It’s been a crazy two weeks! Other than two wonderful weekends on Monhegan – personal and professional – and an incredibly Sandy Point Morning Flight last week, my birding has been seriously limited. With the weather pattern and so many rarities around, this was frustrating, but as of today, we have (mostly) completed our move from Pownal to Durham.
Monhegan Island, 9/22-9/26. Highlights included 1 LARK SPARROW, 6 LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS, 3 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS, 2 DICKCISSELS, 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 16 species of warblers, and an insane falcon show. Complete Tour Report and daily checklist here.
Sandy Point Morning Flight, 9/29: 6,183 migrants of 69 species highlighted by 1 BLUE GROSBEAK, 20 species of warblers, and my 195th all-time patch bird in 2 high-flying Little Blue Herons! It was a great enough day to deserve its own blog, which can be found here.
1 Brown Thrasher, here at the store, 9/29. Our second ever in the garden here.
Pownal Morning Flight, 9/30: 289 individuals of 29 species. Complete list here. Our last morning flight at our old property, with a final yard list of 136.
Monhegan Island, 9/30-10/2 with Jeannette. We were here for a friends’ event, so birding was not always the priority. Nonetheless, we had some good birds included the continuing juvenile RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, at least one continuing CLAY-COLORED SPARROW and DICKCISSEL, 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, our first coastal Pine Siskin of the fall, a late Veery, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in every apple tree, warblers on the ground, and a big Yellow-rumped Warbler morning flight on the 1st.
I arrived on the island on Thursday (9/22). Be happy that the tour didn’t start this day. It rained. A Lot. However, I was greeted by 6 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Smuttynose Island upon my arrival: 5 adults and 1 juvenile. It turned out to be one of the highest counts ever on the island. That would also turn out to be my birding highlight of the day, as a short jaunt in the afternoon only yielded one species that I would not end up seeing with the group: a juvenile Ring-billed Gull, which is actually a very uncommon bird out here.
The sunset, however, was worth the trip, and the clearing skies foretold some good birding to come.
Overnight, a moderate migration on clearing skies brought many new birds to the island. The group met at 9:00, and we picked up the rest of the day’s participants as their ferry arrived. It was very windy today, but all day long, whenever we found a pocket of shelter, we found birds. It was mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, as expected for the date, but there was a decent smattering of diversity.
Between the winds and the raptors, birds were keeping low though! But speaking of raptors – wow, the falcon show! It was incredible. There is absolutely no way of knowing how many Peregrine Falcons and Merlins we saw today, with birds whipping by overhead. Some were hunting, and likely circling the island to do so, but it’s also possible that there was a steady flow of birds moving south, only pausing to wink at the island. It was impossible to quantify, but it was a whole lot of fun to watch!
We enjoyed quality time with Cedar Waxwings, Monarch butterflies, and enjoyed some gorgeous Question Mark butterflies as well. White-crowned Sparrows were rather conspicuous, and we had a good lesson in duck identification with Mallards, an American Black Duck, and a hybrid thereof all side-by-side.
Wind was whipping all night long and continued to gust well over 20mph as of sunrise. With a high-pressure system building in, and powerful Hurricane Fiona passing well to our east, the wind would just not let up. Several ferries were cancelled, and if you happened to be in the room that a screen door was slamming up against all night (ahem), then maybe you were not as rested as you would have liked.
The Gray NEXRAD radar was down, but the Caribou station showed a moderate flight of birds overnight with marginally lighter winds over the mainland. A light morning flight – mostly strong-flying Blackpoll Warblers – didn’t portend a lot of birds had arrived, but pockets of White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers in places where they weren’t yesterday suggested otherwise. In fact, there were a bunch of birds around, and it was a very productive morning!
We visited with two cooperative Dickcissels that have been around for days, caught up with the lingering Lark Sparrow, and were among the lucky ones who caught up with an early Orange-crowned Warbler. All before lunch.
And while the wind continued to gust, and uncountable falcons continued to wreak havoc, anytime we found a corner of shelter, we found birds – and often lots of them! White-throated Sparrows littered the woods, and because of the wind, many birds were insanely easy to see.
One of the highlights were warblers on the ground – hatches of large flies were feasting on rotting apples below laden trees, and with no flying insects able to survive a foot into the air today, we spent a lot of time looking DOWN at warblers.
Finally, as dusk fell, the winds subsided. Unfortunately, by early nightfall, the winds were already a little more westerly than we would have liked. Come Sunday morning, a surprisingly light morning flight, dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers almost exclusively, reflected the lack of the northerly component overnight. Birds seemed to be in lower quantities overall – a lot of Blackpoll Warblers had apparently departed – and with calm conditions (so, so welcome), there were fewer concentrations of birds.
Throughout the day, it was relatively slow by Monhegan standards, but we just kept adding new species to the triplist, and basking in repeated stellar views. The two Dickcissels were in their usual place throughout the day, a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull continued, and later in the morning we found a Marsh Wren – very uncommon out here.
In the afternoon, we had a splendid sparrow session. We had our longest looks yet at the Lark Sparrow, but after a report of one Clay-colored Sparrow at the same spot, we arrived to find three! A Lincoln’s Sparrow even came out into the open to join the Song, Chipping, White-throated, White-crowned, and Savannah Sparrows, making for an impressive total of 7 species of sparrows from one spot! Of course, the comparative experience makes all the difference in learning these species – as most look so very different from each other. Well, most of them did, anyway! A solid 76 species were tallied by day’s end.
The last day of the tour was Monday the 26th, and our time was winding down. So were the number of non-Yellow-rumped Warblers. Some light showers overnight may have put a few birds down, but winds were southwesterly thereafter, and the Caribou radar (the Gray station was still down) showed little movement. The morning flight was therefore virtually non-existent.
We found an Indigo Bunting, and later, an Alder Flycatcher confused and disoriented, stuck in the ice cutting display building of the Monhegan Museum. Three Clay-colored Sparrows were still present; we had good looks at two of them at the school and had another session comparing them to the variety of ages of Chipping Sparrows they were cajoling around with. The Lark Sparrow also performed nicely for us again.
It felt very slow, especially in the afternoon, when we took time to enjoy Fringed Gentian and repeatedly “dip” on a Red-headed Woodpecker that most everyone except us had eventually seen. Yet interestingly, we kept finding new species for our day’s list, and by the time the tour ended in time to catch the 4:30 ferry to Port Clyde, we had accumulated our highest species total of the weekend – a goodly 81.
The apparent abundance of some species – such as White-breasted Nuthatch, which we conservatively estimated included the presence of 4-6 pairs despite apparent omnipresence and Blackpoll Warblers on the ground – continued to impress as well.
With today’s new additions along with Laughing Gulls on our ferry ride back, our total trip listed amounted to 95 species! So despite the strong winds that howled for the first two days of the tour, and unfavorable southerly winds for the last day and a half, our 95 species was exactly average for the 11 years we have run the trip on this same weekend. 16 species of warblers was a mere one species below average. Taking our challenging weather into consideration, I would absolutely call this a win! Plus, we were on Monhegan, so all is well, as an average day/weekend on Monhegan sure beats the same anywhere else – for so many reasons.
* denotes ferry ride only
23-Sep 24-Sep 25-Sep 26-Sep