Dickcissels, otherwise rare in Maine, are always one of the treats of a visit to Monhegan in the fall.
The 12th annual Freeport Wild Bird Supply “Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend” enjoyed three great days of good birds, awesome scenery, delectable food, and great company on Friday, September 28th through Sunday, September 30th.
We sure got the tour off to a good start, with a Red Phalarope and a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull from the Hardy Boat as we traveled to the island from New Harbor. A small number of Northern Gannets entertained us as well.
Light rain was ending as we arrived, but the winds were light and the temperatures were comfortable. We were greeted, unfortunately, by departing birders telling the tale of day after excruciating slow day of birding over the past week (Glad my WINGS tour wasn’t a week later!) but there were some decent, albeit expected, “good” birds around.
We began to beat the bush, stopping only for pizza for lunch. And while it was indeed rather slow and quiet by Monhegan standards, we lucked into a couple of great pockets of activity, with a nice diversity of sparrows and warblers. In fact, it wasn’t all that bad afterall. Some Cape May Warblers were still around, Red-eyed Vireos seemed to be everywhere, and we caught up with a Dickcissel and a Clay-colored Sparrow that have been coming to some scattered seed.
Red-breasted Nuthatches continued to be abundant out here this fall.
A moderate flight overnight Friday into Saturday diminished rapidly as a little southwesterly wind began to influence the skies by morning. Therefore, the Morning Flight was rather light – and mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers with a smattering of Blackpoll Warblers and little else. While our pre-breakfast walk was on the quiet side, there were clearly a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the island, and definitely new birds had arrived.
Pockets of activity here and there throughout the day slowly built up a respectable checklist, including a dozen species of warblers. We confirmed the presence of 3 Dickcissels, and there are at least 2, if not 3, White-breasted Nuthatches now on the island. Five Black Scoters were spotted off of Lobster Cove, our first of the fall, and we ran into a flock of at least 10 Baltimore Orioles around the grape vines on Pumphouse Road. A good look at a Philadelphia Vireo, fly-by Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plover, at least 8 Cape May Warblers, a Rusty Blackbird, and an Indigo Bunting were among the avian highlights, but the insanely beautiful afternoon visit to White Head may have taken the cake. It was also a good day for migrant falcons.
Of course, we also stopped to take time to photograph the Fringed Gentian.
It was a short, 3-day tour this year, so it was already our last morning on Sunday the 30th.
Light and variable winds overnight with a mostly west to northwesterly component ushered in a moderate-strong flight. The resultant Morning Flight was pretty decent, even if it was almost all Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings.
One of our most interesting observations was the interaction between a rare land-roosting Northern Gannet and the pair of Bald Eagles that usually occupy the highest point on the Outer Sisters. The gannet aggressively defending itself with a stabbing bill, letting the eagle know it was fixing for a fight. Eventually, they ignored each other.
All morning, we encountered lots of Yellow-rumps, including birds still high overhead in mid-morning. Sparrows had definitely increased in numbers and diversity as well. Once again, while overall numbers were relatively low, pockets of activity were regularly encountered. We also continued to see most of the birds very well. And, we added a bunch of species to our now-respectable 3-day trip list.
A Downy Woodpecker was the first I had added out here all fall, while some of the other “new” birds for us included a Killdeer (rare to see on land here, not just flying by complaining about the lack of open space), a juvenile Laughing Gull, migrant Osprey and Northern Harrier, a flock of White-winged Scoters, a Prairie Warbler (rare out here), and rather excitingly, a skulking Mourning Warbler that we found behind the town marsh.
There were at least 14 Baltimore Orioles now in the grape-guzzling flock. Three Dickcissels and a Clay-colored Sparrow (although I think it may have been a different bird than what we saw on Friday) were among the other highlights. We also finally caught up with 2 of the 3 mysteriously-reappearing Ring-necked Pheasants.
One of those orioles was shockingly red, likely from too many invasive berries rich in carotenoids.
Fingered Dagger Moth caterpillar.
But no doubt the icing on the cake of a great weekend was our post-lunch visit to Lobster Cove. While I was hoping for more gannets, our attention was stolen by a massive group of at least 100 Atlantic White-sided (presumably) Dolphins that were actively feeding and jumping well off of Lobster Cove. While they were a bit too far to see detail for me to be absolutely sure of the identification, it was an impressive show that was thoroughly enjoyed by all. While Harbor Porpoise are common around the island, I am not sure if I have ever seen pelagic dolphins from here. And this was quite a show!
One last bird-dogging trip through the marsh at Lobster Cove.
Monarch butterflies also put on a show for us throughout the weekend.
Except this one did not make it.
We had a great group this year on a full tour, and we were treated to great weather, solid birding, and as always – great food and drink. Let the countdown to the Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend begin!
Northern Gannets on the ferry trip back to New Harbor.
Total species = 85
Total species of warblers = 14
|American Black Duck||0||2||0|
|LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL||1*||0||0|
|Great Black-backed Gull||x||x||x|
|Great Blue Heron||0||1||0|
|Cape May Warbler||3||8||8|
|Black-throated Green Warbler||2||2||1|