Category Archives: Birding in Maine

2017 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, one of the more common and conspicuous migrants all weekend.

After spending what was probably the slowest week of birding I have ever experienced in fall on Monhegan with my WINGS tour a week prior, I was even more anxious to get back to the island. I know what this island can offer (well, besides great food, beer, and friends, that is)!

Because of ferry schedules, we added a new wrinkle this year, meeting for a birdwalk in Port Clyde before the mid-am ferry to the island (9/29). Golden-crowned Kinglets were particularly abundant and some Yellow-rumped Warblers were around, hinting at the amount of birds that arrived overnight. On the trip out, Northern Gannets were scattered about, and a flock of 7 probable American Pipits zipped by. When passerines are encountered on the ferry, as they return to the mainland, it’s usually a good sign that there are a lot of newly-arrived birds on the island.

When several Yellow-rumped Warblers were darting around near the dock, I thought it might be worth swinging into The Barnacle for a quick, early lunch so we could hit the ground running. And we are all glad we did, as it took us 2 ½ hours to walk from the dock to our lodging at the Trailing Yew!
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It was fantastic…birds were everywhere. While it wasn’t a fallout with birds dripping out of the trees, every cluster of trees and bushes had some migrants in it. The “Cape May Spruces” on dock road hosted several Cape May Warblers and an immature male Pine Warbler – a rarity on the island. We soon tracked down a continuing Orange-crowned Warbler, and we slowly made our way through town, pausing at every apple tree and every weedy garden.
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Cape May Warbler
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Pine Warbler

A lot had changed in the 5 days between my visits, with many more sparrows, and a much greater percentage of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Overall warbler diversity was down, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were everywhere! The raptor show wasn’t half-bad, either.
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Peregrine Falcon

I think I saw more birds today, even though we didn’t arrive until 11:30 than I did all week with my other tour! And 60 species by day’s end wasn’t too shabby either.
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Red-eyed Vireo
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Friday night featured a very strong flight on the radar, but with a light winds becoming northeast after midnight, many fewer birds were around come morning (thanks to Hurricane Jose, this was the bane of our existence during the aforementioned tour), and the morning flight was very light. The afternoon was quite slow, but we continued to encounter new birds here and there. An unexpected surprise was a Wood Thrush calling at dusk. Although we never saw it, the calls are distinctive, and they were close by, and this was my 208th Monhegan bird (They’re usually long gone by the time I get here in mid-September).
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Northern Gannet

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Red-eyed Vireo

But this was only a fraction of the day’s excitement. First, a Bell’s Vireo was reported just as we arrived at breakfast. I thought about skipping the meal (it’s really a good bird if I consider passing on a Trailing Yew breakfast!) but after hearing about how chaotic it was (lots of owl calls and counter-productive tape use – tell me why a bird, exhausted from migration and without any hormonal urge to breed would come out in the open because you are playing an adult male’s territorial song? Especially when vagrants are often immature birds, the last thing they are looking for is a conflict; it’s amazingly ignorant…but I digress) down there, we decided to let the masses subside and fuel up for the hunt.

By the time we arrived, almost everyone had dispersed, and no sign of a Bell’s Vireo. But Pumphouse Road and the nearby yards were birdy, so we just started working the thickets. We had dispersed up and down Pumphouse Road, joined by several friends and fellow birders, including Kristen Lindquist and Bill Thompson. I was with just two members of our group, when a small flock of five or so vireos came in. There were three Red-eyed, but then I spotted what I thought could have been the Bell’s -a very pale, dull vireo creeping around the understory, with its tail cocked. With no one else around, I took off to assemble the group, and to get Bill to secure the documentation photos. When guiding, a bird doesn’t count unless the group is with you, so before I had anything definitive, I started running (only then remembering my ankle was still in a brace)!

Barb and Terez were still on what she thought was the bird in question, but as we all returned, it was clearly just a normally-pale, immature Blue-headed. Did I screw this up that badly? But wait, where was that 5th vireo?

I don’t remember who spotted it next, but when we did, it was clear it was not a Bell’s, but wow, that was pale. Like really, really, pale, and as we began studying it, we realized this may be even rarer!

At one point, I made eye contact with Marshall Iliff, and we both kinda smiled and nodded. We were on to something. Bill began to fire away. We watched. And then we began to discuss. And discuss. And at the brewery later, discuss some more. And the next day, yup, we were still talking about this bird. Almost two weeks later, as well.

Bill sent me his photos the next day, and on Sunday evening – at the brewery, of course, it’s where all great conversations occur – we realized that every single feature of this bird was consistent with Cassin’s Vireo, the member of the “Solitary Vireo Complex” that breeds in the west, and can be virtually indistinguishable from our regular Blue-headed. However, this bird had every feature perfect for Cassin’s, and as we sent around photos, everyone agreed that “if this isn’t a Cassin’s, then we can’t identify a bird as a Cassin’s.”
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This would be the first record for Maine, and one of very, very few records for all of the East Coast. See, this is what a “slow” day on Monhegan should be like.

Anyway, back to the actual birding on Sunday. After only a surprisingly moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, only a light morning flight was over the island, and it was almost exclusively Yellow-rumped Warblers. Increasing south winds helped keep activity reduced through the afternoon, when most of the group slowly departed on their respective ferries. We had great looks at the two continuing Dickcissels, more great views of Cape May Warblers, and finished the day off with the last member of the group by enjoying the long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Ice Pond.
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Dickcissel

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That chase and discussion of the vireo was exhausting!

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It was just me and group-holdover John Lorenc on Monday morning, when Jeannette joined us for the day on the early Port Clyde boat. Her visit during my WINGS tour yielded fog and little else, so she was anxious to see and photograph some birds!

Interestingly enough, despite a rather light flight on the radar overnight (which really surprised me) on a light northwesterly wind, a strong morning flight developed come sunrise. As expected by the date, it was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were many more kinglets and sparrows around. It was very busy before breakfast, and quite birdy – if rather homogenous – through lunch, with “new” birds scattered about. Even the early afternoon was pleasantly birdy, with pockets of activity here and there.

At least 4 Dickcissels were now present, and likely a new Clay-colored Sparrow. We had a fly-by of a Northern Pintail at Lobster Cove, one of very few records for the island. A calling Greater Yellowlegs, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe, and large flocks of southbound Canada Geese high overhead were among the additions to the weekend’s checklist.
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Two Dickcissels

When all was said and done, and Cassin’s Vireo was (fairly) confidently added to the list, a total of 89 species (including 15 species of warblers) were recorded in these four days, a respectable if not overwhelming total for a long weekend on the island.

And the food, beer, and conversation were great as always. And the butterflies, my goodness the butterflies. Monarchs were common, but Painted Ladies were downright abundant…
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Here’s the full scoreboard, not including birds seen in Port Clyde or from the ferry en route:

9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
Canada Goose 30 1 33 100
American Black Duck 2 1 2 2
Mallard 12 20 15 15
NORTHERN PINTAIL 0 0 0 1
Common Eider x x X X
Surf Scoter 0 8 0 0
Common Loon 0 0 0 1
Northern Gannet 30 30 20 20
Double-crested Cormorant 100 400 100 X
Great Cormorant 0 0 1 2
Great Blue Heron 2 4 1 0
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON 0 0 1 0
Osprey 8 3 1 2
Bald Eagle 3 3 1 1
Northern Harrier 2 0 0 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4 5 5 4
American Kestrel 6 8 3 2
Merlin 8 15 8 6
Peregrine Falcon 12 3 4 6
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1
Wilson’s Snipe 0 0 0 1
Ring-billed Gull 1 0 0 0
Herring Gull X x X X
Great Black-backed Gull X x X X
Black Guillemot 20 4 6 8
Mourning Dove 4 6 6 4
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 8 20 25 20
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1 1
Northern Flicker 10 8 6 2
Eastern Phoebe 2 2 3 6
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 5 1 2
CASSIN’S VIREO 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 2 1 1 3
Red-eyed Vireo 4 10 9 8
Blue Jay 8 15 21 18
American Crow x x X X
Common Raven 0 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 1 0 0
Black-capped Chickadee 10 20 X X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 4 4 4
Brown Creeper 0 2 1 12
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 0
Winter Wren 0 1 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 15 30 35 50
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 40 40 25 40
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 2
WOOD THRUSH 0 1 0 0
American Robin 2 0 3 1
Gray Catbird 3 3 4 3
European Starling 25 20 20 15
American Pipit 0 2 1 1
Cedar Waxwing 2 25 25 40
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 1 0 0 0
Nashville Warbler 5 3 3 0
Northern Parula 0 3 0 0
Magnolia Warbler 1 0 0 0
Cape May Warbler 5 5 2 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 30 40 150
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 0 0
PINE WARBLER 1 1 0 0
Prairie Warbler 1 0 0 0
Palm Warbler 6 6 0 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1 1 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 1 1 1 0
American Redstart 0 2 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 4 4 4 3
Wilson’s Warbler 0 1 1 0
Scarlet Tanager 0 1 0 0
Chipping Sparrow 4 5 3 2
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 0 0 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 2 0 0
Song Sparrow X X X X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 0 0 4
Swamp Sparrow 1 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 2 4 3 8
White-crowned Sparrow 0 1 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3 0 0 0
Northern Cardinal 4 6 8 4
Indigo Bunting 1 0 0 1
DICKCISSEL 1 0 2 4
Bobolink 0 1 1 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 1 1
Common Grackle 4 2 4 4
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 3 2
Purple Finch 0 0 0 0
Pine Siskin 0 1 0 0
American Goldfinch 2 8 2 1

 
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Baltimore Oriole

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip, 10/8/17: Migrants and Malts.

Our 8th tour of the year with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, ventured to Maine’s deep south and toured around the village of Kittery.

October in Maine can produce all sorts of surprises, and Fort Foster is a great place to find the unexpected. We started off with this BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, a very late individual, that unlike most members of its species paused for photographs and long, satisfying views.

Another treat was an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow on the beach and a nice little wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers among the residents in the woods, but then our biggest surprise of the morning – a wide band of steady rain! The rain impacted our visit (for the second year in a row!) to Seapoint Beach, but a small pocket of activity on the seaweed included at least 5 Northern Mockingbirds (one burst into song, despite the rain), 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and 2 Eastern Phoebes. Several adult Northern Gannets were just offshore, which was another highlight.

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow that breeds exclusively on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

With rain still falling, I skipped the walk at the beach, and instead made a couple of short stops where we were able to hang by the bus. 20+ Bonaparte’s Gulls were off the Kittery Town Landing, and by the time we arrived at Legion Pond to enjoy 3 spiffy Wood Ducks among the masses of Mallards, the rain not only stopped but the sun began to return.

The first stop on the brewery tour was Woodland Farms Brewery, which opened only this February – but from the looks of things, had already gained quite a following! There, we sampled four brews from this lager-centric brewery. Very traditional and well-executed styles included Wolf Haven Extra Special Bitter (ESB) with a nice depth of flavor to balance the bitterness, and the Rowanbrau, a Dortmunder-style golden lager with a super-crisp-finish. We started with their light Cervaza Medico, a Mexican lager with a subtle sweetness from corn, and finished with a hop-forward Backyard Scientist IPL. A lot can be done with a lager, far beyond the basic American mass-produced swill, so it was a good lesson for us in the range of the technique.

We learned about the benefits and limitations of focusing on lagers, and the methods that produce this style of beer, which we then contrasted with ales on our second stop, Tributary Brewing Company, where a wide range of traditional and modern styles were sampled. Starting with Oktoberfest, a perfectly-simple and clean version of the traditional German-style marzen, we finished with their Oyster Stout (anything but traditional), with subtle notes of minerality.  In between, we tasted their Blueberry to find out what a beer with blueberries in the mash can really taste like (subtle, not in your face, and not overtly sweet at all) and their Pale Ale, their basic, but delectable flagship. In all cases, flavors were meant to be simple and subtle, complement the “basic” beer flavors and not overpowering them.

While comparing and contrasting this subtle, delicate use of flavors, it was not surprising that a discussion of “pumpkin/pumpkin spice” beers came up, and so Ian tapped the unfinished Pumpkin for us to sample – even though it was still weeks away from being ready and was un-carbonated. We were duly impressed, as the subtle flavors were quite apparent, and it offered insight into the brewing process as well, which is something we work hard on offering during these special tours.

With temperatures in the low 70’s, the rain was merely a nuisance, and it definitely impacted the middle part of our birding adventure. Regardless, a birding tour that begins with crippling views of a Black-billed Cuckoo and ends with stunning Wood Ducks is still a real winner! And if not, there was some great beer to enjoy and learn about!

A Record-Shattering 5 Days at Sandy Point!

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Northern Parulas were certainly the “bird of the week” at Sandy Point.

It was a special five-day run at Sandy Point Beach on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. It was a record-shattering run in fact, in which I tallied nearly 18,000 migrants engaging in the “Morning Flight,” or “morning re-determined migration” when nocturnally-migrating passerines relocate (to drastically oversimplify things) come sunrise.
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(To learn more about Sandy Point, check out the site entry in Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide, and for more on nocturnal migration, interpreting the radar, and the “morning flight” phenomena, check out Chapter 5 in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder. Whaddya mean you don’t have these two books!?)

I’ve had a handful of four-day runs, but I cannot think of a time when conditions were favorable – and I was actually present, and not leading tours on Monhegan for example – for five straight days. But I have most certainly never had five days like this!

I recorded 72 species “deemed migrating” through here, not including migrants that were in the bushes, such as the Gray Catbirds and Song Sparrows that are so abundant in the brush here. It does not include species like Osprey, in which some of the many I saw this week were likely southbound, but impossible to separate from the still-locals. And this tally did not include all of the waterbirds, from Common Eiders to herds of dabbling American Black Ducks, and from Bald Eagles to hunting Great Blue Herons, as well as resident species.

I tallied 25 species of warblers, including a single Connecticut Warbler, one of the most sought-after parulids in Maine. A Northern Mockingbird was only my 5th ever noted here, and two passing Dickcissels are always a treat. But certainly the icing on the cake of this great week was the Lark Sparrow found by the group in the parking lot on the relatively quiet morning of 9/13. This was a first record for Sandy Point, and my personal 184th species here.
LASP, Becky

But it was the morning of the 11th that will go down in Sandy Point history!  8,185 migrants was not only a new record, but almost doubled the previous record (4,346 on Sept 21, 2010). It was incredible. More on that epic morning later.

A number of records for high counts for individual species were set, and I am sure even more would have been shattered if I had a higher rate of identification during the onslaught of the 11th.   Other trends, typical of the season, were evident, such as the slow but steady change in the composition of the flight. The early migrants like Magnolia Warblers were giving way to a growing percentage of Yellow-rumped Warbles and Blackpoll Warblers for example. But it sure seems like we’re not yet running our of Yellow Warblers and American Restarts, however!
AMRE
immature male American Redstart

YWAR
Yellow Warbler, adult male

So first, here’s the numbers (bold font indicates a new daily record).

 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12 9/13
Blue-winged Teal 3 0 0 0 0
Unidentified teal 0 0 4 0 0
Surf Scoter 3 0 0 0 0
Common Loon 4 0 0 3 0
Northern Harrier 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 1 0 0 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1 0
Mourning Dove 0 1 0 1 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 0 0 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Flicker 1 256 68 26 12
Pileated Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 0
American Kestrel 0 0 3 0 1
Merlin 1 1 0 1 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 4 0 0 0
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 0
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 0
Least Flycatcher 9 11 3 2 0
Unidentified Empidonax 5 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 3 2 2 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 1 0 0 0
Unidentified flycatcher 6 1 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 3 1 2 0
Philadelphia Vireo 3 4 2 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 42 49 30 9 4
Unidentified vireo 1 2 0 0 0
Blue Jay 0 0 0 2 5
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 0 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 1 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 1 0
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 1 5 4 0
Swainson’s Thrush 10 0 0 2 0
American Robin 4 3 1 2 0
Unidentified thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Cedar Waxwing 21 265 377 54 0
Ovenbird 0 0 0 0 1
Northern Waterthrush 0 0 0 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 33 59 41 32 5
Tennessee Warbler 4 2 2 8 0
Nashville Warbler 8 8 10 4 0
CONNECTICUT WARBLER 1 0 0 0 0
Mourning Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 5 5 2
American Redstart 602 550 844 119 16
Cape May Warbler 18 5 8 5 0
Northern Parula 705 630 692 612 205
Magnolia Warbler 66 117 32 23 2
Bay-breasted Warbler 5 3 1 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 7 6 1 0 0
Yellow Warbler 19 52 38 67 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 5 2 0 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 9 3 27 25 35
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8 7 4 4 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
“Western” Palm Warbler 1 0 0 0 0
Pine Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 6 3 19 11
Prairie Warbler 1 2 1 1 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 118 63 73 57 26
Canada Warbler 6 0 1 0 0
Wilson’s Warbler 12 17 7 4 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 1 3 1
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 2 0 0 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 1 1 4 1 0
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 1 0 0 0
Indigo Bunting 0 0 1 1 0
DICKCISSEL 0 0 1 0 1
Bobolink 1 2 0 0 0
Red-winged Blackbird 1 2 0 0 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 2 1 1 1 1
House Finch 0 0 0 1 1
Purple Finch 0 0 0 8 0
American Goldfinch 5 12 3 6 4
Unidentified 1915 1887 5893 737 192
TOTAL 3705 4057 8185 1866 540

 

Now, let’s take a look at the radar. Here are the density and velocity images from 1am (as a sample) on 9/9 and 9/10. That’s a ton of birds on the radar.
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1amVelocity,9-09-17

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1amVelocity,9-10-17

And even as late as 4:00am on each day, a lot of birds were visible, and a lot of birds were offshore.
4amRadar,9-09-17
4amRadar,9-10-17

The night of 9/8 through 9/9 featured light westerly winds, shifting to northwest by sunrise. And on the next night, light north winds became northwest overnight. Both, as expected, produced great flights over and through Sandy Point some dawn.

Weather patterns, especially at this time of year, rarely produce three great nights for migrants in a row. And when they do, it often results in fewer birds overnight (and therefore at Sandy Point) come sunrise; essentially, the well temporarily runs dry.

And as you can see by the 1:00am radar image from September 11th, the density was nowhere near the previous two nights, despite mostly light westerly winds overnight.
1amRadar,9-11-17
1amVelocity,9-11-17

And by 4:00am, it was rather quiet.
4amRadar,9-11-17

Light northwesterly winds in the evening slowly gave way to light north, before becoming light and variable. After midnight, they became west but didn’t really increase until after 2:00am. Coupled with a lackluster radar return, this was not a recipe for a huge flight.

Nonetheless with a light westerly wind at sunrise, I was heading to Sandy Point anyway. If only because it was a day off, and I won’t have many more chances to visit “my office” this month. A milky sunrise further clouded (sorry) my optimism for a big flight, but there were plenty of birds in the air.
Sunrise_on_big_day_atSP,9-11-17

And then all hell broke loose.

It was incredible. It was frustrating. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was amazing. It was indeed overwhelming, and at times, my only hopes at quantifying the flood was to skip attempting identification and just click my unidentified clicker as fast as I could.

And I really can’t explain it. It “shouldn’t” have been this amazing.

Come nightfall, with high pressure remaining in control, and with light westerly winds and clear skies once again, a moderate to strong flight occurred overnight. Here are the 1:00am and 4:00am radar images from the wee hours of 9/12:
1amRadar,9-12-17
1amVelocity,9-12-17

4amRadar,9-12-17

With light westerly winds come dawn, I was once again stationed at the bridge, and what was – prior to three days ago! – considered a very good flight passed over and through. It was even downright relaxing – and manageable – after the chaos of the previous morning. I had fun.

Not surprisingly, after four consecutive nights, the flight was much lighter overnight on the 12th into the 13th, as evidenced once again by the 1:00am and 4:00am images.
1amRadar,9-13-17
1amVelocity,9-13-17

4amRadar,9-13-17

And despite very light westerly winds in the morning, and clear skies, only a light flight was to pass through the point. Of course, that Lark Sparrow more than made up for it. It was also nice to enjoy a slower flight – and identify many more birds than not!

So almost every morning made sense: radar plus weather conditions correctly predicted the intensity of the flight. Except for one. The Big One. And I can’t explain it. But, I am OK (mostly) with that – it’s one of the fascinating and flabbergasting aspects of documenting the morning redetermined migration!

Winds turned to the south during the day on the 13th, and continued light and southerly overnight, bringing the streak of five great nights of migration to an end. Come morning, I also slept in – relatively speaking – and then went for a massage. As my therapist began to work on my aching neck, she simply uttered, “Wow” and got to work. I felt the same on Monday morning when the greatest flight I have ever recorded passed through Sandy Point.

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Species, such as this Swainson’s Thrush, that can be rather secretive in migration, are sometimes seen really well at Sandy Point!

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument Needs Your Support!

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The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was designated by President Barack Obama in September of 2016. It was the first such marine monument designated in the Atlantic Ocean, lying roughly 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod. The designation protects 4,913 square miles from energy exploration, undersea mining, and most commercial fishing (with exceptions) in order to protect fish populations and a variety of endangered species, especially Sperm, Fin, and Sei Whales.

Of particular interest and consequence to birders, it has recently been discovered that Atlantic Puffins winter in the area, perhaps even a goodly portion of “our” birds. What would happen if a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster happened out here? Would decades of puffin restoration on Maine’s islands be for nothing? What about the tourism, jobs, and pure enjoyment that puffin tours along the Maine coast create? What about the future of an iconic species that already has to face to challenges of drastic Climate Change and severe overfishing?

The designation of this Marine National Monument was a very good thing for Atlantic Puffins, and therefore, a very good thing for birding in Maine! But it is now under threat.

Canyons Map

In April, “President Donald Trump signed two executive orders – the first calls for a ‘review’ of 27 large-scale monuments on land and in the ocean, and the second takes direct aim at marine monuments and National Marine Sanctuarues. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a target of both orders.” That link, to the Center for American Progress, has a good overview of what’s at stake, and the likely beneficiary of an overturning of this designation (Big Oil).  Be sure to also check out the maps in that report, including the perceived distribution of wintering Atlantic Puffins and the overall offshore seabird abundance estimates (and then compare those maps to the fishing effort map!) Basically, the claims of impacts on fishing grounds is mostly a red herring (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Here in Maine, it has been the review by Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, of the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument that has (rightly) received a lot of attention. His visit to Maine was thoroughly covered as he met with local communities, politicians, and business organizations. Press coverage has been widespread and thorough of the debate, such as this recent article in The Boston Globe.

I certainly support that monument designation, and I look forward to visiting it for the first time later this fall, but I will save that blog for another day.

But the review of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument has received much less attention, especially here in Maine, despite its importance to our puffins. I believe birders therefore need to lead the charge in speaking out in support of the monument, which I believe is at greater risk in the Zinke era than Katahdin Woods and Waters. In no small part because not enough people are paying attention.

Personally, I think this whole “review” process is a dog and pony show – another weapon of mass distraction – from an administration hell-bent on gutting environmental laws. While we argue over the validity and value of each monument, Zinke and company are paving the way for more resource extraction at cut-rate prices on our PUBLIC land, even in National Parks. And attacking Endangered Species protections. Say good-bye to the Greater Sage-Grouse, for example, if this corruption continues.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep fighting for each of them, and I believe Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is worth fighting for. For whales, puffins, and the future of fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

Therefore, to start, please take a moment – if you have not done so already – to submit a comment in support of the monument’s designation. We only have until August 15th to do so. Simply click the “Comment Now” button on the upper right of the federal website linked above, and be sure to specifically mention Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (and all of the other monuments that are important to you).Secretary Zinke is expected to issue his report on the review of all of the monuments on August 24th. We’ll learn more then about exactly what this process has been all about, and how far this administration is going to attempt to go to overturn anything accomplished during the Obama presidency. There will be plenty of lawsuits from all directions, so none of these fights are over yet.

So please, don’t be distracted by tweets, rhetoric, or grandstanding. The real damage is being done right in front of our eyes, through little directives, department policy initiatives, and countless other ways to undermine the economy, environment, and citizens of this country in order to line the pockets of the fortunate few.

I for one am not going go down without a fight. A fight that includes a fight for puffins!

A couple of additional references:

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on Wikipedia.

Pew Charitable Trust applaudes monument’s creation.

 

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Beach and Brews,” 7/16/17

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The third new Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! itinerary of 2017 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success on Sunday, July 16th. The working title had been “Beach and Brews,” but I think “Terns and Taps” might be the new title. Whatever it ends up getting called, expect to see this outing return next year. It’s a winner!

Timing our visit to Hill’s Beach for the incoming tide, we thanked our friends at Buffleheads restaurant for giving us permission to park the bus in their lot. Nearby, we crossed over to the beach and began our birding adventure.
1. at Buffleheads

Shorebirds and birders had to share the sand with many other beachgoers, but at Hill’s, there’s room enough for most everyone. Gulls had assembled along the western end of the beach, so we started with a quick gull identification workshop, sorting out tiny Bonaparte’s Gulls from massive Great Black-backed Gulls, and separating Herring from Ring-billed Gulls in between.
2. Group on beach 1

Scattered shorebirds were here and there, but the action really started, as usual, as we crested the Basket Island Sandbar and scanned the rapidly-inundating flats to its east.  A growing number of shorebirds – already heading south (yup, it’s fall in the shorebird world!) included at least 50 total Short-billed Dowitchers and about 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
3. Group on beach 2

We quickly learned how to pick out Endangered Roseate Terns from the ubiquitous Common Terns – one of the target species of the trip. With practice, we learned it’s not as hard as some field guides suggest to separate these species, using a combination of size, relative tail length, wingbeats, and overall color. Hint: Roseates are the white ones. (Photo from a here on a different day above).

A growing contingent of gulls at this end eventually included a spiffy adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; an unexpected treat in mid-summer, and a nice way to cap our introduction to the gull identification lesson.
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(Photo from another time and place)

All too soon, however, it was time to depart, but as we turned around I spottan interesting bird. One lone Willet, a tall but hefty shorebird, was standing on the flats. It struck my eye as very godwit-like, which got my heart racing at first. Tall, lanky, and very long-billed, a godwit-like gestalt is typical of the “Western” Willet, a subspecies that is rare but regular in Maine in fall, but very rare here in mid-summer.

Out of expected season, I was very careful in sorting through the salient features, and I admit to waffling a little about its identification at first. As we got closer, however, details became more apparent, such as the very long and thinner bill that suggested a hint of an upturn. It flew across the sandbar, landing close by, and in much better light, showing the overall grayer plumage, and paler undersides with considerably less markings than the browner and heavily-marked “Eastern” subspecies which breeds around here. It also began to wade in the water to feed, a behavior very typical of “Westerns.”
4. WWILL1,HillsBeach,7-16-17_edited-15. WWILL2,HillsBeach,7-16-17_edited-1

Although our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series is not necessarily focused on the challenging aspects of serious birding, like nuanced subspecific identification, the group admitted they enjoyed the process (and admittedly, enjoyed seeing me perplexed for a bit!). Having had our fill of the unexpected unseasonable rarity, we crossed the peninsula to the Park in the Pines to view the muddier flats of The Pool. There, at least a hundred “Eastern” Willets were present in their preferred habitat, but unfortunately, they weren’t close enough to really compare plumage details.

Scanning across the flats, we were able to sort through the masses, even though few shorebirds were very close here today, including a few Black-bellied Plovers and a stately Whimbrel – it’s disproportionally long, downcurved bill always nice to see.

And there’s no better way to celebrate a rare bird (or two today, the “Western” Willet and the Lesser Black-backed Gull) than with a beer or two. There’s also no better way to relax after a long walk on the beach on a sultry summer day than with a beer.

Good thing it was time for Don to take over, and guide us to Barreled Souls, our first brewery stop on the day’s itinerary. And they could not have started us off with a better first sample, the salty and refreshing Space Gose – perfect after a hot day on the beach.

Co-owner and operator Matt Mills was a gracious host, and shared with us their operation, methodology, and brewing philosophy. Fermenting 100% of their beer in barrels via a Burton-Union system and also ageing everything in barrels makes for some very unique and interesting flavors (I recommend checking out the “About Us” page of their website, linked here, for more information). They wanted to be different and stand out from an every-growing, crowded field, making big, malty, and high-alcohol beers but now including offerings of almost every variety.
6. Barreled Souls 1 - tour

As we learned about the brewing process, Kristi kept us hydrated with additional samples, including the MEmosa, a take on a “beer mimosa” featuring lots of orange zest in a light blonde ale with a lemony hop profile. Next up was Transformer, a new pale ale that features rotating hops (this incarnation used Amarillo and Idaho 7).
7. Barreled Souls 2 - samples

Fun (and for some, games)…
8. Barreled Souls 3 - games

..were had by all, especially after changing things up with Dark Matter, a big and bold 10.1% sweet dark ale, similar to a stout or porter, but much sweeter. Their description was simply a quote from NASA: “We are much more certain what dark matter isn’t than what it is.”  But what it definitely was today was a favorite for most of the group.

Don and I love to offer special opportunities on our Roadtrips, and today was no different. Just a half-mile away, we were the first tour group to visit the new production facility for Barreled Souls. In a mere three years they have so far outgrown their current space that they are increasing their production space from a mere 700 square feet to an incredible 7800 square feet!
9. Barreled Souls 4 - new facility

Including a custom-built, climate-controlled “cellar” to house their Burton-Union system.
10. Barreled Souls 5 - new facility

Back on the bus, we discussed our favorite beers, and Don introduced our next brewery, South Portland’s Fore River Brewing Company – a real neighborhood brewery nestled into the Ligonia section of town.
12. Fore River 1

Don took us on a tour of their brewhouse, as we sampled their Spring Point, a Belgian whit, smooth and lemony, with a distinct biscuit finish.
13. Fore River 2

Next up was their Timberhitch Irish Red, another favorite on the day for this group. It was sweet, with just the right amount of hoppiness, and with a sweet and malty finish. Last but certainly not least was the Lygonia IPA, a clear and crisp IPA with pleasant notes of tropical fruits. This round was enjoyed out on the “patio,” a lush lawn full with picnic tables reclaimed from the site of a former salt barn.
14. Fore River 3 - group

But as we know, all good tours must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye, celebrate our life birds and life beers, and make the short jaunt north to our Portland and then Freeport drop-off sites.
11. bus ride

Endangered terns and migrant shorebirds with a couple of rarities mixed in. The only 100% Burton-Union brewery in the country making some really unique brews and a fun and successful neighborhood brewery featuring some of the area’s most popular styles. I think it’s safe to say that we will see you aboard for this tour in 2018!

(By the way, as of the writing of this, we still have one space left for our next Birds on Tap Roadtrip! “Shorebirds and Beer” on Sunday, August 13th.

The “Coastal Quick Hit” Van Tour report

I think it is safe to say that the inaugural “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour was a resounding success! We not only found all of the target species that we were after, but also a few surprises, and we saw all of our target species incredibly well! And we really lucked out with the weather, as the only rain we encountered was a brief downpour while we were driving. I have “no” doubt that all future tours will be this successful.

We receive numerous requests for guiding for several local breeding species that can be hard, if not impossible, to see elsewhere. While Bicknell’s Thrush is my number one request, there are a number of coastal species that are also sought. Folks travel from far and wide for our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van trip, and often I get requests for private guiding for many of the other species before and after that tour. Therefore, for efficiency and economy, we introduced the “Coastal Quick Hit” tour.

We had four visitors from California on board who were here to take part in the weekend’s thrush tour, plus three local birders out for the day. The eight of us met here at the store on Friday morning, and worked our way south.

Beginning in Scarborough Marsh, we had the opportunity to study Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows side-by-side, and ponder over some hybrids as well. We compared their songs and subtleties of identification – and learned how to simply leave many, likely hybrids and intergrades, as unidentified. Meanwhile, “Eastern” Willets and many other marsh denizens were numerous, and several sparrows and Willets posed for photos.
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Walking the Eastern Road Trail, a Fish Crow was unexpected, and we enjoyed Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and more. We then found this wading bird, which immediately brought to mind one of the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret (and now, possible a backcross there of) that calls Scarborough Marsh home.
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However, it soon became clear that this was a “pure” Little Blue Heron – nothing about its shape, size, structure, or behavior (a regular adult was nearby, and sometimes in the same field of view) was suggestive of anything else (or partly anything else), and so I hypothesized about a leucistic Little Blue Heron. Immature (1st through 2nd summer) little blues are piebald, but this was much, much paler than what I usually see, with more of a uniform “wash” of the purple-blue on the body and wings. What threw me off a bit were the essentially fully-developed head and back plumes (the “aigrettes”) that I did not think were present on a bird who’s plumage was this early in development. A little research showed those plumes were just fine for a 1st-summer bird, even one in which so little adult-like plumage had been obtained. Therefore, unless this bird looks exactly the same come fall, I think it’s just a paler-than-average 1st summer Little Blue Heron. Nevertheless, it was a fun bird to study and ponder – offering a lesson in comparing shape, structure, and behavior in two birds that didn’t look the same.

Also off Eastern Road, we noted Glossy Ibis, American Black Ducks, and a White-rumped Sandpiper in spiffy breeding plumage – a treat for folks from the West Coast, and not a bird we see many of in spring here in the Northeast. It was hanging out with 4 tardy Semipalmated Sandpipers.
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A drake Gadwall at the Pelreco marsh was a nice sight as well.

Four unseasonable Brant greeted us at Pine Point, where we soon spotted one of our most sought-after species, Roseate Tern. At least 8, and likely many times that, as birds were coming and going, were quickly picked out from the crowds of Common Terns, with plenty of Least Terns zipping around.
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Common Tern

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Least Tern

This tour was designed to have at least two chances at all of our target species, but we “cleaned up” in Scarborough, so we elected to brake up our upcoming drive with a stop in Webhannet Marsh near Moody Point for a visit with the King Rail that, for the second summer in a row, has occupied a small corner of the marsh. While waiting for it, we spotted more Willets, and had another great view of a Saltmarsh Sparrow or too.

The rail never called, but about 2/3rds of the group, myself NOT included, were able to spot the rail as it crossed two successive small openings in the marsh grass. The rest of us were just a little too far up the road, and it never made it to the third clearing we were stationed at. But still, a King Rail in the middle of the afternoon! A loafing Surf Scoter with Common Eiders offshore was also unexpected.

A delicious lunch fueled the rest of our drive south and the timing of the rainfall could not have been better. Traffic was relatively minimal as we fought our way through the outskirts of Boston, arriving at Revere Beach just as a thunderstorm passed to our south.
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While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
Revere_Beach1

…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
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…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
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…from land, in a city, and not very far offshore!

This incredible phenomena (they are clearly nesting locally, but where!? One of the Boston Harbor Islands?) was the icing on the cake to a most-successful trip. Based on these results, you can expect to see the “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour again in 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned to the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com for more information about this and all of our tours.