Tag Archives: Northern Gannet

2017 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, one of the more common and conspicuous migrants all weekend.

After spending what was probably the slowest week of birding I have ever experienced in fall on Monhegan with my WINGS tour a week prior, I was even more anxious to get back to the island. I know what this island can offer (well, besides great food, beer, and friends, that is)!

Because of ferry schedules, we added a new wrinkle this year, meeting for a birdwalk in Port Clyde before the mid-am ferry to the island (9/29). Golden-crowned Kinglets were particularly abundant and some Yellow-rumped Warblers were around, hinting at the amount of birds that arrived overnight. On the trip out, Northern Gannets were scattered about, and a flock of 7 probable American Pipits zipped by. When passerines are encountered on the ferry, as they return to the mainland, it’s usually a good sign that there are a lot of newly-arrived birds on the island.

When several Yellow-rumped Warblers were darting around near the dock, I thought it might be worth swinging into The Barnacle for a quick, early lunch so we could hit the ground running. And we are all glad we did, as it took us 2 ½ hours to walk from the dock to our lodging at the Trailing Yew!
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It was fantastic…birds were everywhere. While it wasn’t a fallout with birds dripping out of the trees, every cluster of trees and bushes had some migrants in it. The “Cape May Spruces” on dock road hosted several Cape May Warblers and an immature male Pine Warbler – a rarity on the island. We soon tracked down a continuing Orange-crowned Warbler, and we slowly made our way through town, pausing at every apple tree and every weedy garden.
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Cape May Warbler
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Pine Warbler

A lot had changed in the 5 days between my visits, with many more sparrows, and a much greater percentage of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Overall warbler diversity was down, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were everywhere! The raptor show wasn’t half-bad, either.
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Peregrine Falcon

I think I saw more birds today, even though we didn’t arrive until 11:30 than I did all week with my other tour! And 60 species by day’s end wasn’t too shabby either.
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Red-eyed Vireo
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Friday night featured a very strong flight on the radar, but with a light winds becoming northeast after midnight, many fewer birds were around come morning (thanks to Hurricane Jose, this was the bane of our existence during the aforementioned tour), and the morning flight was very light. The afternoon was quite slow, but we continued to encounter new birds here and there. An unexpected surprise was a Wood Thrush calling at dusk. Although we never saw it, the calls are distinctive, and they were close by, and this was my 208th Monhegan bird (They’re usually long gone by the time I get here in mid-September).
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Northern Gannet

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Red-eyed Vireo

But this was only a fraction of the day’s excitement. First, a Bell’s Vireo was reported just as we arrived at breakfast. I thought about skipping the meal (it’s really a good bird if I consider passing on a Trailing Yew breakfast!) but after hearing about how chaotic it was (lots of owl calls and counter-productive tape use – tell me why a bird, exhausted from migration and without any hormonal urge to breed would come out in the open because you are playing an adult male’s territorial song? Especially when vagrants are often immature birds, the last thing they are looking for is a conflict; it’s amazingly ignorant…but I digress) down there, we decided to let the masses subside and fuel up for the hunt.

By the time we arrived, almost everyone had dispersed, and no sign of a Bell’s Vireo. But Pumphouse Road and the nearby yards were birdy, so we just started working the thickets. We had dispersed up and down Pumphouse Road, joined by several friends and fellow birders, including Kristen Lindquist and Bill Thompson. I was with just two members of our group, when a small flock of five or so vireos came in. There were three Red-eyed, but then I spotted what I thought could have been the Bell’s -a very pale, dull vireo creeping around the understory, with its tail cocked. With no one else around, I took off to assemble the group, and to get Bill to secure the documentation photos. When guiding, a bird doesn’t count unless the group is with you, so before I had anything definitive, I started running (only then remembering my ankle was still in a brace)!

Barb and Terez were still on what she thought was the bird in question, but as we all returned, it was clearly just a normally-pale, immature Blue-headed. Did I screw this up that badly? But wait, where was that 5th vireo?

I don’t remember who spotted it next, but when we did, it was clear it was not a Bell’s, but wow, that was pale. Like really, really, pale, and as we began studying it, we realized this may be even rarer!

At one point, I made eye contact with Marshall Iliff, and we both kinda smiled and nodded. We were on to something. Bill began to fire away. We watched. And then we began to discuss. And discuss. And at the brewery later, discuss some more. And the next day, yup, we were still talking about this bird. Almost two weeks later, as well.

Bill sent me his photos the next day, and on Sunday evening – at the brewery, of course, it’s where all great conversations occur – we realized that every single feature of this bird was consistent with Cassin’s Vireo, the member of the “Solitary Vireo Complex” that breeds in the west, and can be virtually indistinguishable from our regular Blue-headed. However, this bird had every feature perfect for Cassin’s, and as we sent around photos, everyone agreed that “if this isn’t a Cassin’s, then we can’t identify a bird as a Cassin’s.”
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This would be the first record for Maine, and one of very, very few records for all of the East Coast. See, this is what a “slow” day on Monhegan should be like.

Anyway, back to the actual birding on Sunday. After only a surprisingly moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, only a light morning flight was over the island, and it was almost exclusively Yellow-rumped Warblers. Increasing south winds helped keep activity reduced through the afternoon, when most of the group slowly departed on their respective ferries. We had great looks at the two continuing Dickcissels, more great views of Cape May Warblers, and finished the day off with the last member of the group by enjoying the long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Ice Pond.
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Dickcissel

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That chase and discussion of the vireo was exhausting!

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It was just me and group-holdover John Lorenc on Monday morning, when Jeannette joined us for the day on the early Port Clyde boat. Her visit during my WINGS tour yielded fog and little else, so she was anxious to see and photograph some birds!

Interestingly enough, despite a rather light flight on the radar overnight (which really surprised me) on a light northwesterly wind, a strong morning flight developed come sunrise. As expected by the date, it was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were many more kinglets and sparrows around. It was very busy before breakfast, and quite birdy – if rather homogenous – through lunch, with “new” birds scattered about. Even the early afternoon was pleasantly birdy, with pockets of activity here and there.

At least 4 Dickcissels were now present, and likely a new Clay-colored Sparrow. We had a fly-by of a Northern Pintail at Lobster Cove, one of very few records for the island. A calling Greater Yellowlegs, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe, and large flocks of southbound Canada Geese high overhead were among the additions to the weekend’s checklist.
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Two Dickcissels

When all was said and done, and Cassin’s Vireo was (fairly) confidently added to the list, a total of 89 species (including 15 species of warblers) were recorded in these four days, a respectable if not overwhelming total for a long weekend on the island.

And the food, beer, and conversation were great as always. And the butterflies, my goodness the butterflies. Monarchs were common, but Painted Ladies were downright abundant…
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Here’s the full scoreboard, not including birds seen in Port Clyde or from the ferry en route:

9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
Canada Goose 30 1 33 100
American Black Duck 2 1 2 2
Mallard 12 20 15 15
NORTHERN PINTAIL 0 0 0 1
Common Eider x x X X
Surf Scoter 0 8 0 0
Common Loon 0 0 0 1
Northern Gannet 30 30 20 20
Double-crested Cormorant 100 400 100 X
Great Cormorant 0 0 1 2
Great Blue Heron 2 4 1 0
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON 0 0 1 0
Osprey 8 3 1 2
Bald Eagle 3 3 1 1
Northern Harrier 2 0 0 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4 5 5 4
American Kestrel 6 8 3 2
Merlin 8 15 8 6
Peregrine Falcon 12 3 4 6
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1
Wilson’s Snipe 0 0 0 1
Ring-billed Gull 1 0 0 0
Herring Gull X x X X
Great Black-backed Gull X x X X
Black Guillemot 20 4 6 8
Mourning Dove 4 6 6 4
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 8 20 25 20
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1 1
Northern Flicker 10 8 6 2
Eastern Phoebe 2 2 3 6
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 5 1 2
CASSIN’S VIREO 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 2 1 1 3
Red-eyed Vireo 4 10 9 8
Blue Jay 8 15 21 18
American Crow x x X X
Common Raven 0 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 1 0 0
Black-capped Chickadee 10 20 X X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 4 4 4
Brown Creeper 0 2 1 12
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 0
Winter Wren 0 1 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 15 30 35 50
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 40 40 25 40
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 2
WOOD THRUSH 0 1 0 0
American Robin 2 0 3 1
Gray Catbird 3 3 4 3
European Starling 25 20 20 15
American Pipit 0 2 1 1
Cedar Waxwing 2 25 25 40
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 1 0 0 0
Nashville Warbler 5 3 3 0
Northern Parula 0 3 0 0
Magnolia Warbler 1 0 0 0
Cape May Warbler 5 5 2 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 30 40 150
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 0 0
PINE WARBLER 1 1 0 0
Prairie Warbler 1 0 0 0
Palm Warbler 6 6 0 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1 1 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 1 1 1 0
American Redstart 0 2 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 4 4 4 3
Wilson’s Warbler 0 1 1 0
Scarlet Tanager 0 1 0 0
Chipping Sparrow 4 5 3 2
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 0 0 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 2 0 0
Song Sparrow X X X X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 0 0 4
Swamp Sparrow 1 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 2 4 3 8
White-crowned Sparrow 0 1 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3 0 0 0
Northern Cardinal 4 6 8 4
Indigo Bunting 1 0 0 1
DICKCISSEL 1 0 2 4
Bobolink 0 1 1 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 1 1
Common Grackle 4 2 4 4
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 3 2
Purple Finch 0 0 0 0
Pine Siskin 0 1 0 0
American Goldfinch 2 8 2 1

 
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Baltimore Oriole

2016 MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekend PLUS Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

As I do most Memorial Day weekends, I head to Monhegan Island with a tour group for my “MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekend.”  But this was not going to be “just” a weekend on this wonderful, joyful, and bird-filled place. This was going to be truly special – it was “Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

A small group arrived with me on Friday, and boy did we hit the ground running. The first bird we saw off the boat was a Purple Martin zipping overhead – a nice rarity to get things started. As if my usual Monhegan-stoked Rarity Fever wasn’t already in full effect, the next bird we saw was a wet Empid. And let the games begin! Of course, this one was a pretty straightforward Alder Flycatcher after we got good looks at it and heard it call.
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American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, and Blackpoll Warblers were common and conspicuous as it took us over an hour just to walk up Dock Road!  A great look at a male Bay-breasted Warbler near the Ice Pond was a treat, and we caught up with part of the small flocks of Red and White-winged Crossbills that have been wandering around the island. We saw at least 8 Red and at least 6 White-winged, including fresh juveniles of each – likely having bred out here in the late winter and early spring.

A Sora calling in the marsh didn’t really stop all weekend, and Yellow Warblers were particularly conspicuous around town.
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And our FOY Novelty pizza.
Novelty Pizza

While I – and the group – were hearing a little too much “you should have been here yesterday,” we were pretty content with the leftovers of the fallout, with 16 species of warblers by day’s end, including impressive numbers of Northern Parulas.
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A rare-in-spring Dickcissel flew over the Trailing Yew as we awaited coffee, soon followed by a close-passing Yellow-billed Cuckoo. After a strong flight overnight, there were a lot of new birds around. Fueled by the delicious Birds & Beans coffee being brewed by the Trailing Yew all weekend, we began our birding, soon picking up lots of new arrivals including Cape May Warbler and Swainson’s Thrush.

Apple trees in full bloom all around town were one of the major draws for birds and birders. In fact, you could basically pick an apple tree and sit in front of it long enough to see at least one of all of the common migrants that were about, such as Magnolias Warbler…
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MAWA female

…and Chestnut-sided…
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Jeannette met up with the rest of the tour group arriving on the first boat from New Harbor, and caught up with us after catching up with two of the most cooperative Philadelphia Vireos you’ll ever meet that we all enjoyed along Dock Road.
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In town, we heard a White-eyed Vireo, another rarity (although one of the expected ones out here), ran into a few more of both species of crossbills behind the Ice Pond, and spotted the young Humpback Whale that has been making regular appearances close to shore off the island’s western shore!  And this Scarlet Tanager…which seemed an appropriate find since we have been consuming the coffee named for it!
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After hearing a singing Mourning Warbler earlier in the day for our 20th species of warbler on the trip, we had a handful of glimpses of a skulking female near the Yew. I turned around to follow a flitting Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Training my bins on the flycatcher, I first focused on the branch behind it, which turned out to be hosting a roosting Common Nighthawk!
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83 species of birds on the day, including 19 species of warblers made for one helluva day, but the fun was just beginning! In addition to my annual tour, this was the weekend of Birds On Tap – Monhegan!

A collaboration between our Freeport Wild Bird Supply, Trailing Yew, Birds & Beans, and Monhegan Brewing, we took our “Birds on Tap” series of events offshore to celebrate birds, migration, bird conservation (especially through consumer choices like what coffee to drink), and, yes, beer!

And one of the truly special events was a limited, 31-gallon batch of a special coffee-infused milk stout from Monhegan Brewing, featuring a pound and a half of the dark roast Scarlet Tanager coffee from Birds & Beans!
MARY POUR

I had the honor of announcing the official release, taking some of the first sips of this delicious light-bodied stout featuring a subtle sweetness from lactose perfectly balanced with a bitter roastiness from the coffee.
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ON PORCH

Of course, we were also still birding. I promise!
GROUP AT BREWERY

In fact, we momentarily cleared out the brewery when a possible Orange-crowned Warbler (one was seen by others over the past two days) was spotted nearby. Rushing over, we carefully studied the bird before reaching the conclusion that it was indeed a pale Tennessee Warbler.
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After an unfortunate but necessary cancellation from our original speaker, Dr. Steve Kress arrived to save us – admittedly a feat marginally less heroic than what he did for puffins and endangered seabirds all over the world!

 

Giving the weekend’s keynote presentation on his work to bring Atlantic Puffins back to nearby Eastern Egg Rock, Steve explained the challenges he and the puffins faced before finally realizing his novel approach finally bore fruit, or should I say, pufflings.
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Overnight, a back door cold front sagged southward, shifting the winds to an easterly direction and limiting the arrival of new migrants to the island. Our “Morning Flight Watch” with plentiful free Birds & Beans coffee for all at the Trailing Yew wasn’t too eventful, but things definitely picked up for the post-breakfast walk.

 

Jeannette led my tour group, and the birding was still a bit slow, relatively speaking. But, they finally made their way down to the pump house to see Eastern Kingbirds flycatching in the marsh. And, up to the lighthouse for the first time which was highlighted by a fantastic view of a female Blackburnian Warbler.
BLBW female

Meanwhile, Kristen Lindquist assisted me in leading the free, open-to-all birdwalk as part of the weekend’s special events. A nice mix of birders, residents, and visitors enjoyed a casual stroll. We chatted as we went, covering a variety of topics from bird migration to conservation to coffee to the ill-conceived industrial wind development scheme for the island’s southern waters.

 

Some folks, new to birding, may have left with the impression that Red-eyed Vireos were about the most common bird in the world, as quite a few were calmly and methodically foraging through apple trees in and around town.
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But perhaps this male Blackburnian Warbler would end up being a “spark” bird for someone! Because male Blackburnian Warbler!
BLBW male

With a light easterly wind continuing, and our group back together after more Novelty pizza, we walked up to Burnt Head, where we enjoyed some nice close passes from Northern Gannets
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Jeannette and I spent an extra night on the island, knowing we would need a little time to unwind after the even-more-chaotic-than-expected weekend of events. After a great dinner with friends, we listened to two Soras calling from the marsh and an American Woodcock still displaying somewhere overhead before turning in.

We awoke on Monday to dense fog and no visible migration on the radar, but the birding was actually quite good. We found a Nelson’s Sparrow in the Lobster Cove marsh, but also enjoyed how the damp weather (mist, drizzle, and a few showers) were keeping activity low and close, easily viewed in the blooming apple trees around town once again.
As a warm front passed through, with only a little more drizzle but rapidly warming temperatures and clearing skies, we took a post-pizza hike, heading deeper into the woods, which netted more of the island’s breeding species, such as many more Black-throated Green Warblers.
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Somehow – now how did this happen? – our hike ended at the brewery, where another pour of the Birds & Beans-infused beer was in order.
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Unfortunately, especially since the sun was now shining brightly, it was indeed time for us to head back to the real world, so Jeannette and I begrudgingly plodded down to the dock and boarded the Hardy Boat for the return.  It’s never easy saying goodbye to the island – its birds and our friends there – but today was especially challenging as we know a fight about the future of the island – including many of the migratory birds that pass over and through here – is looming.
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Here’s the complete daily checklist for the weekend:
26-May 27-May 28-May 29-May
1 Canada Goose 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck x Mallard 0 1 0 0
2 Mallard 2 10 12 8
3 Common Eider x x x x
4 Ring-necked Pheasant 3 3 3 4
5 Common Loon 1 1 0 1
6 Northern Gannet 0 0 12 0
7 Double-crested Cormorant x x x x
8 Great Cormorant 0 0 0 1
9 Great Blue Heron 0 1 0 0
10 Green Heron 1 0 0 0
11 Osprey 0 1 0 0
12 Bald Eagle 2 1 0 0
13 Merlin 0 1 0 1
14 Virginia Rail 0 0 0 1
15 Sora 1 1 2 1
16 American Woodcock 0 0 1 0
17 Black Guillemot x x x x
18 Laughing Gull x x 12 4
19 Herring Gull x x x x
20 Great Black-backed Gull x x x x
21 Common Tern 2 0 0 0
22 Mourning Dove 8 10 4 6
23 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0 1 0 0
24 Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0
25 Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 3 2 2
26 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0 1 0 0
27 Downy Woodpecker 4 4 2 0
28 Northern Flicker 0 1 1 1
29 Eastern Wood-Pewee 2 10 4 6
30 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 4 0 5
31 Alder Flycatcher 1 2 0 0
32 Willow Flycatcher 0 4 0 1
33 “Traill’s” Flycatcher 0 6 2 1
34 Least Flycatcher 5 8 2 5
35 Eastern Kingbird 8 14 7 6
36 WHITE-EYED VIREO 0 1 0 0
37 Philadelphia Vireo 2 3 0 0
38 Red-eyed Vireo 15 100 30 25
39 Blue Jay 4 4 6 6
40 American Crow x x x x
41 Tree Swallow 8 2 2 2
42 Cliff Swallow 0 1 0 0
43 Barn Swallow 0 0 2 0
44 PURPLE MARTIN 0 0 0 0
45 Black-capped Chickadee x x x x
46 Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 4 2 3
47 House Wren 0 2 2 2
48 Winter Wren 0 0 0 1
49 Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 2 2 4
50 Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0
51 American Robin 10 8 10 8
52 Gray Catbird x x x x
53 Brown Thrasher 1 0 2 0
54 Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0
55 European Starling x x x x
56 Cedar Waxwing 30 80 60 40
57 Ovenbird 0 1 0 0
58 Northern Waterthrush 1 1 0 0
59 Black-and-white Warbler 8 10 6 3
60 Tennesee Warbler 1 10 1 1
61 Nashville Warbler 1 1 1 2
62 MOURNING WARBLER 0 3 0 0
63 Common Yellowthroat x x x x
64 American Redstart 25 40 10 15
65 CAPE MAY WARBLER 0 1 0 0
66 Northern Parula 40 50 20 20
67 Magnolia Warbler 5 15 12 20
68 Bay-breasted Warbler 1 0 0 0
69 Blackburnian Warbler 3 3 2 2
70 Yellow Warbler 20 20 25 20
71 Chestnut-sided Warbler 15 15 10 15
72 Blackpoll Warbler 20 70 30 40
73 Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 3 1 2
74 Yellow-rumped Warbler 0 4 1 2
75 Black-throated Green Warbler 6 7 10 30
76 Canada Warbler 0 1 1 0
77 Wilson’s Warbler 1 0 0 1
78 Eastern Towhee 0 1 0 0
79 Chipping Sparrow 4 1 1 0
80 NELSON’S SPARROW 0 0 0 1
81 Song Sparrow x x x x
82 Lincoln’s Sparrow 0 1 0 1
83 Swamp Sparrow 0 1 0 1
84 White-throated Sparrow 1 2 2 1
85 Scarlet Tanager 0 2 0 0
86 Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 8
87 Rose-breasted Grosbeak 0 1 0 1
88 Indigo Bunting 1 3 1 0
89 DICKCISSEL 0 1 0 0
90 Bobolink 2 6 3 0
91 Red-winged Blackbird x x x x
92 Common Grackle x x x x
93 Baltimore Oriole 4 2 2 1
94 Purple Finch 2 2 2 1
95 RED CROSSBILL 8 2 3 ?
96 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL 6 8 0 12
97 Pine Siskin 15 30 30 40
98 American Goldfinch 6 4 4 4

The Nova Star Ferry to Nova Scotia

I love birding Nova Scotia, but it’s been a few years since I was last there. This year, with the rebirth of ferry service from Portland, I knew it was time; there were no more excuses.

I finally got a chance to make the voyage this week, with two primary agendas: explore the birding potential of the Nova Star (and scout for the potential of making this a new weekend tour), and visit with my friend Eric Mills for a little southern Nova Scotia birding.

Ever since we lost the Scotia Prince, I have been hoping for a bird-able boat that traverses the Gulf of Maine. The short-lived, high-speed catamaran that replaced the Scotia Prince was of little value – it had almost no outdoor space whatsoever, and it moved far too fast.  With the return of ferry service, and this time with a ship that moved at a more reasonable speed for birding, I was optimistic for a new pelagic birding platform.

I waited until August to take my trip, as the warmer late-summer waters host more pelagics now (especially birds that arrive from their sub-Antarctic breeding grounds). Furthermore, the high cost of a trip on the Nova Star would not permit me to take many journeys this year, unfortunately (and will clearly be the biggest hurdle in running a tour that utilizes this boat), so I had to choose my dates wisely.
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Boarding at 8pm on Tuesday night for the 9pm departure, I settled into my spartan, but plenty comfortable, bunk.
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Next, I walked every corner of the boat in search of the best location for my birding. There’s no access to the top deck, the bow, or anywhere close to it on the sides. The only forward-view was the piano bar with occupied tables, and less than a desirable view to the sides. Really, the only places to view are outside decks on the stern. Not expecting a big ol’ cruise ship to attract many following birds, I was concerned about the birding potential. Quite concerned (especially at this price).

Come morning, the viewing locations were the least of my concerns, however. We were socked in with fog, too thick to see a thing.
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It wasn’t until we were about to enter Yarmouth Harbor that we finally exited the fog, but other than a single Northern Gannet, there would not be any seabirds for me this morning.
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Entering the harbor, however, the sun was shining, gulls were busy with newly-arrived Herring trawlers, and the mudflats were lined with shorebirds.
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After disembarking (and I must say, having the relatively few walk-ons wait until every car had offloaded was just stupid; I get why we couldn’t walk down the deck with traffic, but had we been allowed to go first, we all would have been clearing customs before the first cars were being offloaded, but I digress), I met Eric, who I had not seen in four years; it had been way too long.  After the usually greetings and pleasantries, we of course immediately began birding.

The first order of business was Yarmouth Harbor, where I was evaluating the birding potential of a vehicle-free tour. Good shorebird habitat, with decent numbers of Black-bellied Plovers and Short-billed Dowitchers were close by, and we encountered perhaps the last two Laughing Gulls (rare but regular in Nova Scotia) from the fall-out of this species that was caused by Tropical Storm Arthur – the first addition to my Canada list on the trip. A couple of thickets and small parks hold potential for migrant landbirds.
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Moving on, we drove up and down the Yarmouth Bar (Nelson’s Sparrow, Peregrine Falcon, more shorebirds) and north to Mavillette Beach Provincial Park (more Nelson’s Sparrows). After dipping on two Black Skimmers that had also been lingering post-Arthur, we met up with local birder Ronnie D’Entremont for a shorebird survey at Cook’s Beach on Pinkney’s Point. Well, the survey was easy! All of the birds were jam-packed into one gravel spit due to very high tides. The estimation, however, was not easy, but we came up with about 1500 Semipalmated Plovers (a very impressive count), joined by about 750 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 100 Least Sandpipers, 51 Short-billed Dowitchers, 20 White-rumped Sandpipers, 17 Black-bellied Plovers, 2 Killdeer, and 1 Ruddy Turnstone.
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What was particularly cool about the roosting Semipalmated Plovers was that once we rotated to the side of them, we saw how carefully lined up they were in little, linear depressions in the cobble beach.
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One last check of Yarmouth Harbor – OK, there are three lingering Laughing Gulls, apparently – and then it was beer o’clock and dinner time at Rudder’s brewpub.

On Thursday, the birding hotspot (to say the least) of Cape (Sable) Island was our destination, and it surpassed all expectations!  Jeannette and I birded here in late September during our first visit to the province beyond Yarmouth 8 years ago, but here in August shorebird season. it was in its full glory.  First, we twitched a vagrant American Avocet that had been present for about a week, finding it within seconds of pulling over.
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While we missed peak shorebird density at Hawk Point by perhaps as much as an hour, one of the 4 pairs of American Oystercatchers in the entire province were visible, as were plenty of shorebirds, with a combined guesstimate of several thousand Short-billed Dowitchers, Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers, with smaller numbers of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Least and White-rumped Sandpipers, along with handfuls of Ruddy Turnstones, “Eastern” Willets, and Sanderlings. Only one Whimbrel, however, and no Hudsonian Godwits.  I was still impressed – especially if we had missed the peak – and thoroughly enjoyed the waves of shorebirds streaming overhead and out of the bays, heading towards their high-tide roosts on the sandy barrier island of Cape Sable.

Next up was South Side Beach at Daniel’s Head. Wow. Simply, wow. We knew there was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper here, and we knew a lot of shorebirds roost here at high tide, but we definitely did not know there would be this many birds!  The narrow strip of sand was coated with shorebirds – the best Eric has ever seen here, and we estimated around 10,000 total birds!  Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers led the way, followed by goodly numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers, 3 Black-bellied Plovers, 2 “Eastern” Willets, and 1 Short-billed Dowitcher.
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Oh yeah, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was there, too.
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After lunch, we picked up another staked-out rarity in a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, as my Canada list grew nicely. Back at South Shore Beach, we found very few shorebirds – another birder saw two harriers flush them out, so Eric and I considered ourselves incredibly lucky to have hit the beach at prime time. While we were there chatting, small numbers of bird began to return as the tide just barely began to recede.

The weather forecast for the day had been a concern, leading us to expect rain on and off throughout the day. But we lucked out, as the rain stayed away until around 2pm, at which time we were already working our way back to Yarmouth, with a detour to Lower West Pubnico.

My short trip was coming to an end on Friday morning, but the most important part – professionally anyway – was about to begin. Eric and I said our goodbyes (after a quick check of the harbor once more), promising it won’t be nearly as long this time until we see each other again, and I boarded my vessel for the return trip.  Unfortunately, the view in the harbor, and for quite some distance offshore, looked familiar.
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We departed at 10:00am ADT with nearly zero visibility.  A small hole in the fog just outside the harbor presented a Red Bat that circled the boat a few times before moving on.  It wasn’t for an hour and a half that the fog lifted enough to see much else, and a short-lived hole produced several Great Shearwaters and Northern Gannets: a frustrating tease as the fog closed back in.

We were in and out of dense fog for the next two hours, but whenever there was visibility, I was on deck, scanning the gentle (today!) seas. Great Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, a few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, and two Atlantic Puffins were welcome, and then several Leach’s Storm-Petrels. I could only help but wonder what was out there as thick fog once again swallowed the boat, and I set off to find some lunch (the buffet was not very good, especially for a hefty $17…it felt like a mediocre college dining hall; breakfast was only marginally better).  Sitting at the window, doing my best to get the most out of my dollar, the fog started to clear, and views of Leach’s Storm-Petrels sent me scrambling for the deck at 1:10 EDT. I sat down again at 6:25 EDT.

When the fog cleared, the winds were light and the seas were fairly calm, and birds were everywhere. As it turned out, my scouting of birding locations worked out – the corners of Deck 9 provided a decent view from about 2:00 (using the bow of the boat as 12:00) on out. I couldn’t see what was crossing the bow, but I could pick birds up before and after. And, the height of boat gave me great visibility to see well away on either sides, where I spotted most of the action.
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Nonetheless, I would not have guessed that the birding would have been this good!  Shrouded in fog, I was beginning to think my money had been wasted. By the time we arrived in Portland, I was thinking about how I could bring a group aboard and when I could afford to take the trip again (a rather large hurdle, especially for a tour).

I swept all of the expected tubenoses (4 shearwaters and 2 storm-petrels), with the count of Leach’s Storm-Petrels most impressive. While most phalaropes were too far to ID, there were plenty of Red Phalaropes to be seen. Four Fin Whales, 9 Mola Mola (including a patch of five in close proximity), a pod of wake-riding Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, and a breaching Blue Shark were among the non-avian highlights.  At nearly the mid-point of the crossing, well south of Mt. Desert Island, a wayward Yellow Warbler came aboard.

When all was said and done, I had one of the better pelagic birding trips that I’ve had in Maine (list not including near-shore stuff on either end, plus Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls of course):
173 Great Shearwaters
167 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
131 Northern Gannets
105 unidentified phalaropes
55 (!!!) Leach’s Storm-Petrels
10 unidentified storm-petrels
10 Laughing Gulls
7 unidentified terns
3 Cory’s Shearwaters
2 Sooty Shearwaters
2 unidentified jaegers
2 Atlantic Puffins
2 unidentified passerines
1 Manx Shearwater
1 Common Tern
1 Ruddy Turnstone
1 Yellow Warbler

While the height of boat preclude great photography opportunities, I did alright with “documentation” shots of Leach’s Storm-Petrels as they flew around, bounded like sea-worthy nighthawks.
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Great Shearwaters, however, were a little more cooperative.
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Passing south of Matinicus Rock…

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…and Monhegan Island!
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So while the birding situation is not optimal, clearly the boat passes through some productive waters. I’m sure not every trip will hit this much activity (‘tis the nature of pelagic birding), but at least my concerns about the feasibility of birding (at least for a small group) from the Nova Star are alleviated. Fog and inclement weather will always be a concern; this is the Gulf of Maine after all.  As for a future weekend tour, I have a plan in mind. Let me give this some thought (and make some calls). But at the very least, suffice to say that birders traveling to and from Nova Scotia, or those just looking for a ride to sea, have another option now, albeit an exceptionally expensive one.

Birding By Schooner 2013!

Jeannette and I were once again had the honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to be the guides on a 6-day birding tour aboard the Lewis R. French out of Camden, Maine.  This was our third tour together (I also was aboard for a private charter last year), and we have been looking forward to this trip since the last time we stepped off the boat.  While this blog entry will obviously focus on the birding and wildlife aspects of the trip, I will not be able to do this tour justice with words nor pictures.  It is truly a unique experience from start to finish.

After boarding the boat the night before, we awoke to sunny skies in Camden Harbor on Day 1 of the trip, July 22nd.  Captain Garth and I chatted about possible destinations, and after another check of the forecast, we decided to take advantage of the benign conditions to make a run way out to SealIsland, off of Matinicus.  We have a total of four islands that feature breeding seabirds – with Atlantic Puffins being the prime target – in three different directions, so with every trip, we hope to hit at least one of them.  Seal is the most remote, and the most extraordinary – featuring not just lots of puffins, but Razorbills, Common Murres, Great Cormorants, Arctic and Common Terns, and for the past seven years – a Red-billed Tropicbird.  A few pairs of Manx Shearwaters also breed there, as do many Leach’s Storm-Petrels.  Unlike the other islands, it also offers a fairly sheltered cove for anchoring, and the opportunity to host the island’s seabird biologists for dinner and conversation. (Note: you can double-click on the photos for larger images)
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The Schooner French, a National Historic Landmark built in 1871 is not mechanized. This means there is plenty of ways to burn a few calories before the next scrumptious meal, such as cranking the anchor…
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…or raising the sails
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As we departed the harbor, we started our trip list with common species such as Mallards, Double-crested Cormorants, Laughing Gulls, and a smattering of landbirds.   Osprey nests were passed and Black Guillemots were in their usual abundance.  Common Eiders were common, as were Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, along with a scattering of Common Loons and Common Terns.  Many of these, especially the gulls, cormorants, eiders, and especially the guillemots would be constant companions throughout the trip, especially in in- and nearshore waters.
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Amanda serving lunch; all meals were, as usual, fantastic. Lunch was “simple:” soup, a salad, fresh baked bread, and desert.

As we left the shelter of Penobscot Bay, the wind died off completely.  This would be the first of what was, unfortunately, a few days where we were forced to use our powered yawl boat to push the French along (Although we still use a tiny fraction of the gas as any other pelagic birding trip out there!).  En route, we encountered a single Leach’s Storm-Petrel that provided a nice view, and a Manx Shearwater passed by – our first two target species spotted, and we hadn’t even reached Seal Island yet!
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I prepare the chum

The waters around Seal were teeming with birds: lots’o’puffins, Razorbills, a handful of Common Murres, Great Cormorants, and a boat-load of Black Guillemots.  Hundreds of Arctic Terns were wheeling about the island, with many birds making close passes of the boat.  It did appear, however, that Common Terns had already mostly fledged, as we didn’t see too many.  Three Common Ravens were a surprise, but Song and Savannah Sparrows singing from the island were expected.  A few migrant shorebirds were darting about, including Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, a few Ruddy Turnstones, and at least one Semipalmated Plover.  Spotted Sandpipers foraged along the shore, too, the only shorebird that breeds out here.
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Razorbills

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Puffins!

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Arctic Tern

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Unfortunately, the famous Red-billed Tropicbird did not put in an appearance.  We were in position for his afternoon bath, but later we learned he often skips it when it isn’t sunny. “He’s a fair weather bather,” one of the biologists later told us.

But our spirits were not dampened.  After all, this is not a hard-core listing trip.  Although everyone would have liked to have seen the tropicbird, this tour is more about taking what the weather and the birds provide, and enjoying a relaxed, casual bird-watching experience.

And just in case anyone was upset about dipping on the tropicbird, dinner was soon served – Amanda and Amber’s meals always put a smile on people’s faces – and we welcomed our special guests, the seabird biologists of SealIsland. It’s a treat for us to ask them questions about life and birds on this remote rock, and no doubt a treat for them to get a brief break from the rigors of island life.
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Black Guillemot with Rock Eel

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Chatting with the biologists on Matinicus Rock…aka “nah, nah, we’re on a schooner!”

As night fell, and a near-full moon rose, many of the birders on board delayed retiring to their bunk until Leach’s Storm-Petrels – who only visit their burrow nests under the cover of night – began to vocalize.  There were only three of us left on deck by 10:00, when I turned in.  The one birder, our good friend Chris, however, stayed topside (and another birder slept on deck) for a while longer.  Not too long after I gave in to sleep, fog rolled in, and that really got the storm-petrels to call.  Chris was rewarded for his stamina with a cacophony of somewhat-disconcerting cackling chatters.
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That fog was still around at sunrise, which unfortunately meant we would leave without the tropicbird.  Even if he did come out for his morning bath, we wouldn’t have seen him – heck, we couldn’t even see his cove from the boat.   So we just had to suffer through more puffins.  It’s a tough life.

Fog and occasional rain reduced visibility as we headed for shelter inshore, but we spotted the occasional commuting puffin and a few Northern Gannets.
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We passed around the west side of Vinalhaven Island, and dropped anchor off of North Haven in the Fox Islands Thorofare.  An evening walk in “town” added landbirds to the list, including a few Purple Finches at a feeder and a Cooper’s Hawk.
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A Great-horned Owl called throughout much the night, and come dawn, we shuttled ashore for a birdwalk on Vinalhaven Island.
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Garth suggested a loop trail that was a short walk away from the dock, but we barely made it to the trailhead – the road in was just too birdy!  A Swainson’s Thrush foraged on the beach, a Blackburnian Warbler sang near the dock, and as we walked the road, we came across a variety of the common birds of these Red Spruce-dominated islands.  Magnolia Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets; Winter Wrens and Dark-eyed Juncos.  One little patch of alder scrub at the edge of a meadow exploded with birds with just a little pishing: two family groups of Black-throated Green Warblers, a pair or two of American Redstarts and Common Yellowthroats, a band of Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, and one Alder Flycatcher.  We had to hustle back to the boat in time for breakfast.
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We rounded Vinalhaven clockwise, and came out of the fog for a time as we crossed East Penobscot Bay.  We were back into the sun as we traversed Merchant’s Row, but once again we found ourselves without even a puff of wind.
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While an island with terns and alcids is usually the highlight of our sail, over the years, the colony of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants of Southern Mark Island has provided us with some entertainment.  Here, Bald Eagles travel to hunt the colony, and in years past, we have seen some incredible shows.  As we slowed down to view the island, two Bald Eagles rapidly approached right on cue.  One landed in the center of the island, presumably to look for unattended gull chicks.  This time, both eagles were driven off empty-taloned.
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Small flocks of southbound migrant shorebirds were also encountered here and there, such as these Semipalmated Sandpipers

Burnt Cove Harbor on Swan’s Island would be our harbor of refuge for the night, and an after-dinner dusk stroll in the village and out to the lighthouse added a couple more species to our growing list.
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It was with anxious anticipation that I went to bed that night, as Garth had decided that – weather forecast holding true of course – we were going to head offshore yet again, perhaps all of the way out to Mount Desert Rock.  It was time for some true pelagic birding!  And just to hedge the bet, we picked up some more bait for chumming.
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Common Terns were common

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A light northeasterly wind helped us get offshore, but yet again, the wind died offshore and we needed the assistance of our yawl boat.  A very long 2-3 foot swell was hardly noticeable in our heavy wooden boat, and as we headed into deeper water, the birding really began to heat up.
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About a mile away from Mount Desert Rock, we hit pay dirt: massive rafts of Great Shearwaters.  We sailed through them, and then back through them.  The lack of wind was keeping them on the water, and most just paddled away from our slow-moving ship.  I began to chum.  You could say it worked.  It worked really, really well.

Great Shearwaters took the bait, literally, and followed us closely.  Now under sail, the silence afforded us the opportunity to hear these surprisingly-vociferous birds as they fought over morsels, and jockeyed for position.  Many birds were coming within only a few yards of the boat, and many of them were not bothering to fly – just walking on water with wings flapping.  They would plunge in after slowly-sinking chunks of Herring (I really wish I had cut things smaller, the chum bucket was going down way too fast!) and we were close enough to see them underwater.

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Great Shearwater

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Northern Gannet

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Molting adult Red-necked Phalaropes

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Juvenile Arctic Tern

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OK everyone, grab your copy of Howell’s ‘Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America and use molt patterns to age this Great Shearwater!

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Sooty Shearwater

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Mmmm…herring

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Great Shearwater coming in for a landing…I think this is my favorite photo of the trip!

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Adult Northern Gannet

Simply put, this was a lot of fun.  And when all was said and done, and we left the hotspot, we had tallied an impressive 764 Great Shearwaters.  They were joined by at least 4 Sooty Shearwaters, and one Manx Shearwater cruised by – not pausing for long, as usual.  A total of 19 Northern Gannets were counted, and Razorbills (9), 2 Common Murres, and more Atlantic Puffins (4+) added to the show.  Although overshadowed by the rafts of shearwaters, Red-necked Phalaropes were in abundance – I estimated at least 400 birds, most of which in tight flocks spinning in floating mats of wrack.  I didn’t pull out any Red Phalaropes from the bunches, but it wouldn’t have surprised me to find some mixed in. Surprisingly, not a single Wilson’s Storm-Petrel was seen – a bird that we somehow didn’t even see all trip!  Where the heck are they this year?  It’s usually the most common tubenose on our tour!

If we didn’t have some important plans for dinner, we would have spent more time out here I am sure, as this was really a great experience.  Even the non-birders aboard were more than impressed by the show.  Unfortunately, only one Fin Whale was briefly spotted.   A feeding frenzy of birds that I spotted in the distance were clearly excited by something feeding – either whales or perhaps tuna, but by the time we made it to the area, the birds had settled into the massive rafts we sailed through.

We skimmed the mouth of BlueHillBay, checking our Harbor Seals basking on ledges exposed by the low tide, and happening upon a few large rafts of molting Common Eiders.
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We dropped anchor off of McGlatheryIsland south of Stonington, and rowed ashore for one of the non-birding highlights of the trip – a lobster bake on the beach!
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After the feast, we moved the boat to a safer anchorage off of Hell’s Half-Acre, where we spent the night.  Rain fell in buckets, and continued on and off through much of the next day.  However, for the first time, we had some solid winds to do some real sailing, and after donning our rain gear, many of us stayed on deck for much of the day as we crossed East Penobscot Bay and tacked our way around North Haven.  Slowly but surely, however, most of us made our way to the wood-burning-stove-warmed galley for snacks, tea, and conversation…and a few games.

The rain cleared and fog lifted in the afternoon, and it was a lovely evening in the shelter of Pulpit Harbor.  Although we had seen plenty of Ospreys on this trip, the Ospreys that nest atop the rock (the “pulpit”) that guards the entrance to the harbor are particularly noteworthy – the explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain noted an Osprey nest atop this very rock sometime between 1604 and 1607!  The one still-present juvenile that was being watched by an adult had no idea what a historic nest it was raised in.
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July 27th, our 6th and final day of the tour, dawned on Pulpit Harbor under clearing skies, calm winds (again), and warmer temperatures.  Barn Swallow, likely a migrant, was added to our trip list as we sailed northeast into Camden Harbor.  Chimney Swifts overhead and a singing Yellow Harbor from the shoreline were our 82nd and 83rd – and final – species of the trip (an “accounting error” led to a mistaken tally of 78 species announced at the end of the trip; sorry folks, update your notes!) but still a tally held down a little by fewer walks ashore (one due to our deep-water pelagic, and the other due to heavy rain).  However, our seabird list was fantastic, and quite a few of the birders added life birds – the Leach’s Storm-Petrels and Manx Shearwaters in particular.  And perhaps, sucked in by the fun of it all, one or two life lists were born.

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The always bittersweet return to the lovely port of Camden.Sure I have birding tours that see more birds, and are more reliable for the most sought-after target birds, but this trip is one of my most favorites (only Monhegan Island can compete).  Yeah, we kept a list, and a few people added some lifers, but this trip is truly about enjoying whatever birds we come across in a really unique way.  The Schooner Lewis R. French is a beautiful boat, with an amazing crew, serving great food and good times.  In this case, the birding is actually the icing on the cake. The complete trip list, in order of appearance:
American Crow
Mallard
Canada Goose
Tufted Titmouse
American Goldfinch
Rock Pigeon
Song Sparrow
Black-capped Chickadee
Cedar Waxwing
Blue Jay
European Starling
Belted Kingfisher
Double-crested Cormorant
Common Loon
House Sparrow
Mourning Dove
House Finch
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Osprey
Common Eider
Black Guillemot
Laughing Gull
Common Murre
Razorbill
Northern Gannet
Common Tern
Leach’s Storm-Petrel
Arctic Tern
Atlantic Puffin
Razorbill
Common Raven
Great Cormorant
Common Tern
Manx Shearwater
Spotted Sandpiper
Savannah Sparrow
Semipalmated Plover
Least Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
White-throated Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Cooper’s Hawk
Purple Finch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-winged Blackbird
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Chipping Sparrow
Great Horned Owl
Common Yellowthroat
Gray Catbird
Blackburnian Warbler
Northern Parula
Swainson’s Thrush
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Magnolia Warbler
Winter Wren
Nashville Warbler
American Redstart
Alder Flycatcher
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Dark-eyed Junco
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Bonaparte’s Gull
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Hermit Thrush
Great Blue Heron
Great Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Red-necked Phalarope
American Black Duck
Tree Swallow
Greater Yellowlegs
Barn Swallow
Chimney Swift
Yellow Warbler
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Our “Birding By Schooner” Tour aboard the Lewis R. French has been run every three years.  However, thanks to increasing interest and demand, we are going to likely be offering this one-of-a-kind birding experience on an annual basis!  Keep an eye on our “Travel, Tours, and Workshops” page at http://www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com/birdingtoursinMaine.asp for information about the possible 2014 (but likely definitely in 2015) sailing dates.