Tag Archives: Orchard Oriole

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! Warblers and Wort, 5/12/19


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!

Until then, perhaps we’ll see you on June’s Grassland and Grains – one of our most popular, annual outings that are always a blast, with both great birds and some great beer, and never with a dull moment. See you then!

Portland Eviscerates Capisic Pond Park

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

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

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

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

And we were greeted by this:
IMG_6887IMG_6888IMG_6889IMG_6890IMG_6891

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.