Category Archives: Birding in Maine

Derek’s Birding This Week, 11/14-20.

I checked a lot of thickets along the coast this week, hoping for late migrants and vagrants. While those were in rather short supply, I had noticed a significant number of Carolina Wrens. Are they rebounding from a couple of harsh winters in a row, or was there another influx of migrants/dispersing birds into the region this fall. Even the common and fairly common birds have so much to teach us about populations, movements, and vagrancy!

It’s getting colder and quieter out there. But, we are in the midst of the late fall Rarity Season, so I made time to check as many of the migrant and vagrant traps as I could this week. Other than a great morning with Jeannette on Bailey Island on Tuesday, I didn’t find much in the way of “lingering” birds. Did the late-October unseasonable cold snap have something to do with it? And/or the lack of natural food resources because of the drought? Or I was in the wrong places?

My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • 2 PINE GROSBEAKS, Private Property in Durham, 11/14.
  • 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/15.
  • 1 AMERICAN REDSTART, 9 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 1 PINE WARBLER, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and 1 Winter Wren, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 11/17 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 Red Crossbill, over our yard in Pownal, 11/17.
  • 300+ Horned Larks, 8-10 Snow Buntings, and 2-3 Lapland Longspurs, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/18. 
  • 1 Gray Catbird, Saco Riverwalk, 11/19.
  • 1 pair Wood Ducks, Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • 2 Harlequin Ducks, Trundy Point, Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • 2 immature White-crowned Sparrows, Private Property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • 1 very late LINCOLN’S SPARROW, here at the store, 11/20.
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: scattered 1-4’s.
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 5, Private Property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • EVENING GROSBEAK High Count This Week:  9, our yard in Pownal, 11/18.

This Week’s Highlights, 11/7-13, 2020

Well this is sure not something you’ll see everyday! Here’s a vagrant BULLOCK’S ORIOLE from the Western US in front of the Maine state flag!
With only 5-9 previous records in Maine, this visitor to a Freeport backyard was definitely my headliner this week…as it was for most birders in the state!

My observations of note over the past seven days were as follows:

  • 3 immature White-crowned Sparrows continue here at the store’s feeders through 11/11.
  • 1 Red Crossbill, around the store, 11/8.
  • 1 YELLOW WARBLER, 1 Rusty Blackbird, 1 Winter Wren, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, etc, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 3 PINE GROSBEAKS (FOY), Moose Point State Park, Searsport, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL, Sears Island, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 Winter Wren and 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Sandy Point Beach, Searsport, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 BOHEMIAN WAXWING, Stockton Cove, Stockton Springs, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 Lapland Longspur, 1 Red Crossbill, 4 American Pipits, 6 Snow Buntings, 60+ Horned Larks, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/11.
  • 1 American Pipit, fly-over here at the store, 11/11 (our 130th Yard Bird!).
  • 1 BULLOCK’S ORIOLE, Spring Hill Lane (see previous posts on Maine Birds Google Group or the Maine Birds Facebook Group for directions), Freeport, 11/11.
  • 1 Red Crossbill, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 11/12.
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 14, Spring Hill Road, Freeport, 11/11.
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 2, multiple locations.
  • EVENING GROSBEAK High Count This Week: 8, over the store, 11/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 10/31-11/6, 2020/

Pine Siskins have really thinned out this week, but still remain common and widespread. This was one in a small group at Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth on 11/1, feasting on Speckled Alder.

This weekly report has been posted on the Maine-Birds Google Group and our store’s Facebook Page for several years. I’m playing around with a new repository for these weekly reports. How does it look here? The archives are searchable at least, and it’s an easy way to encourage me to add more photos (at least one a week is my goal!).

My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

– a few  Evening Grosbeaks in and around our yard in Pownal all week.

– 1 very early BOHEMIAN WAXWING, 1 NORTHERN SHRIKE, 1 LESSER YELLOWLEGS, 4 Common Redpolls, 2 American Tree Sparrows (FOF), and 3 Common Goldeneyes (FOF), Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 10/31 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).

– 1 BLUE-HEADED VIREO, 1 Gray Catbird, and 1 Blackpoll Warbler, Saco Riverwalk, 11/1.

– 1 female Wood Duck, Grondin Pond, Scarborough, 11/1.

– 10 Snow Buntings (FOF), Sebago Lake State Park, 11/2 (with Jeannette).

– 1 Fox Sparrow, our yard in Pownal, 11/2.

– 300+ Horned Larks, 60+ American Pipits, 8 Snow Buntings, and 2 Lapland Longspurs (FOF), Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/4.

– Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/6:

  • 674 Mallards
  • 644 Ruddy Ducks
  • 277 Common Mergansers
  • 89 Canada Geese
  • 75 Green-winged Teal
  • 68 Greater Scaup
  • 20 American Black Ducks
  • 55 Hooded Mergansers
  • 28 Bufflehead
  • 8 Lesser Scaup
  • 5 American Wigeon
  • 4 GADWALL
  • 2 Northern Pintails
  • 2 Common Loons
  • 1 Red-breasted Merganser
  • 1 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 1 continuing female LONG-TAILED DUCK
  • 1 RED-NECKED GREBE
  • 1 EVENING GROSBEAK
  • 1 Rusty Blackbird

-Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 18+, feeders here at the store most of the week.-Scattered small numbers of Common Redpolls all week and increasing by week’s end.

Boothbay Harbor Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish Cruises, 10/12/2020

Leach’s Storm-Petrels were the star of the show today!

We were very excited to kick off a new partnership between Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Cap’n Fish Cruises with a half-day pelagic birding trip out of Boothbay Harbor on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12th.  We departed the wharf at 9:00am and returned at about 1:45pm.

Cap’n Fish’s Dominique Caverly joined me in narrating the tour, adding additional natural history information. Captain Tabor did an exceptional job keeping the boat as comfortable as possible, finding some interesting underwater topography, trying to position the boat to view birds in the best light, and catching up with those two jaegers!  Ian Carlsen was our chummer extraordinaire, getting fulmars and Great Shearwaters within a few yards of the boat – while simultaneously keeping track of our eBird transects.

With a forecast for 2-3ft seas, we were not all that happy to find them more like 2-4 with the occasional 5-footer, but Captain Tabor did a great job in picking a track that maximized our time with comfortable following seas. There were a few bumps and splashes along the way, but so goes pelagic birding in the fall in the Gulf of Maine.  We were just happy to successfully get offshore!

Heading into deeper waters of the Portland shipping channel about 20 miles offshore, we explored an area where the seafloor rises from 500 feet to 300, before dropping off again to over 600. What’s great about departing from Boothbay – and bodes well for future tours from here – is that we don’t have to travel too far to get to some good deep-water and interesting seabed topography.

Fall pelagics in the Gulf of Maine, especially in southern Maine, are a fickle beast, and can be really hit or miss. In fact, I have been out on whale watches in October that failed to record a single tubenose!  But, having had a significant amount of success with Cap’n Fish’s whale watches during the fall, I was quite excited for the chance to head out on a dedicated bird-finding mission.

And it did take some work to find birds today.  Even Northern Gannets and gulls were in very short supply. However, once we got to that aforementioned ledge, we had a lot of birds all around us. 

Great Shearwaters were the most numerous “tubenose” as expected.

But 3 Leach’s Storm-Petrels were anything but expected!  Even one would have been a headliner, but today we had three – two of which were seen extraordinarily well for prolonged periods of time.  I was hopefully for this species, but they are so hit-or-miss, I only included it on my “possible” list. And then I expected the sighting to be like our first – one zipping by and only seen by a few observers.  Those second two, however: wow, just wow!

Any day with a jaeger is a good day in my book, and we had two good sightings of Pomarine Jaegers today, including one that was around us and reigning terror for a while. I called them both “Poms” in the field, but I looked forward to receiving photos to confirm their identify – no one should be above going to instant replay for jaegers!   In fact, one early photo I received had me rethinking the first bird, but upon receiving a full set, the play was confirmed as called on the field.

Three Atlantic Puffins and 9 Northern Fulmars were more expected, but no less great to see. Unfortunately, the Razorbill was seen in flight by only a few. My tally of 91 Great Shearwaters is likely woefully conservative. When chumming, it became impossible to keep track of how many birds were circling us rather than just passing by for a look (and sniff!).  And while this was indeed a birding-centric tour, we were disappointed to only encounter Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises during our travels; yes, this pelagic brakes for whales!

And finally, passerines are always exciting when encountered offshore, and always a challenge. I was a little surprised we didn’t encounter more as there had been a massive flight overnight, but the lack of a westerly component kept those birds from drifting offshore. In fact, both birds we saw were heading southwest, likely “onward” migration rather than compensating for overnight drift.  One was relegated to “passerine species,” but photographs confirmed the other as a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Beginning and ending with Black Guillemots and Common Eiders in the harbor and returning to a lovely warm and calm afternoon in the sheltered town, we can unequivocally call the day’s outing a success…and yes, plans are already in the works for more trips together in 2021! Sat tuned!

Here is the annotated checklist from the day:

Common Eider: 23 beyond mouth of the bay; numerous in harbor.

Surf Scoter: 61

dark-winged scoter sp: 20

Pomarine Jaegers: at least 2 winter adults; possibly a third bird.

#1:

#2:

Razorbill: 1 fly-by spotted by Captain and a few participants.

Black Guillemot: x

ATLANTIC PUFFIN: 3

Ring-billed Gull: 2

Herring Gull: x

Great Black-backed Gull: x

Common Loon: 15

LEACH’S STORM-PETRELS: 3. All photographed. First bird seen only by a few, second two birds seen insanely well and for prolonged periods of time.

#1:

#2:

#3:

Just ridiculously stunning views of this very challenging-to-see species!

Northern Fulmar: 9

Great Shearwater: 91 (very conservative count)

Northern Gannet: 30 (low)

Yellow-rumped Warbler: 1 (about 22 miles from land)

Passerine sp: 1 (probably a warbler but that’s as much as I can say)

Only marine mammals were Harbor Porpoises and Harbor Seals.

Great Shearwaters may have been overshadowed this day, but they too put on a great show!

The Search for Troppy Tour Report, 7/10.

A tropical storm in Maine? Interfering with our first tour since early March? Of course! Because 2020!

But thanks to the flexibility of our partners, the Isle au Haut Boat Services, and the registered participants, we moved up our “Search for Troppy” tour by 24 hours. Not the easiest thing to do within 48 hours of the new departure, but for those who were unable to make the switch, we had an overwhelming response to the few extra spaces we offered up (more on that later).

While we can plan around a tropical storm, you can’t plan around fog in the Gulf of Maine – especially this summer.  With 23 particpants, all of which – along with the guides and crew – wearing masks the whole time (no exceptions) and social distancing as much as possible, we set off from Stonington into the very, very dense fog.
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There wasn’t much to see on the way out, except for the common nearshore species,like Common Eiders.
COEI

And, visibility was close to zero the whole ride out…until Seal Island miraculously appeared. Not clearly, mind you, but it was there.
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But thanks to the fog, many of the island’s seabirds, especially the Atlantic Puffins, were loafing in the water. And with glass-calm conditions, they were all around us and easy to observe.
ATPU_water

Arctic and Common Terns continuously zipped by as we motored about the island, hoping for Troppy in his usual place, but contenting ourselves with lots of puffins, and the island’s record number of Razorbills this year.
Razorbills

We cruised around the island’s south end, taking in the last remaining Great Cormorant colony in the state…
GRCOs

…And after much searching, finally found a couple of Common Murres including this one (L) standing tall among the puffins and a Razorbill.
COMU,RAZO,ATPU

Considering the trials and tribulations of getting this tour running, we were pretty happy with seeing all of the breeding birds of the island, and the puffins were putting on a particularly good show today.

Of course, however, the star of the show was missing, and my hopes were fading – unlike the fog, which was definitely not at all fading. But then, as visibility lifted just enough to see a little more of the island, the distinctive cackling rattle display call of the world’s most famous Red-billed Tropicbird rang out as he materialized out of the fog and made a close pass of the boat. People were spinning, there was shouting, and there was celebration. But then he disappeared. Was that it? Well, it was good enough to count, but come on, he could do better. So we cut the engine, drifted, and waited.

And several minutes later he was back. Heading right towards us, calling aggressively, seemingly displeased with our intrusion and/or my color commentary over the loudspeakers. He made several passes, some very close, a few right overhead, and he did not stop. We watched him circling around, as per his usual routine, for a good 45 minutes in all. Every time we thought the show was over, and I would start talking about something else, he would reappear. It was truly incredible – one of my top two best performance from him, and definitely my longest duration of observation. He only briefly landed once, but without sun, apparently bathing wasn’t in his plans.
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In fact, he was still being spotted now and again as we had to depart to head back to the dock. It deal feel weird turning away from one of the most sought-after individual birds in North America, but we did so knowing he had more than earned his peace and quiet today.

This was my 8th visit with Troppy in 9 attempts (third in a row with “The Otter” of the Isle au Haut Boat Services) and my first observation in dense fog. He must have known I was expecting him. I owe him some squid, or whatever it is that he eats (since no one knows!).

Needless to say, there was quite a bit of jubilation on the way back, even if we couldn’t see much (and very little birdlife) until we returned to port.
Stonington

So the spacing worked. Mask use was respected. And Troppy more than cooperated.

And therefore, by popular demand, what do you say we try again?

That’s right, we’re going to make a second run on Saturday, July 25th.  Same time, same price, same social distancing.  Details can be found here.

UPDATE: Despite insanely beautiful weather on the 25th, we did not see Troppy. He just wasn’t home today. It was perfectly calm, warm, and abundantly sunny, so if he was on the island, we would have seen him. Alas. However, it was a most enjoyable day, with great looks at Razorbills, Common Murres, and plenty of Atlantic Puffins. Arctic and Common Terns remain busy, and we had scattered migrant shorebirds. Highlights including 4 Mola Mola and a Cory’s Shearwater just off the eastern shore of Seal.

It was definitely a more photogenic day than our first trip!

Birding a Pandemic: The “well, we might as well go birding, kinda” Perspective.

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March and early April birding in Maine is such a tease. The first new arrivals – Turkey Vultures, Common Grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds – begin arriving in late February, and waterfowl are on the move shortly thereafter. In a mild spring such as this, the diving ducks that have graced our open waters all winter rapidly begin to disperse – no more big flocks of goldeneyes to sort through for a Barrow’s anymore, for example. And while dabbling duck migration is in full swing, the near-total lack of ice already has limited concentrations and kept the birds on the move. So we are left anxiously awaiting the arrival of new migrants – raptors first, and then the “new arrivals” under the feeders in the backyard.

But when it feels like floodgates are about to open any day now, we get a snowstorm or a requisite cold snap. Or just a few days with a persistent north wind to impede progress. And then we realize it is still March, and the floodgates won’t open for several more weeks or even a month. Even when we turn the page to April, it takes a while to really get going – especially if we have a large area of low pressure stock spinning offshore as we do at the moment.

And then we get a pandemic.

After weeks of limiting our travel, social/physical distancing, park closures, and other methods, we have failed to stem the exponential growth of the illness, those who it is affecting, and very sadly, those who are dying from it. This is no joke, and impacts on our birding are really the least of our concerns. But we’re birders, and we simply have to look at birds for our well-being. Birding walks, backyard bird feeding, and outings to look for a recent rarity are all part of our mental health, and necessary physical activity. And numerous studies have shown the mental and physical health benefits of birding, or many other forms of being immersed in nature. And mental and physical health – including our immune systems – are intrinsically connected.

But our birding needs to change, and it needs to change now. No matter what our reasons, excuses, apathies, and/or concerns are, Maine is now under a “Stay at Home” mandate from the Governor.  We still can – and should –  recreate to the best of our ability, but we have to do it wisely and safely. 

Especially as I take still-fairly-quiet walks in the local woods with the dog or an afternoon stroll down my road, waiting for the next wave of migrants to show up, I have been thinking a lot about what that the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic means for birds and birding. And not the obvious, such as some birders we know could get sick or that physical distancing means no birding groups and tours, but more subtle differences. Really, this is nothing more than a thought exercise; something to think about and discuss to pass the time. And nothing here should suggest I am downplaying the threat of this disease, but instead, just occupying some of the brain time in between. Besides, we’re birders. We find a bright side to everything from massive devastating hurricanes (vagrant seabirds) to climate change (new expanded breeding ranges)…it’s what we do; our optimism is what keeps us going.

• BIRDING HOTSPOTS and NEW PATCHES.
Many birding hotspots are now closed or too crowded to be safely enjoyed by smart people. Stay-at-home orders are now state-wide in Maine, and many more of us are just trying to be as safe as possible. In other words, the birders’ wings have been clipped.

I squeezed in a visit to Scarborough Marsh on Tuesday morning, with the 2020 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Official Counter, hours before the stay at home order was announced rather unexpectedly. I’m glad Luke got a chance to see this wonderful place, and we had a pretty good few hours of birding. A total of 26 Gadwall between three different locations was probably an all-time state high count for me, and we enjoyed our first of year Great Egrets (4) and Greater Yellowlegs (1) as well. Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and other dabbling ducks were in relative short supply as they are already moving inland and to points north, but we enjoyed good diversity.

But now Scarborough Marsh is too far from my home for me to comfortably visit. On Wednesday morning, I hit Wharton Point on the early morning outgoing tide and was thrilled to find a Eurasian Green-winged Teal x American Green-winged Teal hybrid, as well as my first 3 Northern Shovelers of the year. And there were a lot of ducks at Simpson’s Point to.

But, for me, I cannot justify heading out to stand still (no exercise, although if it’s as raw and cold as this morning, I would be burning plenty of calories!). Perhaps a seed delivery run (more on that below) will take me past at the right time in the tide for a quick check.

In other words, like you, I am losing my hotspots. So what’s next? Will birders just bird less? There’s a reason that these are hotspots – they have proven over the years that they are some of the best places to go birding. Or, will we – like I tend to find myself doing anyway! – simply shift to under-visited areas? While I usually prefer to bird off the beaten path, now there is no other choice. Personally, I had been allowing myself one or two mornings a week to go slightly further afield, but for the most part, I have been sticking within a 15 minute radius of my home: dog walks, feeder-watching, local patches, and especially the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch. With the new state-wide order in effect, my birding radius – like yours – will be reduced much, much further. Luckily, us birders – whether limited to a small yard, an outdoor deck, or access to miles of trails, can still indulge in our beloved pastime, at least in some way. But rarities and the unexpected are a large part of what drives many of us.

So what is a birder to do? Do you keep a “Patch List” – a list of all the species seen or heard from your local park, woodlot, neighborhood, etc. Now might be the perfect time to start one (as I wrote about in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder). If you can walk to it, even better! Keep in mind that the less we move about, the less likely we are to spread the virus, or use services – such as emergency services should we have an accident, for a brutal – but ever so real – example – that are already strained right now. And save money on gas and vehicle wear-and-tear – and emit less carbon.

Will that new land trust property down the road turn out to be a new birding hotspot? If it does, will you tell anyone? And I don’t mean this facetiously, especially as many (but certainly not all) birders are always looking to be socially distant when they’re out birding. My Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide includes locations throughout the state, and not just conventional hotspots. Perhaps its time to check out a new site in the book? Or, grab a map and figure out some interesting bird-concentrating geography to explore. Or, pull out Google Maps, put on the satellite mode, and identify a wetland nearby that might end up having something you don’t see every day.

The benefit of a Patch List is that every bird – no matter how common overall – counts. Depending on the habitat, even overall abundant migrants might become patch mega-rarities! Like when a puddle becomes large enough to host a migrant yellowlegs, or when a harrier is spotted as it passes over a forested area. The thrill of discovery is just around the corner, and is likely all yours!

• RARITIES.
Early April isn’t a great time for rare birds in Maine, usually with the exception of waterfowl. But if people aren’t getting out to traditional hotspots will rarities be found? And what will happen if a “Mega” is discovered? Will we forget the rules and race out for it, standing in large, anxious groups discussing and reveling? Or – especially if the bird is in an area that can’t handle crowds – will it be shared at all? Should it be?

As April rolls on, and migration continues in earnest, we usually get a wave of rarities near the end of the month. Especially after a warm spell of southwesterly winds, southern “overshoots” sometimes occur in good numbers. These species flew just a little bit too far north, as their airspeed was aided by strong tailwinds. This deposits species like Summer Tanagers, Hooded Warblers, and Blue Grosbeaks much further north than usual. With food supplies still limited in these parts, some of these – especially Summer Tanagers – show up at feeding stations.
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If rarities and listing are a primary driver, there’s no way around it, the next month (at least) is going to be a real challenge. While we have to make many of our own decisions, we simply have to put more and more of our desires aside for the greater good. While I like a good “twitch” now and again, I’m even happier watching for new yard birds or working on a local patch list while walking the dog. And, of course, there is Bonxie’s Life List to work on!

• FEEDERS.
Speaking of rarities at feeding stations, the backyard is really the place to be. And a lot of us are enjoying watching the feeders right now, safe at home and getting fresh air in the backyard. Our store remains open – with free local delivery and curbside pickup greatly encouraged – and we’ve made it easier than ever to order a much wider range of products online. If our store is one sample, then people are turning to backyard birdwatching as an import source of entertainment and the mental health benefits of watching birds and being in nature are very well established. This is definitely how I am doing much of my birding right now – although I have been making lots of stops at ponds, wet fields, etc, as I go about our seed delivery runs!

But what’s going to happen if a Painted Bunting shows up at a feeder? What if it’s not visible from the road? What if we’re worried about the crowds that might show up? Will it be shared? I definitely don’t think people should be opening their house to birders right now for views out the window, that’s for sure! With more people looking at their feeders – home for work and birding from the window – all day, I bet more unusual birds will be noted (as long as we get the weather patterns that produce rarities), but will the community as a whole find out? Should “yard birds” be posted and publicized right now? This is likely an individual decision, but one in which the desire to share is greatly overshadowed by the need to stay safe. But at least document the rarity and we’ll figure out all the records later. I’d just be very careful right now about posting specific locations that people can find in eBird or on Facebook, especially without the background knowledge of how to behave at that site (e.g stay in the car and view from the road only) being very evident.

Especially with our wonderful new garden at the store, we have been anxiously expecting its first vagrant. Of course, it will happen when the store is basically closed and the only reasonable way to view our feeders without flushing the birds is from inside; figures!

We had 22 species at the feeders here at the store this week, and while our feeders are not quite as diverse at home at the moment, we still have plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos and tons of American Goldfinches. Many more individuals of our common woodland species are augmented by a regular Pileated Woodpecker pair and increasing numbers of Purple Finches right now. We’ll soon have a wave of White-throated Sparrows and the first Chipping Sparrows munching away on the White Proso Millet, and Pine Warblers are starting to show up at feeding stations – the most common (by far) warbler to show up at feeders and the only “yellow warbler” to appear before the end of the month when Palm Warblers start to arrive (which almost never visit feeders).
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• APPRECIATE THE COMMON!

On our currently-suspended Saturday Morning Birdwalks, we have “The Cardinal Rule:” If there is a male cardinal singing in the sun, we all have to stop to look at it through the scope. It’s a reminder to appreciate the most common birds around us, which in many cases are some of the most beautiful. There are few places in the world where the most stunning birds – think cardinals, Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, etc – are common feeder visitors; no distant travel or long searches required!
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Seriously, when was the last time you REALLY looked at a Blue Jay? Watch how the light plays with a pallet of colors as a Common Grackle moves – this is not just a black bird! Check for newly arrived migrant sparrows under your feeders, and step into the backyard to hear the growing chorus of spring birdsong. There is so much beauty around us, right outside our windows. We firmly believe in the mental health benefits of maintaining our connection with the nature world, especially birds, in this time of stress and uncertainty. There is nothing better to do right now for your health and safety than enjoying watching the beauty of birds at our feeders and in our yards.

Personally, on some of my walks recently, I can’t help but smile every time I hear a Brown Creeper sing, and the ethereal and brilliant song of Winter Wrens – which are just now arriving – can bring joy to any day. Pileated Woodpeckers are vocal and conspicuous, and if you live in the boreal zone, now’s a great time to look for Spruce Grouse and Canada Jays! And I was very excited to finally see my first Fox Sparrow of the year under our feeders at home this morning – a Fox Sparrow can brighten any day, even one like today!
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• ROADKILL.
On a completely different note, yes, I was thinking about roadkill when walking the dog the other day. And no, it was not because Bonxie tried to eat some, it was only because a small group of Turkey Vultures were passing overhead. So it got me thinking about how the greatly reduced amount of traffic on the roads will reduce the number of small animals and migrant birds hit by cars. Squirrels battling over territories, porcupines being porcupines, and flocks of migrant sparrows flushing in panic from the roadsides will all likely see reduced mortality. But what does this mean for scavengers? How will Turkey Vultures, still marching northward with a warming climate, find food if the interstates are clear? Will crows spend less time scavenging and more time looking for nests to raid? It seems odd, I know, to think about roadkill as a good thing, but it does now fill a niche, so it’s part of the equation.

I will say, for certainty, however, that if the amphibian migration “big night” occurs while we’re still under stay-at-home advisements or orders, then a whole more frogs and salamanders will make it to their vernal pools to breed. Thursday (4/2) might just end up being a “Big Night,”when a mass migration of amphibians (especially Spotted Salamanders, Wood Frogs, and Spring Peepers) takes place – at least in the southern third of the state. Regardless, on any wet night for the next few weeks, skip the take-out run and leave the car in the driveway. Instead, take a walk with a good flashlight and patrol your local roads for crossing frogs and salamanders as they move from the uplands they spend the winter in to the vernal pools and small ponds they breed in. As long as you don’t have insect repellent or any other products on your hands (or just wear gloves), you can pick them up and carry them to the other side. Just be sure you know which way they were heading before you got to close, so you don’t make them start this deadly part of the trip over.

• BACKYARD HABITAT. As a tie-in to the discussion about bird feeding, this spring is a perfect time to improve the habitat for birds in our backyard. If only to be self-serving by having more birds to enjoy around us, we can improve our habitat with many small steps or larger overhaul projects. Lawns suck, and native plants are always better. Maybe place an order with FedCo or call your local nursey or garcen center for some wildflower seeds for birds and pollinators and convert a few square yards at a time to something more productive than a chemically-laden monoculture? Starting seeds indoors is a great way to be productive right now. Or perhaps get to work on removing invasive species and planting more native plants that offer food and shelter to our native birds and insects. Perhaps our garden projects will yield more birds for us to enjoy the next time we’re stuck in the house for a prolonged period of time? Or better yet, if enough of us convert our yards to wildlife sanctuaries, perhaps we can even stem the decline of some bird populations!

We do, however, have to keep in mind that if we are attracting more birds to our yard, we are bringing them closer to two serious threats – cats and windows. If you still refuse the science and allow your cat to roam free outdoors despite their devastating ecological impact, then please ignore this. At least 3.8Billion birds a year are killed by cats in the US alone. We don’t have that many birds to spare anymore. (But hey, now’s the perfect time to build that “catio” of your feline’s dreams! Seriously). And we really need to work on this window collision issue – that’s as many as another Billion or so birds. We need to rethink window design and construction, but for now, at least leave your screens up and use consumer products especially BirdTape and Feather Friendly (both available here at the store)

These are a few of my recent thoughts and ideas. What do you think? Any potential costs or benefits to birds and birding come to mind for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Seaducks and Suds,” 2/16/2020

We’ve had some great Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! over the six years of doing these. OK, they’ve all been great, but in some, the birding has been more exceptional than others.  Sunday’s “Seaducks and Suds” was one such outing. In fact, for a pure “quality” of the bird list, it ranks as one of the best ever, if not the absolute best ever!

Sure, we saw lots of fun seaducks as advertised, and thoroughly enjoyed our time with all of the expected, beautiful, and charismatic winter seaducks that call our coast home. Lots of all three scoters, Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, and of course, the crowd-favorite Harlequin Ducks.
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It’s hard to stop looking at Harlequin Ducks – that stunning pattern and how it plays with the dynamic surf they dwell in – but at Marginal Way in Ogunquit, our first stop, a Thick-billed Murre stole the show.
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Usually found well offshore in winter (and far to our north in the summer), this is always a great bird to see from land in Maine. There have been quite a few along our shores of late, so it was a bird we were hoping for. A “life bird” for everyone, we watched it for a while as it slowly drifted closer to shore, allowing for prolonged and satisfying scope views.

We spent so much time with “Harlies” and the murre that I had to choose between two famous birding destinations for my second and last stop of the tour. I struggled with it, but finally decided to go to the Cliff House.  We were all happy we did!

Shortly after arriving, and enjoying some more Harlequin Ducks, I spotted our other much-hoped-for species of the day: a Dovekie, another pelagic species rarely seen from land!
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A “little marshmallow” as described by one member of the group, we watched in the scope for a while, getting our fill, and followed it long enough to be led to two more!
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And for a spell, all three were in view in the scope together – and exceedingly rare observation in Maine.  But apparently, we weren’t done yet, as with “Rarity Fever” juices pumping, I went back for a second look at the raft of eiders and teased out a female King Eider – our third rarity of the day!  She was a little far for photos, but she was very well seen in the scope. Two Razorbills and a Black Guillemot added to the alcid list…hmm, maybe we should rename this trip “Alcids and Ales?”
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I was also too busy taking photos of rarities to take a good photo of the group birding, apparently.

While our Roadtrips! are not really about rarities (well, except for November’s “Rarity Roundup,” of course) it was hard not to get sucked into the excitement – even if some of the folks today had never even heard of these species before they got on the bus today!  Hopefully, we passed on a little more of the highly contagious Birding Flu. I had hoped for one of these three rare species today; getting all three in less than 3 hours of birding was far beyond what I could have expected.

And this was only the first half of the tour!  Next up was beer – our only guaranteed sighting of the day.  And destination number one was the recently-opened York Beach Beer Company.
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Here, we were presented with a sample of five of their beers.
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Despite a superficial similarity in color and turbidity, each of the five tasted quite different, which was very instructive. Nathan and I led the tasting, describing and exploring each of the offerings. Starting with the Flannel Sombrero, the light and easy-drinking Mexican style lager, we moved on to the Miss Jen, whose light and clear color did not lead to expectations of the strong coffee flavor.  Orange Maine-sicle definitely tasted like a melted creamsicle, while Long Weekend pale was a more traditional brew but with added pineapple puree. Their IPA, Dancing Madly Backwards, definitely took the prize for the best name, and the deepest hop flavor.
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Traveling up the road, Biddeford’s Banded Brewing was our next stop, and this venerable local institution did not disappoint. We enjoyed a very nice progression of flavors and styles, starting with the traditional and very well-executed Pepperell Pilsner.
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Some folks were excited, others were apprehensive, about our first sour of the day: Charms & Hexes with Blood Orange and Blackberry.  This approachable sour series can change some minds about what a “sour” is, and sure enough, one participant bought a 4-pack to take home after coming into the “3-sip rule” stating “I do NOT like sours.”  Daikaju DIPA was up next, a good tropical and citrus-rich example of this popular style.
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Our fourth sample was their coffee stout, Jolly Woodsman, but it was presented with an extra taste of the Woodsman Reserve, which is Jolly Woodsman aged on maple bourbon barrels. Comparing and contrasting was quite educational, and quite tasty, with the difference more readily apparent than head and bill shape in female eiders.
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It was also a perfect way to toast a truly extraordinary day of birds and beer!
 

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

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

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

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

Migratory Songbird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
May 17th 

This half-day workshop will focus on the migrant songbirds, especially warblers, that are passing through Maine’s most famous migrant trap, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. At the peak of warbler migration, we’ll learn how to identify these charismatic birds and we’ll discuss their mind-boggling migration and what they’re up to in Maine.
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Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend
May 22nd – 25th

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

Stay tuned to our website for details on this tour.

Seal Island Charter: The Search for Troppy
July 11th

This special 5-hour charter aboard Isle au Haut Ferry Service’s Otter will allow us to travel out to Seal Island specifically to look for “Troppy”, Maine’s famous Red-billed Tropicbird. And, we will also enjoy looks at the puffins, guillemots, terns, and Razorbills that call this island home in summer.
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Ladona Island Birding Cruise (Birding by Schooner II) with DownEast Adventures
July 13th – 17th

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

Shorebird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
August 12th

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

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

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend
September 25th – 28th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonxie!
Jeannette and I took round trip a Princess Cruise from New York City October 26 (pm departure) through October 31st (early am arrival). It made ports of call in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick.  The full-day at seas between NYC and Halifax on 10/27 and from St John to NYC on 10/30 were the draws for us.  Cruise ships offer steady, stable and unreasonably comfortable deep-sea birding opportunities. Paul Lehman helped put the “repositioning cruise” itinerary on the West Coast on the birding radar and he, along with several others around the world, demonstrated the value of these floating behemoths for pelagic birding.
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Our transit from NYC to Halifax was our best stretch, with seas a mere 2-3ft, partially cloudy skies, and unseasonably warm temperatures. We awoke to find ourselves at 49.9 nautical miles south-southeast of Nantucket.
Sunrise, 10-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– (my bird) looked “normally” tapered/pointed wing(tip) and not at all rounded like Audubon’s.
– did not appear particularly long-tailed
– short bill; Audubon’s looks longer-billed.
– cold/cool water environs. No water temperature measurement on board boat, but well within Gulf of Maine at 689ft depth. No “warm water species” seen on entire trip.
– too small for Manx, as a Great Shearwater crossed in front of it (while I was viewing through the scope). 3-5 had been circling the ship (consistently).
IMG_1358

Oh, and my desperate attempt at a photograph I alluded to? Well, I think it was one of the Great Shearwaters (is that a hind collar behind a dark cap?), but it could also be a giant piece of sushi. I whiffed. And that does not make me happy, as even a crappy photo might have had some value.

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

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

At 4:15, with nearly-lifeless waters – the same early morning dull stretch from day 1 that got us worried about whether this entire trip was a good idea or not, we called it quits and went inside. A beer and a top-deck jacuzzi were in order. Come dawn, we’d be back in port in Brooklyn, so maybe we’ll even have a second drink tonight!
J-Mo_on_deck

Yeah, this cruise ship pelagic birding has its perks! And you can expect us to offer this as a tour in the near future. Unfortunately, a change in ships on this route next year may hamper the birding access, so we’re going to figure this out before we promote the tour and the future of birding possibilities on this intriguing cruise route.

Here’s the breakdown of the birdlist:

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

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

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin pods: 1

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

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

Pilot Whales: 4-6
PEFA1PEFA2

10/29: Bay of Fundy.

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

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

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

Minke Whale: 1
Harbor Porpoise: x

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

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

  • Massachusetts waters:

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

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

Common_Dolphin
Common_Dolphin2
Short-beaked Common Dolphin.