Tag Archives: Birding

This Week’s (Non Sandy-Point) Highlights, 9/24-9/30: Monhegan Island

This Blue Grosbeak was among the stars of the show from an exceptional weekend of
great birds on Monhegan Island.

I haven’t yet posted a Monhegan tour blog from last weekend, so I figured I’d at least post some of the highlights from our extremely exciting weekend chock-full of great birds!

9/24 (with Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour group):

  • 1 adult GREAT BLACK BACKED X HERRING GULL HYBRID
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • 1 Sora

9/25 (with tour group):

  • 1 adult PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Found by me at “Chat Bridge” and refound nearby a short while later by Kristen Lindquist and part of my group.  Only bird of the weekend not seen again.
  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 8 DICKCISSELS (in flock together at one point)
  • 2 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS (in flock with 8 Dickcissels).
  • 1 Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush (presumed Gray-cheeked)
  • 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

9/26 (with Tour group):

  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 7 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

9/27 (with tour group):

  • 1 WESTERN KINGBIRD (found by Kristen Lindquist. Refound by us at the Trailing Yew, then later by our group again at the cemetery. Last sighting?)
  • At least 5 DICKCISSELS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • 9/28 (with Jeannette and Kristen Lindquist):
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • 2 LARK SPARROWS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 4 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 Orange-crowned Warbler
  • 1 unidentified jaeger at a floating Minke Whale carcass offshore.
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

Other Highlights:

  • 2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Dry Ledges off of Allen Island from Port Clyde Ferry, 9/28 (with Jeannette).

And don’t forget, our next pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s out of Boothbay Harbor is coming up, on October 11th. Information and registration can be found here.

OK, back to work on my Monhegan blog.

Exceptional Morning Flight at Sandy Point, 9/29/2021

The carnage of this morning’s Morning Flight.

I don’t usually post my Sandy Point Morning Flight totals here, but today was more than worthy of a little something extra.  After 8 nights with little or virtually migration (well, at least not a big flight on ideal winds), clearing skies and a light northwesterly breeze finally opened the floodgates.  Here are the 1:00am reflectivity and velocity images, for example.

I am sure Monhegan – where I just spent 5 glorious days (despite the lack of a huge flight; more on that soon!) – was great, Sandy Point was just outstanding.  In fact, it was my 3rd highest all-time flight!

Early on, clouds made everything into little black shapes as the intense flight proceeded at all levels. Wind, a cacophony of kinglets ringing in my ears, and the two loudest and most vociferous Tufted Titmice who just stayed screaming in the magic birch all conspired to further reduce my ability to identify birds. But mostly, waves of dozens at a time were simply clicked as “unidentified” as I tried to keep pace with quantifying the flight. Furthermore, there were at least 3-4 hunting Merling, a Cooper’s Hawk, and a Peregrine Falcon, which added to the swirling chaos. It was a challenge, that’s for sure. “I do this for fun?” I asked Matthew.

Here’s the scorecard from the Morning Flight of birds that passed over and through Sandy Point, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth this am:

6:34-11:00am

50F, mostly cloudy NW 7.9-10.0 becoming mostly sunny, NW 10.9-12.5mph.

2,012 unidentified – *3rd highest

1,335 Yellow-rumped Warblers– *New Record High

445 Northern Parulas

324 unidentified kinglets

230 Cedar Waxwings

148 Golden-crowned Kinglets

139 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers – *New record

109 Northern Flickers

108 Dark-eyed Juncos

92 Ruby-crowned Kinglets

77 Blackpoll Warblers

75 Black-throated Green Warblers

56 Palm Warblers

39 White-throated Sparrows

33 Black-throated Blue Warblers – *3rd highest.

33 American Robins

28 Rusty Blackbirds – *2nd highest

25 Red-eyed Vireos

22 Eastern Phoebes – *2nd highest

20 Blue-headed Vireos

20 Nashville Warblers  – *2nd highest

17 Chipping Sparrows

16 American Redstarts

13 Magnolia Warblers

12 Blue Jays

8 Black-capped Chickadees

6 Common Loons

5 Black-and-white Warblers

5 Sharp-shinned Hawks

4 unidentified blackbirds

3 Cape May Warblers

3 Swainson’s Thrushes  – including two observed crossing.

3 Tufted Titmice

2 Scarlet Tanagers

2 unidentified vireos

2 Yellow Warblers

2 Red-breasted Nuthatches

2 Tennessee Warblers

2 American Goldfinches

1 Chestnut-sided Warbler

1 Pine Warbler

1 White-crowned Sparrow

1 Broad-winged Hawk

1 White-breasted Nuthatch

1 Hermit Thrush

1 unidentified Catharus

1 Red-bellied Woodpecker

1 Osprey

X Common Yellowthroats

1 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO – my 7th all-time here. Made 4 “false starts” before crossing at 10:04am.

Cuckoos are such shape-shifters in flight that I feel like I could have counted each pass from the one bird as a different species each time it passed!

For a grand total of 5,487 birds, my *3rd highest all-time count.  So yes indeed, birds have very much been backed up.

Meanwhile, adding to the excitement (and chaos) this morning was a massive feeding frenzy of Double-crested Cormorants and gulls. While I am sure a few migrants snuck by overhead, I couldn’t help but take a few moments to enjoy it…and make sure there were no rarities among the gulls!   15-20 Laughing Gulls and 4 Bonaparte’s Gulls joined 75-100 Ring-billed Gulls in snatching the baitfish that the Double-crested Cormorants had pushed right up onto the sandbar as it slowly emerged from the tide.  It was quite a show!

Derek’s Birding This Week: 9/18-23, 2021

The weekend will likely start off wet, but with several days of an extensive southerly flow originating all of the way from the Gulf Coast and Deep South, vagrants – like Blue Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager, and much more will be on our minds.

As I prepare to depart for our Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour tomorrow, I am left to wonder where the heck the past week went!?

Similarly to last week, my birding time was woefully limited thanks to excuses including a trade show and a morning meeting. Therefore, my birding this week was mostly limited to our Saturday Morning Birdwalk and one great flight at Sandy Point.

Speaking of Sandy Point, I did not make it out for what was presumably a light flight on Monday morning, and of course a Clay-colored Sparrow – a long-overdue Patch Bird – was found. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I had a chance to look for it.  While I didn’t find it, I did get a consolation prize.  With a flock of about 400 Semipalmated Sandpipers in the cove on the north side of the point – the largest peep flock that I have seen here, I grabbed the scope. Among them was a single Sanderling, but also a single molting juvenile Dunlin – my 191st all-time species at Sandy Point!

There was a big movement of White-throated Sparrows this week however, augmenting productive feeder-watching. Granted, my extended period of afternoon feeder-watching on Monday was mostly limited to the entertainment of a constant dog-fight between a Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk for backyard supremacy

Now, let’s hope the forecast for the weekend is a little drier than currently called for!  That being said, the pattern that we are in looks really good for southern vagrants (see photo above), and especially after 5 days of poor winds for migration, once this mess clears, the migration could be huge!

Derek’s Birding This Week: 9/11-17, 2021

Philadelphia Vireos have been particularly conspicuous this week at Sandy Point, especially because of their propensity for stopping by the trees right next to “my office” as they contemplate crossing.

I didn’t get out birding much this week, other than at Sandy Point (see tallies here), and when I did, it was mostly just enjoying the local, regular passerine migrants.

In fact, my only observation of note was a good evening at the Walsh Preserve in Freeport on 9/14 with Jeannette, where a great late-season array of shorebirds included:
1 juv. LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, 1 juv Dunlin (FOF), 76 Lesser Yellowlegs, etc,

Meanwhile, limiting most of my outings to local dog-walking patches and our two yards (home and the store), afforded the opportunity to enjoy lots of up-close migrants this week, including a Nashville Warbler that has been frequenting our dripper at home. Unfortunately, the LARK SPARROW that Will and Jeanne had here at the store on Monday, 9/13, has not returned.

Comparing my notes to last year, the first stages of the “super flight” of irruptives over the winter was already prevalent in these parts with many more Red-breasted Nuthatches and Purple Finches than normal, and the first Pine Siskins of the season. This year, Purple Finches have been in short supply so far, Pine Siskins have been virtually non-existent, and migrant Red-breasted Nuthatches have been limited (although it seems we had a good breeding season locally).  Also at this  time last year, a massive early flight of Dark-eyed Juncos and well-above normal numbers of White-throated Sparrows were around, likely signaling a low year of seed productivity.  This year, those species are around in more seasonable numbers so far this season

Derek’s Birding This Week: 9/4-10, 2021

I enjoyed three spiffy juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers this week, including this one that landed in front of my scope at Popham Beach State Park on the 10th.

In addition to the Sandy Point Morning Flight tallies posted to our store’s Facebook page – and elsewhere, my observations of note over the past seven – exceptionally productive and birdy –  days also included the following:

  • 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Lubec Bar and Flats, 9/6 (with Allison Anholt, Cameron Cox, and Jeannette).
  • Pelagic from Eastport through Head Harbor Passage, New Brunswick, 9/7 (with Allison Anholt, Chris Bartlett, Cameron Cox, Beth Edmonds, Dan Nickerson, Andy Patterson, Erin Walter, and Jeannette): 1 Pomarine Jaeger, 9 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 30-35 Common Murres, 210 Razorbills, 1 Great Shearwater, 3000 Bonaparte’s Gulls, etc.
Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Whale Watch from Eastport through Head Harbor Passage, New Brunswick, 8/7 (with Allison Anholt, Cameron Cox, Beth Edmonds, Dan Nickerson, Erin Walter, and Jeannette): 1 Pomarine Jaeger, 1 ARCTIC TERN, 7 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, similar number of alcids but perhaps even more Common Murres, etc.
  • 1 Great Egret, Machias Causeway, 9/8.
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, Roque Bluffs State Park, 9/8 (with Jeannette).
  • 2 adult SANDHILL CRANES and 1 DICKCISSEL, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 9/10.
A pair of Sandhill Cranes have become annual visitors in the fall to the fields along Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester, and I saw them for the first time on the 10th. No colt this year, unfortunately.
  • 2 female Lesser Scaup (FOF), Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 9/10.
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 9/10.

And although shorebird season is winding down, a trip downeast bumped up a few of my shorebird high counts this week:

  • Black-bellied Plover: 55, Lubec Bar and Flats, 9/6 (with Allison Anholt, Cameron Cox, and Jeannette).
  • Semipalmated Plover: 53, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 9/10.
  • Piping Plover: 2 late juveniles, Popham Beach State Park,  9/10.
  • Sanderling: 45, Popham Beach State Park, 9/10.
  • BAIRD’S SANDPIPER: 3 total!  1 juv, Sanford Cove, Machiasport, 9/5 (with Jeannette); 1 juv, Mowry Beach, Lubec, 9/6 (with Allison Anholt, Cameron Cox, and Jeannette); 1 juv, Popham Beach State Park, 9/10.
  • Least Sandpiper: 26, Lubec Bar and Flats, 9/6 (with Allison Anholt, Cameron Cox, and Jeannette).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 1, several locations.
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: 2, Popham Beach State Park, 9/10.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 900-1000+, Sanborn Cove, Machiasport, 9/8 (with Beth Edmonds, Dan Nickerson, Erin Walter, and Jeannette).
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 10, Walsh Preserve, Freeport, 9/4 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • Solitary Sandpiper: 2, Walsh Preserve, 9/4 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group) and 2, Highland Road, Brunswick, 9/10.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 60+, Walsh Preserve, 9/4 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 6, Walsh Preserve, 9/4 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group)

Derek’s Birding This Week: 8/28-9/3, 2021

In addition to the Sandy Point Morning Flight tallies posted to our store’s Facebook page – and elsewhere, my observations of note over the past seven days also included the following:

  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/29.
  • 1 Mourning Warbler, Essex Marsh, Bangor, 8/30 (with Jeannette).
  • 8 SPRUCE GROUSE, 1 Evening Grosbeak, etc, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Loop Road, 8/30 (with Jeannette). Photo above.
  • 1 Mourning Warbler, Barnard Mountain Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, 8/31 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X SNOWY EGRET HYBRID, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 9/3.

Although I didn’t hit many shorebird sites this week (since we were in the north woods on our days off), I had a few excellent counts of several species:

  • American Oystercatcher: 4 continuing (2 ad with 2 juv), Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/29.
  • Black-bellied Plover: 87, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Killdeer: 53, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 9/2.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 204, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Sanderling: 2, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Least Sandpiper: 34, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 9/3.
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 2, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER: 1 juv, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 425, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 14, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Solitary Sandpiper: 1, single solitaries at several sites.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 132, Yarmouth Town Landing, 9/2 – highest count I have had anywhere locally in several years.
  • “Eastern” Willet: 8, Pine Point, 8/29.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 11, Eastern Road Trail, 9/3.

Derek’s Birding This Week: 8/21-27, 2021

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

  • 1 BLACK-HEADED GULL, Maxwell’s Farm field, Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, 8/22 (photo above).
  • 103 Common Nighthawks while driving between Pownal and Lewiston, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
  • 50+ Common Nighthawks, over The Pub at Baxter, Lewiston, 8/25 (with Andy, Renee, and Anna Patterson and Jeannette).

Although I didn’t hit many prime spots for large numbers of shorebirds this week, a good variety – and lots of shorebirds at unusual places due to the rains of Tropical Storm Henri – produced the following high counts:

  • American Oystercatcher: 4 continuing (2 ad with 2 juv), Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/26.
  • Black-bellied Plover: 82, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/26.
  • Killdeer: 68, Winding Brook Turf Farm, Lyman, 8/23 (with Nancy Houlihan, Pat Moynahan, and Jeannette).
  • Semipalmated Plover: 178, Pine Point, 8/26.
  • Sanderling: 3, Pine Point, 8/26.
  • BAIRD’S SANDPIPER (FOY): 1 juv, Sanford Lagoons, 8/23 (with Jeannette).
  • Least Sandpiper: 50+, Sanford Lagoons, Sanford, 8/23 (with Jeannette).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 18, Ferry/Western Beaches, Scarborough, 8/22 (with John Lorenc).
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: 5, Sanford Lagoons, 8/23 (with Jeannette).
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 325+, Pine Point, 8/26.
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 8, Pine Point, 8/26.
  • LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (FOY): 1 fairly early juvenile out of place at Wainright Field Rec Area, South Portland, 8/23. Video here: https://fb.watch/7CgydYWz1P/
  • Wilson’s Snipe: 1, Walsh Preserve, Freeport, 8/21 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group) and Sanford Lagoons, 8/23 (with Jeannette).
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 6, Sanford Lagoons, 8/23 (with Jeannette).
  • Solitary Sandpiper: 7, Sanford Lagoons, 8/23 (with Jeannette).
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 58, Walsh Preserve, Freeport, 8/21 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • “Eastern” Willet: 5, Pine Point, 8/26.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Walsh Preserve, Freeport, 8/21 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • WILSON’S PHALAROPE: 1 continuing juv/1st winter, Sanford Lagoons, 8/23 (with Jeannette).

Derek’s Birding This Week: 8/14-20, 2021

Semipalmated Plovers and Semipalmated Sandpipers waiting out the high tide
off of Biddeford Pool Beach on 8/20.

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

  • Migrants on Monhegan Island, 8/15 (with Evan Obercian) included: 6+ Cape May Warblers, 1 Bay-breasted Warbler, 2 Least Flycatchers, etc.
  • 1 immature Great Cormorant, Outer Duck Islands, Monhegan, 8/15.
  • 1 Surf Scoter, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 8/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Middle Bay Road, Brunswick, 8/16 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 of 2 continuing TRICOLORED HERON, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 8/16 (with Jeannette) and 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • 2 BOREAL CHICKADEES, Albany Mountain Trail, White Mountain N.F., 8/17 (with Jeannette). Very surprising in mixed woods at 1624ft. Even more surprising since the 1900+ ft summit is not very boreal. Molt migrant and/or post-breeding dispersal? 
  • 1 of the 2-3 continuing Red-necked Grebes, Ocean Avenue, Biddeford Pool, 8/20.

And, with many of the species now peaking (and some of the adults already past peak), my shorebird high counts for a goodly 19 species this week were as follows:

  • American Oystercatcher: 4 (2 ad with 2 juv), Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/16 (with Jeannette) and 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group). Plus 1, Ocean Avenue, Biddeford Pool, 8/20.
  • Black-bellied Plover: 93, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 8/16 (with Jeannette).
  • Killdeer: 24, Colonial Acres sod farm, Gorham, 8/20.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 261+, Pine Point, 8/16 (with Jeannette).
  • Whimbrel: 1 each at Pine Point, 8/16 (with Jeannette) and 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group); The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • HUDSONIAN GODWIT: 43!!!, The Pool, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).  Horrific video and details here: https://fb.watch/7vL0DY756z/
  • Ruddy Turnstone: 18, Outer Duck Islands, Monhegan, 8/15.
  • Sanderling: 23, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/20.
  • Least Sandpiper: 100+, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 10+, Pine Point, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group). 
  • BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (FOY): 1, Colonial Acres sod farm, Gorham, 8/20 (with Phil McCormack).
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: 1, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 500+, Pine Point, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group). 
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 25, The Pool, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 9, Biddeford Pool area shoreline, 8/20.
  • Solitary Sandpiper: 9, Monhegan Island, 8/15 (with Evan Obercian).
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 39, between Spear Farm Estuary Preserve and Yarmouth Town Landing, 8/14 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • “Eastern” Willet: 10, The Pool, 8/19 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Spear Farm Estuary Preserve, Yarmouth, 8/14 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
Common Eiders, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Sanderlings
at Biddeford Pool Beach on 8/20.

Derek’s Birding This Week: 8/8-13, 2021

No Rufous Hummingbird in our backyard this week, but the Ruby-throated Hummingbird
show remains strong!

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

  • 1 continuing TRICOLORED HERON, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • 2 continuing adult Red-necked Grebes, Ocean Avenue, Biddeford Pool, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).

And, with southbound shorebird migration now in full swing, my high counts this week were as follows (no upper marsh at high tide visits this week):

  • American Oystercatcher: 4 (2 ad with 2 juv), Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/13.
  • Black-bellied Plover: 77, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 8/11.
  • Killdeer: 8, Highland Road, Brunswick, 8/11.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 300+, Pine Point, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Piping Plover: 4, Western Beach, Scarborough, 8/13.
  • Whimbrel: 3, Pine Point, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Ruddy Turnstone: 2, Western Beach, 8/13.
  • Sanderling: 1, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Least Sandpiper: 100+, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/10 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 14, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 8/13.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 600+, Pine Point, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 9, Wharton Point, 8/11.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 1, multiple locations.
  • Solitary Sandpiper 4, Sturtivant Stream, Umbagog NWR, 8/8 (with Levi Burton, Katrina Fenton, and Jeannette).
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 9, Eastern Road Trail, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).
  • “Eastern” Willet: 10, Pine Point, 8/3.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 10, Pine Point, 8/10 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop tour group).

A Rufous Hummingbird in our Yard!

On Saturday, July 31st, Jeannette and I were sitting on our back porch in Pownal sharing a beer in our usual after work beer o’clock/feeder and yard bird watch. We almost skipped it, however. We were leaving for a trip the next day and had yet to pack, the mosquitoes have been annoying, and besides, the Olympics were on. But I said “It’s my birthday and I can have a beer on the porch if I want to!”

We were enjoying our beverage while watching the constant activities of baby woodpeckers learning the ropes at the suet and nut feeders, and the aerial acrobatics and constant combat of hummingbirds. I’ve worked hard at increasing our hummingbird population with feeders, of course, but more importantly a near-constant source of natural nectar throughout the season.  We have been rewarded in our efforts with two nesting females almost every year, and a constant stream of adult males.  And now juveniles were about to fledge, adding to that activity.

It was about 7:00pm when I was enthralled with a particularly aggressive dogfight in the red Bee Balm. And then I basically did a spit-take when one of the combatants flashed rufous in its tail.

A SELASPHOROUS HUMMINGBIRD!!!!

I scrambled for the binoculars, Jeannette raced for her camera, and Bonxie wondered what all of the commotion was about and why we were disturbing his chipmunk watching.

We observed and photographed it for over an hour, finally retiring inside for dinner at about 8:15 when the hummingbird activity shut down for the evening. Emails were sent and calls were made.

Here are Jeannette’s best photos from the evening:

It was already getting dark, it was tough to observe details, and her shutter speed was too slow to capture motion: and we really needed to see the spread-tail to have hopes of identifying this inordinately tricky genus.

We decided to invite a handful of folks over to our yard the next morning to share in our excitement over this special backyard visitor. We also hoped to have more long lenses pointed at that tail! 

Studying the books and reviewing the photos – along with soliciting some input from other birders – it became readily clear that this was an adult female (based on overall wear and throat pattern) Rufous or Allen’s Hummingbird. We systematically eliminated the other members of the genus, and saw nothing suggestive of the even less likely Allen’s.  But this is one of the most challenging species-pairs in North America, depending on the age and sex.

The next morning, 6 people joined us on the porch, and luckily, our bird showed up. And eventually, showed up really, really, well! Unlike the previous evening however, where she spent prolonged periods at the feeder, she rarely lingered at any one flower or feeder for long before be driven off by one of the resident Ruby-throats (at least two adult males, 2 adult females, and either another female or a juvenile were all present and protecting their resources).  Plenty of photos were taken, but we had not yet seen the tail pattern clearly.

Jeannette and I really needed to go pack now, and so we left the hummingbird watchers to themselves.  Eventually, Bonxie went off to camp, I packed the car, and soon it was time for us to depart.  Luckily, Ethan and Ingrid remained vigilant as Ethan finally acquired those critical tail shots:

His arrows point to the critical R2, the 2nd tail feather from the center on each half of the tail. On most – but not all – adult female Rufous Hummingbirds, there is an emargination (often called a “nipple tip”) which is not present on Allen’s Hummingbird.  Unfortunately, this birds tail is worn – not surprising at this time of year – and the exact original pattern is just impossible to deduce. 

We are therefore left with less-reliable set of field marks and circumstances.  Often, the fallback here is to band and measure it, but we decided not to consider that unless she was still present when we returned.

So this is what we have:

  • Tail feathers, including R5, look “wide enough” to be a Rufous. This is pretty subjective visually, however, and usually takes in-hand measurements to confirm.
  • Limited rufous in the uppertail coverts as expected on Rufous.
  • Overall wear and fading of plumage is rather minimal; most Allen’s Hummingbirds would look very worn and likely really tattered by now.

The circumstantial evidence is also quite strong:

  • Rufous Hummingbirds are early long-distance migrants who are on the move in the west by now. Breeding as far north as southeastern Alaska, Rufous Hummingbirds have a pattern of fairly regular vagrancy to the East in late summer. Allen’s does not.
  • The only New England record of Allen’s Hummingbird is from Nantucket on 8/26/1988 (Massachusetts Avian Records Committee). Admittedly, that is only a month later (I was surprised to learn!).
  • The next closest records are seven in New Jersey (mostly from Cape May) that all were first found between September 3rd and November 14.
  • Of course, the preponderance of unconfirmed/unidentifiable “Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds” records clouds the judgment of this pattern of occurrence a little.

We already had scheduled someone to take care of our feeders while we were gone, and when he did so on 8/4, he did not see our Selasphorous. We returned home in the evening of 8/8, and sugar water was still available and our meadow of Wild Bergamot was now in full bloom. But alas, our visitor was not present. There were plenty of Ruby-throats still buzzing around – perhaps one less adult male and one more juvenile now, but not surprisingly, our vagrant had continued on, whether by choice or by force. 

Now if she was still here, we would have pondered opening our yard up to visitors (not visible from the road, let alone a public one) and perhaps arranging for a bander to visit and attempt to capture her for measurements.  But alas, these are the best shots and information we have to work with at this time.

So I am still soliciting comments, but personally, I think this bird is a Rufous Hummingbird. While we might not have absolute conclusive proof, I see absolutely nothing to suggest Allen’s so for me, I am happy with the most probable identification and Rufous Hummingbird is our 133rd Yard Bird!

And after 16 years here, our backyard has finally attracted a bona fide vagrant (although the two Hoary Redpolls were pretty great as well). I just wish her timing was a little better.  Then again, she could have shown up the next day and we would have never known!  Nevertheless, it was a wonderful birthday present!

Thanks to Michael O’Brien and Paul Lehman for helpful comments on the bird’s suspected identity, and especially to Ethan Whitaker for the diagnostic (or nearly so?) photos.

References:

Howell, Steve N.G. 2002. Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford.

West, George C. 2015. North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.

Williamson, Sheri L. 2001 Hummingbirds of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company: New York and Boston.