Ospreys are one of the eagerly anticipated spring sightings. Its expected return date is from March 20 to 23, and early sightings need to be confirmed either photographically or by being seen by multiple observers. It is so easy for your eyes to trick you into thinking that you see something that you want to see. For example, the “great egret” that I wanted to see along the State Beach marshes on March 14 turned into an oddly posed mute swan when I looked more closely. I have also received reports of early “ospreys” that are really great black-backed gulls perched on an osprey pole.

Merlin. — Lanny McDowell

But we now have both photos and observations of ospreys by many observers. Martha Moore photographed an osprey perched on the Long Point pole on Middlepoint Cove on March 13; the photo is clear enough to distinguish the osprey. The next day she reports a pair was present.

Other observers have also reported osprey this week. Allouise Morgan and Katie Dawson report one sitting on a pole at Jernegan Pond on March 12. Chris Scott found one on an osprey pole at Felix Neck on March 13. Fred Rundlet saw one near the Little Bridge at State Beach on March 13, and the next day he spotted a pair of them on the pole near Sepiessa Point. Norma Holmes saw one at Brush Pond on March 13 and crows were in hot pursuit trying to drive it away. Bonnie Akins observed one adding sticks to a nest near the eighth hole at Farm Neck that day. Nancy Weaver and Janet Woodcock spotted one at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on March 15. Julia Doane spotted two of them diving for fish where the Mill Brook empties into Town Cove on March 16. And I observed one at Crystal Lake on March 17. Yup, osprey are officially back.

Bird Sightings

Northern gannets with common eiders. — Lanny McDowell

The first report of piping plovers comes from Nancy Weaver and Janet Woodcock, who spotted seven of them on Little Beach on March 16. Another greatly anticipated arrival is the eastern phoebe, whose northward migration starts peaking around the middle of March. Lanny McDowell spotted one in West Tisbury on March 12, and Wendy Culbert and I found two at Peaked Hill Preserve on March 17, one of which was singing and wagging its tail.

Great egrets are lingering later and later into the winter, and this year at least one was seen into January. Their northbound migrants begin to arrive in mid-March, and right on cue here they are. Sharon Simonin observed one at Farm Pond on March 13, and Gus Ben David saw two of them in their full breeding plumage on the ponds in his Edgartown yard on March 15.

Another sign of the coming spring is the reduced numbers of our winter-resident ducks. While the lingering redhead, northern shoveler and Eurasian wigeon are still around as of March 15, other species are less common. Benjamin Brown-Steiner visited Crystal Lake on March 11 and found fewer ducks than usual: four American wigeon, 50 ring-necked ducks, four scaup species, two bufflehead, eight common goldeneye and one red-breasted merganser.

A pair of piping plovers — Lanny McDowell

Nancy Weaver and Janet Woodcock found a common merganser at the Oak Bluffs pumping station, in addition to only seven greater scaup, one common eider and 13 bufflehead on March 13, the same day that Benjamin Brown-Steiner visited Dike Bridge and observed 10 black ducks, 300 common eiders, five surf scoters, 10 white-winged scoters, two long-tailed ducks, 10 bufflehead and 10 red-breasted mergansers. And on March 14 Chris Scott found only 38 ring-necked ducks 12 greater scaup and three common goldeneye at Crytstal Lake, while Bob Shriber counted only 57 com eider, one long-tailed duck, 12 bufflehead and eight red-breasted mergansers in Aquinnah that day.

Benjamin Brown-Steiner visited Dike Bridge on March 13 and spotted the first gannet of their northern migration. Allan Keith also saw a gannet off Squibnocket Point on March 17. These are but the tip of the iceberg as lots more are on their way.

Other seabirds include Benjamin Brown-Steiner’s sighting of 10 horned grebes, eight razorbills, five red-throated loons and 10 common loons at Dike Bridge on March 13. Chris Scott found a red-necked grebe at Squibnocket Beach on March 16, the same day that Rachael Bonoan observed another one at Lucy Vincent Beach. On March 17 Warren Woessner saw a flock of dovekies in Vineyard Sound from the Steamship Authority, and Allan Keith visited the Gay Head Cliffs and spotted 10 razorbills and one common murre.

Eastern phoebe. — Lanny McDowell

Great blue herons are still here, although they soon will be leaving for their nesting colonies over in America. Gus has one that visits his ponds every day, Nancy Weaver and Janet Woodcock saw two at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on March 15, Julia Doane found one where the Mill Brook flows into Town Cove and Tisbury Great Pond on March 16, and I observed one as it flew away from the Mill Pond in West Tisbury on March 17. Falcons are also lingering. Chris Scott spotted a merlin at Felix Neck on March 13 and a peregrine falcon at Squibnocket Beach on March 16. Miscellaneous reports include a hermit thrush spotted by Nancy Weaver and Janet Woodcock near Eel Pond on March 16. Wendy and I visited Peaked Hill on March 17 and spotted one hermit thrush and one towhee tucked into the greenbrier “hell” (you try walking through it) at the northern end of the property.

And finally, Allan Keith located a flock of 500 European starlings at Katama Farm on March 17; there were 20 brown-headed cowbirds and 20 red-winged blackbirds mixed in. Lauren Lindheimer spotted two cowbirds on the east side of Oyster Pond on March 15.

Please email your sightings to birds@vineyardgazette.com

More pictures.

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