Birds : Birds of May
The month of May is always refreshing, exciting and new for birders. No matter how long one has been birding, it never grows old - whether you're fresh out of the blocks and enjoying your first spring of looking at birds, or you're celebrating the 50th such annual ritual of gorgeous May days. Coupled with a varied and intensive migration, the behavior and vocalizations of resident birds, so completely different than only a few short weeks ago, make every day something special at this season.
For bird enthusiasts, missing a morning in the field during this rewarding month may mean missing a species that rarely shows itself or has a very specific flight period. Indeed, some species of warblers, thrushes, vireos, and flycatchers may only appear on a single day of the spring migration. This is the time of year to get out of bed and get out in the field a lot. Either this or have the birds go right by undetected, and you will not even know what was missed.
Much like when the fish are running, biting fast and furious, one must be there to experience it. The tried and true saying "you should have been here yesterday" rings true in many circumstances but especially when a big flight of birds occurs or when the fish are eating voraciously. Due to the vagaries of weather and the whim of migrating birds, one can never be sure that the big "flight" did not occur the previous night.
The only sure remedy is to get up and go birding every morning in May that has halfway decent weather. It is not the hardship that you might imagine and is something eagerly anticipated during long winter nights. When it finally arrives, the month seems to pass at about the speed of light. Time flies when you are having fun and birding in May is big fun.
The biggest surprise this past week was the discovery of a purple gallinule in Oak Bluffs in a small freshwater area on the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank's Farm Pond property on May 4. These colorful, chicken-like birds are a southern species and appear very infrequently on the Vineyard - about once every ten years on average. They are prone to periodic vagrancy and occasionally appear far from their southern breeding areas. The bird was still there on May 5 at the deadline for this piece.
Also noteworthy was the discovery by Sally Anderson of West Tisbury of a male summer tanager at her feeder. These southern birds occasionally overshoot in the spring and this bird fortuitously found her feeder. Not only did Sally know what it was, but she also managed to get excellent photos within a few minutes of the discovery in the pouring rain. Sally has had a great spring already with the discovery of a yellow-throated warbler on April 25 and then the summer tanager.
The fast and furious birding has been terrific both on land and sea. Many reports have been coming in to the bird line in the past week with reports of birds from as small as ruby-throated hummingbirds to very large northern gannets. Many warblers, orioles, and shorebirds were among the many and varied reports. Keep the calls coming as they help to "paint a picture", a snapshot, of bird movements and activity on the Vineyard.
Up in Chilmark along the shores of Squibnocket Pond, Tim Rich of Chilmark has been enjoying lots of activity at his feeders. Aside from the colorful male Baltimore oriole and a rose-breasted grosbeak that are gracing his feeders he has noticed some interesting bird behavior. Tim enjoys letting nature be, so his lawn has more than its fair share of dandelions and that is just fine with Tim.
This past weekend he noticed that purple finches, house finches, American goldfinches, and chipping sparrows were voraciously attacking the heads of the dandelions that were starting to seed. The next day he noticed that not one dandelion was left intact and that all the seed heads were completely demolished. The birds relished the tasty dandelion seeds and this year's crop of seeds was eaten before they started. Natural weed control always works best.
Try to make or take time to get out in the field during the next couple of weeks. Migration is amping up to full bore and mornings after a night of southwest winds should reveal lots of migrants. Remember that birds are heading north so East Chop, West Chop, and almost anywhere along the north side of the Island will have more birds than along the south side.
Until next week - keep your eyes to the sky.