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.
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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.
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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.
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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.