Birders get excited when a species appears early. So the next two reports are of special interest to us. A friend of Lisa Maxfield reports finding several great egrets at Harthaven Pond on Feb. 19, about one month ahead of the previous early date for this species. Most of the egrets will arrive in April. Interestingly, Bill Hoenk photographed a great egret the same day on Nantucket.

Great egret on the prowl. — Lanny McDowell

An osprey — possibly everyone’s favorite species along with snowy owls — was heard calling over Major’s Cove on the morning of Feb. 20. Luanne Johnson heard the loud and easily recognized call from inside and immediately ventured outside but could not see the bird because of the low cloud cover. This auditory sighting is intriguing because it is about three to four weeks before they are expected to return. Others who think they may have seen or heard osprey recently include Maria Thibodeau, David Welch, Mary Kuh Ambulos, Jan Holmes, John Stanwood and Ken Magnuson. But so far there are no confirmed sightings other than in Delaware on Feb. 14, southern New Jersey on Feb. 22, and two from coastal New Jersey on Feb. 24-25.

Ken Magnuson recently spotted seven killdeer in the fields of the Farm Institute. This species is an early migrant, the first of which was reported in last week’s column. These are migrants because there were seven of them; winter resident killdeer — if there was such a thing— would likely be single individuals.

Migrant red-winged blackbirds were also reported last week, and now there are even more reports. Albert Fischer reports a dozen red-winged blackbirds and one grackle at his feeder on Feb. 23. Jo-Ann Eccher reports singing red wings in Aquinnah on Feb. 22, while Page Rogers heard them singing in a salt marsh on Feb. 16. Pam Davey had red wings at her Oak Bluffs feeder on Feb. 19. Other observers of migrant grackles include Ned Casey, who observed them at his feeders on Feb. 18. Maggie Bresnahan has also observed grackles recently. And Luanne Johnson has observed both species at her feeders. More of these common summer residents will be arriving in the following weeks.

Bird Sightings

Northern pintail drakes. — Lanny McDowell

Our numerous winter residents will soon be thinking about departing our shores for their more northern breeding grounds. Multiple observers have seen peregrine falcons. Matt Pelikan saw one at the drawbridge on Feb. 23, and Bill Bridwell spotted one flying around Oak Bluffs on Feb. 20. That day, Barbara Beichek spotted one perched in her yard, while Gordon Healy reports one from the state forest near the airport.

The most recent sighting of the barred owl was on the night of Feb. 26, when Mike Ditchfield heard one hooting near his Edgartown house. Dan Townes heard one calling the previous night, and recorded the call from Chapman Lane in Edgartown. His comment was “I could listen to this all night.” It could be the same bird. I will emphasize the importance of his recording the call, as it confirms that barred owls are on the Island. While at least one has been present for almost two years, I only remember one previous recording from when they were first seen almost two years ago. So far, no one has photographed this owl. Now the question is how many barred owls are here, as in February they were heard from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to Sweetened Water Farm. This may be too large of a distance between sightings if there is only one bird.

Lanny McDowell is our red-necked grebe finder. He spotted his third of the month on Feb. 24 on Edgartown Great Pond; each has been on a different pond along the south shore.

Killdeer. — Lanny McDowell

Bald eagles are still hanging around and may now be considered a regular winter visitor, maybe even a winter resident. The latest to see them on Edgartown Great Pond are been Bob Shriber and Lanny McDowell, both from the weekend of Feb. 24-25. Mike Zoll saw two flying over Bend in the Road Beach in Edgartown on Feb. 23. He also reports towhees, hermit thrush and white-throated sparrows at Great Rock Bight on Feb. 23.

Warren Woessner and Lanny McDowell teamed up to bird Chilmark Pond on Feb. 23-24 and came away with a list of 15 species of waterfowl. They found Canada geese, mute swans, mallards, black ducks, American wigeon, gadwall, greater scaup, bufflehead, green-winged teal, white-winged and black scoters and red-breasted mergansers. Less common were both northern pintails, which have been here in small numbers through the winter, and canvasbacks. This is the first report of the latter species this winter. The next day they returned to the pond and added an adult male northern shoveler in full breeding plumage; this is a different individual than the immature male that has been hanging around since the Christmas Bird Count. A 16th species was the common goldeneye Lanny found on Edgartown Great Pond on Feb. 24.

Previous authors of this column may laugh when they read this, as I am well known to only provide verbal descriptions of the birds I see. As I usually go birding by myself, no one else could corroborate my sightings. As a result, some of my unusual sightings could not be confirmed (most notably a long-billed curlew on Cape Pogue back in the 1980s) and thus never became part of the official records. It is not just me; it happens to all birders.

Osprey. — Lanny McDowell

But with the advent of cameras in our cell phones, we can now photograph our sightings, documenting the species for all. Because the above sightings of great egret and osprey were not photographed, recorded or seen by a second person, these unusually early dates may not be included in the official record for the Vineyard.

This column often mentions the website ( that tracks sightings. Their maps are fascinating to explore when researching off-Island sightings, such as the February osprey sightings in New Jersey mentioned above. We should report sightings to this site, but be forewarned: they know which species are unusual and they require verification when you report them. You do not need to be an expert to contribute to this citizen science.

Spring migrants are starting to show up. Please report your sightings to

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.

Photos of recent bird sightings on Martha’s Vineyard.