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!

GREAT BLACK HAWK IN BIDDEFORD!!!!

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No seriously. This is not a test, do not adjust your television. This is not a drill. This is insane, but it is real.

The Timeline.

8/7.

9:13 AM. Ryan Wirtes posted a photo to the “What Bird is This Facebook Page” of a raptor photo sent by a friend. He suspected a black hawk of some flavor, but at the time, the sighting information was nothing more than “photographed this month in Maine.”

10:35 am. Tim Swain shares that post to the “ABA Rare Bird Alert” Facebook page. All hell breaks loose. While many people discuss the ID, others immediately jump to the conclusion that it is far too rare and far too out of range to be possible, so the conspiracy theories take hold. One person claimed to debunk it in multiple forums based on the plants in the scene. His plant ID was seriously flawed. I was brought into the discussion and identified the plants in the two pictures as all occurring in and around Biddeford Pool: Japanese Knotweed, Red Maple, and an invasive bush honeysuckle that I left as Lonicera sp (presumably tatarica). I know these thickets and habitats extremely well, and all looked just like a number of areas around here. While I was not vouching for the credibility of the sighting, the misidentification of the plants should not have impacted anyone’s decision to get the heck out there and search for it. And while skepticism and critical evaluation of exceptional sightings is important, I felt too many people were immediately looking to debunk it – that is not constructive, especially when using nothing more than simple misinformation spoken loud enough to be believed.

Luckily, people were out searching for it, and didn’t need my plant ID to be encouraged to do so!

Later in the day, Michael Smith was able to contact the photographer, and it turned out the bird was photographed only one day prior, on Maddox Pond Road in the Fortunes Rocks Beach section of Biddeford. The plot thickened.

8/8.

Birders searched the area extensively in the morning. The exact location of the photograph was confirmed. There was no hoax, conspiracy, or simple mistake/miscommunication. But there was no bird.

6:03 pm: Doug Hitchcox relocates the bird in a backyard on nearby Lily Pond Road. Birders converge. I arrived at about 7pm, and about 15 of us continued to observe the bird, with several remaining through dark.

I managed a few phone-scoped photos.IMG_2287_best,kinda_edited-1preening1_edited-1

But, given the low light, I had better luck with video, which I did extensively. I posted one here, on our store’s Facebook Page.

For the record, it was perched in a Black Locust when I saw it.

8/9.

7:20 am: With dozens of people from several states converging and looking, it was refound on Lily Pond Road. And now all hell will really break loose! Jeannette went down this am and scored some great photos as the bird flew around, hunted eggs and nestlings (it was observed eating a nestling and robbing an American Goldfinch nest for eggs), and as since its first observation, being constantly mobbed by passerines (for good reason).

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For those looking to find it, I’d recommend the play-by-play on the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook Page. I’ll leave it to there, and the Maine-birds listserve, to provide the specifics on sightings, observation details, and any concerns (like extensive and problematic permit parking restrictions in the area) that may arise.

Furthermore, Fortunes Rocks Beach is covered in Site Y11 in my Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide and Biddeford Pool (including parking tips) is extensively treated as Y12.  Besides carpooling, my recommendations are to arrive early or late, or hoof it (I’ll throw a bike on the rack next time I go) a considerable distance from somewhere with open, public parking.  And, like with several of the “Mega” rarities that have occurred in recent years, I am (somewhat) available for private guiding, including round-trips from the Portland Jetport!

But since I have been asked by many people about “how,” “why,” and “WTF?” I figured I would pull some info together here for convenience.

The Identification:

First, the identity of the bird is not in question: it is an immature Great Black Hawk (often written as Great Black-hawk), separated from the similar Common Black Hawk by a combination of plumage and structural features. I’ll quote Howell and Webb’s A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America:

“(GBH) has narrower wingbase, longer tail (esp juv) often less spread when soaring and gliding. At rest, note longer legs and short primary projection…juv and immature usually have whitish head that lacks strong dark malar stripe; note more numerous dark tail bars of the juv. With very broad distal dark band or narrow dark bars to tail tip.”

I believe those are the same features that are used to separate it from the Cuban Black Hawk (or Cuban race of the Common Black Hawk), but I need to do more research on that.

And finally, Solitary Eagle is “larger with more massive legs and bill; at rest, wingtips extend to or beyond relatively shorter tail…juv and immature have solidly dark brown thighs, juv has pale grayish tail band with no distinct dark barring, imm. tail similar but with broad paler median band. (Howell and Webb, 2014)

Great Black Hawk is a large buteo-like raptor of Northern South America, extending north along the coasts of Mexico. Many folks are citing the first accepted “ABA-area” record that occurred only this past spring in Texas.  The Texas Bird Records Committee voted unanimously to add it to the official list on July 3rd:

“The TBRC has voted unanimously to add GREAT BLACK HAWK (Buteogallus urubitinga) to the state list. A juvenile was well documented with several excellent photos as it landed briefly and passed over South Padre Island on 24 April 2018. This species has been somewhat hoped for/expected to show up in Texas as it regularly ranges as close as southern Tamaulipas, Mexico but it was still a surprising and exciting find for folks that were on the island taking in spring migration that day. The addition of Great Black Hawk brings the state list to 649 in good standing. This record will now be considered by the ABA Checklist Committee as a first for the ABA. There have been a few Great Black Hawk sightings in Florida since the 1970s though there has been questions/concern about the provenance of those birds.”

Ah, but yes, those Florida birds. Here’s where things get murky. And while Great Black Hawks do not seem to be kept by falconers, they are kept in captivity. And with all records of exceptionally far-flung vagrants, captivity needs to be considered. The “cage bird” and wildlife smuggling plague in the world is rampant, and likely constitutes billions of dollars annually. While “charismatic megafauna” (or parts there of) get all of the attention, birds are being smuggled – as well as legally traded – all over the world. And I believe it is much, much worse than usually suggested, so it’s worth considering “provenance” and just because it’s not used for some purpose, I do not believe we can immediately discount captive origin. But let me be clear: there is absolutely no evidence of that here – no bands, no “cage wear,” no obviously problematic behavior – although it is rather confiding and does allow close approach which could be suspect.

Jon Greenlaw, co-author of the recently-fully revised and updated The Robertson and Woolfenden Florida Bird Species: An Annoted List (2014) wrote to me with the following analysis of the Florida occurrence of “black hawks:”

“They occur in Mexico in Yucatan north to Tamaulipas on the Atlantic side, so both possible in Texas and Florida. To my knowledge only the Great Black Hawk is known from the Atlantic coast in Florida. No Common Black-Hawks have been confirmed from Florida out of more than 20 reports, but one of the two records (photographic) (one specimen w/ no label details in Archbold BS collection) remained for several years in the Greater Miami Area (Virginia Key, Key Biscayne) and was seen by many observers and photographed well by Robin Diaz of Miami. It was initially ID’d as a Common Black-Hawk, but it was later confirmed as a Great Black-Hawk as more photos & details came in. Greenlaw et al. 2014 provides the most recent update of status in Florida. Smith FFN 23:101, 1995 reviewed the Florida reports and concluded them to represent Great Black-Hawks. The belief previously has been that the Florida reports were likely escapes in captivity (they are known to occur as captive birds in s. Florida), but the numbers of reports here over the years make it difficult to totally reject the presence of vagrant individuals (esp immatures) from their range in the Americas, esp Yucatan. Still, photographs of the Virginia Key bird (the most recent occurrence example) indicate the adult was from the sedentary population (nominate) in South America.

And more extensively treated here for those looking for the complete story of this complex conundrum, click here.

Let me reiterate, there is absolutely no suggestion of non-wild origin, and while a hoax or miscommunication has been debunked, provenance (where it came from and how) must always be carefully considered. While listing powers-that-be may eventually decide whether or not you “can count it,” I would recommend going to look at this magnificent bird and, well, my list is my list…and I’ll probably count it!

The How.

Besides feeling like the tropics these past few weeks, the weather pattern that has brought us this oppressive (well, to us in Maine not used to it) heat and especially humidity could very conceivably result in a bird escorted this far away from its usual home range.

Although a resident species not particularly prone to wandering, some likely do, and presumably this would especially true of juveniles. Some have suggested this could even be the same bird as the South Padre Island sighting in April; photos will undoubtedly be studied carefully to see if there are any clues. Whether it’s the bird from Texas or another individual, the extensive and stubborn southerly flow created by a strong and persistent Bermuda High spinning off the southern Atlantic Coast would certainly facilitate the bird’s peregrinations. Whether originally “lost,” misguided, navigationally-challenged (simply mis-wired, or as one of the apparent impacts from our chronic use of pesticides), or just a “pioneer” prospecting for new habitats in the face of a rapidly warming climate and rampant tropical deforestation, there are a lot of ways where a large raptor that can soar with little effort and cover hundreds of miles in a day and end up in the Northeast.  While weather rarely “causes” vagrancy, it certainly plays a role in where a vagrant could show up.

Heck, North America’s first record of the tropical Variegated Flycatcher occurred (in November of 1977) in the Biddeford Pool neighborhood just up the road! Which is more exceptional would be up for debate, but clearly birds from a long way off can make it to Maine’s coast (for additional example, our relatively numerous records of Fork-tailed Flycatcher). And, as circumstantial evidence that the recent weather pattern is delivering birds from the south to New England, notice that New Hampshire currently has a Wood Stork and a Neotropical Cormorant!

Now what?

Birders are flying in from all over the country already, and likely hundreds if not thousands of birders will descend on the area in the coming days, and if we are all lucky, weeks. Of course, the bird could leave any minute now.

Folks will debate provenance, and others will simply enjoy the sighting and take a lot of photographs. Hopefully, birders will spend a few dollars in the area (can I recommend Bufflehead’s restaurant on Hill’s Beach, Palace Diner in Biddeford, and Saco Island Deli in Saco to start?) and let it be known that they are here to see this epic rarity.

Furthermore, there is always the chance of the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect,” wherein birders descending on an area for a rare bird sighting find additional rare birds.  What could be next? And from where? I very much look forward to what else is turned up. This could be fun.

At the very least, don’t forget there is a Little Egret just up the road in Scarborough Marsh! Remember when, 4 years ago, that’s what everyone was flying in for?

Final Disclaimer:

I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be repeated. This is a quiet, residential area with extremely limited daytime public parking. The bird is often in yards, and since the best hours to visit are before 8:00am and after 5:00pm when parking is available at nearby Fortunes Rocks Beach, PLEASE be extremely respectful to local residents and private property. Do not enter any yard unless invited to do so, and do not block driveways. And yes, police have been actively patrolling the parking areas! And always, put the bird – and its neighbors – first, no matter how much you want a slightly better look or photo!

Thanks for reading!
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UPDATE #1:
Photo reviews by Tom Johnson and others of the April Great Black Hawk from Texas and our Maine bird shows the exact same pattern of brown flecks on the outermost underwing coverts. Variable in this species, this is too perfect to be a coincidence, so it is almost unquestionably the same bird!

UPDATE #2:
Unfortunately, at 1:52pm (I believe) on Thursday, August 9, the black hawk was observed flying over Fortunes Rocks Beach and “out to sea.” It has not been seen again since. Birders scoured the area for the rest of the day, and again on Friday, August 10th to no avail…and so far without turning up anything else of note. In fact, not even the Little Egret has been seen in the last few days (I looked carefully at every Snowy in Scarborough Marsh this morning when guiding for a family from Indiana). We’ll see if any interesting reports roll in by day’s end.

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.
1. WOTH,TheHog

Veeries and Hermit Thrushes would be with us throughout the trip, but our first good looks came here.
2. Veery,TheHog

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.]
4. Gilman_Pond

Back on the road, 5+ Wilson’s Snipe were flying around, including one heard displaying. Recently-fledged Barn Swallows perched nearby…
6. BARS,GilmanPondRoad

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.
5. BRTH,GilmanPondRoad

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.
7. Claybrook_lodge

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.
8. dinner
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.
9. Doe,Claybrook

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.
10. MOWA,LFDRoad

A Chestnut-sided Warbler was much more cooperative, however.
11. CSWA,LFDRoad

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

2018 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend

IMG_9667-edited-edited
The most abundant songbird throughout the weekend, a flock of 125 Cedar Waxwings would ball up each morning and then spread out through the island to feed.

My annual “Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend” battled highs seas (seriously, it was rough and we were all thankful it was only a 1-hr ride!) to arrive on the wonderful island of Monhegan on Friday, May 25th. Five days later, I had two new birds for my Monhegan list, a total of 97 species including 18 species of warblers, and way too much of the best pizza in Maine.
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After regaining our legs and equilibrium, we hit the ground running as always, birding our way to and from our hotel, lunch, and eventually dinner. No daylight was spared, and in doing so, we caught up with a few things, including the flock of 30 or so Red Crossbills, three of which perched nearby by close studies. Personally, however, I was most excited about 2 Eastern Bluebirds (at least one had been present for a while), my 210th species on Monhegan!  We had our first sighting of Warbling Vireo, which, like the 1-2 Field Sparrows – we saw everyday; both very uncommon on the island in spring. Apparently, I either started coming after – or perhaps only took better notes after – they last bred on the island. An island bird is a great way to start off the trip!\
IMG_9717-edited-edited
Red Crossbill – female.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak – female.


Eastern Kingbird

Friday calmly eased us into the weekend, but Saturday blew us away. It was just one of those great days, with birds seemingly everywhere, and many of them low and easy to see. Following a moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, there were a lot of new arrivals. Five Tennessee Warblers heard singing from one spot while tarrying at the Trailing Yew awaiting the coffee pot were a sign of things to come.

As is often the case on such flight days, we didn’t have to cover a lot of ground, as waves of birds were passing through the island and around town, pausing at just about every apple tree. It was hard to estimate the number of birds around, but there was a consistent south to north flow on the island, and several relatively-large flocks of the most common migrants of the day. I finally settled on 80 Red-eyed Vireos, 50 Blackpoll Warblers, and 20 Tennessee Warblers – impressive numbers of birds normally relegated to the tops of the highest oak trees, but today, more often than not, in low brush and short apple
trees.

Tennessee Warbler
IMG_9641-edited-edited
Blackpoll Warbler, male.

While it wasn’t the kind of day that Monhegan legends are made of, it was one of the “good ol’ days” where migrants were plenty, views were crippling, and birding was easy.  And all of that was punctuated by a few goodies, including an immature male Orchard Oriole, three Eastern Bluebirds together (two appeared to leave the island shortly thereafter), a lingering immature Great Cormorant, my first Common Nighthawk of the year fluttering off the high cliffs of White Head, 14 species of warblers including 4 Cape May and 2 Bay-breasted, and much more. And the day ended with two American Woodcocks heard calling and twittering from the lawn chairs of the Trailing Yew.  That’s what Monhegan in migration is all about!
apple_tree
On Monhegan and elsewhere, a good birding rule of thumb is that if you see a blooming apple tree, you should look in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yew_sunset
And that sunset from the Yew!

Not surprisingly, Sunday was slower, as light northeasterly winds precluded much in the way of overnight migration. And while it seemed that a lot of yesterday’s migrants had departed or melted into the woodlands, there were plenty of birds around, with a slight improvement in diversity, still plenty of Blackpoll Warblers, and a few highlights including a cooperative Green Heron, more Red Crossbills, a fly-by Black-billed Cuckoo, a Carolina Wren (finally; good to know one is here again), and a Northern Mockingbird (uncommon to rare out here) that we witnessed fly onto the island from behind, or perhaps over, Manana.
harbor

IMG_9657-edited-edited
Green Heron

The afternoon was rather slow overall, but we just kept seeing birds well: the Warbling Vireo at eye level, a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the garden, and continued good views of Tennessee Warblers.
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Field Sparrow
IMG_9474-edited-edited
White-crowned Sparrow
IMG_9593-edited-edited
Eastern Wood-Pewee

Monday the 28th was the last day of the tour, and with a smaller group in tow, we covered a lot of ground. While there was virtually no visible migration on the radar overnight on very light easterly winds once again, there were clearly a lot of new birds around (or at least, birds not seen the previous days) and we ended up with the best diversity of the trip – 71 species by day’s end.
Sunday am

In fact, by days’ end, we added 14 new species to our cumulative weekend list – not bad for a “slow” day and the end of a tour. And there was some quality to it, too: a continuing very late drake Long-tailed Duck that we finally caught up with…
IMG_9570-edited-edited

…a Brown Thrasher, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and especially the Brant that we found on Nigh Duck – my 211th all-time bird on Monhegan, and a new “island bird” for just about every birder on the island.
Brant,Monhegan,5-28-18_edited-1

On Tuesday, it was just Jeannette and I on a one-day vacation, mostly on our own, but meandering in and out of contact with several friends on the island. We awoke to dense fog, but that rapidly lifted, and the strong (for the date) flight overnight produced another new arrival of birds. It sure wasn’t Saturday, but there were plenty more Blackpoll Warblers around, and warbler diversity overall was the best of the weekend with a total of 16 species, highlighted by the Mourning Warbler we found by the Mooring Chain, and an impressive 15 Blackburnian Warblers.
IMG_9520-edited-edited

John and Terez found a (or relocated a brief late-last-week fly-by) Summer Tanager…
IMG_9833-edited-editedIMG_9844-edited-edited

…and we added a few new birds for the trip list including Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, and had more species of butterflies today than total butterfly individuals all weekend, including an early Monarch. It was also a really, really nice day!
last-day_view

The afternoon was slower, and Jeannette and I winded down our visit with good conversation, one last slice (or two) of Novelty pizza and another pint (or two) of Monhegan Brewing beer, and caught up with some good friends who had just arrived with tours of their own. It was a relaxing finish to a great weekend, and the gentle boat ride home was more relaxing than we really needed before driving – just a little different than our outbound trip!

So yeah, it was a good trip. And, after one day at work, I am definitely ready to go back!  At least I have two tours out here this fall. First, I have a full week with my WINGS tour, space on which is still available.

And there’s a little room left on our store’s annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour, which is only four months away!
IMG_9723-edited-edited
Yellow Warbler in an apple tree.

And finally, here is the daily tally:

5/25 5/26 5/27 5/28 5/29
BRANT 0 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 1 1 1 1
Am. Blac Duck x Mallard hybrid 0 1 0 1 1
Mallard 15 10 12 16 20
Common Eider x x x x x
LONG-TAILED DUCK 0 0 0 1 0
Red-throated Loon 2 1 0 0 0
Common Loon 1 0 1 2 0
Northern Gannet 2 0 0 3 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
GREAT CORMORANT 0 1 0 0 0
Great Blue Heron 0 0 0 1 0
Green Heron 0 0 1 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 0 0 1 0
Osprey 0 0 1 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 0 0 0 1 1
Merlin 0 2 0 1 0
Sora 0 0 0 1 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 0 0 0 3
American Woodcock 0 2 0 0 0
Laughing Gull 1 1 8 20 8
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern 1 0 0 2 2
Black Guillemot x x x x x
Mourning Dove x x x x x
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 2 3 4 4
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Flicker 0 0 0 0 1
Great-crested Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 1 2 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 1
Least Flycatcher 1 2 2 2 2
Eastern Phoebe 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Kingbird 2 8 7 4 3
WARBLING VIREO 1 1 2 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2 80 10 6 8
Blue Jay x x x x x
American Crow x x x x x
Common Raven 2 1 2 2 2
Tree Swallow 4 4 4 4 4
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 2 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 1 1
Winter Wren 0 0 1 0 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 0 0 0
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER 0 1 0 0 0
EASTERN BLUEBIRD 2 3 1 1 1
Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin x x x x x
Gray Catbird x x x x x
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD 0 0 1 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling x x x x x
Cedar Waxwing 60 125 125 125 125
Tennessee Warbler 3 20 8 4 6
Northern Parula 2 6 4 5 10
Yellow Warbler 6 10 12 12 12
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 1 0 0 1
Magnolia Warbler 4 4 3 2 4
Cape May Warbler 0 4 2 1 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warblers 3 2 1 0 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 8 3 2 5
Blackburnian Warbler 0 0 1 2 15
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 2 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 12 50 25 20 40
Black-and-white Warbler 3 4 3 1 2
American Redstart 4 15 6 0 15
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1 0 1
Canada Warbler 0 0 1 0 0
SUMMER TANAGER 0 0 0 0 1
Chipping Sparrow 4 4 2 2 4
FIELD SPARROW 0 1 2 2 0
Savannah Sparrow 0 1 1 0 0
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 2 2 2
White-throated Sparrow 0 0 0 1 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1 0 1 1 0
Northern Cardinal 4 x x x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2 2 3 3 1
Indigo Bunting 0 1 1 1 1
Bobolink 0 0 2 1 1
Red-winged Blackbird 12 x x x x
Common Grackle 15 x x x x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 1 3 3 4 2
Purple Finch 4 4 2 2 2
RED CROSSBILL (lone good recording identified as Type 10 by M. Young at Cornell). 30 0 5 h.o 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 1 0
American Goldfinch 10 x x x x

beets
I forgot to take a photo of the pizza – I ate it too quickly as usual – so here are some beautiful beets from the Island Inn.


And as migrants were passing through, many of the island’s breeding species were well underway, such as this Song Sparrow gathering food for its nestlings.

Three Days at Florida Lake Park

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Northern Parula

One of my favorite aspects of May is that there are “new” birds every day. Constant turnover as the flow of migratory songbirds, especially the long-distance Neotropical migrants, reaches its peak means “first-of-years” can be found almost every day. Even better, is the constant turnover and new arrivals almost anywhere we go birding.

…Including at local patches. And for me, there are few places I’d rather be than staying near home at Florida Lake Park in Freeport. I can get in several hours of birding and still make it to work in time, which is important in one of our store’s two busiest months. We’re luck to have this park only 12 minutes from our house, which makes for a perfect birding “patch.”
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Blackburnian Warbler

With an exceptionally busy week, my birding time was limited to the early mornings, but Florida Lake did not let me down. In fact, it was a lot of fun. With good diversity each day, and new birds arriving each night, there was always something new to look at. And, as is the case with loyal patch-working, the consistency of visitation makes for a nice education on the ebbs and flows of seasonal migrants.

Check out the scorecard of warblers (and a few other personal first-of-years) that I had each day this week, and note the subtle change in diversity and species dominance as the season advances. Numbers of individuals have not been huge, but numbers of species have been great for the second week of May.
IMG_4067-edited-edited
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday, 5/9.
46F, dense fog, calm.
Radar down for maintenance.

(14 species of warblers)
25+ Yellow-rumped Warblers
10+ Northern Parulas
10 Common Yellowthroats
8 Black-and-white Warblers
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Ovenbirds
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
3 Northern Waterthrushes
2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler

4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (FOY)

Thursday, 5/10.
43F, dense fog, calm.
Ambiguous radar due to presence of fog that moved inland overnight, but looked good for birds, too, and possibly large flight inland.

(14 species of warblers)
22 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Black-and-white Warblers
7 Common Yellowthroats
5 Ovenbirds
5 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Northern Parulas
4 Yellow Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 American Redstarts (FOY)
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Wilson’s Warbler (FOY)
IMG_4421-edited-edited
Wilson’s Warbler

Friday, 5/11.
52F, partly cloudy, moderate NW.
Dry cold front passed overnight with SW to S winds shifting to W to NW by 3:00am. Very strong flight early in overnight diminished rapidly after midnight.

(18 species of warblers; very good tally for the 11th of May here)
16 Black-and-white Warblers
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
10 Common Yellowthroats
7 Northern Parulas
7 Black-throated Green Warblers
7 Magnolia Warblers
6 Ovenbirds
4 Nashville Warblers
4 American Redstarts
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers
2 Pine Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Blackpoll Warbler (FOY)
1 Palm Warbler


And these radar images from midnight showed that it was going to be a great day!

Folks in Portland have been rewarded with daily visits to Evergreen Cemetery and/or Capisic Pond Park, while those closer to Biddeford have headed to Timber Point, for example. But regardless of where you are, there’s a local “patch” to be “worked,” or perhaps to be discovered. And there’s no better time than now!

IMG_4042-edited-edited
Palm Warbler

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!

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Harlequins and Hops!

DyerPoint1
The first new “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2018 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success. We enjoyed harlequins, hops, and so much more – including a much-hoped-for rarity. We even saw just about every single species suggested in the itinerary. And it was gorgeous out!

We had begrudgingly postponed the tour from the previous week due to the fear of ice in the morning and heavy rain and fog during the day. But the light winds, temperatures in the upper 30’s, and limited rain that the day actually featured made us wonder if we had lost the gamble. And when we woke up to 6-10” of snow (and not the 4-6 forecast!) on the morning of the 18th – and the resultant extra time clearing the driveway – I was definitely viewing the decision in hindsight.

However, the sun soon came out, the roads melted, and the temperature warmed to 40-degrees. A strengthening southerly wind was a little raw at one stop, but otherwise, it was impossible to beat the weather for a tour in February…and the fresh coating of fluffy snow only added to the aesthetically-pleasing scenery of the birding day. Furthermore, the coastal storm that spun through overnight was perfect for producing some nearshore pelagic alcids (members of the puffin family), which really got our hopes up for a life bird or two.

We began at Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth where we soon spotted the namesake quarry of the tour: a dozen snazzy Harlequin Ducks. We were already half-way to our titled goal for the day, but of course, we were only getting started.
DyerPt2,PaulODonnell,2-18-18

At nearby Two Lights State Park, we enjoyed several more Harlequin Ducks, lots of Common Eiders, Black and White-winged Scoters, and one Red-necked Grebe while we took in the breathtaking scenery.
TwoLightsSP
WWSC

And then it happened.

I spotted a Dovekie – one of the most sought-after winter specialties of the region. It was sitting on the water (had it just flown in?) with a group of eider just off the shoreline, and in perfect light. It was feeding, diving under for a minute or two at a time, but eventually, everyone got great looks through the scope, and lots of photographs were taken. Barely larger than a starling, this hardy little bird spends most of its life on the open ocean, and only comes to land to breed and nearshore in specific conditions in winter than include storm tracks, winds before and after, offshore food supplies, nearshore food supplies, and likely other unknown factors. It was a bird we only hoped for today, but a life bird for just about everyone in the group; this was a find that was soon to be celebrated!
DOVE1DOVE2DOVE3

A few Purple Sandpipers were spotted at nearby Kettle Cove as were Surf Scoters and several Common Loons, but with a southerly wind and choppy water building, I decided to make a turn inland and head for some sheltered waters. Finding that at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland, photogenic, stunning Red-breasted Mergansers stole the show, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull was teased out of the flock.
ICGU

A short, pleasant walk through Mill Creek Park yielded hundreds of Mallards (BoT veterans know how much I enjoy looking at, and talking about, large aggregations of Mallards!), and among them, the overwintering hen Wood Duck – a real rarity in winter! Although lacking the gaudy, over-the-top coloration of the drake, the subtlety-beautiful hen with her glossy bronze and green tertials and over-application of white mascara was enjoyed by all.
mILLcREEK
WODU1WODU2

One last stop at the Portland fish pier, was another chance to see Iceland Gulls – actually, we saw 7 of them, including a darkly-marked adult – and offered the opportunity to get up close and personal with several of our spiffy wintering sea ducks, such as this handsome drake Long-tailed Duck.
LTDU

The benefit of this winter itinerary is that there are countless birding locales to visit, with worthwhile stops given almost any weather (or travel) condition. Therefore, Paul had to rein me in – the birding was so good, I certainly wanted to keep going! – and with that, we departed, and I handed the proverbial microphone over to our esteemed beer guide for the day.

Paul took the lead and escorted us to eighteen twenty wines in Portland, our only winery visit on the 2018 BoT schedule. Making wine from Maine-grown rhubarb, and hard cider in small batches from Maine-grown apples, this was going to be a unique and educational experience. Maine became a state in 1820, and it was also the first year were rhubarb was found in the public market, we soon learned. A very traditional beverage, rhubarb wine was popular – especially for medicinal purposes – in the early 1800’s.
1820-1
1820-2

We were treated to two wines, and two ciders. The first wine was Wintrus, a rhubarb wine aged in cabernet barrels, which imparted notes of the cabernet and oak-y woodiness, adding a little complexity to this rather light wine that was perfectly positioned between dry and sweet. The strawberry-rhubarb Honeoye was next, with plenty of strawberry flavor, but only a little sweeter and nowhere near the expectations of an overly-sugared strawberry-rhubarb pie which is its inspiration.
1820-4

Ohm was our first cider, an “English Eastern Counties-style:” dry, light, and uncarbonated. This was soon followed by what turned out to be the crowd favorite, Ohm’s Law, the Ohm aged in cinnamon whiskey barrel. Reminiscent of an apple pie, but again, without the overt sweetness, and likely due to the lack of carbonation, finishing with a soft and smooth buttery flavor.

We also learned about the trials and tribulations of opening a new winery – especially given the legal definitions and the lack of grape vines in this “urban winery,” as well as future plans that include experimentation with the 60+ varieties of rhubarb.
1820-3
Goodfire-sticker

The long commute to the other side of the building (this itinerary was designed to reduce driving, just in case the roads were normal-February snotty) presented us with the second half of the tour’s title: the hops. And hops were abundant and well spoken for in the brews of Goodfire Brewing Co, the newest brewery in the burgeoning “Yeast Bayside” scene.
Goodfire2

We were handed samples of one of their IPAs, Prime, which I’ll admit my bias – it has rapidly become one of my favorite beers. A citrusy juice-bomb, I was keen to have the group compare it to our second selection, Waves. Also a hazy, New England-style IPA, this beer features complex tropical fruit notes instead.
Goodfire3

Earlier, Paul had inquired about what beers and other beverages people did and did not like, and quite a few people on the bus proclaimed themselves as “not IPA fans.” New England IPAs are not your bitter IPAs of old, and so I wanted to challenge people’s ideas of what an IPA is, and hopefully open some minds. I was therefore rather pleased when one of those self-proclaimed non-IPA fans proclaimed Prime as their favorite beverage of the day on the ride back home. Mission accomplished!
Goodfire4Goodfire5

The final sample was a choice between the hoppy “table beer” saison, Tiny Wrist Circles, and the hot-off-the-presses Hydro, their latest Double IPA. I’ll give you one guess to what I had, and then went home with!
Ridehome

It was a quick and easy commute to our Portland meeting location, followed by a smooth and clear drive to Freeport for the rest of us. Conversation included Dovekie ecology, IPA diversity, and what an amazingly beautiful winter’s day we had just experienced. Something tells me Harlequins and Hops will be back!

Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year 2017

book cover

“I think I want to do a Big Year…kinda.” I said to Jeannette.
“You want to do WHAT? You? Why?” she responded.

Several friends I floated the idea to had similar initial responses. But when I explained my concept, they started to understand, and be supportive. It wouldn’t be a regular Big Year where I ran around willy-nilly chasing after everything that was reported. Instead, it would have a very specific parameter: I would only count birds – and for that matter, only seek birds – at places covered in my book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide published this past spring by the University Press of New England.

The goal was to “ground-truth” the comprehensive-ness of the book. Did I successfully cover all of the breeding species? What about the best migrant traps? Rarity Hotspots? Could birding only with this book result in a respectable year list? I set a goal of 300 species in the year in order to act as “proof of concept.”

So off I went.

There were some very good rarities around in January, so the year list got off to a great start. An overwintering immature male and female King Eider in Portland Harbor (Site C5) were nice additions, as you can never really count on where one will be in any given year.
imm_male_KIEI,FishPier,3-19-17_edited-2

The Mid-Coast was particularly hot and Jeannette and I caught up with the two Pink-footed Geese at the Samoset Resort (Site KX5) on 1/30…
PFGO,Samoset,1-30-17

…and the Mew Gull at Owl’s Head Harbor (Site KX4) on the next day
MEGU,OwlsHeadHarbor,1-31

Alas, the Bullock’s Oriole – only the second state record – was at a private feeder in Camden most of the winter, but could not be counted on my little endeavor. But January also produced some good winter irruptives that I would not see in the fall of 2017, such as Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwing. Of course, since Pine Grosbeak is on the cover, I couldn’t miss that one!

While February is generally a slow month for rarities, a few good year list additions included a Short-eared Owl at Reid State Park (Site SA3) on February 2nd – a bird I chased (but would find a couple in the fall), and then a lucky find of a Dovekie on Valentine’s Day that Jeannette and I enjoyed from The Cliff House (Site Y4).

Slow growth of the list continued in March, but I was seeing most of what was expected. A Canvasback at Fortunes Rocks Beach (Y11) was a quick twitch on 3/20. As migration picked up in April, it was time to get to work. I spent much of my month at our Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch (Site C18), especially on days with conditions that have produced rarities in the past.

Fly-by Sandhill Cranes on 4/3 would save me some effort later in the year…
SACR1,TheBrad,4-3-17_edited-1

…and I was excited to spot a Black Vulture on April 11th. The vulture, however, paled in comparison to the Bird of the Day: a fly-by Townsend’s Solitaire! (my first self-found in Maine).

By month’s end, Neotropical Migrants began to return, but an impressive storm system at month’s end looked prime for “southern overshoots,” so I dedicated as much time as I could to migrant traps along the coast. The Biddeford Pool neighborhood (Site Y12) is always my first destination in such circumstances, but I did not expect a Gray-cheeked Thrush there on 4/27. My first in spring in Maine, this was a far more satisfying addition than a nocturnal flight call or fleeting glimpse in the fall!
GCTH1,BiddPool,4-27-17

My southerly expectations were met on Bailey Island (Site C23) the next day, where I found my first White-eyed Vireo of the year…
WEVI,BaileyIsland,4-28-17

…and my first of what would be a total of four self-found Hooded Warblers on the year. I synthesized the weather and birding from this storm in a blog entry.

The list grew with each day in May – thanks especially to my local patch, Florida Lake Park (C20) – occasionally punctuated by an important addition, such as the Evening Grosbeaks that flew over Old Town House Park (Site C16) during my Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 20th. I caught up with the only annually-occurring Orchard Orioles in the state at Capisic Pond Park (Site C9) on the following day.
OROR,CapisicPondPark,5-21-17_edited-2

My guiding schedule was jam-packed in 2017, and tours would take me all over the state as usual. It began in May with a single day tour in Rangeley on the 18th, which produced Mourning Warbler and Gray Jay, among other “first of years” in the boreal forest.
FeedingGRJA1,BoyScoutCamp,5-19-17_edited-1

Then, as usual, it was off to Monhegan Island (Site L1) with the store’s tour group for Memorial Day Weekend. Any visit to Monhegan during migration offers high hopes for rarities, and with a total of three tours there this year, I needed it to produce for me. However, despite a really great and birding weekend, I came away with “only” Summer Tanager…

…and a very-rare-in-spring Orange-crowned Warbler (but I would find a total of five in the fall).
OCWA,Monhegan,5-28

My 10-day tour comprehensive breeding season tour for WINGS is especially important for me to clean up the breeding birds, such as this Spruce Grouse at Boot Head Preserve (Site WN8) on 6/21.
SPRG,BootHead,6-21

During that tour, the waters between Maine and Machias Seal Island (Site WN7) delivered Common Murre and more Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins (my first puffins of the year on the boat to Monhegan in late May).

Usually in June, I am too busy to chase (rarities are always on the opposite side of the state than I am during any given tour), and once again, I missed a few goodies (we’ll get to those in a little bit). However, I always had an incredible stroke of luck with not just two great rarities in two days, but two State Birds for me in two days that I happened to be free for. Or, actually, mostly free.

One June 12th, our wedding anniversary, we were getting ready to head to our fancy dinner in Portland when we received word of a Magnificent Frigatebird over Prout’s Neck in Scarborough. We hurried, raced to Pine Point (Site C1), called the restaurant which graciously allowed us to delay our reservation, and spotted the frigatebird in the distance, soaring over Prout’s Neck.
MAFR,PinePoint,6-12
MAFR_chase1,PinePointBeach,6-12-17 - Copy

The next day, we had plans with our new neighbors, Meghan and Mike Metzger. We were supposed to head over to their house for cocktails in the evening, but when word of a Snowy Plover – a first state record! – at Reid State Park (Site SA3) was received, we decided to test the new friendship. “So, what do you guys think about maybe a walk on the beach on this sultry (record warm, actually) evening?” We figured any friends of birders would eventually find out what it’s like to be friends of birders, so we might as well break them in early. And now that their first life bird was a Snowy Plover in Maine, perhaps we’ll make birders out of them someday.
SNPL,ReidSP,6-13

With a few red-letter rarities and good luck with many of the regular breeding birds in Maine, I finished my June insanity (I was in the store a total of four days all month!) with 258 species after Jeannette and I paid a visit to the King Rail pair breeding once again along Eldridge Road at Moody Point (Site Y5). Glancing over the checklist, I realized that with some dedicated effort, this Big Year-esque project could turn into something.

Therefore, in July, Jeannette and I made sure to use our “weekends” together to fill in the holes on the year list. Every 4th of July weekend, we visit with Bicknell’s Thrushes, and this year was no different. Hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain (Site F12) on the 3rd added the species to my Maine year list (my June tours all go to New Hampshire for this much sought-after species).
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The following week, we went up to the Baxter State Park area. A wildly productive first full day in the area (7/10) yielded the Black-backed Woodpecker that had so far eluded me this year, as well as the extremely rare American Three-toed Woodpecker, along Harvester Road (Site PS6) and at the Nesowadnahunk Campground Road (Site PS7), respectively. White-winged Crossbills were everywhere too (as were Reds). Unfortunately, Jeannette’s camera was on the fritz, and documentation eluded us.

Phil McCormack and I make an evening visit to the Kennebunk Plains (Site Y9) for Eastern Whip-poor-will every summer, and this year’s outing on 7/8 added that to the list. The list kept growing.

The Little Egret returned to the Falmouth-Portland waterfront for its 3rd summer, and although it was a little more elusive this year, I spotted it from Gilsland Farm (Site C8) on July 14th.
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Without a Birding By Schooner tour this summer, I needed to make up a few pelagic ticks, the first of which were Manx Shearwaters that I spotted from East Point (Site Y12) in Biddeford Pool on my birthday, 7/31, with Pat Moynahan, John Lorenc, and Terez Fraser.

From August through early October, I took several boat trips – basically whenever I had the chance and conditions were decent. The Cap n’ Fish Whale Watch (Site L3) out of Boothbay Harbor was very good to me this year, yielded all of the regularly-occurring shearwaters, Parasitic Jaegers (here, on 8/11, but my first of the year were spotted at Dyer Point – Site C3 – on 7/25)…
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And some more Manx Shearwaters from the same date

And a whopping 28 Pomarine Jaegers on October 10th.
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One huge void from not doing a schooner trip this summer was filled on August 6th when I spotted “Troppy”, the Red-billed Tropicbird at Seal Island (Site KX6 and H1) that has returned for its incredible 11th year. I accepted an offer to fill in as boat naturalist for a friend who was doing a couple of the Isle au Haut Ferry’s special “Puffins and Lighthouses” evening tours this year. I said yes for the chance to not miss out on a visit to Seal Island for the year…or for my year list. Thanks, Laura Kennedy!
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A few other serendipitous twitches and finds in August really helped out my quest. There was the Black-necked Stilt that was found at Weskeag Marsh (Site KX2) on August 2nd. We happened to be away on North Haven for the night before, so this was an easy 1-mile diversion on our way home that afternoon!
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I missed White-faced Ibis in Scarborough Marsh this spring, and all summer it was only being seen in and around Spurwink Marsh in Cape Elizabeth, which is not technically a site in the book. Therefore, I was ecstatic to find it back in Scarborough Marsh while I was searching for shorebirds along the Eastern Road Trail (Site C1) on August 7TH.
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That day was big for me, as it also added Baird’s Sandpiper…
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…and Stilt Sandpiper to my list.
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My first Western Sandpiper of the year came from there as well, on August 21st.
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Our summer vacation this year took us out of the state once again, this time to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy for the Semipalmated Sandpiper migration spectacle. But our roadtrip finished up at Campobello Island, where we crossed the border for the day to visit our friend Chris Bartlett in Eastport (Site WN13) for a boat ride into the wildly productive waters of Passamaquoddy Bay and Head Harbor Passage on August 20th. Luckily, we found the Little Gull in Maine waters…
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…as well as my first Red-necked Phalaropes of the year.

Heading into the Big Year project, I was hoping a few of the book signings I would do around the state would give me the chance to add a couple of new species to the list, chase a bird or two I wouldn’t have driven as far for, or otherwise just check out a few sites that I rarely if ever bird. A talk and signing in Bar Harbor on September 7th gave me the chance to find a Blue Grosbeak behind the Mount Desert High School (Site H6) before my program. Little did I know at the time, but this would be my only sighting of the year, so this was another really lucky find.
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It doesn’t take a Big Year to get me to Sandy Point on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth (Site C14) at every possible opportunity to take in – and attempt to quantify – the “Morning Flight.” As in most years, it yielded a Connecticut Warbler (on 9/9), and on the 13th, a Lark Sparrow – my 184th species for me here, and the culmination of a record-shattering run at “my office.” Somehow, I didn’t have one in all of my time on Monhegan later that month, so this was a big score.

It was just about time for me to leave the store on September 16th to pick up my rental van for my WINGS tour to Monhegan that was starting the next day. Then the phone rang.

It was our friend, Barbara Carlson, visiting us from San Diego, who was out chasing the Little Egret at Gilsland Farm when she ran into Angus King, Jr, who asked her to identify a bird he just photographed. She called in excited panic as she attempting to explain to us, on Angus’s cell phone she borrowed, that there was a Mega-rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher there as well!

I pondered the timing, but somehow was wise enough to go pick up the van in Lisbon before driving to Falmouth. Notorious one-afternoon wonders, I was happy the Fork-tailed (my 377th Maine state bird) stuck around long enough for me to do the right thing first and not jeopardize my tour!
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Joking about wanting to “see the Little Egret and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher from the same spot,” I turned around to scan the Presumpscot River and spotted two Caspian Terns! A species I see every year, usually just by normally birding the right places at the right time – like Biddeford Pool – this species had somehow eluded me all year. In fact, it was getting to be a bit of a year-bird nemesis, and I even resorted to unsuccessfully chasing one that was lingering at Hill’s Beach. I had all but given up on this species before this lucky sighting.

Even better, the flycatcher continued the next day to get my tour off on the right foot.

I departed for Monhegan for my second time this year on 9/17, with my WINGS tour for the next 7 days. With my year list sitting at 293, I needed my two fall tours to the island to come up big for me.

I missed my 4th Say’s Phoebe ever out here – one of my two biggest nemeses for the state! – this time by all of about 45 minutes! I did, however, luck into a Red-headed Woodpecker on the last day of its stay.
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I only had Clay-colored Sparrows at non-sites up until this point, so that filled in a gaping hole, and a long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was a needed addition to the year list as well; none were found at Biddeford Pool this fall.
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But overall, the slowest week I have ever experienced on Monhegan set me back in my quest – I simply needed more from my time there.

I was back on Monhegan the next weekend, with my annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour with my store’s group, and while I didn’t add much to the year list, I did get a big one: the first state record Cassin’s Vireo (For a more complete story, visit my blog entry from the weekend!)
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Back on the mainland, I had some work to do. One last-ditch effort for Buff-breasted Sandpiper took us to Fryeburg Harbor (Site O3) on 10/3 on our way to a gluttony-fest at the Fryeburg Fair. Not surprisingly given the date, we didn’t find any “grass-pipers,” but we did find this Greater White-fronted Goose!
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Jeannette and I took advantage of the flood tide on October 10th to hit the Eastern Road Trail to try to add Long-billed Dowitcher to my Big Year tally.

Every few summers, a Seaside Sparrows stakes out a territory in Scarborough Marsh, but this was not one of those summers. Therefore, I was quite happy when we found one here on this very late date. This was another stroke of luck, and my 299th species of 2017.

This was the type of strategizing that I really enjoyed throughout the year. Find a species that I “needed,” and figure out how to see it. Long-billed Dowitchers are rare-but-regular in Maine, and usually juveniles near the tail end of shorebird migration. The first full moon in October is usually a good time to see one out in the marsh, with areas of dry ground for roosting at a premium. And sure enough, there one was – my 300th species of the year!
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November “Rarity Season” featured an impressive wave of southern vagrants deposited by a storm at the very end of October. I found another Hooded Warbler at Bailey Island, one at Fort Foster (Site Y1), numerous possible “reverse migrants” like very late warblers and Indigo Buntings, and more. But by having had good southerly luck so far this year, I didn’t add anything to my year list, until November 12th when I found a spiffy Yellow-throated Warbler at the most-unexpected location of Martin’s Point Park in Sabattus during my Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: “Fall Ducks and Draughts”. Being teased by a “flock” of three on Monhegan earlier in the month, and saving me from chasing a few later in the month, this was the type of serendipitous discovery that makes for Big Year fun, and proves the idea that the most important part of finding rarities is just being out in the field.
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My only other Rarity Season “discovery” was finding an error in my checklist that showed me my count was one more (I call those “accounting errors”) than what I thought it was, so when, after much effort of searching, Jeannette and I found a Yellow-breasted Chat at Battery Steele on Peak’s Island (Site C11) on November 27th, I was now up to 303 for the year! It was also a very satisfying find, as this was one of the birds that I was putting a lot of effort into turning up. Again, this type of strategy of searching for specific birds in specific habitats at specific times of the year is much more productive, and fulfilling, than waiting for someone else to find something and racing around looking for it. Chats are notoriously hard to re-find in the fall, as they are ultra-skulkers, so self-found is even more rewarding – and much less frustrating!
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The year was winding down, and few regularly-occuring species were likely anymore – regardless of effort. One bird that is likely much more regular than records suggest is Eastern Screech-Owl. I have found them more often than I have not when making concerted effort in southern York County, especially in winter. While I was unable to relocate one found in mid-November in York, I decided to make a dedicated effort come December.

On December 3rd, Pat Moynahan set out for an evening of owling in Wells. After a dusk-watch for Short-eared and Snowy Owls, I decided to try a little fishing for screech-owls. At the first stop we made, just after dusk, a short whistle resulted in not one, but two, very aggressive and vociferous Eastern Screech-Owls right over our heads (at an undisclosed location within Y5). That was too easy!
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Luckily, the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields (Site C15) finally yielded a rarity for me this year (other than an early-season Snow Goose which I also saw in the spring), with a Cackling Goose on December 6th for my 305th bird of the year in Maine.
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In the world of retail, there’s not a lot of free time in December, and with this year’s snowy and icy weather, I had even less time to bird than usual. While I did find a bunch of good birds, like a total of 5-6 Snowy Owls (at least 3 not previously reported), an Orange-crowned Warbler along Eldridge Road in Wells (Site Y5) during the York County Christmas Bird Count, various lingering stuff like late dabblers, and half-hardies such as several Gray Catbirds.
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I just had to suffer through enjoying winter visitors such as Snowy Owls, like this photogenic individual at Biddeford Pool on Dec 18th

As December waned, so did my chances for adding any new species. I was hopeful for a rarity to be discovered on one of the state’s Christmas Bird Counts, and while a few birds of note were turned up, nothing I “needed” was detected. We checked Marginal Way (Site Y4) in Ogunquit on the way home from a long Christmas weekend in Massachusetts, just in case a storm-tossed Thick-billed Murre was around. But while in Massachusetts, we did discover a Ross’s Goose on Christmas Day!
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Now is where I would like to tell you I finished my Big Year with a bang; how I trudged through the snow and ice, braving sub-zero temperatures, marching up hill (both ways!), and digging out every possible addition for my year list. But alas, it ended more like a thud than a bang: a very snowy, very icy, and very bitterly cold thud.

Few birders were out to find something I might need, and it was even tough for me to motivate in the mornings with temperatures often below zero. But one of the aspects of a Big Year that I – and most every other participant in such a silly pursuit – enjoy is that extra little bit of motivation to get into the field.

Such additional incentive was more than necessary on December 27th and 28th, with morning lows of -5 and -10F, respectively. Without the hopes and dreams of one or two more species for the Big Year, it’s unlikely I would have done much more than sit around, watching the feeders and sipping coffee (and probably swearing at the cable news). Instead, I forced myself to get out for just a little bit, and while no year birds resulted, I did have some nice consolation prizes: two drake Barrow’s Goldeneyes were in the open water off of the Freeport Town Wharf (Site C19) on the 27th. And on the 28th, I had 2 adult Glaucous Gulls and two 1st-winter Iceland Gulls at the Bath Landfill (Site SA5). Then I sipped some coffee in front of the store’s windows (Site C19), hoping for a Common Redpoll to show up! That hour I spend in the evening in a last-ditch effort to find a Long-eared Owl in sub-zero temperatures was just stupid, however.

Besides, I wasn’t going to escape the cold the following day, when Jeannette and I (joined by Zane Baker) spent the entire day walking outside (low of -16, high of merely 6!) on the Freeport-Brunswick CBC. While Florida Lake Park is a site in our circle, our highlights were all away from there, led by the rediscovery of “our” Dickcissel (by plumage and proximity) at a feeder, about a mile from our store that he frequented from November 2nd through December 15th. He did not look happy about the temperature, either.
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Winslow Park (C19) was the destination for our Saturday Morning Birdwalk on 12/30, and although the start temperature was a painful -11F, seven people showed up and joined me in enjoying a dashing drake Barrow’s Goldeneye

That left New Year’s Eve Day, and despite morning lows again well below zero, Pat Moynahan and I hit the coast from The Nubble (Site Y3) to Webhannet Marsh (Site Y6), with Thick-billed Murre primarily on our minds. Sea-smoke reduced visibility, and the wind chill was brutal. While we did have a total of 72 Harlequin Ducks – which certainly made us happy – our highlights were all from an extremely productive (and for the first time all day, mostly sheltered) Marginal Way in Ogunquit (Site Y4): 1 Fox Sparrow, 10 Lesser and 4 Greater Scaup, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3 Northern Pintails, and this very chilled Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was eeking out a living on Eastern Redcedar berries. But alas, no murres – or shockingly, alcids of any variety.
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Therefore, my 2018 Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year finished at 305 species. When I started the year, my goal was 300, so I am quite satisfied with the tally. Additionally, I saw four species away from sites: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Great Gray Owl, Bullock’s Oriole, and this Fieldfare – a first state record in a yard in Newcastle in April – for a total year list of 309.
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The Great Gray Owl stings a bit, considering I missed one at a site (Sunkahaze NWR; Site PE9) in January while we were on vacation, and another showed up near the Orono Bog (Site PE7) in February. But it’s OK, it’s a Great Gray Owl, and site or otherwise, it was awesome.

Worse, however, was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester was one of the last sites cut from the book, and for some reason it was the only place I encountered one this fall. I even made concerted efforts to find them at likely places, such as the Colonial Acres Sod Farm in Gorham (Site C13). I guess I should have sucked it up and chased the three that were found there in September, or any of the handful of others that were found at various sites throughout the month.

Speaking of misses, as with any birding year – big or otherwise – there were plenty of misses. The worst might have been the elusive (usually) Least Bittern. After just about everyone (including most of my tour group), except I, saw the one that was on Monhegan over Memorial Day weekend, I never found time to make the effort to search for one in breeding marshes over the summer. That effort could have also yielded Common Gallinule, another miss for me in 2017, although the only reports of the year came from a non-site.

I always hope for kites and Golden Eagle at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, but none passed through this year. There were a couple of Golden reports this fall though at sites, including one nicely photographed over Fryeburg Harbor. I also missed a Blue-winged Warbler on Monhegan this fall, as well as a Painted Bunting that left the day before my first tour arrived, while a Western Kingbird finally showed up there two days after I departed. I also dipped on a Franklin’s Gull that was a one-afternoon wonder at Wharton Point (Site C21) on 11/6.

Several other species were seen at sites covered in the book throughout the course of the year that I did not – or could not – chase. These included: Ross’s and Barnacle Geese in Aroostook County in October (Site AR7), Eurasian Wigeon at Messalonskee Lake (Site KE6) on 4/12, a Western Grebe reported off Sears Island (Site WO10) in January, Marbled Godwit at Reid State Park on 6/13, Sabine’s Gull off Eastport in September, a surprising Black-headed Gull at Riverbank Park (Site C12) a one-day wonder in February, and a Franklin’s Gull that flew by Dyer Point (Site C3) on 7/5. Surprisingly, the only Forster’s Tern reported this year was as out-of-place and unseasonable one at Sanford Lagoons (Site Y10) in April, while Royal Terns were briefly spotted at Popham Beach SP (Site SA2) on 7/16 and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm (Site Y7) on 8/19. I also missed Prothonatory Warblers at Wilson’s Cove Preserve (Site C22) on 5/2, and another on Monhegan on 5/16. A Cerulean Warbler was also on Monhegan on 5/21 – a species I have still not yet seen in Maine.

Off-limits but viewable via several boat trips covered in the book, Seal Island NWR hosted its usual slew of incredible rarities this year as well, including a Kentucky Warbler in May, a completely unexpected Gray-tailed Tattler in August, and several sightings of Long-tailed Jaeger in August. Whether or not you count Machias Seal Island as being “Maine” or not, it did host a Bridled Tern and an Ancient Murrelet early this summer,

My lack of an overnight birding-by-schooner tour to Seal Island cost me Leach’s Storm-Petrel for the year as I didn’t luck into any during my summer and fall pelagic trips. Of course, if I didn’t have a total of 4 Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company (Site H7) tours weathered out this fall, I might have picked one up, along with South Polar and Great Skuas – Great Skua remains my all-time nemesis in Maine waters!

And despite concerted effort in late December, I did not see a Thick-billed Murre this year. And Common Redpolls never did return by year’s end, after only a few made it to extreme northern Maine in the previous winter.

However, my most frustrating miss of the year might have been Brown Pelican. What was likely one bird was ranging up and down the coast, perhaps between Prout’s Neck and Plum Island, MA. But between June 9th and 12th, it was reliable off of Pine Point. I was Downeast with my WINGS tour. Until the last report on or about August 2nd, several birders lucked into it here and there, and several non-birders had sightings they reported: one friend saw it while taking a walk at the Camp Ellis jetty, and my landlord texted me a phone photo of it flying past Long Sands Beach (Site Y3) in York while he was out surfing. Oh well, it at least gave me something to look for during the summer, and I definitely spent a few days worth of time trying to turn it up at various coastal locales.

Additional species reported in Maine throughout the year that were not seen at sites covered in Birdwatching in Maine included Redhead (although it probably bred once again somewhere in Aroostook County, including at sites such as Lake Josephine), White-winged Dove, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher (first state record), and a couple of Western Tanagers.

So overall, I think I did quite well! While I am sure I missed a few things here and there, it’s safe to say I saw a large majority of the +/- 343 species observed in Maine this year, or roughly 89%, at sites covered within Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide.

I don’t use eBird, so my list “doesn’t count” according to some, but I took a look at the eBird Year List for 2017. My list was good for second in the state, despite my self-imposed limitations, quite a bit of travel (a total of 35 days out of the state this year), an exceptionally busy schedule all year, not to mention my aversion towards chasing more than the occasional mega rarity. I also visited 105 of the 201 sites covered in the book. Not bad. More importantly, it proved my hypotheses correct:
1) Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide has comprehensive coverage of just about every regularly-occurring bird in the state.
2) Using the guide to “just go birding” can result in a very respectable list, with just a little extra effort.
3) Birding in Maine is really special.
4) And perhaps most importantly for me: I would never do a Big Year for real!

Of course, I couldn’t have done this without my favorite birding buddy, Jeannette. In addition to having the year list pursuit occupy many of our days off together, she occasionally had to put in a few extra hours at the store here and there as I went gallivanting around the state. I also want to thank my friends who kept me company and helped me find birds, or otherwise assisted on my quest, throughout the year. I could not have accomplished this goal without the help of Zane Baker, Chris Bartlett, Kirk Betts, Paul Doiron, Terez Fraser, Kristen Lindquist, John Lorenc, Rich MacDonald, Phil McCormack, Pat Moynahan, Dan Nickerson, Evan Obercian, Luke Seitz, and Marion Sprague, and of course, all of the other contributors to the book who helped guide me way to numerous birding sites around the state. And I cannot forget to mention all of the other birders who found some good birds to twitch over the course of this productive year of birding in Maine.

As the calendar changed to 2018, like a many a real Big Year birder, I took a deep breath, relished the freedom of not being a slave to the list, grabbed my binoculars, and just went birding!

I hope you will do the same in 2018, and I hope Birdwatching in Maine will guide you along the way to a happy and successful year of birding, whatever goals you do or do not have. (You can order it directly from us at this link if you don’t already have a well-worn copy!)

Good birding, and Happy New Year List! If you keep one that it is (I won’t be!).

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Common Nighthawk, Monhegan in May.

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Hooded Warbler on Bailey Island in November, my 4th self-found HOWA of the year!

2018 Maine Birds Prediction Blog

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.