Monthly Archives: December 2015

Yup, We’re Still Against Industrial Wind Development near Monhegan Island

These bedraggled, exhausted, and desperate birds arrived on Monhegan in bad shape, and they didn’t have to contend with a lighted tower or spinning blades. (Clockwise from top: American Redstart, imm male; American Redstart, female; Yellow Warbler, adult male; a vagrant Acadian Flycatcher).

Some bad ideas just never go away. And it seems like the idea of putting industrial wind turbines off of Monhegan Island is one of those.

We have been vehemently opposed to the industrial wind development in the Gulf of Maine off of Monhegan Island from the start, and we have been outspoken in our concern about the impacts of this development. It’s simply the wrong place for such an endeavor. The costs far outweigh the benefits, especially the inordinate risk such structures would pose to migrating birds. And one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds (and birders) is simply not where you put so-called “green” power. There’s nothing “green” about poorly-sited energy development. And this is as poor of a site as you could find in Maine.

After the University of Maine-led consortium, Maine Aqua Ventus, failed to win a bid for Department of Energy funding, it looked like the project was dead. However, the recent announcement that the consortium has received $3.7million in federal funding with the possibility of more to come has us concerned once again.

The wind industry continues to propose locations for new turbines that are poorly sited and do nothing to minimize risks to birds and bats. This is happening across the country from California to Lake Erie to Maine. Monhegan Island is one of the most significant stop-over spots for thousands upon thousands of migrating songbirds in fall and spring – and therefore birders and wildlife tour operators such as ourselves. Most of these birds migrate at night. The size and height of today’s turbines necessitate lighting. Lighted structures disorient birds, especially under cloudy and foggy conditions so common on the Maine coast. Birds are drawn in and then circle the light in an attempt to reorient or simply escape the halo of light. Unfortunately, in the process, many can collide with the structure, each other, or simply drop dead of exhaustion as their flight muscles are metabolized in a last-ditch effort to find safety. New innovations are being developed to harness power from the wind without using massive blades, and this is where government funding and research should be directed – new technologies that maximize efficiency and minimize the risks to birds and bats.

Additionally, the wind industry often uses their own surveys to state that many of their projects pose little threat to wildlife. Such research proves to be woefully incomplete as they are generally based on carcass searches. Scavenging makes this methodology fundamentally flawed and completely irrelevant to offshore development projects. Additionally, much of this information is deemed “proprietary”, so the public rarely knows the full extent of their impacts. In a place as important to birds as Monhegan, a wind farm is not the avenue to pursue for energy generation. While nearshore wind development is much less conspicuous to humans, the risks to Maine’s migrant birds and bats cannot be discounted. The benefits of wind power have been shown to be under-promised again and again and they do not outweigh the potential costs in this case. At the very least, any off-shore turbines should be equipped with lighting that is less hazardous, a simple solution that the industry continues to oppose.

So what’s next for this ill-conceived project? What will throwing more taxpayer money at it prove? We know it won’t go to studying its impacts on migratory birds, and certainly not towards implementing alternative design and lighting. No, instead we’ll simply continue to hear Big Wind deny the problem exists, ignoring facts and reality and having the so-called conservation organizations they sponsor regurgitate the same tired, outdated misinformation.

With another renewal of the Federal subsidies for industrial wind development in the just-passed budget, we must remain vigilant in our fight against dangerously-sited projects. It’s not about being anti-wind power. I am definitely not! But I am most definitely against putting industrial wind development projects smack dab in the middle of some of the densest concentrations of migrant birds in Maine. And Monhegan Island is just one of those places…and there are better, safer, more economical, and more efficient ways of reducing the cost of electricity on Monhegan Island, without putting the birds, and the birder economy that follows them, at risk.

For more information about the threat that poorly-sited wind power development poses to birds, and what can be done to make the industry more ecologically-friendly, please visit the “Wind Energy” page from the American Bird Conservancy.

_MG_6926 edit_edited-1
And you think this Canada Warbler is mad now?

2015 (Southern) York Co CBC: Moody Territory.

It’s Christmas Bird Count season!

The count period began yesterday (Monday, 12/14), and as usual, I participated in Maine’s first count of the season, the (Southern) York County Count. This year, I was joined by Kristen Lindquist and Jeannette, covering the “Moody Territory” that covers the marshes, beaches, thickets, and neighborhoods on the east side of Route 1, between Eldridge Road in Wells and the center of downtown Ogunquit, including Moody Point and Moody Beach.

Despite temperatures well above normal in the mid-40’s, a light east wind and persistent light drizzle made for a rather raw day. However, the continuing mild temperatures also reduced the concentration of birds in the warm microclimates and dense thickets that usually make this territory so, well, fruitful (pardon the pun!). And although we had a lot of birds overall, diversity was a little below average for me, and there were fewer concentrations of birds – many species were in fairly low numbers compared to what I usually find here.

The lack of snow and ice was certainly supporting plenty of birds in this area, but they weren’t concentrated at warm edges and seasonal hotspots like they usually are. In fact, the best days on this count are when it’s clear and cold, with seasonably cold (or colder) and snowy (or snowier) days and weeks prior. Check out my report from the frigid and snowy 2013 count, for example.

We began the day as usual, with a dawn seawatch at Moody Point, with several close alcids, fairly close Black-legged Kittiwakes, and decent numbers of all of the expected overwintering waterbirds. Three small flocks of Lesser Scaup (total of 21) migrating south were a surprise. We were even more surprised to later notice that not only was this just the 5th count record of the species, but it was also the first time more than 1 had been seen! These birds are no doubt late in departing their still-unfrozen northern lakes, bays, and rivers.

Conspicuous in their absence however, was the complete dearth of Yellow-rumped Warblers (almost no bayberry crop was seen at all), and Carolina Wrens (they really did get hammered over these last two winters), but our other “feeder birds” such as Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch were actually above average.

Although our birdlist and respective counts grew steadily through the day, we were lamenting the lack of rarities that this territory has become known for. Granted, the bar was pretty high. But our perception changed over the course of about 5 minutes. First, I spotted the count’s second ever Clay-colored Sparrow (on Huckleberry St, and then later relocated and photographed on Cranberry St).


As the sparrow flew from his original spot, I spotted a Baltimore Oriole as we searched for the sparrow on Huckleberry St. This was a 5th count record. But note that my phone-binning attempt was not nearly as successful (the real cameras were in the car due to the persistent drizzle). You can kinda see it’s a bird, and there are two wingbars, and if you look really, really hard, you can just barely make out a little bit of orange on the head and chest. A little imagination will help.

We also finished the day off with a continuing Dickcissel (6th count record) that has been present for several weeks now at The Sweatshirt Shop on Route One, a perfect way to end our birding day.

Hours by car: 1
Party hours by foot: 5.75
Miles by car: 12.7
Party miles by foot: 11

Start: 7:15 – 45F, very light E, cloudy.
End: 2:40 – 46F, very light E, drizzle.

Canada Goose: 27
Mallard: 161
American Black Duck: 51
Common Eider: 36
Surf Scoter: 65
White-winged Scoter: 60
Long-tailed Duck: 166
Bufflehead: 37
Common Goldeneye: 62
Red-breasted Merganser: 43
Red-throated Loon: 7
Common Loon: 7
Horned Grebe: 3
Red-necked Grebe: 14
Northern Gannet: 10
Great Cormorant: 6
Northern Harrier: 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1
Cooper’s Hawk: 1
Red-tailed Hawk: 1
Bonaparte’s Gull: 11
Ring-billed Gull: 29
Herring Gull: 180
Great Black-backed Gull: 29
Black-legged Kittiwake: 9
Black Guillemot: 1
Razorbill: 7
Mourning Dove: 49
Rock Pigeon: 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker: 4
Downy Woodpecker: 9
Blue Jay: 9
American Crow: 43
Black-capped Chickadee: 97
Tufted Titmouse: 18
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2
White-breasted Nuthatch: 19
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 2
Eastern Bluebird: 1
American Robin: 1
Northern Mockingbird: 2
European Starling: 62
Cedar Waxwing: 12
American Tree Sparrow: 28
Song Sparrow: 17
Dark-eyed Junco: 42
White-throated Sparrow: 4
Northern Cardinal: 24
House Finch: 96
Pine Siskin: 12
American Goldfinch: 76
House Sparrow: 229

Total species: 56 (just a little below average).

Not Your Usual December Highlights!

While this fall’s rarity season got off to a fairly slow start at the end of October, things have really heated up lately. In fact, it’s been a really outstanding couple of weeks.  And in the past few days, I have enjoyed some really great birding.

The mild temperatures have certainly played a role – while the southerly and southwesterly winds that have ushered in much of the unseasonably warm air may still be facilitating the arrival of some vagrants, at the very least the mild temperatures and benign weather are allowing vagrants and unseasonable “lingering” migrants to survive long enough to be found! And, the lovely weather is certainly keeping more birders out in the field. I have certainly been taking full advantage of this beautiful weather.

On Sunday, Ed Hess and I visited the Saco Riverwalk. While this is always a hotspot at this season, it is really extraordinary this year. After 8 species of warblers were seen there in November, the mild weather has allowed at least 5 species to continue – almost unprecedented for December. Ed and I saw the Tennessee Warbler, a really remarkable December record…
L1040092_TEWA,SacoRiverWalk, 12-6-15_edited-1

…both of the two continuing Yellow Warblers (the photos are of one of the two individuals), which is another exceptional species for the date…

…the Nashville Warbler (and confirmed the continued presence of a second Nashville!)…
NAWA by Ed_edited-1

…the Common Yellowthroat (more expected for the season)…

…and we saw one of the two Ruby-crowned Kinglets still present (much more regular in December than any warbler).

And although we didn’t see it, the most amazing of them all, a Blackburnian Warbler is still present. (Jeannette and I saw and photographed it earlier in the week, 11/30).

Ed and I then headed to Cape Elizabeth, where we photographed the continuing Grasshopper Sparrow at Dyer Point, and odd bird to see juxtaposed with Harlequin Ducks (18) and Purple Sandpipers (6)…

…And we twitched a Wilson’s Warbler found earlier in the day nearby, just so we could say we saw five species of warblers in a day in December!  It cannot, however, be said that we “photographed” five species:

The Grasshopper Sparrow was also our fifth species of sparrow on the day (Song, American Tree, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco) – I doubt I’ve had five species of warbler and 5 species of sparrows in the same day in December in Maine before.

Of course, that only somewhat consoled us about missing the vagrant Western Tanager that was found at the Riverwalk later in the afternoon. Damn.

On Monday, I headed over to Reid State Park in Georgetown with Kristen Lindquist. It was a rather quiet day here, but it’s always one of my favorite places to take a walk, especially on such (another) gorgeous morning.  43 Red-necked Grebes, a Northern Harrier, a flyover Red Crossbill (my first of the season), oh yeah, and another rarity: “Oregon” Junco.

While some might dismiss it as “merely a subspecies,” the westernmost subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco is truly a rarity in the Northeast, and this was the first definitive “Oregon” Junco that I have seen in Maine (although I have never chased one at a feeder, where they are usually seen). It was in a small flock of “Slate-colored” Juncos and an American Tree Sparrow in the scrubby central ridge in the middle of the Griffith’s Head parking lot.

The flock flushed from short grass at the edge as we rounded the corner, and as it briefly alighted in a shrub, I was shocked to see a black-hooded junco. Closer inspection as we followed it for about 20 minutes yielded all of the pertinent field marks for a “textbook” Oregon, nicely eliminating the intermediate “hybrid swarm” – or whatever it is – that we sometimes refer to as “Cassiar’s” Junco.

Note the complete, black (not dark gray) hood, lacking contrast in the supraloral area. Also, the hood is cleanly demarcated on the back of the head, contrasting crisply with the reddish-brown back. The flanks and sides are particularly pale salmon-buff, which is not atypical for adult males (although many are much brighter). At the lower margin of the hood, note the smooth, rounded margin across the chest and up to the “shoulder.”

Afterwards, Kristen and I birded around Bath – no white-winged gulls or Barrow’s Goldeneyes yet, no doubt related to the mild temperatures as well, but we did spot one of the Snowy Owls at Brunswick Landing – unlike warblers, a slightly more expected highlight for early December in Maine.

While Jeannette and I didn’t turn up any rarities – or much of anything else for that matter! – birding Harpswell Neck this morning, I very much look forward to what the coming weeks will produce, especially when it finally turns cold!

The 2015-16 Winter SnowBird(er) Contest is Underway!

L1010480_RECR1_immMale,CousinsIsland,3-28-14_edited-1A group of Red Crossbills on Cousin’s Island that landed at our feet was just one of the highlights during the 2014-15 Winter SnowBird(er) Contest.

It’s December, and you know what that means! It’s time for the SnowBird(er) Contest here at Freeport Wild Bird Supply!

We are very excited to announce the start of the 7th annual “Winter SnowBird(er) Contest,” which was introduced as a way to encourage people to get outdoors in the depths of winter.  Just because it’s cold out does not mean there aren’t a lot of great birds to see!  While we offer free Saturday morning birdwalks throughout the year, it is much easier to entice people to participate in May when warblers are around, or July when it is nice and warm out.

Therefore, to get more birders out and interested in the great winter birding our area offers, we have added an extra incentive: prizes!  Participants accumulate points based on the temperature at the start of the birdwalk – the colder the morning, the more points are awarded.  The contest runs December 5th through March 26th, and at the end of the period, over $250 in prizes will be awarded!

Winter birding can be a lot of fun.  It is prime season to see seaducks, such as Common and Red-throated Loons, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and scoters.  The southernmost wintering flock of Barrow’s Goldeneyes on the East Coast resides in the lower Harraseeket River in South Freeport, and we frequently visit Winslow Park and the Freeport Town Wharf to enjoy this beautiful duck.
female BAGO with imm COGO1, East Machias River, 2-13-12_edited-1
Barrow’s (center) and Common Goldeneyes side-by-side is another highlight of winter birding in the area.

We’ll look for Northern Shrikes, enjoy our year-round woodland residents, and who knows what else? Last year, we spotted everything from a vagrant Townsend’s Solitaire to Red Crossbills literally at our feet. And, if this winter turns out to be another “irruption” year (and there is a good suggestion that for many species, it will be), we may find Snowy Owls, Common Redpolls, both crossbills, and much more!

Droll Yankees logoThe person with the most points at the end of March wins this year’s Grand Prize: a B7 Domed Caged Feeder complements of DROLL YANKEES. Large capacity, Gray Squirrel-resistant, pigeon-proof, and sheltered from the weather, this great feeder solves feeding station problems. Like all of Droll’s products, it is made in the USA and has a Lifetime Guarantee.

Royal River Massage logoThe runner-up will receive a one-hour massage from ROYAL RIVER MASSAGE in Yarmouth. Relieve “warbler neck” and other aches and pains in a 60 Minute Therapeutic Massage! It’ll be a great way to recover from the winter season of shoveling snow.

Laughing Stock Farm logoAnd, finally, the third place finisher will receive 2 weekly organic vegetable pickups (“medium” shares) at LAUGHING STOCK FARM CSA in Freeport. A selection of veggies will be available on each of two pick-up dates in April.  We’ve been members of the farm’s CSA for 10 years and love having fresh, organic, and local vegetables all year long.

Betsey Puckett, President at Droll Yankees was excited to provide the Grand Prize for the second year in a row, “Kudos…for providing a challenging and educational event. But then again, you Mainers are known for your endurance.”

There are some mornings in mid-winter that can make it tough to get out of bed, so we hope to add a little extra motivation. The real prize of course, is the birding our area offers in the depths of winter.

For a recap of what we have been seeing on our recent birdwalks, you can always visit the News page of our website to see what you are missing. And with 240 species seen in the 11 years of free Saturday Morning Birdwalks, you have been missing a whole lot!

So join us on a Saturday this winter to see how fun winter birding can be, and start accumulating points! Birdwalks meet at the store at 8:00am for a short carpool to a local site, rarely more than 10-15 minutes away. We return to the store between 10 and 10:30 for free shade-grown, organic, bird-friendly coffee and a look at what’s hanging out at our feeders.  The birdwalks are free and do not require advance registration.  Hope to see you soon!

This Snowy Owl in Brunswick during last winter’s birdwalk was the 237th species ever seen on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk