It is 6 a.m. There isn’t a breath of air. The sun is barely peeking over the wood line at edge of the field. Mares’ tails of red and purple shoot from the top of the trees skyward. The stillness is broken by a murder of crows cawing endlessly while mobbing a young red-tailed hawk. The crows show no mercy as they dive bomb the poor hawk who undoubtedly is just trying to use the perch atop the cedar tree to find breakfast.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker. — Lanny McDowell

Scanning southward out the kitchen door provides a view of a button buck grazing at the edge of the corn field. Was it the crows calls, the red-tails flight with the crows in hot pursuit, or something unnoticed that caused the buck to flash its white flag and race into the woods?

Black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatches, house finches and both downy and hairy woodpeckers are busy on the feeders out the kitchen window. Mourning doves glean seed that the sloppy eaters flip onto the ground.

It is nice to be home.

A week in Orvieto, Italy for a writer’s workshop has ended. The town is perched on a cliff of limestone. An island in the sky if you must. Three thousand years old, the city has Etruscan, Romanesque and Gothic features. The Duomo Cathedral is the centerpiece. A structure which according to the literature took 30 years to plan and three centuries to construct. An arrival to Orvieto by funicular is the only way to be introduced to the Piazza and the cathedral that is the heart of the town. A late afternoon entrance is spectacular as the sun shines on huge bronze doors and gold leaf that decorates the exterior.

Black-throated green warbler. — Lanny McDowell

Orvieto is not a birding destination. The most common species are the rock pigeons, with the Jackdaw, a crow like species, in second place.

One day we left the walled city and ventured down in the valley with a plan to walk up a steep and slippery slope to two monasteries. The climb was too much for my bum right foot so Libby and I turned tail half way up and returned to the flat land. There we watched magpies feeding in newly plowed fields and collard doves in the pines edging the fields. Not wanting to miss the monasteries, we broke down and ordered a taxi. We were losing light so chose to go to La Badia, a monastery that had been converted into a world class restaurant and hotel. We had a relaxed introduction to the property and took copious photos of same. While snapping away we noticed a bird atop a Cyprus tree. It was singing away and Libby was able to describe the song: “trak, trak.” It was the behavior of the songster that struck me. As the bird sang it twitched its wings and tail. That behavior, its choice of perch high upon the tree, and Libby’s description of the call made it possible for me to identify the bird as a stonechat. Not a bird we see in the United States.

Bird Sightings

But back on the Vineyard, new winter species have started arriving. Dark-eyed junco and white-throated sparrows have joined the melee around the feeders. Buffleheads, red-breasted mergansers and American widgeon are in most of the Island ponds and harbors. Jeff Bernier spotted the first hooded mergansers on Nov. 11. He counted nine American oystercatcher at Eel Pond on the same day. Hope at least one or two stay for the Christmas Bird Count!

Long-tailed duck. — Lanny McDowell

Offshore, both black and white-winged scoter are rafting up. Harlequin ducks have arrived in the surf off Squibnocket and great cormorants have joined the double-crested cormorants on the rocks off Squibnocket. David Stanwood spotted long-tailed ducks off Middle Ground on the North Shore. David added that he heard a great horned owl at the Hoft Farm.

Lanny McDowell had one of the best birds of the week. In a mixed feeding flock of red-breasted merganser, laughing and ring-billed gulls at Sengekontacket, he spotted a tern on Nov. 10. His photograph was very distant and so quite fuzzy. The consensus for the ID: a Foster’s tern. Not the latest date for this species but unusual.

Cape Pogue and Norton Point produced two good birds this week. Antone Lima had snow buntings and on Nov. 11. Rick Dyer spotted the Vineyard’s first snowy owl of the winter.

Snow bunting. — Lanny McDowell

The “dickie bird” scene was monopolized by Allan Keith. On Nov. 7 he spotted a black-throated green warbler at Squibnocket and a rose-breasted grosbeak at his feeders at Turtle Brook Farm. Nov. 9 was a good field day for Allan. First he had two rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeder, a yellow-breasted chat at Squibnocket, and a white-eyed vireo at Menemsha Hills. Allan’s best bird and a tie for the bird of the week was a female Lawrence’s warbler at the parking lot at Menemsha Hills. On Nov. 11 Allan had a Cape May warbler at Greene’s field. Finally, Allan has had a collection of gulls in the fields next to the pond at Bettlebung Farm. There were three lesser black-backed gulls on Nov. 7 and seven on Nov. 12, plus an Iceland gull.

Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds 2, and an occasional contributor to the Vineyard Gazette.

Photos of recent bird sightings on Martha's Vineyard.