Well, that was a helluva good five days of birding! And, I covered a heckuva lot of ground in the process. Yes, spring – and spring birding – is finally upon us.
After checking local hotspots on Thursday morning (lots of Killdeer and my first Eastern Phoebes), I began my trek eastwards after lunch. I was giving a presentation and book signing at the Maine Coastal Islands NWR headquarters in Rockland, thanks to an invite from the Friends of Maine Seabird Islands. On the way, I hit a handful of water overlooks, with the only birds of note being my FOY Fish Crows in downtown Brunswick and FOY Double-crested Cormorant in Damariscotta Harbor.
But then I arrived at Weskeag Marsh, and that was most productive. Highlighted by two drake “Eurasian” Green-winged (aka “Common”) Teal, a nice diversity of waterfowl also included two pairs of American Wigeon and a pair of Northern Pintail. I flushed two American Woodcocks and four Fox Sparrows from the short trail that leads to the viewing blind. Afterwards, I found a single 2nd-Cycle Glaucous Gull with four 1st-cycle Iceland Gulls still at Owl’s Head Harbor.
Spending the night with friends, I then met up with staff from the Coastal Mountains Land Trust for a walk around their Beech Hill Preserve to discuss and offer suggestions as to augment and improve bird habitat there. A spiffy male Northern Harrier and a Northern Shrike (my 11th of the season!) were me rewards.
I then took the (very) long way home, checking farm fields on my way to the Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta. Although 900-1000 gulls were present at the dump – a nice number for here – all but 5 were Herring Gulls (plus three Great Black-backed and 2 Ring-billed). At least 10 Bald Eagles were still present however.
Working my way down the Kennebec, I checked the mouth of the Abagadasset River in Bowdoinham, which I found to still be frozen. Nearby Brown’s Point, however, had open water, and duck numbers were clearly building, including 44 Ring-necked Ducls and 50+ Green-winged Teal. Back at the store soon thereafter, I found our Song Sparrow numbers had grown from four to 12 overnight.
As the rain and drizzle ended on Saturday morning, the birdwalk group convened, and we headed inland (for the first time since December!) to work the “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.” Highlighted by two Cackling Geese that were first located on Thursday (a couple of hours after I checked the fields in the fog, dammit!) and yet another Northern Shrike (our third week in a row with a shrike on the birdwalk!), this very productive outing is fully covered on our website, here – as are all of our birdwalk outings.
One of the two Cackling Geese, phone-scoped through the fog.
Normally, the birdwalk’s return to the store is the end of my birding on Saturday, but not this week. Soon, Kristen Lindquist, Barb Brenneman, and I raced off to Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth to twitch a real “mega,” the stunning Northern Lapwing! Discovered Friday evening, the bird was enjoyed by many throughout the day on Saturday, but it was not seen again on Sunday despite much searching. This is the 4th record of lapwing in Maine, and the third in just three years! I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have seen the last two. My distantly-phone-scoped photos of the Cape Elizabeth bird hardly do this stunner justice.
Yet even still my birding day was far from over, as Saturday night was our annual “Woodcocks Gone Wild at Pineland Farms” dusk trip. Keeping an eye on the weather (the rain had cleared, but increasing winds were a concern), Jeannette and I wondered if we should postpone the outing. Moments after we decided to give the go-ahead in the afternoon, the winds began to gust – a lot. Then, at about 5pm, they died. When our walk got underway at 6:30, there was a little breeze once again, but it was not enough to keep the woodcocks from going wild! In fact, it’s possible that a little wind kept the birds’ display a little lower – especially the first handful of flights – which resulted in quite possibly the best show we’ve ever had here! At least 7 males were displaying, including one repeatedly right over our heads – and at least two more silent birds were observed flying by. Add to this lots of American Robins and a Northern Shrike before the sun set, and the group was treated to a wonderful spring evening performance!
Next up was Androscoggin County on Sunday with my friend Phil McCormack. While our primary target was a pancake breakfast at Jillison’s Farm in Sabattus, we were also hoping for a Redhead that was discovered on the outlet stream at Sabattus Pond a few days ago. Well, the pancake chase (the more important one!) was successful, but the Redhead chase was not. However, a very good day of birding was enjoyed nonetheless.
Scattered ducks on the river including Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers, a couple of pockets of Tree Swallows, and other assorted species were trumped by two flooded fields along Rte 136 in Durham. With ponds and marshes still frozen, ducks are stacking up at more ephemeral – but unfrozen – habitats. Thousands of ducks and geese were present, mostly Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks. However, between the two fields, we tallied an unbelievable 273 Wood Ducks (probably about quadruple my previous high count in the state). Two immature Snow Geese were my first of the year, and very rare away from the coastal marshes in the spring. 18 Green-winged Teal, 12 Ring-necked Ducks, 10 Northern Pintail, and two pairs of American Wigeon were also among the masses.
Although these phone-scoped photos hardly do the scene justice, they should at least give you a taste of what things looked like.
After brunch, we birded the west side of the Androscoggin River (more Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers, etc) before spending our last hour of our birding (half) day at Bradbury Mountain. Our disappointment over missing an unprecedented 9 Sandhill Cranes was alleviated when #10 was spotted, along with my first two Ospreys of the year.
After four days of extensive birding, my Monday agenda at the store was lengthy, but the weather in the morning was just too good to pass up! A spin of the local waterfowl hotspots was fruitful. The Goose Fields yielded the two continuing Cackling Geese along Greely Road, along with my first American Kestrels of the year, and my FOY Wilson’s Snipe, also along Greely.
No luck finding a lingering Barrow’s Goldeneye in the Harraseeket River, but at Wharton Point, a group of 7 Northern Shovelers was one of the largest flocks of this species I have seen in Maine. My first Greater Yellowlegs of the year was also present, as were 60+ Green-winged Teal, 16 Ring-necked Ducks, about 30 distant scaup, 8 American Wigeons, and 1 Northern Pintail among several hundred American Black Ducks.
Two joyous hours at the Brad were full of raptors: 127 birds had past the watch when I departed at noon, including 4 Osprey. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks continue to add to their all-time record tallies. Hundreds of Canada Geese were sorted through, hoping for a rarity, while other migrants included Tree Swallows, American Black Ducks, Common Mergansers, and Great Blue Herons.
Furthermore, signs of a good flight last night included the return of Golden-crowned Kinglets to the area – after we were virtually devoid of them this winter, and an increase in Red-breasted Nuthatches (relatively few and far between this winter as well), Song-Sparrows, and at the store, a Fox Sparrow – a bird we don’t get here every spring due to our open habitat.
So long story short, it’s been a great few days of birding! But now, I should probably get some work done!