Tag Archives: “Birds

Mt. Cutler in Hiram: A New Fall Hawkwatching Hotspot?

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For several years now, Jeannette and I have been searching for a fall hawkwatching location away from the coast in southern Maine. While there are several good concentration points in the area, we were looking for an inland hill or ridge well off of the coastal plain that was relatively convenient, accessible without too much hiking, and most important: consistent – a place where even on a “slow” day, at least a few hawks might be seen.

Along the coastal plain, large numbers of hawks can sometimes be seen. But it’s often fairly random: you just happen to look up at the right time in the right place. In fact, our biggest fall hawk flights – by far – have been right over our store here in Freeport. Those (especially the 7,000+ bird day a few years back) have been some great flights, but most days would not produce a single migrant raptor – there’s no concentration mechanism along most of the southern coastal plain (the peninsulas of the Mid-Coast are a different story).

But we’ve been looking for an “old-fashioned” inland ridge, where a variety of conditions will produce birds, and the chance of close birds (unlike most coastal sites) and rarities (like Golden Eagle and perhaps consistent Rough-legged Hawk or Northern Goshawk) might occur.

Well, we very well might have found one!

Yesterday, Jeannette and I hiked up Mt. Cutler in Hiram, Maine, about 1:15 away from us in the southeastern corner of Oxford County. A steep but rather short hike of less than a mile delivers you to the 1,232ft summit. But we actually returned to a clearing at 0.82 miles up the North Trail from the parking area on Hiram Hill Road.

Impressive views extend on both sides.
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To the west, you can see the foothills of the White Mountains.
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To the east-southeast, the hills and ridges on the west shore of Sebago Lake. And down below, the Saco River valley.
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That’s a nice mix of geography to usher birds to a relatively long (for this area of the foothills) ridge running northeast to southwest.
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No sooner had we put down our backpacks and tied Bonxie to a tree, we looked up and immediately starting seeing raptors. Soon, we very much regretted not having arrived earlier; we didn’t start scanning the skies until 11:22.

But by our departure at 2:30pm, we tallied 236 migrant raptors of 7 species. This is not an epic flight by any stretch of the imagination, but how many did we miss before we arrived? A light WNW wind and a thin layer of cirrus clouds were perfect for producing a hawkflight here. And we were excited to finally get the right conditions on a day off to try a new hawkwatching locale. We hiked here about two years ago and thought it would be worth coming back during fall hawk migration season, and it’s been on the agenda ever since.

More importantly, we believe, was that even after the winds shifted to the unfavorable south-southwest by 12:50 pm with increasing clouds, we still had birds moving. Instead of soaring high in kettles though, they were gliding by in a slow trickle, using the lift generated by the steep ridge and headwind. This suggests that raptors seek out Mt. Cutler specifically for geographical or aerodynamic reasons, and therefore our flight was not just a lucky random occurrence. The diversity of non-raptor migrants also adds more credence to our hypothesis.

Of course, one day a hawkwatch does not make. Our data set is far too small to draw any conclusions other than it’s worth going back up here again. And you know we will!  I’ll report what we find, but in the meantime, if you give it a try, please let us know what you see.

Here is our scorecard:
203 Broad-winged Hawks
9 Ospreys
8 Bald Eagles
8 Turkey Vultures
6 Sharp-shinned Hawks
1 Cooper’s Hawk
1 Merlin

T=236

Other migrants:
38 Monarchs
11 large dragonfly species
3 PURPLE MARTINS (late and intriguing sighting; could they be related to the passage of Hurricane Dorian that deposited a large number of martins in Nova Scotia, where they are a vagrant).
2 Green Darners
1 Common Loon
1 Double-crested Cormorant
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 unidentified warbler
1 Twelve-spotted Skimmer
1 Red Admiral

2019 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend Tour Report

L1140408_SUTA_SCTA1a-editedA spiffy adult male Summer Tanager(middle) joined a small flock of Scarlet Tanagers and was one of the stars of the weekend’s show.

More and more we, as birders, lament “they way it used to be.” Declining populations of so many birds, especially our long-distance Neotropical migrants often leaves us longer for yesteryear. Even a good day can turn wistful as we think of what “a lot” of birds once were. On some of our recent tours to Monhegan Island, even the good days felt lackluster; it was missing the “oomph” of what Monhegan legends are made of.

This was NOT one of those trips.

It was awesome. It felt like it “used to be.”  It was great, it was fun, and at times, the birding was just darn easy!

Most of the first day’s group joined me on the 9:00am departure out of New Harbor. I was amped up. A strong flight on the radar overnight developed between evening showers and thunderstorms, with another line of showers ushering in a shift in the winds from the south to the west by morning. This was a recipe for a fallout – or at least a lot of birds on Monhegan.

A Yellow Warbler – the 124th species in our wooded yard – greeted me as I topped off the feeders, and a couple of Blackpoll Warblers were singing. At Pemaquid Point, Erin Walter and I had several warblers, including one Cape May, in the small grove of spruces near the lighthouse.  These were very good signs.

As we endured a swelly ride on the ferry, an unidentified thrush streaked by, another good sign. Unrelated, but no less exciting, was a single fly-by Atlantic Puffins, a couple of Roseate Terns, and three tardy White-winged Scoters. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers at Neigh Duck was intriguingly late.

We arrived on the island shortly after 10:00am, and Phil Brown – just finishing up a New Hampshire Audubon tour – informed me that all of the signs of a big day were right. In fact, he was clearly having trouble tearing himself away. So we hit the ground running.

Over the next hour and a half, we saw a lot of birds…and we had still not even made it to the end of Dock Road!  For those of you not familiar with the island, that’s about an 1/8th of a mile. We hadn’t even checked in yet, and we had a dozen species of warblers and at least 4 Philadelphia Vireos.
BLBW_dock_road_Erin-editedBlackburnian Warblers along Dock Road was a nice welcome!

The only reason we made it across town was that a White-winged Dove (my first for the island and one of only a handful of previous island records) was just found at Donna Cundy’s famous feeders.  But not even a new island bird for myself could get me to hustle…there were too many birds to pass by; I apparently already had hit the MonhegZen!
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But we did see the dove, and it was great. However, I think it was upstaged for all of us by the 6 Scarlet Tanagers (5 males) that were also at the feeders!  We eventually stopped for a quick lunch, checked in briefly at the Trailing Yew, and slowly made our way down to the south end of the island where warblers were feeding on rocks at the water’s edge.
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And it’s not often you finish the day with 6 Blackburnian Warblers below you!

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In fact, the day was so amazing that I barely even made it to the brewery with enough time to get a growlette to go for dinner!  (Sorry, people who know me and this tour should have been told to sit down before I said that)> Birds were simply everywhere. Tennessee Warblers – a lifer for some of the group were in impressive numbers, and was likely the most common migrant of the day. Blackpoll Warblers were common, but normally-uncommon migrants such as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Cape May Warblers were unusually numerous and conspicuous.  We finished our first day with 19 species of warblers. It was like the good ol’ days.
MAWA_Erin-editedMagnolia Warblers were common and conspicuous all weekend.

PRAW_Erin-editedFinding an uncommon-on-the-island Prairie Warbler (and hearing another or the same on the island’s East side the next day was a good addition to our impressive tally of 22 species of warblers. 

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The only concern I had was would the rest of the trip be anti-climatic?

With light northwesterly winds overnight Friday into Saturday, more birds departed than arrived, but there were still plenty of birds to be seen.  A single singing Ovenbird and a quick sighting of a Nashville Warbler put us to 21 species of warblers, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was a good find.  A singing Sora, a soaring Peregrine Falcon, and a silent Northern Mockingbird were some of the species added to our list, but we continued to enjoy countless warblers. Sure, we “only” estimated 25 Tennessee Warblers today, but remember yesterday when they were a life bird?  Better looks at the White-winged Dove (it was much healthier-looking today, too) were had as well.
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L1140355_SUTA1a-editedThe Summer Tanager eventually found his way to the Tanager Festival at Donna’s feeders. And you really won’t find more cooperative Lincoln’s Sparrows than one of the two (below) that was also at the feeders – for those who appreciate the more subtle beauties!

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With a slower afternoon, we took a little hike to take in the views from Burnt Head and worked various under-birded nooks and crannies. And it was hard not to enjoy a Novelty pizza dinner because: 1) Novelty pizza and 2) we finished our second day of birding with a stunning adult male Summer Tanager joining the Scarlet Tanager convention at Donna’s feeders.
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We went to bed Saturday night with light southerly winds and rain on its way, with dreams of another fallout dancing in our bird-filled heads.  We awoke to light rain, fog, but still a light to moderate southerly wind. There was another strong flight overnight, according to the radar – at least until rain overspread the area by 2:00am.  But alas, whether ushered overhead by the southerly tailwinds, or unable to notice the island as they flew over the fog, there was no fallout, and in fact, there were actually fewer birds around in the early morning.

However, the rain ended as we ate breakfast, and the sun rapidly came out, optimism –and perhaps a little Rarity Fever – reigned supreme. And while numbers were a little low, diversity was excellent, and our trip list grew rapidly with a series of quality birds: Virginia Rail (heard only as usual), Green Heron, Black-billed Cuckoo, Warbling Vireo, and a rare-on-the-island Hairy Woodpecker. I also made friends with a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers that were calling Swim Beach home.
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But unlike the forecast, it was a rather nice day! It did cloud up again after lunch, but rain was limited to a narrow line of showers ahead of the afternoon cold front. And where else but on Monhegan do you end your day with a beer and chocolate pairing at Monhegan Brewing, with lobster rolls and bratwurst…and Tennessee Warblers still singing away!
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Red_Admiral,Marion_Sprague-editedRed Admirals were quite abundant, increasing as the weekend went on. 

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At dusk, I took a walk to catch up with a friend, listening to the Sora and Virginia Rail in the marsh, and several American Woodcocks going wild.

On Monday, the last day of the tour itself, we awoke to moderate fog but very light winds. The radar return was somewhat ambiguous, but it could have been strong in the first 2/3rds of the night despite light easterly winds shifting to the west and then northwest by morning. And very few flight calls were heard overhead before coffee, suggestive of less of a migration overnight as we had hoped.

Immediately, however, we found a nice pocket of mixed warblers right behind the Trailing Yew, so we jumped right into enjoying them.  Then, I got a text that right around the corner – in the direction I usually walk before breakfast! – the state’s second ever Eurasian Collared-Dove was just discovered.  We zipped over to immediately hear and see it – not just another new island bird, but a new Maine bird for me!  And another life bird for most of the group. And it wasn’t even time for breakfast yet.
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Light northeast winds slowly shifted the southeast over the course of the day, but while the day remained rather raw, it was once again precipitation-free. Unfortunately, overall, the birding was on the slow side. Well, even in the good ol’ days there were slow days!
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cemetery-editedEAKI_J-MoEastern Kingbird.

ducking_Marion_Sprague-editedFuzzy baby ducks!  This chick’s mom was a Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid. 

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SCTA_perched_JMO1Female (top) and male Scarlet Tanagers were omnipresent at Donna’s feeders. #MonheganBirdingProblems

While the tour officially came to an end, Jeannette and I remained on the island – joined now and again by a few friends – and enjoyed a relaxing evening and another amazing Island Inn dinner. Winds were forecast to remain northwesterly overnight, with precipitation and fog developing. Our hopes for one last big day were not high as we turned in.
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Winds were northeasterly at dawn, but most of the night saw northwesterly winds – unfavorable to migrants heading northward. Not surprisingly, there was little or no visible migration on the radar overnight. So why was there a morning flight when I finally stumbled outside at 6:15?  A flock of 38 Blue Jays swirling about, more Bay-breasted Warblers than in the last 3 days combined, lots of Blackpoll Warblers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be everywhere.

In fact, it was really birdy again (nothing like Friday, mind you). There were active pockets of birds almost everywhere. Blackpoll Warblers were common, and flycatchers had arrived en masse: while there had been plenty of Least Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees around, Alder Flycatchers were not conspicuous, and I had my first Willow Flycatcher of the year.

EWPE_J-MoEastern Wood-Pewee (from the previous, sunny day).

Jeannette and I enjoyed a great view of the Eurasian Collared-Dove in the morning, but later it was upstaged by a sighting of it flying together with the re-appearing White-winged Dove. I finally saw the one Pine Warbler that had been around; my 22nd warbler species of the trip, but I did miss a Morning Warbler at the ice pond in the morning. Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstarts, and about as many Eastern Wood-Pewees as I have ever seen in a day were among the impressive tallies.
BLPW_J-MoBlackpoll Warbler (male, above) in comparison to Black-and-white Warbler (female, below).
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Why were there so many more birds around? Where did they come from, and how? Well, predicting bird migration and analyzing it via NEXRAD radar is far from an exact science, and part of the thrill of the day was how unexpected it was. It was thought-provoking at least.
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Unfortunately, shortly after noon, it began to rain, and rain steady enough that bird activity was reduced dramatically. But, with final preparations – such as goodbyes to friends and beer to go – to leave the island, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. But with a little time to spare, Jeannette decided we should do one more walk around the southeast corner of the island, from the cul-de-sac to the Wyeth House, just to see if the concentration of warblers that my group and I saw on Friday had returned in the inclement weather.

So off we went. We were pretty much soaked by now anyway, so why stop now. And good thing that we did. While warblers on the rocks were limited to just a couple immature male American Redstarts, flycatchers were all over the place. Several Alder Flycatchers joined at least a dozen Eastern Wood-Pewees in foraging for flies right at the water’s edge. I thought I spotted another Yellow-bellied Flycatcher heading away, but when it landed, I noticed it was nearly as big as the Alders, and not at all yellow-bellied. The size, fairly long bill, coupled with primary projection almost as long as a pewee and a greenish back with off-white underparts was obviously – well, obvious through the fog and drops of rain on our binoculars – an Acadian Flycatcher. One was reported here the day before – but met with skepticism by me and several others I spoke with, after several exhaustive searches failed to turn it up. But alas, presumably, here it was!

My second on the island, and another southern vagrant that was part of this recent “overshooting” event, it was an exciting way to finish the trip. While I bounced around the rocks trying to photograph the bird with a wet phone held up to equally-wet binoculars, time was ticking, and we really needed to go. In the end, I think my one photograph of the bird might actually just be seaweed on a rock, as I was shooting blindly with a touch screen that was too wet to be much use.

It’s sometimes hard to leave on such a good day, but with so many good birds and excitement over the past five, I could not get too greedy. And a close-up Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin on the ride back helped, too.

As did the feeling that it was, once again, and at least for one long weekend, just like it was in the good ol’ days!
MAWA_J-MoMagnolia Warbler

BTBW_J-MoBlack-throated Blue Warbler

5 days, 112 total species (minus 3 for the Tuesday-only birds) and plus 4 for ferry-only birds with the group. Not bad!

* denotes ferry ride only
24-May 25-May 26-May 27-May 28-May
Wood Duck 0 0 1 0 0
American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid 1 1 1 1 1
Mallard x x x x x
Common Eider x x x x x
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 0 0
White-winged Scoter 3* 0 0 0 1
Red-breasted Merganser 2 0 0 0 0
Ring-necked Pheasant 0 1 0 1 2
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE 0 0 0 1 1
WHITE-WINGED DOVE 1 1 1 0 0
Mourning Dove 4 4 8 6 8
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Chimney Swift 6 1 2 0 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 8 4 8 6 6
Virginia Rail 0 0 1 1 1
Sora 0 1 1 1 1
Black Guillemot x x x x x
ATLANTIC PUFFIN 1* 0 0 0 1*
Razorbill 0 0 0 0 1*
Semipalmated Plover 1 0 0 0
American Woodcock 0 0 3 0
Spotted Sandpiper 0 2 1 0
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 1 1 1
Laughing Gull x* 2 2 3 6
Ring-billed Gull 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern x* 0 0 0
Roseate Tern 2* 0 0 0
Common Loon 2 (10*) 0 0 1 4 (4*)
Northern Gannet 2* 2 6 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
Great Blue Heron 0 2 1 0 0
Green Heron 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 1 0 0 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 2 0 1 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 0 1 0 0
Red-bellied Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 1
HAIRY WOODPECKER 0 0 1 0 1
Merlin 2 1 0 0 0
Peregrine Falcon 0 1 0 0 0
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4 2 4 5 40
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 2
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER 0 0 0 0 1
Alder Flycatcher 1 1 0 2 10
Willow Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 5
Least Flycatcher 15 12 12 10 15
Eastern Kingbird 5 3 2 5 6
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 6 1 0 0 0
Warbling Vireo 0 0 1 0 0
Red-eyed Vireo 4 4 10 4 20
Blue Jay 4 48 12 25 38
American Crow x x x 6 x
Common Raven 2 0 0 2 2
Tree Swallow 0 2 2 5 4
CLIFF SWALLOW 0 0 0 0 1
Barn Swallow 2 2 4 6 6
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 6 6 10 4
Winter Wren 0 1 1 2 0
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 2 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 8 0
Eastern Bluebird 0 0 1 0 0
Swainson’s Thrush 3 3 2 2 0
American Robin 8 8 x x x
Gray Catbird 4 x x x x
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling 8 8 x x
Cedar Waxwing 200 80 100 125 100
Purple Finch 1 1 1 3 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 2 0
American Goldfinch x x 10 10 8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 1 1 0 0
White-crowned Sparrow 1 1 0 0 0
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 1 3 2 1 1
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2 2 0 0 0
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 0 0
Ovenbird 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Waterthrush 2 1 0 2 1
Black-and-white Warbler 4 6 3 3 4
Tennessee Warbler 40 25 20 15 10
Nashville Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
American Redstart 25 10 15 10 60
Cape May Warbler 2 4 4 2 8
Northern Parula 20 10 6 8 6
Magnolia Warbler 30 10 10 6 30
Bay-breasted Warbler 10 4 2 0 6
Blackburnian Warbler 20 6 6 3 5
Yellow Warbler 15 15 20 20 25
Chestnut-sided Warbler 6 20 25 15 15
Blackpoll Warbler 40 10 15 25 80
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 0 1 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 0 0
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4 8 4 4 3
PRAIRIE WARBLER 1 1 0 0 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 10 3 12 2
Canada Warbler 6 2 5 1 1
Wilson’s Warbler 2 1 1 0 2
SUMMER TANAGER 1 1 1 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 7 7 6 4 1
Northern Cardinal 5 4 6 4 4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 2 2 2 2
Indigo Bunting 1 2 3 0 1
Bobolink 7 4 4 4 1
Red-winged Blackbird x x x x x
Common Grackle x x x x x
Baltimore Oriole 1 1 2 1 0
Day Total 70 77 73 67 71

EUCD_J-Mo

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Warblers and Wort, 5/12/19


The reincarnation of our spring “Warblers and Wort” tour in our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, was quite successful last Sunday. On this “Mother’s Day Special” tour, we decided to stay local, visiting some of Portland’s most famous institutions in both the beer and birding worlds.

We began in the urban greenspace – a classic “migrant trap” – of Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery.  Spring remains behind schedule this year, and it was a chilly start to the day – but hey, it wasn’t raining for a change!  While warbler diversity was lower than expected for the advancing date, we did eek out 10 species of warblers. Almost everything we did see, however, we saw incredibly well. Nashville and Magnolia Warblers performed well, but Ovenbirds stole the warbler show: we had several birds out in the open for prolonged, enjoyable views, about as good as can ever be expected when stomping a large group through the woods.

Only Veeries outshined Ovenbirds today in their cooperation. This often-shy thrush was anything but. We saw at least 6, and all were seen incredibly well, including two strolling out in the lawn like the robin they are related to. Many folks commented that they had never seen Veeries – or most any thrush! – so well. There were several sizable groups of White-throated Sparrows marching through the woods, including one group of 20-30 that we were surrounded by at one point. All of their leaf scratching was loud enough that it sounded like some large mammals were tromping through the understory. The song of a newly-arrived Wood Thrush and the old-timey football helmet sported by a White-crowned Sparrow were among the other highlights.

Ovenbird

Veery

Our second stop in the birding portion of the tour was another urban oasis, nearby Capisic Pond Park. Again, we were treated to fantastic views of almost every species we encountered, highlighted by a male Orchard Oriole (a “life bird” for many on the trip). A pair breeds here almost every year, but it’s the only known regular breeding location for this southern species in the state, so it was a real treat to find and see so well. We also heard and saw several of the more common Baltimore Orioles, and even saw a nest under construction that was using strips of blue tarp! (How Maine is that?)

Orchard Oriole

A fly-by Green Heron and an ultra-cooperative Least Flycatcher were other highlights, along with common species such as cardinals and Yellow Warblers. The Least Fly was confiding enough to allow us to get into the topic of “tertial step and primary projection,” adding to our toolkit of identification techniques. The genus Empidonax is one of the most challenging in the bird world, but this structural starting point quickly narrows the choices to a very manageable number. And I always take the time to show off one of my favorite colors in nature: the eye of the Double-crested Cormorant.

Perhaps sour beers are the “tertial step and primary projection on Empidonax flycatchers” to many beer drinkers: it’s a more nuanced approach and probably doesn’t appeal to everyone. But our BOT-Roadtrips want introduce our clients to as wide of a range of beer types as bird species, so we had a special experience in store for the group as we rolled into Bissell Brothers Brewing at Thompson’s Point.

First up, each participant got to choose a different beer based on their tastes or what “lifers” they had not yet tried. There were at least five different brews sampled by my quick count, and the whole gamut of styles was represented. Personally, I chose the new Lucent, a Helles Style Lager as it was light and refreshing (and therefore good for a leader who had to articulate – or try to – for the next few hours). Crisp, clean, with a nice lemony bite, this was a great representation of the style.

But then our trusty beer leader for the day, Don, pulled out a surprise: a Magnum bottle of Bissell’s famous Seed. Brewed only once a year featuring “over 2,000 lbs of strawberries and raspberries from Bradbury Mountain Farm in Pownal,” Bissell was doing a special bottle pour event today, and so of course we had to partake. The faces of some folks was predictable when faced with the words “fruited sour beer,” and were equivalent to the deer-in-headlights looks when hearing “primary projection” for the first time. Some even refused. And then we gave them some anyway.  And some of those then had some more.

It’s not for everyone, but I was really pleased by how excited people were to try a “rarity” that they would otherwise likely never have a chance at (like Orchard Orioles without going to Capisic). More importantly, the discussion of the beer that continued as we boarded the bus was how eye-opening the beer was for so many. Pleasantly tart, with a nice clean finish and a real depth of strawberry flavor, we every well may have created some sour fans (or at least sour-curious) on this trip.

Next up was Goodfire Brewing, one of Portland’s hottest up-and-comers, and admittedly, one of my personal favorites to visit. In a more traditional visit for our beer tours, we enjoyed four small 4oz pours, which nicely showcased the range of styles offered here.  As Chrissy led us on a tour of the brew house, we discussed the differences and similarities of each sample we tried, as well as the history of the names and label art.

We began with the perfectly balanced flagship beer, Prime IPA. The Citra and Amarillo hops really shine through, thanks to the clean and rather light malt bill that still ends without any bitterness.

Having learned that hops don’t necessary equal bitter, we dove into deeper discussion of hops with Goodfire’s latest single-hopped brew in their Minimum series. This incarnation featured Idaho 7 hops – itself an up and comer in the beer world – that has a nice flavor balance of citrus and pine with a hint of tropical fruit.  If IPAs were Empidonax flycatchers, hops would be their primary projection. Or something, OK, fine, maybe I am stretching these analogies too far now…

Moving on, we lightened things up a bit with Can’t Stay Long, a classic clean and crisp German Pilsner with a somewhat bready finish. Pilsners are a tried and true style that might not be all that hip and trendy, but should still be appreciated – like a common Northern Cardinal sitting in the sun (OK, last one, I swear).

It was appropriate that after our sour revelations at Bissell, Goodfire would finish us up with a sample of their new fruited sour: Astro 5 – Double Blackberry. This was all the way blackberry, pleasantly tart, but with a clean finish that made you come back for more. In fact, more Astro was purchased to go than all other beers combined today!  So I guess sours aren’t all that scary! And neither are Empidonax flycatch.….dammit, I did it again.

As usual, our Roadtrips never have enough time for it all, neither beer nor birds, but today we had a delightful sampling of each. And based on the feedback received, I think there’s a fair chance you’ll see this itinerary return next year, and likely on Mother’s Day, so get it in on your schedule now!

Until then, perhaps we’ll see you on June’s Grassland and Grains – one of our most popular, annual outings that are always a blast, with both great birds and some great beer, and never with a dull moment. See you then!

Why There are so Many Warblers at Feeders in Maine Right Now (5/3/19).

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On another damp and dreary morning at Florida Lake Park in Freeport on Thursday, I encountered 25-30 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 15 or so Palm Warblers. That was my best total of the season there so far, but in the last week of April through first week of May, I often see tallies of each into the triple digits.

On Friday it was drier, but still cool and raw at Morgan Meadow WMA. I finally hit 5 species of warblers on a morning with my first-of-year (finally) Black-and-white Warbler.  About 20-25 Yellow-rumped and about 15 Palm Warblers were present. For perspective, on 5/3 last year, I hit 10 species of warblers at Florida Lake.

These are two of my favorite mid-spring migration patches, and in most years, I am at Florida Lake Park nearly every day. But this “spring”, it has been lackluster at best; worthless at worst. There just aren’t many birds around.

But it is definitely the spring for warblers at feeders!  After our Facebook post on Wednesday garnered lots of attention and feedback, I thought I would expand a little, as clearly this is a very unusual – perhaps even unprecedented – event.

While Pine Warblers are regular at feeders, especially in early spring – and quite a few of us see some Yellow-rumped Warblers at feeders every year – we cannot recall a spring in which so many people are reporting so many of each at feeders throughout southern Maine.  In fact, many folks are reporting Yellow-rumped Warblers at their feeders for the “first time ever.”  Even more unusual, we’ve had reports of Palm Warblers at feeders, too – something that is almost never seen.
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Pine Warbler is our only regular, wide-spread “feeder warbler” in most seasons

At home in Pownal, we’re up to 20 Yellow-rumped (and our usual pair of Pines), with as many as 8 Yellow-rumps frequenting the feeders at the store this week. We see them annually on our feeders at home, especially on damp and cold mornings, but this year the flock has been slowly but steadily building and has been consistently present for almost 3 weeks. In both locales, a diversity of food is being consumed by this normally-insectivorous (at least in spring and summer) species. In rough order of popularity, they are eating: live mealworms, dried mealworms, insect suet, Nutsie and Mr. Bird nut blocks (especially the Bugs, Nuts,&Fruit block), peanut splits, Birdberry jelly, and even some seed. While a little hulled sunflower isn’t surprising, at home, we even have them gobbling up white proso millet from our tray feeder!
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In fact, until Thursday, I’ve had more Yellow-rumps at our feeders than on any morning at Florida Lake Park! And this is instructive.

Midges are not yet emerging from the pond there, and even through some Red Maples are finally blooming, insect activity has been minimal or even non-existent at this important early-flowering tree. The phenology (to put it simply, the timing of things in nature over the course of the year) is off –way off – this spring. Food resources are not keeping up with the calendar.
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The jet stream is stuck to our south, resulting in unseasonable cool and very unsettled weather, with a steady progression of storm systems and disturbances crossing our area. This pattern is impeding the progress of our spring, and of migrants arriving from the south (I have yet to even see a Black-and-white Warbler this year, for example!). But the cool and wet weather is resulting in natural food sources being well behind schedule, so the birds that are here – on time in many cases – are searching for alternative food sources. And therefore: warblers at feeders.
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This diagram of the jet stream from 4/30 shows the tight gradient and zonal flow that has been dominating our weather pattern and is preventing the arrival of warm temperatures and “spring.”

Or, as better explained by the National Weather Service office in Gray:

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Meanwhile, cherries, apples, crabapples, Serviceberry, and other important early-season flowering trees aren’t even close to blooming. Nectar, pollen, and even the petals and new buds are consumed, but more importantly for most of our migrants, those flowers attract insects that are then eaten by birds. The forecast is for some better conditions for migration in the coming days, and that will start to deliver us newly returning migrants, but those birds will also have fewer food sources than normal.

In seasons like this, the supplemental food from well-stocked feeding stations becomes more important than usual. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are already being reported; what would those birds do without a nectar feeder (no red dye!!!!) right now? And of course, who knows what kind of condition all of these hungry Yellow-rumped Warblers would be in right now without feeders.
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Soon, other migrants such as orioles, tanagers, catbirds, and a wide array of warblers (or Neotropical migrants) will be arriving, and they need food after their long journeys. Especially until spring catches up (those long-distance migrants have no idea how delayed our season is up here), feeders will continue to be important for migrants – and unexpectedly productive birding hotspots.
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There are a lot of hungry birds out there right now, and without a doubt, many of us will get to enjoy species we don’t usually get to see, or at least no so closely. So put your jacket on, come by the store for some high-quality foodstuffs (our insect suet is flying off the shelves right now!) and keep that feeding station well-stocked.  Our migrants thank you.
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2019 Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Series

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2019 in our popular “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

For 2019, we have added a brand new “Rarity Roundup” tour in November, and completely overhauled the brewery (and distillery) destination for almost every tour. We’ll visit breweries from Newcastle to York, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Classics such as Spring and Fall editions of “Ducks and Draughts” and “Grassland and Grains” remain and continue to be some of our most popular options.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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So without any further ado, the ten tours for 2019 are as follows:

“Gulls and Growlers”
Saturday, January 19, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm
(Snowdate: none)

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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles. Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks. In addition, if time permits, we’ll seek out some Snowy Owls if they are being seen near our route.

And, there are a few spots still remaining for this tour, now just 3 days away!

Breweries: Cushnoc Brewing and Moderation Brewing in Brunswick.

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 10, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm
(Snowdate February 17)

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

Breweries: Wiggly Bridge Distilling in York and Dirigo Brewing in Biddeford.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 7, 2019; 9:30am – 4:00pm

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

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle and Bath Brewing Company in Bath.

Warblers and Wort
Sunday, May 12, 2019; 8:00am – 2:00pm
MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL!

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

Breweries: Bissell Brothers Brewing and Austin Street Brewery, Portland.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 2nd, 2019; 8:00am – 2:30pm

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

Breweries: Funky Bow in Lyman and Batson River Brewing in Biddeford.

“Terns and Taps”
Sunday, July 7, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm

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

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

“Shorebirds and Steins”
Sunday, August 4, 2019; 9:00am – 3:00pm

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

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

“Sod-pipers and Sips”
Sunday September 8th – 9:00am to 4:00pm

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

Ebenezer’s regularly tops almost every list of best beer bars in the world, so instead of visiting where beer is made as our first stop, we’ll visit a place where one of the world’s finest beers are sold.
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Breweries: Ebenezer’s Brewpub in Lovell and Saco River Brewing Co in Fryeburg.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, October 20, 2019; 9:00am – 3:30pm

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

Breweries: Side by Each Brewing in Auburn and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Rarity Roundup” (*NEW TOUR*)
Sunday, November 3rd, 2019; 8:00am – 3:00pm

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A brand-new itinerary for 2019, we’re going to try something a little different. Early November is a fantastic time of year in Maine for vagrants – birds normally seen in far-off places. Due to a combination of weather patterns, changing seasonal food resources, falling temperatures, and other factors – some of which are not completely understood – birds that may have ended up in Maine by “accident” begin to concentrate at the coast in “migrant traps” and “hotspots.” In other words, this is the time of year to expect the unexpected.

A traditional “Rarity Roundup” involves teams of birders heading out on a given day during rarity prime time, looking for species that are not supposed to be around. And in honor of that tradition, that’s exactly what we are going to do on this unique tour. We may “chase” a rarity (go to see something that has already been found, aka “twitch”) or we might choose a destination known for rare birds in an attempt to find one of our own. Or perhaps, we’ll do both!

Anything between Portland and Wells is fair game, unless something truly epic is a little further in a different direction. And we might not even know where we will head until we are on the bus and the latest rare bird alert is received. For those who love adding a bird to your Life or State List, and/or basking in the thrill of discovery, well then this is the tour for you! In between seeing great birds, we’ll discuss the complex factors that are involved in delivering rarities to an area, and how we go about finding them.

And to mix things up even more, we’ll be visiting one of our favorite breweries, but also a kombuchery where this very low-alcohol fermented tea beverage is produced

Breweries: Root Wild Kombucha and Goodfire Brewing in Portland.

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

And for a little history about how this partnership developed and continues to grow, check out this blog entry from early 2016, as we introduced the first full season on 6 Roadtrips.
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We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!

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Are There “No Birds Out There?” – A Day on a Christmas Bird Count as a Case Study.


It was a record year for Evening Grosbeaks in our CBC territory.

On Sunday, December 30th, Erin Walter joined me for the Freeport-Brunswick Christmas Bird Count (CBC). My annual territory covers most of Freeport west of I-295, with a small bite of Yarmouth, a sliver of Pownal, and a corner of Durham. It’s suburban and ex-urban, almost exclusively residential, and public open space is limited to Hedgehog Mountain Park and adjacent playing fields, Florida Lake Park, and Hidden Pond Preserve.

Like all of the CBCs I do, we walk…a lot. And this year was no exception. While the rest of the team abandoned me (the car was full just the day before!), Erin stuck with the deathmarch to its chilly end, and Jeannette (and Bonxie) covered the Hedgehog Mountain Park area in the early morning for us. With just a team of two for the day, Erin and I spent most of our time split up, dividing the length of roads we cover by walking mile stretches and leap-frogging each other with a car. Using that strategy, we cover a majority of the sector’s roads, and we cover it thoroughly: woodlots, fields, feeders, yards, etc, are all checked.

In the end, we walked up to 12 miles each, with a total of 17.5 miles covered by the two of us, and another 2 covered by Jeannette.  About 18 miles were covered by car. In other words, we spent most of the day outside, working each and every mixed-species foraging flock we encountered.

I have covered this sector for 13 of the past 14 years, and each year I have done it the same way. It’s nothing if not thorough as less than 8 hours of useable daylight can offer. Therefore, the 13 years of data provide an interesting little dataset, one that can be compared and dissected. That’s why I like to do this relatively unproductive (by coastal Maine standards) territory. And, this is why I am writing this blog today: because I think the consistency and standardization provides a way to contrast seasons more than just anecdotally.

With a cold – but not brutally so, it was -16F when we started last year! – and calm day, weather wouldn’t be a factor in limiting detections, so our count should be a little snapshot of “what’s going on out there.”  It’s a good way for me to collect data for my preconceived notions, or find out that I need to refute them. So what IS going on out there?

Total species were just below average for us, while total individuals were a little above average. Let’s try and break it down a bit.

After a very cold start to the winter, it’s been mostly above normal, and we’re down to just a patchy layer of icy snow. Some running fresh water is open, but most small ponds are still frozen. But our section has limited water, so waterbird numbers are uninspiring no matter what. The Cousin’s River Marsh west of the interstate was mostly frozen, and the little stretch of open water in the river was completely devoid of ducks. It’s a Sunday, so the Brunswick Landfill is closed, so we didn’t have the evening commute of gulls returning to roost on the bay to tally.

However, I know for a fact we cover the landbirds as exhaustively as anyone, and this is where the data gets interesting. Oak, beech, and White Pine nuts and seeds are virtually non-existent this year, as we all have been noticing. There’s not much spruce cone in our area either and very little Eastern Hemlock. Paper Birch and especially Yellow Birch, however, are in decent shape, as is Speckled Alder.  Ash seeds are in good supply.

With so little natural food resources overall, it was an extraordinary fall for bird feeding, augmented by the early cold and snow. Since then, however, it has felt like birds have “disappeared,” and many folks coming into the store are reporting slow feeding stations. Are there birds out there and just not coming to feeders? Or did everything move on? Or, is our perception simply wrong?  Erin and I wanted to find out.

As always, the answer differed between species. We had a record low for Blue Jays, more than 1/3 of average. Clearly, with the lack of acorns to cache, most of our Blue Jays simply moved on – those caches of Black Oil Sunflower seeds and peanuts they hoarded in the fall can only go so far. And we set a new record low for Rock Pigeons (0!) as they were all apparently at our store’s feeders outside our territory all day. And on some days of birding, you just don’t see a lot of raptors.

Woodpeckers were interesting. We were above average in Red-bellied (continuing their increasing trend in Maine) and Downy, but Hairys had their second highest tally – almost double average. They were also drumming more widely than usual for the end of the year; did that simply increase detection or are there more around this year, perhaps following a very good breeding season?

33 European Starlings was a new record high count for the territory. American Crows, Brown Creepers, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and House Finches were all above average. The measly 5 American Tree Sparrows were a new record low, however, perhaps due to that early snowfall. Then again, Dark-eyed Juncos were well above average, so who knows?

Considering birch and alder are the only good tree seed crops around, we were not surprised to find an above-average number of American Goldfinches. Common Redpolls aren’t here yet, and the good numbers of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins from the fall have clearly moved on. However, the best winter for Evening Grosbeaks in at least 20 years continues – we had a new record high for the territory, with 2 in a yard on Hunter Road and 1 loner on Merrill Road in Freeport, and an impressive group of 26 on Webster Road, which Erin was able to extensively photograph.

But of most interest to me are the core members (joined by the woodpeckers and to a lesser extent some of the finches) of the mixed-species foraging flocks that travel our woods and pass through our yards. The “feeder birds and allies” if you will. The insect-eating Brown Creepers were above average, but Golden-crowned Kinglets were extremely low. I don’t have an explanation here, so I’ll concentrate on the seed-eating members of the flock.

We were interested to find that Black-capped Chickadees were just about average; they seemed low of late, making me wonder if they too moved further south this winter. Yet surprisingly, we had a new record high count for Tufted Titmice, more than doubling our 13-year average. Good breeding season, or do these resident birds not clear out when food resources are slim?  Both nuthatches were above average, but I was really surprised to find Red-breasted Nuthatches so common. I thought they too had continued on, but there was 1-2 with almost every flock we encountered.

But where we saw these birds was definitely telling. In an hour at Hedghog Mountain, Jeannette has all of 3 Black-capped Chickadees, 2 White-breasted Nuthatches, and 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch. Erin and I had absolutely nothing at Florida Lake Park.  Other stretches of mostly wooded habitat was very quiet. But in neighborhoods with well-stocked bird feeders? Lots of birds!  Although we didn’t necessarily see as many birds at feeders themselves as in and around yards that have them, I t’s clear that the supplemental food resources offered by people increases the number of birds in the area in winter. And on a relatively mild and benign day, they were mostly out feeding elsewhere – but we know where they’ll go as the pressure starts to drop this afternoon with the approaching storm.  And in contrast, while we had some goldfinches at feeders, we had most of them in birches and alders, even weedy areas –all natural food which is readily available at the moment, as opposed to many of the other tree crops.

So what does this all mean? Well, good question! And I don’t really know!  But clearly it’s not quite as “slow” out there as many bird watchers are reporting. While Evening Grosbeaks were rightly the star of the show today, I learned a lot about the current status of our “feeder birds.”  More questions and answers, as always, but I enjoyed the exercise of analyzing and postulating (i.e. pretending I am still a scientist). This small section of the state, on only one day, covered by only 2 people, can only tell us so much, but after 13 years of doing this essentially the same way, the numbers are easy to compare and contrast. And perhaps, after a handful of more years, we might even have a little fun with some trend analysis.

Until then, here’s our annotated checklist for the day (and yes, the taxonomy of my spreadsheet is woefully outdated). Averages are in parentheses.

Begin: 7:17am. 19F, mostly cloudy, very light NW.
End: 3:55pm. 23F (high of 25F), clear, calm.

Miles by foot: 17.5 + 2
Miles by car: 18.0

Total species (31.6): 29
Total individuals (903.5): 1017

Red-tailed Hawk (1.3): 1
Wild Turkey (11.2): 5
Herring Gull (24): 1 *record low
Rock Pigeon (25): 0 *record low.
Mourning Dove (50): 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker (.75): 3
Downy Woodpecker (17): 19
Hairy Woodpecker (12): 23 *2nd highest
Pileated Woodpecker (1.9): 1
Blue Jay (76.1): 21 *record low
American Crow (76): 103
Common Raven (2.6): 2
Black-capped Chickadee (307): 317
Tufted Titmouse (33): 72 *New Record
Red-breasted Nuthatch (17): 23
White-breasted Nuthatch (27): 37
Brown Creeper (3): 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet (11): 3
Eastern Bluebird (1): 4
European Starling (14.5): 33 *record high
American Tree Sparrow (23.2): 5 *record low
Song Sparrow (1.1): 2
White-throated Sparrow (0.6): 1
Dark-eyed Junco (28): 69
Northern Cardinal (11): 18
House Finch (8.4): 23
American Goldfinch (83): 119
EVENING GROSBEAK (2.4): 29 *record high
House Sparrow (13.8): 1 (was a lone House Sparrow the rarest bird of the day?)

To compare, check out my blog from late fall of 2017, entitled: “Why there are no Birds at Your Feeders Right Now,” for a completely different reason.

GREAT BLACK HAWK IN BIDDEFORD!!!!

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No seriously. This is not a test, do not adjust your television. This is not a drill. This is insane, but it is real.

The Timeline.

8/7.

9:13 AM. Ryan Wirtes posted a photo to the “What Bird is This Facebook Page” of a raptor photo sent by a friend. He suspected a black hawk of some flavor, but at the time, the sighting information was nothing more than “photographed this month in Maine.”

10:35 am. Tim Swain shares that post to the “ABA Rare Bird Alert” Facebook page. All hell breaks loose. While many people discuss the ID, others immediately jump to the conclusion that it is far too rare and far too out of range to be possible, so the conspiracy theories take hold. One person claimed to debunk it in multiple forums based on the plants in the scene. His plant ID was seriously flawed. I was brought into the discussion and identified the plants in the two pictures as all occurring in and around Biddeford Pool: Japanese Knotweed, Red Maple, and an invasive bush honeysuckle that I left as Lonicera sp (presumably tatarica). I know these thickets and habitats extremely well, and all looked just like a number of areas around here. While I was not vouching for the credibility of the sighting, the misidentification of the plants should not have impacted anyone’s decision to get the heck out there and search for it. And while skepticism and critical evaluation of exceptional sightings is important, I felt too many people were immediately looking to debunk it – that is not constructive, especially when using nothing more than simple misinformation spoken loud enough to be believed.

Luckily, people were out searching for it, and didn’t need my plant ID to be encouraged to do so!

Later in the day, Michael Smith was able to contact the photographer, and it turned out the bird was photographed only one day prior, on Maddox Pond Road in the Fortunes Rocks Beach section of Biddeford. The plot thickened.

8/8.

Birders searched the area extensively in the morning. The exact location of the photograph was confirmed. There was no hoax, conspiracy, or simple mistake/miscommunication. But there was no bird.

6:03 pm: Doug Hitchcox relocates the bird in a backyard on nearby Lily Pond Road. Birders converge. I arrived at about 7pm, and about 15 of us continued to observe the bird, with several remaining through dark.

I managed a few phone-scoped photos.IMG_2287_best,kinda_edited-1preening1_edited-1

But, given the low light, I had better luck with video, which I did extensively. I posted one here, on our store’s Facebook Page.

For the record, it was perched in a Black Locust when I saw it.

8/9.

7:20 am: With dozens of people from several states converging and looking, it was refound on Lily Pond Road. And now all hell will really break loose! Jeannette went down this am and scored some great photos as the bird flew around, hunted eggs and nestlings (it was observed eating a nestling and robbing an American Goldfinch nest for eggs), and as since its first observation, being constantly mobbed by passerines (for good reason).

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For those looking to find it, I’d recommend the play-by-play on the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook Page. I’ll leave it to there, and the Maine-birds listserve, to provide the specifics on sightings, observation details, and any concerns (like extensive and problematic permit parking restrictions in the area) that may arise.

Furthermore, Fortunes Rocks Beach is covered in Site Y11 in my Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide and Biddeford Pool (including parking tips) is extensively treated as Y12.  Besides carpooling, my recommendations are to arrive early or late, or hoof it (I’ll throw a bike on the rack next time I go) a considerable distance from somewhere with open, public parking.  And, like with several of the “Mega” rarities that have occurred in recent years, I am (somewhat) available for private guiding, including round-trips from the Portland Jetport!

But since I have been asked by many people about “how,” “why,” and “WTF?” I figured I would pull some info together here for convenience.

The Identification:

First, the identity of the bird is not in question: it is an immature Great Black Hawk (often written as Great Black-hawk), separated from the similar Common Black Hawk by a combination of plumage and structural features. I’ll quote Howell and Webb’s A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America:

“(GBH) has narrower wingbase, longer tail (esp juv) often less spread when soaring and gliding. At rest, note longer legs and short primary projection…juv and immature usually have whitish head that lacks strong dark malar stripe; note more numerous dark tail bars of the juv. With very broad distal dark band or narrow dark bars to tail tip.”

I believe those are the same features that are used to separate it from the Cuban Black Hawk (or Cuban race of the Common Black Hawk), but I need to do more research on that.

And finally, Solitary Eagle is “larger with more massive legs and bill; at rest, wingtips extend to or beyond relatively shorter tail…juv and immature have solidly dark brown thighs, juv has pale grayish tail band with no distinct dark barring, imm. tail similar but with broad paler median band. (Howell and Webb, 2014)

Great Black Hawk is a large buteo-like raptor of Northern South America, extending north along the coasts of Mexico. Many folks are citing the first accepted “ABA-area” record that occurred only this past spring in Texas.  The Texas Bird Records Committee voted unanimously to add it to the official list on July 3rd:

“The TBRC has voted unanimously to add GREAT BLACK HAWK (Buteogallus urubitinga) to the state list. A juvenile was well documented with several excellent photos as it landed briefly and passed over South Padre Island on 24 April 2018. This species has been somewhat hoped for/expected to show up in Texas as it regularly ranges as close as southern Tamaulipas, Mexico but it was still a surprising and exciting find for folks that were on the island taking in spring migration that day. The addition of Great Black Hawk brings the state list to 649 in good standing. This record will now be considered by the ABA Checklist Committee as a first for the ABA. There have been a few Great Black Hawk sightings in Florida since the 1970s though there has been questions/concern about the provenance of those birds.”

Ah, but yes, those Florida birds. Here’s where things get murky. And while Great Black Hawks do not seem to be kept by falconers, they are kept in captivity. And with all records of exceptionally far-flung vagrants, captivity needs to be considered. The “cage bird” and wildlife smuggling plague in the world is rampant, and likely constitutes billions of dollars annually. While “charismatic megafauna” (or parts there of) get all of the attention, birds are being smuggled – as well as legally traded – all over the world. And I believe it is much, much worse than usually suggested, so it’s worth considering “provenance” and just because it’s not used for some purpose, I do not believe we can immediately discount captive origin. But let me be clear: there is absolutely no evidence of that here – no bands, no “cage wear,” no obviously problematic behavior – although it is rather confiding and does allow close approach which could be suspect.

Jon Greenlaw, co-author of the recently-fully revised and updated The Robertson and Woolfenden Florida Bird Species: An Annoted List (2014) wrote to me with the following analysis of the Florida occurrence of “black hawks:”

“They occur in Mexico in Yucatan north to Tamaulipas on the Atlantic side, so both possible in Texas and Florida. To my knowledge only the Great Black Hawk is known from the Atlantic coast in Florida. No Common Black-Hawks have been confirmed from Florida out of more than 20 reports, but one of the two records (photographic) (one specimen w/ no label details in Archbold BS collection) remained for several years in the Greater Miami Area (Virginia Key, Key Biscayne) and was seen by many observers and photographed well by Robin Diaz of Miami. It was initially ID’d as a Common Black-Hawk, but it was later confirmed as a Great Black-Hawk as more photos & details came in. Greenlaw et al. 2014 provides the most recent update of status in Florida. Smith FFN 23:101, 1995 reviewed the Florida reports and concluded them to represent Great Black-Hawks. The belief previously has been that the Florida reports were likely escapes in captivity (they are known to occur as captive birds in s. Florida), but the numbers of reports here over the years make it difficult to totally reject the presence of vagrant individuals (esp immatures) from their range in the Americas, esp Yucatan. Still, photographs of the Virginia Key bird (the most recent occurrence example) indicate the adult was from the sedentary population (nominate) in South America.

And more extensively treated here for those looking for the complete story of this complex conundrum, click here.

Let me reiterate, there is absolutely no suggestion of non-wild origin, and while a hoax or miscommunication has been debunked, provenance (where it came from and how) must always be carefully considered. While listing powers-that-be may eventually decide whether or not you “can count it,” I would recommend going to look at this magnificent bird and, well, my list is my list…and I’ll probably count it!

The How.

Besides feeling like the tropics these past few weeks, the weather pattern that has brought us this oppressive (well, to us in Maine not used to it) heat and especially humidity could very conceivably result in a bird escorted this far away from its usual home range.

Although a resident species not particularly prone to wandering, some likely do, and presumably this would especially true of juveniles. Some have suggested this could even be the same bird as the South Padre Island sighting in April; photos will undoubtedly be studied carefully to see if there are any clues. Whether it’s the bird from Texas or another individual, the extensive and stubborn southerly flow created by a strong and persistent Bermuda High spinning off the southern Atlantic Coast would certainly facilitate the bird’s peregrinations. Whether originally “lost,” misguided, navigationally-challenged (simply mis-wired, or as one of the apparent impacts from our chronic use of pesticides), or just a “pioneer” prospecting for new habitats in the face of a rapidly warming climate and rampant tropical deforestation, there are a lot of ways where a large raptor that can soar with little effort and cover hundreds of miles in a day and end up in the Northeast.  While weather rarely “causes” vagrancy, it certainly plays a role in where a vagrant could show up.

Heck, North America’s first record of the tropical Variegated Flycatcher occurred (in November of 1977) in the Biddeford Pool neighborhood just up the road! Which is more exceptional would be up for debate, but clearly birds from a long way off can make it to Maine’s coast (for additional example, our relatively numerous records of Fork-tailed Flycatcher). And, as circumstantial evidence that the recent weather pattern is delivering birds from the south to New England, notice that New Hampshire currently has a Wood Stork and a Neotropical Cormorant!

Now what?

Birders are flying in from all over the country already, and likely hundreds if not thousands of birders will descend on the area in the coming days, and if we are all lucky, weeks. Of course, the bird could leave any minute now.

Folks will debate provenance, and others will simply enjoy the sighting and take a lot of photographs. Hopefully, birders will spend a few dollars in the area (can I recommend Bufflehead’s restaurant on Hill’s Beach, Palace Diner in Biddeford, and Saco Island Deli in Saco to start?) and let it be known that they are here to see this epic rarity.

Furthermore, there is always the chance of the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect,” wherein birders descending on an area for a rare bird sighting find additional rare birds.  What could be next? And from where? I very much look forward to what else is turned up. This could be fun.

At the very least, don’t forget there is a Little Egret just up the road in Scarborough Marsh! Remember when, 4 years ago, that’s what everyone was flying in for?

Final Disclaimer:

I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be repeated. This is a quiet, residential area with extremely limited daytime public parking. The bird is often in yards, and since the best hours to visit are before 8:00am and after 5:00pm when parking is available at nearby Fortunes Rocks Beach, PLEASE be extremely respectful to local residents and private property. Do not enter any yard unless invited to do so, and do not block driveways. And yes, police have been actively patrolling the parking areas! And always, put the bird – and its neighbors – first, no matter how much you want a slightly better look or photo!

Thanks for reading!
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UPDATE #1:
Photo reviews by Tom Johnson and others of the April Great Black Hawk from Texas and our Maine bird shows the exact same pattern of brown flecks on the outermost underwing coverts. Variable in this species, this is too perfect to be a coincidence, so it is almost unquestionably the same bird!

UPDATE #2:
Unfortunately, at 1:52pm (I believe) on Thursday, August 9, the black hawk was observed flying over Fortunes Rocks Beach and “out to sea.” It has not been seen again since. Birders scoured the area for the rest of the day, and again on Friday, August 10th to no avail…and so far without turning up anything else of note. In fact, not even the Little Egret has been seen in the last few days (I looked carefully at every Snowy in Scarborough Marsh this morning when guiding for a family from Indiana). We’ll see if any interesting reports roll in by day’s end.