Count on this weekend
A brand-new year has begun and as luck would have it the annual Martha's Vineyard Christmas Bird Count (CBC) will be conducted on the first Saturday of the New Year, Jan. 5. The late date is fortuitous, for in the birder's world, this is an exciting and rewarding way to begin a new year. Starting the year with dozens of expert observers - "top-guns" or ringers, if you will, many from off-Island -and scouring the Island in an attempt to count every bird of every species is a terrific way to find what may be hiding out on the Island for the winter.
The benefits of getting volunteer experts to come participate on the Vineyard CBC are two-fold. First, almost all are delightful and fun human beings who enjoy sharing their knowledge with others, allowing less experienced observers to learn a great deal in a short time. The second, from the Vineyard standpoint, is that they find a lot of birds, especially difficult-to-find and rare species that would almost certainly go undetected.
The late date also avoids conflicts with the many other CBCs conducted around the state and all over North America, freeing up some individuals who are normally not available to participate. Most birders in New England and from further afield jump at the chance to come birding here. Winter birding on the Island is as good as it gets in New England. The Island has a staggering amount of bird life over-wintering, particularly in the surrounding waters.
Enough about the bird count for now. There will be much more about it in next week's column. If you see small groups of people with binoculars around their necks this coming Saturday, you will know what they are about. Here's hoping for good weather with little to no wind on count day, Jan. 5. The wind velocity is critical to observers being able to hear and detect small land birds, owls and a slew of other species. It also is easier to find birds on the water if the surf is not big.
There have been some interesting birds seen flying, perched, and swimming from the Vineyard this past week. A loose group of 12 turkey vultures has been cruising around the Island and are spotted almost daily, at one place or another. They seem to favor the Lagoon area and then head across the Island to the shores of the Great Ponds.
A flock of American wigeon continues to spend its time either on Sunset Lake on East Chop in Oak Bluffs or along the Tisbury side of the Lagoon. These ducks are almost always here in the winter and occasionally a rarer species, the Eurasian wigeon, is found amongst them. The birds move from the southern end, or head, of the Lagoon to Hines Point and may be encountered on any stretch of shoreline.
Lastly, a couple of very interesting CBCs were conducted about ten days ago. The Mid-Cape CBC was run on Dec. 22 and enjoyed a lovely winter day with sun and little wind. The participants came up with a whopping 141 species including four new birds for that CBC. The new birds were two Tundra swans, a lone osprey, a barred owl and 70 bohemian waxwings. There were some 30 new high counts for individual species and finding four new species for the count is unheard of.
The Outer Cape CBC was conducted on Sunday, Dec. 23 and impossible to explain were five new species for this count which has been going on for 75 years including a new species for the State of Massachusetts in the form of an adult slaty-backed gull, a species that nests in Siberia. The other new birds were a greater shearwater, fish crow, rufous hummingbird, and great-crested flycatcher. A yellow-throated warbler and lark sparrow rounded out this spectacular CBC. It bodes well for the Island counts.
Our sister island of Nantucket conducted their CBC on Dec. 29 (after the holiday deadline). Details will be forthcoming in next week's column. Many birds will be found on the Gray Lady that will not be seen on the Vineyard CBC and vice versa. It is always remarkable to me how different the islands are from one another in terms of bird life.
Nantucket is farther out to sea and routinely has birds that are extremely rare on the Vineyard, such as over half a million long-tailed ducks formerly known as oldsquaw, black guillemot, little gull, dozens of Iceland and lesser black-backed gulls, a dozen marsh wrens, many others. However, the Vineyard has things that are very rare or never occur on Nantucket. That is why it is so fun and different to bird the other island if you live on one of them.
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 email@example.com.