Category Archives: Private Guiding and Tours

10/11/21 Boothbay Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises.

Well that sure was fun!  What a day!  All the superlatives.

Fall pelagics in the Gulf of Maine are few and far between, especially in October. With whale watches ending early to mid-month each year, opportunities to board vessels to look for seabirds become greatly limited. There’s so much to learn about what is out there at this time of year.

Furthermore, fall weather is temperamental, and planning for a day of deep-sea birding months in advance is a crapshoot. And even when the conditions are great, there are days where there just seems to be no life out there. I’ve certainly been on whale watches in October without a single non-gannet seabird.  Those can be long days, especially in rough seas.

Monday was NOT one of those days. In fact, it was incredible. Following up on our success of last year’s trip on October 12, and several extremely productive whale watches over the years with our partners for this tour, Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, we had high hopes, but reasonable expectations. Because pelagics. In the Gulf of Maine. In October.

The first of our wishes had come true: the boat was going to run!  Although there would be some swell offshore (and there was), there was no concern about getting far offshore today. The winds were light, the air was warm, and it was basically about the nicest day one could hope for in a normal October in Maine.

So that was a good start. But soon, it got even better.  Shockingly so.

Just a few minutes out of the dock, a few folks spotted what they thought was a Red-throated Loon. I took a look, expecting the first Red-throated Loon of the season, but was shocked when I saw the puffy head and bright gray nape of what could only have been a Pacific Loon!  In full breeding plumage!

What the what?

This stunning bird – rare but regular in Maine but extremely rare in such stunning breeding plumage – was with a Common Loon right off our bow. And we had not yet even left the harbor’s no-wake zone.

We were in the boat channel, and luckily, there was no traffic coming or going, so Captain Steve adeptly turned us around and we slowly worked our way closer to the loon, attempting to get the bird in the best light possible for photographs.  And this was no easy feat – we were in a narrow channel and if there were any other boats coming or going, this maneuver might not have even been possible. But alas, luck was with us already, and many folks had a life bird, year-bird, or “life-plumage” before we even left the harbor. I for one was not ready for this…I was still organizing, and we were still plotting a course! And I clearly needed to finish that cup of coffee (words? What are words? And how do I use them again?)

Could this day get any better?  Spoiler alert: it did.

The great thing about our partnership with Cap’n Fish’s is that we have a great, fast, comfortable boat that can cover a lot of ground when we need to. However, there’s something special about this area at this time of year that means we usually don’t have to. In fact, shortly after clearing Damariscove Island, we started picking up Northern Gannets and the first few scattered Great Shearwaters. There just wasn’t a long stretch of “worthless” ground to be transited before we start to see life.  This was even more evident on the way back, as we were tallying seabirds until we were right up to the eastern side of Damariscove.

In between, we covered a fair amount of ground at a steady speed, setting two chum slicks over promising areas. Covering a couple of ledges and a long contour line where we have had great success in the past, there was rarely any lengths of time we didn’t have a pelagic species or two.  We never went further than 20-25 miles offshore, mostly working an area near the Portland ship channel that has been productive for us in the past. At times we were in waters up to 500ft deep but were more interested in places where upwelling might occur – such as near ledges, ridges, or “holes.”

Unfortunately, birds were just not excited about the chum today, so we didn’t have a ton of birds close enough to touch. But, our captain did his best to get us close to the occasional raft of loafing Great Shearwaters for example.  Northern Fulmars seemed to be “sniffing out” our offerings, but excitement never developed. Lots of great, close passes however, with others sitting on the water here and there. I was conservative in my count as I thought 4 birds were making a wide circle around us for a spell, but it’s possible there were a lot more individuals.

Great Shearwaters

I now expect Atlantic Puffins off this boat at this time of year, but we did not expect to tally 32 of them (which seems quite low in hindsight). I was surprised to not see any Razorbills until we were almost back inshore, but then we had some good looks within site of the outer islands.

It took photo review to confirm the two jaegers (including one frustratingly distant one) as the expected species, Pomarine. But still, any day with a jaeger is a good day.

There was a good 2-4 foot swell offshore, but little chop. You could feel the roll though, and a few sharp turns were definitely noticed. It was just enough to limit how quickly we could stop on a dime and go back for a loafing bird, or change course to chase down a jaeger. But overall, it was a decidedly pleasant day on the water!

I think most people would have been satisfied if the only “good” bird was the Pacific Loon, but we had a challenger for best bird of the day. Now, the looks we had and the gorgeous plumage of the loon put it ahead for many, but from a rarely-encountered perspective – along with the fact that this is THE bird(s) we hope for on this trip – the excitement among participants reached its crescendo when I yelled the magic word: “SKUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAA!”

Just about 2/3rds of the way through the trip and about 20miles offshore, a dark, menacing terror of the ocean came roaring towards us and passed in front of the bow. It took a half-hearted swing at a Herring Gull before, unfortunately, continuing on. I spotted it as it was coming towards us at 11:00 (the bow of the boat is 12:00), but most folks got on it only as it came out of the sun glare by 1:00 or so. Therefore, most of our photos are of the bird heading away.

My initial reaction was Great Skua based on my impression of a reddish-tone to the upperparts in particular. I thought I saw a darker crown and I didn’t see a pale blaze on the face. Great Skua is a little more likely in this season, but we are still far from understanding the true ranges of it, and its southern Atlantic counterpart, the South Polar Skua, and especially differences in age classes (and their respective molt patterns).

However, after trying my best to give useful and enunciated directions to all the observers on board, I got back on the bird to study it only as it was going away. I was surprised by the cold, dark brown appearance it now had, as opposed to that first impression.

We threw out some chum to try and stir the pot, but it just kept going. We began a chase, but that did not last long – the skua smoked us!

The first photo I looked on the back of a camera seemed to confirm the reddish tone that would be indicative of Great Skua.

So that temporarily confirmed the call on the field, but as I made clear, I wanted to review as many photos as possible. And as I began to receive them, I could not get over how most of them showed a very dark, cold South Polar-like color impression.

The instant replay was now under review. Some skuas are straightforward, but this was not one of them, in large part because of the distance it passed and the lighting we were able to photograph it in. I have sent photos to several friends more fluent in skua than I, and I awaited their analysis. There are a few things that are just not computing for me, but I – like 99.9% of birders – just don’t have enough experience with skuas, especially in fall when many are a molting mess.

Unfortunately, a head-on or side shot might give us a definitive head pattern, but that is not apparently in existence. The lack of blond streaks on the back is a knock against Great, but some non-adults are really dark and minimally streaked at this season. And no photos show the nape, either.

So this is the best that we have to go on at the moment.  I’ve included a series of photos here, and more can be found on eBird. I will update this blog as I receive more information and continue to study the incoming photos  but I do believe at this time that this is a 1st-year South Polar Skua. That would explain the pattern of molt (similar to what an adult Great Skua should look like now) and those worn outer primaries that gave many folks – myself included – an impression of a paler, warmer brown. Also, those new coverts on the upperparts are so blackish – I can’t seem to find photos of Great Skuas suggesting that kind of deep, dark color. (I will add comments and commentary at the end of this entry as I receive them. I’ll also update the photo suite if I receive anything new and revelatory.)

Anyway, skuas are awesome, even if their identity is often in question  – and realistically, cannot always be answered. But we had _a_ skua, any skua, and that is the apex of a fall pelagic trip, especially the further west and south you get.

(Oh, and since I am thinking of it, here’s a link to the pelagic-by-cruiseship that Jeannette and I investigated a few years back. That was a skua fest and resulted in my first confirmed Great Skua for Maine – which had been a nemesis until then. We were talking about this trip on the boat and wanted to share the link. )

So yeah, a Pacific Loon and a <insert identity> Skua! Lots of puffins, Great Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars (another target of the season), and so much more. And yes, we had a couple of Minke Whales, lots of Harbor Porpoise and Harbor Seals, several schools of Bluefin Tuna, and a really lovely pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. 

The following counts were adjusted to reflect total number of individuals (and not double-counting birds in and around the harbor while traveling to and fro) tallied in separate eBird transects kept by my trusty co-leader, chummer, and list-keeper, Ian Carlsen.

I’ve annotated the checklist with photos from Jeannette and others, as I received them. I’ll add more, especially if any pertinent to the skua ID discussion surface.

  • 500+ Common Eiders
  • 300+ Herring Gulls
  • 173 Great Shearwaters
  • 100+ Double-crested Cormorants
  • 85+ Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 94 Northern Gannets
  • 32 ATLANTIC PUFFINS (high!)
  • 31 Rock Pigeons (dock)
  • 16 Common Loons
  • 15 Black Guillemots
  • 12 NORTHERN FULMARS
  • 8 Razorbills
  • 3 Bald Eagles
  • 2 POMARINE JAEGERS

Bird #1:

Bird #2:

  • 1 Surf Scoter
  • 1 SOUTH POLAR SKUA (*see discussion above)
  • 1 Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile)
  • 1 PACIFIC LOON (no, seriously!)

Today was a good day!

Skua Identification feedback (coming soon):

  • From Michael O’Brien:

“It’s tough to see much detail on this bird, so hard to be 100% sure about it. Having said that, I think I would lean toward a first year South Polar. It has fresh inner primaries, which fits the molt pattern of an adult Great or first year South Polar. The outer primaries seem quite worn/faded, which is why I’m thinking it’s a first year bird with old juv outer primaries. In terms of color, it seems fairly cold toned, and in particular, what looks like fresh greater coverts seem dark and cold toned vs normally paler, warmer, and more mottled (and contrasting with darker secondaries) on a Great. So that’s my take on it, at the risk of reading too much into some distant photos! “

2021 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

This Blue Grosbeak was among the highlights of an incredible weekend on the island.

“It was like the good ol’ days!” When every other bird you saw was a rare one, and you barely walked 10 steps before finding more birds.  But this was not what we were expecting, and the weekend sure didn’t start out that way!

After a very rough boat ride, we were still putting ourselves back together when one birder said “Go back, there are no birds here.”  Apparently, it had been a dreadfully slow week of little migration, but at least nice weather. This weekend, the weather wasn’t supposed to be very nice. So without many birds on the island, and quite a bit of rain on the way, were less enthused about arriving than usual…well, that might have had something to do with the boat ride.

And I am not sure if it helped that one of the first birds I looked at was a rare hybrid Herring X Great Black-backed Gull.  I am not sure if anyone was ready to take in gull hybrids yet.  Even more when we feared that this could be our best bird of the trip if the pattern held.

And sure enough, it was a very slow afternoon. But we did have good luck. We found a Sora that walked out into an open patch of mud, quickly caught up with the adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that has been hanging around, and after lunch immediately found the Least Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper at Lobster Cove that have been playing hard to get all week. There was also a good Northern Gannet show, which is always a treat. So at least we were seeing what was around, which sadly, really was not very much.  But hey, it still hadn’t rained!

Least and Spotted Sandpipers – shorebirds are few and far between on the island.

A period of rain, heavy at times, fell overnight, but the band was much narrower and less heavy than forecast. It did not rain all night, and it even appeared that a light flight of migrants had developed on the radar after midnight. And sure enough, come dawn, there was a light Morning Flight overhead. It was mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, but hey, there were new birds around!  And once, again, it was not raining.

A fly-over Dickcissel or two, a calling Gray-cheeked Thrush, and more. Birds!  Yay!

Then, after breakfast, I went to spread some seed in my favorite corner to attract some birds for the group to enjoy this morning.  Turning the corner near the famous “Chat Bridge” a shockingly bright flash of the most intense yellow you can imagine. And blue wings, and a flash of white in the tail. Prothonotary Warbler I exclaimed to no one around.

I raced back towards the group meeting point and sent them on their way. Kristen Lindquist took off running.  I eventually made it back with the rest of the group and we divided to conquer. Kristen and about half the group spotted it repeatedly, while it remained tantalizingly out of view from where I and others were standing. 

As other birders converged, a classic “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” occurred. First, there were two Dickcissels, then I spotted a Yellow-breasted Chat making a short flight over the brush. While searching for that, Ilsa spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that would sit still, preening, for well over and hour.  It might have been the most cooperative cuckoo ever on the island!  Another group had a brief look at a Clay-colored Sparrow.

Unfortunately, the Prothonotary Warbler was never seen again.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos don’t usually sit this still for this long. This bird was likely exhausted
after just arriving on the island.
In case you didn’t see it’s yellow bill.

It was already a pretty amazing day for one that we thought would be a wash-out. And it was still not raining.  After our lunch break, we convened at the Monhegan House at 1:30, and spent the next hour and a half on its lawn, and going no where else.

One Dickcissel became two, and then four, and when the group finally took off together, we were shocked to confirm a genuine flock of 8 Dickcissels – exceptional, even for Monhegan. And there were not one, but two Clay-colored Sparrows!  And other birds just kept arriving, as standing in one spot saw our list quickly grow: American Redstart, Brown Creeper, Warbling Vireo, etc, etc. One “Western” Palm Warbler became 4, a couple of Cape May Warblers paid us a visit, a Savannah Sparrow dropped in…

It was truly incredible! It felt like my first tours here 15 years ago. By now, a light shower was falling, but we didn’t seem to care. We finally pulled ourselves away as the action waned, wanting to see what the next hot corner would offer.  After spotting at least 8 Baltimore Orioles along Pumphouse Road, the rain finally arrived in earnest by about 3:30pm. We called it quits, but considering the day we had, no complaints were to be heard.  It was a really special day; one that will not soon be forgotten.

While it was more accurately “180-degree misorientation” and other forms of vagrancy and not “reverse migration” that brought us so many good birds, I brought a special beer out
just in case we had a day like we did today!

Rain fell overnight again, and come dawn on Sunday (Day 3), dense fog had rolled in.  There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers overhead, especially during a short respite from the fog, but there were not nearly as many birds around as the day before. But, with fog overnight, we expected birds who were on the island to stay, which was good, because yesterday was awesome and there were still a few birds we had not yet encountered.

It might be a while before they are “countable” again, but the Ring-necked Pheasant population
seems to be booming in town.

We delayed the start of the after-breakfast walk to let a batch of heavier rain clear through. We were stuck in such an odd fall weather pattern, with virtually no west-east progression of weather systems. But we had been so lucky with the timing of the rainfall so far, that a little delay was of no concern.  Regrouping at 10:00, light showers gave way to just some lingering drizzle by 11, and it soon became apparent that there were new birds around.  We had two Prairie Warblers, a Scarlet Tanager joining the growing flock of Baltimore Orioles, and a Blue-winged Teal joined a Green-winged Teal in the marsh.  Two Cliff Swallows and a Barn Swallow foraged over Manana, and we had our second Yellow-breasted Chat of the trip – this one in the Island Farm garden on Pumphouse Road. And another Clay-colored Sparrow?

There was a really impressive number of Baltimore Orioles on the island over the weekend.

Pockets of Yellow-rumped Warblers here and there often contained another warbler species or two, and we had good looks at stuff all morning, even often-challenging birds to see with a group like Lincoln’s Sparrows. 

And after lunch, the sun was out!  We had the Lesser Black-backed Gull again, more looks at Clay-colored Sparrows, and finally the immature male Blue Grosbeak showed up for us, and show it did!

It wasn’t as birdy once the sun was out, but a light raptor flight, including at least 6 Peregrine Falcons helped make up for it.

On Monday, our last day of the tour, it appeared that little moved overnight on a light southwesterly flow aloft. But that had our daydreams going for rarities from our west and southwest.  And sure enough, while some of us were dallying over breakfast, a Western Kingbird that Kristen Lindquist found earlier flew right over us at the Yew and alighted nearby!

After breakfast, we “cleaned it up” for the group when we relocated it at the cemetery, affording great looks for all.  A slower day finally gave us an opportunity to head into the deeper woods. And while we expected fewer birds in the island’s interior, a couple of mixed-species foraging flocks finally put Red-breasted Nuthatch on the list, and we found the first Pine Warbler of the weekend. 

“Look at my tail!” Just in case anyone had hopes of stringing it into a rarer western Tyrannus.

Jeannette joined us by lunchtime, and after lunch, we had a frustratingly brief glimpse of the original Yellow-breasted Chat, along with more great looks at Clay-colored Sparrows. 

The tour came to a close with the 3:15 departure back to New Harbor, bringing our incredible four days together to the always-bittersweet end. 

Jeannette and I birded the rest of the afternoon together, picking up a few things, like my first “Yellow” Palm Warblers of the weekend and a Solitary Sandpiper.  Our walk to dinner yielded a second Pine Warbler, and at the harbor: a juvenile Ring-billed Gull (actually fairly rare out here in the early fall) and another view of the lingering Lesser Black-backed Gull.

On Tuesday, Jeannette and I enjoyed our day off on the island, and Kristen Lindquist joined us for most of the day.  A diminishing light southwest wind overnight gave way to a little bit of northwesterly winds by dawn, but it didn’t appear that much had arrived on the island overnight.

At least two, if not three, different Prairie Warblers were around the island.
Getting late, a few American Redstarts helped bump up our impressive warbler tally.

However, we soon located a Lark Sparrow found yesterday by Bryan Pfeiffer, the immature male Blue Grosbeak paid us a visit, and we heard the Sora briefly.  We then found an Orange-crowned Warbler out past the Ice Pond, my 20th warbler species of the weekend! Unfortunately, we were sans cameras with a little light rain falling.

This Scarlet Tanager was often cooperative at the grape arbor.
As per tradition with this tour report: at least one gratuitous “food porn” photo. Here’s the colorful and fresh avocado toast from the Trailing Yew.
And here’s one of the island’s resident Black-capped Chickadees…just because.

After lunch, we were excited to find two Lark Sparrows sitting next to each other at the cul-de-sac, there were now two Ring-billed Gulls in the harbor, and yes, there were still at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows and several Dickcissels around! 

Just for a change of pace, we decided to walk the diffuse trail along the island’s southwestern end, but were soon distracted by something large in the water in the distance.  Retrieving my scope, it was clear that it was indeed a dead whale, and eventually it floated close enough to identify it as a dead (and rather bloated) Minke Whale.  A handful of gulls were around it, and briefly, a quick pass by a jaeger that was too far to claim the identity of.  It was a fascinating, if not rather sad, end to our visit as by now it was time for Jeannette and I to head to the dock to return to the real world.

A much more pleasant boat ride back, this time to Port Clyde yielded a number of Common Loons and plenty of Northern Gannets, and a surprise of a small pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins.  I’m not sure if I have seen this pelagic species from a Monhegan ferry before, or this close to land at all.

And finally, one last “good” bird: a pair of truant American Oystercatchers on Dry Ledges (off of Allen Island)! Interestingly, we had a pair on the same exact ledge on our way back from the island on October 5th of last year.

At least 8 Dickcissels, at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows, 2 Lark Sparrows, and an Orange-crowned Warbler from the Midwest. A Western Kingbird from the West.  A Prothonotary Warbler, 2 Yellow-breasted Chats, and a Blue Grosbeak from the South.  105 total species (102 with the tour) including 20 species of warblers.  Yeah, that was a good trip  – and the stuff that Monhegan legends are made of, at least sans fallout.

Four of a flock that grew to an impressive 8 Dickcissels, often found in the swale behind the
Monhegan House throughout the weekend.

And finally, here is our birdlist from the extraordinary weekend:

9/24 = * denotes ferry ride only
9/27 = * with just Jeannette
9/28 = with Jeannette; *denotes ferry ride only
24-Sep25-Sep26-Sep27-Sep28-Sep
American Black Duck00111
Mallard310262424
Mallard x American Black Duck Hybrid00011
Green-winged Teal0101*0
Blue-winged Teal0101*0
Common Eiderxxxxx
Ring-necked Pheasant613121610
Mourning Dove622301518
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO01000
unidentified cuckoo00010
Common Nighthawk00000
Sora10001
Semipalmated Plover01000
Least Sandpiper10201
American Woodcock10000
Spotted Sandpiper10100
Unidentified jaeger00001
Solitary Sandpiper0001*0
Black Guillemot23103
Laughing Gull1*0003
Ring-billed Gull0001*2
Herring Gullxxxxx
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL1011*0
Great Black-backed Gullxxxxx
GREAT BLACK-BACKED X HERRING HYBRID1000
Common Loon1*0006*
Northern Gannet2002043
Double-crested Cormorantxxxxx
Great Cormorant03311*
Great Blue Heron01103
Bald Eagle2*111*1
Sharp-shinned Hawk00021
Belted Kingfisher00111
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker04382
Downy Woodpecker00143
Northern Flicker4541010
Merlin00486
Peregrine Falcon00686
WESTERN KINGBIRD00010
Eastern Phoebe00011
Blue-headed Vireo00010
Warbling Vireo01000
Red-eyed Vireo01081210
Blue Jay61881618
American Crow46xxx
Common Raven22022
Black-capped Chickadeexxxxx
CLIFF SWALLOW00200
Barn Swallow00100
Golden-crowned Kinglet044158
Ruby-crowned Kinglet02034
Cedar Waxwing3048406050
Red-breasted Nuthatch00003
White-breasted Nuthatch00022
Brown Creeper02111
House Wren01101
Carolina Wren04478
Gray Catbirdxxxxx
Brown Thrasher02000
European Starling1818181818
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH01000
Swainson’s Thrush04111
American Robin03034
American Pipit00010
Purple Finch01000
LARK SPARROW00002
American Goldfinch210413
Chipping Sparrow086108
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW024414
Dark-eyed Junco00021
White-crowned Sparrow00010
White-throated Sparrow21061510
Savannah Sparrow03301
Song Sparrowxxxxx
Lincoln’s Sparrow01315
Swamp Sparrow00212
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT01110
Bobolink06050
Rusty Blackbird02010
Common Grackle06964
Brown-headed Cowbird01000
Baltimore Oriole08151612
Northern Waterthrush10421
Black-and-white Warbler00110
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER01000
Tennessee Warbler10000
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER00001
Nashville Warbler03224
American Redstart01202
Common Yellowthroat26544
Cape May Warbler13002
Northern Parula05433
Magnolia Warbler01210
Yellow Warbler05432
Blackpoll Warbler1158106
Black-throated Blue Warbler00010
Palm Warbler0441410
PINE WARBLER00023
Yellow-rumped Warbler306075300150
Prairie Warbler0022*1
Black-throated Green Warbler03345
Wilson’s Warbler01221
Scarlet Tanager00210
Northern Cardinal410886
Rose-breasted Grosbeak04443
BLUE GROSBEAK00101
Indigo Bunting00044
DICKCISSEL08754
Day Total3465667477
Warbler day total513141515
4-Day Tour total=102
Plus with Jeannette after the group =3
Total warblers =20

This Week’s (Non Sandy-Point) Highlights, 9/24-9/30: Monhegan Island

This Blue Grosbeak was among the stars of the show from an exceptional weekend of
great birds on Monhegan Island.

I haven’t yet posted a Monhegan tour blog from last weekend, so I figured I’d at least post some of the highlights from our extremely exciting weekend chock-full of great birds!

9/24 (with Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour group):

  • 1 adult GREAT BLACK BACKED X HERRING GULL HYBRID
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • 1 Sora

9/25 (with tour group):

  • 1 adult PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Found by me at “Chat Bridge” and refound nearby a short while later by Kristen Lindquist and part of my group.  Only bird of the weekend not seen again.
  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 8 DICKCISSELS (in flock together at one point)
  • 2 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS (in flock with 8 Dickcissels).
  • 1 Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush (presumed Gray-cheeked)
  • 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

9/26 (with Tour group):

  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 7 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

9/27 (with tour group):

  • 1 WESTERN KINGBIRD (found by Kristen Lindquist. Refound by us at the Trailing Yew, then later by our group again at the cemetery. Last sighting?)
  • At least 5 DICKCISSELS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • 9/28 (with Jeannette and Kristen Lindquist):
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • 2 LARK SPARROWS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 4 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 Orange-crowned Warbler
  • 1 unidentified jaeger at a floating Minke Whale carcass offshore.
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

Other Highlights:

  • 2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Dry Ledges off of Allen Island from Port Clyde Ferry, 9/28 (with Jeannette).

And don’t forget, our next pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s out of Boothbay Harbor is coming up, on October 11th. Information and registration can be found here.

OK, back to work on my Monhegan blog.

Derek’s Birding This 7/3-7/16, 2021.

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

  • Rare mid-summer SCOTER hat-trick with 4 Black, 2 White-winged, and 1 Surf, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 7/3.
  • 4 Greater and 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 7/3.
  • Seawatching from Eastern Point, Gloucester, MA on 7/8 during Tropical Storm Elsa (with family): In about 2 hours where fog lifted enough to see, Great Shearwaters were passing at an average of 199 per 5-minute segment and Sooty Shearwaters were passing at an average of 314 per 5-minute segment. Plus 2 MANX SHEARWATERS, 1 unidentified JAEGER, and 1 Cory’s Shearwater.
  • 1 proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET hybrid, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 7/13.
  • 14 Semipalmated Sandpipers (FOF), Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/13.
  • 7 Sanderlings (FOF; a little on the early side), Crescent Beach State Park, Cape Elizabeth, 7/15.

“The Search for Troppy” Trip II Report, 7/10/21

Our second “Search for Troppy” tour with our partners the Isle au Haut Boat Services took place on Saturday the 10th. With Tropical Storm Elsa roaring through the day before, building seas to 7-10 feet, we were of course just hoping to run the tour.

But we remained optimistic, and as winds turned to the northwest behind the storm, the surf rapidly got knocked down. With calm winds by dawn, they came down even further. And by our 1:00pm departure on the M.V. Otter, Stonington Harbor was nearly flat calm, the sun was shining, and our offshore reports were positive.

With high hopes, we set off, and pretty soon came across several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and of course, Black Guillemots. As we cleared the shelter of Isle au Haut, we found more storm-petrels, but we also found leftovers waves from the storm. There were a few pretty big swells remaining, but Captain Tracy handled them with skill and kept us surprisingly comfortable.

Scattered Wilson’s Storm-Petrels gave way to some massive groups loafing on the calm surface. Led by a single group of 91, I tallied a conservative estimate of 210!  Unfortunately, the swells were just high enough that we couldn’t safely turn around for the single Sooty Shearwater that we saw bobbing in the waves, or what turned out to be the only Common Murre of the day.

Reaching the lee of Seal Island, the waves disappeared, and we began our slow cruise enjoying the island’s summer denizen.  Arctic and Common Terns were in abundance, there were plenty of Black Guillemots, and we checked out a couple of rafts of Atlantic Puffins. Likely due to the post-storm day, puffins were busy and not doing much loafing, so we actually saw relatively few. Unlike our previous tour where we had as many puffins close to the boat as I have ever seen out there, this was about as few as I have ever had. The Pufflings must be hungry!

We finally spotted 2 Razorbills on our way to the bustling Great Cormorant colony, noted a pair of Common Ravens, and spotted a Peregrine Falcon – a rather unwelcome guest out here.

But so far, there was no sign of Troppy, so we waited. And waited some more. And then waited. Once again, we were at the right place at the right time, and the weather was perfect.

Thanks to the charter, we had plenty of time, and we needed as much patience as possible. I admit I was getting as worried as the guests that Troppy was not home today.

But then, this happened:

It was simply one of best 2 or 3 shows that I have ever had. He made repeated passes right overhead, did a lot of calling and displaying, and then finally sat on the water and took his bath. Captain Tracy did a great job returning us to good lighting, and we cut the engine once again and drifted along with him, enjoying the sights and sounds of the island, and of course, basking in the glory of a successful twitch!

Three Short-billed Dowitchers with three peeps launched from the island; a sign of the season as these are already on their way south. The other island birds including Song and Savannah Sparrows, Spotted Sandpipers, and oodles of Common Eiders were also present and accounted for.

Captain Tracy finally had to pull us away, but we were just getting greedy. It was time to leave Troppy alone to enjoy his afternoon bath in peace.  He earned it today.

We made really good time coming back as the waves continued to subside. Unfortunately, it was too rough around Saddleback Ledge to check it carefully, but we did have 4 more Great Cormorants there. To and from the ledge, we encountered plenty of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (although not nearly as many as on the way out) and a couple of Northern Gannets.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have any shearwaters on the way back, but a short distance beyond Saddleback Ledge, we spotted a couple of Razorbills. Then a small raft, and then another. In all, about 40-50 Razorbills  –  I guess that’s why we didn’t have many at the island; they were all feeding inshore!

A single Atlantic Puffin was with them, and we had several more Razorbills when we checked out a feeding frenzy of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls not far out of the harbor entrance. And of course, a few ledges full of Harbor Seals.

In the end, we saw every possible island summer resident, especially, yeah, THAT one. It was a very good day.

“The Search for Troppy” Trip 1 Report, 6/26/2021

The first of two “Search for Troppy” charters to Seal Island took place on Saturday, June 26th.  Departing Stonington at 1pm with the good folks of The Otter from Isle au Haut Boat Services, we would be in prime time for the appearance of Maine’s Red-billed Tropicbird that has called the Gulf of Maine home for the past 17 years. For this first trip of the year, I was joined by Marion Sprague, co-coordinator of the Maine Young Birder’s Club, as my co-leader.

Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good. Dense fog, a moderate southerly breeze, and a forecast for marginal seas made us think twice. At the very least, Captain Garrett gave the talk about seasickness and where to find those handy bags.  However, we were also receiving real-time weather data from a lobster boat hauling traps near the island, and we were being assured “it’s not bad out here.”  But we were skeptical – Maine fishermen are tough!

Keeping us in the shelter of Isle au Haut for as long as possible, Captain Garrett plotted his course. A Merlin offshore was a little surprise, but otherwise we struggled to pull much out of the dense fog beyond the “big 5:” Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, Common Eider, Black Guillemot, and Double-crested Cormorant.  A smattering of Common Terns and several occupied Osprey nests was about it.

As we began the crossing of open water to Seal, we soon became pleasantly surprised by the conditions. It was still foggy, and we had about 20 minutes of fairly rough seas, but the overall wave height was nothing like it was forecast and the winds seemed to be dying. Things were looking up.

We glimpsed a couple of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and a Northern Gannet on the way out and took the time to ease up to an Atlantic Puffin loafing (probably too full to bother flying). We just didn’t want to take anything for granted. But that was about it, until Seal Island materialized from the fog.

As we approached the surprisingly-sheltered shoreline of the island, puffins were everywhere!  Fewer birds rest on the rocks in the fog, and so hundreds of birds were loafing on the water.  With near-flat conditions in the cove, we just floated up to resting rafts.  We got close to a couple of Razorbills too, and sorted through Arctic and Common Terns. Arctic Terns were also especially confiding today, often passing right over the boat and making repeated close passes.

We enjoyed the show of the tern colony and slowly crept along the shoreline. Spotted Sandpipers sounded off and made short flights, Common Eiders ushered their chicks around, and Black Guillemots were all around. 

We spotted one Common Murre on the rocks, and with the water much calmer than we expected, we were able to round the southern tip to check out the Great Cormorant colony – the last in Maine. Working our way back towards the cove, we scored a much better view of a Common Murre on the water.

And then we waited. The conditions were prefect, and while the sun was not out, fog did not dampen our spirits, especially after last year’s first tour!

It was one of the best puffin shows I have ever had out here, and with the engine turned off, we just floated up to them while listening to the songs of Savannah and Song Sparrows emanating from the island.

But as joyous as this was, the reality soon became clear: the star of the show was not home today.  Troppy disappears for 2-5 day periods and this was one of those periods. We were in the right place, at the right time, and had a couple of hours to search and be patient. But this time, our patience was not rewarded. 

It’s always bittersweet when you depart Seal Island without Troppy, but that’s how it goes out here sometime. At least we weren’t miserable while searching! And we saw every other denizen, and wow, that puffin show!  If you can’t find joy in that, perhaps birding is not for you.

The fog remained dense on the way back, and only a couple of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and two gannets were spotted. We searched around Saddleback Ledge and a few other outcroppings, turning up only the big 5 and a whole bunch of seals (a few Gray out at Seal Island, but almost all Harbor Seals on the way in). With following seas and diminishing winds, we made great time, and before we knew it, we were at the dock and trying to get our landlegs back.

We’ll try it again on July 10th (that trip is sold out, but email us to get on the waiting list), and hope that Troppy is in town that day!

Boothbay Harbor Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, 6/7/2021

Thanks to last fall’s wildly successful half-day pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, we partnered up again to offer three outings in 2021.  On Monday, June 7th, the first of three departures took place.

June is an untraditional month for southern Maine pelagics, but our Boothbay Harbor departures, and a fast, steady boat allow us access to some prime areas. Few people had this in mind however on Monday, when instead, most people were just excited to escape the stifling heat on land!

The seas had died down overnight, and the mere 2 foot swell was often barely noticeable. A cooling breeze over the 56-degree water made us welcome our layers, but not at all miss the sweltering mainland.

There are few guarantees in pelagic birding…well unless you visit a seabird island! So instead of just searching for needles in the offshore haystack, we first headed over to Eastern Egg Rock.  We sifted through many hundreds of Common Terns until everyone got good looks at Roseate (20+) and Arctic (20+) Terns. 75-100 Atlantic Puffins, 100+ Black Guillemots, 500+ Laughing Gulls, Common Eiders, a Spotted Sandpiper, Double-crested Cormorants, Herring Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls were all observed from the comfort of our limited-capacity boat.

A passerine on our way to Eastern Egg Rock may have been an oriole (awaiting photos to review), but that was our only non-seabird of the day.  Kelsey pointed out lighthouses, islands, and other landmarks as we motored from the harbor out past Monhegan Island.

We then traveled over 20 miles to waters over 500 feet deep, and a ledge where the bottom rose steeply to a depth of only 380. On the way out, it was quiet. Really, really quiet.  Uh-oh, is this was June pelagic birding is like around here too?

But traveling over fairly flat, often sandy or muddy bottom is not a good sample, and as we hit the deeper water and some topography, we began to see our first tubenoses of the day: Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, which have just arrived from their sub-Antarctic breeding areas.

With Ian chumming, petrels began to come in closer, and the first of our Northern Fulmars arrived to check things out. While we worked the ledge, and then double-backed on our chum slick, the birds kept appearing and Captain Mike did a great job keeping birds in the best lighting possible. 

Some of the highlights included the rather late fulmars and an unseasonable offshore Common Murre, but I think the real highlight was how well we saw just about everything!  Even two of our Red-necked Phalaropes were close enough to age and sex (they were adult female), and Ian’s chum brought fulmars and storm-petrels in close.  While we only had one Great Shearwater on this early date, it too made a close pass, affording good looks for everyone.

The total seabird count away from Eastern Egg Rock (see estimates from there above) was as follows (not including gulls and other nearshore species)

  • 103 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
  • 13 Northern Gannets
  • 10+ Arctic Terns (out of sight of Eastern Egg)
  • 5 Unidentified phalaropes
  • 5 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES
  • 4 NORTHERN FULMARS
  • 1 Great Shearwater
  • 1 COMMON MURRE

It was not the diversity of later summer and fall, and certainly not the numbers (at least once we left the magic of Eastern Egg), but we had a nice selection of “good” birds, great looks at them, and we did all of this in less than four hours in offshore waters.  The convenience of a Boothbay departure, the accessibility of some rich feeding areas without heading too far, the speed and comfort of the boat (especially the grilled cheese sandwiches), and more resulted in another rewarding trip and a sure sign of the potential of these tours.

In fact, our next trip in July (no chumming on this one, unfortunately) with a similar itinerary of starting at Eastern Egg Rock is filling up fast. We’re also now accepting reservations for our October outing, which, based on last year’s results, we are already looking forward too!

2021 Spring Monhegan Migration Weekend

Hmm…how do I spin this one? Well, it could have been colder, and it could have been a lot wetter. The crossbills were pretty amazing, and it was fun to find that Purple Martin. 

But yes, as far as Monhegan Spring Migration Weekends go, this was a pretty slow and cold one.  In fact, the 77 total species and only 10 species of warblers were both record lows (in 10 years of doing these trips on the last weekend of May).  But it is not spin to say a slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than a great day of birding most everywhere else.

The very early spring this year had rapidly advanced vegetation. On many of our Memorial Day weekends, apple trees – one of the most important bird-magnets out here – are not yet blooming. This year, they were just about finished.  Meanwhile, the dry and benign weather of the past few weeks have allowed migrant birds to proceed unimpeded. They were either going right overhead or stopping on the island only briefly before continuing onward. No traffic jams of birds held up by unfavorable weather, no concentrations at few and isolated foodstuffs, and certainly no fallouts. Well, at least the abnormally dry conditions we have been experiencing began to break this weekend.

More importantly, while the above complaints made for slow birding, they really made for a great migration for birds who don’t want to get stuck on an island or other migrant trap. Instead, they got to where they needed to go and many seemed to get right to work in order to catch up with the advanced season.

When we arrived on Friday, we found relatively few birds as expected given the preceding week’s beautiful weather. We quickly caught up with the pair of Blue-winged Teal that have been hanging around and possibly breeding out here – a very good bird on offshore islands. I was also happy to finally see my first Tennessee Warblers of the spring. And while diversity was not overly high, it was really nice out and we enjoyed really good looks at a lot of what we encountered, including the aforementioned Tennessee Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and our daily dose of the confiding and stunning Scarlet Tanager that was lingering around the village’s south end.

Scarlet Tanager
Tennessee Warbler.

Cedar Waxwing.

I had really high hopes for Saturday morning. With very light southerly winds and partly cloudy skies at dusk (I enjoyed a Common Nighthawk and an American Woodcock while watching the sunset with a friend), the winds became very light southwesterly after dark.  Then, around 2:00am, some light rain began to fall, and the winds shifted to the northeast.  The hopes for a fallout kept me awake as I listened to those first showers in the early morning hours.

Upon sunrise, it soon became clear that my hopes and dreams had been dashed. There was minimal bird movement visible on the NEXRAD radar before the rain arrived. A large area of low pressure passing to our south, with the northern edge of rain moving much further north than forecast, suggested the possibility of fallout conditions. But were there even any birds on the move before the rain? Or, were they cut off to our south by the approaching storm? Or – as we have been surmising on the mainland as well – have they just mostly passed by already?.

Light rain continued for our pre-breakfast walk, and it was very slow. There was definitely not a fallout, and there did not seem to be many birds around at all.  That Scarlet Tanager stole the show again though. Great looks at things like Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Redstart, and Northern Parula soon followed.

Rain slowly tapered off during the morning, and while cameras were mostly sealed away, it was more than birdable. We heard a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (my first of the year), a Virginia Rail, and even briefly saw the vociferous Sora that incessantly called from the marsh throughout the weekend.  Then, just before lunch, we found a female Purple Martin. Unexpectedly late, and rare out here in general, this was a nice find, and when we relocated it at Swim Beach, we had some great views to make sure it was indeed a Purple Martin.

The afternoon was dry, but the birding remained slow. We did get a better view of the dapper male Blue-winged Teal, and spent some real quality time with the flock of 18 Red Crossbills that contained a single White-winged Crossbill.  Many folks got one, if not two, life birds in this flock, and we saw them as well as one could ever hope.

With a light northeasterly wind overnight, little to no migration was detected on the radar Saturday night into Sunday morning, but it was not yet raining. It was a little birdier than the day before, but the pre-breakfast walk only yielded two new species for us: a fleeting glimpse of a Lincoln’s Sparrow and a fly-by American Black Duck.  But the crossbills entertained us once again! Also, Smooth Green Snake and Redbelly Snake side-by-side.

A large area of low pressure was rapidly developing off the mid-Atlantic coast, and the rain was heading our way. So we were grateful for another dry – albeit chilly – morning.  A couple of late Bobolinks and a Merlin were new for us, and we glimpsed a less-than-cooperative Short-billed Dowitcher that had arrived and played hard to get for the next couple of days. With so little shorebird habitat out here, most shorebirds are noteworthy, even species common on the mainland. According to Brett Ewald, this was only the 16th record for the island, and 10th for spring. In fact, this was my 218th species on Monhegan! Even on a slow day, you never know what might show up out here. 

Light rain had arrived by the time we regrouped after lunch and the northeasterly wind was picking up. We called it quits as the rain picked up in earnest around 3:00pm, retiring to our respective rooms – or, mostly, heated common areas – and got some reading and relaxation time in.

Overnight rain ended just about as our pre-breakfast walk got underway on Monday, with only light showers and a little drizzle for the next couple of hours. Given the forecast, this was most definitely a win. We checked gull roosts and other sheltered harbor nooks, turning up only a Savannah Sparrow as a new addition to our list. The rest of the morning was spent enjoying some of the birds we have been seeing for the past days, like the Blue-winged Teal and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

American Redstart
Ring-necked Pheasant.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

After the weekend tempest, those of us who survived were rewarded with calm, following seas for our ride back to New Harbor. It was foggy, but we had some great sightings on the easy ride back with single fly-by Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, and a feeding Bonaparte’s Gull. Adding these three excellent birds helped our paltry list to a total of 77 species. With a long-term average of about 95 species in four days, you can see that we really did have a weekend of low avian diversity.

So alas, the weekend came to a close. A few good birds, lots of great looks at regular birds, and a few lingering chills. But, as usual, we ate well. Perhaps too well. But hey, we were burning off calories thermoregulating! Hey it happens, and the regulars all know that there will be a “bad” weekend once in a while to make the “best” tours that much sweeter.

Read

Since folks who have been reading several years of these trip reports, I figured I would include the gratuitous food porn photo as usual. However, without the Novelty open, there was no pizza. Besides, we like to class it up once in a while, in this case, at the Island Inn.

(* denotes seen from the ferry only. **Seen only by the leader outside of group time)

5/285/295/305/31
BLUE-WINGED TEAL2211
American Black Duck0010
Mallardxxxx
Common Eiderxxxx
White-winged Scoter1*000
Ring-necked Pheasant3468
Mourning Dove10888
Common Nighthawk1**000
Ruby-throated Hummingbird1000
Virginia Rail0110
Sora1110
Black Guillemotxxxx
ATLANTIC PUFFIN0001*
Razorbill0001*
American Woodcock1**000
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER0010
Bonaparte’s Gull0001*
Laughing Gullx* + 2221+ 14*
Herring Gullxxxx
Great Black-backed Gullxxxx
Common Ternx*006*
Northern Gannet1*120
Double-crested Cormorantxxxx
Great Cormorant1001
Osprey1000
Bald Eagle2210
Sharp-shinned Hawk2000
Red-bellied Woodpecker1100
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker0111
Merlin0011
Eastern Wood-Pewee5011
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher0100
Alder Flycatcher0201
“Traill’s” Flycatcher1000
Least Flycatcher0010
Eastern Kingbird4020
Red-eyed Vireo4122
Blue Jay44104
American Crowxxxx
Common Raven1110
PURPLE MARTIN0100
Tree Swallow2211
Barn Swallow0210
Black-capped Chickadee2xxx
Winter Wren0010
Carolina Wren0001
Golden-crowned Kinglet0211
American Robinxxxx
Gray Catbirdxxxx
Brown Thrasher0014
European Starlingxxxx
Cedar Waxwing40604030
Purple Finch1213
RED CROSSBILL18181818
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL1111
American Goldfinch810128
Chipping Sparrow4222
White-throated Sparrow0001
Savannah Sparrow0001
Song Sparrowxxxx
Lincoln’s Sparrow0010
Black-and-white Warbler0112
Common Yellowthroat6101215
American Redstart0330
Northern Parula0233
Magnolia Warbler0132
Blackburnian Warbler2000
Yellow Warbler10868
Chestnut-sided Warbler2101
Blackpoll Warbler4886
Black-throated Green Warbler0121
Scarlet Tanager1111
Northern Cardinal6866
Bobolink0020
Red-winged Blackbird10101010
Common Gracklexxxx
Baltimore Oriole2222
Day Total51505652
4-DAY TOTAL77

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, 7/10/2020.

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.
IMG_6465_dense_fog

IMG_6469_masked_birders_on_boat

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.
IMG_6471_Seal_in_Fog

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.
TRoppy1Troppy2Troppy3

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!