My grandmother Emma Mayhew Whiting set me, at age seven, on a path which I still follow today: birding, bird watching, twitching or studying ornithology. Call it what you wish, but if I am asked what my occupation is or was I answer birding. Although technically retired, birding is my passion and I continue to watch birds worldwide.

The Bird News was my column for over 30 years. I quit writing it two or three years ago, so it is such a treat to be approached at the post office, grocery store, art gallery or a Vineyard event by an individual with a bird question. Recently, at the Margot Datz show at the Grange Hall, Margot approached me and proceeded to explain that the cardinal in her yard counts, and had I ever heard of that phenomenon?

Four barn swallows and one tree swallow. — Lanny McDowell

“Well,” I said, “no. But how exactly does the bird count?” Margot then said that the cardinal whistled “wheet” once then stopped, then twice, then thrice and so forth up to five, pausing between each string of calls, and did so repeatedly. My theory was that it was a young bird learning the whistle call of a northern cardinal and eventually would call 10 or more times in a row.

Then there was Ken, who called and made some strange whistling sounds over the phone and asked me what bird made that call. No offense, but I had to go over to his home and listen to figure out what bird species was chattering. A northern catbird was the culprit, but without a visit I never would have guessed.

Emails are always an interesting challenge. A shorebird sitting on a post by the Chappy Ferry, bearing a long bill sort of grayish. After several emails checking on leg color, and “by the way did you see it fly? Yes? And did it have bold black and white patterned wings? Yes?” we determined the shorebird in question was an eastern willet.

Bird puzzles are a welcome challenge.

Ruddy turnstone digging for food. — Lanny McDowell

Bird Sightings

Migration is beginning slowly. Rob Culbert and I spotted three yellow warblers nectaring or catching insects at the geraniums outside my window at Quansoo on August 5. This species is one of the earlier warbler migrants.

The same day Jeff Bernier took a series of fine photographs of black terns at Norton Point. These terns nest in the center of this country and frequently arrive on the Vineyard in August and leave in late September.

Also on August 5 Kenneth LaVigne had quite a time finding the small bird that was singing constantly near his home. It was a red-eyed vireo.

Steve Allen’s sighting of a yellow-crowned night heron at Felix Neck on August 3 was reported again at Felix Neck on August 7 by Scott McCullough. Then on August 11 Robert Gold reported the same species at Cape Pogue.

Short-billed dowitcher. — Lanny McDowell

Steve Allen saw three immature snowy egrets at Felix Neck on August 9.

Margaret Curtin and Luanne Johnson worked on a bird puzzle on August 11. Near Major’s Cove on Sengekontacket Pond they watched four great egrets and one that was smaller and had a bi-colored bill and gray-blue legs: an immature little blue heron — perhaps one of the two reported last week. Keep an eye out for little egrets, a European species that is similar to snowy egrets and immature little blue herons.

Pete Gilmore and Warren Woessner spotted and Peter took photos of white-rumped sandpipers at Quansoo.

I joined Luanne Johnson and Kayla Smith for a Biodiversity Works beginning bird walk at Little Beach on August 10. We spotted a nice selection of shorebirds, many of which are being seen on all the Vineyard beaches at this time of year. The list included late-staying willets, banded American oystercatchers and many semipalmated plovers, but no piping plovers. Although there were still close to 40 black skimmers and many common terns, we only spotted one least tern — the rest of the colony has headed south.

Inland great-crested flycatchers are about. Norma Holmes spotted three in her backyard in Katama on August 10. On the same day in Aquinnah Carine Mitchell saw three great-crested flycatchers, a yellow warbler and a juvenile red-tailed hawk on East Pasture Shore Road.

Over on Chappaquiddick, Hatsy Potter and Cynthia Hubbard on August 8 were working hard to identify the myriad shorebirds in the swamp behind the Hubbard home: sanderlings, greater and lesser yellowlegs and semipalmated plovers, to name a few.

While sipping my morning tea I am occupied watching young eastern bluebirds in the oaks around the house, up to four ruby-throated hummingbirds having aerial duels over the feeders and a family of eastern phoebes. I watch an immature hawk return to the same perch over and over. Had two belted kingfishers rattling at each other on July 31, and Luanne Johnson and Margaret Curtin spotted one at Major’s Cove on August 11.

Warblers may start arriving any day now, and there will continue to be flocks of shorebirds around the Island beaches into September and October. Let us know what you see at

Susan B. Whiting is the past author of the Bird News, All Outdoors, Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds 2 and ran Osprey Tours which provided bird watching tours to Central and South America. She is retired but still birding.