Monthly Archives: September 2013

Yet Another Great Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

k -DSC_0024_PIWO,SandyPoint,9-26-13
I do love it when the big ones fly by, especially on mornings like this.  They’re easier to identify and tally…especially when they are Pileated Woodpeckers!

It’s also nice when more birds pause in the trees at the point, allowing for identification as a “sample” of what’s going overhead.  It’s especially nice when they land in front of my face…like this Philadelphia Vireo did.  If only there weren’t a few twigs between us!
i -DSC_0008_PHVI,SandyPoint,9-26-13

I usually leave the bridge before raptors begin to get going, but today, I was treated to an early-morning Peregrine Falcon flight.  A couple of the birds didn’t even blink and eye and kept going.  Others terrorized migrant flickers.
j -DSC_0017_PEFA,SandyPoint,9-26-13

Normally, I start off with the overnight radar analysis to describe why there were (or were not) so many birds come morning.  But today, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the numbers:

43F, light NW, mostly cloudy, slowly clearing.

1662 Unidentified (*2nd highest)
441 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*2nd highest)
263 Northern Parulas (how are there still so many parulas!?)
193 Black-throated Green Warblers  (*2nd highest)
188 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest)
150 Northern Flickers
56 Golden-crowned Kinglets
52 Magnolia Warblers (*2nd highest)
46 Black-throated Blue Warblers (*new record; old = 13!)
44 Cedar Waxwings
44 Dark-eyed Juncos
41 Black-and-white Warblers (*2nd highest)
31 Red-eyed Vireos
29 Blue-headed Vireos (2nd highest)
27 Blackpoll Warblers
26 Eastern Phoebes (*new record)
26 Nashville Warblers (*new record)
23 Palm Warblers
22 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
15 American Robins
15 American Goldfinches
14 Blue Jays
12 Scarlet Tanagers
12 Rusty Blackbirds
9 White-throated Sparrows
8 Eastern Bluebirds (*new record)
7 Philadelphia Vireos
7 Chipping Sparrows
6 Peregrine Falcons (*new record)
6 Unidentified vireos
6 Brown Creepers
5 Yellow Warblers
4 Tufted Titmice (*new record)
4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
3 Black-capped Chickadees
3 Tennessee Warblers
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Cape May Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Red-breasted Merganser (first of fall)
1 Common Loon
1 American Kestrel
1 Merlin
1 Mourning Dove
1 PILEATED WOODPECKER (my third crossing ever; crossed after 4 false-starts)
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (crossed after 3 false-starts)
1 Warbling Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 DICKCISSEL (4th of season)
1 Red-winged Blackbird

Total= 3523 (*third highest total)

So there you have it.  Wow.  <Insert various superlatives and/or swear words>   I just wish I could have whittled down that unidentified total a little bit more – who knows how many single-species records I might have set?

There were two reasons the unidentified tally was so high.  One is that early-morning cloud cover once again reduced many of the birds to silhouettes.  Secondly, the intensity of the first two hours of the flight was really exceptional.  On multiple occasions, I could do nothing more than step back look up, smile, and click off a cloud of unidentified warblers – no point of even lifting the binoculars.  Bunches of birds high overhead; I’d follow one bird into the Magic Elm, and 20 would shoot out.  Birds were sneaking below me.   It was, at times, a bit overwhelming!  But it was also exceedingly fun; I like the challenge, and since my interest lies in quantifying the flight as much as identifying the composition of it, the high unidentified tally only bothers me a little…OK, maybe a little more than a little, but anyway…

I couldn’t resist taking a few photos, such as the Philadelphia Vireo landing in front of me, or the majestic Pileated Woodpecker cruising by.  16 species of warblers, a bunch of new records and near-records, and some “good” birds.  Yeah, that’s a good flight.  But I actually think my highlight was one little female American Redstart.  She dropped in from high overhead, straight down into the regenerating cherry that stands directly in front of me (and perfectly blocks the sun from my eyes for the first hour of the day) – the one the Philly V was in – and hopped her way to the near edge.  She looked at me, and cocked her head to look at the camera lens that was lying down next to me.  I am guessing she saw her reflection.  She looked at me, chirped in a gentle contact call – not the harsh alarm call or even the sharp flight call – and then hopped back into the brush.  We had a moment.  I enjoyed that.

OK, back to business…the radar.  Save these images for future reference.  This is what “GO BIRDING IN THE MORNING!!!” looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images for example <insert “boom” sound>:
a-10pm radar, 9-26-13 b -10pm velocity, 9-26-13 c -12am radar, 9-27-13 d -12am velocity, 9-27-13 e -2am radar, 9-26-13 f -2am velocity, 9-26-13 g -4am radar, 9-26-13 h -4am velocity, 9-26-13

Even at 6:00am, with light more than peaking into the eastern sky, birds were still on the move.  If I had not expected to go to SandyPoint for sunrise this morning, and I had seen this image, I would have flown out the door.
6am radar, 9-26-13 6am velocity, 9-26-13

When there are this many birds in the air so close to sunrise, there are going to be a lot of birds taking part in the “morning redetermined migration” come dawn, along with crepuscular migrants that are moving in the early light.  The radar provided all of the suggestions of a big flight.  And, with a light northwesterly breeze, many more birds were low and in the trees than on the westerly breezes of the last few mornings.  Here’s the wind map, showing that low moving off of the Maritimes, ushering in a north to northwesterly flow behind it – as I postulated on my blog yesterday.
wind map, 9-25-13

While I am rarely even at Sandy Point for four days in a row, it is exceedingly rare that the fourth day would be so busy.  But I think that upper level low finally pulling out of the way re-opened the floodgates.  And it looks like tomorrow should be good as well, continuing a most impressive string of good flight nights.  But I will give my neck a break tomorrow from staring straight up and spinning back and forth at Sandy Point.  Instead, I’ll just have to see what the flight will be like with my tour on Monhegan Island.  Yeah, I know, tough life.

On Sandy Point, Winter Finches, and Portland’s Congress Square Park

I’ve spent each of the last three mornings at Sandy Point, and it is a rare treat indeed (but not for my neck!) that the winds tonight will likely be conducive to yet another morning in my “other office.”  Yesterday’s moderate flight produced two Patch Birds: Western Kingbird and Gray-cheeked Thrush while today’s better than expected flight yielded 15 species of warblers.  (Tallies from both days are on our store’s Facebook Page as always).

While I can’t believe there are more Northern Parulas left to migrate through, I am optimistic about tomorrow morning.  The upper-level low spinning over Atlantic Canada that has produced rain to our northeast and the clouds overhead that have reduced the flight – and my ability to identify it! – is expected to move out, and I wonder if that will open up another wave of birds to head south from that region.  It is exceedingly rare for me to have four days in a row of good Morning Flights at Sandy Point, so I look forward to another early start tomorrow.

With each passing flight, the changing season is becoming more obvious.  Fewer early warblers and growing numbers of Yellow-rumps and sparrows, for example.  And of course, as a season progresses, we birders often think ahead to the next season.  The near-complete dearth of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins (zero) that have passed SandyPoint is an early indicator that it will be an “off” winter for northern finches as expected.  Few Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees passing through also suggest an abundance of food to our north.

These observations reflect what I am seeing elsewhere in Maine, and reflect the information contained in this year’s “Winter Finch Forecast” by Ron Pittaway that just came out this week.  This venerable resource is posted each fall, and reflects a lot of effort by the author to bring together various tidbits of information.  Its arrival each fall is highly anticipated – even if it does not portend the arrival of lots of highly anticipated finches.

But today, I wanted to take a moment to discuss one of the local issues that we have decided to wade into.  As most Portland – at least – residents may know, there is a proposal to transfer a portion of Congress Square Park to private development for a conference center.  The city needs a conference center, and the park needs some attention.  I’ll leave it to the residents of Portland to weigh the costs and benefits of this particular plan, but one aspect that concerns me greatly is the current blueprints that show a massive glass wall facing a smaller park with limited vegetation.

Here’s a link to what I believe to be the most recent development proposal; I don’t think any significant updates have been made.  Jeannette and I believe that we can use our store as a vehicle to promote bird conservation, and although we certainly don’t stick our nose into every project, sometimes we feel that we need to be the voice for birds, birding, and bird conservation.  Capisic Pond Park, the Eastern Promenade, Sandy Point, and now development at the fringes of Florida Lake have been projects we have worked on.  While we may not go too much further with our efforts in this case, we thought it was best to offer expertise to point out a potential issue with this projects design.  I have sent this letter to city officials and the new group, Friends of Congress Square Park.  I post it here for your information, and if anyone has suggestions on whom else to send this to, don’t hesitate to let us know.

September 18, 2013

RE: Congress Square Redevelopment plans

To whom it may concern:

I am writing you today not to take a stand for or against the current proposal at this time, but instead to bring to your attention a couple of aspects of urban parks, construction, and wildlife interactions that has raised a significant amount of concern with me.

First, a little bit of background.  Migrating birds that stream over Portland every spring and fall face a myriad of risks.  Many of our favorite songbirds, such as warblers, orioles, and tanagers all fly at night.  For reasons unknown – likely due to the use of stars for navigation – birds can become disoriented by lights.  Lights on communication towers, lights on buildings, lights at stadiums, lights left on in office buildings, and even lights in people’s homes.  Especially on cloudy and foggy nights, birds will be drawn to this artificial lighting, and many will meet an untimely death as they collide with structures or even drop dead from exhaustion as their bodies metabolize their muscles in order to fuel the last gasps of flight as the bird circles, and circles, and circles, confused by the light, drawn in by its grasp.  The cumulative light pollution of cities, towns, and even single-family homes, results in perhaps hundreds of millions of deaths of migrating birds each year.

However, not every bird disoriented by city lights will die.  Some find refuge in a well-landscaped park and find enough food to survive, refuel, and eventually move on. Most others find just enough refuge to move on come sunrise, when the direction of the sunrise and visual landmarks can usher a bird in the right direction.  In order to avoid predators, many of these birds will fly low through the city streets, dropping in to the next tree, the next park, or even the next garden as these birds – in what is termed “redetermined migration” attempt to correct for the errors of their ways overnight.  These errors could result from disorientation from lights, “groundings” from severe weather, or even from drifting too far on strong winds behind a cold front.

Especially for those birds exhausted from their travels or their disorientation, every single tree in an urban environment can be a life-saver.  A place to rest, a place to forage for just a little food or at the very least a place to avoid predators.  Working from some part of the city, the birds will work their way inland (in the case of a coastal city such as Portland) looking for more extensive habitat where they can refuel.

I have watched flocks of White-throated Sparrows winging it down side streets, landing in potted plants at the first sight of a possible threat.  I’ve seen an American Woodcock walking down a sidewalk near Monument Square.  I have seen waves of Blackpoll Warblers streaking by just over the treetops of Deering Oaks Park.

As the birds work their way to quality habitat, such as Evergreen Cemetery, many of these birds are more than strong enough to avoid predators, avoid traffic, and fly at full speed over the course of the first couple of hours of daylight.


The migrant lays still on the sidewalk; dead.    It has hit a window.

It has flown hundreds of miles from the forests of Canada.  It has survived ever-changing weather, dodged hawks at every turn, and found enough food to pack on enough fat to fuel an epic journey to the rainforests of South America for the winter.   A shift in the wind the prior night resulted in foggy conditions as it arrived in the airspace over Portland.  Attempting to orient itself, it circles the red blinking light on the top of a building until it is too tired.  But this bird is lucky.  Below this building there is a small park with a handful of trees.  Good enough, and the bird alights.  The sun rises, and the bird, not finding much food in a few ornamental plantings, decides to head further inland.

Flying from tree to tree, the bird sees the next tree just ahead.  But that tree was only a reflection in glass.  Its journey ends.

Glass kills as many as 1 billion birds per year in North America. Urban light pollution may kill as many as 31 million birds per year.  Lighted communication towers may kill upwards of 100 million.  Only free-roaming cats are estimated to kill more birds per year than any of these other anthropogenic causes.  You can see why glass in lighted urban areas is such a problem.

The current proposal for a new Event Center in what is now Congress Square Park includes a massive glass façade, with “doors” that open, putting glass walls out at multiple angles.  All of this glass will be reflective.  Architects and admirers like that about glass.  But whatever trees remain will be reflected by that glass.

Thud.  Another migrant is dead.  How many dead birds will people pick up on the sidewalk before anyone takes notice?  Or will the rats clean up the mess before the morning rush?

Is the new CongressSquareEventCenter going to be a death trap for exhausted and confused migrants?  Probably.  Can this risk be minimized or avoided?  Yes.  Does anyone care?  That, to me, is always the toughest question.

But there are solutions out there.  There are treatments that make glass less-reflective, or ways to break up the reflection so birds will not be drawn to it.  Glass can be positioned to reflect the ground, and trees can be positioned to minimize reflection.  There are certainly plenty of materials that don’t cast a reflection as well.  There are even city-wide efforts to reduce bird collisions that range from lighting standards to simple programs to get people to turn off the lights as they leave their office for the night.

My only goal with this letter is to raise awareness about a significant problem, but one that might well be avoided.

For the sake of brevity – I think you will agree that this letter is long enough already – I will simply point you towards two sources for more information, from background to solutions.  The first is the “Birds and Collisions” page from the American Bird Conservancy:

The second is the home page of the Fatal Light Awareness Program:

I sincerely hope that you will recognize my concerns and take them under consideration.  I would be happy to offer more first-hand observations to describe why this issue is real in Portland, and why a glass façade facing some of the few trees that exist in the center of an urban area could result in significant avian mortality.

I thank you for your time and consideration.


Derek Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply

Huge Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

My last blog entry ended with a little bit of foreshadowing, did it not? But before we get to Sandy Point this morning, let us take a moment to review the radar images from the weekend for comparison.

This is the 12:00am image from Sunday.  This is what “no migration” looks like on the radar.  You can also see the rain approaching from the west.
12am radar, 9-22-13

Now this is the midnight image from Saturday.  This is what “I have no idea what’s going on” looks like on the radar.  While anything from some weird warping of the radar beams from changes in air temperature to a simple malfunction could result in this, what it is NOT is a lot of birds.  It’s too irregular…and bird’s don’t “explode” in narrow bands!
IMG_1575_edited-1 IMG_1576_edited-1

So, compare those to what “a whole boatload” of birds looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am base reflectivity and velocity images from last night.

10pm radar, 9-22-13 10pm velocity, 9-22-13

12 am radar, 9-23-13 12 am velocity, 9-23-13

2am radar, 9-23-132am velocity, 9-23-13

4am radar, 9-23-134am velocity,9-23-13

Yeah, it would have been nice to be on Monhegan this morning.  But I was in my other sanctuary – my office at Sandy Point.  And this is what happened:

6:28 – 10:05am.
43F, increasing W to NW, clear.

1338 Unidentifed (*2nd highest)
416 Northern Parulas (* Seriously, how are there any more parulas to come through!  This is the second highest count of all time, and now all three of the highest tallies are from this year!)
281 Northern Flickers
179 Black-throated Green Warblers (*2nd highest)
163 Blackpoll Warblers
91 Yellow-rumped Warblers
43 Black-and-white Warblers (*record high)
39 Red-eyed Vireos
35 American Redstarts
29 Blue Jays
29 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
23 Yellow Warblers
22 Blue-headed Vireos
21 Scarlet Tanagers (*record high)
21 Dark-eyed Juncos
19 Cedar Waxwings
18 Magnolia Warblers
17 Nashville Warblers (*record high)
17 American Goldfinches
13 Black-throated Blue Warblers
12 Eastern Phoebes (* ties high)
11 Swainson’s Thrushes
9 Palm Warblers
6 Rusty Blackbirds
5 American Robins
4 Unidentified vireos
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
4 White-throated Sparrows
3 Least Flycatchers
3 Cape May Warblers
3 Bay-breasted Warblers
2 Common Loons
2 Broad-winged Hawks
2 TUFTED TITMICE (rarely seen crossing)
2 Unidentified thrushes
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrels
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
1 Common Raven
1 Philadelphia Vireos
1 Veery
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER (My third of the season here; it’s the fall of the CONWs in Maine!)
1 Northern Waterthrushes
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 DICKCISSEL (third of the season here)
1 Baltimore Oriole

Total = 2, 905 (4th highest tally all time for me)

DSC_0016_REVIonAlternate-leafedDogwood,Sandy Point, 9-23-13DSC_0026_SWTH_onWinterberry2,Sandy Point,9-23-13
Some of the migrants pause long enough at Sandy Point to do a little snacking.  Here’s a Red-eyed Vireo eating Alternate-leafed Dogwood fruits, and a Swainson’s Thrush stepping out into the sun to dine on Winterberries.

A little post-Sandy Point birding yielded two Wilson’s Snipe trying to stay hidden along the edge of a puddle along Greely Road in Cumberland.

And tonight looks just as good…perhaps even a little better with a more northwesterly flow.  See ya at the bridge at sunrise!
wind forecast, 9-23-13

Monhegan Island, 9/20-22/2013

On a morning with a big overnight migration in the fall, there’s no where I’d rather be than SandyPoint.  I just wish there was a direct ferry from there right to MonheganIsland.  Any other time, I would just rather be on Monhegan.

While our annual MonhegZEN Fall Migration Weekend coming up this weekend (still some space available), Jeannette and I headed to the island Friday through Sunday for a few days of birding and visiting with friends.  It was kinda odd being there without a group!  Not surprisingly, I did not bird much less hard.

I’ll post some radar images from the weekend on a forthcoming blog entry that I hope to post by day’s end.  A decent flight Thursday night into Friday produced a fair amount of birds on the island, even after our late (relatively speaking) arrival at 10:00am, and even though it seemed – as is often the case on calm mornings – birds that arrived at dawn continued on to the mainland.  Three of our first handful of species, however, were Philadelphia Vireo, Cape May Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Welcome (back) to Monhegan.

The birding improved in the afternoon, highlighted by a Western Kingbird.

A Lark Sparrow and two Dickcissels – all present for a few days – were enjoyed (here, one of the Dickcissels with the Lark Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow in the background). Typical “Monhegan Trash Birds:” birds that are noteworthy anywhere else in the state but are fully expected in an autumn visit here.

We ended up with 67 species of birds on the day, including 11 species of warblers.  Yup, a slow day of birding on Monhegan beats a good day of birding almost anywhere else.  Light southerly winds that developed over the course of the day became calm by nightfall, and call notes early in the night were suggestive of birds departing the island.

With a southerly flow aloft, I didn’t have high hopes of a lot of new arrivals for the next morning.  The radar image was, simply put, was weird – some sort of temperature anomaly or perhaps a malfunction, so I couldn’t use that to confirm or alleviate my concerns.  A mere handful of bird overhead at dawn on Saturday morning confirmed it though – there was not much on the move overnight.

Fog rolled in and out for most of the morning, clearing out in the afternoon on an increasing south to southwesterly breeze.  We beat the bush hard, and covered a lot of ground, but birds were hard to come by.  There were quite a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers around than on previous mornings, Kristen noted, and we added plenty of species to our trip list over the course of the day.  While the Dickcissels apparently departed, the Lark Sparrow continued, and the island was now up to three Clay-colored Sparrows.

Clay-colored Sparrows, Dickcissels, and Lark Sparrow, check:  the triumvirate of Midwestern regular-rarities out here.  Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a tarrying Eastern Kingbird, a Semipalmated Plover, and a good afternoon Northern Gannet show were the other highlights of what amounted to be an exceptionally slow day of birding for Monhegan in the fall.  Nevertheless, complaints were not uttered – we were on Monhegan! – and besides, I got to mooch a TV (Thanks Paul and Sue!) to watch Rutgers come from behind to defeat Arkansas in an exciting finish, and we visited the Monhegan Brewing Company.  Yup, tough day.
This young Peregrine Falcon – with a bulging crop from its last meal – also had a good day.

Unfortunately, an increasing southerly wind overnight precluded much in the way of any migration.  Take a look at the next blog to see what “almost nothing” looks like on a radar image.  Clouds were thick by dawn, too, but the rain held off until after breakfast.  After another fulfilling and scrumptious breakfast at the Trailing Yew, Jeannette, Kristen, and I headed down to Lobster Cove for a bit of seawatching.  We could see the wall of rain on the radar, and we could now see it on the horizon.  But as it marched closer, tubenoses joined the gannets.  In a mere 15 minutes or so, 20+ Great Shearwaters and 6+ Sooty Shearwaters zoomed through my scope.  And then the skies opened up.  This is what a line of rain – ahead of a cold front – looks like on the radar.

The southerly winds were diminishing as the rain tapered off rather quickly over the course of the morning, but seawatching was less productive before lunchtime – apparently those tubenoses were all on the move just ahead of the precipitation.  But with the sun beginning to peak out after lunch, at least more birds were more visible again: two of the Clay-colored Sparrows, a Philly Vireo, etc.  Joined by Paul and Doug, we encountered a – or the – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and then a calling flyover Lesser Yellowlegs became my 202nd species on Monhegan.

Moments later, Paul spotted a night-heron in a narrow drainage, and Doug soon relocated it.  A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!  Once a more regular bird in Maine, and even on Monhegan, it had been about a decade since one had made an appearance on the island.  But this bird showed up a couple of weeks ago, and was often seen foraging on grasshoppers in lawns.  Rumors of its continued presence were circulated, but there were no confirmed sightings for over a week.  Until today.
Monhegan bird #203!  And two island birds in about 10 minutes.  Now that’s the way to finish strong.

When it was time to go, we were very happy to see the waves were rapidly dropping off.  Seven foot seas this morning had been reduced to 3-4 at most as we hopped on the Hardy Boat for the trip back.  A Great Cormorant on the Outer Ducks was our 88th species for the Monhegan tally for this trip, but 88 –including a mere 13 species of warblers – was a fairly low total for three days out here at this time of year.  That being said, it could have been much lower had we not continued to beat the bush.

Two juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined some hopeful Herring Gulls following the boat to shore, and westerly winds were increasing as the cold front pushed through.  There would no doubt be a lot of new birds come morning on Monhegan.  While I would be sorry to miss them, I knew fun was going to be had at SandyPoint, so I was not upset.

And I was right…

Two Fun Mornings at Sandy Point


With a busy tour and travel schedule once again this fall (every year I say I will schedule fewer things in my favorite season to bird in Maine!), my time at Sandy Point is at a premium.  Since it takes certain conditions to make birding here worthwhile, I get quite excited when conditions line up for a good flight.

I was very anxious to arrive at “my office” on Tuesday morning.  Moderate northerly winds overnight turned to the northwest, resulting in an exceptional flight over and through SandyPointBeach come dawn.  Here is the morning’s scorecard:

-37F, Clear, Light northwest, increasing.
-Jenny Howard and Jeannette Lovitch assisting with the count.

1195 Unidentified
984 Northern Flickers (*2nd highest count)
703 Northern Parula (*New high count; old record only 234!)
391 Cedar Waxwings (*New high count)
153 American Redstarts
152 Blackpoll Warblers
145 Black-throated Green Warblers (*2nd highest count).
101 Broad-winged Hawks (*New high count)
35 Yellow Warblers
28 Black-and-white Warblers
23 Yellow-rumped Warblers
21 Red-eyed Vireos
19 Magnolia Warblers
17 Swainson’s Thrushes (*ties high count)
16 Eastern Phoebes (*New high count)
12 Nashville Warblers
11 American Goldfinches
9 American Robins
9 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (*New high count)
7 Palm Warblers
7 Scarlet Tanagers
6 Common Loons
6 White-throated Sparrows (in bushes; no crossings)
5 Tennessee Warblers
5 Common Yellowthroats (in bushes; no crossings as usual)
4 Cooper’s Hawks (*New high count)
4 Unidentified vireos
4 Blue Jays
3 Ospreys
3 Least Flycatchers
3 Unidentified empids
3 Philadelphia Vireos
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Blackburnian Warblers
3 Bay-breasted Warblers
3 Black-throated Blue Warblers
3 Chipping Sparrows
3 Rusty Blackbirds (first of season)
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 American Kestrels
2 Bald Eagles
2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Cape May Warblers
2 European Starlings (first time I have “deemed them migrating”)
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Northern Harrier
1 Unidentified small falcon
1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
1 “Traill’s” Flycatcher
1 Blue-headed Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (6 false-starts before apparently crossing)
1 Pine Warbler
1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER (3rd of the season as Tom Johnson and Jenny Howard had one here on 9/15 as well)
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Purple Finch
1 Monarch butterfly

Total= 4,134 (*2nd highest count of all time!)

Simply put: wow!  That was one heck of a flight.  In fact, it was downright overwhelming at times – flocks of flickers, waves of warblers, packs of waxwings.  It was almost too much to count, and thankfully, Jenny Howard agreed (OK, so maybe I didn’t exactly ask, but beg) to tally flickers for the busiest part of the morning for me. That helped a whole lot.

After a flood like yesterday morning, I am not disappointed by the slow, but steady trickle through the point this morning.  It was a more manageable number to count, with quite a few birds lower than yesterday, and often only a few at a time; it was easier to sort through.

Here’s this morning’s scorecard, then, we’ll compare the different flights as viewed on the radar.
– 6:21-9:05
– 41F, Clear, Calm becoming very light west.

265 Northern Parulas (*2nd highest count)
202 Unidentified
54 Black-throated Green Warblers
45 Northern Flickers
32 Cedar Waxwings
32 American Redstarts
26 Yellow-rumped Warblers
17 Yellow Warblers
14 American Robins
14 Blackpoll Warblers
13 Blue Jays
10 Red-eyed Vireos
7 Nashville Warblers
6 Eastern Phoebes
6 Black-and-white Warblers
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
4 Tennessee Warblers
4 Palm Warblers
4 Wilson’s Warblers
4 Chipping Sparrows
3 Common Loons
3 American Kestrels
3 Blue-headed Vireos
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Common Yellowthroats
2 Unidentified empids
2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
2 Swainson’s Thrushes
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
2 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
2 Baltimore Orioles
2 American Goldfinches
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 Solitary Sandpiper
1 Least Flycatcher
1 “Traill’s” Flycatcher
1 Unidentified flycatcher
1 Philadelphia Vireo
1 Unidentified vireo
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Prairie Warbler
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Purple Finch

Total: 801

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this good.  And despite really only a “good” flight, parulas had their second highest tally – I didn’t think there would be any left after yesterday’s flight!  And yes, this more manageable flight was more “enjoyable,” if considerably less awe-inspiring.

So, what made me have lower expectations for today?  Let’s go to the radar!

First, the massive flight overnight Monday into Tuesday that led to all of the records yesterday.  I have included the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images:
a b c d e f g h

Combined, these images show a very strong flight all night long, with a lot of birds offshore come twilight, and likely a lot of birds arriving at the coast come dawn.  Looking at that image when I went to bed, and when I awoke, coupled with the light northwesterly winds all night left no doubt that things would be hopping at Sandy Point.  And, as we now know, there most certainly was. If you see a radar image that looks like this – go birding in the morning!

In fact, it was a good day all-around for migrants, and everywhere we looked up yesterday, raptors were on the move.

winds, 110am,9-17-13

Now, let’s take a look a the radar and velocity images from 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am last night:
i j k l m n o p

As night fell Tuesday night, clear and mostly calm conditions let birds take to the air once again – but not nearly as many as the night before. Notice how much smaller the area of return is, and how much less dense? Meanwhile, the velocity image was much less distinctly fast-moving, north-to-south as the previous night (of course, with little to no wind, the ground speed of the birds would be less anyway) – a little more ambiguous than the night before.  Furthermore, with a forecast for westerly winds (not as good as northwesterly), and the chance that they would become southwesterly by dawn, I did consider skipping Sandy Point this morning, but with the rest of the week looking even less productive, I knew I had to give it a go.

And, obviously, I am glad that I did.  But upon returning to the store, and checking those above radar images once again, I find it a bit odd that the radar image (small in diameter, but very dense) did not translate to a more distinct velocity image.  Perhaps there was a lot of slow-moving stuff up there (insects, pollen, dust, etc) that clouded the motion of the birds.  Either way, it was a good night for flying, and if it’s a good night for flying, it’s a good morning to be at Sandy Point!

A Weekend at the Cape Cod Bird Festival

Other than a departure point for pelagics, it has been over 15 years since I have birded Cape Cod.  Too long.  Every late summer and early fall in particular, it’s “we really should get to the Cape” for shorebirds, especially South Beach and Monomoy Island.  Well, my visit this weekend only wet my pallet for a future, more birding-intensive visit.

I was asked to join the Leica Sports Optics team of good friends Jeff Bouton and David La Puma at their booth for the first annual Cape Cod Bird Festival.  As the only Authorized Leica Optics dealer in Northern New England, I had multiple roles to play.  First, it was to be the retailer of any optics sales.  Secondly, I was there to use my first-hand experience in telling the story of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Leica has recently become a leading sponsor of the international effort to save this unique species.  And finally, I was there to sign some copies of my book.  Oh yeah, and do some birding and beer-ing with Jeff and David, of course.

The weather forecasts as of Thursday suggested that some good movements of migrants were about to occur.  I went to bed optimistic that the first flight would occur behind the front for Friday morning (see previous blog entry), but as I woke up to rain still falling, I knew that this was not to be.  Therefore, I began my trek southward, stopping for a short visit at Fort Foster in Kittery.  That short visit lasted a little longer than expected, as I found not one, but TWO Connecticut Warblers!

With rain still falling, I left the camera in the car.  Of course, this usually results in some exceptional photographic opportunity.  Yup, sure did.  A Connecticut Warbler (CONW) – normally a frustratingly secretive skulker in migration, walked out (the fact that it was walking, one foot in front of the other, rather than hopping itself helps to clinch the birds’ identity) onto a low branch at the edge of thick brush.  I lamented the lack of a camera, but was enthralled with my view.

A short while later, I was even more shocked to see a second CONW walking out into the relative open!  This time, I remembered that there was an iPhone in my pocket, and out of sheer desperation, I held it up to my binoculars and shot away.  It actually worked…a phone-binned CONW!  (This, as a friend pointed out, may have been a first-ever occurrence).  My best shot – relatively speaking of course – was this one.

But this other shot nicely shows the very pink legs and exceptionally long undertail coverts.
CONW2_Fort_Foster,Kittery, 9-13-13

Oddly enough, with the exception of plenty of Common Yellowthroats, I only encountered three migrant warblers this morning…and two were CONW!  (The other being my first Palm Warbler in southern Maine this fall).  After stopping at Kelly’s Roast Beef, I finally arrived at my destination for the weekend, The Cape Codder in Hyannis.

Meeting up with David and Jeff, we got to work, and it was nice to run into quite a few other friends over the course of the weekend.  David – radar guru and creator of – and I were (I know this will come as a surprise) glued to the NEXRAD images and wind forecasts in the evening, hoping to make a sound prediction for the hot birding.

David works with the next generation of Leica fans.

Well, perhaps we should have tried elsewhere, as Harding Beach in Chatham was not the place to be.  In fact, we tallied the reorienting migrants on one hand (although we didn’t exactly make it there in time for sunrise).  There weren’t many passerines around the woods at Morris Island, either.  Looking at the overnight radar images, and seeing that winds were light north (instead of the forecasted NW), it was obvious that the big flight out onto the Cape just didn’t occur.  I guess the silver lining to this was that we didn’t have too hard of a time pulling ourselves away to spend the rest of the day inside.

At least I had my brand new review copy – thanks to the good folks over at the Houghton Mifflin booth – of the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight by my friends Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox to page through.

And look who I found inside!

Come evening, we enjoyed seeing Pete Dunne in his native habitat: captivating a room full of birders with his story-telling.

Afterwards, David and I checked the radar once again.  And once again, we saw birds on the radar, but few birds east of Boston.  Take a look at the 1am radar and velocity images from the Boston area NEXRAD.  The winds were just too light to push birds well out of Cape Cod Bay, apparently.

1am radar,Boston,9-15-131am velocity, Boston,9-15-13

At least we didn’t have to make a decision as to where to start the day, as the three of us were on our way to the harbor to take part in the festival’s pelagic trip.  Like the waters north of Cape Cod (until your reach the waters off of Mount Desert Island), the summer seabirding has been dreadfully slow overall, so expectations were not too high.  The first half of the trip was living up to said low expectations, but things really picked up in the last few hours, as were well east of Cape Cod.  While the least expected seabird (for the season and the area) was probably the Leach’s Storm-Petrel, the highlight for me was this cooperative juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger.

Although a fairly dark individual, we can see the fairly slim build, small head and bill, and overall more “gentle” appearance.  I flight, it seemed slim and attenuated.  The photos show the two white primary shafts on the upperwing, and the rounded central tail feathers.

We also saw at least two Parasitic Jaegers, including this one chasing a juvenile Common Tern.DSC_0013_PAJA_ad2,off Cape Cod, 9-15-13DSC_0016_PAJAad1,offCape Cod,9-15-13

Four more unidentified, distant jaegers added to the strong finish – any day with jaegers is a good day in my book.  Other highlights included a Black Tern, 14 Sooty, 5 Great, and 1 Manx Shearwater, some good looks at Red-necked Phalaropes, two Basking Sharks and a Mola Mola, but only a couple of Minke Whales.  The cloud of Tree Swallows over Monomoy was quite impressive, as were some of the offshore landbirds: a Cape May Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler, a Northern Harrier, and an immature Black-crowned Night Heron – the latter of which was voicing its displeasure about being about 15 miles from shore, heading back north towards the Cape.  Three bats – at least one that I conclusively identified as a Red Bats, three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two early Great Cormorants, and a “pelagic” Cloudless Sulfur rounded out what, in the end, was actually a fairly productive outing.

It was a long drive home afterwards, however.  Luckily, southwesterly winds suggested I wouldn’t have to wake up early to get to Sandy Point for dawn.  However, take a look at the radar image.  Once again, I’ve included the 1am image for the example.  It looks like a ton of birds!
But the velocity image suggested little to no speed for whatever was in the air (it was not foggy last night), so I do not know what it was.

There was little overhead in the morning in either our yard or at Old Town House Park, so I don’t think I was mistaken about this not being a big flight of birds.  Furthermore, in a short listening session before going to bed, I heard very, very little.

Tonight, however…well, let’s just say that I will be at Sandy Point tomorrow morning!  I just hope the winds stay more northwesterly than north, or – gasp – northeasterly by morning as currently suggested by the wind forecast I like to use.
11pm wind forecast,9-16-13

Current Birds, Weather, Predictions . . . and Pretty Shorebird Photos

Yesterday’s record high temperatures (92 in Portland shattered the old record of 87) were ushered in on a strong southwesterly flow.  Unseasonably warm air continues today, as the southwesterly winds aloft are picking up ahead of tonight’s cold front (more on that shortly).

Here are the continental wind maps from yesterday afternoon, and this afternoon.  Yesterday, you can see the south-southwesterly flow originating from under a broad area of high pressure over the Southeast…

…but notice that by today, cool, Canadian air was pouring down into the Upper Midwest (which resulted in some big flights over the last two nights in that region).

In addition to hot and very muggy conditions, this strong southerly flow has the potential to usher in some hot new rarities to our neck of the woods. While it appears that the Biddeford Pool Kentucky Warbler has moved on, I am expecting some more southern strays to turn up in our region.  Keep in mind, however, that these winds are not “blowing” birds north, but instead facilitating birds to arrive here that are either wandering (post-breeding dispersal, prospecting for new territories, etc) or area already flying in the wrong direction (e.g. “180-degree misorientation”).

In other words, if a Kentucky Warbler – for example – was “miswired” and began to fly north instead of south, a strong southerly wind would push it even farther the “wrong” way.  Then, with tonight’s cold front, the strong northwesterly winds that follow could push the birds towards the coast.  There, they find a coastal migrant trap – i.e. a dense thicket full of fruiting bushes in the woods of Biddeford Pool – to seek shelter in while they refuel.  There, they are more likely to be found by an alert birder than say somewhere in the valleys of the western Maine mountains.  Many migrants spend 3 to 7 days to “refuel.”  I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Biddeford Pool KEWA was seen for five days…and that it disappeared after a night of light southerly winds. Of course, it may have just moved to a richer food patch, or one without birders unnecessarily blasting a tape at it all afternoon.

Anyway, what will the weekend produce?  I might be thinking more along the lines of birds like Summer Tanagers and Hooded Warblers based on this recent weather pattern.  Unfortunately, I won’t be around to find them!  Instead, I will be helping out at the Leica Sports Optics booth at the Cape Cod Birding Festival in Hyannis (I’ll also be signing copies of “How to Be a Better Birder,” which of course covers many of the vagrant-producing and Mega-finding topics that I have touched upon here).

Ahead of tonight’s cold front, and before the forecasted thunderstorms of the afternoon, I – not surprisingly – was out birding this morning.  It’s September – there’s really no such thing as a night with “no” migration.  However, what was flying last night was not being noticed on the radar; likely a limited number of birds were flying below the clouds, however.

Here’s the midnight radar image for example:
12am radar, 9-12-13

That would be thunderstorms.  Not birds.  And we can verify it from the velocity image:
12am velocity, 9-12-13

…A distinct west to east movement, unlike the northerly to southerly movement of southbound fall migrant birds.  Therefore, I was not surprised to have very, very few birds overhead at dawn over our yard this morning, or later on at Hedgehog Mountain Park.  I did, however, find a lot of birds in the woods.  While some of these might have been new arrivals that snuck in below the clouds and between the storms, the mixed-species foraging flocks working through the woods was much more indicative of birds that have been around for a day or two.  The flock that moved through our yard shortly after sunrise, consisting mostly of Blackpoll Warblers, also contained not one, but two new Yard Birds for us: Cape May Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo!  Also, at least two Tennessee Warblers.

Multiple mixed flocks were encountered at The Hog, led by Blackpoll Warblers, along with a healthy serving of Black-throated Greens.  A Lincoln’s Sparrow foraged at the edge, and a mixed-species flock consisting of 40+ Chipping Sparrows, 6 Eastern Bluebirds, and 1 Pine Warbler worked the edge of the transfer station and out through the ballfields.

Afterwards, I zipped down to Pine Point for the low tide.  Shorebird numbers are down considerably, as expected by the middle of September.  And, I would expect a lot of the birds I saw today to clear out behind this next cold front.  About 180 Semipalmated Sandpipers led the way, punctuated by a juvenile Red Knot, and two continuing American Oystercatchers (they were too far to determine age, visible over on Western Beach as viewed from Pine Point Beach).  Four juvenile Dunlins were a sign that their migration – one of our two latest migrant shorebirds – is just now picking up.  The highlight, however, were side-by-side “Eastern” and “Western” Willets.  Unfortunately, I was only able to get the two in the frame together by phone-scoping, here with a Greater Yellowlegs for a convenient reference.
EWIL_with_WWIL2, Pine Point, 9-12-13

I then carefully approached with my “real” camera, but I never again saw the two birds in the same field of view.  However, I did get solid photos of both the juvenile Western…
DSC_0002_WesternWILL1,Pine Point,9-13-13

…and the juvenile Eastern.
DSC_0005_EasternWILL1,Pine Point, 9-13-13

Even from the lousy phone-scoped photos, you can see how distinctive these two subspecies (for now!) are.  The smaller, “dumpier,” browner Eastern nicely contrasts with the larger, lankier, and much grayer Western.  Also, note how the darker brown scapulars of the Eastern contrast with the rest of the wing; Western is more uniform.  The head of the Eastern is also more contrast-y, and in this individual, the bill is so distinctly shorter and blunter.

Elsewhere, I finally got a chance to look for – and find – the juvenile Hudsonian Godwit that has been frequenting the river behind the Scarborough Marsh Nature Center for about a week now.  This is the first “Hud-wit” that I have seen in two years here in Maine – this once-common migrant has definitely declined dramatically in the state.
DSC_0010_HUGOjuv1,NatureShed,9-12-13 DSC_0050_HUGOjuv3,Nature_Shed,9-12-13

Now, my eyes are on the weather maps, and after dusk, the radar, to see if I will be at SandyPoint at sunrise on Friday. This is the wind map as of 5pm.  The northwesterlies behind the front are barely peeking into the region north of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.
winds at 5pm, 9-12-13

Currently, forecasters are suggesting that the cold front won’t pass through until tomorrow morning.  However, with very light winds overnight, perhaps with a westerly component, there could be some birds on the move…depending on when this latest batch of rain and thunderstorms (the storms last night and this afternoon were wicked, weren’t they?  And very un-September-like) moves through. Will the front get here soon enough?  Will birds be moving directly behind the front?  Will they be pushed offshore enough to need to reorient in the morning?  I’ll let you know tomorrow!