Birds : Post Memorial Day
After a less than glorious weekend, the weather changed for the better, bathing the Vineyard in sunshine for the end of the Memorial Day Weekend, enabling residents and visitors alike to enjoy the great outdoors. While the birding was not fantastic, with only a few land bird migrants to be had, it was a lot better to be out looking and listening to a wide variety of resident breeding birds than doing anything else.
Traditionally, Memorial Day is one of the best weekends of the year for birds. Falling slightly earlier this year, and with the bulk of the spring migration having already passed by, this year's holiday weekend was not as special for birds as some others. However, with American servicemen committed in battle overseas, dying daily, it gave every citizen much to think about. Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice took on a more immediate importance this year for many.
Monday's delightful weather allowed for spending as much time as possible out in the natural world, even if it was the greatly altered environment known as your yard. There was plenty of activity with bird life engaged in perpetuating their respective species, plants growing at an almost alarming rate and butterflies emerging in impressive numbers.
The discovery of the nest of a small falcon called merlin on Chappaquiddick last year was an eye-opener for birders all over New England. The species had never been known to breed in Massachusetts, so this was a major and unexpected expansion of the species' breeding range. It was assumed that the first nesting record for the state would come from out west in the Berkshires, not along the coast or offshore islands. At any rate the birds are back; a pair of merlins are nesting on Chappaquiddick once again. We wish them great breeding success.
American oystercatchers - the relatively large, conspicuous, and flamboyantly marked sandpipers -have become an increasingly welcome and expected sight on Vineyard shores in the warmer months. These birds began moving north and first nested in 1960 on the Vineyard. Gradually their numbers have built to where they are now on virtually every available marsh and beach habitat.
A large part of their success is their fierce protective defense of eggs and young. On May 25 this writer was delighted to watch an oystercatcher attack a great black-backed gull. The oystercatcher was ripping feathers off the back of the much larger gull in flight and generally annoying the big brute. The gull beat a hasty retreat from this bird's aggressive defensive behavior, the oystercatcher having successfully defended its nest area and newly hatched young.