It is that time of year again. Christmas Bird Counts are a tradition that is more than 100 years old. On a count, a 15-mile diameter circle is divided into territories and every bird found is counted. There is a tally at the end where stories from all the territories are shared while enjoying some hot drinks and snacks. It is fun, I promise.

Greater yellowlegs. — Lanny McDowell

This year the second annual Junior Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, Dec. 16, at MassAudubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. A number of experienced birders will help eight year old and older kids observe and identify the birds in their territory. And there will be activities for younger children as well, so bring your entire brood.

The adult version of the Christmas Bird Count will be held on Friday, Dec. 29. This count has been conducted annually since 1960, and we cover the entire Island. You can participate on a field team for all or part of the day, or you can stay in the comfort of your home and report the birds that you observe in your yard.

Contact Luanne Johnson, the compiler of both events, at for more information.

Bird Sightings

Last week I wrote that the snowy owl seen on Nov. 25 at State Beach had moved elsewhere, possibly due to human disturbance. It had not been reported since then. But at dawn on Dec. 3, Mike Zoll and Tim and Sheila Baird found one perched on the big bridge jetty as it was being harassed by a murder of crows. They report that the snowy was “unimpressed by all the fuss.” Because this bird was not reported for a week, my guess is that this is a different individual than the previous sighting. Anne Lemenager spotted the snowy on Sarson’s Island later that morning, while Scott Bliss, Sharon Simonin, Jeff Bernier and Caitlin McNally each spotted the owl later that morning, when it was in a dune by the marshes along the Edgartown side of State Beach. These owls are a popular sighting, as there were seven cars filled with people that had pulled off to the side of the road to watch the owl.

Immature peregrine falcon. — Lanny McDowell

Finally, we get a report of a snowy owl up-Island. Kevin Deren spotted one in the dunes at Long Point on Dec. 3. Like all the other photos of snowies I have seen this fall, this owl has a lot of dark streaking on it, suggesting that it is either a female or an immature. The males would have many fewer dark streaks.

All through this fall I have been thinking that peregrine falcons have been unusually scarce. I have not gotten very many reports of sightings. But the above snowy has been sharing State Beach with an immature peregrine. It was hanging out on the Big Bridge all day on Dec. 3, and has been spotted by Anne Lemenager, Mike Zoll, Tim and Sheila Baird, Cathy Verost, Tami Dinkel, Allouise Morgan, and Lanny McDowell. Apparently the peregrine is feasting on the pigeons that live under the bridge. Ms. Lemenager spotted the ‘grin as it briefly went over to Sarson’s Island to harass the snowy.

There are quite a few flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls in Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds, often quite close to shore. Matt Pelikan reports that several times he has spotted the very similar black-headed gull hanging around with the flock at the seawall in Vineyard Haven Harbor.

Bonaparte's gulls on the wing. — Lanny McDowell

On the songbird front, Ken Magnuson found a very late white-eyed vireo at the Gay Head Cliffs on Dec. 2. Also that day, Rick Karney had a hermit thrush keeping him company as he raked leaves in his yard; apparently it was consuming items that had been concealed under the leaf litter.

Kenneth LaVigne spotted a female belted kingfisher at Nashaquitsa Pond on Nov. 30, along with a few bufflehead and a common loon.

On Nov. 29, the triumverate of Warren Woessner, Susan Whiting and Lanny McDowell spotted both horned larks and snow buntings on Norton Point Beach. Also that day, Kenneth LaVigne reports two greater yellowlegs in the salt marsh next to Dike Bridge.

Now we have some data about the commuter crows as they are leaving Falmouth and heading to the Vineyard. Craig Gibson watched about 800 fish crows flying our way as he was watching from the Salt Pond Reservation in Falmouth. And these birds are in addition to the winter resident flocks scattered around down-Island totaling at least another 800 individuals.

White-eyed vireo. — Lanny McDowell

Albert Fischer reported that about two weeks ago he spotted a kestrel in Chilmark. This smallest of our falcons has also been very scarce this fall. And they used to be common all over the Vineyard as recently as the 1980s.

Our winter residents are becoming increasingly abundant; please keep us up-to-date by reporting your sightings to

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.

Photos of recent bird sightings on Martha's Vineyard.