Tag Archives: Biddeford

This Week’s Highlights, June 18 – June 24, 2022

I found this 1st summer Little Gull on Hill’s Beach in Biddeford on 6/19. It was among about 40-50 Bonaparte’s Gulls and hunkered down against the wind. This was my first in southern Maine in quite a few years.

Breeding season is upon us, and Maine’s seabird islands are in full effect – even when they don’t have a Tufted Puffin. I did find a Little Gull, however, and that was fun; I really like Little Gulls! My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • Biddeford Pool shoreline and neighborhood, 6/19: 1 1st summer Great Cormorant, 3 Black Scoters, 1 pair Surf Scoters, and 1 likely-late migrant Magnolia Warbler.
  • 1 first-summer LITTLE GULL and 1 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 6/19 (photos above).
  • 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 14 Black-bellied Plovers, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 6/19.
  • Belgrade PURPLE MARTIN colony, 6/21: Jeannette and I counted at least 25 occupied nests holes, which I believe would be a recent record high of this venerable colony.
  • 1 Red Crossbill, Downeast Sunrise Trail, Machias, 6/21 (with Jeannette).
  • 15-20 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Cutler Harbor to Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
  • 1 pair NORTHERN GANNETS, displaying and early-courtship behavior, Machias Seal Island with Bold Coast Charter Co, 6/22 (with Paul Dioron, Bill Thompson, and Jeannette).
  • 1 Greater Yellowlegs, Machias River Causeway, 6/22 (with Jeannette).  High-flying and heading south, was this our first migrant of “fall?” or just an over-summering bird heading to a roost?
  • 2 Red Crossbills (Typ1 10 fide Matt Young), 1 Bay-breasted Warbler, Palm Warblers, etc, Cutler Coast Maine Public Reserve Lands, 6/23 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 pair AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Egg Rock off Petit Manan peninsula, with Acadia Nature Tours puffin trip to Petit Manan Island (with Doug Hitchcox, Jeannette, et al).  No Tufted Puffin.
After a couple of failed nesting attempts followed by a 2-3(?) year hiatus, a male Northern Gannet has been hanging out and “prospecting” on Machias Seal Island again this year. Recently, he has attracted the attention of a 4th-cycle, presumed female. We were lucky enough to view them outside of our blind during a tour there on 6/22. This was just a quick snapshot with my phone. Jeannette has over a thousand photos to sort through!

This Week’s Highlights, May 13-20,2022 (Spoiler Alert: It was Exceptional!)

Confidently identifying Gray-cheeked vs Bicknell’s Thrushes on migration is always a challenge, but this bird I found at Biddeford Pool was vocalizing incessantly. It even posed – as far as these reclusive migrants go – for some snapshots. I believe that this is my first confirmed Bicknell’s Thrush
on the coastal plain of Maine during spring migration,

For much of this spring, I’ve been lamenting about a “slow” week of migration, or a “trickle” of migrants, etc.  That was NOT the case this week, as the floodgates finally opened. In fact, it was an incredible week of birding. The northern limits of a huge fallout greeted me on Monday morning. And then there was Friday at Biddeford Pool.  It was epic. Unforgettable.

My observations of note over the past eight days included:

  • 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
  • 20 species of warblers, including 1 continuing Louisiana Waterthrush and 6 Bay-breasted Warblers (FOY), and led by 25+ Northern Parulas and 20+ Black-and-white Warblers, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).  Incredible morning; definitely the best morning of spring to date. Interestingly, this appeared to be about the northern limits of what was a significant coastal fallout from at least Eastern Massachusetts into southern Maine.
  • 17 species of warblers, led by 18 Common Yellowthroats and 17 American Redstarts, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet (getting late), Florida Lake Park, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 1 pair Gadwalls, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 16 species of warblers, led by 24 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 15 American Redstarts, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/18 (with Jeannette).  This was the first morning this season where there were more female than male passage migrants.
  • 16 species of warblers, led by 24 Common Yellowthroats and 22 Yellow-rumped Warblers, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/19.
  • Biddeford Pool, FALLOUT, 5/20!  This was insane. I was optimistic about conditions based on the overnight wind forecast and morning fog, but there was virtually nothing on the radar overnight. I almost didn’t go. I never expected to find this.  Birds were everywhere. Every tree had warblers. Swainson’s Thrushes and Lincoln’s Sparrows were hopping around manicured lawns. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it was, but here are some of the highlights as I covered East Point, the neighborhood, and the Elphis Pond trails. All of my numbers are extremely conservative, as I attempted to judge the movement of birds between parallel streets, etc.
    • 20 species of warblers led by 53 Common Yellowthroats, 44+ American Redstarts, 44 Yellow Warblers, and 43 Magnolia Warblers. I know these numbers are particularly low.
    • Thrushes!  43 Swainson’s Thrushes (FOY) and 8+ Veeries, but also…
    • 1 BICKNELL’S THRUSH – shocking migrant vocalizing incessantly on path to East Point.  Was still calling 3 hours later. Voice recordings and poor photo above. Rarely detected in migration away other than Nocturnal Flight Calls, this might have been my first ever confirmation in spring along Maine’s coast. Seems a little early, too. Photo above.
    • 1 GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (FOY). My settings were off on the camera and the overall tone of this bird is not accurate! When I looked down at the camera to adjust, it dropped out of site. Called once.
  • 1 SUMMER TANAGER, near Elphis Pond. Quick fly-by, and no red seen. Confident there was little or red on the upperparts. Not seen well enough to know if this was the bird that had been continuing in the area for a while or a different, possible female.
    • 1 male ORCHARD ORIOLE, Elphis Pond.  Often singing.
    • Amazing quantities of usually-uncommon migrants, such as: 15 Lincoln’s Sparrows, 15 Bay-breasted Warblers, and 11 Canada Warblers.
    • Other good tallies included 17 Black-throated Blue Warblers, 13 Least Flycatchers, and 4-6 Scarlet Tanagers.
    • Personal First-of-years also included 2 Cape May Warblers, 9 Tennessee Warblers, 3 Philadelphia Vireos, along with 2 Roseate Terns off Ocean Ave.
    • The bird that got away: an intriguing Empid that suggested Acadian in a brief view along Orcutt Ave. Could not relocate.

Meanwhile, my list of personal “first of years” this week before the Biddeford Pool fallout included the following:

  • 4 American Redstarts, Essex Woods and Marsh, Bangor, 5/13.
  • 2 Bobolinks, Essex Woods and Marsh, 5/13.
  • 1 Virginia Rail, Essex Woods and Marsh, 5/13.
  • 5 Wood Thrushes, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
  • 1 Scarlet Tanager, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
  • 3 Red-eyed Vireos, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
  • 1 Black-crowned Night-Heron, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
  • 1 Canada Warbler, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (a little on the early side), Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 4 Eastern Wood-Pewees, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 2 Blackpoll Warblers, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 6 Bay-breasted Warblers, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 Alder Flycatcher, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 1 BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, Hidden Pond Preserve, Freeport, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 40+ Least Terns, Scarborough Marsh, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 4 WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
  • 20+ Semipalmated Sandpipers, Pelreco Marsh, 5/17 (with client from Maine)
This Black-and-white Warbler was among the multitudes of cooperative birds at Biddeford Pool on the 20th. But apparently, I didn’t take photos of any of the colorful ones! I was also having so much fun that
for the most part, I forgot I even had a camera.

This Week’s Highlights, 12/11-17

Despite taking photos of all four species of warblers along the Saco Riverwalk on 12/4, the only photo even marginally useful was this mediocre one of the continuing “Western” Palm Warbler. What I do like about it, however, is that it caught the “tail flick” in action.

It was a tough week in the Maine birding world with the loss of an icon, but she would have been upset with me if I didn’t get out to do any birding this week. My observations of note over the past seven days were as follows:

  • 1 Snowy Owl, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 12/11.
  • 1 Lapland Longspur with 12 Snow Buntings, Day’s Landing, Biddeford Pool, 12/12 (with client from Georgia).
  • 1 ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (FOS), Wood Island, Biddeford Pool, 12/12 (with client from Georgia).
  • 16 Northern Pintails, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 12/12 (with client from Georgia).
  • 2 Snowy Owls, Biddeford Pool neighborhood, Biddeford, 12/12 (with client from Georgia).
  • 1 Pine Warbler, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 12/13 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 continuing NASHVILLE WARBLER, 1 continuing ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 1 continuing “WESTERN” PALM WARBLER, and 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler, Saco Riverwalk, 12/14.
  • Scattered single Turkey Vultures throughout the week.

This Week’s Highlights, 12/4-10, 2021

Maine’s third-ever GRAY KINGBIRD has been delighting birders since late last week,

My observations of note over the past seven days were as follows, almost all of which were from a tremendous Tuesday morning, as previously reported:

1 male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, 1 “WESTERN” PALM WARBLER, and 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, Saco Riverwalk, Saco, 12/7 (with Jeannette).

1 continuing GRAY KINGBIRD and 24 Dunlin, Fortunes Rocks Beach, Biddeford, 12/7 (with Jeannette). Photo above.

2 SNOWY OWLS, Mile Stretch, Biddeford, 12/7 (with Jeannette). Photos below.

1 continuing male CAPE MAY WARBLER, Biddeford Pool neighborhood, Biddeford, 12/7 (with Jeannette).

1 Turkey Vulture, over downtown Biddeford, 12/7 (with Jeannette).

4 Red-winged Blackbirds were at the store on 12/9 (observed by Jeanne Farrell).

1 Snow Bunting, Pott’s Point, Harpswell, 12/10.

7 Horned Larks, Stover’s Point, Harpswell, 12/10.

With the exceptions of Tuesday and Friday mornings, my birding was limited, local, and exceptionally slow!  The complete lack of irruptives (other than an average number so far of Snowy Owls) south of the boreal transition belt, along with continued relatively-mild conditions that limit concentrations (including at feeders and of waterfowl) make for slim pickings on those short morning outings and dogwalks!

Good owl photos are of birds looking relaxed and ignoring you.
If it’s staring right at you with big open eyes, you are too close!

This Week’s Highlights, 11/6-11/11

No shame in chasing a bird that is this stunningly gorgeous! And like the chase of the ATFL earlier this week, we put in the effort to find out own beforehand – and then rewarded ourselves with another exceptional rarity!
What a dapper goose.

Despite my best efforts, my “best” birds of the week were all chased and not found. Nonetheless, I had a great week of birding and birdfinding. My highlights over the past six days were as follows:

  • 1 continuing CATTLE EGRET, 2 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Pine Warbler, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 8 Laughing Gulls, etc, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/6 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • 2 Blackpoll Warblers, Saco Riverwalk, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 3 Great Egrets, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 1 continuing PRAIRIE WARBLER, 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 1 Indigo Bunting, 1 Great Horned Owl, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, etc, Biddeford Pool neighborhood, Biddeford, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian)
  • 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 2 Lincoln’s Sparrows, etc, Private property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 1 still-continuing late Fish Crow, Cook’s Corner, Brunswick, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 continuing BARNACLE GOOSE, South Elementary School, Rockland, 11/9 (with Jeannette). Photos above and below.
  • 1 American Coot and 10 American Wigeon, The Samoset, Rockport, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 American Woodcock, Rte 1, Thomaston, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 2 American Wigeon and 1 Killdeer, Old Brunswick Road, Durham, 11/11.
I simply love the subtle beauty in the color and pattern of the wings and back of this species.

Derek’s Birding This Week, 1/2-1/8/2021

My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • 1 Hermit Thrush, several record high counts including White-breasted Nuthatch and Eastern Bluebird, Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls, etc, Brunswick-Freeport CBC “West Freeport Sector,” 1/3 (with Jeannette).  Full list and analysis here.
  • 2 SNOWY OWLS, Biddeford, 1/5 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK and 5 Horned Larks, East Point, Biddeford Pool, 1/5 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 1st winter Iceland Gull, Portland Harbor, 1/8.

This Week in Finches. Although finch numbers are greatly reduced now, I’ll continue to post this section if only to organize my own notes, track any mid-winter waves, and perhaps be ready for a northbound flight in the late winter and early spring.

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 0
  • Red Crossbill: 0
  • WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL:  0
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 8 Brunswick-Freeport CBC “West Freeport Sector,” 1/3 (with Jeannette); 2 (Memak Preserve, North Yarmouth, 1/7).
  • Purple Finch: 0
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 3 singletons (Brunswick-Freeport CBC “West Freeport Sector,” 1/3; with Jeannette).
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week:  2 (Webster Road, Freeport, Brunswick-Freeport CBC “West Freeport Sector,” 1/3; with Jeannette).

GREAT BLACK HAWK IN BIDDEFORD!!!!

IMG_1498-edited-edited

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).

IMG_1461-edited-editedIMG_1462-edited-edited
IMG_1520-edited-editedIMG_1583-edited-edited

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!
IMG_1555-edited-edited

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.

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Hooded Warbler, and Other April Rarities thanks to this Storm.

While outdoor enthusiasts, those with yardwork to do, Zane at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, and many others bemoaned the coastal storm that made for inclement weather from Tuesday through Friday morning, birders from the Mid-Atlantic to Nova Scotia were gearing up.

With the large (if not overall strong) area of low pressure riding up the Atlantic seaboard in late April when numerous species are now on the move, “Rarity Fever” symptoms were reported widely. As if recent “Megas” like Vermillion Flycatcher and Fieldfare here in Maine weren’t enough to stoke the fire, friends in Cape May began posting their “wish list” of possibilities. Storms such as these, sometimes called “slingshot” events can deposit birds further north than usual, facilitate the arrival of record-early migrants, and perhaps produce some astounding vagrant.

This far north, I simply had daydreams of southern “overshoots” that occur in most years – but especially following such storm systems – such as Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, and Hooded Warbler. But I also started thinking about things from further afield like Swainson’s Warbler, all sorts of terns, and maybe even something from even further away like a South American Fork-tailed Flycatcher who overshot its goal and then got caught up in the system. Maybe a Magnificent Frigatebird? Or perhaps something else on one of my predictions lists for next birds for Maine, and myself.

While weather isn’t truly the ultimate cause of many vagrants, it certainly facilities their arrival in far-flung places. And weather can certainly impact migrants and displace them slightly further afield than they usually range. And storms like this, moving out of the Bahamas, strengthening in the South Atlantic Bight, and marching up the coast has quite a history of producing some great birding. (I wrote more in depth about some of these factors and causes of vagrancy in Chapter 4 of my first book, How to Be a Better Birder).

Here are the wind maps and surface maps from Tuesday through Thursday.
surface map, 4-25-17
wind map, 4-25-17

surface map, 4-26-17
wind map, 4-26-17

surface map, 4-27-17
wind map, 4-27-17

So, I cleared my schedule, kept an eye on the listserves to our south during the rain on Wednesday, and hit the field on Thursday, starting at Biddeford Pool. A few years ago, one similar (but stronger) storm system yielded a Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Hooded Warbler in the neighborhood, and I had similar hopes for this morning.

I got really excited when one of the first birds I saw was a Magnolia Warbler (very early, perhaps by as much as 10-14 days!). Surprisingly, it was the ONLY warbler I saw all morning, and its early arrival is undoubtedly related to the storm. My first House Wrens were right about on schedule, however, and my first Veery was only marginally early.

However, in the same yard on Third Street, and loosely associating with said Veery, was not a bird I expected at all! In fact, I have a rule that I like to instill on my birdwalk participants: if it’s April in Maine and you see a dark-spotted Catharus thrush, it IS a Hermit Thrush. This was the exception to the rule.
L1090495_GCTH1L1090520_GCTH3

There’s no doubt it was either a Gray-cheeked or a Bicknell’s Thrush, but those birds can be very challenging to ID. Generally very secretive in migration, getting good looks – let alone good photos – is often impossible. And neither is expected to be walking around front yards in a neighborhood!

It is also incredibly early, as neither of these species is usually detected in Maine (if at all, especially Gray-cheeked) until the third week of May, and sometimes not until even later. This was beyond early, and certainly suggests its arrival here was at least partially influenced by the storm system.

The overall cool gray appearance without any hints of reddish-brown anywhere (no matter what light angle I viewed it in) immediately suggested Gray-cheeked Thrush, but the date and circumstances warranted careful study. I even posted the photos online, sent them directly to friends, and added them to at least one forum, hoping for additional feedback.
L1090565_GCTH6

However, other than the seemingly “dumpy” shape of the bird, nothing here suggests Bicknell’s Thrush to me. There’s just nothing warm anywhere in this bird’s plumage, and the cheeks are finally streaked gray, not more even washed warmish-brown as in most Bicknell’s. There’s no contrast within the wings, or especially between the uppertail and the rump, either.

Although this bird’s bill is fairly extensively pale, it isn’t as bright yellow as many Bicknell’s – although I can admit to not really being a fan of this fieldmark – and even has a hint of pinkish.

In other words, as several commenters mentioned, this really looks like a “classic” Gray-cheeked Thrush, with perhaps the appearance of a smaller size and more compact shape suggestive of the subspecies minimus that breeds mostly in Newfoundland and Labrador (it’s also the subspecies whose breeding range makes the most geographical sense to appear in Maine in spring). Of course, without measurements or vocalizations, there is still a little tinge of doubt in coming to a conclusive identification.

Now, a Bicknell’s Thrush, wintering somewhere in the northern West Indies or perhaps Cuba, beginning its trek to the mountains of the northeast, could have been entrained or “slingshot” by this storm. In fact, it would make a lot of sense. But Gray-cheeked Thrushes winter mainly in northern South America, and head north through Central America. That route would not seem to be effected by this storm. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, and the storm was only a proximate cause of its arrival in Biddeford Pool.

Anyway, elsewhere in Maine, a White-eyed Vireo was in Cape Elizabeth (present through Friday) and a Summer Tanager was reported in Southwest Harbor. Early migrants included a Scarlet Tanager in Ogunquit and one found deceased in Cape Elizabeth, along with a few scattered Indigo Buntings as far inland as North Yarmouth.

Meanwhile, to our south, birders in Cape May had a White Ibis (and, even more excitingly, a –our!? – Little Egret, a first state record that may not have anything to do with the storm); a Red Phalarope and a smattering of birds just beyond their normal range, such as Summer Tanager, were in Manhattan, and a Kentucky and Yellow-throated Warbler were on Cape Cod among some of the widespread reports of “early” migrant arrivals.

During the day on Thursday, the low pressure system continued to weaken and dissipate over the Gulf of Maine, with a snotty easterly and drizzly onshore flow continuing. A weak, slow-moving cold front finally cleared things out mid-day on Friday.
surface map, 4-28-17
wind map, 4-28-17

In the dense fog on Bailey Island in Harpswell early Friday morning, I found pockets of migrants (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows) but also several surprises, led by 1 male Hooded Warbler and a White-eyed Vireo, both along Elden Point Road – the kind of southern “overshoots” we have come to expect here in Maine from these type of storms.
L1090659_WEVI,BaileyIsland,4-28-17_edited-1

There were quite a few other migrants around, as well. A total of 9 Blue-headed Vireos included a flock of 6 together, and there were scattered other migrants such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Savannah Sparrows.

An early Yellow Warbler was also present, as were marginally-early (based on the current progress of the season) included 1 Common Yellowthroat and 1 Great-crested Flycatcher, while other personal FOY’s included more on-time Black-and-white Warbler (7) and Ovenbird (1-2). 11 Palm Warblers were my seventh species of warbler on the morning (plus Pine Warblers singing at home).

Elsewhere, another Hooded Warbler was found at Timber Point in Biddeford, and smattering of other early migrants included a Warbling Vireo on the Eastern Promenade (where a goodly number of birds were reported in the fog this morning)

I can only imagine what might have been found if every peninsula and island was covered over the past few days! So, with more birders hitting the field this weekend, and more people home from work to check on their feeders, I wonder what will be found. Maybe a Painted Bunting at a feeder? A Purple Gallinule in a marsh? But you know what I would like the most? A Swallow-tailed Kite over Bradbury Mountain during my hawkwatch workshop as part of the annual Feathers Over Freeport events!

Reference:
Clement, Peter. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Where to Eat Lunch when Birding York County

IMG_7127_edited-1

Whether it’s here on this blog (especially in trip reports), on our store’s Facebook page in posts recounting a birding outing, or elsewhere, people seem to enjoy hearing about where Jeannette and I eat lunch while out birding. In addition to finding “good birds,” we do enjoying finding new places to eat. It’s part of the adventure, and especially when we are out of town, it helps us to explore and appreciate a place for more than just the birding. And apparently, feedback suggests that you have an interest in hearing about these places. Or does it just say something about what you think of my writing about birds!?

In fact, I have often been asked to write some sort of “eating while birding” book, website, or article. Maybe someday the idea will develop, but for now, I thought I would hash out a little list of my favorite places to eat while birding in Maine. And I thought I would start with York County.

Perhaps if you find this of interest, other counties will follow. If not, well, then I know what my next project won’t be!

Let’s start with a little background about the food choices we make. We don’t eat fast food unless we’re desperate, and we avoid chains as much as possible. We’d rather eat at a local establishment – for all of the reasons from economic impact to healthier food (sometimes) to the simple idea that food should not be the exact same thing anywhere you go. We love “fine dining,” but for lunch, we’d rather have a good meal, have it reasonably quickly, and get back to birding. We’ll relax at dinnertime. We also very much believe that “great food” and “inexpensive” do not have to be mutually exclusive!

We bird York County regularly, and we often spend at least half the day doing it. Therefore, we tend to find lots of places to enjoy lunch. They tend to be clustered, however, around where we go birding, and where we end up around lunchtime during our birding routes. There are lots of places we haven’t tried, such as in Kennebunkport, that we just don’t tend to bird near. In other words, this list is by no means a comprehensive review of the “best” places to eat lunch in the county – it’s just our favorite places to have lunch when we are birding our favorite spots to bird.

With that in mind, I present to you, for your reading pleasure and/or future reference, our favorite places to eat lunch when birding in York County, Maine (listed roughly from south to north, no other particular order).

1) Loco Coco’s Taco, Kittery
36 Walker St
Sun-Tues: 11am to 8am
Wed-Sat: 11am to 9am

If Kittery is our only birding destination of the morning, then there’s no question where we go for lunch. We’ve hit fallouts at Fort Foster so amazing that we spend all morning there alone. Or perhaps we end up studying or photographing shorebirds at nearby Seapoint Beach. It’s also a tradition for dinner as we head back from a whale watch out of Rye, NH or a NH Audubon pelagic.

While the carne asada tacos are the best around, neither of us can resist the chili rellenos burrito. Also, a tamale or two to go is the perfect mid-afternoon snack to fuel the rest of your birding day. And we always get a piece of Tres Leches cake for when we get home!

2) Flo’s Steamed Hot Dogs, Cape Neddick
1359 US Route One
Thurs-Tues: 11am-3pm
Closed Wed.

For people who eat so little processed food, it might come as a surprise to those who know us well to find out that this is our most-frequent lunch destination in York County! In fact, we’re here often enough that Kimmie somehow remembers exactly what we order. Once a month, we spend a day birding from Kittery through Wells, and this is our lunch destination most of the time. It didn’t hurt that on our first visit when we first moved to the state and we were birding the area, we popped into the unassuming, but so-crowded-you-know-it-has-to-be-great little building and found the Travel Channel filming!

There isn’t much on the menu. In fact, it’s just one item: steamed hot dogs. While the House Special and the Loaded are popular, for Jeannette and I, we stay simple: just Flo’s famous relish, nothing else. It just works. And if we’re going to eat hot dogs, it’s once a month, and it’s here! (Note: no bathrooms!)

3) Jamaican Jerk Center, Cape Neddick
1400 US Route One

Once or twice each summer, we skip out on Flo’s and head here for a little Caribbean fix. While we have yet to visit Jamaica, we do love the food and flavors of the region, and this little roadside shack serves it up well. The jerk chicken is great, and we always get a couple of patties for lunch the next day. The place doesn’t look like much, but the food is fantastic!

4) Village Food Market, Ogunquit
230 Main Street
Sun-Thurs: 6:30am to 8pm
Fri-Sat: 6:30 am to 9pm

When we don’t make it as far south as Flo’s while birding the Ogunquit shoreline and productive neighborhoods and thickets, then we head here. It’s also the traditional stop for us during the Southern Maine Christmas Bird Count, our territory of which includes the center of town.

I’m sure there are plenty of good things on the menu, but I never order anything other than the grilled veggie Panini. Lots of veggies, lots of cheese, and just enough grease to make this one of the more gut-busting (in all the good ways!) vegetarian sandwiches around.

5) Congdon’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, Wells
1090 Post Road (US Route One)
Winter – Thurs-Sun: 6am to 3pm.
Summer – Open 7 days.

Most of our birding in the Wells area is done in the winter, and on days that this local institution is closed. But if we’re looking for shorebirds in Webhannet Marsh in the summer, or looking at Least Terns and Piping Plovers at Laudholm Farms in the midst of the breeding season, then Congdon’s for “second breakfast” it is. And donuts to go…which, come to think of it, it’s probably best for our health that it’s not always open. Also, during the warmer months, we often follow up a lunch at Flo’s or the JJC with a little mid-afternoon snack here, just because, well, donuts! And forget the cool, trendy places in Portland, these are the real deal – nothing too fancy, just sweet, tasty, and wicked good!

6) Custom Deluxe, Biddeford
1040 Main St.
Tues-Fri, 11am to 2pm.

This is the newest addition to the list, having opened just last fall. Most of our birding lunch stops are quick and cheap, but when we want something just a little “finer,” then this is where we now go. Don’t be surprised to see me here with a tour group or private guiding client sometime this summer. I’m still desperate for another option for a Sunday lunch in the area, unfortunately!

The first visit a couple of weeks ago culminated in the yeast donut with frozen maple mousse, applesauce, and smoked cheddar that a friend and I split for desert (see photo above). Thank goodness we split it, or we would still be in a food coma. It was fantastic, but I was already sold on the place after devouring the house-made noodles.

7) Saco Island Deli, Saco
110 Main St
Mon-Fri, 8am to 4pm.

There are now so many options in the Saco-Biddeford area, that I don’t get here – my favorite sandwich shop in Maine – nearly as often as I used to. Unfortunately, they are closed on weekends, including Sunday, which for whatever reason, I usually when I find myself birding Biddeford Pool or the Saco Riverwalk (in the fall).

However, during the week, and especially when out with clients, there are few better sandwiches anywhere in Maine. You see, the owner, Mark is from New Jersey. That’s what makes the sandwiches so good. Say what you want about my home state, but we know sandwiches. I have not yet had a sandwich here I didn’t like, but in the summer, I always go Primo Veggie – a massive sandwich layered with razor-thin sliced veggies, piled high – nearly too big to get your mouth around: “Double portion of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and fresh basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette on a rustic roll.” This is no lame, afterthought vegetarian option, this is a beastly vegetable meal. But if you want to be really cool, ask for the off-menu Jersey Joe (and expect to have lunch for the next day) to fully understand just how seriously New Jersey takes its sandwiches.

7a) The Run of the Mill, Saco
100 Main St
Sun-Thurs: 11:30am to 9pm.
Fri-Sat: 11:30am to 10pm.

If I am in the Biddeford area on a weekend (when the Saco Island Deli and Luis’s Arepera is closed), especially when it’s cold, I head over to Run of the Mill. After a frigid bout of seawatching at East Point, nothing is better than a piping hot bowl of their Mac & Cheese. The beer cheese soup is another good option, although for me it depends on which cheeses are used.

8) Luis’s Arepera and Grill, Saco
213 North St.
Mon-Thurs: 11am to 8pm.
Fri: 11am to 9pm.

Like the Saco Island Deli, I long for this place to be open on weekends. However, it’s a short enough run south from Scarborough Marsh, or close enough off of the highway (via I-195 to Industrial Way) that I can swing in while heading north from a hotspot like the Kennebunk Plains. And since Jeannette and I discovered their authentic Venezualean cuisine only this summer, it is now a regular stop on our birding agenda, and is definitely deserved as a destination on its own.

An “arepera” is a place that makes the quintessential Venezualean dish, the “arepa.” Luis’s website describes it as “Similar to both a traditional Gordita and Pupusa, it consists of a thick corn tortilla that is fried until golden brown before being filled with a variety of different ingredients, ranging from tangy shredded chicken to meltingly tender braised beef. “ We usually get the “Pabellon Criollo” (traditional with shredded beef and plantains) or one of the veggie options. But no matter what, we simply have to split a side of fried yucca.

Honorable Mention:
(Dinner) Funky Bow Brewery’s “Growler Night” (Lyman)

It’s funny, there seems to be a pattern developing of heading to the Kennebunk Plains at dusk for Whip-poor-wills on a Friday or Saturday night…which just so happens to be when this off-the-beaten path brewery opens up, fires up the brick oven, and serves pizza to go with their hop-a-licious brews.

So let me know what you think, and definitely let me know if there are places I need to try!

A Warbler (and Sparrow) Big Month. In December. In Maine.

December was unusually warm. In fact, it was record warm. And not just barely… records were shattered. The average temperature for the month was 38F. Not only was that a ridiculous 9 degrees above normal, it smashed the previous record of 24.8F (set in 2001). Surprisingly, despite the everlasting warmth, record daily highs were rare. Christmas Day was an exception, however, when temperatures soared to 62 in Portland, crushing the previous record high of 53, set just last year.

Our first measurable snow of the season didn’t fall until December 29th – the second latest date on record. Those 5-8 inches in southern Maine finally ushered in “real winter” and hopefully set the stage for a return to more normal conditions (although the last few days have once again been 5-10 degrees above normal).

Not surprisingly, such an unseasonable month resulted in some very-unseasonable birding. A variety of “lingering” or perhaps more accurately “pioneering” as Ned Brinkley, editor of North American Birds once dubbed it warblers in particular were making headlines.

So I decided to do a December Warbler Big Month. Because, well, warblers in December! In Maine!

With Tennessee, Yellow (2!), Nashville (2!), Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s on December 6th, I was half-way to my newly-set goal of 10 species for the month. The unusually mild fall has allowed more “lingering” birds to survive longer, and normal November hotspots are still hot (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, I waited until December 8th to decide to embark on this silly little hunt, so I had some catching up to do. There were some relatively easy ones (Yellow-rumped Warblers overwinter in a few places, along with “known” Blackburnian and Pine Warblers). That meant I just need to find an Orange-crowned Warbler (the second most-regular December warbler after Yellow-rumped) and then one other stray.

So off I went…

Not wanting to take any species for granted, I twitched a Pine Warbler that was reliably coming to a feeder in Brunswick on the 10th. I had to wait all of three minutes for it to arrive on my way back from walking Sasha. If only they were all this easy!
L1040178_PIWA2,JayStormers,Brunswick,12-10-15_edited-1

The next day I was once again at the Saco Yacht Club, looking for the Blackburnian Warbler (which I saw on Nov 30th – one day too early!). Activity didn’t pick up until the fog finally lifted after 10am, but I ran out of time. I did, however, enjoy another visit with the Tennessee, and 1 each of Yellow and Nashville Warblers. 2-3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also present, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler dropped in: my 7th species of the month! That and the Western Tanager were the consolation prizes (yes, I did just relegate the tanager to a consolation prize…shame on me… but I “needed” the Blackburnian!).
L1040189_WETA1,SacoRiverwalk,12-11-15_edited-1

I worked hard for an Orange-crowned Warbler in Portland on the 13th to no avail, but I did turn up the continuing Nashville Warbler along the Eastern Promenade (oh look, Portland ravaged vegetation here, too!) and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan St. I also took time to go visit the continuing Ross’s Goose along Stroudwater St in Westbrook – the third I have seen in Maine, and only the 6th or 7th state record.
IMG_6946_ROGO1,StroudwaterSt,Westbrook,12-13-15_edited-1(Phone-scoped image)

Continuing the quest, I had high hopes for the Southern York County Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. With a great territory that almost always turns up a good bird or three, Jeannette, Kristen Lindquist, and I worked the marsh, thickets, neighborhoods, and beach of the “Moody” sector. And we did indeed have a great day, including the 2nd Count Record Clay-colored Sparrow, the 5th Count Records of Baltimore Oriole and Lesser Scaup (21 – also a record high), and 6th Count Record of Dickcissel. But alas, not a single warbler. We didn’t even get a Yellow-rumped – for the first time, as there was virtually no fruit on the bayberry bushes along Ogunquit Beach or anywhere else.

When my friend Evan Obercian found a Yellow-throated Warbler at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on the 13th, my goal was definitely in sight (this was the “additional rarity” I needed), but in the weeks before Christmas, finding time was going to be a challenge. Luckily, a break in my schedule – and the rain – came on Thursday the 17th, so I got an early start and headed east.

I met up with Evan and Kristen and we wandered the grounds of the Samoset for almost two hours. I was not happy to find a stiff onshore breeze when I arrived, and it was increasing over the course of the morning. Then the mist rolled in, and soon, a steadier drizzle. There were not a lot of birds around (other than Canada Geese and Mallards on the golf course), and I was beginning to work on a plan to come back again. And not long thereafter, it called!

We spotted it in an isolated cluster of Scotch Pines, very near where Evan first saw it (and where we walked by 3 times already this morning). We followed it for about 30 minutes as it relocated to another grove before heading over to the hotel building, where it proceeded to forage in the sheltered porches of the four story building! Presumably gleaning insects from old webs in the corners and around furniture, clearly this bird had figured out a novel way of finding sustenance – especially on such a snotty day.

It was my 8th warbler of the month.
L1040215_YTWA3,Samoset,Rockport,12-17-15_edited-1L1040251_YTWA1,Samoset,Rockport,12-17-15_edited-1

I was back to the Saco Yacht Club with Luke Seitz the next morning, once again hoping for the Blackburnian. We worked the hillside and surrounding habitats hard, and absolutely cleaned up! The quick glimpse of a fly-by Western Tanager was more frustrating that satisfying, but we had great looks at the continuing Tennessee, Yellow, 2 Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and then, finally, the Blackburnian! My 9th warbler of the month!

Luke’s quote sums it up: “Let’s take a moment to appreciate what we are seeing and hearing around us right now. What. The. (Expletive deleted)!”

I had a little more time, so I made a quick trip down to Biddeford Pool. Working the neighborhood and thickets, I found a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4-5), a nice addition to the day list. Besides, up until now, I had only seen one all month!

I was in the midst of plotting “Operation Orange-crowned” when I wandered over to look at a chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A loud chip note caught my attention, and I looked up to see this Prairie Warbler – my 10th species of warbler for the month (and 7th of the day)!
L1040305_PRAW,BiddPool,12-18-15_edited-1

But did you really think I would stop at 10?

Hunting for Orange-crowns in Portland and South Portland on the 21st, I turned up a Baltimore Oriole on Sheridan Street (likely the same individual that Jeannette and I found here on 11/23), and along West Commercial Street (in what’s left of the vegetation here!), I had a Swamp Sparrow, and a Field Sparrow – my 8th sparrow of the month.
L1040314_FISP,WCommercialSt,Portland,12-21-15_edited-1

Hmmm…do I need to go for 10 sparrows, too?

Obviously!

So I went to Scarborough Marsh the next day, and quickly picked up a Savannah Sparrow along the Eastern Road Trail for #9.

Jeannette and I, post-holiday madness, continued the search on the 28th, combing the coast from Kittery through Wells. While nothing new was added, we did find three different Swamp Sparrows (two at Fort Foster, 1 in York Beach), and most excitingly, we relocated the Clay-colored Sparrow that we found on the CBC – a mere one block away. Once again, however, I managed only some quick phone-binned photos.
CCSP,Wells,12-28-15

A Northern Flicker and 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers were at Wells’ Community Park, while other highlights included 14 Sanderlings with Purple Sandpipers along Marginal Way in Ogunquit.

But before I knew it, it was December 31st. I still had yet to see an Orange-crowned Warbler (inconceivable!) for the month, and I was stuck at 9 species of sparrow. Therefore, Phil McCormack and I had a mission when we set out in the morning. We worked thickets and fields in Cape Elizabeth, with stops at various nooks and crannies in South Portland and Portland.

While we did not relocate the Lark Sparrow along Fessenden Road (it’s been a week since I have seen a report), we did have a Merlin there, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers at Crescent Beach State Park. Luke had an Orange-crowned Warbler at Camp Ketcha back on the 20th, but it was rather devoid of birds today.

Throughout the day, pockets of Song and American Tree Sparrows were indicative of recent movements and concentration following the snow and ice, but we were not prepared for the concentration of sparrows at a particularly fruitful patch. In fact, it was astounding!

75+ American Tree and 50+ Song Sparrows flew out of the field, joined by 10 or so White-throated Sparrows and 20 or more Dark-eyed Juncos. A continuing female Brown-headed Cowbird was there, along with at least 80 American Goldfinches and 30 or so House Finches. A Carolina Wren sang from the woods, and two Swamp Sparrows and a female Common Yellowthroat were in the marsh…I knew my 10th species of sparrow was here somewhere!
L1040338_mixed_sparrows,Alewives,CapeE,12-31-15

After a teasing brief, distant but highly suggestive look, I finally found it – a Chipping Sparrow! My 10th species of sparrow in December!
L1040361_CHSP,Alewives,CapeE,12-31-15

Shortly thereafter, a Savannah Sparrow (my second of the month) appeared – not just our 7th species of the day, but the 7th species in this one spot! Amazing! And now I had a 7 species of sparrow day and 10 species for the month to match my 7 species of warbler day and 10 species for the month! (The Double 7/10 Split?)

But of course, I still wanted an Orange-crowned Warbler, so we kept birding (well, after a long, celebratory lunch of course), and I tried a few more OC spots in Portland after Phil departed. I still can’t believe I saw 10 species of warbler in Maine in December, and none of them were Orange-crowned, but it seems a fitting finish to the month, and the year, was the continuing Baltimore Oriole and Gray Catbird sitting in the same tree in the Sheridan St lot!
BAORandGRCA,SheridanSt,Portland,12-31-15_edited-2

Meanwhile, some other highlights over the course of the month, of the non-warbler or sparrow variety, including more seasonal species, such as two Snowy Owls on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 12th, my first Iceland Gull of the season (finally) in Old Port on the 15th, a Snowy Owl at Biddeford Pool on the 18th, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a growing legion of wintering waterbirds.

Other signs of the unseasonably warm month included a lingering Double-crested Cormorant in Portland Harbor on 12/15, a few more lingering dabblers and Great Blue Herons than usual, but surprisingly, I didn’t see a Hermit Thrush all month – had they all moved on or would some now show up as the snow and ice pushes them to coastal migrant traps? But the most unexpected of them all was the Little Blue Heron that was found in the tiny Jordan Park Marsh in Ocean Park. I stopped by to visit it on the 22nd, about two weeks into its unseasonable stay.
L1040320_LBHE1,OOB,12-22-15_edited-1

Unfortunately, as much fun as this month has been – and as nice as it has been to not yet wear my parka – it’s impossible for me to ignore what this all means: the climate HAS changed. While no one month – warm or cold – is “climate change,” it is impossible for any rational person to not realize that our weather has become more and more unpredictable, less and less “normal,” and prone to more and more wild swings in seasonal and within-season variability. No, a hot day doesn’t mean Global Warming, nor does a snowstorm mean there’s not (Please James Inhoffe, please go away and shut the hell up). But the trends are real, very apparent, and very much here. Now. And they are most definitely affecting birds and bird migration.

That being said, I would not use these warblers as an example of this. Instead, I think the fact that here in December and they are still ALIVE, is however, a perfect example of just how ridiculously warm our weather has been! The mechanisms that delivered these birds to the Saco Riverwalk and elsewhere are likely varied. Perhaps the deformed, crossed-bill of the Tennessee Warbler impedes its ability to efficiently forage and put on the necessary weight for its next leg of migration. Perhaps the extensive southerly winds that have ushered in this warm air also facilitated the arrival of a 180-degree misoriented migrant Yellow-throated Warbler, and I would propose, the Prairie Warbler as well (I think the rare-but-regular late fall Prairies are actually birds from our south) that were “messed up” and flew the wrong way. But it is also possible that some of these warblers are “reverse migrants” that started to go south and then turned around, but I doubt it – facultative migrants like swallows and blackbirds do it, but I don’t know of any known proof that long-distance Neotropical migrants pull it off (on purpose, anyway).

These mechanisms occur every year, and rare warblers are found at places like the Saco Riverwalk every fall. However, they’re usually found in October and November and either move on (or, more likely perish) by now. So I think what’s remarkable is not that all of these warblers are here, but that they are still ALIVE well into December – and that is most definitely due to the mild winter so far. There have still been insects to be found, there’s plenty of fruit left to consume, and fewer calories have been spent to keep up internal body temperatures, meaning there are fewer calories that need to be consumed.

Migration in long-distance, obligate migrants is not triggered by temperatures, but trigged by physiological changes directed by hormones responding to the changing length of the day. In the fall, southbound migration is triggered in part by a response to changes in fat loading to fuel these epic journeys. At some point, the controls are switched away from building the fat reserves that are necessary for migration. I don’t know at what point in the season “pioneering” warblers lose the ability (perhaps, even the “desire”) to migrate. My guess is that even if you pumped these birds full of fat, at this point, they won’t be going anywhere – this is now their winter territory, for better, or for most likely, worse.

So what does this mean besides some amazing early winter birding? Good question. Conventional wisdom says these birds are all “evolutionary dead ends” that will soon be eliminated from the gene pool (it has to get cold sometime, right? If they’re not picked off by a Sharp-shinned Hawk or all of the damn outdoor cats that hunt there). However, with the effects of Global Climate Change clearly upon us, and not reversing anytime soon (if ever), perhaps these “pioneers” are the wave of the future. Maybe someday, warblers will successfully overwinter in Maine, and return to their breeding grounds to pass on those genes.

Maybe. Afterall, without vagrancy, we would not have Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s finches; distant islands would be sans all landbirds. Perhaps phenomena like “reverse migration” and this pioneering thing will allow the next wave of adaption to a changing climate. Of course, never before in the history of life on earth, has this change occurred so rapidly, and we have little evidence suggesting long-distant migrants can adapt this quickly – it’s going to take more than a few individuals of 10 species of warblers.

Sparrows, however, aren’t obligate long-distance migrants that are “programmed” to leave at a prescribed time. Instead, they are more flexible in their movements, and being seed-eaters, they aren’t reliant on warm-weather dependent insects. As long as seeds are available, and with the complete dearth of snow, they most certainly have been, those that linger can do just fine. White-throated, American Tree, Song, and Dark-eyed Juncos are all regular parts of our winter avifauna in southern Maine, lingering or “pioneering” Swamp Sparrows are regular here and there, and every now and then a Lark Sparrow (a “drift migrant/vagrant” from the Midwest) or Field Sparrow spends the winter in the state. Field and Clay-colored are also rare-but-regular in late fall/early winter, so once again, the presence of 10 species of sparrows is also not in and of itself caused by the record temperatures, but it is most definitely another sign of how mild – and especially snow-free – it has been.

But this is all a blog for another time…this blog was supposed to be about warblers (and sparrows!). In Maine. In December. And that’s amazing. Or, as Luke said, “What. The. (Expletive deleted).”