Tag Archives: Grasshopper Sparrow

Not Your Usual December Highlights!

While this fall’s rarity season got off to a fairly slow start at the end of October, things have really heated up lately. In fact, it’s been a really outstanding couple of weeks.  And in the past few days, I have enjoyed some really great birding.

The mild temperatures have certainly played a role – while the southerly and southwesterly winds that have ushered in much of the unseasonably warm air may still be facilitating the arrival of some vagrants, at the very least the mild temperatures and benign weather are allowing vagrants and unseasonable “lingering” migrants to survive long enough to be found! And, the lovely weather is certainly keeping more birders out in the field. I have certainly been taking full advantage of this beautiful weather.

On Sunday, Ed Hess and I visited the Saco Riverwalk. While this is always a hotspot at this season, it is really extraordinary this year. After 8 species of warblers were seen there in November, the mild weather has allowed at least 5 species to continue – almost unprecedented for December. Ed and I saw the Tennessee Warbler, a really remarkable December record…
L1040092_TEWA,SacoRiverWalk, 12-6-15_edited-1

…both of the two continuing Yellow Warblers (the photos are of one of the two individuals), which is another exceptional species for the date…

…the Nashville Warbler (and confirmed the continued presence of a second Nashville!)…
NAWA by Ed_edited-1

…the Common Yellowthroat (more expected for the season)…

…and we saw one of the two Ruby-crowned Kinglets still present (much more regular in December than any warbler).

And although we didn’t see it, the most amazing of them all, a Blackburnian Warbler is still present. (Jeannette and I saw and photographed it earlier in the week, 11/30).

Ed and I then headed to Cape Elizabeth, where we photographed the continuing Grasshopper Sparrow at Dyer Point, and odd bird to see juxtaposed with Harlequin Ducks (18) and Purple Sandpipers (6)…

…And we twitched a Wilson’s Warbler found earlier in the day nearby, just so we could say we saw five species of warblers in a day in December!  It cannot, however, be said that we “photographed” five species:

The Grasshopper Sparrow was also our fifth species of sparrow on the day (Song, American Tree, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco) – I doubt I’ve had five species of warbler and 5 species of sparrows in the same day in December in Maine before.

Of course, that only somewhat consoled us about missing the vagrant Western Tanager that was found at the Riverwalk later in the afternoon. Damn.

On Monday, I headed over to Reid State Park in Georgetown with Kristen Lindquist. It was a rather quiet day here, but it’s always one of my favorite places to take a walk, especially on such (another) gorgeous morning.  43 Red-necked Grebes, a Northern Harrier, a flyover Red Crossbill (my first of the season), oh yeah, and another rarity: “Oregon” Junco.

While some might dismiss it as “merely a subspecies,” the westernmost subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco is truly a rarity in the Northeast, and this was the first definitive “Oregon” Junco that I have seen in Maine (although I have never chased one at a feeder, where they are usually seen). It was in a small flock of “Slate-colored” Juncos and an American Tree Sparrow in the scrubby central ridge in the middle of the Griffith’s Head parking lot.

The flock flushed from short grass at the edge as we rounded the corner, and as it briefly alighted in a shrub, I was shocked to see a black-hooded junco. Closer inspection as we followed it for about 20 minutes yielded all of the pertinent field marks for a “textbook” Oregon, nicely eliminating the intermediate “hybrid swarm” – or whatever it is – that we sometimes refer to as “Cassiar’s” Junco.

Note the complete, black (not dark gray) hood, lacking contrast in the supraloral area. Also, the hood is cleanly demarcated on the back of the head, contrasting crisply with the reddish-brown back. The flanks and sides are particularly pale salmon-buff, which is not atypical for adult males (although many are much brighter). At the lower margin of the hood, note the smooth, rounded margin across the chest and up to the “shoulder.”

Afterwards, Kristen and I birded around Bath – no white-winged gulls or Barrow’s Goldeneyes yet, no doubt related to the mild temperatures as well, but we did spot one of the Snowy Owls at Brunswick Landing – unlike warblers, a slightly more expected highlight for early December in Maine.

While Jeannette and I didn’t turn up any rarities – or much of anything else for that matter! – birding Harpswell Neck this morning, I very much look forward to what the coming weeks will produce, especially when it finally turns cold!

A Summer Visit to the Kennebunk Plains

It was a perfect morning at the Kennebunk Plains.  Dry, Canadian High Pressure has finally built in, dropping dew points to non-saturated-shirt levels.  A light northerly breeze was just enough to keep bugs at bay, too.

Eastern Meadowlarks (10), Grasshopper Sparrows (12+), and Upland Sandpipers (4-5) were particularly conspicuous today.  All of the other regular Plains denizens, from Field and Vesper Sparrows to Prairie Warblers and the pair of American Kestrels were present and accounted for, although Vesper Sparrows still seem fewer and farther between here this year.  Unfortunately, no sign of the Clay-colored Sparrow today.

Wood Lilies were in full bloom…
Wood Lily, KennyPlains,7-12-13

…and the first few Northern Blazing Stars were beginning to bloom.
NorthernBlazingStar,KennebunkPlains, 7-12-13

But my goal of the day was to improve our collection of Upland Sandpiper images.  Although I was really hoping to see some chicks, these photos made the trip more than worth while.
UPSA1,Kenny Plains,7-12-13

UPSA2,Kenny Plains,7-12-13

UPSA3,Kenny Plains,7-12-13

And one Grasshopper Sparrow was particularly confiding.



Here’s a female Eastern Towhee

A Field Sparrow in full song

More importantly, I always find a visit to the Kennebunk Plains to be good treatment for the birding soul, so this morning was refreshing in more ways than just the weather.

Since I was in the area, I took a swing out to the Sanford Sewerage Facility.  Not surprisingly with all of the rain of late, the water levels were very high, and therefore shorebird habitat was virtually non-existent.  There were plenty of Spotted Sandpipers, however: 14 in all, including juveniles.  Wood Ducks were even more aplenty, with a total of 45 individuals from adult males in eclipse plumage down to only-week-or-so-old downy chicks.  And the late summer flocks of blackbirds are beginning to build; about 200 Red-winged Blackbirds have already coalesced here.  Meanwhile, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was still present along the edge of the facility.

Lastly, I stopped in at WoodlandCemetery in Biddeford, to check on a nest I found here in early June.  After seeing a displaying pair of Merlins in the area a week or so before, I looked around for nest sites, and happened up on a perfectly-sized twig nest in a Red Pine.  Unfortunately, after three visits, it does not appear that this is an occupied nest this year – by a Merlin or anyone else.  I did have 6 Fish Crows nearby, however, as a consolation prize.