A little more time this week in the field produced the following observations of note:
678 Scaup (too far to sort through, but probably 5-10% Lessers, which are regular to even common within these early winter scaup flocks on Casco Bay contrary to recently published information), Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 1/1 (with Jeannette). Another smaller raft of scaup continue at Wharton Point (12/27 and 1/1 with Jeannette), but too far to sort through.
1 1st winter male Red-winged Blackbird, feeders here at the store, 12/27.
Continuing ROCK WREN, Marginal Way, Ogunquit, 12/29 (with Jeannette). Highlight includes watching it ravage a Western Conifer Seed Bug.
1 Peregrine Falcon, odd location in a tree along Pennell Way, Brunswick, 1/1 (with Jeannette).
This Week in Finches:
EVENING GROSBEAK: 0
Red Crossbill: 2 (our yard in Pownal, 12/27).
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 4 (Furbish Avenue, Wells, 12/29 with Jeannette).
PINE GROSBEAK: up to 10 daily (in and around the yard here at the store all week); up to 18 daily all week (Pine Tree Academy, Freeport); 2 (Route 1, Brunswick, 12/28).
Purple Finch: 0
Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 6 (Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 12/27).
I don’t usually get out birding much in the week before Christmas, and this year it was even less. But a few quick stops, dog-walks, and incidental observations produced only the following observation of note over the past seven days.
1 GRAY CATBIRD, Saco Riverwalk, 12/20.
This Week in Finches:
Although my birding was limited, the dearth of finches was noteworthy. Has the flight passed us by? Did the largest volume of redpolls simply move southward to the west of us? Are there more in the pipeline, or will we have a rather quiet January and February?
EVENING GROSBEAK: 1 (Old Town House Park, North Yarmouth, 12/21).
Red Crossbill: 0
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 0
PINE GROSBEAK: up to 10 daily (in and around the yard here at the store all week).
Purple Finch: 0
Common Redpoll: 0
Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 3 (Merrill Road Ext, Freeport, 12/19).
I didn’t get out birding much this week, but my morning on Bailey Island was fantastic! But the good news is that Pine Grosbeaks have been around our store daily, and this morning lost getting snow tires on my car produced the biggest flock I have seen in the area so far this season. It is nice when the birds come to you!
My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 Hermit Thrush, and 1 Northern Flicker, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 12/7.
I didn’t get very far afield much this week, but feeder-watching, local patches, and a visit to Sabattus Pond at week’s end made up for it. My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
1 continuing LINCOLN’S SPARROW, feeders here at the store through 11/21.
8 American Pipits, Highland Road, Brunswick, 11/21.
1 Fox Sparrow, feeders here at the store, 11/21.
1 Turkey Vulture, over the store, 11/24.
100+ Horned Larks and about 40 Snow Buntings, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/25.
1 Common Grackle, feeders here at the store, 11/25 -present.
Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/27:
It was a great morning as the fog lifted and the water was dead calm. Unfortunately, a high-speed fishing boat, several duck hunting parties, and two hunting Bald Eagles made it difficult to make an accurate count as birds were flushing in different directions.
301 Canada Geese
231 Ruddy Ducks
174 Common Mergansers
144 American Black Ducks
44 Greater Scaup
26 Hooded Mergansers
18 Lesser Scaup
4 Green-winged Teal
4 Common Goldeneyes
3 Northern Pintails
2 Common Loons
1 drake American Wigeon
1 probable hen American Wigeon (very brown-headed individual found last week by P. Moynahan and N. Houlihan. Spotted off South Beach but flushed by fishing boat. Refound on west shore and distantly phone-scoped, but flushed by eagle before I could get closer. Appeared to have white bar on upperwing greater coverts to rule out Eurasian, but not conclusively viewed…other details suggestive or ambiguous. Good luck ruling out a hybrid on a hen wigeon, however!)
1 CACKLING GOOSE (FOY) – in distance from South Beach with large group of Canadas. Flushed by fishing boat before I could get to Riley Road to attempt phone-scoping. Very tiny bird with short neck and very short, stubby bill. Barely larger than the Mallards. Flew north, but not relocated, including searching of farm fields along eastern shore.
1 Belted Kingfisher
The Finch-Tastic Fall festivities continue:
EVENING GROSBEAK: 9 continue daily at our feeders at home in Pownal; 1 (Highland Rd, 11/21); 2 (Martin’s Point Park, Sabattus, 11/27.
Red Crossbills: 3 (Highland Road, 11/21).
PINE GROSBEAK: 4 (Highland Road, 11/21); 3 (Yarmouth Library, 11/25).
Purple Finch: 0
Common Redpoll: scattered very few.
Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 6 (our feeders in Pownal, 11/22).
It’s getting colder and quieter out there. But, we are in the midst of the late fall Rarity Season, so I made time to check as many of the migrant and vagrant traps as I could this week. Other than a great morning with Jeannette on Bailey Island on Tuesday, I didn’t find much in the way of “lingering” birds. Did the late-October unseasonable cold snap have something to do with it? And/or the lack of natural food resources because of the drought? Or I was in the wrong places?
My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
2 PINE GROSBEAKS, Private Property in Durham, 11/14.
1 Red-shouldered Hawk, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/15.
1 AMERICAN REDSTART, 9 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 1 PINE WARBLER, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and 1 Winter Wren, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 11/17 (with Jeannette).
It sure felt good to have a normal tour run, well, normally, in 2020! Other than the requirement of wearing masks all day – despite the annoyance of fogged glasses in the 100% humidity, and some logistical and safety changes at mealtimes, it was as close to normal as 2020 gets. And that felt good. The birding was great, too!
Most of Friday’s participants arrived with me on the early Hardy Boat out of New Harbor, and we sure hit the ground running! A strong flight the night before yielded tons of birds, and it was very birdy right off the bat. Yellow-rumped Warblers were still darting overhead and were in every bush. White-throated Sparrows virtually littered the ground in places. Small flocks of Purple Finches seemed to be everywhere.
A continuing juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (a very good bird out here) and a Dickcissel got us started, while in the afternoon we found two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (a juvenile and a really messy 2nd Cycle) and at dusk, a fly-by from a late Common Nighthawk. We ended up with 63 species on the day, which isn’t bad for arriving at 10:15, and likely there were many other species around; we just couldn’t see them through all of the Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows.
But before you ask, I’ll let you know: No, you will not find the gratuitous annual photo of Novelty Pizza in this blog this year. It was different, and it was terrible. I was sad. But the handpies for lunch at the Trailing Yew made up for it (but I repeatedly remembered to take the obligatory photo only after it was rapidly consumed in its entirety).
We awoke to very dense fog on Saturday morning, and with very light southerly winds overnight, only a very light migration had occurred. There was a decent amount of call notes overhead (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers) at what was supposed to be the time of sunrise, but these birds could have just been moving around. Nonetheless, throughout the day we found plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows once again, along with ample number of Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches. It was birdy, but the diversity remained rather low.
By the afternoon, things had slowed down quite a bit, but we grew our triplist steadily with pockets of activity here and there. Two continuing Rusty Blackbirds put on a good show for us, as did an unusually cooperative Ovenbird. It’s always nice to see Indigo Buntings; we had two today. Although it seemed rather slow and lacking in diversity, our thoroughness accumulated 64 species by day’s end.
We awoke to more dense fog on Sunday morning, with no detectable migration overnight on a southwesterly flow. But sometimes slower days allow us a chance to be more thorough, and by covering a good amount of ground today, we caught up with – and discovered – several very good birds.
We began with coffee in hand as we marched down to the Ice Pond to catch up with the three continuing Yellow-crowned Night-Herons which we had someone missed each of the previous two days. The drake Wood Duck – very close now to full-spiffiness (technical term!) added to the joy. Then, after breakfast we had the thrilling discovery (OK, Tom discovered it; he deserves the credit) of a Yellow-breasted Chat. Glimpses were fleeting, and through fogged glasses, were not always satisfactory. We then found a Marsh Wren at Lobster Cove, and continued to slowly add birds to the list, such as an Eastern Towhee, a few more warbler species, and the fog finally lifted enough for us to see the water and nearby islands to sort out Great Cormorants from Double-cresteds.
On Monday, our last day of the group tour, we had significant turnover in participants from the weekend, but less turnover in birds. With another night with little to no nocturnal movement on persistent southerly winds and fog. Only a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were calling overhead at coffee pot o’clock, and it was very slow on our pre-breakfast walk. Northern Flickers were definitely moving around though, so it’s possible a few of these birds were new arrivals overnight.
Like all of Maine, Monhegan is desperate for rain, but of course we selfishly were hoping it would not fall on us! The forecast was looking good to get most of the day in, rain-free, but when we reconvened at 9:15, there was a steady light shower. It did not last long, however, and we continued on, unimpeded. Once again, we spent a lot of time sparrow-workshopping, as we regularly encountered fun mixed flocks all weekend of Song, White-throated, Savannah, and often one other species, be it Chipping, White-crowned, Swamp, or Lincoln’s. The side-by-side comparisons are very instructive, and as a guide, I tend to pivot to whatever the birds were offering, and this weekend, they were offering a chance to study, learn, and appreciate the diversity and beauty of sparrows.
We covered a fair amount of ground in the afternoon, checking in with two of the three Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, the continuing Wood Duck and 2 Rusty Blackbirds, and some blooming Fringed Gentian. At least 6 Baltimore Orioles were still present (we had a high of 9+ on Friday), and we had some really good looks at Cape May Warblers and others. Partial clearing in the later afternoon was just enough to get our first view of town from Lighthouse Hill. A mere 56 species by day’s end showed the lack of overall diversity after three full nights with some birds leaving, but very little arriving.
With the last boat of the day at 4:30, the Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend officially came to a close. However, one of Monday’s participants stayed on for a day of private guiding, so Kate and I continued on for a full day of birding on Tuesday. But, like the weekend, we awoke to more fog and another night of little to no migration on SSE winds. There was, however, some more swirling of Yellow-rumped Warbles around dawn, coming to and from Manana. It was very suggestive of zugunruhe (migratory restlessness) after four days of being stuck on the island with unfavorable winds. Or, it could have been some birds had indeed arrived overnight.
The extensive southerly winds had finally started to pay dividends, however, with the delivery of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The Dickcissel continued, and we had our best look at it since Friday. With only two of us, we covered grown more quickly and efficiently, so we tallied several species that the group had not seen together, such as the two ridiculously cooperative Soras at the Pumphouse. We also found an unusually-cooperative Mourning Warbler, which is always a treat in migration.
With a storm a’brewing, Kate and I departed together on the 3:15 Hardy Boat, and were treated to a Cory’s Shearwater and a Northern Fulmar that materialized out of the still-thick fog. Once a rarity in these waters, the Cory’s was rather late in departing, while the fulmar was on the early side of their arrival. I don’t recall having seen both species on a boat trip on the same day before, and any tubenose is “good” in these nearshore waters.
So that officially brought the 2020 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour to a close; ending on a real high note. Below, I will include Tuesday in the list, but I have separated out the species count for the four-day weekend for comparison sake. Please let me know if I missed something (it’s easy to do as I sit down and try to recall the day as the bed is calling my name!), but our tally for now was a solid 92 species – just two species below our average for the past 10 years.
However, the 12 species of warblers were well below our 10-year average of 18 species for the weekend. But given the accelerated migration season (food supply shortages due to drought and/or benign weather allowing migration to proceed relatively unimpeded), this was expected. And we made up for it with more sparrows than usual, and an impressive irruption underway. This was the most Purple Finches and White-breasted Nuthatches I can recall on the island, and along with a goodly number of Red-breasted Nuthatches and the first few Pine Siskins of fall, our island sample reflected what we are seeing on the mainland, and throughout the East.
While out to dinner last night (9/23/2020), I pulled my phone out to look up a couple of things on the menu Jeannette and I were perusing. I usually don’t bother clicking on an email with a subject line “Bird ID” when I am out to dinner; that’s for working hours. But I decided to click on this one from Dave Fensore.
I am sure glad that I did, because those were the photos it contained. Dave and his daughter, Sarah, were out for an afternoon stroll when they found this bird which they identified as a Say’s Phoebe. But they also noted its range: breeding no closer than central North Dakota and winter no closer than southern Texas, they began to have their doubts. Luckily the Sibley Guide shows that they are rare throughout the East, so it is not without precedence, but still, rare birds are rare, and so they sent the photos to me to be sure.
Needless to say, there’s not much question about the birds identify from these stellar photos!
The only question I had was whether or not it would be there in the morning, because for me, the chase was on!
See, Say’s Phoebe (with over a dozen records in Maine) is what I can definitely call a “nemesis” bird in the state for me. I’ve missed three birds on Monhegan, by a sum of less than about 30 hours. One that I missed by a couple of hours resulted in a sprained ankle that lingers with the occasional flare-up of tendinitis. A few friends love to point out how many Say’s Phoebes they have seen in Maine (what are friends for, afterall!). So this bird has physically and mentally scarred me for some time. I also missed at least one on the mainland because I was on Monhegan for the week.
But not anymore.
Sure, I skipped another Morning Flight at Sandy Point, but as of 6:55am this morning, I had finally seen a Say’s Phoebe in Maine. Dave and Carolyn, and Matthew Gilbert, were waiting there, fingers pointing, as I rolled up.
Early morning backlighting made for challenging photography conditions, and my camera is having some front-focusing issues. So my photos are not very good. Dave’s are definitely better, and my flight shots turned out to be a complete disaster. But mine are sweet, oh, so sweet. And my ankle doesn’t even hurt today.
The bird can be observed from the quiet and safe side of Shaker Rd (Old Rte 26…note that Shaker Rd leaves the Rte 26 Bypass a short distance south of here), from the crest of the hill immediately south of the historic village.
Please note, the Village is currently closed. There is no parking there or trespassing into the fields. Luckily, there is plenty of roadside parking on a wide shoulder, and all of the fields are easily visible from the roadside, so this should not be an issue. In fact, it cannot be an issue here; we must respect the community.
The bird is moving around the various fence lines, with the temporary white fence through the closest field being one of its favorite haunts.
I got the word out and birders began to arrive. I departed, owing Dave a whole lot of thanks. And wondering if I’ll find a Say’s Phoebe on Monhegan this weekend, because once you see your nemesis…
After missing Maine by just a few miles in 2018, it’s only a matter of time before we see the state’s first Neotropic Cormorant – a species that is rapidly expanding northward. Be sure to double-check a lone cormorant in a tiny pond or river!
As we put 2019 to bed and begin 2020, we have our eyes set on the birding future. As for the future of birding, well, that’s a blog for another day, but for now, what about the next “new birds” to be seen in Maine?
Yup, it’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.
The epic 2018 was going to be hard to follow – in fact, who knows if we’ll ever see a year as exceptional for new birds like that. While an above-average five new species were added to Maine’s state list in 2018, the infamous Great Black Hawk is a headliner for the ages.
We came back to Earth in 2019, with only 1 or 2 new species for Maine. The first, was a Zone-tailed Hawk in Bridgeton on May the 4th. This was #18 on my predictions list for next new species to be found in Maine following several regional sightings over the past few years.
Barolo’s Shearwater was on my honorable mention list, but I certainly did not expect to see it; I would have assumed it would have been photographed from a NOAA fisheries research ship in the summer in deeper waters near the continental shelf, or perhaps immediately following a hurricane.
With only 1-2 new species for Maine in 2018, I’ve only made a few minor changes to my forecast, including the debut of Black-capped Petrel. Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2020 is now:
1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Spotted Towhee
5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
6) Bermuda Petrel
7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
8) Common Shelduck
9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
17) Spotted Redshank
18) Painted Redstart
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-capped Petrel
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter
Personally, I added a respectable 5 species to my own Maine list this year as well, including my long-sought #1 (and #1 nemesis): Great Skua. We scored one in Maine waters on our cruise – the aforementioned cruise that resulted in the Barolo’s Shearwater. Whether you have respect for your state records committee or not, functioning ones are not the “list police” that tell you what you can and cannot count. After much review, study, and discussion, I am confident I saw a Barolo’s Shearwater, so I am putting it on my list. Since I don’t submit my list the the ABA, eBird, or anyone else, I get to make my own rules! But sorry folks, if you are playing the listing game, you have to play by the listing rules.
We were at a trade show in Portland when a Tundra Swan (#7 on my list) was spotted at Dunstan Landing in Scarborough Marsh, so we skipped out for a spell and successfully “twitched” it. It was a welcome break from being indoors all day, and it was an easy 15-minute chase.
Last, but definitely not least, was the Harris’s Sparrow at a feeder in Levant that I was lucky enough to see with friends on December 8th…my 385th species in Maine, but only on my list of honorable mentions. But I’ll call predicting 3 our of 5 new state birds a win!
Then, as always, there were the misses. American White Pelican (#5) is becoming a nemesis, with several brief sighting in Portland on May 16th, and another bird in Aroostook County in August. I worked hard for post-Hurricane Dorian rare terns in late September, but missed out on a Gull-billed Tern (#17) at Hill’s Beach on 9/28.
Not in my top 25, but no less disappointing to miss was Brown Booby that was spotted on and off, here and there, for perhaps much of the summer and a Tropical Kingbird in East Machias on 10/31. Much worse, however, was the dead Purple Gallinule found under the wires at Sandy Point on 10/19.
So with some big changes at the top, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine looks quite different.