On Nov. 6 Bob Shriber, Susan Whiting, Charles Morano and Nancy Nordin spotted the second-ever Island record of Bell’s vireo! The first was on Oct. 23, 2012, seen and photographed by Lanny McDowell at the Gay Head Cliffs. This midwestern to western species breeds as close as Indiana although its range stretches all the way to southern California.

Bell's vireo. — Lanny McDowell

The four birders were birding around Black Point Pond when the vireo appeared. They watched it flit in and out of the thicket for nearly an hour while Bob Shriber and Charles Morano “nailed down the identification,” said Nancy Nordin. She continued, “this was one of the rare occasions when it pays to be a novice birder! Grabbing the field guide from the car and flipping through both warbler and vireo photos, it never occurred to me that the chances of it being a Bell’s was slim to none. Had I had the range and migration map in my head, I probably would have skipped right over that possibility. So fun!”

On that same Nov. 6 trip, Susan, Bob, Charles and Nancy also spotted the first northern pintail of the season — and there were two of them. On Nov. 7 Chris Scott found the first long-tailed ducks of the season at Quansoo Farm — a flock of six. Bob Shriber and Susan Whiting found a flock of five on Nov. 9 at the Gay Head Cliffs and Nancy Nordin saw four on Nov. 12 at the beach in Menemsha.

James Sherwonit spotted a ring-necked duck at Crystal Lake on Nov. 10. Also that day Bob Shriber discovered a flock of 15 greater scaup on Tisbury Great Pond. Mason Bunker and Ben Schmandt observed 28 ring-necked ducks and 13 greater scaup on Nov. 11 at Lucy Vincent Beach. John Hanlon saw 30 ring-neckeds at Slough Cove on Nov. 12, the same day Charles Morano found 10 greater scaup near Quansoo Farm.

Greater scaup. — Lanny McDowell

Another interesting sighting is the black-throated blue warbler spotted by Luanne Johnson on Nov. 10 at the BiodiversityWorks headquarters off Lambert’s Cove Road. The only sighting of that species this fall was on Oct 1 and 2 at the Gay Head Moraine, spotted by Cynthia Bloomquist, Thaw Malin, Nancy Norton and Bob Shriber.

Grebes are also in the news. Bob Shriber, Charles Morano and Nancy Nordin found four pied-billed grebes on Nov. 6 at Black Point and I found one on Nov. 12 at Slough Cove. Nov. 12 was a busy day for finding horned grebes.

James Sherwonit observed a horned grebe at Trapp’s Pond; Nancy Nordin found one at Squibnocket Pond; I had one in the ocean at the right fork of South Beach. That same day Nancy Weaver, Shea Fee, Luanne Johnson and Margaret Curtin spotted a flock of 15 — which is a lot of horned grebes — in Cape Pogue Bay near Cove Meadow Preserve. A red-necked grebe was spotted from the Gay Head Cliffs by Susan Whiting and Bob Shriber on Nov. 9 and Nancy Nordin found another off Menemsha Beach on Nov. 12.

James Sherwonit adds a black vulture to the list of unusual sightings this week; he spotted it on Nov. 10 at Cove Meadow Preserve on Chappaquiddick.

Two Bonaparte’s gulls were spotted by Charles Morano from Eastville Point Beach on Nov. 10. Two days later James Sherwonit saw a flock of six in Vineyard Haven outer harbor.

Snow buntings. — Lanny McDowell

Thaw Malin discovered a flock of 20 snow buntings in the Black Point Pond parking area on Nov. 8. Ben Schmandt and Mason Bunker spotted a flock of a dozen snow buntings at Eastville Point Beach on Nov. 11. And John Hanlon found 12 buntings at Slough Cove on Nov. 12, the same day that Charles Morano found one at Quansoo Farm.

The most exciting sighting is of a flock of 60 buntings observed by Nancy Nordin and Chris Scott on Nov. 11. The flock swelled to 75 on Nov. 12 when Chris Scott counted them and I counted 85 in that flock later that day. Nancy described the flock, “it was a breathtaking sight to watch them for at least 10 minutes as they swooped a few yards over our heads and around us, touching down for a few seconds here and there and then up again, calling all the while. This was only part of the flock!”

You know winter is coming when the date for the annual Christmas Bird Count has been set. Compiler Luanne Johnson has announced that this year’s count will be held on Sunday, Dec. 31. It is a fun, all-day event for those of us who are inclined to spend a lot of time seeking birds, no matter the weather.

The Christmas Bird Count is the largest citizen science project in the world. This is its 124th consecutive year. It is now conducted annually in more than 2,400 locations across the western hemisphere.

Black vultures. — Lanny McDowell

On the Island we have conducted the count annually since 1960. The bird count is fun. (Okay, I am biased.) To learn more about this event visit biodiversityworksmv.org.

Finally, let’s all celebrate the 13th birthday of the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Alert. It is a polite and educational version of social media, which I think is unusual for Facebook. It is invaluable to me as I compile sightings for this column. Lanny McDowell started the group and thought it might get a couple hundred members. As of Nov. 11, there are 3,363 members!

More Bird Photos

Please email your sightings to birds@vineyardgazette.com.

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