Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, one of the more common and conspicuous migrants all weekend.
After spending what was probably the slowest week of birding I have ever experienced in fall on Monhegan with my WINGS tour a week prior, I was even more anxious to get back to the island. I know what this island can offer (well, besides great food, beer, and friends, that is)!
Because of ferry schedules, we added a new wrinkle this year, meeting for a birdwalk in Port Clyde before the mid-am ferry to the island (9/29). Golden-crowned Kinglets were particularly abundant and some Yellow-rumped Warblers were around, hinting at the amount of birds that arrived overnight. On the trip out, Northern Gannets were scattered about, and a flock of 7 probable American Pipits zipped by. When passerines are encountered on the ferry, as they return to the mainland, it’s usually a good sign that there are a lot of newly-arrived birds on the island.
When several Yellow-rumped Warblers were darting around near the dock, I thought it might be worth swinging into The Barnacle for a quick, early lunch so we could hit the ground running. And we are all glad we did, as it took us 2 ½ hours to walk from the dock to our lodging at the Trailing Yew!
It was fantastic…birds were everywhere. While it wasn’t a fallout with birds dripping out of the trees, every cluster of trees and bushes had some migrants in it. The “Cape May Spruces” on dock road hosted several Cape May Warblers and an immature male Pine Warbler – a rarity on the island. We soon tracked down a continuing Orange-crowned Warbler, and we slowly made our way through town, pausing at every apple tree and every weedy garden.
Cape May Warbler
A lot had changed in the 5 days between my visits, with many more sparrows, and a much greater percentage of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Overall warbler diversity was down, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were everywhere! The raptor show wasn’t half-bad, either.
I think I saw more birds today, even though we didn’t arrive until 11:30 than I did all week with my other tour! And 60 species by day’s end wasn’t too shabby either.
Black-throated Green Warbler
Friday night featured a very strong flight on the radar, but with a light winds becoming northeast after midnight, many fewer birds were around come morning (thanks to Hurricane Jose, this was the bane of our existence during the aforementioned tour), and the morning flight was very light. The afternoon was quite slow, but we continued to encounter new birds here and there. An unexpected surprise was a Wood Thrush calling at dusk. Although we never saw it, the calls are distinctive, and they were close by, and this was my 208th Monhegan bird (They’re usually long gone by the time I get here in mid-September).
But this was only a fraction of the day’s excitement. First, a Bell’s Vireo was reported just as we arrived at breakfast. I thought about skipping the meal (it’s really a good bird if I consider passing on a Trailing Yew breakfast!) but after hearing about how chaotic it was (lots of owl calls and counter-productive tape use – tell me why a bird, exhausted from migration and without any hormonal urge to breed would come out in the open because you are playing an adult male’s territorial song? Especially when vagrants are often immature birds, the last thing they are looking for is a conflict; it’s amazingly ignorant…but I digress) down there, we decided to let the masses subside and fuel up for the hunt.
By the time we arrived, almost everyone had dispersed, and no sign of a Bell’s Vireo. But Pumphouse Road and the nearby yards were birdy, so we just started working the thickets. We had dispersed up and down Pumphouse Road, joined by several friends and fellow birders, including Kristen Lindquist and Bill Thompson. I was with just two members of our group, when a small flock of five or so vireos came in. There were three Red-eyed, but then I spotted what I thought could have been the Bell’s -a very pale, dull vireo creeping around the understory, with its tail cocked. With no one else around, I took off to assemble the group, and to get Bill to secure the documentation photos. When guiding, a bird doesn’t count unless the group is with you, so before I had anything definitive, I started running (only then remembering my ankle was still in a brace)!
Barb and Terez were still on what she thought was the bird in question, but as we all returned, it was clearly just a normally-pale, immature Blue-headed. Did I screw this up that badly? But wait, where was that 5th vireo?
I don’t remember who spotted it next, but when we did, it was clear it was not a Bell’s, but wow, that was pale. Like really, really, pale, and as we began studying it, we realized this may be even rarer!
At one point, I made eye contact with Marshall Iliff, and we both kinda smiled and nodded. We were on to something. Bill began to fire away. We watched. And then we began to discuss. And discuss. And at the brewery later, discuss some more. And the next day, yup, we were still talking about this bird. Almost two weeks later, as well.
Bill sent me his photos the next day, and on Sunday evening – at the brewery, of course, it’s where all great conversations occur – we realized that every single feature of this bird was consistent with Cassin’s Vireo, the member of the “Solitary Vireo Complex” that breeds in the west, and can be virtually indistinguishable from our regular Blue-headed. However, this bird had every feature perfect for Cassin’s, and as we sent around photos, everyone agreed that “if this isn’t a Cassin’s, then we can’t identify a bird as a Cassin’s.”
This would be the first record for Maine, and one of very, very few records for all of the East Coast. See, this is what a “slow” day on Monhegan should be like.
Anyway, back to the actual birding on Sunday. After only a surprisingly moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, only a light morning flight was over the island, and it was almost exclusively Yellow-rumped Warblers. Increasing south winds helped keep activity reduced through the afternoon, when most of the group slowly departed on their respective ferries. We had great looks at the two continuing Dickcissels, more great views of Cape May Warblers, and finished the day off with the last member of the group by enjoying the long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Ice Pond.
That chase and discussion of the vireo was exhausting!
It was just me and group-holdover John Lorenc on Monday morning, when Jeannette joined us for the day on the early Port Clyde boat. Her visit during my WINGS tour yielded fog and little else, so she was anxious to see and photograph some birds!
Interestingly enough, despite a rather light flight on the radar overnight (which really surprised me) on a light northwesterly wind, a strong morning flight developed come sunrise. As expected by the date, it was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were many more kinglets and sparrows around. It was very busy before breakfast, and quite birdy – if rather homogenous – through lunch, with “new” birds scattered about. Even the early afternoon was pleasantly birdy, with pockets of activity here and there.
At least 4 Dickcissels were now present, and likely a new Clay-colored Sparrow. We had a fly-by of a Northern Pintail at Lobster Cove, one of very few records for the island. A calling Greater Yellowlegs, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe, and large flocks of southbound Canada Geese high overhead were among the additions to the weekend’s checklist.
When all was said and done, and Cassin’s Vireo was (fairly) confidently added to the list, a total of 89 species (including 15 species of warblers) were recorded in these four days, a respectable if not overwhelming total for a long weekend on the island.
And the food, beer, and conversation were great as always. And the butterflies, my goodness the butterflies. Monarchs were common, but Painted Ladies were downright abundant…
Here’s the full scoreboard, not including birds seen in Port Clyde or from the ferry en route:
|American Black Duck||2||1||2||2|
|Great Blue Heron||2||4||1||0|
|Great Black-backed Gull||X||x||X||X|
|Cape May Warbler||5||5||2||0|
|Black-throated Green Warbler||2||2||0||0|