Angel Bird

by Lanny McDowell on September 4, 2010


Thousands, higher numbers than I comprehend, of tree swallows were staging today near Crackatuxet Cove, an area at the southeast corner of Edgartown Great Pond accessible from the “right fork” at Katama.   A bunch of the Vineyard’s regular birders tried Aquinnah and Red Beach looking for storm birds this morning.  Two Black Terns and two Spotted Sandpipers are the only finds worth mentioning.  We then traversed the Island to the Farm Institute, which was way less than spectacular.  Disappointed, some of us drove the Atlantic leg of the Katama triangle and saw, far off, a swarm of swallows.  From the car and outside on foot we got the intimate and unusual view of standing within a giant flock of swallows.  Their movements reminded me of fans doing the “wave” in a stadium.  Just before leaving the area we swung the cars into a puddled parking lot where Warren, Pete and I had repeatedly seen Snow Buntings last winter, because there was another small horde of swallows on the ground.  Right in the middle was this pale angel which Pete called almost immediately from the Jeep.

The white bird seemed to take a fair amount of heat from the dark swallows,  occasionally while on the ground and frequently while in the air.  I do not know if it was curiosity or harassment.

The bill had some light color, increasing toward the base; the feet appeared pinkish; the eye looked dark to me, although more of a brown than the others’ beady black; and the underwing linings and some other plumage were a brownish pinky buff.  If you are interested in the definitions of albino and leucistic, you can apply them here as desired.  Either way, this is a sweet little avian anomaly, a glowing apparition that we could distinguish far off into the distance when it moved on with its fellows.

Can I say for sure it’s a Tree Swallow? Well, no, not really, although I would take the bet.  There were no other swallow species seen among the thousands that surrounded us.

One in a million?  Who knows?

Kat 090410 127c

Kat 090410 182c

Kat 090410 208c

Get off my case!

Kat 090410 214cs

Up, up & away!

Kat 090410 225c

Kat 090410 216cs

Kat 090410 173cs

Kat 090410 176c

And white birds are very cool!  Lan

These images and Lanny McDowell Avian Art fine art prints are available for purchase. Contact me or View my gallery.

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Tom Pirro 09.09.10 at 12:13 pm

What a beauty..cerainly shaped like a TRSW!


Dick Knight, Chappaquiddick 09.27.10 at 6:58 pm

Hi Lanny,
Have enjoyed your photos. We have a swamp behind our house which is used by Great Egrets as a roost. Tonight there are over 20, and they have used this area for at least the past 5 years. We have seen as many as 27 at once here. They will stay until it starts to get colder, sometimes a few staying as late as Haloween. It seems like a great photo opportunity and you are welcome to come over and see them. They usually start arriving in the evening around 5:30, and continue to arrive until it is dark. They are getting easier to see as the leaves drop off.


Lanny McDowell 09.28.10 at 7:21 am

“Great” idea, Dick. Sounds like a gas – giant white birds coming together in the failing low light! BTW, the last time I was over on Chappy, about ten days ago, we scoped across Poucha Pond from East Beach to count 16-17 Great Egrets feeding together midday in the tidal shallows of the marsh. Quite a sight, even at that distance. Tell me how we can arrange a sunset visit. Give me a ring if you like.

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