Tag Archives: Birding

Derek’s Birding This Week: 12/19-25

The good thing about birding is that it can be done anywhere at anytime, such as between errands in Auburn where I enjoyed this Peregrine Falcon hunting around Great Falls. I snapped this photo with my phone through my binoculars on the Hampton Inn in Auburn.

I don’t usually get out birding much in the week before Christmas, and this year it was even less. But a few quick stops, dog-walks, and incidental observations produced only the following observation of note over the past seven days.

  • 1 GRAY CATBIRD, Saco Riverwalk, 12/20.

This Week in Finches:

Although my birding was limited, the dearth of finches was noteworthy. Has the flight passed us by? Did the largest volume of redpolls simply move southward to the west of us? Are there more in the pipeline, or will we have a rather quiet January and February?

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 1 (Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 12/21).
  • Red Crossbill: 0
  • WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL:  0
  • PINE GROSBEAK: up to 10 daily (in and around the yard here at the store all week).
  • Purple Finch: 0
  • Common Redpoll: 0
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 3 (Merrill Road Ext, Freeport, 12/19).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 12/12-18, 2020.

Starting the day with Evening Grosbeaks at our home feeders and enjoying Pine Grosbeaks everytime we carry seed out to someone’s car really isn’t too shabby.

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

  • Unusually large number of Red-throated Loons in the northwest corner of Casco Bay all week.
  • 1 BOHEMIAN WAXWING and 1 Savannah Sparrow, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 12/13.
  • 1 RING-NECKED DUCK with about 450 mixed Lesser and Greater Scaup with about 1,000 White-winged Scoters, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 12/14.
  • 425+ mixed Lesser and Greater Scaup, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 12/14.
  • 1 Hermit Thrush, Harraseeket Yacht Club, Freeport, 12/18.

This Week in Finches:

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 12 (flying over our yard in Pownal, 12/13); 2 (Verrill Road, Pownal, 12/13); after a several day absence, up to 4 were in our Pownal yard on 12/15; 1 (Verrill Road, 12/17).
  • Red Crossbills: 1 (Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 12/14); 4 (Cumberland Town Forest, 12/16);
  • WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL:  0
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 6-10 daily (in and around the yard here at the store all week); 4 (Rte 1, Brunswick, 12/14); 10 (Cumberland Town Landing, 12/16); 4 (Rte 88, Cumberland, 12/16).
  • Purple Finch: 0
  • Common Redpoll: 5 (Cumberland Town Landing, 12/16).
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 2 (Cumberland Town Landing, 12/16).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 12/5-11, 2020

I didn’t get out birding much this week, but my morning on Bailey Island was fantastic! But the good news is that Pine Grosbeaks have been around our store daily, and this morning lost getting snow tires on my car produced the biggest flock I have seen in the area so far this season. It is nice when the birds come to you!

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

  • 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 Hermit Thrush, and 1 Northern Flicker, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 12/7.
  • 1 SNOWY OWL (FOS) and 28 Snow Buntings, Brunswick Landing, 12/7.
  • 1 Turkey Vulture, over the store, 12/7.

This Week in Finches:

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: Up to 3 continue daily at our feeders at home in Pownal through the early part of the week; 2 (Memak Preserve, North Yarmouth, 12/10).
  • Red Crossbills: 4 (Bailey Island, Harpswell, 12/7); 12 (Waterboro Barrens Preserve, 12/8).
  • WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 2 (Bailey Island, 12/7).
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 4 (in and around the yard here at the store, 12/2-8); increased to 6 (12/9 – present); 6 (Mayall Road, Gray, 12/9); 3 (Westbrook Riverwalk, 12/11); 18 (Saunders Way, Westbrook, 12/11).
  • Purple Finch: 1 (Bailey Island, 12/7).
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 7 (Bailey Island, 12/7).
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 3 (Bailey Island, 12/7).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 11/21-27/2020

Pine Grosbeaks have already started to arrive in Southern Maine, such as this female at the Yarmouth Library on the 25th.

I didn’t get very far afield much this week, but feeder-watching, local patches, and a visit to Sabattus Pond at week’s end made up for it.  My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • 1 continuing LINCOLN’S SPARROW, feeders here at the store through 11/21.
  • 8 American Pipits, Highland Road, Brunswick, 11/21.
  • 1 Fox Sparrow, feeders here at the store, 11/21.
  • 1 Turkey Vulture, over the store, 11/24.
  • 100+ Horned Larks and about 40 Snow Buntings, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/25.
  • 1 Common Grackle, feeders here at the store, 11/25 -present.

Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/27:

  • It was a great morning as the fog lifted and the water was dead calm. Unfortunately, a high-speed fishing boat, several duck hunting parties, and two hunting Bald Eagles made it difficult to make an accurate count as birds were flushing in different directions.
  • 476 Mallards
  • 301 Canada Geese
  • 231 Ruddy Ducks
  • 174 Common Mergansers
  • 144 American Black Ducks
  • 44 Greater Scaup
  • 26 Hooded Mergansers
  • 18 Lesser Scaup
  • 8 Buffleheads
  • 5 GADWALL
  • 4 Green-winged Teal
  • 4 Common Goldeneyes
  • 3 Northern Pintails
  • 2 Common Loons
  • 1 drake American Wigeon
  • 1 probable hen American Wigeon (very brown-headed individual found last week by P. Moynahan and N. Houlihan. Spotted off South Beach but flushed by fishing boat. Refound on west shore and distantly phone-scoped, but flushed by eagle before I could get closer. Appeared to have white bar on upperwing greater coverts to rule out Eurasian, but not conclusively viewed…other details suggestive or ambiguous. Good luck ruling out a hybrid on a hen wigeon, however!)
  • 1 CACKLING GOOSE (FOY) – in distance from South Beach with large group of Canadas. Flushed by fishing boat before I could get to Riley Road to attempt phone-scoping. Very tiny bird with short neck and very short, stubby bill. Barely larger than the Mallards. Flew north, but not relocated, including searching of farm fields along eastern shore.
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher

The Finch-Tastic Fall festivities continue:

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 9 continue daily at our feeders at home in Pownal; 1 (Highland Rd, 11/21); 2 (Martin’s Point Park, Sabattus, 11/27.
  • Red Crossbills: 3 (Highland Road, 11/21).
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 4 (Highland Road, 11/21); 3 (Yarmouth Library, 11/25).
  • Purple Finch: 0
  • Common Redpoll: scattered very few.
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 6 (our feeders in Pownal, 11/22).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 11/14-20.

I checked a lot of thickets along the coast this week, hoping for late migrants and vagrants. While those were in rather short supply, I had noticed a significant number of Carolina Wrens. Are they rebounding from a couple of harsh winters in a row, or was there another influx of migrants/dispersing birds into the region this fall. Even the common and fairly common birds have so much to teach us about populations, movements, and vagrancy!

It’s getting colder and quieter out there. But, we are in the midst of the late fall Rarity Season, so I made time to check as many of the migrant and vagrant traps as I could this week. Other than a great morning with Jeannette on Bailey Island on Tuesday, I didn’t find much in the way of “lingering” birds. Did the late-October unseasonable cold snap have something to do with it? And/or the lack of natural food resources because of the drought? Or I was in the wrong places?

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

  • 2 PINE GROSBEAKS, Private Property in Durham, 11/14.
  • 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/15.
  • 1 AMERICAN REDSTART, 9 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 1 PINE WARBLER, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and 1 Winter Wren, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 11/17 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 Red Crossbill, over our yard in Pownal, 11/17.
  • 300+ Horned Larks, 8-10 Snow Buntings, and 2-3 Lapland Longspurs, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/18. 
  • 1 Gray Catbird, Saco Riverwalk, 11/19.
  • 1 pair Wood Ducks, Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • 2 Harlequin Ducks, Trundy Point, Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • 2 immature White-crowned Sparrows, Private Property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • 1 very late LINCOLN’S SPARROW, here at the store, 11/20.
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: scattered 1-4’s.
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 5, Private Property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/20.
  • EVENING GROSBEAK High Count This Week:  9, our yard in Pownal, 11/18.

This Week’s Highlights, 11/7-13, 2020

Well this is sure not something you’ll see everyday! Here’s a vagrant BULLOCK’S ORIOLE from the Western US in front of the Maine state flag!
With only 5-9 previous records in Maine, this visitor to a Freeport backyard was definitely my headliner this week…as it was for most birders in the state!

My observations of note over the past seven days were as follows:

  • 3 immature White-crowned Sparrows continue here at the store’s feeders through 11/11.
  • 1 Red Crossbill, around the store, 11/8.
  • 1 YELLOW WARBLER, 1 Rusty Blackbird, 1 Winter Wren, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, etc, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 3 PINE GROSBEAKS (FOY), Moose Point State Park, Searsport, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL, Sears Island, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 Winter Wren and 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Sandy Point Beach, Searsport, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 BOHEMIAN WAXWING, Stockton Cove, Stockton Springs, 11/10 (with Evan Obercian).
  • 1 Lapland Longspur, 1 Red Crossbill, 4 American Pipits, 6 Snow Buntings, 60+ Horned Larks, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/11.
  • 1 American Pipit, fly-over here at the store, 11/11 (our 130th Yard Bird!).
  • 1 BULLOCK’S ORIOLE, Spring Hill Lane (see previous posts on Maine Birds Google Group or the Maine Birds Facebook Group for directions), Freeport, 11/11.
  • 1 Red Crossbill, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 11/12.
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 14, Spring Hill Road, Freeport, 11/11.
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 2, multiple locations.
  • EVENING GROSBEAK High Count This Week: 8, over the store, 11/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).

2020 Fall Monhegan Migration Weekend Tour Report

It sure felt good to have a normal tour run, well, normally, in 2020! Other than the requirement of wearing masks all day – despite the annoyance of fogged glasses in the 100% humidity, and some logistical and safety changes at mealtimes, it was as close to normal as 2020 gets. And that felt good.  The birding was great, too! 

Most of Friday’s participants arrived with me on the early Hardy Boat out of New Harbor, and we sure hit the ground running!  A strong flight the night before yielded tons of birds, and it was very birdy right off the bat.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were still darting overhead and were in every bush. White-throated Sparrows virtually littered the ground in places. Small flocks of Purple Finches seemed to be everywhere.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were definitely the migrant of the trip, as they often are at the end of September. Only White-throated Sparrows seemed to give them a run for their money on most days.

A continuing juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (a very good bird out here) and a Dickcissel got us started, while in the afternoon we found two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (a juvenile and a really messy 2nd Cycle) and at dusk, a fly-by from a late Common Nighthawk. We ended up with 63 species on the day, which isn’t bad for arriving at 10:15, and likely there were many other species around; we just couldn’t see them through all of the Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows.

This Lesser Black-backed Gull was not exactly a stunning specimen of fresh feathers, but it was a very instructive study subject.

But before you ask, I’ll let you know: No, you will not find the gratuitous annual photo of Novelty Pizza in this blog this year. It was different, and it was terrible. I was sad. But the handpies for lunch at the Trailing Yew made up for it (but I repeatedly remembered to take the obligatory photo only after it was rapidly consumed in its entirety).

But that evening’s sunset was absolutely delicious!

We awoke to very dense fog on Saturday morning, and with very light southerly winds overnight, only a very light migration had occurred.  There was a decent amount of call notes overhead (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers) at what was supposed to be the time of sunrise, but these birds could have just been moving around.  Nonetheless, throughout the day we found plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows once again, along with ample number of Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches. It was birdy, but the diversity remained rather low.

Ring-necked Pheasants were mysteriously common and conspicuous all weekend, once again.

By the afternoon, things had slowed down quite a bit, but we grew our triplist steadily with pockets of activity here and there.  Two continuing Rusty Blackbirds put on a good show for us, as did an unusually cooperative Ovenbird. It’s always nice to see Indigo Buntings; we had two today.  Although it seemed rather slow and lacking in diversity, our thoroughness accumulated 64 species by day’s end.

Rusty Blackbird at the Ice Pond.

We awoke to more dense fog on Sunday morning, with no detectable migration overnight on a southwesterly flow.  But sometimes slower days allow us a chance to be more thorough, and by covering a good amount of ground today, we caught up with – and discovered – several very good birds.

Banded Tussock Moth caterpillar.

We began with coffee in hand as we marched down to the Ice Pond to catch up with the three continuing Yellow-crowned Night-Herons which we had someone missed each of the previous two days. The drake Wood Duck – very close now to full-spiffiness (technical term!) added to the joy.  Then, after breakfast we had the thrilling discovery (OK, Tom discovered it; he deserves the credit) of a Yellow-breasted Chat. Glimpses were fleeting, and through fogged glasses, were not always satisfactory.  We then found a Marsh Wren at Lobster Cove, and continued to slowly add birds to the list, such as an Eastern Towhee, a few more warbler species, and the fog finally lifted enough for us to see the water and nearby islands to sort out Great Cormorants from Double-cresteds.

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Now, just about annual on Monhegan in fall.
A Lobster Cove marsh stomp often produces a surprise or two, like today’s Marsh Wren.

On Monday, our last day of the group tour, we had significant turnover in participants from the weekend, but less turnover in birds.  With another night with little to no nocturnal movement on persistent southerly winds and fog. Only a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were calling overhead at coffee pot o’clock, and it was very slow on our pre-breakfast walk. Northern Flickers were definitely moving around though, so it’s possible a few of these birds were new arrivals overnight. 

Like all of Maine, Monhegan is desperate for rain, but of course we selfishly were hoping it would not fall on us!  The forecast was looking good to get most of the day in, rain-free, but when we reconvened at 9:15, there was a steady light shower. It did not last long, however, and we continued on, unimpeded. Once again, we spent a lot of time sparrow-workshopping, as we regularly encountered fun mixed flocks all weekend of Song, White-throated, Savannah, and often one other species, be it Chipping, White-crowned, Swamp, or Lincoln’s. The side-by-side comparisons are very instructive, and as a guide, I tend to pivot to whatever the birds were offering, and this weekend, they were offering a chance to study, learn, and appreciate the diversity and beauty of sparrows.

We covered a fair amount of ground in the afternoon, checking in with two of the three Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, the continuing Wood Duck and 2 Rusty Blackbirds, and some blooming Fringed Gentian. At least 6 Baltimore Orioles were still present (we had a high of 9+ on Friday), and we had some really good looks at Cape May Warblers and others. Partial clearing in the later afternoon was just enough to get our first view of town from Lighthouse Hill. A mere 56 species by day’s end showed the lack of overall diversity after three full nights with some birds leaving, but very little arriving.

Autumn Meadowhawk (I believe) visiting Barb’s cap.

With the last boat of the day at 4:30, the Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend officially came to a close. However, one of Monday’s participants stayed on for a day of private guiding, so Kate and I continued on for a full day of birding on Tuesday. But, like the weekend, we awoke to more fog and another night of little to no migration on SSE winds. There was, however, some more swirling of Yellow-rumped Warbles around dawn, coming to and from Manana. It was very suggestive of zugunruhe (migratory restlessness) after four days of being stuck on the island with unfavorable winds.  Or, it could have been some birds had indeed arrived overnight.

The extensive southerly winds had finally started to pay dividends, however, with the delivery of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The Dickcissel continued, and we had our best look at it since Friday. With only two of us, we covered grown more quickly and efficiently, so we tallied several species that the group had not seen together, such as the two ridiculously cooperative Soras at the Pumphouse. We also found an unusually-cooperative Mourning Warbler, which is always a treat in migration.

Dickcissel.

With a storm a’brewing, Kate and I departed together on the 3:15 Hardy Boat, and were treated to a Cory’s Shearwater and a Northern Fulmar that materialized out of the still-thick fog. Once a rarity in these waters, the Cory’s was rather late in departing, while the fulmar was on the early side of their arrival. I don’t recall having seen both species on a boat trip on the same day before, and any tubenose is “good” in these nearshore waters.

So that officially brought the 2020 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour to a close; ending on a real high note. Below, I will include Tuesday in the list, but I have separated out the species count for the four-day weekend for comparison sake. Please let me know if I missed something (it’s easy to do as I sit down and try to recall the day as the bed is calling my name!), but our tally for now was a solid 92 species – just two species below our average for the past 10 years.  

However, the 12 species of warblers were well below our 10-year average of 18 species for the weekend. But given the accelerated migration season (food supply shortages due to drought and/or benign weather allowing migration to proceed relatively unimpeded), this was expected. And we made up for it with more sparrows than usual, and an impressive irruption underway. This was the most Purple Finches and White-breasted Nuthatches I can recall on the island, and along with a goodly number of Red-breasted Nuthatches and the first few Pine Siskins of fall, our island sample reflected what we are seeing on the mainland, and throughout the East.

25-Sep26-Sep27-Sep28-Sep29-Sep**
Wood Duck01111
American Black Duck22233
Mallard1215121616
Mallard x American Black Duck Hybrid00011
Common EiderxxxxX
Surf Scoter6*0000
Ring-necked Pheasant71518189
Mourning Dove64141610
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO00001
Common Nighthawk10000
Sora00002
Black-bellied Plover01000
Wilson’s Snipe01000
Solitary Sandpiper10000
Black Guillemot2*0636
Laughing Gull01002*
Herring GullxxXxx
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL20101
Great Black-backed GullxxXxx
Common Loon00001*
Northern Gannet10*6248*
NORTHERN FULMAR00001*
CORY’S SHEARWATER00001*
Double-crested CormorantXxxxX
Great Cormorant00222
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON00320
Osprey03000
Bald Eagle11000
Sharp-shinned Hawk61221
COOPER’S HAWK10000
Belted Kingfisher11110
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker2088815
Downy Woodpecker00210
Northern Flicker4020152015
American Kestrel41000
Merlin106662
Peregrine Falcon62100
Least Flycatcher00100
Eastern Phoebe64462
Red-eyed Vireo86443
Blue Jay12812126
American CrowxxxxX
Common Raven42111
Black-capped ChickadeexxxxX
Red-breasted Nuthatch1515202015
White-breasted Nuthatch34578
Brown Creeper10000
House Wren00012
Marsh Wren00100
Carolina Wren21224
Golden-crowned Kinglet26208
Ruby-crowned Kinglet02100
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER00001
Swainson’s Thrush20000
Hermit Thrush10000
American Robin02444
Gray Catbirdxx81010
Brown Thrasher11111
European Starling1622282424
Cedar Waxwing151616128
American Pipit01000
Purple Finch2040404040
Pine Siskin10111
American Goldfinch28663
Eastern Towhee00100
Chipping Sparrow66644
Dark-eyed Junco48441
White-crowned Sparrow63463
White-throated Sparrow7560503530
Savannah Sparrow10610810
Song Sparrow1520202025
Lincoln’s Sparrow22012
Swamp Sparrow41022
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT00100
Bobolink11000
Rusty Blackbird12222
Common Grackle 4161818
Baltimore Oriole83669
Ovenbird01000
Northern Waterthrush10112
Black-and-white Warbler11000
Common Yellowthroat32661
Cape May Warbler11440
Northern Parula00102
Yellow Warbler11112
Blackpoll Warbler22863
Palm Warbler62112
PINE WARBLER10000
Yellow-rumped Warbler1501251006040
MOURNING WARBLER00001
Scarlet Tanager10000
Northern Cardinal22546
Rose-breasted Grosbeak01101
Indigo Bunting01011
DICKCISSEL11001
Day Total6765635865
*Denotes Ferry Ride Only. **Private Tour.
We enjoyed ample time to study many common species, such as separating young gulls. Here’s a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull (L) in the background showing its much whiter overall appearance with bold marbling above. Compare that to “the brown one,” the juvenile Herring Gull (R). It wasn’t the only one yawning from another gull lecture!

Say’s Phoebe – A Maine Nemesis No More!

While out to dinner last night (9/23/2020), I pulled my phone out to look up a couple of things on the menu Jeannette and I were perusing. I usually don’t bother clicking on an email with a subject line “Bird ID” when I am out to dinner; that’s for working hours. But I decided to click on this one from Dave Fensore.

I am sure glad that I did, because those were the photos it contained. Dave and his daughter, Sarah, were out for an afternoon stroll when they found this bird which they identified as a Say’s Phoebe. But they also noted its range: breeding no closer than central North Dakota and winter no closer than southern Texas, they began to have their doubts. Luckily the Sibley Guide shows that they are rare throughout the East, so it is not without precedence, but still, rare birds are rare, and so they sent the photos to me to be sure.

Needless to say, there’s not much question about the birds identify from these stellar photos!

The only question I had was whether or not it would be there in the morning, because for me, the chase was on!

See, Say’s Phoebe (with over a dozen records in Maine) is what I can definitely call a “nemesis” bird in the state for me. I’ve missed three birds on Monhegan, by a sum of less than about 30 hours. One that I missed by a couple of hours resulted in a sprained ankle that lingers with the occasional flare-up of tendinitis. A few friends love to point out how many Say’s Phoebes they have seen in Maine (what are friends for, afterall!). So this bird has physically and mentally scarred me for some time. I also missed at least one on the mainland because I was on Monhegan for the week.

But not anymore.

Sure, I skipped another Morning Flight at Sandy Point, but as of 6:55am this morning, I had finally seen a Say’s Phoebe in Maine. Dave and Carolyn, and Matthew Gilbert, were waiting there, fingers pointing, as I rolled up.

Early morning backlighting made for challenging photography conditions, and my camera is having some front-focusing issues. So my photos are not very good. Dave’s are definitely better, and my flight shots turned out to be a complete disaster. But mine are sweet, oh, so sweet. And my ankle doesn’t even hurt today.

The bird can be observed from the quiet and safe side of Shaker Rd (Old Rte 26…note that Shaker Rd leaves the Rte 26 Bypass a short distance south of here), from the crest of the hill immediately south of the historic village.

Please note, the Village is currently closed. There is no parking there or trespassing into the fields. Luckily, there is plenty of roadside parking on a wide shoulder, and all of the fields are easily visible from the roadside, so this should not be an issue. In fact, it cannot be an issue here; we must respect the community.

The bird is moving around the various fence lines, with the temporary white fence through the closest field being one of its favorite haunts.

I got the word out and birders began to arrive. I departed, owing Dave a whole lot of thanks. And wondering if I’ll find a Say’s Phoebe on Monhegan this weekend, because once you see your nemesis…

The Search for Troppy Tour Report, 7/10.

A tropical storm in Maine? Interfering with our first tour since early March? Of course! Because 2020!

But thanks to the flexibility of our partners, the Isle au Haut Boat Services, and the registered participants, we moved up our “Search for Troppy” tour by 24 hours. Not the easiest thing to do within 48 hours of the new departure, but for those who were unable to make the switch, we had an overwhelming response to the few extra spaces we offered up (more on that later).

While we can plan around a tropical storm, you can’t plan around fog in the Gulf of Maine – especially this summer.  With 23 particpants, all of which – along with the guides and crew – wearing masks the whole time (no exceptions) and social distancing as much as possible, we set off from Stonington into the very, very dense fog.
IMG_6465_dense_fog

IMG_6469_masked_birders_on_boat

There wasn’t much to see on the way out, except for the common nearshore species,like Common Eiders.
COEI

And, visibility was close to zero the whole ride out…until Seal Island miraculously appeared. Not clearly, mind you, but it was there.
IMG_6471_Seal_in_Fog

But thanks to the fog, many of the island’s seabirds, especially the Atlantic Puffins, were loafing in the water. And with glass-calm conditions, they were all around us and easy to observe.
ATPU_water

Arctic and Common Terns continuously zipped by as we motored about the island, hoping for Troppy in his usual place, but contenting ourselves with lots of puffins, and the island’s record number of Razorbills this year.
Razorbills

We cruised around the island’s south end, taking in the last remaining Great Cormorant colony in the state…
GRCOs

…And after much searching, finally found a couple of Common Murres including this one (L) standing tall among the puffins and a Razorbill.
COMU,RAZO,ATPU

Considering the trials and tribulations of getting this tour running, we were pretty happy with seeing all of the breeding birds of the island, and the puffins were putting on a particularly good show today.

Of course, however, the star of the show was missing, and my hopes were fading – unlike the fog, which was definitely not at all fading. But then, as visibility lifted just enough to see a little more of the island, the distinctive cackling rattle display call of the world’s most famous Red-billed Tropicbird rang out as he materialized out of the fog and made a close pass of the boat. People were spinning, there was shouting, and there was celebration. But then he disappeared. Was that it? Well, it was good enough to count, but come on, he could do better. So we cut the engine, drifted, and waited.

And several minutes later he was back. Heading right towards us, calling aggressively, seemingly displeased with our intrusion and/or my color commentary over the loudspeakers. He made several passes, some very close, a few right overhead, and he did not stop. We watched him circling around, as per his usual routine, for a good 45 minutes in all. Every time we thought the show was over, and I would start talking about something else, he would reappear. It was truly incredible – one of my top two best performance from him, and definitely my longest duration of observation. He only briefly landed once, but without sun, apparently bathing wasn’t in his plans.
TRoppy1Troppy2Troppy3

In fact, he was still being spotted now and again as we had to depart to head back to the dock. It deal feel weird turning away from one of the most sought-after individual birds in North America, but we did so knowing he had more than earned his peace and quiet today.

This was my 8th visit with Troppy in 9 attempts (third in a row with “The Otter” of the Isle au Haut Boat Services) and my first observation in dense fog. He must have known I was expecting him. I owe him some squid, or whatever it is that he eats (since no one knows!).

Needless to say, there was quite a bit of jubilation on the way back, even if we couldn’t see much (and very little birdlife) until we returned to port.
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So the spacing worked. Mask use was respected. And Troppy more than cooperated.

And therefore, by popular demand, what do you say we try again?

That’s right, we’re going to make a second run on Saturday, July 25th.  Same time, same price, same social distancing.  Details can be found here.

UPDATE: Despite insanely beautiful weather on the 25th, we did not see Troppy. He just wasn’t home today. It was perfectly calm, warm, and abundantly sunny, so if he was on the island, we would have seen him. Alas. However, it was a most enjoyable day, with great looks at Razorbills, Common Murres, and plenty of Atlantic Puffins. Arctic and Common Terns remain busy, and we had scattered migrant shorebirds. Highlights including 4 Mola Mola and a Cory’s Shearwater just off the eastern shore of Seal.

It was definitely a more photogenic day than our first trip!

Birding a Pandemic: The “well, we might as well go birding, kinda” Perspective.

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March and early April birding in Maine is such a tease. The first new arrivals – Turkey Vultures, Common Grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds – begin arriving in late February, and waterfowl are on the move shortly thereafter. In a mild spring such as this, the diving ducks that have graced our open waters all winter rapidly begin to disperse – no more big flocks of goldeneyes to sort through for a Barrow’s anymore, for example. And while dabbling duck migration is in full swing, the near-total lack of ice already has limited concentrations and kept the birds on the move. So we are left anxiously awaiting the arrival of new migrants – raptors first, and then the “new arrivals” under the feeders in the backyard.

But when it feels like floodgates are about to open any day now, we get a snowstorm or a requisite cold snap. Or just a few days with a persistent north wind to impede progress. And then we realize it is still March, and the floodgates won’t open for several more weeks or even a month. Even when we turn the page to April, it takes a while to really get going – especially if we have a large area of low pressure stock spinning offshore as we do at the moment.

And then we get a pandemic.

After weeks of limiting our travel, social/physical distancing, park closures, and other methods, we have failed to stem the exponential growth of the illness, those who it is affecting, and very sadly, those who are dying from it. This is no joke, and impacts on our birding are really the least of our concerns. But we’re birders, and we simply have to look at birds for our well-being. Birding walks, backyard bird feeding, and outings to look for a recent rarity are all part of our mental health, and necessary physical activity. And numerous studies have shown the mental and physical health benefits of birding, or many other forms of being immersed in nature. And mental and physical health – including our immune systems – are intrinsically connected.

But our birding needs to change, and it needs to change now. No matter what our reasons, excuses, apathies, and/or concerns are, Maine is now under a “Stay at Home” mandate from the Governor.  We still can – and should –  recreate to the best of our ability, but we have to do it wisely and safely. 

Especially as I take still-fairly-quiet walks in the local woods with the dog or an afternoon stroll down my road, waiting for the next wave of migrants to show up, I have been thinking a lot about what that the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic means for birds and birding. And not the obvious, such as some birders we know could get sick or that physical distancing means no birding groups and tours, but more subtle differences. Really, this is nothing more than a thought exercise; something to think about and discuss to pass the time. And nothing here should suggest I am downplaying the threat of this disease, but instead, just occupying some of the brain time in between. Besides, we’re birders. We find a bright side to everything from massive devastating hurricanes (vagrant seabirds) to climate change (new expanded breeding ranges)…it’s what we do; our optimism is what keeps us going.

• BIRDING HOTSPOTS and NEW PATCHES.
Many birding hotspots are now closed or too crowded to be safely enjoyed by smart people. Stay-at-home orders are now state-wide in Maine, and many more of us are just trying to be as safe as possible. In other words, the birders’ wings have been clipped.

I squeezed in a visit to Scarborough Marsh on Tuesday morning, with the 2020 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Official Counter, hours before the stay at home order was announced rather unexpectedly. I’m glad Luke got a chance to see this wonderful place, and we had a pretty good few hours of birding. A total of 26 Gadwall between three different locations was probably an all-time state high count for me, and we enjoyed our first of year Great Egrets (4) and Greater Yellowlegs (1) as well. Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and other dabbling ducks were in relative short supply as they are already moving inland and to points north, but we enjoyed good diversity.

But now Scarborough Marsh is too far from my home for me to comfortably visit. On Wednesday morning, I hit Wharton Point on the early morning outgoing tide and was thrilled to find a Eurasian Green-winged Teal x American Green-winged Teal hybrid, as well as my first 3 Northern Shovelers of the year. And there were a lot of ducks at Simpson’s Point to.

But, for me, I cannot justify heading out to stand still (no exercise, although if it’s as raw and cold as this morning, I would be burning plenty of calories!). Perhaps a seed delivery run (more on that below) will take me past at the right time in the tide for a quick check.

In other words, like you, I am losing my hotspots. So what’s next? Will birders just bird less? There’s a reason that these are hotspots – they have proven over the years that they are some of the best places to go birding. Or, will we – like I tend to find myself doing anyway! – simply shift to under-visited areas? While I usually prefer to bird off the beaten path, now there is no other choice. Personally, I had been allowing myself one or two mornings a week to go slightly further afield, but for the most part, I have been sticking within a 15 minute radius of my home: dog walks, feeder-watching, local patches, and especially the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch. With the new state-wide order in effect, my birding radius – like yours – will be reduced much, much further. Luckily, us birders – whether limited to a small yard, an outdoor deck, or access to miles of trails, can still indulge in our beloved pastime, at least in some way. But rarities and the unexpected are a large part of what drives many of us.

So what is a birder to do? Do you keep a “Patch List” – a list of all the species seen or heard from your local park, woodlot, neighborhood, etc. Now might be the perfect time to start one (as I wrote about in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder). If you can walk to it, even better! Keep in mind that the less we move about, the less likely we are to spread the virus, or use services – such as emergency services should we have an accident, for a brutal – but ever so real – example – that are already strained right now. And save money on gas and vehicle wear-and-tear – and emit less carbon.

Will that new land trust property down the road turn out to be a new birding hotspot? If it does, will you tell anyone? And I don’t mean this facetiously, especially as many (but certainly not all) birders are always looking to be socially distant when they’re out birding. My Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide includes locations throughout the state, and not just conventional hotspots. Perhaps its time to check out a new site in the book? Or, grab a map and figure out some interesting bird-concentrating geography to explore. Or, pull out Google Maps, put on the satellite mode, and identify a wetland nearby that might end up having something you don’t see every day.

The benefit of a Patch List is that every bird – no matter how common overall – counts. Depending on the habitat, even overall abundant migrants might become patch mega-rarities! Like when a puddle becomes large enough to host a migrant yellowlegs, or when a harrier is spotted as it passes over a forested area. The thrill of discovery is just around the corner, and is likely all yours!

• RARITIES.
Early April isn’t a great time for rare birds in Maine, usually with the exception of waterfowl. But if people aren’t getting out to traditional hotspots will rarities be found? And what will happen if a “Mega” is discovered? Will we forget the rules and race out for it, standing in large, anxious groups discussing and reveling? Or – especially if the bird is in an area that can’t handle crowds – will it be shared at all? Should it be?

As April rolls on, and migration continues in earnest, we usually get a wave of rarities near the end of the month. Especially after a warm spell of southwesterly winds, southern “overshoots” sometimes occur in good numbers. These species flew just a little bit too far north, as their airspeed was aided by strong tailwinds. This deposits species like Summer Tanagers, Hooded Warblers, and Blue Grosbeaks much further north than usual. With food supplies still limited in these parts, some of these – especially Summer Tanagers – show up at feeding stations.
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If rarities and listing are a primary driver, there’s no way around it, the next month (at least) is going to be a real challenge. While we have to make many of our own decisions, we simply have to put more and more of our desires aside for the greater good. While I like a good “twitch” now and again, I’m even happier watching for new yard birds or working on a local patch list while walking the dog. And, of course, there is Bonxie’s Life List to work on!

• FEEDERS.
Speaking of rarities at feeding stations, the backyard is really the place to be. And a lot of us are enjoying watching the feeders right now, safe at home and getting fresh air in the backyard. Our store remains open – with free local delivery and curbside pickup greatly encouraged – and we’ve made it easier than ever to order a much wider range of products online. If our store is one sample, then people are turning to backyard birdwatching as an import source of entertainment and the mental health benefits of watching birds and being in nature are very well established. This is definitely how I am doing much of my birding right now – although I have been making lots of stops at ponds, wet fields, etc, as I go about our seed delivery runs!

But what’s going to happen if a Painted Bunting shows up at a feeder? What if it’s not visible from the road? What if we’re worried about the crowds that might show up? Will it be shared? I definitely don’t think people should be opening their house to birders right now for views out the window, that’s for sure! With more people looking at their feeders – home for work and birding from the window – all day, I bet more unusual birds will be noted (as long as we get the weather patterns that produce rarities), but will the community as a whole find out? Should “yard birds” be posted and publicized right now? This is likely an individual decision, but one in which the desire to share is greatly overshadowed by the need to stay safe. But at least document the rarity and we’ll figure out all the records later. I’d just be very careful right now about posting specific locations that people can find in eBird or on Facebook, especially without the background knowledge of how to behave at that site (e.g stay in the car and view from the road only) being very evident.

Especially with our wonderful new garden at the store, we have been anxiously expecting its first vagrant. Of course, it will happen when the store is basically closed and the only reasonable way to view our feeders without flushing the birds is from inside; figures!

We had 22 species at the feeders here at the store this week, and while our feeders are not quite as diverse at home at the moment, we still have plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos and tons of American Goldfinches. Many more individuals of our common woodland species are augmented by a regular Pileated Woodpecker pair and increasing numbers of Purple Finches right now. We’ll soon have a wave of White-throated Sparrows and the first Chipping Sparrows munching away on the White Proso Millet, and Pine Warblers are starting to show up at feeding stations – the most common (by far) warbler to show up at feeders and the only “yellow warbler” to appear before the end of the month when Palm Warblers start to arrive (which almost never visit feeders).
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• APPRECIATE THE COMMON!

On our currently-suspended Saturday Morning Birdwalks, we have “The Cardinal Rule:” If there is a male cardinal singing in the sun, we all have to stop to look at it through the scope. It’s a reminder to appreciate the most common birds around us, which in many cases are some of the most beautiful. There are few places in the world where the most stunning birds – think cardinals, Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, etc – are common feeder visitors; no distant travel or long searches required!
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Seriously, when was the last time you REALLY looked at a Blue Jay? Watch how the light plays with a pallet of colors as a Common Grackle moves – this is not just a black bird! Check for newly arrived migrant sparrows under your feeders, and step into the backyard to hear the growing chorus of spring birdsong. There is so much beauty around us, right outside our windows. We firmly believe in the mental health benefits of maintaining our connection with the nature world, especially birds, in this time of stress and uncertainty. There is nothing better to do right now for your health and safety than enjoying watching the beauty of birds at our feeders and in our yards.

Personally, on some of my walks recently, I can’t help but smile every time I hear a Brown Creeper sing, and the ethereal and brilliant song of Winter Wrens – which are just now arriving – can bring joy to any day. Pileated Woodpeckers are vocal and conspicuous, and if you live in the boreal zone, now’s a great time to look for Spruce Grouse and Canada Jays! And I was very excited to finally see my first Fox Sparrow of the year under our feeders at home this morning – a Fox Sparrow can brighten any day, even one like today!
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• ROADKILL.
On a completely different note, yes, I was thinking about roadkill when walking the dog the other day. And no, it was not because Bonxie tried to eat some, it was only because a small group of Turkey Vultures were passing overhead. So it got me thinking about how the greatly reduced amount of traffic on the roads will reduce the number of small animals and migrant birds hit by cars. Squirrels battling over territories, porcupines being porcupines, and flocks of migrant sparrows flushing in panic from the roadsides will all likely see reduced mortality. But what does this mean for scavengers? How will Turkey Vultures, still marching northward with a warming climate, find food if the interstates are clear? Will crows spend less time scavenging and more time looking for nests to raid? It seems odd, I know, to think about roadkill as a good thing, but it does now fill a niche, so it’s part of the equation.

I will say, for certainty, however, that if the amphibian migration “big night” occurs while we’re still under stay-at-home advisements or orders, then a whole more frogs and salamanders will make it to their vernal pools to breed. Thursday (4/2) might just end up being a “Big Night,”when a mass migration of amphibians (especially Spotted Salamanders, Wood Frogs, and Spring Peepers) takes place – at least in the southern third of the state. Regardless, on any wet night for the next few weeks, skip the take-out run and leave the car in the driveway. Instead, take a walk with a good flashlight and patrol your local roads for crossing frogs and salamanders as they move from the uplands they spend the winter in to the vernal pools and small ponds they breed in. As long as you don’t have insect repellent or any other products on your hands (or just wear gloves), you can pick them up and carry them to the other side. Just be sure you know which way they were heading before you got to close, so you don’t make them start this deadly part of the trip over.

• BACKYARD HABITAT. As a tie-in to the discussion about bird feeding, this spring is a perfect time to improve the habitat for birds in our backyard. If only to be self-serving by having more birds to enjoy around us, we can improve our habitat with many small steps or larger overhaul projects. Lawns suck, and native plants are always better. Maybe place an order with FedCo or call your local nursey or garcen center for some wildflower seeds for birds and pollinators and convert a few square yards at a time to something more productive than a chemically-laden monoculture? Starting seeds indoors is a great way to be productive right now. Or perhaps get to work on removing invasive species and planting more native plants that offer food and shelter to our native birds and insects. Perhaps our garden projects will yield more birds for us to enjoy the next time we’re stuck in the house for a prolonged period of time? Or better yet, if enough of us convert our yards to wildlife sanctuaries, perhaps we can even stem the decline of some bird populations!

We do, however, have to keep in mind that if we are attracting more birds to our yard, we are bringing them closer to two serious threats – cats and windows. If you still refuse the science and allow your cat to roam free outdoors despite their devastating ecological impact, then please ignore this. At least 3.8Billion birds a year are killed by cats in the US alone. We don’t have that many birds to spare anymore. (But hey, now’s the perfect time to build that “catio” of your feline’s dreams! Seriously). And we really need to work on this window collision issue – that’s as many as another Billion or so birds. We need to rethink window design and construction, but for now, at least leave your screens up and use consumer products especially BirdTape and Feather Friendly (both available here at the store)

These are a few of my recent thoughts and ideas. What do you think? Any potential costs or benefits to birds and birding come to mind for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.