Category Archives: Birding in Maine

This Week’s Highlights, July 30 – August 5, 2022.

This Black Tern (far right, with Roseate Terns) has been slowly molting out of breeding plumage since it arrived at Pine Point back on July 2nd. It was still present in the morning of August 5th.

It’s August, so as usual, shorebirds were the focus. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days.

  • 1 Surf Scoter, off Sisters Island, Casco Bay, 7/31 (with Birds of Casco Bay Tour group).
  • 1 Fish Crow continues, Point Sebago Resort (private), 8/4 (with Point Sebago Birdwalk group).
  • 1 Red Crossbill, our yard in Pownal, 8/5.
  • 1 continuing molting adult BLACK TERN, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/5.

Shorebird high counts this week:

  • Black-bellied Plover: 39, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/5.
  • Killdeer: 24, Mayall Rd, Gray/New Gloucester, 8/4.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 389, Pine Point, 8/5.
  • Piping Plover: 14, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 8/2.
  • Whimbrel: 3, Pine Point, 8/5.
  • Ruddy Turnstone: 2, Pine Point, 8/5.
  • Sanderling: 16, Popham Beach State Park, 8/2.
  • Least Sandpiper: 65+, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/5.
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 9, Eastern Road Trail, 8/5.
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: 1-2, Eastern Road Trail, 8/5.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 240+, Popham Beach State Park, 8/2.
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 13, Pine Point, 8/5.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 2, Sebago Lake State Park, 8/4.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 26, Rte 1/9 salt pannes south, Scarborough Marsh, 8/5.
  • “Eastern” Willet: 14, Pine Point, 8/5.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 9, Eastern Road Trail, 8/5.

This Week’s Highlights, July 23- July 29, 2022.

A lousy photo of great birds: two Stilt Sandpipers were in the Pelreco Marsh on 7/29.

Seal Island, Monhegan Island, and shorebird migration. Lots of “good birds” in great places this week. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days.

  • Red Crossbills along the coast: 1+, Pownal, 7/23; 1, Brooksville, 7/24 (with Laura Blandford); 1-2’s scattered on Monhegan Island, 7/25;
  • An incredible trip to Seal Island on 7/23 produced all of the expected breeding seabirds, a couple of Common Murres; a Peregrine Falcon show; migrating Whimbrels, one Great Shearwater, and a PARASITIC JAEGER.  Photos and the complete trip report can be found here.
  • Hardy Boat from New Harbor to Monhegan, 7/25 (with Jeannette): 6 Cory’s Shearwaters (FOY) and 8 Great Shearwaters.
  • A “non-birding” weekend with Jeannette friends to Monhegan Island 7/25-26 actually yielded some outstanding birding! The highlight was a four-species shearwater show off of Lobster Cove throughout the day on 7/25. We saw at least 3 MANX SHEARWATERS and 2 Sooty Shearwaters (FOY) among numbers of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters.  They were passing at a slow but steady rate of about 16 Great and 6 Cory’s every 5 minutes, plus an average of 9 Atlantic Puffins per 5 minutes.  Hard to tell if the shearwaters were swirling, rounding the island, or just streaming by. 1-2 ROSEATE TERNS joined Arctic and Common Terns feeding nearshore – Roseate was a new “island bird” for me.
  • Other Monhegan highlights: 1-2 Blue-winged Teal continue, 1 Great Egret (also an “island bird” for me!), and 1+ Sharp-shinned Hawk.
  • Hardy Boat departure from Monhegan to New Harbor (with Jeannette), 7/26: 1 PURPLE SANDPIPER, Outer Duck Islands from ferry seal watching diversion. Unexpected and incredible mid-summer record; no camera available and phone-binning was a complete failure.  With a few Ruddy Turnstones.  1 more Cory’s Shearwater en route.
  • 1 molting adult BLACK TERN, Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough, 7/29.

Shorebird high counts this week. I had an excellent tally of 19 species, although counts were a little low due to limited visitation to the best shorebird sites.

  • Black-bellied Plover: 14, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/29.
  • Killdeer: 4, Rte 1/9 pannes, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 159, Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Piping Plover: 6, escaping people by foraging on mudflats off the Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • Whimbrel: 20 (flocks of 12 and 8), Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
  • Ruddy Turnstone: 5, Outer Ducks, Monhegan, 7/26 (with Jeannette).
  • STILT SANDPIPER: 2 ad, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29 (John Lorenc had 5 earlier in the morning) and 1 ad, Eastern Rd Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • PURPLE SANDPIPER: 1, Outer Ducks, 7/26 (with Jeannette; see above).
  • Sanderling: 4, Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
  • Least Sandpiper: 40+, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 6 total around Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: 1, Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 100+ Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 24, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 3, Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
  • Solitary Sandpiper: 1-2, Monhegan Island, 7/26 (with Jeannette).
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 18, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
  • “Eastern” Willet: 27, Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.

Our next event here at the store is on August 4th when we welcome Paul Doiron to read from and sign copies of his new book, Hatchett Island. His latest crime thriller takes place on an imaginary seabird island here in Maine!  More information can be found here.

2022 Seal Island Trip Report (The “not-so-search for Troppy), 7/23.

After 17 consecutive summers in the Gulf of Maine, “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird failed to return to Seal Island.  Arriving in 2005, but continuing annually throughout the summer since 2009 exclusively at Seal Island, Troppy had become a mainstay of summer birding in Maine – and our tour calendar!

Arriving as an adult, Troppy was therefore at least two years old when he was first sighted in 2005.  Since most sorces seem to reference “16-30 years” as a lifespan, a 19-year old “Troppy” would be getting a little long in the tooth, err, bill.  But, as I romanticized in my 2019 article for Birding magazine, we all hoped he would find the long lost love. Maybe he did. Maybe he’s making a trop-ling somewhere in the Caribbean where he “should be.”  Yeah, that’s what I’ll think.  We need more happy thoughts these days.

Wherever he might be, it was not Seal Island or any other Gulf of Maine seabird island this summer, and with his absence, tours to Seal Island were few and far between. Our first one cancelled, but we were able to run our July 23rd departure with our friends at Isle au Haut Boat Services thanks to a dedicated group of birders who know how special Seal Island is, with or without the famous rarity.

And Seal Island most did not disappoint!  Even without a tropicbird (or a Tufted Puffin for that matter, which of course we all hoped would make a reappearance).

First, the weather: it was unbelievable! Actually, it was downright hot, even offshore, and especially away from what little breeze there was when we were not motoring. Seas were a gentle 2-3 feet, with an occasional slightly larger but inconsequential swell.  Falling rapidly, it was incredibly smooth in the coves of the island, and on the way back where we enjoyed following seas for a very flat and fast ride.

Shortly after departing Stonington, we spotted our first Atlantic Puffin before we even cleared Isle au Haut.  A few more, scattered small numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (I tallied 41 in all), and a few Razorbills punctuated our trip out.  Not much was happening around Saddleback Ledge though.

Of course, the show realty began upon arrival at Seal Island.  The heat sent the alcids into the water, so virtually all of the Atlantic Puffins that were present were in the coves and often allowing close approach and stellar photo ops.

We worked our way around the island, slowly improving our views of Razorbills (at least 6) and finally finding two Common Murres. 

Razorbill
It took a while, but we finally found a Common Murre – it was even the uncommon “Bridled” morph.

We motored around the south end, where the swell was just enough to prevent us from getting too close to the Great Cormorant colony – Maine’s last. But the nests brimming with growing chicks was still thoroughly enjoyed.

Off the northeast end, we cut the engine and drifted among the alcids.  Off the open waters came a flock of 12 Whimbrel which we heard first before they flew close by. Likely having tanked up on blueberries in a barren Down East or in the Maritimes, they didn’t seem to consider pausing on the island. Later, 8 more flew by even further offshore.

Laughing Gull

While the lack of shearwaters all day was disappointing, the one Great Shearwater that we saw came in for a close look at us!

A little group of Sanderlings flew by, a few peeps were along the shoreline, and we spotted several calling Spotted Sandpipers.

And don’t forget about all of the dapper little Black Guillemots!

And of course, there were the terns. Hundreds of Arctic and Common Terns were present, with a goodly number of juveniles learning the ropes. Arctic Terns were particularly conspicuous today, with many making close approaches of the boat or disregarding our presence to take a bath.

Arctic Terns
Juvenile Common Tern.

I both enjoyed and lamented the fact that I didn’t have Troppy to stress over. In fact, without needing to be in position and waiting for him, we took advantage of the gentle seas to not only circumnavigate the island, but also spend ample time drifting in sheltered coves, photographing alcids and searching for a big, black puffin with punk-rock hair.

The eastern side.

But we still had a time limit for our charter, so we decided to spend our last moments enjoying the action at the tern colony. That’s when a Peregrine Falcon arrived.  While this is a most unwelcome guest at a seabird colony and we were conflicted about seeing it, it was also impossible not to sit back and watch the show. 

It surprised the terns by coming up and over the backside of the island, scattering the entire colony. Upon identifying the intruder, all of the adults made a beeline and began diving, mobbing, and otherwise trying to drive the predator away. Watching one of the world’s greatest – and fastest – predators in action was a real special treat, but we were also not upset that it came away empty; we were rooting for the terns.

If that wasn’t a grand finale, I don’t know what is.  Well, maybe the Parasitic Jaeger on the way back!

About halfway between Seal and Saddleback Ledge, I first thought it was a Peregrine tearing in after a lone Common Tern. But when it became clear that it was a jaeger, I yelled for Captain Mike to “step on the breaks.”  We watched the dogfight for several minutes, and it was spectacular to see. It was just far enough away that we couldn’t tell if the tern gave up its fish, but it definitely didn’t do it willingly. 

Shortly thereafter we began to run into little rafts of Razorbills (a conservative tally of 36, plus 7 more between Saddleback Ledge and Stonington) and scattered Atlantic Puffins. We had quite a few more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on the way back, and finally some Northern Gannets.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

We even had time to check some rocky islets for roosting shorebirds (none), loafing Harbor Seals (lots), and maybe spot something like a Great White Shark (nope; but the boat had one the very next day!).

Gray Seals and Harbor Seals. Note the “horse’s head” profile of the Grays, verses the puppy-like Harbors.

In other words: what a trip! And exactly why it’s well worth a tour to Seal Island regardless. That being said, I must admit, it was not quite the same without “Troppy.”  But as a guide, my stress level was a lot lower!  Having seen him 9 times out of 12 visits to Seal, I consider myself beyond fortunate. I’m also so happy to have shared his glory with so many other birders on all these tours. So, wherever you are, Troppy, I’ll continue to lead trips to Seal Island in your honor!

Looking back at “Troppy’s Cove”

This Week’s Highlights, July 16- July 22, 2022.

While small numbers of juvenile WESTERN SANDPIPERS can be found in Maine in late summer and early fall, we rarely see adults. Therefore, this was an exciting find at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford
on the incoming tide on the 22nd.

Another dandy week of summertime birding produced the following highlights for me. Shorebird numbers and diversity are growing rapidly now.

  • 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group; few around locally this summer). One calling in our Pownal yard on 7/22.
  • 2 continuing HENSLOW’S SPARROWS, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, 7/20.  Both birds singing, but the west bird continued long past the east bird went silent. I spent my time this morning attempting to observe the east bird, but never saw it once it stopped singing about 5 minutes after I arrived.
  • 1 Fish Crow, Point Sebago (Private; with Point Sebago Birdwalk group) and 1 at Sebago Lake State Park, 7/21 (still wondering if these are from the Windham colony or not).

Shorebird high counts this week (see last week’s post for an explanation):

  • Black-bellied Plover: 4, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/22.
  • Killdeer:  22, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, 7/20.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 10, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 7/22.
  • Piping Plover: 1 adult with 2 nearly-fledged juveniles that are somehow close to making it on Pine Point Beach, Scarborough, 7/22.
  • Whimbrel (FOF): 5, Pine Point, 7/22.
  • Ruddy Turnstone: 1, Eastern Egg Rock, 7/16 (with Hardy Boat Evening Puffin Cruise group).
  • Sanderling: 18, Hill’s Beach, 7/22.
  • Least Sandpiper: 31, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/22.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 140, Pine Point, 7/22.
  • WESTERN SANDPIPER: 1 rare adult, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 7/22 (photo above).
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 165, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 7/22.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 2, Eastern Egg Rock, 7/16 (with Hardy Boat Evening Puffin Cruise group) and Sebago Lake State Park, 7/21.
  • Solitary Sandpiper (FOF): 1, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group) and 1, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 53, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.
  • “Eastern” Willet: 96, The Pool, 7/22.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 10, Eastern Road Trail, 7/22.

Beat the heat tomorrow, Saturday, July 23rd with a boat trip to Seal Island. No “Troppy” this year, but you know we’ll be looking hard for the Tufted Puffin! A limited amount of space on this extended charter is available.

This Piping Plover is one of two siblings that have somehow survived on the jam-packed Pine Point Beach. Often exercising their wings on the 22nd, they are probably just a
few days away from being able to fly away from crowds.

This Week’s Highlights, July 9- July 15, 2022.

The local “bird of the summer,” Henslow’s Sparrow, continues this week in Brunswick. (Note: photographed only via patience, no playback or other harassments).

Another dandy week of summertime birding produced the following highlights for me.

  • 2 continuing HENSLOW’S SPARROWS, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick. Quite a bit of my birding time this week was spent enjoying this exceptional visitor.  I saw it on 7/9 with our Saturday Morning Birdwalk group for our 246th all-time Saturday Morning Birdwalk bird!  On 7/11, Jeannette and I, along with two other birders saw both individuals at the same time for the first time – as two scopes had both birds in view at once in the opposite direction here. No disputing that!  However, the echo and acoustic issues are very apparent here – at one point, we could easily have argued there were four birds! Interestingly, on 7/12, Cameron Cox and I were unable to confirm the presence of two birds, as was the case in my visits prior to the 11th.  Phone-scoped video from the 11th here.
  • HYBRID HERONS of Scarborough Marsh. On 7/11, Cameron Cox and I spotted both continuing birds. The proposed Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron x Little Egret was off of Eastern Road, while the proposed Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret was incredibly close and cooperative at Pelreco Marsh. Video of the latter bird here.
  • 1 subadult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, Pine Point Beach, Scarborough, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • 2 Fish Crows, Point Sebago Resort (private), Casco, 7/14 (with Point Sebago Resort birdwalk group).  Are these two from the Windham colony or outliers of this slowly expanding species?
  • Eastern Egg Rock/Whale-watching/and mini-pelagic tour out of Boothbay Harbor with our partners Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, yielded the following highlights in addition to a fantastic show at Eastern Egg Rock from Atlantic Puffins; Roseate, Common, and Arctic Terns; Black Guillemots; etc): 2 Razorbills on Eastern Egg, a mere two Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and handfuls of Northern Gannets offshore, but an insane show from a breaching Humpback Whale. And for the record, the Tufted Puffin appeared there a mere 3 hours after our boat left.

Each summer, I begin reporting my “shorebird high counts this week” here. Really, I do it for my own note-keeping and organization, but I hope at least a few folks find value in it. This year, I am starting it early, even though diversity is expectedly low and I didn’t get to a lot of shorebird sites this week. However, numbers are picking up dramatically, and this bears watching. Unfortunately, large numbers of adult shorebirds in early July could portend widespread breeding failure. Therefore, I will organize my counts here so I can compare it to previous seasons.

  • Black-bellied Plover: 2 first-summer, Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • Killdeer: 35, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, 7/12 (with Cameron Cox).
  • Piping Plover: 4+, Western Beach from Pine Point Beach, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • STILT SANDPIPER (FOF, Early!): 2, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • Least Sandpiper: 60, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox)
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (early, FOF): 2, Eastern Road Trail, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 15, Eastern Road Trail, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 60, Eastern Road Trail, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 2, Eastern Egg Rock, 7/15 (with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises Pufifn/Whale Watch Combo tour group.)
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 30, Eastern Road Trail, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).
  • “Eastern” Willet: 20+ Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox)
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 20, Eastern Road Trail, 7/11 (with Cameron Cox).

Our next boat trip is on Saturday, July 23rd to Seal Island. No “Troppy” this year, but you know we’ll be looking hard for the Tufted Puffin! A limited amount of space on this extended charter is available here.

The stellar Roseate Tern show continues at Pine Point Beach. Cameron Cox and I enjoyed
a nice photo session with them there on the 11th.

This Week’s Highlights, July 2- July 8, 2022.

This Henslow’s Sparrow was a new “Maine Bird” for me – and virtually everyone who saw it during its stay Brunswick from 7/5 through week’s end. Details below.

So much for the mythological “summer birding doldrums.” They never really existed, but between climate change, land use changes, and better birding communication, they certainly don’t exist now. Several rarities headlined the week, along with the first wave of southbound (fall!) shorebird migration. My highlights of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • 1 adult Black Tern, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/2 (early migrant/post- or failed-breeding dispersal. With client from North Carolina). N. Gibb had two that afternoon, and one bird continued through 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society)
  • “Fall” migration is definitely underway, with the vanguard of southbound shorebirds now arriving. A good diversity for the date in Scarborough Marsh on 7/2 included 9 Black-bellied Plovers, 7 Greater Yellowlegs, 3 Short-billed Dowitchers (first of fall), and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs (FOF). (With client from North Carolina).
  • 1 HENSLOW’S SPARROW, Crystal Springs Farm at intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Casco/Church St, Brunswick, 7/6. Found on 7/5 by Gordon Smith. Observed from 6:25am through 8:15am, singing nearly constantly. Video (better than the photo above) at: https://fb.watch/e5wtcTjSrV/
  • 4-5 Red Crossbills and 4 Short-billed Dowitchers, Reid State Park, Georgetown, 7/7.
  • 1 continuing BLACK-NECKED STILT, salt pannes on north end of Scarborough Marsh from US Rte 1, Scarborough, 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society).
  • 1 continuing proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET hybrid, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society). *Hybrid combo as proposed in: Lovitch, Derek J. 2022. Photo Salon: Hybrid Herons of Maine. North American Birds 72 (2): 28-40.
  • Migrant shorebird migrant totals from Scarborough Marsh on 7/8 (with Buffalo Ornithological Society): 100+ Least Sandpipers, 19 Short-billed Dowitchers, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, and 4 Black-bellied Plovers.

This Week’s Highlights, June 25 – July 1, 2022

A displaying pair of Northern Gannets stole the show at Machias Seal Island on our visit there on 6/22.
Atlantic Puffins, Machias Seal Island, 6/22.
Razorbills, Machias Seal Island, 6/22.
Arctic Tern, Machias Seal Island, 6/22.

I had a rather busy week, but not as busy with birding as I would have liked. Therefore, this mostly to share Jeannette’s photography from our visit to Machias Seal Island last week. However, a few observations of note over the past seven days included the following

  • 1 female ORCHARD ORIOLE and 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Green Point WMA, 6/27 (with Jeannette).
  • 1+ BOREAL CHICKADEE, East Royce Mountain, White Mountains National Forest, 6/26 (with Jeannette).
  • 1-2 LITTLE EGRET X SNOWY EGRET hybrids, Falmouth, 6/30. One bird spotted from the Martin’s Point Bridge appeared to have at least one long, Little Egret-like plume. It was not close enough for photos, but the plume – as well as overall structure was distinctive. After flying upriver with the incoming tide, I found a hybrid at Gilsland Farm (photo below), but no head plumes are visible. Note the greenish-yellow lores (looked darker in the field than this poor, phone-scoped photo), very long and fine bill, and spindly neck.  It’s slightly longer legs and overall slightly larger size was apparent when it joined a distant Snowy. However, did I imagine the plume in the earlier view? Did it fall off in transit? Or, are there actually two again this year?
This presumptive Little Egret x Snowy Egret Hybrid was along the Presumpscot River in
Portland and Falmouth on the 30th. See notes above.

This Week’s Highlights, June 18 – June 24, 2022

I found this 1st summer Little Gull on Hill’s Beach in Biddeford on 6/19. It was among about 40-50 Bonaparte’s Gulls and hunkered down against the wind. This was my first in southern Maine in quite a few years.

Breeding season is upon us, and Maine’s seabird islands are in full effect – even when they don’t have a Tufted Puffin. I did find a Little Gull, however, and that was fun; I really like Little Gulls! My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • Biddeford Pool shoreline and neighborhood, 6/19: 1 1st summer Great Cormorant, 3 Black Scoters, 1 pair Surf Scoters, and 1 likely-late migrant Magnolia Warbler.
  • 1 first-summer LITTLE GULL and 1 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 6/19 (photos above).
  • 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 14 Black-bellied Plovers, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 6/19.
  • Belgrade PURPLE MARTIN colony, 6/21: Jeannette and I counted at least 25 occupied nests holes, which I believe would be a recent record high of this venerable colony.
  • 1 Red Crossbill, Downeast Sunrise Trail, Machias, 6/21 (with Jeannette).
  • 15-20 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Cutler Harbor to Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
  • 1 pair NORTHERN GANNETS, displaying and early-courtship behavior, Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
  • 1 Greater Yellowlegs, Machias River Causeway, 6/22 (with Jeannette).  High-flying and heading south, was this our first migrant of “fall?” or just an over-summering bird heading to a roost?
  • 2 Red Crossbills (Typ1 10 fide Matt Young), 1 Bay-breasted Warbler, Palm Warblers, etc, Cutler Coast Maine Public Reserve Lands, 6/23 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 pair AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Egg Rock off Petit Manan peninsula, with Acadia Nature Tours puffin trip to Petit Manan Island (with Doug Hitchcox, Jeannette, et al).  No Tufted Puffin.
After a couple of failed nesting attempts followed by a 2-3(?) year hiatus, a male Northern Gannet has been hanging out and “prospecting” on Machias Seal Island again this year. Recently, he has attracted the attention of a 4th-cycle, presumed female. We were lucky enough to view them outside of our blind during a tour there on 6/22. This was just a quick snapshot with my phone. Jeannette has over a thousand photos to sort through!

Boothbay Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s, June 6, 2022.

The first of our pelagic birding opportunities for the year took place on Monday, June 6th, as I joined the good folks from Cap’n Fish’s Cruises in Boothbay Harbor for a special ½ day mini-pelagic. 

We motored our way east to Eastern Egg Rock, looking at Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Ospreys, and many other inshore denizens. Once we got to Eastern Egg Rock, however, the fun really started!  The cacophony of the colony was evident on this gloriously calm day, and it was not hard to find plenty of Atlantic Puffins in the water near the boat. 

We worked the masses of Common Terns to isolate a few great views of Roseate and Arctic Terns. The bright sunny day was a delight except for when trying to judge grayscale. That made tern identification a little more challenging, but we worked our way through it before departing the island for deeper waters. We had a good total of 7 Razorbills on and around the island, which is no guarantee on a visit here, and while we didn’t have the one Common Murre that has been lingering on the rock, we did have one fly-by later in the trip.

Bright sunlight made tern identification more challenging!
Razorbills
Black Guillemot
Common Tern
Roseate Terns

With seas barely 1-2 feet, just a puff of wind, and abundant sunshine, it was just a gorgeous day offshore. We cruised through a wide stretch of uneventful, flat bottom, but once we hit deeper waters, we began to see a number of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. There were a lot more at our first deeper hole, but then when we got to our primary destination, it was clear how abundant they were.

We laid down a 4-mile long chum slick, and then slowly cruised back through it.  With the calm seas, it held together perfectly, and boy did it work!  It was actually incredible.  Unfortunately, other than a few Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, it was 100% Wilson’s Storm-Petrels!

One of the ways to find other storm-petrels among masses is to look for the lack of obvious wing molt. This bird caught Jeannette’s eye because the wing is so clean and not showing any signs of flight feather molt. It’s a Wilson’s though, but could it possibly be another subspecies? Individual variation? Age?
Or, just something slightly different to look at?

But what a show they put on! Dan, Jeannette, and I did our best to estimate the abundance, as this was truly a special event. Our estimate of a trip total of 2,600 birds included an estimate of 2,000 in our chum line! 

We spotted the occasional Northern Gannet throughout the trip, but we desperately awaited another tubenose. Checking flight style, foot extension, wing bars, and underwing patterns, but yup, pretty darn homogenous.  As a leader, I tried to check every bird. But the sight was impressive, and I couldn’t help but utter superlatives and occasionally just sit back and enjoy the show. 

First-summer Northern Gannet.

We had to increase speed to make it back to the dock on time, but we continued to tally Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on the ride in. And Jeannette, Dan, and I worked hard to find something – anything! – else pelagic!  We don’t have a lot of data on what is out here in June, and it’s likely different every year depending on water temperature and breeding success and/or failure of these “winter” visitors from the sub-Antarctic waters. In fact, one some June whale watches I have been on, I haven’t had a single species of tubenose – let alone 2600 of them.

After last June’s adult Pacific Loon, I did have to have Captain Nick slam on the breaks when I spotted a decidedly gray-naped loon. When it surfaced, it was evident it was just a young Common Loon with an unusual amount of wear or bleaching on its head. It was worth a try though!

While our species list wasn’t legendary by any means, I’ve never seen this many Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in one, relatively short boat trip. In fact, this is by far the most I have ever seen together in Maine waters. Additionally, we had great looks at some of the Gulf of Maine’s most sought-after breeding seabirds to kick off the day at the birthplace of the Project Puffin.  And the weather, wow, the weather – what a day to be on the water!  And a great introduction to pelagic birding: the most exciting (and yes, at times frustrating) part of pelagic birding is every day, every trip, is so different, and it takes a lot of trips to appreciate the best of them.

We have two more trips planned with Cap’n Fish’s this summer. On July 15th, I’ll be joining the on-board naturalist for a visit to Eastern Egg Rock followed by a little birding-while-whale-watching. Then, on October 11th, it will be the second of our dedicated half-day pelagics, including chumming. Since we won’t have activity at Eastern Egg Rock at that time of year, all our time will be dedicated to finding birds offshore.  Information and registration for these two trips – and our summer tours to Seal Island as well – can be found on the Pelagics Page of our website.

Here is our complete trip list, from the time the horn blew as the boat pulled out of the dock until we returned to the slip. Our estimates at Eastern Egg Rock are very conservative, and likely dreadfully low. Offshore, we worked hard at estimating individual groups of storm-petrels and tallying exact numbers of other birds offshore. There were also likely many more eiders, guillemots, and cormorants on the outer islands, but our focus was on finding more seabirds!

2 Canada Geese

2 Mallards

180 Common Eider

30 Rock Pigeon

1 COMMON MURRE

7 Razorbills

62 Black Guillemots

151 Atlantic Puffins

427 Laughing Gulls

45 Herring Gulls

15 Great Black-backed Gulls

15 Roseate Terns

1271 Common Terns

42 Arctic Terns

20 Sterna sp (offshore)

13 Common Loons

2, 600 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (incredible tally!)

20 Northern Gannets

168 Double-crested Cormorants

1 Great Blue Heron

12 Ospreys

3 Bald Eagles

1 American Crow

10 Barn Swallows

4 European Starlings

4 House Sparrows

  • Other Marine Life:

2 Mola Mola

2 Gray Seals

6+ Harbor Porpoise

10++ Harbor Seals

Mola Mola (aka Ocean Sunfish)

2022 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend Tour Report.

With so many great views of Black-billed Cuckoo(s) each day over the weekend, it was hard to argue against this being the bird of the trip. It was unusual how well, and how often, we saw this usually reclusive bird.

How about we just fast-forward to Sunday?  Sunday was delightful.

After two quiet days, which I will eventually confess to, we had a bunch of birds. And no fog. And colorful birds in good light. The pre-breakfast loop was actually downright great, with a good variety of warblers. One copse of trees alone featured 3 Blackburnian Warblers, 4+ Blackpoll Warblers, 2 each of Yellow, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and 1 Magnolia Warbler

It was nice and birdy after breakfast as well, with more Blackburnian fun, a single Cape May Warbler, and a nice birdy walk through the woods (Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, and House Wren singing one after another) to Whitehead where we actually got to see the ocean – and a Great Cormorant for those visiting from afar. Bird activity and birdsong was pleasantly consistent throughout the day, and in most places we visited.

We caught up with a continuing immature male Orchard Oriole for all to see, and while perhaps one could argue it was still fairly slow for Monhegan by Memorial Day Weekend standards, it was a lot better than Friday and Saturday! In fact, the 59 species and 11 species of warblers was more than the first two days combined. A few of us who stayed out late even got to see an American Woodcock as it displayed over Horn Hill at dusk. It was a good day. 

Blackpoll Warbler was definitely the migrant of the weekend. Besides being by far the most numerous passage migrant, they constantly offered crippling views throughout the tour. The male is above, and the female is below.
This American Robin nesting in lobster traps was a delight to watch. The parents had to run a gauntlet of 5 or 7 traps to enter and exit the nest. It was a great demonstration of how lobster traps work.
Laura shows off her handiwork. Hey, on a slow day, I’ll take all of the birds I can get!
Northern Parula
Immature male Orchard Oriole

Friday got off to a rocky start. Really rocky actually, as in few people were even able to keep their breakfast down on the two ferry rides. Dense fog and near-zero visibility resulted in virtually no birds being seen, and well, let’s just not talk about these boat trips anymore…it was one of the worst I have ever experienced on the way to or from. Thankfully, I am not predisposed to feeling how many people felt upon arrival, but it was still a challenge to shake it off, and all of us were moving slowly by day’s end.

The sheltered waters of Deadman’s Cove were deceiving, but I think you get the idea!

Of course, it didn’t help that there were so few birds around! The huge wave of birds that arrived the previous weekend had cleared out, and nothing had arrived to take their place over the last few nights. With such strong winds, it was a challenge to find sheltered pockets, and when we did, we didn’t find many with many birds.  Only Blackpoll Warblers were to be seen in numbers.

That being said, what we did see – especially the aforementioned Blackpolls and the continuing world’s most cooperative Black-billed Cuckoo(s) – we saw really well. A few of us even saw the Virginia Rail for a second. The dense fog also precluded scanning the water, so our checklist is even more pitiful for the day. Ring-necked Pheasants put on a show though, from confiding snazzy males to adorable little chicks.

There was no shortage of Cedar Waxwings this weekend, with numbers growing in the final two days of our stay.
We definitely took advantage of the lull in birding to do some botanizing, including taking the time
to stop and smell the Twinflower (Linnea).
What migrants were around, however, were often low, close, and confiding, such as this Red-eyed Vireo.

I had hopes for Saturday – it really couldn’t be any worse than Friday anyway! – based on the forecast. However, only a light flight was detected on the radar overnight, despite light southerly winds. It was mostly cloudy, but I couldn’t help to wonder if we were just running out of migrants.

Rain that could have resulted in a fallout of what little was airborne overnight didn’t arrive until after sunrise, but it only caused a 20-minute delay to the start of the day. That was it though, and certainly we were lucky that Saturday was not the washout that was predicted as of a few days prior. It was still slow, but once again, we had exceedingly great looks at everything that we did encounter, including more quality cuckoo time, a stunning male Indigo Bunting that was just glowing in the soft light, Blackpoll Warblers, Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, and more colorful splashes to brighten another gray day. And it wasn’t raining.

But it’s hard to sugarcoat just how slow it was – like Mid-June-kinda slow. Luckily, the fog lifted just long enough to see some waterbirds, and we took advantage of that for an impromptu gull workshop. 

A tease. The fog returned shortly thereafter.
It was news to me that Red-backed Salamanders were on the island. Upon finding that out, our Saturday afternoon walk in the woods featured a lot of log-rolling to sample. Apparently, they are rather widespread, as we found them throughout the spruce forest of the next few days.
Sunsets on Monhegan are always memorable, but Saturday night’s was even more exciting
as it meant an end to two days of solid fog.
Tomorrow would be better, this scene promised. And it most certainly was!

A brief shower at dinnertime ushered in a cold front and skies began to clear at dusk, with the fog finally lifting.  That led to the delightful Sunday I was talking about.  And Monday wasn’t too shabby either, as we again started the day without fog, a very light wind, and evidence of some bird migration on the radar overnight. And, with the southwesterly flow continuing, we had even higher hopes for finding the “mega” that would make up for the so-far lackluster species list.

Starting the morning with a Black-billed Cuckoo sunning itself in a tree right in front of the Trailing Yew was a solid start, and there were more Eastern Wood-Pewees and a decent number of Blackpoll Warblers around.  Again, a rather slow day by Monhegan standards, but we really had more great looks at everything we did see. Today’s magic tree was by the Ice Pond, with a pair of Blackburnian Warblers, a pair of Blackpoll Warblers, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and finally a Bay-breasted Warbler.

We also finally had some rarity excitement. First, a Spizella sparrow flushed in front of us and a very quick glimpse in the scope suggested a Clay-colored Sparrow, which is a great bird in the spring. But just to be sure, we searched for it, but to no avail. Luckily, its identity was confirmed the next morning went it put on a show in the exact same spot it didn’t want to return to today.

Later, a female Purple Martin made an appearance…OK, fine, I could not completely rule out a Gray-breasted Martin. I was trying.

The tour officially concluded in the afternoon, but Jeannette and I remained to enjoy a 24-hour vacation.  Don’t worry, you didn’t “just miss” something, as all we had new in the afternoon was a Savannah Sparrow.

It’s already baby bird season!
Cedar Waxwings were the most numerous passerine on the island – or at least, the most obvious, with a flock of 60 that grew to at least 150 by Tuesday afternoon.
Common Yellowthroat.
Eastern Kingbird

Also, don’t worry that you missed the day Monhegan legends are made of on Tuesday. You did not.  It was still fairly slow, but we had a little uptick in diversity. The pulse of late-migrating flycatchers that I had expected finally arrived, there was a good Northern Gannet show off Lobster Cove in the morning, and a steady trickle of commuting Atlantic Puffins in a small sample of afternoon Lobster Cove seawatching.  

Eastern Wood-Pewee

We picked up three Willets well offshore to the south from Lobster Cove in the morning, eventually following them into the harbor where they landed for a spell.  As for that “probable” Clay-colored Sparrow that was nagging me all afternoon and night, well, I am thankful that it returned to the exact same spot as where we first glimpsed it. I received a text that it had been observed, photographed, and confirmed by others, and it obligingly remained long enough for us to catch back up with it.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Overall, there were many fewer warblers around on Tuesday, likely as many of the passage migrants had departed overnight.  But it would have been nice if this diverse day with several quality birds and good seawatching fell during the official tour!

The 11 species we added after the group tour ended therefore were as follows:

  • Savannah Sparrow
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Surf Scoter
  • Atlantic Puffin
  • WILLET
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Bobolink
  • Pine Siskin
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (where were you hiding these past 4 days?)
Common Eiders
Black Guillemot
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Ring-necked Pheasant. No need to work on primary projection beyond the tertial step to identify this one!

Furthermore, on the Hardy Boat back to New Harbor, we added 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (personal first-of-year) and a Razorbill.  With those 13 species, we had a total of 88 species over the 5 days, with a couple of more “quality” birds and that would have produced a much more respectable tour list! But alas.

So yes, by Monhegan standards, it was a pretty slow weekend. In fact, the 75 species on Friday through Monday was a record low (by two) for this annual tour. 16 species of warblers wasn’t too bad (last year’s soaker only produced 10), and we had some great birds. We also had such good looks at so many things, especially those – like Black-billed Cuckoo – that just don’t give such great looks very often, let alone daily! 

Here is the official trip list (not including the 13 additional species from Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening when we got off the boat in New Harbor):

*denotes ferry ride only
27-May28-May30-May31-May
American Black Duck1+chicks1+chicks1+chicks1+chicks
Mallard14+chicks16+chicks12+chicks10+chicks
Common Eiderxxxx
Ring-necked Pheasant6+chicks6+chicks4+chicks5+chicks
Mourning Dove810616
Black-billed Cuckoo1121
Chimney Swift0010
Ruby-throated Hummingbird1121
Virginia Rail1h.o.h.o.2
Sora0h.o.h.o.h.o.
Greater Yellowlegs0101
American Woodcock0010
Black Guillemotx83050
Laughing Gullx*164
Herring Gullxxxx
Great Black-backed Gullxxxx
Northern Gannet1*010
Double-crested Cormorantxxxx
Great Cormorant0011
Osprey0013
Belted Kingfisher0011
Merlin0010
Eastern Kingbird4466
Eastern Wood-Pewee1138
Willow Flycatcher0122
Blue-headed Vireo00h.o.0
Red-eyed Vireo23410
Blue Jay44148
American Crowxxxx
Common Raven0001
Black-capped Chickadeexxxx
PURPLE MARTIN0001
Barn Swallow0022
Golden-crowned Kinglet01081
Cedar Waxwing60606080
Red-breasted Nuthatch0221
House Wren2242
Winter Wren00h.o.0
Carolina Wren0h.o.21
Gray Catbirdxxxx
Brown Thrasher0022
European Starlingxxxx
Eastern Bluebird0001
Swainson’s Thrush0h.o.00
American Robin888x
Purple Finch0121
American Goldfinch681015
Chipping Sparrow0010
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW0001
Song Sparrowxxxx
Red-winged Blackbird8151515
Common Gracklexxxx
ORCHARD ORIOLE0011
Baltimore Oriole0010
Ovenbird0001
Northern Waterthrush0h.o.00
Black-and-white Warbler0132
American Redstart56128
Common Yellowthroat10151515
Cape May Warbler0010
Northern Parula48108
Magnolia Warbler1163
Bay-breasted Warbler0001
Blackburnian Warbler0043
Yellow Warbler34810
Chestnut-sided Warbler0021
Blackpoll Warbler1083020
Black-throated Blue Warbler00h.o.0
Black-throated Green Warbler0414
Canada Warbler0100
Northern Cardinal6445
Indigo Buntingh.o.112
Day Total37486259
Warbler Day Total6101212
4-Day Tour Total=75
Total Warblers=16
A cuckoo a day keeps the birders….coming back.