A remarkable bird for Maine, let alone in under-birded (away from Sabattus Pond anyway) Androscoggin County, I was privileged to be able to visit this Harris’s Sparrow on private property in Turner on the 13th, the day after we returned from vacation. It was most cooperative, being constantly in view for the 35 minutes I was there. Unfortunately, it was a dark and dreary morning, so my photos leave something to be desired!
A few observations of note over the past five days as I tried to squeeze in as much birding as I could before I undergo shoulder surgery included the following. Even if I missed the Livermore Falls Townsend’s Solitaire twice (darn it), it was a very productive week, headlined by my second Harris’s Sparrow in Maine (and one of my favorite sparrows, too!).
1 female Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bernard Lown Peace Bridge, Lewiston/Auburn, 1/13.
1 adult Iceland Gull, North River Road boat launch, Auburn, 1/13.
1 continuing HARRIS’S SPARROW (present since 1/11), private property in Turner, 1/13 (photo above).
1 Pine Grosbeak (first of season), Hillman Ferry Road, Livermore Falls, 1/13 (did not find the Townsend’s Solitaire that day, unfortunately).
2 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, between Winslow Park and the Harraseekett Yacht Club, South Freeport, 1/14 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
8 Black-legged Kittiwakes, Short Sands Beach, York, 1/15 (with Down East Adventures Winter Waterbirds Workshop group).
1 adult Iceland Gull, The Nubble, York, 1/15 (with Down East Adventures Winter Waterbirds Workshop group).
Freeport Wild Bird Supply is very excited to partner with Down East Magazine’s Down East Adventures for our third year. In 2023, we are expanding our offerings to include two exclusive overnight trips, along with our popular ½- and whole-day targeted workshops. Focused on skill-builder rather than list-building, there will be plenty of “life birds,” but also more knowledge and education about birds, habitats, birding, and much more about the natural world.
The full list of upcoming tours can be found here. At the conclusion of each tour, I’ll post the trip report here.
Winter Waterbirds Workshop, January 15.
Caption: This Purple Sandpiper was about as cooperative as it gets for us at Sohier Park in York. Later, it was joined by its friends (photo below). This is really a lovely shorebird when viewed as well and as close as we experienced.
Extremely strong winds and very high seas presented a challenge as we sought out wintering waterbirds along the southern York County Coast. We worked hard to find sheltered water where we could observe birds well, but when we did find that secluded cove, peninsula lee, or rivermouth, we were treated to incredible looks at many of the birds we had hoped for.
We looked down on Red-breasted Mergansers at Perkin’s Cove, and you’ll never be closer to a Common Loon than we were at the Ogunquit Rivermouth. We checked a few more locations than I usually need to on this tour, but our most productive spot was the southern shoreline of Sohier Park at The Nubble. There, we were treated to close views of Black and White-winged Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, and a most-cooperative flock of Purple Sandpipers. We then ended the day at hidden Abbott’s Pond, where we enjoyed a break for the wind, close comparisons to study details between Mallards, American Black Ducks, and hybrids thereof.
Meanwhile, a group of 8 or so Black-legged Kittiwakes were feeding off of Short Sands Beach, and a stunning adult Iceland Gull passed by at The Nubble. Unfortunately, the seas were just a little too rough to find any alcids today, but we knew they were out there!
It took over a month, but I finally made time to look for the Townsend’s Solitaire in Wells on the 2nd. Quality time with it was a worthy consolation for just missing the Northern Lapwing in Arundel that departed this morning.
A few observations of note over the past three days before we head off on vacation included the following:
1 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE (first of season locally) and 19 DUNLIN, Winslow Park, Freeport, 12/31 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
40 continuing American Coots, 6 Ring-necked Ducks, 14 Lesser Scaup, 10 Greater Scaup, etc, Chickawaukie Pond, Rockland (with Paul Dioron, Kristen Lindquist, and Jeannette).
1 continuing Killdeer, Arundel Road, Kennebunkport, 1/2. I missed the Northern Lapwing by 28 minutes.
1 continuing TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE, Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm, 1/2. After about 45 minutes, heard calling from marsh edge north of viewing platform on Laird-Norton Trail. Called as Eastern Bluebirds arrived, often chasing or at least following them. Followed them right through viewing platform and alighted in small tree only about 30 feet away. Unfortunately, it was backlit for photos, but great look. Vocal and conspicuous for 15-20 minutes until bluebirds flew out across marsh. Photo above.
And as the calendar changes, it’s time for my annual Predictions Blog where I attempt to forecast the next 25 birds to occur in Maine, and for my own list:
OK, so it was technically first seen in 2021, but Steller’s Sea Eagle was the bird of the year. Or was it? It’s suffice to say, however, that my only photos of it from 2022 were not my photos of the year! Here it is in Georgetown on February 18th.
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.
Well, well, well, what a year of birding 2022 was here in Maine! Four new species were added to the all-time state list this season, and one of them was a complete shock. Let’s take a look at last year’s prognostications and see how I did.
Barolo Shearwater was added to the state list based on a 2021 photo by Doug Gochfeld from well offshore in the Northeast Channel, according to the Maine Bird Records Committee. That was #21 on my predictions list for Maine’s next birds.
A Masked Booby (on my honorable mentions list) at Mount Desert Rock in August was perhaps a sign of things to come – it or another may have been photographed off Monhegan in late September.
Also on my honorable mention list was Broad-tailed Hummingbird that graced a Freeport yard from November 5th through December 23rd. The details and the full story can be found on my blog, here. One could make the argument that this should have made the cut, as it has been long-overdue to be identified in New England.
Since the now-world-famous Steller’s Sea Eagle arrived at the tail end of 2021, it was not technically a new record in 2022. However, just about everyone saw it for the first time this year, and 2022 was definitely the year of the Steller’s Sea Eagle.
Shockingly, however, there was some debate about whether or not that was the bird, or even the raptor, of the year! Seriously. Since Steller’s Sea Eagle have bred on the continent and have been seen on several occasions in Alaska (and then “our bird” which was seen from Texas to Canada), one could argue that the raptor of the year was actually the Eurasian Marsh-Harrier that was discovered on North Haven on 8/25 and then found the next day at Weskeag Marsh in Thomaston (where it remained for less than 3 days). This was only the second record ever for the entire continent! The same bird resurfaced at the Troy Meadows in northern New Jersey in early November, but this is an incredible bird for North America. However, I would argue that the worldwide rarity of the Steller’s (only about 4,000 individuals) trumps the marsh-harrier, as it is quite common through much of the Old World. (These are the things birders like to argue about over pints of beer)
And no, the Eurasian Marsh-Harrier was most definitely not on my predictions list!
So with four new records only one of which was on my list, it’s obvious that predicting vagrancy is getting even more challenging. Climate change, land-use changes, rising and falling populations, perhaps even pesticide contamination or electromagnetic pollution is all conspiring to put odd birds in weird places. And, there are more birders looking, and much better communication.
While I would love to be “right” about my forecasts, we can now truly expect the unexpected, and one could argue almost any bird capable of flight (or long-distance swimming) could become Maine’s latest big twitch. But, if only for tradition’s sake, I’ll take a stab at my Next 25 Birds for Maine forecast:
A Black-chinned Hummingbird is overdue for Maine, but unless it’s an adult male with his purple throat in good light, it’s likely going to take banding and measurements to identify (like this year’s Broad-tailed).
I’ve added Heerman’s Gull to the list thanks to a growing number of Eastern Seaboard records – most of which are likely the same individual moving up and down the coast, although it seems like a longshot to make it this far north. Limpkin also debuts after an incredible irruption in 2022 with extralimital records from as far north as Michigan and New York. Was this a one-off due to some drastic change in water or food levels in its limit range in Florida, or is this another sign of the “new normal” of tropical birds venturing northward? To make room, I’ve dropped Kelp Gull out of the Top 25 for now.
Heerman’s Gull, San Diego, CA, August 2011.
Personally, I added an incredible six birds to my own state list this year. I even predicted two of them: The flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Camden that I twitched on 5/2 were #7 on my personal next list, while the flock of White Ibis in the Webhannet Marsh in Wells on 8/11 were #14 on my list.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
The Sage Thrasher at Gilsland Farm was the first in line on my honorable mentions list, as it was long overdue for Maine to get it’s second. Likewise, the two Henslow’s Sparrows in Brunswick (7/6) and the now-famous Freeport Broad-tailed Hummingbird were both on my honorable mentions list, but had not cracked the top 25 just yet.
Out of the blue was the aforementioned Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, which I happily got to see in Weskeag Marsh on 8/26. As Maine stakes its claim as the Raptor Rarity Capital of North America, I would not have wanted to miss this shocker.
As usual, I missed plenty of rarities too, although I was unable to chase many of them for various reasons (6 for 6 on chases this year is incredible…although it does help make up for all the times I did not see the Steller’s Sea Eagle!). American White Pelican (Grand Isle, 7/5; #1) and Franklin’s Gull (Sabattus Pond, 5/22; #3) are officially nemesis birds now. Other unchaseable potential state birds included Common Gull (Eastport, 2/17-23; honorable mention), Sandwich Tern (Mount Desert Rock, 7/6; honorable mention), and Western Wood-Pewee (banded at Riverpoint, Falmouth, 9/7; honorable mention).
As I approach the 400 species milestone, it’s not getting any easier, although I should hit the mark this year, based on current vagrancy trends! That’s my first prediction. As for what bird it will be, I believe it will be one of these 25. Although, nowadays, anything seems possible!
American White Pelican
Common Ringed Plover
Brown Pelican records are increasing in the northeast. It’s just a matter of time for one to fly by me! San Diego, CA, August 2011.
This Northern Fulmar graced Gloucester, MA harbor on 12/26. I originally found the bird in a short birding outing on Christmas Day. Details below.
My birding highlights this week were mostly from Christmas in Gloucester, Massachusetts. I did very little birding, but in short outings, found two great birds! The first was a NORTHERN FULMAR in Gloucester Harbor, during a short break from eating on Christmas Day. Although not a “rarity” in Massachusetts by any means, having one sit in the harbor was an exceedingly rare occurrence in New England. I managed some lousy phone-scoped photos while hand-holding my phone to my scope with frozen fingers in 30mph winds. We returned the next day where Jeannette greatly improved upon my photos (see above). Many birders enjoyed it through the 27th.
But that was trumped by a bona fide state rarity that Jeannette and I found while walking Bonxie on the 26th. This Eared Grebe we found off Niles Beach would be MA’s 20th record I believe. My phone-binned photos while out with the dog were the best we did, but many birders were finding it through week’s end.
We also had a THICK-BILLED MURRE off Niles Beach on the 25th (along with an intriguing distant grebe that was undoubtable the Eared we confirmed the next day) and I had 4 RED CROSSBILLS in the Eastern Point neighborhood on the 26th.
Meanwhile, here in Maine, my observations of note over the past ten days included the following:
1 Common Redpoll (FOS), our yard in Durham, 12/28-29.
1 continuing SAGE THRASHER, Gilsland Farm, Falmouth, 12/29. Great views and a prolonged period of observation with no one else present early in the morning. My photos were a little more distant than I would have liked (and backlit) but the quality time with this incredible rarity – unlike the brief view on my first visit – was most rewarding.
This snazzy, fresh adult male Red-winged Blackbird at a feeder in Wells was one of the few highlights in my usually-very-productive “Moody Sector” of the Southern York County CBC.
T’was the week before Christmas and all through Wild Bird Supply, no one was birding much, even this guy. Nonetheless, I found some great birds when I did get out this week:
1 incredibly late NELSON’S SPARROW, 1 Savannah Sparrow, 1 Northern Flicker, 4 Snow Buntings, etc, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 12/18. I was unaware that the Portland CBC was being conducted that day, but apparently, the Nelson’s was a first count record!
1 THICK-BILLED MURRE (FOS), Pine Point, Scarborough, 12/18. Not in great shape; I first saw it on land fighting off a crow on land before eventually waddling into the water.
“Moody Sector” of the Southern York County CBC, 12/19: 1538 individuals of 52 species (both quite low for me) with highlights including 4 American Wigeon (very surprisingly only a second count record!), 1 male Red-winged Blackbird, 2 Northern Harrier, and 18 Horned Larks.
1 Great Blue Heron (late for inland) and 1 1st-winted Iceland Gull, Auburn Riverwalk, 12/22.
1 SAGE THRASHER, Gilsland Farm, Falmouth, 12/22. 2nd State Record found earlier in the morning by Doug Hitchcox. I eventually had fantastic looks at it, including in flight, but I was on the wrong side of its favored tree for photographs, so this was the “best” I did!
Meanwhile, left off my weekly updates for the past four weeks has been my regular observation of one particular rarity right here in Freeport – Maine’s first ever Broad-tailed Hummingbird! Here’s the full story.
In the afternoon of 11/19, a customer of the store alerted me to the presence of a hummingbird in her Freeport yard, present since the 5th of November. For over 15 years, we have promoted keeping hummingbird feeders up late into the fall and letting us know about any hummingbirds after October 1st. In addition to several incredibly late reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (now annual in small numbers well into the second week of October), this campaign has resulted in the detection and documentation of a Selasphorous hummingbird on 10/16-17, 2015 in Yarmouth, and a long-staying Rufous Hummingbird observed by many between 10/18 and 12/5, 2020, also in Yarmouth – the first “chaseable” Rufous in eight years in the state.
Upon receiving the report, we urged the homeowner to get any sort of photo. Later that day the bird finally obliged, and the photos sent to us were suggestive of a Selasphorous hummingbird. I was invited to the property the following day to attempt more documentation. I arrived at 3:05pm with snow flurries falling, and soon heard the bird. The call was clearly of a Selasphorous-type hummingbird. My limited experience with separating Selasphorous by call did not permit me to draw any further conclusions (in hindsight though!)
Twenty minutes later, the bird appeared at the feeders, feeding long enough for photographs, before alighting on a nearby snag in a sliver of sunlight. In the field, and upon review of photographs, I immediately knew it was a Selasphorous. Lucky photos of a semi-spread tail showed a fairly broad outer tail feather, but I assumed it was probably “just” a Rufous. Or at least I am not knowledgeable enough to have thought beyond Rufous/Allen’s (it was clearly not a Calliope).
I reached out to Scott Weidensaul with the first few photos, and since he was available the next day to band it, I made arrangements with the homeowner. Scott was intrigued by the tail, and stated “I cannot rule out Broad-tailed from the photos” but also assumed it was likely to be a Rufous. They usually are.
Scott, Doug Hitchcox, and I arrived at noon on 11/21 to attempt to band the bird. In less than an hour, we had safely trapped the bird, and took a series of measurements and photos. The bird was healthy, undergoing active molt, and had a fat score of 1.
When we first observed the bird, Scott pointed out the bluish hue that was sometimes apparent on the back of the bird. He mentioned he saw that in one of my photos from the prior day, but dismissed it as probably being an artifact of the photo. I was unaware of this impression until he pointed it out.
However, as the banding process began, we were still working under the assumption that this was going to be a Rufous Hummingbird, until the “numbers” kept coming in. Doug was recording and noted the significant difference between Rufous Hummingbirds on the data sheet. When Scott read the width of the outer tail feather aloud, he seemed shocked, and immediately measured again. And again. Doug and I kept glancing at each other, eyes wide, attempting to hold back exuberance.
Width of Outer Tail Feather (R5): 5.44!!!
We double-checked all measurements, took lots of photos, and Doug and I tried to not explode with excitement as Scott calmly but clearly excitedly expressed comments such as “this is the biggest tail I have ever seen on a Selasphorous in the East.” We, as well as the homeowner who had joined us for the banding, were all shaking with excitement by now. The below-freezing air temperature played much less of a role. A quick check of references, a final check of the measurements, and then the bird was released. Of course, the bird’s host had the honor of letting it go. After processing, it immediately returned to the feeder and fed regularly for the rest of the day, calling even more vociferously in between.
Upon checking some references at home, and sending photos out for additional opinions, it was clear to Scott that we (OK, he) had just documented the first Broad-tailed Hummingbird, a hatch-year male, for Maine – and apparently, for all of New England!
Jeannette was invited to observe the bird on the 22nd, while I spoke to the homeowner several times over the phone to discuss the opportunity for others to share in the excitement. I arranged for a small group to visit in the morning of the 23rd as a test-run – a few close friends and young birders were the guests. After that successful visit when we all had repeated views, I suggested a feeder be placed in the front yard. If the bird took to it, visitors would have the chance to see it from a public road, without entering the yard.
I placed that one of our feeders on the morning of the 25th, after the holiday so as not to bother the homeowner. I also observed the bird, regularly feeding in the cold rain, making two visits to the feeders within 15 minutes – a faster pace now. It was cold, but was it also tanking up? Later in the day, Jeannette returned with a small shepherd’s hook to give the feeder even better visibility from the road, along with getting it into the morning sun to help keep it warmer on these frigid mornings.
The homeowner has been taking in the feeder (now, feeders), every night so the first feeding will be at room temperature nectar. She’s been heading out early with a headlamp so as not to miss it’s first feeding session! What an amazing host!
My Saturday Morning Birdwalk group was invited over on that first Saturday morning, but the bird never came to the new feeder. As per prior arrangement, an hour later we were able to enter the yard and in doing so we enjoyed immediate prolonged views of it at the original feeder in the backyard.
The next test run was another small group on Sunday morning. We arrived at 8:00, and for almost an hour were teased by the hummer as he darted around the backyard, calling constantly, and briefly perching in obscured views. Then, at 8:56, he finally made a brief visit to the new feeder!
In the next 30 minutes, he visited that carefully-place feeder three times, including two prolonged drinking bouts which provided ample opportunity for people to study, enjoy, and photograph the bird. Success! He is now using a feeder in view from the road, without entering the yard!
And with that success, on Wednesday the 28th, I was given the go-ahead to let the word get out, slowly, methodically, and carefully managed to avoid crowds and overwhelming the homeowner and the neighbors.
In consultation with the homeowner, I was tasked with managing the crowds and birders’ behaviors. People needed to email me for the set of visitation instructions and caveats, and since the end of November birders visited, saw, photographed, and mostly remained on their best behavior. The vast majority (but of course, not all) even followed all of the rules! I remained in close contact with the homeowner and reassured her that just about everyone was receiving the instructions directly from me. I did my best to respond to every one of the emails I received, spacing out visitation as much as possible. Of course, not everyone followed every rule – especially the one about sharing the location.
The bird continued into the middle of December. I would say “miraculously” given the plummeting temperatures, but it was mostly through the passionate dedication of the homeowner. When temperatures failed to reach the freezing mark for a high on December 10th, it ushered in the most challenging stretch of weather in which temperatures did not hit 32 for four days. During the time, the homeowner would go out regularly throughout the day with unfrozen sugar water to replace the simple syrup popsicles. The hummingbird learned to recognize her and this activity and would often visit the feeder immediately after she walked away.
Unfortunately, however, during this time, it saved energy by sitting for long periods in the sun, out of view from visiting, shivering observers. Even more frustrating for some, was hearing it vocalize in the backyard and never seeing it from the road – at the side feeder or his favorite perch. Thankfully, no one decided to tempt fate by entering the yard to look around back.
Earlier in the month, I had asked Scott Weidensaul about possible departure times, given his experience with vagrant hummingbirds in the Northeast. He told me that birds often depart on the first nice day after the first significant cold snap where the temperatures failed to reach the freezing mark for multiple days. Such a day occurred on 12/15, where temperatures reached the low 40’s and a light northerly wind was increasing. Thinking it could be his last day, I finished my morning’s birding at the location.
I arrived at 10:02 and immediately found him sitting in one of his favorite perches in the multiflora Rose. He sat there – save for one short sally, presumably for an insect – for the next 16 minutes before buzzing off, presumably to the feeder in the backyard. I heard him for most of the time but did not glimpse him again before I departed at 10:30.
By the middle of December, his first gorget feathers had already begun to appear – but only on one side of its head, best seen in this photo from the homeowner on 12/12.
I was sure this was it. Storm a’coming. Temperatures above normal in the low 40’s, a light northerly breeze, and the sun was shining for a while. But alas, with the wet snow falling on Friday the 16th, the homeowner informed us that he was still present and feeding actively. He was still present on Saturday Morning, with heavy flakes starting to pile out.
Luckily, the heated hummingbird feeders that the homeowner ordered had arrived and were deployed just in time!
Over 90 100 people have seen it now, and visitors are still welcome to view it, as long as they follow a strict set of rules. If you would like to see it, email us at email@example.com a day that you are interested in going, and we’ll send the instructions and address the day before, as long as the numbers of visitors remain manageable each day and on our best behavior. To minimize the number of emails in the queue, please include the day in your original email.
***12/26 UPDATE:*** We just received an email this afternoon from the homeowner, reporting that she has not seen the bird since 3:47 pm on Friday, 12/23. Pressure was dropping rapidly through the day with rain, heavy at times, and southwesterly winds gusting over 50mph for much of the day. She reported it was drinking regularly throughout that stormy day, with temps rising into the low 50s. Overnight temperatures dropped dramatically, by 40 degrees by sunrise, despite still-strong SW winds. Certainly not the time and conditions I would have expected it to depart on (assuming it survived the night), but it does bring up some interesting questions. Did it survive the storm? Was the storm the final incentive to depart? And if so, did it depart in the “wrong” direction that perhaps it arrived on (i.e. it was a “mirror vagrant” flying in the wrong direction to start with)? But since it’s banded, should it be found anywhere else, we very well might know, but short of that, we are left to conjecture.
The homeowner is leaving the feeders out for a little longer, just in case. If he returns, we’ll post an update here and include new instructions for visitation if possible.
At least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet continues at the Saco Riverwalk as of 12/15 (I had three here last week). This one does not seem particularly happy about it, however.
Being short-staffed in the weeks before Christmas is not a good recipe for lots of birding time when you work in retail! Luckily, my three mornings out and about were all quite productive for mid-December.
1 DOVEKIE, 14+ Razorbills, 3 Black-legged Kittwakes, etc. in one hour of seawatching at Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth, 12/11.
1 Field Sparrow, private property in Cape Elizabeth, 12/11.
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Mill Creek Park, South Portland, 12/11.
I found this rather cooperative, late Orange-crowned Warbler at Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth – my 10th of the fall. Unfortunately, my camera was insisting it was the sticks I wanted a photo of, so this is the best I did.
Some of my highlights over the past seven days included the following. For the most part, my birds of note were decidedly more wintery than in the past weeks, although “late/lingering” oddities are making an appearance with the slow progression of the season and resultant concentration at seasonal hotspots.
1 Red Crossbill, private property in Freeport, 11/24 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 Hermit Thrush, private property in Freeport, 11/25.