Author Archives: Derek

Freeport Wild Bird Supply (and partners!) Tours for 2020

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Our trip offerings continue to grow. Our collaboration with The Maine Brew Bus continues with our increasingly popular Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrips! (see listing below). And, this year, we are excited to announce a new partnership with DownEast Adventures as their exclusive provider of birdwatching tours! Whether you are interested in something local for a few hours, or a multi-day tour, we have something for everyone. Some of these trips fill up fast, so act quickly if any pique your interest! For more details on each of these events, including registration information please visit the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of our website. We hope to see you soon!

Woodcocks Gone Wild!
April 4th (Weather date, 4/11)

Our most popular annual tour, join us for an evening witnessing the aerial ballet of displaying American Woodcocks on a special outing at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.  No registration necessary.

Migratory Songbird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
May 17th 

This half-day workshop will focus on the migrant songbirds, especially warblers, that are passing through Maine’s most famous migrant trap, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. At the peak of warbler migration, we’ll learn how to identify these charismatic birds and we’ll discuss their mind-boggling migration and what they’re up to in Maine.
BTNW

Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend
May 22nd – 25th

Join Derek on Monhegan during the height of spring migration for 1-4 days searching the island for regular visitors, rarities, and vagrants.  Warblers in their summer finery are pouring through the Northeast, and many will drift over the Gulf of Maine on their nocturnal flights. Rapidly changing weather conditions can result in massive “fallouts” of tired migrants, many of which will forage in the rocks on the shoreline. The possibility of overshoots from the south and vagrants from almost any direction adds icing to the cake.
BLBW

Bicknell’s Thrush Tour
June TBA

Stay tuned to our website for details on this tour.

Seal Island Charter: The Search for Troppy
July 11th

This special 5-hour charter aboard Isle au Haut Ferry Service’s Otter will allow us to travel out to Seal Island specifically to look for “Troppy”, Maine’s famous Red-billed Tropicbird. And, we will also enjoy looks at the puffins, guillemots, terns, and Razorbills that call this island home in summer.
RBTR

Ladona Island Birding Cruise (Birding by Schooner II) with DownEast Adventures
July 13th – 17th

Join Derek aboard the Schooner Ladona for a truly unique and exclusive birding and culinary experience. Enjoy peace, quiet, and tranquility as we spend four days aboard the Ladona enjoying unbelievable food and drink, lots of rest and relaxation, and some great birding! Weather permitting, we’ll have the chance to visit the waters around a seabird breeding colony (likely the famous Eastern Egg Rock) to place us among thousands of breeding seabirds, including Atlantic Puffins, three species of tern, and likely a few Razorbills.

Shorebird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
August 12th

In this full-day workshop, we will hit some of the marshes, beaches, and rocky roosts that shorebirds prefer at the peak of their migration. The ebbs and flows of the season, daily and recent weather, and other factors could produce more than 20 species of shorebirds in our time together. Our focus will be in comparative experience, learning how to recognize each species both near and far.
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Maine Coast in Fall with Derek and WINGS
September 13th – 20th

Join Derek on this all-inclusive tour to enjoy Monhegan Island at its finest.

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend
September 25th – 28th

Join Derek on Monhegan during the height of migration for 1-4 days searching the island for regular visitors, rarities, and vagrants. This is a casual outing, with boat and hotel reservations, as well as meals, on your own, allowing for more flexibility (and more time at the brewery if you so desire).
BLGR

Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrip!

Our Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrip! series is entering its sixth year and features 10 tours! Traveling in the Maine Brew Bus, the first half of each 6-hour tour is spent in the field with Derek as your guide to learn about the birds and their habitats. This is followed by two brewery (and one “kombuchery”) tours led by the Brew Bus guides. The locations were chosen to enjoy the peak of birding at a particular locale at certain times of year. One does not need to be a “birder” to enjoy these outings. People of all skill levels are encouraged to join us!
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The 2020 schedule is as follows:

Gulls and Growlers
January 18th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
Hatch Hill Landfill, Augusta
(gulls, eagles)
Bateau & Black Pug Brewing

Seaducks and Suds
February 16th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
York County coast
(seaducks, alcids, gulls)
York Beach Beer & TBA
PUSA

Spring Ducks and Draughts                                       
April 5th, 12:00pm – 6:30pm
Merrymeeting Bay
(migrant waterfowl, eagles)
Oxbow & Bath Brewing

Warblers and Wort
May 10th, 8:00am – 2:00pm
Portland sites
(warblers, other songbird migrants)
Bissell Brothers & Brewery Extrava

Grassland and Grains
June 14th, 8:00am – 2:30pm
Kennebunk Plains
(Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow)
Funky Bow & Banded Brewing
VESP

Terns and Taps
July 26th, 9:00am – 3:00pm
Biddeford Pool
(terns, Piping Plover)
Nuts and Bolts & Island Dog Brewing
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Shorebirds and Steins                                                 
August 23rd, 10:00am – 4:00pm
Scarborough Marsh
(migrant shorebirds)
Foulmouthed & Lone Pine Brewing

“Sod-pipers” and Sips
September 6th, 8:00am – 4:00pm
Fryeburg
(grassland sandpipers, Sandhill Cranes)
Ebenezer’s Pub & Saco River Brewing

Fall Ducks and Draughts
October 25th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
Sabattus Pond                                                             (migrant waterfowl, eagles)
Side by Each Brewing & Maine Beer Co.

“Rarity Roundup”
November 8th, 8:00am – 3:00pm
Portland to Wells
(potential vagrants, general birding)
Root Wild Kombucha & Goodfire Brewing
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2020 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

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After missing Maine by just a few miles in 2018, it’s only a matter of time before we see the state’s first Neotropic Cormorant – a species that is rapidly expanding northward. Be sure to double-check a lone cormorant in a tiny pond or river!

As we put 2019 to bed and begin 2020, we have our eyes set on the birding future. As for the future of birding, well, that’s a blog for another day, but for now, what about the next “new birds” to be seen in Maine?

Yup, it’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2019 Predictions post, and see how I did.

The epic 2018 was going to be hard to follow – in fact, who knows if we’ll ever see a year as exceptional for new birds like that.  While an above-average five new species were added to Maine’s state list in 2018, the infamous Great Black Hawk is a headliner for the ages.

We came back to Earth in 2019, with only 1 or 2 new species for Maine. The first, was a Zone-tailed Hawk in Bridgeton on May the 4th. This was #18 on my predictions list for next new species to be found in Maine following several regional sightings over the past few years.

I say 1-2 because on October 30th, I found a Barolo’s Shearwater in Maine waters, just west of George’s Bank. The problem was it was a single-observer sight record and that’s hard for a functioning and respected rare birds records committee to accept as a first state record. So who knows what Maine’s will do.

Barolo’s Shearwater was on my honorable mention list, but I certainly did not expect to see it; I would have assumed it would have been photographed from a NOAA fisheries research ship in the summer in deeper waters near the continental shelf, or perhaps immediately following a hurricane.

With only 1-2 new species for Maine in 2018, I’ve only made a few minor changes to my forecast, including the debut of Black-capped Petrel. Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2020 is now:
1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Spotted Towhee
5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
6) Bermuda Petrel
7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
8) Common Shelduck
9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
16) Redwing
17) Spotted Redshank
18) Painted Redstart
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-capped Petrel
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Personally, I added a respectable 5 species to my own Maine list this year as well, including my long-sought #1 (and #1 nemesis): Great Skua. We scored one in Maine waters on our cruise – the aforementioned cruise that resulted in the Barolo’s Shearwater.  Whether you have respect for your state records committee or not, functioning ones are not the “list police” that tell you what you can and cannot count. After much review, study, and discussion, I am confident I saw a Barolo’s Shearwater, so I am putting it on my list. Since I don’t submit my list the the ABA, eBird, or anyone else, I get to make my own rules!  But sorry folks, if you are playing the listing game, you have to play by the listing rules.

Regardless, I did not have Barolo’s on my own prediction list, so for this particular game, it definitely does not count. But prior to getting my #1 bird, I also was lucky enough to be leading a group on Monhegan and was minutes away when my #2 bird – Eurasian Collared-Dove – was discovered(only the second ever in Maine…for now).
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We were at a trade show in Portland when a Tundra Swan (#7 on my list) was spotted at Dunstan Landing in Scarborough Marsh, so we skipped out for a spell and successfully “twitched” it. It was a welcome break from being indoors all day, and it was an easy 15-minute chase.
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Last, but definitely not least, was the Harris’s Sparrow at a feeder in Levant that I was lucky enough to see with friends on December 8th…my 385th species in Maine, but only on my list of honorable mentions. But I’ll call predicting 3 our of 5 new state birds a win!
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Then, as always, there were the misses. American White Pelican (#5) is becoming a nemesis, with several brief sighting in Portland on May 16th, and another bird in Aroostook County in August. I worked hard for post-Hurricane Dorian rare terns in late September, but missed out on a Gull-billed Tern (#17) at Hill’s Beach on 9/28.

Not in my top 25, but no less disappointing to miss was Brown Booby that was spotted on and off, here and there, for perhaps much of the summer and a Tropical Kingbird in East Machias on 10/31. Much worse, however, was the dead Purple Gallinule found under the wires at Sandy Point on 10/19.

So with some big changes at the top, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine looks quite different.

1) American White Pelican
2) Neotropic Cormorant
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) Franklin’s Gull
6) Brown Pelican
7) California Gull
8) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
9) Slaty-backed Gull
10) Boreal Owl
11) Calliope Hummingbird
12) Common Ringed Plover
13) Cerulean Warbler
14) White Ibis
15) Gull-billed Tern
16) Hammond’s Flycatcher
17) Spotted Towhee
18) Wood Stork
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-chinned Hummingbird
21) Brewer’s Blackbird
22) Yellow Rail
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

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Maybe 2020 is the year for this nemesis of mine in Maine to come in for a landing in front of me!

Pelagic Birding by Cruiseship: NYC-NS-NB-NYC, Oct 2019.

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Bonxie!
Jeannette and I took round trip a Princess Cruise from New York City October 26 (pm departure) through October 31st (early am arrival). It made ports of call in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick.  The full-day at seas between NYC and Halifax on 10/27 and from St John to NYC on 10/30 were the draws for us.  Cruise ships offer steady, stable and unreasonably comfortable deep-sea birding opportunities. Paul Lehman helped put the “repositioning cruise” itinerary on the West Coast on the birding radar and he, along with several others around the world, demonstrated the value of these floating behemoths for pelagic birding.
departing NYC
Verrazano

Our transit from NYC to Halifax was our best stretch, with seas a mere 2-3ft, partially cloudy skies, and unseasonably warm temperatures. We awoke to find ourselves at 49.9 nautical miles south-southeast of Nantucket.
Sunrise, 10-27

After a surprisingly slow first 2 hours of the day, the action really got going and remained strong into the early afternoon. The day ended up yielding an impressive 5 Great Skuas and 6 unidentified skuas. A small dark storm-petrel – likely a very late Wilson’s – may have been the one that got away this day as we were unable to photograph it. A Manx Shearwater was well seen, along with 9 Cory’s Shearwaters and many of the expected species. A Song Sparrow arrived on the boat, first seen shortly after sunrise that morning.  A complete list is below, but all of our highlights were in Massachusetts waters.
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Great Shearwaters
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Cory’s Shearwater.

A 27-minute stretch in Maine waters (U.S. territorial waters with the closest point of land being 101nm to Mt Desert Rock) yielded little, and not my most-desired bird of the trip: a Great Skua in Maine waters, a bird that has become an unreasonable nemesis for me.  Nova Scotia waters were very slow, and an area of low pressure caught up to us, with rain becoming steadier and rapidly reducing visibility and light.
NOFU
Northern Fulmar
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On 10/28, we arrived in Halifax Harbor before sunrise, and our friends Eric and Anne Mills picked us up at the dock for a day of local birding. A continuing Yellow-throated Warbler at Point Pleasant Park and 2 Indigo Buntings at the old city dump were highlights, but like it has been in Maine, landbirds – especially in the woods, but also sparrowy-edges – were sparse.
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The boat pulled away after sunset, but we were pleasantly surprised to awaken on 10/29 with a considerable distance of the Bay of Fundy left to transit. The boat was at a lower speed than usual, as we had to wait for high water in St. John Harbor. Beginning 17.3nm WSW of Brier Island, we enjoyed very productive birding through 11:00am as we were entering St. John Harbor.  Single American Robin, Horned Lark, Dark-eyed Junco, American Pipit, and Savannah Sparrow made morning passes around the boat, but the alcid show we had been waiting for had arrived: 58 Atlantic Puffins, 44 Razorbills, and 12 Common Murres (the majority of all were in New Brunswick waters). We were very excited to see a total of 5 Dovekies – a group of four followed by one lone bird in flight – all on the Nova Scotia side.  This was another one of the “target birds” we had identified for this itinerary.
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We arrived in Saint John at noon, and walked across the city to get to Rockwood Park. There were “no” birds in the woods here, either, so we visited a couple of breweries and had our best meal of the trip at the St. John Alehouse on our way back. It was not until almost midnight that the boat departed as the world’s highest tides had finally filled back in.
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Gulls commuting back from Rockwood Park with us.

The morning of October 30th has been circled on the proverbial calendar for a while, but there was quite a bit of apprehension about where we would find ourselves at dawn. I had my eyes on Maine waters – especially for my state Great Skua! – but also out of my own general birding interests of course.
Sunrise,10-30

Rolling over in bed at 5:30 EDT, I pulled up the Navionics Boating app and found our position to be 64.8nm ESE of Mt. Desert Rock, well within Maine-countable waters and with a current track that would keep us in these waters for some time. Breakfast was consumed rapidly, and we were on deck at 6:45, with just enough light to start looking for birds. Seas were still 2-3ft, with very light chop, and a little breeze. Skies were partly to mostly cloudy all morning. Conditions were once again unreasonably perfect.
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Great Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars were soon visible, and we picked up our first Red Phalaropes of the journey. Since Jeannette and I were the only birders on board, not surprisingly, we had been taking turns looking for passerines on the open decks and going on coffee and restroom runs. At about 8:00 or so, Jeannette went to the upper decks and returned about 30 minutes later to find me writing furiously. At 8:21EDT, I had a good bird, and I think it was a very, very good bird. Of course, she wasn’t there to see it, but as importantly for the task at hand, she was not there to try and document it while I studied it for as long as I can.

After watching it in the scope for a minute or two, I made the decision to go for the camera, despite the extreme distance of the bird. I paused for a moment at the idea of attempting a phone-scoping session, but I realized the unlikelihood of that being successful. I snapped a couple of pictures, realizing they were unlikely to be anywhere within the realm of realistically seeing “something” and went back to following the bird in the scope, hoping for it to turn or land, or at least stick around long enough for Jeannette to return.

I have seen a lot of Manx Shearwaters, and ample numbers of Audubon’s Shearwaters. Instantaneously, it was obvious this was not a Manx, so I started scribbling notes. I had a feeling based on my studying before the trip, that I was looking at a Barolo’s Shearwater, a bird not yet recorded in Maine (but on my long list of likely new additions).

Here are my transcribed field notes, lightly edited only for decipherability (comments added later):

  • Coordinates: 42(d) 35.966”N, 67 (d) 56.02’W
  • small seabird spotted distance while J was on coffee/passerine run.
  • Blackish back and white undersides but extremely stiff and very shallow wingbeats noticed immediately.
  • Thought alcid, but wings too narrow and relatively long (compared to size of body)
  • (First) observed at approx 60-degree angle as it was angling slightly towards the bow, but rapidly getting further away.
  • White underwing clean and appeared to go right out to wingtips.
  • White face – could possibly make out eye – rose well up towards narrow-appearing crown. Even compensating for morning light, face was far too white and clean for Manx Shearwater, more like Audubon’s, but with even more white than that
  • Could not see undertail coverts (specifically), but white did appear to “continue” towards rear.
  • Small bill, almost imperceptible at distance.
  • No shearwatering, stayed level (low over water) with shallow, stiff wingbeats/
  • Did not see “saddlebags” or not (too far for such fine detail).
  • No molt visible.
  • Dwarfed by passing Great Shearwater
  • Flight considerably different from Manx, plus extensive white on face and extensively white and clean underwings. Very short wings, relatively.
  • White as “far as I could see to” wingtips and undertail.
  • Need to get out field guides to compare Barolo’s vs Audubon, but this looked smaller, pudgier body, whiter underneath, and wingbeats so stiff and shallow.
  • Cannot reconcile wingbeats/flight and extensive white face, undertail, (underwing), with anything but Barolo’s Shearwater.
  • (wishing I went for the camera sooner!)

As I was scribbling away, Jeannette returned, I took one sip of coffee, and went back to my notes. Shortly thereafter, she yelled “BONX-IIIIEEEEEE!”  And finally, at 8:37am, 82.2nm southeast of Matincus Rock, and only about 6-10nm closes than any point on Cape Cod, I had my Maine state Great Skua. Finally. Mission accomplished.
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But then, it was back to the shearwater. Plans were made to celebrate later (wait, why can’t I get a drink delivered to me outside?). I added to my notes, still before checking any references, summarizing my observation:

  • Manx quickly eliminated by short wings, very small size, and bright white face. Flight style quite different. This was closer to an alcid with super-shallow wingbeats.
  • Single bird, all alone, picked up in straight, powered flight.
  • Distance could have obscured internal underwing markings, but none noticed
  • White rose up face – even if compensating (for) sun “overexposure,” so high that when going away, appeared to have a very narrow dark crown. (I made an exceedingly poor drawing of the impression. It is not worth sharing).

I had Howell and Zufelt’s Oceanic Birds of the World and the Nat Geo field guide with me, so I consulted them, along with an online image search. I revisited those resources and looked longer online when we returned to our cabin later. After that, I added the following:

– (my bird) looked “normally” tapered/pointed wing(tip) and not at all rounded like Audubon’s.
– did not appear particularly long-tailed
– short bill; Audubon’s looks longer-billed.
– cold/cool water environs. No water temperature measurement on board boat, but well within Gulf of Maine at 689ft depth. No “warm water species” seen on entire trip.
– too small for Manx, as a Great Shearwater crossed in front of it (while I was viewing through the scope). 3-5 had been circling the ship (consistently).
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Oh, and my desperate attempt at a photograph I alluded to? Well, I think it was one of the Great Shearwaters (is that a hind collar behind a dark cap?), but it could also be a giant piece of sushi. I whiffed. And that does not make me happy, as even a crappy photo might have had some value.

Looking at those resources, photos online, and more resources upon our return home, I concluded that this bird was indeed a Barolo’s Shearwater. Whether “sight records” are “good enough” for First State Records, well, that’s a debate for another day…

But yeah, we had other birds that day too, with Great Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars leading the way, and lots of dolphins, including several small close pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin.  We also had another skua in Massachussets waters that suggested South Polar to me, but it was just too far, and Jeannette was unable to get on it in the camera for closer study.
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Cory’s Shearwater with Great Shearwaters.
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Great Shearwaters with Great Black-backed Gull

At 4:15, with nearly-lifeless waters – the same early morning dull stretch from day 1 that got us worried about whether this entire trip was a good idea or not, we called it quits and went inside. A beer and a top-deck jacuzzi were in order. Come dawn, we’d be back in port in Brooklyn, so maybe we’ll even have a second drink tonight!
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Yeah, this cruise ship pelagic birding has its perks! And you can expect us to offer this as a tour in the near future. Unfortunately, a change in ships on this route next year may hamper the birding access, so we’re going to figure this out before we promote the tour and the future of birding possibilities on this intriguing cruise route.

Here’s the breakdown of the birdlist:

10/27.
-On deck 6:30 EDT. Mostly cloudy, lt-mod SE, light-moderate chop and 1-1.5m swell.  49.9 nm SSE of Nantucket.

1) Massachusetts waters:
GREAT SKUA: 5 total (coordinates recorded for each).
UNIDENTIFIED SKUA: 6 (coordinates recorded for each)
Parasitic Jaeger: 4
Unidentified Jaeger: 9
Black-legged Kittiwake: 4
Herring Gull: x
Lesser Black-backed Gull: 1
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 3
Cory’s Shearwater: 9
Great Shearwater: 259
Manx Shearwater: 1
UNIDENTIFIED STORM-PETREL – 1, Wilson’s-type most likely.
Northern Gannet: 186
Song Sparrow – 1 found on Lido Deck

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin pods: 1

2) Maine: 27 minutes.
Herring Gull: 1
Great Black-backed Gull: 1
Northern Fulmar: 2
Great Shearwater: 1
Northern Gannet: 1

3) Nova Scotia waters.
Black-legged Kittiwake: 1
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 2
Great Shearwater: 2
Mourning Dove: 1 – 81.4 nm SW of Seal Island. Reappeared and was stooped upon by PEFA.
Peregrine Falcon: 1- 83.8nm SW of Seal Island

Pilot Whales: 4-6
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10/29: Bay of Fundy.

  • On deck 7:54 ADT. 7.5nm W of Boar’s Head, Briar Island, NS..
  • Nova Scotia waters through about 9:30am EDT:

Common Eider: 13
White-winged Scoter: 2
DOVEKIE: 5
Razorbill: 3
Atlantic Puffin: 15
Pomarine Jaeger: 6
Unidentified jaeger: 3
Black-legged Kittiwake: 59
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Red-throated Loon: 2
Northern Fulmar: 7
Sooty Shearwater: 2
Northern Gannet: 24
American Robin: 1 at dawn, flying parallel to boat.
Horned Lark: 1 flying with DEJU 9.4nm W of Centreville Harbor
American Pipit: 1
Savannah Sparrow: 1
Song Sparrow: continues on deck.
Dark-eyed Junco: 1 flying with HOLA 9.4nm W of Centreville Harbor
AMRO

New Brunswick waters (after about 9:30 EDT):
Common Eider: 186
Common Murre: 12
Razorbill: 41
Atlantic Puffin: 43
Large alcids sp: 9
Pomarine Jaeger: 1
Black-legged Kittiwake: 49
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 1
Northern Gannet: 8
Red-throated Loon: 14

Minke Whale: 1
Harbor Porpoise: x

10/30.
– On deck 6:45 EDT. Maine waters, 64.8nm ESE of Mount Desert Rock and 60nm W of Seal Island, NS, but in US territorial waters.  Seas 2-3ft, light chop, increasing breeze.

1) Maine Waters:
GREAT SKUA: 1 – 42  31.291’N, 67  58.735’W
Pomarine Jaeger: 1
Red Phalarope: 16
Atlantic Puffin: 1
Black-legged Kittiwake: 7
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 76
Great Shearwater: 74
BAROLO’S SHEARWATER: 1, See Above. (42.35988’N, -67.5602’W)
Northern Gannet: 1

  • Massachusetts waters:

Unidentified phalarope: 30
UNIDENTIFIED SKUA: 1 (probable South Polar)
Pomarine Jaeger: 2
Parasitic Jaeger: 2
Unidentified Jaeger: 4
Black-legged Kittiwake: 14
Herring Gull: x
Lesser Black-backed Gull: 1
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 158
Cory’s Shearwater: 6
Sooty Shearwater: 1
Great Shearwater: 233
Northern Gannet: 77

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin pods: 3+
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Ponds: 3+
Unidentified dolphin pods: 4+

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Short-beaked Common Dolphin.

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend,9/27-10/1/2019

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The reports trickling out of Monhegan all week were not particularly tantalizing. Other than a few rare but regular vagrants and semi-vagrants, the birding was often dreadfully slow. This fall’s lack of strong, airmass-changing and northwest wind-producing, cold fronts have been sorely lacking, and the season on Monhegan to date had clearly reflected that. But we heard the butterflies were extraordinary!

The first half of our group arrived via the 9:00 Hardy Boat from New Harbor. Even the boat trip was unusually quiet: a handful of Northern Gannets were the only seabirds we saw; even gulls were relatively few and far between.

But it was simply gorgeous, and with clear skies, light winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures, we were not complaining upon our arrival. And we were immediately greeted with a plethora of butterflies, led by Painted and American Ladies, and Monarchs – lots and lots of Monarchs.

Our slow walk up Dock Road would yield our one measly warbler wave of the day, but the Island Farm gardens on Pumphouse Road immediately produced the “best” bird that was being seen on the island: a juvenile Blue Grosbeak. But now, there were 2. And two Dickcissels! And 3 Indigo Buntings! And then two Blue Grosbeaks sitting side-by-side with an Indigo Bunting on the wire for comparison, followed by a lovely look at a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Yeah, that’s a “slow” day on Monhegan in the fall!
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After fueling up on Novelty Pizza as usual, we hit Burnt Head for a gannet and Peregrine Falcon show, but the afternoon was beyond quiet for birds overall. Not for butterflies, however!  So. Many. Question Marks (as in the butterfly, not unanswered questions of course!)
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Question Mark

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As we awoke on Saturday, light south winds had minimized nocturnal bird migration, and the Morning Flight over the Yew consisted of exactly one Great Egret (not a bad bird out here though). It was quiet, very quiet, as dawn rose…but we weren’t cold! And all of those Monarchs!
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After breakfast, we decided to try and relocate a female King Eider that was reported yesterday and posted late at night. Since the seas were building on southwesterly winds, I decided to skip trying Lobster Cove and check the mouth of the harbor. And sure enough, there she was! The “Queen” Eider was an “Island Bird” for me, and an island bird for almost every birder on the island, if not a life bird for many in my group.
sunrise
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With the rest of the group arriving at 10:00am, we raced over to the dock, picked up the eider from the lawn of the Island Inn, and welcomed our new arrivals with a Queen Eider in the scope!  How’s that for a greeting?  I also realized I had a “lifer:” looking at a King Eider with shorts on!
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There were now 3 Blue Grosbeaks in the garden, and a couple of us glimpsed a flash of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near the Ice Pond.  But it was irrationally slow all day. However, almost every bird we did encounter, we saw well, and there were very few instances of “better views desired.”  And it was warm, and I don’t think I have ever spent a whole day out here in just shorts and a t-shirt.  Again.
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Northern Gannet off of White Head.

A slow progression of clouds throughout the day finally arrived overhead by dusk, but rain stayed away. Unfortunately, the cold front that we were so anxiously anticipating did not switch the winds to the west (and then northwest) until about 2:00am, so migration really never got going. There was a little Morning Flight come dawn, mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers as expected, but also several Cape Mays. The chatter, however, was the fact that no one found themselves in dire need of more blankets overnight!
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The next generation teaching the next next generation.
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Once again, however, the warmth scattered roosting Monarchs, and the massive roosts of a thousand or more from the middle of the week were instead widely dispersed. They were still abundant, however, covering gardens and almost every patch of wild asters and goldenrods.
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This one likely had recently taught a Merlin to never try and eat a Monarch!
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Tattered Black Swallowtail departing dill

It was a day to look at everything, from flowers to caterpillars.
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Fringed Gentian
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Hickory Tussock Moth
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Everybody’s favorite caterpillar: Woolly Bears!
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White-faced Meadowhawk.
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Smeared Dagger Moth

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in the harbor helped start our day, and there were definitely some new birds around.
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Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull(R)with multiple age classes of Great Black-backed Gulls.

Our checklist slowly built with the likes of a Pine Warbler, a single Red-winged Blackbird, and finally, after almost 3 days: a couple of Red-eyed Vireos.  The northwesterly breeze was also ushering in a good raptor flight, especially Merlins and American Kestrels, with a healthy dose of Peregrine Falcons, so we often found ourselves looking skyward.

Monarchs were also on the go, with many high overhead and taking off towards the mainland. Our butterfly list grew to a goodly 14 species. And we confirmed via photographs that there were a most-impressive 4 Blue Grosbeaks, a bona fide flock, and perhaps a record high for the state.

It was a great few days, and a lot of birds were seen. It was not the thing Monhegan legends were made of, however, but almost everyone on the tour had at least two Life Birds by the time the majority of the group headed home on Sunday afternoon. And it was still beautiful out. Complaints were few.
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And the family group of “re-introduced” (allegedly) Ring-necked Pheasants were a source of constant entertainment.
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Now, no birder is every really ready to leave Monhegan, but those who had to go to work or school the next day were especially upset. But of course, we had high expectations for a big day on Sunday, and that did not materialize.

On Monday morning – I am happy to say for those who remained, but I am very apologetic to those who had to depart! – the birds that did not show on Sunday had arrived. A huge flight overnight on clearing skies and a moderate northerly wind had ushered in a massive wave of birds. By breakfast we had as many species of warblers as we had seen all weekend so far.
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows seemed to be everywhere, at least where there wasn’t a Yellow-rumped Warbler. New arrivals included many of the birds we had somehow been lacking so far, such as Blue-headed Vireos and Brown Creepers, but we also enjoyed a host of “late” migrants, such as Bay-breasted Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, several Magnolia Warblers, and – sorry Anna! – a great look at a Philadelphia Vireo. Although a truant Warbling Vireo late in the day was the “best” vireo of the weekend.
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Palm Warbler
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Savannah Sparrow

The morning alone had more species, and likely more individuals, than the three previous days combined. While all of the Blue Grosbeaks had departed, the Queen Eider was still present, as was 1-2 Dickcissels, and in a late-day feeding frenzy of Harbor Porpoise at the mouth of the harbor, we picked out a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. Today was a day for both quantity and quality – and we walked about 30% less than any of the previous three days! It was a very good day.
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Jeannette had arrived on Monday, and it was just the two of us for a day off on Tuesday. Fears of a wash-out were not realized. Instead, an early morning shower on Trap Day did little more than nicely tamp down the road dust for a good part of the day.  Winds were increasing from the southeast, and there was little to no migration overnight on cloudy skies and light southerly winds.

Therefore, there was once again virtually no morning flight, but there were some new birds around, starting with a Marsh Wren singing at dawn from the meadow, and 3 female/immature Wood Ducks in the Ice Pond before dawn (alas, I never did catch up with the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that others spotted into the weekend).

The morning was quiet overall, however, with scattered pockets of migrants here and there. It wasn’t quiet as slow as Saturday, but we were once again covering a lot of ground to not see many birds. But it felt like a day with something “really good” around, and as we returned to the Ice Pond, I was shocked by a hen Northern Shoveler!  Migrant dabblers are rare out here due to the lack of habitat, and there are not many shovelers in Maine or Maritime Canada to end up here. I am sure that if there were birders out here in April and October, this species would be detected, but based on the historical record in the Vickery checklist and recent records from eBird, it turns out that this is a First Island Record!  (EDIT: A previous island record has come to light, and sure enough, it was from April!)
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While it wasn’t the Mega I was hoping for, it was a great bird for the island list, and joined by a stunning adult male Wood Duck, it added some excitement to an otherwise dreary day. We took the time to have a leisurely lunch, enjoy the Queen Eider, and grab one last beer. We also ran into the Lark Sparrow that showed up the day before. But it was remarkable how many fewer butterflies were around: the Monarchs had mostly departed on the northerly winds of the previous day, and the cloudy skies kept most everything else under cover.
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Lark Sparrow with immature White-crowned Sparrow
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With the first of the morning’s lobster traps already being hauled up, we knew our birding season out here was drawing to a close, unfortunately. Fortunately, however, the seas were much tamer than had been forecast, and we had less concerns about comfort on the ride home.
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Another Harbor Porpoise and gull feeding frenzy developed in the mouth of the harbor.

But Monhegan had one more surprise in store for us. As we pulled away on the 4:30 ferry to Port Clyde, I spotted a Black Skimmer circling Nigh Duck. I alerted the other birders on the boat, and those of us topside had views of it seemingly considering sitting down on the island, but we had picked up steam and were cruising away.  This appears to be the second record of Black Skimmer for Monhegan – another incredibly good bird for my island list, and another reason why you never stop looking!

Three “Island Birds” for me, “life birds” for most of my group, beautiful weather for the tour, and lots of good food and conversation made for a heckuva weekend. And perhaps best of all, I had three kids under 15 on my tour! Besides a rare occurrence for a birding tour, their enthusiasm was contagious, and it gave us hope for the future of birds and birding!

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Swamp Sparrow

Daily Checklist:

* denotes ferry ride only
27-Sep 28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep 10/1 (with Jeannette)
Wood Duck 0 0 0 0 4
American Black Duck 0 2 2 2 2
Mallard 4 16 12 10 10
NORTHERN SHOVELER 0 0 0 0 1
Green-winged Teal 0 0 0 1 0
KING EIDER 0 1 0 1 1
Common Eider x x x x X
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 3 7*
Ring-necked Pheasant 3 7 5 5 6
Mourning Dove 6 8 6 6 10
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 0 0 1 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0 0 0
Black Guillemot X x x x X
Laughing Gull 6* 0 2 0 0
Ring-billed Gull 2* 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x X
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 0 1 1 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x X
BLACK SKIMMER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Loon 1* 0 0 2 2
Northern Gannet 30 30 10 8 20
Double-crested Cormorant X x x 1000 500
Great Cormorant 0 6 1 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 2 2 1
Great Egret 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 3 1 7 4 2
Bald Eagle 3 2 3 4 2
Northern Harrier 0 0 0 1 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 2 4 4 3
Belted Kingfisher 0 1 1 1 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3 3 4 40 30
Downy Woodpecker 0 1 1 2 0
Northern Flicker 3 4 6 20 15
American Kestrel 0 0 8 1 4
Merlin 3 3 15 8 5
Peregrine Falcon 6 2 10 6 3
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 0 0 2 2
Alder Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Least Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 0 0 6 4
Eastern Kingbird 0 2 2 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 0 6 2
Warbling Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Philadelphia Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 0 0 2 25 10
Blue Jay 4 10 14 8 6
American Crow 4 6 4 6 8
Common Raven 1 2 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 0 0 1 0
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 0 0 0 0
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 0 0 0 0
Brown Creeper 0 0 0 8 4
Winter Wren 0 0 0 3 0
Marsh Wren 0 0 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 0 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 10 0 15 20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 10 5
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin 2 1 0 0 1
Gray Catbird 6 4 0 4 4
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 1 0 0
European Starling 20 24 20 20 16
American Pipit 0 0 0 1 0
Cedar Waxwing 20 40 80 60 50
American Goldfinch 2 0 4 6 6
Black-and-white Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Tennessee Warbler 0 0 0 4 2
Nashville Warbler 0 0 0 6 5
Common Yellowthroat 2 2 4 6 3
Cape May Warbler 2 2 6 3 4
Northern Parula 2 0 0 10 3
Magnolia Warbler 0 0 0 4 0
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1 4 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 0 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 4 2 0 2 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 60 20
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 8 15 40 200 50
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 0 0 5 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 3 6 19
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 1 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 25 15
Savannah Sparrow 0 0 0 50 30
Song Sparrow x x x x X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 0 2 2
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 7 4
Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 6 8
BLUE GROSBEAK 2 3 4 0 0
Indigo Bunting 3 2 2 1 2
DICKCISSEL 2 0 1 2 0
Bobolink 0 0 0 6 3
Red-winged Blackbird 0 0 1 0 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 0 0 5 1
Common Grackle 10 10 10 10 10
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 1 2 2

(Rarities seen by others by not the group as a whole: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Yellow-breasted Chat).

Butterfly list:
Monarch
Painted Lady
American Lady
Question Mark
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulfur
Red Admiral
Orange Sulfur
Common Buckeye
Mourning Cloak (1)
White Admiral (1-2)
Black Swallowtail (1)
Bronze Copper (1)
Great Spangled Fritillary (1)

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White Admiral

Mt. Cutler in Hiram: A New Fall Hawkwatching Hotspot?

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For several years now, Jeannette and I have been searching for a fall hawkwatching location away from the coast in southern Maine. While there are several good concentration points in the area, we were looking for an inland hill or ridge well off of the coastal plain that was relatively convenient, accessible without too much hiking, and most important: consistent – a place where even on a “slow” day, at least a few hawks might be seen.

Along the coastal plain, large numbers of hawks can sometimes be seen. But it’s often fairly random: you just happen to look up at the right time in the right place. In fact, our biggest fall hawk flights – by far – have been right over our store here in Freeport. Those (especially the 7,000+ bird day a few years back) have been some great flights, but most days would not produce a single migrant raptor – there’s no concentration mechanism along most of the southern coastal plain (the peninsulas of the Mid-Coast are a different story).

But we’ve been looking for an “old-fashioned” inland ridge, where a variety of conditions will produce birds, and the chance of close birds (unlike most coastal sites) and rarities (like Golden Eagle and perhaps consistent Rough-legged Hawk or Northern Goshawk) might occur.

Well, we very well might have found one!

Yesterday, Jeannette and I hiked up Mt. Cutler in Hiram, Maine, about 1:15 away from us in the southeastern corner of Oxford County. A steep but rather short hike of less than a mile delivers you to the 1,232ft summit. But we actually returned to a clearing at 0.82 miles up the North Trail from the parking area on Hiram Hill Road.

Impressive views extend on both sides.
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To the west, you can see the foothills of the White Mountains.
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To the east-southeast, the hills and ridges on the west shore of Sebago Lake. And down below, the Saco River valley.
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That’s a nice mix of geography to usher birds to a relatively long (for this area of the foothills) ridge running northeast to southwest.
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No sooner had we put down our backpacks and tied Bonxie to a tree, we looked up and immediately starting seeing raptors. Soon, we very much regretted not having arrived earlier; we didn’t start scanning the skies until 11:22.

But by our departure at 2:30pm, we tallied 236 migrant raptors of 7 species. This is not an epic flight by any stretch of the imagination, but how many did we miss before we arrived? A light WNW wind and a thin layer of cirrus clouds were perfect for producing a hawkflight here. And we were excited to finally get the right conditions on a day off to try a new hawkwatching locale. We hiked here about two years ago and thought it would be worth coming back during fall hawk migration season, and it’s been on the agenda ever since.

More importantly, we believe, was that even after the winds shifted to the unfavorable south-southwest by 12:50 pm with increasing clouds, we still had birds moving. Instead of soaring high in kettles though, they were gliding by in a slow trickle, using the lift generated by the steep ridge and headwind. This suggests that raptors seek out Mt. Cutler specifically for geographical or aerodynamic reasons, and therefore our flight was not just a lucky random occurrence. The diversity of non-raptor migrants also adds more credence to our hypothesis.

Of course, one day a hawkwatch does not make. Our data set is far too small to draw any conclusions other than it’s worth going back up here again. And you know we will!  I’ll report what we find, but in the meantime, if you give it a try, please let us know what you see.

Here is our scorecard:
203 Broad-winged Hawks
9 Ospreys
8 Bald Eagles
8 Turkey Vultures
6 Sharp-shinned Hawks
1 Cooper’s Hawk
1 Merlin

T=236

Other migrants:
38 Monarchs
11 large dragonfly species
3 PURPLE MARTINS (late and intriguing sighting; could they be related to the passage of Hurricane Dorian that deposited a large number of martins in Nova Scotia, where they are a vagrant).
2 Green Darners
1 Common Loon
1 Double-crested Cormorant
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 unidentified warbler
1 Twelve-spotted Skimmer
1 Red Admiral

2019 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend Tour Report

L1140408_SUTA_SCTA1a-editedA spiffy adult male Summer Tanager(middle) joined a small flock of Scarlet Tanagers and was one of the stars of the weekend’s show.

More and more we, as birders, lament “they way it used to be.” Declining populations of so many birds, especially our long-distance Neotropical migrants often leaves us longer for yesteryear. Even a good day can turn wistful as we think of what “a lot” of birds once were. On some of our recent tours to Monhegan Island, even the good days felt lackluster; it was missing the “oomph” of what Monhegan legends are made of.

This was NOT one of those trips.

It was awesome. It felt like it “used to be.”  It was great, it was fun, and at times, the birding was just darn easy!

Most of the first day’s group joined me on the 9:00am departure out of New Harbor. I was amped up. A strong flight on the radar overnight developed between evening showers and thunderstorms, with another line of showers ushering in a shift in the winds from the south to the west by morning. This was a recipe for a fallout – or at least a lot of birds on Monhegan.

A Yellow Warbler – the 124th species in our wooded yard – greeted me as I topped off the feeders, and a couple of Blackpoll Warblers were singing. At Pemaquid Point, Erin Walter and I had several warblers, including one Cape May, in the small grove of spruces near the lighthouse.  These were very good signs.

As we endured a swelly ride on the ferry, an unidentified thrush streaked by, another good sign. Unrelated, but no less exciting, was a single fly-by Atlantic Puffins, a couple of Roseate Terns, and three tardy White-winged Scoters. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers at Neigh Duck was intriguingly late.

We arrived on the island shortly after 10:00am, and Phil Brown – just finishing up a New Hampshire Audubon tour – informed me that all of the signs of a big day were right. In fact, he was clearly having trouble tearing himself away. So we hit the ground running.

Over the next hour and a half, we saw a lot of birds…and we had still not even made it to the end of Dock Road!  For those of you not familiar with the island, that’s about an 1/8th of a mile. We hadn’t even checked in yet, and we had a dozen species of warblers and at least 4 Philadelphia Vireos.
BLBW_dock_road_Erin-editedBlackburnian Warblers along Dock Road was a nice welcome!

The only reason we made it across town was that a White-winged Dove (my first for the island and one of only a handful of previous island records) was just found at Donna Cundy’s famous feeders.  But not even a new island bird for myself could get me to hustle…there were too many birds to pass by; I apparently already had hit the MonhegZen!
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But we did see the dove, and it was great. However, I think it was upstaged for all of us by the 6 Scarlet Tanagers (5 males) that were also at the feeders!  We eventually stopped for a quick lunch, checked in briefly at the Trailing Yew, and slowly made our way down to the south end of the island where warblers were feeding on rocks at the water’s edge.
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And it’s not often you finish the day with 6 Blackburnian Warblers below you!

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In fact, the day was so amazing that I barely even made it to the brewery with enough time to get a growlette to go for dinner!  (Sorry, people who know me and this tour should have been told to sit down before I said that)> Birds were simply everywhere. Tennessee Warblers – a lifer for some of the group were in impressive numbers, and was likely the most common migrant of the day. Blackpoll Warblers were common, but normally-uncommon migrants such as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Cape May Warblers were unusually numerous and conspicuous.  We finished our first day with 19 species of warblers. It was like the good ol’ days.
MAWA_Erin-editedMagnolia Warblers were common and conspicuous all weekend.

PRAW_Erin-editedFinding an uncommon-on-the-island Prairie Warbler (and hearing another or the same on the island’s East side the next day was a good addition to our impressive tally of 22 species of warblers. 

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The only concern I had was would the rest of the trip be anti-climatic?

With light northwesterly winds overnight Friday into Saturday, more birds departed than arrived, but there were still plenty of birds to be seen.  A single singing Ovenbird and a quick sighting of a Nashville Warbler put us to 21 species of warblers, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was a good find.  A singing Sora, a soaring Peregrine Falcon, and a silent Northern Mockingbird were some of the species added to our list, but we continued to enjoy countless warblers. Sure, we “only” estimated 25 Tennessee Warblers today, but remember yesterday when they were a life bird?  Better looks at the White-winged Dove (it was much healthier-looking today, too) were had as well.
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L1140355_SUTA1a-editedThe Summer Tanager eventually found his way to the Tanager Festival at Donna’s feeders. And you really won’t find more cooperative Lincoln’s Sparrows than one of the two (below) that was also at the feeders – for those who appreciate the more subtle beauties!

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With a slower afternoon, we took a little hike to take in the views from Burnt Head and worked various under-birded nooks and crannies. And it was hard not to enjoy a Novelty pizza dinner because: 1) Novelty pizza and 2) we finished our second day of birding with a stunning adult male Summer Tanager joining the Scarlet Tanager convention at Donna’s feeders.
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We went to bed Saturday night with light southerly winds and rain on its way, with dreams of another fallout dancing in our bird-filled heads.  We awoke to light rain, fog, but still a light to moderate southerly wind. There was another strong flight overnight, according to the radar – at least until rain overspread the area by 2:00am.  But alas, whether ushered overhead by the southerly tailwinds, or unable to notice the island as they flew over the fog, there was no fallout, and in fact, there were actually fewer birds around in the early morning.

However, the rain ended as we ate breakfast, and the sun rapidly came out, optimism –and perhaps a little Rarity Fever – reigned supreme. And while numbers were a little low, diversity was excellent, and our trip list grew rapidly with a series of quality birds: Virginia Rail (heard only as usual), Green Heron, Black-billed Cuckoo, Warbling Vireo, and a rare-on-the-island Hairy Woodpecker. I also made friends with a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers that were calling Swim Beach home.
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But unlike the forecast, it was a rather nice day! It did cloud up again after lunch, but rain was limited to a narrow line of showers ahead of the afternoon cold front. And where else but on Monhegan do you end your day with a beer and chocolate pairing at Monhegan Brewing, with lobster rolls and bratwurst…and Tennessee Warblers still singing away!
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Red_Admiral,Marion_Sprague-editedRed Admirals were quite abundant, increasing as the weekend went on. 

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At dusk, I took a walk to catch up with a friend, listening to the Sora and Virginia Rail in the marsh, and several American Woodcocks going wild.

On Monday, the last day of the tour itself, we awoke to moderate fog but very light winds. The radar return was somewhat ambiguous, but it could have been strong in the first 2/3rds of the night despite light easterly winds shifting to the west and then northwest by morning. And very few flight calls were heard overhead before coffee, suggestive of less of a migration overnight as we had hoped.

Immediately, however, we found a nice pocket of mixed warblers right behind the Trailing Yew, so we jumped right into enjoying them.  Then, I got a text that right around the corner – in the direction I usually walk before breakfast! – the state’s second ever Eurasian Collared-Dove was just discovered.  We zipped over to immediately hear and see it – not just another new island bird, but a new Maine bird for me!  And another life bird for most of the group. And it wasn’t even time for breakfast yet.
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Light northeast winds slowly shifted the southeast over the course of the day, but while the day remained rather raw, it was once again precipitation-free. Unfortunately, overall, the birding was on the slow side. Well, even in the good ol’ days there were slow days!
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cemetery-editedEAKI_J-MoEastern Kingbird.

ducking_Marion_Sprague-editedFuzzy baby ducks!  This chick’s mom was a Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid. 

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SCTA_perched_JMO1Female (top) and male Scarlet Tanagers were omnipresent at Donna’s feeders. #MonheganBirdingProblems

While the tour officially came to an end, Jeannette and I remained on the island – joined now and again by a few friends – and enjoyed a relaxing evening and another amazing Island Inn dinner. Winds were forecast to remain northwesterly overnight, with precipitation and fog developing. Our hopes for one last big day were not high as we turned in.
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Winds were northeasterly at dawn, but most of the night saw northwesterly winds – unfavorable to migrants heading northward. Not surprisingly, there was little or no visible migration on the radar overnight. So why was there a morning flight when I finally stumbled outside at 6:15?  A flock of 38 Blue Jays swirling about, more Bay-breasted Warblers than in the last 3 days combined, lots of Blackpoll Warblers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be everywhere.

In fact, it was really birdy again (nothing like Friday, mind you). There were active pockets of birds almost everywhere. Blackpoll Warblers were common, and flycatchers had arrived en masse: while there had been plenty of Least Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees around, Alder Flycatchers were not conspicuous, and I had my first Willow Flycatcher of the year.

EWPE_J-MoEastern Wood-Pewee (from the previous, sunny day).

Jeannette and I enjoyed a great view of the Eurasian Collared-Dove in the morning, but later it was upstaged by a sighting of it flying together with the re-appearing White-winged Dove. I finally saw the one Pine Warbler that had been around; my 22nd warbler species of the trip, but I did miss a Morning Warbler at the ice pond in the morning. Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstarts, and about as many Eastern Wood-Pewees as I have ever seen in a day were among the impressive tallies.
BLPW_J-MoBlackpoll Warbler (male, above) in comparison to Black-and-white Warbler (female, below).
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Why were there so many more birds around? Where did they come from, and how? Well, predicting bird migration and analyzing it via NEXRAD radar is far from an exact science, and part of the thrill of the day was how unexpected it was. It was thought-provoking at least.
clouds-edited

Unfortunately, shortly after noon, it began to rain, and rain steady enough that bird activity was reduced dramatically. But, with final preparations – such as goodbyes to friends and beer to go – to leave the island, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. But with a little time to spare, Jeannette decided we should do one more walk around the southeast corner of the island, from the cul-de-sac to the Wyeth House, just to see if the concentration of warblers that my group and I saw on Friday had returned in the inclement weather.

So off we went. We were pretty much soaked by now anyway, so why stop now. And good thing that we did. While warblers on the rocks were limited to just a couple immature male American Redstarts, flycatchers were all over the place. Several Alder Flycatchers joined at least a dozen Eastern Wood-Pewees in foraging for flies right at the water’s edge. I thought I spotted another Yellow-bellied Flycatcher heading away, but when it landed, I noticed it was nearly as big as the Alders, and not at all yellow-bellied. The size, fairly long bill, coupled with primary projection almost as long as a pewee and a greenish back with off-white underparts was obviously – well, obvious through the fog and drops of rain on our binoculars – an Acadian Flycatcher. One was reported here the day before – but met with skepticism by me and several others I spoke with, after several exhaustive searches failed to turn it up. But alas, presumably, here it was!

My second on the island, and another southern vagrant that was part of this recent “overshooting” event, it was an exciting way to finish the trip. While I bounced around the rocks trying to photograph the bird with a wet phone held up to equally-wet binoculars, time was ticking, and we really needed to go. In the end, I think my one photograph of the bird might actually just be seaweed on a rock, as I was shooting blindly with a touch screen that was too wet to be much use.

It’s sometimes hard to leave on such a good day, but with so many good birds and excitement over the past five, I could not get too greedy. And a close-up Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin on the ride back helped, too.

As did the feeling that it was, once again, and at least for one long weekend, just like it was in the good ol’ days!
MAWA_J-MoMagnolia Warbler

BTBW_J-MoBlack-throated Blue Warbler

5 days, 112 total species (minus 3 for the Tuesday-only birds) and plus 4 for ferry-only birds with the group. Not bad!

* denotes ferry ride only
24-May 25-May 26-May 27-May 28-May
Wood Duck 0 0 1 0 0
American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid 1 1 1 1 1
Mallard x x x x x
Common Eider x x x x x
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 0 0
White-winged Scoter 3* 0 0 0 1
Red-breasted Merganser 2 0 0 0 0
Ring-necked Pheasant 0 1 0 1 2
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE 0 0 0 1 1
WHITE-WINGED DOVE 1 1 1 0 0
Mourning Dove 4 4 8 6 8
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Chimney Swift 6 1 2 0 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 8 4 8 6 6
Virginia Rail 0 0 1 1 1
Sora 0 1 1 1 1
Black Guillemot x x x x x
ATLANTIC PUFFIN 1* 0 0 0 1*
Razorbill 0 0 0 0 1*
Semipalmated Plover 1 0 0 0
American Woodcock 0 0 3 0
Spotted Sandpiper 0 2 1 0
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 1 1 1
Laughing Gull x* 2 2 3 6
Ring-billed Gull 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern x* 0 0 0
Roseate Tern 2* 0 0 0
Common Loon 2 (10*) 0 0 1 4 (4*)
Northern Gannet 2* 2 6 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
Great Blue Heron 0 2 1 0 0
Green Heron 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 1 0 0 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 2 0 1 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 0 1 0 0
Red-bellied Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 1
HAIRY WOODPECKER 0 0 1 0 1
Merlin 2 1 0 0 0
Peregrine Falcon 0 1 0 0 0
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4 2 4 5 40
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 2
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER 0 0 0 0 1
Alder Flycatcher 1 1 0 2 10
Willow Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 5
Least Flycatcher 15 12 12 10 15
Eastern Kingbird 5 3 2 5 6
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 6 1 0 0 0
Warbling Vireo 0 0 1 0 0
Red-eyed Vireo 4 4 10 4 20
Blue Jay 4 48 12 25 38
American Crow x x x 6 x
Common Raven 2 0 0 2 2
Tree Swallow 0 2 2 5 4
CLIFF SWALLOW 0 0 0 0 1
Barn Swallow 2 2 4 6 6
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 6 6 10 4
Winter Wren 0 1 1 2 0
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 2 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 8 0
Eastern Bluebird 0 0 1 0 0
Swainson’s Thrush 3 3 2 2 0
American Robin 8 8 x x x
Gray Catbird 4 x x x x
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling 8 8 x x
Cedar Waxwing 200 80 100 125 100
Purple Finch 1 1 1 3 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 2 0
American Goldfinch x x 10 10 8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 1 1 0 0
White-crowned Sparrow 1 1 0 0 0
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 1 3 2 1 1
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2 2 0 0 0
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 0 0
Ovenbird 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Waterthrush 2 1 0 2 1
Black-and-white Warbler 4 6 3 3 4
Tennessee Warbler 40 25 20 15 10
Nashville Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
American Redstart 25 10 15 10 60
Cape May Warbler 2 4 4 2 8
Northern Parula 20 10 6 8 6
Magnolia Warbler 30 10 10 6 30
Bay-breasted Warbler 10 4 2 0 6
Blackburnian Warbler 20 6 6 3 5
Yellow Warbler 15 15 20 20 25
Chestnut-sided Warbler 6 20 25 15 15
Blackpoll Warbler 40 10 15 25 80
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 0 1 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 0 0
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4 8 4 4 3
PRAIRIE WARBLER 1 1 0 0 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 10 3 12 2
Canada Warbler 6 2 5 1 1
Wilson’s Warbler 2 1 1 0 2
SUMMER TANAGER 1 1 1 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 7 7 6 4 1
Northern Cardinal 5 4 6 4 4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 2 2 2 2
Indigo Bunting 1 2 3 0 1
Bobolink 7 4 4 4 1
Red-winged Blackbird x x x x x
Common Grackle x x x x x
Baltimore Oriole 1 1 2 1 0
Day Total 70 77 73 67 71

EUCD_J-Mo

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Warblers and Wort, 5/12/19


The reincarnation of our spring “Warblers and Wort” tour in our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, was quite successful last Sunday. On this “Mother’s Day Special” tour, we decided to stay local, visiting some of Portland’s most famous institutions in both the beer and birding worlds.

We began in the urban greenspace – a classic “migrant trap” – of Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery.  Spring remains behind schedule this year, and it was a chilly start to the day – but hey, it wasn’t raining for a change!  While warbler diversity was lower than expected for the advancing date, we did eek out 10 species of warblers. Almost everything we did see, however, we saw incredibly well. Nashville and Magnolia Warblers performed well, but Ovenbirds stole the warbler show: we had several birds out in the open for prolonged, enjoyable views, about as good as can ever be expected when stomping a large group through the woods.

Only Veeries outshined Ovenbirds today in their cooperation. This often-shy thrush was anything but. We saw at least 6, and all were seen incredibly well, including two strolling out in the lawn like the robin they are related to. Many folks commented that they had never seen Veeries – or most any thrush! – so well. There were several sizable groups of White-throated Sparrows marching through the woods, including one group of 20-30 that we were surrounded by at one point. All of their leaf scratching was loud enough that it sounded like some large mammals were tromping through the understory. The song of a newly-arrived Wood Thrush and the old-timey football helmet sported by a White-crowned Sparrow were among the other highlights.

Ovenbird

Veery

Our second stop in the birding portion of the tour was another urban oasis, nearby Capisic Pond Park. Again, we were treated to fantastic views of almost every species we encountered, highlighted by a male Orchard Oriole (a “life bird” for many on the trip). A pair breeds here almost every year, but it’s the only known regular breeding location for this southern species in the state, so it was a real treat to find and see so well. We also heard and saw several of the more common Baltimore Orioles, and even saw a nest under construction that was using strips of blue tarp! (How Maine is that?)

Orchard Oriole

A fly-by Green Heron and an ultra-cooperative Least Flycatcher were other highlights, along with common species such as cardinals and Yellow Warblers. The Least Fly was confiding enough to allow us to get into the topic of “tertial step and primary projection,” adding to our toolkit of identification techniques. The genus Empidonax is one of the most challenging in the bird world, but this structural starting point quickly narrows the choices to a very manageable number. And I always take the time to show off one of my favorite colors in nature: the eye of the Double-crested Cormorant.

Perhaps sour beers are the “tertial step and primary projection on Empidonax flycatchers” to many beer drinkers: it’s a more nuanced approach and probably doesn’t appeal to everyone. But our BOT-Roadtrips want introduce our clients to as wide of a range of beer types as bird species, so we had a special experience in store for the group as we rolled into Bissell Brothers Brewing at Thompson’s Point.

First up, each participant got to choose a different beer based on their tastes or what “lifers” they had not yet tried. There were at least five different brews sampled by my quick count, and the whole gamut of styles was represented. Personally, I chose the new Lucent, a Helles Style Lager as it was light and refreshing (and therefore good for a leader who had to articulate – or try to – for the next few hours). Crisp, clean, with a nice lemony bite, this was a great representation of the style.

But then our trusty beer leader for the day, Don, pulled out a surprise: a Magnum bottle of Bissell’s famous Seed. Brewed only once a year featuring “over 2,000 lbs of strawberries and raspberries from Bradbury Mountain Farm in Pownal,” Bissell was doing a special bottle pour event today, and so of course we had to partake. The faces of some folks was predictable when faced with the words “fruited sour beer,” and were equivalent to the deer-in-headlights looks when hearing “primary projection” for the first time. Some even refused. And then we gave them some anyway.  And some of those then had some more.

It’s not for everyone, but I was really pleased by how excited people were to try a “rarity” that they would otherwise likely never have a chance at (like Orchard Orioles without going to Capisic). More importantly, the discussion of the beer that continued as we boarded the bus was how eye-opening the beer was for so many. Pleasantly tart, with a nice clean finish and a real depth of strawberry flavor, we every well may have created some sour fans (or at least sour-curious) on this trip.

Next up was Goodfire Brewing, one of Portland’s hottest up-and-comers, and admittedly, one of my personal favorites to visit. In a more traditional visit for our beer tours, we enjoyed four small 4oz pours, which nicely showcased the range of styles offered here.  As Chrissy led us on a tour of the brew house, we discussed the differences and similarities of each sample we tried, as well as the history of the names and label art.

We began with the perfectly balanced flagship beer, Prime IPA. The Citra and Amarillo hops really shine through, thanks to the clean and rather light malt bill that still ends without any bitterness.

Having learned that hops don’t necessary equal bitter, we dove into deeper discussion of hops with Goodfire’s latest single-hopped brew in their Minimum series. This incarnation featured Idaho 7 hops – itself an up and comer in the beer world – that has a nice flavor balance of citrus and pine with a hint of tropical fruit.  If IPAs were Empidonax flycatchers, hops would be their primary projection. Or something, OK, fine, maybe I am stretching these analogies too far now…

Moving on, we lightened things up a bit with Can’t Stay Long, a classic clean and crisp German Pilsner with a somewhat bready finish. Pilsners are a tried and true style that might not be all that hip and trendy, but should still be appreciated – like a common Northern Cardinal sitting in the sun (OK, last one, I swear).

It was appropriate that after our sour revelations at Bissell, Goodfire would finish us up with a sample of their new fruited sour: Astro 5 – Double Blackberry. This was all the way blackberry, pleasantly tart, but with a clean finish that made you come back for more. In fact, more Astro was purchased to go than all other beers combined today!  So I guess sours aren’t all that scary! And neither are Empidonax flycatch.….dammit, I did it again.

As usual, our Roadtrips never have enough time for it all, neither beer nor birds, but today we had a delightful sampling of each. And based on the feedback received, I think there’s a fair chance you’ll see this itinerary return next year, and likely on Mother’s Day, so get it in on your schedule now!

Until then, perhaps we’ll see you on June’s Grassland and Grains – one of our most popular, annual outings that are always a blast, with both great birds and some great beer, and never with a dull moment. See you then!