Monthly Archives: October 2015

Selasphorous Hummingbird in Yarmouth (October 16-17, 2015)

Most of Maine’s Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have departed by the middle of September, but there are always a few migrants and lingering juveniles into the first few days of October. But as October progresses, Ruby-throats become few and far between, and with each passing day, any hummingbird becomes more and more likely to be something other than our familiar Ruby-throat. In recent years, Western vagrants including Rufous and Calliope have appeared in Maine, while neighboring states have seen several others including Black-chinned and Allen’s. It’s just a matter of time before Maine adds another hummer to its state list. In fact, my Next 25 Birds for Maine predictions list includes Black-chinned (#9), Anna’s (#13), and Allen’s (#16).

Key to the observation of late season hummingbirds is continuing to dispel the silly (but persistent) myth that you have to take down your hummingbird feeders (on some arbitrary day like Labor Day) or the birds won’t migrant. But as usual, the birds are smarter than we are, and proceed as directed by hormonal changes triggered by the decreasing daylength. A nice patch of nursed flowers or any number of hummingbird feeders won’t stop them, but it’s the last truant birds and wayward vagrants that can really use the helping hand.

Here at the store, we have been working hard to dispel this myth for years, and get people to not only keep their feeders clean and nectar fresh (and always free of dye and color!) for as long as feasible, preferably into early November. We also urge people to contact us with any hummer sightings after October 1st, and take a picture if possible.

And happily, folks have. Some have gone unconfirmed as a brief sighting came and went or we learned of the observation belatedly, and others have been nicely documented. Last fall, I chased one in Falmouth on October 14th that turned out to be a Ruby-throat, much to my surprise (and somewhat, to my chagrin). The word is getting out, at least.

Last Friday (10/17) we got a call from Lois Randall and Phil Bunch on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. A hummingbird had been present all day, and it was photographed. I learned of the bird too late in the day to chase it, but I had hoped to go on Saturday. Lois told us it was still present in the morning, so I found some time in the early afternoon to make a quick run over. Unfortunately, I arrived to find out the bird was last seen at around 8:00am, but I was able to view Phil’s photos. And sure enough, this one was NOT a Ruby-throat.

Photo 1

(Click on the following photos for a larger image)
Photo 2







I received all of the photos today (10/22) and was able to take a long, hard look at them with references handy. It’s clearly a hummingbird of the genus Selasphorus, with its extensive buffy sides, buffy undertail, and – although it’s really hard to see – just a hint of the rufous in the base of the tail feather (see Photo 1). There’s not much here to work with, but the overall pale plumage and limited rufous-orange further suggests that this bird is an immature female, although some young males can be equally as pale.

And immature Selasphorus hummingbirds are tough, especially the females! In fact, most are unidentifiable beyond Rufous/Allen’s, with only (most) adult males readily identifiable in the field. In-hand measurements are usually required, or the holy grail of hummingbird photos – the upperside of the spread-tail. And of course, seeing the upperside of the tail (especially when spread), uppertail coverts, and rump would go a long way in identifying this bird, but we will work with what we have – and I am thankful for these photos (most hummingbird reports we receive are not photographed at all)!

The bill and tail both look too long to me for Calliope, and there’s probably a little too much white in the tail. I also think we can rule out Broad-tailed by the fairly extensive buff sides, but perhaps that could still be considered an outside possibility.

But despite Phil’s fine photos, I don’t think we can move beyond Rufous/Allen’s here, although the relatively broad and rounded outermost tail feathers (visible especially on Photo 1) are more suggestive of the more-expect rarity: Rufous Hummingbird. I think Photo 2 is also suggestive of the width of those outer tail feathers, but it also shows an awful lot of white, making me think we’re also seeing an artifact of light passing through the tail tips in this photo. Other photos show the buffy undertail typical of the family, better views of the sides and flanks, and the overall color and pattern of the head and throat.

Lois also diligently took some notes, and wrote them up for me:
1. First sighted on Friday October 16 at 8AM feeding amongst the flowering Agastache plants (common name: Hyssop) on our deck. As the bird darted rapidly back and forth, I caught a glimpse of its back and saw patches of iridescent green. The bird soon discovered the tube feeders hanging on our sliding glass doors and proceeded to feed on the hummingbird nectar vigorously throughout the day.

2. In addition to the single glimpse I got of the green “highlights” on areas of the hummer’s back (thanks to a flash of sunlight on an otherwise cloudy day), I noticed the white tips on the hummer’s tail, and noted rusty highlights on the bird’s “armpits”, otherwise whitish shoulders, and on the bird’s sides (flanks?) I also noted that the bird had a rounded full-looking belly.

3. I last saw the hummingbird briefly at 8AM, Saturday October 17, 2015. It visited the hyssop flowers briefly, flew off, and we haven’t seen it since. We will continue to watch for it in case it returns sometime this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Our best hope is that it “refueled” here and safely continued on its journey south.

So while this bird will remain unidentified to species, Lois’s notes and Phil’s photos combine to nicely document an immature Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbird – one of just a handful of confirmed records for Maine.

I suspect vagrant hummers are more regular in Maine then currently reported, so keep those feeders up, nurse those plants, and keep the reports coming in!

2015 MonhegZen Fall Migration Birding Weekend

As always, the last weekend in September finds me at one of my favorite birding locales in the world, Monhegan Island. My annual “MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend” tour takes place then, and with it, a wealth of birds and good times are to be had.

Well, usually a wealth of birds are to be had! But yeah, this year was slow. As slow as I have ever seen it. But my goodness, was it nice out! Of course, this same pleasant, unseasonable warm and benign weather was exactly why there were so few (relatively speaking) birds out there. It seems that with night after night of great flying conditions, birds are proceeding unimpeded, with no fallouts, or even concentrations near the coast or offshore.

So in writing this blog, I was trying to figure out how to sugarcoat the weekend. Perhaps this will do it:

Or this?

Beautiful sunsets, and wonderous moonrises:
group watching moonrise_edited-1


Or maybe this will help:

So yeah, it was gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. And the Novelty Pizza was just as good, and Monhegan Brewing Company’s beer was just as great.

The butterflying was good, and the wildflowers were a nice distraction, especially the Fringed Gentian as always.


And don’t worry, there were still plenty of birds – just not as many as usual. We enjoyed some great studies of Great and Double-crested Cormorants…

…and of course a few rarities were around. The two headliners were the two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that would spend dawn at the Ice Pond. They would fly in just before 6 (presumably from feeding around the rocky shoreline), drink and preen a bit, and then shortly after sunrise, take off to roost in the trees. You needed to be here dark and early to get them, and on Sunday morning, the group made the lovely twilight walk (fly-by American Woodcock!) to reach the pond, and we arrived just a few minutes after the night-herons did. One lingered until it was just light enough to grab a snapshot.
YCNH,Monhegan, 9-27-15_edited-1

A Great Blue Heron kept watch as well.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Monhegan weekend if I didn’t attempt to string one Empidonax flycatcher. Of course, this one was a Least Flycatcher – as expected, and as usual. It did offer a very nice, prolonged study, however.

One of the other significant birding highlights was the seawatching from the tall cliffs. In the afternoon each day, we strolled over to White Head to enjoy Northern Gannets, study Great Cormorants, and do a little seawatching.

With northeasterly winds picking up Sunday afternoon, gannets were breathtakingly close. A little trickle of shearwaters, which included 2 Cory’s Shearwaters among a handful of Greats, were anything but near.

Here’s the three-day checklist of all birds seen:
American Black Duck: 0,1,0
Mallard: 6,6,6
American Black Duck x Mallard: 1,1,1
Green-winged Teal: 1,1,1
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,1,8
Common Loon: 0,1,2
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,3,1
Northern Gannet: #,#,##
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 2,13,3
Great Blue Heron: 1,0,2,
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 0,0,2 (present all three days, but we only made it to the Ice Pond at dawn on the last day).
Osprey: 1,2,2
Bald Eagle: 1,2,1
Northern Harrier: 0,0,1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,6,1
American Kestrel: 0,3,9
Merlin: ??,4,3
Peregrine Falcon: 0,2,1
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 1,1,0
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Black Guillemot: x,x,x
Mourning Dove: 6,4,6
Belted Kingfisher: 1,1,2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 8,4,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,2,2
Northern Flicker: 0,6,8
Least Flycatcher: 0,1,1
Eastern Phoebe: 0,3,3
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 0,1,0
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,6,3
Blue Jay: 4,8,15
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 3,2,2
Horned Lark: 0,1,0
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6,8,12
Brown Creeper: 0,1,2
Winter Wren: 0,1,0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15,20,40
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 20,6,5
Swainson’s Thrush: 1,0,0
American Robin: 2,1,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,x
European Starling: 8,8,8
American Pipit: 3,1,0
Cedar Waxwing: 30,25,30
Nashville Warbler: 1,1,1
Northern Parula: 10,4,4
Yellow Warbler: 2,1,1
Magnolia Warbler: 1,0,0
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,1
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,0,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 150,75,75
Black-throated Green Warbler: 6,2,2
Prairie Warbler: 1,0,1
Palm Warbler: 4,2,2
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,10,10
American Redstart: 0,1,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,1
Common Yellowthroat: 4,x,x
Chipping Sparrow: 1,4,4
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,1,1
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,10
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 10,8,8
Common Grackle: 10,29,29
Baltimore Oriole: 2,2,2
American Goldfinch: 2,4,4

Total species = 80
Total warbler species = 15

Although this year’s tour was one day shorter than usual (since Jeannette and I had to leave for a tradeshow on Monday), the 80 total species was a whopping 22% below the average of 102 species for my usual 4-day tour, and 16% below my average of 95 species for a three-day fall tour.

But the “MonhegZen Migration Weekend” isn’t called that for some existential reason – no meditation required. Instead, it’s a suggestion of the mindset of going with the flow, taking what the island gives us, and enjoying a truly unique and remarkable place that superlatives fail to completely describe.

So yeah, it was pretty slow. But it’s not just cliché: a slow day on Monhegan is better than a “good” day almost anywhere else. And not just for the birds! Don’t believe me? Well, how about joining us next fall to see for yourself? I mean, did you see those sunsets?

P.S. To get a better idea of what it’s usually like out there, check out my blog from last fall’s weekend tour.