Unexpected is not an understatement. A brown booby is a pelagic species that some birders make special trips to the Dry Tortugas to see. So it was unexpected to have Terry Pothier find and photograph an adult brown booby in Menemsha on August 6. According to Marshall Carroll, it was perched on the bow of The Peddler, a dragger, as she entered Menemsha on one of her occasional visits. Many observers saw and photographed this bird.

On August 7, the brown booby was still there, as both Earl Olson and Cole Wisniowski have photographed it. It seems to tolerate people as it perches on the jetties alongside the harbor entrance, but please do not get close enough to chase it off, as many people will want to see this bird.

A young osprey on its nest. — Lanny McDowell

How rare is it? The Massachusetts Avian Records Committee and the website ebird combine to report seven sightings of brown boobies in Massachusetts since 2005, including one that was observed from a ship about 40 miles south of the Vineyard on July 26, 2012; the booby ventured out and returned to the ship periodically for two days until the ship was west of Vineyard Sound.

The six other Massachusetts sightings are from Plymouth (summer 2005), Dennis (August 2011), Provincetown (Sept.-Dec. 2011), Eastham and Wellfleet (Dec. 2012), Provincetown (Oct. 2013), Eastham, North Truro, Wellfleet and Provincetown (Sept.-Nov. 2015) and Ludlow (inland, southwest of Quabbin Reservoir, June 2017). So this species seems to be a fairly regular visitor to coastal Massachusetts, contrasting to its absence prior to 2000.

There have been two other Atlantic coast sightings of a brown booby in the previous week. One was seen from Kent Island, Md. in the Chesapeake Bay, from July 29 to August 3, and another sighting was from the southern end of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia on August 4 and 5. And then Menemsha; are these three sightings the same bird? It’s possible, but if one comes up this way, others could have as well. We will never know.

Common terns all over Tashmoo. — Lanny McDowell

Brown boobies are venturing north more frequently than in the past. Why do they venture north? Maybe climate change, which helps explain many northward population shifts, but we do not (yet) know. An often-used quote to understand bird wanderings is “birds have wings and they use them!”

Other Sightings

Continuing on a seabird theme, Scott Stephens spotted an adult razorbill in breeding plumage on August 2; it was perched on a rock in the water off Pilot Hill Farm and was harassed by a double-crested cormorant, “Hey, that is my rock!” Katherine Colon likely observed the same bird as it was sitting on a jetty at Mink Meadows on August 3. And Catherine Deese reports that two razorbills have been in Menemsha Pond all summer as also happened a few years back. Apparently this visitor from more northern climates has moved around to Harthaven, where Laura Thomas spotted one on August 6.

A razorbill with a catch. — Lanny McDowell

Jessica Helen spotted an adult bald eagle on July 31 as it flew overhead across New Lane in West Tisbury. Then, on the morning of August 5, I observed one leaving the Vineyard from the Cedar Tree Neck/Seven Gates Farm area; I watched as it flew across Vineyard Sound to Naushon, which only took a few minutes.

The southward tern migration is underway. David Stanwood reports a large flock of common terns roosting and milling around at the entrance to Lake Tashmoo on August 4. Another staging area for these terns is on the Norton Point Beach tidal flats. It is fascinating to watch the comings and goings of terns in such a gathering; be sure to search these flocks for other species of terns.

Dahlia Rudavsky reports that laughing gulls were at Bend in the Road Beach on August 2. They are fairly frequent denizens of both Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds from now through October.

Laughing gull. — Lanny McDowell

Now that it is August, shorebirds are near the peak of their migration and there are lots of them around. On August 1, Warren Woessner visited Norton Point Beach and found red knot, black-belied plover, greater yellowlegs, piping plover, semipalmated plover, semipalmated sandpiper, short-billed dowitcher, sanderling, oystercatchers and willets. My August 3 guided bird tour to the western end of Norton Point added ruddy turnstone, least sandpiper, least tern, common tern, black skimmer, green heron and the usual gulls.

Ospreys are everywhere. Now, that is not necessarily news, but they are especially conspicuous now because their young are flying. Tim Leland observed four of them circling over Pocha Pond “like so many least terns.” Jeff Bernier reported seven of them at Eel Pond on August 5; the skimmers that nest there were sometimes harassing the osprey even though they are not a threat to the young skimmers. Sharon Simonin found three of them circling over Veteran’s Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven on May 5. The next day there were six of them at a pond along County Road in Oak Bluffs. Doreen McCabe observed them near South Beach on August 1. Enjoy them now because most of them will be gone shortly after Labor Day.

A bald eagle keeps watch. — Lanny McDowell

Not much news on the landbird front. The heat has virtually ended bird song so the birds are harder to detect. David Padullo visited Waskosim’s Rock on August 3 and his highlights included cedar waxwings, Coopers hawk and a bunch of red-eyed vireos that were too high in the treetops – they could be heard but were difficult to see clearly.

Elliott Bennett had recorded a bird call back on June 9, and it was recently identified as a black-billed cuckoo. That becomes the only spring record for that species this year.

The breeding season is winding down and southbound migrant have started to show up. Please report all your sightings to birds@mvgazette.com.

Robert Culbert leads Saturday morning Guided Birding Tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.