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2019 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

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Great friggin’ Black Hawk. In Maine. Nope, not on my predictions list. And not in a city. And not eating squirrels. And not in the snow…

Yup, it’s that time of year again. Hey, remember when we couldn’t wait for 2017 to end? And then 2018 happened? Yeah, well…come on 2019 – we need you! But 2018 did feature some incredible birding in Maine, with some “Mega” rarities that at least provided temporary distraction from everything else.

And as 2018 comes to a close, it’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine, and my own personal state list, in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2018 Predictions post, and see how I did.

For the second year in a row, an impressive five birds were new to Maine in 2018. The first new bird of the year was a Violet-green Swallow in Bar Harbor on April 14th. I had that on my long Honorable Mention list, but I did not have it ranked in the top 25.

But I did have Roseate Spoonbill at #4, and one arrived in a farm pond Sebec on August 27th (NOT where I would have predicted the first record to be!). I, and many others, were lucky enough to see this bird during its stay of several weeks.

A Western Wood-pewee in June in Jonesport on June 12th provided the state’s first confirmed record, but it wasn’t chaseable. This was #17 on my Predictions List, but it would have been much higher if it was easier to identify, and especially confirm!

Monhegan got on the scoreboard once again when it hosted the state’s first Gray Flycatcher on October 4th – #20 on my list. I feel western Empids are under-detected in Maine, so this was probably more overdue than unexpected.

And the fifth, and certainly not least, was the incredible and mind-blowing Great Black Hawk that first showed up in Biddeford on August 6th and remained for a few exciting days. After a tantalizing sighting on October 30th on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, the bird has called Deering Oaks Park – and nearby neighborhoods – home since November 29th! Thousands of birders from across the continent have been treated to this insane occurrence. Not only is it a first for Maine, but it has been conclusively identified as the SAME BIRD that provided North America’s (US and Canada in birder-speak) first record on South Padre Island in Texas in April of this year. And no, I have no explanation for this…or how it’s still alive.
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So I went 3 for 5 on predictions for 2018. Not too bad! The Violet-green Swallow was on my Honorable Mentions list as well, but no, I – nor not another person on this planet – predicted a Great Black Hawk in Maine! And I was so very close on my #1: Neotropic Cormorant. Literally close, as in just a few miles, as New Hampshire’s first was discovered in Gorham in August, just up the Androscoggin River from the Maine border.

Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2019 is now:

1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Spotted Towhee
5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
6) Bermuda Petrel
7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
8) Common Shelduck
9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
16) Redwing
17) Spotted Redshank
18) Zone-tailed Hawk
19) Painted Redstart
20) Ross’s Gull (another one that was very close, being seen in NH/MA waters in November)
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Personally, I added 3 species to my own Maine list this year as well. There was the aforementioned Roseate Spoonbill that we caught up with “on the way” back from a weekend of birding fun with friends in Washington County on August 29th. This was #22 on my predictions list for myself.
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A territorial Chuck-will’s-widow that was found in Orland on June 9th luckily stayed around, singing its heart out, long enough for me, and a carload of friends, to enjoy it on the evening of June 26th. It was on my honorable mention list, but no credit is given for that.

Then there was the Great Black Hawk that I definitely dropped everything to chase back in August, and I have visited several times since in Portland. Just because it’s a Great Black Hawk in Portland! And no, it wasn’t on my personal predictions list either, obviously.
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Then, as always, there were the misses. My Great Skua (#1) nemesis continues, with several weathered-out boat trips out of Bar Harbor late in the fall once again. But, I do have a Bonxie on my state list now!
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Rapidly rising up the list of nemesises, however, is American White Pelican (#5)! One was in Wells while I was leading a tour on on Monhegan in May, and then Jeanette and I dipped on one in December, also in the Webhannet Marsh in Wells. We got a chance to look for it the day after it left (and arrived in New Hampshire) after about 24 hours in the Maine. On Christmas Eve, it was spotted briefly about a half hour after we drove through Portland on our way south, and was seen by a lucky few on Christmas Morning. Jeannette and I go away on Thursday – I have no doubt it will show up and remain visible for several days while I am gone.

I missed another Slaty-backed Gull (#12) as well, one that showed up in February while Jeannette and I were on vacation. A Brown Booby (Honorable Mention) off Bar Harbor in June wasn’t chaseable.

So now, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine receives only minor changes:
1) Great Skua
2) Eurasian Collared-Dove
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) American White Pelican
6) Neotropic Cormorant
7) Tundra Swan
8) Franklin’s Gull
9) Brown Pelican
10) California Gull
11) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
12) Slaty-backed Gull
13) Boreal Owl
14) Calliope Hummingbird
15) Cerulean Warbler
16) White Ibis
17) Gull-billed Tern
18) Hammond’s Flycatcher
19) Spotted Towhee
20) Wood Stork
21) Common Ringed Plover
22) Yellow Rail
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

But, we are in often-unpredictable times, and this includes the bird world. Increased trans-Atlantic shipping could offer respite for a bird to arrive “ship-assisted” (we’ll save that discussion for another day, but in my opinion, we’re in the Anthropocene, so riding a cargo ship is just as “natural” as flying a thousands miles in the wrong direction on its own). The globe is warming – droughts, fires, floods, extreme hot and cold temperatures, the opening of the “Northwest Passage…” Could pesticides impact a bird’s ability to navigate? Recent research suggests so. So really, I could probably put any of the world’s 10,000+ birds on my predictions list and have a chance at this point!

Without vagrancy, no remote islands would have birds. No Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s Finches. These anomalies that excite us birders are not always evolutionary dead ends, but perhaps the vanguard, the pioneers, of a new species that in 10,000 to 1 million or so years, might be added to my next 25 species in Maine list!

2018 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend

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Dickcissels, otherwise rare in Maine, are always one of the treats of a visit to Monhegan in the fall. 

The 12th annual Freeport Wild Bird Supply “Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend” enjoyed three great days of good birds, awesome scenery, delectable food, and great company on Friday, September 28th through Sunday, September 30th.

We sure got the tour off to a good start, with a Red Phalarope and a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull from the Hardy Boat as we traveled to the island from New Harbor. A small number of Northern Gannets entertained us as well.

Light rain was ending as we arrived, but the winds were light and the temperatures were comfortable. We were greeted, unfortunately, by departing birders telling the tale of day after excruciating slow day of birding over the past week (Glad my WINGS tour wasn’t a week later!) but there were some decent, albeit expected, “good” birds around.

We began to beat the bush, stopping only for pizza for lunch. And while it was indeed rather slow and quiet by Monhegan standards, we lucked into a couple of great pockets of activity, with a nice diversity of sparrows and warblers. In fact, it wasn’t all that bad afterall. Some Cape May Warblers were still around, Red-eyed Vireos seemed to be everywhere, and we caught up with a Dickcissel and a Clay-colored Sparrow that have been coming to some scattered seed.
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Red-breasted Nuthatches continued to be abundant out here this fall.
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Sharp-shinned Hawk
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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
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Yellow Warbler
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A moderate flight overnight Friday into Saturday diminished rapidly as a little southwesterly wind began to influence the skies by morning. Therefore, the Morning Flight was rather light – and mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers with a smattering of Blackpoll Warblers and little else.  While our pre-breakfast walk was on the quiet side, there were clearly a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the island, and definitely new birds had arrived.
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Blackpoll Warbler

Pockets of activity here and there throughout the day slowly built up a respectable checklist, including a dozen species of warblers. We confirmed the presence of 3 Dickcissels, and there are at least 2, if not 3, White-breasted Nuthatches now on the island.  Five Black Scoters were spotted off of Lobster Cove, our first of the fall, and we ran into a flock of at least 10 Baltimore Orioles around the grape vines on Pumphouse Road.  A good look at a Philadelphia Vireo, fly-by Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plover, at least 8 Cape May Warblers, a Rusty Blackbird, and an Indigo Bunting were among the avian highlights, but the insanely beautiful afternoon visit to White Head may have taken the cake. It was also a good day for migrant falcons.
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Brown Creeper

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“Cardinal Rule!”
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Red-eyed Vireo

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Of course, we also stopped to take time to photograph the Fringed Gentian.
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It was a short, 3-day tour this year, so it was already our last morning on Sunday the 30th.
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Light and variable winds overnight with a mostly west to northwesterly component ushered in a moderate-strong flight. The resultant Morning Flight was pretty decent, even if it was almost all Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings.
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One of our most interesting observations was the interaction between a rare land-roosting Northern Gannet and the pair of Bald Eagles that usually occupy the highest point on the Outer Sisters. The gannet aggressively defending itself with a stabbing bill, letting the eagle know it was fixing for a fight. Eventually, they ignored each other.

All morning, we encountered lots of Yellow-rumps, including birds still high overhead in mid-morning. Sparrows had definitely increased in numbers and diversity as well.  Once again, while overall numbers were relatively low, pockets of activity were regularly encountered. We also continued to see most of the birds very well. And, we added a bunch of species to our now-respectable 3-day trip list.
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White-crowned Sparrow

A Downy Woodpecker was the first I had added out here all fall, while some of the other “new” birds for us included a Killdeer (rare to see on land here, not just flying by complaining about the lack of open space), a juvenile Laughing Gull, migrant Osprey and Northern Harrier, a flock of White-winged Scoters, a Prairie Warbler (rare out here), and rather excitingly, a skulking Mourning Warbler that we found behind the town marsh.
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Prairie Warbler

There were at least 14 Baltimore Orioles now in the grape-guzzling flock. Three Dickcissels and a Clay-colored Sparrow (although I think it may have been a different bird than what we saw on Friday) were among the other highlights. We also finally caught up with 2 of the 3 mysteriously-reappearing Ring-necked Pheasants.
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One of those orioles was shockingly red, likely from too many invasive berries rich in carotenoids.
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Clay-colored Sparrow
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Fingered Dagger Moth caterpillar.

But no doubt the icing on the cake of a great weekend was our post-lunch visit to Lobster Cove. While I was hoping for more gannets, our attention was stolen by a massive group of at least 100 Atlantic White-sided (presumably) Dolphins that were actively feeding and jumping well off of Lobster Cove. While they were a bit too far to see detail for me to be absolutely sure of the identification, it was an impressive show that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.  While Harbor Porpoise are common around the island, I am not sure if I have ever seen pelagic dolphins from here. And this was quite a show!
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One last bird-dogging trip through the marsh at Lobster Cove.

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Monarch butterflies also put on a show for us throughout the weekend.

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Except this one did not make it.

We had a great group this year on a full tour, and we were treated to great weather, solid birding, and as always – great food and drink. Let the countdown to the Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend begin!

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Northern Gannets on the ferry trip back to New Harbor.

Total species = 85
Total species of warblers = 14

28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep
Wood Duck 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 2 0
Mallard 12 15 12
Common Eider x x x
Black Scoter 0 5 0
Surf Scoter 0 0 22*
White-winged Scoter 0 0 15
Ring-necked Pheasant 0 0 2
Mourning Dove 10 10 10
Semipalmated Plover 0 1 1
Killdeer 0 0 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1 0 0
Solitary Sandpiper 0 0 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0
RED PHALAROPE 1* 0 0
Black Guillemot X 6 6
Laughing Gull 8* 0 2
Ring-billed Gull 0 0 1*
Herring Gull x x x
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 1* 0 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x
Common Loon 1* 1 1
Northern Gannet 30 100 100
Double-crested Cormorant X 200 800
Great Cormorant 2 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 0
Osprey 1* 0 1
Bald Eagle 3 1 3
Northern Harrier 0 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 10 5
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2 5 25
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1
Northern Flicker 3 10 10
Merlin 5 15 12
Peregrine Falcon 3 6 4
Eastern Phoebe 1 2 2
Blue-headed Vireo 1 1 1
Philadelphia Vireo 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 18 15 12
Blue Jay 8 22 20
American Crow 6 x x
Common Raven 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee 12 x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 10 25 20
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 3 2
Brown Creeper 3 2 4
Carolina Wren 3 1 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 6 8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 2 0
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 1
American Robin 0 0 2
Gray Catbird 2 8 1
European Starling 18 21 21
Cedar Waxwing 40 40 80
Purple Finch 4 12 15
Pine Siskin 0 1 1
American Goldfinch 2 4 3
Nashville Warbler 1 2 0
Common Yellowthroat 3 3 3
American Redstart 0 0 1
Cape May Warbler 3 8 8
Northern Parula 2 2 1
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 2 10 15
Palm Warbler 2 2 2
PINE WARBLER 0 2 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12 50 100
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 1
PRAIRIE WARBLER 0 0 1-2
Chipping Sparrow 6 6 8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 1 0 1
Dark-eyed Junco 0 2 3
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 2
White-throated Sparrow 1 8 20
Savannah Sparrow 3 0 0
Song Sparrow x X
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 1
Northern Cardinal 4 6 4
DICKCISSEL 1 3 3
Bobolink 1 1 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 2
Baltimore Oriole 10 12 14
Day Total 55 66 71

 
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Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Sod-pipers and Suds, 9/9/18

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Our latest Birds on Tap -Roadtrip! With our partner, The Maine Brew Bus traveled far afield on September 9th to take advantage of an unique seasonal birding hotspot.

When Saco River Brewing Company in Fryeburg invited us out to visit them, Don and I pulled out the good ol’ Delorme and came up with a plan. For a few weeks each late summer/early fall, the extensive sod farms in Fryeburg Harbor and nearby agricultural fields are a genuine birding hotspot. In fact, it is one of the best destinations in the state for a group of uncommon migrant shorebirds collectively – and affectionately – known as “grass-pipers.” In Maine, the two most sought-after grass-pipers” are very uncommon (and in some years downright rare): the elegant Buff-breasted Sandpiper and the spiffy Baird’s Sandpiper. Less uncommon, but still sought-after, American Golden-Plovers are also thrown into this un-taxonomic grouping that also includes the very common and familiar Killdeer, the boisterous sentinels of the grasspiper clan.

Furthermore, Fryeburg Harbor is a great place to look for Sandhill Cranes at this time of year, so “Sod-pipers and Suds” was born (with a little poetic license in changing “grass-pipers” to “sod-pipers” to keep our alliterative traditions going).

Our furthest drive of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series, we passed the time with lots of good discussion on status and distribution, bird conservation issues, beer preferences, and a whole lot more. And yes, there was a stop for a restroom.

A flock of 10 Sandhill Cranes was reported the day before, so we began our search at that location. We arrived at the empty field, with little around except for Wild Turkeys and American Crows.  As I walked back on the road to scan one other field, I flushed an American Bittern, but then I heard the cranes calling. I began to run back to the group to get them, but then realized the cranes were heading towards the group, and by the time I arrived, the cranes had obligingly landed right where we were all standing!
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After enjoying the cranes for a while, we were able to relocate the American Bittern. Then, we headed to the sod farms to begin our search for the shorebirds. It has been very dry of late, and the fields were hard as a rock; invertebrates would be safely locked in below the surface. We did not find any standing water on the fields, not surprisingly, and the recently-harvested patches of sod which are often favored by the birds were lifeless.

We looked at Song and Savannah Sparrows, had a Cooper’s Hawk fly by low overhead, but we couldn’t even find a Killdeer as we slowly walked the quiet rural roads. There had to be Killdeer somewhere around here, and if we found them, we would find whatever else might be lurking with them.

The final habitat to search, especially when it was so bone-dry, is where a tractor had recently tilled the soil, bringing invertebrates and insects within reach of the short bills of these grassland shorebirds. And sure enough, the last field in the prime area had a tractor actively tilling. It had to be the place!

We walked over to the field, and began to scan – looking for earth-colored birds in freshly tilled earth. When one member of the group finally spotted a Killdeer, our optimism returned. I buried myself in the scope, and despite brutal heat shimmer, glimpsed what looked like a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

We improved our angle, cut down a bit on shimmer, and in short time, all soaked in the glory of finding a Buff-breasted Sandpiper!  It was indeed hanging out with 6 Killdeer, in the most-freshly-turned soil.  Success! This is one of our only BoT destinations that really had specific “target species” so we were all very pleased (especially the guide!) with seeing the most-wanted of the targets.

One last field stop produced a stunning view and an American Kestrel…
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…and then Paul took us to our first beer-ing destination of the tour to celebrate our birding success. Unlike all of our other itineraries, our first stop was not announced…and it was not a brewery. You knew it was going to be special, but no one guessed what Paul and I had in store for them today.  “Holy —-, we’re at Ebenezer’s!” was the exclamation from one participant as Paul turned off the beaten path and into one of the most famous beer destinations in the world.

I’ll let their sign speak for itself.

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While we generally drive you to places where the beverages are made, this time, special arrangements were made for us to drop into this world-class location: Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell. A two-page menu was provided, with 32 beers from around the world. Paul and I – and especially the bartender Liz and staff that took care of us – guided us through the selections. These beers were special, and although the menu was overwhelming, not one person could find more than one beer (Allagash White!) or two (a couple of the Barreled Souls options had been enjoyed by some) that they had ever had, and for the most part, had not even heard of.  There were lots of “lifers” today!
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Personally, I went for the Fantome (from Belgium) Boo! Saison, which Liz described as “fall in a glass.” Subtle pumpkin and spices proved what “pumpkin beer” can really be, with just a hint of sweetness and nutty complexity, far beyond the liquefied canned pie mix that many of us (myself included) think of when we think of pumpkin beers. I chose it because pumpkin beers are not my thing – as you may have guessed from the previous sentence!) and BoT-Roadtrips! are about learning new beers and often, challenging your palette and preferences.
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Different beers were ordered by all, and sips were exchanged, and lots of great beer was experienced. Liz guided us through the history of how this unassuming little golf-course-side restaurant has become one of the most award-winning bars in the world.  Numerous promises to be back were made as we departed.

After a surprise like a visit to Ebenezer’s, you’d think our next stop would be a let down,but that was not at all the case. While Saco River Brewing Company might have fewer accolades on their sign, they have rapidly acquired a very loyal following and are brewing a wide range of very good and very popular beers. Mason – the co-owner and head brewer – greeted us warmly, and welcomed us into the brewery.

In both the birding and beer-ing realms, the goal of our Roadtrips is primarily an educational experience. Therefore, it was very welcome to spend time with Mason as he explained the brewing process, discussed his expansion into the world of canning (with a mobile unit), and described the wide variety of styles that he has become known for.
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Then, it was time for the beer!
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Paul selected three options to get us started, beginning with the Clearwater Pale  – a hoppy pale that offered very good flavor with a light, “crushable” body. Next up was their new Lazy River IPA – the hazy, juice-bomb that has become known as the “New England IPA) chock full of tropical fruit and citrus notes, amplified by the use of lupulin powder. Relatively new on the brewing scene, lupulin – the fine powder of resin compounds and essential oils found in a fresh hop cone (technically, the flower) – adds a ton of aroma and flavor without adding to bitterness. In fact, the discussion of “hoppy verses bitter” was one of the revelations for some that Mason adeptly described as we sipped his not-bitter, yet definitely hoppy, brews.

Our third beer turned out to be the majority favorite of the bus, the Buck Brown Ale – very nutty, creamy, and easy-drinking; perfect for those who crave malt flavors with a lighter body than a stout or porter.
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As always, whether in birding or at our breweries, we never have enough time, so before we knew it, it we had to hit the road. It’s always a good sign when beers are purchased to take home, and several folks left with 4-packs of the newest Saco River Brewing cans.

The drive home went quickly, as we recounted the beers we had, and the birds we saw. Discussions on everything from the status and distribution of migratory shorebirds, citizen science “data,” and the growth of Maine craft beer and beer styles passed the time.

And with that, one of the most unique of our Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! came to a close. As we soon ponder the itineraries for 2019, don’t forget that there are still three more one-of-a-kind tours in 2018, starting with October’s “Migrants and Malts.”  All of these trips can be found on the  Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of our website.  If you missed out on this special trip – check out what’s in store for October. You won’t want to miss it!

The Thrushes of Maine at Claybrook Mtn. Lodge 2018 Trip Report.

0. YBSA,Claybrook
OK, so it’s not a thrush – we saw them, too – but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers seemed to be everywhere, and always exceedingly confiding, throughout our trip.

I really like staying at the Claybrook Mountain Lodge, and I really enjoy bringing guests there. Between Pat’s cooking, and Greg’s knowledge of all things Maine woods, a weekend with the Drummonds is not to be missed. So I designed a new tour as an excuse to go there again. And it worked!

The “Thrushes of Maine Weekend at Claybrook Mountain Lodge” was designed to see all seven species of Maine’s thrushes – including the enigmatic (and rather challenging) Bicknell’s Thrush. In between, we planned on looking for a wide variety of other species, of course, as well as all other critters, plants, and everything else in between.

We began on Friday morning at the store, carpooling a very short distance to Hedgehog Mountain Park. There, we tracked down our first four thrushes: Wood, Veery, and of course, the ubiquitous American Robin. We also heard one Hermit Thrush. Wood Thrushes reach the northern limits of their breeding range in Maine, and are much more common here along the southern coastal plain.
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Veeries and Hermit Thrushes would be with us throughout the trip, but our first good looks came here.
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Venturing inland, we next stopped in the foothills at the appropriately-named Foothills Land Conservancy. This is just a wonderfully-birdy place to which I have looked for an excuse to bring a group, and it did not disappoint. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds (thrush #5) greeted us, and an Indigo Bunting sent us off. In between, loads of Bobolinks and a variety of common edge and meadow species were enjoyed.
3. Foothills

After a lunch stop, we visited Gilman Pond Road in New Portland, but we were sent scrambling by a thunderstorm with some impressive lightning. So we waited out the weather in our cars at the edge of Gilman Pond, watching the storm roll by. Upon clearing, we stepped out, spotted a pair of Common Loons with a chick riding one of the parent’s back, and then watched in awe as an American Bittern flew out of the marsh. Heading right towards us, it eventually dropped into the marsh and froze, affording us long looks in the scope.]
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Back on the road, 5+ Wilson’s Snipe were flying around, including one heard displaying. Recently-fledged Barn Swallows perched nearby…
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While a Tree Swallow was snagged in mid-air by a marauding Merlin right in front of our eyes! Mouths were agape.

Stopping for an American Kestrel, we were treated to this point-blank Brown Thrasher out the car windows.
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We arrived at Claybrook just in time for a little R&R, and some feeder-watching including Purple Finches, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a yard chock full of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. American Robins and a family group of Eastern Bluebirds kept us on theme.
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Then, the moment we have all been waiting for: Pat’s dinner! I really meant to take more “food porn” shots to show off her work, but apparently we were always way too hungry to think about photos before our plates were clean. Therefore, I have exactly one photo of food, as well as my night’s beverage of choice.
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As dusk fell, we chatted with the local Barred Owls and the last of us lingering on the porch watched an American Woodcock fly by.

A very early start on Saturday was fueled by a perfect breakfast. But, I felt as if we were being watched.
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We hopped in Claybrook’s van with Greg, and headed into boreal forest habitats. But first, we found a couple of Mourning Warblers in a regenerating clear-cut that Greg was eyeing for their presence. They didn’t exactly sit still, but they were very well seen by all, sometimes flying by in jaw-droppingly perfect light.
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A Chestnut-sided Warbler was much more cooperative, however.
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Heading into spruce-fir forests and spruce bog habitat, we encountered more Hermit Thrushes…
12. HETH,LFDRoad

…Veeries, and thrush number 6: Swainson’s – we heard a number of these, but saw just a few. After hearing a couple of Red Crossbills, we found a flock of 12 that alighted briefly. A Palm Warbler sang from the edge of a kettle bog, and Greg spotted a moose cow at the back of another bog. He got her attention by mimicking a calf calling its mother.

But it was getting hot, and getting hot quickly, and the birding was getting tough. We glimpsed a female Bay-breasted Warbler, and encountered scattered other expected species. A Northern Harrier coursing low over Black Brook Bog and a covey of Ruffed Grouse were among the highlights. However, other than what was almost certainly a drumming Black-backed Woodpecker, we completely dipped on the Big Boreal 4: Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Spruce Grouse.
13. bog
14. Black_brook_bog

With temperatures around 90-degrees, and a scorching hot breeze in the afternoon, along with an end-of-June date, we were painfully 0 for Boreal.
15. ALFL,LFDRoad
Alder Flycatchers and many other “northern” birds were detected, however

Luckily, this is not the Boreal Birds of Long Falls Dam Road Weekend, and so the day was still a wonderful success. Sure, we looked at birds, but we also looked at everything else.

Greg described what he was seeing in Moose tracks.
16. Moose_track,LFDRoad

We looked at butterflies, such as White Admiral and Harris’s Checkerspot…
17. White_Admiral,LFDRoad18. Northern_Crescent,LFDRoad

…and other insects such as stunning Ebony Jewelwings.
18a. ebony_jewelwing

We looked at all kinds of plants, like carnivorous Sundews.
19. Sundew,LFDRoad

And amphibians, such as this Bullfrog (note the tadpoles on and around the log in the water below).
20. Bullfrog_and_tadpoles,LFDRoad

We returned to the lodge in the late afternoon, where most people took a nap, played chess, and/or enjoyed some yard birding. After another delectable dinner, we headed back out with Greg for some dusk birding.

You never know where Greg might lead you, and at our first stop, we checked out a hot tip about a Northern Goshawk. We wandered around the woods and were startled by the loud cackle of an agitated ‘Gos. Some of the group saw it fly through the dark forests, but everyone heard it to say the least.

At dusk, we watched more Wilson’s Snipe before checking out a local hotspot for Eastern Whip-poor-will. We were greeted at the dirt road by two American Woodcock (with one or more heard displaying overhead later), and then heard two counter-singing “Whips.” Soon thereafter, one was flying around overhead, and I was able to repeatedly get a spotlight on it. It was about as good of a look at this nocturnal species as one could ever hope for, so between the Gos and the Whips, we were making up for our misses during the day!

Sunday was our final day of the tour, but it was a big one! We were after Thrush Number 7, and this one was going to take some effort. Loading into the van once again, we took the Carriage Road across the ridge into the Carrabassett Valley.

Before it got too hot, we birded the always-productive Sugarloaf Snowfluent ponds. Along the entrance road, we were greeted by a small mixed flock that included a very cooperative Northern Waterthrush and a couple of Magnolia Warblers.
21. NOWA_Snowfluent_ponds
22. MAWA,Snofluent_Ponds

At the ponds, we had three crèches of fluffy Common Goldeneyes, a pair of American Black Ducks among the Mallards, and a pair of Spotted Sandpipers with a couple of cotton-balls-on-sticks following behind. We also happened upon a Gray Treefrog uncomfortably out in the open.
23. Gray_Tree_Frog24. Snowfluent_ponds125. Snowfluent_ponds2

But then it was time to head up hill, and we let the chairlift at Sugarloaf do most (but certainly not all!) of the work.
26. Chairlift127. Chairlift2

We heard Swainson’s Thrushes and several Blackpoll Warblers on our way up, but unfortunately, the highest lifts aren’t the one running right now. So we had to walk straight up hill – and I do mean, straight up hill – to enter the realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush.

But once we got there – how the heck was it that hot at 4200 feet!? – well, why don’t I just let Marion’s photos do the talking?
28. BITH1,Sugarloaf29. BITH2,Sugarloaf30. BITH3,Sugarloaf

So, yeah, wow! Perhaps the best broad-daylight show I have ever experienced. It really was incredible. And yes, it was the 7th and final thrush of Maine.

We saw some other birds, too, including Blackpoll Warblers…
31. BLPW_Sugarloaf

…White-throated Sparrows…
32. WTSP

…and Dark-eyed Juncos. We saw a number of fresh juveniles…
33. DEJU_kid,Sugarloaf

…and even found a nest.
34. junco_eggs

And when it was too late and hot for thrushes, we stopped to smell the Twinflower.
35. Twinflower

Greg documented the experience, Marion fired away at thrushes, and at the end, we all stood still long enough to take our only group photo of the trip.
36. Greg_on_Sugarloaf37. group on Sugarloaf

It was definitely tough to leave, but lunch – and iced coffee – was calling, so we moseyed our way down to the chairlift to be whisked to the base.

After lunch, we cooled off…
38. Me_in_stream

…and then said goodbye to Pat and Greg and their Claybrook Mountain Lodge
39. Claybrook lawn

But the tour was not done yet! We carpooled into Belgrade, where we visited the Depot Road Purple Martin colony that our store worked with local partners to restore.
40. PUMA

And then we enjoyed Black Terns, a Pied-billed Grebe, a splendid swallow show, and much more from the Messalonskee Lake Boat Launch. Then, and only then, did the trip come to an end. Heading home, we reflected on thrushes, lifers, moose, our hosts and co-leader, and much more…including Pat’s picnic lunches which we all agreed were reminiscent of simpler, young days – only better!
41. lunch_John_edited-1

Cayman Islands, February 2018


Endemic Cayman Brac subspecies of the Cuban Parrot.

Jeannette and I spent our winter vacation this year in the Cayman Islands. Spending a week from February 23rd to March 1st, we continued to foster our love for island biogeography and our pursuit of island endemic birds.

The Caymans don’t have a lot of endemic (or near-endemic) bird species, but it does have plenty of endemic subspecies. And while these might not be “countable” on some published list, they’re just as fascinating to us. We didn’t have a lot of time for our trip this winter, so we wanted to visit an island where the relatively-limited amount of “target birds” would give us plenty of time to enjoy the other finer things of island life: food, snorkeling, and perhaps even a little R&R!

We arrived around lunchtime on the 23rd, and were immediately greeted by the endemic subspecies of Greater Antillean Grackle, as well as Northern Mockingbirds and Smooth-billed Anis.

For cost-effectiveness, we stayed away from the famous 7-Mile Beach (which, by the way, is actually only about 5.5 miles long), but with a 1.5 mile walk, a free shuttle, or a quick taxi, we would be right in the thick of things. Bananaquits – one of our favorite birds in the world – were common in the plantings in and around the hotel (and most everywhere else in the Caribbean) and they could keep us entertained for hours.

On our first morning, we decided to do a little exploring, taking the public mini-bus away from the touristy areas and along the south shore past Boddentown. We got dropped off at a spot on the map labeled “Meager Bay Wildlife Sanctuary” and just started walking. While it turned out there were no trails in the sanctuary, walking a dirt road on its eastern species here, such as LaSagra’s Flycatcher, our lifer Yellow-faced Grassquits, Common Ground-Doves, and especially “Golden” Yellow Warblers.  Migrants from North America, led by Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, also included the likes of Gray Catbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, a single Belted Kingfisher, and a couple of Yellow-throated Warblers.

Walking back towards Boddentown, we found a dilapidated viewing platform which overlooked the mangrove bay, and with it, our list grew considerably!  Lots of ubiquitous Black-necked Stilts were joined by Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, scattered Pied-billed Grebes, a flock of Blue-winged Teal, and much more.

Unusually heavy and persistent rain (it was the dry season, after all) plagued the western end of the island all day, so we were lucky to only encounter a few showers and a couple of brief downpours on our walk. Afternoon beach or snorkeling time was washed out, however; but we did relax with some Winter Olympics on the television as palm trees whipped in the wind outside our window.

Day 3 was our big birding day, as we were to be picked up by the island’s only birding guide: Geddes Hislop of Silver Thatch Excursions. While most birds are fairly “easy” on Grand Cayman, we always hire a local guide for at least some part of our trip to learn the sites, learn about the birds, and learn about as much of everything about a place as we can!

Of course, local expertise always improves birding success, and within a short time, Geddes had shown us our lifer West Indian Whistling-Ducks in a canal-lined subdivision (a new habitat that this regional endemic and Globally Threatened species may be adapting to here)…

We stopped at Pedro St. James Historic Site where we saw our first Loggerhead Kingbirds of the trip (endemic subspecies), and some very-surprisingly-early displaying White-tailed Tropicbirds.

The Botanic Park was the money spot though, where within minutes, Geddes offered up point-blank views of two of the major targets: Vitelline Warbler (found only here and on Swan Islands off of Honduras)…

…and Taylor’s (or Grand Cayman) Bullfinch (or, depending on the authority, the endemic subspecies of Cuban Bullfinch. Like the Vitelline Warbler, they were stunningly cooperative.

male Taylor’s Bullfinch

Geddes’s access to private property produced our best views we would have of Grand Cayman subspecies of the Cuban Parrot, before we worked our way around a few freshwater habitats (certainly at a premium on a limestone/coral atoll).

The island’s only virgin forest, within the North Coast Ridge, was amazingly productive, with oodles more Vitellines and bullfinches, but also the endemic subspecies of Thick-billed Vireo, the endemic subspecies of Yucatan Vireo (also a lifer for us), and a heard-only lifer Caribbean Dove. Given the terrain, going off the road in pursuit of this secretive ground dove did not seem wise, and so we decided to leave uninjured and just enjoy the fact that we heard one – a bird that seems to be on the rapid decline here.

We had spotted an Anhinga yesterday from the viewing platform at Meager Bay, a real rarity according to Geddes. So we returned on our way back to see if it was still around. It was – as were 2 more! Here’s a distant “doc shot” of one of them.

We also twitched some Trinidadian doubles for lunch – one of our favorite foodstuffs before returning back to our hotel. There was a lot of really good food on the island, but by far our best meal of the trip was our dinner visit to Vivo in West Bay. Once again, we took the bus for an inexpensive ride out of the tourist Mecca, and walked over a mile to get to this hidden gem.

A vegan and vegetarian restaurant that serves Red Lionfish – an invasive species that is destroying the reefs of the Caribbean? Yes please!  I wanted to do more part by eating as much lionfish as I could get my hands on, as there’s nothing more sustainable than eating a local invasive species. Thanks to an intense and coordinated effort by the government of the Caymans, including persuading chefs to feature it, we learned that they are really making a difference with controlling this destructive fish. It just goes to show you: humans can overfish anything!

My stir-fried lionfish with local veggies and achee, and Jeannette’s poached lionfish with Asian-style broth meant there were at least two less Lionfish raving the ecology of the Caymans. It was also darn tasty, too.

But we also have to give a shout-out to our delicious two appetizers, the beet and avocado tartar and the coconut “ceviche.”

And the views were pretty tasty, too.


Hmm..based on the success of promoting lionfish hunting and eating, perhaps the invasive Green Iguanas that are eating everything on land could be next?

We were back on the buses the next morning (I mean, come on, for between $2.50 and $4.50 per person we could go just about anywhere! Sure beats a rental car…let alone driving on the “wrong side” through those chaotic George Town rotaries!), making a second visit to the Botanic Park. We had only missed two species with Geddes, Western Spindalis and West Indian Woodpecker – both of which are endemic subspecies, and we had a few photos to improve upon.

Although we didn’t find the tanager or the woodpecker, Jeannette got some great photos of Yucatan Vireo, and others.

And we added more migrants to our triplist, including Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbirds, and Prairie Warbler. We also enjoyed a few more “Grand Cayman” Parrots, but none of the views were nearly as good as the day before.

Female Taylor’s Bullfinch.

Following a bus ride and a long walk back to our hotel, we hopped in a cab back to the airport.  We got to see Little Cayman as our plane touched down, but after just a few minutes, our puddle jumper made the 10-minute jump over to Cayman Brac, one of the “quiet” islands where we would spend the next two days.

No lifers were to be expected, but we did have three more endemic subspecies to track down – subspecies found only here, or here and Little Cayman. While checking out the mangrove pond across the street from our room, the first of those put in an appearance: Red-legged Thrush. Unfortunately, the related Grand Cayman Thrush was considered a full species, but has been declared extinct since at least the mid 1940’s, due to deforestation, hurricane damage, and collecting.

We had a rental car for our one full day on “Brac” to make the most of our brief visit (traffic and rotaries are less of a concern here than on the big island!)

We began again across the street, where this wetland proved to be one of our best birding locales of the trip. We quickly picked up some more West Indian Whistling-Ducks while waiting for our car to be delivered. Then, it was off to the parrot reserve and interior forest.

The Brac subspecies of Vitelline Warbler was almost as abundant as the nominate subspecies was on Grand Cayman, and in short while we spotted several “Cayman Brac” Cuban Parrots.

Female “Cayman Brac”Vitelline Warbler; parrot photo above

We flushed a Barn Owl – likely one that was roosting in a limestone cave or sinkhole – which paused briefly on an open limb, and we got better views of Red-legged Thrush.

Thick-billed Vireos and a variety of North American migrants were also commonplace.

At Lighthouse Bluff, the highest point in the Caymans at 140 feet above sea level, we were delighted with Brown Boobies wheeling around the updrafts, and several birds on nests along the bluff-side trail.




Peregrine Falcon

Pat’s Kitchen was a very welcome lunch stop, serving delicious local goodness, including “Bake Beef,” roasted Cayman-style and from a cow raised just down the road (possibility acting as a lawnmower in someone’s yard).

In the afternoon, we snorkeled – finally! – encountering Eagle Rays, Tarpon, and at least one uncomfortably-inquisitive Barracuda, right outside our abode. And then it was back to our “hotel pond,” where we added Short-billed Dowitcher (definitively; we had one in the distance at Grand Cayman), and among them, at least one Long-billed Dowitcher. Even with a scope, most of the dowitchers here were too far away to identify. The Tricolored Heron show was also particularly entertaining.

The next morning, we got an earlier start and walked the nature trail in the Parrot Reserve once again, getting great looks at more Red-legged Thrushes, Thick-billed Vireos and Loggerhead Kingbirds. We realized how lucky we were yesterday, however, as today the parrots did not show themselves well.

Loggerhead Kingbird


Atala

Snorkeling in the sheltered “kiddie pool” at the park for the wreck of the M/V Tibbets was extremely relaxing, easy, and the brilliant rainbow-glistening cuttlefish that wandered by was more than worth the effort.

After refueling at Pat’s Kitchen once again, we explored some of the caves (no bats, sadly), and since this was a Lovitch vacation, we had to pay an obligatory visit to at least one landfill!

Just feral Red Junglefowl, a small group of Smooth-billed Anis, and scattered Northern Mockingbirds here, however.

The “hotel pond” earned another check, and this time it was a total of 7 West Indian Whistling-Ducks that made the visit worthwhile, including this cooperative foursome.

We definitely would have enjoyed a little more time on The Brac, but it was already time to begin the trek home, and so we were off to the airport for the short flight back to Grand Cayman. Calling Semipalmated Plovers on our walk home after dinner added to our list.

On our last morning, we did contemplate giving it once last shot at Western Spindalis and West Indian Woodpecker by taking the bus to Botanic Park. However, we thought wiser of the journey and decided to play it safe and just go for a swim at the beach. Beating the crowds more than confirmed our decision!

Geddes had mentioned there was the chance of West Indian Woodpecker anywhere on the island, but we didn’t think that included the beach!  But I was in the water and Jeannette was reading in the sand when one flew in to the small public park nearby and began to call. We must have been quite the sight wandering through the parking lot in our bathing suits pointing into the trees!  But we were rewarded with really great looks at the endemic subspecies of this Red-bellied-like woodpecker.

With our last hour, Jeannette worked the hotel grounds to improve upon photos of the grackle and Smooth-billed Ani, while I checked a few thickets for migrants and visited with our favorites, the Bananaquits.

We cajoled our cab driver into stopping for Jamaican patties for lunch on our way to the airport, and with the week almost up, we were back at the tiny international airport.

And sadly, this is where our real adventure began! A “mechanical issue” delay turned out to be a punctured tire, and the replacement had to be flown in. Over 4 hours later, we were finally on our way.

We had long-since missed our connection home, so Charlotte, North Carolina was as far as we would make it today. Useless American Airlines couldn’t find us a hotel (or at least, one cheap enough for them to pay for it) so we booked our own. Now, to their credit, they did – upon our return – reimburse us for it. Unfortunately, this was the last time they would be anything less than terrible.

After a twelve-species lap around the hotel (yay, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens!), we were back at the Charlotte Airport. No big deal, things happen, and of course, we would rather the gouged tire be found before lift-off!  Unfortunately, things took a turn for the much-worse when our flight to Portland was cancelled a half hour before boarding due to the strengthening Nor’easter.

The woman I talked to on the phone at American definitely deserves credit for doing her best to try and get us home, but with the next available flight to Portland being 3 1/2 days later, and no flights to any airport much closer in the foreseeable future, we elected to just rent a car and start the drive (expecting that AA would at least help out with the incurred cost, I cannot believe how stubborn, useless, and downright condescending and dismissive they were when we inquired about reimbursement upon our return. After such a miserable journey, being treated so poorly will make us avoid this airline at all costs in the future).

It wouldn’t have been a good day in a plane, because it was hard enough to drive! Strong cross-winds all day made for bare-knuckle driving, with our little Ford Focus feeling like it would be lifted right off the road. The swaying tractor trailers were more of a concern, however.

We tried to make the best of it, enjoying Black Vultures, counting Red-tailed Hawks, and stopping for dinner at a Waffle House. Seven hours later, we made almost made it half of the way home when we pulled into a motel in Hershey, PA (we took the interior route to avoid the megapolis on a Friday during a storm!).  With fierce winds continuing, little sleep would be had in our shaking and rattling motel, adding to the dread of the next morning’s trip.

What should have been a 7.5 hour drive turned into over 10 hours thanks to traffic in New York, and of course, Connecticut. But in the last light at dusk upon our return to Maine, our first Maine Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were spotted from the highway.

But we were home, albeit three days late. Luckily Bonnie and Sam were available to hold down the fort, and John stepped in to lead a birdwalk. And, I was back in time for our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip the following day.

At the very least, our drive gave us time to reflect on the trip. Lots of time to reflect. We discussed the seemingly short-sighted, rampant development, and especially the filling in of mangrove forests – the first line of defense against rising seas and increasingly-frequent strong storms.

But we also were optimistic of the fact that the islands were wealthy enough to put money and effort into conservation – such as the culling of lionfish, or hopefully, the protection of endemic species. While a nearly-invisibly small percentage of Cayman Islands visitors will ever lift binoculars, hopefully we did our incredibly small part in showing the value of ecotourism, even to well-developed islands such as Grand Cayman.

And despite American Airline’s best efforts, we still had a great trip to the Cayman Islands (but yeah, despite our attempts at finding silver linings, that trip home was horrific), and thoroughly enjoyed its birds. Like all of the islands we visit, local food and culture comes a close second, and the overall speciation of remote islands never ceases to amaze.

From the Cayman Brac subspecies of the Cuban Iguana…

…to endemic Silver Thatch Palms, the National Tree.

And of course, the birds.


White-crowned Pigeon

Here’s our complete birdlist from the trip:
Grand Cayman:

  1. Greater Antillean Grackle (endemic subspecies)
  2. Northern Mockingbird
  3. Smooth-billed Ani
  4. Brown Pelican
  5. Royal Tern
  6. Bananaquit (endemic subspecies)
  7. Magnificent Frigatebird
  8. White-crowned Pigeon
  9. Yellow-throated Warbler
  10. White-winged Dove
  11. Palm Warbler
  12. American Coot
  13. LaSagra’s Flycatcher
  14. Gray Catbird
  15. “Golden” Yellow Warbler
  16. YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT (lifer for both of us)
  17. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  18. Northern Waterthrush
  19. Lesser Yellowlegs
  20. Belted Kingfisher
  21. Common Gallinule
  22. Northern Flicker (endemic subspecies)
  23. Common Ground-Dove
  24. Black-necked Stilt
  25. Great Blue Heron
  26. Great Egret
  27. Pied-billed Grebe
  28. Anhinga (rare)
  29. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  30. Osprey
  31. Peregrine Falcon
  32. Double-crested Cormorant
  33. Blue-winged Teal
  34. WEST-INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCK (lifer for both of us)
  35. Little Blue Heron
  36. Green Heron
  37. Loggerhead Kingbird (endemic subspecies)
  38. White-tailed Tropicbird
  39. Cattle Egret
  40. Caribbean Eleania (endemic subspecies)
  41. VITTELLINE WARBLER (near-endemic; lifer for both of us)
  42. TAYLOR’S (“Grand Cayman Cuban”) BULLFINCH (endemic; lifer for both of us)
  43. Cape May Warbler
  44. Zenaida Dove
  45. Black-throated Blue Warbler
  46. American Redstart
  47. “GRAND CAYMAN” CUBAN PARROT (endemic subspecies)
  48. Least Sandpiper
  49. Lesser Scaup
  50. YUCATAN VIREO (lifer for both of us)
  51. Northern Parula
  52. CARIBBEAN DOVE (heard only; lifer for both of us)
  53. Thick-billed Vireo (endemic subspecies)
  54. Black-and-white Warbler
  55. Snowy Egret
  56. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  57. Ruddy Turnstone
  58. Spotted Sandpiper
  59. Black-bellied Plover
  60. Rock Pigeon
  61. Worm-eating Warbler
  62. Ovenbird
  63. Prairie Warbler

Cayman Brac:

  1. Tricolored Heron
  2. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  3. RED-LEGGED THRUSH (endemic subspecies)
  4. Willet

VITELLINE WARBLER (endemic Brac subspecies)

“CAYMAN BRAC” CUBAN PARROT (endemic Brac subspecies)

  1. Barn Owl
  2. Brown Booby
  3. Merlin
  4. Short-billed Dowitcher
  5. Long-billed Dowitcher
  6. Barn Swallow
  7. Cliff Swallow

Grand Cayman:

  1. Semipalmated Plover
  2. West Indian Woodpecker (endemic subspecies)

And finally, here’s two more photos of a Bananaquits. Because Bananaquits!

2018 Maine Birds Prediction Blog

IMG_6544-edited-edited

Yup, it’s that time of year again. It’s not just time to celebrate the end of an often-tumultuous 2017, but to also look forward to another year of avian wonders. That means it’s time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine, and my own personal state list, in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2017 Predictions post, and see how I did.

An impressive five birds were new to Maine in 2017. Once again, Keenan Yakola and the Seal Island NWR crew struck gold. This time, it was a completely unexpected Gray-tailed Tattler, an Asian species that came from who knows where, that briefly visited on August 14th. Needless to say, it was not anywhere near my predictions list.

A Snowy Plover at Reid State Park on June 13th – that Jeannette and I were lucky enough to see that first evening of its very short visit – was not on my long list, but is much more explainable as there are plenty of East Coast records to our south.
IMG_5004-edited-edited

One of the additional contestants for Birds of the Year honors falls to the Cassin’s Vireo that my Monhegan Fall Weekend tour group refound and helped identify on September 30th. Briefly seen the day before, highly suggestive photos piqued our interest. But it wasn’t until Bill Thompson’s stellar photos as our group relocated the bird on the 30th confirm the identity. Or at least, confirm the ID short of a DNA test. I’ve included some of Bill’s photos in my tour report at the blog entry linked here.

This Western species could have occurred in Maine before, but it is extremely challenging to identify out of range. Short of photos as good as Bill’s, truly confirming an  occurrence had kept it off my predictions list.

The other two new birds for Maine, however, were on the list. The Fieldfare (#10 on my list) that was serendipitously discovered on April 19th in Newcastle, as was seen by hundreds of birders through the 23rd.
IMG_2822_FIEL1,4-22-17_edited-1
This distant, phone-scoped photo does not do the bird justice!

Number 15 on my list was Vermillion Flycatcher, which was discovered on April 17th at Hog Island. However, no one could have imagined how first state records would be found in 2017: It was spotted and identified by someone sitting at home watching the Osprey platform webcam!

So I scored two points for correct predictions in 2017, plus one bird (Snowy Plover) that made my honorable mentions list. Two species not on my list – or likely, anyone elses! – were also added this year. Therefore, my predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2018 is now:

1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Roseate Spoonbill
5) Spotted Towhee
6) Hammond’s Flycatcher
7) Bermuda Petrel
8) Black-chinned Hummingbird
9) Common Shelduck
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
16) Redwing
17) Western Wood-Pewee
18) Spotted Redshank
19) Zone-tailed Hawk
20) Gray Flycatcher
21) Ross’s Gull
22) Lesser Nighthawk
23) Elegant Tern
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Meanwhile, I was happy to add five species to my own Maine list this year as well. There were the aforementioned Fieldfare, Cassin’s Vireo, and Snowy Plover. Jeannette and I also caught up with a Magnificent Frigatebird at Pine Point on June 12th, during its all-too-brief visit.  We were quite the sight, dressed in our finest going-out clothes walking the beach with cameras, binoculars, and a scope; we were on our way to dinner in Portland for our anniversary! We called ahead – we were going to be a little late for that reservation.
IMG_4911-edited-edited

That’s a heckuva year on its own!  Unfortunately, however, none of those were on my personal Top 25. I did see #7, however, the Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Gilsland Farm on June 16th, the first day of it’s relatively-long (for this notoriously one-day wonder) five or so day stay. See photo at the top.

My Great Skua (#1) nemesis continues, with several weathered-out boat trips out of Bar Harbor. However, I did get out on whale watches on a handful of very productive occasions. The boat of Boothbay Harbor was extremely productive this summer and fall, so I certainly put in the time, and had some truly remarkable pelagic birding in the process. But alas, one distant “unidentified large predatory seabird was the closest I cam to getting this feathered monkey off my back.

Unbelievable, I missed another Say’s Phoebe (#4) on Monhegan – this time by about 2 hours! I also missed two Franklin’s Gulls (#10), both “one minute wonders:” Dyer Point on July 5th and Wharton Point on November 6th. There was also that darn Brown Pelican (honorable mention) that was present at Prout’s Neck June 19-23, when I was leading my WINGS tour and not in southern Maine. Sporadic reports for much of the summer, as it appeared to be moving up and down the coast between Prout’s Neck and Plum Island, MA continued to torment me. Overall though, I have to be quite pleased with the rate of success on my few chases!

So now, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine is:

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

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Just missing Maine – or at least missing detection in Maine – was this juvenile Common Shelduck that arrived in New Hampshire in August and stayed around for a few weeks. With increasing reports in the East, it’s only a matter of time before one shows up in Maine, and we begin to consider these of natural, wild origin.

Why There are No Birds at Your Feeders Right Now.

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Fall favorites at feeders, Dark-eyed Juncos have been slow to arrive in yards due to a combination of factors. This blog will attempt to explain why, in this case, the sky is not in fact falling.

For most of the past two months, we have been spending our time here at the store mostly answering the question “Where are all of my (feeder) birds?”

Your feeders have been slow. Our feeders have been slow. And feeders throughout all of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have been slow. We’ve talked to reporters about this. We’ve talked to our seed distributor about this. And we have talked to many of you, our loyal customers and friends, about it. We’ve also written about it on our Facebook page, in our eNewsletter, and a synopsis will appear in the next edition of Freeport Wild Bird Supply News.

But I wanted to expand on it here, and at the very least, have all of the FACTS in one place.

Let’s start with this: Birds always prefer natural food sources (our feeders are only a helpful supplement) so if they can find what they need in their natural habitats, they do not need to visit our feeders nearly as often. If there’s ever proof-positive to finally kill this silly myth about birds being dependent on feeders, seasons like this are it!

So let’s talk about what’s really happening. And as usual in nature, it’s not completely simple. It’s a myriad of issues and events that have collided in a “perfect storm” of low feeder activity scenarios.

1) Abundance of Natural Food Sources.
For the most part, it is the abundance – or paucity – of natural food that determines how much activity you will have in your yard. This is particularly significant for our seed-eaters, like finches and sparrows, and fruit-eaters, like waxwings. Many trees go through “masting” cycles. This is a survival strategy in which a tree will produce a huge amount of fruit or seed one fall, followed by one or more years of very little production. Therefore, in the high production years, there is so much seed/fruit that predators cannot possibly consume it all, and the tree is all but guaranteed that a large number of its seeds will survive to germinate.

This fall has been a high production year for several common tree species. The same acorns you are swearing at in your lawn are a big part of the reason that your have less birds at your feeders. Take a look at the spruces next time you are out for a walk in the woods; you will see that most of those trees are brimming with cones, especially White and Red Spruces. And I don’t recall the last time I’ve seen so many cones on Eastern White Pines.

Many seed crops are excellent to our north as well, so we will have to wait and see if our “winter finches”, such as Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins, make it down our way this year. Interestingly though, the spruce cone crop is the best it has been in over a decade in the northeast – this could bring big numbers of Red and White-winged Crossbills this winter, and large numbers have already arrived to breed in western and northern Maine (more on “irruptives” a little later).
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Purple Finches have been in short supply this fall, and are likely to not be around much this winter due to plentiful favored foods to our north.

2) Record Mild Fall.
October is on pace to set an all-time record high by multiple degrees. This is an incredible deviation from average. When it’s this warm, the energy demands of our birds are lower, reducing the need to consume as many calories to keep warm. And the lack of snow or ice has kept natural food uncovered and accessible. Insects are still out, and open water is easy to come by.

3) Facultative Migrants
While most of our long-distance migrants (like warblers and orioles) are long gone, having returned home to the tropics, many of our later-season migrants (like blackbirds and most of our native sparrows, as well as most of our waterfowl) are facultative (or “flexible”) in their timing. They can adjust their respective arrival and departures based on abundance and/or access to food. Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and the last wave of blackbirds are still not here in Southern Maine, lingering as far north as they can for as long as they can. These birds will move a short distance south as soon as they have to, and if the winter is a short one, they will begin to work their way north earlier – or even “overwinter” further north than normal. Not even a freak snowstorm will affect them – they are built for it, and will make range adjustments as needed.

4) Irruptives
With the abundance of natural food to our north, many species (such as the so-called “winter finches” like Purple Finch and Pine Siskin) are simply not coming south this year, although we do have hopes for the wintertime appearance of Common Redpolls. We expected this – as outlined in the annual Ontario Winter Finch Forecast – and those birds are very few and far between this fall. In fact, we knew in August that it would not be a “winter finch year” because of how few Red-breasted Nuthatches (only a handful in all!) were moving past Sandy Point in August and September. After record-setting flights in late summer/early fall last year, it was safe to assume that there would not be an irruption this year.

While residents are still around (in some winters they leave when our food is not abundant), they are busy feeding on the abundance of spruce and White Pine in our area.
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White-winged Crossbills are in western and northern Maine…hopefully they’ll arrive at the coast this winter by way of post-breeding dispersal.

5) Memory Bias.
Humans inherently think of the recent past first, and so we find ourselves often comparing this fall to last fall, which saw exceptionally high feeder visitation thanks to the prolonged drought we had experienced throughout the summer, greatly reducing perennial seed crops. Some of the masting trees were at cyclical lows, and cyclical lows of many cone and seed crops. And irruptions of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and to a lesser extent Pine Siskin and Purple Finch, were underway.
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Red-breasted Nuthatches have plenty of spruce, pine, and other natural food sources throughout our region this winter.

6) The Filthy Feeders and Stale Seed Catch-22.
When activity is low at feeders, we can become a bit blasé about maintenance. Not keeping feeders clean and filled with fresh seed will only make it less likely that birds will want to frequent your yard. And, with the recent prolonged wet weather, you want to make sure that mold is not becoming a problem, or that seed is not getting clogged in the feeder. No one likes to waste seed, but if it has been sitting in a feeder untouched for more than a month or so, it is time to toss it and start over. This is especially true for Nyjer, hulled sunflower, and shelled peanuts, which are most susceptible to the elements. (If you dump it in the woods, rest assured that something will eat it, or at the very least nothing will be harmed by it. If mold is visible, however, it is best to bury it). Clean your feeders, and disinfect them with a mixture of one part white vinegar to four parts water if mold was present. Fill your feeders halfway until activity builds up again if you are concerned about waste. When birds return and they find stale or spoiled seed in your feeders, they’ll continue right on by.

7) The Big Picture
We certainly do not want to downplay the significance of population declines in many of our bird species due to a whole host of large-scale issues (a topic for a different article), but rest assured that “your” birds are probably doing just fine from one year to the next over the short term. In fact, most of our resident “feeder birds” have steady, if not in some cases, increasing populations. Climate Change is affecting bird populations. Habitat loss is affecting bird populations. Cats are killing up to 4 BILLION birds a year. Windows are killing up to 1 BILLION birds a year. We could go on.
However, this has not changed in the past 6-8 weeks. Those long-term declines are often subtle and hard to detect without coordinated scientific investigation. We have absolutely zero evidence that populations have crashed in the short term. All it takes is a walk in the woods (like on our free Saturday Morning Birdwalks!) to see that the birds are out there. In fact, there are a lot of them out there, and they are doing just fine. They just don’t need our feeders right now.

8) It WILL Change!
Natural food supplies will slowly get used up, nights will get colder and longer, and our facultative migrants will come. Eventually, we’ll see some snow and ice that will make it harder to find the remaining natural food, and when all of those things happen, our feeders will be ready for them!

We hope this helps clear up some of the misinformation out there. And please do share this widely – we want to get the word out. And finally, if you have any additional questions, feel free to drop by the store.

December 13th Update:  With the arrival of winter – rather suddenly – here in Maine, including a second significant snowfall in a week followed by a thick coating of ice, the birds that have been around us all along – just not at feeders! – have come back in full force. Based on our own yard, our feeders here at the store, and numerous reports from customers in-person and via Facebook, it’s clear that birds have returned en masse. Dark-eyed Juncos have inundated many feeders once again (increase from 4-6 at home to 28 by the end of the day on the 12th) as the ground got covered. And American Goldfinches, that have been numerous in the woods feeding on birch and alder, descended on nyjer feeders (as long as that seed was fresh!) as ice coated the trees. For example, we increased from 2-4 a day at home and up to 4 a day at our store to 12 and 14, respectively by the morning of the 13th). But alas, still no “winter finches” in our neck of the woods. They’re back…for now.
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Are Common Redpolls on their way for the winter to cure the bird feeding blues? The Winter Finch Forecasts suggests that they will get here, eventually.