Tag Archives: migration

2016 Fall MonhegZen Migration Weekend

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Our annual “MonhegZen” Fall Birding Weekend visited Monhegan Island over the weekend. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to find nearly as few birds as when I departed four days prior, as my week on the island with my WINGS tour concluded. However, there was a noticeable increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Swamp and White-throated Sparrows; clearly, the transition to October had been underway. No rarities to catch up with or track down for my tour group, either. So I enjoyed some time with friends, and that evening’s sunset (here, from the Island Inn) more than made it worth the early arrival.
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Thanks to a strong flight overnight on a light to moderate northeasterly wind, there were, however, a lot of birds to kick off the tour as I met the group of nine at the dock at 8:00am. Yellow-rumped Warblers (over 90% of the flight, apparently), were swirling overhead and we ran into large groups and scattered small, reorienting flocks all morning. It was nice and birdy through lunch, even if almost everything was a Yellow-rump! However, the homogeny was punctuated by good looks at things like a cooperative Northern Waterthrush at the Ice Pond.

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…and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows in gardens.
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We had a fun day, with a nice diversity of birds, including one Dickcissel, several Cory’s Shearwaters, lots of Northern Gannets, and a respectable 11 species of warblers.
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We awoke to light showers and continuing northeasterly winds on Saturday morning, with the radar indicating merely a light flight overnight. There was virtually no morning flight over the Trailing Yew after sunrise, and it was exceptionally slow after breakfast. Five species of sparrows on one of my seed piles was decent, and again we had a single Dickcissel.

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Some thought I was worshiping this Brown Thrasher, perhaps praying to the bird gods for more migrants. But really, I was just conducting an experiment on how many mealworms a thrasher can eat. For the record: 9, with one taken to go.

But it was hard to sugar-coat things, especially for the three new arrivals that came mid-morning! This was as slow as Monhegan gets, but I can say this: the weather was much better than expected. We only had a little spitting rain after the early morning showers, and light east winds. Expecting a possible wash-out, I would take it, and I would definitely take the results of our afternoon seawatching from Whitehead: 30+ Cory’s Shearwaters (just a few years ago, they were genuinely rare here), 50+ Northern Gannets, a Pomarine Jaeger, and 6 newly-arrived Surf Scoters landing with hundreds of Common Eiders.
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And on our way back into town, we hit a couple of nice birdy spots which helped to end on a high note, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had been trying to catch up with.
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Several Monarch butterfly chrysalises were noted behind the Trailing Yew. They better hurry!

Northeasterly winds continued for a 4th or 5th straight night, and a little light rain was once again falling at sunrise. With virtually no visible migration on the radar with diminishing northeasterly winds and scattered showers after midnight, there was yet another nearly-bird-less morning flight over the Yew at dawn. Well, there were the TWO Yellow-rumped Warblers to be exact!

It was another wicked slow morning – I found myself apologizing profusely to those members of the group who were new to the island; I swear this is not what Monhegan is usually about! But at least the rain ended by the time we were done with breakfast, and with the ceiling lifting, we finished strong with birds coming out into the open. There was the Clay-colored Sparrow once again in the Peace Garden by the church comparing itself perfectly to nearby Chipping Sparrows…
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…the two Dickcissels together in town (here’s one of them)…
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And several really good looks at Cape May Warblers, including this male.
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Blue-headed Vireos seemed to have arrived overnight, as did a smashing drake Wood Duck that was feeding in the bushes at the Ice Pond’s wide muddy edge. In fact, the 61 species we recorded on the day (with a 4:30 departure) was our best total of the three days.
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Most of the group departed, and those who took the late boat back to Port Clyde with me saw a Razorbill and a few more Cory’s Shearwaters, including one rather close to the boat. The two couples that stayed on the island dreamed of sunshine and a fallout for the next morning (sunshine and more birds, but no fallout, alas).

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“Yellow” Palm Warbler catching flies emerging from a compost bin

So while “tour guide spin” suggests I should just talk about the Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissels, Cape May Warblers, and all of the Cory’s Shearwaters, it’s hard to not see through that. It was slow…and weekends like this happen in the fall. Unlike my week-long WINGS tour that saw multiple changes in the weather, we were stuck in a dreary, northeasterly pattern that doesn’t produce a whole lot of birds for Monhegan. And, as true of the entire fall, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the continued lack of cold fronts continues to minimize numbers and concentrations along the coast and offshore. A mere 71 species were recorded in our three days together; our average for the weekend is 99 species (with an average of 20 species of warblers)! Or should I say, was.

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So now comes the “spin:” If I would have to spend a weekend anywhere else in a “slow” fall, it sure has heck would be Monhegan! The best pizza in the state and other great meals, fantastic beer, good company, and the unique and truly special sense of place that Monhegan offers (including Trap Day, which we enjoyed from afar on Saturday). And yeah, Dickcissels, Clay-colored Sparrows, Cory’s Shearwaters, and 11 species of warblers in three days in early October really isn’t too shabby.
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Of course, there are always things like Fringed Gentian to look at as well!

We’ll just make up for it in spring!

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The daily lists:
Species: Fri 9/30, Sat 10/1, Sun 10/2.

Canada Goose: 0,5,0
Wood Duck: 0,0,1
American Black Duck: 1.5,1.5,1.5
Mallard: 8,12,12
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,6,0
Common Loon: 3,1,0
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 5,30,5
Northern Gannet: 100,50,20
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 6,10,10
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1
Bald Eagle: 2,1,0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,4,2
American Kestrel: 1,1,1
Merlin: 6,5,3
Peregrine Falcon: 1,2,2
POMARINE JAEGER: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 0,1,0
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 6,2,4
Mourning Dove: 4,4,8
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 4,5,6
Downy Woodpecker: 3,3,2
Northern Flicker: 30,10,4
Eastern Phoebe: 3,3,1
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,2
Red-eyed Vireo: 6,4,3
Blue Jay: 28,24,16
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 1,3,2
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 30,20,10
White-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2
Brown Creeper: 2,6,1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 25,25,20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 5,4,3
American Robin: 4,1,0
Gray Catbird: 6,6,4
Brown Thrasher: 1,1,1
European Starling: 11,11,11
Cedar Waxwing: 75,50,40
Yellow Warbler: 1,0,1
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,2
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,2,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 200,30,30
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1,0,0
Palm Warbler: 20,6,4
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,4,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,0
American Redstart: 1,0,0
Northern Waterthrush: 1,0,0
Common Yellowthroat: 10,4,2
Chipping Sparrow: 4,6,4
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0,1,1
Savannah Sparrow: 6,5,8
Song Sparrow: 20,20,20
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 3,0,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,25
White-crowned Sparrow: 5,6,6
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 4,12,10
Rusty Blackbird: 1,0,0
Common Grackle: 2,2,2
Brown-headed Cowbird: 0,0,2
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,2
Purple Finch: 1,0,1
American Goldfinch: 4,4,2\

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White-throated Sparrow

A Week on Mohegan with WINGS, 2016

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Every other year, I have the pleasure of spending a week on Monhegan Island in the fall with a tour group for WINGS. Unlike my annual weekend tour through the store, this allows us to fully experience multiple changes in the weather and the resultant changes in bird numbers and diversity.

This year’s tour, which took place from September 19-25, recorded 116 species (including 5 seen only from the ferry or while we were on the mainland), including 18 species of warblers. Both tallies were a little low, as the weather was often simply “too nice” for much of the week, and fewer birds found themselves on the island. But as usual, great looks at a wide variety of common birds, spiced up by a smattering of rarities, made for a wondrous week of birding.

Birds from any direction are possible at this migrant trap, and this week, we experienced visitors from the south (e.g. Orchard Oriole), west (e.g. Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows), and even the east (Cory’s and Great Shearwaters). While the allure of a “Mega” kept us searching, local rarities kept us entertained. From Peregrine Falcons overhead to a Sora at our feet, you never quite know what’s around the next corner. Even the “slow” days offered new birds, as our relaxed and casual pace simply allowed us the opportunity to enjoy whatever happened to be in front of us. And the overall weather and food was unbeatable – adding to the mystique of this truly special place.
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While daily turnover in the island’s birdlife is expected during the peak of fall migration, a shift in the weather can yield a distinct change in the birds we see. Several clear and calm nights allowed migration to continue unimpeded, while a northwesterly wind on the night of the 22nd yielded numerous birds overhead in the morning – including our first big push of Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Blackpoll Warblers. However, no fallouts – the stuff Monhegan birding legends are made of – occurred this week as unseasonably warm and relatively pleasant weather continued. It might not have produced massive numbers of birds, but it sure made for comfortable birding!

A couple of nights of southwesterlies produced dreams of vagrants, and likely resulted in the arrival of several “southern” birds such as Orchard Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. In contrast, by week’s end, the first White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and other late-season migrants from the north began to appear.

“Drift migrants/vagrants” such as Lark Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows, along with a number of Dickcissels, all normally found further west, were present and accounted for as usual out here.
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Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows

Two immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (perhaps part of a small scale northward irruption into the New England coast) stood guard in the early mornings at the Ice Pond.  Later in the week, the world’s most confiding Sora appeared, spending one afternoon foraging in the open at the pond’s muddy edges – this year’s drought had reduced it to a mere muddy puddle.
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Sora and a Blue Jay

A Connecticut Warbler was one of our finds of the week, heard by all, seen by some on two occasions; an “exclusive” for our group. A late Olive-sided Flycatcher was another treat, as was the Black-billed Cuckoo that we caught up with thanks to the efforts (and game of charades) of friends – exemplifying the spirit of the Monhegan birding community shared by most.
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Calm winds and the season produced excellent seawatching conditions on the 21st, and from the high cliffs of White Head, we observed Cory’s Shearwaters (once a rarity this far north and east) and Great Shearwaters – with massive rafts of one or both just beyond the realm of identification– and a few Minke Whales. Always a highlight in the fall is the raptor passage, which most of the week was limited to numerous Merlins, scattered Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the occasional Peregrine Falcon, On our last day, a light northerly wind also ushered in a steady movement of Northern Harriers and Ospreys, along with another surge of falcons.

And then there was the food: exquisite fine dining at the Island Inn, the best pizza in Maine at the Novelty, and a candlelight lobster dinner – with lobsters brought in just for us! – at the rustic Trailing Yew, complete with a lobster ecology and human ecology lesson and step-by-step instructions. And that’s in addition to the limitless lobster scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning!

Highlights for our group each day were as follows, along with a brief synopsis of the overnight flight and the day’s weather.

9/19: Balmy Days ferry from Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Long-tailed Duck (FOF; early)
– 1 Pomarine Jaeger (harassing Northern Gannet)
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater

Island:
– A few light showers, drizzle, and fog occasionally lifting on light and variable, and rather warm winds throughout the day. Calm and foggy at dusk.
– 1 female Orchard Oriole (new)
– 1 Lark Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Carolina Wren (continuing)
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Like everywhere in Maine this fall, Red-breasted Nuthatches were abundant.
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Ichneumon wasp sp on window screen.

9/20:
– Sunrise: 62F, dense fog, very light southeast. Light migration likely overnight, but hard to decipher on the radar due to fog.  Fog coming and going throughout the day, warm and humid, very light southeast.  Light south and fog at dusk.

Another relatively “slow” day, but these were the highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 2 juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Lark Sparrow
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 2 American Golden-Plovers
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater
– 1 Greater Shearwater
– 1 Carolina Wren

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I tell people never to leave their binoculars behind when on Monhegan; you never know what you will see where. They also can come in handy for reading the fine print of menus!
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Lark Sparrow

9/21:
– Am: 62F, mostly clear, calm. Light to moderate migration overnight on lt SW to W, but again intensity obscured by fog. Moderate-good morning flight overhead at dawn, with lots of new birds around. Hot and calm!  Clear and calm at dusk.

73 species on the day, including the world’s most cooperative Sora and some fantastic afternoon seawatching.

Highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 3 Dickcissels
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 10 Cory’s and 12 Great Shearwaters plus 125 large shearwater sp.
– 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
– 1 Eastern Kingbird
– 1 Warbling Vireo
– 1 Sora
– 3 Minke Whales
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Brown Thrasher on the Trailing Yew lawn
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Sphinx moth caterpillar with parasitic wasp pupae
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Merlins were all around
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I’m not sure of this Rusty Blackbird left this particular group of yards for the rest of the week!
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Afternoon seawatching from Whitehead.
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Ending the afternoon with a Sora at the Ice “pond,”
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9/22:
– AM: 59F, clear, very light NW. Light-moderate migration overnight on light SW to West to NW. Lots of birds overhead at sunrise (mostly Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warblers), but less landing than expected as many birds kept going to the mainland. Relatively hot once again, with light and variable breeze. Clear and light South by dusk.

Highlights:
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 1 Yellow-throated Vireo
– 1 Olive-sided Flycatcher
– 2 Dickcissels
– 1 American Golden-Plover
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Carolina Wren

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American Redstart
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Baltimore Oriole
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Unidentified caterpillar- some sort of tussock moth?
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9/23:
– AM: 65F, cloudy, lt-mod SW. Little to no visible migration overnight on lt-mod SW and rain approaching from north with dropping cold front. Drizzle and some light rain ending by mid-morning. Overcast but warm on light west winds. Increasing north by dusk.

A slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than a good day of birding most anywhere else with NINE new species for the week today.

Highlights:
– 1 Black-billed Cuckoo
– 2 Dickcissels
– 2 Cory’s Shearwaters
– 1 White-crowned Sparrow (FOF)
– pair of Pine Warblers were our 18th species of warbler on the week (a little low).
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Here comes the front!
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Dickcissel
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Special delivery!
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9/24:
– 50F, mostly clear, light N. Huge flight overnight on radar on diminishing N, but very little overhead at dawn. Although new birds had definitely arrived, it was not the huge flight that was hoped for. Apparently, there were more birds arriving on the south end of the island today (we always started on the west-north-west side) as reorienting migrants were returning to the island, or likely departing from the island’s north end. Diminishing N wind became light and variable before NW began to increase in the late morning, producing a good hawk flight.

With the hopes a big flight dashed by the lack of a westerly wind component by morning, we had a very casual and relaxed pace for our last day with some hawk watching taking precedence. Quite a few new birds were around, including several new species for out week’s list: Northern Harrier, American Pipit, and a single Semipalmated Plover. Cape May Warblers were particularly conspicuous today (at least 5), and as always it is painful to say goodbye. Good thing I’ll be back next weekend with the store’s annual weekend!

Highlights:
– 2 American Pipits (FOF)
– 1 Dickcissel

Ferry back to Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (about half way, heading towards the mainland)
– 2 White-winged Scoters

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Cape May Warblers were conspicuous the last few days
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Boothbay Arrival

And now I’m off this afternoon for for three more days!
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2016 Washington County Weekend Tour

I simply love birding Washington County, and my biennial “Washington County Weekend” van tour is little more than an excuse for me to bird the area. Of course, in doing so, I get to share the avian, scenic, and culinary glories of Downeast.  So everybody wins!

We set out from Freeport on Friday, 8/26. Not wanting to squander the entire morning just driving, we break up the trip by birding our way north. Corrina Marsh was our first stop this year, yielding Wood Ducks, side-by-side comparisons of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the jewelweed, and a Northern Harrier coursing low over the marsh.

Nearby Alder Stream held multitudes of Wood and Ring-necked Ducks, along with a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. More Wood Ducks were at Plymouth Pond, along with Common Loons, but we didn’t find the Sandhill Cranes that we had hoped for.

After lunch at the flagship Dysart’s (no Maine roadtrip is complete for me without at least one grilled cheese from a Dysart’s), we strolled Essex Woods and marsh in Bangor. Four rare-so-far-inland Snowy Egrets were joined by a single Great, and we enjoyed superior views of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs for comparison, along with more Solitary Sandpipers for comparison.

Our entrance into Washington County via The Airline was met with a bang: our first birds in the county were a migrant flock of 18 Common Nighthawks bounding overhead. Dinner, and of course, pie, from Helen’s in Machias (not to mention the blueberry sangrias!) was a sure sign we had arrived.
1. view from hotel

2. blueberry sangria

Without a doubt one of the best reasons for visiting this area in August is the massive congregation of gulls and seabirds, along with whales, that occurs in Head Harbor Passage, off of Eastport.  Therefore, one of the highlights of this tour is our private charter on the “Pier Pressure” for whale- and bird-watching. And this trip most definitely did not disappoint.

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Sorting through 5,000-7,000 Bonparte’s Gulls finally yielded a Sabine’s Gull, a stunning adult, and one of the most sought-after species on the trip. It was nearly the end of the boat ride, my eyes were shot from combing through so many Bonies, and then I spotted it on the water, a short distance away.  It took off and joined some commuting Bonies, and we tried to follow it, but despite Captain Butch’s best efforts, we unfortunately could not keep up with it as it headed towards Maine waters, and lost it as it mingled with a large flock of Bonies. But my goodness, what a stunning species it is!
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300-400 Black-legged Kittiwakes was likely a ridiculously low guesstimate, as is the goodly 200+ Razorbills. Although Razorbills are regular in the passage in most summers, the numbers this year have been exceptional. Scattered Great Cormorants among the multitudes of Double-cresteds, plenty of Black Guillemots, about a dozen tarrying Common Terns, and a total of 15+ Bald Eagles added to the show. A total at of 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls of various ages were detected, but I admit to not sifting through every large gull – it was the rare “hooded” gulls that we were on the lookout for!
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Adult Great Cormorant.

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Juvenile and adult Black-legged Kittiwakes with Bonaparte’s Gulls. 

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Lots and Lots of Bonaparte’s Gulls (and Black-legged Kittiwakes).

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Black-legged Kittiwakes

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Black-legged Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants

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Razorbills.

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Razorbill father with juvenile (L).

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Snazzy juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises were common, and we visited with some massive Gray Seals as well. We spotted a single Minke Whale, and then drifted with a massive Fin Whale for a little while.
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21. boat trip 12 - Gray Seal 320. boat trip 11 - Gray Seal 2

While we only has one fly-by unidentified phalarope and did not find a single tubenose (despite spending some time off of East Quoddy Head), the trip was an incredible success, because, well…Sabine’s Gull!

We fueled up on arguably the best lobster rolls in the state at the Quoddy Bay Lobster Company, before spending some time seawatching at the end of Clark St (hoping for the Sabine’s to reappear!). Close-up kittiwakes and Bonaparte’s Gulls were nice, as were a couple more Lesser Black-backed Gulls. However, it was the molting adult Black-headed Gull that was the welcomed consolation prize.
29. Eastport lobster rolls

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We slowly worked our way up the peninsula, checking out various viewpoints, and seeing a smattering of shorebirds and lots of Black Guillemots in the process. Finally, at the Sipayik Trail at the ballfields at Pleasant Point, a nice mix of birds as always included a trio of out-of-place Sanderlings, a few Bobolinks, more Bonaparte’s Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes offshore, and 2 Nelson’s Sparrows in the marsh. Another close Northern Harrier coursing low over marsh stirred the pot, kicking up more Green-winged Teal and Least Sandpipers than we thought were present.

Dinner at the Hansom House in Dennysville left much of the group speechless. It is a very interesting, and very different place indeed!
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Day 3 found us making an even earlier start, but we were rewarded with our efforts with a dapper male Spruce Grouse doing its thing in the trail at Boot Head Preserve in Lubec.
3. Sat morning
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Following that success, some edge- and sky-watching at the bog there yielded fly-over Red Crossbills (2+), 3 Pine Siskins, and among the scattered warblers in small flocks working the edge, at least 6 Palm Warblers (local breeders).  We also began to truly get a sense for just how incredibly abundant Red-breasted Nuthatches are in the forests around here right now – undoubtedly portending a great finch winter to come!

Our Lubec-area day continued with a stroll at Quoddy State Park, where Red-breasted Nuthatches were once again downright deafening. At least 4 Red and 3+ White-winged Crossbills were detected, and we spotted a Philadelphia Vireo within one of the mixed flocks around the edge of the bog. There, we also took time to enjoy the plants of this fascinating habitat, including carnivorous Pitcher Plants and the two species of sundews.

Our busy and productive morning continued at the Lubec Bar and Flats, where a large number of shorebirds had aggregated. Although it has apparently been slow here recently, we found a rather decent number and diversity of shorebirds. I do wish we were arrived about a half hour earlier, and had about an hour more time here, however!  About 1500 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 250+ Least Sandpipers were joined by 75-100 Sanderlings (a surprisingly high count for here), 60-80 Black-bellied Plovers, a handful of Semipalmated Plovers, 1 Ruddy Turnstone, and 1 Whimbrel.

Lunch at Cohill’s was a hit. In fact, the Shepherd’s Pie turned out to be the favorite meal of the trip for two people, although I was quite over-satisfied with my “Drunken Potato” with Guinness gravy and cheese curds.

Following the obligate stop at Monica’s Chocolates – where we left with the cooler overflowing! – we headed back to Quoddy State Park for some relaxing sea-watching. In 1.5 hours, we tallied at least 14 Sooty Shearwaters (making up for the lack of them on our boat trip), counted 10 juvenile Laughing Gulls (they seemed unusually frequent up here this year, and of course, we tried to string each of them into a jaeger!), picked out a few Razorbills, and spotted two Northern Gannets, and excitingly, two Atlantic Puffins. A few more Great Cormorants and a dozen Black-legged Kittiwakes were noted, for those who hadn’t yet gotten their fill.
35. Quoddy SP

Scanning the flats again, but this time from the roadside, we finally picked up a single White-rumped Sandpiper, increased our tally to 6 Short-billed Dowitchers, and otherwise improved on our looks at the other species from earlier.
36. Lubec flats

While Pike’s Puddle was nearly dry and devoid of birds, the beach on the other side of the road yielded a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper. That was cause for celebration enough, but the show was stolen when a Merlin came out of nowhere and nabbed an unsuspecting Semipalmated Plover. That’s a hearty meal for even a female Merlin, so after quickly dispatching it, she struggled to drag it across the rocky beach before finally taking off and disappearing into the trees to have her dinner.
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Phone-scoped documention of the Baird’s Sandpiper

As did we…and no Derek Lovitch tour is complete without a brewery, apparently, so our evening’s destination simply had to be the new Lubec Brewing Co!

No visit, tour or otherwise, gives me enough time to bird this area. This four-day weekend is truly just a sample, and despite my interests in going back to the Lubec flats or the Eastport gulls, after two long days of jam-packed birding, we began our day (after a leisurely breakfast at Helen’s) simply by watching the shorebirds behind our motel.  606 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 41 Semipalmated Plovers, 20-30 Least Sandpipers, and another out-of-place-on-mud Sanderling surpassed expectations.

I like to slowly mosey back home, and I like to mix in a new site or two on each tour. Therefore, instead of racing east only to start the drive back west, I decided to do some exploring, beginning with the Mason Bay Conservation Area on the Jonesboro/Jonesport border.  More Red-breasted Nuthatches and a couple of mixed species foraging flocks were indication that this is a spot worth checking in the breeding season, and at the end of our stroll (which included some more botanizing, a few butterflies, and fun with Tent Caterpillars) another Red Crossbill passed overhead.

A typical stop for me when taking Route One back towards Ellsworth is Addison Marsh. Although we arrived at high tide and the productive mudflats and river edge were no longer visible, the salt pannes provided some entertainment. Although diversity was low, we could not have asked for more enjoyable views of a mixed flock of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. A couple of Solitary Sandpipers and a Greater Yellowlegs passed overhead, and a couple more Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles, along with three migrant Ospreys, stirred the pot.
40. Addison 2
A great opportunity to compare Least and Semipalmated (center) Sandpipers.
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Exploring access points to scan Flat Bay in Harrington, we found some shorebirds here and there as the ride finally started to go out. As shorebirds were appearing off of Oak Point, I realized lunchtime was approaching, and I decided to get back into the van before I spent the next three hours making everyone (myself most definitely included) starve as I sorted through shorebirds. Besides, a rapidly increasing northwesterly wind was making it challenging to see any birds in the distance (our first experience with anything other than perfect weather all weekend!).

But to be honest, most of that exploring was just to put us in position for Vazquez Mexican Takeout in Millbridge for lunch (second only to Helen’s pie as sought-after “twitches” for this tour!). I ate too much, as usual. Actually, gluttony was a regular theme of this tour, as many of us were forced to roll out of many of our meals. Apparently, we were all single-handedly trying to jumpstart the region’s economy with our consumption!
41. Tacos

A quick check of Hog Bay was thwarted by the increasing winds, and that was a sign it was time to begrudgingly bring our birding to an end and make our way back home. From Sabine’s Gulls to Spruce Grouse, from thousands of Bonaparte’s Gulls to hundreds of Red-breasted Nuthatches, from blueberry pie to “tacos as good as in McAllen, Texas” (according to one of our transplanted participants), and from pitcher plants to Fin Whales, there is no doubt that I will be looking forward to my next tour to this awesome area!  In fact, one participant on this year’s tour has already signed up for 2018. That should tell you something!

Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island

As many of you know by now, Monhegan Island has become near and dear to our hearts. It is an iconic birding destination in spring and fall which we, and many other birders, enjoy frequenting on our own as well as while leading tours. Unfortunately, the construction of wind power turbines within 3 miles of the island is closer to becoming a reality, and now more than ever requires action!

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We are not opposed to wind power. But we are opposed to poorly-sited projects that put inordinate numbers of birds at risk. This is quite possibly the worst place in the state of Maine for such a wind power project due to its concentrations of migratory birds. And therefore we feel personally and professionally obligated to do whatever we can to defeat the plan, change the design and lighting to minimize impacts, or, if all else fails, mitigate the potential consequences.

Our most recent statement was posted to the blog this past December, as this misguided project was resurrected from the dead.

Our initial concern about the project was described in this letter and press release from 2013. The link includes our letter, as well as some links to press coverage of our concerns.

In the case of Monhegan, aesthetic concerns are directly tied to not just a sense of place, but the tourism economy. Jobs and livelihoods are put at risk – along with property values – if there is an outsized visual or auditory impact. The visual impact on some of the best views from the island – many of which have been made famous by some of the region’s most famous artists – will be negatively impacted by the placement of this project.

Additionally, while I will not speak for others, suffice it to say that birding tourism will decline. In addition to the direct mortality of birds that is likely, especially under the weather circumstances that cause “fallouts” that are the thing Monhegan birding legends are made of, there are no small number of birders who simply won’t want to look at those blinking lights atop the turbine towers (the biggest direct threat to migratory birds as it will attract and disorient already stressed and confused migrants). I for one will be forgoing my 2-3 tours annually to the island – I simply cannot imagine looking out at those blinking lights knowing the conditions that we are hoping for to bring countless birds on the island for our enjoyment will result in the death of countless birds as they collide with the turbines or simply drop dead of exhaustion. I’ll have to go somewhere else.

Instead of addressing the impacts that such projects cause, the wind industry simply denies the problem exists, suppressing data that proves otherwise, and hiding the facts behind a cloak of “proprietary information.” We know what they are hiding, and they are hiding the massive destruction of birds and bats from poorly sited projects (not all projects, if sited correctly and operated accordingly, will have a sizeable impact). We have the knowledge and expertise to reduce, if not eliminate, much of the direct threat that lighted structures of all kinds have on birds. But instead of addressing lighting color, intensity, and flash interval, the wind industry (unlike the communications industry), simply denies the problem exists.  Just like Big Tobacco and Bog Oil, it’s cheaper (or something) to deny, deny, deny than do anything at all.

Unfortunately, due to false pretenses and false promises, the project was approved and is once again on its way to becoming a dreadful reality. Luckily, people who believe in the island – its people, its birds, its economy, and everything that makes Monhegan, Monhegan, are not lying down as the University of Maine and Aqua Ventus clearly hoped. They are not willing to give up everything that makes this place so special for some free electricity and internet (maybe).

Below, I have copied the statement released on July 5, 2016 by the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition. Jeannette and I, and our business, Freeport Wild Bird Supply are fundamentally opposed to the construction of industrial wind turbines and towers in close proximity to Monhegan Island. Therefore, we are willing to put our money where our mouth is (this gets expensive; I have a big mouth!) and we will be supporting the campaign to raise money for the defense of the birds that pass through Monhegan Island.

First of all, Freeport Wild Bird Supply will be donating $500 to the fight. We urge you to consider a donation, of any size, to protect the birds and the way of life on Monhegan Island (see the letter below for instructions).

Additionally, we will donate 100% of the proceeds of EVERY optics sale in July to the cause. In other words, every cent we would earn from selling any pair of binoculars, spotting scope, phone-scoping adapter, or tripod through the end of the month will go to the fight. So if you have been thinking of a new pair of bins, do it this month, and help us save the migrants of Monhegan in the process.

We will also, personally, and professionally, be continuing to support the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition in any way we can, and we urge you to join us. Please, for the sake of the birds and birding on Monhegan, read the following statement that was released yesterday by Travis Dow for the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition, and we encourage you to add to the support.

“Hello Everyone…Travis, here. A new group is forming. Here is a statement (and a plea for donations) that we put out today. We have yet to have a name, but here is our intent:

A group of concerned Monhegan community members have sought legal advice concerning the Maine Aqua Ventus wind turbine project. This project would place two 585 foot wind turbines 2.7 miles off the southern coast of Monhegan. The information about potential impacts from the project on our unique and iconic island has been contradictory and incomplete. Given the possibility of too many unknowns and unintended consequences, we are compelled to protest the siting of this experiment.

Our objective is to uphold and protect Monhegan’s environmental, historical, and social legacy:

* In 1954, a Certificate of Organization was issued to the Monhegan Associates and was registered with the State of Maine. The Associates have been charged with a mission to preserve Monhegan’s environs, “as well as the simple, friendly way of life that has existed on Monhegan as a whole.” The Associates own approximately 380 acres of land, comprising about two-thirds of the island;

* In 1966, Monhegan was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

* In 1997, the waters around Monhegan were designated a Lobster Conservation Area by the State of Maine, and have had a regulated fishing season since the early 1900’s;

* Monhegan is an important landfall for migrating birds along the North Atlantic flyway;

* Monhegan is home to the highest ocean-side cliffs on the eastern seaboard. The island’s iconic vistas have been recorded by some of the most important artists and writers of our time, including, George Bellows, Edward Hooper, N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, and many others;

* Monhegan is one of the last year-round island communities in Maine and is heavily supported by an active tourism economy.

* Monhegan is home to many of us.

It must be emphasized that we are not against the wind turbine project itself, just the siting of the project. We are not willing to risk Monhegan’s extraordinary legacy for an experimental wind project. The project can move. Monhegan’s character is irreplaceable.

Legal counsel has informed us that Monhegan may not have been afforded due process and that there is likely a case to be made that a variety of legal procedures were not properly followed. It is also clear that we cannot delay.

We are in the process of raising $25,000 to retain Doyle & Nelson as legal counsel. Jon Doyle is the attorney that helped Monhegan establish the Lobster Conservation Area. We have already raised over $13,000.00, from a large number of people, and your contribution will help reach this goal. Any amount will help. Checks can be made out to Doyle & Nelson, and sent to Travis Dow at P.O. Box 132, Monhegan, Maine 04852. Checks will not be cashed until reaching this funding goal. For more information, contact Travis at tgdow@hotmail.com, .”

surf at Lobster Cove

2016 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch Season In Review

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The 10th annual Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch wrapped up on May 15th, bringing a remarkable season to a close. Although I did go up for two hours to hope for a vagrant Mississippi or Swallow-tailed Kite on the 20th, netting five migrants (2 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 1 each of Broad-winged Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Merlin. All immatures as expected on the late date). It was worth a try!

Anna Stunkel, a College of the Atlantic graduate and veteran of the Lucky Peak hawkwatch in southwestern Idaho, was the 2016 Official Counter, and she did an incredible job. A tireless observer and interpreter, she introduced hundreds of visitors to the project, and to our numerous local Bald Eagles! While Jeannette and I covered her days off – when rain didn’t do the job for us – or whenever else we got a chance, our many volunteers, especially Zane Baker, Tom Downing, Dave Gulick, Chuck Barnes, and Rick Hartzell were priceless. No hawkwatch is successful without a loyal cadre of assistants – spotting birds, answering questions, and bringing food – so thanks to you all!
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The 2016 season total of 4,785 between March 15th and May 15th was our second highest total in the ten years of the project, and an impressive 17.6% above average (we exclude 2007 from our data analysis due to a change in methodology after this “trial” year).

Oddly enough, we amassed this tremendous total despite losing 16.5% of our possible coverage hours (9am to 5pm EDT) to weather, including fog, rain, snow, or high winds. The 414 total hours of observation was actually 6.6% below our average.

343 raptors passed the watch on April 17th, topped by the 980 tallied on 4/22 and 585 on 4/23. Those two amazing days changed our season dramatically – we went from worrying about a record low count to dreaming about a record high! 3,165 of our raptors passed through between April 16th and April 28th, accounting for 70% of our total flight.

Two rarities were recorded, headlined by a Black Vulture (our 7th of all time) on May 12th, and perhaps even rarer according to the season, a Broad-winged Hawk on March 20th (our previous earliest date was April 3rd, 2008 which itself was an outlier). We hypothesize that this was not a vanguard of the usual long-distant migrants arriving from Central America so early, but rather a bird that wintered either in South Florida or perhaps even well north of usual range thanks to the mild winter over the East.

Although southwesterly winds – our best conditions – were rare this spring, numerous days of west and light northwest in April, combined with sunny conditions and few weather systems during the peak weeks of our flight produced our great count, led by above average numbers of Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, American Kestrel, and Merlin. On our biggest day (4/22), light westerlies eventually turned to the southwest, and westerlies rotated around to the southeast on the following day.
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However, the mild winter and early onset of early spring – including snow-free conditions over much of the area on the first day of the count and ice-out already occurring on larger rivers – got the season off to a quick start, but also meant we missed a number of birds that had already continued north before the count started on March 15th. Below average numbers of Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and especially Red-tailed Hawks were the result. “Locals” of each from Day 1 also affected our count as we had to err on the side of caution early on to not overcount local birds (especially vultures and eagles) every time they flew around the mountain. It was a very, very different season from the 2015 count, in which winter never seemed to want to go away.

However, our record low 1 Peregrine Falcon is not as easy to explain – perhaps the constant westerlies just kept this predominately more coastal migrant far enough towards the coastline of Casco Bay.

As always, we also keep track of non-raptor migrants to the best of our ability.
2,010 Double-crested Cormorants, 1457 Common Grackles, 1028 Canada Geese, 918 Tree Swallows, and 747 unidentified/mixed blackbirds led the way.

Sandhill Cranes are now an annual occurrence, and this year we tallied four birds: 2 on 3/26, and one each on 4/16 and 4/25. The expansion/colonization/recolonization of Maine by this magnificent species continues, and our hawkwatch is apparently well placed to sample their return flight. Other noteworthy migrants included a White-winged Crossbill on 3/17, migrant Bohemian Waxwings on 3/26 (50) and 4/19 (29) with numerous visits by small flocks to the Common Juniper at the summit, and two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (4/22 and 5/3).

A total of 92 species were seen and/or heard from the summit, including regular vocalizations from local Barred Owls and a variety of warblers.

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  2016 Avg. 2008-2015 difference from average
Black Vulture 1 0.8 33.3%
Turkey Vulture 260 272.5 -4.6%
Osprey 513 431.1 19.0%
Bald Eagle 68 77.6 -12.4%
Northern Harrier 132 98.6 33.8%
Sharp-shinned Hawk 744 715.1 4.0%
Cooper’s Hawk 69 74.1 -6.9%
Northern Goshawk 2 7.9 -74.6%
Red-shouldered Hawk 75 91.4 -17.9%
Broad-winged Hawk 2123 1545.0 37.4%
Red-tailed Hawk 245 270.4 -9.4%
Rough-legged Hawk 0 0.9 -100.0%
Golden Eagle 0 0.5 -100.0%
American Kestrel 429 359.3 19.4%
Merlin 76 69.1 9.9%
Peregrine Falcon 1 5.4 -81.4%
       
Unidentified Raptor 47 47.3 -0.5%
Total 4785 4067.9 17.6%
       
Hours 414.25 443.5 -6.6%

Of course, this project doesn’t happen without your support of Freeport Wild Bird Supply, but we can’t do this without the support of Bradbury Mountain State Park and our co-sponsors, Leica Sport Optics. Our sincerest thank you goes out to Sunshine Hood, the new park manager at Bradbury (we can’t wait to grow the project with you!), and Jeff Bouton and Stan Bucklin of Leica.
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But most importantly, this project doesn’t happen without all of you joining our counter at the summit, learning about raptors, migration, and conservation. To show your support for the project, and to raise funds for future needs (counter’s salary, new signage, etc), check out the exclusive Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch t-shirt by North Yarmouth’s Coyote Graphics. It features Michael’s original artwork of the view from Bradbury within the outline of raptor on the front, and raptor silhouettes by the 2016 Official Counter, Anna Stunkel on the back.

We look forward to seeing you at the summit again beginning on March 15th, 2017 – or perhaps sooner if weather conditions align (like more kite weather!)
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Portland Eviscerates Capisic Pond Park

Several years ago, I joined a group of concerned residents in working for substantial restoration of Capisic Pond Park following the necessary – and federally mandated – replacement of the sewer line that runs the length of the park. The post-construction restoration plan was essentially “spread some grass seed.”

After countless meetings, public hearings, and workshops, a plan was implemented that not only limited damage from the construction process, but improved it. Over $150,000 was spent on restoration, including extensive planting of native plants to not only beautify the park, but improve biodiversity. Birds, and the many birders who frequent this little treasure of an urban park, would benefit.

Over the years, as those plantings have slowly come into their own, and began to bear fruit (literally!), bird diversity has only continued to increase. From the continued presences of Orchard Orioles – the only breeding pair known in the state, to a wealth of migrant sparrows, to rarities (including just last month, one of only 6 or so Ash-throated Flycatchers to ever be seen in Maine) have attracted birders from far and wide.

On Monday, Jeannette and I headed to Portland to work the productive micro-habitats and micro-climates in urban areas to search for rarities, and “lingering” migrants. We began our day at Capisic Pond Park.

And we were greeted by this:
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We were appalled. We were horrified. We were saddened.

What the hell has happened?

According to the Facebook page for the Friends of Capisic Pond Park, posted on October 31st:
“Don’t be alarmed by the mowing and cutting that will be done in the first week or so of November. It is important to mow the park for several reason. First, and most important, if the small trees and brush aren’t mowed and cut periodically the meadow environment will transform (in time) into a forest. Just like the open farm fields of the 19th century that covered virtually all of Maine are now woods, Capisic Pond Park will move from field to brush to forest unless it is mown and tended. Second, regular cutting will spread seeds and improve the habitat overall. Lastly, we will again be able to see the pond (what’s left of it, anyway) and access the ice (!) during the months before everything regrows next Spring and Summer. FOCP members Donna and Steve Williams and Andy Graham met with Jeff Tarling of Public Services on Friday October 30th to walk the park and talk about what should and should not be cut – we are fortunate to have Jeff as a knowledgeable and caring partner.

“Also – if you were wondering about the trees being cut on Capisic St near the pond, this is the first preparation for the pond restoration work to be done next year. Apparently this will be an access point for the equipment needed to dredge and remove the spoils next August and September.”

This wasn’t a “haircut.” This was a clear-cut.

Quite frankly, I am left to question either the motives or the expertise behind the decisions that were made – at least beyond the third rationales listed: “…we will again be able to see the pond.” And the reason I question whether that clear-cutting had anything to do with anything other than what site-lines some people preferred seems simple as the other reasons given are complete B.S.

1) Cutting is not necessary to spread seeds. Plants are built to do that on their own, either through wind, animals, or gravity.
2) Improve habitat? Granted this depends on what habitat you are trying to improve, but I would argue that this type of mechanized treatment did not in any way improve habitat for much of anything at Capisic. In fact, it damaged or even ruined the habitat for most of the species that frequent the park.
3) Selective cutting, girdling, or other low-impact methods are widely available to eliminate forest succession, especially on a scale as small as Capisic. Almost any other treatment would substantially improve and augment habitat, not ravage it. And that goes for the aesthetics, too – the place is a mess right now.

So I fail to see what was accomplished here, other than opening up some views or fitting in with some outdated philosophy that parks should be open. Actually, what was accomplished was that the value of Capisic Pond Park to most migratory (just about all passage warblers), breeding (including both Baltimore and the famous Orchard Orioles) and year-round resident species (i.e. Northern Cardinals) was severely, and very negatively, impacted.

The significant improvement in food source diversity (especially for frugivores) from the park’s restoration was set back by a decade – or permanently if native plants are not replaced and restored. This heavy-handed, unselective approach favors invasive species, as they out-compete regenerating natives. If left alone, Capisic will end up with significantly more Asiatic Bittersweet, bush honeysuckle, and Multiflora Rose after this misguided effort. Limited biodiversity begets limited biodiversity.

And we’ve seen this throughout the city, for example, the Eastern Promenade, where – despite the efforts of a handful of local residents attempting to stem the tide of invasives – city mismanagement continues to accelerate their spread and the degradation of the habitat. Portland has already ruined (for birds and birders) the “Dragon Field” (behind the Quarry Run Dogpark), annihilated critical migratory bird habitat along West Commercial Street and wiped out any shelter of any sort along the Fore River Parkway Trail, and continues to assault any sort of cover in roadside edges and overgrown lots (all critical for disoriented and exhausted migrants, and “pioneers” that are attempting to overwinter after possibly becoming “stuck” in the city. Portland stood by as Evergreen Cemetery had a road plowed through it and neglect continues to degrade the pond areas – despite being the most-visited birding location in that state. See a pattern here?

And through all this, little ol’ Capisic Pond Park stood as the lone bastion of hope. Residents, birders, engineers, and city officials came together to not only restore the park after the sewer reconstruction, but actually improve the habitat for migratory and resident birds. And birders have been reaping those dividends, as improved plant diversity continues to provide a greater array of native foodstuffs as the replanted vegetation matures. And that has meant more birds.

I was proud of what was accomplished at Capisic Pond Park. I – and many others – worked tireless to make that happen. A lot of time, effort, dedication – and yes, a substantial amount of money – was invested.

And then, with a few passes of a brush-hog mower, it was gone. All of that time, effort, dedication, money, and concern, wasted. Just like that. Poof.

I’m sickened by what I saw at Capisic Pond Park on Monday. And personally, it will be hard for me to go back. There will always be birds in the park – it’s truly an urban oasis, and some migrants will have no choice but to search for food here. However, the knowledge of how much better the bird habitat, and therefore the birding, should be will forever be a reminded to me about how much time and energy I have wasted fighting for birds in the City of Portland.

But at least I can simply go somewhere else. If you’re a bird in Portland, you’re running out of choices.

2015 MonhegZen Fall Migration Birding Weekend

As always, the last weekend in September finds me at one of my favorite birding locales in the world, Monhegan Island. My annual “MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend” tour takes place then, and with it, a wealth of birds and good times are to be had.

Well, usually a wealth of birds are to be had! But yeah, this year was slow. As slow as I have ever seen it. But my goodness, was it nice out! Of course, this same pleasant, unseasonable warm and benign weather was exactly why there were so few (relatively speaking) birds out there. It seems that with night after night of great flying conditions, birds are proceeding unimpeded, with no fallouts, or even concentrations near the coast or offshore.

So in writing this blog, I was trying to figure out how to sugarcoat the weekend. Perhaps this will do it:
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Or this?
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Beautiful sunsets, and wonderous moonrises:
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Or maybe this will help:
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So yeah, it was gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. And the Novelty Pizza was just as good, and Monhegan Brewing Company’s beer was just as great.

The butterflying was good, and the wildflowers were a nice distraction, especially the Fringed Gentian as always.
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And don’t worry, there were still plenty of birds – just not as many as usual. We enjoyed some great studies of Great and Double-crested Cormorants…
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…and of course a few rarities were around. The two headliners were the two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that would spend dawn at the Ice Pond. They would fly in just before 6 (presumably from feeding around the rocky shoreline), drink and preen a bit, and then shortly after sunrise, take off to roost in the trees. You needed to be here dark and early to get them, and on Sunday morning, the group made the lovely twilight walk (fly-by American Woodcock!) to reach the pond, and we arrived just a few minutes after the night-herons did. One lingered until it was just light enough to grab a snapshot.
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A Great Blue Heron kept watch as well.
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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Monhegan weekend if I didn’t attempt to string one Empidonax flycatcher. Of course, this one was a Least Flycatcher – as expected, and as usual. It did offer a very nice, prolonged study, however.
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One of the other significant birding highlights was the seawatching from the tall cliffs. In the afternoon each day, we strolled over to White Head to enjoy Northern Gannets, study Great Cormorants, and do a little seawatching.
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With northeasterly winds picking up Sunday afternoon, gannets were breathtakingly close. A little trickle of shearwaters, which included 2 Cory’s Shearwaters among a handful of Greats, were anything but near.

Here’s the three-day checklist of all birds seen:
American Black Duck: 0,1,0
Mallard: 6,6,6
American Black Duck x Mallard: 1,1,1
Green-winged Teal: 1,1,1
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,1,8
Common Loon: 0,1,2
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 0,0,2
GREAT SHEARWATER: 0,0,6
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,3,1
Northern Gannet: #,#,##
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 2,13,3
Great Blue Heron: 1,0,2,
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 0,0,2 (present all three days, but we only made it to the Ice Pond at dawn on the last day).
Osprey: 1,2,2
Bald Eagle: 1,2,1
Northern Harrier: 0,0,1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,6,1
American Kestrel: 0,3,9
Merlin: ??,4,3
Peregrine Falcon: 0,2,1
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 1,1,0
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Black Guillemot: x,x,x
Mourning Dove: 6,4,6
Belted Kingfisher: 1,1,2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 8,4,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,2,2
Northern Flicker: 0,6,8
Least Flycatcher: 0,1,1
Eastern Phoebe: 0,3,3
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 0,1,0
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,6,3
Blue Jay: 4,8,15
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 3,2,2
Horned Lark: 0,1,0
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6,8,12
Brown Creeper: 0,1,2
Winter Wren: 0,1,0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15,20,40
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 20,6,5
Swainson’s Thrush: 1,0,0
American Robin: 2,1,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,x
European Starling: 8,8,8
American Pipit: 3,1,0
Cedar Waxwing: 30,25,30
Nashville Warbler: 1,1,1
Northern Parula: 10,4,4
Yellow Warbler: 2,1,1
Magnolia Warbler: 1,0,0
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,1
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,0,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 150,75,75
Black-throated Green Warbler: 6,2,2
PINE WARBLER: 1,0,0
Prairie Warbler: 1,0,1
Palm Warbler: 4,2,2
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,10,10
American Redstart: 0,1,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,1
Common Yellowthroat: 4,x,x
Chipping Sparrow: 1,4,4
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,1,1
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,10
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 10,8,8
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,1
Common Grackle: 10,29,29
Baltimore Oriole: 2,2,2
American Goldfinch: 2,4,4

Total species = 80
Total warbler species = 15

Although this year’s tour was one day shorter than usual (since Jeannette and I had to leave for a tradeshow on Monday), the 80 total species was a whopping 22% below the average of 102 species for my usual 4-day tour, and 16% below my average of 95 species for a three-day fall tour.

But the “MonhegZen Migration Weekend” isn’t called that for some existential reason – no meditation required. Instead, it’s a suggestion of the mindset of going with the flow, taking what the island gives us, and enjoying a truly unique and remarkable place that superlatives fail to completely describe.

So yeah, it was pretty slow. But it’s not just cliché: a slow day on Monhegan is better than a “good” day almost anywhere else. And not just for the birds! Don’t believe me? Well, how about joining us next fall to see for yourself? I mean, did you see those sunsets?

P.S. To get a better idea of what it’s usually like out there, check out my blog from last fall’s weekend tour.

Morning Flight Fail

Following yesterday’s cold front, a huge flight was underway come nightfall. It was by far the biggest of the season to date, and one of the stronger (by density) flights as you can see around here.

Here are the midnight radar and velocity images, for example:
12am_radar

12am_velocity

Even as of 4:00am, with the eastern sky likely showing a little light, the flight was still strong:
4am_radar

4am_velocity

So of course I was up early to go to Sandy Point. However, the winds were forecasted to be out of the northeast, becoming easterly in the morning. And, the local weather stations I looked at (and my windometer at home ) were all reading north or northeast when I awoke a little before 5:00 this am. The 6:00am Intellicast “Wind cast” image shows this coastal northeasterly wind very well:
6amWIND_map

After almost any night in the fall with a little migration, there will be a few birds at Sandy Point. And after a migration as strong as last night’s, there were bound to be some birds. However, due to a combination of geography and the instinct to fly into the wind to compensate for overnight drift (to oversimplify things a bit), there are just never a lot of birds at Sandy Point on northeasterly winds.

On the other hand, on both north and northeast winds, I have witnessed good morning flights (aka Morning Re-determined Migration” or “Morning Reorientation”) in the south-facing peninsulas that reach into Casco Bay, including the dual peninsulas of Harpswell.  What I have not figured out yet, however, is which point is best, how, and when. This is mostly because I can’t tear myself away from Sandy Point long enough to find out!

But this morning, as I reached I-295, something made me turn north instead of south. With what was supposed to be an increasing northeasterly wind and a huge flight, this should have been a perfect morning to test my hypotheses at the tip of Harpswell.  So, with no small feeling of impending regret, I drove down to Pott’s Point at the end of Rte 24 for the dawn.

As birds that were over and beyond Casco Bay at sunrise begin to work their way inland and compensate for that drift, island-hopping to the north and northeast deposits birds in the long fingers of the Mid-Coast. Unlike Sandy Point on Cousin’s Island, however, there isn’t a single leading line, perfectly-pointing peninsula, narrow crossing, and raised bridge (for visibility) that combine to offer a perfect morning flight observation location.

So I thought today would have been a perfect morning to see if Pott’s Point was the answer on a northeasterly wind, even if it meant missing a few birds at Sandy Point.

I was wrong.

I arrived at the end of Pott’s Point at 6:27, 20 minutes after sunrise, but found the wind to not be northeast, or even north, but to be north-northwest. Uh-oh, I thought.

But since I have yet to find a way to be in two places at once, I settled in for the next hour at Pott’s Point (it would have taken at least 45 minutes to get from Pott’s Point to Sandy Point), and counted…very, very little:
16 Cedar Waxwings
11 American Goldfinches
5 American Redstarts
5 Unidentified
2 Yellow-rumped Warblers
1 Pileated Woodpecker

Now, all of those birds were doing the “right” thing, flying from over the bay or from Haskell Island just to the south, then over Pott’s Point and northward up the peninsula.  There were just so few of them!

CousinsIslandPowerPlant
If I only had a boat…

The view of the top of the power plant at the other end of Cousin’s Island was a reminder of what could have been, as Sandy Point is excellent in a NNW wind. Was I missing a huge flight? Or, were the winds northeasterly on the other side of the bay, and only a light flight was passing through there (although it would have undoubtably been better than the “flight” at Pott’s, I will convince myself of the latter!)?

In other words, I was here:
PottsPointMap

But should have been here:
SandyPointMap_edited-1

Besides, it’s a peaceful spot to spend the morning, with the only traffic being a few lobster boats.
panorama

And the narrow peninsula does have a Monhegan-esque feel to it and its birding (sometimes).
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So if the migrants were not at Sandy Point, where was the Morning Flight concentration this morning?  Looking back at the radar images, there was not a ton of offshore drift (due to the lack of a westerly component throughout the night), so maybe there just weren’t a lot of birds offshore come sunrise.  But there still looks like more than enough for a good reorientation flight at sunrise.

Bascially, I am not only left without an answer to my pursuit of a good Mid-Coast morning flight spot, but now I will no doubt spend the rest of the season being over-cautious about missing a flight at Sandy Point and therefore miss the next huge flight through Pott’s Point on a northeasterly wind!

There wasn’t much else left to do but go birding, so I poked my way up the peninsula and into Brunswick, checking a few of the hotspots. Some day I will find a rarity at Stover’s Point, but today wasn’t the day for that either. However, I did have some pretty good birding at Mitchell Field, including a trickle of warblers overhead. A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a Lincoln’s Sparrow were highlights, and other migrants present included seven species of warblers. OK, it was small consolation, but at least there were some migrants around Harpswell today!

Unfortunately, the wind and weather forecasts for the coming days hardly look good for Sandy Point, so it might be as much as a week before I am back to spending the sunrise at “my office” where I should be!

P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for my “Morning Flight Phenomenon on Cousin’s Island” workshop for RSU5 Recreation and Community Education next week. More information and registration details are here.

9/5 UPDATE: I received an email this morning from Bill Hancock who was at Sandy Point on Friday and reported it was “dead” and did in fact have a northeasterly wind. Phew!  Meanwhile, I tallied 110 migrants on calm conditions on Saturday morning – a very light flight, as expected this time.

2015 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Season in Review

The 2015 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, co-sponsored by Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Leica Sport Optics, came to its conclusion on May 15th. This season was an interesting one, especially in how the weather affected our counts. During the 2-month period, the Official Hawkcounter, Andrew Wolfgang, tallied a total of 3628 raptors. This included vultures, hawks, eagles, and falcons. Over the 8-year span that we have conducted this standardized count, this year was the second lowest, coming in 12% below average.

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Welcome to spring hawkwatching in Maine, Andrew!

However, a single year’s count tells us little beyond what the weather conditions were like during the course of the season. The late arrival of spring was actually a benefit to the count at the start, as few early migrants had progressed north by March 15th. Therefore, we had very good counts of our earliest migrants: Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. In fact, we set a new record for eagles deemed migrating, and vultures produced our second highest tally of all time. We simply didn’t “miss” any of these migrants before the project got underway.
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Bald Eagles set a new all-time record this season.

However, as the season progressed, spring still didn’t seem to arrive. Lots of unfavorable (for viewing birds at Bradbury Mountain) winds meant that viewing migrating hawks past this mountain was not optimal. Strong and cold west winds, for example, push birds towards the coast beyond our view, while persistent easterlies seem to shunt birds inland before they reach the northern terminus of the coastal plain. Simply put, the poor conditions during the peak of our migration period in mid to late April really lowered the overall numbers and it’s those couple of weeks that can really make or break the overall count for the season. Therefore, the below-average numbers of our two most abundant migrants (Broad-winged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk) combined to yield a below-average season total.

However, we had some great birds once again, highlight by our 4th record of a Golden Eagle.
Golden Eagle Bradbury 4 edit

Andrew also recorded a new record of 3 Rough-legged Hawks, no doubt due to the late onset of the spring’s flight (most Rough-legs probably move north before the start of the count in most years).

Meanwhile, a total of 85 species were recorded, including an ever-increasing number of Sandhill Cranes. This year a total of 11 migrant cranes were recorded. Other highlights included frequent visits by Bohemian Waxwings to the summit for much of the first half of the count, both Red and White-winged Crossbills. Fox Sparrow was recorded at the summit for the first time as well (two dates).

But, this hawkwatch is not just about the numbers. We also work hard to educate visitors to the park, both birders and non-birders. Every year we expose more and more people to the world of hawkwatching and bird migration in general. Bradbury Mountain is just one of many hawk migration sites throughout the continent. The data we collect becomes part of this vast network allowing researchers to determine population and geographical trends in particular species. So, even though our numbers this year were low relative to past seasons, it becomes no small part of building this data set. 1174 visitors were recorded at the hawkwatch (tabulated as coming specifically for the hawkwatch or spending time chatting with the counter), plus many hundreds more who at least briefly read the sign or asked a question or two. This was slightly below average, but likely due to the cool conditions for most of the season.
IMG_5373

There are few public projects where scientific data collection so effectively goes hand-in-hand with public outreach and education. With the growth of regular hawkwatch visitor volunteers, and especially the growth of the “Feather Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend” festival, we look forward to many more years of introducing people to hawkwatching and hawk research and conservation.

Season Totals:
Turkey Vulture 374
Osprey 382
Bald Eagle 102*
Northern Harrier 101
Sharp-shinned Hawk 610
Cooper’s Hawk 85
Northern Goshawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 104
Broad-winged Hawk 1190
Red-tailed Hawk 236
Rough-legged Hawk 3*
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 307
Merlin 75
Peregrine Falcon 8
Unidentified Hawk 46

Total 3628

*Denotes new season record

IMG_0846_edited-2
Peregrine Falcons just eclipsed our annual average this year; most migrants in this area stick closer to the coast.

Our ninth Spring Hawkwatch kicks off again on March 15th, 2016! We invite everyone, whether seasoned veteran hawkwatchers or casual nature enthusiast, to join our professional biologist and naturalist at the summit once again.

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Ospreys are a fan favorite at the hawkwatch.

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It was quite a change in climate and the color of the scenery since the start of the count!

Monhegan Island, May 18-20, 2015.

Hooded Warbler, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Summer Tanager, Grasshopper Sparrow, 19 species of warblers and 89 species? All in 48 hours? It must be Monhegan!

Jeannette and I escaped for a quick trip to Monhegan Island this week. It was all-too-brief as usual, but we’re always happy for whatever short visit we can muster. With the early season ferry schedule still in effect, we couldn’t arrive until noon on Monday, and departed at 12:30 on Wednesday. That only gave us 48 hours of birding.

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Northern Parulas were common and conspicuous – and looking mighty fine! – throughout the visit.

A strong flight overnight Sunday into Monday ushered in some new migrants to the island, but also ushered out several of the rarities that had been present over the weekend. Luckily, a few goodies lingered, including the adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was seen almost all day for all three days of our visit in a corner of the Ice Pond. Our best discovery of the trip was a Grasshopper Sparrow that we kicked up near the microwave tower. Unfortunately, it was not seen again by us or anyone else.

The remnants of the good morning were present – it was decidedly birdy and we managed 16 species of warblers and 65 total species of birds before dinner…and with the pleasant surprise of finding Monhegan Brewing open, we may have spent a little afternoon time there instead of beating the bush.

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FOY.

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Magnolia Warbler was our most common warbler on Day 1.

Come nightfall, birds took the air on light southerly winds. However, after midnight, there were very few
birds on the radar near the coast, suggesting many more birds would have departed than arrived. And that certainly was the case!

It was a quiet morning, and in the dense fog, birds were few and far between. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was present and accounted for however. Then, in the afternoon, Jeannette and I (mostly) circumnavigated the island – a hike I haven’t done in a while, so that was a nice change of pace. The only Cape May Warbler we saw in the three days was during the hike, in one of quite a few small mixed-species foraging flocks that we encountered on the island’s east side.
Hiking_East_Side,5-19-15_edited-1

We also came upon a tired and wet Scarlet Tanager (I can’t believe I didn’t bring mealworms on this trip!), which was slowly working the rocks for seaweed flies. It was finding several, and after watching it for about 15 minutes, we can tell it was getting a little more strength.

Upon our return to town, we were alerted to the re-sighting of the weekend’s Summer Tanager, flycatching on Swim Beach. To say it posed for pictures would be an understatement.
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Overall, it was a slow day of birding by Monhegan standards (55 species including 13 species of warblers), but a slow day of birding on Monhegan is a great day of birding most anywhere else!

Although we awoke to more dense fog on Wednesday (5/20), our last day on the island, there were soon peaks of sun overhead, and a lot of new birds were to be seen. A moderate flight overnight on light southwest winds then saw birds drift offshore a little more as the winds shifted to the west after midnight. This brought an array of new arrivals to the island, although nothing in exceptionally large quantities, but our trip list grew steadily.

Our morning began with a nice flight of Northern Gannets off Lobster Cove and ended with 17 total species of warblers. Personal first-of-years included the gannets, 1 American Pipit at Lobster Cove, and a singing Willow Flycatcher.  The Summer Tanager continued, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was still standing guard.

And finally, we ran into the one rarity that we had not yet caught up with – a female Hooded Warbler that had been present since the weekend. In true MonhegZen birding style, after being told we “just missed it” several times, I played a hunch and gave one little thicket a quick check before we headed up to the Trailing Yew to grab our carry-on bags.

And sure enough, there she was!
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While both a Wood Thrush and Snowy Egret that were seen on Tuesday would have been “Island Birds” for me, we managed to see all of three of the continuing rarities, plus finding our own in the Grasshopper Sparrow (a very good bird out here).

In other words, it was a great – albeit quick – trip. I look forward to returning no later than our MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend, if not sooner.  And for the record, Monhegan Brewing’s new Flyway IPA – named for the birds and birders that descend on the island each spring and fall – is fantastic!

Sasha_and_Chaco,5-19-15_edited-1
The trip was also way too short for Sasha. Not only did she not get any lifers, but her little island romance with Chaco came to an all-too soon end.

Our full trip list was as follows:

Mallard: 6, 8, 10.
Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid: 0,0,2
Common Eider: x,x,x
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,5,4.
Red-throated Loon: 0,0,1.
Common Loon: 2, 0,0.
Northern Gannet: 0,0,73
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 0,0,1.
Great Blue Heron: 0,0,1.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 1,1,1.
Osprey: 0,0,1.
Merlin: 1,1 or 2, 1
Sora: 1,1,1 (calling incessantly all day long all three days!)
Greater Yellowlegs: 2,1,0
Spotted Sandpiper: 0,0,2
Laughing Gull: 0,0,4.
Herring Gull: x,x,x.
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: x,x,x.
Mourning Dove: 6,6,6.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0,1,2.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER: 1,1,0.
HAIRY WOODPECKER: 1,0,1.
Northern Flicker: 1,1,0.
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 1,0,3.
Alder Flycatcher: 0,0,2.
Willow Flycatcher: 0,0,1.
Least Flycatcher: 2,2,20.
Eastern Phoebe: 2,0,2.
Eastern Kingbird: 6,1,3.
Warbling Vireo: 0,0,2.
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,1,6.
Blue Jay: 4,5,5.
American Crow: x,x,x.
Common Raven: 2,2,2.
Tree Swallow: 10,6,8.
Cliff Swallow: 1,0,0
Barn Swallow: 2,0,2.
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2.
Winter Wren: 0,1,1.
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 0,8,2.
Swainson’s Thrush: 0,1,1.
American Robin: x,x,x.
Gray Catbird: #,#,#
Brown Thrasher: 3,2,2.
European Starling: x,4,6.
American Pipit: 0,0,1.
Cedar Waxwing: 0,0,15.
Nashville Warbler: 0,0,2.
Northern Parula: 10,20,25.
Yellow Warbler: 10,10,20.
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 1,1,8.
Magnolia Warbler: 15,30,40.
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 5,3,2.
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 10,15,12.
Black-throated Green Warbler: 3,15,18.
CAPE MAY WARBLER: 0,1,0.
Blackburnian Warbler: 1,0,0.
Blackpoll Warbler: 2,2,10.
Black-and-white Warbler: 6,10,15.
American Redstart: 2,3,25.
Ovenbird: 1,0,1.
Northern Waterthrush: 3,1,2.
Common Yellowthroat: #,#,#.
HOODED WARBLER: 0,0,1.
Wilson’s Warbler: 2,0,6.
Canada Warbler: 1,0,3.
SUMMER TANAGER: 0,1,1.
Scarlet Tanager: 0,1,0.
Eastern Towhee: 0,0,2.
Chipping Sparrow: 2,1,0.
Savannah Sparrow: 3,2,2.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW: 1,0,0.
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 1,0,0.
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,3.
White-throated Sparro: 15,10,10.
White-crowned Sparrow: 1,6,7.
Northern Cardinal: 4,6,6.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 4,5,5.
Indigo Bunting: 0,0,1.
Bobolink: 6,4,3.
Red-winged Blackbird: 4,4,8.
Common Grackle: x,x,x.
Baltimore Oriole: 2,1,4.
Pine Siskin: 0,0,1.
Purple Finch: 1,0,0.
American Goldfinch: 8,4,6.

Day totals: 65, 56,77

But most conspicuous in their complete absences was the lack of Carolina Wrens. The island usually has the densest population of this “southern” species anywhere in the state (although one neighborhood in Wells might rival it), but we did not have a single bird the entire trip! Same for everyone else we talked to. Apparently, the unusually harsh, long, and snowy (especially for out here) winter took its toll – as it is wont to do on Carolina Wrens pushing the northern limits of their range.

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Chestnut-sided Warblers were one of many species that were more frequently encountered this morning that in the previous two days.

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