Birds : January surprises
While not on Martha's Vineyard, there have been some unique birds found close by recently. Last week, a small pink-footed goose was discovered among a mixed flock of Canada geese and two cackling geese in Salt Pond, just across Vineyard Sound in Falmouth. It was the first pink-footed goose ever found in Massachusetts that is considered to be a "wild" bird, not an escape from a waterfowl collection.
The pink-footed goose is increasing and a few have been seen in recent winters in the Canadian Maritime Provinces. The species breeds in eastern Greenland, Iceland, and the Svalbard Archipelago north of Sweden and Norway. The bird was in a flock containing several races of Canada geese as well as the recently split full species called cackling goose, a small, short-billed version of Canada goose. Upon close examination, the pink-footed goose had no bands or other markings.
It was an exciting find and birders from around the state and New England have been making the pilgrimage to attempt to find it. The most reliable spot has been behind the Falmouth Town Hall, in Sider's Pond. The bird has been seen on various fields around town and is still by no means an easy find. If in search of this bird, be aware of an eared grebe in Quissett Harbor that has been frequenting an area called The Knob. This area is accessed from Woods Hole by taking a left at the first traffic light one encounters heading north. Take that road to the end.
Another bird, this one more eagerly sought by birders from all over the country, was discovered by Jeremiah Trimble on January 17 at Eastern Point in Gloucester. Seeing an ivory gull is a once-in-a-lifetime event in Massachusetts, where an adult has not been seen in over 100 years. Ivory gulls live year-round on ice in the Arctic Ocean. They are known to follow polar bears, scavenging their kills and eating scat.
To have a bird this far south of the species' normal range is most unusual. Take a look in a field guide at this incredible pure-white bird. They are the rarest gull in the world and the species is rapidly declining as global warming impacts its habitat faster and more adversely than many other species. Check out the stunning pictures at massbird.org.
Photo by E. Vernon Laux
Martha's Vineyard has been experiencing a typical New England winter. Lots of bad weather interspersed with not as bad weather. Thankfully, the temperatures finally climbed above freezing this week, allowing for a little bit of melting. The snow cover has made it difficult for wintering birds to find food.
The good news is feeding stations, virtually any kind of bird feeder, have been swarmed with hungry birds. The numbers and diversity of birds has provided countless hours of entertainment and fascinating observing, watching the interactions and antics going on right in front of ones eyes. Predictably, after the blizzard, many feeder watchers noted new and unfamiliar birds showing up.
With virtually all surface areas covered by snow, usual food resources for ground-feeding birds were completely unavailable, forcing birds to move from where they had been over-wintering. Widely reported, even though they were not seen to feed at most feeding stations, were eastern bluebirds. These stunning birds never get old. People that enjoy their first-time looks or first views in many years of these striking birds often cannot believe what they have seen.
The absolutely shocking "blueness" of their plumage to the human eye is otherworldly. They look marvelous in a snow-covered landscape, traveling in small groups (or occasionally large ones) often in mixed flocks with other frugivorous (fruit-eating) species. They feed on berries and they are not all that particular. They will eat any berries that are available or accessible: the berries/fruits of the red cedar, various hollies, poison ivy, green briar, Russian olive, and any ornamental fruits including crabapples and pyracantha. Bluebirds were reported from all Island towns this past week.
Martha's Vineyard has more over-wintering bluebirds than anywhere else in New England. There are large numbers in and around the State Forest in the center of Martha's Vineyard as well as flocks cruising around looking for food. Areas with lots of red cedars, like sections of Katama in Edgartown or Cedar Tree Neck in West Tisbury, have lots of bluebirds, as does much of Tea Lane in Chilmark, an area that has large numbers of America holly trees and lots of other berries. There is probably something on the order of 300 individual bluebirds spending the winter on Martha's Vineyard.
Until next time - keep your eyes to the sky.