Author Archives: Derek

2019 Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Series

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2019 in our popular “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

For 2019, we have added a brand new “Rarity Roundup” tour in November, and completely overhauled the brewery (and distillery) destination for almost every tour. We’ll visit breweries from Newcastle to York, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Classics such as Spring and Fall editions of “Ducks and Draughts” and “Grassland and Grains” remain and continue to be some of our most popular options.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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So without any further ado, the ten tours for 2019 are as follows:

“Gulls and Growlers”
Saturday, January 19, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm
(Snowdate: none)

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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles. Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks. In addition, if time permits, we’ll seek out some Snowy Owls if they are being seen near our route.

And, there are a few spots still remaining for this tour, now just 3 days away!

Breweries: Cushnoc Brewing and Moderation Brewing in Brunswick.

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 10, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm
(Snowdate February 17)

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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: Wiggly Bridge Distilling in York and Dirigo Brewing in Biddeford.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 7, 2019; 9:30am – 4:00pm

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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle and Bath Brewing Company in Bath.

Warblers and Wort
Sunday, May 12, 2019; 8:00am – 2:00pm
MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL!

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May means warbler migration, and the new destination for Warblers and Wort will hit two of Maine’s most famous springtime migrant traps, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery and nearby Capisic Pond Park. Two oases in the urban jungle, featuring water sources and a mix of various habitats, help concentrate migrant birds that found themselves in or over the city come sunrise. After migrating all night, tired travelers looks for refuge: food, water, and shelter, and urban greenspaces are absolutely critical for refueling. While we’re a little early in the month for the largest diversity of warblers, early May could produce incredible numbers of some of the first arrivals, especially Palm and Yellow-rumped. 10-12 species of warblers are certainly possible by this early date, depending on the progression of the season. However, other migrants, such as sparrows, raptors, and other Neotropical Migrants such as orioles and tanagers are also on the move, increasing our chances of seeing a diversity of species. If the cemetery’s apples and cherries are already blooming, we may be in for quite a treat as these are absolute magnets for hungry migrants. It’s sometimes hard to leave Evergreen on a busy spring morning, but if we do, it will be for the very short trip over to Capisic Pond Park, where we’ll continue to seek migrants of all shapes and sizes.

Breweries: Bissell Brothers Brewing and Austin Street Brewery, Portland.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 2nd, 2019; 8:00am – 2:30pm

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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow in Lyman and Batson River Brewing in Biddeford.

“Terns and Taps”
Sunday, July 7, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm

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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds. Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barreled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Steins”
Sunday, August 4, 2019; 9:00am – 3:00pm

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The original BoT Roadtrip! in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Sod-pipers and Sips”
Sunday September 8th – 9:00am to 4:00pm

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We’ll be a little more specific in our targets for this trip, as we’re heading this way to seek the sought-after group of birds affectionately known as “Grasspipers,” but for both accuracy and alliteration, we’re calling them “sod-pipers.” Our goals include the uncommon American Golden-Plover, but we’re heading to one of the most reliable places in the state for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Baird’s Sandpiper, two rare-but-regular species that visit us in very small numbers each fall. While Killdeer is probably our only sure bet, other shorebirds are always hoped for, with our focus on the fields and turf farms that are best for Buff-breasted and Baird’s. In the open areas we’ll also look for Sandhill Cranes (a flock usually begins to assemble here by early September), American Pipits, and Horned Larks, while riparian edges could produce some migrant warblers. Raptors are regular as well, including Bald Eagles and American Kestrels.

Ebenezer’s regularly tops almost every list of best beer bars in the world, so instead of visiting where beer is made as our first stop, we’ll visit a place where one of the world’s finest beers are sold.
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Breweries: Ebenezer’s Brewpub in Lovell and Saco River Brewing Co in Fryeburg.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, October 20, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm

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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Side by Each Brewing in Auburn and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Rarity Roundup” (*NEW TOUR*)
Sunday, November 3rd, 2019; 8:00am – 3:00pm

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A brand-new itinerary for 2019, we’re going to try something a little different. Early November is a fantastic time of year in Maine for vagrants – birds normally seen in far-off places. Due to a combination of weather patterns, changing seasonal food resources, falling temperatures, and other factors – some of which are not completely understood – birds that may have ended up in Maine by “accident” begin to concentrate at the coast in “migrant traps” and “hotspots.” In other words, this is the time of year to expect the unexpected.

A traditional “Rarity Roundup” involves teams of birders heading out on a given day during rarity prime time, looking for species that are not supposed to be around. And in honor of that tradition, that’s exactly what we are going to do on this unique tour. We may “chase” a rarity (go to see something that has already been found, aka “twitch”) or we might choose a destination known for rare birds in an attempt to find one of our own. Or perhaps, we’ll do both!

Anything between Portland and Wells is fair game, unless something truly epic is a little further in a different direction. And we might not even know where we will head until we are on the bus and the latest rare bird alert is received. For those who love adding a bird to your Life or State List, and/or basking in the thrill of discovery, well then this is the tour for you! In between seeing great birds, we’ll discuss the complex factors that are involved in delivering rarities to an area, and how we go about finding them.

And to mix things up even more, we’ll be visiting one of our favorite breweries, but also a kombuchery where this very low-alcohol fermented tea beverage is produced

Breweries: Root Wild Kombucha and Goodfire Brewing in Portland.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including easy on-line registration), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website.

And for a little history about how this partnership developed and continues to grow, check out this blog entry from early 2016, as we introduced the first full season on 6 Roadtrips.
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We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!

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2019 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

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Great friggin’ Black Hawk. In Maine. Nope, not on my predictions list. And not in a city. And not eating squirrels. And not in the snow…

Yup, it’s that time of year again. Hey, remember when we couldn’t wait for 2017 to end? And then 2018 happened? Yeah, well…come on 2019 – we need you! But 2018 did feature some incredible birding in Maine, with some “Mega” rarities that at least provided temporary distraction from everything else.

And as 2018 comes to a close, 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 my own personal state list, in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2018 Predictions post, and see how I did.

For the second year in a row, an impressive five birds were new to Maine in 2018. The first new bird of the year was a Violet-green Swallow in Bar Harbor on April 14th. I had that on my long Honorable Mention list, but I did not have it ranked in the top 25.

But I did have Roseate Spoonbill at #4, and one arrived in a farm pond Sebec on August 27th (NOT where I would have predicted the first record to be!). I, and many others, were lucky enough to see this bird during its stay of several weeks.

A Western Wood-pewee in June in Jonesport on June 12th provided the state’s first confirmed record, but it wasn’t chaseable. This was #17 on my Predictions List, but it would have been much higher if it was easier to identify, and especially confirm!

Monhegan got on the scoreboard once again when it hosted the state’s first Gray Flycatcher on October 4th – #20 on my list. I feel western Empids are under-detected in Maine, so this was probably more overdue than unexpected.

And the fifth, and certainly not least, was the incredible and mind-blowing Great Black Hawk that first showed up in Biddeford on August 6th and remained for a few exciting days. After a tantalizing sighting on October 30th on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, the bird has called Deering Oaks Park – and nearby neighborhoods – home since November 29th! Thousands of birders from across the continent have been treated to this insane occurrence. Not only is it a first for Maine, but it has been conclusively identified as the SAME BIRD that provided North America’s (US and Canada in birder-speak) first record on South Padre Island in Texas in April of this year. And no, I have no explanation for this…or how it’s still alive.
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So I went 3 for 5 on predictions for 2018. Not too bad! The Violet-green Swallow was on my Honorable Mentions list as well, but no, I – nor not another person on this planet – predicted a Great Black Hawk in Maine! And I was so very close on my #1: Neotropic Cormorant. Literally close, as in just a few miles, as New Hampshire’s first was discovered in Gorham in August, just up the Androscoggin River from the Maine border.

Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2019 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) Zone-tailed Hawk
19) Painted Redstart
20) Ross’s Gull (another one that was very close, being seen in NH/MA waters in November)
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Personally, I added 3 species to my own Maine list this year as well. There was the aforementioned Roseate Spoonbill that we caught up with “on the way” back from a weekend of birding fun with friends in Washington County on August 29th. This was #22 on my predictions list for myself.
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A territorial Chuck-will’s-widow that was found in Orland on June 9th luckily stayed around, singing its heart out, long enough for me, and a carload of friends, to enjoy it on the evening of June 26th. It was on my honorable mention list, but no credit is given for that.

Then there was the Great Black Hawk that I definitely dropped everything to chase back in August, and I have visited several times since in Portland. Just because it’s a Great Black Hawk in Portland! And no, it wasn’t on my personal predictions list either, obviously.
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Then, as always, there were the misses. My Great Skua (#1) nemesis continues, with several weathered-out boat trips out of Bar Harbor late in the fall once again. But, I do have a Bonxie on my state list now!
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Rapidly rising up the list of nemesises, however, is American White Pelican (#5)! One was in Wells while I was leading a tour on on Monhegan in May, and then Jeanette and I dipped on one in December, also in the Webhannet Marsh in Wells. We got a chance to look for it the day after it left (and arrived in New Hampshire) after about 24 hours in the Maine. On Christmas Eve, it was spotted briefly about a half hour after we drove through Portland on our way south, and was seen by a lucky few on Christmas Morning. Jeannette and I go away on Thursday – I have no doubt it will show up and remain visible for several days while I am gone.

I missed another Slaty-backed Gull (#12) as well, one that showed up in February while Jeannette and I were on vacation. A Brown Booby (Honorable Mention) off Bar Harbor in June wasn’t chaseable.

So now, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine receives only minor changes:
1) Great Skua
2) Eurasian Collared-Dove
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) American White Pelican
6) Neotropic Cormorant
7) Tundra Swan
8) Franklin’s Gull
9) Brown Pelican
10) California Gull
11) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
12) Slaty-backed Gull
13) Boreal Owl
14) Calliope Hummingbird
15) Cerulean Warbler
16) White Ibis
17) Gull-billed Tern
18) Hammond’s Flycatcher
19) Spotted Towhee
20) Wood Stork
21) Common Ringed Plover
22) Yellow Rail
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

But, we are in often-unpredictable times, and this includes the bird world. Increased trans-Atlantic shipping could offer respite for a bird to arrive “ship-assisted” (we’ll save that discussion for another day, but in my opinion, we’re in the Anthropocene, so riding a cargo ship is just as “natural” as flying a thousands miles in the wrong direction on its own). The globe is warming – droughts, fires, floods, extreme hot and cold temperatures, the opening of the “Northwest Passage…” Could pesticides impact a bird’s ability to navigate? Recent research suggests so. So really, I could probably put any of the world’s 10,000+ birds on my predictions list and have a chance at this point!

Without vagrancy, no remote islands would have birds. No Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s Finches. These anomalies that excite us birders are not always evolutionary dead ends, but perhaps the vanguard, the pioneers, of a new species that in 10,000 to 1 million or so years, might be added to my next 25 species in Maine list!

Are There “No Birds Out There?” – A Day on a Christmas Bird Count as a Case Study.


It was a record year for Evening Grosbeaks in our CBC territory.

On Sunday, December 30th, Erin Walter joined me for the Freeport-Brunswick Christmas Bird Count (CBC). My annual territory covers most of Freeport west of I-295, with a small bite of Yarmouth, a sliver of Pownal, and a corner of Durham. It’s suburban and ex-urban, almost exclusively residential, and public open space is limited to Hedgehog Mountain Park and adjacent playing fields, Florida Lake Park, and Hidden Pond Preserve.

Like all of the CBCs I do, we walk…a lot. And this year was no exception. While the rest of the team abandoned me (the car was full just the day before!), Erin stuck with the deathmarch to its chilly end, and Jeannette (and Bonxie) covered the Hedgehog Mountain Park area in the early morning for us. With just a team of two for the day, Erin and I spent most of our time split up, dividing the length of roads we cover by walking mile stretches and leap-frogging each other with a car. Using that strategy, we cover a majority of the sector’s roads, and we cover it thoroughly: woodlots, fields, feeders, yards, etc, are all checked.

In the end, we walked up to 12 miles each, with a total of 17.5 miles covered by the two of us, and another 2 covered by Jeannette.  About 18 miles were covered by car. In other words, we spent most of the day outside, working each and every mixed-species foraging flock we encountered.

I have covered this sector for 13 of the past 14 years, and each year I have done it the same way. It’s nothing if not thorough as less than 8 hours of useable daylight can offer. Therefore, the 13 years of data provide an interesting little dataset, one that can be compared and dissected. That’s why I like to do this relatively unproductive (by coastal Maine standards) territory. And, this is why I am writing this blog today: because I think the consistency and standardization provides a way to contrast seasons more than just anecdotally.

With a cold – but not brutally so, it was -16F when we started last year! – and calm day, weather wouldn’t be a factor in limiting detections, so our count should be a little snapshot of “what’s going on out there.”  It’s a good way for me to collect data for my preconceived notions, or find out that I need to refute them. So what IS going on out there?

Total species were just below average for us, while total individuals were a little above average. Let’s try and break it down a bit.

After a very cold start to the winter, it’s been mostly above normal, and we’re down to just a patchy layer of icy snow. Some running fresh water is open, but most small ponds are still frozen. But our section has limited water, so waterbird numbers are uninspiring no matter what. The Cousin’s River Marsh west of the interstate was mostly frozen, and the little stretch of open water in the river was completely devoid of ducks. It’s a Sunday, so the Brunswick Landfill is closed, so we didn’t have the evening commute of gulls returning to roost on the bay to tally.

However, I know for a fact we cover the landbirds as exhaustively as anyone, and this is where the data gets interesting. Oak, beech, and White Pine nuts and seeds are virtually non-existent this year, as we all have been noticing. There’s not much spruce cone in our area either and very little Eastern Hemlock. Paper Birch and especially Yellow Birch, however, are in decent shape, as is Speckled Alder.  Ash seeds are in good supply.

With so little natural food resources overall, it was an extraordinary fall for bird feeding, augmented by the early cold and snow. Since then, however, it has felt like birds have “disappeared,” and many folks coming into the store are reporting slow feeding stations. Are there birds out there and just not coming to feeders? Or did everything move on? Or, is our perception simply wrong?  Erin and I wanted to find out.

As always, the answer differed between species. We had a record low for Blue Jays, more than 1/3 of average. Clearly, with the lack of acorns to cache, most of our Blue Jays simply moved on – those caches of Black Oil Sunflower seeds and peanuts they hoarded in the fall can only go so far. And we set a new record low for Rock Pigeons (0!) as they were all apparently at our store’s feeders outside our territory all day. And on some days of birding, you just don’t see a lot of raptors.

Woodpeckers were interesting. We were above average in Red-bellied (continuing their increasing trend in Maine) and Downy, but Hairys had their second highest tally – almost double average. They were also drumming more widely than usual for the end of the year; did that simply increase detection or are there more around this year, perhaps following a very good breeding season?

33 European Starlings was a new record high count for the territory. American Crows, Brown Creepers, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and House Finches were all above average. The measly 5 American Tree Sparrows were a new record low, however, perhaps due to that early snowfall. Then again, Dark-eyed Juncos were well above average, so who knows?

Considering birch and alder are the only good tree seed crops around, we were not surprised to find an above-average number of American Goldfinches. Common Redpolls aren’t here yet, and the good numbers of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins from the fall have clearly moved on. However, the best winter for Evening Grosbeaks in at least 20 years continues – we had a new record high for the territory, with 2 in a yard on Hunter Road and 1 loner on Merrill Road in Freeport, and an impressive group of 26 on Webster Road, which Erin was able to extensively photograph.

But of most interest to me are the core members (joined by the woodpeckers and to a lesser extent some of the finches) of the mixed-species foraging flocks that travel our woods and pass through our yards. The “feeder birds and allies” if you will. The insect-eating Brown Creepers were above average, but Golden-crowned Kinglets were extremely low. I don’t have an explanation here, so I’ll concentrate on the seed-eating members of the flock.

We were interested to find that Black-capped Chickadees were just about average; they seemed low of late, making me wonder if they too moved further south this winter. Yet surprisingly, we had a new record high count for Tufted Titmice, more than doubling our 13-year average. Good breeding season, or do these resident birds not clear out when food resources are slim?  Both nuthatches were above average, but I was really surprised to find Red-breasted Nuthatches so common. I thought they too had continued on, but there was 1-2 with almost every flock we encountered.

But where we saw these birds was definitely telling. In an hour at Hedghog Mountain, Jeannette has all of 3 Black-capped Chickadees, 2 White-breasted Nuthatches, and 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch. Erin and I had absolutely nothing at Florida Lake Park.  Other stretches of mostly wooded habitat was very quiet. But in neighborhoods with well-stocked bird feeders? Lots of birds!  Although we didn’t necessarily see as many birds at feeders themselves as in and around yards that have them, I t’s clear that the supplemental food resources offered by people increases the number of birds in the area in winter. And on a relatively mild and benign day, they were mostly out feeding elsewhere – but we know where they’ll go as the pressure starts to drop this afternoon with the approaching storm.  And in contrast, while we had some goldfinches at feeders, we had most of them in birches and alders, even weedy areas –all natural food which is readily available at the moment, as opposed to many of the other tree crops.

So what does this all mean? Well, good question! And I don’t really know!  But clearly it’s not quite as “slow” out there as many bird watchers are reporting. While Evening Grosbeaks were rightly the star of the show today, I learned a lot about the current status of our “feeder birds.”  More questions and answers, as always, but I enjoyed the exercise of analyzing and postulating (i.e. pretending I am still a scientist). This small section of the state, on only one day, covered by only 2 people, can only tell us so much, but after 13 years of doing this essentially the same way, the numbers are easy to compare and contrast. And perhaps, after a handful of more years, we might even have a little fun with some trend analysis.

Until then, here’s our annotated checklist for the day (and yes, the taxonomy of my spreadsheet is woefully outdated). Averages are in parentheses.

Begin: 7:17am. 19F, mostly cloudy, very light NW.
End: 3:55pm. 23F (high of 25F), clear, calm.

Miles by foot: 17.5 + 2
Miles by car: 18.0

Total species (31.6): 29
Total individuals (903.5): 1017

Red-tailed Hawk (1.3): 1
Wild Turkey (11.2): 5
Herring Gull (24): 1 *record low
Rock Pigeon (25): 0 *record low.
Mourning Dove (50): 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker (.75): 3
Downy Woodpecker (17): 19
Hairy Woodpecker (12): 23 *2nd highest
Pileated Woodpecker (1.9): 1
Blue Jay (76.1): 21 *record low
American Crow (76): 103
Common Raven (2.6): 2
Black-capped Chickadee (307): 317
Tufted Titmouse (33): 72 *New Record
Red-breasted Nuthatch (17): 23
White-breasted Nuthatch (27): 37
Brown Creeper (3): 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet (11): 3
Eastern Bluebird (1): 4
European Starling (14.5): 33 *record high
American Tree Sparrow (23.2): 5 *record low
Song Sparrow (1.1): 2
White-throated Sparrow (0.6): 1
Dark-eyed Junco (28): 69
Northern Cardinal (11): 18
House Finch (8.4): 23
American Goldfinch (83): 119
EVENING GROSBEAK (2.4): 29 *record high
House Sparrow (13.8): 1 (was a lone House Sparrow the rarest bird of the day?)

To compare, check out my blog from late fall of 2017, entitled: “Why there are no Birds at Your Feeders Right Now,” for a completely different reason.

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