Our first tour of the season, a roadtrip for work, lots of new arrivals, and more good feeder-watching, but the highlight of the week for me was the awesome congregation of Ring-necked Ducks at Corinna Marsh.
Evening Grosbeaks continued at our feeders in Durham, with 5 on 4/8 and 2 on 4/9.
Great performance by American Woodcocks (at least 5-6) including one landing in the open before dusk during our “Woodcocks Gone Wild!” Tour at Pineland Farms on 4/8.
1 Evening Grosbeak, Shawmut Dam, Fairfield, 4/10.
Incredible concentration of _576_ Ring-necked Ducks on the partially-open Corrina Marsh, Corrina, 4/10.
Personal first-of-years and new arrivals:
1 Brown Thrasher, our feeders in Durham, 4/8 (Yard Bird #126!)
Three Evening Grosbeaks at our feeders in Durham on the 3rd was a highlight this week; they were our first here this year.
It didn’t feel like it on most days this week, but spring was still in the air. My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
3 male Evening Grosbeaks, our feeders in Durham, 4/3.
1 Pine Warbler (FOY), Brown’s Point Road, Bowdoinham, 4/4.
I enjoyed a fantastic visit to the Mouth of the Abby in Bowdoinham on 4/4. The tally:
1 drake “EURASIAN” GREEN-WINGED TEAL
1 drake “EURASIAN” X “AMERICAN” GREEN-WINGED TEAL HYBRID
269 American Black Ducks
264 Green-winged Teal
90 Canada Geese
13 Wilson’s Snipe (FOY)
11 Common Mergansers
6 Ring-necked Ducks
4+ Mallard x American Black Duck hybrids
2 American Wigeon
2 Common Goldeneyes
2 Lesser Scaup
1 pair NORTHERN SHOVELERS (FOY)
1 pair Blue-winged Teal (FOY)
1 Hermit Thrush (FOS), Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 4/5.
2 male Evening Grosbeaks, our feeders in Durham, 4/7.
Now that I am back in the field and at work a little more, my feeder-watching at home is just a little less frequent. However, as you can see above, we had some good visitors this week. For continued weekly updates, you can follow “Feeder Watching Friday” posts each Friday on our store’s Facebook page. This week was certainly interesting at the feeding station.
Our annual “Woodcocks Gone Wild!” trip at Pineland Farms was rescheduled to Saturday, 4/8 and we are a go. More info here.
Quite likely the same individual that was first found in Portland before relocating to Thornhurst Farm in North Yarmouth, this Barnacle Goose was found on North River Road in Auburn on the 22nd. Dan Nickerson and I caught up with it two days later, here, on the 24th.
This (Two) Week’s Highlights:
Birding in Kentucky with the Beckham Bird Club
Changes at the feeding station.
Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch gets underway!
American Woodcocks are going wild!
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds (FOY), our feeders in Durham, 3/17 (with Dan Nickerson)
2 Common Grackles (FOY), our feeders in Durham, 3/18.
3 displaying American Woodcocks (FOY), our property in Durham, 3/18.
1 continuing BARNACLE GOOSE, North River Road, Auburn, 3/24 (with Dan Nickerson).
1 Fox Sparrow (FOY), our feeders in Durham, 3/24.
In contrast to my previous 8 weeks (summarized here and here), this period began with actual birding…in Kentucky! I had the pleasure and honor of giving a presentation at the Annual Meeting of the venerable Beckham Bird Club of Louisville. It was my first time birding beyond Greater Durham in two months; a most welcome change of scenery. But I must say, flying with a recovering shoulder really kinda sucks.
My new Kentucky state list kicked off on the morning of the 14th thanks to a local birding tour from Andrew Melnykovych. Starting at his patch, the Grand Allie section of Beckley Creek Park, I started to familiarize myself with the local wintering avifauna. I enjoyed revisiting with Carolina Chickadees in particular, with Black Vultures joining Turkey Vultures overhead. The weather didn’t feel like it, but I was definitely in the South!
That evening, I spoke to over 100 people at the banquet, offering my program about the Morning Flight at Sandy Point to describe concepts and techniques described in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder.
The following morning, I joined club members on a birdwalk to the delightful Anchorage Trail in the nearby town of Anchorage. Passing through a variety of habitats on an easy, paved, two-mile trail, we spent the morning slowly working through the various species we encountered (43 I believe was the official tally). Being from Maine, it was nice to hear Eastern Phoebes (overwintering and/or returning migrants), oodles of Carolina Wrens, and a nice variety of ducks in the pond: one Green-winged with a half-dozen Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwall, Ring-necked Ducks, and Mallards (photo above). I also enjoyed the woodpecker sweep: Downy and Hairy, Pileated and Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Northern Flickers.
While it will be a little while longer before our Saturday Morning Birdwalks return, it was sure nice to get out in the field on a pleasant (by Maine standards that is!) early spring morning to help folks see some birds!
But then it was back to my usual routine. Arriving at home at 1:30am on Thursday the 16th, it wasn’t exactly an early start to my window-watching day, however. Not surprisingly, I spent less time looking out at our feeding station over that week than I have at any point over the past two months. Being out of town for three days coupled with a few visits to the store and lots of physical therapy resulted in fewer hours spent evaluating feeder bird numbers. Sharp-shinned Hawk presence didn’t help either, with our adult male continuing.
This continuing adult male continues to wreak havoc at the feeders, but my consistent observation this winter has offered me insight into this species’ natural history.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of changes in species composition and quantity noticed this week. We only received about 5-6 inches of snow here in Durham as temperatures hovered around the freezing mark for most of the day on the 14th, preventing accumulation until the late afternoon. In fact, there was less snow on the ground two days after the storm than there was the day before the storm (that was far from true for most of the state, however.
Not surprisingly, there were fewer Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows this week. Three Red-winged Blackbirds are regular, while the high counts of Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds continued to decline as territories began to be established and enforced. We also saw a noticeable decrease in the size of our American Goldfinch flock this week. Then, in the afternoon, my first two Brown-headed Cowbirds of the year (in Maine, that is) appeared.
The following week was much more spring-like, and the avian changes were even more evident. At least here in Durham, and changes to species composition and quantities are happening fast now.
Natural food is becoming more available as the snow recedes and the first “new” food sources emerge. A new uptick in American Goldfinches to 45 on 3/23 saw most of the birds spending most of their time eating aspen buds. Although a Pileated Woodpecker remains in the area, I did not see it visit the feeders once this week. We still have 8-12 Dark-eyed Juncos around, but they are often dispersed under brush away from the feeders. Our overwintering male Red-bellied Woodpecker, pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and our Carolina Wren have also spent considerably less time at the feeders this week. And not a single House Finch.
The last of our two American Tree Sparrows of the winter departed on the 17th, but a presumably new bird – a migrant – was at the feeders on the 21st through the end of the week. Our first Song Sparrow of the year arrived on the 18th and has been under the feeders since. Two White-throated Sparrows continue as well, and our first Fox Sparrow of the year appeared in the evening on the 24th.
While one Brown Creeper has been regular in the trees immediately behind the feeding station for a couple of weeks now, we now have a pair, and on the 23rd I spotted one of them creeping on the ground under a hulled sunflower tube. I didn’t see it eat anything, so I won’t count it on the feeder list quite yet, but I can see its bravery increasing.
Red-winged Blackbirds are now here to stay, with 2-3 territorial birds occasionally joined by migrants (high of 14 on the 21st), while we had Brown-headed Cowbirds (1-2) on two days this week. After our first two Common Grackles of the year briefly visited on the 18th, a flock of 22 dropped by on the 21st.Also on the 21st, we had 2 Pine Siskins – our first here since January 21st. I also spotted our first Turkey Vulture over the yard this year later that day.
Meanwhile, my yard-listing gears shifted from sorting through commuting gulls to commuting geese. With growing numbers of Canada Geese beginning to arrive starting on the 17th, flocks would often be visible from the window and over our yard as they commute between the Androscoggin River and local fields.
Our suspicion that the area right around our house would be a perfect place for displaying American Woodcocks was confirmed on the first warm and calm night of the spring: 3 birds displaying closely and vociferously right over our driveway on the 18th with two displaying and one silent fly-by (a female?) on the 22nd. Speaking of American Woodcocks, our first tour of the season is right around the corner: Woodcocks Gone Wild at Pineland Farms is only a week away!
Another sure sign that spring really is here, the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch kicked off on March 15th as usual, albeit delayed by 2 hours as the last of the precipitation cleared. It absolutely pains me that I cannot be up there, but thankfully Zane Baker has returned for his 5th season as Official Counter. While Jeannette and I will be up there much less than usual for a while longer at least, we know the count is in great hands!
I did, however, make a cameo on the 20th, spending an hour and a half to test drive my stamina. A handful of migrant raptors were spotted, and I was rewarded for the effort with a flock of 6 Northern Pintails flying by. This was my personal 144th species at Bradbury Mountain State Park, and we believe a first record for the Hawkwatch -and therefore the park itself!
Speaking of appearances, Jeannette and I appeared on Newscenter Maine’s 207 last week, discussing birds, bird feeding, and the changing climate and bird populations. Check it out!
I think my friend Dan Nickerson took pity on me – or was just tired of reading about our feeder birds? – so he was kind enough to pick me up and take me birding for the morning on the 24th for some local birding. It was great to get out, and I was most appreciative. And what a day we had!
We worked our way up the Androscoggin River, finding one 1st-winter Iceland Gull still at the Auburn Riverwalk and some new arrivals at the south end of North River Road in Auburn, including the boat launch area: a total of 10 Ring-necked Ducks and 3 Double-crested Cormorants (both being my first of the year in Maine), and off the boat launch, a small flock of 5 Lesser Scaup with one female Greater Scaup hanging out with them. The first of our three Ring-necked Ducks joined them briefly.
Further up the road, we looked for a previously-reported Barnacle Goose in the farm fields, but we couldn’t find it. There were a goodly number of Canada Geese around though, and with birds in and out of gulleys and presumably moving back and forth from the river, we decided to check back later.
We looked for Snow Buntings and the like along Upper Street in Turner, kept an eye out for frugivores, and then paid the Lower Street Harris’s Sparrow a visit. I saw this bird back on January 13th, but it was too good of a bird to not see again. When it immediately popped out of its favored bush, Dan got a life bird and I enjoyed a nice long view (but not so much photographs with one hand in a cold and gusty wind!).
We then returned to North River Road where I spotted the Barnacle Goose immediately this time. We savored this sighting – Dan’s second lifer in an hour! – and photographs were more successful (see above). We decided to celebrate with Thai food and broke for an early lunch as my shoulder was starting to whine a little about all of this excitement and activity. Thai food made everything better though, as it usually does.
Hopefully, I have finally turned the corner on my slow recovery, and next week will feature a little more time in the field and at the store, but for now, I will continue to track feeder birds in between.
Jeannette and I escaped for a long weekend in Cape Cod, Friday through Monday. We were mostly looking for North Atlantic Right Whales, but of course we did some birding too! Jeannette’s whale and bird photos from the weekend are posted in this short blog about our trip:
Meanwhile, back in Maine, the strong northwesterly winds slowed the pace of migration. However, by week’s end, I had some time do a little local birding, producing the following highlights:
Well, that was a helluva good five days of birding! And, I covered a heckuva lot of ground in the process. Yes, spring – and spring birding – is finally upon us.
After checking local hotspots on Thursday morning (lots of Killdeer and my first Eastern Phoebes), I began my trek eastwards after lunch. I was giving a presentation and book signing at the Maine Coastal Islands NWR headquarters in Rockland, thanks to an invite from the Friends of Maine Seabird Islands. On the way, I hit a handful of water overlooks, with the only birds of note being my FOY Fish Crows in downtown Brunswick and FOY Double-crested Cormorant in Damariscotta Harbor.
But then I arrived at Weskeag Marsh, and that was most productive. Highlighted by two drake “Eurasian” Green-winged (aka “Common”) Teal, a nice diversity of waterfowl also included two pairs of American Wigeon and a pair of Northern Pintail. I flushed two American Woodcocks and four Fox Sparrows from the short trail that leads to the viewing blind. Afterwards, I found a single 2nd-Cycle Glaucous Gull with four 1st-cycle Iceland Gulls still at Owl’s Head Harbor.
Here’s a poorly phone-scoped image of one of the Common Teal, showing the bold horiztonal white bar across the wing and the lack of a vertical white bar on the side of the chest.
Spending the night with friends, I then met up with staff from the Coastal Mountains Land Trust for a walk around their Beech Hill Preserve to discuss and offer suggestions as to augment and improve bird habitat there. A spiffy male Northern Harrier and a Northern Shrike (my 11th of the season!) were me rewards.
I then took the (very) long way home, checking farm fields on my way to the Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta. Although 900-1000 gulls were present at the dump – a nice number for here – all but 5 were Herring Gulls (plus three Great Black-backed and 2 Ring-billed). At least 10 Bald Eagles were still present however.
Working my way down the Kennebec, I checked the mouth of the Abagadasset River in Bowdoinham, which I found to still be frozen. Nearby Brown’s Point, however, had open water, and duck numbers were clearly building, including 44 Ring-necked Ducls and 50+ Green-winged Teal. Back at the store soon thereafter, I found our Song Sparrow numbers had grown from four to 12 overnight.
As the rain and drizzle ended on Saturday morning, the birdwalk group convened, and we headed inland (for the first time since December!) to work the “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.” Highlighted by two Cackling Geese that were first located on Thursday (a couple of hours after I checked the fields in the fog, dammit!) and yet another Northern Shrike (our third week in a row with a shrike on the birdwalk!), this very productive outing is fully covered on our website, here – as are all of our birdwalk outings. One of the two Cackling Geese, phone-scoped through the fog.
Normally, the birdwalk’s return to the store is the end of my birding on Saturday, but not this week. Soon, Kristen Lindquist, Barb Brenneman, and I raced off to Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth to twitch a real “mega,” the stunning Northern Lapwing! Discovered Friday evening, the bird was enjoyed by many throughout the day on Saturday, but it was not seen again on Sunday despite much searching. This is the 4th record of lapwing in Maine, and the third in just three years! I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have seen the last two. My distantly-phone-scoped photos of the Cape Elizabeth bird hardly do this stunner justice.
Yet even still my birding day was far from over, as Saturday night was our annual “Woodcocks Gone Wild at Pineland Farms” dusk trip. Keeping an eye on the weather (the rain had cleared, but increasing winds were a concern), Jeannette and I wondered if we should postpone the outing. Moments after we decided to give the go-ahead in the afternoon, the winds began to gust – a lot. Then, at about 5pm, they died. When our walk got underway at 6:30, there was a little breeze once again, but it was not enough to keep the woodcocks from going wild! In fact, it’s possible that a little wind kept the birds’ display a little lower – especially the first handful of flights – which resulted in quite possibly the best show we’ve ever had here! At least 7 males were displaying, including one repeatedly right over our heads – and at least two more silent birds were observed flying by. Add to this lots of American Robins and a Northern Shrike before the sun set, and the group was treated to a wonderful spring evening performance!
Next up was Androscoggin County on Sunday with my friend Phil McCormack. While our primary target was a pancake breakfast at Jillison’s Farm in Sabattus, we were also hoping for a Redhead that was discovered on the outlet stream at Sabattus Pond a few days ago. Well, the pancake chase (the more important one!) was successful, but the Redhead chase was not. However, a very good day of birding was enjoyed nonetheless.
Scattered ducks on the river including Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers, a couple of pockets of Tree Swallows, and other assorted species were trumped by two flooded fields along Rte 136 in Durham. With ponds and marshes still frozen, ducks are stacking up at more ephemeral – but unfrozen – habitats. Thousands of ducks and geese were present, mostly Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks. However, between the two fields, we tallied an unbelievable 273 Wood Ducks (probably about quadruple my previous high count in the state). Two immature Snow Geese were my first of the year, and very rare away from the coastal marshes in the spring. 18 Green-winged Teal, 12 Ring-necked Ducks, 10 Northern Pintail, and two pairs of American Wigeon were also among the masses.
Although these phone-scoped photos hardly do the scene justice, they should at least give you a taste of what things looked like.
After brunch, we birded the west side of the Androscoggin River (more Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers, etc) before spending our last hour of our birding (half) day at Bradbury Mountain. Our disappointment over missing an unprecedented 9 Sandhill Cranes was alleviated when #10 was spotted, along with my first two Ospreys of the year.
After four days of extensive birding, my Monday agenda at the store was lengthy, but the weather in the morning was just too good to pass up! A spin of the local waterfowl hotspots was fruitful. The Goose Fields yielded the two continuing Cackling Geese along Greely Road, along with my first American Kestrels of the year, and my FOY Wilson’s Snipe, also along Greely.
No luck finding a lingering Barrow’s Goldeneye in the Harraseeket River, but at Wharton Point, a group of 7 Northern Shovelers was one of the largest flocks of this species I have seen in Maine. My first Greater Yellowlegs of the year was also present, as were 60+ Green-winged Teal, 16 Ring-necked Ducks, about 30 distant scaup, 8 American Wigeons, and 1 Northern Pintail among several hundred American Black Ducks.
Two joyous hours at the Brad were full of raptors: 127 birds had past the watch when I departed at noon, including 4 Osprey. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks continue to add to their all-time record tallies. Hundreds of Canada Geese were sorted through, hoping for a rarity, while other migrants included Tree Swallows, American Black Ducks, Common Mergansers, and Great Blue Herons.
Furthermore, signs of a good flight last night included the return of Golden-crowned Kinglets to the area – after we were virtually devoid of them this winter, and an increase in Red-breasted Nuthatches (relatively few and far between this winter as well), Song-Sparrows, and at the store, a Fox Sparrow – a bird we don’t get here every spring due to our open habitat.
So long story short, it’s been a great few days of birding! But now, I should probably get some work done!