On Starlings and Sparrows

There are a couple of birds that I actually do not like, amazing as it may seem. The two are the European starling and the house sparrow. Why, you ask? Well, neither species is native and both are overly aggressive. This aggression is detrimental to many of our native songbirds.

Tracking and Tagging the Elusive Willet

At 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning near the Poucha Pond salt marsh at Chappaquiddick, a few fishermen lined the shores and a handful of binocular-bearing biologists and birders walked through the dunes. Otherwise, the land was bare of human activity.

But in the sky a bird with deep black and bright white striped wings swooped nearby. The binoculars went up.

“That’s a willet,” said Luanne Johnson, director of the nonprofit BiodiversityWorks dedicated to wildlife research, monitoring and mentoring.

Be a Good Birder

I broke two Cardinal rules of birding and blew it for my two birding companions, Lanny McDowell and Warren Woessner. We were birding around Crackatuxet Cove by the old Pearl Factory where we understood that there was a willow flycatcher nesting. Willow flycatchers are not a common nesting species on the Vineyard, so we wanted to see it. We were in the car driving out slowly toward the Katama Airport when all three of us spotted the flycatcher at the same time. Warren stopped and without thinking I quickly jumped out of the car.

Tracking Wandering Willets

Luanne Johnson and crew from Biodiversity Works recently had an opportunity to help capture willets and fit them with geolocation data loggers, which are also known as bird loggers, geologgers, geolocators or GLS. Joe Smith, a research ornithologist from New Jersey and a pioneer in geolocator tagging, came at the request of Biodiversity Works. The crew went to three locations: Little Beach in Edgartown, the Narrows and the beach next to Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick.

Vulnerable Plovers Abound on Storm-Washed Beaches

While winter storms have threatened some waterfront homes, they’ve been a boon to nesting piping plovers, who prefer the scoured beaches left by storms and hurricanes. But this year’s population of the tiny migratory shorebird still face challenges from predators.

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.