Author Archives: Derek

2018 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend

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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.
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Red-breasted Nuthatches continued to be abundant out here this fall.
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Sharp-shinned Hawk
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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
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Yellow Warbler
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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.
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Blackpoll Warbler

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.
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Brown Creeper

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“Cardinal Rule!”
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Red-eyed Vireo

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Of course, we also stopped to take time to photograph the Fringed Gentian.
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It was a short, 3-day tour this year, so it was already our last morning on Sunday the 30th.
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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.
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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.
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White-crowned Sparrow

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.
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Prairie Warbler

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.
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One of those orioles was shockingly red, likely from too many invasive berries rich in carotenoids.
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Clay-colored Sparrow
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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!
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One last bird-dogging trip through the marsh at Lobster Cove.

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Monarch butterflies also put on a show for us throughout the weekend.

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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!

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Northern Gannets on the ferry trip back to New Harbor.

Total species = 85
Total species of warblers = 14

28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep
Wood Duck 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 2 0
Mallard 12 15 12
Common Eider x x x
Black Scoter 0 5 0
Surf Scoter 0 0 22*
White-winged Scoter 0 0 15
Ring-necked Pheasant 0 0 2
Mourning Dove 10 10 10
Semipalmated Plover 0 1 1
Killdeer 0 0 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1 0 0
Solitary Sandpiper 0 0 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0
RED PHALAROPE 1* 0 0
Black Guillemot X 6 6
Laughing Gull 8* 0 2
Ring-billed Gull 0 0 1*
Herring Gull x x x
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 1* 0 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x
Common Loon 1* 1 1
Northern Gannet 30 100 100
Double-crested Cormorant X 200 800
Great Cormorant 2 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 0
Osprey 1* 0 1
Bald Eagle 3 1 3
Northern Harrier 0 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 10 5
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2 5 25
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1
Northern Flicker 3 10 10
Merlin 5 15 12
Peregrine Falcon 3 6 4
Eastern Phoebe 1 2 2
Blue-headed Vireo 1 1 1
Philadelphia Vireo 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 18 15 12
Blue Jay 8 22 20
American Crow 6 x x
Common Raven 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee 12 x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 10 25 20
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 3 2
Brown Creeper 3 2 4
Carolina Wren 3 1 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 6 8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 2 0
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 1
American Robin 0 0 2
Gray Catbird 2 8 1
European Starling 18 21 21
Cedar Waxwing 40 40 80
Purple Finch 4 12 15
Pine Siskin 0 1 1
American Goldfinch 2 4 3
Nashville Warbler 1 2 0
Common Yellowthroat 3 3 3
American Redstart 0 0 1
Cape May Warbler 3 8 8
Northern Parula 2 2 1
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 2 10 15
Palm Warbler 2 2 2
PINE WARBLER 0 2 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12 50 100
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 1
PRAIRIE WARBLER 0 0 1-2
Chipping Sparrow 6 6 8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 1 0 1
Dark-eyed Junco 0 2 3
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 2
White-throated Sparrow 1 8 20
Savannah Sparrow 3 0 0
Song Sparrow x X
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 1
Northern Cardinal 4 6 4
DICKCISSEL 1 3 3
Bobolink 1 1 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 2
Baltimore Oriole 10 12 14
Day Total 55 66 71

 
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Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Sod-pipers and Suds, 9/9/18

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Our latest Birds on Tap -Roadtrip! With our partner, The Maine Brew Bus traveled far afield on September 9th to take advantage of an unique seasonal birding hotspot.

When Saco River Brewing Company in Fryeburg invited us out to visit them, Don and I pulled out the good ol’ Delorme and came up with a plan. For a few weeks each late summer/early fall, the extensive sod farms in Fryeburg Harbor and nearby agricultural fields are a genuine birding hotspot. In fact, it is one of the best destinations in the state for a group of uncommon migrant shorebirds collectively – and affectionately – known as “grass-pipers.” In Maine, the two most sought-after grass-pipers” are very uncommon (and in some years downright rare): the elegant Buff-breasted Sandpiper and the spiffy Baird’s Sandpiper. Less uncommon, but still sought-after, American Golden-Plovers are also thrown into this un-taxonomic grouping that also includes the very common and familiar Killdeer, the boisterous sentinels of the grasspiper clan.

Furthermore, Fryeburg Harbor is a great place to look for Sandhill Cranes at this time of year, so “Sod-pipers and Suds” was born (with a little poetic license in changing “grass-pipers” to “sod-pipers” to keep our alliterative traditions going).

Our furthest drive of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series, we passed the time with lots of good discussion on status and distribution, bird conservation issues, beer preferences, and a whole lot more. And yes, there was a stop for a restroom.

A flock of 10 Sandhill Cranes was reported the day before, so we began our search at that location. We arrived at the empty field, with little around except for Wild Turkeys and American Crows.  As I walked back on the road to scan one other field, I flushed an American Bittern, but then I heard the cranes calling. I began to run back to the group to get them, but then realized the cranes were heading towards the group, and by the time I arrived, the cranes had obligingly landed right where we were all standing!
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After enjoying the cranes for a while, we were able to relocate the American Bittern. Then, we headed to the sod farms to begin our search for the shorebirds. It has been very dry of late, and the fields were hard as a rock; invertebrates would be safely locked in below the surface. We did not find any standing water on the fields, not surprisingly, and the recently-harvested patches of sod which are often favored by the birds were lifeless.

We looked at Song and Savannah Sparrows, had a Cooper’s Hawk fly by low overhead, but we couldn’t even find a Killdeer as we slowly walked the quiet rural roads. There had to be Killdeer somewhere around here, and if we found them, we would find whatever else might be lurking with them.

The final habitat to search, especially when it was so bone-dry, is where a tractor had recently tilled the soil, bringing invertebrates and insects within reach of the short bills of these grassland shorebirds. And sure enough, the last field in the prime area had a tractor actively tilling. It had to be the place!

We walked over to the field, and began to scan – looking for earth-colored birds in freshly tilled earth. When one member of the group finally spotted a Killdeer, our optimism returned. I buried myself in the scope, and despite brutal heat shimmer, glimpsed what looked like a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

We improved our angle, cut down a bit on shimmer, and in short time, all soaked in the glory of finding a Buff-breasted Sandpiper!  It was indeed hanging out with 6 Killdeer, in the most-freshly-turned soil.  Success! This is one of our only BoT destinations that really had specific “target species” so we were all very pleased (especially the guide!) with seeing the most-wanted of the targets.

One last field stop produced a stunning view and an American Kestrel…
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…and then Paul took us to our first beer-ing destination of the tour to celebrate our birding success. Unlike all of our other itineraries, our first stop was not announced…and it was not a brewery. You knew it was going to be special, but no one guessed what Paul and I had in store for them today.  “Holy —-, we’re at Ebenezer’s!” was the exclamation from one participant as Paul turned off the beaten path and into one of the most famous beer destinations in the world.

I’ll let their sign speak for itself.

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While we generally drive you to places where the beverages are made, this time, special arrangements were made for us to drop into this world-class location: Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell. A two-page menu was provided, with 32 beers from around the world. Paul and I – and especially the bartender Liz and staff that took care of us – guided us through the selections. These beers were special, and although the menu was overwhelming, not one person could find more than one beer (Allagash White!) or two (a couple of the Barreled Souls options had been enjoyed by some) that they had ever had, and for the most part, had not even heard of.  There were lots of “lifers” today!
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Personally, I went for the Fantome (from Belgium) Boo! Saison, which Liz described as “fall in a glass.” Subtle pumpkin and spices proved what “pumpkin beer” can really be, with just a hint of sweetness and nutty complexity, far beyond the liquefied canned pie mix that many of us (myself included) think of when we think of pumpkin beers. I chose it because pumpkin beers are not my thing – as you may have guessed from the previous sentence!) and BoT-Roadtrips! are about learning new beers and often, challenging your palette and preferences.
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Different beers were ordered by all, and sips were exchanged, and lots of great beer was experienced. Liz guided us through the history of how this unassuming little golf-course-side restaurant has become one of the most award-winning bars in the world.  Numerous promises to be back were made as we departed.

After a surprise like a visit to Ebenezer’s, you’d think our next stop would be a let down,but that was not at all the case. While Saco River Brewing Company might have fewer accolades on their sign, they have rapidly acquired a very loyal following and are brewing a wide range of very good and very popular beers. Mason – the co-owner and head brewer – greeted us warmly, and welcomed us into the brewery.

In both the birding and beer-ing realms, the goal of our Roadtrips is primarily an educational experience. Therefore, it was very welcome to spend time with Mason as he explained the brewing process, discussed his expansion into the world of canning (with a mobile unit), and described the wide variety of styles that he has become known for.
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Then, it was time for the beer!
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Paul selected three options to get us started, beginning with the Clearwater Pale  – a hoppy pale that offered very good flavor with a light, “crushable” body. Next up was their new Lazy River IPA – the hazy, juice-bomb that has become known as the “New England IPA) chock full of tropical fruit and citrus notes, amplified by the use of lupulin powder. Relatively new on the brewing scene, lupulin – the fine powder of resin compounds and essential oils found in a fresh hop cone (technically, the flower) – adds a ton of aroma and flavor without adding to bitterness. In fact, the discussion of “hoppy verses bitter” was one of the revelations for some that Mason adeptly described as we sipped his not-bitter, yet definitely hoppy, brews.

Our third beer turned out to be the majority favorite of the bus, the Buck Brown Ale – very nutty, creamy, and easy-drinking; perfect for those who crave malt flavors with a lighter body than a stout or porter.
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As always, whether in birding or at our breweries, we never have enough time, so before we knew it, it we had to hit the road. It’s always a good sign when beers are purchased to take home, and several folks left with 4-packs of the newest Saco River Brewing cans.

The drive home went quickly, as we recounted the beers we had, and the birds we saw. Discussions on everything from the status and distribution of migratory shorebirds, citizen science “data,” and the growth of Maine craft beer and beer styles passed the time.

And with that, one of the most unique of our Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! came to a close. As we soon ponder the itineraries for 2019, don’t forget that there are still three more one-of-a-kind tours in 2018, starting with October’s “Migrants and Malts.”  All of these trips can be found on the  Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of our website.  If you missed out on this special trip – check out what’s in store for October. You won’t want to miss it!

GREAT BLACK HAWK IN BIDDEFORD!!!!

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No seriously. This is not a test, do not adjust your television. This is not a drill. This is insane, but it is real.

The Timeline.

8/7.

9:13 AM. Ryan Wirtes posted a photo to the “What Bird is This Facebook Page” of a raptor photo sent by a friend. He suspected a black hawk of some flavor, but at the time, the sighting information was nothing more than “photographed this month in Maine.”

10:35 am. Tim Swain shares that post to the “ABA Rare Bird Alert” Facebook page. All hell breaks loose. While many people discuss the ID, others immediately jump to the conclusion that it is far too rare and far too out of range to be possible, so the conspiracy theories take hold. One person claimed to debunk it in multiple forums based on the plants in the scene. His plant ID was seriously flawed. I was brought into the discussion and identified the plants in the two pictures as all occurring in and around Biddeford Pool: Japanese Knotweed, Red Maple, and an invasive bush honeysuckle that I left as Lonicera sp (presumably tatarica). I know these thickets and habitats extremely well, and all looked just like a number of areas around here. While I was not vouching for the credibility of the sighting, the misidentification of the plants should not have impacted anyone’s decision to get the heck out there and search for it. And while skepticism and critical evaluation of exceptional sightings is important, I felt too many people were immediately looking to debunk it – that is not constructive, especially when using nothing more than simple misinformation spoken loud enough to be believed.

Luckily, people were out searching for it, and didn’t need my plant ID to be encouraged to do so!

Later in the day, Michael Smith was able to contact the photographer, and it turned out the bird was photographed only one day prior, on Maddox Pond Road in the Fortunes Rocks Beach section of Biddeford. The plot thickened.

8/8.

Birders searched the area extensively in the morning. The exact location of the photograph was confirmed. There was no hoax, conspiracy, or simple mistake/miscommunication. But there was no bird.

6:03 pm: Doug Hitchcox relocates the bird in a backyard on nearby Lily Pond Road. Birders converge. I arrived at about 7pm, and about 15 of us continued to observe the bird, with several remaining through dark.

I managed a few phone-scoped photos.IMG_2287_best,kinda_edited-1preening1_edited-1

But, given the low light, I had better luck with video, which I did extensively. I posted one here, on our store’s Facebook Page.

For the record, it was perched in a Black Locust when I saw it.

8/9.

7:20 am: With dozens of people from several states converging and looking, it was refound on Lily Pond Road. And now all hell will really break loose! Jeannette went down this am and scored some great photos as the bird flew around, hunted eggs and nestlings (it was observed eating a nestling and robbing an American Goldfinch nest for eggs), and as since its first observation, being constantly mobbed by passerines (for good reason).

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For those looking to find it, I’d recommend the play-by-play on the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook Page. I’ll leave it to there, and the Maine-birds listserve, to provide the specifics on sightings, observation details, and any concerns (like extensive and problematic permit parking restrictions in the area) that may arise.

Furthermore, Fortunes Rocks Beach is covered in Site Y11 in my Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide and Biddeford Pool (including parking tips) is extensively treated as Y12.  Besides carpooling, my recommendations are to arrive early or late, or hoof it (I’ll throw a bike on the rack next time I go) a considerable distance from somewhere with open, public parking.  And, like with several of the “Mega” rarities that have occurred in recent years, I am (somewhat) available for private guiding, including round-trips from the Portland Jetport!

But since I have been asked by many people about “how,” “why,” and “WTF?” I figured I would pull some info together here for convenience.

The Identification:

First, the identity of the bird is not in question: it is an immature Great Black Hawk (often written as Great Black-hawk), separated from the similar Common Black Hawk by a combination of plumage and structural features. I’ll quote Howell and Webb’s A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America:

“(GBH) has narrower wingbase, longer tail (esp juv) often less spread when soaring and gliding. At rest, note longer legs and short primary projection…juv and immature usually have whitish head that lacks strong dark malar stripe; note more numerous dark tail bars of the juv. With very broad distal dark band or narrow dark bars to tail tip.”

I believe those are the same features that are used to separate it from the Cuban Black Hawk (or Cuban race of the Common Black Hawk), but I need to do more research on that.

And finally, Solitary Eagle is “larger with more massive legs and bill; at rest, wingtips extend to or beyond relatively shorter tail…juv and immature have solidly dark brown thighs, juv has pale grayish tail band with no distinct dark barring, imm. tail similar but with broad paler median band. (Howell and Webb, 2014)

Great Black Hawk is a large buteo-like raptor of Northern South America, extending north along the coasts of Mexico. Many folks are citing the first accepted “ABA-area” record that occurred only this past spring in Texas.  The Texas Bird Records Committee voted unanimously to add it to the official list on July 3rd:

“The TBRC has voted unanimously to add GREAT BLACK HAWK (Buteogallus urubitinga) to the state list. A juvenile was well documented with several excellent photos as it landed briefly and passed over South Padre Island on 24 April 2018. This species has been somewhat hoped for/expected to show up in Texas as it regularly ranges as close as southern Tamaulipas, Mexico but it was still a surprising and exciting find for folks that were on the island taking in spring migration that day. The addition of Great Black Hawk brings the state list to 649 in good standing. This record will now be considered by the ABA Checklist Committee as a first for the ABA. There have been a few Great Black Hawk sightings in Florida since the 1970s though there has been questions/concern about the provenance of those birds.”

Ah, but yes, those Florida birds. Here’s where things get murky. And while Great Black Hawks do not seem to be kept by falconers, they are kept in captivity. And with all records of exceptionally far-flung vagrants, captivity needs to be considered. The “cage bird” and wildlife smuggling plague in the world is rampant, and likely constitutes billions of dollars annually. While “charismatic megafauna” (or parts there of) get all of the attention, birds are being smuggled – as well as legally traded – all over the world. And I believe it is much, much worse than usually suggested, so it’s worth considering “provenance” and just because it’s not used for some purpose, I do not believe we can immediately discount captive origin. But let me be clear: there is absolutely no evidence of that here – no bands, no “cage wear,” no obviously problematic behavior – although it is rather confiding and does allow close approach which could be suspect.

Jon Greenlaw, co-author of the recently-fully revised and updated The Robertson and Woolfenden Florida Bird Species: An Annoted List (2014) wrote to me with the following analysis of the Florida occurrence of “black hawks:”

“They occur in Mexico in Yucatan north to Tamaulipas on the Atlantic side, so both possible in Texas and Florida. To my knowledge only the Great Black Hawk is known from the Atlantic coast in Florida. No Common Black-Hawks have been confirmed from Florida out of more than 20 reports, but one of the two records (photographic) (one specimen w/ no label details in Archbold BS collection) remained for several years in the Greater Miami Area (Virginia Key, Key Biscayne) and was seen by many observers and photographed well by Robin Diaz of Miami. It was initially ID’d as a Common Black-Hawk, but it was later confirmed as a Great Black-Hawk as more photos & details came in. Greenlaw et al. 2014 provides the most recent update of status in Florida. Smith FFN 23:101, 1995 reviewed the Florida reports and concluded them to represent Great Black-Hawks. The belief previously has been that the Florida reports were likely escapes in captivity (they are known to occur as captive birds in s. Florida), but the numbers of reports here over the years make it difficult to totally reject the presence of vagrant individuals (esp immatures) from their range in the Americas, esp Yucatan. Still, photographs of the Virginia Key bird (the most recent occurrence example) indicate the adult was from the sedentary population (nominate) in South America.

And more extensively treated here for those looking for the complete story of this complex conundrum, click here.

Let me reiterate, there is absolutely no suggestion of non-wild origin, and while a hoax or miscommunication has been debunked, provenance (where it came from and how) must always be carefully considered. While listing powers-that-be may eventually decide whether or not you “can count it,” I would recommend going to look at this magnificent bird and, well, my list is my list…and I’ll probably count it!

The How.

Besides feeling like the tropics these past few weeks, the weather pattern that has brought us this oppressive (well, to us in Maine not used to it) heat and especially humidity could very conceivably result in a bird escorted this far away from its usual home range.

Although a resident species not particularly prone to wandering, some likely do, and presumably this would especially true of juveniles. Some have suggested this could even be the same bird as the South Padre Island sighting in April; photos will undoubtedly be studied carefully to see if there are any clues. Whether it’s the bird from Texas or another individual, the extensive and stubborn southerly flow created by a strong and persistent Bermuda High spinning off the southern Atlantic Coast would certainly facilitate the bird’s peregrinations. Whether originally “lost,” misguided, navigationally-challenged (simply mis-wired, or as one of the apparent impacts from our chronic use of pesticides), or just a “pioneer” prospecting for new habitats in the face of a rapidly warming climate and rampant tropical deforestation, there are a lot of ways where a large raptor that can soar with little effort and cover hundreds of miles in a day and end up in the Northeast.  While weather rarely “causes” vagrancy, it certainly plays a role in where a vagrant could show up.

Heck, North America’s first record of the tropical Variegated Flycatcher occurred (in November of 1977) in the Biddeford Pool neighborhood just up the road! Which is more exceptional would be up for debate, but clearly birds from a long way off can make it to Maine’s coast (for additional example, our relatively numerous records of Fork-tailed Flycatcher). And, as circumstantial evidence that the recent weather pattern is delivering birds from the south to New England, notice that New Hampshire currently has a Wood Stork and a Neotropical Cormorant!

Now what?

Birders are flying in from all over the country already, and likely hundreds if not thousands of birders will descend on the area in the coming days, and if we are all lucky, weeks. Of course, the bird could leave any minute now.

Folks will debate provenance, and others will simply enjoy the sighting and take a lot of photographs. Hopefully, birders will spend a few dollars in the area (can I recommend Bufflehead’s restaurant on Hill’s Beach, Palace Diner in Biddeford, and Saco Island Deli in Saco to start?) and let it be known that they are here to see this epic rarity.

Furthermore, there is always the chance of the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect,” wherein birders descending on an area for a rare bird sighting find additional rare birds.  What could be next? And from where? I very much look forward to what else is turned up. This could be fun.

At the very least, don’t forget there is a Little Egret just up the road in Scarborough Marsh! Remember when, 4 years ago, that’s what everyone was flying in for?

Final Disclaimer:

I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be repeated. This is a quiet, residential area with extremely limited daytime public parking. The bird is often in yards, and since the best hours to visit are before 8:00am and after 5:00pm when parking is available at nearby Fortunes Rocks Beach, PLEASE be extremely respectful to local residents and private property. Do not enter any yard unless invited to do so, and do not block driveways. And yes, police have been actively patrolling the parking areas! And always, put the bird – and its neighbors – first, no matter how much you want a slightly better look or photo!

Thanks for reading!
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UPDATE #1:
Photo reviews by Tom Johnson and others of the April Great Black Hawk from Texas and our Maine bird shows the exact same pattern of brown flecks on the outermost underwing coverts. Variable in this species, this is too perfect to be a coincidence, so it is almost unquestionably the same bird!

UPDATE #2:
Unfortunately, at 1:52pm (I believe) on Thursday, August 9, the black hawk was observed flying over Fortunes Rocks Beach and “out to sea.” It has not been seen again since. Birders scoured the area for the rest of the day, and again on Friday, August 10th to no avail…and so far without turning up anything else of note. In fact, not even the Little Egret has been seen in the last few days (I looked carefully at every Snowy in Scarborough Marsh this morning when guiding for a family from Indiana). We’ll see if any interesting reports roll in by day’s end.

The Thrushes of Maine at Claybrook Mtn. Lodge 2018 Trip Report.

0. YBSA,Claybrook
OK, so it’s not a thrush – we saw them, too – but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers seemed to be everywhere, and always exceedingly confiding, throughout our trip.

I really like staying at the Claybrook Mountain Lodge, and I really enjoy bringing guests there. Between Pat’s cooking, and Greg’s knowledge of all things Maine woods, a weekend with the Drummonds is not to be missed. So I designed a new tour as an excuse to go there again. And it worked!

The “Thrushes of Maine Weekend at Claybrook Mountain Lodge” was designed to see all seven species of Maine’s thrushes – including the enigmatic (and rather challenging) Bicknell’s Thrush. In between, we planned on looking for a wide variety of other species, of course, as well as all other critters, plants, and everything else in between.

We began on Friday morning at the store, carpooling a very short distance to Hedgehog Mountain Park. There, we tracked down our first four thrushes: Wood, Veery, and of course, the ubiquitous American Robin. We also heard one Hermit Thrush. Wood Thrushes reach the northern limits of their breeding range in Maine, and are much more common here along the southern coastal plain.
1. WOTH,TheHog

Veeries and Hermit Thrushes would be with us throughout the trip, but our first good looks came here.
2. Veery,TheHog

Venturing inland, we next stopped in the foothills at the appropriately-named Foothills Land Conservancy. This is just a wonderfully-birdy place to which I have looked for an excuse to bring a group, and it did not disappoint. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds (thrush #5) greeted us, and an Indigo Bunting sent us off. In between, loads of Bobolinks and a variety of common edge and meadow species were enjoyed.
3. Foothills

After a lunch stop, we visited Gilman Pond Road in New Portland, but we were sent scrambling by a thunderstorm with some impressive lightning. So we waited out the weather in our cars at the edge of Gilman Pond, watching the storm roll by. Upon clearing, we stepped out, spotted a pair of Common Loons with a chick riding one of the parent’s back, and then watched in awe as an American Bittern flew out of the marsh. Heading right towards us, it eventually dropped into the marsh and froze, affording us long looks in the scope.]
4. Gilman_Pond

Back on the road, 5+ Wilson’s Snipe were flying around, including one heard displaying. Recently-fledged Barn Swallows perched nearby…
6. BARS,GilmanPondRoad

While a Tree Swallow was snagged in mid-air by a marauding Merlin right in front of our eyes! Mouths were agape.

Stopping for an American Kestrel, we were treated to this point-blank Brown Thrasher out the car windows.
5. BRTH,GilmanPondRoad

We arrived at Claybrook just in time for a little R&R, and some feeder-watching including Purple Finches, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a yard chock full of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. American Robins and a family group of Eastern Bluebirds kept us on theme.
7. Claybrook_lodge

Then, the moment we have all been waiting for: Pat’s dinner! I really meant to take more “food porn” shots to show off her work, but apparently we were always way too hungry to think about photos before our plates were clean. Therefore, I have exactly one photo of food, as well as my night’s beverage of choice.
8. dinner
As dusk fell, we chatted with the local Barred Owls and the last of us lingering on the porch watched an American Woodcock fly by.

A very early start on Saturday was fueled by a perfect breakfast. But, I felt as if we were being watched.
9. Doe,Claybrook

We hopped in Claybrook’s van with Greg, and headed into boreal forest habitats. But first, we found a couple of Mourning Warblers in a regenerating clear-cut that Greg was eyeing for their presence. They didn’t exactly sit still, but they were very well seen by all, sometimes flying by in jaw-droppingly perfect light.
10. MOWA,LFDRoad

A Chestnut-sided Warbler was much more cooperative, however.
11. CSWA,LFDRoad

Heading into spruce-fir forests and spruce bog habitat, we encountered more Hermit Thrushes…
12. HETH,LFDRoad

…Veeries, and thrush number 6: Swainson’s – we heard a number of these, but saw just a few. After hearing a couple of Red Crossbills, we found a flock of 12 that alighted briefly. A Palm Warbler sang from the edge of a kettle bog, and Greg spotted a moose cow at the back of another bog. He got her attention by mimicking a calf calling its mother.

But it was getting hot, and getting hot quickly, and the birding was getting tough. We glimpsed a female Bay-breasted Warbler, and encountered scattered other expected species. A Northern Harrier coursing low over Black Brook Bog and a covey of Ruffed Grouse were among the highlights. However, other than what was almost certainly a drumming Black-backed Woodpecker, we completely dipped on the Big Boreal 4: Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Spruce Grouse.
13. bog
14. Black_brook_bog

With temperatures around 90-degrees, and a scorching hot breeze in the afternoon, along with an end-of-June date, we were painfully 0 for Boreal.
15. ALFL,LFDRoad
Alder Flycatchers and many other “northern” birds were detected, however

Luckily, this is not the Boreal Birds of Long Falls Dam Road Weekend, and so the day was still a wonderful success. Sure, we looked at birds, but we also looked at everything else.

Greg described what he was seeing in Moose tracks.
16. Moose_track,LFDRoad

We looked at butterflies, such as White Admiral and Harris’s Checkerspot…
17. White_Admiral,LFDRoad18. Northern_Crescent,LFDRoad

…and other insects such as stunning Ebony Jewelwings.
18a. ebony_jewelwing

We looked at all kinds of plants, like carnivorous Sundews.
19. Sundew,LFDRoad

And amphibians, such as this Bullfrog (note the tadpoles on and around the log in the water below).
20. Bullfrog_and_tadpoles,LFDRoad

We returned to the lodge in the late afternoon, where most people took a nap, played chess, and/or enjoyed some yard birding. After another delectable dinner, we headed back out with Greg for some dusk birding.

You never know where Greg might lead you, and at our first stop, we checked out a hot tip about a Northern Goshawk. We wandered around the woods and were startled by the loud cackle of an agitated ‘Gos. Some of the group saw it fly through the dark forests, but everyone heard it to say the least.

At dusk, we watched more Wilson’s Snipe before checking out a local hotspot for Eastern Whip-poor-will. We were greeted at the dirt road by two American Woodcock (with one or more heard displaying overhead later), and then heard two counter-singing “Whips.” Soon thereafter, one was flying around overhead, and I was able to repeatedly get a spotlight on it. It was about as good of a look at this nocturnal species as one could ever hope for, so between the Gos and the Whips, we were making up for our misses during the day!

Sunday was our final day of the tour, but it was a big one! We were after Thrush Number 7, and this one was going to take some effort. Loading into the van once again, we took the Carriage Road across the ridge into the Carrabassett Valley.

Before it got too hot, we birded the always-productive Sugarloaf Snowfluent ponds. Along the entrance road, we were greeted by a small mixed flock that included a very cooperative Northern Waterthrush and a couple of Magnolia Warblers.
21. NOWA_Snowfluent_ponds
22. MAWA,Snofluent_Ponds

At the ponds, we had three crèches of fluffy Common Goldeneyes, a pair of American Black Ducks among the Mallards, and a pair of Spotted Sandpipers with a couple of cotton-balls-on-sticks following behind. We also happened upon a Gray Treefrog uncomfortably out in the open.
23. Gray_Tree_Frog24. Snowfluent_ponds125. Snowfluent_ponds2

But then it was time to head up hill, and we let the chairlift at Sugarloaf do most (but certainly not all!) of the work.
26. Chairlift127. Chairlift2

We heard Swainson’s Thrushes and several Blackpoll Warblers on our way up, but unfortunately, the highest lifts aren’t the one running right now. So we had to walk straight up hill – and I do mean, straight up hill – to enter the realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush.

But once we got there – how the heck was it that hot at 4200 feet!? – well, why don’t I just let Marion’s photos do the talking?
28. BITH1,Sugarloaf29. BITH2,Sugarloaf30. BITH3,Sugarloaf

So, yeah, wow! Perhaps the best broad-daylight show I have ever experienced. It really was incredible. And yes, it was the 7th and final thrush of Maine.

We saw some other birds, too, including Blackpoll Warblers…
31. BLPW_Sugarloaf

…White-throated Sparrows…
32. WTSP

…and Dark-eyed Juncos. We saw a number of fresh juveniles…
33. DEJU_kid,Sugarloaf

…and even found a nest.
34. junco_eggs

And when it was too late and hot for thrushes, we stopped to smell the Twinflower.
35. Twinflower

Greg documented the experience, Marion fired away at thrushes, and at the end, we all stood still long enough to take our only group photo of the trip.
36. Greg_on_Sugarloaf37. group on Sugarloaf

It was definitely tough to leave, but lunch – and iced coffee – was calling, so we moseyed our way down to the chairlift to be whisked to the base.

After lunch, we cooled off…
38. Me_in_stream

…and then said goodbye to Pat and Greg and their Claybrook Mountain Lodge
39. Claybrook lawn

But the tour was not done yet! We carpooled into Belgrade, where we visited the Depot Road Purple Martin colony that our store worked with local partners to restore.
40. PUMA

And then we enjoyed Black Terns, a Pied-billed Grebe, a splendid swallow show, and much more from the Messalonskee Lake Boat Launch. Then, and only then, did the trip come to an end. Heading home, we reflected on thrushes, lifers, moose, our hosts and co-leader, and much more…including Pat’s picnic lunches which we all agreed were reminiscent of simpler, young days – only better!
41. lunch_John_edited-1

2018 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend

IMG_9667-edited-edited
The most abundant songbird throughout the weekend, a flock of 125 Cedar Waxwings would ball up each morning and then spread out through the island to feed.

My annual “Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend” battled highs seas (seriously, it was rough and we were all thankful it was only a 1-hr ride!) to arrive on the wonderful island of Monhegan on Friday, May 25th. Five days later, I had two new birds for my Monhegan list, a total of 97 species including 18 species of warblers, and way too much of the best pizza in Maine.
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After regaining our legs and equilibrium, we hit the ground running as always, birding our way to and from our hotel, lunch, and eventually dinner. No daylight was spared, and in doing so, we caught up with a few things, including the flock of 30 or so Red Crossbills, three of which perched nearby by close studies. Personally, however, I was most excited about 2 Eastern Bluebirds (at least one had been present for a while), my 210th species on Monhegan!  We had our first sighting of Warbling Vireo, which, like the 1-2 Field Sparrows – we saw everyday; both very uncommon on the island in spring. Apparently, I either started coming after – or perhaps only took better notes after – they last bred on the island. An island bird is a great way to start off the trip!\
IMG_9717-edited-edited
Red Crossbill – female.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak – female.


Eastern Kingbird

Friday calmly eased us into the weekend, but Saturday blew us away. It was just one of those great days, with birds seemingly everywhere, and many of them low and easy to see. Following a moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, there were a lot of new arrivals. Five Tennessee Warblers heard singing from one spot while tarrying at the Trailing Yew awaiting the coffee pot were a sign of things to come.

As is often the case on such flight days, we didn’t have to cover a lot of ground, as waves of birds were passing through the island and around town, pausing at just about every apple tree. It was hard to estimate the number of birds around, but there was a consistent south to north flow on the island, and several relatively-large flocks of the most common migrants of the day. I finally settled on 80 Red-eyed Vireos, 50 Blackpoll Warblers, and 20 Tennessee Warblers – impressive numbers of birds normally relegated to the tops of the highest oak trees, but today, more often than not, in low brush and short apple
trees.

Tennessee Warbler
IMG_9641-edited-edited
Blackpoll Warbler, male.

While it wasn’t the kind of day that Monhegan legends are made of, it was one of the “good ol’ days” where migrants were plenty, views were crippling, and birding was easy.  And all of that was punctuated by a few goodies, including an immature male Orchard Oriole, three Eastern Bluebirds together (two appeared to leave the island shortly thereafter), a lingering immature Great Cormorant, my first Common Nighthawk of the year fluttering off the high cliffs of White Head, 14 species of warblers including 4 Cape May and 2 Bay-breasted, and much more. And the day ended with two American Woodcocks heard calling and twittering from the lawn chairs of the Trailing Yew.  That’s what Monhegan in migration is all about!
apple_tree
On Monhegan and elsewhere, a good birding rule of thumb is that if you see a blooming apple tree, you should look in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yew_sunset
And that sunset from the Yew!

Not surprisingly, Sunday was slower, as light northeasterly winds precluded much in the way of overnight migration. And while it seemed that a lot of yesterday’s migrants had departed or melted into the woodlands, there were plenty of birds around, with a slight improvement in diversity, still plenty of Blackpoll Warblers, and a few highlights including a cooperative Green Heron, more Red Crossbills, a fly-by Black-billed Cuckoo, a Carolina Wren (finally; good to know one is here again), and a Northern Mockingbird (uncommon to rare out here) that we witnessed fly onto the island from behind, or perhaps over, Manana.
harbor

IMG_9657-edited-edited
Green Heron

The afternoon was rather slow overall, but we just kept seeing birds well: the Warbling Vireo at eye level, a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the garden, and continued good views of Tennessee Warblers.
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Field Sparrow
IMG_9474-edited-edited
White-crowned Sparrow
IMG_9593-edited-edited
Eastern Wood-Pewee

Monday the 28th was the last day of the tour, and with a smaller group in tow, we covered a lot of ground. While there was virtually no visible migration on the radar overnight on very light easterly winds once again, there were clearly a lot of new birds around (or at least, birds not seen the previous days) and we ended up with the best diversity of the trip – 71 species by day’s end.
Sunday am

In fact, by days’ end, we added 14 new species to our cumulative weekend list – not bad for a “slow” day and the end of a tour. And there was some quality to it, too: a continuing very late drake Long-tailed Duck that we finally caught up with…
IMG_9570-edited-edited

…a Brown Thrasher, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and especially the Brant that we found on Nigh Duck – my 211th all-time bird on Monhegan, and a new “island bird” for just about every birder on the island.
Brant,Monhegan,5-28-18_edited-1

On Tuesday, it was just Jeannette and I on a one-day vacation, mostly on our own, but meandering in and out of contact with several friends on the island. We awoke to dense fog, but that rapidly lifted, and the strong (for the date) flight overnight produced another new arrival of birds. It sure wasn’t Saturday, but there were plenty more Blackpoll Warblers around, and warbler diversity overall was the best of the weekend with a total of 16 species, highlighted by the Mourning Warbler we found by the Mooring Chain, and an impressive 15 Blackburnian Warblers.
IMG_9520-edited-edited

John and Terez found a (or relocated a brief late-last-week fly-by) Summer Tanager…
IMG_9833-edited-editedIMG_9844-edited-edited

…and we added a few new birds for the trip list including Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, and had more species of butterflies today than total butterfly individuals all weekend, including an early Monarch. It was also a really, really nice day!
last-day_view

The afternoon was slower, and Jeannette and I winded down our visit with good conversation, one last slice (or two) of Novelty pizza and another pint (or two) of Monhegan Brewing beer, and caught up with some good friends who had just arrived with tours of their own. It was a relaxing finish to a great weekend, and the gentle boat ride home was more relaxing than we really needed before driving – just a little different than our outbound trip!

So yeah, it was a good trip. And, after one day at work, I am definitely ready to go back!  At least I have two tours out here this fall. First, I have a full week with my WINGS tour, space on which is still available.

And there’s a little room left on our store’s annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour, which is only four months away!
IMG_9723-edited-edited
Yellow Warbler in an apple tree.

And finally, here is the daily tally:

5/25 5/26 5/27 5/28 5/29
BRANT 0 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 1 1 1 1
Am. Blac Duck x Mallard hybrid 0 1 0 1 1
Mallard 15 10 12 16 20
Common Eider x x x x x
LONG-TAILED DUCK 0 0 0 1 0
Red-throated Loon 2 1 0 0 0
Common Loon 1 0 1 2 0
Northern Gannet 2 0 0 3 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
GREAT CORMORANT 0 1 0 0 0
Great Blue Heron 0 0 0 1 0
Green Heron 0 0 1 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 0 0 1 0
Osprey 0 0 1 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 0 0 0 1 1
Merlin 0 2 0 1 0
Sora 0 0 0 1 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 0 0 0 3
American Woodcock 0 2 0 0 0
Laughing Gull 1 1 8 20 8
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern 1 0 0 2 2
Black Guillemot x x x x x
Mourning Dove x x x x x
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 2 3 4 4
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Flicker 0 0 0 0 1
Great-crested Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 1 2 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 1
Least Flycatcher 1 2 2 2 2
Eastern Phoebe 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Kingbird 2 8 7 4 3
WARBLING VIREO 1 1 2 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2 80 10 6 8
Blue Jay x x x x x
American Crow x x x x x
Common Raven 2 1 2 2 2
Tree Swallow 4 4 4 4 4
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 2 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 1 1
Winter Wren 0 0 1 0 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 0 0 0
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER 0 1 0 0 0
EASTERN BLUEBIRD 2 3 1 1 1
Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin x x x x x
Gray Catbird x x x x x
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD 0 0 1 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling x x x x x
Cedar Waxwing 60 125 125 125 125
Tennessee Warbler 3 20 8 4 6
Northern Parula 2 6 4 5 10
Yellow Warbler 6 10 12 12 12
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 1 0 0 1
Magnolia Warbler 4 4 3 2 4
Cape May Warbler 0 4 2 1 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warblers 3 2 1 0 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 8 3 2 5
Blackburnian Warbler 0 0 1 2 15
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 2 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 12 50 25 20 40
Black-and-white Warbler 3 4 3 1 2
American Redstart 4 15 6 0 15
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1 0 1
Canada Warbler 0 0 1 0 0
SUMMER TANAGER 0 0 0 0 1
Chipping Sparrow 4 4 2 2 4
FIELD SPARROW 0 1 2 2 0
Savannah Sparrow 0 1 1 0 0
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 2 2 2
White-throated Sparrow 0 0 0 1 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1 0 1 1 0
Northern Cardinal 4 x x x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2 2 3 3 1
Indigo Bunting 0 1 1 1 1
Bobolink 0 0 2 1 1
Red-winged Blackbird 12 x x x x
Common Grackle 15 x x x x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 1 3 3 4 2
Purple Finch 4 4 2 2 2
RED CROSSBILL (lone good recording identified as Type 10 by M. Young at Cornell). 30 0 5 h.o 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 1 0
American Goldfinch 10 x x x x

beets
I forgot to take a photo of the pizza – I ate it too quickly as usual – so here are some beautiful beets from the Island Inn.


And as migrants were passing through, many of the island’s breeding species were well underway, such as this Song Sparrow gathering food for its nestlings.

Three Days at Florida Lake Park

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Northern Parula

One of my favorite aspects of May is that there are “new” birds every day. Constant turnover as the flow of migratory songbirds, especially the long-distance Neotropical migrants, reaches its peak means “first-of-years” can be found almost every day. Even better, is the constant turnover and new arrivals almost anywhere we go birding.

…Including at local patches. And for me, there are few places I’d rather be than staying near home at Florida Lake Park in Freeport. I can get in several hours of birding and still make it to work in time, which is important in one of our store’s two busiest months. We’re luck to have this park only 12 minutes from our house, which makes for a perfect birding “patch.”
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Blackburnian Warbler

With an exceptionally busy week, my birding time was limited to the early mornings, but Florida Lake did not let me down. In fact, it was a lot of fun. With good diversity each day, and new birds arriving each night, there was always something new to look at. And, as is the case with loyal patch-working, the consistency of visitation makes for a nice education on the ebbs and flows of seasonal migrants.

Check out the scorecard of warblers (and a few other personal first-of-years) that I had each day this week, and note the subtle change in diversity and species dominance as the season advances. Numbers of individuals have not been huge, but numbers of species have been great for the second week of May.
IMG_4067-edited-edited
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday, 5/9.
46F, dense fog, calm.
Radar down for maintenance.

(14 species of warblers)
25+ Yellow-rumped Warblers
10+ Northern Parulas
10 Common Yellowthroats
8 Black-and-white Warblers
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Ovenbirds
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
3 Northern Waterthrushes
2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler

4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (FOY)

Thursday, 5/10.
43F, dense fog, calm.
Ambiguous radar due to presence of fog that moved inland overnight, but looked good for birds, too, and possibly large flight inland.

(14 species of warblers)
22 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Black-and-white Warblers
7 Common Yellowthroats
5 Ovenbirds
5 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Northern Parulas
4 Yellow Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 American Redstarts (FOY)
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Wilson’s Warbler (FOY)
IMG_4421-edited-edited
Wilson’s Warbler

Friday, 5/11.
52F, partly cloudy, moderate NW.
Dry cold front passed overnight with SW to S winds shifting to W to NW by 3:00am. Very strong flight early in overnight diminished rapidly after midnight.

(18 species of warblers; very good tally for the 11th of May here)
16 Black-and-white Warblers
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
10 Common Yellowthroats
7 Northern Parulas
7 Black-throated Green Warblers
7 Magnolia Warblers
6 Ovenbirds
4 Nashville Warblers
4 American Redstarts
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers
2 Pine Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Blackpoll Warbler (FOY)
1 Palm Warbler


And these radar images from midnight showed that it was going to be a great day!

Folks in Portland have been rewarded with daily visits to Evergreen Cemetery and/or Capisic Pond Park, while those closer to Biddeford have headed to Timber Point, for example. But regardless of where you are, there’s a local “patch” to be “worked,” or perhaps to be discovered. And there’s no better time than now!

IMG_4042-edited-edited
Palm Warbler

Cayman Islands, February 2018


Endemic Cayman Brac subspecies of the Cuban Parrot.

Jeannette and I spent our winter vacation this year in the Cayman Islands. Spending a week from February 23rd to March 1st, we continued to foster our love for island biogeography and our pursuit of island endemic birds.

The Caymans don’t have a lot of endemic (or near-endemic) bird species, but it does have plenty of endemic subspecies. And while these might not be “countable” on some published list, they’re just as fascinating to us. We didn’t have a lot of time for our trip this winter, so we wanted to visit an island where the relatively-limited amount of “target birds” would give us plenty of time to enjoy the other finer things of island life: food, snorkeling, and perhaps even a little R&R!

We arrived around lunchtime on the 23rd, and were immediately greeted by the endemic subspecies of Greater Antillean Grackle, as well as Northern Mockingbirds and Smooth-billed Anis.

For cost-effectiveness, we stayed away from the famous 7-Mile Beach (which, by the way, is actually only about 5.5 miles long), but with a 1.5 mile walk, a free shuttle, or a quick taxi, we would be right in the thick of things. Bananaquits – one of our favorite birds in the world – were common in the plantings in and around the hotel (and most everywhere else in the Caribbean) and they could keep us entertained for hours.

On our first morning, we decided to do a little exploring, taking the public mini-bus away from the touristy areas and along the south shore past Boddentown. We got dropped off at a spot on the map labeled “Meager Bay Wildlife Sanctuary” and just started walking. While it turned out there were no trails in the sanctuary, walking a dirt road on its eastern species here, such as LaSagra’s Flycatcher, our lifer Yellow-faced Grassquits, Common Ground-Doves, and especially “Golden” Yellow Warblers.  Migrants from North America, led by Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, also included the likes of Gray Catbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, a single Belted Kingfisher, and a couple of Yellow-throated Warblers.

Walking back towards Boddentown, we found a dilapidated viewing platform which overlooked the mangrove bay, and with it, our list grew considerably!  Lots of ubiquitous Black-necked Stilts were joined by Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, scattered Pied-billed Grebes, a flock of Blue-winged Teal, and much more.

Unusually heavy and persistent rain (it was the dry season, after all) plagued the western end of the island all day, so we were lucky to only encounter a few showers and a couple of brief downpours on our walk. Afternoon beach or snorkeling time was washed out, however; but we did relax with some Winter Olympics on the television as palm trees whipped in the wind outside our window.

Day 3 was our big birding day, as we were to be picked up by the island’s only birding guide: Geddes Hislop of Silver Thatch Excursions. While most birds are fairly “easy” on Grand Cayman, we always hire a local guide for at least some part of our trip to learn the sites, learn about the birds, and learn about as much of everything about a place as we can!

Of course, local expertise always improves birding success, and within a short time, Geddes had shown us our lifer West Indian Whistling-Ducks in a canal-lined subdivision (a new habitat that this regional endemic and Globally Threatened species may be adapting to here)…

We stopped at Pedro St. James Historic Site where we saw our first Loggerhead Kingbirds of the trip (endemic subspecies), and some very-surprisingly-early displaying White-tailed Tropicbirds.

The Botanic Park was the money spot though, where within minutes, Geddes offered up point-blank views of two of the major targets: Vitelline Warbler (found only here and on Swan Islands off of Honduras)…

…and Taylor’s (or Grand Cayman) Bullfinch (or, depending on the authority, the endemic subspecies of Cuban Bullfinch. Like the Vitelline Warbler, they were stunningly cooperative.

male Taylor’s Bullfinch

Geddes’s access to private property produced our best views we would have of Grand Cayman subspecies of the Cuban Parrot, before we worked our way around a few freshwater habitats (certainly at a premium on a limestone/coral atoll).

The island’s only virgin forest, within the North Coast Ridge, was amazingly productive, with oodles more Vitellines and bullfinches, but also the endemic subspecies of Thick-billed Vireo, the endemic subspecies of Yucatan Vireo (also a lifer for us), and a heard-only lifer Caribbean Dove. Given the terrain, going off the road in pursuit of this secretive ground dove did not seem wise, and so we decided to leave uninjured and just enjoy the fact that we heard one – a bird that seems to be on the rapid decline here.

We had spotted an Anhinga yesterday from the viewing platform at Meager Bay, a real rarity according to Geddes. So we returned on our way back to see if it was still around. It was – as were 2 more! Here’s a distant “doc shot” of one of them.

We also twitched some Trinidadian doubles for lunch – one of our favorite foodstuffs before returning back to our hotel. There was a lot of really good food on the island, but by far our best meal of the trip was our dinner visit to Vivo in West Bay. Once again, we took the bus for an inexpensive ride out of the tourist Mecca, and walked over a mile to get to this hidden gem.

A vegan and vegetarian restaurant that serves Red Lionfish – an invasive species that is destroying the reefs of the Caribbean? Yes please!  I wanted to do more part by eating as much lionfish as I could get my hands on, as there’s nothing more sustainable than eating a local invasive species. Thanks to an intense and coordinated effort by the government of the Caymans, including persuading chefs to feature it, we learned that they are really making a difference with controlling this destructive fish. It just goes to show you: humans can overfish anything!

My stir-fried lionfish with local veggies and achee, and Jeannette’s poached lionfish with Asian-style broth meant there were at least two less Lionfish raving the ecology of the Caymans. It was also darn tasty, too.

But we also have to give a shout-out to our delicious two appetizers, the beet and avocado tartar and the coconut “ceviche.”

And the views were pretty tasty, too.


Hmm..based on the success of promoting lionfish hunting and eating, perhaps the invasive Green Iguanas that are eating everything on land could be next?

We were back on the buses the next morning (I mean, come on, for between $2.50 and $4.50 per person we could go just about anywhere! Sure beats a rental car…let alone driving on the “wrong side” through those chaotic George Town rotaries!), making a second visit to the Botanic Park. We had only missed two species with Geddes, Western Spindalis and West Indian Woodpecker – both of which are endemic subspecies, and we had a few photos to improve upon.

Although we didn’t find the tanager or the woodpecker, Jeannette got some great photos of Yucatan Vireo, and others.

And we added more migrants to our triplist, including Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbirds, and Prairie Warbler. We also enjoyed a few more “Grand Cayman” Parrots, but none of the views were nearly as good as the day before.

Female Taylor’s Bullfinch.

Following a bus ride and a long walk back to our hotel, we hopped in a cab back to the airport.  We got to see Little Cayman as our plane touched down, but after just a few minutes, our puddle jumper made the 10-minute jump over to Cayman Brac, one of the “quiet” islands where we would spend the next two days.

No lifers were to be expected, but we did have three more endemic subspecies to track down – subspecies found only here, or here and Little Cayman. While checking out the mangrove pond across the street from our room, the first of those put in an appearance: Red-legged Thrush. Unfortunately, the related Grand Cayman Thrush was considered a full species, but has been declared extinct since at least the mid 1940’s, due to deforestation, hurricane damage, and collecting.

We had a rental car for our one full day on “Brac” to make the most of our brief visit (traffic and rotaries are less of a concern here than on the big island!)

We began again across the street, where this wetland proved to be one of our best birding locales of the trip. We quickly picked up some more West Indian Whistling-Ducks while waiting for our car to be delivered. Then, it was off to the parrot reserve and interior forest.

The Brac subspecies of Vitelline Warbler was almost as abundant as the nominate subspecies was on Grand Cayman, and in short while we spotted several “Cayman Brac” Cuban Parrots.

Female “Cayman Brac”Vitelline Warbler; parrot photo above

We flushed a Barn Owl – likely one that was roosting in a limestone cave or sinkhole – which paused briefly on an open limb, and we got better views of Red-legged Thrush.

Thick-billed Vireos and a variety of North American migrants were also commonplace.

At Lighthouse Bluff, the highest point in the Caymans at 140 feet above sea level, we were delighted with Brown Boobies wheeling around the updrafts, and several birds on nests along the bluff-side trail.




Peregrine Falcon

Pat’s Kitchen was a very welcome lunch stop, serving delicious local goodness, including “Bake Beef,” roasted Cayman-style and from a cow raised just down the road (possibility acting as a lawnmower in someone’s yard).

In the afternoon, we snorkeled – finally! – encountering Eagle Rays, Tarpon, and at least one uncomfortably-inquisitive Barracuda, right outside our abode. And then it was back to our “hotel pond,” where we added Short-billed Dowitcher (definitively; we had one in the distance at Grand Cayman), and among them, at least one Long-billed Dowitcher. Even with a scope, most of the dowitchers here were too far away to identify. The Tricolored Heron show was also particularly entertaining.

The next morning, we got an earlier start and walked the nature trail in the Parrot Reserve once again, getting great looks at more Red-legged Thrushes, Thick-billed Vireos and Loggerhead Kingbirds. We realized how lucky we were yesterday, however, as today the parrots did not show themselves well.

Loggerhead Kingbird


Atala

Snorkeling in the sheltered “kiddie pool” at the park for the wreck of the M/V Tibbets was extremely relaxing, easy, and the brilliant rainbow-glistening cuttlefish that wandered by was more than worth the effort.

After refueling at Pat’s Kitchen once again, we explored some of the caves (no bats, sadly), and since this was a Lovitch vacation, we had to pay an obligatory visit to at least one landfill!

Just feral Red Junglefowl, a small group of Smooth-billed Anis, and scattered Northern Mockingbirds here, however.

The “hotel pond” earned another check, and this time it was a total of 7 West Indian Whistling-Ducks that made the visit worthwhile, including this cooperative foursome.

We definitely would have enjoyed a little more time on The Brac, but it was already time to begin the trek home, and so we were off to the airport for the short flight back to Grand Cayman. Calling Semipalmated Plovers on our walk home after dinner added to our list.

On our last morning, we did contemplate giving it once last shot at Western Spindalis and West Indian Woodpecker by taking the bus to Botanic Park. However, we thought wiser of the journey and decided to play it safe and just go for a swim at the beach. Beating the crowds more than confirmed our decision!

Geddes had mentioned there was the chance of West Indian Woodpecker anywhere on the island, but we didn’t think that included the beach!  But I was in the water and Jeannette was reading in the sand when one flew in to the small public park nearby and began to call. We must have been quite the sight wandering through the parking lot in our bathing suits pointing into the trees!  But we were rewarded with really great looks at the endemic subspecies of this Red-bellied-like woodpecker.

With our last hour, Jeannette worked the hotel grounds to improve upon photos of the grackle and Smooth-billed Ani, while I checked a few thickets for migrants and visited with our favorites, the Bananaquits.

We cajoled our cab driver into stopping for Jamaican patties for lunch on our way to the airport, and with the week almost up, we were back at the tiny international airport.

And sadly, this is where our real adventure began! A “mechanical issue” delay turned out to be a punctured tire, and the replacement had to be flown in. Over 4 hours later, we were finally on our way.

We had long-since missed our connection home, so Charlotte, North Carolina was as far as we would make it today. Useless American Airlines couldn’t find us a hotel (or at least, one cheap enough for them to pay for it) so we booked our own. Now, to their credit, they did – upon our return – reimburse us for it. Unfortunately, this was the last time they would be anything less than terrible.

After a twelve-species lap around the hotel (yay, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens!), we were back at the Charlotte Airport. No big deal, things happen, and of course, we would rather the gouged tire be found before lift-off!  Unfortunately, things took a turn for the much-worse when our flight to Portland was cancelled a half hour before boarding due to the strengthening Nor’easter.

The woman I talked to on the phone at American definitely deserves credit for doing her best to try and get us home, but with the next available flight to Portland being 3 1/2 days later, and no flights to any airport much closer in the foreseeable future, we elected to just rent a car and start the drive (expecting that AA would at least help out with the incurred cost, I cannot believe how stubborn, useless, and downright condescending and dismissive they were when we inquired about reimbursement upon our return. After such a miserable journey, being treated so poorly will make us avoid this airline at all costs in the future).

It wouldn’t have been a good day in a plane, because it was hard enough to drive! Strong cross-winds all day made for bare-knuckle driving, with our little Ford Focus feeling like it would be lifted right off the road. The swaying tractor trailers were more of a concern, however.

We tried to make the best of it, enjoying Black Vultures, counting Red-tailed Hawks, and stopping for dinner at a Waffle House. Seven hours later, we made almost made it half of the way home when we pulled into a motel in Hershey, PA (we took the interior route to avoid the megapolis on a Friday during a storm!).  With fierce winds continuing, little sleep would be had in our shaking and rattling motel, adding to the dread of the next morning’s trip.

What should have been a 7.5 hour drive turned into over 10 hours thanks to traffic in New York, and of course, Connecticut. But in the last light at dusk upon our return to Maine, our first Maine Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were spotted from the highway.

But we were home, albeit three days late. Luckily Bonnie and Sam were available to hold down the fort, and John stepped in to lead a birdwalk. And, I was back in time for our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip the following day.

At the very least, our drive gave us time to reflect on the trip. Lots of time to reflect. We discussed the seemingly short-sighted, rampant development, and especially the filling in of mangrove forests – the first line of defense against rising seas and increasingly-frequent strong storms.

But we also were optimistic of the fact that the islands were wealthy enough to put money and effort into conservation – such as the culling of lionfish, or hopefully, the protection of endemic species. While a nearly-invisibly small percentage of Cayman Islands visitors will ever lift binoculars, hopefully we did our incredibly small part in showing the value of ecotourism, even to well-developed islands such as Grand Cayman.

And despite American Airline’s best efforts, we still had a great trip to the Cayman Islands (but yeah, despite our attempts at finding silver linings, that trip home was horrific), and thoroughly enjoyed its birds. Like all of the islands we visit, local food and culture comes a close second, and the overall speciation of remote islands never ceases to amaze.

From the Cayman Brac subspecies of the Cuban Iguana…

…to endemic Silver Thatch Palms, the National Tree.

And of course, the birds.


White-crowned Pigeon

Here’s our complete birdlist from the trip:
Grand Cayman:

  1. Greater Antillean Grackle (endemic subspecies)
  2. Northern Mockingbird
  3. Smooth-billed Ani
  4. Brown Pelican
  5. Royal Tern
  6. Bananaquit (endemic subspecies)
  7. Magnificent Frigatebird
  8. White-crowned Pigeon
  9. Yellow-throated Warbler
  10. White-winged Dove
  11. Palm Warbler
  12. American Coot
  13. LaSagra’s Flycatcher
  14. Gray Catbird
  15. “Golden” Yellow Warbler
  16. YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT (lifer for both of us)
  17. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  18. Northern Waterthrush
  19. Lesser Yellowlegs
  20. Belted Kingfisher
  21. Common Gallinule
  22. Northern Flicker (endemic subspecies)
  23. Common Ground-Dove
  24. Black-necked Stilt
  25. Great Blue Heron
  26. Great Egret
  27. Pied-billed Grebe
  28. Anhinga (rare)
  29. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  30. Osprey
  31. Peregrine Falcon
  32. Double-crested Cormorant
  33. Blue-winged Teal
  34. WEST-INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCK (lifer for both of us)
  35. Little Blue Heron
  36. Green Heron
  37. Loggerhead Kingbird (endemic subspecies)
  38. White-tailed Tropicbird
  39. Cattle Egret
  40. Caribbean Eleania (endemic subspecies)
  41. VITTELLINE WARBLER (near-endemic; lifer for both of us)
  42. TAYLOR’S (“Grand Cayman Cuban”) BULLFINCH (endemic; lifer for both of us)
  43. Cape May Warbler
  44. Zenaida Dove
  45. Black-throated Blue Warbler
  46. American Redstart
  47. “GRAND CAYMAN” CUBAN PARROT (endemic subspecies)
  48. Least Sandpiper
  49. Lesser Scaup
  50. YUCATAN VIREO (lifer for both of us)
  51. Northern Parula
  52. CARIBBEAN DOVE (heard only; lifer for both of us)
  53. Thick-billed Vireo (endemic subspecies)
  54. Black-and-white Warbler
  55. Snowy Egret
  56. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  57. Ruddy Turnstone
  58. Spotted Sandpiper
  59. Black-bellied Plover
  60. Rock Pigeon
  61. Worm-eating Warbler
  62. Ovenbird
  63. Prairie Warbler

Cayman Brac:

  1. Tricolored Heron
  2. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  3. RED-LEGGED THRUSH (endemic subspecies)
  4. Willet

VITELLINE WARBLER (endemic Brac subspecies)

“CAYMAN BRAC” CUBAN PARROT (endemic Brac subspecies)

  1. Barn Owl
  2. Brown Booby
  3. Merlin
  4. Short-billed Dowitcher
  5. Long-billed Dowitcher
  6. Barn Swallow
  7. Cliff Swallow

Grand Cayman:

  1. Semipalmated Plover
  2. West Indian Woodpecker (endemic subspecies)

And finally, here’s two more photos of a Bananaquits. Because Bananaquits!