Tag Archives: Old Port

A (Very) Early Spring Week in Review

Our Saturday Morning Birdwalk surveyed the waterfront in Freeport and Yarmouth.  On Sunday, Kristen Lindquist and I enjoyed an epic white-winged gull show in Portland, before working our way around the Cape Elizabeth shoreline.  Then, on Monday, we birded from Biddeford Pool through Scarborough Marsh with Snowy and Great Horned owls, Rough-legged Hawk, and Ruddy Turnstones among the many highlights.

Further south, Jeannette and I covered Kittery through Wells, as is our tradition on the first Tuesday in March.  Another exceptionally productive day was enjoyed, including two more Snowy Owls and a Common Eider of the northern subspecies, borealis.

Wednesday was spent dealing with various car issues and seed delivery, so birding was limited to the woods near our house, and the feeders of course.  Same for Friday, where at Hedgehog Mountain Park, a mere 7 species was actually the most that I have detected in a couple of months there.  In between, I was back in Portland and Westbrook on Thursday, and although the Westbrook riverfront was a disappointing, the continuing white-winged gull show in Old Port more than made up for it.

While “new arrivals” were few and far between this week as bitter cold continues, there were definitely signs of the season.  Waterfowl are obviously on the move: Brant, Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks are returning in numbers, while the concentrations of seaducks, especially all three scoters, was greatly reduced as these birds have begun to disperse – if not actually migrating north.

For the first week of March, I recorded very few “first-of-years” this week: Great Horned Owl, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Fox Sparrows.  Of those, only the sparrow is likely a true migrant; the owl is a resident, and the warbler likely wintered locally.  American Robins were definitely on the move, however, with several flocks noted moving northbound (at least at the given time), and American Tree Sparrows also seem to be on the go.

New reports of Snowy Owls – especially inland – likely included northbound migrants.  While all three of the individuals that I saw this week seemed to be birds that were continuing in a specific area for several weeks or more now, the fact that Kristen and I only saw one bird in a very thorough search at Biddeford Pool (four had been present for a couple of months now) suggests birds are already departing. Northern Shrikes – such as the one that briefly visited the yard here at the store on Thursday (our second of the season) are also likely migrating right now.

In the woods there is a different story, however, as even the local residents are a little less active vocally right now than we would expect.  I have yet to hear a Brown Creeper sing – although I am seeing them on regular basis – and Golden-crowned Kinglets remain very few and far between.  And other than goldfinches and resident House Finches, finches remain virtually non-existent.

But all of this is about to change, and my guess is that it will change rather rapidly.  In fact, with the winds turning south today, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Turkey Vulture and Red-winged Blackbird reports trickle in this weekend.  And once the snow really begins to melt (especially to our south), expect those floodgates to really open!  (Any day now…any day now…)

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Snowy Owl, The Cliff House, York, 3/4/14. As you have seen on this blog, our store’s Facebook and Flickr pages, etc, most of our Snowy Owl photos this winter have been of relaxed birds, often with their eyes closed.  Few have been “perfect” shots, whether in lighting or resolution.  And we’re proud of that!  To us, the birds ALWAYS comes first, and we pride ourselves in minimizing any chance at disturbance.  Unfortunately, this bird was sitting close to the parking lot and we spooked it before we knew it was present.  A pair of crows likely also affected the bird’s immediate response.  As it flew away from both us and the crows, Jeannette snapped some photos, as the bird first flew straight out to sea – thereby ditching the crows – before returning to land a short distance away.  We backed off and left it alone.  With a lot of unethical and selfish behavior occurring – as always – around charismatic owls around the country, we support the idea that the circumstances of photos be explained when it shows a behavior that may have been modified by our presence or behavior.

A White-winged Gull Convention in Portland Harbor

On Sunday, Kristen Lindquist and I worked Portland Harbor for gulls.  In my usual routine, I started at the Maine State Pier and worked my way west, checking all of the piers and roosting locations in Old Port.  I was pretty happy with the 4 first-winter Glaucous Gulls and a healthy handful of Iceland Gulls from the state pier, and we continued to see Iceland Gulls here and there as we continued along.

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It was a good day for gulls in the harbor, but we didn’t realize just how good it was until we got to the end of the “Fish Pier.”  There, everywhere we looked we saw white-winged gulls!  Out by the dredging barges there were white-winged gulls.  Feeding at the rips around the channel markers there were white-winged gulls.  And all around the fish pier there were white-winged gulls!

I was very conservative in my counts, and yet tallied an exceptional 12 first-winter Glaucous Gulls – an all-time state high count for me.  But it was the abundance of Iceland Gulls that stole the show; 4 adults (all with completely different wing-tip patterns of course), at least three 2nd-winter, and an astounding (for southern Maine, anyway) THIRTY-TWO 1st-winter birds.  With that many, it was not surprising that the whole range of variation of “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls was to be seen, but try as I might, I couldn’t find a single bird that even allowed for an attempted stringing of a Thayer’s.

Despite starting the day by saying, “I am not taking any more first cycle Iceland Gull photos this winter,” with this many birds around, I couldn’t help myself.  Here’s a selection of photos, starting with two phone-scoping using an iPhone 4S, Phone Skope adapter, and a Zeiss Diascope FL, followed by “better” photos using my Nikon D80 with a 300mm lens.

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At the aforementioned outflow pipe.

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1st cycle Iceland Gull feeding storm-petrel style.

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1st/2nd cycle (L) and 2 1st-cycle “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls (R), with a dark 1st winter Herring Gull for contrast.

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Light and darker 1st-cycle “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls.

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Worn, late 1st Cycle or early 2nd Cycle “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gull.

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Adult “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gull.

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Adult and 1st/2nd Cycle “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls.

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1st cycle and adult “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls.

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Wait, that’s not an Iceland Gull…sorry, I got distracted…

After second breakfast, we checked in at Mill Creek Cove, where the outgoing tide was attracting gulls to the mouth of the creek as usual.  With birds heading to and from the Old Port, we didn’t add to our earlier counts, but there were at least 4 1st-winter Iceland and 2 1st-winter Glaucous Gulls present.  Oh, and this rather confiding female Green-winged Teal was dabbling with the Mallards.

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showing a little more green speculum than usual on one side.

Then we worked the Cape Elizabeth shoreline, highlighted by 3 Greater Scaup at Kettle Cove, 11 Brant at Dyer Point, and these 28 balls of awesomeness (aka Harlequin Ducks; phone-scoped photos).

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But back to those gulls…why so many?  While the number of Herring and Great Black-backed gulls (and the expected relatively small number of Ring-bills) were average (at least by recent winters’ standards), this is by far the most total white-winged gulls that I have seen in PortlandHarbor in the 13 years I’ve lived here.  Some of these gulls are probably northbound migrants, but clearly there was something more at play here.

For one, there’s a dredging operation ongoing in the main channel of Portland Harbor.  While we didn’t see any gulls obviously foraging on the dredge spoils being pumped into the barge, or immediately around the buckets scooping up the muck, there were birds standing around on the new moving “islands.”   I wondered if a lot of these gulls were following/riding the barges in from where they are dumping the dredge spoils seven miles offshore.  But in today’s Portland Press Herald, I read that the occasional dynamiting of underwater bedrock would kill some fish, and then the “seagulls’ (sic… ahem!) were feeding on the dead fish.  That would certainly augment the already-occurring food sources in the harbor.

But most of the Iceland Gulls today were centered around the outflow pipes of various lobster-related facilities, as usual.  Meanwhile, the high tide limited roosting and foraging opportunities along the coast, and here in the harbor.

So my guess is that the time of year (migrants), the dredging operation, and the tides all helped to greatly increase the volume of white-winged gulls present today to numbers not seen in recent years – at least not since Portland had a thriving year-round fishing industry.  Obviously, this is just conjecture, but whatever made it happen, I was happy to be there to enjoy it!

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Also gull-watching:
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