Birds : Ospreys of spring
This time of year is exciting and frustrating for those of us that have an interest in the most fascinating and only feathered animals on the planet: birds. Eager for the arrival of new species from the south, every morning has promise. The possibility of unknown and unseen birds lurks around the next bend in the trail, and the air is rife with the possibility of something different or newly arrived on Island shores. So, crackling with energy, the birder - beginner or maestro, young or old - gets out in the field as often as possible.
Despite what birds may or may not be seen, the time spent afield is the reward. It is great to be alive and outside, enjoying the ripening season.
Photo by E. Vernon Laux
How many spring seasons will we each have to enjoy? How many opportunities to peer around the next curve of the path are ahead? These are questions that need not be answered, or, better still, are better left unanswered. There is no time like the present to learn about what is going on around us; to learn the birds in one's yard, town, favorite beach, or on the entire continent. Relish the season and what is going on in the natural world.
This preaching from a long-time convert (the ravings of a fervent naturalist?) seems completely appropriate at the end of March, when we have to deal with rapidly changing and highly variable New England weather. The weather has been a virtual roller coaster the past 10 days. Despite all the weather changes subtle or not, bird migration has been occurring steadily. Over-wintering species are exhibiting behavioral changes and migratory restlessness while newly arrived birds are calling and setting up territories.
The Martha's Vineyard harbinger of spring, the osprey, generates lots of interest and excitement every year. Spotting the first reliable sighting each spring is quite an honor and there is lots of competition. The birds have been arriving incrementally earlier now for decades and when Lynn Silva spotted one calling and soaring at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital at 4 pm on March 12, she knew it was very early. She showed it to a friend who verified that they had seen and heard the first reported osprey this spring (to this writer's knowledge) on the Vineyard.
Noteworthy at this season is the return of not everyone's favorite bird - the piping plover - to Island beaches, as well as American oystercatchers. The tiny, white plovers are at the center of beach use controversy as their small population and outer beach nesting requirements put them in direct conflict with human utilization of scarce beaches during the summer. They are small, attractive, and amazing birds. Their calls are plaintive and distinctive, a lovely, two-toned "piping" cry from which the species derives its name. This species will be firmly established on area beaches by the end of the month.
Piping plovers and other beach-nesting species are very sensitive to disturbance by four-legged creatures - let alone four-wheel-drive vehicles. Due to the exposed nature of the area and lack of cover they have adapted to its rigors and nest on the bare sand. One of the beauties of this situation is that because of the inhospitable nature of the setting, few species live here and there were scant few predators, as there was nothing for them to eat.