Monthly Archives: November 2013

Cape Neddick through Wells – Snowy Owl!

Jeannette and I birded from Cape Neddick through Wells on Tuesday, seeing a really pleasant variety of birds in the process in the calm before the storm. Delayed by a snowy start and somewhat slick roads (OK, not slick if didn’t drive like it was a dry race car track – 7 cars were off the road between Freeport and York, however) that backed up traffic (“Hey, there’s a car in the ditch, let me look!”), we didn’t reach the Nubble neighborhood until almost 9:00, but by then the snow had ended, the ceiling lifted a bit, and a very light wind made for decent  – albeit a bit raw – birding conditions.  Although we didn’t have anything earth-shattering, we did have a fair number of “good birds.”

Without a day off together in December (the store is open seven days a week from Thanksgiving to Christmas), our annual late November run through our usual route is the last time we focus on thickets and migrant traps in the hopes for lingering migrants and rare passerines.  Next time, waterbirds will be more of a focus.  And the limited number of non-resident passerines that we detected today (other than Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, and a scattered few Yellow-rumped Warblers) confirms that – as did the impressive, and growing, quantity of waterbirds.

Three Carolina Wrens was the highlight of a thorough check of the Nubble neighborhood thickets, although we did have a group of about 40 Snow Buntings fly over.  45 Black Scoters, 13 Purple Sandpipers, 8 Great Cormorants, 6 Harlequin Ducks, etc at The Nubble were a sign of things to come along the shoreline.

Passerines were few and far between along Marginal Way and the adjacent neighborhood, but great numbers of waterfowl along the shoreline more than made up for it.  As with everywhere we looked at the ocean today, all three scoters were present in numbers, including a close and talkative group of about 100 Black Scoters.  Lots of Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, and a total of 20 or 21 Harlequin Ducks were also present, along with a half-dozen Purple Sandpipers.

OgunquitBeach was a hotspot today, with a flock of 75-100 Sanderlings being joined by 32 Dunlin.  200+ Mallards and a handful of American Black Ducks were in the river, and a Belted Kingfisher hunted from its shore.  One of the surprises of the day was two Ruby-crowned Kinglets actively foraging in four Dwarf Alberta Spruces in planters in front of the motel.  A Winter Wren at Beach Plum Farm was a very good bird for this late in the season (they’re the “All but in winter wren” in Maine), and we had two Peregrine Falcons and an immature Northern Harrier in and around Harbor Road and Community Park in Wells.

We checked WellsHarbor and the jetties from a couple of vantage points (wouldn’t this be a perfect place to find a Ross’s Gull!?) and then scanned the offshore rock ledges still above water on the incoming tide from the parking lot at the end of Mile Road.   Six more Dunlin were within the scattered flock of 75+ Purple Sandpipers, and there were a lot of the expected waterbirds, including 6+ Red-throated Loons and at least four Red-necked Grebes.

All day long we were scanning the marshes and shoreline rocks in the hopes of seeing a Snowy Owl.  There have been a rash of reports in the past 7-10 days, as it looks like an irruption is underway.  I have not heard any reports of lemming and vole populations on the tundra, but a southward push of Snowies means there are either too few rodents (a natural cyclical crash, especially in lemmings) or too many owls (good breeding productivity thanks to a boom year in lemmings).  Either way, there are a lot of hungry owls around Maine right now.  It was surprising that based on the recent uptick in reports, we did not see one all day…until our very last stop with the light rapidly fading.  One immature female-type (extremely heavily barred throughout the body, other than the face) was standing guard on the last of the rocking ledges that I scanned.  Any day with a Snowy Owl is a good day in my book!

Please remember that these birds are not down this far south by choice!  The birds are here because they are hungry, or even starving (one emaciated bird was found dead at Prout’s Neck the other day, for example).  While this charismatic and captivating species is sought by birders, photographers, and almost everyone else, we must be mindful of the dire straights that many of these birds are in.  Too often we have heard stories of birds harassed, flushed repeatedly, or otherwise bothered by supposed fans.  In the case of a Snowy Owl perched on a rock 100 yards or more offshore, there is little harm that can come from gawking at them from land.  But when they are in the marsh, in the dunes, out in a field, on a building, etc, how about we remain just as respectful to these magnificent creatures and admire them from a safe distance.  Besides, the birds’ natural behaviors will be more fascinating than watching it fly away from you.  No, you really don’t need to see the bird a little better, or get a photo a little closer . . . admire them from a distance and let’s not make life any more difficult for these birds – or ruin it for other birders!

Rarity Season-to-date in Review

I hope you didn’t think that my lack of blogging of late equated to a lack of birding!  Quite the contrary, actually – it is Rarity Season afterall!  I’ve just been posting more frequent, shorter updates on our store’s Facebook page (you can scroll through the timeline here to see recent posts), especially since I have found myself a bit over-extended with a variety of other projects at the moment – I’ve been working late most nights recently to make up for my morning birding gallivanting.

In fact, I have been birding even harder than usual – if you can believe that!  Spurred on by extraordinary late October finds of an “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler at Fort Foster and a Bell’s Vireo (a state bird for me!) on Bailey Island, I found myself somehow even more motivated to beat the bush through the first half of November.  In addition to the 10th Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup that I organize every year, I worked hard at various traditional hotspots, favorite late fall patches, and various attempts to think “outside the box,” such as walking the 4.5 miles into work today to check a handful of swales and thickets en route (not very productive, except for the exercise, for the record)

While Audubon’s Warbler and Bell’s Vireo are going to be tough to beat – the early-rarity-season bar was set awfully high! – I have had some outstanding birding in November, even if there has yet to be another “Mega.”  Personal highlights in the first half of November include a very nice variety of lingering (pioneering?) warblers, a Yellow-breasted Chat, multiple Orange-crowned Warblers (I’ve had four this season to date), huge numbers of Ruddy Ducks on Sabattus Pond, and overall just really good birding with good diversity.

Elsewhere around the state, current highlights include a Northern Hawk-Owl in Lincoln – not a vagrant in the “Rarity Season” sort of way, but exciting nonetheless!  And perhaps that, along with an early Snowy Owl report from Biddeford Pool, portends a decent owl irruption this winter?  There certainly won’t be any winter finches around this year.).  Other birders have detected a variety of late warblers around the state (wow, November Chestnut-sided in Falmouth!), and lots of lingering shorebirds – especially in Scarborough Marsh.  But as far as the first half of November usually goes, there have been no truly exceptional birds.  Looking around the region, we see goodies such as a Calliope Hummingbird in New Hampshire, A Black-chinned Hummingbird in Connecticut, and the usual fun array of rarities in Massachusetts (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Western Tanager, American Avocet, etc).  However, it is an ultra-spiffy adult Ross’s Gull near Montreal that is the real headliner of the fall in the Northeast so far (and yes, I am being tempted to chase this, I have to admit).

So there are some good birds around the region, and no doubt there are some good birds still to find in Maine.  Other than a couple of days, it has been fairly temperate to mild all fall, and I can’t help but wonder if birds that arrived in the state through various vagrancy mechanisms (see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder) have yet to concentrate along the coast as they seek out more favorable microclimates or seasonal food sources.  Also, as the season progresses, more rarities turn up at feeding stations as natural food supplies diminish.  December rarities, for example, are often discovered at feeders.  Two tardy Chipping Sparrows are at our store’s feeders as I type this, by the way; I’m hoping they pick up a clay-colored cousin.  A lot of folks are reporting very busy feeders right now, which is a good sign, especially considering the lack of irruptive finches.

The last few days have seen a nice southwesterly flow aloft.  Look at Friday’s wind map, for example:
wind map,11-15-13

That extensive southwesterly flow early in the month would have surely deposited stuff like Cave Swallows in New England, but I wonder if that window has already closed.  A couple of Caves in Connecticut as recently as the 9th gives me some hope, however.  Contrast that map with the more zonal flow that we have seen for much of the month, such as on 11/10:
wind map,11-10-13

Although few birds are “blown” out of range, certain winds facilitate the arrival of more vagrants in certain areas than others.  And southwesterly winds in late fall are definitely the desired winds here in Maine.  With a fairly complex weather system on its way – including some really severe storms in the Midwest – I remain hopeful for some more out-of-range treats.  Interesting weather does have the tendency to produce some interesting birding, even without facilitating the arrival of rarities.
surface map, 11-17-13

At the very least, behind this system, we should see a return to colder, seasonable weather (as opposed to the 50’s of the last two days for example), and this should help push birds to feeders, warmer coastal and urban areas, etc.  Also, hopefully it will bring some snowfall to points north, as this year’s Goose Rarity Season has been lackluster, especially in the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.  A Greater White-fronted Goose that has been in Scarborough for a couple of weeks, and another in Berwick earlier in the month, along with a couple of Cackling Goose reports have been the only geese-of-note in southern Maine.  While “The County” saw single Barnacle and Pink-footed Goose in October, I have not had a single “good” goose in the fields of North Yarmouth, Cumberland, and Falmouth all season.  A Bean (!!!) Goose, Barnacle, and Pink-footed all in Nova   Scotia right now give me plenty of hope, and last year, things really didn’t pick up locally until mid-November anyway.  I will continue my thrice-weekly circuit.

So the short version of this is: go birding!  There are rarities out there to be discovered.

South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup TEN!

This Blackpoll Warbler was one of the record 9 species of warblers tallied on the day, and one of the top birds in my Portland territory. It was only the third time that this species was spotted by Rarity Roundup teams.

Each year on the first weekend of November, a group of us get together to scour the Southern Maine coast for vagrants, lingering migrants, pioneers, irruptive, and other seasonal highlights.  Coinciding with the peak of “Rarity Season,” we set out to use the geography of the Maine coast, coupled with knowledge of the best habitats and vagrant traps in order to find as many “good” birds as possible.  While this year failed to produce any “Megas,” we once again had a great day in the field, found lots of fun stuff, and enjoyed good food and beer at the Great Lost Bear at the end of the day (the real reason we all get together for this event!)

119 species were tallied by the 8 teams of the TENTH Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup, six species above our 10-year average, despite somewhat more limited coverage than in the past few years. The continuing “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler was added to the cumulative checklist, while we also had our second-ever Snowy Egret, Prairie Warbler, and Nelson’s Sparrow.  Blackpoll Warbler and Clay-colored Sparrow appeared for the third time.

Most teams experienced a decidedly “birdy” day, especially from Portland through Scarborough.  A fallout of Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and Hermit Thrushes occurred with overnight northwesterly winds and a line of pre-dawn showers, with the fallout especially evident on the Portland Peninsula.  I’ll have more about the fallout on a blog entry later today.

Record high tallies were set for Pectoral Sandpiper (13), Northern Flicker (10), Carolina Wren (11), Hermit Thrush (52: the 26 in Portland alone was only one short of the previous all-time high), “Western” Palm Warbler (3), Chipping Sparrow (12), Field Sparrow (3; tie), and Lapland Longspur (37).  9 species of warblers was a new record as well, and Painted Turtle was added to our non-feather species list.  All but the longspurs can likely be explained by the unusually warm season to date.

Territory Highlights were as follows:

– Area 1, Kittery-York: Davis Finch.
1 NASHVILLE WARBLER, Legion Pond, Kittery.
1 Pine Warbler, Fort Foster.

– Area 2, Ogunquit/Kennebunport: Turk Duddy.
2 American Wigeon, Phillip’s Cove, Ogunquit.
1 Northern Pintail, Phillip’s Cove, Ogunquit.
1 Lesser Yellowlegs, Goose Rocks Beach.

– Area 3, Wells/Kennebunk: Doug Suitor, David Ladd, and Slade Moore.
2 Semipalmated Sandpipers, Webhannet Marsh
2 Gray Catbirds, Laudholm Farm.

– Area 4, Biddeford-Saco: Pat Moynahan, Marian Zimmerman, Joanne Stevens, et al.
1 NELSON’S SPARROW, Day’s Landing.
2 Lapland Longspurs, Day’s Landing.

– Area 5, Scarborough: Ed Hess, Noah Gibb, and Leon Mooney.
8 Great Egrets
1 SNOWY EGRET, Pelreco marsh
12 American Coots, Prout’s Pond.
35 Lapland Longspurs

– Area 6, Cape Elizabeth: International Man of Mystery, Claudia, Robby Lambert.
2 “Western” Palm Warblers, private property
1 “Yellow” Palm Warbler, private property
1 DICKCISSEL, Higgin’s Beach.

– Area 7, South   Portland: John Berry and Gordon Smith.
1 Ring-necked Pheasant, Fort Williams Park.
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Calvary Cemetery.
1 Pine Warbler, Bug Light Park

– Area 8, Portland: Derek Lovitch and Kristen Lindquist; Jeannette Lovitch (Capisic and Evergreen); and a cameo by Doug Hitchcox.
2 Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Promenade.
1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, Eastern Promenade.
1 BLACKPOLL WARBLER, Sheridan Street.
1 White-crowned Sparrow, West Commercial Street.

As usual, I exhaustively cover the Portland Peninsula and once again the most urban block in the state produced some great birds.  Kristen joined me for the second year in a row, while Jeannette (and Sasha) helped out with a few outlying patches.  Doug joined us just long enough to find the only White-crowned Sparrow of the entire day.  In addition to the goodies listed above, Kristen and I amassed 9 species of sparrows.

The fallout that I mentioned above was very evident in the morning, as we birded Portland’s East End. 150+ White-throated Sparrows and 100+ Song Sparrows littered the Eastern Promenade.  While Dark-eyed Juncos were fewer there, we encountered some big groups elsewhere, such as 60+ behind the East End School and 50+ in the lot on Sheridan Street, with 70+ later in the day in Western Cemetery. White-throats were everywhere: 50+ on Sheridan   Street for example.  And once again there was a decidedly disproportionate number of White-throated Sparrows in gardens and landscaping of downtown Portland.  A short loop from One City Center through Monument Square, behind Portland High, and back through Post Office Park yielded 35 White-throats, with the only other native migrant being 7 Hermit Thrushes.  Like the sparrow, Hermit Thrushes appear in a wildly disproportionate number to other migrants – especially all other thrushes – in downtown Portland.  I’m convinced that something causes White-throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes to either a) become disoriented by urban lights more often/more readily, especially under low ceilings (it was cloudy for most of the night and morning) or perhaps b) they simply don’t leave these lots in a morning flight as species such as Dark-eyed Juncos might.  In fact, I just read in an article in the Brown Alumni Magazine that a friend of the store dropped off about collisions in New York City that since 1997, more White-throated Sparrows have been found dead than any other species.  Coincidence?

Our sum of 26 Hermit Thrushes was truly amazing, as was our overall diversity on the day.  While the mild weather certainly has a lot to do with the number of lingering/pioneering birds that we, and other teams, encountered, the late-season fallout earlier in the morning certainly helped our cause.

Here are the overnight reflectivity and velocity images, with 10pm, 1am, and 4am once again used as an example.
a 10pm 11-2-13 ref

b 10pm 11-2-13 vel

c 1am 11-3-13 ref

d 1am 11-3-13 vel

e 4am 11-3-13 ref

f 4am 11-3-13 vel

At 10pm, there’s mostly rain in the area, but birds are mixed in.  By 1:00am, birds are on the move, as the rain has mostly moved into the Mid-Coast and offshore.  Birds were still on the go at 4:00am, as a narrow line of showers moved through the coast.  About an hour later, a steady rain developed (not shown) that continued until a short time before the 6:20 sunrise.  I believe this is why there were so many sparrows in and around the city come dawn.

In other words, it was another great day of birding in urban Portland in the heart of “Rarity Season!”