Category Archives: Birding in Maine

2019 Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Series

group_at_Hills_edited-1group_at_Kennebunk3_edited-1

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.
DyerPoint1

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)

Gulls & Growlers_edited-1

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)

Seaducks & Suds_edited-1

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

Spring Ducks & Draughts_edited-1

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!

warblers & wort-edited-2

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

Grasslands & Grains_edited-1

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

Terns & Taps_edited-1

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

Shorebirds & Steins_edited-1

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

Sodpipers & Sips 1_edited-1

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.
L1120300_Ebenezers4_edited-1

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

fall ducks & drafts_edited-2

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

l1120975_gbha_withbirdwalk1

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.
Dawn 2a_edited-1

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!

group_on_bus

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.

GREAT BLACK HAWK IN BIDDEFORD!!!!

IMG_1498-edited-edited

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).

IMG_1461-edited-editedIMG_1462-edited-edited
IMG_1520-edited-editedIMG_1583-edited-edited

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!
IMG_1555-edited-edited

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.

2018 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend

IMG_9667-edited-edited
The most abundant songbird throughout the weekend, a flock of 125 Cedar Waxwings would ball up each morning and then spread out through the island to feed.

My annual “Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend” battled highs seas (seriously, it was rough and we were all thankful it was only a 1-hr ride!) to arrive on the wonderful island of Monhegan on Friday, May 25th. Five days later, I had two new birds for my Monhegan list, a total of 97 species including 18 species of warblers, and way too much of the best pizza in Maine.
IMG_9590-edited-edited

After regaining our legs and equilibrium, we hit the ground running as always, birding our way to and from our hotel, lunch, and eventually dinner. No daylight was spared, and in doing so, we caught up with a few things, including the flock of 30 or so Red Crossbills, three of which perched nearby by close studies. Personally, however, I was most excited about 2 Eastern Bluebirds (at least one had been present for a while), my 210th species on Monhegan!  We had our first sighting of Warbling Vireo, which, like the 1-2 Field Sparrows – we saw everyday; both very uncommon on the island in spring. Apparently, I either started coming after – or perhaps only took better notes after – they last bred on the island. An island bird is a great way to start off the trip!\
IMG_9717-edited-edited
Red Crossbill – female.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak – female.


Eastern Kingbird

Friday calmly eased us into the weekend, but Saturday blew us away. It was just one of those great days, with birds seemingly everywhere, and many of them low and easy to see. Following a moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, there were a lot of new arrivals. Five Tennessee Warblers heard singing from one spot while tarrying at the Trailing Yew awaiting the coffee pot were a sign of things to come.

As is often the case on such flight days, we didn’t have to cover a lot of ground, as waves of birds were passing through the island and around town, pausing at just about every apple tree. It was hard to estimate the number of birds around, but there was a consistent south to north flow on the island, and several relatively-large flocks of the most common migrants of the day. I finally settled on 80 Red-eyed Vireos, 50 Blackpoll Warblers, and 20 Tennessee Warblers – impressive numbers of birds normally relegated to the tops of the highest oak trees, but today, more often than not, in low brush and short apple
trees.

Tennessee Warbler
IMG_9641-edited-edited
Blackpoll Warbler, male.

While it wasn’t the kind of day that Monhegan legends are made of, it was one of the “good ol’ days” where migrants were plenty, views were crippling, and birding was easy.  And all of that was punctuated by a few goodies, including an immature male Orchard Oriole, three Eastern Bluebirds together (two appeared to leave the island shortly thereafter), a lingering immature Great Cormorant, my first Common Nighthawk of the year fluttering off the high cliffs of White Head, 14 species of warblers including 4 Cape May and 2 Bay-breasted, and much more. And the day ended with two American Woodcocks heard calling and twittering from the lawn chairs of the Trailing Yew.  That’s what Monhegan in migration is all about!
apple_tree
On Monhegan and elsewhere, a good birding rule of thumb is that if you see a blooming apple tree, you should look in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yew_sunset
And that sunset from the Yew!

Not surprisingly, Sunday was slower, as light northeasterly winds precluded much in the way of overnight migration. And while it seemed that a lot of yesterday’s migrants had departed or melted into the woodlands, there were plenty of birds around, with a slight improvement in diversity, still plenty of Blackpoll Warblers, and a few highlights including a cooperative Green Heron, more Red Crossbills, a fly-by Black-billed Cuckoo, a Carolina Wren (finally; good to know one is here again), and a Northern Mockingbird (uncommon to rare out here) that we witnessed fly onto the island from behind, or perhaps over, Manana.
harbor

IMG_9657-edited-edited
Green Heron

The afternoon was rather slow overall, but we just kept seeing birds well: the Warbling Vireo at eye level, a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the garden, and continued good views of Tennessee Warblers.
IMG_9467-edited-edited
Field Sparrow
IMG_9474-edited-edited
White-crowned Sparrow
IMG_9593-edited-edited
Eastern Wood-Pewee

Monday the 28th was the last day of the tour, and with a smaller group in tow, we covered a lot of ground. While there was virtually no visible migration on the radar overnight on very light easterly winds once again, there were clearly a lot of new birds around (or at least, birds not seen the previous days) and we ended up with the best diversity of the trip – 71 species by day’s end.
Sunday am

In fact, by days’ end, we added 14 new species to our cumulative weekend list – not bad for a “slow” day and the end of a tour. And there was some quality to it, too: a continuing very late drake Long-tailed Duck that we finally caught up with…
IMG_9570-edited-edited

…a Brown Thrasher, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and especially the Brant that we found on Nigh Duck – my 211th all-time bird on Monhegan, and a new “island bird” for just about every birder on the island.
Brant,Monhegan,5-28-18_edited-1

On Tuesday, it was just Jeannette and I on a one-day vacation, mostly on our own, but meandering in and out of contact with several friends on the island. We awoke to dense fog, but that rapidly lifted, and the strong (for the date) flight overnight produced another new arrival of birds. It sure wasn’t Saturday, but there were plenty more Blackpoll Warblers around, and warbler diversity overall was the best of the weekend with a total of 16 species, highlighted by the Mourning Warbler we found by the Mooring Chain, and an impressive 15 Blackburnian Warblers.
IMG_9520-edited-edited

John and Terez found a (or relocated a brief late-last-week fly-by) Summer Tanager…
IMG_9833-edited-editedIMG_9844-edited-edited

…and we added a few new birds for the trip list including Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, and had more species of butterflies today than total butterfly individuals all weekend, including an early Monarch. It was also a really, really nice day!
last-day_view

The afternoon was slower, and Jeannette and I winded down our visit with good conversation, one last slice (or two) of Novelty pizza and another pint (or two) of Monhegan Brewing beer, and caught up with some good friends who had just arrived with tours of their own. It was a relaxing finish to a great weekend, and the gentle boat ride home was more relaxing than we really needed before driving – just a little different than our outbound trip!

So yeah, it was a good trip. And, after one day at work, I am definitely ready to go back!  At least I have two tours out here this fall. First, I have a full week with my WINGS tour, space on which is still available.

And there’s a little room left on our store’s annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour, which is only four months away!
IMG_9723-edited-edited
Yellow Warbler in an apple tree.

And finally, here is the daily tally:

5/25 5/26 5/27 5/28 5/29
BRANT 0 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 1 1 1 1
Am. Blac Duck x Mallard hybrid 0 1 0 1 1
Mallard 15 10 12 16 20
Common Eider x x x x x
LONG-TAILED DUCK 0 0 0 1 0
Red-throated Loon 2 1 0 0 0
Common Loon 1 0 1 2 0
Northern Gannet 2 0 0 3 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
GREAT CORMORANT 0 1 0 0 0
Great Blue Heron 0 0 0 1 0
Green Heron 0 0 1 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 0 0 1 0
Osprey 0 0 1 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 0 0 0 1 1
Merlin 0 2 0 1 0
Sora 0 0 0 1 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 0 0 0 3
American Woodcock 0 2 0 0 0
Laughing Gull 1 1 8 20 8
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern 1 0 0 2 2
Black Guillemot x x x x x
Mourning Dove x x x x x
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 2 3 4 4
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Flicker 0 0 0 0 1
Great-crested Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 1 2 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 1
Least Flycatcher 1 2 2 2 2
Eastern Phoebe 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Kingbird 2 8 7 4 3
WARBLING VIREO 1 1 2 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2 80 10 6 8
Blue Jay x x x x x
American Crow x x x x x
Common Raven 2 1 2 2 2
Tree Swallow 4 4 4 4 4
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 2 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 1 1
Winter Wren 0 0 1 0 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 0 0 0
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER 0 1 0 0 0
EASTERN BLUEBIRD 2 3 1 1 1
Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin x x x x x
Gray Catbird x x x x x
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD 0 0 1 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling x x x x x
Cedar Waxwing 60 125 125 125 125
Tennessee Warbler 3 20 8 4 6
Northern Parula 2 6 4 5 10
Yellow Warbler 6 10 12 12 12
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 1 0 0 1
Magnolia Warbler 4 4 3 2 4
Cape May Warbler 0 4 2 1 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warblers 3 2 1 0 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 8 3 2 5
Blackburnian Warbler 0 0 1 2 15
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 2 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 12 50 25 20 40
Black-and-white Warbler 3 4 3 1 2
American Redstart 4 15 6 0 15
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1 0 1
Canada Warbler 0 0 1 0 0
SUMMER TANAGER 0 0 0 0 1
Chipping Sparrow 4 4 2 2 4
FIELD SPARROW 0 1 2 2 0
Savannah Sparrow 0 1 1 0 0
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 2 2 2
White-throated Sparrow 0 0 0 1 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1 0 1 1 0
Northern Cardinal 4 x x x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2 2 3 3 1
Indigo Bunting 0 1 1 1 1
Bobolink 0 0 2 1 1
Red-winged Blackbird 12 x x x x
Common Grackle 15 x x x x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 1 3 3 4 2
Purple Finch 4 4 2 2 2
RED CROSSBILL (lone good recording identified as Type 10 by M. Young at Cornell). 30 0 5 h.o 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 1 0
American Goldfinch 10 x x x x

beets
I forgot to take a photo of the pizza – I ate it too quickly as usual – so here are some beautiful beets from the Island Inn.


And as migrants were passing through, many of the island’s breeding species were well underway, such as this Song Sparrow gathering food for its nestlings.

Three Days at Florida Lake Park

IMG_4214-edited-edited
Northern Parula

One of my favorite aspects of May is that there are “new” birds every day. Constant turnover as the flow of migratory songbirds, especially the long-distance Neotropical migrants, reaches its peak means “first-of-years” can be found almost every day. Even better, is the constant turnover and new arrivals almost anywhere we go birding.

…Including at local patches. And for me, there are few places I’d rather be than staying near home at Florida Lake Park in Freeport. I can get in several hours of birding and still make it to work in time, which is important in one of our store’s two busiest months. We’re luck to have this park only 12 minutes from our house, which makes for a perfect birding “patch.”
IMG_4201-edited-edited
Blackburnian Warbler

With an exceptionally busy week, my birding time was limited to the early mornings, but Florida Lake did not let me down. In fact, it was a lot of fun. With good diversity each day, and new birds arriving each night, there was always something new to look at. And, as is the case with loyal patch-working, the consistency of visitation makes for a nice education on the ebbs and flows of seasonal migrants.

Check out the scorecard of warblers (and a few other personal first-of-years) that I had each day this week, and note the subtle change in diversity and species dominance as the season advances. Numbers of individuals have not been huge, but numbers of species have been great for the second week of May.
IMG_4067-edited-edited
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday, 5/9.
46F, dense fog, calm.
Radar down for maintenance.

(14 species of warblers)
25+ Yellow-rumped Warblers
10+ Northern Parulas
10 Common Yellowthroats
8 Black-and-white Warblers
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Ovenbirds
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
3 Northern Waterthrushes
2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler

4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (FOY)

Thursday, 5/10.
43F, dense fog, calm.
Ambiguous radar due to presence of fog that moved inland overnight, but looked good for birds, too, and possibly large flight inland.

(14 species of warblers)
22 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Black-and-white Warblers
7 Common Yellowthroats
5 Ovenbirds
5 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Northern Parulas
4 Yellow Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 American Redstarts (FOY)
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Wilson’s Warbler (FOY)
IMG_4421-edited-edited
Wilson’s Warbler

Friday, 5/11.
52F, partly cloudy, moderate NW.
Dry cold front passed overnight with SW to S winds shifting to W to NW by 3:00am. Very strong flight early in overnight diminished rapidly after midnight.

(18 species of warblers; very good tally for the 11th of May here)
16 Black-and-white Warblers
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
10 Common Yellowthroats
7 Northern Parulas
7 Black-throated Green Warblers
7 Magnolia Warblers
6 Ovenbirds
4 Nashville Warblers
4 American Redstarts
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers
2 Pine Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Blackpoll Warbler (FOY)
1 Palm Warbler


And these radar images from midnight showed that it was going to be a great day!

Folks in Portland have been rewarded with daily visits to Evergreen Cemetery and/or Capisic Pond Park, while those closer to Biddeford have headed to Timber Point, for example. But regardless of where you are, there’s a local “patch” to be “worked,” or perhaps to be discovered. And there’s no better time than now!

IMG_4042-edited-edited
Palm Warbler

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Harlequins and Hops!

DyerPoint1
The first new “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2018 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success. We enjoyed harlequins, hops, and so much more – including a much-hoped-for rarity. We even saw just about every single species suggested in the itinerary. And it was gorgeous out!

We had begrudgingly postponed the tour from the previous week due to the fear of ice in the morning and heavy rain and fog during the day. But the light winds, temperatures in the upper 30’s, and limited rain that the day actually featured made us wonder if we had lost the gamble. And when we woke up to 6-10” of snow (and not the 4-6 forecast!) on the morning of the 18th – and the resultant extra time clearing the driveway – I was definitely viewing the decision in hindsight.

However, the sun soon came out, the roads melted, and the temperature warmed to 40-degrees. A strengthening southerly wind was a little raw at one stop, but otherwise, it was impossible to beat the weather for a tour in February…and the fresh coating of fluffy snow only added to the aesthetically-pleasing scenery of the birding day. Furthermore, the coastal storm that spun through overnight was perfect for producing some nearshore pelagic alcids (members of the puffin family), which really got our hopes up for a life bird or two.

We began at Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth where we soon spotted the namesake quarry of the tour: a dozen snazzy Harlequin Ducks. We were already half-way to our titled goal for the day, but of course, we were only getting started.
DyerPt2,PaulODonnell,2-18-18

At nearby Two Lights State Park, we enjoyed several more Harlequin Ducks, lots of Common Eiders, Black and White-winged Scoters, and one Red-necked Grebe while we took in the breathtaking scenery.
TwoLightsSP
WWSC

And then it happened.

I spotted a Dovekie – one of the most sought-after winter specialties of the region. It was sitting on the water (had it just flown in?) with a group of eider just off the shoreline, and in perfect light. It was feeding, diving under for a minute or two at a time, but eventually, everyone got great looks through the scope, and lots of photographs were taken. Barely larger than a starling, this hardy little bird spends most of its life on the open ocean, and only comes to land to breed and nearshore in specific conditions in winter than include storm tracks, winds before and after, offshore food supplies, nearshore food supplies, and likely other unknown factors. It was a bird we only hoped for today, but a life bird for just about everyone in the group; this was a find that was soon to be celebrated!
DOVE1DOVE2DOVE3

A few Purple Sandpipers were spotted at nearby Kettle Cove as were Surf Scoters and several Common Loons, but with a southerly wind and choppy water building, I decided to make a turn inland and head for some sheltered waters. Finding that at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland, photogenic, stunning Red-breasted Mergansers stole the show, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull was teased out of the flock.
ICGU

A short, pleasant walk through Mill Creek Park yielded hundreds of Mallards (BoT veterans know how much I enjoy looking at, and talking about, large aggregations of Mallards!), and among them, the overwintering hen Wood Duck – a real rarity in winter! Although lacking the gaudy, over-the-top coloration of the drake, the subtlety-beautiful hen with her glossy bronze and green tertials and over-application of white mascara was enjoyed by all.
mILLcREEK
WODU1WODU2

One last stop at the Portland fish pier, was another chance to see Iceland Gulls – actually, we saw 7 of them, including a darkly-marked adult – and offered the opportunity to get up close and personal with several of our spiffy wintering sea ducks, such as this handsome drake Long-tailed Duck.
LTDU

The benefit of this winter itinerary is that there are countless birding locales to visit, with worthwhile stops given almost any weather (or travel) condition. Therefore, Paul had to rein me in – the birding was so good, I certainly wanted to keep going! – and with that, we departed, and I handed the proverbial microphone over to our esteemed beer guide for the day.

Paul took the lead and escorted us to eighteen twenty wines in Portland, our only winery visit on the 2018 BoT schedule. Making wine from Maine-grown rhubarb, and hard cider in small batches from Maine-grown apples, this was going to be a unique and educational experience. Maine became a state in 1820, and it was also the first year were rhubarb was found in the public market, we soon learned. A very traditional beverage, rhubarb wine was popular – especially for medicinal purposes – in the early 1800’s.
1820-1
1820-2

We were treated to two wines, and two ciders. The first wine was Wintrus, a rhubarb wine aged in cabernet barrels, which imparted notes of the cabernet and oak-y woodiness, adding a little complexity to this rather light wine that was perfectly positioned between dry and sweet. The strawberry-rhubarb Honeoye was next, with plenty of strawberry flavor, but only a little sweeter and nowhere near the expectations of an overly-sugared strawberry-rhubarb pie which is its inspiration.
1820-4

Ohm was our first cider, an “English Eastern Counties-style:” dry, light, and uncarbonated. This was soon followed by what turned out to be the crowd favorite, Ohm’s Law, the Ohm aged in cinnamon whiskey barrel. Reminiscent of an apple pie, but again, without the overt sweetness, and likely due to the lack of carbonation, finishing with a soft and smooth buttery flavor.

We also learned about the trials and tribulations of opening a new winery – especially given the legal definitions and the lack of grape vines in this “urban winery,” as well as future plans that include experimentation with the 60+ varieties of rhubarb.
1820-3
Goodfire-sticker

The long commute to the other side of the building (this itinerary was designed to reduce driving, just in case the roads were normal-February snotty) presented us with the second half of the tour’s title: the hops. And hops were abundant and well spoken for in the brews of Goodfire Brewing Co, the newest brewery in the burgeoning “Yeast Bayside” scene.
Goodfire2

We were handed samples of one of their IPAs, Prime, which I’ll admit my bias – it has rapidly become one of my favorite beers. A citrusy juice-bomb, I was keen to have the group compare it to our second selection, Waves. Also a hazy, New England-style IPA, this beer features complex tropical fruit notes instead.
Goodfire3

Earlier, Paul had inquired about what beers and other beverages people did and did not like, and quite a few people on the bus proclaimed themselves as “not IPA fans.” New England IPAs are not your bitter IPAs of old, and so I wanted to challenge people’s ideas of what an IPA is, and hopefully open some minds. I was therefore rather pleased when one of those self-proclaimed non-IPA fans proclaimed Prime as their favorite beverage of the day on the ride back home. Mission accomplished!
Goodfire4Goodfire5

The final sample was a choice between the hoppy “table beer” saison, Tiny Wrist Circles, and the hot-off-the-presses Hydro, their latest Double IPA. I’ll give you one guess to what I had, and then went home with!
Ridehome

It was a quick and easy commute to our Portland meeting location, followed by a smooth and clear drive to Freeport for the rest of us. Conversation included Dovekie ecology, IPA diversity, and what an amazingly beautiful winter’s day we had just experienced. Something tells me Harlequins and Hops will be back!

Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year 2017

book cover

“I think I want to do a Big Year…kinda.” I said to Jeannette.
“You want to do WHAT? You? Why?” she responded.

Several friends I floated the idea to had similar initial responses. But when I explained my concept, they started to understand, and be supportive. It wouldn’t be a regular Big Year where I ran around willy-nilly chasing after everything that was reported. Instead, it would have a very specific parameter: I would only count birds – and for that matter, only seek birds – at places covered in my book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide published this past spring by the University Press of New England.

The goal was to “ground-truth” the comprehensive-ness of the book. Did I successfully cover all of the breeding species? What about the best migrant traps? Rarity Hotspots? Could birding only with this book result in a respectable year list? I set a goal of 300 species in the year in order to act as “proof of concept.”

So off I went.

There were some very good rarities around in January, so the year list got off to a great start. An overwintering immature male and female King Eider in Portland Harbor (Site C5) were nice additions, as you can never really count on where one will be in any given year.
imm_male_KIEI,FishPier,3-19-17_edited-2

The Mid-Coast was particularly hot and Jeannette and I caught up with the two Pink-footed Geese at the Samoset Resort (Site KX5) on 1/30…
PFGO,Samoset,1-30-17

…and the Mew Gull at Owl’s Head Harbor (Site KX4) on the next day
MEGU,OwlsHeadHarbor,1-31

Alas, the Bullock’s Oriole – only the second state record – was at a private feeder in Camden most of the winter, but could not be counted on my little endeavor. But January also produced some good winter irruptives that I would not see in the fall of 2017, such as Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwing. Of course, since Pine Grosbeak is on the cover, I couldn’t miss that one!

While February is generally a slow month for rarities, a few good year list additions included a Short-eared Owl at Reid State Park (Site SA3) on February 2nd – a bird I chased (but would find a couple in the fall), and then a lucky find of a Dovekie on Valentine’s Day that Jeannette and I enjoyed from The Cliff House (Site Y4).

Slow growth of the list continued in March, but I was seeing most of what was expected. A Canvasback at Fortunes Rocks Beach (Y11) was a quick twitch on 3/20. As migration picked up in April, it was time to get to work. I spent much of my month at our Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch (Site C18), especially on days with conditions that have produced rarities in the past.

Fly-by Sandhill Cranes on 4/3 would save me some effort later in the year…
SACR1,TheBrad,4-3-17_edited-1

…and I was excited to spot a Black Vulture on April 11th. The vulture, however, paled in comparison to the Bird of the Day: a fly-by Townsend’s Solitaire! (my first self-found in Maine).

By month’s end, Neotropical Migrants began to return, but an impressive storm system at month’s end looked prime for “southern overshoots,” so I dedicated as much time as I could to migrant traps along the coast. The Biddeford Pool neighborhood (Site Y12) is always my first destination in such circumstances, but I did not expect a Gray-cheeked Thrush there on 4/27. My first in spring in Maine, this was a far more satisfying addition than a nocturnal flight call or fleeting glimpse in the fall!
GCTH1,BiddPool,4-27-17

My southerly expectations were met on Bailey Island (Site C23) the next day, where I found my first White-eyed Vireo of the year…
WEVI,BaileyIsland,4-28-17

…and my first of what would be a total of four self-found Hooded Warblers on the year. I synthesized the weather and birding from this storm in a blog entry.

The list grew with each day in May – thanks especially to my local patch, Florida Lake Park (C20) – occasionally punctuated by an important addition, such as the Evening Grosbeaks that flew over Old Town House Park (Site C16) during my Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 20th. I caught up with the only annually-occurring Orchard Orioles in the state at Capisic Pond Park (Site C9) on the following day.
OROR,CapisicPondPark,5-21-17_edited-2

My guiding schedule was jam-packed in 2017, and tours would take me all over the state as usual. It began in May with a single day tour in Rangeley on the 18th, which produced Mourning Warbler and Gray Jay, among other “first of years” in the boreal forest.
FeedingGRJA1,BoyScoutCamp,5-19-17_edited-1

Then, as usual, it was off to Monhegan Island (Site L1) with the store’s tour group for Memorial Day Weekend. Any visit to Monhegan during migration offers high hopes for rarities, and with a total of three tours there this year, I needed it to produce for me. However, despite a really great and birding weekend, I came away with “only” Summer Tanager…

…and a very-rare-in-spring Orange-crowned Warbler (but I would find a total of five in the fall).
OCWA,Monhegan,5-28

My 10-day tour comprehensive breeding season tour for WINGS is especially important for me to clean up the breeding birds, such as this Spruce Grouse at Boot Head Preserve (Site WN8) on 6/21.
SPRG,BootHead,6-21

During that tour, the waters between Maine and Machias Seal Island (Site WN7) delivered Common Murre and more Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins (my first puffins of the year on the boat to Monhegan in late May).

Usually in June, I am too busy to chase (rarities are always on the opposite side of the state than I am during any given tour), and once again, I missed a few goodies (we’ll get to those in a little bit). However, I always had an incredible stroke of luck with not just two great rarities in two days, but two State Birds for me in two days that I happened to be free for. Or, actually, mostly free.

One June 12th, our wedding anniversary, we were getting ready to head to our fancy dinner in Portland when we received word of a Magnificent Frigatebird over Prout’s Neck in Scarborough. We hurried, raced to Pine Point (Site C1), called the restaurant which graciously allowed us to delay our reservation, and spotted the frigatebird in the distance, soaring over Prout’s Neck.
MAFR,PinePoint,6-12
MAFR_chase1,PinePointBeach,6-12-17 - Copy

The next day, we had plans with our new neighbors, Meghan and Mike Metzger. We were supposed to head over to their house for cocktails in the evening, but when word of a Snowy Plover – a first state record! – at Reid State Park (Site SA3) was received, we decided to test the new friendship. “So, what do you guys think about maybe a walk on the beach on this sultry (record warm, actually) evening?” We figured any friends of birders would eventually find out what it’s like to be friends of birders, so we might as well break them in early. And now that their first life bird was a Snowy Plover in Maine, perhaps we’ll make birders out of them someday.
SNPL,ReidSP,6-13

With a few red-letter rarities and good luck with many of the regular breeding birds in Maine, I finished my June insanity (I was in the store a total of four days all month!) with 258 species after Jeannette and I paid a visit to the King Rail pair breeding once again along Eldridge Road at Moody Point (Site Y5). Glancing over the checklist, I realized that with some dedicated effort, this Big Year-esque project could turn into something.

Therefore, in July, Jeannette and I made sure to use our “weekends” together to fill in the holes on the year list. Every 4th of July weekend, we visit with Bicknell’s Thrushes, and this year was no different. Hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain (Site F12) on the 3rd added the species to my Maine year list (my June tours all go to New Hampshire for this much sought-after species).
BITH,Saddleback,7-3

The following week, we went up to the Baxter State Park area. A wildly productive first full day in the area (7/10) yielded the Black-backed Woodpecker that had so far eluded me this year, as well as the extremely rare American Three-toed Woodpecker, along Harvester Road (Site PS6) and at the Nesowadnahunk Campground Road (Site PS7), respectively. White-winged Crossbills were everywhere too (as were Reds). Unfortunately, Jeannette’s camera was on the fritz, and documentation eluded us.

Phil McCormack and I make an evening visit to the Kennebunk Plains (Site Y9) for Eastern Whip-poor-will every summer, and this year’s outing on 7/8 added that to the list. The list kept growing.

The Little Egret returned to the Falmouth-Portland waterfront for its 3rd summer, and although it was a little more elusive this year, I spotted it from Gilsland Farm (Site C8) on July 14th.
LIEG1,7-14-17

Without a Birding By Schooner tour this summer, I needed to make up a few pelagic ticks, the first of which were Manx Shearwaters that I spotted from East Point (Site Y12) in Biddeford Pool on my birthday, 7/31, with Pat Moynahan, John Lorenc, and Terez Fraser.

From August through early October, I took several boat trips – basically whenever I had the chance and conditions were decent. The Cap n’ Fish Whale Watch (Site L3) out of Boothbay Harbor was very good to me this year, yielded all of the regularly-occurring shearwaters, Parasitic Jaegers (here, on 8/11, but my first of the year were spotted at Dyer Point – Site C3 – on 7/25)…
PAJA1,8-11-17_edited-1
MASH1,8-11-17_edited-1
And some more Manx Shearwaters from the same date

And a whopping 28 Pomarine Jaegers on October 10th.
POJA,BoothbayWhaleWatch,9-10-17_edited-1

One huge void from not doing a schooner trip this summer was filled on August 6th when I spotted “Troppy”, the Red-billed Tropicbird at Seal Island (Site KX6 and H1) that has returned for its incredible 11th year. I accepted an offer to fill in as boat naturalist for a friend who was doing a couple of the Isle au Haut Ferry’s special “Puffins and Lighthouses” evening tours this year. I said yes for the chance to not miss out on a visit to Seal Island for the year…or for my year list. Thanks, Laura Kennedy!
RBTR,SealIs,8-6-17_edited-1

A few other serendipitous twitches and finds in August really helped out my quest. There was the Black-necked Stilt that was found at Weskeag Marsh (Site KX2) on August 2nd. We happened to be away on North Haven for the night before, so this was an easy 1-mile diversion on our way home that afternoon!
BNST,Weskeag, 8-2-17_edited-1

I missed White-faced Ibis in Scarborough Marsh this spring, and all summer it was only being seen in and around Spurwink Marsh in Cape Elizabeth, which is not technically a site in the book. Therefore, I was ecstatic to find it back in Scarborough Marsh while I was searching for shorebirds along the Eastern Road Trail (Site C1) on August 7TH.
WFIB1,8-7-17_edited-1

That day was big for me, as it also added Baird’s Sandpiper…
BASA1,EasternRd,8-7-17_edited-1

…and Stilt Sandpiper to my list.
STSA1,moltingjuv,EasternRd,9-15-17_edited-1

My first Western Sandpiper of the year came from there as well, on August 21st.
WESA,EasternRoad,8-21-17_edited-1

Our summer vacation this year took us out of the state once again, this time to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy for the Semipalmated Sandpiper migration spectacle. But our roadtrip finished up at Campobello Island, where we crossed the border for the day to visit our friend Chris Bartlett in Eastport (Site WN13) for a boat ride into the wildly productive waters of Passamaquoddy Bay and Head Harbor Passage on August 20th. Luckily, we found the Little Gull in Maine waters…
LIGU

…as well as my first Red-necked Phalaropes of the year.

Heading into the Big Year project, I was hoping a few of the book signings I would do around the state would give me the chance to add a couple of new species to the list, chase a bird or two I wouldn’t have driven as far for, or otherwise just check out a few sites that I rarely if ever bird. A talk and signing in Bar Harbor on September 7th gave me the chance to find a Blue Grosbeak behind the Mount Desert High School (Site H6) before my program. Little did I know at the time, but this would be my only sighting of the year, so this was another really lucky find.
BLGR2,MDI_high,9-7-17_edited-1

It doesn’t take a Big Year to get me to Sandy Point on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth (Site C14) at every possible opportunity to take in – and attempt to quantify – the “Morning Flight.” As in most years, it yielded a Connecticut Warbler (on 9/9), and on the 13th, a Lark Sparrow – my 184th species for me here, and the culmination of a record-shattering run at “my office.” Somehow, I didn’t have one in all of my time on Monhegan later that month, so this was a big score.

It was just about time for me to leave the store on September 16th to pick up my rental van for my WINGS tour to Monhegan that was starting the next day. Then the phone rang.

It was our friend, Barbara Carlson, visiting us from San Diego, who was out chasing the Little Egret at Gilsland Farm when she ran into Angus King, Jr, who asked her to identify a bird he just photographed. She called in excited panic as she attempting to explain to us, on Angus’s cell phone she borrowed, that there was a Mega-rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher there as well!

I pondered the timing, but somehow was wise enough to go pick up the van in Lisbon before driving to Falmouth. Notorious one-afternoon wonders, I was happy the Fork-tailed (my 377th Maine state bird) stuck around long enough for me to do the right thing first and not jeopardize my tour!
FTFL1,Gilsland,9-16_edited-1

Joking about wanting to “see the Little Egret and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher from the same spot,” I turned around to scan the Presumpscot River and spotted two Caspian Terns! A species I see every year, usually just by normally birding the right places at the right time – like Biddeford Pool – this species had somehow eluded me all year. In fact, it was getting to be a bit of a year-bird nemesis, and I even resorted to unsuccessfully chasing one that was lingering at Hill’s Beach. I had all but given up on this species before this lucky sighting.

Even better, the flycatcher continued the next day to get my tour off on the right foot.

I departed for Monhegan for my second time this year on 9/17, with my WINGS tour for the next 7 days. With my year list sitting at 293, I needed my two fall tours to the island to come up big for me.

I missed my 4th Say’s Phoebe ever out here – one of my two biggest nemeses for the state! – this time by all of about 45 minutes! I did, however, luck into a Red-headed Woodpecker on the last day of its stay.
RHWO,Monhegan,9-18-17

I only had Clay-colored Sparrows at non-sites up until this point, so that filled in a gaping hole, and a long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was a needed addition to the year list as well; none were found at Biddeford Pool this fall.
YCNH1,IcePond_edited-1

But overall, the slowest week I have ever experienced on Monhegan set me back in my quest – I simply needed more from my time there.

I was back on Monhegan the next weekend, with my annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour with my store’s group, and while I didn’t add much to the year list, I did get a big one: the first state record Cassin’s Vireo (For a more complete story, visit my blog entry from the weekend!)
DullVireo5_edited-1

Back on the mainland, I had some work to do. One last-ditch effort for Buff-breasted Sandpiper took us to Fryeburg Harbor (Site O3) on 10/3 on our way to a gluttony-fest at the Fryeburg Fair. Not surprisingly given the date, we didn’t find any “grass-pipers,” but we did find this Greater White-fronted Goose!
GWFG,FryeburgHarbor,10-3-17_edited-1

Jeannette and I took advantage of the flood tide on October 10th to hit the Eastern Road Trail to try to add Long-billed Dowitcher to my Big Year tally.

Every few summers, a Seaside Sparrows stakes out a territory in Scarborough Marsh, but this was not one of those summers. Therefore, I was quite happy when we found one here on this very late date. This was another stroke of luck, and my 299th species of 2017.

This was the type of strategizing that I really enjoyed throughout the year. Find a species that I “needed,” and figure out how to see it. Long-billed Dowitchers are rare-but-regular in Maine, and usually juveniles near the tail end of shorebird migration. The first full moon in October is usually a good time to see one out in the marsh, with areas of dry ground for roosting at a premium. And sure enough, there one was – my 300th species of the year!
LBDO1,EasternRd,10-10-17_edited-1

November “Rarity Season” featured an impressive wave of southern vagrants deposited by a storm at the very end of October. I found another Hooded Warbler at Bailey Island, one at Fort Foster (Site Y1), numerous possible “reverse migrants” like very late warblers and Indigo Buntings, and more. But by having had good southerly luck so far this year, I didn’t add anything to my year list, until November 12th when I found a spiffy Yellow-throated Warbler at the most-unexpected location of Martin’s Point Park in Sabattus during my Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: “Fall Ducks and Draughts”. Being teased by a “flock” of three on Monhegan earlier in the month, and saving me from chasing a few later in the month, this was the type of serendipitous discovery that makes for Big Year fun, and proves the idea that the most important part of finding rarities is just being out in the field.
YTWA,SabattusPond,11-12

My only other Rarity Season “discovery” was finding an error in my checklist that showed me my count was one more (I call those “accounting errors”) than what I thought it was, so when, after much effort of searching, Jeannette and I found a Yellow-breasted Chat at Battery Steele on Peak’s Island (Site C11) on November 27th, I was now up to 303 for the year! It was also a very satisfying find, as this was one of the birds that I was putting a lot of effort into turning up. Again, this type of strategy of searching for specific birds in specific habitats at specific times of the year is much more productive, and fulfilling, than waiting for someone else to find something and racing around looking for it. Chats are notoriously hard to re-find in the fall, as they are ultra-skulkers, so self-found is even more rewarding – and much less frustrating!
YBCH,BatterySteele,11-27-17

The year was winding down, and few regularly-occuring species were likely anymore – regardless of effort. One bird that is likely much more regular than records suggest is Eastern Screech-Owl. I have found them more often than I have not when making concerted effort in southern York County, especially in winter. While I was unable to relocate one found in mid-November in York, I decided to make a dedicated effort come December.

On December 3rd, Pat Moynahan set out for an evening of owling in Wells. After a dusk-watch for Short-eared and Snowy Owls, I decided to try a little fishing for screech-owls. At the first stop we made, just after dusk, a short whistle resulted in not one, but two, very aggressive and vociferous Eastern Screech-Owls right over our heads (at an undisclosed location within Y5). That was too easy!
ESOW,Wells,12-3-17_edited-1

Luckily, the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields (Site C15) finally yielded a rarity for me this year (other than an early-season Snow Goose which I also saw in the spring), with a Cackling Goose on December 6th for my 305th bird of the year in Maine.
CACG_CANG-comparison1,Thornhurst,12-6-17_edited-1

In the world of retail, there’s not a lot of free time in December, and with this year’s snowy and icy weather, I had even less time to bird than usual. While I did find a bunch of good birds, like a total of 5-6 Snowy Owls (at least 3 not previously reported), an Orange-crowned Warbler along Eldridge Road in Wells (Site Y5) during the York County Christmas Bird Count, various lingering stuff like late dabblers, and half-hardies such as several Gray Catbirds.
SNOW,BiddPool,12-18-17_edited-1
I just had to suffer through enjoying winter visitors such as Snowy Owls, like this photogenic individual at Biddeford Pool on Dec 18th

As December waned, so did my chances for adding any new species. I was hopeful for a rarity to be discovered on one of the state’s Christmas Bird Counts, and while a few birds of note were turned up, nothing I “needed” was detected. We checked Marginal Way (Site Y4) in Ogunquit on the way home from a long Christmas weekend in Massachusetts, just in case a storm-tossed Thick-billed Murre was around. But while in Massachusetts, we did discover a Ross’s Goose on Christmas Day!
IMG_7053_edited-1

Now is where I would like to tell you I finished my Big Year with a bang; how I trudged through the snow and ice, braving sub-zero temperatures, marching up hill (both ways!), and digging out every possible addition for my year list. But alas, it ended more like a thud than a bang: a very snowy, very icy, and very bitterly cold thud.

Few birders were out to find something I might need, and it was even tough for me to motivate in the mornings with temperatures often below zero. But one of the aspects of a Big Year that I – and most every other participant in such a silly pursuit – enjoy is that extra little bit of motivation to get into the field.

Such additional incentive was more than necessary on December 27th and 28th, with morning lows of -5 and -10F, respectively. Without the hopes and dreams of one or two more species for the Big Year, it’s unlikely I would have done much more than sit around, watching the feeders and sipping coffee (and probably swearing at the cable news). Instead, I forced myself to get out for just a little bit, and while no year birds resulted, I did have some nice consolation prizes: two drake Barrow’s Goldeneyes were in the open water off of the Freeport Town Wharf (Site C19) on the 27th. And on the 28th, I had 2 adult Glaucous Gulls and two 1st-winter Iceland Gulls at the Bath Landfill (Site SA5). Then I sipped some coffee in front of the store’s windows (Site C19), hoping for a Common Redpoll to show up! That hour I spend in the evening in a last-ditch effort to find a Long-eared Owl in sub-zero temperatures was just stupid, however.

Besides, I wasn’t going to escape the cold the following day, when Jeannette and I (joined by Zane Baker) spent the entire day walking outside (low of -16, high of merely 6!) on the Freeport-Brunswick CBC. While Florida Lake Park is a site in our circle, our highlights were all away from there, led by the rediscovery of “our” Dickcissel (by plumage and proximity) at a feeder, about a mile from our store that he frequented from November 2nd through December 15th. He did not look happy about the temperature, either.
DICK,DesertRoad,Freeport,12-29-17_edited-1

Winslow Park (C19) was the destination for our Saturday Morning Birdwalk on 12/30, and although the start temperature was a painful -11F, seven people showed up and joined me in enjoying a dashing drake Barrow’s Goldeneye

That left New Year’s Eve Day, and despite morning lows again well below zero, Pat Moynahan and I hit the coast from The Nubble (Site Y3) to Webhannet Marsh (Site Y6), with Thick-billed Murre primarily on our minds. Sea-smoke reduced visibility, and the wind chill was brutal. While we did have a total of 72 Harlequin Ducks – which certainly made us happy – our highlights were all from an extremely productive (and for the first time all day, mostly sheltered) Marginal Way in Ogunquit (Site Y4): 1 Fox Sparrow, 10 Lesser and 4 Greater Scaup, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3 Northern Pintails, and this very chilled Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was eeking out a living on Eastern Redcedar berries. But alas, no murres – or shockingly, alcids of any variety.
YBSA,MarginalWay,12-31-17_edited-1

Therefore, my 2018 Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year finished at 305 species. When I started the year, my goal was 300, so I am quite satisfied with the tally. Additionally, I saw four species away from sites: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Great Gray Owl, Bullock’s Oriole, and this Fieldfare – a first state record in a yard in Newcastle in April – for a total year list of 309.
FIEL1,4-22-17_edited-1

The Great Gray Owl stings a bit, considering I missed one at a site (Sunkahaze NWR; Site PE9) in January while we were on vacation, and another showed up near the Orono Bog (Site PE7) in February. But it’s OK, it’s a Great Gray Owl, and site or otherwise, it was awesome.

Worse, however, was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester was one of the last sites cut from the book, and for some reason it was the only place I encountered one this fall. I even made concerted efforts to find them at likely places, such as the Colonial Acres Sod Farm in Gorham (Site C13). I guess I should have sucked it up and chased the three that were found there in September, or any of the handful of others that were found at various sites throughout the month.

Speaking of misses, as with any birding year – big or otherwise – there were plenty of misses. The worst might have been the elusive (usually) Least Bittern. After just about everyone (including most of my tour group), except I, saw the one that was on Monhegan over Memorial Day weekend, I never found time to make the effort to search for one in breeding marshes over the summer. That effort could have also yielded Common Gallinule, another miss for me in 2017, although the only reports of the year came from a non-site.

I always hope for kites and Golden Eagle at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, but none passed through this year. There were a couple of Golden reports this fall though at sites, including one nicely photographed over Fryeburg Harbor. I also missed a Blue-winged Warbler on Monhegan this fall, as well as a Painted Bunting that left the day before my first tour arrived, while a Western Kingbird finally showed up there two days after I departed. I also dipped on a Franklin’s Gull that was a one-afternoon wonder at Wharton Point (Site C21) on 11/6.

Several other species were seen at sites covered in the book throughout the course of the year that I did not – or could not – chase. These included: Ross’s and Barnacle Geese in Aroostook County in October (Site AR7), Eurasian Wigeon at Messalonskee Lake (Site KE6) on 4/12, a Western Grebe reported off Sears Island (Site WO10) in January, Marbled Godwit at Reid State Park on 6/13, Sabine’s Gull off Eastport in September, a surprising Black-headed Gull at Riverbank Park (Site C12) a one-day wonder in February, and a Franklin’s Gull that flew by Dyer Point (Site C3) on 7/5. Surprisingly, the only Forster’s Tern reported this year was as out-of-place and unseasonable one at Sanford Lagoons (Site Y10) in April, while Royal Terns were briefly spotted at Popham Beach SP (Site SA2) on 7/16 and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm (Site Y7) on 8/19. I also missed Prothonatory Warblers at Wilson’s Cove Preserve (Site C22) on 5/2, and another on Monhegan on 5/16. A Cerulean Warbler was also on Monhegan on 5/21 – a species I have still not yet seen in Maine.

Off-limits but viewable via several boat trips covered in the book, Seal Island NWR hosted its usual slew of incredible rarities this year as well, including a Kentucky Warbler in May, a completely unexpected Gray-tailed Tattler in August, and several sightings of Long-tailed Jaeger in August. Whether or not you count Machias Seal Island as being “Maine” or not, it did host a Bridled Tern and an Ancient Murrelet early this summer,

My lack of an overnight birding-by-schooner tour to Seal Island cost me Leach’s Storm-Petrel for the year as I didn’t luck into any during my summer and fall pelagic trips. Of course, if I didn’t have a total of 4 Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company (Site H7) tours weathered out this fall, I might have picked one up, along with South Polar and Great Skuas – Great Skua remains my all-time nemesis in Maine waters!

And despite concerted effort in late December, I did not see a Thick-billed Murre this year. And Common Redpolls never did return by year’s end, after only a few made it to extreme northern Maine in the previous winter.

However, my most frustrating miss of the year might have been Brown Pelican. What was likely one bird was ranging up and down the coast, perhaps between Prout’s Neck and Plum Island, MA. But between June 9th and 12th, it was reliable off of Pine Point. I was Downeast with my WINGS tour. Until the last report on or about August 2nd, several birders lucked into it here and there, and several non-birders had sightings they reported: one friend saw it while taking a walk at the Camp Ellis jetty, and my landlord texted me a phone photo of it flying past Long Sands Beach (Site Y3) in York while he was out surfing. Oh well, it at least gave me something to look for during the summer, and I definitely spent a few days worth of time trying to turn it up at various coastal locales.

Additional species reported in Maine throughout the year that were not seen at sites covered in Birdwatching in Maine included Redhead (although it probably bred once again somewhere in Aroostook County, including at sites such as Lake Josephine), White-winged Dove, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher (first state record), and a couple of Western Tanagers.

So overall, I think I did quite well! While I am sure I missed a few things here and there, it’s safe to say I saw a large majority of the +/- 343 species observed in Maine this year, or roughly 89%, at sites covered within Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide.

I don’t use eBird, so my list “doesn’t count” according to some, but I took a look at the eBird Year List for 2017. My list was good for second in the state, despite my self-imposed limitations, quite a bit of travel (a total of 35 days out of the state this year), an exceptionally busy schedule all year, not to mention my aversion towards chasing more than the occasional mega rarity. I also visited 105 of the 201 sites covered in the book. Not bad. More importantly, it proved my hypotheses correct:
1) Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide has comprehensive coverage of just about every regularly-occurring bird in the state.
2) Using the guide to “just go birding” can result in a very respectable list, with just a little extra effort.
3) Birding in Maine is really special.
4) And perhaps most importantly for me: I would never do a Big Year for real!

Of course, I couldn’t have done this without my favorite birding buddy, Jeannette. In addition to having the year list pursuit occupy many of our days off together, she occasionally had to put in a few extra hours at the store here and there as I went gallivanting around the state. I also want to thank my friends who kept me company and helped me find birds, or otherwise assisted on my quest, throughout the year. I could not have accomplished this goal without the help of Zane Baker, Chris Bartlett, Kirk Betts, Paul Doiron, Terez Fraser, Kristen Lindquist, John Lorenc, Rich MacDonald, Phil McCormack, Pat Moynahan, Dan Nickerson, Evan Obercian, Luke Seitz, and Marion Sprague, and of course, all of the other contributors to the book who helped guide me way to numerous birding sites around the state. And I cannot forget to mention all of the other birders who found some good birds to twitch over the course of this productive year of birding in Maine.

As the calendar changed to 2018, like a many a real Big Year birder, I took a deep breath, relished the freedom of not being a slave to the list, grabbed my binoculars, and just went birding!

I hope you will do the same in 2018, and I hope Birdwatching in Maine will guide you along the way to a happy and successful year of birding, whatever goals you do or do not have. (You can order it directly from us at this link if you don’t already have a well-worn copy!)

Good birding, and Happy New Year List! If you keep one that it is (I won’t be!).

CONI1,Monhegan,5-28_edited-1
Common Nighthawk, Monhegan in May.

HOWA,BaileyIsland,11-1-17_edited-1
Hooded Warbler on Bailey Island in November, my 4th self-found HOWA of the year!