Birds that live near or on the water have been the focus of this column for much of the winter. Now that it is April, we may have seen the last of winter weather (let’s hope), and songbirds are beginning to arrive.

A vesper sparrow is the first unusual songbird to show up. Lanny McDowell and Warren Woessner found one at the right fork South Beach parking lot on April 6. Once you are used to sparrows — if that ever occurs — vesper sparrows will stand out because of their larger size, white eye ring and white outer tail feathers. This species is not common at any time of the year, but is found almost every fall. However, there have only been two previous spring sightings, in 1992 and 1997. When I went out there the next day to look it was nowhere to be found. Mike Ditchfield was there but could not find it either.

Fox sparrow. — Lanny McDowell

Also on the sparrow migration front, Lanny McDowell reports a fox sparrow and a flock of about 10 chipping sparrows at his home in Vineyard Haven. Both species are likely migrants as this species has not been reported since January.

Brown-headed cowbirds have arrived, as two females showed up at Holly Mercier’s feeder. It is somewhat unusual to have females leading the charge northward, as males are usually the first to arrive.

Also of note is the arrival of eastern phoebes. Wendy Culbert heard one in our yard on April 8, and Catherine Deese heard one at her house on April 9.

On April 8 John Nelson found a leucistic robin at the Katama air park that has the same patterns of white like the one that was there a few years ago.

Songbird migration will pick up speed as April continues, and will peak from late April to mid May.

Bird Sightings

The raven sightings continue, as Gus Ben David heard a raven on April 4 and then observed it flying directly over his house. I heard a raven calling in the distance on April 6 as I was leaving the animal shelter. Their harsh croak is quite distinctive.

Canvasback. — Lanny McDowell

Gus Ben David also reports that he observed two tree swallows checking out some of his nest boxes, and that two flocks of warblers are still visiting his suet feeders. There are about ten pine warblers and a dozen yellow-rumped warblers, in addition to some dark-eyed juncos. Holly Mercier has the same mix of species.

Happy Spongberg reports seeing an always-difficult-to-find brown creeper at the Yoga Barn on April 5. They are so small and blend so perfectly into the tree trunks they climb.

Jessica Shafer reports a ring-necked pheasant at the Gay Head Cliffs on April 6. Sightings of this species are scarce; they are not migratory so this one survived the hunting season and the winter.

Paul Bailey had four cedar waxwings visiting his yard on April 8.

Starlings, crows and red-tailed hawks have joined Carolina wrens, great horned owls, house sparrows and ospreys as early nesters. Kenneth LaVigne has a pair of starlings nesting in a cavity that was used by red-bellied woodpeckers last year. And Jessica Shafer observed a crow breaking small oak twigs off to build a nest, and she observed a pair of red-tailed hawks building their nest.

Iceland gull. — Lanny McDowell

Waterbirds are around as well. John Nelson and Dawn Barnes found a female canvasback on the Mill Pond in West Tisbury on April 7, the first he has seen in a few years. The Mill Pond is not where we would normally find this diving duck, but there it was actively diving and feeding on the aquatic plants growing there. This is the only sighting of canvasbacks this winter. Other species they spotted that day included five osprey hovering but not diving above the pond at the Chilmark Pond Preserve, while at Red Beach they found one piping plover, a pair of oystercatchers and a turkey vulture.

Lanny McDowell is finding more than sparrows; he also spotted an Iceland gull on April 8 off East Chop. This is the only report of an Iceland gull of the winter; this species looks different from the more common gulls because it lacks the black patch on its wingtips.

Gus Ben David had a female wood duck visiting his ponds today, also a first for the season.

Jeff Bernier reports that the three snow geese were still hanging out in the fields at the Farm Institute on April 5. And the brant are still present in Ocean Pork, although their flock size is much reduced. Neither species will stay much longer.

Canvasback with black ducks and mallard. — Lanny McDowell

Finally, I am sad to report that Flip Harrington died on April 5. Our condolences go out to Susan Whiting, his wife of 43 years, and to his family. The Vineyard’s birding community lost a truly upbeat and knowledgable birder and sea captain who also had a great sense of humor.

Spring migrants are showing up with increasing frequency and bird song is louder and more frequent. Please report your sightings to

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.

Photos of recent bird sightings on Martha’s Vineyard.