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.
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.