Birds

Tree swallows
Tree swallows are a common nesting species and utilize cavities and birdhouses with an inch and a half hole. These attractive, small insectivorous birds return to the Island early in the spring. Unlike the swallows of Capistrano, Calif., which return almost precisely on the same day, the tree swallows can return on any date from March 17 through April 10, because of the vagaries of weather in the Northeast. With the forecast, this photographer believes the first ones will appear on the Island this weekend. Photo by E. Vernon Laux

Spring arrivals

By E. Vernon Laux - March 22, 2007

This first column of the spring of 2007 arrives just as the weather has changed to beautiful spring-like conditions. As this is being read, ospreys - a.k.a. fish hawks - are arriving back at last season's nest sites. There is little to compare to one's first certain view of an osprey each year. Fortunate observers might see a migrant osprey at the moment of its return, dropping down from a great height and to arrive back on the Island. The spotting of one of these large, black and white beauties, dropping out of the sky from a high altitude, is breathtaking, in the literal sense of the word.

The first report of an osprey for the Island this year came from Ken Scott who spotted an osprey fishing over Wiggy's Pond in the Sengekontacket Association in Oak Bluffs on March 15. The first osprey seen by an Islander in our area was reported by Nancy Weaver of Vineyard Haven, who was bicycling along the Shining Seas Bike Path in Falmouth on March 10 and was delighted with her first looks at an osprey in 2007. Another was reported from Wareham in Buzzard's Bay on March 13. This is most unusual as the Vineyard almost always enjoys the first reported sightings of ospreys in Massachusetts each spring.

This weekend should see many ospreys returning and it is of great interest to hear which ones return and when. I would love to hear on the bird line about the birds returning to various locations, as would many readers. The weekend forecast is for near perfect weather, warm temperatures and moderate southwest winds - all ideal for returning migrant birds.

The individual ospreys involved in this year's migration were participants in last year's movements, repeating what worked last year. The species' average longevity is from 3 to 10 years, if they survive their first year. So what worked for a bird the previous year is likely to be duplicated. The more inexperienced, younger birds come north lagging behind the adults, often by as much as a month. They fill in gaps in the population and replace any birds that fail to appear at the appointed time and place to reunite with former mates.

There were no more reports of the marbled godwit that was frequenting Menemsha Pond from March 7 to 13. This most unexpected winter visitor was the first to be seen on the Vineyard in the month of March and was only the second or third ever seen in March in Massachusetts. It may still be utilizing the sandbars, tidal flats, and shores of the pond. It is a large area with few observers. If in the area, keep an eye out for this large shorebird.

Other shorebirds in the form of greater yellowlegs, American oystercatchers, and piping plovers have been reported. The oystercatchers and piping plovers have returned to nest on Island shores, while the yellowlegs will continue much further north. Sadly for dog owners, with the return of these birds that are already setting up territories and defending them on the beaches, it is time to walk elsewhere or keep them on a leash. The birds do not respond well to four-legged predators frequenting nesting areas. The birds have nowhere else to go, but dog owners do.

There is lots of activity on the waters surrounding the Island. Large numbers of red-throated loons and common loons are on the move as they reposition themselves north. Smaller numbers of horned and red-necked grebes may be seen, especially from South Beach and Wasque in Edgartown at first light or when there is little wind late in the day, when the light is much better for viewing. They are joined by large numbers of sea ducks that are exhibiting migratory restlessness. On calm days the far-carrying calls and cries of flocks of courting scoters and eiders can be heard from more than a mile away.

Margaret Curtain and Nancy Weaver of Vineyard Haven went for a walk along the shores at the Head of the Lagoon on March 17. They had spectacular looks at the great variety of waterfowl utilizing this freshwater habitat and were surprised to find a long-tailed duck, formerly oldsquaw, in amongst the wigeon, ring-necks, and gadwall. This time of year almost any kind of waterfowl may appear anywhere as they are on the move. Many waterfowl live on and in saltwater during the winter months and then fly north to breed in freshwater ponds during the warmer months. They are equally at home in either fresh or salt water, a very useful adaptation for survival.

This weekend should see an influx of bird species, including killdeer, tree swallows, eastern phoebes, many more blackbirds and American robins, the aforementioned ospreys, perhaps singing pine warblers, and probably a few surprises in the form of birds with a more southerly range that occasionally overshoot their destination in the spring.

At any rate it will be a great time to get outside and enjoy the birds, gardening, or whatever one likes to do.

Until next week-keep your eyes to the sky!

To contribute news about birding activities or sightings, call The Times Birdline, 508-693-6100, extension 33, or e-mail birds@mvtimes.com.