As recently as 20 years ago, we would find a roosting flock with a thousand or more terns, primarily common and roseate terns with occasional Forster’s and black terns, on the bay side of Norton Point Beach.

Back then, the highest count of terns I made back was 5,000 birds in one large flock stretching over 1,000 feet along the bay-side shoreline! The terns would constantly arrive from the north and depart to the south.

I did not get any reports of massive flocks of terns this August, which is during the peak of their migration. On August 14, I found 51 common terns along the Mattakessett Bay shoreline. On Sept. 4, there were no terns but, over the ocean, there were 40 foraging terns with a flock of 100 or so laughing gulls.

There were fewer sandpipers and plovers this past month. I do not recall hearing of any flocks of more than 100 of any of the most common species: black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, ruddy turnstone, sanderling or semipalmated sandpipers.

An amazing eight new species for the summer season were sighted this week. Four of the species were shorebirds.

Bobolink — Lanny McDowell

The most notable shorebird is the marbled godwit found by Jeff Peters on Sept. 5, within a flock of black-bellied plovers at Norton Point. The large tawny-brown godwit, with its long up-turned bill, is hard to miss. A buff-breasted sandpiper was spotted on Sept. 4 by Bob Shriber, again at Norton Point. I was there later that day and saw two golden plovers.

The fourth species, a western sandpiper, was carefully observed by Susan McCoy at Squibnocket Beach on Sept. 3. These four species are all new sightings for the year.

The fifth unusual species was a brant, a smallish goose that frequents Ocean Park from fall to spring. But they are not supposed to arrive for almost another month.

All three sightings were on Sept. 4: Walt Looney and Jeff Peters each spotted one at Little Beach, while Shea Fee found two at the Farm Pond Preserve.

Buff-breasted sandpiper — Lanny McDowell

Three landbirds showed up for the first time this migration season. A bobolink was spotted by David Padulo on Sept. 2 at Katama Farm, and by Bob Shriber in Aquinnah on Sept 3. Peter Huntington was out at Quansoo at dusk on Sept. 4 when he spotted a short-eared owl, a now-rare species that used to be a common year-round resident.

I found a northern waterthrush by one of the small wetlands along the road into Cedar Tree Neck on Sept. 5.

Felix Neck has produced a lot of good sightings this week. The Early Birders program had a good day on Sept. 2, highlighted by an adult bald eagle flying over the treeline, three little blue herons, great egret, snowy egret, belted kingfishers, Baltimore oriole, eastern kingbird and a merlin.

That same day, David Padulo spotted three immature yellow-crowned night-herons. After the Foot-It-For-Felix fundraiser on Sept. 4, Steve Allen found two adult and two immature little blue herons that were also spotted by Margaret Curtin, Luanne Johnson and Nancy Weaver. David Bates saw two little blues on Sept. 5. Will Harcourt-Smith added a fish crow to this list on Sept. 3.

As of Sept. 1, an immature yellow-crowned night-heron was still hanging out at Brush Pond, as reported by Lisa Maxfield and her cousin.

Brant — Lanny McDowell

Quite a few red knots are around. On August 31, they were spotted near Dike Bridge and at Norton Point by Francesca Zeta; on Sept. 4 at Norton Point by Warren Woessner, Susan Whiting, Allan and Lucy Keith, and at Little Beach by Walt Looney; and on Sept. 5 at Little Beach by Margaret Curtin, Nancy Weaver and Luanne Johnson.

Ellen Harley reports a solitary sandpiper visited their Ashakomaksett Farm pond on Sept. 3. Shea Fee saw two at Long Point on Sept. 3, as well as a wood duck, a common yellowthroat, a phoebe, and eight pine warblers.

A few piping plovers are still around. Two were spotted by Luanne Johnson at the Edgartown Great Pond barrier beach on August 31, and I saw one on Norton Point on Sept. 4; they will soon depart our shores until next spring.

Occasionally we see gulls and terns zigging and zagging through the air as they feast on swarms of recently-hatched insects. Amy Hewitt reports seeing these aerial maneuvers at sunset on State Beach on Sept. 3, and Kate Meleney observed this the same day at Crystal Lake. Andy Mitchell has been seeing this for a few days. Matt Pelikan thinks that these birds, and dragonflies, are probably chasing after swarming ants.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are ever popular! They have been reported at feeders by David Dee, Alison Frazier-Hayden, Dan Polsby, Mary Makepeace and John Nelson, who still has five juveniles buzzing around. He reports that the adults have all departed for points south.

Marbled godwits — Lanny McDowell

Here is a sure sign of the approaching fall! Mike Tinus had a flock of 600-800 grackles flying over his yard on Sept. 6. Bob Shriber reports of finding black and white warbler, yellowthroats, yellow warbler and a pine warbler in Aquinnah.

This column will soon be shifting from shorebirds to songbirds, as they will be the dominant migrants. Sightings from the western end of the island will predominate.

And finally, please remember that I cannot list all the birds reported to me. Unless, that is, I get the whole back page of this newspaper, over the objections of the adjacent columnists.

Please email your sightings to

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