The bird of the week is some sort of strange bunting that was especially common in Edgartown over the long July Fourth weekend. They were generally striped red, white and blue and some had stars on them. Their preferred habitat seemed to be porches and fences along the street. If anyone knows what species of bunting they are, please let this column know, as I could not find them in any of my bird books.

Bird Sightings

Swallows are working hard to raise their chicks. Barn swallows and tree swallows are everywhere doing their parental duties, but the bank swallows are more restricted in their breeding sites as they nest in our coastal banks. Look for cavities dug into the coastal bank within five to 10 feet of the top of the bank. As their cavities are dug into a mostly vertical surface, they are fairly safe from a variety of predators.

Bank swallow nestlings look out at the big wide world. — Lanny McDowell

On July 2 there were at most 10 breeding pairs of bank swallows at Cedar Tree Neck. The adults arrive, deliver food to their young, then depart to return again in a few minutes. In between visits, the larger nestlings perch near the cavity entrance, looking out at the big wide world. These nestlings could easily be seen, especially with binoculars.

Osprey are also hard at work across the Island. Please visit any nests that you thought had failed, as you may be surprised to find that the nest has chicks. It is amazing that some of the nests can be large enough that an adult osprey can not be seen while it is incubating eggs.

Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the week is Lisa Maxfield’s sighting of a very tame yellow-crowned night-heron in her wooded yard near Brush Pond on June 29. On July 1, Warren Woessner found the same species (maybe the same bird) in a more expected locale, in the dense shrubbery of the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station.

Green heron. — Lanny McDowell

In the running for most unusual sighting of the week is from Antone Lima and Rick Dwyer on June 29. They both observed an immature (two year old?) herring gull “carrying” a quahaug that had clamped on to the gull's toe. An odd sight to be sure.

Lanny McDowell visited Great Rock Bight on July 2 and described it as a redstart mecca. There are lots of these dapper black, red and white warblers there. An interesting challenge is to find a female redstart, which some birders refer to as a lemonstart. She is less conspicuous as she is greenish backed, white underneath, and has yellow wing and tail patches.

Doreen and Dennis McCabe visited Quansoo Farm on July 2 and found a northern harrier, song sparrow, and the very similar savannah sparrow. Also that day, I noticed that there were an abundance of common and roseate terns actively foraging in Vineyard Sound off Cedar Tree Neck. I had not observed them there in June.

Sarah Mayhew observed a male scarlet tanager visiting her Panhandle Road feeder on July 1. That same day, Pete Gilmore found one singing along Hopps Farm Road in West Tisbury. At that location, Pete also heard a black-billed cuckoo calling at dusk on June 30.

Female American redstart. — Lanny McDowell

Whip-poor-wills are back in the news, as Bob Shriber heard one at Lobsterville on July 1, probably the same individual that Morgan Hodgson has been hearing. Barbara Armstrong has been hearing them in Menemsha as well.

Norma Holmes visited Waskosim’s Rosk Reservation on June 30 and found ovenbird walking out in the open, down the side of the trail. They are usually more secretive. She also found red-eyed vireos, eastern wood-pewees, great crested flycatchers, as well as the more common blue jays, crows, catbirds and towhees. She also reports that she observed a goldfinch raiding a nest of caterpillars — likely tent caterpillars.

My Saturday morning guided birding tour went on search of ovenbirds, which we heard at Fulling Mill Brook. They did not cooperate, however, as they all remained concealed in the dense vegetation. We did hear a wood thrush singing as we were getting ready to leave. These thrushes seem to be scarce this year, as I have not heard them at several locales where they had been in past years.

Ovenbirds are often secretive. — Lanny McDowell

Susan McCoy reports that wood ducks and green heron are regular visitors to a little pond in Makonikey. At Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary in Edgartown there was a black-crowned night heron and a green heron almost side by side, perched in the shrubbery alongside the pond. The pond is always a good place to go look for wading birds.

Richard Purrington found a partially leucistic robin on June 28. It was mostly normally colored but had white in a narrow band around its neck and along the side of its breast.

The breeding season is winding down and post-breeding dispersal is happening now. Please keep us up-to-date by reporting your sightings to

Robert Culbert leads Saturday morning Guided Birding Tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.

Photos of recent bird sightings on Martha’s Vineyard.