Ahh, Monhegan Island.
If only I could bird there every day for a full spring (or fall; I won’t be picky). But for now, I will relish my weekends there, and last weekend was our MonhegZen Migration Spring Birding Weekend…and the island did not disappoint.
So while we always expect the unexpected, we most definitely were not expecting this one.
(Click on the photos for a larger image).
This first state record Brewer’s Sparrow was definitely not high on anyone’s list of next birds for Monhegan, or Maine (certainly not mine!). But more on the sparrow later.
Half of the group arrived with me on the Hardy Boat out of New Harbor on Friday morning, greeted by a veil of fog.
While the shroud of mist offered a lovely scene, it did put a damper on the birding for a little while (excuse the pun), but soon it cleared, and as the ceiling rose, so did the bird activity. In fact, this was the start of a fine weekend of weather – OK, it was rather chilly; extra blankets were dispersed for the night – but other than a few brief, very light showers, our Gore-Tex remained tucked away. We’ll call that a win.
Just about the first bird that we glassed upon our arrival was an immature male Orchard Oriole. That’s the way we like to start a MonhegZen Birding Weekend!
The rest of Day 1 was highlighted by re-finding one of two immature male Summer Tanagers that had been frequenting the island lately. Friends picked up some seed on their way down (yes, the guy that owns a birdseed store and has several tons of seed on hand forgot to bring seed and had to have someone slum it at a hardware store. Gasp!), and we restocked the stash that kept the tanager visible for all through the weekend.
The tanager was our first “good” bird of the trip, but most of us agreed that the kingbird show near the pumphouse was the highlight of the first day. Indeed, it was a highlight for the entire weekend. Sheltered from a persistent, but raw and cold, easterly wind, the back corner of the town marsh was just about the only place with flying insects out and about. Therefore, flycatchers had piled up here, led by 21 Eastern Kingbirds (growing to 25 by Saturday afternoon, before diminishing on Sunday and Monday).
Other flycatchers were present here, including a couple of cooperative Eastern Wood-Pewees, and several Least Flycatchers.
Little to no migration was visible on the radar overnight Friday into Saturday, and the lack of reorienting birds overhead after sunrise on Saturday morning confirmed the minimal movement overnight. Although I awoke to a singing Mourning Warbler out my window, we never did catch up with one over the weekend.
But over the course of the day (as our group grew in size), we beat the bush and slowly but surely built up our species total. The Summer Tanager, the immature male Orchard Oriole, a very entertaining Peregrine Falcon over Manana, and 16 species of warblers were the day’s headliners. But yeah, by Monhegan standards, this was a slow day.
Sunday was not.
A light to moderate migration clearly produced some turnover, and plenty of new birds. Some warblers were reorienting over the Trailing Yew after sunrise – always a good sign – and our walk to Lobster Cove was much slower in pace than on Saturday. A singing Field Sparrow, a calling Common Nighthawk, and a streaking Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush were among the species that we added to our tally.
Then the text came through.
When describing our itinerary – or lack thereof – for the coming days upon our arrival, I talked about how chasing birds (dropping everything and running across the island) is often a futile exercise here, and instead we would work our way towards good birds, keeping our eyes open for them – and enjoying everything in our path. I joked that “but if I need it for my island list, all bets are off.”
First state records? Fuhgettaboutit. Off we went. And I make no apologies…luckily, the coffee pot was on the way. I might not have gotten away with it otherwise.
So yeah, “Maine’s International Birder of Mystery” discovered a Brewer’s Sparrow. First found at the edge of the road at its terminus at the Ice Pond, it soon made its way into a nearby yard. Dandelion seeds were its quarry.
There were other birds to look at too. While I scrutinized the extent of streaking on the nape and crown of the sparrow and took way too many photos, the more sane of the group enjoyed a splash of color at the nearby feeders – at least 3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and an Indigo Bunting.
Elsewhere, a Clay-colored Sparrow on one of my other seed stashes, several great views of Philadelphia Vireos, the continuing Summer Tanager, a second Orchard Oriole (an adult male) and a variety of warblers were the other highlights.
All weekend long we had been enjoying lots of warblers, but somehow we only amassed 19 species (we missed singles of Nashville and Prairie seen by others). But of those that we did see, most of them we saw stunningly well. Magnolia, American Redstart, Yellow, and Common Yellowthroat dominated each day, but we had a bunch of Northern Parulas and Chestnut-sided on Sunday as well. And the views of Canada Warblers and one particular Northern Waterthrush will be tough to beat.
Like each of our first two days on the island, Sunday’s tour came to an end at the Monhegan Brewing Company. On Sunday night, the Brewer’s Sparrow was celebrated, and ideas for a “Brewer’s Brew” or something like that was hatched.
The group had accumulated 89 species (including the aforementioned 19 species of warblers), which was actually well below average for my MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekends. But at least for me, I had one day left to add to the total, as I extended my stay for another night.
A very strong flight overnight suggested that this was a good call, but I was surprised by how many fewer birds were around on Monday morning than on Sunday. Especially when surrounded by fog – as we were overnight and into the morning – I have found that on really strong flights with favorable conditions, birds probably fly over the island. Perhaps the shroud of fog prevented them from even knowing there was an island below.
However, nearly three hours after sunrise, the winds shifted to the southwest, the ceiling lifted, and all of the sudden, there were warblers in the air. Had they been silently creeping around the forests, waiting for some clearing to reorient to the mainland? Or, were these birds that were overhead, lost above the fog, looking for a place to finally land?
Hard to say, but for a couple of hours, the birding was quite good. Blackpoll Warblers had increased dramatically, and I had more Bay-breasted and Tennessee Warblers than the previous days, and the Cedar Waxwing flock increased dramatically.
Jeannette and Sasha (finally making her first trip here at the age of 14) arrived, and our friends Paul and Kristen joined us for the next couple of hours. Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers continued to put on a good show, as did the Brewer’s Sparrow. More importantly for Jeannette, she was able to successfully twitch all three things she was after today: Hardy Boat cinnamon rolls, Novelty pizza, and Monhegan Brewing. Yeah, she looked at the sparrow, too.
While Sasha was unable to successfully add Brewer’s Sparrow to her list, she did carefully study plumage variation in Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.
She also joined us at the brewery for one final pint.
When many of us present for the weekend’s excitement boarded the boat at 3:15, I was sorry to go, as usual. I eked out 94 species when all was said and done (still below average for a spring weekend out here) including 19 species of warblers (I almost never miss hitting 20 here). While the overall list might have been a little low, the quality of views of most species was hard to beat. The overall quality of the bird list wasn’t too shabby, either. A first state record doesn’t hurt.
The following is my checklist for the group for Friday through Sunday. Monday’s total included birds seen with Jeannette, Paul, and Kristen. The included numbers for each day are conservative estimates or counts of the number of individuals of each species we saw and/or heard on the island (not including the ferry rides).
Species: Friday, May 23rd/Saturday May 24th/Sunday, May 25th/Monday, May 26th.
American Black Duck: 1/0/0/0
Black Scoter: 0/0/0/2
Common Eider: x/x/x/x
Red-breasted Merganser: 0/0/0/1
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3/4/5/4
Common Loon: 4/6/6/4
Northern Gannet: 5/6/6/12
Double-crested Cormorant: x/x/x/x
Great Blue Heron: 0/3/0/0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 0/0/0/1
Peregrine Falcon: 0/1/0/0
Virginia Rail: 1/1/1/1
Laughing Gull: 5/12/4/2
Herring Gull: x/x/x/x
Great Black-backed Gull: x/x/x/x
Black Guillemot: x/x/x/x
Mourning Dove: 6/6/8/4
Common Nighthawk: 0/0/1/0 (FOY)
Chimney Swift: 1/1/2/0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 2/4/4/3
Downy Woodpecker: 2/0/0/0
Northern Flicker: 1/0/2/2
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 2/2/2/3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher: 0/1/2/2
Alder Flycatcher: 0/0/0/3 (FOY)
“Traill’s” Flycatcher: 0/0/0/5
Least Flycatcher: 3/1/6/6
Eastern Phoebe: 1/0/0/0
Eastern Kingbird: 27/25/14/15
Blue-headed Vireo: 0/0/0/1
Philadelphia Vireo: 0/0/2/4
Red-eyed Vireo: 2/2/12/20
Blue Jay: 8/12/8/8
American Crow: x/x/x/x
Common Raven: 2/2/2/2
Tree Swallow: 8/5/6/6
Bank Swallow: 2/2/2/0
Cliff Swallow: 0/0/1/0
Barn Swallow: 2/2/1/2
Black-capped Chickadee: x/x/x/x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 0/1/2/3
Carolina Wren: 4/8/6/6
Winter Wren: 0/0/1/0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 0/2/2/4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 0/0/0/1 (late)
GRAY-CHEEKED/BICKNELL’S THRUSH: 0/0/1/0
Swainson’s Thrush: 0/0/1/0
Hermit Thrush: 0/0/1/0
American Robin: 10/10/8/6
Gray Catbird: x/x/x/x
Brown Thrasher: 0/1/1/0
European Starling: 6/4/8/6
Cedar Waxwing: 3/4/18/60
Tennessee Warbler: 0/2/0/4
Northern Parula: 3/12/30/15
Yellow Warbler: 25/25/35/30
Chesnut-sided Warbler: 6/5/20/10
Magnolia Warbler: 25/20/25/20
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 6/8/8/4
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 6/8/0/0
Black-throated Green Warbler: 10/15/15/15
Blackburnian Warbler: 2/0/2/3
Bay-breasted Warbler: 0/1/0/8 (FOY)
Blackpoll Warbler: 4/3/10/50
Black-and-white Warbler: 5/5/10/5
American Redstart: 10/15/35/30
Northern Waterthrush: 0/3/3/3
MOURNING WARBLER: 0/1/0/0 (FOY)
Common Yellowthroat: 35/35/30/30
Wilson’s Warbler: 4/0/5/1
Canada Warbler: 2/4/4/2
SUMMER TANAGER: 1/1/1/0
Chipping Sparrow: 10/10/6/8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0/0/1/0
BREWER’S SPARROW!!!!: 0/0/1/1
Field Sparrow: 0/0/1/1
Savannah Sparrow: 1/1/3/1
Song Sparrow: x/x/x/x
Swamp Sparrow: 1/2/2/1
White-throated Sparrow: 1/0/10/10
Northern Cardinal: 6/8/8/6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0/0/4/3
Indigo Bunting: 1/3/4/2
Red-winged Blackbird: x/x/x/x
Common Grackle: 10/15/15/10
ORCHARD ORIOLE: 1/1/2/1
Baltimore Oriole: 0/1/3/4
American Goldfinch: 6/12/8/6