Funny how things end up! I was out birding on the afternoon of Oct. 19, working my way down State Beach with little luck. I was not planning on going to Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary, but went there just because I had not been there for more than two months. I am glad I did, because that is where the birds were.

Just a short way down the trail from the parking lot were two yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a male and a female foraging in plain view on a tree just a few feet above the ground.

I then turned left and started to go around the pond when I came to the area that was cleared earlier this year. Looking out across the pond, a large streamlined bird caught my eye as it swooped and darted about 50 feet above the pond. Its acrobatic flight was truly amazing to watch. Then the common nighthawk was joined by another, and the two continued to put on a show for about half an hour. This species is considered to be an uncommon transient on the Island, and it is not seen every year. Its long pointed wings and long tail makes one think of a falcon, but it is closely related to the whip-poor-will. The acrobatic nighthawk’s flight also reminds me of the tree swallows that flock together, dipping and darting as they move westward across the Vineyard at this time of the year.

It would be difficult to top the excitement of seeing the nighthawks, a species that I had not seen on the Island for several decades, but there is more. I also added my first yellow-rumped warbler and green-winged teal of the season. And an immature yellow-crowned night-heron was perched right next to an immature black-crowned night-heron, enabling a great comparison of these two very similar species. And to think that I almost did not go there. After that I went to Little Beach and spotted five species of shorebirds: greater yellowlegs, black-bellied plover, ruddy turnstone, sanderling and dunlin. Not bad for this time of the year.

Fish crow on the wing. — Lanny McDowell

Bird Sightings

Sapsuckers must be moving through as they have mostly departed for southern climes. Happy Spongberg also reports one from her yard on Oct. 20. The next day she spotted a scarlet tanager bathing in a puddle on Old Farm Road.

Susan Whiting visited the Gay Head Cliffs on Oct. 19, and her highlights were multiple sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawks chasing each other. She also reports her first dark-eyed junco visiting her feeder. Gus Ben David reports his first junco of the season at his house, and a rose-breasted grosbeak showed up that day. He has also had two peregrine falcons chasing his pigeons.

Chris Daly observed a northern harrier flying over a marsh behind Philbin Beach on Oct. 19, and he saw a ring-necked pheasant moments later along Moshup Trail.

Lanny McDowell notes that multiple palm warblers were at the Farm Institute on Oct. 20, while a winter wren and an eastern phoebe were at Cranberry Acres on Oct. 19. A few days before, on Oct. 15, he spotted a marsh wren and an American coot in the cattails near the old herring run along the causeway at the Oak Bluffs pumping station.

Common nighthawk. — Lanny McDowell

The first fox sparrow of the season was spotted by John Nelson on Oct. 19. It was foraging on the ground near Eel Pond. He also observed a huge flock of tree swallows at the Katama Airpark. On Oct. 15 he spotted a lone black skimmer and a kingfisher near the Little Bridge.

Mike Savoy saw a raven near Main street in Vineyard Haven on Oct. 19. Apparently this species is frequenting Vineyard Haven as I have seen two ravens hanging out around the water tanks by the park-and ride lot.

There have been two sightings of a black-throated blue warbler recently. Michael Whittemore spotted one at Duarte’s Pond on Oct. 19, and the previous day Michael Craughwell had an adult male fly into a window. Fortunately, it recovered and flew off.

Also at Duarte’s Pond on Oct. 18, Elizabeth Stocker spotted several wood ducks.

On Oct. 17, Margaret Curtin spotted the first of our winter resident fish crows at the Vineyard Haven post office. On Oct. 19, I observed a flock of 40 fish crows near the Steamship Authority dock, the same day that Anne Whiting saw a similar sized flock cruising through Oak Bluffs. On Oct. 20, Warren Gossen spotted a remarkably tame fish crow near the Oak Bluffs harbor, and the next day he observed a flock of them at Veteran’s Memorial Park. Susan Straight saw two oystercatchers near Lucy Vincent Beach on Oct. 15.

Dark eyed junco. — Lanny McDowell

Fred and Anne Kantrowitz spotted a kingfisher and three great blue herons on Chappaquiddick on Oct. 14.

Norma Holmes concludes this column with her sighting of a barn owl and a great blue heron just before sunrise on Oct. 13.

Southbound migrants are becoming more scarce but they can still be abundant on some days! Please report your sightings to

More photos.

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant with Nature Watch LLC living in Vineyard Haven.