Tag Archives: Freeport

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.

Three Days at Florida Lake Park

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Northern Parula

One of my favorite aspects of May is that there are “new” birds every day. Constant turnover as the flow of migratory songbirds, especially the long-distance Neotropical migrants, reaches its peak means “first-of-years” can be found almost every day. Even better, is the constant turnover and new arrivals almost anywhere we go birding.

…Including at local patches. And for me, there are few places I’d rather be than staying near home at Florida Lake Park in Freeport. I can get in several hours of birding and still make it to work in time, which is important in one of our store’s two busiest months. We’re luck to have this park only 12 minutes from our house, which makes for a perfect birding “patch.”
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Blackburnian Warbler

With an exceptionally busy week, my birding time was limited to the early mornings, but Florida Lake did not let me down. In fact, it was a lot of fun. With good diversity each day, and new birds arriving each night, there was always something new to look at. And, as is the case with loyal patch-working, the consistency of visitation makes for a nice education on the ebbs and flows of seasonal migrants.

Check out the scorecard of warblers (and a few other personal first-of-years) that I had each day this week, and note the subtle change in diversity and species dominance as the season advances. Numbers of individuals have not been huge, but numbers of species have been great for the second week of May.
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday, 5/9.
46F, dense fog, calm.
Radar down for maintenance.

(14 species of warblers)
25+ Yellow-rumped Warblers
10+ Northern Parulas
10 Common Yellowthroats
8 Black-and-white Warblers
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Ovenbirds
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
3 Northern Waterthrushes
2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler

4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (FOY)

Thursday, 5/10.
43F, dense fog, calm.
Ambiguous radar due to presence of fog that moved inland overnight, but looked good for birds, too, and possibly large flight inland.

(14 species of warblers)
22 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Black-and-white Warblers
7 Common Yellowthroats
5 Ovenbirds
5 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Northern Parulas
4 Yellow Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 American Redstarts (FOY)
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Wilson’s Warbler (FOY)
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Wilson’s Warbler

Friday, 5/11.
52F, partly cloudy, moderate NW.
Dry cold front passed overnight with SW to S winds shifting to W to NW by 3:00am. Very strong flight early in overnight diminished rapidly after midnight.

(18 species of warblers; very good tally for the 11th of May here)
16 Black-and-white Warblers
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
10 Common Yellowthroats
7 Northern Parulas
7 Black-throated Green Warblers
7 Magnolia Warblers
6 Ovenbirds
4 Nashville Warblers
4 American Redstarts
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers
2 Pine Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Blackpoll Warbler (FOY)
1 Palm Warbler


And these radar images from midnight showed that it was going to be a great day!

Folks in Portland have been rewarded with daily visits to Evergreen Cemetery and/or Capisic Pond Park, while those closer to Biddeford have headed to Timber Point, for example. But regardless of where you are, there’s a local “patch” to be “worked,” or perhaps to be discovered. And there’s no better time than now!

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Palm Warbler

An Incredible 2017 “Fall Ducks and Draughts!”

One of the most popular Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! is our annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” One of the original two BoT – Roadtrips! back in 2015, this popular outing visits Sabattus Pond near the peak of fall waterfowl migration with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

It rarely disappoints, but today it far surpassed expectations! We began at the south beach, where an American Coot was a surprise. However, more surprising was the flock of shorebirds littered around the south end. While many of the 30 or so Dunlin took off and kept going, about 10 White-rumped Sandpipers returned and landed right in front of the group, no more than about 30 feet away! We were able to carefully study the progression from juvenile to 1st winter plumage, with most individuals, such as these two, mostly still in colorful juvenile plumage (with one bigger, grayer Dunlin in the background).
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With our focus back on waterfowl, we began to sort through the masses, starting with 6 spiffy Northern Pintails joining the Mallards nearby, while one lone female Green-winged Teal quickly paddled away. 18 Ring-necked Ducks loafed just a little further offshore, providing a good intro to the genus Aythya. Sabattus Pond is famous for its legions of Ruddy Ducks, and this cute little “stiff tail” was out in full force. We had a couple of hundred nearby, but a distant raft of many hundreds remained just a little too far to enjoy. We also began our comparison of Greater and Lesser Scaup, and took a moment to learn about the Chinese Mystery Snail that makes up a large percentage of the food source of all of the diving ducks we were here to enjoy.

I had set the over/under for waterfowl species at 13.5, and our list quickly began to grow: Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers a’plenty, but surprisingly only one Common Merganser and a mere three Canada Geese. American Black Ducks and a single hen American Wigeon made for a tally of 13 species of waterfowl; just falling short of covering the spread…in part because we never did make it to our third stop!

Over at Martin’s Point Park on the southwest side of the pond, we worked the dabbling ducks and enjoyed stunning Hooded Mergansers. Then, I finally had a nice, close group of the two scaup species in perfect light to give us a lesson in how to identify this challenging species-pair.

We began to walk closer, I began the lecture, and then I heard a call note from the trees that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not a Yellow-rumped Warbler – the only expected warbler species at this season – and it’s sharp tone was very suggestive. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be here, whatever it was, and my suspicions of its identity were soon proven correct when a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler popped out!
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Sticking close to the trunk of some large Eastern White Pines, it foraged within a small mixed-species foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets before eventually disappearing towards the neighborhood.

This is a real rarity in Maine, and because of the white in the front of the supercilium, we know it is of the interior subspecies albilora, and therefore not likely the result of the recent storm system. While there was unprecedented three together on Monhegan earlier in the month, this is quite the rarity, especially so far inland, and especially in Androscoggin County (I couldn’t help but wonder if there has ever been a record of this species anywhere in the county).

Unfortunately, in the meantime, some fisherman came to the shoreline, and the closest scaup departed. We did have a slightly farther raft to work through, but I ended up having to employ my rudimentary artistic skills to explain how to differentiate the two species!
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It was truly hard to leave the pond today, and I of course couldn’t help but wonder what was around the next corner, but it was time to switch gears, turn our attention to Dawn – our driver and beer guide today – and make our way over to Baxter Brewing Company, you know, to celebrate our vagrant warbler discovery!

At Baxter, housed in one of the beautifully restored mills down by the Androscoggin River, we enjoyed five samples of their most popular beers. We learned about their philosophy and history – including the noteworthy fact that they were the first 100% canning brewery in Maine – and sampled some of their best selling beers, such as Pamola pale, Tarnation lager, Per Diem stout, and the venerable Stowaway IPA. We also sampled Ceremony Green Tea IPA which surprised a lot of people and showed off the creativiTEA (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the brewery.
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We stepped outside of the brewery and were once again greeted by the local Peregrine Falcon atop the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center. After a few minutes of enjoying it through the scope, we hit the road, and discussed the beers we had just sampled. People’s favorites were rather evenly divided, aligning with their preferred style of beer, showing that Baxter really does offer something for everyone.

We followed the Androscoggin River towards the coast, and soon arrived at Maine Beer Company. MBC needs no introduction – at least if you are into IPAs or hoppy pales – but with so many folks on the trip today from “away” and/or making their first visit to this popular destination, we started things off with none other than their Peeper – their first brew that got it all started.
MBC

Spenser came out to introduce the beers and tell us all about how MBC is dedicated to “do(ing) what’s right.” And that philosophy transcends the beer.
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They graciously offered everyone a choice of their next samples (I of course followed Lunch with Another One) and then Spenser really rolled out the red carpet for us, taking the group on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of their brewhouse…including a sneak peek at the massive new expansion that is underway. Clearly, Spenser’s excitement was evident and the group came out of this special tour absolutely bursting with MBC enthusiasm, and lots of promises to be back soon.

Thirteen species of waterfowl, many up close and personal. A most-unexpected rarity that no one in the group had seen in Maine before – and for some, a “life bird.” Urban Peregrine Falcon. Baxter Brewing Co and Maine Beer Company. Yeah, this is what Birds on Tap – Roadtrips are all about!

There are still some spaces left for the 10th and final Roadtrip of 2017, “Farms and Fermentation” coming up on Sunday, December 10th. And stay tuned – we’ll soon be announcing all TWELVE BoT Roadtrips for 2018!

Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide (Coming soon!)

book cover

I am most pleased to finally announce that my next book “Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide” will be out shortly. I’ve been working on it for over three years now, but of course, all of my birding in Maine for the past 13 years has gone into the development of its concept and content. I sincerely hope you will be pleased with the final product, as I believe it will be an essential asset for birding in the great state of Maine.

With nearly 450 species of birds recorded, Maine offers an abundance of birding opportunities for people of all levels of interest and experience, from those looking beyond their backyards for the first time to knowledgeable visitors looking to plug a hole in their list of sightings. The state’s wealth of undeveloped land and its extensive coastline, countless islands, and varied habitat combine to host an impressive diversity of birds at all times of year. Birders travel to Maine from near and far to seek hard-to-find species, from the only Atlantic Puffins breeding in the United States on offshore islands to Bicknell’s Thrushes high in the mountains.

This book fills an important niche for the birdwatching community by offering comprehensive entries detailing the best locations for finding birds throughout the state for enthusiasts of all levels of skill and interest. It contains descriptions of 201 birding sites in Maine, with explicit directions on how to get there, for all sixteen of the state’s counties (several as large as other New England states!). Each chapter features a county map, my brief overview, numerous specific site guides, and a list of rarities. The book also contains a detailed and useful species accounts guide for finding the most sought-after birds.

Using a county-by-county approach, with chapters by Seth Benz, John Berry, Kirk Betts, Ron Joseph, Kristen Lindquist, Rich MacDonald, Dan Nickerson, Luke Seitz, Allison and Jeff Wells, and Herb Wilson, Derek tapped the knowledge of local experts to offer the most comprehensive and authoritative birdfinding guide the state has seen. And I guarantee there will be many sites completely new to you!

The Official Release Party will be at Blue in Portland (650 Congress St) from 5-7pm on Thursday, April 20th. This will be the first time the book will be available, anywhere.

We’ll also be offering a presentation, full of photos of Maine’s birds and birding places, on Saturday, April 29th at the Freeport Public Library at 7:00pm. This too is a free event, open to the public, and part of the annual “Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend” events.

For more information about the Blue event, click here.

And for Feathers Over Freeport, click here.

We’re currently taking pre-orders online via our eStore.

Other free events around the state are being scheduled. You can check them out via Facebook on the page of “Birding Books by Derek J. Lovitch.”

Book release Blue

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Ducks and Draughts! 11/15/15.

scaup scanning

The second “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2015 was another resounding success.  As a follow up to our first event in August that featured shorebirds in Scarborough Marsh, we once again partner with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a fun, bird- and beer- filled outing.

Our theme for the this tour was “Ducks and Draughts,” and so we headed northwest to Sabattus Pond in Sabattus, one of the premier duck-watching sites in Maine, and arguably THE waterfowl hotspot in late fall in the southern half of the state. After pick-ups in Portland and Freeport, the bus, Paul (our driver and beer guide for the day), and I arrived at the south end of Sabattus Pond. It didn’t take long to know why this place is such a destination for birders at this time of year.

A large number of ducks were immediately encountered, but we soon focused our attention on the pair of Redheads – rare, but fairly-regular migrants in Maine – that were a “Life” or “State” Bird for some. For others, it was nothing more than the pleasure of seeing this attractive bird!
group at south end

We covered the three primary hotspots on Sabattus Pond, amassing a total of 17 species of waterbirds. In addition to the Redheads, highlights included a Red-necked Grebe (rare in Maine’s interior), 24 American Coots, 4 Northern Pintails, 6 Green-winged Teal, and several hundred Ruddy Ducks. Although a relatively low number for here, “several hundred” Ruddy Ducks is not a statement uttered anywhere else in Maine…and especially not when proceeded by the word “low!”  Other waterbirds species seen today included Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Black Duck, Ring-billed and Herring (1) Gulls, Buffleheads, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and one Great Blue Heron.
group on east side

Sabattus also affords the opportunity to study the two scaup species together, so we took plenty of time to go over this identification challenge. Side-by-side, the major differences are often readily apparent, so we practiced our skills to apply them to a homogenous group, or worse, the “dreaded” lone, single, distant scaup!

Having our fill of the nuances of Aythya identification, Paul took charge and delivered us to Lewiston’s Baxter Brewing. But as we stepped out of the bus at the renovated mill, it was back to the binoculars and scopes as we enjoyed a Peregrine Falcon pair – one busy feasting on a Rock Pigeon lunch – a top a nearby building.  With that, it was beer time!
outside Baxter

The first brewer in New England to can all of its beer, Baxter is known for such go-to brews as their Pamola Pale Ale and especially, their Stowaway IPA. Less well-known, however, is their ultra-creative 10-gallon Small Batch Series. Samples of Tarnation Lager, Phantom Punch Winter Stout, and Bootleg Fireworks Double IPA were enjoyed and discusses, and I simply had to quench my curiosity (as well as my thirst, of course), with the Small Batch “Sweet Tea Chai Spice Stout.”
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A tour of the brewery and the brewing processed followed, and soon we were off – with one last quick look at the Peregrines, heading down the Androscoggin River to Freeport for a date at Maine Beer Company. Samples of Zoe (Hoppy Amber), Mo (Pale Ale), King Titus (Porter) and one of my absolute favorites, Lunch (IPA) were served, and a few folks sampled their most recent Pilot 8, their take on a Kolsch. Fueled by the delicious brews, we continued the discussion of…well, ducks…and draughts!
MBC beers

outside MBC

The “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series, a partnership between the Maine Brew Bus and Freeport Wild Bird Supply will continue in 2016. In fact, several new tours are in the works, which we hope to announce soon. Stay tuned!

My February Birding Re-Cap (2/16/15)

I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I sure hope you have taken that to mean that I have not been out birding! Quite the contrary in fact.

Yeah, it’s been bitter cold – we’ve yet to rise above freezing in February! And if you hadn’t noticed, we’ve had quite a bit of snow recently. Of course, strong winds with dangerous windchills (like yesterday) and heavy snow precluded birding on some days -well, except for feeder-watching, which has been truly excellent.

In fact, the feeder-watching has been so good of late, that Saturday’s birdwalk outing was mostly spent watching feeders. 50+ Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, a Carolina Wren, and more were enjoyed from a sheltered yard, or from the inside of our house. Yup, we went indoors for the birdwalk this week, defrosting for about a half hour – our feeders are only visible from inside the house, afterall.

And with several snow days and work-from-home writing days of late, I have been enjoying our feeder activity: a large number of American Goldfinches have been joined by varying small numbers of Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and Common Redpolls. Still waiting for a big flock, however. And the second-ever, and first long-staying, Carolina Wren in the yard has been a treat – we’re pumping him full of mealworms to keep him around, and healthy.
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The feeders at the store have been active, as well, although non-goldfinch finch numbers have not been as good or as consistent at home. But, for mid-winter with this much snow on the ground, the diversity has been surprisingly good. (Weekly totals are posted to our store’s website).

Snowy Owls are around, and on 1/31 we finally added one to our all-time Saturday Morning Birdwalk list with a visit to Brunswick Landing: species #236. Meanwhile, our birdwalk to Winslow Park on 2/7 had Barred Owl, the continuing (despite all the ice) over-wintering Dunlin (12), and the 4 Barrow’s Goldeneyes (3 drakes and 1 hen) that had been present.

But the impressive ice cover in Casco Bay has greatly reduced the amount of waterfowl in the immediate vicinity over the last couple of weeks. The end of Winslow remains clear (barely) and the duck concentrations there are quite good, but as of today, however, the much-reduced area of open water now held only two drake Barrow’s Goldeneyes. Meanwhile, the small hole of open water at the base of the Lower Falls in Yarmouth is still somehow still hosting the merganser “hat-trick” (with varying numbers of all three species) as it does every winter – they’re running out of room though!

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Not all ducks are quite as concentrated as these hungry Mallards (with a few American Black Ducks) at Riverbank Park in Westbrook.

While the field trip portion of my Gull Identification Workshop has been postponed for the last two Sundays, gull-watching is pretty good right now, especially in and around Portland Harbor. Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta on the 12th, however, had only about 100 Herring Gulls – gull numbers are drastically reduced here when there is little open water on the Kennebec River in downtown. The Bath Landfill is hosting a few Iceland and a couple of Glaucous Gulls, however.

Frugivores have been common, with large flocks of American Robins and goodly numbers of Cedar Waxwings stripping all available, palatable fruit. Bohemian Waxwings have been scattered about – although I have yet to catch up with any – but so far Pine Grosbeaks have mostly remained to our north. The rapidly diminishing fruit crop locally will likely concentrate these birds further, or push them southward.

My two best days of birding this month, however, were on Feb 1 and just this past Friday. On the 1st, a snowshoe at the Waterboro Barrens Preserve was awesome. I went there to refind the Red Crossbills that a friend and I had there in December, as my recordings from that visit were inconclusive as to “type.”

Not only did I find 14 crossbills, but many were in full song, and one male was apparently carrying nesting material! A light wind, and my huffing-and-puffing from snowshoeing in waist-deep snow drifts off trail, impeded the clarity of my recordings, unfortunately. However, one of the call types (as analyzed by Matt Young over at Cornell) was suggestive of the Type 8 Red Crossbill from Newfoundland, which has yet to be definitively recorded outside of that province. Intriguing -yup, I need to find time to go back and improve the recording.

The icing on the cake that day was a Hoary Redpoll teased out from a flock of about 40 Commons as they alighted in fed in the Pitch Pines with the crossbills. This was my first Hoary in Maine away from a feeder.

With all of these storms, and two “nice” days of northeasterly winds, I had alcids on my mind as Lois Gerke and I spent the morning in Cape Elizabeth on Friday (2/13). Apparently, my hunch was correct – we scored 4 species of alcids! This is not an easy feet in winter in Maine, although I have hit the total several times (not yet hit 5, however). Black Guillemots were scattered about, as usual, but the fun started with a fly-by Dovekie at Dyer Point.

A continuing (and apparently not very healthy) Thick-billed Murre was at nearby Kettle Cove.
L1010192_TBMU,Kettle_Cove,2-13-15_edited-1

Our presence likely saved its life for now, as a 4th-cycle Bald Eagle had its eye on it – but also, us, apparently. The eagle even landed on the rocks a few inches from the murre, which, instead of diving to escape as a healthy alcid would, was apparently resigned to simply tucking itself into a corner of the rock.
L1010186_BAEA1,4thC,Kettle_Cove,2-13-15_edited-1

L1010189_BAEA2_4thCycle,Kettle_Cove,2-13-15_edited-1

After checking for frugivores at Village Crossings (just a few American Robins on what was left of the crabapple, but we did enjoy a flock of 22 Common Redpolls), we decided to try for a Razorbill for our fourth alcid of the day. Lois’s time was limited, so instead of heading back down to Dyer Point (where the wind was also brutal), we rolled the dice and tried Portland Head Light. And sure enough, a Razorbill was offshore, feeding at the mouth of Casco Bay on the changing tide!

After lunch, I decided to procrastinate a little longer and slowly bird my way to the store, checking for open water on the Falmouth Foreside coastline. Although I was looking for duck concentrations, once again, alcids stole the show: a Thick-billed Murre flew into the cove on the south side of the Mackworth Island causeway. Perfectly strong and healthy, this bird was likely following some small fish into the bay on the incoming tide.

Even more surprising was another Thick-billed Murre in Falmouth, even further up the bay off of the Town Landing. This bird also looked fine, swimming steadily upstream with the tide, “snorkeling” to look for food.
L1010236_TBMU,FalmouthTownLanding,2-13-15_edited-1

L1010218_TBMU_wBUFF,FalmouthTownLanding,2-13-15_edited-1
These Buffleheads looked just as surprised as I was.

So yeah, a 4-alcid day, with three different Thick-billed Murres in quite a day, and probably one of my best birding days of the winter. It just goes to show you what winter birding can bring in Maine, even during an impressive deep-freeze. So yeah, I’ll be out birding as much as I can, and signs of spring are certainly in the air: woodpeckers are drumming actively, Tufted Titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches are singing frequently now, and Great Horned Owls are already nesting. Bald Eagles are probably starting some house-keeping, Common Ravens are reaffirming territories, and in only a month, the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch gets underway!

Until then, it’s finches, ducks, white-winged gulls, frugivores, and alcids. I’ll be out in the field, and I hope you will be too. (And don’t forget, you can check out what I have been seeing in near-daily posts to our store’s Facebook page).

2014-15 Freeport-Brunswick CBC: West Freeport Territory.

The Freeport-Brunswick Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on Saturday, January 3rd. With the exception of the last two winters in which we were away visiting family during the count, Jeannette and I have taken part in the count since 2004.

In our first year, as newcomers to the count, we were assigned the least-popular “West Freeport” territory, which includes all of Freeport west of I-295, a corner of Yarmouth and Durham, and a sliver of Pownal. With open water (in some winters) limited to a small stretch of the Cousin’s River and Pratt’s Brook and adjacent brackish marsh, the territory doesn’t get the diversity of the other sections, that include productive places like Cousin’s Island, Winslow Park, and Harpswell.

While Hedgehog Mountain Park and Florida Lake Park are included, these are not usually very productive places in the middle of winter. But I still enjoy being able to cover two of my favorite patches, plus our own backyard (which makes for a good excuse to take a mid-day break for a hot lunch while counting at our feeding station). But in order to adequately sample this large area, with lots of yards, woodlots, and scattered fields, adequately, Jeannette and I spend a lot of time walking.

And whether it’s a CBC or any other birding, I always prefer more time walking than driving. So instead of driving all of these suburban and exurban roads, we walk them. And we walk a lot. Leap-frogging each other with the car, walking one mile stretches at a time, we walk about 20 miles (about 11-12 miles each) in all, and drive only 18-20. In doing so, we pass by a lot of feeders, and encounter mixed species foraging flocks that we would most likely never detect by just driving around.

And so we count a lot of birds. We sift through hundreds of Black-capped Chickadees as we pick out the other members of the winter flock. We listen for finches, check out feeders, and otherwise just go birding! This is how I like to CBC!

One of the other things I particular enjoy about covering this territory is that I am able to quantify some of my impressions of the winter’s birding that I have been noting walking Sasha at the ‘Hog, or watching my own feeders, and just while birding in general.

This year, a lack of snowcover made for easy walking, but reduced concentrations of birds, especially at edges and feeders. Some of the impressions that I have had turned out to be true: although feeders are often a little slower than usual, there are plenty of birds around. Red-breasted Nuthatches are abundant, but Golden-crowned Kinglets are nearly absent. Irruptive finches are still in short supply, but I expect them to now increase as winter returns. There also seem to be a lot of Red-tailed Hawks around, Wild Turkeys and Red-bellied Woodpeckers continue to increase, and the daily “commute” of gulls overhead (which I often note from the yard and Florida Lake Park in particular) no longer occurs following the closing of a feed lot in Auburn (gulls used to travel from Casco Bay to and from this and other Lewiston-Auburn feeding locations).

Dan Nickerson joined us this year, also welcoming the opportunity to bird his neighborhood as well, and making sure his feeder birds get counted. And we really lucked out with the weather. It was indeed the calm before the storm, with light winds all day and the first flurries not falling until we were at the wrap-up in the evening. It was cold though: 10F to start, with a high of only 21F. Increasing humidity and cloud cover made for a very raw afternoon, and a bone-chilling day. That lunch break at our feeders was a necessary respite today, as was some hot chai.

Due to the complex geography of the circle, we actually have two compilers, and two compilations, splitting the long peninsulas of the eastern edge off from the rest of the circle. Therefore, we usually speak of the western half of the circle (nicknamed “The Bean Count”) when comparing our numbers. Of the western half teams, we tallied 9 high counts, and had the only Common Redpolls, White-winged Crossbills, and Northern Shrike of the parties in our area.

The bird of the day was definitely the four White-winged Crossbills that Dan and I had departing a feeder on Beech Hill Road in Freeport. Jeannette and I were very excited to find a shrike at Hidden Pond Preserve where we also hope to see one, and hopefully the two Common Redpolls that flew over us on Granite Road in Yarmouth are a sign of things to come.

But my highlight was the Red-bellied Woodpecker that Dan and I found along Hunter Road. As we were coming up onto the Hunter Road Fields, the Red-bellied called and we spotted it at the edge of the road. I greatly amused Dan, apparently, as I sprinted across the road, got my feet onto the Hunter Road Fields property – which is part of my Hedgehog Mountain Patch List area – and logged the Red-belly for my 148th Patch Bird! …A long overdue, border-line nemesis patch bird at that!

Good conversation throughout the day, and Stella’s chili at the wrap-up at the store, were icing on today’s frosty cake. While our crossbills were one of the best birds of “The Bean Count” area, one could argue the Snowy Owl found at Brunswick Landing would take the crown. 31 Northern Pintails in the “Winter of the Pintail” at Simpson’s Point may have been the most unexpected, along with a Common Grackle in Brunswick, and two Barrow’s Goldeneyes were other highlights.

Because Jeannette and I conduct the CBC with such a consistent route and methodology, I find it unusually valuable to compare data from year to year. Therefore, as I offer the list of this year’s sightings, in parenthesis, I also offer the average for our territory. An *asterix signifies a new record high for our territory.

American Black Duck (8): 4
Wild Turkey (12): 23
Cooper’s Hawk (<1): 1
Red-tailed Hawk (1): 4*
Herring Gull (23): 3
Rock Pigeon (14): 19
Mourning Dove (47): 54
Red-bellied Woodpecker (<1): 2*
Downy Woodpecker (12): 26*
Hairy Woodpecker (7): 27*- by almost triple the previous high!
Pileated Woodpecker (2): 1
NORTHERN SHRIKE (1): 1
Blue Jay (66): 97
American Crow (76): 66
Common Raven (2): 3
Black-capped Chickadee (283): 380
Tufted Titmouse (24): 48*
Red-breasted Nuthatch (13): 44*- by more than triple!
White-breasted Nuthatch (20): 45*
Brown Creeper (3): 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet (13): 0 – our first-ever miss of this species
American Robin (42): 7
European Starling (14): 7
American Tree Sparrow (24): 30
Song Sparrow (1): 3*
White-throated Sparrow (1): 1
Dark-eyed Junco (15): 34
Northern Cardinal (5): 21* – more than double the previous high
House Finch (6): 3
COMMON REDPOLL (9): 2
American Goldfinch (63): 66
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 4* 1st territory record.
House Sparrow (12): 22

Total (31): 33 species.

The “West Freeport” section of the Freeport-Brunswick CBC doesn’t offer the rarities of the “Moody” section that I annually cover on the York County CBC, nor does it offer the intrigue and surprises when I cover the Portland Peninsula on the Greater Portland CBC. However, this is our “home field” CBC, and with thorough coverage, we quantify a nice sample of what occurs away from the shorelines in the winter. I look forward to learning more, counting lots of chickadees, and getting my exercise on next year’s CBC.

The All-Time Saturday Morning Birdwalk List

Last Update: 7/18/15.

Our store, Freeport Wild Bird Supply, offers free birdwalks every Saturday morning, all year long. Meeting at 8:00am, we carpool to a local park of seasonal interest, and return to the store for bird-friendly coffee between 10 and 10:30. With the exception of inclement weather, we limit the drive to about 10-15 minutes away, and visit a variety of parks, waterfront overlooks, and other hotspots.

Over the years, we have seen a lot of good birds. We’ve “chased” as species or two, but we have found our fair share of “good” birds.  Encompassing a wide variety of habitats each season, we have seen an impressive array of species. Spurred on by the Townsend’s Solitaire that the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group enjoyed this past weekend, I have finally compiled a list of all of the species seen on Saturday Morning Birdwalks over the past 10 ½ years (and not including any other trips, tours, or special walks).

This is the “unofficial” list at the moment. UPPERCASE is for species seen only once or twice. I am hoping participants will take a look at the list and see if I have missed anything, or made any errors. I’ll edit the list as changes come in, so please let me know what I missed!

      1. Greater White-fronted Goose
      2. Snow Goose
      3. BARNACLE GOOSE
      4. Cackling Goose
      5. Canada Goose
      6. Wood Duck
      7. Gadwall
      8. EURASIAN WIGEON
      9. American Wigeon
      10. American Black Duck
      11. Mallard
      12. Blue-winged Teal
      13. Northern Shoveler
      14. Northern Pintail
      15. Green-winged Teal
      16. Canvasback
      17. Ring-necked Duck
      18. Greater Scaup
      19. Lesser Scaup
      20. Common Eider
      21. HARLEQUIN DUCK
      22. Surf Scoter
      23. White-winged Scoter
      24. Black Scoter
      25. Long-tailed Duck
      26. Bufflehead
      27. Common Goldeneye
      28. Barrow’s Goldeneye
      29. Hooded Merganser
      30. Common Merganser
      31. Red-breasted Merganser
      32. Ruddy Duck
      33. Ruffed Grouse
      34. Wild Turkey
      35. Red-throated Loon
      36. Common Loon
      37. Pied-billed Grebe
      38. Horned Grebe
      39. Red-necked Grebe
      40. Double-crested Cormorant
      41. Great Cormorant
      42. American Bittern
      43. Great Blue Heron
      44. Great Egret
      45. Snowy Egret
      46. Little Blue Heron
      47. Green Heron
      48. Black-crowned Night-Heron
      49. Glossy Ibis
      50. Turkey Vulture
      51. Osprey
      52. Bald Eagle
      53. Northern Harrier
      54. Sharp-shinned Hawk
      55. Cooper’s Hawk
      56. Northern Goshawk
      57. Red-shouldered Hawk
      58. Broad-winged Hawk
      59. Red-tailed Hawk
      60. Rough-legged Hawk
      61. GOLDEN EAGLE
      62. American Kestrel
      63. Merlin
      64. Peregrine Falcon
      65. SANDHILL CRANE
      66. Black-bellied Plover
      67. American Golden-Plover
      68. Semipalmated Plover
      69. Killdeer
      70. Greater Yellowlegs
      71. Lesser Yellowlegs
      72. Solitary Sandpiper
      73. “Eastern” Willet
      74. Spotted Sandpiper
      75. Whimbrel
      76. MARBLED GODWIT
      77. Ruddy Turnstone
      78. Red Knot
      79. Semipalmated Sandpiper
      80. Least Sandpiper
      81. White-rumped Sandpiper
      82. Baird’s Sandpiper
      83. Pectoral Sandpiper
      84. Purple Sandpiper
      85. Dunlin
      86. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
      87. Short-billed Dowitcher
      88. LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER
      89. Wilson’s Snipe
      90. American Woodcock
      91. RED PHALAROPE
      92. Laughing Gull
      93. Bonaparte’s Gull
      94. Ring-billed Gull
      95. Herring Gull
      96. Iceland Gull
      97. Lesser Black-backed Gull
      98. Glaucous Gull
      99. Great Black-backed Gull
      100. Common Tern
      101. FORSTER’S TERN
      102. DOVEKIE
      103. THICK-BILLED MURRE
      104. Razorbill
      105. Black Guillemot
      106. Rock Pigeon
      107. Mourning Dove
      108. Black-billed Cuckoo
      109. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
      110. Great Horned Owl
      111. Barred Owl
      112. Chimney Swift
      113. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
      114. Belted Kingfisher
      115. Red-bellied Woodpecker
      116. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
      117. Downy Woodpecker
      118. Hairy Woodpecker
      119. Northern Flicker
      120. Pileated Woodpecker
      121. Eastern Wood-Pewee
      122. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
      123. Alder Flycatcher
      124. Willow Flycatcher
      125. Least Flycatcher
      126. Eastern Phoebe
      127. Great Crested Flycatcher
      128. Eastern Kingbird
      129. Northern Shrike
      130. Blue-headed Vireo
      131. Warbling Vireo
      132. Philadelphia Vireo
      133. Red-eyed Vireo
      134. Blue Jay
      135. American Crow
      136. Fish Crow
      137. Common Raven
      138. Horned Lark
      139. Tree Swallow
      140. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
      141. Bank Swallow
      142. Cliff Swallow
      143. Barn Swallow
      144. Black-capped Chickadee
      145. Tufted Titmouse
      146. Red-breasted Nuthatch
      147. White-breasted Nuthatch
      148. Brown Creeper
      149. Carolina Wren
      150. House Wren
      151. Winter Wren
      152. Marsh Wren
      153. Golden-crowned Kinglet
      154. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
      155. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
      156. Eastern Bluebird
      157. TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE
      158. Veery
      159. GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH
      160. Swainson’s Thrush
      161. Hermit Thrush
      162. Wood Thrush
      163. American Robin
      164. Gray Catbird
      165. Northern Mockingbird
      166. Brown Thrasher
      167. European Starling
      168. American Pipit
      169. Bohemian Waxwing
      170. Cedar Waxwing
      171. Lapland Longspur
      172. Snow Bunting
      173. Ovenbird
      174. Louisiana Waterthrush
      175. Northern Waterthrush
      176. Black-and-white Warbler
      177. Tennessee Warbler
      178. Nashville Warbler
      179. Common Yellowthroat
      180. American Redstart
      181. Cape May Warbler
      182. Northern Parula
      183. Magnolia Warbler
      184. Bay-breasted Warbler
      185. Blackburnian Warbler
      186. Yellow Warbler
      187. Chestnut-sided Warbler
      188. Blackpoll Warbler
      189. Black-throated Blue Warbler
      190. Palm Warbler
      191. Pine Warbler
      192. Yellow-rumped Warbler
      193. Prairie Warbler
      194. Black-throated Green Warbler
      195. Canada Warbler
      196. Wilson’s Warbler
      197. YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
      198. Eastern Towhee
      199. American Tree Sparrow
      200. Chipping Sparrow
      201. CLAY-COLORED SPARROW
      202. LARK SPARROW
      203. Savannah Sparrow
      204. Nelson’s Sparrow
      205. Saltmarsh Sparrow
      206. Fox Sparrow
      207. Song Sparrow
      208. Lincoln’s Sparrow
      209. Swamp Sparrow
      210. White-throated Sparrow
      211. White-crowned Sparrow
      212. Dark-eyed Junco
      213. Scarlet Tanager
      214. SUMMER TANAGER
      215. Northern Cardinal
      216. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
      217. BLUE GROSBEAK
      218. Indigo Bunting
      219. Dickcissel
      220. Bobolink
      221. Red-winged Blackbird
      222. Eastern Meadowlark
      223. Common Grackle
      224. Brown-headed Cowbird
      225. ORCHARD ORIOLE
      226. Baltimore Oriole
      227. Pine Grosbeak
      228. House Finch
      229. Purple Finch
      230. White-winged Crossbill
      231. Red Crossbill
      232. Common Redpoll
      233. Pine Siskin
      234. American Goldfinch
      235. Evening Grosbeak
      236. House Sparrow
      237. SNOWY OWL, Brunswick Landing, 1/31/15.
      238. Purple Martin, Rossmore Road, Brunswick, 5/2/15.
      239. BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 7/18/15.
      240. WHITE-EYED VIREO, Freeport Transfer Station/Hedgehod Mountain Park 10/10/15
      241. LITTLE EGRET, Tidewater Farm, Falmouth, 7/9/16.
      242. UPLAND SANDPIPER, Bowdoin Sand Plains, 7/1/17
      243. GREAT BLACK HAWK, Deering Oaks Park, Portland, 12/1/18

     

I could not find any records of the following species in my notes, but they are all plausible. Does anyone have any notes suggesting we saw any of the species on this list together?

  1. Virginia Rail
  2. Sora
  3. American Coot
  4. Sanderling
  5. Common Nighthawk
  6. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  7. Yellow-throated Vireo
  8. Orange-crowned Warbler

And finally, these are known “holes” on the list that we very well might have to “seek” in the coming years!

1. Snowy Owl

2. Mourning Warbler

3. Hoary Redpoll

240 – and counting! Not to shabby!

And with the 2014-2015 Snowbird(er) Award contest about to get underway, there’s even more incentive to join us on Saturdays.

Three Days of Migration Watching in May -Day and Night.

In my blog last Wednesday, I made some prognostications about what we might expect for birds in the coming days. Let’s see how I did so far.

Rain began to fall Wednesday evening, and continued, heavy at times, through Thursday morning. With a persistent easterly wind, overnight migration was non-existent. In the rain on Thursday morning, Katrina and I checked out Florida Lake Park, but found only about 20 Yellow-rumped and 10 Palm warblers – fewer than in recent days. The local River Otter pair, however, put on a great show. Nothing new under the feeders at home (or at the store), either.

Afterwards, I took a spin through the local farms and fields, but found nothing out of the ordinary; it’s too early for most shorebirds anyway. Admittedly, however, I had vagrants on my mind (and still do! As usual). Although the southerly winds conducive to southern overshoots (as I discussed in the aforementioned blog) had yet to kick in, the deep easterly flow that we have been ensconced within could offer up its own surprises. With reports of the “largest incursion of Icelandic/European birds to Newfoundland in recent memory,” including amazing tallies of European Golden-Plovers, 9 Black-tailed Godwits, North America’s 4th (or so) Common Redhank…yeah, the “Rarity Fever” in me can’t help but kick up. Perhaps something will ride one of those Iceland-Portland cargo ships that are in service these days!

Light rain continued through Thursday morning, diminishing to drizzle and fog until the afternoon, when a shift to westerly winds began to clear things out. Overnight, light and variable winds suggested a good migration should occur, but the radar wasn’t showing more than a light flight.
1am radar, 5-2-14  1am velocity, 5-2-14

However, it was foggy for much of the night, and fog can obscure the image of birds on the radar, especially if they are flying low. “Birding by radar” is not infallible, and I had a feeling it might have been a little misleading this morning. A steady trickle of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving over the yard at dawn confirmed this. The weather was just too-not-terrible for there not to be a lot of birds on the go.

So off to Florida Lake I went.  And, for a change this spring, I was not disappointed.  100+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 20+ Palm Warblers, my first Northern Waterthrush and Black-throated Green Warbler (finally!) of the year, a singing migrant Greater Yellowlegs, and much, much more. I caught the lingering pair of Green-winged Teal copulating; are they going to breed here? Ring-necked Ducks had increased to 16 and there is still a pair of Common Mergansers here.

As the fog burned off, the sun shone brightly, and heat began to rise in swirling thermals, hawks took to the skies on the light westerly wind. I had to pull myself away from the hawkwatch kicking and screaming at 12:30, but by then we had eclipsed (at 10:35) our all-time record count of 4,474 birds when a Merlin streaked by. 388 Broad-winged Hawks and 22 Sharp-shinned Hawks were included in the total of 429 migrant raptors when I departed.

Last night’s passerine migration – yup, the fog on the radar definitely obscured the intensity of the flight! – was still evident well past noon, as Yellow-rumped Warblers were still on the go, reorienting inland after last night’s flight. Well over 200 had passed the summit by the time I departed, as did my first two Chimney Swifts and Eastern Kingbirds (also 2) of the year. And by day’s end, 705 raptors led by 583 Broad-wings were tallied, adding to our record totals. Around 4:00pm, our 5000th raptor had passed – a milestone we never thought we would reach.

Come nightfall, the radar was active once again.  Here are the 1am reflectivity and velocity images for example:
1am radar, 5-3-141am velocity, 5-3-14

Notice the dark greens in the center of the return, but overall the rather narrow diameter of the image?  My guess is that mostly overcast skies and a light westerly winds, perhaps including some turbulence from the passing cold front, kept birds low once again.  But, without fog around, it was certain that this was birds – confirmed by the distance SW-NE pattern of the velocity image, and its speed. I think it was actually a lot of birds.

And come morning, Yellow-rumped Warblers were overhead as I stood on the back porch at dawn, and the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group and I headed over to Florida Lake.  Yeah, it was good.  Very good.

In the past few days, we’ve also finally had the first couple of reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles, so that those have just begun to arrive.  As I mentioned the other day, food is in short supply for these backyard favorites, so feeders are going to be important for the first arrivals.

But no vagrants from the south, or East …yet!

The Decline of Barrow’s Goldeneyes in Freeport and Beyond.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneyes! And I like getting to see them every winter, and sometimes in numbers…and only a few miles away from home. But I wish I could see more of them.

DSC_0536_edited-2

Unfortunately, with each passing year, I am seeing fewer and fewer. My local Barrow’s Goldeneye (BAGO) “patch” is the Lower Harraseeket River here in South Freeport. A couple of miles of river between Winslow Park and Bartol Island hosts the southernmost wintering flock on the East Coast…or at least what nowadays passes for a flock.

One of just a handful of locales in the state that regularly hosts more than one or two birds, this once-impressive flock has declined dramatically in the past ten years that I have been watching them. Scanning the river once a week, from early December through the middle of April from a variety of locations (Sand Beach, the Town Wharf, the Harraseeket Yacht Club, Winslow Park, and/or Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park) I have kept track of arrival and departure dates, and perhaps most importantly, overall numbers.

“High counts” are the maximum number of birds seen at one time in a given time period. While some individuals come and go over the course of the winter, it seems to me that the seasonal high count is a reasonable way of estimating the local population (as keeping track of individual birds is impossible). And my high counts for each of the last nine winters show an alarming pattern:

2004-2005: 23
2005-2006: 15
2006-2007: 10
2007-2008: 2
2008-2009: 9
2009-2010: 2
2010-2011: 6
2011-2012: 3
2012-2013: 2

It has become readily obvious that the less ice there is, the fewer Barrow’s concentrate in the Lower Harraseeket. A deep channel and strong tide combine to keep at least a stretch of the gut at the mouth of the river (between Winslow and tiny Pound of Tea Island) open in the coldest winters. Back in 2004-2005, the river was almost completely frozen, and the narrow strip of open water was so thick with ducks, especially Common Eiders, that it looked as if you could almost walk across the river on their backs!

We also know that the climate, and the temperature of Casco Bay, is getting warmer (yes, that is fact, and yes, this year’s cold winter/spring weather does nothing to disprove this – note that “climate” and “weather” are actually different words that describe different things!). Therefore, I optimistically wondered if the apparent decline in the population of BAGO was nothing more than a lack of ice-caused concentration. The less ice, the fewer BAGO I see.

Therefore, when about 90-95% of the Harraseeket froze this winter (the most extensive coverage since 2004-2005) and ducks concentrated in numbers not seen since then, I was cautiously optimistic that BAGO number would spike:

2013-2014: 5

Not the spike I was hoping for. I searched long and hard to find BAGO elsewhere in the vicinity, but I did not see any (the closest was an overwintering bird in South Portland that has returned to the Fore River for the last two or three years now). That’s a 78% decline from the 2004-2005 high.

Unfortunately, Christmas Bird Counts occur too early in the winter to adequately gauge seasonal high counts of BAGO, although the graph does reflect a decrease in the past ten years (the long-term data set is clouded by low birds-per-party-hour totals as a whole, along with misconceptions about identification in the past).

But this decline is not just apparent in the Harraseeket. Birders have detected a decline in all other known wintering concentrations, especially in Belfast Bay. They are now longer seen on most visits in mid-winter there and it’s been a long time since I have seen a report from Bucksport. However, according to the 1996 A Birder’s Guide to Maine, *1 aggregations of 15+ birds are “regular features in most winters” at these two sites.

In other words, at least in Maine, the decline is real. And it’s time for the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife to do something about it. No more half-assed, non-action policies that bow to the hunting lobby. No more “please tell us if you shoot one and then say you’re sorry and it will be OK” (with only a disincentive to do so) state policy. *2

In 2009 IF&W listed the Barrow’s Goldeneye as “Threatened.” …And has done almost nothing since, other than set up surveys that are conducted every four years. Oh, and they hung up some posters at boat launches asking people to not shoot them (might as well put a target on them, in my mind).

Let me be clear, there is no evidence to suggest that hunting is causing a decline in BAGO. I think much larger factors are at play. There’s acidification and warming of the ponds and lakes in their limited and narrow eastern Quebec breeding range to changes in winter food sources. Forestry practices could be reducing the availability of suitable nesting cavities as well. There’s lead ingestion and heavy metal bioaccumulation. Then there’s reduced ice in most winters in their primary wintering areas of the St. Lawrence estuary (thereby reducing how many birds come further south) to competition with other native and non-native species (BAGO eat small mollusks, especially mussels – could invasive Green Crabs be impacting the food supply for ducks here, too?). In other words, there are a lot of possible proximate and ultimate causes to the species’ decline. But if hunters shoot one or two (by accident, of course) of the remaining 5, well then the decline becomes even quicker. Even repeated disturbance from concentrated hunting pressure on other species could be impacting where the birds tarry, where they feed, and how much energy they waste fleeing boats and shots.

I am not opposed to waterfowl hunting. But I am opposed to hunting that impacts an endangered species (see, for example: Conservation and Management/Effects of Human Activity in the Birds of North America entry referenced below). The closure of a handful of tiny areas will affect very few hunters, and with more than 99% of the state still available to them, this rates as a minor inconvenience at most. However, this fraction of a percent of water closed to hunting could protect a significant majority of the wintering population – or at least what’s left of it. At the very least, this could buy us some time to find out what the root of the problem is.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneye, and if you do too, it’s time to pressure IF&W and politicians to act. Otherwise, there is a very legitimate chance that this bird will no longer be a part of Maine’s winter avifauna.

Notes:

*1 = Pierson, Elizabeth C., Jan Erik Pierson, and Peter D. Vickery. A Birder’s Guide to Maine. 1996. Down East Books: Camden, ME.

*2 = https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/alert_waterfowl_hunters.htm

For more information on the status of BAGO in Maine, see:
https://www.maine.gov/ifw/pdfs/species_planning/birds/barrowsgoldeneye/speciesassessment.pdf

Additional Reference:
Eadie, John M., Jean-Pierre L. Savard and Mark L. Mallory. 2000. Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/548 doi:10.2173/bna.548