Birds : Along the avian highway
May has arrived, bringing with it a gift for birders. With lots of migrant birds around, this is a happy time for those of us who enjoy members of the feathered tribe. The lengthening days and increasing ambient temperatures act as a soothing balm after the long cold spring.
The sky acts as an avian highway, both day and night, at this time of year. Conditions of late have been perfect for scattering northbound migrants to Island locales. Things are very good in the bird world and as May progresses they will only get better. May is sweet!
Birds are on the move. There is migration going on in all quadrants of air, sea and land, on and around, not only the Vineyard, but over the bulk of the northern hemisphere. That most agreeable of phenomena - migration, particularly bird migration - reveals itself to envious earthbound mammals.
Birds are the most mobile of creatures, superb long-distance athletes, able to utilize breeding areas that other creatures cannot reach. The breeding grounds are only warm and food-rich for a short time, and birds have devised a life strategy that enables them to take advantage of these opportunities. Wintering in tropical climes and spending the summer in the north is something many bird species have done for tens of thousands of years. For humans this pattern is a very recent development.
The list of arriving birds is long and varied. Selected highlights will enable this writer to pick and choose what he considers to be the most interesting or unusual reports phoned in this past week, or any trend that may be occurring amongst area birdlife. Many thanks to the observers who called in. Your reports add to the knowledge and completeness of our understanding of Vineyard birdlife, both in terms of species composition and distribution, as well as periods of occurrence.
Most exciting was the detection of a yellow-throated warbler by Sally Anderson of West Tisbury on the morning of April 25. She was birding at the Head of the Lagoon, the Oak Bluffs pumping station, when she discovered this striking warbler. She got great views and was 100 percent certain about its identification. Aware of the rarity of this species on the Island, however, she went home and got her camera. She managed to obtain some fine photos of the best bird of the spring, to date.
This handsome species is only seen perhaps one spring in three on the Vineyard. A primarily southern species, a handful do in fact breed in central Massachusetts. They are always rare along the coast. The bulk of the species population breeds from south and west from southern New Jersey. This was a nice find and one of the rewards of getting out often at this season.
Early this week both summer and scarlet tanagers were reported from the Cape and Nantucket. I bet they are here only they have not been discovered yet. The all-red summer tanagers are north and east of the species range when they occur anywhere in New England. They are not supposed to be here and are a rare bird. They are called overshoots, birds that in their eagerness to be first back to the species breeding areas and get the best territory, literally get carried away.
Whippoorwills have been heard calling from several places from Chilmark to the middle of Chappaquiddick Island. Common and least terns usually return right around this date, but as of deadline no reports have come in. A couple of one-year-old lesser black-backed gulls were feeding with gannets, a few laughing gulls and many herring and great black-backed gulls off Wasque on the morning of the 29th.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are starting to be widely reported, especially from people with hummingbird feeders. All sorts of birds are returning daily with each new weather pattern; every new day brings the possibility of new arrivals. This is a fabulous time of year to get up, get out, and see what you can find.
Orioles, kingbirds, and a myriad of other birds are returning, migrating over or passing by for the next few weeks. Keep an eye on flowering trees. The upcoming weeks are prime time for birding, so if you have any inclination, get a pair of binoculars and start looking. They are much easier to identify in the spring in their often gaudy breeding plumage than in the fall with many drab immatures in the mix.
Until next week - keep your eyes to the sky!