All. The. Shorebirds. And rare wading birds! Here are my observations of note over the past seven days:
1 TRICOLORED HERON (my first pure TRHE of the year), Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/9 (with Jeannette).
26 WHITE IBIS, Webhannet Marsh, Wells, 8/11. 29 were present earlier, but I had to settle for “only” 26. Either way, wow…A flock of White Ibis! Rapidly expanding up the Eastern Seabird, this was just a matter of time.
Shorebird high counts this week, with many species now peaking:
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 2 ad with 1 juv, Upper Green Island, Casco Bay, 8/12 (with Seacoast Tours and private tour group). Is this a family group from Ram Island, or perhaps another pair is now breeding further up the bay?
Black-bellied Plover: 62, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Killdeer: 5, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Semipalmated Plover: 300+, Pine Point, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Whimbrel: 2, Pine Point, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Ruddy Turnstone: 1, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
STILT SANDPIPER: 9 (great count!), Eastern Road Trail, 8/8 (with client from NY) and 8/9 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 34, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Least Sandpiper: 75+, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Seal Island, Monhegan Island, and shorebird migration. Lots of “good birds” in great places this week. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days.
Red Crossbills along the coast: 1+, Pownal, 7/23; 1, Brooksville, 7/24 (with Laura Blandford); 1-2’s scattered on Monhegan Island, 7/25;
An incredible trip to Seal Island on 7/23 produced all of the expected breeding seabirds, a couple of Common Murres; a Peregrine Falcon show; migrating Whimbrels, one Great Shearwater, and a PARASITIC JAEGER. Photos and the complete trip report can be found here.
Hardy Boat from New Harbor to Monhegan, 7/25 (with Jeannette): 6 Cory’s Shearwaters (FOY) and 8 Great Shearwaters.
A “non-birding” weekend with Jeannette friends to Monhegan Island 7/25-26 actually yielded some outstanding birding! The highlight was a four-species shearwater show off of Lobster Cove throughout the day on 7/25. We saw at least 3 MANX SHEARWATERS and 2 Sooty Shearwaters (FOY) among numbers of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters. They were passing at a slow but steady rate of about 16 Great and 6 Cory’s every 5 minutes, plus an average of 9 Atlantic Puffins per 5 minutes. Hard to tell if the shearwaters were swirling, rounding the island, or just streaming by. 1-2 ROSEATE TERNS joined Arctic and Common Terns feeding nearshore – Roseate was a new “island bird” for me.
Other Monhegan highlights: 1-2 Blue-winged Teal continue, 1 Great Egret (also an “island bird” for me!), and 1+ Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Hardy Boat departure from Monhegan to New Harbor (with Jeannette), 7/26: 1 PURPLE SANDPIPER, Outer Duck Islands from ferry seal watching diversion. Unexpected and incredible mid-summer record; no camera available and phone-binning was a complete failure. With a few Ruddy Turnstones. 1 more Cory’s Shearwater en route.
1 molting adult BLACK TERN, Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough, 7/29.
Shorebird high counts this week. I had an excellent tally of 19 species, although counts were a little low due to limited visitation to the best shorebird sites.
Black-bellied Plover: 14, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/29.
Spotted Sandpiper: 3, Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
Solitary Sandpiper: 1-2, Monhegan Island, 7/26 (with Jeannette).
Lesser Yellowlegs: 18, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
“Eastern” Willet: 27, Pine Point, 7/29.
Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
Our next event here at the store is on August 4th when we welcome Paul Doiron to read from and sign copies of his new book, Hatchett Island. His latest crime thriller takes place on an imaginary seabird island here in Maine! More information can be found here.
After 17 consecutive summers in the Gulf of Maine, “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird failed to return to Seal Island. Arriving in 2005, but continuing annually throughout the summer since 2009 exclusively at Seal Island, Troppy had become a mainstay of summer birding in Maine – and our tour calendar!
Arriving as an adult, Troppy was therefore at least two years old when he was first sighted in 2005. Since most sorces seem to reference “16-30 years” as a lifespan, a 19-year old “Troppy” would be getting a little long in the tooth, err, bill. But, as I romanticized in my 2019 article for Birding magazine, we all hoped he would find the long lost love. Maybe he did. Maybe he’s making a trop-ling somewhere in the Caribbean where he “should be.” Yeah, that’s what I’ll think. We need more happy thoughts these days.
Wherever he might be, it was not Seal Island or any other Gulf of Maine seabird island this summer, and with his absence, tours to Seal Island were few and far between. Our first one cancelled, but we were able to run our July 23rd departure with our friends at Isle au Haut Boat Services thanks to a dedicated group of birders who know how special Seal Island is, with or without the famous rarity.
And Seal Island most did not disappoint! Even without a tropicbird (or a Tufted Puffin for that matter, which of course we all hoped would make a reappearance).
First, the weather: it was unbelievable! Actually, it was downright hot, even offshore, and especially away from what little breeze there was when we were not motoring. Seas were a gentle 2-3 feet, with an occasional slightly larger but inconsequential swell. Falling rapidly, it was incredibly smooth in the coves of the island, and on the way back where we enjoyed following seas for a very flat and fast ride.
Shortly after departing Stonington, we spotted our first Atlantic Puffin before we even cleared Isle au Haut. A few more, scattered small numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (I tallied 41 in all), and a few Razorbills punctuated our trip out. Not much was happening around Saddleback Ledge though.
Of course, the show realty began upon arrival at Seal Island. The heat sent the alcids into the water, so virtually all of the Atlantic Puffins that were present were in the coves and often allowing close approach and stellar photo ops.
We worked our way around the island, slowly improving our views of Razorbills (at least 6) and finally finding two Common Murres.
We motored around the south end, where the swell was just enough to prevent us from getting too close to the Great Cormorant colony – Maine’s last. But the nests brimming with growing chicks was still thoroughly enjoyed.
Off the northeast end, we cut the engine and drifted among the alcids. Off the open waters came a flock of 12 Whimbrel which we heard first before they flew close by. Likely having tanked up on blueberries in a barren Down East or in the Maritimes, they didn’t seem to consider pausing on the island. Later, 8 more flew by even further offshore.
While the lack of shearwaters all day was disappointing, the one Great Shearwater that we saw came in for a close look at us!
A little group of Sanderlings flew by, a few peeps were along the shoreline, and we spotted several calling Spotted Sandpipers.
And of course, there were the terns. Hundreds of Arctic and Common Terns were present, with a goodly number of juveniles learning the ropes. Arctic Terns were particularly conspicuous today, with many making close approaches of the boat or disregarding our presence to take a bath.
I both enjoyed and lamented the fact that I didn’t have Troppy to stress over. In fact, without needing to be in position and waiting for him, we took advantage of the gentle seas to not only circumnavigate the island, but also spend ample time drifting in sheltered coves, photographing alcids and searching for a big, black puffin with punk-rock hair.
But we still had a time limit for our charter, so we decided to spend our last moments enjoying the action at the tern colony. That’s when a Peregrine Falcon arrived. While this is a most unwelcome guest at a seabird colony and we were conflicted about seeing it, it was also impossible not to sit back and watch the show.
It surprised the terns by coming up and over the backside of the island, scattering the entire colony. Upon identifying the intruder, all of the adults made a beeline and began diving, mobbing, and otherwise trying to drive the predator away. Watching one of the world’s greatest – and fastest – predators in action was a real special treat, but we were also not upset that it came away empty; we were rooting for the terns.
If that wasn’t a grand finale, I don’t know what is. Well, maybe the Parasitic Jaeger on the way back!
About halfway between Seal and Saddleback Ledge, I first thought it was a Peregrine tearing in after a lone Common Tern. But when it became clear that it was a jaeger, I yelled for Captain Mike to “step on the breaks.” We watched the dogfight for several minutes, and it was spectacular to see. It was just far enough away that we couldn’t tell if the tern gave up its fish, but it definitely didn’t do it willingly.
Shortly thereafter we began to run into little rafts of Razorbills (a conservative tally of 36, plus 7 more between Saddleback Ledge and Stonington) and scattered Atlantic Puffins. We had quite a few more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on the way back, and finally some Northern Gannets.
We even had time to check some rocky islets for roosting shorebirds (none), loafing Harbor Seals (lots), and maybe spot something like a Great White Shark (nope; but the boat had one the very next day!).
In other words: what a trip! And exactly why it’s well worth a tour to Seal Island regardless. That being said, I must admit, it was not quite the same without “Troppy.” But as a guide, my stress level was a lot lower! Having seen him 9 times out of 12 visits to Seal, I consider myself beyond fortunate. I’m also so happy to have shared his glory with so many other birders on all these tours. So, wherever you are, Troppy, I’ll continue to lead trips to Seal Island in your honor!
Another dandy week of summertime birding produced the following highlights for me. Shorebird numbers and diversity are growing rapidly now.
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group; few around locally this summer). One calling in our Pownal yard on 7/22.
2 continuing HENSLOW’S SPARROWS, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, 7/20. Both birds singing, but the west bird continued long past the east bird went silent. I spent my time this morning attempting to observe the east bird, but never saw it once it stopped singing about 5 minutes after I arrived.
1 Fish Crow, Point Sebago (Private; with Point Sebago Birdwalk group) and 1 at Sebago Lake State Park, 7/21 (still wondering if these are from the Windham colony or not).
Least Sandpiper: 31, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/22.
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 140, Pine Point, 7/22.
WESTERN SANDPIPER: 1 rare adult, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 7/22 (photo above).
Short-billed Dowitcher: 165, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 7/22.
Spotted Sandpiper: 2, Eastern Egg Rock, 7/16 (with Hardy Boat Evening Puffin Cruise group) and Sebago Lake State Park, 7/21.
Solitary Sandpiper (FOF): 1, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group) and 1, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
Lesser Yellowlegs: 53, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
“Eastern” Willet: 96, The Pool, 7/22.
Greater Yellowlegs: 10, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
Beat the heat tomorrow, Saturday, July 23rd with a boat trip to Seal Island. No “Troppy” this year, but you know we’ll be looking hard for the Tufted Puffin! A limited amount of space on this extended charter is available.
Another dandy week of summertime birding produced the following highlights for me.
2 continuing HENSLOW’S SPARROWS, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick. Quite a bit of my birding time this week was spent enjoying this exceptional visitor. I saw it on 7/9 with our Saturday Morning Birdwalk group for our 246th all-time Saturday Morning Birdwalk bird! On 7/11, Jeannette and I, along with two other birders saw both individuals at the same time for the first time – as two scopes had both birds in view at once in the opposite direction here. No disputing that! However, the echo and acoustic issues are very apparent here – at one point, we could easily have argued there were four birds! Interestingly, on 7/12, Cameron Cox and I were unable to confirm the presence of two birds, as was the case in my visits prior to the 11th. Phone-scoped video from the 11th here.
HYBRID HERONS of Scarborough Marsh. On 7/11, Cameron Cox and I spotted both continuing birds. The proposed Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron x Little Egret was off of Eastern Road, while the proposed Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret was incredibly close and cooperative at Pelreco Marsh. Video of the latter bird here.
1 subadult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, Pine Point Beach, Scarborough, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
2 Fish Crows, Point Sebago Resort (private), Casco, 7/14 (with Point Sebago Resort birdwalk group). Are these two from the Windham colony or outliers of this slowly expanding species?
Eastern Egg Rock/Whale-watching/and mini-pelagic tour out of Boothbay Harbor with our partners Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, yielded the following highlights in addition to a fantastic show at Eastern Egg Rock from Atlantic Puffins; Roseate, Common, and Arctic Terns; Black Guillemots; etc): 2 Razorbills on Eastern Egg, a mere two Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and handfuls of Northern Gannets offshore, but an insane show from a breaching Humpback Whale. And for the record, the Tufted Puffin appeared there a mere 3 hours after our boat left.
Each summer, I begin reporting my “shorebird high counts this week” here. Really, I do it for my own note-keeping and organization, but I hope at least a few folks find value in it. This year, I am starting it early, even though diversity is expectedly low and I didn’t get to a lot of shorebird sites this week. However, numbers are picking up dramatically, and this bears watching. Unfortunately, large numbers of adult shorebirds in early July could portend widespread breeding failure. Therefore, I will organize my counts here so I can compare it to previous seasons.
Black-bellied Plover: 2 first-summer, Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
Killdeer: 35, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, 7/12 (with Cameron Cox).
Piping Plover: 4+, Western Beach from Pine Point Beach, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
So much for the mythological “summer birding doldrums.” They never really existed, but between climate change, land use changes, and better birding communication, they certainly don’t exist now. Several rarities headlined the week, along with the first wave of southbound (fall!) shorebird migration. My highlights of note over the past seven days included the following:
1 adult Black Tern, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/2 (early migrant/post- or failed-breeding dispersal. With client from North Carolina). N. Gibb had two that afternoon, and one bird continued through 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society)
“Fall” migration is definitely underway, with the vanguard of southbound shorebirds now arriving. A good diversity for the date in Scarborough Marsh on 7/2 included 9 Black-bellied Plovers, 7 Greater Yellowlegs, 3 Short-billed Dowitchers (first of fall), and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs (FOF). (With client from North Carolina).
1 HENSLOW’S SPARROW, Crystal Springs Farm at intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Casco/Church St, Brunswick, 7/6. Found on 7/5 by Gordon Smith. Observed from 6:25am through 8:15am, singing nearly constantly. Video (better than the photo above) at: https://fb.watch/e5wtcTjSrV/
4-5 Red Crossbills and 4 Short-billed Dowitchers, Reid State Park, Georgetown, 7/7.
1 continuing BLACK-NECKED STILT, salt pannes on north end of Scarborough Marsh from US Rte 1, Scarborough, 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society).
1 continuing proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET hybrid, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society). *Hybrid combo as proposed in: Lovitch, Derek J. 2022. Photo Salon: Hybrid Herons of Maine. North American Birds 72 (2): 28-40.
Migrant shorebird migrant totals from Scarborough Marsh on 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society): 100+ Least Sandpipers, 19 Short-billed Dowitchers, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, and 4 Black-bellied Plovers.
I had a rather busy week, but not as busy with birding as I would have liked. Therefore, this mostly to share Jeannette’s photography from our visit to Machias Seal Island last week. However, a few observations of note over the past seven days included the following
1 female ORCHARD ORIOLE and 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Green Point WMA, 6/27 (with Jeannette).
1+ BOREAL CHICKADEE, East Royce Mountain, White Mountains National Forest, 6/26 (with Jeannette).
1-2 LITTLE EGRET X SNOWY EGRET hybrids, Falmouth, 6/30. One bird spotted from the Martin’s Point Bridge appeared to have at least one long, Little Egret-like plume. It was not close enough for photos, but the plume – as well as overall structure was distinctive. After flying upriver with the incoming tide, I found a hybrid at Gilsland Farm (photo below), but no head plumes are visible. Note the greenish-yellow lores (looked darker in the field than this poor, phone-scoped photo), very long and fine bill, and spindly neck. It’s slightly longer legs and overall slightly larger size was apparent when it joined a distant Snowy. However, did I imagine the plume in the earlier view? Did it fall off in transit? Or, are there actually two again this year?
Breeding season is upon us, and Maine’s seabird islands are in full effect – even when they don’t have a Tufted Puffin. I did find a Little Gull, however, and that was fun; I really like Little Gulls! My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
Biddeford Pool shoreline and neighborhood, 6/19: 1 1st summer Great Cormorant, 3 Black Scoters, 1 pair Surf Scoters, and 1 likely-late migrant Magnolia Warbler.
1 first-summer LITTLE GULL and 1 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 6/19 (photos above).
3 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 14 Black-bellied Plovers, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 6/19.
Belgrade PURPLE MARTIN colony, 6/21: Jeannette and I counted at least 25 occupied nests holes, which I believe would be a recent record high of this venerable colony.
1 Red Crossbill, Downeast Sunrise Trail, Machias, 6/21 (with Jeannette).
15-20 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Cutler Harbor to Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
1 pair NORTHERN GANNETS, displaying and early-courtship behavior, Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
1 Greater Yellowlegs, Machias River Causeway, 6/22 (with Jeannette). High-flying and heading south, was this our first migrant of “fall?” or just an over-summering bird heading to a roost?
2 Red Crossbills (Typ1 10 fide Matt Young), 1 Bay-breasted Warbler, Palm Warblers, etc, Cutler Coast Maine Public Reserve Lands, 6/23 (with Jeannette).
1 pair AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Egg Rock off Petit Manan peninsula, with Acadia Nature Tours puffin trip to Petit Manan Island (with Doug Hitchcox, Jeannette, et al). No Tufted Puffin.
My observations of note over the past eight days included the following:
Rangeley Birding Festival, June 10-12. Cameron Cox and I led a total of four tours, and while none of them expected to find “boreal specialties,” our group did hear 2+ CANADA JAYS at Hunter Cove Preserve on 6/13. Otherwise, we mostly basked in the glow of Blackburnian Warblers and other area denizens, like the above Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Proposed* TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET(S) in Scarborough Marsh, 6/16 (with Ted Floyd and Hannah Floyd). The saga continues! Although I have spent dreadfully little time in the marsh this summer, reviewing photographs has led me to consider that there are now two of this proposed three-way combination – one distinctly whiter (especially on the wings) than the other. On the 16th, we observed both birds distantly (darker bird off Eastern Road, whiter bird at Pelreco Marsh). In both cases they were very far and even phone-scoped photos were worthless due to heat shimmer. If you have great photos of birds from this year, I would love to see them!
*Hybrid combo as proposed in:
Lovitch, Derek J. 2022. Photo Salon: Hybrid Herons of Maine. North American Birds 72 (2): 28-40.