The generosity and compassion of the late reknowned Island naturalist and teacher Gus BenDavid had a huge impact on the people and natural history of the Vineyard. Gus always seemed to be interested in sharing his natural history knowledge and experience with any and all.

I vividly recall his animal presentations during Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary’s Fall Festivals. It was the highlight of the day, as many people would come out just to hear him speak. You never knew which of his many animals he would present: a python that needed five or six strong people to carry, “Big Al,” the alligator snapping turtle, or maybe a small red-backed salamander. The audience was all ears, listening intently to his every word, even the young children that formed the inner circle of his audience.

Gus enjoyed rehabbing injured animals. The animal would be well-cared for and released back into the wild if at all possible. If you were not certain of that, a quick look around at the captive animals he kept would show you how much he cared for the animals. His snakes illustrate this. At a zoo many of the reptiles appear lethargic but his snakes were active in their custom-built pens and everything was kept immaculately clean.

Common raven. — Lanny McDowell

Another legacy is Gus’s environmental ethic was an appreciation of nature and the environment. He exuded that in every program he gave, and in conversations he had with any and all, even in the grocery store or the post office! Such infectious generosity contributes to another of his legacies: the large number of people that he inspired to study and teach about nature — myself included.

One of Gus’s most visible legacies are the more than 100 pairs of ospreys that nest on the Vineyard. Almost all of them nest on one of the more than 150 nesting poles that Gus designed and put up with the help of many collaborators starting in the early 1970s, when there was only one nesting pair.

I join with many others in expressing my deepest condolences to Gus’s family. A great man has passed away but his many legacies will continue to shine for a long time. The world would be a better place if we all shared just a smidgeon of Gus BenDavid’s compassion and generosity!

Bird Sightings

Eastern catbird. — Lanny McDowell

Steve Allen reports from Felix Neck that two juvenile ospreys are on the nesting pole that is adjacent to the solar panels. Gus BenDavid’s osprey crew put up that pole years ago with the expectation that ospreys would nest on opposite sides of the entrance road. While the newer pole remained vacant for years, both poles now host a nesting pair.

The nesting season is still in full swing as parent birds are raising their youngsters. It is getting late in the season, however, and the decrease in volume and intensity of birds singing shows that the nesting season is winding down.

Ron Domurat took photos of an adult and juvenile red-bellied woodpecker in Westminster Acres in Edgartown on July 7. Cynthia Bloomquist also spotted an adult and juvenile at her West Tisbury yard on July 5. This is a common nesting species across the Island’s woodlands.

Kenneth LaVigne spotted a great-crested flycatcher nesting in a sassafras tree in Ocean Heights on July 6, and Sioux Eagle is happy to report on July 5 that the same species is nesting in her screech owl box for the second straight year. Kate Meleney also has this common woodland species nesting in her Oak Bluffs yard for the third year in a row.

Red bellied woodpecker. — Lanny McDowell

Betty Surbeck has been watching a pair of eastern phoebes nesting under her second floor deck for the second straight summer. The youngsters left their nest on July 8, but the pair likes to sit on the clothesline or this hammock. When she watched them they did not fly to the nest, but if she looked the other way they would sneak into the nest.

Susan Whiting observed a male common yellowthroat collecting insects for his youngsters in her rose bushes at Quenames back on June 11. Steve Allen spotted fledgling tree swallows at Felix Neck on June 29, Wayne Smith reports that the red-shouldered hawk chicks have finally fledged as of July 6, the first fledglings of that species from the Island. And Warren Woessner enjoyed seeing a juvenile raven stumbling around in the trees in his West Tisbury yard for three days as of June 27.

Two somewhat secretive grassland sparrows have been spotted this week. Warren Woessner spotted a grasshopper sparrow along a fencerow and pasture at Katama Farm on July 2. David Padulo found a saltmarsh sparrow being very skulky and secretive at Pecoy Point on July 4 - as its name suggests, it was in the saltmarsh.

Margaret Curtin and Nancy Weaver heard a yellow-billed cuckoo at Great Rock Bight on July 4. David Padulo spotted two short-billed dowitchers — chunky sandpipers — at Norton Point on July. 2. Natalie Muldaur spotted a bald eagle along Deep Bottom Cove on July 2, Lanny McDowell saw a hairy woodpecker at Great Rock Bight on July 3, and Diana Belbruno observed a great egret perched on Dutcher Dock in Menemsha an July 2.

Betty Surbeck has noted a nice collection of birds in her West Tisbury backyard:

eastern phoebe, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, and gray catbird.

Susan Whiting has numerous sightings from Quanames: from June 24 to July 6 she had a house wren nesting in her hanging gourd, a pair of ospreys raising one chick on her osprey pole after 20 years of no occupancy, and in late June she saw eastern kingbird, Baltimore orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds, Carolina wren, green heron, eastern bluebird, eastern phoebe, yellow warbler, and chipping sparrow. At Quansoo she spotted an adult bald eagle, great egret, a “wild” turkey on July 2, four killdeer, two common terns on July 4, two belted kingfishers, five barn swallows, a single mallard, and a family of gray catbirds on July 6.

Please email your sightings to

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

More pictures.