Breeding season is upon us, and Maine’s seabird islands are in full effect – even when they don’t have a Tufted Puffin. I did find a Little Gull, however, and that was fun; I really like Little Gulls! My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
Biddeford Pool shoreline and neighborhood, 6/19: 1 1st summer Great Cormorant, 3 Black Scoters, 1 pair Surf Scoters, and 1 likely-late migrant Magnolia Warbler.
1 first-summer LITTLE GULL and 1 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 6/19 (photos above).
3 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 14 Black-bellied Plovers, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 6/19.
Belgrade PURPLE MARTIN colony, 6/21: Jeannette and I counted at least 25 occupied nests holes, which I believe would be a recent record high of this venerable colony.
1 Red Crossbill, Downeast Sunrise Trail, Machias, 6/21 (with Jeannette).
15-20 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Cutler Harbor to Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
1 pair NORTHERN GANNETS, displaying and early-courtship behavior, Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
1 Greater Yellowlegs, Machias River Causeway, 6/22 (with Jeannette). High-flying and heading south, was this our first migrant of “fall?” or just an over-summering bird heading to a roost?
2 Red Crossbills (Typ1 10 fide Matt Young), 1 Bay-breasted Warbler, Palm Warblers, etc, Cutler Coast Maine Public Reserve Lands, 6/23 (with Jeannette).
1 pair AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Egg Rock off Petit Manan peninsula, with Acadia Nature Tours puffin trip to Petit Manan Island (with Doug Hitchcox, Jeannette, et al). No Tufted Puffin.
My observations of note over the past eight days included the following:
Rangeley Birding Festival, June 10-12. Cameron Cox and I led a total of four tours, and while none of them expected to find “boreal specialties,” our group did hear 2+ CANADA JAYS at Hunter Cove Preserve on 6/13. Otherwise, we mostly basked in the glow of Blackburnian Warblers and other area denizens, like the above Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Proposed* TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET(S) in Scarborough Marsh, 6/16 (with Ted Floyd and Hannah Floyd). The saga continues! Although I have spent dreadfully little time in the marsh this summer, reviewing photographs has led me to consider that there are now two of this proposed three-way combination – one distinctly whiter (especially on the wings) than the other. On the 16th, we observed both birds distantly (darker bird off Eastern Road, whiter bird at Pelreco Marsh). In both cases they were very far and even phone-scoped photos were worthless due to heat shimmer. If you have great photos of birds from this year, I would love to see them!
*Hybrid combo as proposed in:
Lovitch, Derek J. 2022. Photo Salon: Hybrid Herons of Maine. North American Birds 72 (2): 28-40.
The first of our pelagic birding opportunities for the year took place on Monday, June 6th, as I joined the good folks from Cap’n Fish’s Cruises in Boothbay Harbor for a special ½ day mini-pelagic.
We motored our way east to Eastern Egg Rock, looking at Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Ospreys, and many other inshore denizens. Once we got to Eastern Egg Rock, however, the fun really started! The cacophony of the colony was evident on this gloriously calm day, and it was not hard to find plenty of Atlantic Puffins in the water near the boat.
We worked the masses of Common Terns to isolate a few great views of Roseate and Arctic Terns. The bright sunny day was a delight except for when trying to judge grayscale. That made tern identification a little more challenging, but we worked our way through it before departing the island for deeper waters. We had a good total of 7 Razorbills on and around the island, which is no guarantee on a visit here, and while we didn’t have the one Common Murre that has been lingering on the rock, we did have one fly-by later in the trip.
With seas barely 1-2 feet, just a puff of wind, and abundant sunshine, it was just a gorgeous day offshore. We cruised through a wide stretch of uneventful, flat bottom, but once we hit deeper waters, we began to see a number of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. There were a lot more at our first deeper hole, but then when we got to our primary destination, it was clear how abundant they were.
We laid down a 4-mile long chum slick, and then slowly cruised back through it. With the calm seas, it held together perfectly, and boy did it work! It was actually incredible. Unfortunately, other than a few Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, it was 100% Wilson’s Storm-Petrels!
But what a show they put on! Dan, Jeannette, and I did our best to estimate the abundance, as this was truly a special event. Our estimate of a trip total of 2,600 birds included an estimate of 2,000 in our chum line!
We spotted the occasional Northern Gannet throughout the trip, but we desperately awaited another tubenose. Checking flight style, foot extension, wing bars, and underwing patterns, but yup, pretty darn homogenous. As a leader, I tried to check every bird. But the sight was impressive, and I couldn’t help but utter superlatives and occasionally just sit back and enjoy the show.
We had to increase speed to make it back to the dock on time, but we continued to tally Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on the ride in. And Jeannette, Dan, and I worked hard to find something – anything! – else pelagic! We don’t have a lot of data on what is out here in June, and it’s likely different every year depending on water temperature and breeding success and/or failure of these “winter” visitors from the sub-Antarctic waters. In fact, one some June whale watches I have been on, I haven’t had a single species of tubenose – let alone 2600 of them.
While our species list wasn’t legendary by any means, I’ve never seen this many Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in one, relatively short boat trip. In fact, this is by far the most I have ever seen together in Maine waters. Additionally, we had great looks at some of the Gulf of Maine’s most sought-after breeding seabirds to kick off the day at the birthplace of the Project Puffin. And the weather, wow, the weather – what a day to be on the water! And a great introduction to pelagic birding: the most exciting (and yes, at times frustrating) part of pelagic birding is every day, every trip, is so different, and it takes a lot of trips to appreciate the best of them.
We have two more trips planned with Cap’n Fish’s this summer. On July 15th, I’ll be joining the on-board naturalist for a visit to Eastern Egg Rock followed by a little birding-while-whale-watching. Then, on October 11th, it will be the second of our dedicated half-day pelagics, including chumming. Since we won’t have activity at Eastern Egg Rock at that time of year, all our time will be dedicated to finding birds offshore. Information and registration for these two trips – and our summer tours to Seal Island as well – can be found on the Pelagics Page of our website.
Here is our complete trip list, from the time the horn blew as the boat pulled out of the dock until we returned to the slip. Our estimates at Eastern Egg Rock are very conservative, and likely dreadfully low. Offshore, we worked hard at estimating individual groups of storm-petrels and tallying exact numbers of other birds offshore. There were also likely many more eiders, guillemots, and cormorants on the outer islands, but our focus was on finding more seabirds!
How about we just fast-forward to Sunday? Sunday was delightful.
After two quiet days, which I will eventually confess to, we had a bunch of birds. And no fog. And colorful birds in good light. The pre-breakfast loop was actually downright great, with a good variety of warblers. One copse of trees alone featured 3 Blackburnian Warblers, 4+ Blackpoll Warblers, 2 each of Yellow, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and 1 Magnolia Warbler
It was nice and birdy after breakfast as well, with more Blackburnian fun, a single Cape May Warbler, and a nice birdy walk through the woods (Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, and House Wren singing one after another) to Whitehead where we actually got to see the ocean – and a Great Cormorant for those visiting from afar. Bird activity and birdsong was pleasantly consistent throughout the day, and in most places we visited.
We caught up with a continuing immature male Orchard Oriole for all to see, and while perhaps one could argue it was still fairly slow for Monhegan by Memorial Day Weekend standards, it was a lot better than Friday and Saturday! In fact, the 59 species and 11 species of warblers was more than the first two days combined. A few of us who stayed out late even got to see an American Woodcock as it displayed over Horn Hill at dusk. It was a good day.
Friday got off to a rocky start. Really rocky actually, as in few people were even able to keep their breakfast down on the two ferry rides. Dense fog and near-zero visibility resulted in virtually no birds being seen, and well, let’s just not talk about these boat trips anymore…it was one of the worst I have ever experienced on the way to or from. Thankfully, I am not predisposed to feeling how many people felt upon arrival, but it was still a challenge to shake it off, and all of us were moving slowly by day’s end.
Of course, it didn’t help that there were so few birds around! The huge wave of birds that arrived the previous weekend had cleared out, and nothing had arrived to take their place over the last few nights. With such strong winds, it was a challenge to find sheltered pockets, and when we did, we didn’t find many with many birds. Only Blackpoll Warblers were to be seen in numbers.
That being said, what we did see – especially the aforementioned Blackpolls and the continuing world’s most cooperative Black-billed Cuckoo(s) – we saw really well. A few of us even saw the Virginia Rail for a second. The dense fog also precluded scanning the water, so our checklist is even more pitiful for the day. Ring-necked Pheasants put on a show though, from confiding snazzy males to adorable little chicks.
I had hopes for Saturday – it really couldn’t be any worse than Friday anyway! – based on the forecast. However, only a light flight was detected on the radar overnight, despite light southerly winds. It was mostly cloudy, but I couldn’t help to wonder if we were just running out of migrants.
Rain that could have resulted in a fallout of what little was airborne overnight didn’t arrive until after sunrise, but it only caused a 20-minute delay to the start of the day. That was it though, and certainly we were lucky that Saturday was not the washout that was predicted as of a few days prior. It was still slow, but once again, we had exceedingly great looks at everything that we did encounter, including more quality cuckoo time, a stunning male Indigo Bunting that was just glowing in the soft light, Blackpoll Warblers, Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, and more colorful splashes to brighten another gray day. And it wasn’t raining.
But it’s hard to sugarcoat just how slow it was – like Mid-June-kinda slow. Luckily, the fog lifted just long enough to see some waterbirds, and we took advantage of that for an impromptu gull workshop.
A brief shower at dinnertime ushered in a cold front and skies began to clear at dusk, with the fog finally lifting. That led to the delightful Sunday I was talking about. And Monday wasn’t too shabby either, as we again started the day without fog, a very light wind, and evidence of some bird migration on the radar overnight. And, with the southwesterly flow continuing, we had even higher hopes for finding the “mega” that would make up for the so-far lackluster species list.
Starting the morning with a Black-billed Cuckoo sunning itself in a tree right in front of the Trailing Yew was a solid start, and there were more Eastern Wood-Pewees and a decent number of Blackpoll Warblers around. Again, a rather slow day by Monhegan standards, but we really had more great looks at everything we did see. Today’s magic tree was by the Ice Pond, with a pair of Blackburnian Warblers, a pair of Blackpoll Warblers, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and finally a Bay-breasted Warbler.
We also finally had some rarity excitement. First, a Spizella sparrow flushed in front of us and a very quick glimpse in the scope suggested a Clay-colored Sparrow, which is a great bird in the spring. But just to be sure, we searched for it, but to no avail. Luckily, its identity was confirmed the next morning went it put on a show in the exact same spot it didn’t want to return to today.
Later, a female Purple Martin made an appearance…OK, fine, I could not completely rule out a Gray-breasted Martin. I was trying.
The tour officially concluded in the afternoon, but Jeannette and I remained to enjoy a 24-hour vacation. Don’t worry, you didn’t “just miss” something, as all we had new in the afternoon was a Savannah Sparrow.
Also, don’t worry that you missed the day Monhegan legends are made of on Tuesday. You did not. It was still fairly slow, but we had a little uptick in diversity. The pulse of late-migrating flycatchers that I had expected finally arrived, there was a good Northern Gannet show off Lobster Cove in the morning, and a steady trickle of commuting Atlantic Puffins in a small sample of afternoon Lobster Cove seawatching.
We picked up three Willets well offshore to the south from Lobster Cove in the morning, eventually following them into the harbor where they landed for a spell. As for that “probable” Clay-colored Sparrow that was nagging me all afternoon and night, well, I am thankful that it returned to the exact same spot as where we first glimpsed it. I received a text that it had been observed, photographed, and confirmed by others, and it obligingly remained long enough for us to catch back up with it.
Overall, there were many fewer warblers around on Tuesday, likely as many of the passage migrants had departed overnight. But it would have been nice if this diverse day with several quality birds and good seawatching fell during the official tour!
The 11 species we added after the group tour ended therefore were as follows:
Red-bellied Woodpecker (where were you hiding these past 4 days?)
Furthermore, on the Hardy Boat back to New Harbor, we added 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (personal first-of-year) and a Razorbill. With those 13 species, we had a total of 88 species over the 5 days, with a couple of more “quality” birds and that would have produced a much more respectable tour list! But alas.
So yes, by Monhegan standards, it was a pretty slow weekend. In fact, the 75 species on Friday through Monday was a record low (by two) for this annual tour. 16 species of warblers wasn’t too bad (last year’s soaker only produced 10), and we had some great birds. We also had such good looks at so many things, especially those – like Black-billed Cuckoo – that just don’t give such great looks very often, let alone daily!
Here is the official trip list (not including the 13 additional species from Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening when we got off the boat in New Harbor):
My annual Monhegan Spring Migration Tour took place on 5/27 through 5/30, followed by another day on the island with Jeannette. It was very slow, and significant highlights were few. However, it was still, well, birding on Monhegan for five days, so I am not complaining. I’ll have a full tour report and checklist in the coming days. Highlights included daily crippling views of Black-billed Cuckoo; a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW that we found on 5/30 but was seen by all on 5/31; 3 WILLETS that arrived from the open ocean south of Lobster Cove before landing in the harbor on 5/31; a good Atlantic Puffin commuting flight in the morning of 5/31, and an immature male ORCHARD ORIOLE each day.
Other non-Monhegan and non-flycatcher highlights this week included:
2 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, Hardy Boat from Monhegan to New Harbor, 5/31 (with Jeannette).