Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Warblers and Wort, 5/12/19


The reincarnation of our spring “Warblers and Wort” tour in our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, was quite successful last Sunday. On this “Mother’s Day Special” tour, we decided to stay local, visiting some of Portland’s most famous institutions in both the beer and birding worlds.

We began in the urban greenspace – a classic “migrant trap” – of Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery.  Spring remains behind schedule this year, and it was a chilly start to the day – but hey, it wasn’t raining for a change!  While warbler diversity was lower than expected for the advancing date, we did eek out 10 species of warblers. Almost everything we did see, however, we saw incredibly well. Nashville and Magnolia Warblers performed well, but Ovenbirds stole the warbler show: we had several birds out in the open for prolonged, enjoyable views, about as good as can ever be expected when stomping a large group through the woods.

Only Veeries outshined Ovenbirds today in their cooperation. This often-shy thrush was anything but. We saw at least 6, and all were seen incredibly well, including two strolling out in the lawn like the robin they are related to. Many folks commented that they had never seen Veeries – or most any thrush! – so well. There were several sizable groups of White-throated Sparrows marching through the woods, including one group of 20-30 that we were surrounded by at one point. All of their leaf scratching was loud enough that it sounded like some large mammals were tromping through the understory. The song of a newly-arrived Wood Thrush and the old-timey football helmet sported by a White-crowned Sparrow were among the other highlights.

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Our second stop in the birding portion of the tour was another urban oasis, nearby Capisic Pond Park. Again, we were treated to fantastic views of almost every species we encountered, highlighted by a male Orchard Oriole (a “life bird” for many on the trip). A pair breeds here almost every year, but it’s the only known regular breeding location for this southern species in the state, so it was a real treat to find and see so well. We also heard and saw several of the more common Baltimore Orioles, and even saw a nest under construction that was using strips of blue tarp! (How Maine is that?)

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A fly-by Green Heron and an ultra-cooperative Least Flycatcher were other highlights, along with common species such as cardinals and Yellow Warblers. The Least Fly was confiding enough to allow us to get into the topic of “tertial step and primary projection,” adding to our toolkit of identification techniques. The genus Empidonax is one of the most challenging in the bird world, but this structural starting point quickly narrows the choices to a very manageable number. And I always take the time to show off one of my favorite colors in nature: the eye of the Double-crested Cormorant.

Perhaps sour beers are the “tertial step and primary projection on Empidonax flycatchers” to many beer drinkers: it’s a more nuanced approach and probably doesn’t appeal to everyone. But our BOT-Roadtrips want introduce our clients to as wide of a range of beer types as bird species, so we had a special experience in store for the group as we rolled into Bissell Brothers Brewing at Thompson’s Point.

First up, each participant got to choose a different beer based on their tastes or what “lifers” they had not yet tried. There were at least five different brews sampled by my quick count, and the whole gamut of styles was represented. Personally, I chose the new Lucent, a Helles Style Lager as it was light and refreshing (and therefore good for a leader who had to articulate – or try to – for the next few hours). Crisp, clean, with a nice lemony bite, this was a great representation of the style.

But then our trusty beer leader for the day, Don, pulled out a surprise: a Magnum bottle of Bissell’s famous Seed. Brewed only once a year featuring “over 2,000 lbs of strawberries and raspberries from Bradbury Mountain Farm in Pownal,” Bissell was doing a special bottle pour event today, and so of course we had to partake. The faces of some folks was predictable when faced with the words “fruited sour beer,” and were equivalent to the deer-in-headlights looks when hearing “primary projection” for the first time. Some even refused. And then we gave them some anyway.  And some of those then had some more.

It’s not for everyone, but I was really pleased by how excited people were to try a “rarity” that they would otherwise likely never have a chance at (like Orchard Orioles without going to Capisic). More importantly, the discussion of the beer that continued as we boarded the bus was how eye-opening the beer was for so many. Pleasantly tart, with a nice clean finish and a real depth of strawberry flavor, we every well may have created some sour fans (or at least sour-curious) on this trip.

Next up was Goodfire Brewing, one of Portland’s hottest up-and-comers, and admittedly, one of my personal favorites to visit. In a more traditional visit for our beer tours, we enjoyed four small 4oz pours, which nicely showcased the range of styles offered here.  As Chrissy led us on a tour of the brew house, we discussed the differences and similarities of each sample we tried, as well as the history of the names and label art.

We began with the perfectly balanced flagship beer, Prime IPA. The Citra and Amarillo hops really shine through, thanks to the clean and rather light malt bill that still ends without any bitterness.

Having learned that hops don’t necessary equal bitter, we dove into deeper discussion of hops with Goodfire’s latest single-hopped brew in their Minimum series. This incarnation featured Idaho 7 hops – itself an up and comer in the beer world – that has a nice flavor balance of citrus and pine with a hint of tropical fruit.  If IPAs were Empidonax flycatchers, hops would be their primary projection. Or something, OK, fine, maybe I am stretching these analogies too far now…

Moving on, we lightened things up a bit with Can’t Stay Long, a classic clean and crisp German Pilsner with a somewhat bready finish. Pilsners are a tried and true style that might not be all that hip and trendy, but should still be appreciated – like a common Northern Cardinal sitting in the sun (OK, last one, I swear).

It was appropriate that after our sour revelations at Bissell, Goodfire would finish us up with a sample of their new fruited sour: Astro 5 – Double Blackberry. This was all the way blackberry, pleasantly tart, but with a clean finish that made you come back for more. In fact, more Astro was purchased to go than all other beers combined today!  So I guess sours aren’t all that scary! And neither are Empidonax flycatch.….dammit, I did it again.

As usual, our Roadtrips never have enough time for it all, neither beer nor birds, but today we had a delightful sampling of each. And based on the feedback received, I think there’s a fair chance you’ll see this itinerary return next year, and likely on Mother’s Day, so get it in on your schedule now!

Until then, perhaps we’ll see you on June’s Grassland and Grains – one of our most popular, annual outings that are always a blast, with both great birds and some great beer, and never with a dull moment. See you then!

Why There are so Many Warblers at Feeders in Maine Right Now (5/3/19).

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On another damp and dreary morning at Florida Lake Park in Freeport on Thursday, I encountered 25-30 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 15 or so Palm Warblers. That was my best total of the season there so far, but in the last week of April through first week of May, I often see tallies of each into the triple digits.

On Friday it was drier, but still cool and raw at Morgan Meadow WMA. I finally hit 5 species of warblers on a morning with my first-of-year (finally) Black-and-white Warbler.  About 20-25 Yellow-rumped and about 15 Palm Warblers were present. For perspective, on 5/3 last year, I hit 10 species of warblers at Florida Lake.

These are two of my favorite mid-spring migration patches, and in most years, I am at Florida Lake Park nearly every day. But this “spring”, it has been lackluster at best; worthless at worst. There just aren’t many birds around.

But it is definitely the spring for warblers at feeders!  After our Facebook post on Wednesday garnered lots of attention and feedback, I thought I would expand a little, as clearly this is a very unusual – perhaps even unprecedented – event.

While Pine Warblers are regular at feeders, especially in early spring – and quite a few of us see some Yellow-rumped Warblers at feeders every year – we cannot recall a spring in which so many people are reporting so many of each at feeders throughout southern Maine.  In fact, many folks are reporting Yellow-rumped Warblers at their feeders for the “first time ever.”  Even more unusual, we’ve had reports of Palm Warblers at feeders, too – something that is almost never seen.
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Pine Warbler is our only regular, wide-spread “feeder warbler” in most seasons

At home in Pownal, we’re up to 20 Yellow-rumped (and our usual pair of Pines), with as many as 8 Yellow-rumps frequenting the feeders at the store this week. We see them annually on our feeders at home, especially on damp and cold mornings, but this year the flock has been slowly but steadily building and has been consistently present for almost 3 weeks. In both locales, a diversity of food is being consumed by this normally-insectivorous (at least in spring and summer) species. In rough order of popularity, they are eating: live mealworms, dried mealworms, insect suet, Nutsie and Mr. Bird nut blocks (especially the Bugs, Nuts,&Fruit block), peanut splits, Birdberry jelly, and even some seed. While a little hulled sunflower isn’t surprising, at home, we even have them gobbling up white proso millet from our tray feeder!
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In fact, until Thursday, I’ve had more Yellow-rumps at our feeders than on any morning at Florida Lake Park! And this is instructive.

Midges are not yet emerging from the pond there, and even through some Red Maples are finally blooming, insect activity has been minimal or even non-existent at this important early-flowering tree. The phenology (to put it simply, the timing of things in nature over the course of the year) is off –way off – this spring. Food resources are not keeping up with the calendar.
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The jet stream is stuck to our south, resulting in unseasonable cool and very unsettled weather, with a steady progression of storm systems and disturbances crossing our area. This pattern is impeding the progress of our spring, and of migrants arriving from the south (I have yet to even see a Black-and-white Warbler this year, for example!). But the cool and wet weather is resulting in natural food sources being well behind schedule, so the birds that are here – on time in many cases – are searching for alternative food sources. And therefore: warblers at feeders.
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This diagram of the jet stream from 4/30 shows the tight gradient and zonal flow that has been dominating our weather pattern and is preventing the arrival of warm temperatures and “spring.”

Or, as better explained by the National Weather Service office in Gray:

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Meanwhile, cherries, apples, crabapples, Serviceberry, and other important early-season flowering trees aren’t even close to blooming. Nectar, pollen, and even the petals and new buds are consumed, but more importantly for most of our migrants, those flowers attract insects that are then eaten by birds. The forecast is for some better conditions for migration in the coming days, and that will start to deliver us newly returning migrants, but those birds will also have fewer food sources than normal.

In seasons like this, the supplemental food from well-stocked feeding stations becomes more important than usual. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are already being reported; what would those birds do without a nectar feeder (no red dye!!!!) right now? And of course, who knows what kind of condition all of these hungry Yellow-rumped Warblers would be in right now without feeders.
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Soon, other migrants such as orioles, tanagers, catbirds, and a wide array of warblers (or Neotropical migrants) will be arriving, and they need food after their long journeys. Especially until spring catches up (those long-distance migrants have no idea how delayed our season is up here), feeders will continue to be important for migrants – and unexpectedly productive birding hotspots.
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There are a lot of hungry birds out there right now, and without a doubt, many of us will get to enjoy species we don’t usually get to see, or at least no so closely. So put your jacket on, come by the store for some high-quality foodstuffs (our insect suet is flying off the shelves right now!) and keep that feeding station well-stocked.  Our migrants thank you.
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2019 Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Series

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2019 in our popular “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

For 2019, we have added a brand new “Rarity Roundup” tour in November, and completely overhauled the brewery (and distillery) destination for almost every tour. We’ll visit breweries from Newcastle to York, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Classics such as Spring and Fall editions of “Ducks and Draughts” and “Grassland and Grains” remain and continue to be some of our most popular options.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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So without any further ado, the ten tours for 2019 are as follows:

“Gulls and Growlers”
Saturday, January 19, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm
(Snowdate: none)

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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles. Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks. In addition, if time permits, we’ll seek out some Snowy Owls if they are being seen near our route.

And, there are a few spots still remaining for this tour, now just 3 days away!

Breweries: Cushnoc Brewing and Moderation Brewing in Brunswick.

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 10, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm
(Snowdate February 17)

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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: Wiggly Bridge Distilling in York and Dirigo Brewing in Biddeford.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 7, 2019; 9:30am – 4:00pm

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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle and Bath Brewing Company in Bath.

Warblers and Wort
Sunday, May 12, 2019; 8:00am – 2:00pm
MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL!

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May means warbler migration, and the new destination for Warblers and Wort will hit two of Maine’s most famous springtime migrant traps, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery and nearby Capisic Pond Park. Two oases in the urban jungle, featuring water sources and a mix of various habitats, help concentrate migrant birds that found themselves in or over the city come sunrise. After migrating all night, tired travelers looks for refuge: food, water, and shelter, and urban greenspaces are absolutely critical for refueling. While we’re a little early in the month for the largest diversity of warblers, early May could produce incredible numbers of some of the first arrivals, especially Palm and Yellow-rumped. 10-12 species of warblers are certainly possible by this early date, depending on the progression of the season. However, other migrants, such as sparrows, raptors, and other Neotropical Migrants such as orioles and tanagers are also on the move, increasing our chances of seeing a diversity of species. If the cemetery’s apples and cherries are already blooming, we may be in for quite a treat as these are absolute magnets for hungry migrants. It’s sometimes hard to leave Evergreen on a busy spring morning, but if we do, it will be for the very short trip over to Capisic Pond Park, where we’ll continue to seek migrants of all shapes and sizes.

Breweries: Bissell Brothers Brewing and Austin Street Brewery, Portland.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 2nd, 2019; 8:00am – 2:30pm

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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow in Lyman and Batson River Brewing in Biddeford.

“Terns and Taps”
Sunday, July 7, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm

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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds. Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barreled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Steins”
Sunday, August 4, 2019; 9:00am – 3:00pm

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The original BoT Roadtrip! in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Sod-pipers and Sips”
Sunday September 8th – 9:00am to 4:00pm

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We’ll be a little more specific in our targets for this trip, as we’re heading this way to seek the sought-after group of birds affectionately known as “Grasspipers,” but for both accuracy and alliteration, we’re calling them “sod-pipers.” Our goals include the uncommon American Golden-Plover, but we’re heading to one of the most reliable places in the state for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Baird’s Sandpiper, two rare-but-regular species that visit us in very small numbers each fall. While Killdeer is probably our only sure bet, other shorebirds are always hoped for, with our focus on the fields and turf farms that are best for Buff-breasted and Baird’s. In the open areas we’ll also look for Sandhill Cranes (a flock usually begins to assemble here by early September), American Pipits, and Horned Larks, while riparian edges could produce some migrant warblers. Raptors are regular as well, including Bald Eagles and American Kestrels.

Ebenezer’s regularly tops almost every list of best beer bars in the world, so instead of visiting where beer is made as our first stop, we’ll visit a place where one of the world’s finest beers are sold.
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Breweries: Ebenezer’s Brewpub in Lovell and Saco River Brewing Co in Fryeburg.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, October 20, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm

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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Side by Each Brewing in Auburn and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Rarity Roundup” (*NEW TOUR*)
Sunday, November 3rd, 2019; 8:00am – 3:00pm

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A brand-new itinerary for 2019, we’re going to try something a little different. Early November is a fantastic time of year in Maine for vagrants – birds normally seen in far-off places. Due to a combination of weather patterns, changing seasonal food resources, falling temperatures, and other factors – some of which are not completely understood – birds that may have ended up in Maine by “accident” begin to concentrate at the coast in “migrant traps” and “hotspots.” In other words, this is the time of year to expect the unexpected.

A traditional “Rarity Roundup” involves teams of birders heading out on a given day during rarity prime time, looking for species that are not supposed to be around. And in honor of that tradition, that’s exactly what we are going to do on this unique tour. We may “chase” a rarity (go to see something that has already been found, aka “twitch”) or we might choose a destination known for rare birds in an attempt to find one of our own. Or perhaps, we’ll do both!

Anything between Portland and Wells is fair game, unless something truly epic is a little further in a different direction. And we might not even know where we will head until we are on the bus and the latest rare bird alert is received. For those who love adding a bird to your Life or State List, and/or basking in the thrill of discovery, well then this is the tour for you! In between seeing great birds, we’ll discuss the complex factors that are involved in delivering rarities to an area, and how we go about finding them.

And to mix things up even more, we’ll be visiting one of our favorite breweries, but also a kombuchery where this very low-alcohol fermented tea beverage is produced

Breweries: Root Wild Kombucha and Goodfire Brewing in Portland.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including easy on-line registration), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website.

And for a little history about how this partnership developed and continues to grow, check out this blog entry from early 2016, as we introduced the first full season on 6 Roadtrips.
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We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!

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2019 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

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Great friggin’ Black Hawk. In Maine. Nope, not on my predictions list. And not in a city. And not eating squirrels. And not in the snow…

Yup, it’s that time of year again. Hey, remember when we couldn’t wait for 2017 to end? And then 2018 happened? Yeah, well…come on 2019 – we need you! But 2018 did feature some incredible birding in Maine, with some “Mega” rarities that at least provided temporary distraction from everything else.

And as 2018 comes to a close, it’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine, and my own personal state list, in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2018 Predictions post, and see how I did.

For the second year in a row, an impressive five birds were new to Maine in 2018. The first new bird of the year was a Violet-green Swallow in Bar Harbor on April 14th. I had that on my long Honorable Mention list, but I did not have it ranked in the top 25.

But I did have Roseate Spoonbill at #4, and one arrived in a farm pond Sebec on August 27th (NOT where I would have predicted the first record to be!). I, and many others, were lucky enough to see this bird during its stay of several weeks.

A Western Wood-pewee in June in Jonesport on June 12th provided the state’s first confirmed record, but it wasn’t chaseable. This was #17 on my Predictions List, but it would have been much higher if it was easier to identify, and especially confirm!

Monhegan got on the scoreboard once again when it hosted the state’s first Gray Flycatcher on October 4th – #20 on my list. I feel western Empids are under-detected in Maine, so this was probably more overdue than unexpected.

And the fifth, and certainly not least, was the incredible and mind-blowing Great Black Hawk that first showed up in Biddeford on August 6th and remained for a few exciting days. After a tantalizing sighting on October 30th on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, the bird has called Deering Oaks Park – and nearby neighborhoods – home since November 29th! Thousands of birders from across the continent have been treated to this insane occurrence. Not only is it a first for Maine, but it has been conclusively identified as the SAME BIRD that provided North America’s (US and Canada in birder-speak) first record on South Padre Island in Texas in April of this year. And no, I have no explanation for this…or how it’s still alive.
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So I went 3 for 5 on predictions for 2018. Not too bad! The Violet-green Swallow was on my Honorable Mentions list as well, but no, I – nor not another person on this planet – predicted a Great Black Hawk in Maine! And I was so very close on my #1: Neotropic Cormorant. Literally close, as in just a few miles, as New Hampshire’s first was discovered in Gorham in August, just up the Androscoggin River from the Maine border.

Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2019 is now:

1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Spotted Towhee
5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
6) Bermuda Petrel
7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
8) Common Shelduck
9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
16) Redwing
17) Spotted Redshank
18) Zone-tailed Hawk
19) Painted Redstart
20) Ross’s Gull (another one that was very close, being seen in NH/MA waters in November)
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Personally, I added 3 species to my own Maine list this year as well. There was the aforementioned Roseate Spoonbill that we caught up with “on the way” back from a weekend of birding fun with friends in Washington County on August 29th. This was #22 on my predictions list for myself.
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A territorial Chuck-will’s-widow that was found in Orland on June 9th luckily stayed around, singing its heart out, long enough for me, and a carload of friends, to enjoy it on the evening of June 26th. It was on my honorable mention list, but no credit is given for that.

Then there was the Great Black Hawk that I definitely dropped everything to chase back in August, and I have visited several times since in Portland. Just because it’s a Great Black Hawk in Portland! And no, it wasn’t on my personal predictions list either, obviously.
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Then, as always, there were the misses. My Great Skua (#1) nemesis continues, with several weathered-out boat trips out of Bar Harbor late in the fall once again. But, I do have a Bonxie on my state list now!
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Rapidly rising up the list of nemesises, however, is American White Pelican (#5)! One was in Wells while I was leading a tour on on Monhegan in May, and then Jeanette and I dipped on one in December, also in the Webhannet Marsh in Wells. We got a chance to look for it the day after it left (and arrived in New Hampshire) after about 24 hours in the Maine. On Christmas Eve, it was spotted briefly about a half hour after we drove through Portland on our way south, and was seen by a lucky few on Christmas Morning. Jeannette and I go away on Thursday – I have no doubt it will show up and remain visible for several days while I am gone.

I missed another Slaty-backed Gull (#12) as well, one that showed up in February while Jeannette and I were on vacation. A Brown Booby (Honorable Mention) off Bar Harbor in June wasn’t chaseable.

So now, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine receives only minor changes:
1) Great Skua
2) Eurasian Collared-Dove
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) American White Pelican
6) Neotropic Cormorant
7) Tundra Swan
8) Franklin’s Gull
9) Brown Pelican
10) California Gull
11) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
12) Slaty-backed Gull
13) Boreal Owl
14) Calliope Hummingbird
15) Cerulean Warbler
16) White Ibis
17) Gull-billed Tern
18) Hammond’s Flycatcher
19) Spotted Towhee
20) Wood Stork
21) Common Ringed Plover
22) Yellow Rail
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

But, we are in often-unpredictable times, and this includes the bird world. Increased trans-Atlantic shipping could offer respite for a bird to arrive “ship-assisted” (we’ll save that discussion for another day, but in my opinion, we’re in the Anthropocene, so riding a cargo ship is just as “natural” as flying a thousands miles in the wrong direction on its own). The globe is warming – droughts, fires, floods, extreme hot and cold temperatures, the opening of the “Northwest Passage…” Could pesticides impact a bird’s ability to navigate? Recent research suggests so. So really, I could probably put any of the world’s 10,000+ birds on my predictions list and have a chance at this point!

Without vagrancy, no remote islands would have birds. No Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s Finches. These anomalies that excite us birders are not always evolutionary dead ends, but perhaps the vanguard, the pioneers, of a new species that in 10,000 to 1 million or so years, might be added to my next 25 species in Maine list!

Are There “No Birds Out There?” – A Day on a Christmas Bird Count as a Case Study.


It was a record year for Evening Grosbeaks in our CBC territory.

On Sunday, December 30th, Erin Walter joined me for the Freeport-Brunswick Christmas Bird Count (CBC). My annual territory covers most of Freeport west of I-295, with a small bite of Yarmouth, a sliver of Pownal, and a corner of Durham. It’s suburban and ex-urban, almost exclusively residential, and public open space is limited to Hedgehog Mountain Park and adjacent playing fields, Florida Lake Park, and Hidden Pond Preserve.

Like all of the CBCs I do, we walk…a lot. And this year was no exception. While the rest of the team abandoned me (the car was full just the day before!), Erin stuck with the deathmarch to its chilly end, and Jeannette (and Bonxie) covered the Hedgehog Mountain Park area in the early morning for us. With just a team of two for the day, Erin and I spent most of our time split up, dividing the length of roads we cover by walking mile stretches and leap-frogging each other with a car. Using that strategy, we cover a majority of the sector’s roads, and we cover it thoroughly: woodlots, fields, feeders, yards, etc, are all checked.

In the end, we walked up to 12 miles each, with a total of 17.5 miles covered by the two of us, and another 2 covered by Jeannette.  About 18 miles were covered by car. In other words, we spent most of the day outside, working each and every mixed-species foraging flock we encountered.

I have covered this sector for 13 of the past 14 years, and each year I have done it the same way. It’s nothing if not thorough as less than 8 hours of useable daylight can offer. Therefore, the 13 years of data provide an interesting little dataset, one that can be compared and dissected. That’s why I like to do this relatively unproductive (by coastal Maine standards) territory. And, this is why I am writing this blog today: because I think the consistency and standardization provides a way to contrast seasons more than just anecdotally.

With a cold – but not brutally so, it was -16F when we started last year! – and calm day, weather wouldn’t be a factor in limiting detections, so our count should be a little snapshot of “what’s going on out there.”  It’s a good way for me to collect data for my preconceived notions, or find out that I need to refute them. So what IS going on out there?

Total species were just below average for us, while total individuals were a little above average. Let’s try and break it down a bit.

After a very cold start to the winter, it’s been mostly above normal, and we’re down to just a patchy layer of icy snow. Some running fresh water is open, but most small ponds are still frozen. But our section has limited water, so waterbird numbers are uninspiring no matter what. The Cousin’s River Marsh west of the interstate was mostly frozen, and the little stretch of open water in the river was completely devoid of ducks. It’s a Sunday, so the Brunswick Landfill is closed, so we didn’t have the evening commute of gulls returning to roost on the bay to tally.

However, I know for a fact we cover the landbirds as exhaustively as anyone, and this is where the data gets interesting. Oak, beech, and White Pine nuts and seeds are virtually non-existent this year, as we all have been noticing. There’s not much spruce cone in our area either and very little Eastern Hemlock. Paper Birch and especially Yellow Birch, however, are in decent shape, as is Speckled Alder.  Ash seeds are in good supply.

With so little natural food resources overall, it was an extraordinary fall for bird feeding, augmented by the early cold and snow. Since then, however, it has felt like birds have “disappeared,” and many folks coming into the store are reporting slow feeding stations. Are there birds out there and just not coming to feeders? Or did everything move on? Or, is our perception simply wrong?  Erin and I wanted to find out.

As always, the answer differed between species. We had a record low for Blue Jays, more than 1/3 of average. Clearly, with the lack of acorns to cache, most of our Blue Jays simply moved on – those caches of Black Oil Sunflower seeds and peanuts they hoarded in the fall can only go so far. And we set a new record low for Rock Pigeons (0!) as they were all apparently at our store’s feeders outside our territory all day. And on some days of birding, you just don’t see a lot of raptors.

Woodpeckers were interesting. We were above average in Red-bellied (continuing their increasing trend in Maine) and Downy, but Hairys had their second highest tally – almost double average. They were also drumming more widely than usual for the end of the year; did that simply increase detection or are there more around this year, perhaps following a very good breeding season?

33 European Starlings was a new record high count for the territory. American Crows, Brown Creepers, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and House Finches were all above average. The measly 5 American Tree Sparrows were a new record low, however, perhaps due to that early snowfall. Then again, Dark-eyed Juncos were well above average, so who knows?

Considering birch and alder are the only good tree seed crops around, we were not surprised to find an above-average number of American Goldfinches. Common Redpolls aren’t here yet, and the good numbers of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins from the fall have clearly moved on. However, the best winter for Evening Grosbeaks in at least 20 years continues – we had a new record high for the territory, with 2 in a yard on Hunter Road and 1 loner on Merrill Road in Freeport, and an impressive group of 26 on Webster Road, which Erin was able to extensively photograph.

But of most interest to me are the core members (joined by the woodpeckers and to a lesser extent some of the finches) of the mixed-species foraging flocks that travel our woods and pass through our yards. The “feeder birds and allies” if you will. The insect-eating Brown Creepers were above average, but Golden-crowned Kinglets were extremely low. I don’t have an explanation here, so I’ll concentrate on the seed-eating members of the flock.

We were interested to find that Black-capped Chickadees were just about average; they seemed low of late, making me wonder if they too moved further south this winter. Yet surprisingly, we had a new record high count for Tufted Titmice, more than doubling our 13-year average. Good breeding season, or do these resident birds not clear out when food resources are slim?  Both nuthatches were above average, but I was really surprised to find Red-breasted Nuthatches so common. I thought they too had continued on, but there was 1-2 with almost every flock we encountered.

But where we saw these birds was definitely telling. In an hour at Hedghog Mountain, Jeannette has all of 3 Black-capped Chickadees, 2 White-breasted Nuthatches, and 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch. Erin and I had absolutely nothing at Florida Lake Park.  Other stretches of mostly wooded habitat was very quiet. But in neighborhoods with well-stocked bird feeders? Lots of birds!  Although we didn’t necessarily see as many birds at feeders themselves as in and around yards that have them, I t’s clear that the supplemental food resources offered by people increases the number of birds in the area in winter. And on a relatively mild and benign day, they were mostly out feeding elsewhere – but we know where they’ll go as the pressure starts to drop this afternoon with the approaching storm.  And in contrast, while we had some goldfinches at feeders, we had most of them in birches and alders, even weedy areas –all natural food which is readily available at the moment, as opposed to many of the other tree crops.

So what does this all mean? Well, good question! And I don’t really know!  But clearly it’s not quite as “slow” out there as many bird watchers are reporting. While Evening Grosbeaks were rightly the star of the show today, I learned a lot about the current status of our “feeder birds.”  More questions and answers, as always, but I enjoyed the exercise of analyzing and postulating (i.e. pretending I am still a scientist). This small section of the state, on only one day, covered by only 2 people, can only tell us so much, but after 13 years of doing this essentially the same way, the numbers are easy to compare and contrast. And perhaps, after a handful of more years, we might even have a little fun with some trend analysis.

Until then, here’s our annotated checklist for the day (and yes, the taxonomy of my spreadsheet is woefully outdated). Averages are in parentheses.

Begin: 7:17am. 19F, mostly cloudy, very light NW.
End: 3:55pm. 23F (high of 25F), clear, calm.

Miles by foot: 17.5 + 2
Miles by car: 18.0

Total species (31.6): 29
Total individuals (903.5): 1017

Red-tailed Hawk (1.3): 1
Wild Turkey (11.2): 5
Herring Gull (24): 1 *record low
Rock Pigeon (25): 0 *record low.
Mourning Dove (50): 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker (.75): 3
Downy Woodpecker (17): 19
Hairy Woodpecker (12): 23 *2nd highest
Pileated Woodpecker (1.9): 1
Blue Jay (76.1): 21 *record low
American Crow (76): 103
Common Raven (2.6): 2
Black-capped Chickadee (307): 317
Tufted Titmouse (33): 72 *New Record
Red-breasted Nuthatch (17): 23
White-breasted Nuthatch (27): 37
Brown Creeper (3): 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet (11): 3
Eastern Bluebird (1): 4
European Starling (14.5): 33 *record high
American Tree Sparrow (23.2): 5 *record low
Song Sparrow (1.1): 2
White-throated Sparrow (0.6): 1
Dark-eyed Junco (28): 69
Northern Cardinal (11): 18
House Finch (8.4): 23
American Goldfinch (83): 119
EVENING GROSBEAK (2.4): 29 *record high
House Sparrow (13.8): 1 (was a lone House Sparrow the rarest bird of the day?)

To compare, check out my blog from late fall of 2017, entitled: “Why there are no Birds at Your Feeders Right Now,” for a completely different reason.

2018 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend

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Dickcissels, otherwise rare in Maine, are always one of the treats of a visit to Monhegan in the fall. 

The 12th annual Freeport Wild Bird Supply “Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend” enjoyed three great days of good birds, awesome scenery, delectable food, and great company on Friday, September 28th through Sunday, September 30th.

We sure got the tour off to a good start, with a Red Phalarope and a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull from the Hardy Boat as we traveled to the island from New Harbor. A small number of Northern Gannets entertained us as well.

Light rain was ending as we arrived, but the winds were light and the temperatures were comfortable. We were greeted, unfortunately, by departing birders telling the tale of day after excruciating slow day of birding over the past week (Glad my WINGS tour wasn’t a week later!) but there were some decent, albeit expected, “good” birds around.

We began to beat the bush, stopping only for pizza for lunch. And while it was indeed rather slow and quiet by Monhegan standards, we lucked into a couple of great pockets of activity, with a nice diversity of sparrows and warblers. In fact, it wasn’t all that bad afterall. Some Cape May Warblers were still around, Red-eyed Vireos seemed to be everywhere, and we caught up with a Dickcissel and a Clay-colored Sparrow that have been coming to some scattered seed.
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Red-breasted Nuthatches continued to be abundant out here this fall.
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Sharp-shinned Hawk
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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
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Yellow Warbler
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A moderate flight overnight Friday into Saturday diminished rapidly as a little southwesterly wind began to influence the skies by morning. Therefore, the Morning Flight was rather light – and mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers with a smattering of Blackpoll Warblers and little else.  While our pre-breakfast walk was on the quiet side, there were clearly a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the island, and definitely new birds had arrived.
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Blackpoll Warbler

Pockets of activity here and there throughout the day slowly built up a respectable checklist, including a dozen species of warblers. We confirmed the presence of 3 Dickcissels, and there are at least 2, if not 3, White-breasted Nuthatches now on the island.  Five Black Scoters were spotted off of Lobster Cove, our first of the fall, and we ran into a flock of at least 10 Baltimore Orioles around the grape vines on Pumphouse Road.  A good look at a Philadelphia Vireo, fly-by Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plover, at least 8 Cape May Warblers, a Rusty Blackbird, and an Indigo Bunting were among the avian highlights, but the insanely beautiful afternoon visit to White Head may have taken the cake. It was also a good day for migrant falcons.
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Brown Creeper

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“Cardinal Rule!”
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Red-eyed Vireo

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Of course, we also stopped to take time to photograph the Fringed Gentian.
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It was a short, 3-day tour this year, so it was already our last morning on Sunday the 30th.
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Light and variable winds overnight with a mostly west to northwesterly component ushered in a moderate-strong flight. The resultant Morning Flight was pretty decent, even if it was almost all Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings.
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One of our most interesting observations was the interaction between a rare land-roosting Northern Gannet and the pair of Bald Eagles that usually occupy the highest point on the Outer Sisters. The gannet aggressively defending itself with a stabbing bill, letting the eagle know it was fixing for a fight. Eventually, they ignored each other.

All morning, we encountered lots of Yellow-rumps, including birds still high overhead in mid-morning. Sparrows had definitely increased in numbers and diversity as well.  Once again, while overall numbers were relatively low, pockets of activity were regularly encountered. We also continued to see most of the birds very well. And, we added a bunch of species to our now-respectable 3-day trip list.
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White-crowned Sparrow

A Downy Woodpecker was the first I had added out here all fall, while some of the other “new” birds for us included a Killdeer (rare to see on land here, not just flying by complaining about the lack of open space), a juvenile Laughing Gull, migrant Osprey and Northern Harrier, a flock of White-winged Scoters, a Prairie Warbler (rare out here), and rather excitingly, a skulking Mourning Warbler that we found behind the town marsh.
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Prairie Warbler

There were at least 14 Baltimore Orioles now in the grape-guzzling flock. Three Dickcissels and a Clay-colored Sparrow (although I think it may have been a different bird than what we saw on Friday) were among the other highlights. We also finally caught up with 2 of the 3 mysteriously-reappearing Ring-necked Pheasants.
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One of those orioles was shockingly red, likely from too many invasive berries rich in carotenoids.
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Clay-colored Sparrow
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Fingered Dagger Moth caterpillar.

But no doubt the icing on the cake of a great weekend was our post-lunch visit to Lobster Cove. While I was hoping for more gannets, our attention was stolen by a massive group of at least 100 Atlantic White-sided (presumably) Dolphins that were actively feeding and jumping well off of Lobster Cove. While they were a bit too far to see detail for me to be absolutely sure of the identification, it was an impressive show that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.  While Harbor Porpoise are common around the island, I am not sure if I have ever seen pelagic dolphins from here. And this was quite a show!
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One last bird-dogging trip through the marsh at Lobster Cove.

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Monarch butterflies also put on a show for us throughout the weekend.

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Except this one did not make it.

We had a great group this year on a full tour, and we were treated to great weather, solid birding, and as always – great food and drink. Let the countdown to the Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend begin!

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Northern Gannets on the ferry trip back to New Harbor.

Total species = 85
Total species of warblers = 14

28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep
Wood Duck 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 2 0
Mallard 12 15 12
Common Eider x x x
Black Scoter 0 5 0
Surf Scoter 0 0 22*
White-winged Scoter 0 0 15
Ring-necked Pheasant 0 0 2
Mourning Dove 10 10 10
Semipalmated Plover 0 1 1
Killdeer 0 0 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1 0 0
Solitary Sandpiper 0 0 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0
RED PHALAROPE 1* 0 0
Black Guillemot X 6 6
Laughing Gull 8* 0 2
Ring-billed Gull 0 0 1*
Herring Gull x x x
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 1* 0 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x
Common Loon 1* 1 1
Northern Gannet 30 100 100
Double-crested Cormorant X 200 800
Great Cormorant 2 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 0
Osprey 1* 0 1
Bald Eagle 3 1 3
Northern Harrier 0 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 10 5
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2 5 25
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1
Northern Flicker 3 10 10
Merlin 5 15 12
Peregrine Falcon 3 6 4
Eastern Phoebe 1 2 2
Blue-headed Vireo 1 1 1
Philadelphia Vireo 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 18 15 12
Blue Jay 8 22 20
American Crow 6 x x
Common Raven 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee 12 x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 10 25 20
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 3 2
Brown Creeper 3 2 4
Carolina Wren 3 1 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 6 8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 2 0
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 1
American Robin 0 0 2
Gray Catbird 2 8 1
European Starling 18 21 21
Cedar Waxwing 40 40 80
Purple Finch 4 12 15
Pine Siskin 0 1 1
American Goldfinch 2 4 3
Nashville Warbler 1 2 0
Common Yellowthroat 3 3 3
American Redstart 0 0 1
Cape May Warbler 3 8 8
Northern Parula 2 2 1
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 2 10 15
Palm Warbler 2 2 2
PINE WARBLER 0 2 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12 50 100
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 1
PRAIRIE WARBLER 0 0 1-2
Chipping Sparrow 6 6 8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 1 0 1
Dark-eyed Junco 0 2 3
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 2
White-throated Sparrow 1 8 20
Savannah Sparrow 3 0 0
Song Sparrow x X
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 1
Northern Cardinal 4 6 4
DICKCISSEL 1 3 3
Bobolink 1 1 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 2
Baltimore Oriole 10 12 14
Day Total 55 66 71

 
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Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Sod-pipers and Suds, 9/9/18

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Our latest Birds on Tap -Roadtrip! With our partner, The Maine Brew Bus traveled far afield on September 9th to take advantage of an unique seasonal birding hotspot.

When Saco River Brewing Company in Fryeburg invited us out to visit them, Don and I pulled out the good ol’ Delorme and came up with a plan. For a few weeks each late summer/early fall, the extensive sod farms in Fryeburg Harbor and nearby agricultural fields are a genuine birding hotspot. In fact, it is one of the best destinations in the state for a group of uncommon migrant shorebirds collectively – and affectionately – known as “grass-pipers.” In Maine, the two most sought-after grass-pipers” are very uncommon (and in some years downright rare): the elegant Buff-breasted Sandpiper and the spiffy Baird’s Sandpiper. Less uncommon, but still sought-after, American Golden-Plovers are also thrown into this un-taxonomic grouping that also includes the very common and familiar Killdeer, the boisterous sentinels of the grasspiper clan.

Furthermore, Fryeburg Harbor is a great place to look for Sandhill Cranes at this time of year, so “Sod-pipers and Suds” was born (with a little poetic license in changing “grass-pipers” to “sod-pipers” to keep our alliterative traditions going).

Our furthest drive of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series, we passed the time with lots of good discussion on status and distribution, bird conservation issues, beer preferences, and a whole lot more. And yes, there was a stop for a restroom.

A flock of 10 Sandhill Cranes was reported the day before, so we began our search at that location. We arrived at the empty field, with little around except for Wild Turkeys and American Crows.  As I walked back on the road to scan one other field, I flushed an American Bittern, but then I heard the cranes calling. I began to run back to the group to get them, but then realized the cranes were heading towards the group, and by the time I arrived, the cranes had obligingly landed right where we were all standing!
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After enjoying the cranes for a while, we were able to relocate the American Bittern. Then, we headed to the sod farms to begin our search for the shorebirds. It has been very dry of late, and the fields were hard as a rock; invertebrates would be safely locked in below the surface. We did not find any standing water on the fields, not surprisingly, and the recently-harvested patches of sod which are often favored by the birds were lifeless.

We looked at Song and Savannah Sparrows, had a Cooper’s Hawk fly by low overhead, but we couldn’t even find a Killdeer as we slowly walked the quiet rural roads. There had to be Killdeer somewhere around here, and if we found them, we would find whatever else might be lurking with them.

The final habitat to search, especially when it was so bone-dry, is where a tractor had recently tilled the soil, bringing invertebrates and insects within reach of the short bills of these grassland shorebirds. And sure enough, the last field in the prime area had a tractor actively tilling. It had to be the place!

We walked over to the field, and began to scan – looking for earth-colored birds in freshly tilled earth. When one member of the group finally spotted a Killdeer, our optimism returned. I buried myself in the scope, and despite brutal heat shimmer, glimpsed what looked like a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

We improved our angle, cut down a bit on shimmer, and in short time, all soaked in the glory of finding a Buff-breasted Sandpiper!  It was indeed hanging out with 6 Killdeer, in the most-freshly-turned soil.  Success! This is one of our only BoT destinations that really had specific “target species” so we were all very pleased (especially the guide!) with seeing the most-wanted of the targets.

One last field stop produced a stunning view and an American Kestrel…
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…and then Paul took us to our first beer-ing destination of the tour to celebrate our birding success. Unlike all of our other itineraries, our first stop was not announced…and it was not a brewery. You knew it was going to be special, but no one guessed what Paul and I had in store for them today.  “Holy —-, we’re at Ebenezer’s!” was the exclamation from one participant as Paul turned off the beaten path and into one of the most famous beer destinations in the world.

I’ll let their sign speak for itself.

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While we generally drive you to places where the beverages are made, this time, special arrangements were made for us to drop into this world-class location: Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell. A two-page menu was provided, with 32 beers from around the world. Paul and I – and especially the bartender Liz and staff that took care of us – guided us through the selections. These beers were special, and although the menu was overwhelming, not one person could find more than one beer (Allagash White!) or two (a couple of the Barreled Souls options had been enjoyed by some) that they had ever had, and for the most part, had not even heard of.  There were lots of “lifers” today!
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Personally, I went for the Fantome (from Belgium) Boo! Saison, which Liz described as “fall in a glass.” Subtle pumpkin and spices proved what “pumpkin beer” can really be, with just a hint of sweetness and nutty complexity, far beyond the liquefied canned pie mix that many of us (myself included) think of when we think of pumpkin beers. I chose it because pumpkin beers are not my thing – as you may have guessed from the previous sentence!) and BoT-Roadtrips! are about learning new beers and often, challenging your palette and preferences.
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Different beers were ordered by all, and sips were exchanged, and lots of great beer was experienced. Liz guided us through the history of how this unassuming little golf-course-side restaurant has become one of the most award-winning bars in the world.  Numerous promises to be back were made as we departed.

After a surprise like a visit to Ebenezer’s, you’d think our next stop would be a let down,but that was not at all the case. While Saco River Brewing Company might have fewer accolades on their sign, they have rapidly acquired a very loyal following and are brewing a wide range of very good and very popular beers. Mason – the co-owner and head brewer – greeted us warmly, and welcomed us into the brewery.

In both the birding and beer-ing realms, the goal of our Roadtrips is primarily an educational experience. Therefore, it was very welcome to spend time with Mason as he explained the brewing process, discussed his expansion into the world of canning (with a mobile unit), and described the wide variety of styles that he has become known for.
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Then, it was time for the beer!
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Paul selected three options to get us started, beginning with the Clearwater Pale  – a hoppy pale that offered very good flavor with a light, “crushable” body. Next up was their new Lazy River IPA – the hazy, juice-bomb that has become known as the “New England IPA) chock full of tropical fruit and citrus notes, amplified by the use of lupulin powder. Relatively new on the brewing scene, lupulin – the fine powder of resin compounds and essential oils found in a fresh hop cone (technically, the flower) – adds a ton of aroma and flavor without adding to bitterness. In fact, the discussion of “hoppy verses bitter” was one of the revelations for some that Mason adeptly described as we sipped his not-bitter, yet definitely hoppy, brews.

Our third beer turned out to be the majority favorite of the bus, the Buck Brown Ale – very nutty, creamy, and easy-drinking; perfect for those who crave malt flavors with a lighter body than a stout or porter.
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As always, whether in birding or at our breweries, we never have enough time, so before we knew it, it we had to hit the road. It’s always a good sign when beers are purchased to take home, and several folks left with 4-packs of the newest Saco River Brewing cans.

The drive home went quickly, as we recounted the beers we had, and the birds we saw. Discussions on everything from the status and distribution of migratory shorebirds, citizen science “data,” and the growth of Maine craft beer and beer styles passed the time.

And with that, one of the most unique of our Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! came to a close. As we soon ponder the itineraries for 2019, don’t forget that there are still three more one-of-a-kind tours in 2018, starting with October’s “Migrants and Malts.”  All of these trips can be found on the  Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of our website.  If you missed out on this special trip – check out what’s in store for October. You won’t want to miss it!