Tag Archives: Kettle Cove

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Harlequins and Hops!

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The first new “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2018 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success. We enjoyed harlequins, hops, and so much more – including a much-hoped-for rarity. We even saw just about every single species suggested in the itinerary. And it was gorgeous out!

We had begrudgingly postponed the tour from the previous week due to the fear of ice in the morning and heavy rain and fog during the day. But the light winds, temperatures in the upper 30’s, and limited rain that the day actually featured made us wonder if we had lost the gamble. And when we woke up to 6-10” of snow (and not the 4-6 forecast!) on the morning of the 18th – and the resultant extra time clearing the driveway – I was definitely viewing the decision in hindsight.

However, the sun soon came out, the roads melted, and the temperature warmed to 40-degrees. A strengthening southerly wind was a little raw at one stop, but otherwise, it was impossible to beat the weather for a tour in February…and the fresh coating of fluffy snow only added to the aesthetically-pleasing scenery of the birding day. Furthermore, the coastal storm that spun through overnight was perfect for producing some nearshore pelagic alcids (members of the puffin family), which really got our hopes up for a life bird or two.

We began at Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth where we soon spotted the namesake quarry of the tour: a dozen snazzy Harlequin Ducks. We were already half-way to our titled goal for the day, but of course, we were only getting started.
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At nearby Two Lights State Park, we enjoyed several more Harlequin Ducks, lots of Common Eiders, Black and White-winged Scoters, and one Red-necked Grebe while we took in the breathtaking scenery.
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And then it happened.

I spotted a Dovekie – one of the most sought-after winter specialties of the region. It was sitting on the water (had it just flown in?) with a group of eider just off the shoreline, and in perfect light. It was feeding, diving under for a minute or two at a time, but eventually, everyone got great looks through the scope, and lots of photographs were taken. Barely larger than a starling, this hardy little bird spends most of its life on the open ocean, and only comes to land to breed and nearshore in specific conditions in winter than include storm tracks, winds before and after, offshore food supplies, nearshore food supplies, and likely other unknown factors. It was a bird we only hoped for today, but a life bird for just about everyone in the group; this was a find that was soon to be celebrated!
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A few Purple Sandpipers were spotted at nearby Kettle Cove as were Surf Scoters and several Common Loons, but with a southerly wind and choppy water building, I decided to make a turn inland and head for some sheltered waters. Finding that at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland, photogenic, stunning Red-breasted Mergansers stole the show, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull was teased out of the flock.
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A short, pleasant walk through Mill Creek Park yielded hundreds of Mallards (BoT veterans know how much I enjoy looking at, and talking about, large aggregations of Mallards!), and among them, the overwintering hen Wood Duck – a real rarity in winter! Although lacking the gaudy, over-the-top coloration of the drake, the subtlety-beautiful hen with her glossy bronze and green tertials and over-application of white mascara was enjoyed by all.
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One last stop at the Portland fish pier, was another chance to see Iceland Gulls – actually, we saw 7 of them, including a darkly-marked adult – and offered the opportunity to get up close and personal with several of our spiffy wintering sea ducks, such as this handsome drake Long-tailed Duck.
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The benefit of this winter itinerary is that there are countless birding locales to visit, with worthwhile stops given almost any weather (or travel) condition. Therefore, Paul had to rein me in – the birding was so good, I certainly wanted to keep going! – and with that, we departed, and I handed the proverbial microphone over to our esteemed beer guide for the day.

Paul took the lead and escorted us to eighteen twenty wines in Portland, our only winery visit on the 2018 BoT schedule. Making wine from Maine-grown rhubarb, and hard cider in small batches from Maine-grown apples, this was going to be a unique and educational experience. Maine became a state in 1820, and it was also the first year were rhubarb was found in the public market, we soon learned. A very traditional beverage, rhubarb wine was popular – especially for medicinal purposes – in the early 1800’s.
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We were treated to two wines, and two ciders. The first wine was Wintrus, a rhubarb wine aged in cabernet barrels, which imparted notes of the cabernet and oak-y woodiness, adding a little complexity to this rather light wine that was perfectly positioned between dry and sweet. The strawberry-rhubarb Honeoye was next, with plenty of strawberry flavor, but only a little sweeter and nowhere near the expectations of an overly-sugared strawberry-rhubarb pie which is its inspiration.
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Ohm was our first cider, an “English Eastern Counties-style:” dry, light, and uncarbonated. This was soon followed by what turned out to be the crowd favorite, Ohm’s Law, the Ohm aged in cinnamon whiskey barrel. Reminiscent of an apple pie, but again, without the overt sweetness, and likely due to the lack of carbonation, finishing with a soft and smooth buttery flavor.

We also learned about the trials and tribulations of opening a new winery – especially given the legal definitions and the lack of grape vines in this “urban winery,” as well as future plans that include experimentation with the 60+ varieties of rhubarb.
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The long commute to the other side of the building (this itinerary was designed to reduce driving, just in case the roads were normal-February snotty) presented us with the second half of the tour’s title: the hops. And hops were abundant and well spoken for in the brews of Goodfire Brewing Co, the newest brewery in the burgeoning “Yeast Bayside” scene.
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We were handed samples of one of their IPAs, Prime, which I’ll admit my bias – it has rapidly become one of my favorite beers. A citrusy juice-bomb, I was keen to have the group compare it to our second selection, Waves. Also a hazy, New England-style IPA, this beer features complex tropical fruit notes instead.
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Earlier, Paul had inquired about what beers and other beverages people did and did not like, and quite a few people on the bus proclaimed themselves as “not IPA fans.” New England IPAs are not your bitter IPAs of old, and so I wanted to challenge people’s ideas of what an IPA is, and hopefully open some minds. I was therefore rather pleased when one of those self-proclaimed non-IPA fans proclaimed Prime as their favorite beverage of the day on the ride back home. Mission accomplished!
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The final sample was a choice between the hoppy “table beer” saison, Tiny Wrist Circles, and the hot-off-the-presses Hydro, their latest Double IPA. I’ll give you one guess to what I had, and then went home with!
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It was a quick and easy commute to our Portland meeting location, followed by a smooth and clear drive to Freeport for the rest of us. Conversation included Dovekie ecology, IPA diversity, and what an amazingly beautiful winter’s day we had just experienced. Something tells me Harlequins and Hops will be back!

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).

On Recent and Upcoming Weather, Vagrant Season, and Recent Great Birding

Late October through early November is traditionally the best “rarity season” in Maine, where vagrants from all directions are hoped for, and even expected. We’ve been in a rather active and dynamic weather pattern of late, and this may help to usher vagrants in our direction. While weather rarely “blows” birds off-course, winds and weather systems can certainly facilitate their arrival in far-flung places, especially when combined with some sort of misorientation (for a thorough discussion of the concept, see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder).

As October progresses, the nights get longer, and the days (usually) get colder. The growing season comes to an end (although in many spots the killing frost has not yet reached the immediate coastline yet this year), and food sources become greatly limited. This can push vagrants that may have arrived over the course of the fall migration into favorable micro-climates and patches of seasonal food abundance. More recently-deposited vagrants, “late/lingering” migrants, and other more typical species can also concentrate in such prime areas, such as urban parks, coastal migrant traps, and so on.

Let’s take a look at some of the recent weather, and attempt to identify some possible species to consider.

Over the past ten days, above normal temperatures were regular, thanks to southerly winds. Take a look at the wind map from October 13th, for example.
wind map, 10-13-14

Strong southerly winds pumped warm air into the area from the Deep South and the Bahamas (and the South Atlantic Bight). These are favorable conditions for depositing “180-degree misoriented migrants” from the south, such as Summer Tanagers and White-eyed Vireos. I wonder if it’s a little too late for a big push of southern birds, however, as many of the Neotropical migrants have already departed the continent. Meanwhile, that extensive southerly flow all of the way into Mexico is the type of weather pattern that can facilitate the arrival of long-distance vagrants, such as Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

Sparrows are on the move now, and northerly winds with cloudy skies overnight on 10/18 to 19 resulted in a big push of sparrows. The low ceiling likely resulted in disorientation of these low-flying migrants by the big city lights, resulting in a massive flight of birds in Portland’s East End on the morning of the 19th. I estimated over 2000 White-throated Sparrows and 500 Song Sparrows just on the Eastern Promenade alone, with dozens more in almost every lot I checked. A hundred White-throats were in the North St Community Garden, and by the end of the morning, I had tallied 8 species of sparrows, and impressive numbers of Chipping Sparrows (76) and Eastern Phoebes (15) among others. Although 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were my 175th species on my Eastern Promenade Patch List, I was surprised that I could not tease out any rarities from the volumes of birds (the sheer number of birds plus gusty winds hampered detection, no doubt).

By 10/19, a strong cold front – a rare occurrence this season – pushed through, and with it, a huge flight of migrants. I tallied over 1100 birds at Sandy Point on the morning of the 20th, led by 461 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 159 American Robins.

You can see how strong and extensive these northwesterly winds finally were from the wind map that day.
wind map, 10-19-14

Rain began to arrive in the afternoon of the 21st, and it didn’t let up until this morning. This massive coastal Nor’easter drenched Maine with up to 5” of rain, and moderate to strong northeasterly winds battered the state, especially the coast.
wind map, 10-23-14

Birding was a challenge on Wednesday and Thursday, as strong winds and often-heavy rain made things difficult. Rain and coastal fog and mist precluded seawatching, and any lake-watching for grounded waterfowl was rendered impossible by visibility and waves. Essentially, feeder-watching was the best bet these two days, and a growing contingent of sparrows at both our home and here at the store provided the entertainment. About 200 Common Grackles descended into our Pownal yard on the 23rd as well.

But now, today (Friday), this massive storm is finally pulling away.
wind map, 10-24-14

And I had a great day of birding in Cape Elizabeth. I began with some seawatching at Dyer Point. From 7:50 to 9:50, I had moderate to good visibility for all but a total of 47 minutes as light showers and mist rolled through. Seas were down to 4-6 feet, and moderate north winds continued. Here’s the scorecard (all southbound unless otherwise noted) – which was actually a little lighter than I had expected:
317 Double-crested Cormorants
127 Northern Gannets (about evenly split between north and southbound)
77 Common Eiders (several hundred northbound)
20 White-winged Scoters
18 Black Scoters
17 Red-breasted Mergansers
16 unidentified ducks
16 Common Loons (plus 18 northbound)
15 Surf Scoters
10 “dark-winged” scoters
8 Long-tailed Ducks (first of fall)
8 Red-throated Loons
5 Great Blue Herons
5 Bonaparte’s Gulls
3 Red-necked Grebes
2 Green-winged Teal
2 Great Cormorants
2 Laughing Gulls
1 Black Guillemot
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 White-throated Sparrow (flew in off the water at 8:05am).

Next up was Kettle Cove, where a nice diversity of migrants, especially sparrows, also included an Orange-crowned Warbler and 3 Common Yellowthroats. Even more interesting was this gull, which appears to be a hybrid Herring x Great Black-back. Intermediate in size and shape between the two, and with an intermediate mantle color, the short wings and pinkish legs separate it from Lesser Black-backed.
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A local sparrow-rific patch of private property was fruitful as well. Although a very tardy Bobolink was the only surprise here, plentiful numbers of sparrows included 200+ White-throated, 100+ Song, 50+ Swamp, 50+ Savannah, 50+ Dark-eyed Juncos, at least 10 White-crowned Sparrows, and a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. A Red-bellied Woodpecker and my second Carolina Wren of the morning were added to the tally.

A male Black-throated Blue and a female Black-and-white Warbler joined Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers feasting on seaweed flies in and near the wrack at Pond Cove, where another Red-bellied Woodpecker was sounding off.

On my way back, I swung through the goose fields, and clearly more Canada Geese have arrived in the last few days. 718 was a new season-to-date high count, with the most interesting new arrival being this spiffy leucistic Canada. Unlike a hybrid with a Snow or a Domestic Goose, this neat bird was the same shape and size as the average Canada, but with a dull brownish cast to the head, neck, and wingtips.
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As this nasty low rides up into Atlantic Canada and beyond, strong wrap-around winds will offer the potential to displace Northern Wheatears or rare geese from Greenland. Meanwhile, next week, we’ll see unseasonable warmth return on southwesterly winds (“vagrant winds” as I like to call them), just the type of scenario that can facilitate the arrival of strays from the southwest, such as Cave Swallows and Ash-throated Flycatchers. They will also facilitate the survival for at least a little longer of vagrants that are still present but as so far gone undetected.

There isn’t one predominate pattern that yields a strong suggestion of any particular vagrant (or group of vagrants) from any particular direction. However, it is clear that we are getting a nice sample of different conditions that could produce some fun stuff.

At the very least, I expect some big flights of migrants, both day and night in the coming days. In fact, I think there will be a big one tonight. Check out these northwesterly winds that should be ushering in a big push of birds:
wind forecast, overnight

Sparrows will make up the bulk of the flight, especially White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. If the clouds clear by dawn, I might get a big push at Sandy Point. If the ceiling stays low overnight, look for concentrations of sparrows in migrant traps, especially in and around bright cities. Meanwhile, during the day, a lovely weather forecast should get plenty of birders out into the field.

Needless to say, I will be out looking, and I hope you will to! I look forward to what the coming days and weeks will bring.