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There are some simple reasons I can’t stay away from watching and photographing purples this time of year.  Firstly, they are here on the Vineyard and fairly uncommon most other places.  I know where to find them when I want to, usually up scouring the rocks at Squibnocket, because they are location loyal.  That’s about the habitat, which is the habitat that shows up in the bird photos below.  They are not always there, but they are likely to be there on a bright winter’s day.

The other factor that brings me back to find them is that they are relatively tame when feeding or resting, even with Stella at my side.  Stella is very respectful and patient when it’s clear that I am trying to move slowly or I’m waiting for the sandpipers to approach me as they move among the rocks. [click to continue...]


Economy got you down?  Looking for ways to save your hard earned do-re-mi?  Thinking of cutting back or cutting off birdseed altogether?  Let them fend for themselves, right?

But wait! Try the new Sharpienator.  One sharpie used only once or twice a day will solve that bird food drain on your scarce resources.  And it is Absolutely Free! You can’t buy the Sharpienator in any store.  But wait.  There’s more!

So, you get the idea.  When the last snows started to melt the action at my feeders returned quickly to null and void.  I am used to having a coops cruise the place on a regular basis.  This year it’s a handsome and very stealthy adult male.  [click to continue...]

Barn Owl on Martha’s Vineyard

by Lanny McDowell on January 23, 2010


I received a call from someone who had found a barn owl in the snow, with just its head protruding.  It had died, most probably from starvation, and it was found a few feet from a small rural outbuilding which had been fitted with an entrance hole high up in the gable end.  I do not know if there was a nesting box inside, or only the visible entrance hole, clearly provided as an access for winged beasties.

The snow was melting away leaving more of the dead owl exposed.  The caller and I speculated on the raptor’s demise.  I spoke of the recurring threat of snow cover too deep for too long, the condition that denies the owl’s access to rodents and that defines how far north (so far) these birds can survive.  Or, in this case, how far north they cannot survive.

Sadness is balanced by appreciation of the incredible beauty of the remains. [click to continue...]

Eiders in Menemsha Channel

by Lanny McDowell on January 10, 2010


Martha’s Vineyard, her rocky shores and the rich marine ecology that surrounds her, is very attractive to Common Eiders looking to winter in a place that grows and gives up enough tonnage of food resources to keep the feathered thousands alive through the coldest months.  The patterns of major sea duck concentration have changed this winter, presumably  moving with the food resource.  There are almost always a smaller number of eiders that congregate near the jetties at Menemsha.  What they were doing when I was there yesterday is what they often do at sea, just in a more confined space: riding the current and feeding, then flying back to take another pass on the current.  They were riding on the incoming tide ripping south between the stone jetties, with the wind at their backs, to enter the broadening waters of the tidal pond.  On cue, on a whim or reacting to an ambulatory threat they pattered into flight north against the wind between the walls of rock  to settle on the sea just outside the harbor, eventually funneling back to repeat the circuit.

This show is there for anyone to watch. [click to continue...]