Winter Birds of Martha’s Vineyard

Known as the playground of the rich and famous, Martha’s Vineyard is jam-packed with visitors each summer. Traffic and parking can be problematic. Every July, the population on the island peaks at around 125,000, but in winter, the number of year-round residents dwindles to 15,000. This is why our Mass Audubon group heads out in mid-January to birdwatch on the Vineyard. And bird we did! We begin our search for birds on the ferry ride from Woods Hole. After driving our van onto the ferry, we climb up to the top level and stare out at the ocean. The first bird I see on the way over is a Surf Scoter. Then some buffleheads.

Surf Scoter

After driving our car off the ferry onto the Vineyard, our group encounters beautiful scenery and landscapes. The temperature dips to something below frigid, but the beauty of the island more than makes up for it!

There is a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary on Martha’s Vineyard called Felix Neck, where they teach people about birds and other wildlife. There are many folks on the island who care about Barn Owls and they keep nesting boxes for them on their properties. Felix Neck and its staff are some of those people.

A Celebrity Sighting!

These renowned Naturalists are known to frequent wildlife sanctuaries around the state. They are also friendly to the paparazzi.

After lunch, we come across a Rude citizen of Canada. He turns his back on us and just walks away after we say hello to him. Then he pretends that nothing happened.

That night we all enjoy a wonderful dinner with food, drink and merriment. I order Nachos and a Mojito. Not so great for the stomach, but it tastes delicious! The next morning, we stop at a great spot with 2 ponds and a road, where we see no less than 22, that’s right, TWENTY TWO Black Crowned Night Herons. I hadn’t seen even one before, much less 22! There are 7 hiding in this photo below. Can you find them?

Black Crowned Night Herons

Later I am able to sneak a little closer to this bird without disturbing it. Closer proximity begins to reveal the colors on the bird. They all seem to be hibernating or sleeping. They were definitely NOT fishing that day.

Walking slowly down the road on Sunday, I am able to get a close-up of a Black Crowned Night Heron. Here you can see the beautiful blue color and its red eye.

Check out those feet!

After spotting Herons, Buffleheads and Mute Swans, we start down the small dirt road adjacent to the ponds. At the end of the road, I am able to capture a photo of my first Ruby Crowned Kinglet. These are tiny, but incredibly hardy birds. It is one of the smallest songbirds in North America and its diet consists of insects, fruits and seeds.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet.

Our next stop: Chappaquiddick, which is a smaller island off of Martha’s Vineyard. In order to get there, we must drive onto another Ferry. And this time, the only thing separating our car from the cold water below is a small metal chain! It is similar to a recurring dream I once had: One minute I’m driving normally along a road and the next minute I’m driving into a large river, hoping that my car makes it to the other side! Then I wake up. 🙂

Right after that, we chance upon these wonderful little Snow Buntings.

Snow Buntings on Chappaquiddick Island.

Our next stop, after returning from Chappaquiddick, is Gay Head. These cliffs are sacred to Native Americans and are actually a part of Wampanoag Tribal Land. The Wampanoag people have lived on this land for over 10,000 years.

Gay Head Lighthouse.

On Sunday, we return to the ponds, where the Mute Swans are in full mating mode. Look at how the male is following the female.

“Look at what I can do! I can take off and land!”

American Wigeon. A new Life Bird for me! I now have 5 new birds for my Life List.

American Wigeon.

A private landowner invites us to see Barn Owls on his property. This Barn Owl flies out of his nesting box and onto a nearby tree branch.

Below, the owl looks around for the Red Tailed Hawk that it hears. Large Hawks, eagles and even other owls are known predators of the Barn Owl.

Our next stop is Katama Bay. Here, we are treated to Gadwall, Great Cormorants and many other interesting birds. Scott Weidensaul inspires me with his talk about appreciating the beauty of Mallard Ducks. Mallards are capable of mating with 63 other species, and in certain areas these hybrid ducks are threatening endemic species such as the Grey Duck of New Zealand and the Mottled Duck of Florida.

But BOY are they Handsome!
Great Cormorants.

Oyster fishermen bring in the day’s catch and load it onto a truck in Katama Bay.

Buoy Birds are large swan-like creatures that have a Rufous body and white breast, with long dark brown necks, but amazingly…. no head.

The last day of our trip on Sunday includes a full day’s worth of birding, and in my opinion, the best day! We return as a group to the road near Katama and along the road we first spot a Song Sparrow, then a Cooper’s Hawk, and finally a Hermit Thrush.

Song Sparrow.

Cooper’s Hawk.
Hermit Thrush.

On Sunday, we board the ferry back to Wood’s Hole and the Mainland. We spot more sea ducks, but my favorite is always the Long Tailed Duck.

The group poses for a snapshot. (Nancy, Andrew and Carolyn are missing from the photo). It was great to get to know everyone a little bit more… And as Maura said, I really enjoyed spending time with all of you, and I hope to see you again on another trip!

The best is yet to come. Back in Falmouth, we stop at a wonderful little marsh area located across the street from the ocean. At the marsh, we observe lots of Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, a Loon, one Belted Kingfisher and more.

Male Hooded Merganser

After lingering a while with the Hoodies, I meander across the street to join the group. There we see Ruddy Turnstones on the beach, Great Black-Backed Gulls and a male Eider fussing in the surf. I am so grateful for another day of immense beauty and amazing views of wildlife.

Adult Ruddy Turnstone in non-breeding plumage.
Ruddy Turnstones winter along the Coastline from Massachusetts all the way down to South America.
A male Common Eider splashing in the surf.

Thank you to Amy and the 2 great Scotts for a wonderful trip!

3 thoughts on “Winter Birds of Martha’s Vineyard

  1. This was an amazing post! Love it! nice job on the writing and photos. Sounds like a fun trip.

    Talk to you soon Wendy

    Sent from my iPhone



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