The only disappointing thing about being a birder is if you don’t go birding when you could be birding, or if you are birding and you stop.

Sharp-shinned hawk. — Lanny McDowell

That statement is a little over the top, but not that far over. A lot of what birding is about does not need to be put into words. But here we are.

I do have a philosophy of sorts that can be applied to birding, which describes a confluence of emotion and action that goes like this:  exposure to nature fosters awe; out of awe emerges respect; respect nurtures responsibility, which is expressed through conservation; conservation, when successful, supports biodiversity; biodiversity expands our experience of life and underlies a healthy ecology for us to live in. That is a mouthful, but I think there is something to it. I sure hope there is.

So, what is it about birding? Golfers can’t wait to golf. Sailors watch the tide and the sky. Crossword puzzle people puzzle. Hunters stalk.  Journalists inquire. Travelers dream of distant horizons. Birding has aspects of all of these endeavors. There is passion, desire, struggle, discovery, skill and satisfaction. Birding in the outdoors gives us leverage to balance the rest of our lives. It gives us real air to breathe. It grounds our feet to the earth. The senses expand. You see more detail and you hear sounds from further away. The spirit expands as well. Challenge, camaraderie, humility and excitement are all in the mix and, maybe best of all, the opportunities to learn (and to teach) are endless. And while age may diminish your capacity for pursuing birds, it will not diminish your enthusiasm.

Snowy owl. — Lanny McDowell

Like riding a bike or getting caught up with an old friend, you can go without birding for a time and then start right up again without skipping a beat. You can be connected worldwide through birding. Almost anywhere you travel, there will be somebody who knows the best places to bird and the best birds to find. On the other hand, you never have to leave the Vineyard or even your kitchen table, to be constantly entertained by the bird world. Lucky us, experiencing some of the most beautiful creatures on earth at one of the most beautiful places on earth. Not bad.

Bird Sightings

Horned grebe. — Lanny McDowell

Aside from a report from Ed Grazda about five red-winged blackbirds at Peaked Hill, bird sightings this last week have not in particular pointed toward springtime. There are still some impressive birds around, especially in the raptor category, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Ellen Gaskill took some nice photos of a young sharp-shinned hawk at her home, perched on a split rail fence. Various people continue to see a snowy owl along Beach Road, recently hunkered down against the hard blow from the northeast. Nelson Smith, Sharon Simonin and Sophia Mueller all got photos there, and a snowy sitting on the roof ridge of an Oak Bluffs home was observed and photographed by Ebba Hierta on March 4.

Pied-billed grebe. — Lanny McDowell

The eagles frequenting the coves on Edgartown Great Pond continue to be active, and Jeff Bernier was able to nab some pictures on March 2. Speaking of nice photos, Lisa Maxfield shot a dramatic series chronicling the demise of a good-sized eel being wolfed down by a herring gull at Brush Pond, near the hospital. Out during the storm, Lisa remarked how many great black-backed gulls were in the mix with other gull species weathering the nor’easter at Ocean Park, along with the usual gaggle of Canadas and brant.

Herring gulls at East Beach and elsewhere were observed by Sharon Simonin dispatching large starfish tossed up on the beach by the storm waves. Mike Ditchfield has also been braving the “dismal” weather, scoring a northern harrier over the Katama dunes and the remaining yearling snow geese nearby.

On a more genteel note, up to six eastern bluebirds are still making regular visits to Holly Mercier’s feeder setup in Edgartown.

Red-necked grebe. — Lanny McDowell

The photos that illustrate the Bird News this week include the three species of grebe that you may encounter on the Vineyard, although not in the summertime. All three grebes are around at some point during the colder months, in small and variable numbers. Their bodies are very similar. Their bills, eyes and facial patterns help to distinguish them. Easy to overlook, they are often the smallest diving birds around, with the exception of buffleheads.

Lanny McDowell is a Vineyard Haven artist and bird photographer. He has two photo series being shown on-Island this spring: Dolphin Seas in April at the West Tisbury Library and Lanny McDowell Avian Art at the Chilmark library in June.

Phots of recent bird sightings on Martha’s Vineyard.