A spiffy adult male Summer Tanager(middle) joined a small flock of Scarlet Tanagers and was one of the stars of the weekend’s show.
More and more we, as birders, lament “they way it used to be.” Declining populations of so many birds, especially our long-distance Neotropical migrants often leaves us longer for yesteryear. Even a good day can turn wistful as we think of what “a lot” of birds once were. On some of our recent tours to Monhegan Island, even the good days felt lackluster; it was missing the “oomph” of what Monhegan legends are made of.
This was NOT one of those trips.
It was awesome. It felt like it “used to be.” It was great, it was fun, and at times, the birding was just darn easy!
Most of the first day’s group joined me on the 9:00am departure out of New Harbor. I was amped up. A strong flight on the radar overnight developed between evening showers and thunderstorms, with another line of showers ushering in a shift in the winds from the south to the west by morning. This was a recipe for a fallout – or at least a lot of birds on Monhegan.
A Yellow Warbler – the 124th species in our wooded yard – greeted me as I topped off the feeders, and a couple of Blackpoll Warblers were singing. At Pemaquid Point, Erin Walter and I had several warblers, including one Cape May, in the small grove of spruces near the lighthouse. These were very good signs.
As we endured a swelly ride on the ferry, an unidentified thrush streaked by, another good sign. Unrelated, but no less exciting, was a single fly-by Atlantic Puffins, a couple of Roseate Terns, and three tardy White-winged Scoters. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers at Neigh Duck was intriguingly late.
We arrived on the island shortly after 10:00am, and Phil Brown – just finishing up a New Hampshire Audubon tour – informed me that all of the signs of a big day were right. In fact, he was clearly having trouble tearing himself away. So we hit the ground running.
Over the next hour and a half, we saw a lot of birds…and we had still not even made it to the end of Dock Road! For those of you not familiar with the island, that’s about an 1/8th of a mile. We hadn’t even checked in yet, and we had a dozen species of warblers and at least 4 Philadelphia Vireos.
Blackburnian Warblers along Dock Road was a nice welcome!
The only reason we made it across town was that a White-winged Dove (my first for the island and one of only a handful of previous island records) was just found at Donna Cundy’s famous feeders. But not even a new island bird for myself could get me to hustle…there were too many birds to pass by; I apparently already had hit the MonhegZen!
But we did see the dove, and it was great. However, I think it was upstaged for all of us by the 6 Scarlet Tanagers (5 males) that were also at the feeders! We eventually stopped for a quick lunch, checked in briefly at the Trailing Yew, and slowly made our way down to the south end of the island where warblers were feeding on rocks at the water’s edge.
And it’s not often you finish the day with 6 Blackburnian Warblers below you!
In fact, the day was so amazing that I barely even made it to the brewery with enough time to get a growlette to go for dinner! (Sorry, people who know me and this tour should have been told to sit down before I said that)> Birds were simply everywhere. Tennessee Warblers – a lifer for some of the group were in impressive numbers, and was likely the most common migrant of the day. Blackpoll Warblers were common, but normally-uncommon migrants such as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Cape May Warblers were unusually numerous and conspicuous. We finished our first day with 19 species of warblers. It was like the good ol’ days.
Magnolia Warblers were common and conspicuous all weekend.
Finding an uncommon-on-the-island Prairie Warbler (and hearing another or the same on the island’s East side the next day was a good addition to our impressive tally of 22 species of warblers.
The only concern I had was would the rest of the trip be anti-climatic?
With light northwesterly winds overnight Friday into Saturday, more birds departed than arrived, but there were still plenty of birds to be seen. A single singing Ovenbird and a quick sighting of a Nashville Warbler put us to 21 species of warblers, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was a good find. A singing Sora, a soaring Peregrine Falcon, and a silent Northern Mockingbird were some of the species added to our list, but we continued to enjoy countless warblers. Sure, we “only” estimated 25 Tennessee Warblers today, but remember yesterday when they were a life bird? Better looks at the White-winged Dove (it was much healthier-looking today, too) were had as well.
The Summer Tanager eventually found his way to the Tanager Festival at Donna’s feeders. And you really won’t find more cooperative Lincoln’s Sparrows than one of the two (below) that was also at the feeders – for those who appreciate the more subtle beauties!
With a slower afternoon, we took a little hike to take in the views from Burnt Head and worked various under-birded nooks and crannies. And it was hard not to enjoy a Novelty pizza dinner because: 1) Novelty pizza and 2) we finished our second day of birding with a stunning adult male Summer Tanager joining the Scarlet Tanager convention at Donna’s feeders.
We went to bed Saturday night with light southerly winds and rain on its way, with dreams of another fallout dancing in our bird-filled heads. We awoke to light rain, fog, but still a light to moderate southerly wind. There was another strong flight overnight, according to the radar – at least until rain overspread the area by 2:00am. But alas, whether ushered overhead by the southerly tailwinds, or unable to notice the island as they flew over the fog, there was no fallout, and in fact, there were actually fewer birds around in the early morning.
However, the rain ended as we ate breakfast, and the sun rapidly came out, optimism –and perhaps a little Rarity Fever – reigned supreme. And while numbers were a little low, diversity was excellent, and our trip list grew rapidly with a series of quality birds: Virginia Rail (heard only as usual), Green Heron, Black-billed Cuckoo, Warbling Vireo, and a rare-on-the-island Hairy Woodpecker. I also made friends with a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers that were calling Swim Beach home.
But unlike the forecast, it was a rather nice day! It did cloud up again after lunch, but rain was limited to a narrow line of showers ahead of the afternoon cold front. And where else but on Monhegan do you end your day with a beer and chocolate pairing at Monhegan Brewing, with lobster rolls and bratwurst…and Tennessee Warblers still singing away!
Red Admirals were quite abundant, increasing as the weekend went on.
At dusk, I took a walk to catch up with a friend, listening to the Sora and Virginia Rail in the marsh, and several American Woodcocks going wild.
On Monday, the last day of the tour itself, we awoke to moderate fog but very light winds. The radar return was somewhat ambiguous, but it could have been strong in the first 2/3rds of the night despite light easterly winds shifting to the west and then northwest by morning. And very few flight calls were heard overhead before coffee, suggestive of less of a migration overnight as we had hoped.
Immediately, however, we found a nice pocket of mixed warblers right behind the Trailing Yew, so we jumped right into enjoying them. Then, I got a text that right around the corner – in the direction I usually walk before breakfast! – the state’s second ever Eurasian Collared-Dove was just discovered. We zipped over to immediately hear and see it – not just another new island bird, but a new Maine bird for me! And another life bird for most of the group. And it wasn’t even time for breakfast yet.
Light northeast winds slowly shifted the southeast over the course of the day, but while the day remained rather raw, it was once again precipitation-free. Unfortunately, overall, the birding was on the slow side. Well, even in the good ol’ days there were slow days!
Fuzzy baby ducks! This chick’s mom was a Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid.
Female (top) and male Scarlet Tanagers were omnipresent at Donna’s feeders. #MonheganBirdingProblems
While the tour officially came to an end, Jeannette and I remained on the island – joined now and again by a few friends – and enjoyed a relaxing evening and another amazing Island Inn dinner. Winds were forecast to remain northwesterly overnight, with precipitation and fog developing. Our hopes for one last big day were not high as we turned in.
Winds were northeasterly at dawn, but most of the night saw northwesterly winds – unfavorable to migrants heading northward. Not surprisingly, there was little or no visible migration on the radar overnight. So why was there a morning flight when I finally stumbled outside at 6:15? A flock of 38 Blue Jays swirling about, more Bay-breasted Warblers than in the last 3 days combined, lots of Blackpoll Warblers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be everywhere.
In fact, it was really birdy again (nothing like Friday, mind you). There were active pockets of birds almost everywhere. Blackpoll Warblers were common, and flycatchers had arrived en masse: while there had been plenty of Least Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees around, Alder Flycatchers were not conspicuous, and I had my first Willow Flycatcher of the year.
Eastern Wood-Pewee (from the previous, sunny day).
Jeannette and I enjoyed a great view of the Eurasian Collared-Dove in the morning, but later it was upstaged by a sighting of it flying together with the re-appearing White-winged Dove. I finally saw the one Pine Warbler that had been around; my 22nd warbler species of the trip, but I did miss a Morning Warbler at the ice pond in the morning. Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstarts, and about as many Eastern Wood-Pewees as I have ever seen in a day were among the impressive tallies.
Blackpoll Warbler (male, above) in comparison to Black-and-white Warbler (female, below).
Why were there so many more birds around? Where did they come from, and how? Well, predicting bird migration and analyzing it via NEXRAD radar is far from an exact science, and part of the thrill of the day was how unexpected it was. It was thought-provoking at least.
Unfortunately, shortly after noon, it began to rain, and rain steady enough that bird activity was reduced dramatically. But, with final preparations – such as goodbyes to friends and beer to go – to leave the island, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. But with a little time to spare, Jeannette decided we should do one more walk around the southeast corner of the island, from the cul-de-sac to the Wyeth House, just to see if the concentration of warblers that my group and I saw on Friday had returned in the inclement weather.
So off we went. We were pretty much soaked by now anyway, so why stop now. And good thing that we did. While warblers on the rocks were limited to just a couple immature male American Redstarts, flycatchers were all over the place. Several Alder Flycatchers joined at least a dozen Eastern Wood-Pewees in foraging for flies right at the water’s edge. I thought I spotted another Yellow-bellied Flycatcher heading away, but when it landed, I noticed it was nearly as big as the Alders, and not at all yellow-bellied. The size, fairly long bill, coupled with primary projection almost as long as a pewee and a greenish back with off-white underparts was obviously – well, obvious through the fog and drops of rain on our binoculars – an Acadian Flycatcher. One was reported here the day before – but met with skepticism by me and several others I spoke with, after several exhaustive searches failed to turn it up. But alas, presumably, here it was!
My second on the island, and another southern vagrant that was part of this recent “overshooting” event, it was an exciting way to finish the trip. While I bounced around the rocks trying to photograph the bird with a wet phone held up to equally-wet binoculars, time was ticking, and we really needed to go. In the end, I think my one photograph of the bird might actually just be seaweed on a rock, as I was shooting blindly with a touch screen that was too wet to be much use.
It’s sometimes hard to leave on such a good day, but with so many good birds and excitement over the past five, I could not get too greedy. And a close-up Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin on the ride back helped, too.
As did the feeling that it was, once again, and at least for one long weekend, just like it was in the good ol’ days!
Black-throated Blue Warbler
5 days, 112 total species (minus 3 for the Tuesday-only birds) and plus 4 for ferry-only birds with the group. Not bad!
|* denotes ferry ride only|
|American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid||1||1||1||1||1|
|EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE||0||0||0||1||1|
|Great Black-backed Gull||x||x||x||x||x|
|Common Loon||2 (10*)||0||0||1||4 (4*)|
|Great Blue Heron||0||2||1||0||0|
|Cape May Warbler||2||4||4||2||8|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||1||0||1||2||0|
|Black-throated Green Warbler||1||10||3||12||2|