Birds

Grand Tetons
The magnificent Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyo., was the idyllic setting for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Photo by E. Vernon Laux

Movin' pictures with Vern and Bob

By E. Vernon Laux - October 11, 2007

The past 10 days have been a blur for this columnist. For many years I have been attempting to make some bird oriented television programming. Things have been moving at a snail's pace, as I've seemed take two steps back for every one forward. That is until last week at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming where I attended the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. The festival is held every two years, and it is the largest of its kind in the world.

My partner in this venture, seasonal Aquinnah resident Bob Shriber, accompanied by his wife Mary Lou and daughter Sarah (who was a volunteer at the Festival), was notified in late July that our nine-minute trailer for a series called "Bird Quest with Vern and Bob" had been nominated as a finalist at the festival in the "Presenter Led" category. When I found out I told Bob to call them back and make sure they had not made a mistake. They said it was true.

Neither of us had heard of this event before so we were not quite sure what it meant. It turns out this is a very big deal: film, TV, and documentary wildlife film makers from around the globe attend including representatives from all the big players like, BBC, National Geographic Domestic and International TV, Discovery, Animal Planet, PBS, etc., etc. It was a who's who of people that make any nature show that you have ever seen. It was an amazing week.

While we did not win the prize - we were up against the BBC and David Attenborough, and Granada Wild - by being nominated as finalist we already had won. We are now on a first-name basis with Neil Nightingale, head of all BBC nature programming with a bird name to boot, as well as the heads of development and programming for not only the United States but the entire world. It was a hugely successful week and we are currently in negotiations to film a series internationally.

If interested you can view the trailer on line at www.birdquest.tv.

Back to the Island

Enough about trying to make fun bird TV stuff. The weekend that just past was not the greatest weather-wise. However, the birding during the first two weeks of October on Martha's Vineyard is almost beyond belief. The reason it is believable is because it continues to happen, year after year. The number and variety of birds involved can be completely overwhelming. It is off the charts, super productive, and just wonderful.

The morning of Tuesday, October 9, was exceptional for birding. Cold temperatures around New England and strong north to northeast winds combined to create conditions ideal for a massive nocturnal flight of migrant birds. The skies were alive on the night of October 8 and morning of the 9th. At dawn, birds were literally everywhere, Island-wide.

This rather large lifeboat of an Island - a feeding, resting and landing platform if you will - is ideally situated for birds during the fall migration. It is especially favorably suited, both geographically and vegetative, to provide shelter and food for southbound landbirds. On October 9, it played host to tens of thousands, possibly exponentially more, landbirds, acting as an important rest and food stop.

The birding was nothing short of magical, even spectacular, at the western end of the Island in the morning hours. Most impressive were the numbers of tiny ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets. Hardly a shrub or tree on the Island did not have one on this day. Thousands of robins and waxwings, hundreds of warblers, house and purple finches and lesser numbers of dozens of other species streamed off the west end of the Island. Flocks of sparrows and juncos were all along the road edges and the place seemed to move with swarming birds. The Island was rocking with migrant birds.

Highlights have been numerous. With the birding as good as it gets at this season, birders manage to make time to get out. Scores of observers literally scoured the Island this past weekend and many rare and unusual birds were found. It is true that the more people that go birding, the more birds get seen. Concentrate field observers in an area and all sorts of birds get found that normally pass by undetected. Part of the excitement and appeal of the Columbus Day Weekend is that both birders and birds are maxed out. Still only a small fraction of birds get detected.

The birding was awesome and the wind got lighter as the morning progressed. The peak of the migration may have just occurred, but the birding promises to be excellent for several more weeks. Get out and look around if you have any inclination. Often the rarest birds of the year occur in the next few weeks.

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 vernlaux@comcast.net.