You never know, so be ready!

There I was, at 12:05 on Nov. 29, taking my second grade class out for recess. Of course, I was not thinking about birds and did not have my binoculars. But there it was: a large bird that looked mostly black, maybe 100 feet above my head, It circled the playground for about 30 seconds before it soared off to the west and out of sight.

I got good looks at the solidly dark wings -- not two-toned like turkey vulture wings -- with a white patch near the wingtips. It soared more laboriously than a turkey vulture does, with alternate flapping and gliding. It also had a fan-shaped tail that was more like a red-tailed hawk. It was the first sighting of a black vulture on the island in several years, as far as I know.

And then it was gone before I could show it to another teacher.

Lark sparrow — Lanny McDowell

Another unexpected sighting comes from Bob Shriber. He was birding near the Moshup Trail entrance to the dirt parking lot at the Gay Head Cliffs on Nov. 29 when he found a lark sparrow, a western stray from the midwestern prairies. This is the second lark sparrow sighting of the season; Bob found the first one, too.

Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens spotted the first fox sparrow of the season at their feeders on Nov. 28, as well as pine warbler, brown creeper, yellow-bellied sapsucker and winter wren.

Another species from the north is the evening grosbeak, a close relative of our cardinal. We do not have a confirmed sighting yet but they are entering southward from the boreal forests of Canada. Lanny McDowell thinks he saw two small flocks of them flying near his house on Nov. 27.

Small numbers of horned larks breed on State Beach near the Big Bridge and on other beaches. In the fall and winter, flocks of them are found in agricultural fields. Tracy Winn reports finding two on Nov. 25 near Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah. Also seen were red-breasted mergansers, red-throated loons, common loons and double-crested cormorants.

On the evening of Nov. 22, Bob Shriber spotted a woodcock at the parking lot at Philbin Beach. He saw a common raven near the Gay Head Cliffs on Nov 23.

Eagles are year-round residents of the Vineyard now. Shea Fee, Margaret Curtin and Luanne Johnson spotted two adults at Thimble Farm on Nov. 28. The next day Greg Dankert spotted two adult bald eagles at the Oak Bluffs pumping station.

Winter wren — Lanny McDowell

There have been three sightings of a merlin this week. John Nelson saw a very dark merlin at Katama farm on Nov. 22. I had one blow past Ocean Park on Nov. 24 and it was an understatement to say that the pigeons did not like it. Warren Woessner found one at Katama Farm on Nov. 28.

Two species of swallows are still hanging around. Warren Woessner spotted a barn swallow at Katama Farm on Nov. 23 and Olsen Houghton observed five tree swallows at Long Point on Nov. 28. Also lingering are the four red-winged blackbirds, a catbird and a towhee that I saw at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Nov. 28.

Luanne Johnson and Shea Fee saw three greater yellowlegs at Lobsterville on Nov. 21. Gannets are also still moving past our shores: Will Harcourt-Smith saw 15 from Red Gate Farm on Nov. 24, 18 from Lobsterville Beach on Nov. 27 and 12 flew past the Gay Head Cliffs.

On Nov. 25, Susan Whiting and Geoff Muldaur spotted 10 gannets in the ocean off Black Point Pond. Shea Fee, Margaret Curtin and Luanne Johnson spotted a Bonaparte’s gull on Lake Tashmoo near Lake street on Nov. 23.

Bluebirds are showing up in many locales, often in mixed species flocks. Holly Mercer has about a dozen visiting her feeders every winter; the first three of this season showed up on Nov. 23. At Katama Farm the next day, Jeff Bernier saw bluebirds and palm warblers while Daisy Kimberly found goldfinches with the bluebirds. Alex Lin-Moore observed a large flock of 50 cedar waxwings at Sepiessa Point on Nov. 25.

Long-tailed duck — Lanny McDowell

On Nov. 27, I led a bird walk for Felix Neck’s 40th annual Fall Festival. Our best sightings were bluebirds, robins and cedar waxwings. Richard Price found the same flock the next day. Numerous other sightings of these species were found on Nov. 28: Olsen Houghton had bluebirds at Long Point while Shea Fee, Margaret Curtin and Luanne Johnson visited Thimble Farm and saw bluebirds, robins and palm warblers. Erik Claussen had cedar waxwings, robins and palm warblers visiting his feeders on Nov. 28.

Birders are always on the lookout for snow geese. On Nov. 22 John Nelson found an adult snow goose along with the immature that has been hanging out with the Canada geese for quite a while. The next day Warren Woessner saw one snow goose with the geese.

In other waterfowl news, Olsen Houghton spotted a huge flock of 101 hooded mergansers at Long Point on Nov. 28. Long-tailed ducks have been seen in several locations. Luanne Johnson found six long-tailed ducks at the Vineyard Haven harbor on Nov. 24. Alex Lin-Moore found seven on Nov. 28 and the next day he found one at Sepiessa Point.

Hooded mergansers — Lanny McDowell

Susan Whiting and Geoff Muldaur found two gadwall, 10 American wigeons, 40 black ducks and 10 hooded mergansers at Black Point Pond on Nov. 25. While on the ocean side, they counted a remarkable 20 red-throated loons and 30 common loons. My highlights at the Oak Bluffs pumping station on Nov. 28 were a gadwall and a green-winged teal.

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