Monthly Archives: October 2014

Why I have Become Resigned to Voting “Yes on 1,” the “Bear Baiting Question.”

A lot of people have been asking me about my opinion on Question 1 on the November ballot: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?” It’s complicated, so this is not going to be short. My opinion certainly doesn’t fit neatly into a yard sign or 30-second TV spot.

Not surprisingly, Question 1 has generated quite a bit of heated, passionate, and sometimes woefully misinformed debate. A recent bout of misleading television ads from both sides is not helping people make an educated decision – but more about TV later.

I majored in Environmental Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey, with a minor in Wildlife Management. In one of my classes for my minor, I attended a public hearing for discussion on whether or not to institute a bear hunt in NJ. Needless to say, few facts were heard from either side of the debate. There was a lot of passion from both sides, but little in the way of actual information.

There are a lot of bears in NJ. In fact, it has the highest density of Black Bears per square mile than any other state. I’ve seen more bears in a single day during the World Series of Birding in NJ than I have seen in 13 years of living in Maine. We can discuss “cultural carrying capacity” (how big of a population we humans are willing to tolerate) versus “biological carrying capacity” (how big of a population the ecosystem can sustain), but it was safe to say that something was going to be done about the large population of bears in NJ, and a bear hunt was instituted in 2003. After 2005, it took another 5 years – and lots of court challenges – to resume the hunt.

A few years after graduating, I moved to Michigan. Working in the Upper Peninsula, especially for a summer of breeding bird atlasing, I encountered a lot of Black Bears. One thing immediately struck me as different from most of my bear encounters in NJ – Michigan bears ran away from you! They feared humans. And for a Black Bear, this is a very good thing. Bears that lose their fear of humans associate humans with food – bird feeders, dog bowls, beehives, and especially garbage, and an association with humans rarely ends well for a bear.

Therefore, even though I do not hunt anything, I fully support the wildlife management practice of hunting Black Bears. What I don’t fully support are some of the techniques used to hunt this intelligent and magnificent creature.

Looking again at Question 1, we see two methods that I, and a lot of people, am wholeheartedly opposed to: dogs and snares. Snares are archaic, cruel, and sometimes catch more than their intended quarry, including Endangered Species such as Canada Lynx. I hate snares, and I have zero respect for their use and those that use them. I want them banned.

In Michigan, and again in Maine, I saw bear dogs treated poorly. Crammed into tight containers and often brutalized, these are not usually the loyal family pets that accompany your average upland game or waterfowl hunter. Once again, it’s archaic, and for me, crosses the line of cruelty – in this case to both the dogs and the bear. I think it’s time for hunting bears with dogs to go.

And that brings us to baiting. And as you may have noticed, that’s where the discourse starts getting ugly. And my goodness, is there a lot of misinformation out there.

I am not as inherently opposed to baiting as I am to the other two tactics. In fact, I recognize the very real fact that a bear sitting still at a bait pile is a lot easier to kill quickly with a clean shot than a bear that is being tracked through the woods, or happens to mosey by a deer stand. Despite what supporters of Question 1 have claimed, it is simply impossible to compare the forests of Maine to the open forests of the west. Our forests are thicker, darker, and bears don’t concentrate as readily in open patches of food. Bears are harder to find in Maine, and harder to see. I ask you, how many bears have YOU ever seen in Maine?
Forget “fair chase.” As long as only one side has a gun, it ain’t “fair.” Therefore, I want a hunter to have the best chance at killing the bear as quickly and efficiently as possible, and in Maine that usually means over a bait pile. I do have concerns about the volume and the quality of human food that is being dumped in our woods, and I have a concern about fostering the association between humans and food. But I find it hard to believe that the amount of bait being dumped in the woods is large enough to make a significant difference to the population of bears as a whole. And yes, we must consider that quite a few good people make a good portion of their living guiding hunters. While economic consequences are not my favorite consideration when discussing wildlife management, the reality is that state agencies and representatives will consider it. I can tell you that, as a birding guide, the clients only come if there’s a reasonable chance at success. Can we meet supposedly-scientifically set management goals without baiting? I don’t really think so, to be honest.

Four years ago, when a very similar Citizen’s Initiative was on the ballot, I voted against it. I don’t like making wildlife management decisions based on public sentiment. It should be based on science, and I had some apparently-senseless optimism that something else could be done about dogs, and especially snares.
Unfortunately, nothing has happened in the past four years to eliminate the draconian practices of using snares or dogs. (In fact, we instituted an even-more-archaic bounty on coyotes, most of which are taken with snares, so we’re going backwards instead of forwards). Maine’s Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife has done little in the meantime to alleviate my concern that their decisions were based more on simply what hunters want, and not what our wildlife needs. In fact, it seems pretty obvious to me (see: Barrow’s Goldeneye ) that anything that might need to be done that could upset any hunter and their effective and all-powerful lobbying organizations was unlikely to gain much traction. As long as revenue for fish and game agencies is almost solely from the tax (Pittman-Robertson Act, one of the most amazing and effective pieces of user-fee legislation every passed) on hunting and fishing goods, their policies will be biased towards their revenue stream and their supporting constituents. This is a topic for another day, but needless to say, hunters have a disproportionate (as compared to non-consumptive wildlife users or the general public as a whole) voice when it comes to wildlife agency decisions around the country.

So just like in 2010, I personally am left with a decision about whether I would vote to eliminate bear baiting (effective and efficient, and providing jobs) in order to eliminate snares and dogs. Once again, this was not going to be an easy decision for me.

And the supporters of Question 1, “Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting” know that. That’s why the ballot question is worded that way. By linking bear baiting with other cruel practices, the intent is clearly to reduce or eliminate the hunting of bears in Maine. If the group (over 90% of their funding come from the Humane Society – but, to be fair, much of the “No” groups’ money comes from out of state organizations as well…more on this later), wanted to ban the worst, undeniably-cruel practices, a ban on the use of dogs and especially snares would pass in a landslide.

But that’s not what the referendum is asking. And as everyone who doesn’t live under a rock (more and more, I wish I sometimes did!) knows, the debate is around baiting. And this is where things are getting ugly.
I really want objective scientists to make the wildlife management decisions for Maine. That’s how it should be. But if the recent television ads sponsored by the misleadingly-named “Maine Wildlife Conservation Council” (who has actually raised more money than the “Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting”, no small portion of which out of state hunting lobbies, I didn’t do the math…but you can.) featuring state biologists and game wardens make these people sound like objective scientists, than I have a bridge to sell you.

(I was unable to find links to these ads online. If anyone knows where they are posted, please let me know and I will edit the post accordingly)

And the most egregious of them all has just hit the airwaves featuring a 911 call of a woman in Florida.

These so-called objective scientists and enforcers of state and federal laws are basically saying, if you ban baiting, you and your kids are going to die. This fear mongering is despicable and disgraceful. Somehow, this has been ruled to be legal, but it is most definitely not ethical, and sets a much scarier precedence for how our government sways us with fear. Those that appear in uniform in these commercials should simply be ashamed of themselves. Whoever OK’d this (I’m looking at you, Chandler Woodcock) should be immediately fired. Their credibility is shot with me.

This isn’t “trusting your wildlife biologists,” like these tidy little yard signs implore us. No, this is good ol’fashioned fear mongering. Nothing more, nothing less. How many Black Bear attacks have occurred in states with and without hunting? How many injuries and deaths have occurred? What’s the data that shows conflicts are definitively going to arise without baiting? Those are the facts and figures that Maine IF&W should be supplying to educate the public. But instead, they show video of kids playing basketball, complete with ominous music and our trusty game warden in a uniform and vehicle paid for by the taxpayer, asking us to let them manage bears.

For whom? For the children? Or for their sponsors?

IF&W has crossed the line here. They are not offering facts for voters to make an educated decision. They are acting as an “issue advocate,” clearly and unequivocally campaigning for one side of the issue. Crossing that line from “science arbiter” or “honest broker” where they simply provide the facts needed for informed decision-making, IF&W loses scientific credibility when they are so obviously taking up a cause. (For a good discussion of concepts, in this case, as they apply to professional ornithological societies, see “A Vision for an expanded role of ornithological societies in conservation” by Jeffrey R. Walters et al in the May 2014 issue of The Condor: Ornithological Applications – Volume 116: pp278-289). At the very least, the degree to which IF&W is so obviously outspoken on an issue is unusual, and clearly political.

Can we trust them now? How objective are they? They’ve dedicated so much time and money into keeping the status quo, how can we possibly believe they are impartial?

I can’t. These ads are despicable and deplorable. As someone who truly understands many sides of wildlife management, I can no longer “trust my wildlife biologists.” I don’t see an organization that would stoop to such lows as equating bear baiting bans with the death of kids as an objective arbiter of good information.

While I mostly disagree with a recent Bill Nemitz article on the use of the bait itself, I wholeheartedly agree with him on his feelings about the role IF&W is playing here.

I don’t want to see bear baiting banned, but I definitely want to see the use of dogs and snares eliminated. If I had any faith whatsoever in IF&W or other state officials in modernizing our outdated hunting concepts and management objectives, than I would confidently and happily vote no on Question 1. But I can’t. I don’t see anything changing without voting “yes.” And honestly, I do that with apologies to people who may lose their guiding revenue because of it.

Should the Black Bear population in Maine begin to climb, or bears begin to lose their fear of people, then we need honest and objective research into how best to deal with it. It will not be easy to reinstitute bear baiting. In fact, it might be next to impossible. And this is why the decision to vote yes is so hard for me. But without faith in our system to make actually scientific decisions and not decisions that reflect anything other than where the money comes from, then I find it impossible not to do my part to vote against the banning of snares and dogs for use in hunting bears, and therefore, I am resigned (yes, resigned is the best word here) to vote YES ON QUESTION 1.

On Recent and Upcoming Weather, Vagrant Season, and Recent Great Birding

Late October through early November is traditionally the best “rarity season” in Maine, where vagrants from all directions are hoped for, and even expected. We’ve been in a rather active and dynamic weather pattern of late, and this may help to usher vagrants in our direction. While weather rarely “blows” birds off-course, winds and weather systems can certainly facilitate their arrival in far-flung places, especially when combined with some sort of misorientation (for a thorough discussion of the concept, see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder).

As October progresses, the nights get longer, and the days (usually) get colder. The growing season comes to an end (although in many spots the killing frost has not yet reached the immediate coastline yet this year), and food sources become greatly limited. This can push vagrants that may have arrived over the course of the fall migration into favorable micro-climates and patches of seasonal food abundance. More recently-deposited vagrants, “late/lingering” migrants, and other more typical species can also concentrate in such prime areas, such as urban parks, coastal migrant traps, and so on.

Let’s take a look at some of the recent weather, and attempt to identify some possible species to consider.

Over the past ten days, above normal temperatures were regular, thanks to southerly winds. Take a look at the wind map from October 13th, for example.
wind map, 10-13-14

Strong southerly winds pumped warm air into the area from the Deep South and the Bahamas (and the South Atlantic Bight). These are favorable conditions for depositing “180-degree misoriented migrants” from the south, such as Summer Tanagers and White-eyed Vireos. I wonder if it’s a little too late for a big push of southern birds, however, as many of the Neotropical migrants have already departed the continent. Meanwhile, that extensive southerly flow all of the way into Mexico is the type of weather pattern that can facilitate the arrival of long-distance vagrants, such as Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

Sparrows are on the move now, and northerly winds with cloudy skies overnight on 10/18 to 19 resulted in a big push of sparrows. The low ceiling likely resulted in disorientation of these low-flying migrants by the big city lights, resulting in a massive flight of birds in Portland’s East End on the morning of the 19th. I estimated over 2000 White-throated Sparrows and 500 Song Sparrows just on the Eastern Promenade alone, with dozens more in almost every lot I checked. A hundred White-throats were in the North St Community Garden, and by the end of the morning, I had tallied 8 species of sparrows, and impressive numbers of Chipping Sparrows (76) and Eastern Phoebes (15) among others. Although 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were my 175th species on my Eastern Promenade Patch List, I was surprised that I could not tease out any rarities from the volumes of birds (the sheer number of birds plus gusty winds hampered detection, no doubt).

By 10/19, a strong cold front – a rare occurrence this season – pushed through, and with it, a huge flight of migrants. I tallied over 1100 birds at Sandy Point on the morning of the 20th, led by 461 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 159 American Robins.

You can see how strong and extensive these northwesterly winds finally were from the wind map that day.
wind map, 10-19-14

Rain began to arrive in the afternoon of the 21st, and it didn’t let up until this morning. This massive coastal Nor’easter drenched Maine with up to 5” of rain, and moderate to strong northeasterly winds battered the state, especially the coast.
wind map, 10-23-14

Birding was a challenge on Wednesday and Thursday, as strong winds and often-heavy rain made things difficult. Rain and coastal fog and mist precluded seawatching, and any lake-watching for grounded waterfowl was rendered impossible by visibility and waves. Essentially, feeder-watching was the best bet these two days, and a growing contingent of sparrows at both our home and here at the store provided the entertainment. About 200 Common Grackles descended into our Pownal yard on the 23rd as well.

But now, today (Friday), this massive storm is finally pulling away.
wind map, 10-24-14

And I had a great day of birding in Cape Elizabeth. I began with some seawatching at Dyer Point. From 7:50 to 9:50, I had moderate to good visibility for all but a total of 47 minutes as light showers and mist rolled through. Seas were down to 4-6 feet, and moderate north winds continued. Here’s the scorecard (all southbound unless otherwise noted) – which was actually a little lighter than I had expected:
317 Double-crested Cormorants
127 Northern Gannets (about evenly split between north and southbound)
77 Common Eiders (several hundred northbound)
20 White-winged Scoters
18 Black Scoters
17 Red-breasted Mergansers
16 unidentified ducks
16 Common Loons (plus 18 northbound)
15 Surf Scoters
10 “dark-winged” scoters
8 Long-tailed Ducks (first of fall)
8 Red-throated Loons
5 Great Blue Herons
5 Bonaparte’s Gulls
3 Red-necked Grebes
2 Green-winged Teal
2 Great Cormorants
2 Laughing Gulls
1 Black Guillemot
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 White-throated Sparrow (flew in off the water at 8:05am).

Next up was Kettle Cove, where a nice diversity of migrants, especially sparrows, also included an Orange-crowned Warbler and 3 Common Yellowthroats. Even more interesting was this gull, which appears to be a hybrid Herring x Great Black-back. Intermediate in size and shape between the two, and with an intermediate mantle color, the short wings and pinkish legs separate it from Lesser Black-backed.


A local sparrow-rific patch of private property was fruitful as well. Although a very tardy Bobolink was the only surprise here, plentiful numbers of sparrows included 200+ White-throated, 100+ Song, 50+ Swamp, 50+ Savannah, 50+ Dark-eyed Juncos, at least 10 White-crowned Sparrows, and a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. A Red-bellied Woodpecker and my second Carolina Wren of the morning were added to the tally.

A male Black-throated Blue and a female Black-and-white Warbler joined Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers feasting on seaweed flies in and near the wrack at Pond Cove, where another Red-bellied Woodpecker was sounding off.

On my way back, I swung through the goose fields, and clearly more Canada Geese have arrived in the last few days. 718 was a new season-to-date high count, with the most interesting new arrival being this spiffy leucistic Canada. Unlike a hybrid with a Snow or a Domestic Goose, this neat bird was the same shape and size as the average Canada, but with a dull brownish cast to the head, neck, and wingtips.

As this nasty low rides up into Atlantic Canada and beyond, strong wrap-around winds will offer the potential to displace Northern Wheatears or rare geese from Greenland. Meanwhile, next week, we’ll see unseasonable warmth return on southwesterly winds (“vagrant winds” as I like to call them), just the type of scenario that can facilitate the arrival of strays from the southwest, such as Cave Swallows and Ash-throated Flycatchers. They will also facilitate the survival for at least a little longer of vagrants that are still present but as so far gone undetected.

There isn’t one predominate pattern that yields a strong suggestion of any particular vagrant (or group of vagrants) from any particular direction. However, it is clear that we are getting a nice sample of different conditions that could produce some fun stuff.

At the very least, I expect some big flights of migrants, both day and night in the coming days. In fact, I think there will be a big one tonight. Check out these northwesterly winds that should be ushering in a big push of birds:
wind forecast, overnight

Sparrows will make up the bulk of the flight, especially White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. If the clouds clear by dawn, I might get a big push at Sandy Point. If the ceiling stays low overnight, look for concentrations of sparrows in migrant traps, especially in and around bright cities. Meanwhile, during the day, a lovely weather forecast should get plenty of birders out into the field.

Needless to say, I will be out looking, and I hope you will to! I look forward to what the coming days and weeks will bring.

October Birding in Maine.

October is my favorite month of birding in Maine. Great diversity, opportunities for observing the thrilling phenomena of migration, an increased chance for rarities, and often-beautiful weather combine to make for exciting times in the field.  I keep my schedule as free as possible for the month to maximize my birding time, and luckily, a current project dictates even more time in the field for me. For the past five days, October birding was at its finest, and my adventures nicely summarized what this glorious month has to offer.

On Friday, I spent the morning exploring 8 preserves of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. Six hours and about 5 miles of walking later, I had a better feel for the properties on Harpswell Neck, and their (significant) birding potential.

Widgeon (sic) Cove Preserve.

I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary today – best birds were probably the Carolina Wren at Pott’s Point, a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the Skofield Shore Preserve, and a Nelson’s Sparrow at Stover Point – but almost all sites were delightfully birdy. Yellow-rumped Warblers were in abundance (especially at Mitchell Field) and there were plenty of Palm Warblers around (again, especially at Mitchell Field).  Other then a few Blackpoll Warblers, my only other warblers were single Pine at Skofield and a Black-throated Blue at the Curtis Farm Preserve.

Sparrows were widespread, as were Purple Finches and Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and increasing waterbirds including a few groups of Surf Scoters. Mitchell Field was definitely the hotspot today, with good numbers of all expected migrants, along with migrant Osprey, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a single Indigo Bunting, 3 Gray Catbirds, and 5 Monarchs.

After several nights with little visible migration (although there’s almost never “no” migration at this time of year!), clear and mostly light westerly conditions overnight Friday into Saturday produced a huge flight. Unfortunately, come dawn, clouds had rolled in and winds immediately shifted the northeast. Combined, the Sandy Point Morning Flight was reduced to a mere dribble totaling 91 birds, led by 36 Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was then shocked by a relatively slow birdwalk (even sparrow numbers were far lower than I would have expected) at Old Town House Park – where did all of the migrants overnight go? A Brown Thrasher was a good bird for here though.

Luckily, Saturday was the anomaly. After another very strong flight overnight, Sunday morning finally featured a light northwesterly wind.  Therefore, I finally got my fix in at Sandy Point, with my largest flight of the season.  9 species of warblers and a few new records highlighted the flight, with the following tally:

38F, clear, NW 5.1 to calm to WNW 4.7mph.

768 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*New Record).
421 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest).
179 Dark-eyed Juncos
116 Unidentified
87 Pine Siskins
79 American Robins
62 Black-capped Chickadees (*New a Record).
31 Golden-crowned Kinglets
26 Purple Finches (*New Record High).
21 Palm Warblers
20 Rusty Blackbirds (*Tied Record High).
17 Canada Geese
14 Blue-headed Vireos
14 Red-breasted Nuthatches
14 White-throated Sparrows
12 Chipping Sparrows
11 Savannah Sparrows (*New Record).
9 Northern Flickers
7 Eastern Phoebes
6 Black-throated Blue Warblers
5 Gray Catbirds
5 Swamp Sparrows
4 Unidentified kinglets
4 Black-throated Green Warblers
3 Brown Creepers
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 Nashville Warblers
3 White-crowned Sparrows
2 American Black Ducks
2 Blue Jays
2 WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (*tied record high).
2 Unidentified Catharus thrushes
2 Common Yellowthroats
2 Black-and-white Warblers
2 Lincoln’s Sparrows
2 American Goldfinches
1 Osprey
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Unidentified vireo
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Nashville/Orange-crowned Warbler
1 Northern Parula
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 Cedar Waxwing

Total = 1798 (*3rd Highest October Count).

Afterwards, I began a quick trek east, visiting a friend in Camden, and having dinner with friends in Bar Harbor. In between, I enjoyed a little casual birding, and the fall foliage.
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge.

On Sunday, Rich MacDonald and I did a little birding on the western half of Mount Desert Island.  An “interior/bay” subspecies of Nelson’s Sparrow at Back Beach in Tremont was a highlight, as was a nice variety of birds off Seawall Beach, including an unseasonable 148 Laughing Gulls.  20 Red-necked Grebes and about a dozen White-winged Scoters were also present.

At noon, we boarded the Friendship V of the Bar Harbor Whale Watch for 3.5 hours offshore. I was really hoping for a Great Skua – my real reason (legitimate excuses aside) for this trip, afterall – but it was a rather slow day on the water. But hey, any day with a jaeger is a good day in my book, and we saw 3 Pomarines. 18 Northern Fulmars were a treat, but birds-of-the-trip honors goes to a rather unseasonable Manx Shearwater.  A single Great Shearwater, Black-legged Kittiwake, and a measly 3 Northern Gannets were all we could muster. Apparently, those northwesterly winds that finally gave me my flight at Sandy Point also pushed sea creatures out from these waters!

Subadult Pomarine Jaeger.

It was a quick trip Downeast, so I was home by Monday night, and in the morning – following a night with a return to southwesterly winds and no visible migration on the radar – Jeannette and I headed in the other direction. A ridiculously gorgeous day (light winds, temps in the low 70’s!) encouraged us to spend all daylight hours outside and birding hard, covering our usually route between Kittery and Wells.

As usually, Fort Foster provided the highlights, led by a White-eyed Vireo and an Orange-crowned Warbler.  Another Orange-crowned was at Seapoint Beach, an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow was in The Nubble neighborhood, 12 Brown-headed Cowbirds were at the feeders behind The Sweatshirt Shop in Wells, and Community Park hosted a Nelson’s Sparrow (ssp. subvirgatus).

Ten (and a half) species of sparrows (Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Savannah – plus “Ipswich,” Nelson’s, Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp, White-throated, White-crowned, and Dark-eyed Juncos) and six species of warblers (Orange-crowned, Black-throated Blue, Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Common Yellowthroat) were tallied, along with six species of butterflies (including a few dozen Monarchs).  Throughout the day we encountered lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song and White-throated Sparrows, along with most of the regular October migrants from Horned Grebes (FOF) to Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

So there you have it. That’s just a sample of what mid-October has to offer here in Maine.  What’s left?  Finding that “Mega” rarity of course!

2014 MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend Trip Report


PHVI,ScottHarvell_edited-1Philadelphia Vireo wrasslin’ a Fall Webworm.

Ninety-seven species of birds, including 16 species of warblers. Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows, and Dickcissel from the mid-west. Blue Grosbeak from the south. Kettles of Peregrine Falcons, clouds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, good food, great beer, and fantastic camaraderie. Yup, it’s another installment of our annual “MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend.”

There are few places in the entire Northeast that I would rather be in fall, especially during the peak of migrant diversity. Our annual tour takes places to coincide with the last waves of warblers, first waves of sparrows, peak of raptors, and the beginning of “Rarity Season.” Check, check, check, and check…and it was hot! In fact, I believe I received the first ever complaint of a room at the Trailing Yew being “too warm in the morning.” Of course, “complaint” is used loosely here, for the record. But it was an unusually warm weekend, and although the birding was not epic by Monhegan standards, great diversity was thoroughly enjoyed – as was the weather (well, at least until the boat ride home a day after the tour ended!).

Two Red-necked Grebes just outside of the harbor were a nice way to start the trip on Friday, as were plenty of Northern Gannets, several Common Loons, and glass-calm seas on our way across. Arriving at 10am via the Hardy Boat from New Harbor, we hit the ground running, and after dropping our bags off to be taken to our inn, we immediately began to bird. Two vocal, dogfighting Peregrine Falcons got us started, and we soon spotted the single continuing Dickcissel. That’s how I like to get things started!


Although we did find a Yellow-breasted Chat (frustrating as usual, although at least everyone saw twigs moving), the bird of the day was definitely Peregrine Falcon. A bona fide kettle of 8 were soaring overhead at lunch time, and a steady parade of birds was passing overhead throughout the day. There was a lot of swirling as well, however, which made tabulating an actual count of Peregrines impossible. We know we had at least a dozen birds, but likely multiple times that. Some birds were clearly hunting, but most were probably rising high on the thermals and then soaring off to the south, using the light headwind to efficiently move out to sea, and likely not making landfall until Cape Cod!

Unexpectedly, very light southwesterly winds shifted to west overnight, and as a result, we had a very good arrival of birds to the island. Yellow-rumped Warblers – as expected for the date – dominated, with a conservative estimate of 250 birds observed, with many dozens in the air over the Trailing Yew at sunrise. Three Cape May Warblers, including a couple at the edge of the Yew were the highlight of dozen species of warblers we recorded today. The immature male Dickcissel continued in his favorite seed pile, and we had a fly-by Yellow-billed Cuckoo over the Ice Pond. Unfortunately, a short time later, it was found dead below a nearby window, not just sobering our sighting, but punctuating the fact that up to a billion birds a year meet their death at windows each year – and that’s just in the US!

Good diversity and good (but not, by Monhegan standards, great) numbers made for a fun day of birding, but it was definitely a lot more relaxing once we finally caught up with the Yellow-headed Blackbird! This immature male (a lot of folks were calling it a female, but the blackish body, extent of yellow, face pattern, and every-so-slight touch of white on the wing point to this as being a male) had been present for about 4 days, but since it was a “State Bird” for me, and a “Life Bird” for several, it was obviously a priority.

But on Monhegan, you can only do so much to chase most rarities. In fact, more often than not, you have to simply relax and let the rarities come to you! I call this my “MonhegZEN Migration Birding Weekend” not for any existential reasons – or mandatory meditation or yoga – but simply because we (try) to kick back, focus on the bird(s) in front of us, and let good things happen.

But yeah, we wanted to see this bird, and after missing it by about 5 minutes on a brisk, pre-breakfast (but don’t worry, post-coffee!) walk, the MonhegZEN kicked in. A friend spotted the bird as it flew overhead, alighting nearby in the center of town. Good looks were had by all (I apparently said, “Oh, thank God,” in response to the bird’s arrival, feeling as much relief as joy, apparently!) but about a half hour later, we had even better views as it perched atop a spruce along Dock Road.

We were then able to more thoroughly enjoy the unseasonably warm day, watching Peregrines, and sorting through migrants. Oh, and a relative abundance of Monarch butterflies was heartening.


The largest Fringed Gentians I have seen.

Bald Eagle on the Outer Ducks as some of the participants took the short afternoon cruise around the island.

Great Cormorant and Harbor Seal.

A moderate-strong flight developed on clear and calm skies overnight, but come sunrise, the morning flight over the Yew was a little less busy than Saturday. Nonetheless, there were plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Pine Siskins, and noticeable increases in Cedar Waxwings overhead and White-throated Sparrows in the woods and brush. Although overall numbers of birds were lower today, diversity was fantastic, and our trip list grew with the likes of Tennessee Warblers, a Warbling Vireo (I always wonder if these late Warblings out here are all “180-degree misoriented vagrants” as opposed to simply “lingering/late” birds – the local breeders on the mainland are long gone by now afterall), and we finally caught up with the Lark Sparrow that was visiting the seed with the Dickcissel.
Lark Sparrow with Dickcissel – a classic Monhegan juxtaposition.

Tennessee Warbler

Red-eyed Vireo coughing up a cherry stone; phone-scoped image.


We found a female Blue Grosbeak in the marsh behind the grocery store, and we enjoyed another short visit from the Yellow-headed Blackbird (minutes after Jeannette, arriving on the mid-day boat with Sasha, walked away of course).
The eagle was present and accounted for on the way in.

Trap day is coming!

Due to my schedule, the official weekend tour was only three days this year (instead of the usual four), so most of the group departed on the 3:15 ferry back to New Harbor. Al stayed until the 4:30 Port Clyde boat, and his bonus time (three leaders: me, Jeannette, and Kristen Lindquist who assisted me throughout the weekend as I added a second leader when I added a 9th participant – I, and my clients, prefer a small group, especially on Monhegan!) was partially spent watching a few of us struggle with the identity of a dull warbler who really did not want to give us a good look. It was eventually determined to be an immature female Pine Warbler (actually, quite a good warbler out here), and when Jeannette, Kristen, and I saw it later that afternoon in good light, its ID was much more readily apparent.

The always-successful “MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend” had officially come to a close, but the birding continued for Kristen, Jeannette, and I. Another hot (80-degrees on the last weekend of September on Monhegan!) and somewhat quiet afternoon relegated our birding to the porch of the Monhegan Brewing Company. Their new delectable DIPA and Pale Ale was thoroughly enjoyed, as was “Brewery Pewee” (a single lingering Eastern Wood-Pewee that was a daily feature of our Brewery List…OK, we didn’t actually keep a brewery list this time, but if we did…and no, this was not my first visit to the brewery on the weekend – it is an important destination for the full MonhegZEN Birding experience) capped the end to a fine and productive day.

After dinner, the three of us walked to and from the dock (a big school of fish, presumably Herring (?) attracted by the lights provided the post-dinner entertainment), but the mere four migrant call notes heard overhead foreshadowed the very light flight overnight that saw many more birds depart than arrive on a diminishing southwesterly wind.

In fact, the skies were nearly devoid of birds undergoing “morning redetermined migration” or “morning flight” come Monday morning, and although there were still plenty of Pine Siskins and Cedar Waxwings overhead, the skies were the quietest that they had been all weekend. But there was little doubt more White-throated Sparrows arrived overnight, and there was not a shortage of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Rusty Blackbird.

We slowly added a few species to the checklist, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had spent all weekend trying to catch up with. The Dickcissel and Blue Grosbeak were present and accounted for as well, and a Prairie Warbler was a nice addition. But as northeast winds began to pick up, we decided to head into the woods. Cathedral Woods offered scattered Golden-crowned Kinglets and more White-throated Sparrows, but our primary destination was this “Fairy House,” or more accurately, palace, that was not to be missed.


It was definitely worth the walk, and made even more so by how strong easterly winds were blowing (hmm, that water is looking a little choppy) upon our return to town. It was simply too windy to bird – and rather chilly – after lunch, so we relaxed with a coffee, and then later – just because we “had to” have one more DIPA… err, check of the Brewery Pewee.

The day’s birding was slow, and we had not been able to relocate the Yellow-headed Blackbird…until the literal last minute. The boat was loaded, and we were hustling to the dock, when we asked two birders what they were looking at in the yard of one of the first houses uphill on Dock Rd. “The Yellow-headed Blackbird.” Of course.

And it was, let’s say, confiding, as it walked around the lawn and in some weedy patches a mere 10-15 feet from the gawkers. Sasha even saw it (I would have had a great photo over her head, with her ears up and her face focused on the bird had my phone not just run out of power) – her 127th life bird! It was an exciting way to finish the trip, but the excitement was actually yet to come.


“How high are the seas running?” I asked as we boarded the boat. “6-8 feet or so, they’ah sure comin’ up fast today. It’s gonna be a wet ride.” Uh-oh; was that last beer a good idea? While Sasha has only been on a boat a few times, she has never been “tested,” but we thought it was best to keep her outside. Plus, a hot and stuffy cabin was the last place any of us wanted to be in high seas, so we donned our raingear and moved outside. We were amply warned about splash-over, but none of the four of us wanted to head inside.

Unfortunately, Sasha was not happy with the vibration on the stern, so we headed upstairs to the exposed top deck. 6-8ft seas? No, they were still growing; more in the 8-10ft range now…by far (actually, well more than double) the highest seas I have ever experienced on a Monhegan crossing. But it was surface chop, and not a deep, rolling swell, so it was actually kind of fun. Except for Sasha and except when a series of waves crashed over the boat and smacked into the four of us. I have never seen our tough dog look so miserable, and frankly, soaked to the bone, none of us were all that comfortable anymore. If any of my group had regrets about leaving on Sunday, I can assure you: be glad! It seemed like forever (OK, it was about an hour) before we passed into the lee of the outermost islands. But don’t worry, in between troughs and huddling over Sasha, I kept my eyes open as much as possible for skuas!

That was a wild ride, and very un-MonhegZEN! But once in the sheltered bay and harbor of Port Clyde, we couldn’t help but laugh with the crew. Seas like this are rare – and rarely do they come up so darn quickly – so please do not think that this is part of a Monhegan birding experience! In fact, glass-calm seas were enjoyed by every member of the group on their return trip on Sunday. I guess we might have stayed just one day too long this time.

Actually, no, we just regretted not staying just one day longer!

Kristen and I tabulated the final day’s checklist on the drive to dinner, bringing my four-day total to 99 species, including this final non-tour day. My 4-day weekend tour averages 102 species of birds, so this was just a little below average (this year’s tour officially ended on Sunday with 93 species, which is just below my 3-day average of 95 species).

Here’s the complete, daily checklist. These numbers only represent what our group observed, making no attempt to actually judge the number of birds (at least the common ones) on the island, or summarize the sightings of others and does not include birds tallied on the boat ride across either way.

Species: 9/26,9/27,9/28,9/29

Wood Duck: 1,0,3,2
Mallard: 4,15,15,15
Mallard x American Black Duck: 0,1,0,0
American Black Duck:0,2,0,0
Common Eider: x,x,x,x
White-winged Scoter: 1,0,0,0
Ring-necked Pheasant: 4,1,3,2
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 0,2,2,2
Red-necked Grebe: 2,0,0,0
Common Loon: 3,0,0,0
Northern Gannet: 15,50,20,50
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1,1
Osprey: 1,8,5,2
Bald Eagle: 1,1,2,2
Northern Harrier: 1,0,0,2
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1,4,6,3
American Kestrel: 0,2,2,1
Merlin: 4+,6+,10,6
Peregrine Falcon: 12++,10+,10+,8
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0,0
Greater Yellowlegs: 0,0,0,1
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,0,2
Herring Gull: x,x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x,x
Black Guillemot: x,x,x,x,
Mourning Dove: 4,4,4,3
Belted Kingfisher: 0,0,1,1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0,2,0,0
Unidentified Hummingbird:0,0,0,1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 2,12,15,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,1,2,2
Northern Flicker: 10,12,10,20
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 0,3,1,1
Least Flycatcher: 1,2,1,0
Eastern Phoebe: 0,0,3,5
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,0,3
Warbling Vireo: 0,0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 1,0,3,3
Red-eyed Vireo: 12,25,30,30
Blue Jay: 4,11,11,6
American Crow: 4,4,4,4
Common Raven: 0,2,2,3
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x,4
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 4,12,15,35
White-breasted Nuthatch: 1,0,0,0
Brown Creeper: 0,1,1,2
Carolina Wren: 5,6,8,7
Winter Wren: 0,0,1,3
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 6,8,12,25
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 3,20,20,6
Swainson’s Thrush: 0,2,1,0
American Robin: 1,5,4,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,4,5
Northern Mockingbird: 1,0,1,0
European Starling: 10,12,12,8
American Pipit: 0,6,2,1
Cedar Waxwing: 40,40,80,50
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,1,1,3
Tennessee Warbler: 0,0,3,0
Nashville Warbler: 2,0,2,1
Common Yellowthroat: 10,6,x,x
American Redstart: 3,3,2,0
Cape May Warbler: 0,2,1,0
Northern Parula: 1,2,3,2
Magnolia Warbler: 0,3,1,1
Yellow Warbler: 0,1,1,1
Blackpoll Warbler: 1,6,5,4
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 0,0,1,1
Palm Warbler: 0,6,3,7
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 40,250,200,175
Prairie Warbler: 0,0,0,1
Black-throated Green Warbler: 4,10,3,1
Scarlet Tanager: 1,0,0,0
Eastern Towhee: 1,0,0,0
Chipping Sparrow: 7,9,8,9
Savannah Sparrow: 0,9,6,2
Song Sparrow: x,x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 1,0,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 0,1,3,3
White-throated Sparrow: 8,20,100,100
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,3,4,3
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,10,6,10
Northern Cardinal: 2,3,4,4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0,2,3,1
Indigo Bunting: 2,1,1,1
Bobolink: 0,1,0,1
Rusty Blackbird: 0,4,4,4
Common Grackle: 0,6,6,8
Baltimore Oriole: 1,2,3,1
Purple Finch: 0,2,8,6
Pine Siskin: 0,80,50,40
American Goldfinch: 2,2,4,4

Daily Total: 58,72,81,79 Total: 97

Ring-necked Pheasants – the only “countable” ones in Maine!

Cedar Waxwings.

Beautiful nightly sunsets free with price of admission.