Tag Archives: migration

A Record-Shattering 5 Days at Sandy Point!

NOPA
Northern Parulas were certainly the “bird of the week” at Sandy Point.

It was a special five-day run at Sandy Point Beach on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. It was a record-shattering run in fact, in which I tallied nearly 18,000 migrants engaging in the “Morning Flight,” or “morning re-determined migration” when nocturnally-migrating passerines relocate (to drastically oversimplify things) come sunrise.
SandyPoint_sunrise,9-13-17

(To learn more about Sandy Point, check out the site entry in Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide, and for more on nocturnal migration, interpreting the radar, and the “morning flight” phenomena, check out Chapter 5 in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder. Whaddya mean you don’t have these two books!?)

I’ve had a handful of four-day runs, but I cannot think of a time when conditions were favorable – and I was actually present, and not leading tours on Monhegan for example – for five straight days. But I have most certainly never had five days like this!

I recorded 72 species “deemed migrating” through here, not including migrants that were in the bushes, such as the Gray Catbirds and Song Sparrows that are so abundant in the brush here. It does not include species like Osprey, in which some of the many I saw this week were likely southbound, but impossible to separate from the still-locals. And this tally did not include all of the waterbirds, from Common Eiders to herds of dabbling American Black Ducks, and from Bald Eagles to hunting Great Blue Herons, as well as resident species.

I tallied 25 species of warblers, including a single Connecticut Warbler, one of the most sought-after parulids in Maine. A Northern Mockingbird was only my 5th ever noted here, and two passing Dickcissels are always a treat. But certainly the icing on the cake of this great week was the Lark Sparrow found by the group in the parking lot on the relatively quiet morning of 9/13. This was a first record for Sandy Point, and my personal 184th species here.
LASP, Becky

But it was the morning of the 11th that will go down in Sandy Point history!  8,185 migrants was not only a new record, but almost doubled the previous record (4,346 on Sept 21, 2010). It was incredible. More on that epic morning later.

A number of records for high counts for individual species were set, and I am sure even more would have been shattered if I had a higher rate of identification during the onslaught of the 11th.   Other trends, typical of the season, were evident, such as the slow but steady change in the composition of the flight. The early migrants like Magnolia Warblers were giving way to a growing percentage of Yellow-rumped Warbles and Blackpoll Warblers for example. But it sure seems like we’re not yet running our of Yellow Warblers and American Restarts, however!
AMRE
immature male American Redstart

YWAR
Yellow Warbler, adult male

So first, here’s the numbers (bold font indicates a new daily record).

 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12 9/13
Blue-winged Teal 3 0 0 0 0
Unidentified teal 0 0 4 0 0
Surf Scoter 3 0 0 0 0
Common Loon 4 0 0 3 0
Northern Harrier 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 1 0 0 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1 0
Mourning Dove 0 1 0 1 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 0 0 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Flicker 1 256 68 26 12
Pileated Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 0
American Kestrel 0 0 3 0 1
Merlin 1 1 0 1 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 4 0 0 0
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 0
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 0
Least Flycatcher 9 11 3 2 0
Unidentified Empidonax 5 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 3 2 2 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 1 0 0 0
Unidentified flycatcher 6 1 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 3 1 2 0
Philadelphia Vireo 3 4 2 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 42 49 30 9 4
Unidentified vireo 1 2 0 0 0
Blue Jay 0 0 0 2 5
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 0 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 1 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 1 0
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 1 5 4 0
Swainson’s Thrush 10 0 0 2 0
American Robin 4 3 1 2 0
Unidentified thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Cedar Waxwing 21 265 377 54 0
Ovenbird 0 0 0 0 1
Northern Waterthrush 0 0 0 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 33 59 41 32 5
Tennessee Warbler 4 2 2 8 0
Nashville Warbler 8 8 10 4 0
CONNECTICUT WARBLER 1 0 0 0 0
Mourning Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 5 5 2
American Redstart 602 550 844 119 16
Cape May Warbler 18 5 8 5 0
Northern Parula 705 630 692 612 205
Magnolia Warbler 66 117 32 23 2
Bay-breasted Warbler 5 3 1 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 7 6 1 0 0
Yellow Warbler 19 52 38 67 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 5 2 0 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 9 3 27 25 35
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8 7 4 4 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
“Western” Palm Warbler 1 0 0 0 0
Pine Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 6 3 19 11
Prairie Warbler 1 2 1 1 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 118 63 73 57 26
Canada Warbler 6 0 1 0 0
Wilson’s Warbler 12 17 7 4 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 1 3 1
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 2 0 0 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 1 1 4 1 0
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 1 0 0 0
Indigo Bunting 0 0 1 1 0
DICKCISSEL 0 0 1 0 1
Bobolink 1 2 0 0 0
Red-winged Blackbird 1 2 0 0 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 2 1 1 1 1
House Finch 0 0 0 1 1
Purple Finch 0 0 0 8 0
American Goldfinch 5 12 3 6 4
Unidentified 1915 1887 5893 737 192
TOTAL 3705 4057 8185 1866 540

 

Now, let’s take a look at the radar. Here are the density and velocity images from 1am (as a sample) on 9/9 and 9/10. That’s a ton of birds on the radar.
1amRadar,9-09-17
1amVelocity,9-09-17

1amRadar,9-10-17
1amVelocity,9-10-17

And even as late as 4:00am on each day, a lot of birds were visible, and a lot of birds were offshore.
4amRadar,9-09-17
4amRadar,9-10-17

The night of 9/8 through 9/9 featured light westerly winds, shifting to northwest by sunrise. And on the next night, light north winds became northwest overnight. Both, as expected, produced great flights over and through Sandy Point some dawn.

Weather patterns, especially at this time of year, rarely produce three great nights for migrants in a row. And when they do, it often results in fewer birds overnight (and therefore at Sandy Point) come sunrise; essentially, the well temporarily runs dry.

And as you can see by the 1:00am radar image from September 11th, the density was nowhere near the previous two nights, despite mostly light westerly winds overnight.
1amRadar,9-11-17
1amVelocity,9-11-17

And by 4:00am, it was rather quiet.
4amRadar,9-11-17

Light northwesterly winds in the evening slowly gave way to light north, before becoming light and variable. After midnight, they became west but didn’t really increase until after 2:00am. Coupled with a lackluster radar return, this was not a recipe for a huge flight.

Nonetheless with a light westerly wind at sunrise, I was heading to Sandy Point anyway. If only because it was a day off, and I won’t have many more chances to visit “my office” this month. A milky sunrise further clouded (sorry) my optimism for a big flight, but there were plenty of birds in the air.
Sunrise_on_big_day_atSP,9-11-17

And then all hell broke loose.

It was incredible. It was frustrating. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was amazing. It was indeed overwhelming, and at times, my only hopes at quantifying the flood was to skip attempting identification and just click my unidentified clicker as fast as I could.

And I really can’t explain it. It “shouldn’t” have been this amazing.

Come nightfall, with high pressure remaining in control, and with light westerly winds and clear skies once again, a moderate to strong flight occurred overnight. Here are the 1:00am and 4:00am radar images from the wee hours of 9/12:
1amRadar,9-12-17
1amVelocity,9-12-17

4amRadar,9-12-17

With light westerly winds come dawn, I was once again stationed at the bridge, and what was – prior to three days ago! – considered a very good flight passed over and through. It was even downright relaxing – and manageable – after the chaos of the previous morning. I had fun.

Not surprisingly, after four consecutive nights, the flight was much lighter overnight on the 12th into the 13th, as evidenced once again by the 1:00am and 4:00am images.
1amRadar,9-13-17
1amVelocity,9-13-17

4amRadar,9-13-17

And despite very light westerly winds in the morning, and clear skies, only a light flight was to pass through the point. Of course, that Lark Sparrow more than made up for it. It was also nice to enjoy a slower flight – and identify many more birds than not!

So almost every morning made sense: radar plus weather conditions correctly predicted the intensity of the flight. Except for one. The Big One. And I can’t explain it. But, I am OK (mostly) with that – it’s one of the fascinating and flabbergasting aspects of documenting the morning redetermined migration!

Winds turned to the south during the day on the 13th, and continued light and southerly overnight, bringing the streak of five great nights of migration to an end. Come morning, I also slept in – relatively speaking – and then went for a massage. As my therapist began to work on my aching neck, she simply uttered, “Wow” and got to work. I felt the same on Monday morning when the greatest flight I have ever recorded passed through Sandy Point.

IMG_6455-edited-edited
Species, such as this Swainson’s Thrush, that can be rather secretive in migration, are sometimes seen really well at Sandy Point!

Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend, 5/26-30/2017

OCWA_day5
Our group found a singing male Orange-crowned Warbler, one of the best birds of the weekend.

For the 7th year spring a row (fall tours since for over a decade), I spent my Memorial Day Weekend with a tour group visiting the magical and magnificent Monhegan Island. Exactly 100 species (including birds seen offshore during the ferry crossing) later – including 18 species of warblers – I was forced to depart, already counting down the days to my two fall tours (and perhaps making some plans for a summer visit…just because).

But the usually stress-free tour (compared to the logistics of much of the rest of my summer slate) got off to a rocky start (pun intended) with the early boat from New Harbor cancelling their morning trip late in the evening on Thursday. We made plans to head up to Port Clyde instead, and early in the morning, we received confirmation that all was well with the 10:30 am departure and we were reserved on it. Phew!

The whole group rendezvoused in Port Clyde, where based on the ride, well, let’s just say we were glad we were taking a big, heavy boat with a route that is sheltered for the first half. Because once we cleared the islands, well, things got a ‘rollin! But as always, the captain of the Monhegan Boat adeptly chose the route, and we basically tacked our way to Monhegan to avoid taking the swells on broadside. It was breezy enough that we were able to avoid the rain but remain in the fresh air outside on the stern (without diesel fumes), and we even spotted two Atlantic Puffins on the trip! But as for that small gull that was wheeling off in the distance just as we hit a trough and I hit John in my scramble for a view…well, we’ll never know.

Not surprisingly, the trip took longer than usual, but it allowed us to miss the rain! We arrived shortly after noon, with just a little lingering drizzle and mist. With diminishing northeast winds, we were prepared for worse, so we were fine with merely cool, only damp, and rather slow birding. Sure was better than steady rain and wind! And there were a few good birds to track down, led by the three Cattle Egrets that had been frequenting the island – my 206th species on the island, and a state bird for most of the group, at least. They were not hard to find, and were in fact pretty hard to miss for the better part of the next two and a half days. Really, until Jeannette arrived on Sunday, but that’s a story for a different day.
CAEG

Good looks at Philadelphia Vireo, a very vociferous Sora, and a dusk vigil which resulted in very close encounters with Common Nighthawks rounded out a productive first day.
EAKI
Eastern Kingbirds spent most of the weekend foraging low along the shoreline.

5/27: Day 2.
Well, that was a cold night in the rooms! Clearly the buildings of the island didn’t have a whole lot of ambient warmth built up, and extra blankets were at a premium. And with light northeast winds overnight, little to no migration was visible on the radar or in the dawn flight, but it was our first morning on the island, so we had a lot of birding to do.

A few pockets of migrants here and there slowly built up the checklist, with occasionally goodies including the Cattle Egrets, an immature male Orchard Oriole, a good look for most of a singing Mourning Warbler, and a fleeting White-eyed Vireo. We finally caught up with a female Summer Tanager (a bona fide one, not the female Scarlet with some missing feathers near the base of her bill), and we once again finished the day with feeding nighthawks, the incessantly calling Sora, and last but not least, a displaying American Woodcock.
female_SUTA
Female Summer Tanager

BAOR
Immature male Baltimore Oriole.

BLPW
Male Blackpoll Warbler

In between, we feasted on delicious pizza at The Novelty, fueled ourselves with coffee at the Black Duck, and relaxed in the late afternoon with a beer at Monhegan Brewing (including ginger beer and root beer, too). Yeah, a slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than most days most anywhere else!
Yew_Sunset, 5-27-17_edited-1

5/28: Day 3
With some people departing on Saturday, and others joining us for Sunday, we started Day 3 with a great find: A singing Orange-crowned Warbler right outside the Trailing Yew. Well, OK, it found us, and I’ll admit to taking way too long to identify it by sound with my pre-coffee and poor-night’s-sleep foggy state. Eventually, we had great looks at it, and those who were not yet with us were able to catch up with it later in the day or early Monday morning. This is a great bird in Maine in spring. In fact, it may have been my first in Maine in this season.
OCWA

Clearing skies and calm winds overnight allowed for an impressive migration, and the Orange-crowned was just the start of a great day of birding. The first half of the day was very birdy, with lots of new arrivals and new species. It was one of those mornings that were hard to break for breakfasts…but those breakfasts are all so damn good!

We found a second White-eyed Vireo, had unusually good looks at several Swainson’s Thrushes and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and slowly built up our triplist. It was a very good day, featuring a goodly total of 70 species.
MAWA
Magnolia Warbler
RBGR
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
WIWA
Wilson’s Warbler
YWAR
Yellow Warbler

5/29: Day 4
Light southerly winds at dusk had me optimistic as birds took to the air en masse come sunset. However, overnight, the winds shifted more easterly, shunting the flight inland, and overall, many more birds departed than arrived. With dense fog and a little mist come morning, my hopes for fallout conditions were dashed by the light to moderate easterly.

And accordingly, birding was very slow. I had a private tour for the first 2/3rds of the day, and we clawed our way through scattered small migrant flocks to find the goodies. There were definitely more Yellow-bellied Flycatchers around – including several unusually well out in the open. But the skies cleared up as the fog lifted, and we had a decent morning, a good part of which was simply spent exploring the woodlands of the interior of the island.
YBFL
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Smooth_Green_Snake
A photo session with a Smooth Green Snake was a nice treat, however.

Zippy_GreenSnake,5-28-17_edited-1

In the afternoon, Jeannette and I joined with several friends for some casual birding and conversation. Of course, once “off the clock,” my luck returned. After two of our friends had spent the weekend desperate for a good look at the Mourning Warbler, I walk by Donna’s lawn and calmly proclaim “umm, the Mourning Warbler is in Donna’s lawn.” We received permission to enter her yard, and followed it around the house for a while as it foraged around the foundation. This is not where I usually expect to see a Mourning Warbler, but we’ll take it. Unfortunately, all of Jeannette’s photos of it are of its butt.

Although it remained very slow overall, we had some really great looks at several birds we never did see on the tour, like a male Indigo Bunting, a Northern Waterthrush, and two very cooperative Olive-sided Flycatchers. We also caught up with the immature male Summer Tanager that was hanging out with the female and at least three Scarlet Tanagers – an impressive swatch of color and splendor, let alone offering good studies and comparisons.
INBU

OSFL

RedBelliedSnake2,5-29-17_edited-1
Undersides of a Red-bellied Snake
Male_SCTA
Male Scarlet Tanager
Male_SUTA
Immature male Summer Tanager

And in the afternoon, after everyone else departed, Jeannette and I happened upon a female Bay-breasted Warbler at Fish Beach that needed some help. Several mealworms later (a new species for my fed-mealworms list!) she hopped off into cover to digest. And I am happy to report that by the next morning, she didn’t need any handouts as she was actively foraging on her own.
female_BBWAfemale_BBWA_withMealworms

Jeannette and I enjoyed dinner at the Island Inn as our 24-hour vacation got underway, with Common Nighthawk, Sora, and American Woodcock serenading us on the way home.
IMG_4562-edited-edited
Willets spotted earlier in the day by Jeannette and several others as they briefly alighted on the island.

Day 5: 5/30.
It was just Jeannette and I today, and with no visible migration on the radar and expansive fog, our main plans were to sleep in for a change – and for the last time for me until July! So we did not expect to be woken up by sun shining into our windows.

Not surprisingly, I popped up and outside, and began birding with another great look at the continuing Orange-crowned Warbler. There were not a lot of new birds around, not surprisingly, but with sun shining, birds were out at edges and easy to see. The female Bay-breasted Warbler was busy catching seaweed flies at Fish Beach, joined by a companion male Blackburnian Warbler and later, a young male American Redstart.
BBWA_day5
BLBW-FishBeach
AMRE-FishBeach

We finally saw a Bald Eagle after five days on the island, and 4-7 Great Blue Herons dropped in for a visit. It was extremely quiet after breakfast, but again birds were just pleasantly visible in the sun, especially in blooming apple trees. Things like the Eastern Kingbirds, which spent most of the weekend feeding in and around patches of seaweed on the beaches were up and about, flycatching “normally” from treetops. We also slowly padded the triplist, with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (incredibly, the first woodpecker of my five days here – how did I miss the resident Downies?) and great look at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (my first of the year, and later, a very good look at a Black-billed as well). The male Summer Tanager, at least, continued to frequent a feeding station, and a Garter Snake was my third snake of the weekend (Smooth Green on a couple of occasions, and a single Red-bellied on Monday morning).
GBHE

FISP
Field Sparrow

A little wave of presumed migrant swallows increased the number of Barn and Tree Swallows by 2-3 each, but also including 3 Bank and 1 Cliff Swallow, the final two new species of our stay.

The afternoon was quite slow otherwise, but admittedly, we spent a decent portion of the last couple of hours of the afternoon involved in conversation at the brewery, and about everywhere in between.
brewery_bins,5-30-17_edited-1

horn_hill,5-30-17_edited-1

But alas, it was time to go, on the late boat back to Port Clyde. We said our goodbyes, for now, wondering if we’ll be back next spring (depending on if that misguided wind project gets underway), but also how soon we can get back this summer!
departure,5-30-17_edited-1

While we didn’t have any puffins – or any other seabirds – on our smooth ride back, we did have a couple of Roseate Terns as we approached Port Clyde. And then it was time for the drive home, and back into entry into the real world!

Here’s the five day daily checklist:
Mallard 16-16-10-12-10
Common Eider x-x-x-x-x
Ring-necked Pheasant 0-0-1-1-1
Common Loon 0-0-2-1-3
Northern Gannet 10-0-1-3-3
Double-crested Cormorant x-x-x-x-x
Great Cormorant 0-0-2-2-1
CATTLE EGRET 3-3-2-0-0
Great Blue Heron 0-0-0-0-4
Green Heron 0-2-0-0-0
Osprey 0-0-1-0-1
Bald Eagle 0-0-0-0-1
Merlin 0-1-1-1-1
Peregrine Falcon 0-1-0-0-0
Sora 1-1-1-1-1
Greater Yellowlegs 1-0-0-0-0
Spotted Sandpiper 0-1-0-0-0
American Woodcock 0-1-0-0-0
Laughing Gull (8)-0-2-2-11
Herring Gull x-x-x-x-x
Great Black-backed Gull x-x-x-x-x
Common Tern (x)-0-0-0-0
Roseate Tern 0-0-0-0-(2)
Black Guillemot x-x-x-x-x
ATLANTIC PUFFIN (2)-0-0-0-0
Mourning Dove 4-8-6-6-4
Black-billed Cuckoo 0-1-0-0-1
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0-0-0-0-1
Common Nighthawk 2-2-0-1-0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2-3-3-2-3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0-0-0-0-1
Belted Kingfisher 0-0-1-1-0
Olive-sided Flycatcher 0-0-0-2-0
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2-1-2-2-1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 0-0-3-6-0
Alder Flycatcher 0-0-1-1-0
Willow Flycatcher 0-3-3-2-1
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 1-2-0-0-0
Least Flycatcher 0-3-4-0-2
Eastern Kingbird 5-4-3-2-2
WHITE-EYED VIREO 0-1-1-0-0
Blue-headed Vireo 0-1-0-0-0
Philadelphia Vireo 1-3-4-3-2
Red-eyed Vireo 3-6-15-6-4
Blue Jay 6-8-6-6-6
American Crow 4-x-x-x-x
Common Raven 0-0-0-1-0
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 0-0-1-0-0
Tree Swallow 0-2-2-2-2
Bank Swallow 0-0-0-0-03
Barn Swallow 0-3-3-0-4
Cliff Swallow 0-0-0-0-1
Black-capped Chickadee x-x-x-x-x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 4-4-8-8-4
House Wren 0-1-0-0-0
Winter Wren 0-0-2-2-1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0-0-6-10-4
Veery 1-0-1-0-0
Swainson’s Thrush 0-0-4-1-1
American Robin 8-10-10-12-15
Gray Catbird 20-x-x-x-x
Brown Thrasher 0-1-0-1-0
European Starling 4-6-6-10-10
Cedar Waxwing 40-40-40-30-50
Tennessee Warbler 0-0-2-0-0
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 0-0-1-1-1
Northern Parula 3-6-8-8-8
Yellow Warbler 15-20-15-12-20
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0-4-10-8-6
Magnolia Warbler 1-3-20-10-15
Yellow-rumped Warbler 0-0-0-2-0
Black-throated Green Warbler 2-3-8-8-4
Blackburnian Warbler 0-1-6-6-8
Bay-breasted Warbler 0-1-0-1-1
Blackpoll Warbler 4-10-20-10-15
Black-and-white Warbler 0-2-2-2-1
American Redstart 6-15-40-20-10
Northern Waterthrush 0-0-0-1-0
MOURNING WARBLER 0-1-0-1-0
Common Yellowthroat 12-20-x-x-x
Wilson’s Warbler 1-0-4-1-2
Canada Warbler 0-1-2-0-1
SUMMER TANAGER 0-1-0-2-2
Scarlet Tanager 1-4-3-3-3
Chipping Sparrow 0-4-2-4-2
Field Sparrow 0-1-0-1-1
Savannah Sparrow 0-2-2-2-1
Song Sparrow x-x-x-x-x
White-throated Sparrow 0-1-1-0-1
Northern Cardinal x-8-8-8-6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1-3-3-3-4
Indigo Bunting 0-0-1-2-1
Bobolink 0-1-2-1-0
Red-winged Blackbird 15-14-x-x-x
Common Grackle x-x-x-x-x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0-1-0-0-0
Baltimore Oriole 4-3-5-3-3
Purple Finch 2-3-2-2-1
Pine Siskin 0-0-1-0-0
American Goldfinch 10-12-10-10-8

so_many_birders2,Monhegan,5-17-17_edited-1
Just a typical Memorial Day Weekend full of birders on Monhegan!

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Hooded Warbler, and Other April Rarities thanks to this Storm.

While outdoor enthusiasts, those with yardwork to do, Zane at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, and many others bemoaned the coastal storm that made for inclement weather from Tuesday through Friday morning, birders from the Mid-Atlantic to Nova Scotia were gearing up.

With the large (if not overall strong) area of low pressure riding up the Atlantic seaboard in late April when numerous species are now on the move, “Rarity Fever” symptoms were reported widely. As if recent “Megas” like Vermillion Flycatcher and Fieldfare here in Maine weren’t enough to stoke the fire, friends in Cape May began posting their “wish list” of possibilities. Storms such as these, sometimes called “slingshot” events can deposit birds further north than usual, facilitate the arrival of record-early migrants, and perhaps produce some astounding vagrant.

This far north, I simply had daydreams of southern “overshoots” that occur in most years – but especially following such storm systems – such as Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, and Hooded Warbler. But I also started thinking about things from further afield like Swainson’s Warbler, all sorts of terns, and maybe even something from even further away like a South American Fork-tailed Flycatcher who overshot its goal and then got caught up in the system. Maybe a Magnificent Frigatebird? Or perhaps something else on one of my predictions lists for next birds for Maine, and myself.

While weather isn’t truly the ultimate cause of many vagrants, it certainly facilities their arrival in far-flung places. And weather can certainly impact migrants and displace them slightly further afield than they usually range. And storms like this, moving out of the Bahamas, strengthening in the South Atlantic Bight, and marching up the coast has quite a history of producing some great birding. (I wrote more in depth about some of these factors and causes of vagrancy in Chapter 4 of my first book, How to Be a Better Birder).

Here are the wind maps and surface maps from Tuesday through Thursday.
surface map, 4-25-17
wind map, 4-25-17

surface map, 4-26-17
wind map, 4-26-17

surface map, 4-27-17
wind map, 4-27-17

So, I cleared my schedule, kept an eye on the listserves to our south during the rain on Wednesday, and hit the field on Thursday, starting at Biddeford Pool. A few years ago, one similar (but stronger) storm system yielded a Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Hooded Warbler in the neighborhood, and I had similar hopes for this morning.

I got really excited when one of the first birds I saw was a Magnolia Warbler (very early, perhaps by as much as 10-14 days!). Surprisingly, it was the ONLY warbler I saw all morning, and its early arrival is undoubtedly related to the storm. My first House Wrens were right about on schedule, however, and my first Veery was only marginally early.

However, in the same yard on Third Street, and loosely associating with said Veery, was not a bird I expected at all! In fact, I have a rule that I like to instill on my birdwalk participants: if it’s April in Maine and you see a dark-spotted Catharus thrush, it IS a Hermit Thrush. This was the exception to the rule.
L1090495_GCTH1L1090520_GCTH3

There’s no doubt it was either a Gray-cheeked or a Bicknell’s Thrush, but those birds can be very challenging to ID. Generally very secretive in migration, getting good looks – let alone good photos – is often impossible. And neither is expected to be walking around front yards in a neighborhood!

It is also incredibly early, as neither of these species is usually detected in Maine (if at all, especially Gray-cheeked) until the third week of May, and sometimes not until even later. This was beyond early, and certainly suggests its arrival here was at least partially influenced by the storm system.

The overall cool gray appearance without any hints of reddish-brown anywhere (no matter what light angle I viewed it in) immediately suggested Gray-cheeked Thrush, but the date and circumstances warranted careful study. I even posted the photos online, sent them directly to friends, and added them to at least one forum, hoping for additional feedback.
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However, other than the seemingly “dumpy” shape of the bird, nothing here suggests Bicknell’s Thrush to me. There’s just nothing warm anywhere in this bird’s plumage, and the cheeks are finally streaked gray, not more even washed warmish-brown as in most Bicknell’s. There’s no contrast within the wings, or especially between the uppertail and the rump, either.

Although this bird’s bill is fairly extensively pale, it isn’t as bright yellow as many Bicknell’s – although I can admit to not really being a fan of this fieldmark – and even has a hint of pinkish.

In other words, as several commenters mentioned, this really looks like a “classic” Gray-cheeked Thrush, with perhaps the appearance of a smaller size and more compact shape suggestive of the subspecies minimus that breeds mostly in Newfoundland and Labrador (it’s also the subspecies whose breeding range makes the most geographical sense to appear in Maine in spring). Of course, without measurements or vocalizations, there is still a little tinge of doubt in coming to a conclusive identification.

Now, a Bicknell’s Thrush, wintering somewhere in the northern West Indies or perhaps Cuba, beginning its trek to the mountains of the northeast, could have been entrained or “slingshot” by this storm. In fact, it would make a lot of sense. But Gray-cheeked Thrushes winter mainly in northern South America, and head north through Central America. That route would not seem to be effected by this storm. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, and the storm was only a proximate cause of its arrival in Biddeford Pool.

Anyway, elsewhere in Maine, a White-eyed Vireo was in Cape Elizabeth (present through Friday) and a Summer Tanager was reported in Southwest Harbor. Early migrants included a Scarlet Tanager in Ogunquit and one found deceased in Cape Elizabeth, along with a few scattered Indigo Buntings as far inland as North Yarmouth.

Meanwhile, to our south, birders in Cape May had a White Ibis (and, even more excitingly, a –our!? – Little Egret, a first state record that may not have anything to do with the storm); a Red Phalarope and a smattering of birds just beyond their normal range, such as Summer Tanager, were in Manhattan, and a Kentucky and Yellow-throated Warbler were on Cape Cod among some of the widespread reports of “early” migrant arrivals.

During the day on Thursday, the low pressure system continued to weaken and dissipate over the Gulf of Maine, with a snotty easterly and drizzly onshore flow continuing. A weak, slow-moving cold front finally cleared things out mid-day on Friday.
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In the dense fog on Bailey Island in Harpswell early Friday morning, I found pockets of migrants (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows) but also several surprises, led by 1 male Hooded Warbler and a White-eyed Vireo, both along Elden Point Road – the kind of southern “overshoots” we have come to expect here in Maine from these type of storms.
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There were quite a few other migrants around, as well. A total of 9 Blue-headed Vireos included a flock of 6 together, and there were scattered other migrants such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Savannah Sparrows.

An early Yellow Warbler was also present, as were marginally-early (based on the current progress of the season) included 1 Common Yellowthroat and 1 Great-crested Flycatcher, while other personal FOY’s included more on-time Black-and-white Warbler (7) and Ovenbird (1-2). 11 Palm Warblers were my seventh species of warbler on the morning (plus Pine Warblers singing at home).

Elsewhere, another Hooded Warbler was found at Timber Point in Biddeford, and smattering of other early migrants included a Warbling Vireo on the Eastern Promenade (where a goodly number of birds were reported in the fog this morning)

I can only imagine what might have been found if every peninsula and island was covered over the past few days! So, with more birders hitting the field this weekend, and more people home from work to check on their feeders, I wonder what will be found. Maybe a Painted Bunting at a feeder? A Purple Gallinule in a marsh? But you know what I would like the most? A Swallow-tailed Kite over Bradbury Mountain during my hawkwatch workshop as part of the annual Feathers Over Freeport events!

Reference:
Clement, Peter. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

2016 Rarity Season Part I

In my last blog, I predicted some great birding was in store for us here in Maine. Our entry into “Rarity Season” coupled with an active weather pattern was undoubtedly going to make for some exciting birding in the near future. It certainly started off with a bang!

Immediately following the Nor’Easter that drenched us on Friday, October 28th…
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…a Sabine’s Gull was discovered on Sabattus Pond.
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This gorgeous gull was my 373rd species in Maine, and while I knew I was going to see one sooner than later, I expected to finally get one in Maine waters during my Washington County Weekend tour (we were close!), and not well inland on a small lake!

Whether blown inland by the strong winds or “grounded” as it cross-cut over land, this pelagic is not what one expects while scanning the ducks at Sabattus.  An early 1st Winter Iceland Gull (later, two), and a rare-inland sweep of all three species of scoters (9 Surf, 4 Black, and 1 White-winged) were all related to the weather as well.
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Similarly, an adult Black-legged Kittiwake out of place in a pond at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on Sunday was likely storm-related. Although regular to downright common offshore, this is not a bird we usually see onshore in southern Maine.
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One can only imagine what else was on the 2,600+ lakes in the state of Maine during and immediately after the storm! Jeannette and I did check a few spots around Sebago Lake on Halloween, but it was surely too long after the storm, and the only birds of some note we turned up were single Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover (fairly rare inland, especially this late) at Raymond Town Beach.

I bird hard this time of year, doing my best to finish projects and keep my schedule as clear as possible to afford as much time in the field during these fruitful weeks. While I skipped birding in Portland, I did cover a lot of ground, and searched for odd birds in odd places, as well as focusing on the seasonal “migrant trap” hotspots.

In doing so, I found a few good birds, including this Lark Sparrow (always a treat away from Monhegan) at Pott’s Point in Harpswell on 11/10:
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As for wayward vagrants seen around the state by others, there were quite a few from the south: a Blue Grosbeak in Portland on 10/31, a couple more Yellow-breasted Chats were found here and there, and most surprisingly, a Blue-winged Warbler in Saxl Park in Bangor on November 7th – this early migrant simply has to be a reverse-migrant or 180-degree misoriented migrant from points south; right? And the headlines, from the southwest, as a Cave Swallow reported from Cape Elizabeth on the 12th.

From the west (and/or mid-west) came a Clay-colored Sparrow at Two Lights State Park on 11/6 and a few scattered Dickcissels around the state (but where are the Western Kingbirds this year?). A Cattle Egret in South Thomaston on 11/6 and another in Pittston on the 13th could have come from either direction.

But it’s not just rarities that make this time of year so much fun. There are all of the regular migrants that are still “lingering.” Some of the late birds that I have seen in the past weeks included a Red-eyed Vireo along the Saco Riverwalk and 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper at Biddeford Pool Beach on 10/30, a Red-eyed Vireo at Sandy Point on 11/1, a Pine Warbler and a late-ish Winter Wren on Bailey Island in Harpswell on 11/4, a slightly tardy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with Jeannette at Beaver Park in Lisbon on 11/8, a Turkey Vulture over Falmouth on 11/11, two Winter Wrens on Peak’s Island on 11/14, and a smattering of Hermit Thrushes.

Other birders also reported the usual slew of truant migrants, such as a smattering of Baltimore Orioles, a couple of Scarlet Tanagers, and a decent variety of late warblers here and there. There’s still a Marbled Godwit, 4 American Oystercatchers, and 2 Red Knots at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford Pool; I enjoyed them on the 30th, but they continued to be reported through at least 11/2 with the godwit still being reported as of 11/12!  A few Long-billed Dowitchers were reported, with the one at Sabattus Pond on 11/5 being at the most unexpected location.

The winner, however, is the immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that appeared at a feeder on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth on November 10th! I viewed it the next morning and it continues through today, the 14th. Although the photos taken by the homeowner looked good for “just” a Ruby-throat, I hoped I was missing something from the still images. Any lingering questions/hopes I had were dashed however.

That being said, it’s still a great record. Through our store we have been promoting keeping up hummingbird feeders into November for over a decade, and our database of observations after early October is growing. When I first got a call yesterday, I was sure this was going to be “a good one.” It was Nov 10th after all!

Amazingly, this is the same house that hosted a Selasphorus hummingbird last fall! In other words, it sure does pay to keep those feeders out, even if it’s “just” a Ruby-throat!
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Other, more seasonal, highlights for me over these two weeks included the following. Jeannette and I had 100 Horned Larks along Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester on 10/31; 18 Snow Buntings and 13 Horned Larks flew over Bailey Island on 11/4; a Lapland Longspur with 6 Horned Larks were at Stover’s Point Preserve in Harpswell on 11/10; two Ruddy Turnstones were at Winslow Park in Freeport on 11/12 with the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group – one of only two or three places in the state we regularly see them during the winter.

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This Barred Owl on Bailey Island on 11/4 was a treat. Any day with an owl is a good day!

Meanwhile, the new arrivals – including many species that will be spending the winter with us – continue to arrive, my “first of seasons” this week included 2 Common Goldeneyes at Sabattus Pond on the 29th, 2 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows at Timber Point in Biddeford on 10/30…
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…lots of Horned Grebes arriving all over, 2 Harlequin Ducks at East Point in Biddeford Pool and 3 Purple Sandpipers at Hill’s Beach on 10/30.

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There were also plenty of Dunlin and Sanderlings around this week, such as this one Dunlin nestled amongst the Sanderlings on Biddeford Pool Beach on the 30th.

Waterfowl migration is in full effect, and not just at Sabattus Pond (although that is certainly one of the top spots in the state). Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers are all piling in, and dabblers are also on the go, such as the single drake Northern Pintail and American Wigeon at Great Pond in Biddeford on 10/30. Common Mergansers are also now arriving; I saw my first migrants at Sebago Lake on 10/31.

Jeannette and I visited Sabattus on a gorgeous, warm day on the 8th, with glass-calm conditions allowing for careful combing through the masses: 649 Ruddy Ducks, 510 Mallards, 176 Lesser and 119 Greater Scaup, 104 American Black Ducks, 73 Buffleheads, 69 Hooded Mergansers, 40 Common Mergansers, 13 Northern Pintails,11 Common Goldeneye, 8 Green-winged Teal, 5 White-winged and 1 Surf Scoter, 4 American Wigeons, 4 Common Loons, and a very-rare-inland Red-necked Grebe.

On 11/13, I returned with a Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour with our partners at the Maine Brew Bus. Although I didn’t count everything as carefully as I do when on my own, “Fall Ducks and Draughts” did record 600+ Ruddy Ducks, 3 Gadwalls, AND 2 White-winged Scoters amongst the 14 species of waterfowl present.

The “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields” have been slow this year so far, likely also due to the mild weather and lack of early snowfalls to our north. In fact, the only “good” goose so far has been a “Blue” Snow Goose that showed up during the week of October 17th continuing through at least 11/11.  Canada Geese numbers remain rather low however; I have still not surpassed even 600 total birds this season.

There’s still some passerine migration a’happening, as well. For example, my last two days at Sandy Point for the season yielded 221 birds on 10/31 (led by 123 American Robins and 18 American Crows) and 131 on 11/1 (led by 59 Dark-eyed Juncos and 44 American Robins). Common Grackles and a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds are still heading south, although their numbers are greatly reduced over the past week.

Sparrows also continue to move through, with lots of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows on the move, and my first American Tree Sparrow arriving at the Yarmouth Town Landing on 11/5 during our Saturday Morning Birdwalk, followed by more as the weeks progressed. A White-crowned Sparrow at Biddeford Pool on 10/30 was getting late, but there are still scattered Chipping Sparrows here and there as usual, including one still here at the store’s feeders.
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This junco on our back porch on November 6th appears to be of the inter-mountain subspecies/hybrid swarm often labeled as “cistmontanus.”  It’s definitely not a pure “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco, and the curved hood with buff of the sides traveling up to below the fold of the wing, however, suggest that this is not a pure “Slate-colored” Junco either.

And speaking of feeder birds, a recent spate of Evening Grosbeak reports (I have heard or seen several 1’s and 2’s recently, but 6 were at Old Town House Park on 11/3), along with an uptick in Purple Finches and Pine Siskins are suggestive of a decent winter around here for at least some of the finches. I also had a few single Red Crossbills fly over in a handful of locations recently. And the first Northern Shrike reports have started trickling in.

But overall, we’re off to a fairly slow start to the November Rarity Season. My guess is the lack of cold fronts early in the fall ushered fewer birds east (e.g. Western Kingbird) but also it remains fairly mild. I’m just not sure birds have begun concentrating yet in places that birders find them (like coastal migrant traps, city parks, etc). But as temperatures continue to drop, this might change. Afterall, after a very slow November last year (also very mild), December was simply incredible.

As the shorter days get colder (maybe), I would expect more birds to begin turning up, especially at feeders and along the immediate coast. The coming weeks always produce something remarkable.

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A blast of cold, Canadian air finally arrived this past weekend, as evidenced by the wind map of 11/11.

However, it might be hard to top the incredible and unprecedented White Wagtail that showed up in Rye, New Hampshire on 11/2 through early the next. You know I’ll be trying though!

Protect Monhegan!

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Today, I wanted to update you on some developments regarding the fight against the misguided and misplaced wind turbines off Monhegan Island.

I’ve written about the issue here on several occasions. I encourage you to check out these posts, and the links contained within, for some background if you need it:

1) Our Letter in Opposition of the Monhegan Wind Project & Press Coverage of the Story.  December 12, 2013.

2) Yup, We’re Still Against Industrial Wind Development near Monhegan Island. December 21, 2015.

3)  Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island. July 6, 2016.

The latest news come from the new group “Protect Monhegan,” formed by a group of island residents to fight the placement of the project. In order to keep this in their own words – and not mine – I will simply offer their recent press release below. It includes more background as well as contact information.

In the meantime, I urge you to stay abreast of the ongoing struggle. I’ll do my best to inform via this blog and our store’s Facebook page, but please “like” and follow the new Protect Monhegan Facebook page. That’s your best source for up to date information.

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For immediate release

November 1, 2016

Contact: Travis Dow
(207) 594-2527
tgdow@hotmail.com

MONHEGAN RESIDENTS SAY WIND TURBINES ARE TOO CLOSE TO ISLAND

New group calls on Maine Aqua Ventus partners to re-locate the project.

MONHEGAN, Maine – A group of residents from Monhegan Island are calling on the partners in the Maine Aqua Ventus offshore wind project to move their massive turbines further away from the island, saying the proposed project will do “irreparable harm” to their community 10 miles off the Maine coast.

In a letter sent last month to the project partners, Travis Dow of the newly formed group, Protect Monhegan, said: “Monhegan is Maine’s most iconic offshore island and a place of major historical significance and natural beauty. The location of massive wind turbines less than three miles from Monhegan’s shores threatens the beauty and tranquility that has made Monhegan such a special place for so many for generations.”

The letter was sent to the leaders of the Aqua Ventus partnership: Emera, Inc., Cianbro Corporation, and the University of Maine and its Advanced Structures & Composites Center. Dow, a Monhegan resident, town official, and small businessperson, said that he has yet to receive a response.
According to Dow, what began several years ago as a proposal for a 1/8 scale wind turbine to be located off Monhegan for only two five-month periods, has now become a full-scale wind energy project, with two massive wind turbines (approximately 600 feet tall) to be located just two and a-half miles off Monhegan for the next 20 years or more.

Dow said Monhegan residents were not aware of the implications of the legislation that allowed this project to go forward on a fast track. There are no height restrictions in the legislation, and UMaine spoke only of an 85’ model being in the test site. Dow also said that the community was not represented in the negotiation of the subsequent term sheet between the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Aqua Ventus partners, which was signed prior to Monhegan hiring a lawyer.

“The whole process has been littered with misinformation and closed door meetings,” Dow said.

The Protect Monhegan letter reminds the AquaVentus project partners of Monhegan’s history, noting that it was used as a fishing camp by Native Americans, was visited by European explorers even before the Plymouth Colony was established and has been home to generations of fishing families. Monhegan also has been an inspiration to many of America’s foremost artists, and is visited by thousands of tourists and summer residents each year.

“Monhegan’s special character can never be replaced, but your wind turbines can – and must – be moved out of the island’s sightlines,” the letter states. “Simply put, Monhegan is no place to experiment with wind turbines or to establish a commercial wind farm, any more than it would be to place these massive turbines this close to Acadia National Park or Mt. Katahdin. Surely there must be other locations in the vast Gulf of Maine that would serve your purposes without forever marring Monhegan’s unrivalled 360-degree view of the ocean and incredible night skies,”

Dow also noted the importance of Monhegan from an ecological standpoint. The island is arguably the most important landfall in Maine for migrating birds along the North Atlantic Flyway. Monhegan was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1966, and the waters around Monhegan were designated a Lobster Conservation Area by the State of Maine in 1997.

Members of Protect Monhegan support the further exploration and development of offshore wind, but their letter makes it clear that they are adamant in their belief that putting wind turbines so close to Monhegan will do “irreparable harm to our beloved island.”

Protect Monhegan (facebook.com/ProtectMonhegan) is made up of island year-round residents, summer residents and friends of Monhegan. The group has been formed to fight the proposed location of the Maine Aqua Ventus wind turbines and to create a thoughtful, comprehensive, realistic vision for the island for the next 50 to 100 years.

In addition to Dow, who serves as president, other officers are Candis Cousins, vice president, Paul Hitchcox, treasurer, and Kathie Iannicelli, secretary. Protect Monhegan can be found online at facebook.com/ProtectMonhegan and can be reached by email at protectmonhegan@gmail.com or by phone at 207-691-1399.

# # #

NOTE: Travis Dow can be interviewed by Skype from Monhegan. Please contact him at (207) 594-2527 to arrange a Skype video conference or an interview on the mainland.

Additional media contact:

Ted O’Meara | Corporate Communications & Public Affairs

207-653-2392

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Rarity Season is Upon Us!

I do like a good storm system. Especially as Rarity Season is now upon us! So besides our desperately-needed rain, I was anxious for this weekend’s weathah in the hopes it will set up some action for my favorite time in the birding year.

The winds turned east on Thursday (10/20), and strengthening easterly winds, scattered showers, and developing fog minimized the migration overnight into Friday morning. It was hard to tell from the radar is there was some limited, low movement, which would be indicative of the sparrows that move this time of year. Florida Lake Park was slow in the morning, though, and nothing new was under our feeders at home or at the store, however.

During the day on Friday, a shortwave moved out of the Ohio Valley, and overrunning precipitation fell during the day. By dark, however, that low was deepening and strengthening, and overnight, it tapped tropical moisture, leading to torrential rains, isolated thunderstorm, and by far our best soaker in at least 6 months: 3-6 inches of rain fell over the area! Southeasterly winds turned back to the east before going calm with thickening fog by morning.
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Fog and a little drizzle on Saturday morning was all that our Saturday Morning Birdwalk had to contend with on our outing to Wolfe’s Neck Farm; it does seem like there are more Laughing Gulls around later this year than I can ever remember (just the warm weather or are these related to Hurricane Mathew?).

The low slowly moved into the Canada, with an onshore flow (I had hoped for more southwesterlies) throughout the day. On the backside of the system, winds shifted to the west overnight while more rain and showers continued from the afternoon through the first half of the night. Winds were howling west by the morning, and the air definitely felt seasonable for a change.
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With the storm system pulling away to the north…
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…and the temperatures falling (and even some snowfall was seen in the mountains!) it’s time to really go birding!
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On Sunday, Phil McCormack and I headed over Peak’s Island, a place I really want to spend more time searching in the fall. Afterall, it’s a mere 15-minute ferry ride, there are a variety of interesting habitats, and the maritime climate tempers the onset of the seasons a little more. In other words, it looks good for rarities! (And you know I need to seek them somewhere other than Portland now!)

And with my Rarity Fever stoked, a productive morning of scouring the southern 1/3rd of the island yielded the seasonal rare-but-regular stuff that makes one keep coming back: A Clay-colored Sparrow, a Yellow-breasted Chat, and an Orange-crowned Warbler (my second of the season). Add to that single Nashville and Palm Warblers among a total of 6 species of warblers, a fly-by flock of 57 Brant, 8 lingering Red-winged Blackbirds, a good Northern Gannet flight, a Merlin, and recently arrived Red-necked Grebe and 9 Red-breasted Mergansers and you can see why I will be birding here more and more (my once a fall needs to become at least 3-4 visits each season, me thinks).
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Not the best photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow (can you find it?) that I have taken!

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There wasn’t any migration visible on the radar overnight, but there were southwesterly winds – the direction that can help facilitate the arrival of vagrants to the Northeast. But with winds once again rapidly increasing during the day on Monday, the detection of birds was limited. However, Jeannette and I enjoyed a visit to a particularly productive patch of private property in Cape Elizabeth, where a Blue Grosbeak and a Clay-colored Sparrow that I found last week continued. Dark-eyed Juncos increased to 100+ and White-throated Sparrows were up to 50. Other sparrows had decreased, as expected, but there were still 75 or so Song Sparrows, 6 Chipping, and 2 White-crowned, along with about ten each of Swamp and Savannah. Singleton Indigo Bunting and Common Yellowthroats were both getting late.

With the low pressure system still spinning over the Maritimes, and another shortwave disturbance rotating through, winds remained gusty through the night. Despite the preferred northwest wind (slowly becoming west through the night) there were just not a lot of migrants willing to deal with the winds and likely resultant turbulence overnight. And the winds were gusty and increasing by dawn once again.

I was in Harpswell for the morning, leading a birdwalk for the Curtis Library as part of their fall reading series. Mitchell Field, a true hotspot at this time of year, was our destination, but it was anything but hot from a temperature perspective! However, there were a bunch of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few flocks of migrant Common Grackles easily eclipsed 1,000 – a sign that it wasn’t just the birders who were thinking that it’s finally starting to feel like winter is approachintg! Migrant Turkey Vultures (10), Sharp-shinned Hawks (4), and a trickle of Northern Flickers were also winging it south.

Despite the wind, I poked around a couple of other spots on the peninsula since I was down there, with Stover’s Point yielding a 3 Horned Larks, a “Yellow” Palm Warbler, and 9 Black-bellied Plovers among others. But it was windy!
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Winds died down a little overnight, finally, and with it, some birds took to the air. For the first time in seven days, there was at least a moderate flight underway. Here’s the 10pm radar image for example, which shows a strong flight underway:
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But by 1:00am, the flight was already rather light, suggestive of the short-distance migrants of the season making a little bit of progress, but for the most part, more birds departing than arriving:
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And therefore, Sandy Point wasn’t as great as I had hoped for on Wednesday morning. However, I still enjoyed a respectable morning flight for this time of year. A total of 444 individuals of 22 species were led by 262 American Robins and 82 Common Grackles, but also included my first Fox Sparrow of fall, my 3rd Orange-crowned Warbler of the season (and only the 6th Sandy Point record), and this very tardy (or perhaps, “reverse” or 180-misoriented) migrant Prairie Warbler.
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Strong northwest to northerly winds continued through the day, but they are finally expected to lighten up overnight. The current forecast looks good for a big flight tonight, and, if the winds stay more northwest – or at least north – than northeast by morning, I might get a “big one” at Sandy Point.
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I sure hope so, as I haven’t had a lot of great mornings there this year, between all of my time on Monhegan, our recent quick trip to Cape May, and the overall lack of cold fronts this entire fall. The good news is that it seems to be changing now, and at the very least, a more active weather pattern should not only bring some more rainfall, but some good winds for producing good birding. While weather doesn’t necessarily cause vagrancy of fall migrants, winds certainly facilitate their arrival in far-off places.

Hopefully, the onset of cooler weather and more north and northwesterly winds will usher them to the coast and concentrate them in those seasonal hotspots that I will be hitting hard in the coming weeks. Also, this series of strong low pressure systems could in fact displace some birds, or at least get birds that are still on the move a littler further northeast (I am of course, drastically over-simplifying the mechanisms of vagrancy here). At the very least, the little bit of snow to our north and west, colder nights, and the end of our growing season – and resultant greatly diminished numbers of insects and other food sources – should help those patches that get better when the weather turns towards winter.

You know I’ll be out looking! So stay tuned to our store’s Facebook feed and other resources, all of which are available at our website, for the latest news. And go birding! Rarity Season is upon us!

I am so over birding in Portland.

Walking around various former hotspots and seasonal patches of significance in and around the Portland peninsula recently (including a few yesterday), I have come to one conclusion: I am so over birding in Portland during migration!

It used to be all I did – come late fall, head to the big city, especially the peninsula, and poke around the Eastern Promenade, weedy gardens, wooded hillsides, and scrubby patches. I’ve found lots of really good birds this way, from a Yellow-throated Warbler in a small grove of pines in front of the old Scotia Prince ferry terminal to annual Yellow-breasted Chats and regular Orange-crowned Warblers and Dickcissels.

But I give up.

I’ve chronicled the destruction to the uplands at Capisic Pond Park – after having once been a shining example of urban landscaping for wildlife and users, and a great way of showing what good can come of people, politicians, and professionals working together. And then it was gone. And that’s before the pond-dredging-skating-rink-creation-project-mess started.

The lack of oversight resulted in a road being built through some of the best woods behind Evergreen Cemetery – and that was even after the same city officials and engineers working on the same (necessary) sewer repair project supposedly learned their lessons with the Capisic Pond Park section. And then there’s the road the University of New England built through the other side of the woods, spreading invasive plants deeper into the forest and destroying some of the best scrub habitat in the park for migrants. Oh yeah, and natural and unnatural sedimentation in the ponds, along with the diminishing shoreline vegetation (erosion, overuse, etc) has greatly reduced the volume of migrant birds that find food and shelter around what was once one of the best spring migrant traps in the entire state. While the cemetery is still pretty good for birding – especially in spring, after “fallouts” – the degraded habitat just doesn’t hold birds like it used to.

Next, although the area known to birders as “Dragon Field” has long since lost its bird appeal due to mismanagement that allowed for the rapid overtake of invasive plants, there won’t be much of a chance of recovering it anymore. Of course, distributed solar is the way of the future, and this is truly a great project…I just wish it was atop a warehouse roof or over a parking lot instead of one of the city’s greenspaces. But it’s mostly going to be covering Japanese Knotweed and Stinging Nettles now anyway.

Do you see a theme yet?

Urban areas present all sorts of challenges, and it takes very knowledgeable and talented land managers to balance all of the issues, environmentally, socially, and economically. But we also know how important greenspaces are to urban areas, environmentally, socially, and economically.

While I do not expect that the number one priority of any city will be “migratory bird habitat and birding opportunities,” it is clear that Portland does not prioritize at all the health of its greenspaces and the welfare of the wildlife, especially migratory birds, that call these places home for some period of time and various parts of the year.

Today, I want to focus on how much the City of Portland has destroyed the green spaces on the Portland peninsula. Surrounded by water and dense, urban development, city parks and gardens provide critical cover for migratory birds. When certain weather conditions result in migrants being deposited within the urban jungle, they are forced to seek shelter and food wherever they can.

Personally, I love urban birding: immersing myself in fallouts, finding vagrants in the oddest places – like that aforementioned Yellow-throated Warbler – and seeing so-called “late” migrants eking out an existence in seemingly inhospitable corners.

But I am running out of places to bird in the city of Portland!  Especially now, in the fall through early winter, when “lingering,” “pioneering,” and vagrant birds seek the warmer microclimates of urban parks, or become “stuck” in low-quality habitat, unable to accumulate the fuel reserves needed to move further. However marginal urban habitats are, they are absolutely critical for these birds to have a chance. Healthy migrants will simply wait out the day and take off under the cover of darkness, while others will find the resources (such as weed seed in the case of many of our native sparrows) necessary for a full recovery.

But such places are becoming impossible to find in Portland.

The once-productive trees and scrub along the Commercial Street Extension is mostly gone – developed or simply clear-cut to hell. Replacing a fairly healthy canopy is little more than regenerating knotweed, bittersweet, and buckthorn.
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Many small lots have been developed, and several years ago, the trees and brush throughout the Fore River Parkway Trail was clear cut. Not much for birds left there anymore.

Mercy Pond remains a miniscule oasis – although the edge is far to narrow to hold songbirds for very long.
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Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely much of this will remain if hospital expansion plans go through. Which seems incredible to me, as this little pond regularly hosts (are they even breeding?) State Endangered Black-crowned Night-Herons!

But I think the most egregious example of poor management and devastation of bird habitat and birding potential is along the Eastern Promenade. A favorite patch of mine since I moved here, I have seen a whopping 176 species along it, including some really “good” birds over the years. With a cumulative list of 208 species as of this year, a lot of people have enjoyed a lot of good birding in this urban greenspace.

Unfortunately, mismanagement and misguided “maintenance” continues to greatly degrade it. Native plants are significantly reduced, and invasive plants have taken over and continue to proliferate. Despite the efforts of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade (who I have worked closely with over the years), it always seems that for every step forward, there’s three or more taken back. In fact, it’s about as bad as ever now, following yet more devastating clearing in late fall of 2015.
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Continued slashing of what’s left of the native vegetation continues.  On 9/9, I noticed yet more hacked swaths like this.
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Unfortunately, this is so incredibly counter-productive on multiple levels, as all it does is allow dense and ornithologically-useless invasive plants, especially Japanese Knotweed to proliferate even more.
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And makes it easier for Asiatic Bittersweet to take over everything else.
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Meanwhile, valuable native plants like this Gray-Stemmed Dogwood is hacked to hell.
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And it’s great at accelerating erosion.
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The “Mid-Slope” Trail, which is often the most productive in late fall, has been destroyed…
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…And the weedy slopes full of goldenrods, late-blooming primrose, and other great birdfood was mowed too early this year. Sparrows will be wanting for sustenance, and those late-lingering warblers – especially Orange-crowned – will be hard pressed to find food and cover. Additionally, it seems that it was mowed in perfect time to destroy any chance Monarchs would have had to breed successfully there this year. This is particularly unnecessary and unjustified mismanagement.
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Based on the overall size of the greenspace and it’s placement along the shoreline at the northern terminus of the peninsula, there’s little doubt there will still be some birds along the Prom this fall, and perhaps even a rarity or two. But as for regular migrants and vagrants that are seeking shelter and sustenance, there will be little reason to stay very long.

Fallouts will occur because of weather events and the disorientation of migratory birds in city lights (especially in fog) and those birds will still descend on the Prom. However, most will likely leave as soon as they can, winging it inland in “morning redetermined migration,” hopefully not hitting windows or being hit by cars as they do.  It also likely means birding opportunities will be greatly reduced as these birds depart immediately in search of better habitat. Get there early!

But the exceptional days of fall birding, such as thousands of White-throated Sparrows scratching in the undergrowth or several Orange-crowned Warblers working the meadows, are unlikely to occur anymore. Birders lose. Birds lose more.

And what does any of this accomplish? It looks like crap. Thickets grow back denser, and people move back in – they’re just harder to see now. And then you clear-cut once again. And in between, tired and hungry migrant birds find little. And birders go elsewhere. Great solution.

As for me, with “Rarity Season” approaching and weather getting cooler, birds seek out warmer microclimates, like sunny hillsides, urban lots, and so on, where moderated temperatures can extend the availability of food resources, even insects.  This is the time of year – through the “Christmas Count Season” – where I usually would spend an increased amount of time birding all of the nooks and crannies throughout the peninsula, looking for late migrants and hoping for rarities.

Unfortunately, with so few opportunities left in Portland, I’m forced to look elsewhere. That means fewer eyes covering what’s left of the habitats, and fewer lunches I’ll be eating in town and fewer cash-burning errands.

But much more importantly, there are just fewer places that tired and desperate birds can go to find safety and refuel. That means even more birds hitting windows, being hit by cars, and being killed by cats. All of the trials and tribulations of a bird finding itself in an urban environment are exacerbated when there’s no good habitat left.

And all of the reasons there’s less habitat left in an urban environment are exacerbated when open space is managed as poorly as it is in the City of Portland. For a city that loves to bill and market itself as being “green,” it really does a terrible job in its greenspaces. While cities who honestly attempt to make themselves greener encourage or even mandate “bird safe” building guidelines to reduce collisions with glass surfaces (Portland on the other hand, promotes new developments with glass predominating), and work on “Lights Out!” campaigns to reduce the disorientation of birds from light pollution.

Taking things even further, 24 cities (Baltimore was the most recent) have signed onto the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s “Urban Bird Treaty City Program” which works to:

  • Protect, restore, and enhance urban/suburban habitats for birds
  • Reduce hazards to birds
  • Educate and engage citizens in monitoring, caring about, and advocating for birds and their conservation
  • Foster youth environmental education with a focus on birds
  • Manage invasive species to benefit and protect birds
  • Increase awareness of the value of migratory birds and their habitats, especially for their intrinsic, ecological, recreational, and economic significance

Now that’s what a “Green” Portland should be doing. Instead, all it does is fire up the brush-hogs and chain saws.

I’ll be birding elsewhere this Rarity Season. I just hope the birds find somewhere better to go as well.