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Birds of a Feather

In the autumn, Cape Cod is a birdwatcher’s paradise.

In the autumn, Cape Cod is a birdwatcher’s paradise

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons Member Dr. Dad (Daniel A. A’Auria MD)

Last September, Mike O’Connor’s endless curiosity about the bird world and hunger for surprise sent him to Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable, a birding locale that rarely disappoints. What winged creatures on this fall day would be making their way along the long stretch of sand as they eventually head further south, like so many (human) snowbirds?

O’Connor, who’s been birding for years and loves to tell avian stories at his Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans, was certainly going to have one to tell after this day. As he made his way over the dunes, he noticed thousands of birds suddenly filling the sunless sky. Like so many flying insects, they seemed to blanket the heavens. But these were not creatures from some angry biblical passage—far from it. They were tree swallows—small songbirds whose iridescent green color gives them a look of jewel stones. But en masse, they appeared to be something much different.

“It almost looks like smoke it’s so thick,” O’Connor recalls. “It would look like a swarm of locusts, almost, because there are so many of them. But they’re silent.”

The tree swallow migration in the fall is just one of the extraordinary Cape birding experiences marking summer’s end and winter’s approach. The species is among many that show up here from more northern climes on their way to Florida, and Central and South America. Their presence excites outdoor enthusiasts and even the most seasoned birders like O’Connor.

“The rest of the world doesn’t even know what’s going on and you can hit these pockets of birds,” O’Connor says of his tree swallow experience. “It’s a little bit serendipitous, but it happens. For the average person, it’s almost mind-boggling.”

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