“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” – Yogi Berra
Before we get to my birding of recent days, a couple of quick orders of business. First of all, tonight is our “After Hours Sale” here at the store. This is our biggest sale of the year. From 6:00 to 8:00 tonight only, everything in the store (with the usual exception of seed, optics, and sale items) is 25% OFF! And we’ll have treats, coffee, and other refreshments to fuel your shopping
Then rest up and be sure to join us on Saturday morning for our usual Saturday Morning Birdwalk (meets at the store at 8:00am for a carpool to a local park. We’ll return for coffee and feeder-watching between 10 and 10:30). While I would, of course, love to see you all year long, you don’t want to miss tomorrow (or any of the next 17 weeks) as it’s the start of the Fifth Annual “SnowBird(er) Contest,” where we’ll award points to birdwalk participants based on how cold it is. The top three birders at the end of March will receive some great prizes!
GRAND PRIZE: MAINE BIRDS by RALPH PALMER!
The classic tome from 1948 is still a valuable reference for students of the birds of Maine. This excellent condition copy is valued at over $75. It’s great for comparing status and distribution from then to now, and for collectors of birding books.
2ND PRIZE: BACKYARD BIRDHOUSE from Coveside Conservation in Casco. Perfect for everything from House Wrens to White-breasted Nuthatches, this house is perfect for any yard and made from New England White Pine.
3RD PRIZE: $25 GIFT CERTIFICATE to EDNA & LUCY’S in Pownal – Enjoy a great sandwich, award-winning donuts, and more. Perfect for your next trip up to the Bradbury Mtn. Hawkwatch!
OK, back to birding….
In my blog a few weeks ago in which I summarized the Rarity Season through the middle of November, I suggested that it was unlikely that many rare passerines will turn up away from feeding stations. However, the possibility of strays “concentrat(ing) along the coast as they seek out more favorable microclimates or seasonal food sources,” still seemed like a cause for hope. And sure enough, yesterday, I found female Hooded Warbler in the Biddeford Pool neighborhood – a wicked good December bird anywhere in the US!
Unseasonable rarities like this really fascinate me. How did it get here? Had it flown the wrong way during the usual period of Hooded Warbler migration and only now was detected as it moved towards the coast to escape the recent cold? How long has it been present – maybe it’s been in these thickets for months and only now did someone walk by the right place at the right time? (Based on how thoroughly I, and a few others, work this area in November, I find this scenario a little less likely) Or perhaps, it was a mirror-migrant afterall that flew north instead of south from its usual range in the Southeastern US. Instead of ending up in Central America, it ended up somewhere in the interior of southern New England. Then, the recent cold “encouraged” the bird to move on. But “mis-wired” somehow, it just kept flying the wrong way. I always wonder why so many birders assume that once birds have made a mistake (i.e. flown north instead of south), they’ll magically figure things out and do the “right” thing the next time. Of course, who really knows? But it’s a fun thing to ponder (well, it is to me anyway).
Of course, I was only down at the Pool to look for Snowy Owls. In that same blog, I wondered if we were seeing the first signs of an irruption. My goodness, were we ever, and so far, it is HUGE! There have been dozens up and down the Maine coast. Jeannette had an amazing TEN in and around Biddeford Pool on Tuesday. Not only are they widespread, but they are in unusual concentrations. I “only” found four yesterday, but some of my time was spent walking a mile back for the camera (it was raining and my shoulder was aching when I departed the car) and then not refinding the warbler.
This particular bird, that Jeannette also photographed on Tuesday, has made a temporary home for itself in the marsh behind Hattie’s.
While it is unlikely that this density of Snowy Owls will continue, we’ll certainly enjoy it while we can. Some will head further south, and unfortunately, no small number will succumb to starvation (the reason they’re here in the first place – and with up to 80% of raptors dying in their first winter, it’s no surprise that most of these birds will not make it back to the tundra). I also wonder if these recent very high tides (astronomical high tide plus a deep low pressure system well offshore) will flood the marshes too much. In such cases, many rodents (especially voles) will drown as they run out of high ground. That’s a natural occurrence, but if there are few voles in the marshes, that will be a lot less food for hungry owls.
Meanwhile, in that aforementioned blog I also postulated about the potential of finally getting a good goose in the “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields,” despite the late date. Finally! Although my high count of Canada Geese was only 434 birds (on Wednesday), they were punctuated by an adult Greater White-fronted Goose, in the field off of Cross and Winn Road in Cumberland – the first rarity of the season in the fields. My stubborn perseverance finally paid off. Today, I improved upon my photos, and I posted a couple here.
I also had a Gray Catbird at Biddeford Pool yesterday, along with the Hermit Thrush that Jeannette found on Tuesday. I also had a Winter Wren near the store while walking Sasha on Wednesday afternoon and a Northern Flicker fly over the highway in South Portland yesterday. So there are still some “lingering” migrants around. Meanwhile, with another increase in seaducks offshore (250+ Black Scoters off of East Point for example), things are picking up along the coast.
Oh yeah, and there are Snowy Owls everywhere! In other words, go birding…well, after you visit us at the store, that is!