The LLNF's third Nantucket Birding Festival was held October 17-20 and the weather could not have been better. Some 42 birders and their 12 leaders scoured Nantucket in search of birds.
Past festivals have enjoyed outstanding birds punctuated by mega-rarities. The festival surprised again with the discovery of a wayward Calliope Hummingbird from the mountains of the western U.S. This species is North America's smallest bird.
The hummingbird was discovered at the community gardens on Hummock Pond Road on the afternoon of October 19th. After giving fleeting views, the tiny bird perched on a small piece of fencing and afforded great views.
The challenge with immature and female hummingbirds is to identify them. They are remarkably similar and look alike; all are green on the back and whitish or gray on the underside with few field marks that are not subjective and require some familiarity with various species. Working out their identification is a serious field problem. The good news is that with the amazing digital cameras and lenses available we can capture close-up photos of the actual shape of individual tail feathers and other fine details are readily discerned allowing for correct identifications to be made.
The first Calliope Hummingbird ever seen in Massachusetts was a bird coming to a feeder in Eastham in 2002 that was initially called a Ruby-throated Hummingbird but upon closer scrutiny was revealed to be a Calliope Hummingbird. There have since been 4 others - all in places where no one could go see them or one day wonders. Nantucket's Calliope Hummingbird was seen by all the participants and leaders on the birding festival and was still present on the morning of October 22 much to the delight of off-island birders that made the island hop to see it. The bird has since disappeared and hopefully it headed south to the tropics in Central America where this species typically spend the winter.
The hummingbird stole the show at the birding festival but there were lots of other birds seen. Some other highlights included a couple of big nights for nocturnal migration with fall-outs at dawn of lots of species of warblers, 3 species of vireos, Eastern Phoebes, both Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens, Brown Creepers, Brown Thrashers, Baltimore Oriole and lots of sparrows. There were Clay-colored Sparrows seen on almost every field trip, a couple of Vesper Sparrows and lots of Chipping, White-crowned, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows. All 3 regularly occurring falcon species, American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon, were well seen and a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk was an added bonus. A drake Harlequin Duck, the first of the fall and winter, sitting at close range amongst a flock of common eider afforded stunning views and was a big hit off of the Sconset Bluff.
Save the date for next year's Nantucket Birding Festival! October 16 -19, 2014.
Trips and Workshops:
Bartlett’s Farm is Nantucket’s oldest and largest working farm. Migrant sparrows, American pipits, prowling falcons, and lingering shorebirds feast on hundreds of acres of agricultural fields.
Bird Banding Demonstration
This is your opportunity to be up close and personal with a bird in the hand. Watch experienced bird-banders weigh, measure and record data about birds captured in mist nets. This hands-on experience is great for photography and as a way to hone your identification skills by seeing field marks so closely.
Falcons, especially peregrines, love to hunt from this southeast facing shoreline during the afternoon. On days with northwest winds this area is alive with falcons. There are plenty of land bird possibilities as well.
Great Point: Limited to 7 participants; additional $50 fee
This scenic area, accessible only by 4-wheel drive vehicle, offers mile after mile of protected habitat. The Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, with mile after mile of remote beach, marsh, and ocean, a beautiful coastal resource where you can see falcons, jaegers, sea ducks, land birds and grey seals.
Hummock Pond and Cisco
The brackish waters of Hummock Pond, adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, are excellent feeding grounds for a diversity of waterfowl and shorebirds and occasional rare visitor. The shores and fields adjacent to the pond also have consistently good sightings of land birds and the area often teems with migrants.
Madaket Mystery: Nantucket’s Migratory Funnel
Vast numbers of nocturnal and diurnal migrants depart the island from this vantage point. It is an excellent spot to encounter vagrants as well as large numbers of warblers, sparrows, vireos, finches, wrens, tanagers, swallows, flycatchers, raptors, and butterflies.
Sconset: The Bluff Walk and Codfish Park
The southeast corner of the island offers spectacular scenery. This area often rains birds as nocturnal migrants fly in from offshore. Peregrine falcons and merlins patrol the beach while lesser black-backed gulls rest on the shore.
Shorebirds, Ducks and Gulls
The Atlantic Ocean, Nantucket Sound and Madaket Harbor offer tidal flats, overwash areas and marshes which are excellent habitat for overwintering shorebirds and waterfowl as well as lingering species of shorebirds, terns and gulls. NOTE: This trip requires walking on soft sand for perhaps a mile or more and is the most strenuous trip offered.
Professor Richard Prum will regale you about feathers: their structure, color, growth, and evolution. You will learn about the diversity of feathers - birds’ most important adaptation. Workshop will include a 'lab' to look at feather structure and color up close.
The explosion of digital photography and its diverse applications make taking photos easier and more practical than ever. Newcomers and the more experienced will learn tips and advice on camera settings, how to digiscope, capture birds with your camera, and some processing basics for your photographs. Participants should bring their DSLR camera with as big a lens as they possess or a point and shoot. Classroom time will be followed by some field work to practice new skills.
PO Box 149
Nantucket, MA 02554
110 Eel Point Road
Nantucket, MA 02554