2018 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend

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The most abundant songbird throughout the weekend, a flock of 125 Cedar Waxwings would ball up each morning and then spread out through the island to feed.

My annual “Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend” battled highs seas (seriously, it was rough and we were all thankful it was only a 1-hr ride!) to arrive on the wonderful island of Monhegan on Friday, May 25th. Five days later, I had two new birds for my Monhegan list, a total of 97 species including 18 species of warblers, and way too much of the best pizza in Maine.
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After regaining our legs and equilibrium, we hit the ground running as always, birding our way to and from our hotel, lunch, and eventually dinner. No daylight was spared, and in doing so, we caught up with a few things, including the flock of 30 or so Red Crossbills, three of which perched nearby by close studies. Personally, however, I was most excited about 2 Eastern Bluebirds (at least one had been present for a while), my 210th species on Monhegan!  We had our first sighting of Warbling Vireo, which, like the 1-2 Field Sparrows – we saw everyday; both very uncommon on the island in spring. Apparently, I either started coming after – or perhaps only took better notes after – they last bred on the island. An island bird is a great way to start off the trip!\
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Red Crossbill – female.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak – female.


Eastern Kingbird

Friday calmly eased us into the weekend, but Saturday blew us away. It was just one of those great days, with birds seemingly everywhere, and many of them low and easy to see. Following a moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, there were a lot of new arrivals. Five Tennessee Warblers heard singing from one spot while tarrying at the Trailing Yew awaiting the coffee pot were a sign of things to come.

As is often the case on such flight days, we didn’t have to cover a lot of ground, as waves of birds were passing through the island and around town, pausing at just about every apple tree. It was hard to estimate the number of birds around, but there was a consistent south to north flow on the island, and several relatively-large flocks of the most common migrants of the day. I finally settled on 80 Red-eyed Vireos, 50 Blackpoll Warblers, and 20 Tennessee Warblers – impressive numbers of birds normally relegated to the tops of the highest oak trees, but today, more often than not, in low brush and short apple
trees.

Tennessee Warbler
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Blackpoll Warbler, male.

While it wasn’t the kind of day that Monhegan legends are made of, it was one of the “good ol’ days” where migrants were plenty, views were crippling, and birding was easy.  And all of that was punctuated by a few goodies, including an immature male Orchard Oriole, three Eastern Bluebirds together (two appeared to leave the island shortly thereafter), a lingering immature Great Cormorant, my first Common Nighthawk of the year fluttering off the high cliffs of White Head, 14 species of warblers including 4 Cape May and 2 Bay-breasted, and much more. And the day ended with two American Woodcocks heard calling and twittering from the lawn chairs of the Trailing Yew.  That’s what Monhegan in migration is all about!
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On Monhegan and elsewhere, a good birding rule of thumb is that if you see a blooming apple tree, you should look in it.

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And that sunset from the Yew!

Not surprisingly, Sunday was slower, as light northeasterly winds precluded much in the way of overnight migration. And while it seemed that a lot of yesterday’s migrants had departed or melted into the woodlands, there were plenty of birds around, with a slight improvement in diversity, still plenty of Blackpoll Warblers, and a few highlights including a cooperative Green Heron, more Red Crossbills, a fly-by Black-billed Cuckoo, a Carolina Wren (finally; good to know one is here again), and a Northern Mockingbird (uncommon to rare out here) that we witnessed fly onto the island from behind, or perhaps over, Manana.
harbor

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Green Heron

The afternoon was rather slow overall, but we just kept seeing birds well: the Warbling Vireo at eye level, a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the garden, and continued good views of Tennessee Warblers.
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Field Sparrow
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White-crowned Sparrow
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Eastern Wood-Pewee

Monday the 28th was the last day of the tour, and with a smaller group in tow, we covered a lot of ground. While there was virtually no visible migration on the radar overnight on very light easterly winds once again, there were clearly a lot of new birds around (or at least, birds not seen the previous days) and we ended up with the best diversity of the trip – 71 species by day’s end.
Sunday am

In fact, by days’ end, we added 14 new species to our cumulative weekend list – not bad for a “slow” day and the end of a tour. And there was some quality to it, too: a continuing very late drake Long-tailed Duck that we finally caught up with…
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…a Brown Thrasher, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and especially the Brant that we found on Nigh Duck – my 211th all-time bird on Monhegan, and a new “island bird” for just about every birder on the island.
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On Tuesday, it was just Jeannette and I on a one-day vacation, mostly on our own, but meandering in and out of contact with several friends on the island. We awoke to dense fog, but that rapidly lifted, and the strong (for the date) flight overnight produced another new arrival of birds. It sure wasn’t Saturday, but there were plenty more Blackpoll Warblers around, and warbler diversity overall was the best of the weekend with a total of 16 species, highlighted by the Mourning Warbler we found by the Mooring Chain, and an impressive 15 Blackburnian Warblers.
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John and Terez found a (or relocated a brief late-last-week fly-by) Summer Tanager…
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…and we added a few new birds for the trip list including Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, and had more species of butterflies today than total butterfly individuals all weekend, including an early Monarch. It was also a really, really nice day!
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The afternoon was slower, and Jeannette and I winded down our visit with good conversation, one last slice (or two) of Novelty pizza and another pint (or two) of Monhegan Brewing beer, and caught up with some good friends who had just arrived with tours of their own. It was a relaxing finish to a great weekend, and the gentle boat ride home was more relaxing than we really needed before driving – just a little different than our outbound trip!

So yeah, it was a good trip. And, after one day at work, I am definitely ready to go back!  At least I have two tours out here this fall. First, I have a full week with my WINGS tour, space on which is still available.

And there’s a little room left on our store’s annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour, which is only four months away!
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Yellow Warbler in an apple tree.

And finally, here is the daily tally:

5/25 5/26 5/27 5/28 5/29
BRANT 0 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 1 1 1 1
Am. Blac Duck x Mallard hybrid 0 1 0 1 1
Mallard 15 10 12 16 20
Common Eider x x x x x
LONG-TAILED DUCK 0 0 0 1 0
Red-throated Loon 2 1 0 0 0
Common Loon 1 0 1 2 0
Northern Gannet 2 0 0 3 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
GREAT CORMORANT 0 1 0 0 0
Great Blue Heron 0 0 0 1 0
Green Heron 0 0 1 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 0 0 1 0
Osprey 0 0 1 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 0 0 0 1 1
Merlin 0 2 0 1 0
Sora 0 0 0 1 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 0 0 0 3
American Woodcock 0 2 0 0 0
Laughing Gull 1 1 8 20 8
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern 1 0 0 2 2
Black Guillemot x x x x x
Mourning Dove x x x x x
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 2 3 4 4
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Flicker 0 0 0 0 1
Great-crested Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 1 2 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 1
Least Flycatcher 1 2 2 2 2
Eastern Phoebe 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Kingbird 2 8 7 4 3
WARBLING VIREO 1 1 2 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2 80 10 6 8
Blue Jay x x x x x
American Crow x x x x x
Common Raven 2 1 2 2 2
Tree Swallow 4 4 4 4 4
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 2 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 1 1
Winter Wren 0 0 1 0 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 0 0 0
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER 0 1 0 0 0
EASTERN BLUEBIRD 2 3 1 1 1
Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin x x x x x
Gray Catbird x x x x x
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD 0 0 1 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling x x x x x
Cedar Waxwing 60 125 125 125 125
Tennessee Warbler 3 20 8 4 6
Northern Parula 2 6 4 5 10
Yellow Warbler 6 10 12 12 12
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 1 0 0 1
Magnolia Warbler 4 4 3 2 4
Cape May Warbler 0 4 2 1 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warblers 3 2 1 0 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 8 3 2 5
Blackburnian Warbler 0 0 1 2 15
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 2 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 12 50 25 20 40
Black-and-white Warbler 3 4 3 1 2
American Redstart 4 15 6 0 15
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1 0 1
Canada Warbler 0 0 1 0 0
SUMMER TANAGER 0 0 0 0 1
Chipping Sparrow 4 4 2 2 4
FIELD SPARROW 0 1 2 2 0
Savannah Sparrow 0 1 1 0 0
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 2 2 2
White-throated Sparrow 0 0 0 1 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1 0 1 1 0
Northern Cardinal 4 x x x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2 2 3 3 1
Indigo Bunting 0 1 1 1 1
Bobolink 0 0 2 1 1
Red-winged Blackbird 12 x x x x
Common Grackle 15 x x x x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 1 3 3 4 2
Purple Finch 4 4 2 2 2
RED CROSSBILL (lone good recording identified as Type 10 by M. Young at Cornell). 30 0 5 h.o 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 1 0
American Goldfinch 10 x x x x

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I forgot to take a photo of the pizza – I ate it too quickly as usual – so here are some beautiful beets from the Island Inn.


And as migrants were passing through, many of the island’s breeding species were well underway, such as this Song Sparrow gathering food for its nestlings.

Three Days at Florida Lake Park

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Northern Parula

One of my favorite aspects of May is that there are “new” birds every day. Constant turnover as the flow of migratory songbirds, especially the long-distance Neotropical migrants, reaches its peak means “first-of-years” can be found almost every day. Even better, is the constant turnover and new arrivals almost anywhere we go birding.

…Including at local patches. And for me, there are few places I’d rather be than staying near home at Florida Lake Park in Freeport. I can get in several hours of birding and still make it to work in time, which is important in one of our store’s two busiest months. We’re luck to have this park only 12 minutes from our house, which makes for a perfect birding “patch.”
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Blackburnian Warbler

With an exceptionally busy week, my birding time was limited to the early mornings, but Florida Lake did not let me down. In fact, it was a lot of fun. With good diversity each day, and new birds arriving each night, there was always something new to look at. And, as is the case with loyal patch-working, the consistency of visitation makes for a nice education on the ebbs and flows of seasonal migrants.

Check out the scorecard of warblers (and a few other personal first-of-years) that I had each day this week, and note the subtle change in diversity and species dominance as the season advances. Numbers of individuals have not been huge, but numbers of species have been great for the second week of May.
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday, 5/9.
46F, dense fog, calm.
Radar down for maintenance.

(14 species of warblers)
25+ Yellow-rumped Warblers
10+ Northern Parulas
10 Common Yellowthroats
8 Black-and-white Warblers
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Ovenbirds
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
3 Northern Waterthrushes
2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler

4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (FOY)

Thursday, 5/10.
43F, dense fog, calm.
Ambiguous radar due to presence of fog that moved inland overnight, but looked good for birds, too, and possibly large flight inland.

(14 species of warblers)
22 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Black-and-white Warblers
7 Common Yellowthroats
5 Ovenbirds
5 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Northern Parulas
4 Yellow Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 American Redstarts (FOY)
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Wilson’s Warbler (FOY)
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Wilson’s Warbler

Friday, 5/11.
52F, partly cloudy, moderate NW.
Dry cold front passed overnight with SW to S winds shifting to W to NW by 3:00am. Very strong flight early in overnight diminished rapidly after midnight.

(18 species of warblers; very good tally for the 11th of May here)
16 Black-and-white Warblers
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
10 Common Yellowthroats
7 Northern Parulas
7 Black-throated Green Warblers
7 Magnolia Warblers
6 Ovenbirds
4 Nashville Warblers
4 American Redstarts
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers
2 Pine Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Blackpoll Warbler (FOY)
1 Palm Warbler


And these radar images from midnight showed that it was going to be a great day!

Folks in Portland have been rewarded with daily visits to Evergreen Cemetery and/or Capisic Pond Park, while those closer to Biddeford have headed to Timber Point, for example. But regardless of where you are, there’s a local “patch” to be “worked,” or perhaps to be discovered. And there’s no better time than now!

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Palm Warbler

Cayman Islands, February 2018


Endemic Cayman Brac subspecies of the Cuban Parrot.

Jeannette and I spent our winter vacation this year in the Cayman Islands. Spending a week from February 23rd to March 1st, we continued to foster our love for island biogeography and our pursuit of island endemic birds.

The Caymans don’t have a lot of endemic (or near-endemic) bird species, but it does have plenty of endemic subspecies. And while these might not be “countable” on some published list, they’re just as fascinating to us. We didn’t have a lot of time for our trip this winter, so we wanted to visit an island where the relatively-limited amount of “target birds” would give us plenty of time to enjoy the other finer things of island life: food, snorkeling, and perhaps even a little R&R!

We arrived around lunchtime on the 23rd, and were immediately greeted by the endemic subspecies of Greater Antillean Grackle, as well as Northern Mockingbirds and Smooth-billed Anis.

For cost-effectiveness, we stayed away from the famous 7-Mile Beach (which, by the way, is actually only about 5.5 miles long), but with a 1.5 mile walk, a free shuttle, or a quick taxi, we would be right in the thick of things. Bananaquits – one of our favorite birds in the world – were common in the plantings in and around the hotel (and most everywhere else in the Caribbean) and they could keep us entertained for hours.

On our first morning, we decided to do a little exploring, taking the public mini-bus away from the touristy areas and along the south shore past Boddentown. We got dropped off at a spot on the map labeled “Meager Bay Wildlife Sanctuary” and just started walking. While it turned out there were no trails in the sanctuary, walking a dirt road on its eastern species here, such as LaSagra’s Flycatcher, our lifer Yellow-faced Grassquits, Common Ground-Doves, and especially “Golden” Yellow Warblers.  Migrants from North America, led by Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, also included the likes of Gray Catbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, a single Belted Kingfisher, and a couple of Yellow-throated Warblers.

Walking back towards Boddentown, we found a dilapidated viewing platform which overlooked the mangrove bay, and with it, our list grew considerably!  Lots of ubiquitous Black-necked Stilts were joined by Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, scattered Pied-billed Grebes, a flock of Blue-winged Teal, and much more.

Unusually heavy and persistent rain (it was the dry season, after all) plagued the western end of the island all day, so we were lucky to only encounter a few showers and a couple of brief downpours on our walk. Afternoon beach or snorkeling time was washed out, however; but we did relax with some Winter Olympics on the television as palm trees whipped in the wind outside our window.

Day 3 was our big birding day, as we were to be picked up by the island’s only birding guide: Geddes Hislop of Silver Thatch Excursions. While most birds are fairly “easy” on Grand Cayman, we always hire a local guide for at least some part of our trip to learn the sites, learn about the birds, and learn about as much of everything about a place as we can!

Of course, local expertise always improves birding success, and within a short time, Geddes had shown us our lifer West Indian Whistling-Ducks in a canal-lined subdivision (a new habitat that this regional endemic and Globally Threatened species may be adapting to here)…

We stopped at Pedro St. James Historic Site where we saw our first Loggerhead Kingbirds of the trip (endemic subspecies), and some very-surprisingly-early displaying White-tailed Tropicbirds.

The Botanic Park was the money spot though, where within minutes, Geddes offered up point-blank views of two of the major targets: Vitelline Warbler (found only here and on Swan Islands off of Honduras)…

…and Taylor’s (or Grand Cayman) Bullfinch (or, depending on the authority, the endemic subspecies of Cuban Bullfinch. Like the Vitelline Warbler, they were stunningly cooperative.

male Taylor’s Bullfinch

Geddes’s access to private property produced our best views we would have of Grand Cayman subspecies of the Cuban Parrot, before we worked our way around a few freshwater habitats (certainly at a premium on a limestone/coral atoll).

The island’s only virgin forest, within the North Coast Ridge, was amazingly productive, with oodles more Vitellines and bullfinches, but also the endemic subspecies of Thick-billed Vireo, the endemic subspecies of Yucatan Vireo (also a lifer for us), and a heard-only lifer Caribbean Dove. Given the terrain, going off the road in pursuit of this secretive ground dove did not seem wise, and so we decided to leave uninjured and just enjoy the fact that we heard one – a bird that seems to be on the rapid decline here.

We had spotted an Anhinga yesterday from the viewing platform at Meager Bay, a real rarity according to Geddes. So we returned on our way back to see if it was still around. It was – as were 2 more! Here’s a distant “doc shot” of one of them.

We also twitched some Trinidadian doubles for lunch – one of our favorite foodstuffs before returning back to our hotel. There was a lot of really good food on the island, but by far our best meal of the trip was our dinner visit to Vivo in West Bay. Once again, we took the bus for an inexpensive ride out of the tourist Mecca, and walked over a mile to get to this hidden gem.

A vegan and vegetarian restaurant that serves Red Lionfish – an invasive species that is destroying the reefs of the Caribbean? Yes please!  I wanted to do more part by eating as much lionfish as I could get my hands on, as there’s nothing more sustainable than eating a local invasive species. Thanks to an intense and coordinated effort by the government of the Caymans, including persuading chefs to feature it, we learned that they are really making a difference with controlling this destructive fish. It just goes to show you: humans can overfish anything!

My stir-fried lionfish with local veggies and achee, and Jeannette’s poached lionfish with Asian-style broth meant there were at least two less Lionfish raving the ecology of the Caymans. It was also darn tasty, too.

But we also have to give a shout-out to our delicious two appetizers, the beet and avocado tartar and the coconut “ceviche.”

And the views were pretty tasty, too.


Hmm..based on the success of promoting lionfish hunting and eating, perhaps the invasive Green Iguanas that are eating everything on land could be next?

We were back on the buses the next morning (I mean, come on, for between $2.50 and $4.50 per person we could go just about anywhere! Sure beats a rental car…let alone driving on the “wrong side” through those chaotic George Town rotaries!), making a second visit to the Botanic Park. We had only missed two species with Geddes, Western Spindalis and West Indian Woodpecker – both of which are endemic subspecies, and we had a few photos to improve upon.

Although we didn’t find the tanager or the woodpecker, Jeannette got some great photos of Yucatan Vireo, and others.

And we added more migrants to our triplist, including Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbirds, and Prairie Warbler. We also enjoyed a few more “Grand Cayman” Parrots, but none of the views were nearly as good as the day before.

Female Taylor’s Bullfinch.

Following a bus ride and a long walk back to our hotel, we hopped in a cab back to the airport.  We got to see Little Cayman as our plane touched down, but after just a few minutes, our puddle jumper made the 10-minute jump over to Cayman Brac, one of the “quiet” islands where we would spend the next two days.

No lifers were to be expected, but we did have three more endemic subspecies to track down – subspecies found only here, or here and Little Cayman. While checking out the mangrove pond across the street from our room, the first of those put in an appearance: Red-legged Thrush. Unfortunately, the related Grand Cayman Thrush was considered a full species, but has been declared extinct since at least the mid 1940’s, due to deforestation, hurricane damage, and collecting.

We had a rental car for our one full day on “Brac” to make the most of our brief visit (traffic and rotaries are less of a concern here than on the big island!)

We began again across the street, where this wetland proved to be one of our best birding locales of the trip. We quickly picked up some more West Indian Whistling-Ducks while waiting for our car to be delivered. Then, it was off to the parrot reserve and interior forest.

The Brac subspecies of Vitelline Warbler was almost as abundant as the nominate subspecies was on Grand Cayman, and in short while we spotted several “Cayman Brac” Cuban Parrots.

Female “Cayman Brac”Vitelline Warbler; parrot photo above

We flushed a Barn Owl – likely one that was roosting in a limestone cave or sinkhole – which paused briefly on an open limb, and we got better views of Red-legged Thrush.

Thick-billed Vireos and a variety of North American migrants were also commonplace.

At Lighthouse Bluff, the highest point in the Caymans at 140 feet above sea level, we were delighted with Brown Boobies wheeling around the updrafts, and several birds on nests along the bluff-side trail.




Peregrine Falcon

Pat’s Kitchen was a very welcome lunch stop, serving delicious local goodness, including “Bake Beef,” roasted Cayman-style and from a cow raised just down the road (possibility acting as a lawnmower in someone’s yard).

In the afternoon, we snorkeled – finally! – encountering Eagle Rays, Tarpon, and at least one uncomfortably-inquisitive Barracuda, right outside our abode. And then it was back to our “hotel pond,” where we added Short-billed Dowitcher (definitively; we had one in the distance at Grand Cayman), and among them, at least one Long-billed Dowitcher. Even with a scope, most of the dowitchers here were too far away to identify. The Tricolored Heron show was also particularly entertaining.

The next morning, we got an earlier start and walked the nature trail in the Parrot Reserve once again, getting great looks at more Red-legged Thrushes, Thick-billed Vireos and Loggerhead Kingbirds. We realized how lucky we were yesterday, however, as today the parrots did not show themselves well.

Loggerhead Kingbird


Atala

Snorkeling in the sheltered “kiddie pool” at the park for the wreck of the M/V Tibbets was extremely relaxing, easy, and the brilliant rainbow-glistening cuttlefish that wandered by was more than worth the effort.

After refueling at Pat’s Kitchen once again, we explored some of the caves (no bats, sadly), and since this was a Lovitch vacation, we had to pay an obligatory visit to at least one landfill!

Just feral Red Junglefowl, a small group of Smooth-billed Anis, and scattered Northern Mockingbirds here, however.

The “hotel pond” earned another check, and this time it was a total of 7 West Indian Whistling-Ducks that made the visit worthwhile, including this cooperative foursome.

We definitely would have enjoyed a little more time on The Brac, but it was already time to begin the trek home, and so we were off to the airport for the short flight back to Grand Cayman. Calling Semipalmated Plovers on our walk home after dinner added to our list.

On our last morning, we did contemplate giving it once last shot at Western Spindalis and West Indian Woodpecker by taking the bus to Botanic Park. However, we thought wiser of the journey and decided to play it safe and just go for a swim at the beach. Beating the crowds more than confirmed our decision!

Geddes had mentioned there was the chance of West Indian Woodpecker anywhere on the island, but we didn’t think that included the beach!  But I was in the water and Jeannette was reading in the sand when one flew in to the small public park nearby and began to call. We must have been quite the sight wandering through the parking lot in our bathing suits pointing into the trees!  But we were rewarded with really great looks at the endemic subspecies of this Red-bellied-like woodpecker.

With our last hour, Jeannette worked the hotel grounds to improve upon photos of the grackle and Smooth-billed Ani, while I checked a few thickets for migrants and visited with our favorites, the Bananaquits.

We cajoled our cab driver into stopping for Jamaican patties for lunch on our way to the airport, and with the week almost up, we were back at the tiny international airport.

And sadly, this is where our real adventure began! A “mechanical issue” delay turned out to be a punctured tire, and the replacement had to be flown in. Over 4 hours later, we were finally on our way.

We had long-since missed our connection home, so Charlotte, North Carolina was as far as we would make it today. Useless American Airlines couldn’t find us a hotel (or at least, one cheap enough for them to pay for it) so we booked our own. Now, to their credit, they did – upon our return – reimburse us for it. Unfortunately, this was the last time they would be anything less than terrible.

After a twelve-species lap around the hotel (yay, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens!), we were back at the Charlotte Airport. No big deal, things happen, and of course, we would rather the gouged tire be found before lift-off!  Unfortunately, things took a turn for the much-worse when our flight to Portland was cancelled a half hour before boarding due to the strengthening Nor’easter.

The woman I talked to on the phone at American definitely deserves credit for doing her best to try and get us home, but with the next available flight to Portland being 3 1/2 days later, and no flights to any airport much closer in the foreseeable future, we elected to just rent a car and start the drive (expecting that AA would at least help out with the incurred cost, I cannot believe how stubborn, useless, and downright condescending and dismissive they were when we inquired about reimbursement upon our return. After such a miserable journey, being treated so poorly will make us avoid this airline at all costs in the future).

It wouldn’t have been a good day in a plane, because it was hard enough to drive! Strong cross-winds all day made for bare-knuckle driving, with our little Ford Focus feeling like it would be lifted right off the road. The swaying tractor trailers were more of a concern, however.

We tried to make the best of it, enjoying Black Vultures, counting Red-tailed Hawks, and stopping for dinner at a Waffle House. Seven hours later, we made almost made it half of the way home when we pulled into a motel in Hershey, PA (we took the interior route to avoid the megapolis on a Friday during a storm!).  With fierce winds continuing, little sleep would be had in our shaking and rattling motel, adding to the dread of the next morning’s trip.

What should have been a 7.5 hour drive turned into over 10 hours thanks to traffic in New York, and of course, Connecticut. But in the last light at dusk upon our return to Maine, our first Maine Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were spotted from the highway.

But we were home, albeit three days late. Luckily Bonnie and Sam were available to hold down the fort, and John stepped in to lead a birdwalk. And, I was back in time for our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip the following day.

At the very least, our drive gave us time to reflect on the trip. Lots of time to reflect. We discussed the seemingly short-sighted, rampant development, and especially the filling in of mangrove forests – the first line of defense against rising seas and increasingly-frequent strong storms.

But we also were optimistic of the fact that the islands were wealthy enough to put money and effort into conservation – such as the culling of lionfish, or hopefully, the protection of endemic species. While a nearly-invisibly small percentage of Cayman Islands visitors will ever lift binoculars, hopefully we did our incredibly small part in showing the value of ecotourism, even to well-developed islands such as Grand Cayman.

And despite American Airline’s best efforts, we still had a great trip to the Cayman Islands (but yeah, despite our attempts at finding silver linings, that trip home was horrific), and thoroughly enjoyed its birds. Like all of the islands we visit, local food and culture comes a close second, and the overall speciation of remote islands never ceases to amaze.

From the Cayman Brac subspecies of the Cuban Iguana…

…to endemic Silver Thatch Palms, the National Tree.

And of course, the birds.


White-crowned Pigeon

Here’s our complete birdlist from the trip:
Grand Cayman:

  1. Greater Antillean Grackle (endemic subspecies)
  2. Northern Mockingbird
  3. Smooth-billed Ani
  4. Brown Pelican
  5. Royal Tern
  6. Bananaquit (endemic subspecies)
  7. Magnificent Frigatebird
  8. White-crowned Pigeon
  9. Yellow-throated Warbler
  10. White-winged Dove
  11. Palm Warbler
  12. American Coot
  13. LaSagra’s Flycatcher
  14. Gray Catbird
  15. “Golden” Yellow Warbler
  16. YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT (lifer for both of us)
  17. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  18. Northern Waterthrush
  19. Lesser Yellowlegs
  20. Belted Kingfisher
  21. Common Gallinule
  22. Northern Flicker (endemic subspecies)
  23. Common Ground-Dove
  24. Black-necked Stilt
  25. Great Blue Heron
  26. Great Egret
  27. Pied-billed Grebe
  28. Anhinga (rare)
  29. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  30. Osprey
  31. Peregrine Falcon
  32. Double-crested Cormorant
  33. Blue-winged Teal
  34. WEST-INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCK (lifer for both of us)
  35. Little Blue Heron
  36. Green Heron
  37. Loggerhead Kingbird (endemic subspecies)
  38. White-tailed Tropicbird
  39. Cattle Egret
  40. Caribbean Eleania (endemic subspecies)
  41. VITTELLINE WARBLER (near-endemic; lifer for both of us)
  42. TAYLOR’S (“Grand Cayman Cuban”) BULLFINCH (endemic; lifer for both of us)
  43. Cape May Warbler
  44. Zenaida Dove
  45. Black-throated Blue Warbler
  46. American Redstart
  47. “GRAND CAYMAN” CUBAN PARROT (endemic subspecies)
  48. Least Sandpiper
  49. Lesser Scaup
  50. YUCATAN VIREO (lifer for both of us)
  51. Northern Parula
  52. CARIBBEAN DOVE (heard only; lifer for both of us)
  53. Thick-billed Vireo (endemic subspecies)
  54. Black-and-white Warbler
  55. Snowy Egret
  56. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  57. Ruddy Turnstone
  58. Spotted Sandpiper
  59. Black-bellied Plover
  60. Rock Pigeon
  61. Worm-eating Warbler
  62. Ovenbird
  63. Prairie Warbler

Cayman Brac:

  1. Tricolored Heron
  2. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  3. RED-LEGGED THRUSH (endemic subspecies)
  4. Willet

VITELLINE WARBLER (endemic Brac subspecies)

“CAYMAN BRAC” CUBAN PARROT (endemic Brac subspecies)

  1. Barn Owl
  2. Brown Booby
  3. Merlin
  4. Short-billed Dowitcher
  5. Long-billed Dowitcher
  6. Barn Swallow
  7. Cliff Swallow

Grand Cayman:

  1. Semipalmated Plover
  2. West Indian Woodpecker (endemic subspecies)

And finally, here’s two more photos of a Bananaquits. Because Bananaquits!

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Harlequins and Hops!

DyerPoint1
The first new “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2018 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success. We enjoyed harlequins, hops, and so much more – including a much-hoped-for rarity. We even saw just about every single species suggested in the itinerary. And it was gorgeous out!

We had begrudgingly postponed the tour from the previous week due to the fear of ice in the morning and heavy rain and fog during the day. But the light winds, temperatures in the upper 30’s, and limited rain that the day actually featured made us wonder if we had lost the gamble. And when we woke up to 6-10” of snow (and not the 4-6 forecast!) on the morning of the 18th – and the resultant extra time clearing the driveway – I was definitely viewing the decision in hindsight.

However, the sun soon came out, the roads melted, and the temperature warmed to 40-degrees. A strengthening southerly wind was a little raw at one stop, but otherwise, it was impossible to beat the weather for a tour in February…and the fresh coating of fluffy snow only added to the aesthetically-pleasing scenery of the birding day. Furthermore, the coastal storm that spun through overnight was perfect for producing some nearshore pelagic alcids (members of the puffin family), which really got our hopes up for a life bird or two.

We began at Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth where we soon spotted the namesake quarry of the tour: a dozen snazzy Harlequin Ducks. We were already half-way to our titled goal for the day, but of course, we were only getting started.
DyerPt2,PaulODonnell,2-18-18

At nearby Two Lights State Park, we enjoyed several more Harlequin Ducks, lots of Common Eiders, Black and White-winged Scoters, and one Red-necked Grebe while we took in the breathtaking scenery.
TwoLightsSP
WWSC

And then it happened.

I spotted a Dovekie – one of the most sought-after winter specialties of the region. It was sitting on the water (had it just flown in?) with a group of eider just off the shoreline, and in perfect light. It was feeding, diving under for a minute or two at a time, but eventually, everyone got great looks through the scope, and lots of photographs were taken. Barely larger than a starling, this hardy little bird spends most of its life on the open ocean, and only comes to land to breed and nearshore in specific conditions in winter than include storm tracks, winds before and after, offshore food supplies, nearshore food supplies, and likely other unknown factors. It was a bird we only hoped for today, but a life bird for just about everyone in the group; this was a find that was soon to be celebrated!
DOVE1DOVE2DOVE3

A few Purple Sandpipers were spotted at nearby Kettle Cove as were Surf Scoters and several Common Loons, but with a southerly wind and choppy water building, I decided to make a turn inland and head for some sheltered waters. Finding that at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland, photogenic, stunning Red-breasted Mergansers stole the show, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull was teased out of the flock.
ICGU

A short, pleasant walk through Mill Creek Park yielded hundreds of Mallards (BoT veterans know how much I enjoy looking at, and talking about, large aggregations of Mallards!), and among them, the overwintering hen Wood Duck – a real rarity in winter! Although lacking the gaudy, over-the-top coloration of the drake, the subtlety-beautiful hen with her glossy bronze and green tertials and over-application of white mascara was enjoyed by all.
mILLcREEK
WODU1WODU2

One last stop at the Portland fish pier, was another chance to see Iceland Gulls – actually, we saw 7 of them, including a darkly-marked adult – and offered the opportunity to get up close and personal with several of our spiffy wintering sea ducks, such as this handsome drake Long-tailed Duck.
LTDU

The benefit of this winter itinerary is that there are countless birding locales to visit, with worthwhile stops given almost any weather (or travel) condition. Therefore, Paul had to rein me in – the birding was so good, I certainly wanted to keep going! – and with that, we departed, and I handed the proverbial microphone over to our esteemed beer guide for the day.

Paul took the lead and escorted us to eighteen twenty wines in Portland, our only winery visit on the 2018 BoT schedule. Making wine from Maine-grown rhubarb, and hard cider in small batches from Maine-grown apples, this was going to be a unique and educational experience. Maine became a state in 1820, and it was also the first year were rhubarb was found in the public market, we soon learned. A very traditional beverage, rhubarb wine was popular – especially for medicinal purposes – in the early 1800’s.
1820-1
1820-2

We were treated to two wines, and two ciders. The first wine was Wintrus, a rhubarb wine aged in cabernet barrels, which imparted notes of the cabernet and oak-y woodiness, adding a little complexity to this rather light wine that was perfectly positioned between dry and sweet. The strawberry-rhubarb Honeoye was next, with plenty of strawberry flavor, but only a little sweeter and nowhere near the expectations of an overly-sugared strawberry-rhubarb pie which is its inspiration.
1820-4

Ohm was our first cider, an “English Eastern Counties-style:” dry, light, and uncarbonated. This was soon followed by what turned out to be the crowd favorite, Ohm’s Law, the Ohm aged in cinnamon whiskey barrel. Reminiscent of an apple pie, but again, without the overt sweetness, and likely due to the lack of carbonation, finishing with a soft and smooth buttery flavor.

We also learned about the trials and tribulations of opening a new winery – especially given the legal definitions and the lack of grape vines in this “urban winery,” as well as future plans that include experimentation with the 60+ varieties of rhubarb.
1820-3
Goodfire-sticker

The long commute to the other side of the building (this itinerary was designed to reduce driving, just in case the roads were normal-February snotty) presented us with the second half of the tour’s title: the hops. And hops were abundant and well spoken for in the brews of Goodfire Brewing Co, the newest brewery in the burgeoning “Yeast Bayside” scene.
Goodfire2

We were handed samples of one of their IPAs, Prime, which I’ll admit my bias – it has rapidly become one of my favorite beers. A citrusy juice-bomb, I was keen to have the group compare it to our second selection, Waves. Also a hazy, New England-style IPA, this beer features complex tropical fruit notes instead.
Goodfire3

Earlier, Paul had inquired about what beers and other beverages people did and did not like, and quite a few people on the bus proclaimed themselves as “not IPA fans.” New England IPAs are not your bitter IPAs of old, and so I wanted to challenge people’s ideas of what an IPA is, and hopefully open some minds. I was therefore rather pleased when one of those self-proclaimed non-IPA fans proclaimed Prime as their favorite beverage of the day on the ride back home. Mission accomplished!
Goodfire4Goodfire5

The final sample was a choice between the hoppy “table beer” saison, Tiny Wrist Circles, and the hot-off-the-presses Hydro, their latest Double IPA. I’ll give you one guess to what I had, and then went home with!
Ridehome

It was a quick and easy commute to our Portland meeting location, followed by a smooth and clear drive to Freeport for the rest of us. Conversation included Dovekie ecology, IPA diversity, and what an amazingly beautiful winter’s day we had just experienced. Something tells me Harlequins and Hops will be back!

Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year 2017

book cover

“I think I want to do a Big Year…kinda.” I said to Jeannette.
“You want to do WHAT? You? Why?” she responded.

Several friends I floated the idea to had similar initial responses. But when I explained my concept, they started to understand, and be supportive. It wouldn’t be a regular Big Year where I ran around willy-nilly chasing after everything that was reported. Instead, it would have a very specific parameter: I would only count birds – and for that matter, only seek birds – at places covered in my book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide published this past spring by the University Press of New England.

The goal was to “ground-truth” the comprehensive-ness of the book. Did I successfully cover all of the breeding species? What about the best migrant traps? Rarity Hotspots? Could birding only with this book result in a respectable year list? I set a goal of 300 species in the year in order to act as “proof of concept.”

So off I went.

There were some very good rarities around in January, so the year list got off to a great start. An overwintering immature male and female King Eider in Portland Harbor (Site C5) were nice additions, as you can never really count on where one will be in any given year.
imm_male_KIEI,FishPier,3-19-17_edited-2

The Mid-Coast was particularly hot and Jeannette and I caught up with the two Pink-footed Geese at the Samoset Resort (Site KX5) on 1/30…
PFGO,Samoset,1-30-17

…and the Mew Gull at Owl’s Head Harbor (Site KX4) on the next day
MEGU,OwlsHeadHarbor,1-31

Alas, the Bullock’s Oriole – only the second state record – was at a private feeder in Camden most of the winter, but could not be counted on my little endeavor. But January also produced some good winter irruptives that I would not see in the fall of 2017, such as Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwing. Of course, since Pine Grosbeak is on the cover, I couldn’t miss that one!

While February is generally a slow month for rarities, a few good year list additions included a Short-eared Owl at Reid State Park (Site SA3) on February 2nd – a bird I chased (but would find a couple in the fall), and then a lucky find of a Dovekie on Valentine’s Day that Jeannette and I enjoyed from The Cliff House (Site Y4).

Slow growth of the list continued in March, but I was seeing most of what was expected. A Canvasback at Fortunes Rocks Beach (Y11) was a quick twitch on 3/20. As migration picked up in April, it was time to get to work. I spent much of my month at our Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch (Site C18), especially on days with conditions that have produced rarities in the past.

Fly-by Sandhill Cranes on 4/3 would save me some effort later in the year…
SACR1,TheBrad,4-3-17_edited-1

…and I was excited to spot a Black Vulture on April 11th. The vulture, however, paled in comparison to the Bird of the Day: a fly-by Townsend’s Solitaire! (my first self-found in Maine).

By month’s end, Neotropical Migrants began to return, but an impressive storm system at month’s end looked prime for “southern overshoots,” so I dedicated as much time as I could to migrant traps along the coast. The Biddeford Pool neighborhood (Site Y12) is always my first destination in such circumstances, but I did not expect a Gray-cheeked Thrush there on 4/27. My first in spring in Maine, this was a far more satisfying addition than a nocturnal flight call or fleeting glimpse in the fall!
GCTH1,BiddPool,4-27-17

My southerly expectations were met on Bailey Island (Site C23) the next day, where I found my first White-eyed Vireo of the year…
WEVI,BaileyIsland,4-28-17

…and my first of what would be a total of four self-found Hooded Warblers on the year. I synthesized the weather and birding from this storm in a blog entry.

The list grew with each day in May – thanks especially to my local patch, Florida Lake Park (C20) – occasionally punctuated by an important addition, such as the Evening Grosbeaks that flew over Old Town House Park (Site C16) during my Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 20th. I caught up with the only annually-occurring Orchard Orioles in the state at Capisic Pond Park (Site C9) on the following day.
OROR,CapisicPondPark,5-21-17_edited-2

My guiding schedule was jam-packed in 2017, and tours would take me all over the state as usual. It began in May with a single day tour in Rangeley on the 18th, which produced Mourning Warbler and Gray Jay, among other “first of years” in the boreal forest.
FeedingGRJA1,BoyScoutCamp,5-19-17_edited-1

Then, as usual, it was off to Monhegan Island (Site L1) with the store’s tour group for Memorial Day Weekend. Any visit to Monhegan during migration offers high hopes for rarities, and with a total of three tours there this year, I needed it to produce for me. However, despite a really great and birding weekend, I came away with “only” Summer Tanager…

…and a very-rare-in-spring Orange-crowned Warbler (but I would find a total of five in the fall).
OCWA,Monhegan,5-28

My 10-day tour comprehensive breeding season tour for WINGS is especially important for me to clean up the breeding birds, such as this Spruce Grouse at Boot Head Preserve (Site WN8) on 6/21.
SPRG,BootHead,6-21

During that tour, the waters between Maine and Machias Seal Island (Site WN7) delivered Common Murre and more Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins (my first puffins of the year on the boat to Monhegan in late May).

Usually in June, I am too busy to chase (rarities are always on the opposite side of the state than I am during any given tour), and once again, I missed a few goodies (we’ll get to those in a little bit). However, I always had an incredible stroke of luck with not just two great rarities in two days, but two State Birds for me in two days that I happened to be free for. Or, actually, mostly free.

One June 12th, our wedding anniversary, we were getting ready to head to our fancy dinner in Portland when we received word of a Magnificent Frigatebird over Prout’s Neck in Scarborough. We hurried, raced to Pine Point (Site C1), called the restaurant which graciously allowed us to delay our reservation, and spotted the frigatebird in the distance, soaring over Prout’s Neck.
MAFR,PinePoint,6-12
MAFR_chase1,PinePointBeach,6-12-17 - Copy

The next day, we had plans with our new neighbors, Meghan and Mike Metzger. We were supposed to head over to their house for cocktails in the evening, but when word of a Snowy Plover – a first state record! – at Reid State Park (Site SA3) was received, we decided to test the new friendship. “So, what do you guys think about maybe a walk on the beach on this sultry (record warm, actually) evening?” We figured any friends of birders would eventually find out what it’s like to be friends of birders, so we might as well break them in early. And now that their first life bird was a Snowy Plover in Maine, perhaps we’ll make birders out of them someday.
SNPL,ReidSP,6-13

With a few red-letter rarities and good luck with many of the regular breeding birds in Maine, I finished my June insanity (I was in the store a total of four days all month!) with 258 species after Jeannette and I paid a visit to the King Rail pair breeding once again along Eldridge Road at Moody Point (Site Y5). Glancing over the checklist, I realized that with some dedicated effort, this Big Year-esque project could turn into something.

Therefore, in July, Jeannette and I made sure to use our “weekends” together to fill in the holes on the year list. Every 4th of July weekend, we visit with Bicknell’s Thrushes, and this year was no different. Hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain (Site F12) on the 3rd added the species to my Maine year list (my June tours all go to New Hampshire for this much sought-after species).
BITH,Saddleback,7-3

The following week, we went up to the Baxter State Park area. A wildly productive first full day in the area (7/10) yielded the Black-backed Woodpecker that had so far eluded me this year, as well as the extremely rare American Three-toed Woodpecker, along Harvester Road (Site PS6) and at the Nesowadnahunk Campground Road (Site PS7), respectively. White-winged Crossbills were everywhere too (as were Reds). Unfortunately, Jeannette’s camera was on the fritz, and documentation eluded us.

Phil McCormack and I make an evening visit to the Kennebunk Plains (Site Y9) for Eastern Whip-poor-will every summer, and this year’s outing on 7/8 added that to the list. The list kept growing.

The Little Egret returned to the Falmouth-Portland waterfront for its 3rd summer, and although it was a little more elusive this year, I spotted it from Gilsland Farm (Site C8) on July 14th.
LIEG1,7-14-17

Without a Birding By Schooner tour this summer, I needed to make up a few pelagic ticks, the first of which were Manx Shearwaters that I spotted from East Point (Site Y12) in Biddeford Pool on my birthday, 7/31, with Pat Moynahan, John Lorenc, and Terez Fraser.

From August through early October, I took several boat trips – basically whenever I had the chance and conditions were decent. The Cap n’ Fish Whale Watch (Site L3) out of Boothbay Harbor was very good to me this year, yielded all of the regularly-occurring shearwaters, Parasitic Jaegers (here, on 8/11, but my first of the year were spotted at Dyer Point – Site C3 – on 7/25)…
PAJA1,8-11-17_edited-1
MASH1,8-11-17_edited-1
And some more Manx Shearwaters from the same date

And a whopping 28 Pomarine Jaegers on October 10th.
POJA,BoothbayWhaleWatch,9-10-17_edited-1

One huge void from not doing a schooner trip this summer was filled on August 6th when I spotted “Troppy”, the Red-billed Tropicbird at Seal Island (Site KX6 and H1) that has returned for its incredible 11th year. I accepted an offer to fill in as boat naturalist for a friend who was doing a couple of the Isle au Haut Ferry’s special “Puffins and Lighthouses” evening tours this year. I said yes for the chance to not miss out on a visit to Seal Island for the year…or for my year list. Thanks, Laura Kennedy!
RBTR,SealIs,8-6-17_edited-1

A few other serendipitous twitches and finds in August really helped out my quest. There was the Black-necked Stilt that was found at Weskeag Marsh (Site KX2) on August 2nd. We happened to be away on North Haven for the night before, so this was an easy 1-mile diversion on our way home that afternoon!
BNST,Weskeag, 8-2-17_edited-1

I missed White-faced Ibis in Scarborough Marsh this spring, and all summer it was only being seen in and around Spurwink Marsh in Cape Elizabeth, which is not technically a site in the book. Therefore, I was ecstatic to find it back in Scarborough Marsh while I was searching for shorebirds along the Eastern Road Trail (Site C1) on August 7TH.
WFIB1,8-7-17_edited-1

That day was big for me, as it also added Baird’s Sandpiper…
BASA1,EasternRd,8-7-17_edited-1

…and Stilt Sandpiper to my list.
STSA1,moltingjuv,EasternRd,9-15-17_edited-1

My first Western Sandpiper of the year came from there as well, on August 21st.
WESA,EasternRoad,8-21-17_edited-1

Our summer vacation this year took us out of the state once again, this time to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy for the Semipalmated Sandpiper migration spectacle. But our roadtrip finished up at Campobello Island, where we crossed the border for the day to visit our friend Chris Bartlett in Eastport (Site WN13) for a boat ride into the wildly productive waters of Passamaquoddy Bay and Head Harbor Passage on August 20th. Luckily, we found the Little Gull in Maine waters…
LIGU

…as well as my first Red-necked Phalaropes of the year.

Heading into the Big Year project, I was hoping a few of the book signings I would do around the state would give me the chance to add a couple of new species to the list, chase a bird or two I wouldn’t have driven as far for, or otherwise just check out a few sites that I rarely if ever bird. A talk and signing in Bar Harbor on September 7th gave me the chance to find a Blue Grosbeak behind the Mount Desert High School (Site H6) before my program. Little did I know at the time, but this would be my only sighting of the year, so this was another really lucky find.
BLGR2,MDI_high,9-7-17_edited-1

It doesn’t take a Big Year to get me to Sandy Point on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth (Site C14) at every possible opportunity to take in – and attempt to quantify – the “Morning Flight.” As in most years, it yielded a Connecticut Warbler (on 9/9), and on the 13th, a Lark Sparrow – my 184th species for me here, and the culmination of a record-shattering run at “my office.” Somehow, I didn’t have one in all of my time on Monhegan later that month, so this was a big score.

It was just about time for me to leave the store on September 16th to pick up my rental van for my WINGS tour to Monhegan that was starting the next day. Then the phone rang.

It was our friend, Barbara Carlson, visiting us from San Diego, who was out chasing the Little Egret at Gilsland Farm when she ran into Angus King, Jr, who asked her to identify a bird he just photographed. She called in excited panic as she attempting to explain to us, on Angus’s cell phone she borrowed, that there was a Mega-rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher there as well!

I pondered the timing, but somehow was wise enough to go pick up the van in Lisbon before driving to Falmouth. Notorious one-afternoon wonders, I was happy the Fork-tailed (my 377th Maine state bird) stuck around long enough for me to do the right thing first and not jeopardize my tour!
FTFL1,Gilsland,9-16_edited-1

Joking about wanting to “see the Little Egret and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher from the same spot,” I turned around to scan the Presumpscot River and spotted two Caspian Terns! A species I see every year, usually just by normally birding the right places at the right time – like Biddeford Pool – this species had somehow eluded me all year. In fact, it was getting to be a bit of a year-bird nemesis, and I even resorted to unsuccessfully chasing one that was lingering at Hill’s Beach. I had all but given up on this species before this lucky sighting.

Even better, the flycatcher continued the next day to get my tour off on the right foot.

I departed for Monhegan for my second time this year on 9/17, with my WINGS tour for the next 7 days. With my year list sitting at 293, I needed my two fall tours to the island to come up big for me.

I missed my 4th Say’s Phoebe ever out here – one of my two biggest nemeses for the state! – this time by all of about 45 minutes! I did, however, luck into a Red-headed Woodpecker on the last day of its stay.
RHWO,Monhegan,9-18-17

I only had Clay-colored Sparrows at non-sites up until this point, so that filled in a gaping hole, and a long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was a needed addition to the year list as well; none were found at Biddeford Pool this fall.
YCNH1,IcePond_edited-1

But overall, the slowest week I have ever experienced on Monhegan set me back in my quest – I simply needed more from my time there.

I was back on Monhegan the next weekend, with my annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour with my store’s group, and while I didn’t add much to the year list, I did get a big one: the first state record Cassin’s Vireo (For a more complete story, visit my blog entry from the weekend!)
DullVireo5_edited-1

Back on the mainland, I had some work to do. One last-ditch effort for Buff-breasted Sandpiper took us to Fryeburg Harbor (Site O3) on 10/3 on our way to a gluttony-fest at the Fryeburg Fair. Not surprisingly given the date, we didn’t find any “grass-pipers,” but we did find this Greater White-fronted Goose!
GWFG,FryeburgHarbor,10-3-17_edited-1

Jeannette and I took advantage of the flood tide on October 10th to hit the Eastern Road Trail to try to add Long-billed Dowitcher to my Big Year tally.

Every few summers, a Seaside Sparrows stakes out a territory in Scarborough Marsh, but this was not one of those summers. Therefore, I was quite happy when we found one here on this very late date. This was another stroke of luck, and my 299th species of 2017.

This was the type of strategizing that I really enjoyed throughout the year. Find a species that I “needed,” and figure out how to see it. Long-billed Dowitchers are rare-but-regular in Maine, and usually juveniles near the tail end of shorebird migration. The first full moon in October is usually a good time to see one out in the marsh, with areas of dry ground for roosting at a premium. And sure enough, there one was – my 300th species of the year!
LBDO1,EasternRd,10-10-17_edited-1

November “Rarity Season” featured an impressive wave of southern vagrants deposited by a storm at the very end of October. I found another Hooded Warbler at Bailey Island, one at Fort Foster (Site Y1), numerous possible “reverse migrants” like very late warblers and Indigo Buntings, and more. But by having had good southerly luck so far this year, I didn’t add anything to my year list, until November 12th when I found a spiffy Yellow-throated Warbler at the most-unexpected location of Martin’s Point Park in Sabattus during my Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: “Fall Ducks and Draughts”. Being teased by a “flock” of three on Monhegan earlier in the month, and saving me from chasing a few later in the month, this was the type of serendipitous discovery that makes for Big Year fun, and proves the idea that the most important part of finding rarities is just being out in the field.
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My only other Rarity Season “discovery” was finding an error in my checklist that showed me my count was one more (I call those “accounting errors”) than what I thought it was, so when, after much effort of searching, Jeannette and I found a Yellow-breasted Chat at Battery Steele on Peak’s Island (Site C11) on November 27th, I was now up to 303 for the year! It was also a very satisfying find, as this was one of the birds that I was putting a lot of effort into turning up. Again, this type of strategy of searching for specific birds in specific habitats at specific times of the year is much more productive, and fulfilling, than waiting for someone else to find something and racing around looking for it. Chats are notoriously hard to re-find in the fall, as they are ultra-skulkers, so self-found is even more rewarding – and much less frustrating!
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The year was winding down, and few regularly-occuring species were likely anymore – regardless of effort. One bird that is likely much more regular than records suggest is Eastern Screech-Owl. I have found them more often than I have not when making concerted effort in southern York County, especially in winter. While I was unable to relocate one found in mid-November in York, I decided to make a dedicated effort come December.

On December 3rd, Pat Moynahan set out for an evening of owling in Wells. After a dusk-watch for Short-eared and Snowy Owls, I decided to try a little fishing for screech-owls. At the first stop we made, just after dusk, a short whistle resulted in not one, but two, very aggressive and vociferous Eastern Screech-Owls right over our heads (at an undisclosed location within Y5). That was too easy!
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Luckily, the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields (Site C15) finally yielded a rarity for me this year (other than an early-season Snow Goose which I also saw in the spring), with a Cackling Goose on December 6th for my 305th bird of the year in Maine.
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In the world of retail, there’s not a lot of free time in December, and with this year’s snowy and icy weather, I had even less time to bird than usual. While I did find a bunch of good birds, like a total of 5-6 Snowy Owls (at least 3 not previously reported), an Orange-crowned Warbler along Eldridge Road in Wells (Site Y5) during the York County Christmas Bird Count, various lingering stuff like late dabblers, and half-hardies such as several Gray Catbirds.
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I just had to suffer through enjoying winter visitors such as Snowy Owls, like this photogenic individual at Biddeford Pool on Dec 18th

As December waned, so did my chances for adding any new species. I was hopeful for a rarity to be discovered on one of the state’s Christmas Bird Counts, and while a few birds of note were turned up, nothing I “needed” was detected. We checked Marginal Way (Site Y4) in Ogunquit on the way home from a long Christmas weekend in Massachusetts, just in case a storm-tossed Thick-billed Murre was around. But while in Massachusetts, we did discover a Ross’s Goose on Christmas Day!
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Now is where I would like to tell you I finished my Big Year with a bang; how I trudged through the snow and ice, braving sub-zero temperatures, marching up hill (both ways!), and digging out every possible addition for my year list. But alas, it ended more like a thud than a bang: a very snowy, very icy, and very bitterly cold thud.

Few birders were out to find something I might need, and it was even tough for me to motivate in the mornings with temperatures often below zero. But one of the aspects of a Big Year that I – and most every other participant in such a silly pursuit – enjoy is that extra little bit of motivation to get into the field.

Such additional incentive was more than necessary on December 27th and 28th, with morning lows of -5 and -10F, respectively. Without the hopes and dreams of one or two more species for the Big Year, it’s unlikely I would have done much more than sit around, watching the feeders and sipping coffee (and probably swearing at the cable news). Instead, I forced myself to get out for just a little bit, and while no year birds resulted, I did have some nice consolation prizes: two drake Barrow’s Goldeneyes were in the open water off of the Freeport Town Wharf (Site C19) on the 27th. And on the 28th, I had 2 adult Glaucous Gulls and two 1st-winter Iceland Gulls at the Bath Landfill (Site SA5). Then I sipped some coffee in front of the store’s windows (Site C19), hoping for a Common Redpoll to show up! That hour I spend in the evening in a last-ditch effort to find a Long-eared Owl in sub-zero temperatures was just stupid, however.

Besides, I wasn’t going to escape the cold the following day, when Jeannette and I (joined by Zane Baker) spent the entire day walking outside (low of -16, high of merely 6!) on the Freeport-Brunswick CBC. While Florida Lake Park is a site in our circle, our highlights were all away from there, led by the rediscovery of “our” Dickcissel (by plumage and proximity) at a feeder, about a mile from our store that he frequented from November 2nd through December 15th. He did not look happy about the temperature, either.
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Winslow Park (C19) was the destination for our Saturday Morning Birdwalk on 12/30, and although the start temperature was a painful -11F, seven people showed up and joined me in enjoying a dashing drake Barrow’s Goldeneye

That left New Year’s Eve Day, and despite morning lows again well below zero, Pat Moynahan and I hit the coast from The Nubble (Site Y3) to Webhannet Marsh (Site Y6), with Thick-billed Murre primarily on our minds. Sea-smoke reduced visibility, and the wind chill was brutal. While we did have a total of 72 Harlequin Ducks – which certainly made us happy – our highlights were all from an extremely productive (and for the first time all day, mostly sheltered) Marginal Way in Ogunquit (Site Y4): 1 Fox Sparrow, 10 Lesser and 4 Greater Scaup, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3 Northern Pintails, and this very chilled Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was eeking out a living on Eastern Redcedar berries. But alas, no murres – or shockingly, alcids of any variety.
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Therefore, my 2018 Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year finished at 305 species. When I started the year, my goal was 300, so I am quite satisfied with the tally. Additionally, I saw four species away from sites: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Great Gray Owl, Bullock’s Oriole, and this Fieldfare – a first state record in a yard in Newcastle in April – for a total year list of 309.
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The Great Gray Owl stings a bit, considering I missed one at a site (Sunkahaze NWR; Site PE9) in January while we were on vacation, and another showed up near the Orono Bog (Site PE7) in February. But it’s OK, it’s a Great Gray Owl, and site or otherwise, it was awesome.

Worse, however, was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester was one of the last sites cut from the book, and for some reason it was the only place I encountered one this fall. I even made concerted efforts to find them at likely places, such as the Colonial Acres Sod Farm in Gorham (Site C13). I guess I should have sucked it up and chased the three that were found there in September, or any of the handful of others that were found at various sites throughout the month.

Speaking of misses, as with any birding year – big or otherwise – there were plenty of misses. The worst might have been the elusive (usually) Least Bittern. After just about everyone (including most of my tour group), except I, saw the one that was on Monhegan over Memorial Day weekend, I never found time to make the effort to search for one in breeding marshes over the summer. That effort could have also yielded Common Gallinule, another miss for me in 2017, although the only reports of the year came from a non-site.

I always hope for kites and Golden Eagle at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, but none passed through this year. There were a couple of Golden reports this fall though at sites, including one nicely photographed over Fryeburg Harbor. I also missed a Blue-winged Warbler on Monhegan this fall, as well as a Painted Bunting that left the day before my first tour arrived, while a Western Kingbird finally showed up there two days after I departed. I also dipped on a Franklin’s Gull that was a one-afternoon wonder at Wharton Point (Site C21) on 11/6.

Several other species were seen at sites covered in the book throughout the course of the year that I did not – or could not – chase. These included: Ross’s and Barnacle Geese in Aroostook County in October (Site AR7), Eurasian Wigeon at Messalonskee Lake (Site KE6) on 4/12, a Western Grebe reported off Sears Island (Site WO10) in January, Marbled Godwit at Reid State Park on 6/13, Sabine’s Gull off Eastport in September, a surprising Black-headed Gull at Riverbank Park (Site C12) a one-day wonder in February, and a Franklin’s Gull that flew by Dyer Point (Site C3) on 7/5. Surprisingly, the only Forster’s Tern reported this year was as out-of-place and unseasonable one at Sanford Lagoons (Site Y10) in April, while Royal Terns were briefly spotted at Popham Beach SP (Site SA2) on 7/16 and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm (Site Y7) on 8/19. I also missed Prothonatory Warblers at Wilson’s Cove Preserve (Site C22) on 5/2, and another on Monhegan on 5/16. A Cerulean Warbler was also on Monhegan on 5/21 – a species I have still not yet seen in Maine.

Off-limits but viewable via several boat trips covered in the book, Seal Island NWR hosted its usual slew of incredible rarities this year as well, including a Kentucky Warbler in May, a completely unexpected Gray-tailed Tattler in August, and several sightings of Long-tailed Jaeger in August. Whether or not you count Machias Seal Island as being “Maine” or not, it did host a Bridled Tern and an Ancient Murrelet early this summer,

My lack of an overnight birding-by-schooner tour to Seal Island cost me Leach’s Storm-Petrel for the year as I didn’t luck into any during my summer and fall pelagic trips. Of course, if I didn’t have a total of 4 Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company (Site H7) tours weathered out this fall, I might have picked one up, along with South Polar and Great Skuas – Great Skua remains my all-time nemesis in Maine waters!

And despite concerted effort in late December, I did not see a Thick-billed Murre this year. And Common Redpolls never did return by year’s end, after only a few made it to extreme northern Maine in the previous winter.

However, my most frustrating miss of the year might have been Brown Pelican. What was likely one bird was ranging up and down the coast, perhaps between Prout’s Neck and Plum Island, MA. But between June 9th and 12th, it was reliable off of Pine Point. I was Downeast with my WINGS tour. Until the last report on or about August 2nd, several birders lucked into it here and there, and several non-birders had sightings they reported: one friend saw it while taking a walk at the Camp Ellis jetty, and my landlord texted me a phone photo of it flying past Long Sands Beach (Site Y3) in York while he was out surfing. Oh well, it at least gave me something to look for during the summer, and I definitely spent a few days worth of time trying to turn it up at various coastal locales.

Additional species reported in Maine throughout the year that were not seen at sites covered in Birdwatching in Maine included Redhead (although it probably bred once again somewhere in Aroostook County, including at sites such as Lake Josephine), White-winged Dove, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher (first state record), and a couple of Western Tanagers.

So overall, I think I did quite well! While I am sure I missed a few things here and there, it’s safe to say I saw a large majority of the +/- 343 species observed in Maine this year, or roughly 89%, at sites covered within Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide.

I don’t use eBird, so my list “doesn’t count” according to some, but I took a look at the eBird Year List for 2017. My list was good for second in the state, despite my self-imposed limitations, quite a bit of travel (a total of 35 days out of the state this year), an exceptionally busy schedule all year, not to mention my aversion towards chasing more than the occasional mega rarity. I also visited 105 of the 201 sites covered in the book. Not bad. More importantly, it proved my hypotheses correct:
1) Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide has comprehensive coverage of just about every regularly-occurring bird in the state.
2) Using the guide to “just go birding” can result in a very respectable list, with just a little extra effort.
3) Birding in Maine is really special.
4) And perhaps most importantly for me: I would never do a Big Year for real!

Of course, I couldn’t have done this without my favorite birding buddy, Jeannette. In addition to having the year list pursuit occupy many of our days off together, she occasionally had to put in a few extra hours at the store here and there as I went gallivanting around the state. I also want to thank my friends who kept me company and helped me find birds, or otherwise assisted on my quest, throughout the year. I could not have accomplished this goal without the help of Zane Baker, Chris Bartlett, Kirk Betts, Paul Doiron, Terez Fraser, Kristen Lindquist, John Lorenc, Rich MacDonald, Phil McCormack, Pat Moynahan, Dan Nickerson, Evan Obercian, Luke Seitz, and Marion Sprague, and of course, all of the other contributors to the book who helped guide me way to numerous birding sites around the state. And I cannot forget to mention all of the other birders who found some good birds to twitch over the course of this productive year of birding in Maine.

As the calendar changed to 2018, like a many a real Big Year birder, I took a deep breath, relished the freedom of not being a slave to the list, grabbed my binoculars, and just went birding!

I hope you will do the same in 2018, and I hope Birdwatching in Maine will guide you along the way to a happy and successful year of birding, whatever goals you do or do not have. (You can order it directly from us at this link if you don’t already have a well-worn copy!)

Good birding, and Happy New Year List! If you keep one that it is (I won’t be!).

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Common Nighthawk, Monhegan in May.

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Hooded Warbler on Bailey Island in November, my 4th self-found HOWA of the year!

2018 Maine Birds Prediction Blog

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Yup, it’s that time of year again. It’s not just time to celebrate the end of an often-tumultuous 2017, but to also look forward to another year of avian wonders. That means it’s 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 2017 Predictions post, and see how I did.

An impressive five birds were new to Maine in 2017. Once again, Keenan Yakola and the Seal Island NWR crew struck gold. This time, it was a completely unexpected Gray-tailed Tattler, an Asian species that came from who knows where, that briefly visited on August 14th. Needless to say, it was not anywhere near my predictions list.

A Snowy Plover at Reid State Park on June 13th – that Jeannette and I were lucky enough to see that first evening of its very short visit – was not on my long list, but is much more explainable as there are plenty of East Coast records to our south.
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One of the additional contestants for Birds of the Year honors falls to the Cassin’s Vireo that my Monhegan Fall Weekend tour group refound and helped identify on September 30th. Briefly seen the day before, highly suggestive photos piqued our interest. But it wasn’t until Bill Thompson’s stellar photos as our group relocated the bird on the 30th confirm the identity. Or at least, confirm the ID short of a DNA test. I’ve included some of Bill’s photos in my tour report at the blog entry linked here.

This Western species could have occurred in Maine before, but it is extremely challenging to identify out of range. Short of photos as good as Bill’s, truly confirming an  occurrence had kept it off my predictions list.

The other two new birds for Maine, however, were on the list. The Fieldfare (#10 on my list) that was serendipitously discovered on April 19th in Newcastle, as was seen by hundreds of birders through the 23rd.
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This distant, phone-scoped photo does not do the bird justice!

Number 15 on my list was Vermillion Flycatcher, which was discovered on April 17th at Hog Island. However, no one could have imagined how first state records would be found in 2017: It was spotted and identified by someone sitting at home watching the Osprey platform webcam!

So I scored two points for correct predictions in 2017, plus one bird (Snowy Plover) that made my honorable mentions list. Two species not on my list – or likely, anyone elses! – were also added this year. Therefore, my predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2018 is now:

1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Roseate Spoonbill
5) Spotted Towhee
6) Hammond’s Flycatcher
7) Bermuda Petrel
8) Black-chinned Hummingbird
9) Common Shelduck
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) Western Wood-Pewee
18) Spotted Redshank
19) Zone-tailed Hawk
20) Gray Flycatcher
21) Ross’s Gull
22) Lesser Nighthawk
23) Elegant Tern
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Meanwhile, I was happy to add five species to my own Maine list this year as well. There were the aforementioned Fieldfare, Cassin’s Vireo, and Snowy Plover. Jeannette and I also caught up with a Magnificent Frigatebird at Pine Point on June 12th, during its all-too-brief visit.  We were quite the sight, dressed in our finest going-out clothes walking the beach with cameras, binoculars, and a scope; we were on our way to dinner in Portland for our anniversary! We called ahead – we were going to be a little late for that reservation.
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That’s a heckuva year on its own!  Unfortunately, however, none of those were on my personal Top 25. I did see #7, however, the Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Gilsland Farm on June 16th, the first day of it’s relatively-long (for this notoriously one-day wonder) five or so day stay. See photo at the top.

My Great Skua (#1) nemesis continues, with several weathered-out boat trips out of Bar Harbor. However, I did get out on whale watches on a handful of very productive occasions. The boat of Boothbay Harbor was extremely productive this summer and fall, so I certainly put in the time, and had some truly remarkable pelagic birding in the process. But alas, one distant “unidentified large predatory seabird was the closest I cam to getting this feathered monkey off my back.

Unbelievable, I missed another Say’s Phoebe (#4) on Monhegan – this time by about 2 hours! I also missed two Franklin’s Gulls (#10), both “one minute wonders:” Dyer Point on July 5th and Wharton Point on November 6th. There was also that darn Brown Pelican (honorable mention) that was present at Prout’s Neck June 19-23, when I was leading my WINGS tour and not in southern Maine. Sporadic reports for much of the summer, as it appeared to be moving up and down the coast between Prout’s Neck and Plum Island, MA continued to torment me. Overall though, I have to be quite pleased with the rate of success on my few chases!

So now, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine is:

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) Yellow Rail
20) Loggerhead Shrike
21) Spotted Towhee
22) Roseate Spoonbill
23) Ross’s Gull
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

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Just missing Maine – or at least missing detection in Maine – was this juvenile Common Shelduck that arrived in New Hampshire in August and stayed around for a few weeks. With increasing reports in the East, it’s only a matter of time before one shows up in Maine, and we begin to consider these of natural, wild origin.

Twelve Birds on Tap – Roadtrips in 2018!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on twelve great outings for 2018 in our popular and growing “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!
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For 2018, we have added two brand-new tours, and significantly changed several additional itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, 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 unchanged, while tweaks to tours such as “Gulls and Growlers” (now in January), and “Warblers and Wort” (now in Portland!) will make these new favorites even better. And we think the newest additions: “Harlequins and Hops” and “Sod-pipers and Sips” are not to be missed!

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 twelve – count ‘em, 12! – tours for 2018 are as follows:

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, January 6th, 2018 – 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.

Breweries: Sebago Lake Distillery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Harlequins and Hops” (*New Tour!)
Sunday February 11th – 10:00am to 4:00pm

SNOW DATE: Sunday February 18th
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The first new itinerary of 2018 takes advantage of some of the amazing birding opportunities right here in Greater Portland in the depths of winter. We’ll begin on the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, where the stunning Harlequin Duck joins a wide array of winter seaducks, from Common Eider to all three species of scoters. We’ll also look for Purple Sandpipers, Black Guillemots, Red-necked and Horned Grebes, Common and Red-throated Loons, and much more. Depending on weather and ice conditions, our second stop may include more seaduck searching, or we might check some of the concentrations of gulls in Portland and and South Portland to look for Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, or perhaps seek out a lingering dabbler among the city park Mallard aggregations. We’ll remain flexible to take advantage – or seek shelter – from whatever winter weather may be at hand.

Breweries: Eighteen Twenty Wines and Goodfire Brewing Company in Portland.

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday March 4th – 9:00am to 3:30pm

SNOW DATE: Sunday March 11th
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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 Distillery in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 8 – 9:00am to 3:30pm.

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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 and Split Rock Distilling in Newcastle.

Warblers and Wort (*New Itinerary!)
Sunday May 6th – 8:00am to 2:00pm

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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: Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham and Hardshore Distillery in Portland.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 3rd – 8:00am to 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 Stone Fort Distilling in Biddeford.

“Terns and Taps” (New name, but same great tour!)
Sunday, July 8th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.

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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” (New name, but same classic tour!)
Sunday, August 19th – 9:00am to 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 9th – 8:00am to 3:00pm

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Our second brand-new tour of 2018 takes us inland to the farms and fields of Fryeburg Harbor. 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.

Breweries: Saco River Brewing Co and TBA.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 14th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.

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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two. This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Blue Current Sake Brewery and Tributary Brewing Co. in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 18th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.

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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: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation” (Subject to Change)
Sunday, December 2nd – 9:00am to 3:30pm.

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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

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.

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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