Tag Archives: Clay-colored Sparrow

Additional (non-Sandy Point) Highlights This Week, 10/2-8, Pelagic reminder, and Monhegan trip report.

This Savannah Sparrow contemplated walking across the channel instead of flying over the water during Morning Flight at Sandy Point.

A few observations of note away from the Morning Flight over the past seven days for me included:

  • 1 CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 10/2 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk).
  • Overall, it was a great week of sparrow migration, with a nice high count on 10/8 from Wolfe’s Neck Center of 125 Song, 100 Savannah, 75 Swamp, 25 White-throated, 2 White-crowned, and 1 Lincoln’s.
  • Sabattus Pond season is underway as well!  On 10/8, I had early-season tallies of 76 Ruddy Ducks (first of fall), 33 Lesser Scaup, 18 Greater Scaup (first of fall), 2 Ring-necked Ducks, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers (first of fall), etc.

Notes:

  • And I’ve finally posted my tour report from Monhegan, 9/24-9/28. The blog includes photos and daily checklists:

2021 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

This Blue Grosbeak was among the highlights of an incredible weekend on the island.

“It was like the good ol’ days!” When every other bird you saw was a rare one, and you barely walked 10 steps before finding more birds.  But this was not what we were expecting, and the weekend sure didn’t start out that way!

After a very rough boat ride, we were still putting ourselves back together when one birder said “Go back, there are no birds here.”  Apparently, it had been a dreadfully slow week of little migration, but at least nice weather. This weekend, the weather wasn’t supposed to be very nice. So without many birds on the island, and quite a bit of rain on the way, were less enthused about arriving than usual…well, that might have had something to do with the boat ride.

And I am not sure if it helped that one of the first birds I looked at was a rare hybrid Herring X Great Black-backed Gull.  I am not sure if anyone was ready to take in gull hybrids yet.  Even more when we feared that this could be our best bird of the trip if the pattern held.

And sure enough, it was a very slow afternoon. But we did have good luck. We found a Sora that walked out into an open patch of mud, quickly caught up with the adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that has been hanging around, and after lunch immediately found the Least Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper at Lobster Cove that have been playing hard to get all week. There was also a good Northern Gannet show, which is always a treat. So at least we were seeing what was around, which sadly, really was not very much.  But hey, it still hadn’t rained!

Least and Spotted Sandpipers – shorebirds are few and far between on the island.

A period of rain, heavy at times, fell overnight, but the band was much narrower and less heavy than forecast. It did not rain all night, and it even appeared that a light flight of migrants had developed on the radar after midnight. And sure enough, come dawn, there was a light Morning Flight overhead. It was mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, but hey, there were new birds around!  And once, again, it was not raining.

A fly-over Dickcissel or two, a calling Gray-cheeked Thrush, and more. Birds!  Yay!

Then, after breakfast, I went to spread some seed in my favorite corner to attract some birds for the group to enjoy this morning.  Turning the corner near the famous “Chat Bridge” a shockingly bright flash of the most intense yellow you can imagine. And blue wings, and a flash of white in the tail. Prothonotary Warbler I exclaimed to no one around.

I raced back towards the group meeting point and sent them on their way. Kristen Lindquist took off running.  I eventually made it back with the rest of the group and we divided to conquer. Kristen and about half the group spotted it repeatedly, while it remained tantalizingly out of view from where I and others were standing. 

As other birders converged, a classic “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” occurred. First, there were two Dickcissels, then I spotted a Yellow-breasted Chat making a short flight over the brush. While searching for that, Ilsa spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that would sit still, preening, for well over and hour.  It might have been the most cooperative cuckoo ever on the island!  Another group had a brief look at a Clay-colored Sparrow.

Unfortunately, the Prothonotary Warbler was never seen again.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos don’t usually sit this still for this long. This bird was likely exhausted
after just arriving on the island.
In case you didn’t see it’s yellow bill.

It was already a pretty amazing day for one that we thought would be a wash-out. And it was still not raining.  After our lunch break, we convened at the Monhegan House at 1:30, and spent the next hour and a half on its lawn, and going no where else.

One Dickcissel became two, and then four, and when the group finally took off together, we were shocked to confirm a genuine flock of 8 Dickcissels – exceptional, even for Monhegan. And there were not one, but two Clay-colored Sparrows!  And other birds just kept arriving, as standing in one spot saw our list quickly grow: American Redstart, Brown Creeper, Warbling Vireo, etc, etc. One “Western” Palm Warbler became 4, a couple of Cape May Warblers paid us a visit, a Savannah Sparrow dropped in…

It was truly incredible! It felt like my first tours here 15 years ago. By now, a light shower was falling, but we didn’t seem to care. We finally pulled ourselves away as the action waned, wanting to see what the next hot corner would offer.  After spotting at least 8 Baltimore Orioles along Pumphouse Road, the rain finally arrived in earnest by about 3:30pm. We called it quits, but considering the day we had, no complaints were to be heard.  It was a really special day; one that will not soon be forgotten.

While it was more accurately “180-degree misorientation” and other forms of vagrancy and not “reverse migration” that brought us so many good birds, I brought a special beer out
just in case we had a day like we did today!

Rain fell overnight again, and come dawn on Sunday (Day 3), dense fog had rolled in.  There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers overhead, especially during a short respite from the fog, but there were not nearly as many birds around as the day before. But, with fog overnight, we expected birds who were on the island to stay, which was good, because yesterday was awesome and there were still a few birds we had not yet encountered.

It might be a while before they are “countable” again, but the Ring-necked Pheasant population
seems to be booming in town.

We delayed the start of the after-breakfast walk to let a batch of heavier rain clear through. We were stuck in such an odd fall weather pattern, with virtually no west-east progression of weather systems. But we had been so lucky with the timing of the rainfall so far, that a little delay was of no concern.  Regrouping at 10:00, light showers gave way to just some lingering drizzle by 11, and it soon became apparent that there were new birds around.  We had two Prairie Warblers, a Scarlet Tanager joining the growing flock of Baltimore Orioles, and a Blue-winged Teal joined a Green-winged Teal in the marsh.  Two Cliff Swallows and a Barn Swallow foraged over Manana, and we had our second Yellow-breasted Chat of the trip – this one in the Island Farm garden on Pumphouse Road. And another Clay-colored Sparrow?

There was a really impressive number of Baltimore Orioles on the island over the weekend.

Pockets of Yellow-rumped Warblers here and there often contained another warbler species or two, and we had good looks at stuff all morning, even often-challenging birds to see with a group like Lincoln’s Sparrows. 

And after lunch, the sun was out!  We had the Lesser Black-backed Gull again, more looks at Clay-colored Sparrows, and finally the immature male Blue Grosbeak showed up for us, and show it did!

It wasn’t as birdy once the sun was out, but a light raptor flight, including at least 6 Peregrine Falcons helped make up for it.

On Monday, our last day of the tour, it appeared that little moved overnight on a light southwesterly flow aloft. But that had our daydreams going for rarities from our west and southwest.  And sure enough, while some of us were dallying over breakfast, a Western Kingbird that Kristen Lindquist found earlier flew right over us at the Yew and alighted nearby!

After breakfast, we “cleaned it up” for the group when we relocated it at the cemetery, affording great looks for all.  A slower day finally gave us an opportunity to head into the deeper woods. And while we expected fewer birds in the island’s interior, a couple of mixed-species foraging flocks finally put Red-breasted Nuthatch on the list, and we found the first Pine Warbler of the weekend. 

“Look at my tail!” Just in case anyone had hopes of stringing it into a rarer western Tyrannus.

Jeannette joined us by lunchtime, and after lunch, we had a frustratingly brief glimpse of the original Yellow-breasted Chat, along with more great looks at Clay-colored Sparrows. 

The tour came to a close with the 3:15 departure back to New Harbor, bringing our incredible four days together to the always-bittersweet end. 

Jeannette and I birded the rest of the afternoon together, picking up a few things, like my first “Yellow” Palm Warblers of the weekend and a Solitary Sandpiper.  Our walk to dinner yielded a second Pine Warbler, and at the harbor: a juvenile Ring-billed Gull (actually fairly rare out here in the early fall) and another view of the lingering Lesser Black-backed Gull.

On Tuesday, Jeannette and I enjoyed our day off on the island, and Kristen Lindquist joined us for most of the day.  A diminishing light southwest wind overnight gave way to a little bit of northwesterly winds by dawn, but it didn’t appear that much had arrived on the island overnight.

At least two, if not three, different Prairie Warblers were around the island.
Getting late, a few American Redstarts helped bump up our impressive warbler tally.

However, we soon located a Lark Sparrow found yesterday by Bryan Pfeiffer, the immature male Blue Grosbeak paid us a visit, and we heard the Sora briefly.  We then found an Orange-crowned Warbler out past the Ice Pond, my 20th warbler species of the weekend! Unfortunately, we were sans cameras with a little light rain falling.

This Scarlet Tanager was often cooperative at the grape arbor.
As per tradition with this tour report: at least one gratuitous “food porn” photo. Here’s the colorful and fresh avocado toast from the Trailing Yew.
And here’s one of the island’s resident Black-capped Chickadees…just because.

After lunch, we were excited to find two Lark Sparrows sitting next to each other at the cul-de-sac, there were now two Ring-billed Gulls in the harbor, and yes, there were still at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows and several Dickcissels around! 

Just for a change of pace, we decided to walk the diffuse trail along the island’s southwestern end, but were soon distracted by something large in the water in the distance.  Retrieving my scope, it was clear that it was indeed a dead whale, and eventually it floated close enough to identify it as a dead (and rather bloated) Minke Whale.  A handful of gulls were around it, and briefly, a quick pass by a jaeger that was too far to claim the identity of.  It was a fascinating, if not rather sad, end to our visit as by now it was time for Jeannette and I to head to the dock to return to the real world.

A much more pleasant boat ride back, this time to Port Clyde yielded a number of Common Loons and plenty of Northern Gannets, and a surprise of a small pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins.  I’m not sure if I have seen this pelagic species from a Monhegan ferry before, or this close to land at all.

And finally, one last “good” bird: a pair of truant American Oystercatchers on Dry Ledges (off of Allen Island)! Interestingly, we had a pair on the same exact ledge on our way back from the island on October 5th of last year.

At least 8 Dickcissels, at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows, 2 Lark Sparrows, and an Orange-crowned Warbler from the Midwest. A Western Kingbird from the West.  A Prothonotary Warbler, 2 Yellow-breasted Chats, and a Blue Grosbeak from the South.  105 total species (102 with the tour) including 20 species of warblers.  Yeah, that was a good trip  – and the stuff that Monhegan legends are made of, at least sans fallout.

Four of a flock that grew to an impressive 8 Dickcissels, often found in the swale behind the
Monhegan House throughout the weekend.

And finally, here is our birdlist from the extraordinary weekend:

9/24 = * denotes ferry ride only
9/27 = * with just Jeannette
9/28 = with Jeannette; *denotes ferry ride only
24-Sep25-Sep26-Sep27-Sep28-Sep
American Black Duck00111
Mallard310262424
Mallard x American Black Duck Hybrid00011
Green-winged Teal0101*0
Blue-winged Teal0101*0
Common Eiderxxxxx
Ring-necked Pheasant613121610
Mourning Dove622301518
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO01000
unidentified cuckoo00010
Common Nighthawk00000
Sora10001
Semipalmated Plover01000
Least Sandpiper10201
American Woodcock10000
Spotted Sandpiper10100
Unidentified jaeger00001
Solitary Sandpiper0001*0
Black Guillemot23103
Laughing Gull1*0003
Ring-billed Gull0001*2
Herring Gullxxxxx
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL1011*0
Great Black-backed Gullxxxxx
GREAT BLACK-BACKED X HERRING HYBRID1000
Common Loon1*0006*
Northern Gannet2002043
Double-crested Cormorantxxxxx
Great Cormorant03311*
Great Blue Heron01103
Bald Eagle2*111*1
Sharp-shinned Hawk00021
Belted Kingfisher00111
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker04382
Downy Woodpecker00143
Northern Flicker4541010
Merlin00486
Peregrine Falcon00686
WESTERN KINGBIRD00010
Eastern Phoebe00011
Blue-headed Vireo00010
Warbling Vireo01000
Red-eyed Vireo01081210
Blue Jay61881618
American Crow46xxx
Common Raven22022
Black-capped Chickadeexxxxx
CLIFF SWALLOW00200
Barn Swallow00100
Golden-crowned Kinglet044158
Ruby-crowned Kinglet02034
Cedar Waxwing3048406050
Red-breasted Nuthatch00003
White-breasted Nuthatch00022
Brown Creeper02111
House Wren01101
Carolina Wren04478
Gray Catbirdxxxxx
Brown Thrasher02000
European Starling1818181818
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH01000
Swainson’s Thrush04111
American Robin03034
American Pipit00010
Purple Finch01000
LARK SPARROW00002
American Goldfinch210413
Chipping Sparrow086108
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW024414
Dark-eyed Junco00021
White-crowned Sparrow00010
White-throated Sparrow21061510
Savannah Sparrow03301
Song Sparrowxxxxx
Lincoln’s Sparrow01315
Swamp Sparrow00212
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT01110
Bobolink06050
Rusty Blackbird02010
Common Grackle06964
Brown-headed Cowbird01000
Baltimore Oriole08151612
Northern Waterthrush10421
Black-and-white Warbler00110
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER01000
Tennessee Warbler10000
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER00001
Nashville Warbler03224
American Redstart01202
Common Yellowthroat26544
Cape May Warbler13002
Northern Parula05433
Magnolia Warbler01210
Yellow Warbler05432
Blackpoll Warbler1158106
Black-throated Blue Warbler00010
Palm Warbler0441410
PINE WARBLER00023
Yellow-rumped Warbler306075300150
Prairie Warbler0022*1
Black-throated Green Warbler03345
Wilson’s Warbler01221
Scarlet Tanager00210
Northern Cardinal410886
Rose-breasted Grosbeak04443
BLUE GROSBEAK00101
Indigo Bunting00044
DICKCISSEL08754
Day Total3465667477
Warbler day total513141515
4-Day Tour total=102
Plus with Jeannette after the group =3
Total warblers =20

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

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

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

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

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

9/25 (with tour group):

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

9/26 (with Tour group):

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

9/27 (with tour group):

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

Other Highlights:

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

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

OK, back to work on my Monhegan blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek’s Birding This Week, 5/22-27/2021

 

This pure-blood (presumably) Little Egret was a surprise in the Dunstan Creek Marsh section of Scarborough Marsh on the 25th. I don’t recall any reports of the Little Egret in Scarborough Marsh so far this season, and many of the identifiable photos that I have seen in Falmouth so far this year have been – or suggested – a continuing Snowy Egret x Little Egret hybrid, so seeing this bird was a treat for me and my clients.
1)The green-gray, darkish lores (not yellow-tinted like the presumed hybrid or bright yellow like a Snowy).
2) The two long neck plumes (not bushy like Snowy, or a combination of two, like the hybrid). I absolutely love the “plume swagger” when they’re blowing in the wind.

Additionally, the overall structure of a skinnier, longer neck, slightly longer legs, and a longer, slightly more tapering and pointed bill more like a “mini Great Egret” than the relatively-more compact Snowy.

My highlights over the past six days included the following:

  • 1 CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Maguire Road), 2 Upland Sandpipers, 8 Grasshopper Sparrows, 14 Vesper Sparrows, etc, Kennebunk Plains, 5/24 (all personal FOY since it was my first visit here this season).
  • 1 LITTLE EGRET, as previously reported, Dunstan Creek Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 5/25 (with clients from Connecticut…see photos and captions above).
  • 1 drake NORTHERN SHOVELER and 1 pair Gadwalls, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 5/25  and 5/26 (with clients from Connecticut).
  • 2 Common Nighthawks, our yard in Pownal, 5/25.

My few other new spring arrivals included only the following:

  • 5 Semipalmated Sandpipers, Pine Point, Scarborough, 5/25 (with clients from Connecticut) and 14 there on 5/26 (with same clients).
  • 1 Willow Flycatcher, Runaround Pond Road, Durham, 5/27.

Rarity Season is Upon Us!

I do like a good storm system. Especially as Rarity Season is now upon us! So besides our desperately-needed rain, I was anxious for this weekend’s weathah in the hopes it will set up some action for my favorite time in the birding year.

The winds turned east on Thursday (10/20), and strengthening easterly winds, scattered showers, and developing fog minimized the migration overnight into Friday morning. It was hard to tell from the radar is there was some limited, low movement, which would be indicative of the sparrows that move this time of year. Florida Lake Park was slow in the morning, though, and nothing new was under our feeders at home or at the store, however.

During the day on Friday, a shortwave moved out of the Ohio Valley, and overrunning precipitation fell during the day. By dark, however, that low was deepening and strengthening, and overnight, it tapped tropical moisture, leading to torrential rains, isolated thunderstorm, and by far our best soaker in at least 6 months: 3-6 inches of rain fell over the area! Southeasterly winds turned back to the east before going calm with thickening fog by morning.
wind-map-10-21-16

Fog and a little drizzle on Saturday morning was all that our Saturday Morning Birdwalk had to contend with on our outing to Wolfe’s Neck Farm; it does seem like there are more Laughing Gulls around later this year than I can ever remember (just the warm weather or are these related to Hurricane Mathew?).

The low slowly moved into the Canada, with an onshore flow (I had hoped for more southwesterlies) throughout the day. On the backside of the system, winds shifted to the west overnight while more rain and showers continued from the afternoon through the first half of the night. Winds were howling west by the morning, and the air definitely felt seasonable for a change.
wind-map-10-22-16

With the storm system pulling away to the north…
wind-map-10-23-16

…and the temperatures falling (and even some snowfall was seen in the mountains!) it’s time to really go birding!
surface-map-10-23-16

On Sunday, Phil McCormack and I headed over Peak’s Island, a place I really want to spend more time searching in the fall. Afterall, it’s a mere 15-minute ferry ride, there are a variety of interesting habitats, and the maritime climate tempers the onset of the seasons a little more. In other words, it looks good for rarities! (And you know I need to seek them somewhere other than Portland now!)

And with my Rarity Fever stoked, a productive morning of scouring the southern 1/3rd of the island yielded the seasonal rare-but-regular stuff that makes one keep coming back: A Clay-colored Sparrow, a Yellow-breasted Chat, and an Orange-crowned Warbler (my second of the season). Add to that single Nashville and Palm Warblers among a total of 6 species of warblers, a fly-by flock of 57 Brant, 8 lingering Red-winged Blackbirds, a good Northern Gannet flight, a Merlin, and recently arrived Red-necked Grebe and 9 Red-breasted Mergansers and you can see why I will be birding here more and more (my once a fall needs to become at least 3-4 visits each season, me thinks).
ccsp_peaksisland10-23-16
Not the best photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow (can you find it?) that I have taken!

battery_steele1peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1battery_steele2peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1
peaks_shoreline10-23-16_edited-1

There wasn’t any migration visible on the radar overnight, but there were southwesterly winds – the direction that can help facilitate the arrival of vagrants to the Northeast. But with winds once again rapidly increasing during the day on Monday, the detection of birds was limited. However, Jeannette and I enjoyed a visit to a particularly productive patch of private property in Cape Elizabeth, where a Blue Grosbeak and a Clay-colored Sparrow that I found last week continued. Dark-eyed Juncos increased to 100+ and White-throated Sparrows were up to 50. Other sparrows had decreased, as expected, but there were still 75 or so Song Sparrows, 6 Chipping, and 2 White-crowned, along with about ten each of Swamp and Savannah. Singleton Indigo Bunting and Common Yellowthroats were both getting late.

With the low pressure system still spinning over the Maritimes, and another shortwave disturbance rotating through, winds remained gusty through the night. Despite the preferred northwest wind (slowly becoming west through the night) there were just not a lot of migrants willing to deal with the winds and likely resultant turbulence overnight. And the winds were gusty and increasing by dawn once again.

I was in Harpswell for the morning, leading a birdwalk for the Curtis Library as part of their fall reading series. Mitchell Field, a true hotspot at this time of year, was our destination, but it was anything but hot from a temperature perspective! However, there were a bunch of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few flocks of migrant Common Grackles easily eclipsed 1,000 – a sign that it wasn’t just the birders who were thinking that it’s finally starting to feel like winter is approachintg! Migrant Turkey Vultures (10), Sharp-shinned Hawks (4), and a trickle of Northern Flickers were also winging it south.

Despite the wind, I poked around a couple of other spots on the peninsula since I was down there, with Stover’s Point yielding a 3 Horned Larks, a “Yellow” Palm Warbler, and 9 Black-bellied Plovers among others. But it was windy!
stoverscove10-25-16

Winds died down a little overnight, finally, and with it, some birds took to the air. For the first time in seven days, there was at least a moderate flight underway. Here’s the 10pm radar image for example, which shows a strong flight underway:
10pm-radar10-25-16

But by 1:00am, the flight was already rather light, suggestive of the short-distance migrants of the season making a little bit of progress, but for the most part, more birds departing than arriving:
1am-radar10-25-16

And therefore, Sandy Point wasn’t as great as I had hoped for on Wednesday morning. However, I still enjoyed a respectable morning flight for this time of year. A total of 444 individuals of 22 species were led by 262 American Robins and 82 Common Grackles, but also included my first Fox Sparrow of fall, my 3rd Orange-crowned Warbler of the season (and only the 6th Sandy Point record), and this very tardy (or perhaps, “reverse” or 180-misoriented) migrant Prairie Warbler.
prawsandypoint10-26-16_edited-1

Strong northwest to northerly winds continued through the day, but they are finally expected to lighten up overnight. The current forecast looks good for a big flight tonight, and, if the winds stay more northwest – or at least north – than northeast by morning, I might get a “big one” at Sandy Point.
10-27_wind_forecast
wind-map-10-26-16

I sure hope so, as I haven’t had a lot of great mornings there this year, between all of my time on Monhegan, our recent quick trip to Cape May, and the overall lack of cold fronts this entire fall. The good news is that it seems to be changing now, and at the very least, a more active weather pattern should not only bring some more rainfall, but some good winds for producing good birding. While weather doesn’t necessarily cause vagrancy of fall migrants, winds certainly facilitate their arrival in far-off places.

Hopefully, the onset of cooler weather and more north and northwesterly winds will usher them to the coast and concentrate them in those seasonal hotspots that I will be hitting hard in the coming weeks. Also, this series of strong low pressure systems could in fact displace some birds, or at least get birds that are still on the move a littler further northeast (I am of course, drastically over-simplifying the mechanisms of vagrancy here). At the very least, the little bit of snow to our north and west, colder nights, and the end of our growing season – and resultant greatly diminished numbers of insects and other food sources – should help those patches that get better when the weather turns towards winter.

You know I’ll be out looking! So stay tuned to our store’s Facebook feed and other resources, all of which are available at our website, for the latest news. And go birding! Rarity Season is upon us!

2016 Fall MonhegZen Migration Weekend

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Our annual “MonhegZen” Fall Birding Weekend visited Monhegan Island over the weekend. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to find nearly as few birds as when I departed four days prior, as my week on the island with my WINGS tour concluded. However, there was a noticeable increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Swamp and White-throated Sparrows; clearly, the transition to October had been underway. No rarities to catch up with or track down for my tour group, either. So I enjoyed some time with friends, and that evening’s sunset (here, from the Island Inn) more than made it worth the early arrival.
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Thanks to a strong flight overnight on a light to moderate northeasterly wind, there were, however, a lot of birds to kick off the tour as I met the group of nine at the dock at 8:00am. Yellow-rumped Warblers (over 90% of the flight, apparently), were swirling overhead and we ran into large groups and scattered small, reorienting flocks all morning. It was nice and birdy through lunch, even if almost everything was a Yellow-rump! However, the homogeny was punctuated by good looks at things like a cooperative Northern Waterthrush at the Ice Pond.

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…and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows in gardens.
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We had a fun day, with a nice diversity of birds, including one Dickcissel, several Cory’s Shearwaters, lots of Northern Gannets, and a respectable 11 species of warblers.
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We awoke to light showers and continuing northeasterly winds on Saturday morning, with the radar indicating merely a light flight overnight. There was virtually no morning flight over the Trailing Yew after sunrise, and it was exceptionally slow after breakfast. Five species of sparrows on one of my seed piles was decent, and again we had a single Dickcissel.

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Some thought I was worshiping this Brown Thrasher, perhaps praying to the bird gods for more migrants. But really, I was just conducting an experiment on how many mealworms a thrasher can eat. For the record: 9, with one taken to go.

But it was hard to sugar-coat things, especially for the three new arrivals that came mid-morning! This was as slow as Monhegan gets, but I can say this: the weather was much better than expected. We only had a little spitting rain after the early morning showers, and light east winds. Expecting a possible wash-out, I would take it, and I would definitely take the results of our afternoon seawatching from Whitehead: 30+ Cory’s Shearwaters (just a few years ago, they were genuinely rare here), 50+ Northern Gannets, a Pomarine Jaeger, and 6 newly-arrived Surf Scoters landing with hundreds of Common Eiders.
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And on our way back into town, we hit a couple of nice birdy spots which helped to end on a high note, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had been trying to catch up with.
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Several Monarch butterfly chrysalises were noted behind the Trailing Yew. They better hurry!

Northeasterly winds continued for a 4th or 5th straight night, and a little light rain was once again falling at sunrise. With virtually no visible migration on the radar with diminishing northeasterly winds and scattered showers after midnight, there was yet another nearly-bird-less morning flight over the Yew at dawn. Well, there were the TWO Yellow-rumped Warblers to be exact!

It was another wicked slow morning – I found myself apologizing profusely to those members of the group who were new to the island; I swear this is not what Monhegan is usually about! But at least the rain ended by the time we were done with breakfast, and with the ceiling lifting, we finished strong with birds coming out into the open. There was the Clay-colored Sparrow once again in the Peace Garden by the church comparing itself perfectly to nearby Chipping Sparrows…
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…the two Dickcissels together in town (here’s one of them)…
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And several really good looks at Cape May Warblers, including this male.
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Blue-headed Vireos seemed to have arrived overnight, as did a smashing drake Wood Duck that was feeding in the bushes at the Ice Pond’s wide muddy edge. In fact, the 61 species we recorded on the day (with a 4:30 departure) was our best total of the three days.
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Most of the group departed, and those who took the late boat back to Port Clyde with me saw a Razorbill and a few more Cory’s Shearwaters, including one rather close to the boat. The two couples that stayed on the island dreamed of sunshine and a fallout for the next morning (sunshine and more birds, but no fallout, alas).

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“Yellow” Palm Warbler catching flies emerging from a compost bin

So while “tour guide spin” suggests I should just talk about the Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissels, Cape May Warblers, and all of the Cory’s Shearwaters, it’s hard to not see through that. It was slow…and weekends like this happen in the fall. Unlike my week-long WINGS tour that saw multiple changes in the weather, we were stuck in a dreary, northeasterly pattern that doesn’t produce a whole lot of birds for Monhegan. And, as true of the entire fall, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the continued lack of cold fronts continues to minimize numbers and concentrations along the coast and offshore. A mere 71 species were recorded in our three days together; our average for the weekend is 99 species (with an average of 20 species of warblers)! Or should I say, was.

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So now comes the “spin:” If I would have to spend a weekend anywhere else in a “slow” fall, it sure has heck would be Monhegan! The best pizza in the state and other great meals, fantastic beer, good company, and the unique and truly special sense of place that Monhegan offers (including Trap Day, which we enjoyed from afar on Saturday). And yeah, Dickcissels, Clay-colored Sparrows, Cory’s Shearwaters, and 11 species of warblers in three days in early October really isn’t too shabby.
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Of course, there are always things like Fringed Gentian to look at as well!

We’ll just make up for it in spring!

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The daily lists:
Species: Fri 9/30, Sat 10/1, Sun 10/2.

Canada Goose: 0,5,0
Wood Duck: 0,0,1
American Black Duck: 1.5,1.5,1.5
Mallard: 8,12,12
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,6,0
Common Loon: 3,1,0
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 5,30,5
Northern Gannet: 100,50,20
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 6,10,10
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1
Bald Eagle: 2,1,0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,4,2
American Kestrel: 1,1,1
Merlin: 6,5,3
Peregrine Falcon: 1,2,2
POMARINE JAEGER: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 0,1,0
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 6,2,4
Mourning Dove: 4,4,8
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 4,5,6
Downy Woodpecker: 3,3,2
Northern Flicker: 30,10,4
Eastern Phoebe: 3,3,1
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,2
Red-eyed Vireo: 6,4,3
Blue Jay: 28,24,16
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 1,3,2
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 30,20,10
White-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2
Brown Creeper: 2,6,1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 25,25,20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 5,4,3
American Robin: 4,1,0
Gray Catbird: 6,6,4
Brown Thrasher: 1,1,1
European Starling: 11,11,11
Cedar Waxwing: 75,50,40
Yellow Warbler: 1,0,1
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,2
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,2,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 200,30,30
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1,0,0
Palm Warbler: 20,6,4
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,4,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,0
American Redstart: 1,0,0
Northern Waterthrush: 1,0,0
Common Yellowthroat: 10,4,2
Chipping Sparrow: 4,6,4
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0,1,1
Savannah Sparrow: 6,5,8
Song Sparrow: 20,20,20
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 3,0,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,25
White-crowned Sparrow: 5,6,6
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 4,12,10
Rusty Blackbird: 1,0,0
Common Grackle: 2,2,2
Brown-headed Cowbird: 0,0,2
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,2
Purple Finch: 1,0,1
American Goldfinch: 4,4,2\

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White-throated Sparrow

A Week on Mohegan with WINGS, 2016

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Every other year, I have the pleasure of spending a week on Monhegan Island in the fall with a tour group for WINGS. Unlike my annual weekend tour through the store, this allows us to fully experience multiple changes in the weather and the resultant changes in bird numbers and diversity.

This year’s tour, which took place from September 19-25, recorded 116 species (including 5 seen only from the ferry or while we were on the mainland), including 18 species of warblers. Both tallies were a little low, as the weather was often simply “too nice” for much of the week, and fewer birds found themselves on the island. But as usual, great looks at a wide variety of common birds, spiced up by a smattering of rarities, made for a wondrous week of birding.

Birds from any direction are possible at this migrant trap, and this week, we experienced visitors from the south (e.g. Orchard Oriole), west (e.g. Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows), and even the east (Cory’s and Great Shearwaters). While the allure of a “Mega” kept us searching, local rarities kept us entertained. From Peregrine Falcons overhead to a Sora at our feet, you never quite know what’s around the next corner. Even the “slow” days offered new birds, as our relaxed and casual pace simply allowed us the opportunity to enjoy whatever happened to be in front of us. And the overall weather and food was unbeatable – adding to the mystique of this truly special place.
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While daily turnover in the island’s birdlife is expected during the peak of fall migration, a shift in the weather can yield a distinct change in the birds we see. Several clear and calm nights allowed migration to continue unimpeded, while a northwesterly wind on the night of the 22nd yielded numerous birds overhead in the morning – including our first big push of Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Blackpoll Warblers. However, no fallouts – the stuff Monhegan birding legends are made of – occurred this week as unseasonably warm and relatively pleasant weather continued. It might not have produced massive numbers of birds, but it sure made for comfortable birding!

A couple of nights of southwesterlies produced dreams of vagrants, and likely resulted in the arrival of several “southern” birds such as Orchard Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. In contrast, by week’s end, the first White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and other late-season migrants from the north began to appear.

“Drift migrants/vagrants” such as Lark Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows, along with a number of Dickcissels, all normally found further west, were present and accounted for as usual out here.
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Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows

Two immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (perhaps part of a small scale northward irruption into the New England coast) stood guard in the early mornings at the Ice Pond.  Later in the week, the world’s most confiding Sora appeared, spending one afternoon foraging in the open at the pond’s muddy edges – this year’s drought had reduced it to a mere muddy puddle.
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Sora and a Blue Jay

A Connecticut Warbler was one of our finds of the week, heard by all, seen by some on two occasions; an “exclusive” for our group. A late Olive-sided Flycatcher was another treat, as was the Black-billed Cuckoo that we caught up with thanks to the efforts (and game of charades) of friends – exemplifying the spirit of the Monhegan birding community shared by most.
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Calm winds and the season produced excellent seawatching conditions on the 21st, and from the high cliffs of White Head, we observed Cory’s Shearwaters (once a rarity this far north and east) and Great Shearwaters – with massive rafts of one or both just beyond the realm of identification– and a few Minke Whales. Always a highlight in the fall is the raptor passage, which most of the week was limited to numerous Merlins, scattered Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the occasional Peregrine Falcon, On our last day, a light northerly wind also ushered in a steady movement of Northern Harriers and Ospreys, along with another surge of falcons.

And then there was the food: exquisite fine dining at the Island Inn, the best pizza in Maine at the Novelty, and a candlelight lobster dinner – with lobsters brought in just for us! – at the rustic Trailing Yew, complete with a lobster ecology and human ecology lesson and step-by-step instructions. And that’s in addition to the limitless lobster scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning!

Highlights for our group each day were as follows, along with a brief synopsis of the overnight flight and the day’s weather.

9/19: Balmy Days ferry from Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Long-tailed Duck (FOF; early)
– 1 Pomarine Jaeger (harassing Northern Gannet)
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater

Island:
– A few light showers, drizzle, and fog occasionally lifting on light and variable, and rather warm winds throughout the day. Calm and foggy at dusk.
– 1 female Orchard Oriole (new)
– 1 Lark Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Carolina Wren (continuing)
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Like everywhere in Maine this fall, Red-breasted Nuthatches were abundant.
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Ichneumon wasp sp on window screen.

9/20:
– Sunrise: 62F, dense fog, very light southeast. Light migration likely overnight, but hard to decipher on the radar due to fog.  Fog coming and going throughout the day, warm and humid, very light southeast.  Light south and fog at dusk.

Another relatively “slow” day, but these were the highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 2 juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Lark Sparrow
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 2 American Golden-Plovers
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater
– 1 Greater Shearwater
– 1 Carolina Wren

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I tell people never to leave their binoculars behind when on Monhegan; you never know what you will see where. They also can come in handy for reading the fine print of menus!
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Lark Sparrow

9/21:
– Am: 62F, mostly clear, calm. Light to moderate migration overnight on lt SW to W, but again intensity obscured by fog. Moderate-good morning flight overhead at dawn, with lots of new birds around. Hot and calm!  Clear and calm at dusk.

73 species on the day, including the world’s most cooperative Sora and some fantastic afternoon seawatching.

Highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 3 Dickcissels
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 10 Cory’s and 12 Great Shearwaters plus 125 large shearwater sp.
– 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
– 1 Eastern Kingbird
– 1 Warbling Vireo
– 1 Sora
– 3 Minke Whales
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Brown Thrasher on the Trailing Yew lawn
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Sphinx moth caterpillar with parasitic wasp pupae
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Merlins were all around
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I’m not sure of this Rusty Blackbird left this particular group of yards for the rest of the week!
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Afternoon seawatching from Whitehead.
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Ending the afternoon with a Sora at the Ice “pond,”
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9/22:
– AM: 59F, clear, very light NW. Light-moderate migration overnight on light SW to West to NW. Lots of birds overhead at sunrise (mostly Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warblers), but less landing than expected as many birds kept going to the mainland. Relatively hot once again, with light and variable breeze. Clear and light South by dusk.

Highlights:
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 1 Yellow-throated Vireo
– 1 Olive-sided Flycatcher
– 2 Dickcissels
– 1 American Golden-Plover
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Carolina Wren

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American Redstart
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Baltimore Oriole
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Unidentified caterpillar- some sort of tussock moth?
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9/23:
– AM: 65F, cloudy, lt-mod SW. Little to no visible migration overnight on lt-mod SW and rain approaching from north with dropping cold front. Drizzle and some light rain ending by mid-morning. Overcast but warm on light west winds. Increasing north by dusk.

A slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than a good day of birding most anywhere else with NINE new species for the week today.

Highlights:
– 1 Black-billed Cuckoo
– 2 Dickcissels
– 2 Cory’s Shearwaters
– 1 White-crowned Sparrow (FOF)
– pair of Pine Warblers were our 18th species of warbler on the week (a little low).
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Here comes the front!
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Dickcissel
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Special delivery!
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9/24:
– 50F, mostly clear, light N. Huge flight overnight on radar on diminishing N, but very little overhead at dawn. Although new birds had definitely arrived, it was not the huge flight that was hoped for. Apparently, there were more birds arriving on the south end of the island today (we always started on the west-north-west side) as reorienting migrants were returning to the island, or likely departing from the island’s north end. Diminishing N wind became light and variable before NW began to increase in the late morning, producing a good hawk flight.

With the hopes a big flight dashed by the lack of a westerly wind component by morning, we had a very casual and relaxed pace for our last day with some hawk watching taking precedence. Quite a few new birds were around, including several new species for out week’s list: Northern Harrier, American Pipit, and a single Semipalmated Plover. Cape May Warblers were particularly conspicuous today (at least 5), and as always it is painful to say goodbye. Good thing I’ll be back next weekend with the store’s annual weekend!

Highlights:
– 2 American Pipits (FOF)
– 1 Dickcissel

Ferry back to Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (about half way, heading towards the mainland)
– 2 White-winged Scoters

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Cape May Warblers were conspicuous the last few days
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Boothbay Arrival

And now I’m off this afternoon for for three more days!
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A Warbler (and Sparrow) Big Month. In December. In Maine.

December was unusually warm. In fact, it was record warm. And not just barely… records were shattered. The average temperature for the month was 38F. Not only was that a ridiculous 9 degrees above normal, it smashed the previous record of 24.8F (set in 2001). Surprisingly, despite the everlasting warmth, record daily highs were rare. Christmas Day was an exception, however, when temperatures soared to 62 in Portland, crushing the previous record high of 53, set just last year.

Our first measurable snow of the season didn’t fall until December 29th – the second latest date on record. Those 5-8 inches in southern Maine finally ushered in “real winter” and hopefully set the stage for a return to more normal conditions (although the last few days have once again been 5-10 degrees above normal).

Not surprisingly, such an unseasonable month resulted in some very-unseasonable birding. A variety of “lingering” or perhaps more accurately “pioneering” as Ned Brinkley, editor of North American Birds once dubbed it warblers in particular were making headlines.

So I decided to do a December Warbler Big Month. Because, well, warblers in December! In Maine!

With Tennessee, Yellow (2!), Nashville (2!), Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s on December 6th, I was half-way to my newly-set goal of 10 species for the month. The unusually mild fall has allowed more “lingering” birds to survive longer, and normal November hotspots are still hot (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, I waited until December 8th to decide to embark on this silly little hunt, so I had some catching up to do. There were some relatively easy ones (Yellow-rumped Warblers overwinter in a few places, along with “known” Blackburnian and Pine Warblers). That meant I just need to find an Orange-crowned Warbler (the second most-regular December warbler after Yellow-rumped) and then one other stray.

So off I went…

Not wanting to take any species for granted, I twitched a Pine Warbler that was reliably coming to a feeder in Brunswick on the 10th. I had to wait all of three minutes for it to arrive on my way back from walking Sasha. If only they were all this easy!
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The next day I was once again at the Saco Yacht Club, looking for the Blackburnian Warbler (which I saw on Nov 30th – one day too early!). Activity didn’t pick up until the fog finally lifted after 10am, but I ran out of time. I did, however, enjoy another visit with the Tennessee, and 1 each of Yellow and Nashville Warblers. 2-3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also present, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler dropped in: my 7th species of the month! That and the Western Tanager were the consolation prizes (yes, I did just relegate the tanager to a consolation prize…shame on me… but I “needed” the Blackburnian!).
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I worked hard for an Orange-crowned Warbler in Portland on the 13th to no avail, but I did turn up the continuing Nashville Warbler along the Eastern Promenade (oh look, Portland ravaged vegetation here, too!) and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan St. I also took time to go visit the continuing Ross’s Goose along Stroudwater St in Westbrook – the third I have seen in Maine, and only the 6th or 7th state record.
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Continuing the quest, I had high hopes for the Southern York County Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. With a great territory that almost always turns up a good bird or three, Jeannette, Kristen Lindquist, and I worked the marsh, thickets, neighborhoods, and beach of the “Moody” sector. And we did indeed have a great day, including the 2nd Count Record Clay-colored Sparrow, the 5th Count Records of Baltimore Oriole and Lesser Scaup (21 – also a record high), and 6th Count Record of Dickcissel. But alas, not a single warbler. We didn’t even get a Yellow-rumped – for the first time, as there was virtually no fruit on the bayberry bushes along Ogunquit Beach or anywhere else.

When my friend Evan Obercian found a Yellow-throated Warbler at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on the 13th, my goal was definitely in sight (this was the “additional rarity” I needed), but in the weeks before Christmas, finding time was going to be a challenge. Luckily, a break in my schedule – and the rain – came on Thursday the 17th, so I got an early start and headed east.

I met up with Evan and Kristen and we wandered the grounds of the Samoset for almost two hours. I was not happy to find a stiff onshore breeze when I arrived, and it was increasing over the course of the morning. Then the mist rolled in, and soon, a steadier drizzle. There were not a lot of birds around (other than Canada Geese and Mallards on the golf course), and I was beginning to work on a plan to come back again. And not long thereafter, it called!

We spotted it in an isolated cluster of Scotch Pines, very near where Evan first saw it (and where we walked by 3 times already this morning). We followed it for about 30 minutes as it relocated to another grove before heading over to the hotel building, where it proceeded to forage in the sheltered porches of the four story building! Presumably gleaning insects from old webs in the corners and around furniture, clearly this bird had figured out a novel way of finding sustenance – especially on such a snotty day.

It was my 8th warbler of the month.
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I was back to the Saco Yacht Club with Luke Seitz the next morning, once again hoping for the Blackburnian. We worked the hillside and surrounding habitats hard, and absolutely cleaned up! The quick glimpse of a fly-by Western Tanager was more frustrating that satisfying, but we had great looks at the continuing Tennessee, Yellow, 2 Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and then, finally, the Blackburnian! My 9th warbler of the month!

Luke’s quote sums it up: “Let’s take a moment to appreciate what we are seeing and hearing around us right now. What. The. (Expletive deleted)!”

I had a little more time, so I made a quick trip down to Biddeford Pool. Working the neighborhood and thickets, I found a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4-5), a nice addition to the day list. Besides, up until now, I had only seen one all month!

I was in the midst of plotting “Operation Orange-crowned” when I wandered over to look at a chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A loud chip note caught my attention, and I looked up to see this Prairie Warbler – my 10th species of warbler for the month (and 7th of the day)!
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But did you really think I would stop at 10?

Hunting for Orange-crowns in Portland and South Portland on the 21st, I turned up a Baltimore Oriole on Sheridan Street (likely the same individual that Jeannette and I found here on 11/23), and along West Commercial Street (in what’s left of the vegetation here!), I had a Swamp Sparrow, and a Field Sparrow – my 8th sparrow of the month.
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Hmmm…do I need to go for 10 sparrows, too?

Obviously!

So I went to Scarborough Marsh the next day, and quickly picked up a Savannah Sparrow along the Eastern Road Trail for #9.

Jeannette and I, post-holiday madness, continued the search on the 28th, combing the coast from Kittery through Wells. While nothing new was added, we did find three different Swamp Sparrows (two at Fort Foster, 1 in York Beach), and most excitingly, we relocated the Clay-colored Sparrow that we found on the CBC – a mere one block away. Once again, however, I managed only some quick phone-binned photos.
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A Northern Flicker and 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers were at Wells’ Community Park, while other highlights included 14 Sanderlings with Purple Sandpipers along Marginal Way in Ogunquit.

But before I knew it, it was December 31st. I still had yet to see an Orange-crowned Warbler (inconceivable!) for the month, and I was stuck at 9 species of sparrow. Therefore, Phil McCormack and I had a mission when we set out in the morning. We worked thickets and fields in Cape Elizabeth, with stops at various nooks and crannies in South Portland and Portland.

While we did not relocate the Lark Sparrow along Fessenden Road (it’s been a week since I have seen a report), we did have a Merlin there, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers at Crescent Beach State Park. Luke had an Orange-crowned Warbler at Camp Ketcha back on the 20th, but it was rather devoid of birds today.

Throughout the day, pockets of Song and American Tree Sparrows were indicative of recent movements and concentration following the snow and ice, but we were not prepared for the concentration of sparrows at a particularly fruitful patch. In fact, it was astounding!

75+ American Tree and 50+ Song Sparrows flew out of the field, joined by 10 or so White-throated Sparrows and 20 or more Dark-eyed Juncos. A continuing female Brown-headed Cowbird was there, along with at least 80 American Goldfinches and 30 or so House Finches. A Carolina Wren sang from the woods, and two Swamp Sparrows and a female Common Yellowthroat were in the marsh…I knew my 10th species of sparrow was here somewhere!
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After a teasing brief, distant but highly suggestive look, I finally found it – a Chipping Sparrow! My 10th species of sparrow in December!
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Shortly thereafter, a Savannah Sparrow (my second of the month) appeared – not just our 7th species of the day, but the 7th species in this one spot! Amazing! And now I had a 7 species of sparrow day and 10 species for the month to match my 7 species of warbler day and 10 species for the month! (The Double 7/10 Split?)

But of course, I still wanted an Orange-crowned Warbler, so we kept birding (well, after a long, celebratory lunch of course), and I tried a few more OC spots in Portland after Phil departed. I still can’t believe I saw 10 species of warbler in Maine in December, and none of them were Orange-crowned, but it seems a fitting finish to the month, and the year, was the continuing Baltimore Oriole and Gray Catbird sitting in the same tree in the Sheridan St lot!
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Meanwhile, some other highlights over the course of the month, of the non-warbler or sparrow variety, including more seasonal species, such as two Snowy Owls on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 12th, my first Iceland Gull of the season (finally) in Old Port on the 15th, a Snowy Owl at Biddeford Pool on the 18th, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a growing legion of wintering waterbirds.

Other signs of the unseasonably warm month included a lingering Double-crested Cormorant in Portland Harbor on 12/15, a few more lingering dabblers and Great Blue Herons than usual, but surprisingly, I didn’t see a Hermit Thrush all month – had they all moved on or would some now show up as the snow and ice pushes them to coastal migrant traps? But the most unexpected of them all was the Little Blue Heron that was found in the tiny Jordan Park Marsh in Ocean Park. I stopped by to visit it on the 22nd, about two weeks into its unseasonable stay.
L1040320_LBHE1,OOB,12-22-15_edited-1

Unfortunately, as much fun as this month has been – and as nice as it has been to not yet wear my parka – it’s impossible for me to ignore what this all means: the climate HAS changed. While no one month – warm or cold – is “climate change,” it is impossible for any rational person to not realize that our weather has become more and more unpredictable, less and less “normal,” and prone to more and more wild swings in seasonal and within-season variability. No, a hot day doesn’t mean Global Warming, nor does a snowstorm mean there’s not (Please James Inhoffe, please go away and shut the hell up). But the trends are real, very apparent, and very much here. Now. And they are most definitely affecting birds and bird migration.

That being said, I would not use these warblers as an example of this. Instead, I think the fact that here in December and they are still ALIVE, is however, a perfect example of just how ridiculously warm our weather has been! The mechanisms that delivered these birds to the Saco Riverwalk and elsewhere are likely varied. Perhaps the deformed, crossed-bill of the Tennessee Warbler impedes its ability to efficiently forage and put on the necessary weight for its next leg of migration. Perhaps the extensive southerly winds that have ushered in this warm air also facilitated the arrival of a 180-degree misoriented migrant Yellow-throated Warbler, and I would propose, the Prairie Warbler as well (I think the rare-but-regular late fall Prairies are actually birds from our south) that were “messed up” and flew the wrong way. But it is also possible that some of these warblers are “reverse migrants” that started to go south and then turned around, but I doubt it – facultative migrants like swallows and blackbirds do it, but I don’t know of any known proof that long-distance Neotropical migrants pull it off (on purpose, anyway).

These mechanisms occur every year, and rare warblers are found at places like the Saco Riverwalk every fall. However, they’re usually found in October and November and either move on (or, more likely perish) by now. So I think what’s remarkable is not that all of these warblers are here, but that they are still ALIVE well into December – and that is most definitely due to the mild winter so far. There have still been insects to be found, there’s plenty of fruit left to consume, and fewer calories have been spent to keep up internal body temperatures, meaning there are fewer calories that need to be consumed.

Migration in long-distance, obligate migrants is not triggered by temperatures, but trigged by physiological changes directed by hormones responding to the changing length of the day. In the fall, southbound migration is triggered in part by a response to changes in fat loading to fuel these epic journeys. At some point, the controls are switched away from building the fat reserves that are necessary for migration. I don’t know at what point in the season “pioneering” warblers lose the ability (perhaps, even the “desire”) to migrate. My guess is that even if you pumped these birds full of fat, at this point, they won’t be going anywhere – this is now their winter territory, for better, or for most likely, worse.

So what does this mean besides some amazing early winter birding? Good question. Conventional wisdom says these birds are all “evolutionary dead ends” that will soon be eliminated from the gene pool (it has to get cold sometime, right? If they’re not picked off by a Sharp-shinned Hawk or all of the damn outdoor cats that hunt there). However, with the effects of Global Climate Change clearly upon us, and not reversing anytime soon (if ever), perhaps these “pioneers” are the wave of the future. Maybe someday, warblers will successfully overwinter in Maine, and return to their breeding grounds to pass on those genes.

Maybe. Afterall, without vagrancy, we would not have Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s finches; distant islands would be sans all landbirds. Perhaps phenomena like “reverse migration” and this pioneering thing will allow the next wave of adaption to a changing climate. Of course, never before in the history of life on earth, has this change occurred so rapidly, and we have little evidence suggesting long-distant migrants can adapt this quickly – it’s going to take more than a few individuals of 10 species of warblers.

Sparrows, however, aren’t obligate long-distance migrants that are “programmed” to leave at a prescribed time. Instead, they are more flexible in their movements, and being seed-eaters, they aren’t reliant on warm-weather dependent insects. As long as seeds are available, and with the complete dearth of snow, they most certainly have been, those that linger can do just fine. White-throated, American Tree, Song, and Dark-eyed Juncos are all regular parts of our winter avifauna in southern Maine, lingering or “pioneering” Swamp Sparrows are regular here and there, and every now and then a Lark Sparrow (a “drift migrant/vagrant” from the Midwest) or Field Sparrow spends the winter in the state. Field and Clay-colored are also rare-but-regular in late fall/early winter, so once again, the presence of 10 species of sparrows is also not in and of itself caused by the record temperatures, but it is most definitely another sign of how mild – and especially snow-free – it has been.

But this is all a blog for another time…this blog was supposed to be about warblers (and sparrows!). In Maine. In December. And that’s amazing. Or, as Luke said, “What. The. (Expletive deleted).”

2015 (Southern) York Co CBC: Moody Territory.

It’s Christmas Bird Count season!

The count period began yesterday (Monday, 12/14), and as usual, I participated in Maine’s first count of the season, the (Southern) York County Count. This year, I was joined by Kristen Lindquist and Jeannette, covering the “Moody Territory” that covers the marshes, beaches, thickets, and neighborhoods on the east side of Route 1, between Eldridge Road in Wells and the center of downtown Ogunquit, including Moody Point and Moody Beach.

Despite temperatures well above normal in the mid-40’s, a light east wind and persistent light drizzle made for a rather raw day. However, the continuing mild temperatures also reduced the concentration of birds in the warm microclimates and dense thickets that usually make this territory so, well, fruitful (pardon the pun!). And although we had a lot of birds overall, diversity was a little below average for me, and there were fewer concentrations of birds – many species were in fairly low numbers compared to what I usually find here.

The lack of snow and ice was certainly supporting plenty of birds in this area, but they weren’t concentrated at warm edges and seasonal hotspots like they usually are. In fact, the best days on this count are when it’s clear and cold, with seasonably cold (or colder) and snowy (or snowier) days and weeks prior. Check out my report from the frigid and snowy 2013 count, for example.

We began the day as usual, with a dawn seawatch at Moody Point, with several close alcids, fairly close Black-legged Kittiwakes, and decent numbers of all of the expected overwintering waterbirds. Three small flocks of Lesser Scaup (total of 21) migrating south were a surprise. We were even more surprised to later notice that not only was this just the 5th count record of the species, but it was also the first time more than 1 had been seen! These birds are no doubt late in departing their still-unfrozen northern lakes, bays, and rivers.

Conspicuous in their absence however, was the complete dearth of Yellow-rumped Warblers (almost no bayberry crop was seen at all), and Carolina Wrens (they really did get hammered over these last two winters), but our other “feeder birds” such as Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch were actually above average.

Although our birdlist and respective counts grew steadily through the day, we were lamenting the lack of rarities that this territory has become known for. Granted, the bar was pretty high. But our perception changed over the course of about 5 minutes. First, I spotted the count’s second ever Clay-colored Sparrow (on Huckleberry St, and then later relocated and photographed on Cranberry St).

IMG_6964_CCSP,CranberrySt,Wells,12-14-15

As the sparrow flew from his original spot, I spotted a Baltimore Oriole as we searched for the sparrow on Huckleberry St. This was a 5th count record. But note that my phone-binning attempt was not nearly as successful (the real cameras were in the car due to the persistent drizzle). You can kinda see it’s a bird, and there are two wingbars, and if you look really, really hard, you can just barely make out a little bit of orange on the head and chest. A little imagination will help.
BAOR,HuckleberrySt,Wells,12-15-15

We also finished the day off with a continuing Dickcissel (6th count record) that has been present for several weeks now at The Sweatshirt Shop on Route One, a perfect way to end our birding day.

Hours by car: 1
Party hours by foot: 5.75
Miles by car: 12.7
Party miles by foot: 11

Start: 7:15 – 45F, very light E, cloudy.
End: 2:40 – 46F, very light E, drizzle.

Canada Goose: 27
Mallard: 161
American Black Duck: 51
LESSER SCAUP: 21
Common Eider: 36
Surf Scoter: 65
White-winged Scoter: 60
Long-tailed Duck: 166
Bufflehead: 37
Common Goldeneye: 62
Red-breasted Merganser: 43
Red-throated Loon: 7
Common Loon: 7
Horned Grebe: 3
Red-necked Grebe: 14
Northern Gannet: 10
Great Cormorant: 6
Northern Harrier: 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1
Cooper’s Hawk: 1
Red-tailed Hawk: 1
Bonaparte’s Gull: 11
Ring-billed Gull: 29
Herring Gull: 180
Great Black-backed Gull: 29
Black-legged Kittiwake: 9
Black Guillemot: 1
Razorbill: 7
Mourning Dove: 49
Rock Pigeon: 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker: 4
Downy Woodpecker: 9
Blue Jay: 9
American Crow: 43
Black-capped Chickadee: 97
Tufted Titmouse: 18
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2
White-breasted Nuthatch: 19
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 2
Eastern Bluebird: 1
American Robin: 1
Northern Mockingbird: 2
European Starling: 62
Cedar Waxwing: 12
American Tree Sparrow: 28
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1
Song Sparrow: 17
Dark-eyed Junco: 42
White-throated Sparrow: 4
Northern Cardinal: 24
DICKCISSEL: 1
BALTIMORE ORIOLE: 1
House Finch: 96
Pine Siskin: 12
American Goldfinch: 76
House Sparrow: 229

Total species: 56 (just a little below average).