Tag Archives: Greater Scaup

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).

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!

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.


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.

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.

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!

A January Big Day


Yesterday, (Monday, January 10, 2017), Luke Seitz and I partook in a semi-serious Big Day, attempting to see as many species as we could in one day. Winter Big Days are tough because the days are short, rarities are usually relatively few, wintering birds tend to move around a lot more than territorial songsters, and it’s often firggin’ cold.

And it was certainly cold to start – 11 degrees to be exact as we greeted the sunrise seawatching at Dyer Point. Heat shimmer and sea smoke impacted our tally, but much worse was finding our second stop, Grondin Pond, completely frozen! Just 2 days ago it had at least three “good birds:” American Coot, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Duck!

We then dipped on the long-staying Orange-crowned Warbler at Pond Cove, but the unexpected fly-over Northern Harrier plus Northern Mockingbird, Red-throated Loon, and Golden-crowned Kinglet put us back in the game. We then found a female Wood Duck at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland – our 50th species of the day, and it was only 9:53.
Phone-binned by Luke

Hmmm…maybe we should start taking this a little more seriously.

We started to clean up with a slew of successful twitches of very good birds: Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail in South Portland, King Eider in Portland Harbor, Barrow’s Goldeneye in Cumberland, Great Blue Herons in Yarmouth, and Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin at Winslow Park.

We even celebrated our good fortunes with a fueling, hot breakfast sandwich from Maple’s Organics in Yarmouth.

Unfortunately, we then hit a cold stretch, striking out on Purple Finch and Hermit Thrush in my yard, and Evening Grosbeaks at a Pownal feeder. Snowy Owl and Snow Bunting at Brunswick Landing was followed by a strategic error – the absolute slowest service in history at the Five Guys in Brunswick!

Like I said, we were only so serious about this Big Day, as exemplified by stopping for food…twice! But a to-go order of some fries, a veggie sandwich, and a milkshake should not have taken so long. First, our sandwiches were left on the counter as they forgot to bag them with fries. Then they had to wait for more fries to cook, and then it turned out someone had accidentally switched off the milkshake machine.

Although that whole event really only wasted about 10 minutes, it was 10 minutes further behind schedule…our Pownal swing was a time suck, and the walk at Winslow took much longer than planned. And the days are short this time of year!

A Gadwall in Damariscotta was a nice pick-up, and we added a few en route twitches, but we got to Rockland with way too little time. We failed in our search of the harbor for the Pink-footed Geese and Snow Goose (they weren’t on the school fields due to the recent snow cover), and dithered on our decision to head to Camden, picking up a nearly-drive-by Bonaparte’s Gull on the way.

We didn’t run into any Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks on our drive, and we arrived way too late in the day to be graced with a visit from the Bullock’s Oriole. The thickening clouds ahead of the approaching storm was rapidly bringing the birding day to an early end. Quick-thinking rewarded us with the female Greater Scaup which we relocated in the Megunticook River after not seeing her in the harbor, and in very last light we somehow picked up American Wigeon in Rockport Harbor (not one as had been reported, but three, plus another Green-winged Teal), our 73rd and final species of the day.

We had hoped for a Barred Owl on the drive home; surprised that we didn’t run into one during the day, but the arrival of a mix of ice pellets, sleet, and dreezing rain didn’t help matters. However, with almost no scouting, no owling, and only about 9 hours of daylight, we agreed that this day was really an extraordinary success. 22 species of waterfowl in the middle of winter is pretty darn good, and we saw some great birds over the course of the day.

It’s almost certainly a record – if only because we don’t think anyone has done a January Big Day before (or submitted to the ABA as such!), even if it fell short of our goal of 75. And with quite a few misses and birds “left on the table,” we can’t help but wonder what a little planning, more discipline, and a packed lunch could have resulted in? (Or, having run it a couple of days earlier when Grondin was open!)

Finally, here’s an annotated checklist of the species we encountered, with notes on the rarities, single-sightings, or species seen only at one location.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck: female at Mill Creek park, South Portland
Gadwall: 1 drake, Oyster Creek, Damariscotta
American Wigeon: 1 male and 2 females, Rockport Harbor
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail: male behind Bay Harbor Car Wash, South Portland
Green-winged Teal: male behind Bay Harbor Car Wash, South Portland and female at Rockport Harbor
Greater Scaup: female, Megunticook River from Mechanic Street, Camden
King Eider: female, Portland Harbor from Fish Pier
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck: Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye: male, Cumberland Town Landing
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Wild Turkey
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant: 1, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth.
Great Blue Heron: 2, Lower Falls Landing, Yarmouth
Northern Harrier: male, flying over Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Ruddy Turnstone: 3, Winslow Park, Freeport
Dunlin: 30+, Winslow Park, Freeport
Purple Sandpiper
Razorbill: several, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth
Black Guillemot
Bonaparte’s Gull: 1, Glen Cove, Rockland
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Snowy Owl: 1 Brunswick Landing
Red-bellied Woodpecker: at least 8-9 over the course of the day!
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Peregrine Falcon: 1, Portland Harbor
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper: 2, Winslow Park, Freeport
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Snow Bunting: 20+, Brunswick Landing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow


Misses: Pink-footed Geese and Snow Goose in Rockland; American Coot, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and Northern Shoveler at Grondin Pond; Black-legged Kittiwake; Barred Owl; Cooper’s Hawk; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike; Hermit Thrush (1); Bohemian Waxwing; Orange-crowned Warbler (1); Bullock’s Oriole (1), Purple Finch, Pine Grosbeak; Evening Grosbeak.

(Also,we posted a little play-by-play in a thread on the store’s Facebook page during the day. Check it out…we added commentary in the comments section, culminating with a video of me doing what it takes to get those wigeon at last light!)

Putative Ring-necked Duck x Scaup Sp Hybrid on Sabattus Pond, 4/11/16



On Monday, April 11th, Jeannette and I found a fascinating duck, clearly of the genus Aythya, at Sabattus Pond in Sabattus.  Off of Martin’s Point Park in the southwest corner of the pond, it was hanging out with a mixed flock of Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup.

Appropriate enough, because this bird appears to be a hybrid between Ring-necked Duck (RNDU) and one of the two scaup species! Unfortunately, it was windy, a light rain was falling, and so my phone-scoped attempts at the moderately-distant bird don’t capture this critter in all of his glory. But, they’re good enough for “documentation,” and they offer a chance to do a little analysis.

2nd from the left, with Ring-necked Ducks.

2nd from the left, with Lesser Scaup pair and a drake Ring-necked Duck

With Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and a Bufflehead. Note the apparent size (see below).

The hybrid (right), with Ring-necked Duck and overexposed Lesser Scaup.


Note the dark gray back (intermediate between RNDU and scaup) and the gentle curve on the upper edge of the sides, very much like a RNDU. The sides and flanks are very pale gray, also intermediate between RNDU and breeding plumages scaup. There’s also a narrow whiter area on the front of the chest-sides, suggestive of the distinct white “spur” on the sides of RNDU.

The head shape is also intermediate, with a decidedly peak-headed appearance that is closer to RNDU than either scaup, with a fairly straight nape and the peak at the rear of the head. The bill has a wide, but diffuse pale subterminal ring, suggestive of RNDU as well, but not as crisp or narrow (and no additional ring at the base of the bill). I could not see the width of the black tip at this distance, nor did I have the ability to see if there was a maroon ring around its neck (the namesake, if not very field-worthy, ring-neck of the Ring-necked Duck!).

So, it’s clearly part RNDU. Whether the other half is Greater Scaup (GRSC) or Lesser Scaup (LESC), well, that is another question entirely. While RNDU x LESC are the expected species pair (in large part due to an extensively-overlapping breeding range) that Reeber calls “regular,” RNDU x GRSC have also been recorded.

I never saw the spread wing, and I think a detailed and sharp photo of the wingbar could shed some light on the subject. Short of that – or preferably, a DNA analysis – we can’t say for sure, but there were two interesting observations.


Note the Lesser Scaup on the left and the apparent size of the hybrid compared to it and the nearby Ring-necked Ducks. 

For one thing, in all lights, the head had a distinctly greenish sheen; never purple.  While head color on scaup is notoriously misleading and the interpretation of it is of little value for ID in most conditions, I found it interesting that when seen side-by-side with LESC, it still always looked green as the LESC looked purple (as does RNDU). However, Reeber notes that this hybrid pairing can have a green sheen as well. Remember, not all characteristics of hybrids are necessarily intermediate.

However, the one thing that was intriguing about the possibility of a GRSC  as the other parent (documented, but likely exceptionally rare) is that in almost every angle, the hybrid was noticeably larger than the LESC it was occasionally with, and it usually appeared larger than the RNDUs. Unfortunately, no GRSC were present – they were all on the other side of the pond today. If this bird was indeed larger than RNDU, it’s hard to imagine that one parent was the even smaller LESC. But with a scope shaking in the wind, the play of light on light colors verses dark, and the inherent subjectivity of the judgment of size, I would not swear to it that this bird was large enough to rule out LESC as one of the two parents.  Therefore, I am most comfortable with calling this a Ring-necked Duck x Scaup species hybrid. A rare and beautiful bird regardless!

The hybrid (left) with Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck.

Reeber, Sebastien. 2015. Wildfowl of Europe, Asia, and North America. Christopher Helm: London.

Simpson’s Point, Brunswick – Our Local Duck Hotspot.

Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and Greater Scaup (Vermont, March 2014)

Simpson’s Point in Brunswick, at the northern end of Middle Bay (Delorme Map 6: C-3) has become one of the best waterbird-watching spots in Casco Bay over the last few years. That trend continues this spring, with outstanding concentrations of waterfowl.

While there might not be a rarity or an addition to your year list right now, I highly encourage a visit to see the concentration (a scope is highly recommended), and it is certainly ripe for a rarity to be discovered!

I visited the point twice times this week, each yielding some remarkable counts (my attempts to visit it for a third time today was thwarted by unexpectedly dense fog). The first number is the count or estimate from 3/26 with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group, and the second is from Monday, 3/27 with Jeannette.

– Mixed Black and Surf Scoters (roughly 60-65% Black: 1200/2100. A really incredibly count for the bay, this is by far the largest raft(s) of scoters I have seen within Casco Bay.
– Mixed Scaup (at least 80% Greater, but plenty of Lesser usually visible): 650/650. Down a few hundred birds from the massive overwintering flock.
– American Black Duck: 100/40
– Common Goldeneye: 75/40
– Bufflehead: 50/125
– Common Eider: 40/60
– Horned Grebe: 43/30
– Red-breasted Merganser: 10/25
– Common Loon: 5/3
– White-winged Scoter: 0/2

While more birder attention has definitely worked in its favor, it was always a well-known duck-watching hotspot. However, these numbers are outstanding, even based on the renewed attention to this spot over the last few years. I wonder what has changed? Sure, this winter the water was open and that kept the scaup around, but what is attracting all of these scoters? Is there a new food source? Is there a lack of some food somewhere else?

But it’s the oversummering birds (exceptionally rare for the state birds in summer like scoters, Red-necked Grebes and Red-throated Loons, and Long-tailed Ducks) that really suggest the uniqueness of this area. While rarities over the past few years, including Eared Grebe and Pacific Loon, have put this spot “on the map,” it is the numbers of common birds and small numbers of oversummering “winter” ducks that is most noteworthy. Is it nothing more than more birders paying more attention in mid-summer? I certainly am.

So go out and have a look, and perhaps you’ll get there on the day the scaup are close enough to pull out a Tufted Duck!

Meanwhile, nearby Wharton Point is always worth a visit, and can easily be combined with a trip to Simpson’s. Currently, it is hosting more typical-for-here large numbers of dabblers, led by American Black Ducks (800/495). On 3/28, Jeannette and I teased out a pair of American Wigeon and 1 Green-winged Teal from the masses, while 8 Dunlin were on the flats.

So in between the excitement of new arrivals, hawkwatching, and the anticipation of the diversity of May, I know I’ll be taking some more time to do a little local ducking!

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.”
baxter tour 2Baxter tour

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!