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.
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:
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.
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.