My observations of note over the past five days before I head out to Monhegan with my annual tour group included a Lark Sparrow, lots of vismig, and two stints (including one 3K bird day!) at Sandy Point.
Sandy Point Morning Flight, 9/17: 3,024 migrants of 39 species including 16 species of warblers including my second highest all-time count for Northern Parulas. Full count here.
Unlike last week, I was out birding plenty this week, including some of my favorite fall activities: Sandy Point and sorting through shorebirds. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days:
Morning flight over our Pownal yard, 9/10: 6:15-7:30am: 250+ warblers of at least 10 species, led by 40++ Northern Parulas and including 1 Bay-breasted and 2++ Cape May Warbler.
“Zeiss Day” Hakwatch right here at the store, 9/10 (with Rich Moncrief): 95 individuals of 11 species of raptors led by 21 Ospreys and 18 Broad-winged Hawks. Full count here.
20-25 Common Nighthawks, over our yard in Pownal at dusk, 9/10, and 5-10 on 9/11.
6 Northern Waterthrushes, 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, etc, Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 9/11 (with Down East Adventures Fall Songbird Workshop group).
After returning from a weekend in Massachusetts, I was unfortunately unable to get in much birding over the past six days, other than our yard and morning dogwalks. However, our yard in particular has been very productive, including over a dozen species of warblers and three continuing juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Furthermore, since the storm pulled away, dead calm nights have precluded any drifting of migrants and therefore there wasn’t a single morning where I attempted a morning flight count at Sandy Point. Therefore, my observations of note over the past 5 days was limited to Friday, when I actually went birding. The highlights included:
1 adult with 1 juvenile CASPIAN TERN and four Common Nighthawks, Seapoint Beach, Kittery, 9/9.
1 immature Great Cormorant, The Nubble, Cape Neddick, 9/9.
7 continuing WHITE IBIS, Webhannet Marsh, Wells, 9/9. 1 distant to the south of Harbor Road and 6 close to Drake’s Island Road in the early pm high tide.
Tomorrow (Saturday, 9/10) is our second Zeiss Day here at the store. We’ll have a full range of Zeiss products to test drive during our morning birdwalk, and day-long hawkwatch. For more information, see this link on our website.
Jeannette and I enjoyed a summer roadtrip to the Atlantic Provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island from August 15th through 23rd. Shorebirds were our birding focus, because August, but our expectations were far surpassed! Here are a few photo highlights from the journey.
It’s hard for still photos to do the scene true justice however, so we posted a few videos to our store’s Facebook Page. They can be viewed here.
All. The. Shorebirds. And rare wading birds! Here are my observations of note over the past seven days:
1 TRICOLORED HERON (my first pure TRHE of the year), Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/9 (with Jeannette).
26 WHITE IBIS, Webhannet Marsh, Wells, 8/11. 29 were present earlier, but I had to settle for “only” 26. Either way, wow…A flock of White Ibis! Rapidly expanding up the Eastern Seabird, this was just a matter of time.
Shorebird high counts this week, with many species now peaking:
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 2 ad with 1 juv, Upper Green Island, Casco Bay, 8/12 (with Seacoast Tours and private tour group). Is this a family group from Ram Island, or perhaps another pair is now breeding further up the bay?
Black-bellied Plover: 62, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Killdeer: 5, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Semipalmated Plover: 300+, Pine Point, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Whimbrel: 2, Pine Point, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Ruddy Turnstone: 1, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
STILT SANDPIPER: 9 (great count!), Eastern Road Trail, 8/8 (with client from NY) and 8/9 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 34, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Least Sandpiper: 75+, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Seal Island, Monhegan Island, and shorebird migration. Lots of “good birds” in great places this week. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days.
Red Crossbills along the coast: 1+, Pownal, 7/23; 1, Brooksville, 7/24 (with Laura Blandford); 1-2’s scattered on Monhegan Island, 7/25;
An incredible trip to Seal Island on 7/23 produced all of the expected breeding seabirds, a couple of Common Murres; a Peregrine Falcon show; migrating Whimbrels, one Great Shearwater, and a PARASITIC JAEGER. Photos and the complete trip report can be found here.
Hardy Boat from New Harbor to Monhegan, 7/25 (with Jeannette): 6 Cory’s Shearwaters (FOY) and 8 Great Shearwaters.
A “non-birding” weekend with Jeannette friends to Monhegan Island 7/25-26 actually yielded some outstanding birding! The highlight was a four-species shearwater show off of Lobster Cove throughout the day on 7/25. We saw at least 3 MANX SHEARWATERS and 2 Sooty Shearwaters (FOY) among numbers of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters. They were passing at a slow but steady rate of about 16 Great and 6 Cory’s every 5 minutes, plus an average of 9 Atlantic Puffins per 5 minutes. Hard to tell if the shearwaters were swirling, rounding the island, or just streaming by. 1-2 ROSEATE TERNS joined Arctic and Common Terns feeding nearshore – Roseate was a new “island bird” for me.
Other Monhegan highlights: 1-2 Blue-winged Teal continue, 1 Great Egret (also an “island bird” for me!), and 1+ Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Hardy Boat departure from Monhegan to New Harbor (with Jeannette), 7/26: 1 PURPLE SANDPIPER, Outer Duck Islands from ferry seal watching diversion. Unexpected and incredible mid-summer record; no camera available and phone-binning was a complete failure. With a few Ruddy Turnstones. 1 more Cory’s Shearwater en route.
1 molting adult BLACK TERN, Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough, 7/29.
Shorebird high counts this week. I had an excellent tally of 19 species, although counts were a little low due to limited visitation to the best shorebird sites.
Black-bellied Plover: 14, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/29.
Spotted Sandpiper: 3, Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
Solitary Sandpiper: 1-2, Monhegan Island, 7/26 (with Jeannette).
Lesser Yellowlegs: 18, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
“Eastern” Willet: 27, Pine Point, 7/29.
Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
Our next event here at the store is on August 4th when we welcome Paul Doiron to read from and sign copies of his new book, Hatchett Island. His latest crime thriller takes place on an imaginary seabird island here in Maine! More information can be found here.
After 17 consecutive summers in the Gulf of Maine, “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird failed to return to Seal Island. Arriving in 2005, but continuing annually throughout the summer since 2009 exclusively at Seal Island, Troppy had become a mainstay of summer birding in Maine – and our tour calendar!
Arriving as an adult, Troppy was therefore at least two years old when he was first sighted in 2005. Since most sorces seem to reference “16-30 years” as a lifespan, a 19-year old “Troppy” would be getting a little long in the tooth, err, bill. But, as I romanticized in my 2019 article for Birding magazine, we all hoped he would find the long lost love. Maybe he did. Maybe he’s making a trop-ling somewhere in the Caribbean where he “should be.” Yeah, that’s what I’ll think. We need more happy thoughts these days.
Wherever he might be, it was not Seal Island or any other Gulf of Maine seabird island this summer, and with his absence, tours to Seal Island were few and far between. Our first one cancelled, but we were able to run our July 23rd departure with our friends at Isle au Haut Boat Services thanks to a dedicated group of birders who know how special Seal Island is, with or without the famous rarity.
And Seal Island most did not disappoint! Even without a tropicbird (or a Tufted Puffin for that matter, which of course we all hoped would make a reappearance).
First, the weather: it was unbelievable! Actually, it was downright hot, even offshore, and especially away from what little breeze there was when we were not motoring. Seas were a gentle 2-3 feet, with an occasional slightly larger but inconsequential swell. Falling rapidly, it was incredibly smooth in the coves of the island, and on the way back where we enjoyed following seas for a very flat and fast ride.
Shortly after departing Stonington, we spotted our first Atlantic Puffin before we even cleared Isle au Haut. A few more, scattered small numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (I tallied 41 in all), and a few Razorbills punctuated our trip out. Not much was happening around Saddleback Ledge though.
Of course, the show realty began upon arrival at Seal Island. The heat sent the alcids into the water, so virtually all of the Atlantic Puffins that were present were in the coves and often allowing close approach and stellar photo ops.
We worked our way around the island, slowly improving our views of Razorbills (at least 6) and finally finding two Common Murres.
We motored around the south end, where the swell was just enough to prevent us from getting too close to the Great Cormorant colony – Maine’s last. But the nests brimming with growing chicks was still thoroughly enjoyed.
Off the northeast end, we cut the engine and drifted among the alcids. Off the open waters came a flock of 12 Whimbrel which we heard first before they flew close by. Likely having tanked up on blueberries in a barren Down East or in the Maritimes, they didn’t seem to consider pausing on the island. Later, 8 more flew by even further offshore.
While the lack of shearwaters all day was disappointing, the one Great Shearwater that we saw came in for a close look at us!
A little group of Sanderlings flew by, a few peeps were along the shoreline, and we spotted several calling Spotted Sandpipers.
And of course, there were the terns. Hundreds of Arctic and Common Terns were present, with a goodly number of juveniles learning the ropes. Arctic Terns were particularly conspicuous today, with many making close approaches of the boat or disregarding our presence to take a bath.
I both enjoyed and lamented the fact that I didn’t have Troppy to stress over. In fact, without needing to be in position and waiting for him, we took advantage of the gentle seas to not only circumnavigate the island, but also spend ample time drifting in sheltered coves, photographing alcids and searching for a big, black puffin with punk-rock hair.
But we still had a time limit for our charter, so we decided to spend our last moments enjoying the action at the tern colony. That’s when a Peregrine Falcon arrived. While this is a most unwelcome guest at a seabird colony and we were conflicted about seeing it, it was also impossible not to sit back and watch the show.
It surprised the terns by coming up and over the backside of the island, scattering the entire colony. Upon identifying the intruder, all of the adults made a beeline and began diving, mobbing, and otherwise trying to drive the predator away. Watching one of the world’s greatest – and fastest – predators in action was a real special treat, but we were also not upset that it came away empty; we were rooting for the terns.
If that wasn’t a grand finale, I don’t know what is. Well, maybe the Parasitic Jaeger on the way back!
About halfway between Seal and Saddleback Ledge, I first thought it was a Peregrine tearing in after a lone Common Tern. But when it became clear that it was a jaeger, I yelled for Captain Mike to “step on the breaks.” We watched the dogfight for several minutes, and it was spectacular to see. It was just far enough away that we couldn’t tell if the tern gave up its fish, but it definitely didn’t do it willingly.
Shortly thereafter we began to run into little rafts of Razorbills (a conservative tally of 36, plus 7 more between Saddleback Ledge and Stonington) and scattered Atlantic Puffins. We had quite a few more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on the way back, and finally some Northern Gannets.
We even had time to check some rocky islets for roosting shorebirds (none), loafing Harbor Seals (lots), and maybe spot something like a Great White Shark (nope; but the boat had one the very next day!).
In other words: what a trip! And exactly why it’s well worth a tour to Seal Island regardless. That being said, I must admit, it was not quite the same without “Troppy.” But as a guide, my stress level was a lot lower! Having seen him 9 times out of 12 visits to Seal, I consider myself beyond fortunate. I’m also so happy to have shared his glory with so many other birders on all these tours. So, wherever you are, Troppy, I’ll continue to lead trips to Seal Island in your honor!
Another dandy week of summertime birding produced the following highlights for me. Shorebird numbers and diversity are growing rapidly now.
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group; few around locally this summer). One calling in our Pownal yard on 7/22.
2 continuing HENSLOW’S SPARROWS, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, 7/20. Both birds singing, but the west bird continued long past the east bird went silent. I spent my time this morning attempting to observe the east bird, but never saw it once it stopped singing about 5 minutes after I arrived.
1 Fish Crow, Point Sebago (Private; with Point Sebago Birdwalk group) and 1 at Sebago Lake State Park, 7/21 (still wondering if these are from the Windham colony or not).
Least Sandpiper: 31, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/22.
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 140, Pine Point, 7/22.
WESTERN SANDPIPER: 1 rare adult, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 7/22 (photo above).
Short-billed Dowitcher: 165, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 7/22.
Spotted Sandpiper: 2, Eastern Egg Rock, 7/16 (with Hardy Boat Evening Puffin Cruise group) and Sebago Lake State Park, 7/21.
Solitary Sandpiper (FOF): 1, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group) and 1, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
Lesser Yellowlegs: 53, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
“Eastern” Willet: 96, The Pool, 7/22.
Greater Yellowlegs: 10, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
Beat the heat tomorrow, Saturday, July 23rd with a boat trip to Seal Island. No “Troppy” this year, but you know we’ll be looking hard for the Tufted Puffin! A limited amount of space on this extended charter is available.