Without doubt, the spectacular summer/autumn migration that takes place each year along the shores of Cape Ann has begun. Everywhere we turn, there are magnificent creatures foraging along our shoreline. In one day alone on an early morning walk this past week were Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Spotted Sandpipers, and great flocks of Semi-palmated Plovers and Sanderlings. I think I’ll write a little series with a paragraph or two devoted to each species for the upcoming week.
For today though, I wanted to share photos of a flock of Tree Swallows that were gathering at Good Harbor Beach. A friend wrote wanting to know more about the beautiful birds we see massing at both Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches at this time of year.
From 2018 – Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because they occasionally dive bomb the Piping Plovers, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.
Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.
Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.
Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.
Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.
Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.
Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs