Monthly Archives: November 2014

The 2014 South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup

prairie warbler_edited-1
Prairie Warbler, Cliff Walk, York Harbor.

For the past ten years, I have organized the “South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup” on the first weekend of November, when a group of friends get together to comb the coast from Kittery through Portland, focusing on finding lingering migrants, rarities, and hopefully “mega” vagrants.

This year, our event was postponed a week thanks to the massive Nor’easter and snowstorm that rendered last Sunday essentially un-birdable. A week later than usual, we expected fewer birds, but perhaps “better birds.” At the very least, we would be less miserable than in the 34-degree weather with driving wet snow and 50mph winds of last Sunday. Recent active weather and some good birds in the area helped stoked our “rarity fever” fire, which I prognosticated about on Friday’s blog.

The teams each cover a specific territory, including destination locations, and casual meanderings. This year, the Roundup was covered by:
Kittery –York: Katrina Fenton and Ken Klapper.
Ogunquit/Kennebunkport: Turk Duddy and Linda Woodward.
Wells: Doug Suitor, Andrew Gilbert, and Allison Moody.
Biddeford-Saco: Becky Marvil, Nancy Houlihan, et al.
Scarborough Marsh: Noah Gibb, Ed Hess, et al.
Cape Elizabeth: Robby Lambert and Lois Gerke.
South Portland: John Berry and Gordon Smith.
Portland: Derek Lovitch, Kristen Lindquist, Evan Obercian, and Jeannette Lovitch.

Although most teams described the day as “fairly slow” overall, we did indeed find some good birds, and surprisingly good diversity. 121 species (plus two subspecies) were recorded in all, well above the 11-year average of 114 species. Two new species were added to the all-time Rarity Roundup list: American Redstart and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Meanwhile, Brown Creeper went unrecorded for the first time, likely a factor of the scrubby habitats and open areas that we focus on at this time of year.

Unfortunately, despite overall high-quality birds, we once again failed to turn up any “mega” rarities. However, we did have a lot of fun as always, which really is the most important part. Or so we tell ourselves.

The full roster of “good” birds that were turned up by all of the teams were as follows:
American Wigeon: 4 at Hill’s Beach; 1 at Evergreen Cemetery.
NORTHERN SHOVELER: 1 pair, Deering Oaks Park, Portland.
Northern Pintail: 2, Fortunes Rocks Beach.
Common Merganser: 2, Saco Riverwalk.
Ruddy Duck: 40, Prout’s Pond.
AMERICAN BITTERN: 1 Eastern Rd; 1 Drake’s Island Road.
Great Egret: 1, Parson’s Beach Rd.
Black-crowned Night-Heron: 1 Mill Creek Park; 4 Mercy Pond.
Northern Goshawk: 1, Perkin’s Cove.
Ruffed Grouse: 1, Laudholm Farms.
American Coot: 64, Prout’s Pond.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER: 1, Pine Point; 1 Wells Beach jetty.
White-rumped Sandpiper: 2 Timber Point; 1 Eastern Road.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 1, Rte 103, Kittery.
Eastern Phoebe: 1, Fore River Parkway Trail; 1 Pond Cove.
Northern Shrike: 1, Fort Williams Park; 1 Laudholm Farms.
RED-EYED VIREO: 1, Chadwick St, Portland.
Carolina Wren: 6 total (low by recent standards).
Gray Catbird: 1, Hill’s Beach; 1 Laudholm Farms.
NASHVILLE WARBLER: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
NORTHERN PARULA: 2, Fort Williams Park.
PRAIRIE WARBLER: 1, York Cliff Walk.
“Yellow” Palm Warbler: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
“Western” Palm Warbler: 1, Private property in Cape Elizabeth.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER: 1, Saco Roverwalk.
Common Yellowthroat: 1, Capisic Pond Park.
AMERICAN REDSTART: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1 Community Park, Wells; 1 Private property in Cape Elizabeth.
LINCOLN’S SPARROW: Capisic Pond Park.
White-crowned Sparrow: 1, Fort Foster
Lapland Longspur: 51, Eastern Rd.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 60-75, Eastern Promenade

Meanwhile, record high total counts (from all teams) were set for an impressive 14 species:
81 Harlequin Ducks
40 Ruddy Ducks
2 American Bitterns
2 Merlins
64 American Coots
69 Purple Sandpipers
11 Red-bellied Woodpeckers
83 Horned Larks
19 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Northern Parulas
9 Chipping Sparrows
51 Lapland Longspurs
25 Purple Finches
60-75 White-winged Crossbills

My guess is the later date this year helped those Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, and Lapland Longspur totals, and perhaps also the higher counts of Ruddy Ducks and American Coots. An overall mild fall likely resulted in the late departure of so many “half-hardies” such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Chipping Sparrows. And the steady increase of Red-bellied Woodpeckers continues.

So not bad, and once again it gives us a fascinating snapshot into the under-birded late fall season along the southern Maine coast.

Personally, I was joined by friends as usual in Portland. While Jeannette (and Sasha) birded Capisic Pond Park, Evergreen Cemetery, and Back Cove, Kristen and Evan joined me on my march through the Portland peninsula. Jeannette gets the territory’s bird-of-the-day honors with the First Rarity Roundup Record Lincoln’s Sparrow at Capisic Pond Park, where she also had the count’s only Common Yellowthroat.

The peninsula, however, was about a slow as I have ever experienced it on a Rarity Roundup, likely due to the later date and resultant fewer food supplies. But even still, the Eastern Promenade was uncharacteristically slow, and development and ridiculous bush-whacking and clear cutting by the City of Portland diminished the value of the habitat along West Commercial Street.

With a few interesting birds, including our best bird of the day, a Red-eyed Vireo in a front yard in the West End, I wish I had gotten to this neighborhood sooner in the day, but alas, hindsight is always 20/20. And while Portland’s overall performance paled in comparison to the hauls from recent years, we still had some great birds. The flock of 60-75+ White-winged Crossbills that flew over us on the Eastern Promenade were the first I have seen all year, the pair of Northern Shovelers in Deering Oaks Park were unexpected, and the 4 immature Black-crowned Night Herons at Mercy Pond were good to see.

But perhaps the bird of the day was the Hermit Thrush. We had an impressive total of 31 throughout our day, including several in small downtown gardens and landscaping corners. White-throated Sparrow (including 24 scattered around downtown as well) were also prevalent. These two species were the only native birds – as usual – that we found in the center of downtown Portland. This always fascinated me, as these two species seem particularly regular in the heart of concrete jungles.
I think this phone-photo of a Hermit Thrush captures the essence of this intriguing topic of conversation.

Perhaps next year we will find the “next big one.” Until then, I have some more fun data to play with.

Some of the “documentation” photos from the day:







American Bittern, Eastern Rd, Scarborough Marsh.






barred owl_edited-1 Barred Owl, Fort Foster, Kittery.


Juv. Black-crowned Night-Heron, Mill Creek Park, South Portland.

GWTE,John Berry_edited-1 Female Green-winged Teal, Mill Creek Park.

RUDDY DUCK NOV 9 2014 SCARBOROUGH, ME IMG_0793_edited-1 Female Ruddy Duck, Prout’s Pond, Scarborough.

Rarity Season-to-date: Nov 7, 2014

Two weeks ago (October 24th to be exact), I posted a blog heralding the arrival of “Rarity Season” here in Maine. The next day, a Townsend’s Solitaire was found on Hermit Island in Phippsburg. “Here we go,” I thought.

Unfortunately, things didn’t pick up immediately. In fact, despite some very good birding for the next week, there were few rarities discovered: a few Orange-crowned Warblers here and there, but a lot of “lingering” migrants. American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, and a lot of waterbirds arrived, but these are all typical of the season. Personally, I had some great birding that week, such as an impressive array of tarrying shorebirds (led by the continuing family group of American Oystercatchers, a Hudsonian Godwit, and 6 Red Knots) in and around Biddeford Pool on the 27th, a nice diversity of birds at Reid State Park with Jeannette on the 28th (Tennessee Warbler, first-of-fall Snow Bunting, an impressive 473 Sanderlings), a huge count of 915 Ruddy Ducks and a continuing hen Redhead (a rarity) at Sabattus Pond with a friend on the 30th, more late shorebirds with 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 3 White-rumped Sandpipers at Pine Point on the 31st, and migrant sparrows in local patches and under feeders, including an increasing number of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. I also enjoyed two light flights at Sandy Point. And of course there are the goose fields to scour. (Don’t forget that I post near-daily reports to the store’s Facebook Page).

So yeah, I love October birding, even without rarities, and while landbird diversity decreases in November, there is still a lot of fun stuff to uncover. While rarities had been few during the first week or so of Rarity Season, I think the mild weather played a role: birds have just not been concentrated yet in warm microclimates and seasonally-productive microhabitats.

Plus, with more birders in the field on the weekends, more “good” birds are usually discovered. Unfortunately, the weekend of Nov 1-2 didn’t exactly invite a lot of people outside. In fact, for the first time, my annual Southcoastal Maine Rarity Roundup (where a group of us get together to scour the coast) was postponed. The massive coastal Nor’easter produced a heavy, wet, early-season snowfall (over 15” in Bangor and the Camden Hills!) and very strong north to northeasterly winds. It was a nasty day.
wind map, 11-3-14

While sea-watching was undoubtedly fantastic in periods when there was actually visibility, few reports of anything trickled in, as most birders stayed inside or found little of interest to report. The exception was a Greater White-fronted Goose, the first of the season, at the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.

With Jeannette out of town, my time was limited on Sunday and Monday mornings, but a walk with Sasha at Florida Lake Park on Sunday morning yielded a shock, with 5 Redheads. These were my 154th Patch Bird here, and while I went there hoping for some grounded waterfowl, these were definitely not the species I was expecting!

But in the wake of the storm, the first really cold air of the season arrived. Portland had its all time-record latest freeze, and for the first time, it received a measurable snowfall before the first freeze! Not surprisingly, some interesting birds arrived at feeding stations. There was a Baltimore Oriole at a Cape Elizabeth feeder and a Dickcissel at a Winterport feeder, for example. Plus, more Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and the first Fox Sparrows have filtered in (my first of the fall was in our Pownal yard on Monday morning). The usual smattering of late “lingering” warblers have been noted here and there as well, and there are a few very late Hudsonian Godwits and other shorebirds tarrying here and there.

With another active week of weather, I was antsy to get out birding, but unfortunately my schedule was a little busy. I had Tuesday, however, and made the most of it. Although I failed to turn up anything of note in the morning on Bailey and Orr’s Islands in Harpswell, Sabattus Pond was excellent again later that afternoon, led by still amazing counts of Ruddy Ducks, and now a pair of Redheads – it’s shaping up to be a very good fall for them in Maine.

And then this morning in Cape Elizabeth was exceptional. In fact, it was one of the best mornings that I have had so far this late fall. There was an Orange-crowned Warbler at Kettle Cove, a Gray Catbird at Crescent Beach State Park, and a Blackpoll Warbler with a Common Yellowthroat at Pond Cove.

But 2 hours on a private farm was absolutely unreal: Two Clay-colored Sparrows, a Dickcissel, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a wicked late Prairie Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow, an Indigo Bunting, 2 Common Yellowthroats, a Northern Goshawk, and my first Northern Shrike of the year, a brown immature. 100+ each of Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, and American Goldfinch; 75+ each of Song and White-throated Sparrows; 40+ Swamp and 20+ Savannah Sparrows. And a single White-crowned Sparrow was my 10th sparrow species here today!
1 of 2 Clay-colored Sparrows present this am.

But now we’ve reached the weekend, and I expect some fun stuff to be found. Surrounding states have also been relatively slow for rarities (but New Hampshire has started to pick up with continuing Yellow-headed Blackbirds and now a Western Grebe), likely due to the same factors as here in Maine, principally the mostly mild weather to date. Sunday will be our Rarity Roundup here in Maine, so I will look forward to seeing what we find – there has to be something really good out there! And if Cape Elizabeth today was a sign of things to come, the RR should be a whole lot of fun.