Tag Archives: “Birds

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend,9/27-10/1/2019

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The reports trickling out of Monhegan all week were not particularly tantalizing. Other than a few rare but regular vagrants and semi-vagrants, the birding was often dreadfully slow. This fall’s lack of strong, airmass-changing and northwest wind-producing, cold fronts have been sorely lacking, and the season on Monhegan to date had clearly reflected that. But we heard the butterflies were extraordinary!

The first half of our group arrived via the 9:00 Hardy Boat from New Harbor. Even the boat trip was unusually quiet: a handful of Northern Gannets were the only seabirds we saw; even gulls were relatively few and far between.

But it was simply gorgeous, and with clear skies, light winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures, we were not complaining upon our arrival. And we were immediately greeted with a plethora of butterflies, led by Painted and American Ladies, and Monarchs – lots and lots of Monarchs.

Our slow walk up Dock Road would yield our one measly warbler wave of the day, but the Island Farm gardens on Pumphouse Road immediately produced the “best” bird that was being seen on the island: a juvenile Blue Grosbeak. But now, there were 2. And two Dickcissels! And 3 Indigo Buntings! And then two Blue Grosbeaks sitting side-by-side with an Indigo Bunting on the wire for comparison, followed by a lovely look at a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Yeah, that’s a “slow” day on Monhegan in the fall!
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After fueling up on Novelty Pizza as usual, we hit Burnt Head for a gannet and Peregrine Falcon show, but the afternoon was beyond quiet for birds overall. Not for butterflies, however!  So. Many. Question Marks (as in the butterfly, not unanswered questions of course!)
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Question Mark

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As we awoke on Saturday, light south winds had minimized nocturnal bird migration, and the Morning Flight over the Yew consisted of exactly one Great Egret (not a bad bird out here though). It was quiet, very quiet, as dawn rose…but we weren’t cold! And all of those Monarchs!
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After breakfast, we decided to try and relocate a female King Eider that was reported yesterday and posted late at night. Since the seas were building on southwesterly winds, I decided to skip trying Lobster Cove and check the mouth of the harbor. And sure enough, there she was! The “Queen” Eider was an “Island Bird” for me, and an island bird for almost every birder on the island, if not a life bird for many in my group.
sunrise
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With the rest of the group arriving at 10:00am, we raced over to the dock, picked up the eider from the lawn of the Island Inn, and welcomed our new arrivals with a Queen Eider in the scope!  How’s that for a greeting?  I also realized I had a “lifer:” looking at a King Eider with shorts on!
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There were now 3 Blue Grosbeaks in the garden, and a couple of us glimpsed a flash of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near the Ice Pond.  But it was irrationally slow all day. However, almost every bird we did encounter, we saw well, and there were very few instances of “better views desired.”  And it was warm, and I don’t think I have ever spent a whole day out here in just shorts and a t-shirt.  Again.
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Northern Gannet off of White Head.

A slow progression of clouds throughout the day finally arrived overhead by dusk, but rain stayed away. Unfortunately, the cold front that we were so anxiously anticipating did not switch the winds to the west (and then northwest) until about 2:00am, so migration really never got going. There was a little Morning Flight come dawn, mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers as expected, but also several Cape Mays. The chatter, however, was the fact that no one found themselves in dire need of more blankets overnight!
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The next generation teaching the next next generation.
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Once again, however, the warmth scattered roosting Monarchs, and the massive roosts of a thousand or more from the middle of the week were instead widely dispersed. They were still abundant, however, covering gardens and almost every patch of wild asters and goldenrods.
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This one likely had recently taught a Merlin to never try and eat a Monarch!
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Tattered Black Swallowtail departing dill

It was a day to look at everything, from flowers to caterpillars.
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Fringed Gentian
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Hickory Tussock Moth
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Everybody’s favorite caterpillar: Woolly Bears!
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White-faced Meadowhawk.
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Smeared Dagger Moth

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in the harbor helped start our day, and there were definitely some new birds around.
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Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull(R)with multiple age classes of Great Black-backed Gulls.

Our checklist slowly built with the likes of a Pine Warbler, a single Red-winged Blackbird, and finally, after almost 3 days: a couple of Red-eyed Vireos.  The northwesterly breeze was also ushering in a good raptor flight, especially Merlins and American Kestrels, with a healthy dose of Peregrine Falcons, so we often found ourselves looking skyward.

Monarchs were also on the go, with many high overhead and taking off towards the mainland. Our butterfly list grew to a goodly 14 species. And we confirmed via photographs that there were a most-impressive 4 Blue Grosbeaks, a bona fide flock, and perhaps a record high for the state.

It was a great few days, and a lot of birds were seen. It was not the thing Monhegan legends were made of, however, but almost everyone on the tour had at least two Life Birds by the time the majority of the group headed home on Sunday afternoon. And it was still beautiful out. Complaints were few.
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RINP,A.Siegel
And the family group of “re-introduced” (allegedly) Ring-necked Pheasants were a source of constant entertainment.
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Now, no birder is every really ready to leave Monhegan, but those who had to go to work or school the next day were especially upset. But of course, we had high expectations for a big day on Sunday, and that did not materialize.

On Monday morning – I am happy to say for those who remained, but I am very apologetic to those who had to depart! – the birds that did not show on Sunday had arrived. A huge flight overnight on clearing skies and a moderate northerly wind had ushered in a massive wave of birds. By breakfast we had as many species of warblers as we had seen all weekend so far.
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows seemed to be everywhere, at least where there wasn’t a Yellow-rumped Warbler. New arrivals included many of the birds we had somehow been lacking so far, such as Blue-headed Vireos and Brown Creepers, but we also enjoyed a host of “late” migrants, such as Bay-breasted Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, several Magnolia Warblers, and – sorry Anna! – a great look at a Philadelphia Vireo. Although a truant Warbling Vireo late in the day was the “best” vireo of the weekend.
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Palm Warbler
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Savannah Sparrow

The morning alone had more species, and likely more individuals, than the three previous days combined. While all of the Blue Grosbeaks had departed, the Queen Eider was still present, as was 1-2 Dickcissels, and in a late-day feeding frenzy of Harbor Porpoise at the mouth of the harbor, we picked out a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. Today was a day for both quantity and quality – and we walked about 30% less than any of the previous three days! It was a very good day.
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Jeannette had arrived on Monday, and it was just the two of us for a day off on Tuesday. Fears of a wash-out were not realized. Instead, an early morning shower on Trap Day did little more than nicely tamp down the road dust for a good part of the day.  Winds were increasing from the southeast, and there was little to no migration overnight on cloudy skies and light southerly winds.

Therefore, there was once again virtually no morning flight, but there were some new birds around, starting with a Marsh Wren singing at dawn from the meadow, and 3 female/immature Wood Ducks in the Ice Pond before dawn (alas, I never did catch up with the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that others spotted into the weekend).

The morning was quiet overall, however, with scattered pockets of migrants here and there. It wasn’t quiet as slow as Saturday, but we were once again covering a lot of ground to not see many birds. But it felt like a day with something “really good” around, and as we returned to the Ice Pond, I was shocked by a hen Northern Shoveler!  Migrant dabblers are rare out here due to the lack of habitat, and there are not many shovelers in Maine or Maritime Canada to end up here. I am sure that if there were birders out here in April and October, this species would be detected, but based on the historical record in the Vickery checklist and recent records from eBird, it turns out that this is a First Island Record!  (EDIT: A previous island record has come to light, and sure enough, it was from April!)
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While it wasn’t the Mega I was hoping for, it was a great bird for the island list, and joined by a stunning adult male Wood Duck, it added some excitement to an otherwise dreary day. We took the time to have a leisurely lunch, enjoy the Queen Eider, and grab one last beer. We also ran into the Lark Sparrow that showed up the day before. But it was remarkable how many fewer butterflies were around: the Monarchs had mostly departed on the northerly winds of the previous day, and the cloudy skies kept most everything else under cover.
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Lark Sparrow with immature White-crowned Sparrow
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With the first of the morning’s lobster traps already being hauled up, we knew our birding season out here was drawing to a close, unfortunately. Fortunately, however, the seas were much tamer than had been forecast, and we had less concerns about comfort on the ride home.
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Another Harbor Porpoise and gull feeding frenzy developed in the mouth of the harbor.

But Monhegan had one more surprise in store for us. As we pulled away on the 4:30 ferry to Port Clyde, I spotted a Black Skimmer circling Nigh Duck. I alerted the other birders on the boat, and those of us topside had views of it seemingly considering sitting down on the island, but we had picked up steam and were cruising away.  This appears to be the second record of Black Skimmer for Monhegan – another incredibly good bird for my island list, and another reason why you never stop looking!

Three “Island Birds” for me, “life birds” for most of my group, beautiful weather for the tour, and lots of good food and conversation made for a heckuva weekend. And perhaps best of all, I had three kids under 15 on my tour! Besides a rare occurrence for a birding tour, their enthusiasm was contagious, and it gave us hope for the future of birds and birding!

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Swamp Sparrow

Daily Checklist:

* denotes ferry ride only
27-Sep 28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep 10/1 (with Jeannette)
Wood Duck 0 0 0 0 4
American Black Duck 0 2 2 2 2
Mallard 4 16 12 10 10
NORTHERN SHOVELER 0 0 0 0 1
Green-winged Teal 0 0 0 1 0
KING EIDER 0 1 0 1 1
Common Eider x x x x X
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 3 7*
Ring-necked Pheasant 3 7 5 5 6
Mourning Dove 6 8 6 6 10
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 0 0 1 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0 0 0
Black Guillemot X x x x X
Laughing Gull 6* 0 2 0 0
Ring-billed Gull 2* 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x X
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 0 1 1 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x X
BLACK SKIMMER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Loon 1* 0 0 2 2
Northern Gannet 30 30 10 8 20
Double-crested Cormorant X x x 1000 500
Great Cormorant 0 6 1 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 2 2 1
Great Egret 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 3 1 7 4 2
Bald Eagle 3 2 3 4 2
Northern Harrier 0 0 0 1 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 2 4 4 3
Belted Kingfisher 0 1 1 1 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3 3 4 40 30
Downy Woodpecker 0 1 1 2 0
Northern Flicker 3 4 6 20 15
American Kestrel 0 0 8 1 4
Merlin 3 3 15 8 5
Peregrine Falcon 6 2 10 6 3
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 0 0 2 2
Alder Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Least Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 0 0 6 4
Eastern Kingbird 0 2 2 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 0 6 2
Warbling Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Philadelphia Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 0 0 2 25 10
Blue Jay 4 10 14 8 6
American Crow 4 6 4 6 8
Common Raven 1 2 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 0 0 1 0
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 0 0 0 0
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 0 0 0 0
Brown Creeper 0 0 0 8 4
Winter Wren 0 0 0 3 0
Marsh Wren 0 0 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 0 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 10 0 15 20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 10 5
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin 2 1 0 0 1
Gray Catbird 6 4 0 4 4
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 1 0 0
European Starling 20 24 20 20 16
American Pipit 0 0 0 1 0
Cedar Waxwing 20 40 80 60 50
American Goldfinch 2 0 4 6 6
Black-and-white Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Tennessee Warbler 0 0 0 4 2
Nashville Warbler 0 0 0 6 5
Common Yellowthroat 2 2 4 6 3
Cape May Warbler 2 2 6 3 4
Northern Parula 2 0 0 10 3
Magnolia Warbler 0 0 0 4 0
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1 4 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 0 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 4 2 0 2 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 60 20
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 8 15 40 200 50
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 0 0 5 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 3 6 19
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 1 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 25 15
Savannah Sparrow 0 0 0 50 30
Song Sparrow x x x x X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 0 2 2
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 7 4
Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 6 8
BLUE GROSBEAK 2 3 4 0 0
Indigo Bunting 3 2 2 1 2
DICKCISSEL 2 0 1 2 0
Bobolink 0 0 0 6 3
Red-winged Blackbird 0 0 1 0 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 0 0 5 1
Common Grackle 10 10 10 10 10
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 1 2 2

(Rarities seen by others by not the group as a whole: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Yellow-breasted Chat).

Butterfly list:
Monarch
Painted Lady
American Lady
Question Mark
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulfur
Red Admiral
Orange Sulfur
Common Buckeye
Mourning Cloak (1)
White Admiral (1-2)
Black Swallowtail (1)
Bronze Copper (1)
Great Spangled Fritillary (1)

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White Admiral

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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CSWA_J-Mo

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).
BAWW_J-Mo

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.
IMG_3970-edited-edited
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!
IMG_5747-edited 2.11.46 PM-editedIMG_5750-edited 2.11.46 PM-edited

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.
Red_Maple

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.
Jet stream, 4-30-19

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:

April_weather

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.
IMG_5941_edited-2

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.
IMG_9042-edited-2-edited

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)

Gulls & Growlers_edited-1

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)

Seaducks & Suds_edited-1

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

Spring Ducks & Draughts_edited-1

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

Grasslands & Grains_edited-1

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.