Monthly Archives: January 2016

Where to Eat Lunch when Birding York County


Whether it’s here on this blog (especially in trip reports), on our store’s Facebook page in posts recounting a birding outing, or elsewhere, people seem to enjoy hearing about where Jeannette and I eat lunch while out birding. In addition to finding “good birds,” we do enjoying finding new places to eat. It’s part of the adventure, and especially when we are out of town, it helps us to explore and appreciate a place for more than just the birding. And apparently, feedback suggests that you have an interest in hearing about these places. Or does it just say something about what you think of my writing about birds!?

In fact, I have often been asked to write some sort of “eating while birding” book, website, or article. Maybe someday the idea will develop, but for now, I thought I would hash out a little list of my favorite places to eat while birding in Maine. And I thought I would start with York County.

Perhaps if you find this of interest, other counties will follow. If not, well, then I know what my next project won’t be!

Let’s start with a little background about the food choices we make. We don’t eat fast food unless we’re desperate, and we avoid chains as much as possible. We’d rather eat at a local establishment – for all of the reasons from economic impact to healthier food (sometimes) to the simple idea that food should not be the exact same thing anywhere you go. We love “fine dining,” but for lunch, we’d rather have a good meal, have it reasonably quickly, and get back to birding. We’ll relax at dinnertime. We also very much believe that “great food” and “inexpensive” do not have to be mutually exclusive!

We bird York County regularly, and we often spend at least half the day doing it. Therefore, we tend to find lots of places to enjoy lunch. They tend to be clustered, however, around where we go birding, and where we end up around lunchtime during our birding routes. There are lots of places we haven’t tried, such as in Kennebunkport, that we just don’t tend to bird near. In other words, this list is by no means a comprehensive review of the “best” places to eat lunch in the county – it’s just our favorite places to have lunch when we are birding our favorite spots to bird.

With that in mind, I present to you, for your reading pleasure and/or future reference, our favorite places to eat lunch when birding in York County, Maine (listed roughly from south to north, no other particular order).

1) Loco Coco’s Taco, Kittery
36 Walker St
Sun-Tues: 11am to 8am
Wed-Sat: 11am to 9am

If Kittery is our only birding destination of the morning, then there’s no question where we go for lunch. We’ve hit fallouts at Fort Foster so amazing that we spend all morning there alone. Or perhaps we end up studying or photographing shorebirds at nearby Seapoint Beach. It’s also a tradition for dinner as we head back from a whale watch out of Rye, NH or a NH Audubon pelagic.

While the carne asada tacos are the best around, neither of us can resist the chili rellenos burrito. Also, a tamale or two to go is the perfect mid-afternoon snack to fuel the rest of your birding day. And we always get a piece of Tres Leches cake for when we get home!

2) Flo’s Steamed Hot Dogs, Cape Neddick
1359 US Route One
Thurs-Tues: 11am-3pm
Closed Wed.

For people who eat so little processed food, it might come as a surprise to those who know us well to find out that this is our most-frequent lunch destination in York County! In fact, we’re here often enough that Kimmie somehow remembers exactly what we order. Once a month, we spend a day birding from Kittery through Wells, and this is our lunch destination most of the time. It didn’t hurt that on our first visit when we first moved to the state and we were birding the area, we popped into the unassuming, but so-crowded-you-know-it-has-to-be-great little building and found the Travel Channel filming!

There isn’t much on the menu. In fact, it’s just one item: steamed hot dogs. While the House Special and the Loaded are popular, for Jeannette and I, we stay simple: just Flo’s famous relish, nothing else. It just works. And if we’re going to eat hot dogs, it’s once a month, and it’s here! (Note: no bathrooms!)

3) Jamaican Jerk Center, Cape Neddick
1400 US Route One

Once or twice each summer, we skip out on Flo’s and head here for a little Caribbean fix. While we have yet to visit Jamaica, we do love the food and flavors of the region, and this little roadside shack serves it up well. The jerk chicken is great, and we always get a couple of patties for lunch the next day. The place doesn’t look like much, but the food is fantastic!

4) Village Food Market, Ogunquit
230 Main Street
Sun-Thurs: 6:30am to 8pm
Fri-Sat: 6:30 am to 9pm

When we don’t make it as far south as Flo’s while birding the Ogunquit shoreline and productive neighborhoods and thickets, then we head here. It’s also the traditional stop for us during the Southern Maine Christmas Bird Count, our territory of which includes the center of town.

I’m sure there are plenty of good things on the menu, but I never order anything other than the grilled veggie Panini. Lots of veggies, lots of cheese, and just enough grease to make this one of the more gut-busting (in all the good ways!) vegetarian sandwiches around.

5) Congdon’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, Wells
1090 Post Road (US Route One)
Winter – Thurs-Sun: 6am to 3pm.
Summer – Open 7 days.

Most of our birding in the Wells area is done in the winter, and on days that this local institution is closed. But if we’re looking for shorebirds in Webhannet Marsh in the summer, or looking at Least Terns and Piping Plovers at Laudholm Farms in the midst of the breeding season, then Congdon’s for “second breakfast” it is. And donuts to go…which, come to think of it, it’s probably best for our health that it’s not always open. Also, during the warmer months, we often follow up a lunch at Flo’s or the JJC with a little mid-afternoon snack here, just because, well, donuts! And forget the cool, trendy places in Portland, these are the real deal – nothing too fancy, just sweet, tasty, and wicked good!

6) Custom Deluxe, Biddeford
1040 Main St.
Tues-Fri, 11am to 2pm.

This is the newest addition to the list, having opened just last fall. Most of our birding lunch stops are quick and cheap, but when we want something just a little “finer,” then this is where we now go. Don’t be surprised to see me here with a tour group or private guiding client sometime this summer. I’m still desperate for another option for a Sunday lunch in the area, unfortunately!

The first visit a couple of weeks ago culminated in the yeast donut with frozen maple mousse, applesauce, and smoked cheddar that a friend and I split for desert (see photo above). Thank goodness we split it, or we would still be in a food coma. It was fantastic, but I was already sold on the place after devouring the house-made noodles.

7) Saco Island Deli, Saco
110 Main St
Mon-Fri, 8am to 4pm.

There are now so many options in the Saco-Biddeford area, that I don’t get here – my favorite sandwich shop in Maine – nearly as often as I used to. Unfortunately, they are closed on weekends, including Sunday, which for whatever reason, I usually when I find myself birding Biddeford Pool or the Saco Riverwalk (in the fall).

However, during the week, and especially when out with clients, there are few better sandwiches anywhere in Maine. You see, the owner, Mark is from New Jersey. That’s what makes the sandwiches so good. Say what you want about my home state, but we know sandwiches. I have not yet had a sandwich here I didn’t like, but in the summer, I always go Primo Veggie – a massive sandwich layered with razor-thin sliced veggies, piled high – nearly too big to get your mouth around: “Double portion of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and fresh basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette on a rustic roll.” This is no lame, afterthought vegetarian option, this is a beastly vegetable meal. But if you want to be really cool, ask for the off-menu Jersey Joe (and expect to have lunch for the next day) to fully understand just how seriously New Jersey takes its sandwiches.

7a) The Run of the Mill, Saco
100 Main St
Sun-Thurs: 11:30am to 9pm.
Fri-Sat: 11:30am to 10pm.

If I am in the Biddeford area on a weekend (when the Saco Island Deli and Luis’s Arepera is closed), especially when it’s cold, I head over to Run of the Mill. After a frigid bout of seawatching at East Point, nothing is better than a piping hot bowl of their Mac & Cheese. The beer cheese soup is another good option, although for me it depends on which cheeses are used.

8) Luis’s Arepera and Grill, Saco
213 North St.
Mon-Thurs: 11am to 8pm.
Fri: 11am to 9pm.

Like the Saco Island Deli, I long for this place to be open on weekends. However, it’s a short enough run south from Scarborough Marsh, or close enough off of the highway (via I-195 to Industrial Way) that I can swing in while heading north from a hotspot like the Kennebunk Plains. And since Jeannette and I discovered their authentic Venezualean cuisine only this summer, it is now a regular stop on our birding agenda, and is definitely deserved as a destination on its own.

An “arepera” is a place that makes the quintessential Venezualean dish, the “arepa.” Luis’s website describes it as “Similar to both a traditional Gordita and Pupusa, it consists of a thick corn tortilla that is fried until golden brown before being filled with a variety of different ingredients, ranging from tangy shredded chicken to meltingly tender braised beef. “ We usually get the “Pabellon Criollo” (traditional with shredded beef and plantains) or one of the veggie options. But no matter what, we simply have to split a side of fried yucca.

Honorable Mention:
(Dinner) Funky Bow Brewery’s “Growler Night” (Lyman)

It’s funny, there seems to be a pattern developing of heading to the Kennebunk Plains at dusk for Whip-poor-wills on a Friday or Saturday night…which just so happens to be when this off-the-beaten path brewery opens up, fires up the brick oven, and serves pizza to go with their hop-a-licious brews.

So let me know what you think, and definitely let me know if there are places I need to try!

The 2016 Maine State List (and my own) Predictions Blog.

The second record (and perhaps the first verified one) for Maine of Black-throated Sparrow was found in Winter Harbor on New Year’s Day, and continues through today, January 6th. I was tempted to chase it yesterday, but instead I am left to hope it sticks around until the end of next week when I return from a short business trip. Fingers crossed!

Before it arrived, I had begun to put together my annual list of the next 25 species to be found in Maine. I then follow that up with my own State List predictions, and no, Black-throated Sparrow was not on that list!

I know, I know, you’ve been awaiting this with baited breath for this. So without any further ado, let’s get started with the annual Maine State Birds Predictions List.

First, a quick recap of 2015.

Only one species was added to the state’s all-time birdlist, a Surfbird, which was discovered at Biddeford Pool in March. It was not a species on anyone’s radar, and it was most definitely not on my Predictions List for 2015!

But I did make several changes to my Next 25 Species for Maine list, and moved things around a bit. So here are the NEW prognostications:
1)Neotropical Cormorant – The new #1! With populations expanding in the Midwest and observations of vagrants increasing around the East, this one is only a matter of time now!
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Roseate Spoonbill
5) Spotted Towhee
6) Ross’s Gull
7) Hammond’s Flycatcher
8) Bermuda Petrel – see notes in last year’s blog entry at the link above.
9) Black-chinned Hummingbird
10) Fieldfare
11) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
12) Little Stint
13) Anna’s Hummingbird
14) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran) – Hope it calls! After a spate of reports in the Fall of 2015, this is another western bird increasingly being detected well outside of range.
15) Vermillion Flycatcher – Ditto.
16) Common Ground-Dove – A virtual irruption of this bird this fall, including one as close to Massachusetts had me thinking we would have added this in 2015. Maybe one is still out there awaiting discovery.
17) Allen’s Hummingbird
18) Redwing
19) Western Wood-Pewee
20) Spotted Redshank
21) Gray Flycatcher
22) Black-tailed Godwit
23) Brown-chested Martin
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

As for me, I added three birds to my personal Maine State List in 2015:
A) Gyrfalcon – Wells, 1/17/15 (Ranked #5). This is one I wanted for a while! It was seen sporadically between Wells Harbor and Salisbury, Massachusetts for about a month. If first showed up while we were away at a trade show, but luckily, I caught up with it shortly after our return. I saw it on the 17th, and managed some photos  (my blog entry also includes more background about the sighting), but on April 5th, Jeannette got the better shots!

B) I also caught up with the aforementioned Surfbird on March 22nd (Definitely not on my list!) and Jeannette got these photos when we visited it again two days later.

C) Clapper Rail – Scarborough Marsh, 9/22. I had it as an “Honorable Mention,” a list that I also keep to work off of to come up with each year’s respective Top 25.

I missed a Franklin’s Gull on Sebasticook Lake in November, as it appeared just before I took a trip, and departed shortly after my return. There was also a one-day wonder on Stratton Island in Scarborough in June. With an unprecedented incursion of Franklin’s Gulls into the East this fall (the Sebasticook Lake bird clearly preceded the events that brought record numbers to New Jersey and several birds to Massachusetts and New Hampshire), I thought this would be my fall – and I definitely worked for one! But alas.

My two trips off of Bar Harbor this year did not yield a Great Skua (but a September trip did give me my 3rd South Polar Skua in the state!), and once again my summer went by without a trip up north for American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Therefore, I predict that my next 25 species in Maine will be:
1) American Three-toed Woodpecker
1A) Black-throated Sparrow! OK, I know this does not count as a prediction, but still…
2) Great Skua
3) Eurasian Collared-Dove
4) Graylag Goose
5) Say’s Phoebe
6) Western Grebe
7) American White Pelican
8) Neotropic Cormorant
9) Fork-tailed Flycatcher
10) Slaty-backed Gull
11) Tundra Swan
12) Franklin’s Gull
13) Sabine’s Gull
14) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
15) California Gull
16) Yellow Rail
17) Boreal Owl
18) Calliope Hummingbird
19) Cerulean Warbler
20) White Ibis
21) Gull-billed Tern
22) Hammond’s Flycatcher
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Ivory Gull
25) Ross’s Gull

Well, there ya have it! We’ll check back next year to see how I did!

A Warbler (and Sparrow) Big Month. In December. In Maine.

December was unusually warm. In fact, it was record warm. And not just barely… records were shattered. The average temperature for the month was 38F. Not only was that a ridiculous 9 degrees above normal, it smashed the previous record of 24.8F (set in 2001). Surprisingly, despite the everlasting warmth, record daily highs were rare. Christmas Day was an exception, however, when temperatures soared to 62 in Portland, crushing the previous record high of 53, set just last year.

Our first measurable snow of the season didn’t fall until December 29th – the second latest date on record. Those 5-8 inches in southern Maine finally ushered in “real winter” and hopefully set the stage for a return to more normal conditions (although the last few days have once again been 5-10 degrees above normal).

Not surprisingly, such an unseasonable month resulted in some very-unseasonable birding. A variety of “lingering” or perhaps more accurately “pioneering” as Ned Brinkley, editor of North American Birds once dubbed it warblers in particular were making headlines.

So I decided to do a December Warbler Big Month. Because, well, warblers in December! In Maine!

With Tennessee, Yellow (2!), Nashville (2!), Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s on December 6th, I was half-way to my newly-set goal of 10 species for the month. The unusually mild fall has allowed more “lingering” birds to survive longer, and normal November hotspots are still hot (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, I waited until December 8th to decide to embark on this silly little hunt, so I had some catching up to do. There were some relatively easy ones (Yellow-rumped Warblers overwinter in a few places, along with “known” Blackburnian and Pine Warblers). That meant I just need to find an Orange-crowned Warbler (the second most-regular December warbler after Yellow-rumped) and then one other stray.

So off I went…

Not wanting to take any species for granted, I twitched a Pine Warbler that was reliably coming to a feeder in Brunswick on the 10th. I had to wait all of three minutes for it to arrive on my way back from walking Sasha. If only they were all this easy!

The next day I was once again at the Saco Yacht Club, looking for the Blackburnian Warbler (which I saw on Nov 30th – one day too early!). Activity didn’t pick up until the fog finally lifted after 10am, but I ran out of time. I did, however, enjoy another visit with the Tennessee, and 1 each of Yellow and Nashville Warblers. 2-3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also present, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler dropped in: my 7th species of the month! That and the Western Tanager were the consolation prizes (yes, I did just relegate the tanager to a consolation prize…shame on me… but I “needed” the Blackburnian!).

I worked hard for an Orange-crowned Warbler in Portland on the 13th to no avail, but I did turn up the continuing Nashville Warbler along the Eastern Promenade (oh look, Portland ravaged vegetation here, too!) and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan St. I also took time to go visit the continuing Ross’s Goose along Stroudwater St in Westbrook – the third I have seen in Maine, and only the 6th or 7th state record.
IMG_6946_ROGO1,StroudwaterSt,Westbrook,12-13-15_edited-1(Phone-scoped image)

Continuing the quest, I had high hopes for the Southern York County Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. With a great territory that almost always turns up a good bird or three, Jeannette, Kristen Lindquist, and I worked the marsh, thickets, neighborhoods, and beach of the “Moody” sector. And we did indeed have a great day, including the 2nd Count Record Clay-colored Sparrow, the 5th Count Records of Baltimore Oriole and Lesser Scaup (21 – also a record high), and 6th Count Record of Dickcissel. But alas, not a single warbler. We didn’t even get a Yellow-rumped – for the first time, as there was virtually no fruit on the bayberry bushes along Ogunquit Beach or anywhere else.

When my friend Evan Obercian found a Yellow-throated Warbler at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on the 13th, my goal was definitely in sight (this was the “additional rarity” I needed), but in the weeks before Christmas, finding time was going to be a challenge. Luckily, a break in my schedule – and the rain – came on Thursday the 17th, so I got an early start and headed east.

I met up with Evan and Kristen and we wandered the grounds of the Samoset for almost two hours. I was not happy to find a stiff onshore breeze when I arrived, and it was increasing over the course of the morning. Then the mist rolled in, and soon, a steadier drizzle. There were not a lot of birds around (other than Canada Geese and Mallards on the golf course), and I was beginning to work on a plan to come back again. And not long thereafter, it called!

We spotted it in an isolated cluster of Scotch Pines, very near where Evan first saw it (and where we walked by 3 times already this morning). We followed it for about 30 minutes as it relocated to another grove before heading over to the hotel building, where it proceeded to forage in the sheltered porches of the four story building! Presumably gleaning insects from old webs in the corners and around furniture, clearly this bird had figured out a novel way of finding sustenance – especially on such a snotty day.

It was my 8th warbler of the month.

I was back to the Saco Yacht Club with Luke Seitz the next morning, once again hoping for the Blackburnian. We worked the hillside and surrounding habitats hard, and absolutely cleaned up! The quick glimpse of a fly-by Western Tanager was more frustrating that satisfying, but we had great looks at the continuing Tennessee, Yellow, 2 Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and then, finally, the Blackburnian! My 9th warbler of the month!

Luke’s quote sums it up: “Let’s take a moment to appreciate what we are seeing and hearing around us right now. What. The. (Expletive deleted)!”

I had a little more time, so I made a quick trip down to Biddeford Pool. Working the neighborhood and thickets, I found a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4-5), a nice addition to the day list. Besides, up until now, I had only seen one all month!

I was in the midst of plotting “Operation Orange-crowned” when I wandered over to look at a chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A loud chip note caught my attention, and I looked up to see this Prairie Warbler – my 10th species of warbler for the month (and 7th of the day)!

But did you really think I would stop at 10?

Hunting for Orange-crowns in Portland and South Portland on the 21st, I turned up a Baltimore Oriole on Sheridan Street (likely the same individual that Jeannette and I found here on 11/23), and along West Commercial Street (in what’s left of the vegetation here!), I had a Swamp Sparrow, and a Field Sparrow – my 8th sparrow of the month.

Hmmm…do I need to go for 10 sparrows, too?


So I went to Scarborough Marsh the next day, and quickly picked up a Savannah Sparrow along the Eastern Road Trail for #9.

Jeannette and I, post-holiday madness, continued the search on the 28th, combing the coast from Kittery through Wells. While nothing new was added, we did find three different Swamp Sparrows (two at Fort Foster, 1 in York Beach), and most excitingly, we relocated the Clay-colored Sparrow that we found on the CBC – a mere one block away. Once again, however, I managed only some quick phone-binned photos.

A Northern Flicker and 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers were at Wells’ Community Park, while other highlights included 14 Sanderlings with Purple Sandpipers along Marginal Way in Ogunquit.

But before I knew it, it was December 31st. I still had yet to see an Orange-crowned Warbler (inconceivable!) for the month, and I was stuck at 9 species of sparrow. Therefore, Phil McCormack and I had a mission when we set out in the morning. We worked thickets and fields in Cape Elizabeth, with stops at various nooks and crannies in South Portland and Portland.

While we did not relocate the Lark Sparrow along Fessenden Road (it’s been a week since I have seen a report), we did have a Merlin there, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers at Crescent Beach State Park. Luke had an Orange-crowned Warbler at Camp Ketcha back on the 20th, but it was rather devoid of birds today.

Throughout the day, pockets of Song and American Tree Sparrows were indicative of recent movements and concentration following the snow and ice, but we were not prepared for the concentration of sparrows at a particularly fruitful patch. In fact, it was astounding!

75+ American Tree and 50+ Song Sparrows flew out of the field, joined by 10 or so White-throated Sparrows and 20 or more Dark-eyed Juncos. A continuing female Brown-headed Cowbird was there, along with at least 80 American Goldfinches and 30 or so House Finches. A Carolina Wren sang from the woods, and two Swamp Sparrows and a female Common Yellowthroat were in the marsh…I knew my 10th species of sparrow was here somewhere!

After a teasing brief, distant but highly suggestive look, I finally found it – a Chipping Sparrow! My 10th species of sparrow in December!

Shortly thereafter, a Savannah Sparrow (my second of the month) appeared – not just our 7th species of the day, but the 7th species in this one spot! Amazing! And now I had a 7 species of sparrow day and 10 species for the month to match my 7 species of warbler day and 10 species for the month! (The Double 7/10 Split?)

But of course, I still wanted an Orange-crowned Warbler, so we kept birding (well, after a long, celebratory lunch of course), and I tried a few more OC spots in Portland after Phil departed. I still can’t believe I saw 10 species of warbler in Maine in December, and none of them were Orange-crowned, but it seems a fitting finish to the month, and the year, was the continuing Baltimore Oriole and Gray Catbird sitting in the same tree in the Sheridan St lot!

Meanwhile, some other highlights over the course of the month, of the non-warbler or sparrow variety, including more seasonal species, such as two Snowy Owls on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 12th, my first Iceland Gull of the season (finally) in Old Port on the 15th, a Snowy Owl at Biddeford Pool on the 18th, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a growing legion of wintering waterbirds.

Other signs of the unseasonably warm month included a lingering Double-crested Cormorant in Portland Harbor on 12/15, a few more lingering dabblers and Great Blue Herons than usual, but surprisingly, I didn’t see a Hermit Thrush all month – had they all moved on or would some now show up as the snow and ice pushes them to coastal migrant traps? But the most unexpected of them all was the Little Blue Heron that was found in the tiny Jordan Park Marsh in Ocean Park. I stopped by to visit it on the 22nd, about two weeks into its unseasonable stay.

Unfortunately, as much fun as this month has been – and as nice as it has been to not yet wear my parka – it’s impossible for me to ignore what this all means: the climate HAS changed. While no one month – warm or cold – is “climate change,” it is impossible for any rational person to not realize that our weather has become more and more unpredictable, less and less “normal,” and prone to more and more wild swings in seasonal and within-season variability. No, a hot day doesn’t mean Global Warming, nor does a snowstorm mean there’s not (Please James Inhoffe, please go away and shut the hell up). But the trends are real, very apparent, and very much here. Now. And they are most definitely affecting birds and bird migration.

That being said, I would not use these warblers as an example of this. Instead, I think the fact that here in December and they are still ALIVE, is however, a perfect example of just how ridiculously warm our weather has been! The mechanisms that delivered these birds to the Saco Riverwalk and elsewhere are likely varied. Perhaps the deformed, crossed-bill of the Tennessee Warbler impedes its ability to efficiently forage and put on the necessary weight for its next leg of migration. Perhaps the extensive southerly winds that have ushered in this warm air also facilitated the arrival of a 180-degree misoriented migrant Yellow-throated Warbler, and I would propose, the Prairie Warbler as well (I think the rare-but-regular late fall Prairies are actually birds from our south) that were “messed up” and flew the wrong way. But it is also possible that some of these warblers are “reverse migrants” that started to go south and then turned around, but I doubt it – facultative migrants like swallows and blackbirds do it, but I don’t know of any known proof that long-distance Neotropical migrants pull it off (on purpose, anyway).

These mechanisms occur every year, and rare warblers are found at places like the Saco Riverwalk every fall. However, they’re usually found in October and November and either move on (or, more likely perish) by now. So I think what’s remarkable is not that all of these warblers are here, but that they are still ALIVE well into December – and that is most definitely due to the mild winter so far. There have still been insects to be found, there’s plenty of fruit left to consume, and fewer calories have been spent to keep up internal body temperatures, meaning there are fewer calories that need to be consumed.

Migration in long-distance, obligate migrants is not triggered by temperatures, but trigged by physiological changes directed by hormones responding to the changing length of the day. In the fall, southbound migration is triggered in part by a response to changes in fat loading to fuel these epic journeys. At some point, the controls are switched away from building the fat reserves that are necessary for migration. I don’t know at what point in the season “pioneering” warblers lose the ability (perhaps, even the “desire”) to migrate. My guess is that even if you pumped these birds full of fat, at this point, they won’t be going anywhere – this is now their winter territory, for better, or for most likely, worse.

So what does this mean besides some amazing early winter birding? Good question. Conventional wisdom says these birds are all “evolutionary dead ends” that will soon be eliminated from the gene pool (it has to get cold sometime, right? If they’re not picked off by a Sharp-shinned Hawk or all of the damn outdoor cats that hunt there). However, with the effects of Global Climate Change clearly upon us, and not reversing anytime soon (if ever), perhaps these “pioneers” are the wave of the future. Maybe someday, warblers will successfully overwinter in Maine, and return to their breeding grounds to pass on those genes.

Maybe. Afterall, without vagrancy, we would not have Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s finches; distant islands would be sans all landbirds. Perhaps phenomena like “reverse migration” and this pioneering thing will allow the next wave of adaption to a changing climate. Of course, never before in the history of life on earth, has this change occurred so rapidly, and we have little evidence suggesting long-distant migrants can adapt this quickly – it’s going to take more than a few individuals of 10 species of warblers.

Sparrows, however, aren’t obligate long-distance migrants that are “programmed” to leave at a prescribed time. Instead, they are more flexible in their movements, and being seed-eaters, they aren’t reliant on warm-weather dependent insects. As long as seeds are available, and with the complete dearth of snow, they most certainly have been, those that linger can do just fine. White-throated, American Tree, Song, and Dark-eyed Juncos are all regular parts of our winter avifauna in southern Maine, lingering or “pioneering” Swamp Sparrows are regular here and there, and every now and then a Lark Sparrow (a “drift migrant/vagrant” from the Midwest) or Field Sparrow spends the winter in the state. Field and Clay-colored are also rare-but-regular in late fall/early winter, so once again, the presence of 10 species of sparrows is also not in and of itself caused by the record temperatures, but it is most definitely another sign of how mild – and especially snow-free – it has been.

But this is all a blog for another time…this blog was supposed to be about warblers (and sparrows!). In Maine. In December. And that’s amazing. Or, as Luke said, “What. The. (Expletive deleted).”