Tag Archives: Birding

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Harlequins and Hops!

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

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

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

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

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

And then it happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year 2017

book cover

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

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

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

So off I went.

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

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

…and the Mew Gull at Owl’s Head Harbor (Site KX4) on the next day

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

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

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

Fly-by Sandhill Cranes on 4/3 would save me some effort later in the year…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, in July, Jeannette and I made sure to use our “weekends” together to fill in the holes on the year list. Every 4th of July weekend, we visit with Bicknell’s Thrushes, and this year was no different. Hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain (Site F12) on the 3rd added the species to my Maine year list (my June tours all go to New Hampshire for this much sought-after species).

The following week, we went up to the Baxter State Park area. A wildly productive first full day in the area (7/10) yielded the Black-backed Woodpecker that had so far eluded me this year, as well as the extremely rare American Three-toed Woodpecker, along Harvester Road (Site PS6) and at the Nesowadnahunk Campground Road (Site PS7), respectively. White-winged Crossbills were everywhere too (as were Reds). Unfortunately, Jeannette’s camera was on the fritz, and documentation eluded us.

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

The Little Egret returned to the Falmouth-Portland waterfront for its 3rd summer, and although it was a little more elusive this year, I spotted it from Gilsland Farm (Site C8) on July 14th.

Without a Birding By Schooner tour this summer, I needed to make up a few pelagic ticks, the first of which were Manx Shearwaters that I spotted from East Point (Site Y12) in Biddeford Pool on my birthday, 7/31, with Pat Moynahan, John Lorenc, and Terez Fraser.

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

And a whopping 28 Pomarine Jaegers on October 10th.

One huge void from not doing a schooner trip this summer was filled on August 6th when I spotted “Troppy”, the Red-billed Tropicbird at Seal Island (Site KX6 and H1) that has returned for its incredible 11th year. I accepted an offer to fill in as boat naturalist for a friend who was doing a couple of the Isle au Haut Ferry’s special “Puffins and Lighthouses” evening tours this year. I said yes for the chance to not miss out on a visit to Seal Island for the year…or for my year list. Thanks, Laura Kennedy!

A few other serendipitous twitches and finds in August really helped out my quest. There was the Black-necked Stilt that was found at Weskeag Marsh (Site KX2) on August 2nd. We happened to be away on North Haven for the night before, so this was an easy 1-mile diversion on our way home that afternoon!
BNST,Weskeag, 8-2-17_edited-1

I missed White-faced Ibis in Scarborough Marsh this spring, and all summer it was only being seen in and around Spurwink Marsh in Cape Elizabeth, which is not technically a site in the book. Therefore, I was ecstatic to find it back in Scarborough Marsh while I was searching for shorebirds along the Eastern Road Trail (Site C1) on August 7TH.

That day was big for me, as it also added Baird’s Sandpiper…

…and Stilt Sandpiper to my list.

My first Western Sandpiper of the year came from there as well, on August 21st.

Our summer vacation this year took us out of the state once again, this time to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy for the Semipalmated Sandpiper migration spectacle. But our roadtrip finished up at Campobello Island, where we crossed the border for the day to visit our friend Chris Bartlett in Eastport (Site WN13) for a boat ride into the wildly productive waters of Passamaquoddy Bay and Head Harbor Passage on August 20th. Luckily, we found the Little Gull in Maine waters…

…as well as my first Red-necked Phalaropes of the year.

Heading into the Big Year project, I was hoping a few of the book signings I would do around the state would give me the chance to add a couple of new species to the list, chase a bird or two I wouldn’t have driven as far for, or otherwise just check out a few sites that I rarely if ever bird. A talk and signing in Bar Harbor on September 7th gave me the chance to find a Blue Grosbeak behind the Mount Desert High School (Site H6) before my program. Little did I know at the time, but this would be my only sighting of the year, so this was another really lucky find.

It doesn’t take a Big Year to get me to Sandy Point on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth (Site C14) at every possible opportunity to take in – and attempt to quantify – the “Morning Flight.” As in most years, it yielded a Connecticut Warbler (on 9/9), and on the 13th, a Lark Sparrow – my 184th species for me here, and the culmination of a record-shattering run at “my office.” Somehow, I didn’t have one in all of my time on Monhegan later that month, so this was a big score.

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

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

I pondered the timing, but somehow was wise enough to go pick up the van in Lisbon before driving to Falmouth. Notorious one-afternoon wonders, I was happy the Fork-tailed (my 377th Maine state bird) stuck around long enough for me to do the right thing first and not jeopardize my tour!

Joking about wanting to “see the Little Egret and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher from the same spot,” I turned around to scan the Presumpscot River and spotted two Caspian Terns! A species I see every year, usually just by normally birding the right places at the right time – like Biddeford Pool – this species had somehow eluded me all year. In fact, it was getting to be a bit of a year-bird nemesis, and I even resorted to unsuccessfully chasing one that was lingering at Hill’s Beach. I had all but given up on this species before this lucky sighting.

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

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

I missed my 4th Say’s Phoebe ever out here – one of my two biggest nemeses for the state! – this time by all of about 45 minutes! I did, however, luck into a Red-headed Woodpecker on the last day of its stay.

I only had Clay-colored Sparrows at non-sites up until this point, so that filled in a gaping hole, and a long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was a needed addition to the year list as well; none were found at Biddeford Pool this fall.

But overall, the slowest week I have ever experienced on Monhegan set me back in my quest – I simply needed more from my time there.

I was back on Monhegan the next weekend, with my annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour with my store’s group, and while I didn’t add much to the year list, I did get a big one: the first state record Cassin’s Vireo (For a more complete story, visit my blog entry from the weekend!)

Back on the mainland, I had some work to do. One last-ditch effort for Buff-breasted Sandpiper took us to Fryeburg Harbor (Site O3) on 10/3 on our way to a gluttony-fest at the Fryeburg Fair. Not surprisingly given the date, we didn’t find any “grass-pipers,” but we did find this Greater White-fronted Goose!

Jeannette and I took advantage of the flood tide on October 10th to hit the Eastern Road Trail to try to add Long-billed Dowitcher to my Big Year tally.

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

This was the type of strategizing that I really enjoyed throughout the year. Find a species that I “needed,” and figure out how to see it. Long-billed Dowitchers are rare-but-regular in Maine, and usually juveniles near the tail end of shorebird migration. The first full moon in October is usually a good time to see one out in the marsh, with areas of dry ground for roosting at a premium. And sure enough, there one was – my 300th species of the year!

November “Rarity Season” featured an impressive wave of southern vagrants deposited by a storm at the very end of October. I found another Hooded Warbler at Bailey Island, one at Fort Foster (Site Y1), numerous possible “reverse migrants” like very late warblers and Indigo Buntings, and more. But by having had good southerly luck so far this year, I didn’t add anything to my year list, until November 12th when I found a spiffy Yellow-throated Warbler at the most-unexpected location of Martin’s Point Park in Sabattus during my Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: “Fall Ducks and Draughts”. Being teased by a “flock” of three on Monhegan earlier in the month, and saving me from chasing a few later in the month, this was the type of serendipitous discovery that makes for Big Year fun, and proves the idea that the most important part of finding rarities is just being out in the field.

My only other Rarity Season “discovery” was finding an error in my checklist that showed me my count was one more (I call those “accounting errors”) than what I thought it was, so when, after much effort of searching, Jeannette and I found a Yellow-breasted Chat at Battery Steele on Peak’s Island (Site C11) on November 27th, I was now up to 303 for the year! It was also a very satisfying find, as this was one of the birds that I was putting a lot of effort into turning up. Again, this type of strategy of searching for specific birds in specific habitats at specific times of the year is much more productive, and fulfilling, than waiting for someone else to find something and racing around looking for it. Chats are notoriously hard to re-find in the fall, as they are ultra-skulkers, so self-found is even more rewarding – and much less frustrating!

The year was winding down, and few regularly-occuring species were likely anymore – regardless of effort. One bird that is likely much more regular than records suggest is Eastern Screech-Owl. I have found them more often than I have not when making concerted effort in southern York County, especially in winter. While I was unable to relocate one found in mid-November in York, I decided to make a dedicated effort come December.

On December 3rd, Pat Moynahan set out for an evening of owling in Wells. After a dusk-watch for Short-eared and Snowy Owls, I decided to try a little fishing for screech-owls. At the first stop we made, just after dusk, a short whistle resulted in not one, but two, very aggressive and vociferous Eastern Screech-Owls right over our heads (at an undisclosed location within Y5). That was too easy!

Luckily, the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields (Site C15) finally yielded a rarity for me this year (other than an early-season Snow Goose which I also saw in the spring), with a Cackling Goose on December 6th for my 305th bird of the year in Maine.

In the world of retail, there’s not a lot of free time in December, and with this year’s snowy and icy weather, I had even less time to bird than usual. While I did find a bunch of good birds, like a total of 5-6 Snowy Owls (at least 3 not previously reported), an Orange-crowned Warbler along Eldridge Road in Wells (Site Y5) during the York County Christmas Bird Count, various lingering stuff like late dabblers, and half-hardies such as several Gray Catbirds.
I just had to suffer through enjoying winter visitors such as Snowy Owls, like this photogenic individual at Biddeford Pool on Dec 18th

As December waned, so did my chances for adding any new species. I was hopeful for a rarity to be discovered on one of the state’s Christmas Bird Counts, and while a few birds of note were turned up, nothing I “needed” was detected. We checked Marginal Way (Site Y4) in Ogunquit on the way home from a long Christmas weekend in Massachusetts, just in case a storm-tossed Thick-billed Murre was around. But while in Massachusetts, we did discover a Ross’s Goose on Christmas Day!

Now is where I would like to tell you I finished my Big Year with a bang; how I trudged through the snow and ice, braving sub-zero temperatures, marching up hill (both ways!), and digging out every possible addition for my year list. But alas, it ended more like a thud than a bang: a very snowy, very icy, and very bitterly cold thud.

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

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

Besides, I wasn’t going to escape the cold the following day, when Jeannette and I (joined by Zane Baker) spent the entire day walking outside (low of -16, high of merely 6!) on the Freeport-Brunswick CBC. While Florida Lake Park is a site in our circle, our highlights were all away from there, led by the rediscovery of “our” Dickcissel (by plumage and proximity) at a feeder, about a mile from our store that he frequented from November 2nd through December 15th. He did not look happy about the temperature, either.

Winslow Park (C19) was the destination for our Saturday Morning Birdwalk on 12/30, and although the start temperature was a painful -11F, seven people showed up and joined me in enjoying a dashing drake Barrow’s Goldeneye

That left New Year’s Eve Day, and despite morning lows again well below zero, Pat Moynahan and I hit the coast from The Nubble (Site Y3) to Webhannet Marsh (Site Y6), with Thick-billed Murre primarily on our minds. Sea-smoke reduced visibility, and the wind chill was brutal. While we did have a total of 72 Harlequin Ducks – which certainly made us happy – our highlights were all from an extremely productive (and for the first time all day, mostly sheltered) Marginal Way in Ogunquit (Site Y4): 1 Fox Sparrow, 10 Lesser and 4 Greater Scaup, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3 Northern Pintails, and this very chilled Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was eeking out a living on Eastern Redcedar berries. But alas, no murres – or shockingly, alcids of any variety.

Therefore, my 2018 Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year finished at 305 species. When I started the year, my goal was 300, so I am quite satisfied with the tally. Additionally, I saw four species away from sites: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Great Gray Owl, Bullock’s Oriole, and this Fieldfare – a first state record in a yard in Newcastle in April – for a total year list of 309.

The Great Gray Owl stings a bit, considering I missed one at a site (Sunkahaze NWR; Site PE9) in January while we were on vacation, and another showed up near the Orono Bog (Site PE7) in February. But it’s OK, it’s a Great Gray Owl, and site or otherwise, it was awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Nighthawk, Monhegan in May.

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

Twelve Birds on Tap – Roadtrips in 2018!



Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on twelve great outings for 2018 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!



For 2018, we have added two brand-new tours, and significantly changed several additional itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Classics such as Spring and Fall editions of “Ducks and Draughts” and “Grassland and Grains” remain unchanged, while tweaks to tours such as “Gulls and Growlers” (now in January), and “Warblers and Wort” (now in Portland!) will make these new favorites even better. And we think the newest additions: “Harlequins and Hops” and “Sod-pipers and Sips” are not to be missed!

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.

So without any further ado, the twelve – count ‘em, 12! – tours for 2018 are as follows:

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, January 6th, 2018 – 9:00am-3:30pm.

(Snowdate: none)
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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles. Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks. In addition, if time permits, we’ll seek out some Snowy Owls if they are being seen near our route.

Breweries: Sebago Lake Distillery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Harlequins and Hops” (*New Tour!)
Sunday February 11th – 10:00am to 4:00pm

SNOW DATE: Sunday February 18th
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The first new itinerary of 2018 takes advantage of some of the amazing birding opportunities right here in Greater Portland in the depths of winter. We’ll begin on the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, where the stunning Harlequin Duck joins a wide array of winter seaducks, from Common Eider to all three species of scoters. We’ll also look for Purple Sandpipers, Black Guillemots, Red-necked and Horned Grebes, Common and Red-throated Loons, and much more. Depending on weather and ice conditions, our second stop may include more seaduck searching, or we might check some of the concentrations of gulls in Portland and and South Portland to look for Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, or perhaps seek out a lingering dabbler among the city park Mallard aggregations. We’ll remain flexible to take advantage – or seek shelter – from whatever winter weather may be at hand.

Breweries: Eighteen Twenty Wines and Goodfire Brewing Company in Portland.

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday March 4th – 9:00am to 3:30pm

SNOW DATE: Sunday March 11th
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 8 – 9:00am to 3:30pm.

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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling in Newcastle.

Warblers and Wort (*New Itinerary!)
Sunday May 6th – 8:00am to 2:00pm

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May means warbler migration, and the new destination for Warblers and Wort will hit two of Maine’s most famous springtime migrant traps, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery and nearby Capisic Pond Park. Two oases in the urban jungle, featuring water sources and a mix of various habitats, help concentrate migrant birds that found themselves in or over the city come sunrise. After migrating all night, tired travelers looks for refuge: food, water, and shelter, and urban greenspaces are absolutely critical for refueling. While we’re a little early in the month for the largest diversity of warblers, early May could produce incredible numbers of some of the first arrivals, especially Palm and Yellow-rumped. 10-12 species of warblers are certainly possible by this early date, depending on the progression of the season. However, other migrants, such as sparrows, raptors, and other Neotropical Migrants such as orioles and tanagers are also on the move, increasing our chances of seeing a diversity of species. If the cemetery’s apples and cherries are already blooming, we may be in for quite a treat as these are absolute magnets for hungry migrants. It’s sometimes hard to leave Evergreen on a busy spring morning, but if we do, it will be for the very short trip over to Capisic Pond Park, where we’ll continue to seek migrants of all shapes and sizes.

Breweries: Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham and Hardshore Distillery in Portland.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 3rd – 8:00am to 2:30pm.

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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow in Lyman and Stone Fort Distilling in Biddeford.

“Terns and Taps” (New name, but same great tour!)
Sunday, July 8th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.

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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds. Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barreled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Steins” (New name, but same classic tour!)
Sunday, August 19th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.

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The original BoT Roadtrip! in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Sod-pipers and Sips”
Sunday September 9th – 8:00am to 3:00pm

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Our second brand-new tour of 2018 takes us inland to the farms and fields of Fryeburg Harbor. We’ll be a little more specific in our targets for this trip, as we’re heading this way to seek the sought-after group of birds affectionately known as “Grasspipers,” but for both accuracy and alliteration, we’re calling them “sod-pipers.” Our goals include the uncommon American Golden-Plover, but we’re heading to one of the most reliable places in the state for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Baird’s Sandpiper, two rare-but-regular species that visit us in very small numbers each fall. While Killdeer is probably our only sure bet, other shorebirds are always hoped for, with our focus on the fields and turf farms that are best for Buff-breasted and Baird’s. In the open areas we’ll also look for Sandhill Cranes (a flock usually begins to assemble here by early September), American Pipits, and Horned Larks, while riparian edges could produce some migrant warblers. Raptors are regular as well, including Bald Eagles and American Kestrels.

Breweries: Saco River Brewing Co and TBA.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 14th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.

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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two. This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Blue Current Sake Brewery and Tributary Brewing Co. in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 18th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.

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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation” (Subject to Change)
Sunday, December 2nd – 9:00am to 3:30pm.

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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including easy on-line registration), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website.

And for a little history about how this partnership developed and continues to grow, check out this blog entry from early 2016, as we introduced the first full season on 6 Roadtrips.

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!


An Incredible 2017 “Fall Ducks and Draughts!”

One of the most popular Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! is our annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” One of the original two BoT – Roadtrips! back in 2015, this popular outing visits Sabattus Pond near the peak of fall waterfowl migration with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

It rarely disappoints, but today it far surpassed expectations! We began at the south beach, where an American Coot was a surprise. However, more surprising was the flock of shorebirds littered around the south end. While many of the 30 or so Dunlin took off and kept going, about 10 White-rumped Sandpipers returned and landed right in front of the group, no more than about 30 feet away! We were able to carefully study the progression from juvenile to 1st winter plumage, with most individuals, such as these two, mostly still in colorful juvenile plumage (with one bigger, grayer Dunlin in the background).

With our focus back on waterfowl, we began to sort through the masses, starting with 6 spiffy Northern Pintails joining the Mallards nearby, while one lone female Green-winged Teal quickly paddled away. 18 Ring-necked Ducks loafed just a little further offshore, providing a good intro to the genus Aythya. Sabattus Pond is famous for its legions of Ruddy Ducks, and this cute little “stiff tail” was out in full force. We had a couple of hundred nearby, but a distant raft of many hundreds remained just a little too far to enjoy. We also began our comparison of Greater and Lesser Scaup, and took a moment to learn about the Chinese Mystery Snail that makes up a large percentage of the food source of all of the diving ducks we were here to enjoy.

I had set the over/under for waterfowl species at 13.5, and our list quickly began to grow: Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers a’plenty, but surprisingly only one Common Merganser and a mere three Canada Geese. American Black Ducks and a single hen American Wigeon made for a tally of 13 species of waterfowl; just falling short of covering the spread…in part because we never did make it to our third stop!

Over at Martin’s Point Park on the southwest side of the pond, we worked the dabbling ducks and enjoyed stunning Hooded Mergansers. Then, I finally had a nice, close group of the two scaup species in perfect light to give us a lesson in how to identify this challenging species-pair.

We began to walk closer, I began the lecture, and then I heard a call note from the trees that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not a Yellow-rumped Warbler – the only expected warbler species at this season – and it’s sharp tone was very suggestive. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be here, whatever it was, and my suspicions of its identity were soon proven correct when a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler popped out!

Sticking close to the trunk of some large Eastern White Pines, it foraged within a small mixed-species foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets before eventually disappearing towards the neighborhood.

This is a real rarity in Maine, and because of the white in the front of the supercilium, we know it is of the interior subspecies albilora, and therefore not likely the result of the recent storm system. While there was unprecedented three together on Monhegan earlier in the month, this is quite the rarity, especially so far inland, and especially in Androscoggin County (I couldn’t help but wonder if there has ever been a record of this species anywhere in the county).

Unfortunately, in the meantime, some fisherman came to the shoreline, and the closest scaup departed. We did have a slightly farther raft to work through, but I ended up having to employ my rudimentary artistic skills to explain how to differentiate the two species!
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It was truly hard to leave the pond today, and I of course couldn’t help but wonder what was around the next corner, but it was time to switch gears, turn our attention to Dawn – our driver and beer guide today – and make our way over to Baxter Brewing Company, you know, to celebrate our vagrant warbler discovery!

At Baxter, housed in one of the beautifully restored mills down by the Androscoggin River, we enjoyed five samples of their most popular beers. We learned about their philosophy and history – including the noteworthy fact that they were the first 100% canning brewery in Maine – and sampled some of their best selling beers, such as Pamola pale, Tarnation lager, Per Diem stout, and the venerable Stowaway IPA. We also sampled Ceremony Green Tea IPA which surprised a lot of people and showed off the creativiTEA (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the brewery.


We stepped outside of the brewery and were once again greeted by the local Peregrine Falcon atop the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center. After a few minutes of enjoying it through the scope, we hit the road, and discussed the beers we had just sampled. People’s favorites were rather evenly divided, aligning with their preferred style of beer, showing that Baxter really does offer something for everyone.

We followed the Androscoggin River towards the coast, and soon arrived at Maine Beer Company. MBC needs no introduction – at least if you are into IPAs or hoppy pales – but with so many folks on the trip today from “away” and/or making their first visit to this popular destination, we started things off with none other than their Peeper – their first brew that got it all started.

Spenser came out to introduce the beers and tell us all about how MBC is dedicated to “do(ing) what’s right.” And that philosophy transcends the beer.

They graciously offered everyone a choice of their next samples (I of course followed Lunch with Another One) and then Spenser really rolled out the red carpet for us, taking the group on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of their brewhouse…including a sneak peek at the massive new expansion that is underway. Clearly, Spenser’s excitement was evident and the group came out of this special tour absolutely bursting with MBC enthusiasm, and lots of promises to be back soon.

Thirteen species of waterfowl, many up close and personal. A most-unexpected rarity that no one in the group had seen in Maine before – and for some, a “life bird.” Urban Peregrine Falcon. Baxter Brewing Co and Maine Beer Company. Yeah, this is what Birds on Tap – Roadtrips are all about!

There are still some spaces left for the 10th and final Roadtrip of 2017, “Farms and Fermentation” coming up on Sunday, December 10th. And stay tuned – we’ll soon be announcing all TWELVE BoT Roadtrips for 2018!

2017 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, one of the more common and conspicuous migrants all weekend.

After spending what was probably the slowest week of birding I have ever experienced in fall on Monhegan with my WINGS tour a week prior, I was even more anxious to get back to the island. I know what this island can offer (well, besides great food, beer, and friends, that is)!

Because of ferry schedules, we added a new wrinkle this year, meeting for a birdwalk in Port Clyde before the mid-am ferry to the island (9/29). Golden-crowned Kinglets were particularly abundant and some Yellow-rumped Warblers were around, hinting at the amount of birds that arrived overnight. On the trip out, Northern Gannets were scattered about, and a flock of 7 probable American Pipits zipped by. When passerines are encountered on the ferry, as they return to the mainland, it’s usually a good sign that there are a lot of newly-arrived birds on the island.

When several Yellow-rumped Warblers were darting around near the dock, I thought it might be worth swinging into The Barnacle for a quick, early lunch so we could hit the ground running. And we are all glad we did, as it took us 2 ½ hours to walk from the dock to our lodging at the Trailing Yew!

It was fantastic…birds were everywhere. While it wasn’t a fallout with birds dripping out of the trees, every cluster of trees and bushes had some migrants in it. The “Cape May Spruces” on dock road hosted several Cape May Warblers and an immature male Pine Warbler – a rarity on the island. We soon tracked down a continuing Orange-crowned Warbler, and we slowly made our way through town, pausing at every apple tree and every weedy garden.
Cape May Warbler
Pine Warbler

A lot had changed in the 5 days between my visits, with many more sparrows, and a much greater percentage of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Overall warbler diversity was down, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were everywhere! The raptor show wasn’t half-bad, either.
Peregrine Falcon

I think I saw more birds today, even though we didn’t arrive until 11:30 than I did all week with my other tour! And 60 species by day’s end wasn’t too shabby either.
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-throated Green Warbler

Friday night featured a very strong flight on the radar, but with a light winds becoming northeast after midnight, many fewer birds were around come morning (thanks to Hurricane Jose, this was the bane of our existence during the aforementioned tour), and the morning flight was very light. The afternoon was quite slow, but we continued to encounter new birds here and there. An unexpected surprise was a Wood Thrush calling at dusk. Although we never saw it, the calls are distinctive, and they were close by, and this was my 208th Monhegan bird (They’re usually long gone by the time I get here in mid-September).

Northern Gannet

Red-eyed Vireo

But this was only a fraction of the day’s excitement. First, a Bell’s Vireo was reported just as we arrived at breakfast. I thought about skipping the meal (it’s really a good bird if I consider passing on a Trailing Yew breakfast!) but after hearing about how chaotic it was (lots of owl calls and counter-productive tape use – tell me why a bird, exhausted from migration and without any hormonal urge to breed would come out in the open because you are playing an adult male’s territorial song? Especially when vagrants are often immature birds, the last thing they are looking for is a conflict; it’s amazingly ignorant…but I digress) down there, we decided to let the masses subside and fuel up for the hunt.

By the time we arrived, almost everyone had dispersed, and no sign of a Bell’s Vireo. But Pumphouse Road and the nearby yards were birdy, so we just started working the thickets. We had dispersed up and down Pumphouse Road, joined by several friends and fellow birders, including Kristen Lindquist and Bill Thompson. I was with just two members of our group, when a small flock of five or so vireos came in. There were three Red-eyed, but then I spotted what I thought could have been the Bell’s -a very pale, dull vireo creeping around the understory, with its tail cocked. With no one else around, I took off to assemble the group, and to get Bill to secure the documentation photos. When guiding, a bird doesn’t count unless the group is with you, so before I had anything definitive, I started running (only then remembering my ankle was still in a brace)!

Barb and Terez were still on what she thought was the bird in question, but as we all returned, it was clearly just a normally-pale, immature Blue-headed. Did I screw this up that badly? But wait, where was that 5th vireo?

I don’t remember who spotted it next, but when we did, it was clear it was not a Bell’s, but wow, that was pale. Like really, really, pale, and as we began studying it, we realized this may be even rarer!

At one point, I made eye contact with Marshall Iliff, and we both kinda smiled and nodded. We were on to something. Bill began to fire away. We watched. And then we began to discuss. And discuss. And at the brewery later, discuss some more. And the next day, yup, we were still talking about this bird. Almost two weeks later, as well.

Bill sent me his photos the next day, and on Sunday evening – at the brewery, of course, it’s where all great conversations occur – we realized that every single feature of this bird was consistent with Cassin’s Vireo, the member of the “Solitary Vireo Complex” that breeds in the west, and can be virtually indistinguishable from our regular Blue-headed. However, this bird had every feature perfect for Cassin’s, and as we sent around photos, everyone agreed that “if this isn’t a Cassin’s, then we can’t identify a bird as a Cassin’s.”

This would be the first record for Maine, and one of very, very few records for all of the East Coast. See, this is what a “slow” day on Monhegan should be like.

Anyway, back to the actual birding on Sunday. After only a surprisingly moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, only a light morning flight was over the island, and it was almost exclusively Yellow-rumped Warblers. Increasing south winds helped keep activity reduced through the afternoon, when most of the group slowly departed on their respective ferries. We had great looks at the two continuing Dickcissels, more great views of Cape May Warblers, and finished the day off with the last member of the group by enjoying the long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Ice Pond.

That chase and discussion of the vireo was exhausting!


It was just me and group-holdover John Lorenc on Monday morning, when Jeannette joined us for the day on the early Port Clyde boat. Her visit during my WINGS tour yielded fog and little else, so she was anxious to see and photograph some birds!

Interestingly enough, despite a rather light flight on the radar overnight (which really surprised me) on a light northwesterly wind, a strong morning flight developed come sunrise. As expected by the date, it was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were many more kinglets and sparrows around. It was very busy before breakfast, and quite birdy – if rather homogenous – through lunch, with “new” birds scattered about. Even the early afternoon was pleasantly birdy, with pockets of activity here and there.

At least 4 Dickcissels were now present, and likely a new Clay-colored Sparrow. We had a fly-by of a Northern Pintail at Lobster Cove, one of very few records for the island. A calling Greater Yellowlegs, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe, and large flocks of southbound Canada Geese high overhead were among the additions to the weekend’s checklist.
Two Dickcissels

When all was said and done, and Cassin’s Vireo was (fairly) confidently added to the list, a total of 89 species (including 15 species of warblers) were recorded in these four days, a respectable if not overwhelming total for a long weekend on the island.

And the food, beer, and conversation were great as always. And the butterflies, my goodness the butterflies. Monarchs were common, but Painted Ladies were downright abundant…

Here’s the full scoreboard, not including birds seen in Port Clyde or from the ferry en route:

9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
Canada Goose 30 1 33 100
American Black Duck 2 1 2 2
Mallard 12 20 15 15
Common Eider x x X X
Surf Scoter 0 8 0 0
Common Loon 0 0 0 1
Northern Gannet 30 30 20 20
Double-crested Cormorant 100 400 100 X
Great Cormorant 0 0 1 2
Great Blue Heron 2 4 1 0
Osprey 8 3 1 2
Bald Eagle 3 3 1 1
Northern Harrier 2 0 0 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4 5 5 4
American Kestrel 6 8 3 2
Merlin 8 15 8 6
Peregrine Falcon 12 3 4 6
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1
Wilson’s Snipe 0 0 0 1
Ring-billed Gull 1 0 0 0
Herring Gull X x X X
Great Black-backed Gull X x X X
Black Guillemot 20 4 6 8
Mourning Dove 4 6 6 4
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 8 20 25 20
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1 1
Northern Flicker 10 8 6 2
Eastern Phoebe 2 2 3 6
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 5 1 2
Philadelphia Vireo 2 1 1 3
Red-eyed Vireo 4 10 9 8
Blue Jay 8 15 21 18
American Crow x x X X
Common Raven 0 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 1 0 0
Black-capped Chickadee 10 20 X X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 4 4 4
Brown Creeper 0 2 1 12
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 0
Winter Wren 0 1 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 15 30 35 50
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 40 40 25 40
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 2
American Robin 2 0 3 1
Gray Catbird 3 3 4 3
European Starling 25 20 20 15
American Pipit 0 2 1 1
Cedar Waxwing 2 25 25 40
Nashville Warbler 5 3 3 0
Northern Parula 0 3 0 0
Magnolia Warbler 1 0 0 0
Cape May Warbler 5 5 2 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 30 40 150
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 0 0
Prairie Warbler 1 0 0 0
Palm Warbler 6 6 0 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1 1 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 1 1 1 0
American Redstart 0 2 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 4 4 4 3
Wilson’s Warbler 0 1 1 0
Scarlet Tanager 0 1 0 0
Chipping Sparrow 4 5 3 2
Savannah Sparrow 2 2 0 0
Song Sparrow X X X X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 0 0 4
Swamp Sparrow 1 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 2 4 3 8
White-crowned Sparrow 0 1 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3 0 0 0
Northern Cardinal 4 6 8 4
Indigo Bunting 1 0 0 1
Bobolink 0 1 1 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 1 1
Common Grackle 4 2 4 4
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 3 2
Purple Finch 0 0 0 0
Pine Siskin 0 1 0 0
American Goldfinch 2 8 2 1

Baltimore Oriole

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip, 10/8/17: Migrants and Malts.

Our 8th tour of the year with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, ventured to Maine’s deep south and toured around the village of Kittery.

October in Maine can produce all sorts of surprises, and Fort Foster is a great place to find the unexpected. We started off with this BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, a very late individual, that unlike most members of its species paused for photographs and long, satisfying views.

Another treat was an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow on the beach and a nice little wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers among the residents in the woods, but then our biggest surprise of the morning – a wide band of steady rain! The rain impacted our visit (for the second year in a row!) to Seapoint Beach, but a small pocket of activity on the seaweed included at least 5 Northern Mockingbirds (one burst into song, despite the rain), 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and 2 Eastern Phoebes. Several adult Northern Gannets were just offshore, which was another highlight.

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow that breeds exclusively on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

With rain still falling, I skipped the walk at the beach, and instead made a couple of short stops where we were able to hang by the bus. 20+ Bonaparte’s Gulls were off the Kittery Town Landing, and by the time we arrived at Legion Pond to enjoy 3 spiffy Wood Ducks among the masses of Mallards, the rain not only stopped but the sun began to return.

The first stop on the brewery tour was Woodland Farms Brewery, which opened only this February – but from the looks of things, had already gained quite a following! There, we sampled four brews from this lager-centric brewery. Very traditional and well-executed styles included Wolf Haven Extra Special Bitter (ESB) with a nice depth of flavor to balance the bitterness, and the Rowanbrau, a Dortmunder-style golden lager with a super-crisp-finish. We started with their light Cervaza Medico, a Mexican lager with a subtle sweetness from corn, and finished with a hop-forward Backyard Scientist IPL. A lot can be done with a lager, far beyond the basic American mass-produced swill, so it was a good lesson for us in the range of the technique.

We learned about the benefits and limitations of focusing on lagers, and the methods that produce this style of beer, which we then contrasted with ales on our second stop, Tributary Brewing Company, where a wide range of traditional and modern styles were sampled. Starting with Oktoberfest, a perfectly-simple and clean version of the traditional German-style marzen, we finished with their Oyster Stout (anything but traditional), with subtle notes of minerality.  In between, we tasted their Blueberry to find out what a beer with blueberries in the mash can really taste like (subtle, not in your face, and not overtly sweet at all) and their Pale Ale, their basic, but delectable flagship. In all cases, flavors were meant to be simple and subtle, complement the “basic” beer flavors and not overpowering them.

While comparing and contrasting this subtle, delicate use of flavors, it was not surprising that a discussion of “pumpkin/pumpkin spice” beers came up, and so Ian tapped the unfinished Pumpkin for us to sample – even though it was still weeks away from being ready and was un-carbonated. We were duly impressed, as the subtle flavors were quite apparent, and it offered insight into the brewing process as well, which is something we work hard on offering during these special tours.

With temperatures in the low 70’s, the rain was merely a nuisance, and it definitely impacted the middle part of our birding adventure. Regardless, a birding tour that begins with crippling views of a Black-billed Cuckoo and ends with stunning Wood Ducks is still a real winner! And if not, there was some great beer to enjoy and learn about!

A Record-Shattering 5 Days at Sandy Point!

Northern Parulas were certainly the “bird of the week” at Sandy Point.

It was a special five-day run at Sandy Point Beach on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. It was a record-shattering run in fact, in which I tallied nearly 18,000 migrants engaging in the “Morning Flight,” or “morning re-determined migration” when nocturnally-migrating passerines relocate (to drastically oversimplify things) come sunrise.

(To learn more about Sandy Point, check out the site entry in Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide, and for more on nocturnal migration, interpreting the radar, and the “morning flight” phenomena, check out Chapter 5 in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder. Whaddya mean you don’t have these two books!?)

I’ve had a handful of four-day runs, but I cannot think of a time when conditions were favorable – and I was actually present, and not leading tours on Monhegan for example – for five straight days. But I have most certainly never had five days like this!

I recorded 72 species “deemed migrating” through here, not including migrants that were in the bushes, such as the Gray Catbirds and Song Sparrows that are so abundant in the brush here. It does not include species like Osprey, in which some of the many I saw this week were likely southbound, but impossible to separate from the still-locals. And this tally did not include all of the waterbirds, from Common Eiders to herds of dabbling American Black Ducks, and from Bald Eagles to hunting Great Blue Herons, as well as resident species.

I tallied 25 species of warblers, including a single Connecticut Warbler, one of the most sought-after parulids in Maine. A Northern Mockingbird was only my 5th ever noted here, and two passing Dickcissels are always a treat. But certainly the icing on the cake of this great week was the Lark Sparrow found by the group in the parking lot on the relatively quiet morning of 9/13. This was a first record for Sandy Point, and my personal 184th species here.
LASP, Becky

But it was the morning of the 11th that will go down in Sandy Point history!  8,185 migrants was not only a new record, but almost doubled the previous record (4,346 on Sept 21, 2010). It was incredible. More on that epic morning later.

A number of records for high counts for individual species were set, and I am sure even more would have been shattered if I had a higher rate of identification during the onslaught of the 11th.   Other trends, typical of the season, were evident, such as the slow but steady change in the composition of the flight. The early migrants like Magnolia Warblers were giving way to a growing percentage of Yellow-rumped Warbles and Blackpoll Warblers for example. But it sure seems like we’re not yet running our of Yellow Warblers and American Restarts, however!
immature male American Redstart

Yellow Warbler, adult male

So first, here’s the numbers (bold font indicates a new daily record).

 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12 9/13
Blue-winged Teal 3 0 0 0 0
Unidentified teal 0 0 4 0 0
Surf Scoter 3 0 0 0 0
Common Loon 4 0 0 3 0
Northern Harrier 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 1 0 0 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1 0
Mourning Dove 0 1 0 1 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 0 0 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Flicker 1 256 68 26 12
Pileated Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 0
American Kestrel 0 0 3 0 1
Merlin 1 1 0 1 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 4 0 0 0
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 0
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 0
Least Flycatcher 9 11 3 2 0
Unidentified Empidonax 5 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 3 2 2 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 1 0 0 0
Unidentified flycatcher 6 1 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 3 1 2 0
Philadelphia Vireo 3 4 2 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 42 49 30 9 4
Unidentified vireo 1 2 0 0 0
Blue Jay 0 0 0 2 5
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 0 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 1 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 1 0
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 1 5 4 0
Swainson’s Thrush 10 0 0 2 0
American Robin 4 3 1 2 0
Unidentified thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Cedar Waxwing 21 265 377 54 0
Ovenbird 0 0 0 0 1
Northern Waterthrush 0 0 0 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 33 59 41 32 5
Tennessee Warbler 4 2 2 8 0
Nashville Warbler 8 8 10 4 0
Mourning Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 5 5 2
American Redstart 602 550 844 119 16
Cape May Warbler 18 5 8 5 0
Northern Parula 705 630 692 612 205
Magnolia Warbler 66 117 32 23 2
Bay-breasted Warbler 5 3 1 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 7 6 1 0 0
Yellow Warbler 19 52 38 67 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 5 2 0 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 9 3 27 25 35
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8 7 4 4 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
“Western” Palm Warbler 1 0 0 0 0
Pine Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 6 3 19 11
Prairie Warbler 1 2 1 1 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 118 63 73 57 26
Canada Warbler 6 0 1 0 0
Wilson’s Warbler 12 17 7 4 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 1 3 1
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 2 0 0 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 1 1 4 1 0
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 1 0 0 0
Indigo Bunting 0 0 1 1 0
DICKCISSEL 0 0 1 0 1
Bobolink 1 2 0 0 0
Red-winged Blackbird 1 2 0 0 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 2 1 1 1 1
House Finch 0 0 0 1 1
Purple Finch 0 0 0 8 0
American Goldfinch 5 12 3 6 4
Unidentified 1915 1887 5893 737 192
TOTAL 3705 4057 8185 1866 540


Now, let’s take a look at the radar. Here are the density and velocity images from 1am (as a sample) on 9/9 and 9/10. That’s a ton of birds on the radar.


And even as late as 4:00am on each day, a lot of birds were visible, and a lot of birds were offshore.

The night of 9/8 through 9/9 featured light westerly winds, shifting to northwest by sunrise. And on the next night, light north winds became northwest overnight. Both, as expected, produced great flights over and through Sandy Point some dawn.

Weather patterns, especially at this time of year, rarely produce three great nights for migrants in a row. And when they do, it often results in fewer birds overnight (and therefore at Sandy Point) come sunrise; essentially, the well temporarily runs dry.

And as you can see by the 1:00am radar image from September 11th, the density was nowhere near the previous two nights, despite mostly light westerly winds overnight.

And by 4:00am, it was rather quiet.

Light northwesterly winds in the evening slowly gave way to light north, before becoming light and variable. After midnight, they became west but didn’t really increase until after 2:00am. Coupled with a lackluster radar return, this was not a recipe for a huge flight.

Nonetheless with a light westerly wind at sunrise, I was heading to Sandy Point anyway. If only because it was a day off, and I won’t have many more chances to visit “my office” this month. A milky sunrise further clouded (sorry) my optimism for a big flight, but there were plenty of birds in the air.

And then all hell broke loose.

It was incredible. It was frustrating. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was amazing. It was indeed overwhelming, and at times, my only hopes at quantifying the flood was to skip attempting identification and just click my unidentified clicker as fast as I could.

And I really can’t explain it. It “shouldn’t” have been this amazing.

Come nightfall, with high pressure remaining in control, and with light westerly winds and clear skies once again, a moderate to strong flight occurred overnight. Here are the 1:00am and 4:00am radar images from the wee hours of 9/12:


With light westerly winds come dawn, I was once again stationed at the bridge, and what was – prior to three days ago! – considered a very good flight passed over and through. It was even downright relaxing – and manageable – after the chaos of the previous morning. I had fun.

Not surprisingly, after four consecutive nights, the flight was much lighter overnight on the 12th into the 13th, as evidenced once again by the 1:00am and 4:00am images.


And despite very light westerly winds in the morning, and clear skies, only a light flight was to pass through the point. Of course, that Lark Sparrow more than made up for it. It was also nice to enjoy a slower flight – and identify many more birds than not!

So almost every morning made sense: radar plus weather conditions correctly predicted the intensity of the flight. Except for one. The Big One. And I can’t explain it. But, I am OK (mostly) with that – it’s one of the fascinating and flabbergasting aspects of documenting the morning redetermined migration!

Winds turned to the south during the day on the 13th, and continued light and southerly overnight, bringing the streak of five great nights of migration to an end. Come morning, I also slept in – relatively speaking – and then went for a massage. As my therapist began to work on my aching neck, she simply uttered, “Wow” and got to work. I felt the same on Monday morning when the greatest flight I have ever recorded passed through Sandy Point.

Species, such as this Swainson’s Thrush, that can be rather secretive in migration, are sometimes seen really well at Sandy Point!