Tag Archives: “Birds

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: 8/21-27, 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).

“The Search for Troppy” Trip II Report, 7/10/21

Our second “Search for Troppy” tour with our partners the Isle au Haut Boat Services took place on Saturday the 10th. With Tropical Storm Elsa roaring through the day before, building seas to 7-10 feet, we were of course just hoping to run the tour.

But we remained optimistic, and as winds turned to the northwest behind the storm, the surf rapidly got knocked down. With calm winds by dawn, they came down even further. And by our 1:00pm departure on the M.V. Otter, Stonington Harbor was nearly flat calm, the sun was shining, and our offshore reports were positive.

With high hopes, we set off, and pretty soon came across several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and of course, Black Guillemots. As we cleared the shelter of Isle au Haut, we found more storm-petrels, but we also found leftovers waves from the storm. There were a few pretty big swells remaining, but Captain Tracy handled them with skill and kept us surprisingly comfortable.

Scattered Wilson’s Storm-Petrels gave way to some massive groups loafing on the calm surface. Led by a single group of 91, I tallied a conservative estimate of 210!  Unfortunately, the swells were just high enough that we couldn’t safely turn around for the single Sooty Shearwater that we saw bobbing in the waves, or what turned out to be the only Common Murre of the day.

Reaching the lee of Seal Island, the waves disappeared, and we began our slow cruise enjoying the island’s summer denizen.  Arctic and Common Terns were in abundance, there were plenty of Black Guillemots, and we checked out a couple of rafts of Atlantic Puffins. Likely due to the post-storm day, puffins were busy and not doing much loafing, so we actually saw relatively few. Unlike our previous tour where we had as many puffins close to the boat as I have ever seen out there, this was about as few as I have ever had. The Pufflings must be hungry!

We finally spotted 2 Razorbills on our way to the bustling Great Cormorant colony, noted a pair of Common Ravens, and spotted a Peregrine Falcon – a rather unwelcome guest out here.

But so far, there was no sign of Troppy, so we waited. And waited some more. And then waited. Once again, we were at the right place at the right time, and the weather was perfect.

Thanks to the charter, we had plenty of time, and we needed as much patience as possible. I admit I was getting as worried as the guests that Troppy was not home today.

But then, this happened:

It was simply one of best 2 or 3 shows that I have ever had. He made repeated passes right overhead, did a lot of calling and displaying, and then finally sat on the water and took his bath. Captain Tracy did a great job returning us to good lighting, and we cut the engine once again and drifted along with him, enjoying the sights and sounds of the island, and of course, basking in the glory of a successful twitch!

Three Short-billed Dowitchers with three peeps launched from the island; a sign of the season as these are already on their way south. The other island birds including Song and Savannah Sparrows, Spotted Sandpipers, and oodles of Common Eiders were also present and accounted for.

Captain Tracy finally had to pull us away, but we were just getting greedy. It was time to leave Troppy alone to enjoy his afternoon bath in peace.  He earned it today.

We made really good time coming back as the waves continued to subside. Unfortunately, it was too rough around Saddleback Ledge to check it carefully, but we did have 4 more Great Cormorants there. To and from the ledge, we encountered plenty of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (although not nearly as many as on the way out) and a couple of Northern Gannets.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have any shearwaters on the way back, but a short distance beyond Saddleback Ledge, we spotted a couple of Razorbills. Then a small raft, and then another. In all, about 40-50 Razorbills  –  I guess that’s why we didn’t have many at the island; they were all feeding inshore!

A single Atlantic Puffin was with them, and we had several more Razorbills when we checked out a feeding frenzy of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls not far out of the harbor entrance. And of course, a few ledges full of Harbor Seals.

In the end, we saw every possible island summer resident, especially, yeah, THAT one. It was a very good day.

Derek’s Birding This Week, 3/6-12/2021

Lingering winter birds and arriving spring migrants. Here are my highlights over the past seven days:

  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird (FOY), feeders here at the store, 3/6. Small flocks around the area by week’s end.
  • 1 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE, River Road, Benton, 3/8 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 light morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK and 10 Horned Larks, Wyman Road, Benton, 3/8 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 Northern Shrike, Sunkhaze Meadows NWR, 3/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 3 continuing WILSON’S SNIPE, U of Maine-Orono Steam Plant, 3/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 Common Grackle (FOY), Veazie, 3/9 (with Jeannette…sure didn’t expect my FOY in Penobscot County, but numbers increased in southern Maine by week’s end).
  • 1 Killdeer (FOY), Highland Road, Brunswick, 3/11.
  • 2 Lesser Scaup, Mill Creek Cove, South Portland, 3/12.
  • 4 Brown-headed Cowbirds (FOY), feeders here at the store, 3/12.

This Week in Finches:

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 0
  • Red Crossbill: 9 (Type 10 fide Matt Young at FiRN, Viles Arboreteum, Augusta, 3/8 with Jeannette).
  • WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL:
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 1 (Viles Arboretum, Augusta, 3/8 with Jeannette).
  • Purple Finch High Count This Week: 0
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 7 (continuing at Back Cove, Portland, 3/7 with Ian Doherty and Ilsa Tucker).
  • HOARY REDPOLL: 1 (continuing at Back Cove, Portland, 3/7 with Ian Doherty and Ilsa Tucker).
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week:  1 (Cumberland Town Landing, 3/7).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 2/20-26/2021.

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

  • 19 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, Runaround Pond Road, Durham, 2/20.
  • 1 pair BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, Winslow Park, Freeport, 2/21.
  • 1 continuing Hermit Thrush, Maquoit Bay Conservation Land, Brunswick, 2/22.
  • 68 scaup spp, Mere Point Boat Launch, Brunswick, 2/22.
  • 1 continuing female RUDDY DUCK, ~450 total scaup, 1 Belted Kingfisher, etc, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 2/22.
  • 1 Turkey Vulture, Cook’s Corner, Brunswick, 2/22.
  • 1 Northern Shrike, Foothills Land Conservancy, Wilton, 2/23 (with Jeannette).
  • 32 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, White Granite Park, Jay, 2/23 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 continuing DICKCISSEL and 1 Northern Flicker, Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 2/24 (with Robby Lambert); Dickcissel still present on 2/26.

This Week in Finches:

  • Red Crossbill: 4 (Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 2/24 with Robby Lambert and continuing on 2/26).
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 13 (Downtown Brunswick, 2/15); 2 (Paul Street, Brunswick, 2/15).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 2/6-12/2021

This distantly phone-scoped image of a Thick-billed Murre at Winslow Park on the 7th was one of two of these sought-after winter pelagics that I saw this week. Despite being so far from open ocean, this was incredible my 3rd ever in the Lower Harraseeket River in South Freeport!

My observations of note over the past seven chilly days including the following:

  • 1 THICK-BILLED MURRE and 1 female BARROW’S GOLDENEYE (first of winter in Harraseeket River, finally), Winslow Park, South Freeport, 2/7.
  • 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 2/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 continuing immature female Snowy Owl, Brunswick Landing, 2/9 (with Jeannette).
  • The continuing REDWING, Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 2/11 – Although it was seen in its usual spot for much of the day, I had the bird fly over me at 3:25, about 2/3rds the way to the Machigonne Street entrance from Lucas Street. It landed in some taller trees in full sun, with a sizeable group of robins. When many of the robins took off, it joined them, flying just about tree level and exiting the park. It flew NNW over Congress Street, which I believe is roughly its behavior from the very first day. A Cooper’s Hawk passes through seconds later.
  • 1 THICK-BILLED MURRE, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth, 2/12 (with Pat Moynahan).

This Week in Finches:

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 0
  • Red Crossbill: 10 (Merrill Road, Pownal, 2/11).
  • WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 32 Bailey Island, Harpswell, 2/9 (with Jeannette).
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 1 (Maine Street, Brunswick, 2/9; with Jeannette).
  • Purple Finch High Count This Week: 0
  • Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 0
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week:  0

Derek’s Birding This Week, 1/30-2/5,2021

The bird of the week – and an early-contender for bird of the year – was this Redwing discovered at Capisic Pond Park in the afternoon of 1/29. My camera went in for repair this week, so my phone-scoped photos didn’t do this “mega” justice, so John Lorenc let me use his photo from the day.

With two mornings spent at Capisic Pond Park this week (REDWING, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, and 1 DICKCISSEL on 1/30 and “just” the REDWING on 2/1 with Phil McCormack), my other birding was rather limited. I think that’s OK though…because Redwing!

  • 1 drake RING-NECKED DUCK, Anniversary Park, Auburn, 2/3.
  • 1 THICK-BILLED MURRE, Cumberland Town Landing, 2/4.
  • 2 continuing NORTHERN SHOVELERS and 200+ distant scaup, Maquoit Bay Conservation Land, Brunswick, 2/5.
  • 1 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE and 350-400 scaup (just a little too far to sort through accurately, but there is still a fair number of Lesser Scaup present), Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 2/5.
  • 1 immature female Snowy Owl, Brunswick Landing, 2/5.

This Week in Finches, aka “This Week in Pine Grosbeaks:”

  • PINE GROSBEAK: 3 continued daily at the store through 1/31; 3 (Cumberland Town Landing, 2/4); 11 (downtown Brunswick, 2/5).

Meanwhile, we have just announced our 2021 tour slate, including several pelagic trips, two searches for “Troppy,” the Red-billed Tropicbird, and much more, here, on our revamped Tours page:

https://www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com/tours-events-and-workshops

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).

The Search for Troppy Tour Report, 7/10/2020.

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.
Stonington

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.

IMG_0987_edited-1-edited

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.