I was thrilled to be invited this week to take part in the 2016 annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas bird count. A true “Live Like a Local” experience and a marvelous opportunity for a bird lover given the incredible diversity of birds that call Martha’s Vineyard their winter abode. This Christmas time event is part of the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count that first started way back in 1900 (making it the world’s longest running bird survey and the original compendium of all things that tweet; the precursor therefore of Twitter) and now brings together some 70,000 volunteers across 2,500 locations who go out wading through marshes, combing seashores, braving bramble-filled hedgerows, dangling off cliffs and scanning the skyline to identify and record a list of all the bird species that are spotted (and lesser spotted of course).
On the Vineyard there are 13 teams that set off to spend the day exploring their particular assigned section of the island. The teams start their birding at 6.30am so as to catch any bird activity associated with sun-rise. A few insomniacs venture out at 4.30am to try and catch any owls before they heard to bed for the day but much as I was honored to be part of the event I was not in a hurry to get up in the middle of the night to go owl hunting (especially as the day stated with winds gusting at 40mph and below freezing temperatures). I was quite comfortable with being labeled a fair weather birder and to take the extra 2 hours in bed!
Our team (Olsen, Amy, Annie, Matt, Newell, Happy & Eliot) was to scour the northern side of the West Tisbury area, which would cover an expanse of seashore, inland ponds, farmland, hedgerow, forested areas and the Polly Hill arboretum. Starting off at Priester’s Pond, our first sighting was four otters out for a morning dip. Not of any ornithological value but a wonderfully life-affirming sight nonetheless. So with that happy start we began our bird-watching in earnest. Quickly we had notched up some buffleheads, Canada geese, goldeneyes and a proud northern flicker perched atop a conifer perusing his neighborhood. Next we headed up North Road to Fisher Pond and added a Coopers Hawk, a hooded merganser, eastern bluebird and black ducks to our tally before we ventured into the Seven Gates Estate.
One of the perks of the CBC is that no land is off limits, so it provides a pass to view some of the stunning properties and landscapes that are privately held. At the entrance to the sprawling Seven Gates estate we were treated to a morning display by 12 meadowlarks with their yellow plumage especially vivid in the early sunlight. Robins, chickadees, all kinds of sparrows, starlings, American crows, blue jays, red-tailed hawks, mocking-birds were all seen by the bucketful. Turkey vultures and a hairy woodpecker were spotted next followed by a group of yellow-rumped warblers (“butter-butts” in the local vernacular I was informed). Heading down to the ocean front and looking out across to the Elisabeth Islands we amassed sanderlings, ring-billed gulls, surf scoters, loons and the most magnificent pair of northern gannets. Then to add to the excitement we spied a kinglet as we traipsed back to the cars. Onward to Polly Hill arboretum to catch some juncos and cedar wax wings before ending our day at Arrowhead Farm flushing out a Virginia rail and spotting both a red-bellied woodpecker and a downy woodpecker. All-in-all we checked off 51 different bird species before hanging up our binoculars at 5pm. A long day but an enthralling one and one I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
At any time of year Martha’s Vineyard is a great bird-watching location. The migrations of the Spring and Fall in particular bring an incredible array of passing visitors to the island. If you do fancy a birding vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, we’d love you to consider staying with us at the Nobnocket Boutique Inn. The woods and gardens at our Martha’s Vineyard bed and breakfast also mean you don’t have to wander far to spy some colorful feathered friends. Our woods play home to red winged hawks, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, blue jays, warblers and more.
Happy birding or “twitching to all in 2017.