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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...]

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...]

First Tundra Swans of the Year

by Lanny McDowell on January 4, 2010

IMG_3334DWingatecr6 They were also the first in quite a while on Martha’s Vineyard.  They sort of had to be the first of the year, since it was the first of the year, about ten thirty in the morning.

The checklist for the Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count, which takes place tomorrow, on January fifth, due to a weather delay, says the CBC has recorded one Tundra Swan  since 1999.  Soo Whiting’s book, Vineyard Birds II,  says tundras were seen more frequently and more regularly on CBCs up until ‘92 and then, for the most part, not seen after that.  She writes, “Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are the two best places in Massachusetts where an observer might expect to see this rare visitor.”  It’s only a guess, but I would be quite surprised if [click to continue...]

Coming of age on the Vineyard, hawks in flight, almost

by Lanny McDowell on July 7, 2009


The young Cooper’s Hawks at the nest near Abel’s Hill in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard are up and out and lounging in adjacent trees.  The last time I was there, on July fifth, the female allowed herself to be seen, keeping a quiet eye on things, then audibly admonishing her brood, or maybe me, from deeper back in the oak forest.  I had never seen her before.  I have never seen the male; and so I have never been aware of more than one adult.  Of course, I could be mistaken, if the two adults are close in size.

In the dappled light of the woods it is pretty hard to make out any of these raptors when they are still, especially if you don’t have advanced knowledge of where to look.  But, boy, are they nice to watch when you do find them.

I do not really expect to find them near the nest,  should I go back.  There is too much to see and do … and to eat.

1st sighting of the adult female after she cruised out of the woods:

1st sighting of the adult female after she cruised out of the woods, alsmost over my head ...

[click to continue...]