An Incredible 2017 “Fall Ducks and Draughts!”

One of the most popular Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! is our annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” One of the original two BoT – Roadtrips! back in 2015, this popular outing visits Sabattus Pond near the peak of fall waterfowl migration with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

It rarely disappoints, but today it far surpassed expectations! We began at the south beach, where an American Coot was a surprise. However, more surprising was the flock of shorebirds littered around the south end. While many of the 30 or so Dunlin took off and kept going, about 10 White-rumped Sandpipers returned and landed right in front of the group, no more than about 30 feet away! We were able to carefully study the progression from juvenile to 1st winter plumage, with most individuals, such as these two, mostly still in colorful juvenile plumage (with one bigger, grayer Dunlin in the background).
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With our focus back on waterfowl, we began to sort through the masses, starting with 6 spiffy Northern Pintails joining the Mallards nearby, while one lone female Green-winged Teal quickly paddled away. 18 Ring-necked Ducks loafed just a little further offshore, providing a good intro to the genus Aythya. Sabattus Pond is famous for its legions of Ruddy Ducks, and this cute little “stiff tail” was out in full force. We had a couple of hundred nearby, but a distant raft of many hundreds remained just a little too far to enjoy. We also began our comparison of Greater and Lesser Scaup, and took a moment to learn about the Chinese Mystery Snail that makes up a large percentage of the food source of all of the diving ducks we were here to enjoy.

I had set the over/under for waterfowl species at 13.5, and our list quickly began to grow: Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers a’plenty, but surprisingly only one Common Merganser and a mere three Canada Geese. American Black Ducks and a single hen American Wigeon made for a tally of 13 species of waterfowl; just falling short of covering the spread…in part because we never did make it to our third stop!

Over at Martin’s Point Park on the southwest side of the pond, we worked the dabbling ducks and enjoyed stunning Hooded Mergansers. Then, I finally had a nice, close group of the two scaup species in perfect light to give us a lesson in how to identify this challenging species-pair.

We began to walk closer, I began the lecture, and then I heard a call note from the trees that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not a Yellow-rumped Warbler – the only expected warbler species at this season – and it’s sharp tone was very suggestive. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be here, whatever it was, and my suspicions of its identity were soon proven correct when a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler popped out!
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Sticking close to the trunk of some large Eastern White Pines, it foraged within a small mixed-species foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets before eventually disappearing towards the neighborhood.

This is a real rarity in Maine, and because of the white in the front of the supercilium, we know it is of the interior subspecies albilora, and therefore not likely the result of the recent storm system. While there was unprecedented three together on Monhegan earlier in the month, this is quite the rarity, especially so far inland, and especially in Androscoggin County (I couldn’t help but wonder if there has ever been a record of this species anywhere in the county).

Unfortunately, in the meantime, some fisherman came to the shoreline, and the closest scaup departed. We did have a slightly farther raft to work through, but I ended up having to employ my rudimentary artistic skills to explain how to differentiate the two species!
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It was truly hard to leave the pond today, and I of course couldn’t help but wonder what was around the next corner, but it was time to switch gears, turn our attention to Dawn – our driver and beer guide today – and make our way over to Baxter Brewing Company, you know, to celebrate our vagrant warbler discovery!

At Baxter, housed in one of the beautifully restored mills down by the Androscoggin River, we enjoyed five samples of their most popular beers. We learned about their philosophy and history – including the noteworthy fact that they were the first 100% canning brewery in Maine – and sampled some of their best selling beers, such as Pamola pale, Tarnation lager, Per Diem stout, and the venerable Stowaway IPA. We also sampled Ceremony Green Tea IPA which surprised a lot of people and showed off the creativiTEA (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the brewery.
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We stepped outside of the brewery and were once again greeted by the local Peregrine Falcon atop the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center. After a few minutes of enjoying it through the scope, we hit the road, and discussed the beers we had just sampled. People’s favorites were rather evenly divided, aligning with their preferred style of beer, showing that Baxter really does offer something for everyone.

We followed the Androscoggin River towards the coast, and soon arrived at Maine Beer Company. MBC needs no introduction – at least if you are into IPAs or hoppy pales – but with so many folks on the trip today from “away” and/or making their first visit to this popular destination, we started things off with none other than their Peeper – their first brew that got it all started.
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Spenser came out to introduce the beers and tell us all about how MBC is dedicated to “do(ing) what’s right.” And that philosophy transcends the beer.
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They graciously offered everyone a choice of their next samples (I of course followed Lunch with Another One) and then Spencer really rolled out the red carpet for us, taking the group on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of their brewhouse…including a sneak peek at the massive new expansion that is underway. Clearly, Spencer’s excitement was evident and the group came out of this special tour absolutely bursting with MBC enthusiasm, and lots of promises to be back soon.

Thirteen species of waterfowl, many up close and personal. A most-unexpected rarity that no one in the group had seen in Maine before – and for some, a “life bird.” Urban Peregrine Falcon. Baxter Brewing Co and Maine Beer Company. Yeah, this is what Birds on Tap – Roadtrips are all about!

There are still some spaces left for the 10th and final Roadtrip of 2017, “Farms and Fermentation” coming up on Sunday, December 10th. And stay tuned – we’ll soon be announcing all TWELVE BoT Roadtrips for 2018!

Why There are No Birds at Your Feeders Right Now.

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Fall favorites at feeders, Dark-eyed Juncos have been slow to arrive in yards due to a combination of factors. This blog will attempt to explain why, in this case, the sky is not in fact falling.

For most of the past two months, we have been spending our time here at the store mostly answering the question “Where are all of my (feeder) birds?”

Your feeders have been slow. Our feeders have been slow. And feeders throughout all of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have been slow. We’ve talked to reporters about this. We’ve talked to our seed distributor about this. And we have talked to many of you, our loyal customers and friends, about it. We’ve also written about it on our Facebook page, in our eNewsletter, and a synopsis will appear in the next edition of Freeport Wild Bird Supply News.

But I wanted to expand on it here, and at the very least, have all of the FACTS in one place.

Let’s start with this: Birds always prefer natural food sources (our feeders are only a helpful supplement) so if they can find what they need in their natural habitats, they do not need to visit our feeders nearly as often. If there’s ever proof-positive to finally kill this silly myth about birds being dependent on feeders, seasons like this are it!

So let’s talk about what’s really happening. And as usual in nature, it’s not completely simple. It’s a myriad of issues and events that have collided in a “perfect storm” of low feeder activity scenarios.

1) Abundance of Natural Food Sources.
For the most part, it is the abundance – or paucity – of natural food that determines how much activity you will have in your yard. This is particularly significant for our seed-eaters, like finches and sparrows, and fruit-eaters, like waxwings. Many trees go through “masting” cycles. This is a survival strategy in which a tree will produce a huge amount of fruit or seed one fall, followed by one or more years of very little production. Therefore, in the high production years, there is so much seed/fruit that predators cannot possibly consume it all, and the tree is all but guaranteed that a large number of its seeds will survive to germinate.

This fall has been a high production year for several common tree species. The same acorns you are swearing at in your lawn are a big part of the reason that your have less birds at your feeders. Take a look at the spruces next time you are out for a walk in the woods; you will see that most of those trees are brimming with cones, especially White and Red Spruces. And I don’t recall the last time I’ve seen so many cones on Eastern White Pines.

Many seed crops are excellent to our north as well, so we will have to wait and see if our “winter finches”, such as Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins, make it down our way this year. Interestingly though, the spruce cone crop is the best it has been in over a decade in the northeast – this could bring big numbers of Red and White-winged Crossbills this winter, and large numbers have already arrived to breed in western and northern Maine (more on “irruptives” a little later).
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Purple Finches have been in short supply this fall, and are likely to not be around much this winter due to plentiful favored foods to our north.

2) Record Mild Fall.
October is on pace to set an all-time record high by multiple degrees. This is an incredible deviation from average. When it’s this warm, the energy demands of our birds are lower, reducing the need to consume as many calories to keep warm. And the lack of snow or ice has kept natural food uncovered and accessible. Insects are still out, and open water is easy to come by.

3) Facultative Migrants
While most of our long-distance migrants (like warblers and orioles) are long gone, having returned home to the tropics, many of our later-season migrants (like blackbirds and most of our native sparrows, as well as most of our waterfowl) are facultative (or “flexible”) in their timing. They can adjust their respective arrival and departures based on abundance and/or access to food. Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and the last wave of blackbirds are still not here in Southern Maine, lingering as far north as they can for as long as they can. These birds will move a short distance south as soon as they have to, and if the winter is a short one, they will begin to work their way north earlier – or even “overwinter” further north than normal. Not even a freak snowstorm will affect them – they are built for it, and will make range adjustments as needed.

4) Irruptives
With the abundance of natural food to our north, many species (such as the so-called “winter finches” like Purple Finch and Pine Siskin) are simply not coming south this year, although we do have hopes for the wintertime appearance of Common Redpolls. We expected this – as outlined in the annual Ontario Winter Finch Forecast – and those birds are very few and far between this fall. In fact, we knew in August that it would not be a “winter finch year” because of how few Red-breasted Nuthatches (only a handful in all!) were moving past Sandy Point in August and September. After record-setting flights in late summer/early fall last year, it was safe to assume that there would not be an irruption this year.

While residents are still around (in some winters they leave when our food is not abundant), they are busy feeding on the abundance of spruce and White Pine in our area.
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White-winged Crossbills are in western and northern Maine…hopefully they’ll arrive at the coast this winter by way of post-breeding dispersal.

5) Memory Bias.
Humans inherently think of the recent past first, and so we find ourselves often comparing this fall to last fall, which saw exceptionally high feeder visitation thanks to the prolonged drought we had experienced throughout the summer, greatly reducing perennial seed crops. Some of the masting trees were at cyclical lows, and cyclical lows of many cone and seed crops. And irruptions of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and to a lesser extent Pine Siskin and Purple Finch, were underway.
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Red-breasted Nuthatches have plenty of spruce, pine, and other natural food sources throughout our region this winter.

6) The Filthy Feeders and Stale Seed Catch-22.
When activity is low at feeders, we can become a bit blasé about maintenance. Not keeping feeders clean and filled with fresh seed will only make it less likely that birds will want to frequent your yard. And, with the recent prolonged wet weather, you want to make sure that mold is not becoming a problem, or that seed is not getting clogged in the feeder. No one likes to waste seed, but if it has been sitting in a feeder untouched for more than a month or so, it is time to toss it and start over. This is especially true for Nyjer, hulled sunflower, and shelled peanuts, which are most susceptible to the elements. (If you dump it in the woods, rest assured that something will eat it, or at the very least nothing will be harmed by it. If mold is visible, however, it is best to bury it). Clean your feeders, and disinfect them with a mixture of one part white vinegar to four parts water if mold was present. Fill your feeders halfway until activity builds up again if you are concerned about waste. When birds return and they find stale or spoiled seed in your feeders, they’ll continue right on by.

7) The Big Picture
We certainly do not want to downplay the significance of population declines in many of our bird species due to a whole host of large-scale issues (a topic for a different article), but rest assured that “your” birds are probably doing just fine from one year to the next over the short term. In fact, most of our resident “feeder birds” have steady, if not in some cases, increasing populations. Climate Change is affecting bird populations. Habitat loss is affecting bird populations. Cats are killing up to 4 BILLION birds a year. Windows are killing up to 1 BILLION birds a year. We could go on.
However, this has not changed in the past 6-8 weeks. Those long-term declines are often subtle and hard to detect without coordinated scientific investigation. We have absolutely zero evidence that populations have crashed in the short term. All it takes is a walk in the woods (like on our free Saturday Morning Birdwalks!) to see that the birds are out there. In fact, there are a lot of them out there, and they are doing just fine. They just don’t need our feeders right now.

8) It WILL Change!
Natural food supplies will slowly get used up, nights will get colder and longer, and our facultative migrants will come. Eventually, we’ll see some snow and ice that will make it harder to find the remaining natural food, and when all of those things happen, our feeders will be ready for them!

We hope this helps clear up some of the misinformation out there. And please do share this widely – we want to get the word out. And finally, if you have any additional questions, feel free to drop by the store.
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Are Common Redpolls on their way for the winter to cure the bird feeding blues? The Winter Finch Forecasts suggests that they will get here, eventually.

2017 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, one of the more common and conspicuous migrants all weekend.

After spending what was probably the slowest week of birding I have ever experienced in fall on Monhegan with my WINGS tour a week prior, I was even more anxious to get back to the island. I know what this island can offer (well, besides great food, beer, and friends, that is)!

Because of ferry schedules, we added a new wrinkle this year, meeting for a birdwalk in Port Clyde before the mid-am ferry to the island (9/29). Golden-crowned Kinglets were particularly abundant and some Yellow-rumped Warblers were around, hinting at the amount of birds that arrived overnight. On the trip out, Northern Gannets were scattered about, and a flock of 7 probable American Pipits zipped by. When passerines are encountered on the ferry, as they return to the mainland, it’s usually a good sign that there are a lot of newly-arrived birds on the island.

When several Yellow-rumped Warblers were darting around near the dock, I thought it might be worth swinging into The Barnacle for a quick, early lunch so we could hit the ground running. And we are all glad we did, as it took us 2 ½ hours to walk from the dock to our lodging at the Trailing Yew!
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It was fantastic…birds were everywhere. While it wasn’t a fallout with birds dripping out of the trees, every cluster of trees and bushes had some migrants in it. The “Cape May Spruces” on dock road hosted several Cape May Warblers and an immature male Pine Warbler – a rarity on the island. We soon tracked down a continuing Orange-crowned Warbler, and we slowly made our way through town, pausing at every apple tree and every weedy garden.
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Cape May Warbler
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Pine Warbler

A lot had changed in the 5 days between my visits, with many more sparrows, and a much greater percentage of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Overall warbler diversity was down, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were everywhere! The raptor show wasn’t half-bad, either.
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Peregrine Falcon

I think I saw more birds today, even though we didn’t arrive until 11:30 than I did all week with my other tour! And 60 species by day’s end wasn’t too shabby either.
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Red-eyed Vireo
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Friday night featured a very strong flight on the radar, but with a light winds becoming northeast after midnight, many fewer birds were around come morning (thanks to Hurricane Jose, this was the bane of our existence during the aforementioned tour), and the morning flight was very light. The afternoon was quite slow, but we continued to encounter new birds here and there. An unexpected surprise was a Wood Thrush calling at dusk. Although we never saw it, the calls are distinctive, and they were close by, and this was my 208th Monhegan bird (They’re usually long gone by the time I get here in mid-September).
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Northern Gannet

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Red-eyed Vireo

But this was only a fraction of the day’s excitement. First, a Bell’s Vireo was reported just as we arrived at breakfast. I thought about skipping the meal (it’s really a good bird if I consider passing on a Trailing Yew breakfast!) but after hearing about how chaotic it was (lots of owl calls and counter-productive tape use – tell me why a bird, exhausted from migration and without any hormonal urge to breed would come out in the open because you are playing an adult male’s territorial song? Especially when vagrants are often immature birds, the last thing they are looking for is a conflict; it’s amazingly ignorant…but I digress) down there, we decided to let the masses subside and fuel up for the hunt.

By the time we arrived, almost everyone had dispersed, and no sign of a Bell’s Vireo. But Pumphouse Road and the nearby yards were birdy, so we just started working the thickets. We had dispersed up and down Pumphouse Road, joined by several friends and fellow birders, including Kristen Lindquist and Bill Thompson. I was with just two members of our group, when a small flock of five or so vireos came in. There were three Red-eyed, but then I spotted what I thought could have been the Bell’s -a very pale, dull vireo creeping around the understory, with its tail cocked. With no one else around, I took off to assemble the group, and to get Bill to secure the documentation photos. When guiding, a bird doesn’t count unless the group is with you, so before I had anything definitive, I started running (only then remembering my ankle was still in a brace)!

Barb and Terez were still on what she thought was the bird in question, but as we all returned, it was clearly just a normally-pale, immature Blue-headed. Did I screw this up that badly? But wait, where was that 5th vireo?

I don’t remember who spotted it next, but when we did, it was clear it was not a Bell’s, but wow, that was pale. Like really, really, pale, and as we began studying it, we realized this may be even rarer!

At one point, I made eye contact with Marshall Iliff, and we both kinda smiled and nodded. We were on to something. Bill began to fire away. We watched. And then we began to discuss. And discuss. And at the brewery later, discuss some more. And the next day, yup, we were still talking about this bird. Almost two weeks later, as well.

Bill sent me his photos the next day, and on Sunday evening – at the brewery, of course, it’s where all great conversations occur – we realized that every single feature of this bird was consistent with Cassin’s Vireo, the member of the “Solitary Vireo Complex” that breeds in the west, and can be virtually indistinguishable from our regular Blue-headed. However, this bird had every feature perfect for Cassin’s, and as we sent around photos, everyone agreed that “if this isn’t a Cassin’s, then we can’t identify a bird as a Cassin’s.”
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This would be the first record for Maine, and one of very, very few records for all of the East Coast. See, this is what a “slow” day on Monhegan should be like.

Anyway, back to the actual birding on Sunday. After only a surprisingly moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, only a light morning flight was over the island, and it was almost exclusively Yellow-rumped Warblers. Increasing south winds helped keep activity reduced through the afternoon, when most of the group slowly departed on their respective ferries. We had great looks at the two continuing Dickcissels, more great views of Cape May Warblers, and finished the day off with the last member of the group by enjoying the long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Ice Pond.
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Dickcissel

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That chase and discussion of the vireo was exhausting!

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It was just me and group-holdover John Lorenc on Monday morning, when Jeannette joined us for the day on the early Port Clyde boat. Her visit during my WINGS tour yielded fog and little else, so she was anxious to see and photograph some birds!

Interestingly enough, despite a rather light flight on the radar overnight (which really surprised me) on a light northwesterly wind, a strong morning flight developed come sunrise. As expected by the date, it was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were many more kinglets and sparrows around. It was very busy before breakfast, and quite birdy – if rather homogenous – through lunch, with “new” birds scattered about. Even the early afternoon was pleasantly birdy, with pockets of activity here and there.

At least 4 Dickcissels were now present, and likely a new Clay-colored Sparrow. We had a fly-by of a Northern Pintail at Lobster Cove, one of very few records for the island. A calling Greater Yellowlegs, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe, and large flocks of southbound Canada Geese high overhead were among the additions to the weekend’s checklist.
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Two Dickcissels

When all was said and done, and Cassin’s Vireo was (fairly) confidently added to the list, a total of 89 species (including 15 species of warblers) were recorded in these four days, a respectable if not overwhelming total for a long weekend on the island.

And the food, beer, and conversation were great as always. And the butterflies, my goodness the butterflies. Monarchs were common, but Painted Ladies were downright abundant…
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Here’s the full scoreboard, not including birds seen in Port Clyde or from the ferry en route:

9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
Canada Goose 30 1 33 100
American Black Duck 2 1 2 2
Mallard 12 20 15 15
NORTHERN PINTAIL 0 0 0 1
Common Eider x x X X
Surf Scoter 0 8 0 0
Common Loon 0 0 0 1
Northern Gannet 30 30 20 20
Double-crested Cormorant 100 400 100 X
Great Cormorant 0 0 1 2
Great Blue Heron 2 4 1 0
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON 0 0 1 0
Osprey 8 3 1 2
Bald Eagle 3 3 1 1
Northern Harrier 2 0 0 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4 5 5 4
American Kestrel 6 8 3 2
Merlin 8 15 8 6
Peregrine Falcon 12 3 4 6
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1
Wilson’s Snipe 0 0 0 1
Ring-billed Gull 1 0 0 0
Herring Gull X x X X
Great Black-backed Gull X x X X
Black Guillemot 20 4 6 8
Mourning Dove 4 6 6 4
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 8 20 25 20
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1 1
Northern Flicker 10 8 6 2
Eastern Phoebe 2 2 3 6
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 5 1 2
CASSIN’S VIREO 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 2 1 1 3
Red-eyed Vireo 4 10 9 8
Blue Jay 8 15 21 18
American Crow x x X X
Common Raven 0 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 1 0 0
Black-capped Chickadee 10 20 X X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 4 4 4
Brown Creeper 0 2 1 12
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 0
Winter Wren 0 1 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 15 30 35 50
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 40 40 25 40
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 2
WOOD THRUSH 0 1 0 0
American Robin 2 0 3 1
Gray Catbird 3 3 4 3
European Starling 25 20 20 15
American Pipit 0 2 1 1
Cedar Waxwing 2 25 25 40
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 1 0 0 0
Nashville Warbler 5 3 3 0
Northern Parula 0 3 0 0
Magnolia Warbler 1 0 0 0
Cape May Warbler 5 5 2 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 30 40 150
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 0 0
PINE WARBLER 1 1 0 0
Prairie Warbler 1 0 0 0
Palm Warbler 6 6 0 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1 1 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 1 1 1 0
American Redstart 0 2 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 4 4 4 3
Wilson’s Warbler 0 1 1 0
Scarlet Tanager 0 1 0 0
Chipping Sparrow 4 5 3 2
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 0 0 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 2 0 0
Song Sparrow X X X X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 0 0 4
Swamp Sparrow 1 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 2 4 3 8
White-crowned Sparrow 0 1 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3 0 0 0
Northern Cardinal 4 6 8 4
Indigo Bunting 1 0 0 1
DICKCISSEL 1 0 2 4
Bobolink 0 1 1 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 1 1
Common Grackle 4 2 4 4
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 3 2
Purple Finch 0 0 0 0
Pine Siskin 0 1 0 0
American Goldfinch 2 8 2 1

 
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Baltimore Oriole

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip, 10/8/17: Migrants and Malts.

Our 8th tour of the year with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, ventured to Maine’s deep south and toured around the village of Kittery.

October in Maine can produce all sorts of surprises, and Fort Foster is a great place to find the unexpected. We started off with this BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, a very late individual, that unlike most members of its species paused for photographs and long, satisfying views.

Another treat was an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow on the beach and a nice little wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers among the residents in the woods, but then our biggest surprise of the morning – a wide band of steady rain! The rain impacted our visit (for the second year in a row!) to Seapoint Beach, but a small pocket of activity on the seaweed included at least 5 Northern Mockingbirds (one burst into song, despite the rain), 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and 2 Eastern Phoebes. Several adult Northern Gannets were just offshore, which was another highlight.

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow that breeds exclusively on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

With rain still falling, I skipped the walk at the beach, and instead made a couple of short stops where we were able to hang by the bus. 20+ Bonaparte’s Gulls were off the Kittery Town Landing, and by the time we arrived at Legion Pond to enjoy 3 spiffy Wood Ducks among the masses of Mallards, the rain not only stopped but the sun began to return.

The first stop on the brewery tour was Woodland Farms Brewery, which opened only this February – but from the looks of things, had already gained quite a following! There, we sampled four brews from this lager-centric brewery. Very traditional and well-executed styles included Wolf Haven Extra Special Bitter (ESB) with a nice depth of flavor to balance the bitterness, and the Rowanbrau, a Dortmunder-style golden lager with a super-crisp-finish. We started with their light Cervaza Medico, a Mexican lager with a subtle sweetness from corn, and finished with a hop-forward Backyard Scientist IPL. A lot can be done with a lager, far beyond the basic American mass-produced swill, so it was a good lesson for us in the range of the technique.

We learned about the benefits and limitations of focusing on lagers, and the methods that produce this style of beer, which we then contrasted with ales on our second stop, Tributary Brewing Company, where a wide range of traditional and modern styles were sampled. Starting with Oktoberfest, a perfectly-simple and clean version of the traditional German-style marzen, we finished with their Oyster Stout (anything but traditional), with subtle notes of minerality.  In between, we tasted their Blueberry to find out what a beer with blueberries in the mash can really taste like (subtle, not in your face, and not overtly sweet at all) and their Pale Ale, their basic, but delectable flagship. In all cases, flavors were meant to be simple and subtle, complement the “basic” beer flavors and not overpowering them.

While comparing and contrasting this subtle, delicate use of flavors, it was not surprising that a discussion of “pumpkin/pumpkin spice” beers came up, and so Ian tapped the unfinished Pumpkin for us to sample – even though it was still weeks away from being ready and was un-carbonated. We were duly impressed, as the subtle flavors were quite apparent, and it offered insight into the brewing process as well, which is something we work hard on offering during these special tours.

With temperatures in the low 70’s, the rain was merely a nuisance, and it definitely impacted the middle part of our birding adventure. Regardless, a birding tour that begins with crippling views of a Black-billed Cuckoo and ends with stunning Wood Ducks is still a real winner! And if not, there was some great beer to enjoy and learn about!

A Record-Shattering 5 Days at Sandy Point!

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Northern Parulas were certainly the “bird of the week” at Sandy Point.

It was a special five-day run at Sandy Point Beach on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. It was a record-shattering run in fact, in which I tallied nearly 18,000 migrants engaging in the “Morning Flight,” or “morning re-determined migration” when nocturnally-migrating passerines relocate (to drastically oversimplify things) come sunrise.
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(To learn more about Sandy Point, check out the site entry in Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide, and for more on nocturnal migration, interpreting the radar, and the “morning flight” phenomena, check out Chapter 5 in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder. Whaddya mean you don’t have these two books!?)

I’ve had a handful of four-day runs, but I cannot think of a time when conditions were favorable – and I was actually present, and not leading tours on Monhegan for example – for five straight days. But I have most certainly never had five days like this!

I recorded 72 species “deemed migrating” through here, not including migrants that were in the bushes, such as the Gray Catbirds and Song Sparrows that are so abundant in the brush here. It does not include species like Osprey, in which some of the many I saw this week were likely southbound, but impossible to separate from the still-locals. And this tally did not include all of the waterbirds, from Common Eiders to herds of dabbling American Black Ducks, and from Bald Eagles to hunting Great Blue Herons, as well as resident species.

I tallied 25 species of warblers, including a single Connecticut Warbler, one of the most sought-after parulids in Maine. A Northern Mockingbird was only my 5th ever noted here, and two passing Dickcissels are always a treat. But certainly the icing on the cake of this great week was the Lark Sparrow found by the group in the parking lot on the relatively quiet morning of 9/13. This was a first record for Sandy Point, and my personal 184th species here.
LASP, Becky

But it was the morning of the 11th that will go down in Sandy Point history!  8,185 migrants was not only a new record, but almost doubled the previous record (4,346 on Sept 21, 2010). It was incredible. More on that epic morning later.

A number of records for high counts for individual species were set, and I am sure even more would have been shattered if I had a higher rate of identification during the onslaught of the 11th.   Other trends, typical of the season, were evident, such as the slow but steady change in the composition of the flight. The early migrants like Magnolia Warblers were giving way to a growing percentage of Yellow-rumped Warbles and Blackpoll Warblers for example. But it sure seems like we’re not yet running our of Yellow Warblers and American Restarts, however!
AMRE
immature male American Redstart

YWAR
Yellow Warbler, adult male

So first, here’s the numbers (bold font indicates a new daily record).

 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12 9/13
Blue-winged Teal 3 0 0 0 0
Unidentified teal 0 0 4 0 0
Surf Scoter 3 0 0 0 0
Common Loon 4 0 0 3 0
Northern Harrier 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 1 0 0 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1 0
Mourning Dove 0 1 0 1 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 0 0 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Flicker 1 256 68 26 12
Pileated Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 0
American Kestrel 0 0 3 0 1
Merlin 1 1 0 1 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 4 0 0 0
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 0
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 0
Least Flycatcher 9 11 3 2 0
Unidentified Empidonax 5 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 3 2 2 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 1 0 0 0
Unidentified flycatcher 6 1 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 3 1 2 0
Philadelphia Vireo 3 4 2 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 42 49 30 9 4
Unidentified vireo 1 2 0 0 0
Blue Jay 0 0 0 2 5
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 0 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 1 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 1 0
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 1 5 4 0
Swainson’s Thrush 10 0 0 2 0
American Robin 4 3 1 2 0
Unidentified thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Cedar Waxwing 21 265 377 54 0
Ovenbird 0 0 0 0 1
Northern Waterthrush 0 0 0 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 33 59 41 32 5
Tennessee Warbler 4 2 2 8 0
Nashville Warbler 8 8 10 4 0
CONNECTICUT WARBLER 1 0 0 0 0
Mourning Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 5 5 2
American Redstart 602 550 844 119 16
Cape May Warbler 18 5 8 5 0
Northern Parula 705 630 692 612 205
Magnolia Warbler 66 117 32 23 2
Bay-breasted Warbler 5 3 1 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 7 6 1 0 0
Yellow Warbler 19 52 38 67 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 5 2 0 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 9 3 27 25 35
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8 7 4 4 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
“Western” Palm Warbler 1 0 0 0 0
Pine Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 6 3 19 11
Prairie Warbler 1 2 1 1 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 118 63 73 57 26
Canada Warbler 6 0 1 0 0
Wilson’s Warbler 12 17 7 4 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 1 3 1
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 2 0 0 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 1 1 4 1 0
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 1 0 0 0
Indigo Bunting 0 0 1 1 0
DICKCISSEL 0 0 1 0 1
Bobolink 1 2 0 0 0
Red-winged Blackbird 1 2 0 0 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 2 1 1 1 1
House Finch 0 0 0 1 1
Purple Finch 0 0 0 8 0
American Goldfinch 5 12 3 6 4
Unidentified 1915 1887 5893 737 192
TOTAL 3705 4057 8185 1866 540

 

Now, let’s take a look at the radar. Here are the density and velocity images from 1am (as a sample) on 9/9 and 9/10. That’s a ton of birds on the radar.
1amRadar,9-09-17
1amVelocity,9-09-17

1amRadar,9-10-17
1amVelocity,9-10-17

And even as late as 4:00am on each day, a lot of birds were visible, and a lot of birds were offshore.
4amRadar,9-09-17
4amRadar,9-10-17

The night of 9/8 through 9/9 featured light westerly winds, shifting to northwest by sunrise. And on the next night, light north winds became northwest overnight. Both, as expected, produced great flights over and through Sandy Point some dawn.

Weather patterns, especially at this time of year, rarely produce three great nights for migrants in a row. And when they do, it often results in fewer birds overnight (and therefore at Sandy Point) come sunrise; essentially, the well temporarily runs dry.

And as you can see by the 1:00am radar image from September 11th, the density was nowhere near the previous two nights, despite mostly light westerly winds overnight.
1amRadar,9-11-17
1amVelocity,9-11-17

And by 4:00am, it was rather quiet.
4amRadar,9-11-17

Light northwesterly winds in the evening slowly gave way to light north, before becoming light and variable. After midnight, they became west but didn’t really increase until after 2:00am. Coupled with a lackluster radar return, this was not a recipe for a huge flight.

Nonetheless with a light westerly wind at sunrise, I was heading to Sandy Point anyway. If only because it was a day off, and I won’t have many more chances to visit “my office” this month. A milky sunrise further clouded (sorry) my optimism for a big flight, but there were plenty of birds in the air.
Sunrise_on_big_day_atSP,9-11-17

And then all hell broke loose.

It was incredible. It was frustrating. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was amazing. It was indeed overwhelming, and at times, my only hopes at quantifying the flood was to skip attempting identification and just click my unidentified clicker as fast as I could.

And I really can’t explain it. It “shouldn’t” have been this amazing.

Come nightfall, with high pressure remaining in control, and with light westerly winds and clear skies once again, a moderate to strong flight occurred overnight. Here are the 1:00am and 4:00am radar images from the wee hours of 9/12:
1amRadar,9-12-17
1amVelocity,9-12-17

4amRadar,9-12-17

With light westerly winds come dawn, I was once again stationed at the bridge, and what was – prior to three days ago! – considered a very good flight passed over and through. It was even downright relaxing – and manageable – after the chaos of the previous morning. I had fun.

Not surprisingly, after four consecutive nights, the flight was much lighter overnight on the 12th into the 13th, as evidenced once again by the 1:00am and 4:00am images.
1amRadar,9-13-17
1amVelocity,9-13-17

4amRadar,9-13-17

And despite very light westerly winds in the morning, and clear skies, only a light flight was to pass through the point. Of course, that Lark Sparrow more than made up for it. It was also nice to enjoy a slower flight – and identify many more birds than not!

So almost every morning made sense: radar plus weather conditions correctly predicted the intensity of the flight. Except for one. The Big One. And I can’t explain it. But, I am OK (mostly) with that – it’s one of the fascinating and flabbergasting aspects of documenting the morning redetermined migration!

Winds turned to the south during the day on the 13th, and continued light and southerly overnight, bringing the streak of five great nights of migration to an end. Come morning, I also slept in – relatively speaking – and then went for a massage. As my therapist began to work on my aching neck, she simply uttered, “Wow” and got to work. I felt the same on Monday morning when the greatest flight I have ever recorded passed through Sandy Point.

IMG_6455-edited-edited
Species, such as this Swainson’s Thrush, that can be rather secretive in migration, are sometimes seen really well at Sandy Point!

The Fall Shorebird Spectacle of the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick.

shorebirds1-A

Jeannette and I spent our summer vacation in the neighboring Province of New Brunswick. For far too long, we have been saying we needed to get to the head of the Bay of Fundy in August, so this year we finally made it happen.

It’s a beautiful area, and August is a great time of year to visit the Maritimes. However, our primary motivation wasn’t the scenery, the weather, or even the poutine. We were here to see one of the great natural spectacles of the entire region: the fall migration of the Semipalmated Sandpiper.
monument

Up to 75% of the world’s population of this small shorebird (“peep”) passes through the Bay of Fundy each fall, stopping to feed and fuel up on the region’s immense mudflats, with recent estimates of several hundred thousand birds. With that Bay’s 40-foot tides and mudflats of over a mile wide, “Semi-Sands” find a lot of foraging habitat, and a lot of food. In particular, a species of mudshrimp that can be found in incredible densities of 60,000 per square meter!  Along with a nutrient-rich biofilm on the mudflats’ surface, Semi-Sands can put on enough fat reserves to fuel a three-day non-stop flight to their wintering areas in Northern South America. (For more information about the region, including a map and components of the food chain, I highly recommend the Bay of Fundy Mudflats website).
mudflats

While “flocks of over 100,000” are rare these days, flocks of 50,000 or more can be encountered, ebbing and flowing with each change in the wind and arrival and departure of flocks. This wonder of the avian world, a mere day’s drive away, is something we needed to do. And with the continued decline of Semipalmated Sandpipers – and sadly, most other shorebirds – we could not wait any longer.

We based our stay of three days in Sackville, a charming little town with surprisingly great restaurants and a remarkable downtown nature preserve. From our motel here, we drove the short distance to Johnson’s Mills twice each of our two full days of birding here – once each on the morning high to outgoing tide, and once each on the incoming to high tide in the evening.

Nature Conservancy Canada has an Interpretive Center on the shores of their reserve, a great place for viewing shorebirds or receiving information about the best current location of observation. Mostly, we spent our time nearby, usually by walking just a short distance south of the center.
viewingPlatform_edited-1

And it was truly incredible. I am to come up with the words to describe it. It was, literally, awesome. And there is no way photos can do it justice, either. I did post a few phone-scoped videos on our store’s Facebook page that might help capture the scene a little, but I’ll just let these photos tell as much of the story here as they can.
Shorebirds-1

Shorebirds-1B

shorebirds2

shorebirds3

Shorebirds3-a

shorebirds3-b

shorebirds4

shorebirds5

shorebirds6

shorebirds7

Both days, we then visited the Sackville Waterfowl Park. This wonderful little gem, with entrances all around downtown, features managed wetlands that was chock full of birds. We had mixed-species foraging flocks of migrant warblers at the edge, roosting Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs wherever they could find some open mud, and lots of ducks – including at least 6 family groups of regionally-very-uncommon Gadwall.
GADWGadwall_chicks

AMWI
And lots of other ducks, like American Wigeon.

yellowlegs
Roosting Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.

On our fourth day, we spent the high tide at Mary’s Point, on the other side of the bay, for a different perspective. A “mere” 8,000-10,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers were present here this morning, but likely due to the sandy beach, there were more plovers: both Black-bellied and Semipalmated.
Marys_Point1MarysPoint-2
A White-rumped Sandpiper stands watch over all.

We then enjoyed hiking and casual birding in Fundy National Park, before slowly making our way back to Maine via ferries and island-hopping to Campobello Island.
FundyNP

Seawatching from East Quoddy Head (Great and Sooty Shearwaters, etc), a Baird’s Sandpiper on the Lubec Bar, and two wandering Great Egrets at the Baring Unit of the Moosehorn National Wildlife were among the avian highlights of our first day and a half in the area.

Thwarted by dense fog, the last morning of our vacation featured just enough clearing to allow us to get out on the water with our friend Chris from Eastport. The swirling mass of gulls feeding on the swirling waters in and around the Old Sow Whirlpool is another sight that should not be missed – luckily, this is one we enjoy almost every year. In just a couple of hours on the water, before the fog once again closed in, we saw 2000-3000 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 40 or so Red-necked Phalaropes, 4-5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, over 100 Black-legged Kittiwakes, a lost Atlantic Puffin way up the straight, a couple of Razorbills, and this lovely adult Little Gull.
LIGU

ARTE
Arctic Terns

BLKI
Black-legged Kittiwake

Lubec

So if you haven’t gone to the head of the Bay of Fundy in August, I cannot recommend it enough. Lubec-Eastport is pretty fine this time of year as well (hence my biennial August van tour.) And yeah, we had some good poutine, too.
Poutine_edited-1

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument Needs Your Support!

IMG_1889_edited-2

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was designated by President Barack Obama in September of 2016. It was the first such marine monument designated in the Atlantic Ocean, lying roughly 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod. The designation protects 4,913 square miles from energy exploration, undersea mining, and most commercial fishing (with exceptions) in order to protect fish populations and a variety of endangered species, especially Sperm, Fin, and Sei Whales.

Of particular interest and consequence to birders, it has recently been discovered that Atlantic Puffins winter in the area, perhaps even a goodly portion of “our” birds. What would happen if a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster happened out here? Would decades of puffin restoration on Maine’s islands be for nothing? What about the tourism, jobs, and pure enjoyment that puffin tours along the Maine coast create? What about the future of an iconic species that already has to face to challenges of drastic Climate Change and severe overfishing?

The designation of this Marine National Monument was a very good thing for Atlantic Puffins, and therefore, a very good thing for birding in Maine! But it is now under threat.

Canyons Map

In April, “President Donald Trump signed two executive orders – the first calls for a ‘review’ of 27 large-scale monuments on land and in the ocean, and the second takes direct aim at marine monuments and National Marine Sanctuarues. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a target of both orders.” That link, to the Center for American Progress, has a good overview of what’s at stake, and the likely beneficiary of an overturning of this designation (Big Oil).  Be sure to also check out the maps in that report, including the perceived distribution of wintering Atlantic Puffins and the overall offshore seabird abundance estimates (and then compare those maps to the fishing effort map!) Basically, the claims of impacts on fishing grounds is mostly a red herring (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Here in Maine, it has been the review by Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, of the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument that has (rightly) received a lot of attention. His visit to Maine was thoroughly covered as he met with local communities, politicians, and business organizations. Press coverage has been widespread and thorough of the debate, such as this recent article in The Boston Globe.

I certainly support that monument designation, and I look forward to visiting it for the first time later this fall, but I will save that blog for another day.

But the review of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument has received much less attention, especially here in Maine, despite its importance to our puffins. I believe birders therefore need to lead the charge in speaking out in support of the monument, which I believe is at greater risk in the Zinke era than Katahdin Woods and Waters. In no small part because not enough people are paying attention.

Personally, I think this whole “review” process is a dog and pony show – another weapon of mass distraction – from an administration hell-bent on gutting environmental laws. While we argue over the validity and value of each monument, Zinke and company are paving the way for more resource extraction at cut-rate prices on our PUBLIC land, even in National Parks. And attacking Endangered Species protections. Say good-bye to the Greater Sage-Grouse, for example, if this corruption continues.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep fighting for each of them, and I believe Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is worth fighting for. For whales, puffins, and the future of fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

Therefore, to start, please take a moment – if you have not done so already – to submit a comment in support of the monument’s designation. We only have until August 15th to do so. Simply click the “Comment Now” button on the upper right of the federal website linked above, and be sure to specifically mention Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (and all of the other monuments that are important to you).Secretary Zinke is expected to issue his report on the review of all of the monuments on August 24th. We’ll learn more then about exactly what this process has been all about, and how far this administration is going to attempt to go to overturn anything accomplished during the Obama presidency. There will be plenty of lawsuits from all directions, so none of these fights are over yet.

So please, don’t be distracted by tweets, rhetoric, or grandstanding. The real damage is being done right in front of our eyes, through little directives, department policy initiatives, and countless other ways to undermine the economy, environment, and citizens of this country in order to line the pockets of the fortunate few.

I for one am not going go down without a fight. A fight that includes a fight for puffins!

A couple of additional references:

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on Wikipedia.

Pew Charitable Trust applaudes monument’s creation.