lanny McDowell

Mr. Magnuson starts off a new month in grand style. On Feb. 1 he watched a peregrine falcon fly overhead while he was at the Edgartown Golf Club. The falcon was headed toward Eel Pond.

I find it interesting that we observed 134 species of birds on the Island in January. I will keep you posted — probably monthly — on how many species we have seen in 2016.

Spring is on its way, as day length is increasing and more birds are singing. Matt Pelikan, Penny Uhlendorf and I have heard black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, cardinals, white-throated sparrows and song sparrows singing and acting territorial, chasing other individuals around. Small wonder as it is up to 57 degrees on Feb. 1!

Suzan Bellincampi reports that more red-winged blackbirds are visiting the feeders at Felix Neck. Are they some of our winter resident birds that have just discovered the sanctuary? Or are they early migrants? I tend to say that migrants have arrived when they sing, flash their red epaulets and set up breeding territories in the marshes. They will be here soon.

I have a correction. Two weeks ago I wrote that Strickland Wheelock and his Mass Audubon crew spotted a blue-winged teal on Chilmark Pond in mid-January. I meant to write green-winged teal, which is much more common at this time of the year.

There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them, and be sure to report your bird sightings to

Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.

View recent bird sightings on Martha's Vineyard.