It is human nature to wonder how much things change over time, and the springtime arrival dates of our summer resident birds is no exception.

Back when the Bird News was called With Avian Visitors.

On April 9, 1954, the Gazette’s Bird News column, then called With Avian Visitors, discussed the recent appearance of some very tired golden-crowned kinglets that were too busy eating from a bird feeder to be bothered by the nearby bird-watchers. This species was then, and is still, a winter resident, but our winter residents are usually in the treetops rather than at feeders, so perhaps these were recent arrivals, tired from their long flight the previous night. I got home after finding this old column and read about the kinglets Lanny McDowell photographed in another unusual locale, along the shoreline of one of the coves at Tisbury Great Pond.

The 1954 column also mentions the arrival in late March of both bank and tree swallows. Well, on April 6 Ken Magnuson announced the first tree swallow of the season, which he found at the Edgartown Golf Club. Tree swallows normally return in late March, but colder than normal temperatures have apparently delayed their arrival.

The April 8, 1955 With Avian Visitors column mentions meadowlarks — “handsome creatures and too long lacking in any numbers from the Vineyard scene, are back in good numbers . . .” Too bad that we do not still have meadowlarks returning in good numbers, or even returning at all, as they long ago disappeared as a breeding species and are now quite scarce in the winter, too.

Also mentioned was the first osprey sighting of the season, “although they can come back the last of March they are anything but usual sights until April is well along.” Well, apparently ospreys come a little earlier now than they did 60 years ago, as they first showed up on March 20 this year. And a large wave of ospreys just returned on March 30 and April 1. Sightings came from John Nelson and Christy Edwards at the regional high school, Charlie Kernick at the Mill Pond, Lanny McDowell at Lake Tashmoo, Ken Magnuson at Trapps Pond and the Edgartown Golf Club, Richard Toole at Farm Neck, Prescott Walsh observed two at Wasque, Danguole Budris at Sepiessa Point, and Catherine Deese at Squibnocket Pond, and the Ganz family observed their return to their North Shore property.

Tree swallows normally return in late March, but colder than normal temperatures have apparently delayed their arrival. — Lanny McDowell

Why do I mention the columns of 60 and 61 years ago? The Gazette has always been a “birdy” paper, even devoting an entire issue to the extinction of the heath hen (March 1933). They regularly published short articles about birds, but they were scattered all across the paper. For example, there was an article about the reluctance of summer resident birds to leave the Vineyard on their southward migration on Oct. 16, 1953, and then there was an article about the antics of a catbird on Nov. 13, 1953. So the owners and editors Henry Beetle Hough and Elizabeth Bowie Hough decided: “With a blinding flash of revelation, I decided it might be a good idea to run all the avian items under a single head.” And so a column titled With Avian Visitors was published in the Dec. 4, 1953 issue. On Jan. 8, 1954, the column became a weekly column in the Gazette, and shortly thereafter it earned its home on the back page of the Gazette, where it has appeared ever since. Thus, almost 3,200 columns have been published about birds!

The column expanded to include other nature observations in 1968. And in 1978, the With Avian Visitors column was divided into two: the All Outdoors column was inaugurated alongside the current Bird News column.

Bird Sightings

While we have more arrivals to report, the most encouraging news I received this week was on Sunday, March 29, at Katama just as the eastern sky was beginning to brighten. I heard the distinctive, raucous and eerie screeching of a barn owl. If you have never heard one screech, use your computer or cell phone to listen to a recording of their call. The first time I heard one I practically jumped out of my skin! Allan Keith reports that there are fresh pellets near the entrance to his barn owl box, so at least one of his owls survived our long and harrowing winter.

John Nelson reports the first eastern phoebe of the season, as he observed one on Middle Road on March 30. The next phoebe to be reported was found at the Woods Preserve on April 1, by the team of Greg Palermo, Margaret Curtin, Nancy Weaver and Liz Loucks.

Golden-crowned kinglet is typically a Vineyard winter resident. — Lanny McDowell

The first piping plovers have also returned. Allen Slater observed one on April 1 on Chappaquiddick. And in addition to the ospreys mentioned above, Bob Ganz reports that the piping plovers returned to his North Shore beach on April 2. And Suzan Bellincampi of Felix Neck reports that many of the plovers they monitor have returned to their nesting beaches.

On the warbler front, Lanny McDowell reports the first migrant of the year; he observed a brightly colored male pine warbler on April 5. Listen for their more musical chipping sparrow-like trill, which will announce the return of more of these early migrants.

Stephen Carey and his family were here for the Easter weekend, and report a number of lingering winter resident ducks, including bufflehead, red-breasted merganser, white-winged scoter, common eider, as well as common loons and the Oak Bluffs flock of brant. The Careys also found a gray-phase screech owl on South Water street in Edgartown as well as a black-crowned night-heron at Sheriff’s Meadow Pond.

Joyce and Hugh McCormick found the first great egret of the season on Chappaquiddick on April 5. They also observed the same ducks listed above as well as mallards and black ducks.

There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them, and be sure to report your bird sightings to

Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.