A pileated woodpecker was spotted and photographed in Vineyard Haven on April 9. This sighting of a black and white crow-sized bird with a big red crest atop its head is a first for the Vineyard. The expansion of this species into eastern and southeastern Massachusetts is documented by the two Breeding Bird Atlases that were coordinated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Pileateds were mostly limited to western Massachusetts during the first atlas project, from 1974 to 1979. By the second atlas project, from 2007 to 2011, they had spread over most of the state except the southeastern portion. Since then they have spread into southeastern Massachusetts as our forests mature into suitable habitat. The closest sightings to us are from Wareham and Plymouth. While the exact count of how many species of birds that have been seen on the Island is difficult to pin down, it is somewhere near 400 species, depending on which taxonomy is being used.

For example, some consider Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles to be distinct species, while others consider both to be a distinct subspecies called the northern oriole. Adding a new species to the Island’s avifauna is truly exciting.

Bird Sightings

Also of interest are four species seen for the first time this year: snowy egret, Baltimore oriole, chipping sparrow and eastern towhee. The snowy egret was spotted by Michael Ditchfield at Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary on March 11, and the Baltimore orioles were spotted by Laurie Clements at her home the same day. Christopher Holleran has also seen a few orioles in the past week. Cynthia Bloomquist and Thaw Malin saw their first chipping sparrows of the season at their house on April 8. And three towhees were seen at Menemsha Hills on April 6 by Shea Fee, while Mike Tinus heard his first of the year at his house on April 11.

The migration of northern gannets continues apace, though truly spectacular flocks with thousands of birds have been seen. Phil Wallis saw some in Vineyard Sound off Lambert’s Cove Beach on April 10, and Bob Shriber reports 350 gannets at Zach’s Cliffs on April 10, but only 75 at Philbin Beach the next day.

Tree swallows continue to trickle in. Bridget Dunnigan and Sea Williams spotted a flock of 20 tree swallows skimming over the water at Duartes Pond on April 7, while Tim Rush spotted a flock at Coffin’s Field on April 9.

Bob Cassidy reports a pretty impressive list of predators hanging out at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport on April 7. There was a merlin, an adult bald eagle, an osprey and a northern harrier. And the next day, John Nelson spotted a dark peregrine falcon eating its lunch on Norton Point. And Gus Ben David reports that on April 9 he had a first year bald eagle circling over his house before it flew off toward Farm Neck, just after two ravens had been circling overhead.

Small numbers of our winter resident waterfowl are still hanging around, though they soon will depart our shores for their northern nesting grounds. On April 11, there were a few red-breasted mergansers at several sites, four common goldeneyes near Sarson’s Island, and three greater scaup in Oak Bluffs Harbor. Only 35 Atlantic brant were found in Ocean Park that day, a decrease from the approximately 135 that had been there for the past few weeks. Most surprisingly, there was a winter-sized flock of 75 bufflehead on the West Arm of Lagoon Pond, while only a few were still present at other sites.

Other lingering species include John Nelson’s repeat sighting of an Immature Iceland gull at Eel Pond on April 8. It has been seen there off and on for about a month now. From Aquinnah on April 11, Bob Shriber reports small numbers of common eiders, all three scoter species, both common and red-throated loons, and a red-necked grebe. Cynthia Bloomquist and Thaw Malin report that their northern finches — three pine siskins and 10 red crossbills — were most recently seen on April 8. And that day Les Cutler spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker in his yard.

Gus Ben David still has six pine warblers visiting his feeders, while his sole winter resident, a yellow-rumped warbler, has not been seen for a while, undoubtedly having departed for its northern breeding grounds.

More bird pictures.

Please email your sightings to birds@mvgazette.com.

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant with Nature Watch LLC living in Vineyard Haven.