This first summer male Blue Grosbeak was present on Monhegan for at least a week, and unexpectedly, was flycatching for seaweed flies in shoreline rocks for most of the time, including the two days we looked at it with my Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend tour group.
With 5 days on Monhegan and one (half) day offshore, I enjoyed a lot of great birds this week. My observations of note over the past seven days included:
Monhegan Island with our Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend Tour group (full trip report and photos to come).
Impressive numbers of Red Crossbills swirling around the island and tough to quantify, including many juveniles. High counts of largest flock(s) in the mid-20’s. Three WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS were present each day at least through the end of the weekend. Rare for the island, a pair of HOUSE FINCHES appeared on the 27th and continued through the end of our stay. Here are my group’s other daily highlights.
11 Bay-breasted Warblers (FOY)
1 Cape May Warbler (FOY)
1 female Evening Grosbeak
1 Black-billed Cuckoo
1 continuing ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Philadelphia Vireo (FOY)
1 continuing male DICKCISSEL
1 continuing female/imm male SUMMER TANAGER
1 female ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Olive-sided Flycatcher (FOY)
9 GLOSSY IBIS – circled the island early in the morning but did not land. My 225th Island Bird!
1 probable immature male PURPLE MARTIN
1 continuing 1st-year male BLUE GROSBEAK
1 immature BROAD-WINGED HAWK
1 continuing male DICKCISSEL
1 pair ORCHARD ORIOLES
1 continuing SNOWY EGRET – Jeannette and I finally caught up with it for my 226th Island Bird!
1 continuing 1st year male BLUE GROSBEAK
5/30 (With Jeannette):
1 continuing male ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Field Sparrow
Did not try to catch up with continuing rarities, although two quick checks did not turn up the Dickcissel or the Blue Grosbeak.
The Zeiss Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises out of Boothbay Harbor, 6/2. This special mini-pelagic, sponsored by Zeiss Optics visited Eastern Egg Rock before heading 20 miles offshore. Trip report to come, but for now, the highlights:
1 Razorbill at Eastern Egg Rock
1 COMMON MURRE (between Eastern Egg Rock and Murray Hole)
350-400 total Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (FOY)
12 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES
TOURS AND EVENTS:
I’ll see you next week at the Rangely Birding Festival! Most (but not all) tours are sold out, but everyone can join me for the free and open to the public Birds on Tap! Event at Parkside and Main (beverages not included)!
I had a rather busy week, but not as busy with birding as I would have liked. Therefore, this mostly to share Jeannette’s photography from our visit to Machias Seal Island last week. However, a few observations of note over the past seven days included the following
1 female ORCHARD ORIOLE and 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Green Point WMA, 6/27 (with Jeannette).
1+ BOREAL CHICKADEE, East Royce Mountain, White Mountains National Forest, 6/26 (with Jeannette).
1-2 LITTLE EGRET X SNOWY EGRET hybrids, Falmouth, 6/30. One bird spotted from the Martin’s Point Bridge appeared to have at least one long, Little Egret-like plume. It was not close enough for photos, but the plume – as well as overall structure was distinctive. After flying upriver with the incoming tide, I found a hybrid at Gilsland Farm (photo below), but no head plumes are visible. Note the greenish-yellow lores (looked darker in the field than this poor, phone-scoped photo), very long and fine bill, and spindly neck. It’s slightly longer legs and overall slightly larger size was apparent when it joined a distant Snowy. However, did I imagine the plume in the earlier view? Did it fall off in transit? Or, are there actually two again this year?
How about we just fast-forward to Sunday? Sunday was delightful.
After two quiet days, which I will eventually confess to, we had a bunch of birds. And no fog. And colorful birds in good light. The pre-breakfast loop was actually downright great, with a good variety of warblers. One copse of trees alone featured 3 Blackburnian Warblers, 4+ Blackpoll Warblers, 2 each of Yellow, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and 1 Magnolia Warbler
It was nice and birdy after breakfast as well, with more Blackburnian fun, a single Cape May Warbler, and a nice birdy walk through the woods (Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, and House Wren singing one after another) to Whitehead where we actually got to see the ocean – and a Great Cormorant for those visiting from afar. Bird activity and birdsong was pleasantly consistent throughout the day, and in most places we visited.
We caught up with a continuing immature male Orchard Oriole for all to see, and while perhaps one could argue it was still fairly slow for Monhegan by Memorial Day Weekend standards, it was a lot better than Friday and Saturday! In fact, the 59 species and 11 species of warblers was more than the first two days combined. A few of us who stayed out late even got to see an American Woodcock as it displayed over Horn Hill at dusk. It was a good day.
Friday got off to a rocky start. Really rocky actually, as in few people were even able to keep their breakfast down on the two ferry rides. Dense fog and near-zero visibility resulted in virtually no birds being seen, and well, let’s just not talk about these boat trips anymore…it was one of the worst I have ever experienced on the way to or from. Thankfully, I am not predisposed to feeling how many people felt upon arrival, but it was still a challenge to shake it off, and all of us were moving slowly by day’s end.
Of course, it didn’t help that there were so few birds around! The huge wave of birds that arrived the previous weekend had cleared out, and nothing had arrived to take their place over the last few nights. With such strong winds, it was a challenge to find sheltered pockets, and when we did, we didn’t find many with many birds. Only Blackpoll Warblers were to be seen in numbers.
That being said, what we did see – especially the aforementioned Blackpolls and the continuing world’s most cooperative Black-billed Cuckoo(s) – we saw really well. A few of us even saw the Virginia Rail for a second. The dense fog also precluded scanning the water, so our checklist is even more pitiful for the day. Ring-necked Pheasants put on a show though, from confiding snazzy males to adorable little chicks.
I had hopes for Saturday – it really couldn’t be any worse than Friday anyway! – based on the forecast. However, only a light flight was detected on the radar overnight, despite light southerly winds. It was mostly cloudy, but I couldn’t help to wonder if we were just running out of migrants.
Rain that could have resulted in a fallout of what little was airborne overnight didn’t arrive until after sunrise, but it only caused a 20-minute delay to the start of the day. That was it though, and certainly we were lucky that Saturday was not the washout that was predicted as of a few days prior. It was still slow, but once again, we had exceedingly great looks at everything that we did encounter, including more quality cuckoo time, a stunning male Indigo Bunting that was just glowing in the soft light, Blackpoll Warblers, Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, and more colorful splashes to brighten another gray day. And it wasn’t raining.
But it’s hard to sugarcoat just how slow it was – like Mid-June-kinda slow. Luckily, the fog lifted just long enough to see some waterbirds, and we took advantage of that for an impromptu gull workshop.
A brief shower at dinnertime ushered in a cold front and skies began to clear at dusk, with the fog finally lifting. That led to the delightful Sunday I was talking about. And Monday wasn’t too shabby either, as we again started the day without fog, a very light wind, and evidence of some bird migration on the radar overnight. And, with the southwesterly flow continuing, we had even higher hopes for finding the “mega” that would make up for the so-far lackluster species list.
Starting the morning with a Black-billed Cuckoo sunning itself in a tree right in front of the Trailing Yew was a solid start, and there were more Eastern Wood-Pewees and a decent number of Blackpoll Warblers around. Again, a rather slow day by Monhegan standards, but we really had more great looks at everything we did see. Today’s magic tree was by the Ice Pond, with a pair of Blackburnian Warblers, a pair of Blackpoll Warblers, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and finally a Bay-breasted Warbler.
We also finally had some rarity excitement. First, a Spizella sparrow flushed in front of us and a very quick glimpse in the scope suggested a Clay-colored Sparrow, which is a great bird in the spring. But just to be sure, we searched for it, but to no avail. Luckily, its identity was confirmed the next morning went it put on a show in the exact same spot it didn’t want to return to today.
Later, a female Purple Martin made an appearance…OK, fine, I could not completely rule out a Gray-breasted Martin. I was trying.
The tour officially concluded in the afternoon, but Jeannette and I remained to enjoy a 24-hour vacation. Don’t worry, you didn’t “just miss” something, as all we had new in the afternoon was a Savannah Sparrow.
Also, don’t worry that you missed the day Monhegan legends are made of on Tuesday. You did not. It was still fairly slow, but we had a little uptick in diversity. The pulse of late-migrating flycatchers that I had expected finally arrived, there was a good Northern Gannet show off Lobster Cove in the morning, and a steady trickle of commuting Atlantic Puffins in a small sample of afternoon Lobster Cove seawatching.
We picked up three Willets well offshore to the south from Lobster Cove in the morning, eventually following them into the harbor where they landed for a spell. As for that “probable” Clay-colored Sparrow that was nagging me all afternoon and night, well, I am thankful that it returned to the exact same spot as where we first glimpsed it. I received a text that it had been observed, photographed, and confirmed by others, and it obligingly remained long enough for us to catch back up with it.
Overall, there were many fewer warblers around on Tuesday, likely as many of the passage migrants had departed overnight. But it would have been nice if this diverse day with several quality birds and good seawatching fell during the official tour!
The 11 species we added after the group tour ended therefore were as follows:
Red-bellied Woodpecker (where were you hiding these past 4 days?)
Furthermore, on the Hardy Boat back to New Harbor, we added 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (personal first-of-year) and a Razorbill. With those 13 species, we had a total of 88 species over the 5 days, with a couple of more “quality” birds and that would have produced a much more respectable tour list! But alas.
So yes, by Monhegan standards, it was a pretty slow weekend. In fact, the 75 species on Friday through Monday was a record low (by two) for this annual tour. 16 species of warblers wasn’t too bad (last year’s soaker only produced 10), and we had some great birds. We also had such good looks at so many things, especially those – like Black-billed Cuckoo – that just don’t give such great looks very often, let alone daily!
Here is the official trip list (not including the 13 additional species from Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening when we got off the boat in New Harbor):
If I was going to top last week’s spectacular week of migration, it was going to require a visit to Monhegan. And Monhegan definitely delivered, even if the largest number of birds this week moved over the weekend, before I arrived on the island. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days.
17 species of warblers, led by 16 Common Yellowthroats and 9 American Redstarts, but also including 5 Bay-breasted Warblers, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/21 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (FOY), Florida Lake Park, 5/21 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
15 species of warblers, led by 11 Common Yellowthroats and 8 Yellow-rumped Warblers, Florida Lake Park, 5/22 (with clients from Maine).
10 Common Nighthawks (FOY), our yard in Pownal, 5/22.
~40 Short-billed Dowitchers, flying high over our Pownal yard on 5/22 (with Jeannette). Interestingly, the third record for our yard of high spring migrants.
Three days on Monhegan with a client from India on 5/23 through 5/25 yielded 91 species and 18 species of warblers. Monday was incredible, with lots of diversity, lots of quality, and just incredible looks at everything. Blackpoll Warblers were by far the dominant migrant each day, as expected. Here are our daily highlights:
1 SANDHILL CRANE – I almost dropped my hand pie as this came cruising over the Trailing Yew, circled the meadow, and landed on the shoreline at a tidepool where observed by almost everyone on the island – birders and bird-curious alike. Photos above.
1 immature, I believe continuing, BROAD-WINGED HAWK.
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo (FOY)
At least 4-5 Black-billed Cuckoos, including this incredible observation of such normally shy birds!
1 imm. male ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL (FOY, and a self-found island bird from my bedroom!)
1 continuing SANDHILL CRANE. In the meadow in early morning before reportedly being observed later flying toward the mainland.
1 imm. male Orchard Oriole
1 continuing EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL (with client, Kristen Lindquist, Bill Thompson, and Jess Bishop).
1 leucistic (and nearly pure-white but with normal bare parts) Herring Gull.
1 female ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Green Heron (FOY)
1 Wood Thrush
Our first pelagic with our partners Cap’n Fish’s Cruises out of Boothbay Harbor will run on Monday, June 6th. It includes a visit to Eastern Egg Rock and chumming deeper offshore. Info here: https://www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com/pelagics
For much of this spring, I’ve been lamenting about a “slow” week of migration, or a “trickle” of migrants, etc. That was NOT the case this week, as the floodgates finally opened. In fact, it was an incredible week of birding. The northern limits of a huge fallout greeted me on Monday morning. And then there was Friday at Biddeford Pool. It was epic. Unforgettable.
My observations of note over the past eight days included:
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
20 species of warblers, including 1 continuing Louisiana Waterthrush and 6 Bay-breasted Warblers (FOY), and led by 25+ Northern Parulas and 20+ Black-and-white Warblers, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette). Incredible morning; definitely the best morning of spring to date. Interestingly, this appeared to be about the northern limits of what was a significant coastal fallout from at least Eastern Massachusetts into southern Maine.
17 species of warblers, led by 18 Common Yellowthroats and 17 American Redstarts, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet (getting late), Florida Lake Park, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
16 species of warblers, led by 24 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 15 American Redstarts, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/18 (with Jeannette). This was the first morning this season where there were more female than male passage migrants.
16 species of warblers, led by 24 Common Yellowthroats and 22 Yellow-rumped Warblers, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/19.
Biddeford Pool, FALLOUT, 5/20! This was insane. I was optimistic about conditions based on the overnight wind forecast and morning fog, but there was virtually nothing on the radar overnight. I almost didn’t go. I never expected to find this. Birds were everywhere. Every tree had warblers. Swainson’s Thrushes and Lincoln’s Sparrows were hopping around manicured lawns. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it was, but here are some of the highlights as I covered East Point, the neighborhood, and the Elphis Pond trails. All of my numbers are extremely conservative, as I attempted to judge the movement of birds between parallel streets, etc.
20 species of warblers led by 53 Common Yellowthroats, 44+ American Redstarts, 44 Yellow Warblers, and 43 Magnolia Warblers. I know these numbers are particularly low.
Thrushes! 43 Swainson’s Thrushes (FOY) and 8+ Veeries, but also…
1 BICKNELL’S THRUSH – shocking migrant vocalizing incessantly on path to East Point. Was still calling 3 hours later. Voice recordings and poor photo above. Rarely detected in migration away other than Nocturnal Flight Calls, this might have been my first ever confirmation in spring along Maine’s coast. Seems a little early, too. Photo above.
1 GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (FOY). My settings were off on the camera and the overall tone of this bird is not accurate! When I looked down at the camera to adjust, it dropped out of site. Called once.
1 SUMMER TANAGER, near Elphis Pond. Quick fly-by, and no red seen. Confident there was little or red on the upperparts. Not seen well enough to know if this was the bird that had been continuing in the area for a while or a different, possible female.
1 male ORCHARD ORIOLE, Elphis Pond. Often singing.
Amazing quantities of usually-uncommon migrants, such as: 15 Lincoln’s Sparrows, 15 Bay-breasted Warblers, and 11 Canada Warblers.
Other good tallies included 17 Black-throated Blue Warblers, 13 Least Flycatchers, and 4-6 Scarlet Tanagers.
Personal First-of-years also included 2 Cape May Warblers, 9 Tennessee Warblers, 3 Philadelphia Vireos, along with 2 Roseate Terns off Ocean Ave.
The bird that got away: an intriguing Empid that suggested Acadian in a brief view along Orcutt Ave. Could not relocate.
Meanwhile, my list of personal “first of years” this week before the Biddeford Pool fallout included the following:
4 American Redstarts, Essex Woods and Marsh, Bangor, 5/13.
2 Bobolinks, Essex Woods and Marsh, 5/13.
1 Virginia Rail, Essex Woods and Marsh, 5/13.
5 Wood Thrushes, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
1 Scarlet Tanager, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
3 Red-eyed Vireos, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
1 Black-crowned Night-Heron, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/15 (with Down East Adventures Spring Songbird Workshop group).
1 Canada Warbler, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
1 OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (a little on the early side), Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
4 Eastern Wood-Pewees, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
2 Blackpoll Warblers, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
6 Bay-breasted Warblers, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/16 (with Jeannette).
1 Alder Flycatcher, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/17 (with client from Maine).
My observations of note over the past eight days included the following:
1 immature male/ female pair of ORCHARD ORIOLES, Green Point WMA, 6/21 (with Jeannette). Clearly paired up but no breeding behaviors noted.
1 immature male ORCHARD ORIOLE, 1 Yellow-throated Vireo (probably my first here), and 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Fort Foster, Kittery, 6/22.
141 immature Bonaparte’s Gulls, Fort Foster, 6/22. The largest number of Bonies in the summer that I have seen in the south coast in a number of years.
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Seapoint Beach, Kittery, 6/22.
1 continuing SNOWY OWL, 6/25: Observed (with clients from AZ) from the Colony Beach parking lot in Kennebunkport, looking across the river to a house behind Gooch’s Beach, Kennebunk (new location; photos above).
1 out of place male American Kestrel, atop a cell phone tower in downtown Biddeford from Palace Diner, 6/25 (with clients from AZ).
1 continuing proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET HYBRID, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 6/25 (with clients from AZ).
One of the highlights for me this week, however, was non-bird: 20+ Gray Seals feeding very close to Fort Popham in Phippsburg on 6/20 (with client from CT). While Harbor Seals are frequent here in the summer, I don’t recall seeing so many Grays inshore in this or other nearby areas.
The reincarnation of our spring “Warblers and Wort” tour in our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, was quite successful last Sunday. On this “Mother’s Day Special” tour, we decided to stay local, visiting some of Portland’s most famous institutions in both the beer and birding worlds.
We began in the urban greenspace – a classic “migrant trap” – of Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. Spring remains behind schedule this year, and it was a chilly start to the day – but hey, it wasn’t raining for a change! While warbler diversity was lower than expected for the advancing date, we did eek out 10 species of warblers. Almost everything we did see, however, we saw incredibly well. Nashville and Magnolia Warblers performed well, but Ovenbirds stole the warbler show: we had several birds out in the open for prolonged, enjoyable views, about as good as can ever be expected when stomping a large group through the woods.
Only Veeries outshined Ovenbirds today in their cooperation. This often-shy thrush was anything but. We saw at least 6, and all were seen incredibly well, including two strolling out in the lawn like the robin they are related to. Many folks commented that they had never seen Veeries – or most any thrush! – so well. There were several sizable groups of White-throated Sparrows marching through the woods, including one group of 20-30 that we were surrounded by at one point. All of their leaf scratching was loud enough that it sounded like some large mammals were tromping through the understory. The song of a newly-arrived Wood Thrush and the old-timey football helmet sported by a White-crowned Sparrow were among the other highlights. Ovenbird Veery
Our second stop in the birding portion of the tour was another urban oasis, nearby Capisic Pond Park. Again, we were treated to fantastic views of almost every species we encountered, highlighted by a male Orchard Oriole (a “life bird” for many on the trip). A pair breeds here almost every year, but it’s the only known regular breeding location for this southern species in the state, so it was a real treat to find and see so well. We also heard and saw several of the more common Baltimore Orioles, and even saw a nest under construction that was using strips of blue tarp! (How Maine is that?) Orchard Oriole
A fly-by Green Heron and an ultra-cooperative Least Flycatcher were other highlights, along with common species such as cardinals and Yellow Warblers. The Least Fly was confiding enough to allow us to get into the topic of “tertial step and primary projection,” adding to our toolkit of identification techniques. The genus Empidonax is one of the most challenging in the bird world, but this structural starting point quickly narrows the choices to a very manageable number. And I always take the time to show off one of my favorite colors in nature: the eye of the Double-crested Cormorant.
Perhaps sour beers are the “tertial step and primary projection on Empidonax flycatchers” to many beer drinkers: it’s a more nuanced approach and probably doesn’t appeal to everyone. But our BOT-Roadtrips want introduce our clients to as wide of a range of beer types as bird species, so we had a special experience in store for the group as we rolled into Bissell Brothers Brewing at Thompson’s Point.
First up, each participant got to choose a different beer based on their tastes or what “lifers” they had not yet tried. There were at least five different brews sampled by my quick count, and the whole gamut of styles was represented. Personally, I chose the new Lucent, a Helles Style Lager as it was light and refreshing (and therefore good for a leader who had to articulate – or try to – for the next few hours). Crisp, clean, with a nice lemony bite, this was a great representation of the style.
But then our trusty beer leader for the day, Don, pulled out a surprise: a Magnum bottle of Bissell’s famous Seed. Brewed only once a year featuring “over 2,000 lbs of strawberries and raspberries from Bradbury Mountain Farm in Pownal,” Bissell was doing a special bottle pour event today, and so of course we had to partake. The faces of some folks was predictable when faced with the words “fruited sour beer,” and were equivalent to the deer-in-headlights looks when hearing “primary projection” for the first time. Some even refused. And then we gave them some anyway. And some of those then had some more.
It’s not for everyone, but I was really pleased by how excited people were to try a “rarity” that they would otherwise likely never have a chance at (like Orchard Orioles without going to Capisic). More importantly, the discussion of the beer that continued as we boarded the bus was how eye-opening the beer was for so many. Pleasantly tart, with a nice clean finish and a real depth of strawberry flavor, we every well may have created some sour fans (or at least sour-curious) on this trip.
Next up was Goodfire Brewing, one of Portland’s hottest up-and-comers, and admittedly, one of my personal favorites to visit. In a more traditional visit for our beer tours, we enjoyed four small 4oz pours, which nicely showcased the range of styles offered here. As Chrissy led us on a tour of the brew house, we discussed the differences and similarities of each sample we tried, as well as the history of the names and label art.
We began with the perfectly balanced flagship beer, Prime IPA. The Citra and Amarillo hops really shine through, thanks to the clean and rather light malt bill that still ends without any bitterness.
Having learned that hops don’t necessary equal bitter, we dove into deeper discussion of hops with Goodfire’s latest single-hopped brew in their Minimum series. This incarnation featured Idaho 7 hops – itself an up and comer in the beer world – that has a nice flavor balance of citrus and pine with a hint of tropical fruit. If IPAs were Empidonax flycatchers, hops would be their primary projection. Or something, OK, fine, maybe I am stretching these analogies too far now…
Moving on, we lightened things up a bit with Can’t Stay Long, a classic clean and crisp German Pilsner with a somewhat bready finish. Pilsners are a tried and true style that might not be all that hip and trendy, but should still be appreciated – like a common Northern Cardinal sitting in the sun (OK, last one, I swear).
It was appropriate that after our sour revelations at Bissell, Goodfire would finish us up with a sample of their new fruited sour: Astro 5 – Double Blackberry. This was all the way blackberry, pleasantly tart, but with a clean finish that made you come back for more. In fact, more Astro was purchased to go than all other beers combined today! So I guess sours aren’t all that scary! And neither are Empidonax flycatch.….dammit, I did it again.
As usual, our Roadtrips never have enough time for it all, neither beer nor birds, but today we had a delightful sampling of each. And based on the feedback received, I think there’s a fair chance you’ll see this itinerary return next year, and likely on Mother’s Day, so get it in on your schedule now!
Several years ago, I joined a group of concerned residents in working for substantial restoration of Capisic Pond Park following the necessary – and federally mandated – replacement of the sewer line that runs the length of the park. The post-construction restoration plan was essentially “spread some grass seed.”
After countless meetings, public hearings, and workshops, a plan was implemented that not only limited damage from the construction process, but improved it. Over $150,000 was spent on restoration, including extensive planting of native plants to not only beautify the park, but improve biodiversity. Birds, and the many birders who frequent this little treasure of an urban park, would benefit.
Over the years, as those plantings have slowly come into their own, and began to bear fruit (literally!), bird diversity has only continued to increase. From the continued presences of Orchard Orioles – the only breeding pair known in the state, to a wealth of migrant sparrows, to rarities (including just last month, one of only 6 or so Ash-throated Flycatchers to ever be seen in Maine) have attracted birders from far and wide.
On Monday, Jeannette and I headed to Portland to work the productive micro-habitats and micro-climates in urban areas to search for rarities, and “lingering” migrants. We began our day at Capisic Pond Park.
And we were greeted by this:
We were appalled. We were horrified. We were saddened.
What the hell has happened?
According to the Facebook page for the Friends of Capisic Pond Park, posted on October 31st:
“Don’t be alarmed by the mowing and cutting that will be done in the first week or so of November. It is important to mow the park for several reason. First, and most important, if the small trees and brush aren’t mowed and cut periodically the meadow environment will transform (in time) into a forest. Just like the open farm fields of the 19th century that covered virtually all of Maine are now woods, Capisic Pond Park will move from field to brush to forest unless it is mown and tended. Second, regular cutting will spread seeds and improve the habitat overall. Lastly, we will again be able to see the pond (what’s left of it, anyway) and access the ice (!) during the months before everything regrows next Spring and Summer. FOCP members Donna and Steve Williams and Andy Graham met with Jeff Tarling of Public Services on Friday October 30th to walk the park and talk about what should and should not be cut – we are fortunate to have Jeff as a knowledgeable and caring partner.
“Also – if you were wondering about the trees being cut on Capisic St near the pond, this is the first preparation for the pond restoration work to be done next year. Apparently this will be an access point for the equipment needed to dredge and remove the spoils next August and September.”
This wasn’t a “haircut.” This was a clear-cut.
Quite frankly, I am left to question either the motives or the expertise behind the decisions that were made – at least beyond the third rationales listed: “…we will again be able to see the pond.” And the reason I question whether that clear-cutting had anything to do with anything other than what site-lines some people preferred seems simple as the other reasons given are complete B.S.
1) Cutting is not necessary to spread seeds. Plants are built to do that on their own, either through wind, animals, or gravity.
2) Improve habitat? Granted this depends on what habitat you are trying to improve, but I would argue that this type of mechanized treatment did not in any way improve habitat for much of anything at Capisic. In fact, it damaged or even ruined the habitat for most of the species that frequent the park.
3) Selective cutting, girdling, or other low-impact methods are widely available to eliminate forest succession, especially on a scale as small as Capisic. Almost any other treatment would substantially improve and augment habitat, not ravage it. And that goes for the aesthetics, too – the place is a mess right now.
So I fail to see what was accomplished here, other than opening up some views or fitting in with some outdated philosophy that parks should be open. Actually, what was accomplished was that the value of Capisic Pond Park to most migratory (just about all passage warblers), breeding (including both Baltimore and the famous Orchard Orioles) and year-round resident species (i.e. Northern Cardinals) was severely, and very negatively, impacted.
The significant improvement in food source diversity (especially for frugivores) from the park’s restoration was set back by a decade – or permanently if native plants are not replaced and restored. This heavy-handed, unselective approach favors invasive species, as they out-compete regenerating natives. If left alone, Capisic will end up with significantly more Asiatic Bittersweet, bush honeysuckle, and Multiflora Rose after this misguided effort. Limited biodiversity begets limited biodiversity.
And we’ve seen this throughout the city, for example, the Eastern Promenade, where – despite the efforts of a handful of local residents attempting to stem the tide of invasives – city mismanagement continues to accelerate their spread and the degradation of the habitat. Portland has already ruined (for birds and birders) the “Dragon Field” (behind the Quarry Run Dogpark), annihilated critical migratory bird habitat along West Commercial Street and wiped out any shelter of any sort along the Fore River Parkway Trail, and continues to assault any sort of cover in roadside edges and overgrown lots (all critical for disoriented and exhausted migrants, and “pioneers” that are attempting to overwinter after possibly becoming “stuck” in the city. Portland stood by as Evergreen Cemetery had a road plowed through it and neglect continues to degrade the pond areas – despite being the most-visited birding location in that state. See a pattern here?
And through all this, little ol’ Capisic Pond Park stood as the lone bastion of hope. Residents, birders, engineers, and city officials came together to not only restore the park after the sewer reconstruction, but actually improve the habitat for migratory and resident birds. And birders have been reaping those dividends, as improved plant diversity continues to provide a greater array of native foodstuffs as the replanted vegetation matures. And that has meant more birds.
I was proud of what was accomplished at Capisic Pond Park. I – and many others – worked tireless to make that happen. A lot of time, effort, dedication – and yes, a substantial amount of money – was invested.
And then, with a few passes of a brush-hog mower, it was gone. All of that time, effort, dedication, money, and concern, wasted. Just like that. Poof.
I’m sickened by what I saw at Capisic Pond Park on Monday. And personally, it will be hard for me to go back. There will always be birds in the park – it’s truly an urban oasis, and some migrants will have no choice but to search for food here. However, the knowledge of how much better the bird habitat, and therefore the birding, should be will forever be a reminded to me about how much time and energy I have wasted fighting for birds in the City of Portland.
But at least I can simply go somewhere else. If you’re a bird in Portland, you’re running out of choices.