Allan Keith and I have birded together or with other Vineyard birders for 50 years. Allan and I made a deal years ago that we would not talk politics and that has sort of worked. We do talk a good deal about birds, what we used to see in certain areas of the Vineyard, how the populations have changed and we always talk about species that should be on-Island that are not.

On Saturday, Nov, 17, Allan and I were pining away, somewhat jealous of the cave swallows that had been seen on the mainland near Dartmouth, Massachusetts. “Be careful what you wish for” is not good for birders.

While Allan and I were scouring Katama to try to find red crossbills, Richard Steves and Gail Cimerol were enjoying a walk along Green House Lane in Chilmark. They noticed a bird that was lying next to a summer camp near the cliffs and Richard, being a birder at heart, realized he had no idea of the bird’s ID. The bird was dead, but in perfect shape, so Richard collected it and luckily for all Vineyard birders, brought it to my house.

Richard left the bird on my doorstep with a note that said “Help! Cannot identify.” When I arrived home and looked at the bird on my steps I was stunned. The bird was a cave swallow, the same type Allan and I were wishing for a sighting of not an hour before. We would have preferred a live cave swallow, but the Steves/Cimerol bird is an excellent specimen and will be sent to Harvard to the Museum of Comparative Zoology as a solid verification that this species has been seen on-Island. The only other cave swallow was seen on Nov. 5, 2005 flying off the Gay Head Cliffs, by Lanny McDowell, Peter Trimble and Vern Laux.

The Birds of Massachusetts written in 1993 does not mention any Massachusetts sighting of cave swallows as of that date. According to EBird: “The first November Cave Swallows in the East were discovered in 1992 at Cape May, N.J., and, amazingly, the species has been found almost annually since. Initially this phenomenon was almost restricted to Cape May, but soon other migrant traps got in on the Cave Swallow action”

Cave swallows hail from the tip of Florida (Dade County only), New Mexico or Texas. Chances are the Vineyard’s cave swallow got blown north from Florida by Sandy and west by the winter storm that brought the northerly winds that followed.

Hopefully the next cave swallow Vineyard birders spy will be alive and well. Happy Thanksgiving.

Bird Sightings

The brown pelican that has been in Menemsha since Sandy must have moved, unless there are two. Nathan Durawa spotted a brown pelican by the Little Bridge on Sengekontacket Pond on Nov. 8.

On Nov. 7 Scott Goldin spotted a juvenile male rose-breasted grosbeak on Chappaquiddick.

Happy Spongberg had a male red-winged blackbird at her Tea Lane feeder on Nov. 8 and I had one at the Quenames feeder on Nov. 20. On Nov. 9, Happy spotted four elegant male ring-necked pheasants and spotted what she thought, after consulting three bird guides, was an immature broad-winged hawk. Her description sounded like a broad-winged hawk.

Dick Winitkoff visited Felix Neck on Nov. 10 and found a merlin, several buffleheads and two plovers that he thought might be Wilson’s plovers. We are trying to find these plovers, so anyone at Felix Neck or birding Sarson’s Island be on the lookout.

On Nov. 10 Meg Orlando spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker at the Abel’s Hill Cemetary.

On Nov. 12 Lindsey Lee called to say she and Brendan had an Evening grosbeak at their Seven Gates feeder on Nov. 14, 15 and 16. Tom Rivers called to say he had a hairy woodpecker at his Tea Lane home on Nov. 13.

Gus Ben David called to say on Nov. 15 his pine siskins returned along with the American goldfinches and he also had a brown creeper in his yard at the World of Reptiles and Birds.

On Nov. 16 Lanny McDowell and I birded Katama. Our best birds were a flock of over 40 horned larks, black-bellied plovers and dunlin in the Farm Institute fields, but our best sighting was of a flock of red crossbills that landed in the pines to the west of the Farm Institute fields. The next day, Nov. 17, Allan Keith and I returned to Katama to try to find the red crossbills. We didn’t see them but had great views of a single golden plover, a merlin, three northern harriers, 75 horned larks and two Ipswich sparrows. Palm warblers were sighted on both Nov. 16 and 17. Jeff Bernier found the golden plover again on Nov. 18 and took great photos.

On Nov. 19 Lanny McDowell emailed that “over the house at Tashmoo today there was a flock of about 35 white-winged crossbills at midday, milling about over the treetops. Later I got a call from Simon Perkins down at Long Point, who said he had counted 31 in a flock there.”

On Nov. 20 Larry Hepler, Warren Woessner, Lanny McDowell and I birded the Chilmark side of Tisbury Great Pond. We found two marsh wrens, a belted kingfisher, two common loons, a flock of nine common goldeneyes and buffleheads. On the other side of Tisbury Great Pond by Long Point, Rob Culbert spotted a similar group of birds: greater scaup and common goldeneyes as well as bufflehead, surf scoters, white-winged scoters and common loons. Larry, Warren, Lanny and I spotted green-winged teal, gadwall, black ducks and American wigeon in Black Point Pond. We had a great blue heron fly overhead and spotted two Ipswich sparrows.

Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to

Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is