Birds : Spectacular Memorial Day
Typically, this weekend rocks. Historically, Memorial Day Weekend includes some very good birding, and in some years, it is the best weekend of the year for birding. Even if the winds and weather conspire to make conditions that are anything but conducive for bird migration along the coastline, there will be other benefits - in the form of sea birds, for instance. One way or another, this weekend is always great for birding.
While not always measuring up to the lofty expectations that build towards the end of May, the birds are more colorful and vociferous than at any other time of year. Birds heading north at this time of year are on a much tighter schedule than when they head south a few months from now.
Birding in spring is very different than birding in the fall, both in the way the birds look and act, and in where they are found. At this season the birds are heading north and land birds have learned over countless generations to stay away from the coastline during the spring migration. Due to the cooling influence of cold ocean waters, emergent vegetation and insect abundance are weeks behind conditions found just a few miles inland. More food, shelter, water, and safety for a migrating bird are to be found by staying off the immediate coastline.
But as the spring migration proceeds - time waiting for no bird - the urge to return to the breeding areas becomes so urgent that the birds often get up and fly on nights when they should not. This happens most often near the end of May as the birds' endocrine systems are running wide open and the urge to find a mate and perpetuate the species all-powerful. That is why the birding from the middle to the end of May is most exciting along the coastline, as some birds throw caution to the wind, if you will.
The most unusual birds of the past couple of weeks have included some five summer tanagers at various Island locales. Several lucky Vineyarders have been entertained by this colorful southern species that occasionally overshoots too far north and ends up on the Vineyard. There have been at least seven individuals of this species reported on the Island this spring.
Another unique bird species that is scarce here is the black skimmer. They are the only birds in the world that have the type of beak where the upper mandible is shorter than the lower mandible. The shape of their beak is their most notable feature. A black skimmer was seen by fly fisherman Ken Beebe early in the morning on May 15 on the Oak Bluffs side of the Lagoon.
A northern bob-white made an appearance under the bird feeders at Felix Neck on May 13 to the delight of those on hand. Unfortunately, this species continues to decline on the Vineyard.
An immature bald eagle was seen soaring over the Squibnocket Beach parking lot in Chilmark on May 15. The bird leisurely perused the area - much to the horror of gulls, ducks, and the resident red-tailed hawks in the area. This species continues to increase, not only in the northeast U.S., but all over the continent. They are a nice success story, having rebounded from very small numbers in this part of the world.
Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, and rose-breasted grosbeaks were widely reported from all Island towns this past week. A few orchard orioles - a smaller, dark red orioles that prefer smaller deciduous trees, especially fruit trees - have also been reported. This species is always scarce and a rare breeder on the island.
Warblers that nest in the northern spruce belt are still moving and being reported from various points on the Island. Lots of blackpoll warblers, magnolia warblers, bay-breasted warblers, black-throated blue warblers, Canada warblers and a smattering of other species are just peaking now in our area as they pass by on their northward journey.
Blackpoll warblers, spectacular long-distance migrants that migrate farther than any other North American wood warbler over an elliptical migratory route that is different in spring and fall, have been dropping onto the Vineyard in some spectacular numbers this week. Their distinctive, thin song has been a common sound from Aquinnah to Chappaquiddick this past week. It is a rapid trill, a tseet-tseet-tseet-tseet, if you will, that is loudest in the middle. They have been singing seemingly everywhere from the tops of leafed out deciduous trees especially along the north side of the Island.
Enjoy the kick-off to the summer this Memorial Day Weekend and spend as much time out of doors as possible. Have a great weekend.
Until next week - keep your eyes to the sky.