Tag Archives: Morning flight

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!

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.
wind-map-10-21-16

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.
wind-map-10-22-16

With the storm system pulling away to the north…
wind-map-10-23-16

…and the temperatures falling (and even some snowfall was seen in the mountains!) it’s time to really go birding!
surface-map-10-23-16

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).
ccsp_peaksisland10-23-16
Not the best photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow (can you find it?) that I have taken!

battery_steele1peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1battery_steele2peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1
peaks_shoreline10-23-16_edited-1

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!
stoverscove10-25-16

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:
10pm-radar10-25-16

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:
1am-radar10-25-16

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.
prawsandypoint10-26-16_edited-1

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.
10-27_wind_forecast
wind-map-10-26-16

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!

Excellent Morning Flight at Sandy Point, 9/16/2015

Over 2,000 migrants. 45 species, including 17 species of warblers. Yeah, it was a good morning to be at Sandy Point!

L1030171_CMWA,SandyPt,9-1-15_edited-1
Cape May Warbler, male.

I arrived, as usual, a few minutes before sunrise, but unlike most mornings, birds had already begun to cross. And once the sun crested the horizon, the floodgates open. OK, so it wasn’t “Warblergeddon” at Cape May, but it was fun for me and it was an excellent flight for here.

Well, mostly fun. A lot of birds were high, especially as the wind went calm. Big pockets of birds were just too high to identify. I did my best to just keep count. Birds were dropping into the trees on both sides of the road, others were zipping through underneath. As I focused on something in the elm, I am sure I missed birds overhead. It was tough to keep track, but I did my best.
L1030173_PRAW,SandyPoint_edited-1
Prairie Warbler, male.

By the time I departed at 9:30, the tally was the 7th highest I’ve had at Sandy Point (the 6th highest in September), and by far my best flight of the season to date. It also had some interesting birds, and I’ll analyze some of the numbers below.

6:16-9:30am.
61F, clear, West 6.3mph to calm.

940 Unidentified
403 Northern Parulas (3rd highest)
161 American Redstarts
155 Black-throated Green Warblers
61 Cedar Waxwings
55 Tree Swallows (record high)
34 Black-and-white Warbler (3rd highest)
30 Blackpoll Warblers
22 Northern Flickers
22 Magnolia Warblers
18 Yellow Warblers
16 American Goldfinches
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Red-eyed Vireos
11 Black-throated Blue Warblers
10 Chipping Sparrows
9 Blue Jays
9 Nashville Warblers
8 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Tennessee Warblers (3rd highest)
8 Baltimore Orioles
6 Scarlet Tanagers
5 White-breasted Nuthatches (record high)
4 Purple Finches
3 Eastern Phoebes
3 Blue-headed Vireos
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrel
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
1 unidentified Empid
1 unidentified Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Robin
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Cape May Warbler
1 Prairie Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 EASTERN TOWHEE (present in scrub; only 3 previous records here).
1 Savannah Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Rusty Blackbird (first of fall)
x Common Yellowthroat

Total = 2044

L1030179_BTBW,SandyPt,9-16-15_edited-1
Black-throated Blue Warbler, male. Look at how the “pocket hankercheif” is blown out by the low sun angle.

Several counts were noteworthy, including the two record highs. Tree Swallows usually don’t bother crossing from the island to the mainland via Sandy Point, but more often continue on to the south, crossing the bay with little trouble. Plus, most swallows are probably moving through after I depart in the morning. These birds, mostly in one large and a couple of small groups, were funneling over the bridge along with the rest of the typical Morning Flight migrants. Meanwhile, the 5 White-breasted Nuthatches were noteworthy as I usually see no more than a couple all fall here. The previous record for a single morning was two.

As for the higher counts, I was surprised by how large of a percentage of identified migrants were American Redstarts compared to Blackpoll Warblers. However, I think this is an “identification bias.” Redstarts are the easiest warbler to ID for me in flight, and few pass through at almost any height without being identified. I doubt many of the overwhelming “unidentified” count were redstarts. However, I would wager that a sizeable percentage of them were Blackpoll Warblers. Based on the date and what I’m seeing in the woods these days, there should have been a lot more blackpolls. However, these strong fliers are often very high overhead on light winds, and my guess is that the diminishing westerly this morning was of little consequence for them, and that a lot of those little dots overhead were blackpolls.

Yesterday, I was lamenting not being at Sandy Point. The conditions were great in the morning, and the radar was quite good overnight. However, I was guiding in the Camden area, and at least a little morning flight (ca 100 birds) flew over and through Merryspring Nature Center Park in town. It was a tease to think what might have been going on at “my office” however.

But last night’s radar was even better! Here are the very active 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images from the overnight. See how much was offshore, even as of 4am?
10pm radar

10pm velocity

12am radar

12am velocity

2am radar

2am velocity

4am radar

4am velocity

And come dawn, the winds aloft were perfect for a good Morning Flight at Sandy Point.
5am wind map

In other words, that’s what produced 2,000 birds at Sandy Point, and with a busy schedule this fall, I was quite pleased to catch one of the big ones.

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).
IMG_5997

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.

This Week in Shorebirds: 8/22-28/2015

L1030115_two_BASA1_edited-1

L1030121_BASA1_edited-1
Two juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers at Popham Beach State Park on Friday morning, “rare-but-regular” fall migrants.

August is for shorebirds. Although the “fall” southbound migration started in late June (when the first non-breeders begin to turn around to mosey back south) and continues into November when Purple Sandpipers are still filling in, August is the month of peak numbers and diversity in Maine.
Most weeks from mid-July into September of recent years, I post a weekly “shorebird high counts this week” summary to my weekly “Additional Highlights This Week” summary posts to the Maine-birds listserve. While I do hope this is interesting and of value to folks, I also do it to organize my own notes, allowing me to quickly reference the peaks and valleys of particular species with ease should I need to.

I generally only post this when I have hit at least two “primary” and at least one “secondary” site each week, to make the numbers meaningful. And I prefer at least one prime high tide location (Eastern Road Trail in Scarborough Marsh, Biddeford Pool Beach/Ocean Avenue, or Popham Beach State Park in some years) with one low or mid-tide hotspot (Pine Point, Hill’s Beach/The Pool, or Popham and nearby environs).

This week was a particularly productive week for my own shorebirding, so this week’s summary is a helpful future reference for me. I also thought it was worth going into a little more detail, since it yielded a goodly 21 species (plus one subspecies) and some excellent totals.

The inclement weather of the weekend into the middle of the week (regular rain, lots of fog, easterly or southerly winds) was perfecting for “grounding” shorebirds and allowing numbers to build. I think my only surprise was my lack of a real rarity – like Western Sandpiper (although I worked pretty hard for one!)

I hit the low-tide hotspot of Pine Point on Monday with Jeannette, followed by the Eastern Road Trail at high tide later that afternoon. Jeannette and I spent the incoming to high tide at Biddeford Pool Beach on Tuesday, and on Friday, Serena Doose and I visited Popham on the incoming to high tide. Additionally, Jeannette and I checked one of the “secondary” sites, Brunswick’s Wharton Point on Tuesday and on Thursday I visited Wells Harbor before the evening’s Scott Weidensaul talk that we co-sponsored with Birds and Beans coffee and York County Audubon.

It’s always good to hit a freshwater location for diversity and high counts of pond-preferring-migrants, so when my Poplar Hut Tour Group with Maine Huts & Trails visited the Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds on Sunday, my high counts of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers were acquired, along with my only Wilson’s Snipe of the week.

And, as if often the case during the peak of shorebird migration, there is some other “incidental sighting” of a migrant in some weird place – but not as weird as the Whimbrel (my only of the week) foraging at 4,200 feet atop Sugarloaf Mountain that Paul Doiron, Kristen Lindquist, and I observed on Sunday afternoon. While I knew they forage on mossberry during migration, such as in the bogs Downeast, I was most definitely not expecting one up here!

Therefore, with a total of 7 shorebirding locations – plus that mountaintop Whimbrel! – “this week’s shorebird high counts” scoreboard looks like this:

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER: 1 ad, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Black-bellied Plover: 160, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Plover: 350, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Killdeer: 3, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 5, Pine Point, 8/11 (with Jeannette).
Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Lesser Yellowlegs: 38, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“Eastern” Willet: 8 juvs, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“WESTERN” WILLET: 1 juv. (FOY), Pine Point, 8/24 (with Fyn Kind, Gary Roberts, and Jeannette).
Solitary Sandpiper: 4, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Spotted Sandpiper: 5, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Whimbrel: 8, Wells Harbor, 8/27.
Ruddy Turnstone: 8, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 40, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1000, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette)..
Least Sandpiper: 75 mostly juv, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
White-rumped Sandpiper: 80-100 adults, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER: 2 juveniles, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 8/28 (with Serena Doose).
Pectoral Sandpiper: 6, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
STILT SANDPIPER: 4 ads, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Short-billed Dowitcher: 19 juveniles, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Wilson’s Snipe: 1, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).

Furthermore, writing this blog gives me a chance to show off some of Jeannette’s photography! These are just a few of the shots she got during our visit to Scarborough on Monday.
IMG_2024_edited-2Adult Black-bellied Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2069_edited-2Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2092_edited-2Adult Semipalmated Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2148_edited-2Adult and juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers with one juvenile Semipalmated Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2256_edited-2Adult Pectoral Sandpiper and juvenile Least Sandpiper, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24.

IMG_2295_edited-2Adult White-rumped Sandpiper, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24.

IMG_2331_edited-2Semipalmated Sandpipers with one adult Semipalmated Plover and one adult Sanderling, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25.

Jeannette in Marsh_edited-1

Of course, it’s not just shorebirds that are on the move – there are plenty of passerines as well! A migrant Wilson’s Warbler and a whopping 14 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were at Old Town House Park on Saturday morning when I visited it with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group. My tour group to the Poplar Hut encountered mixed-species foraging flocks as we hiked to and from the hut, highlighted by an immature female Cape May Warbler in a little wave around the hut itself on Sunday morning.
Poplar Falls_edited-1

Other highlights this week included 14 Wood Ducks and a bumper crop of juvenile Common Yellowthroats at Florida Lake Park (8/24), the whiter of the two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids (“Splotchy”) in the Rte 1/9 salt pannes in Scarborough Marsh with Jeannette on the same day and a drake White-winged Scoter off of Biddeford Pool Beach on 8/25.

While a diversity of shorebirds will continue for several more weeks (and there’s a better chance for Western, Baird’s, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers), I tend to spend less time focusing on them (and therefore not enough time at enough prime locations over the course of the week), and therefore only occasionally post summary totals. In fact, if the much-reduced numbers at Popham today are any indication, a lot of shorebirds departed with the passage of this recent cold front.

Instead, I spend most of my free mornings now at “my office,” the bridge at Sandy Point Beach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth, observing and obsessively counting migrant passerines in the “Morning Flight.” In fact, my first visit of the season there on Thursday morning yielded 438 migrants, including 17 species of warblers, 1 early Dickcissel, 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (my 3rd-ever here), and 5 Prairie Warblers – my 2nd highest count.

(Much) more on that soon.

Birding and Conserving Sandy Point and Knight’s Pond-Blueberry Hill

Warbler migration is in full swing right now, with at least 10 or more species easily found on most mornings at most productive patches. Nonetheless, I really hate to say it, but in less than 3 months, some of these birds will already be returning home to the Neotropics. In fact, in a little more than three months, I’ll be back at “my office” at the base of the bridge at Sandy Point on Yarmouth’s Cousin’s Island to count southbound migrants!

It’s true: the birds we think of as “our” birds that spend the winters in the tropics are actually tropical birds that spend a few months of the year taking advantage of the bounty of insects in the northern forests in the short summer. While it may feel like fall today (after yesterday’s 80-degre temps!), I only bring this up because the Morning Flight at Sandy Point was on my mind this morning, as I met with Central Maine Power and Lucas Tree.

As many of you will remember from the fall of 2011, enhanced maintenance (Federally required) of the high-tension powerline corridor through Sandy Point significantly impacted the most critical migratory bird habitat here. With the help of many of you also calling CMP and sending letters, the clear-cutting was stopped, but much to my chagrin, was resumed in the spring of 2012 without notice. To make a long story short, after several months, an agreement was reached. The agreement and essentially an apology from CMP has been posted on our website ever since.

The trees were planted, and the River Birch is doing well. While the Red Oak didn’t make it through last summer, a cherry has naturally resprouted nearby and is currently outperforming the other trees at the base of the bridge – the most critical trees for reorienting migrants. These trees are outside of the critical clearance area under the lines (one of my biggest arguments in the first place) and will continue to grow (excuse the pun) in importance to birds seeking shelter or rest before making the crossing to the mainland.Sandy Point1,5-8-15

An early spring view from “My Office.”

Knowing that Sandy Point was due for the three-year maintenance schedule, I sent a email to CMP this winter, just to check in. I was assured that someone would be in touch this year when this stretch of corridor was due to be cut. And sure enough, last week, Nicholas Hahn of the Vegetation Management division of CMP got in touch, and I met with him and a crew from Lucas Tree this morning to discuss the current cutting regime.

First, let me say that I am very happy that CMP honored their commitment to notifying me about upcoming maintenance, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to offer input. We all agree it’s easier to get on the same page before any work is done. I’m not unreasonable, and I don’t need to get upset any more than I have to.

We walked through the site and the trees that needed to be removed or pruned (fast-growing trees that could get too tall before the next scheduled maintenance in three years, aka “capable”) were identified. It all seemed very reasonable to me, and I had no objections. I did make sure the cutting of the Staghorn Sumac patch was kept to a minimum, and Lucas Tree agreed to take out a few bush honeysuckles before they got any bigger and further impacted the valuable Arrowwood Viburnum stands.SandyPoint2,5-8-15

So all in all, it went very well, in my opinion. There wasn’t much that needed to be done, and this small stretch of corridor will continue to be maintained with the lightest hand possible, offering safety and refuge for tired birds, and exceptional opportunities for us birders.

After the meeting, I finally got over to the Knight’s Pond – Blueberry Hill property on the Cumberland/North Yarmouth border that the Royal River Conservation Trust and other organizations have been diligently working to preserve. It’s only my affinities for my local patches at this time of year that has kept me from checking out the preserve sooner.  But I am glad I finally did.

It was already 8:20am by the time I arrived, and therefore the sunny edges were less busy. And since the deeper woods are not yet too active, the overall birding was a little slow today. However, there’s clearly a lot of potential for birding opportunities here.

KnightsPond1,5-8-15

10 species of warblers were present this morning, including my first Chestnut-sided and, in the powerline corridor, my first Prairie of the season. My “FOY” Great Crested Flycatcher sounded off, and I was rather surprised to encounter a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a state Threatened (and proposed for upgrading to Endangered species). The pond is big enough to be worth a check in waterfowl migration, and I bet it can host a lot of swallows in early spring.  And there’s likely a lot more breeding around its edges and deeper in the woods than what I detected this (still) early spring day.

In other words, I will be back, and don’t be surprised to end up here on a future Saturday Morning Birdwalk. This property is a great addition to our local birding patches. Unfortunately, politics has put the purchase at risk. This is one of 30 projects at risk thanks to the Governor’s refusal to release voter-approved bond money for the Lands For Maine’s Future Program.

Voter-approved bonds are not political bargaining chips. These have been approved by voters and are not subject to the Governor’s personal approval – he’s not a king, although sometime he tries to act like it. The protection of Knight’s Pond has no relation at all to increased timber harvesting on state land (don’t get me started on that one…deer yard “thinning” anyone?). Hey, I get politics – things are negotiated and compromised. In theory. But as usual, with this “Governor,” it’s not about compromise – it’s about getting his way.

We all know how kids change the rules of the game when they’re not winning. I probably did, and you probably did too. And every neighborhood had that kid who, upon not getting his way, took his ball and went home. To me, this is akin to what the Governor is attempting to do – except this is not a child’s playground. There’s a reason it’s called the “Land for Maine’s Future” program. And the time is now for the Governor to grow up, act like a Governor and not a spoiled child, and release these bonds so this property and other valuable parcels can be conserved for all Mainers – forever – before it’s too late.

October Birding in Maine.

October is my favorite month of birding in Maine. Great diversity, opportunities for observing the thrilling phenomena of migration, an increased chance for rarities, and often-beautiful weather combine to make for exciting times in the field.  I keep my schedule as free as possible for the month to maximize my birding time, and luckily, a current project dictates even more time in the field for me. For the past five days, October birding was at its finest, and my adventures nicely summarized what this glorious month has to offer.

On Friday, I spent the morning exploring 8 preserves of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. Six hours and about 5 miles of walking later, I had a better feel for the properties on Harpswell Neck, and their (significant) birding potential.

IMG_4568
Widgeon (sic) Cove Preserve.

I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary today – best birds were probably the Carolina Wren at Pott’s Point, a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the Skofield Shore Preserve, and a Nelson’s Sparrow at Stover Point – but almost all sites were delightfully birdy. Yellow-rumped Warblers were in abundance (especially at Mitchell Field) and there were plenty of Palm Warblers around (again, especially at Mitchell Field).  Other then a few Blackpoll Warblers, my only other warblers were single Pine at Skofield and a Black-throated Blue at the Curtis Farm Preserve.

Sparrows were widespread, as were Purple Finches and Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and increasing waterbirds including a few groups of Surf Scoters. Mitchell Field was definitely the hotspot today, with good numbers of all expected migrants, along with migrant Osprey, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a single Indigo Bunting, 3 Gray Catbirds, and 5 Monarchs.

After several nights with little visible migration (although there’s almost never “no” migration at this time of year!), clear and mostly light westerly conditions overnight Friday into Saturday produced a huge flight. Unfortunately, come dawn, clouds had rolled in and winds immediately shifted the northeast. Combined, the Sandy Point Morning Flight was reduced to a mere dribble totaling 91 birds, led by 36 Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was then shocked by a relatively slow birdwalk (even sparrow numbers were far lower than I would have expected) at Old Town House Park – where did all of the migrants overnight go? A Brown Thrasher was a good bird for here though.

Luckily, Saturday was the anomaly. After another very strong flight overnight, Sunday morning finally featured a light northwesterly wind.  Therefore, I finally got my fix in at Sandy Point, with my largest flight of the season.  9 species of warblers and a few new records highlighted the flight, with the following tally:

6:49-9:35am.
38F, clear, NW 5.1 to calm to WNW 4.7mph.

768 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*New Record).
421 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest).
179 Dark-eyed Juncos
116 Unidentified
87 Pine Siskins
79 American Robins
62 Black-capped Chickadees (*New a Record).
31 Golden-crowned Kinglets
26 Purple Finches (*New Record High).
21 Palm Warblers
20 Rusty Blackbirds (*Tied Record High).
17 Canada Geese
14 Blue-headed Vireos
14 Red-breasted Nuthatches
14 White-throated Sparrows
12 Chipping Sparrows
11 Savannah Sparrows (*New Record).
9 Northern Flickers
7 Eastern Phoebes
6 Black-throated Blue Warblers
5 Gray Catbirds
5 Swamp Sparrows
4 Unidentified kinglets
4 Black-throated Green Warblers
3 Brown Creepers
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 Nashville Warblers
3 White-crowned Sparrows
2 American Black Ducks
2 Blue Jays
2 WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (*tied record high).
2 Unidentified Catharus thrushes
2 Common Yellowthroats
2 Black-and-white Warblers
2 Lincoln’s Sparrows
2 American Goldfinches
1 Osprey
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Unidentified vireo
1 TUFTED TITMOUSE
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Nashville/Orange-crowned Warbler
1 Northern Parula
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 MAGNOLIA WARBLER
1 Cedar Waxwing

Total = 1798 (*3rd Highest October Count).

Afterwards, I began a quick trek east, visiting a friend in Camden, and having dinner with friends in Bar Harbor. In between, I enjoyed a little casual birding, and the fall foliage.
IMG_4574
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge.

On Sunday, Rich MacDonald and I did a little birding on the western half of Mount Desert Island.  An “interior/bay” subspecies of Nelson’s Sparrow at Back Beach in Tremont was a highlight, as was a nice variety of birds off Seawall Beach, including an unseasonable 148 Laughing Gulls.  20 Red-necked Grebes and about a dozen White-winged Scoters were also present.
IMG_4586

At noon, we boarded the Friendship V of the Bar Harbor Whale Watch for 3.5 hours offshore. I was really hoping for a Great Skua – my real reason (legitimate excuses aside) for this trip, afterall – but it was a rather slow day on the water. But hey, any day with a jaeger is a good day in my book, and we saw 3 Pomarines. 18 Northern Fulmars were a treat, but birds-of-the-trip honors goes to a rather unseasonable Manx Shearwater.  A single Great Shearwater, Black-legged Kittiwake, and a measly 3 Northern Gannets were all we could muster. Apparently, those northwesterly winds that finally gave me my flight at Sandy Point also pushed sea creatures out from these waters!
IMG_4591

DSC_0003_subadultPOJA,BarHarbor,10-13-14_edited-1
Subadult Pomarine Jaeger.

It was a quick trip Downeast, so I was home by Monday night, and in the morning – following a night with a return to southwesterly winds and no visible migration on the radar – Jeannette and I headed in the other direction. A ridiculously gorgeous day (light winds, temps in the low 70’s!) encouraged us to spend all daylight hours outside and birding hard, covering our usually route between Kittery and Wells.

As usually, Fort Foster provided the highlights, led by a White-eyed Vireo and an Orange-crowned Warbler.  Another Orange-crowned was at Seapoint Beach, an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow was in The Nubble neighborhood, 12 Brown-headed Cowbirds were at the feeders behind The Sweatshirt Shop in Wells, and Community Park hosted a Nelson’s Sparrow (ssp. subvirgatus).

Ten (and a half) species of sparrows (Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Savannah – plus “Ipswich,” Nelson’s, Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp, White-throated, White-crowned, and Dark-eyed Juncos) and six species of warblers (Orange-crowned, Black-throated Blue, Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Common Yellowthroat) were tallied, along with six species of butterflies (including a few dozen Monarchs).  Throughout the day we encountered lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song and White-throated Sparrows, along with most of the regular October migrants from Horned Grebes (FOF) to Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

So there you have it. That’s just a sample of what mid-October has to offer here in Maine.  What’s left?  Finding that “Mega” rarity of course!