Nesting Season for Shorebirds

The nesting season for the birds of Martha’s Vineyard is upon us. Last week’s discovery of the brown creepers’ nest nudged other birders to sharing their bird nesting stories. And I started thinking about all the different nests I have seen on the Island. The variety is amazing and the different architecture and material choices is immense. The range in size and shape is incredible, from the tiny one inch across and one inch deep cup of lichens and moss woven together by our ruby-throated hummingbird to our fish hawk’s massive old nests.

Counting Ospreys

The monitoring of Vineyard fish hawks, or ospreys, is an ongoing project. Although osprey comings and goings have been recorded since 1913 on-Island, the study of the osprey population did not start until the 1970s by Gus Ben David. Osprey nests had been documented in Lambert’s Cove, Chappaquiddick and on the Takemmy Trail (the road between West Tisbury and Edgartown) in the 1950s. Then came the 1960s and the uncontrolled use of the pesticide DDT. The Vineyard’s osprey population dropped to two or three pair.

Tolerant Robins

If there is a more widely recognizable on the Vineyard than the American robin, we’ve yet to hear of it. The combination of a gray back and an orange breast and belly on a robin is obvious and known to all. Sheer numbers help boost our familiarity with robins: this species is a very common nesting bird on the Island, and contrary to the cliché of the first robin of spring, robins are present and often numerous throughout all but the most brutal winter weather.


Fortunately, we do not often get a chance to talk about how birds are affected by a major snowstorm. But 15 inches of heavy wet snow has provided that opportunity.

Birds can detect the air pressure changes that accompany an approaching storm, giving them time to prepare for adversity.

Lovey Dovekie

The Christmas Bird Count is behind us and there have been many interesting birds seen since. So let’s catch up with several of the attention-grabbing sightings. Dovekies have again caught people’s attention whether they are birders or not. In the recent easterly gales a number of these little alcids, which are about half the size of a football and weigh practically nothing, were blown onto the Island. Peter Huntington spotted a dovekie flying over Crab Creek at Quansoo on Jan.

Requiem for a Birder

A group of Vineyard birders and biologists were saddened to hear that David (aka Pops) Masch had died. Many folks had met Dave while he was the naturalist, chief cook, father figure/counselor and instructor for the Penikese Island School. Dave was at Penikese for 29 years, and before that he was a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Dave was an excellent fisherman/shell fisherman and a superb cook.

Red Knots

Red knots are a not something you tie, but a type of shorebird that is causing quite a stir in the birding world. A bit of history: the red knot’s Latin name is Calidris canutus, a moniker which was given this sandpiper by Linnaeus to honor the Danish king, Canute or Knut. King Knut was well-known for trying to hold back the tides. This makes perfect sense; if I were a sandpiper depending on horseshoe crab eggs or clams, I would want the tide to stay low so I could feed.

Purple Gallinule Lands on Island From the South

Purple Gallinule Lands on Island From the South

By E. Vernon Laux

At noon on New Year's Day, Stephen Carlson of Oak Bluffs made a remarkable discovery.

Mr. Carlson had just left his home on a dirt road when, upon reaching the pavement, he noticed an object in the road. Dazed and confused, walking and standing in the middle of the road, was a very odd bird. As if recovering from a celebratory New Year's Eve, this bird was bobbing and weaving.

Cormorant Killings Near the Herring Run Create Stir Up-Island

A flap has arisen in Aquinnah over the illegal shooting of a large number of cormorants earlier this month on tribal land. The killings took place near the historic herring run, the oldest operating herring run on the Island. The incident raised questions about how laws are enforced by the tribe.

New Research: Island's Extinct Heath Hen Was a Unique Bird

Now a genetic study of the skins of scores of heath hens, all of them from the Vineyard, shows that the Island bird, although it looked and behaved much like its supposed parent species in the Midwest, was a wholly distinctive creature. Genetically it was more different from the greater western prairie chicken - that supposed parent species - than the Midwestern bird is from any other family member in its genus, which includes the lesser prairie chicken, the endangered Attwater's prairie chicken of eastern Texas, and even the sharp-tailed grouse. It is possible that instead of being a subspecies of the prairie chicken - which scientists have considered it to be since it was first typed in the last years of the nineteenth century - the heath hen might have been a species unto itself.