Tag Archives: Barrow’s Goldeneye

A January Big Day

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Yesterday, (Monday, January 10, 2017), Luke Seitz and I partook in a semi-serious Big Day, attempting to see as many species as we could in one day. Winter Big Days are tough because the days are short, rarities are usually relatively few, wintering birds tend to move around a lot more than territorial songsters, and it’s often firggin’ cold.

And it was certainly cold to start – 11 degrees to be exact as we greeted the sunrise seawatching at Dyer Point. Heat shimmer and sea smoke impacted our tally, but much worse was finding our second stop, Grondin Pond, completely frozen! Just 2 days ago it had at least three “good birds:” American Coot, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Duck!
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We then dipped on the long-staying Orange-crowned Warbler at Pond Cove, but the unexpected fly-over Northern Harrier plus Northern Mockingbird, Red-throated Loon, and Golden-crowned Kinglet put us back in the game. We then found a female Wood Duck at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland – our 50th species of the day, and it was only 9:53.
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Phone-binned by Luke

Hmmm…maybe we should start taking this a little more seriously.

We started to clean up with a slew of successful twitches of very good birds: Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail in South Portland, King Eider in Portland Harbor, Barrow’s Goldeneye in Cumberland, Great Blue Herons in Yarmouth, and Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin at Winslow Park.

We even celebrated our good fortunes with a fueling, hot breakfast sandwich from Maple’s Organics in Yarmouth.
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Unfortunately, we then hit a cold stretch, striking out on Purple Finch and Hermit Thrush in my yard, and Evening Grosbeaks at a Pownal feeder. Snowy Owl and Snow Bunting at Brunswick Landing was followed by a strategic error – the absolute slowest service in history at the Five Guys in Brunswick!

Like I said, we were only so serious about this Big Day, as exemplified by stopping for food…twice! But a to-go order of some fries, a veggie sandwich, and a milkshake should not have taken so long. First, our sandwiches were left on the counter as they forgot to bag them with fries. Then they had to wait for more fries to cook, and then it turned out someone had accidentally switched off the milkshake machine.
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Although that whole event really only wasted about 10 minutes, it was 10 minutes further behind schedule…our Pownal swing was a time suck, and the walk at Winslow took much longer than planned. And the days are short this time of year!

A Gadwall in Damariscotta was a nice pick-up, and we added a few en route twitches, but we got to Rockland with way too little time. We failed in our search of the harbor for the Pink-footed Geese and Snow Goose (they weren’t on the school fields due to the recent snow cover), and dithered on our decision to head to Camden, picking up a nearly-drive-by Bonaparte’s Gull on the way.

We didn’t run into any Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks on our drive, and we arrived way too late in the day to be graced with a visit from the Bullock’s Oriole. The thickening clouds ahead of the approaching storm was rapidly bringing the birding day to an early end. Quick-thinking rewarded us with the female Greater Scaup which we relocated in the Megunticook River after not seeing her in the harbor, and in very last light we somehow picked up American Wigeon in Rockport Harbor (not one as had been reported, but three, plus another Green-winged Teal), our 73rd and final species of the day.

We had hoped for a Barred Owl on the drive home; surprised that we didn’t run into one during the day, but the arrival of a mix of ice pellets, sleet, and dreezing rain didn’t help matters. However, with almost no scouting, no owling, and only about 9 hours of daylight, we agreed that this day was really an extraordinary success. 22 species of waterfowl in the middle of winter is pretty darn good, and we saw some great birds over the course of the day.

It’s almost certainly a record – if only because we don’t think anyone has done a January Big Day before (or submitted to the ABA as such!), even if it fell short of our goal of 75. And with quite a few misses and birds “left on the table,” we can’t help but wonder what a little planning, more discipline, and a packed lunch could have resulted in? (Or, having run it a couple of days earlier when Grondin was open!)

Finally, here’s an annotated checklist of the species we encountered, with notes on the rarities, single-sightings, or species seen only at one location.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck: female at Mill Creek park, South Portland
Gadwall: 1 drake, Oyster Creek, Damariscotta
American Wigeon: 1 male and 2 females, Rockport Harbor
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Pintail: male behind Bay Harbor Car Wash, South Portland
Green-winged Teal: male behind Bay Harbor Car Wash, South Portland and female at Rockport Harbor
Greater Scaup: female, Megunticook River from Mechanic Street, Camden
King Eider: female, Portland Harbor from Fish Pier
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck: Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye: male, Cumberland Town Landing
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Wild Turkey
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant: 1, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth.
Great Blue Heron: 2, Lower Falls Landing, Yarmouth
Northern Harrier: male, flying over Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Ruddy Turnstone: 3, Winslow Park, Freeport
Dunlin: 30+, Winslow Park, Freeport
Purple Sandpiper
Razorbill: several, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth
Black Guillemot
Bonaparte’s Gull: 1, Glen Cove, Rockland
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Snowy Owl: 1 Brunswick Landing
Red-bellied Woodpecker: at least 8-9 over the course of the day!
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Peregrine Falcon: 1, Portland Harbor
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper: 2, Winslow Park, Freeport
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Snow Bunting: 20+, Brunswick Landing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Total=73

Misses: Pink-footed Geese and Snow Goose in Rockland; American Coot, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and Northern Shoveler at Grondin Pond; Black-legged Kittiwake; Barred Owl; Cooper’s Hawk; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike; Hermit Thrush (1); Bohemian Waxwing; Orange-crowned Warbler (1); Bullock’s Oriole (1), Purple Finch, Pine Grosbeak; Evening Grosbeak.

(Also,we posted a little play-by-play in a thread on the store’s Facebook page during the day. Check it out…we added commentary in the comments section, culminating with a video of me doing what it takes to get those wigeon at last light!)

The 2015-16 Winter SnowBird(er) Contest is Underway!

L1010480_RECR1_immMale,CousinsIsland,3-28-14_edited-1A group of Red Crossbills on Cousin’s Island that landed at our feet was just one of the highlights during the 2014-15 Winter SnowBird(er) Contest.

It’s December, and you know what that means! It’s time for the SnowBird(er) Contest here at Freeport Wild Bird Supply!

We are very excited to announce the start of the 7th annual “Winter SnowBird(er) Contest,” which was introduced as a way to encourage people to get outdoors in the depths of winter.  Just because it’s cold out does not mean there aren’t a lot of great birds to see!  While we offer free Saturday morning birdwalks throughout the year, it is much easier to entice people to participate in May when warblers are around, or July when it is nice and warm out.

Therefore, to get more birders out and interested in the great winter birding our area offers, we have added an extra incentive: prizes!  Participants accumulate points based on the temperature at the start of the birdwalk – the colder the morning, the more points are awarded.  The contest runs December 5th through March 26th, and at the end of the period, over $250 in prizes will be awarded!

Winter birding can be a lot of fun.  It is prime season to see seaducks, such as Common and Red-throated Loons, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and scoters.  The southernmost wintering flock of Barrow’s Goldeneyes on the East Coast resides in the lower Harraseeket River in South Freeport, and we frequently visit Winslow Park and the Freeport Town Wharf to enjoy this beautiful duck.
female BAGO with imm COGO1, East Machias River, 2-13-12_edited-1
Barrow’s (center) and Common Goldeneyes side-by-side is another highlight of winter birding in the area.

We’ll look for Northern Shrikes, enjoy our year-round woodland residents, and who knows what else? Last year, we spotted everything from a vagrant Townsend’s Solitaire to Red Crossbills literally at our feet. And, if this winter turns out to be another “irruption” year (and there is a good suggestion that for many species, it will be), we may find Snowy Owls, Common Redpolls, both crossbills, and much more!

Droll Yankees logoThe person with the most points at the end of March wins this year’s Grand Prize: a B7 Domed Caged Feeder complements of DROLL YANKEES. Large capacity, Gray Squirrel-resistant, pigeon-proof, and sheltered from the weather, this great feeder solves feeding station problems. Like all of Droll’s products, it is made in the USA and has a Lifetime Guarantee.

Royal River Massage logoThe runner-up will receive a one-hour massage from ROYAL RIVER MASSAGE in Yarmouth. Relieve “warbler neck” and other aches and pains in a 60 Minute Therapeutic Massage! It’ll be a great way to recover from the winter season of shoveling snow.

Laughing Stock Farm logoAnd, finally, the third place finisher will receive 2 weekly organic vegetable pickups (“medium” shares) at LAUGHING STOCK FARM CSA in Freeport. A selection of veggies will be available on each of two pick-up dates in April.  We’ve been members of the farm’s CSA for 10 years and love having fresh, organic, and local vegetables all year long.

Betsey Puckett, President at Droll Yankees was excited to provide the Grand Prize for the second year in a row, “Kudos…for providing a challenging and educational event. But then again, you Mainers are known for your endurance.”

There are some mornings in mid-winter that can make it tough to get out of bed, so we hope to add a little extra motivation. The real prize of course, is the birding our area offers in the depths of winter.

For a recap of what we have been seeing on our recent birdwalks, you can always visit the News page of our website to see what you are missing. And with 240 species seen in the 11 years of free Saturday Morning Birdwalks, you have been missing a whole lot!

So join us on a Saturday this winter to see how fun winter birding can be, and start accumulating points! Birdwalks meet at the store at 8:00am for a short carpool to a local site, rarely more than 10-15 minutes away. We return to the store between 10 and 10:30 for free shade-grown, organic, bird-friendly coffee and a look at what’s hanging out at our feeders.  The birdwalks are free and do not require advance registration.  Hope to see you soon!

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This Snowy Owl in Brunswick during last winter’s birdwalk was the 237th species ever seen on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk

The Decline of Barrow’s Goldeneyes in Freeport and Beyond.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneyes! And I like getting to see them every winter, and sometimes in numbers…and only a few miles away from home. But I wish I could see more of them.

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Unfortunately, with each passing year, I am seeing fewer and fewer. My local Barrow’s Goldeneye (BAGO) “patch” is the Lower Harraseeket River here in South Freeport. A couple of miles of river between Winslow Park and Bartol Island hosts the southernmost wintering flock on the East Coast…or at least what nowadays passes for a flock.

One of just a handful of locales in the state that regularly hosts more than one or two birds, this once-impressive flock has declined dramatically in the past ten years that I have been watching them. Scanning the river once a week, from early December through the middle of April from a variety of locations (Sand Beach, the Town Wharf, the Harraseeket Yacht Club, Winslow Park, and/or Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park) I have kept track of arrival and departure dates, and perhaps most importantly, overall numbers.

“High counts” are the maximum number of birds seen at one time in a given time period. While some individuals come and go over the course of the winter, it seems to me that the seasonal high count is a reasonable way of estimating the local population (as keeping track of individual birds is impossible). And my high counts for each of the last nine winters show an alarming pattern:

2004-2005: 23
2005-2006: 15
2006-2007: 10
2007-2008: 2
2008-2009: 9
2009-2010: 2
2010-2011: 6
2011-2012: 3
2012-2013: 2

It has become readily obvious that the less ice there is, the fewer Barrow’s concentrate in the Lower Harraseeket. A deep channel and strong tide combine to keep at least a stretch of the gut at the mouth of the river (between Winslow and tiny Pound of Tea Island) open in the coldest winters. Back in 2004-2005, the river was almost completely frozen, and the narrow strip of open water was so thick with ducks, especially Common Eiders, that it looked as if you could almost walk across the river on their backs!

We also know that the climate, and the temperature of Casco Bay, is getting warmer (yes, that is fact, and yes, this year’s cold winter/spring weather does nothing to disprove this – note that “climate” and “weather” are actually different words that describe different things!). Therefore, I optimistically wondered if the apparent decline in the population of BAGO was nothing more than a lack of ice-caused concentration. The less ice, the fewer BAGO I see.

Therefore, when about 90-95% of the Harraseeket froze this winter (the most extensive coverage since 2004-2005) and ducks concentrated in numbers not seen since then, I was cautiously optimistic that BAGO number would spike:

2013-2014: 5

Not the spike I was hoping for. I searched long and hard to find BAGO elsewhere in the vicinity, but I did not see any (the closest was an overwintering bird in South Portland that has returned to the Fore River for the last two or three years now). That’s a 78% decline from the 2004-2005 high.

Unfortunately, Christmas Bird Counts occur too early in the winter to adequately gauge seasonal high counts of BAGO, although the graph does reflect a decrease in the past ten years (the long-term data set is clouded by low birds-per-party-hour totals as a whole, along with misconceptions about identification in the past).

But this decline is not just apparent in the Harraseeket. Birders have detected a decline in all other known wintering concentrations, especially in Belfast Bay. They are now longer seen on most visits in mid-winter there and it’s been a long time since I have seen a report from Bucksport. However, according to the 1996 A Birder’s Guide to Maine, *1 aggregations of 15+ birds are “regular features in most winters” at these two sites.

In other words, at least in Maine, the decline is real. And it’s time for the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife to do something about it. No more half-assed, non-action policies that bow to the hunting lobby. No more “please tell us if you shoot one and then say you’re sorry and it will be OK” (with only a disincentive to do so) state policy. *2

In 2009 IF&W listed the Barrow’s Goldeneye as “Threatened.” …And has done almost nothing since, other than set up surveys that are conducted every four years. Oh, and they hung up some posters at boat launches asking people to not shoot them (might as well put a target on them, in my mind).

Let me be clear, there is no evidence to suggest that hunting is causing a decline in BAGO. I think much larger factors are at play. There’s acidification and warming of the ponds and lakes in their limited and narrow eastern Quebec breeding range to changes in winter food sources. Forestry practices could be reducing the availability of suitable nesting cavities as well. There’s lead ingestion and heavy metal bioaccumulation. Then there’s reduced ice in most winters in their primary wintering areas of the St. Lawrence estuary (thereby reducing how many birds come further south) to competition with other native and non-native species (BAGO eat small mollusks, especially mussels – could invasive Green Crabs be impacting the food supply for ducks here, too?). In other words, there are a lot of possible proximate and ultimate causes to the species’ decline. But if hunters shoot one or two (by accident, of course) of the remaining 5, well then the decline becomes even quicker. Even repeated disturbance from concentrated hunting pressure on other species could be impacting where the birds tarry, where they feed, and how much energy they waste fleeing boats and shots.

I am not opposed to waterfowl hunting. But I am opposed to hunting that impacts an endangered species (see, for example: Conservation and Management/Effects of Human Activity in the Birds of North America entry referenced below). The closure of a handful of tiny areas will affect very few hunters, and with more than 99% of the state still available to them, this rates as a minor inconvenience at most. However, this fraction of a percent of water closed to hunting could protect a significant majority of the wintering population – or at least what’s left of it. At the very least, this could buy us some time to find out what the root of the problem is.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneye, and if you do too, it’s time to pressure IF&W and politicians to act. Otherwise, there is a very legitimate chance that this bird will no longer be a part of Maine’s winter avifauna.

Notes:

*1 = Pierson, Elizabeth C., Jan Erik Pierson, and Peter D. Vickery. A Birder’s Guide to Maine. 1996. Down East Books: Camden, ME.

*2 = https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/alert_waterfowl_hunters.htm

For more information on the status of BAGO in Maine, see:
https://www.maine.gov/ifw/pdfs/species_planning/birds/barrowsgoldeneye/speciesassessment.pdf

Additional Reference:
Eadie, John M., Jean-Pierre L. Savard and Mark L. Mallory. 2000. Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/548 doi:10.2173/bna.548