One of the most impressive spectacles of the bird world is to be amidst a large swarm of tree swallows as they swirl, swoop and soar around you. They catch bugs on the wing. They descend onto a bayberry shrub to consume some of those waxy berries, bending the branch under their weight, then take off again. They are aerial acrobats.

Such gatherings can be observed fairly readily at this time of the year, as they wend their way southward along the eastern shores of Chappaquiddick and then westward along the southern shores of the Vineyard. Jeff Bernier spotted a very large flock of them at South Beach on Oct. 19 and observed that “the most fun is watching them drink from rain puddles on the wing.” The previous day, Benjamin Cabot observed another large flock of them up-Island. These flocks are not limited to the immediate coast however, as Happy and Steve Spongberg observed a large flock of them at Nat’s Farm Field on Oct. 19.

Green-winged teal overhead. — Lanny McDowell

These large swarms of thousands of swallows generally leave our area by early November but smaller flocks numbering up to several dozen may be found into early winter.

Bird Sightings

Waterfowl are on the move and our fall and winter resident species are beginning their arrivals. Several species arrived this past week. Jeff Bernier spotted five wood ducks at Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary early in the morning of Oct. 20. Ken Magnuson also spotted wood ducks at the Edgartown Golf Course on Oct. 19, and Gus BenDavid had some visit his yard that day as well. They are likely migrants as all these birds showed up within a day of each other.

Jeff Bernier also spotted a ring-necked duck at Sheriff’s Meadow.

On Oct. 19, Ken Magnuson spotted 20 red-breasted mergansers at Eel Pond and bufflehead were at the Edgartown Golf Club. Gus BenDavid found three bufflehead at Sunset Lake that day, while Sharon Simonin reports bufflehead at the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station on Oct. 21.

Immature white-crowned sparrow. — Lanny McDowell

Lanny McDowell and Allan Keith birded Chilmark Pond on Oct. 20, where they found a flock of 36 green-winged teal and a flock of six northern pintail.

On Oct. 18 and 19, the group consisting of Lanny McDowell, Bob Shriber, Susan Whiting, and Pete Gilmore spotted solitary northern gannets out in the ocean off Chilmark and Black Point Ponds. My Oct. 20 guided birding tour visited Sepiessa Point, where we scoped the barrier beach from the southern tip of the trail and found at least five adult gannets flying beyond the beach over the ocean. Their distinctive shape and habit of plunge-diving into the water, along with their stark back and white plumage, made them easy to identify with the help of a spotting scope. And Bob Shriber reports a steady stream of gannets and all three species of scoters flying past Pilot’s Landing in Aquinnah on Oct. 21.

Dan Bradley spotted a yellow-billed cuckoo at Cedar Tree Neck on Oct. 19. This may be the best bird of the week. They are always hard to find because they are usually stationary, blending into the foliage of the trees.

On Oct. 19, migrating songbirds near Black Point Pond included first-of-the-season American pipits, as well as red-breasted nuthatches, white-crowned sparrows, blackpoll warbler, blue-headed vireo, ruby-crowned kinglet, and even two peregrine falcons. Lanny McDowell – a busy birder these migration-heavy days – observed these species.

Pectoral sandpiper showing off its pectorals. — Lanny McDowell

Also that same day, Ken Magnuson spotted a marsh wren – an uncommon species on our Island – as well as white-crowned sparrow, Cooper’s hawk, phoebe and yellow-rumped warblers. All were seen at the Edgartown Golf Club.

Margaret Curtin spotted a brown thrasher off North Road in Chilmark on Oct. 19.

Purple finches are still around. Sharon Pearson observed a male purple finch at her feeder on Oct. 19. and Matt Pelikan reports sightings from his yard: purple finch, yellow-rumped warblers and a sharp-shinned hawk.

Happy and Steve Spongberg report that rambunctious robins, two flickers and a few cedar waxwings “were all quite happy feeding on our beetlebung fruits” on Oct. 19 and 20.

Bob Shriber and Susan Whiting found a large flock of 20 pectoral sandpipers on Oct. 16 at Black Point Pond. By Oct. 18, when Lanny McDowell spotted this flock, their numbers had swelled to at least 50, while on the 19th there were about 25. Lanny McDowell and Allan Keith spotted the flock again on Oct. 20, this time at Chilmark Pond. These are unusually high numbers for this species. More typical is the one individual pectoral sandpiper spotted by Ken Magnuson at the Edgartown Golf Course.

Yellow-billed cuckoo playing its game. — Lanny McDowell

A lone solitary sandpiper was spotted by Lanny McDowell in a puddle of water near Old County Road at Whippoorwill Farm; he could watch and photograph the bird from his car on Oct. 18. Later, at Chilmark Pond, he also spotted semipalmated sandpipers, greater yellowlegs and a white-rumped sandpiper.

On the afternoon of Oct. 20 I visited the boat ramp at end of Pease’s Point Way. This was a spontaneous visit as I was driving through the area for other reasons, so I did not have my binoculars (really?) to look out to Little Beach and Eel Pond. I guess I did not need them as there was a flock of four lesser yellowlegs and a lingering American oystercatcher on the beach only 100 feet from my car (but what else was on Little Beach?).

Elizabeth Toomey reports the arrival of a large murder of fish crows, hanging out around the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority dock on Oct. 20. These birds are part of a flock that is here 24/7 from now through the winter. We also get commuter fish (and American) crows that roost nightly on the Island but commute back and forth daily to feed on the Cape. I have no reports of the arrival of these commuter crows but they are due to arrive any day now.

Margaret Curtin reports that a friend of hers heard a barred owl calling off North Road in Chilmark. This is the first report of this species outside of Edgartown. And speaking of owls, Chris Connors reports hearing great horned owls duetting near Canterbury Lane in Vineyard Haven (a new location for this species).

Leslie Pearlson reports a lingering osprey on Oct 17 at the Sailing Camp Park.

Fall and winter resident species are now showing up. Please report all your sightings to

More pictures.

Robert Culbert leads Saturday morning Guided Birding Tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.