Fall storms can raise havoc in harbors as well as on land. The winds of these tempests can bring back birds that have tried to migrate south. This is a treat for birders, but for the birds, not so great. Imagine flying hard to get as far as the Carolinas or Florida just to be blown back from whence you came.

Tree swallows usually migrate in big flocks to Florida and Central America by late September, with a few lingering into October and November. These hardy lingerers have switched their food of choice from insects to bayberries. Yet on Sunday, Oct. 18, at the end of the weekend storm, Flip Harrington and I counted over 400 tree swallows on the phragmites at Black Point Pond. One can’t help wondering if this was the same flock of tree swallows that Bert Fischer had seen further to the southwest 10 days before, or a different group that had been blown in by the storm.

Sengekontacket Pond shore and Sarson’s Island provided somewhat of a lee for flocks of terns. Flip Harrington and I counted 15 juvenile common terns trying to get out of the wind along the eastern shore of Sengekontacket Pond around noon on Sept. 18. The small bit of beach showing on Sarson’s Island provided a spot for another 50 terns. However, limited visibility made it impossible for us to determine the species of tern.

The larger flocks of common terns migrate to the Carolinas, Florida and northern Argentina by late September. Smaller groups do remain in the Northeast, but no Vineyard birder had seen common terns, prior to the storm, for at least three weeks. So the storm brought the common terns back for a brief fall visit.

Matt Pelikan looked for interesting storm-driven birds at Katama on Oct. 18. He spotted a whimbrel, 20 American pipits and 60 black-bellied plovers.

Most whimbrels have left this neck of the woods by mid-September for their migratory trip. A number of whimbrels winter on the beaches of Virginia and south in the U.S. However, many make a straight shot from where they bred to South America, completely over the ocean! Hard to tell whether Matt’s bird was a late migrant, but I would wager it was a blow-back.

American pipits usually arrive on the Vineyard about this time. It is nice to have a good sized flock, and who knows whether these pipits just arrived or were blown in. Black-bellied plovers are around in small numbers year-round. The large flocks are usually seen in the fall (August and September). Recently we have been seeing one or two black-bellied plovers, so Matt’s flock of 60 was likely a result of the storm.

Matt Pelikan also noted that several hundred sea ducks, mostly white-winged scoters, were riding out the storm off South Beach, taking advantage of the lee of the island. Matt said they stretched as far east and west as the eye could see.

At the other end of the Island, on Oct. 20, Bert Fischer counted 150 white-winged scoters in Squibnocket Pond. He also counted three buffleheads and a pair of hooded mergansers, both the first of the season. A belted kingfisher, a pied-billed grebe and 50 scaup species were also in and around the pond.

And finally, a storm-blown hummingbird showed up at Lanny McDowell’s frozen feeder on Oct. 20. Lanny put liquid back in the feeder and the hummer showed up again on Oct. 21. Lanny is sending photos of this bird to off-Island birders, but at present he thinks it is a ruby-throated hummingbird. This species should have left the Island a month ago.

Bird Sightings

John Hughes called on Oct. 12 to report a barnacle goose in with the Canada geese browsing the Farm Neck golf course. I figured it was an escaped bird and tried calling Gus Ben David. He and the rest of the crew that breed birds on the Vineyard are presently off-Island. Meanwhile, Jan Norton called Lanny McDowell to say the barnacle goose was at her pond in Edgartown. Lanny went and photographed the goose and sent it to off-Island birders. Betty Anderson, past director of the Manomet Bird Observatory, wrote back to say that barnacle geese are becoming more common as they are breeding in Newfoundland and Iceland. She also added that there had been one seen in Connecticut recently. This may be a new bird for the Vineyard, but we will have to wait until the waterfowl folks return from their International Wild Waterfowl Conference to know for sure.

I didn’t get the complete information from Scott Stephens last week. He spotted two northern fulmars off Noman’s Land on Oct. 9, a blue-gray gnatcatcher at Aquinnah on Oct. 8 and a clay-colored sparrow at Aquinnah on Oct. 10. More recently, Scott and Penny Uhlendorf had two interesting experiences due to mobbing blue jays. On Oct. 18 the blue jays alerted Scott and Penny to a tree, where, nestled onto one of the branches, was a red morph screech owl. They usually see gray morphs, so this was a treat. Two days later the blue jays were at it again. This time they were bugging a hoary bat. This large bat is a rare fall visitor to the Island.

Tom Rivers checked out Squibnocket Point on Oct. 14 and spotted three vesper sparrows in with chipping and song sparrows and dark-eyed juncos.

Happy Spongberg walked around Tea Lane on Oct. 17 and counted three Cape May warblers and a male common yellowthroat.

Lanny McDowell birded Gay Head on Oct. 21 and had a northern harrier, an American kestrel, a sharp-shinned hawk, two eastern meadowlarks, nine eastern bluebirds, a field sparrow, dark-eyed juncos, both ruby-crowned and orange-crowned kinglets and huge flocks of house finches flying off the Cliffs.

Whit Manter was shocked to count over 700 double-crested cormorants in Tisbury Great Pond on Oct. 19. Hopefully they will move south!

Dick Jennings reported that one of the peregrine falcons he spotted at Wasque on Oct. 9 was the tundra subspecies. This subspecies was the most common in the Northeast years ago, but with chemicals interfering with their reproduction, the population decreased. The western subspecies (Peale’s) was reintroduced to the Northeast and so the birds we have been seeing were a darker version than those of the past. The tundras, which are lighter in plumage, have increased and are prevalent during migration, and Dick was lucky enough to spot one.


Please call the Vineyard bird hotline with your sightings at 508-627-4922 or e-mail them to birds@mvgazette.com.