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Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 14 - July 20, 2005 Edition
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Watchful birders get a great show
The middle of
July and the living is easy, at least as easy as it ever gets for
bird life in this part of the world. The warm temperatures and lush
vegetation provide an abundance of food, especially of insects that
are eaten with relish by all birds and fed to ravenous nestlings.
There are lots of birds around, wherever one happens to be.
scarce southern plover has staged an unprecedented incursion
into Massachusetts over the past month, with birds seen on
the Vineyard, Nantucket, Monomoy, South Beach in Chatham and
Plymouth Beach. Photo by E. Vernon Laux
Whether being roused from a sound sleep by a northern mockingbird
singing incessantly through the night near the Tisbury School (as
a caller attested by calling the bird line at 3 am on the morning
of July 11) or walking in the State Forest and hearing and seeing
this years impressive cuckoo bounty or flocks of cedar waxwings
it is a lovely and busy time of year. The tidal flats and beaches
are already active with migrant shorebirds that have completed their
reproductive responsibilities (hopefully successfully) for the year
and are southbound. These migrants join the summer resident piping
plovers, American oystercatchers, and willets anywhere there are suitable
habitats around the Island.
It always is a bit of a shock to see these globe-trotting sandpipers
and plovers appear in July while in the midst of idyllic summer weather.
They know just how fleeting summer is, especially in the far northern
latitudes where they nest. They are heading south now.
Fledgling birds, young birds just out of the nest, are everywhere.
Just because birds have wings and feathers, enabling them with equipment
to fly, does not mean that they know how to do it. They must learn
to fly, and watching young birds attempting to become proficient at
this most important of life skills is a kick. All that one needs to
do is observe carefully (binoculars are essential) what birds are
doing wherever you are. There are recently fledged young everywhere
trying to master basic flight skills, Flying 101, if you
will, and they make lots of mistakes.
The big thing, the most important thing for them right now, is that
they have to watch for and avoid predators. House cats make short
work of rookie birds trying to learn how to fly. So, cat owners, please
keep your pets in at this critical juncture. The birds only have a
few weeks of the year to reproduce and attempt to maintain their species
numbers. After all the effort spent to raise young, it is most unsettling
to see it all undone in a moment by some well-fed house cat.
Young birds are learning to fly and making mistakes, all of which
is visible if one pays attention and looks with a discerning eye.
This past week, just in the course of running errands, this writer
saw a young cardinal overshoot the branch it was trying to land on
and fall into a bush. Then there is a just-out-of-the-nest song sparrow
that hops from branch to branch as it maintains contact with its parents
who still feed it by sound. Occasionally it attempts to fly a short
distance over grass and looks very silly, like a wind-up toy with
not enough lift as it frenetically scoots across the lawn. Endless
entertainment is available with minimal travel as this goes on all
Gulls mooch lunch
Gulls smart, opportunistic, long-lived, and abundant
can become something of a pest to beach goers. Many gulls have become
expert at finding food among the human masses enjoying South Beach
in Edgartown. Plastic bags of any kind may be summarily torn apart
by cagey veteran gulls while right next to a sleeping sunbather, extracting
edible foodstuffs from literally under the nose of the unwary provider.
Several dozen gulls, mostly herring gulls but also a few ring-billed,
have joined the group with more to come in the next few weeks, enjoying
summers bounty, courtesy of unknowing bird feeders
that are vacationing at the beach.
Terns will be fledging in the next couple of weeks on breeding islands
in Buzzards Bay, Muskeget Island and elsewhere. When this happens
the adults and young of the year fly to Vineyard shores where abundant
food in the form of sand eels and silverside minnows provide all they
need to eat, and the adults begin teaching the young terns how to
catch their own food. They stage here from the end of July until late
August or early September, fattening and molting before flying to
the South American coast for the winter.
A check of the clay-colored sparrow(s) this past weekend revealed
no birds singing or being seen. Perhaps it was just an off day for
weather, but the hoped-for first successful nesting in Massachusetts
has so far gone unconfirmed. Further updates will follow in upcoming
weeks as more is learned about what is going on with this bird(s)
out on South Beach in Edgartown.
Wilsons plovers (aka thick-billed plovers) have been seen all
over the Cape and Islands over the past few weeks. Luanne Johnson
saw one visiting with piping plovers on the beach at Lobsterville
in Aquinnah. These southern birds have been seen more frequently than
at any time over the past decades. What it means is unclear, but heres
hoping they will attempt to nest on-Island next spring.
Lastly, several immature bald eagles have been reported from all over
the Vineyard. These non-breeding birds are frequent visitors, often
taking up temporary residence along south side ponds. But when one
wants to stretch its wings, flying from Gay Head to Cape Pogue is
not a big deal or very time consuming for these large raptors. An
eagle doing a fly-about on a nice, sunny, breezy day can and will
fly over every Island town in about a half an hour.
Until next week keep your eyes to the sky!
news about your birding activities or sightings, call The Times Birdline,
508-693-6100, extension 33; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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