Tag Archives: Peregrine Falcon

An Incredible 2017 “Fall Ducks and Draughts!”

One of the most popular Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! is our annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” One of the original two BoT – Roadtrips! back in 2015, this popular outing visits Sabattus Pond near the peak of fall waterfowl migration with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

It rarely disappoints, but today it far surpassed expectations! We began at the south beach, where an American Coot was a surprise. However, more surprising was the flock of shorebirds littered around the south end. While many of the 30 or so Dunlin took off and kept going, about 10 White-rumped Sandpipers returned and landed right in front of the group, no more than about 30 feet away! We were able to carefully study the progression from juvenile to 1st winter plumage, with most individuals, such as these two, mostly still in colorful juvenile plumage (with one bigger, grayer Dunlin in the background).
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With our focus back on waterfowl, we began to sort through the masses, starting with 6 spiffy Northern Pintails joining the Mallards nearby, while one lone female Green-winged Teal quickly paddled away. 18 Ring-necked Ducks loafed just a little further offshore, providing a good intro to the genus Aythya. Sabattus Pond is famous for its legions of Ruddy Ducks, and this cute little “stiff tail” was out in full force. We had a couple of hundred nearby, but a distant raft of many hundreds remained just a little too far to enjoy. We also began our comparison of Greater and Lesser Scaup, and took a moment to learn about the Chinese Mystery Snail that makes up a large percentage of the food source of all of the diving ducks we were here to enjoy.

I had set the over/under for waterfowl species at 13.5, and our list quickly began to grow: Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers a’plenty, but surprisingly only one Common Merganser and a mere three Canada Geese. American Black Ducks and a single hen American Wigeon made for a tally of 13 species of waterfowl; just falling short of covering the spread…in part because we never did make it to our third stop!

Over at Martin’s Point Park on the southwest side of the pond, we worked the dabbling ducks and enjoyed stunning Hooded Mergansers. Then, I finally had a nice, close group of the two scaup species in perfect light to give us a lesson in how to identify this challenging species-pair.

We began to walk closer, I began the lecture, and then I heard a call note from the trees that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not a Yellow-rumped Warbler – the only expected warbler species at this season – and it’s sharp tone was very suggestive. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be here, whatever it was, and my suspicions of its identity were soon proven correct when a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler popped out!
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Sticking close to the trunk of some large Eastern White Pines, it foraged within a small mixed-species foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets before eventually disappearing towards the neighborhood.

This is a real rarity in Maine, and because of the white in the front of the supercilium, we know it is of the interior subspecies albilora, and therefore not likely the result of the recent storm system. While there was unprecedented three together on Monhegan earlier in the month, this is quite the rarity, especially so far inland, and especially in Androscoggin County (I couldn’t help but wonder if there has ever been a record of this species anywhere in the county).

Unfortunately, in the meantime, some fisherman came to the shoreline, and the closest scaup departed. We did have a slightly farther raft to work through, but I ended up having to employ my rudimentary artistic skills to explain how to differentiate the two species!
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It was truly hard to leave the pond today, and I of course couldn’t help but wonder what was around the next corner, but it was time to switch gears, turn our attention to Dawn – our driver and beer guide today – and make our way over to Baxter Brewing Company, you know, to celebrate our vagrant warbler discovery!

At Baxter, housed in one of the beautifully restored mills down by the Androscoggin River, we enjoyed five samples of their most popular beers. We learned about their philosophy and history – including the noteworthy fact that they were the first 100% canning brewery in Maine – and sampled some of their best selling beers, such as Pamola pale, Tarnation lager, Per Diem stout, and the venerable Stowaway IPA. We also sampled Ceremony Green Tea IPA which surprised a lot of people and showed off the creativiTEA (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the brewery.
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We stepped outside of the brewery and were once again greeted by the local Peregrine Falcon atop the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center. After a few minutes of enjoying it through the scope, we hit the road, and discussed the beers we had just sampled. People’s favorites were rather evenly divided, aligning with their preferred style of beer, showing that Baxter really does offer something for everyone.

We followed the Androscoggin River towards the coast, and soon arrived at Maine Beer Company. MBC needs no introduction – at least if you are into IPAs or hoppy pales – but with so many folks on the trip today from “away” and/or making their first visit to this popular destination, we started things off with none other than their Peeper – their first brew that got it all started.
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Spenser came out to introduce the beers and tell us all about how MBC is dedicated to “do(ing) what’s right.” And that philosophy transcends the beer.
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They graciously offered everyone a choice of their next samples (I of course followed Lunch with Another One) and then Spenser really rolled out the red carpet for us, taking the group on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of their brewhouse…including a sneak peek at the massive new expansion that is underway. Clearly, Spenser’s excitement was evident and the group came out of this special tour absolutely bursting with MBC enthusiasm, and lots of promises to be back soon.

Thirteen species of waterfowl, many up close and personal. A most-unexpected rarity that no one in the group had seen in Maine before – and for some, a “life bird.” Urban Peregrine Falcon. Baxter Brewing Co and Maine Beer Company. Yeah, this is what Birds on Tap – Roadtrips are all about!

There are still some spaces left for the 10th and final Roadtrip of 2017, “Farms and Fermentation” coming up on Sunday, December 10th. And stay tuned – we’ll soon be announcing all TWELVE BoT Roadtrips for 2018!

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Farms and Fermentation, 12/11/16

Our seventh and final “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2016, entitled “Farms and Fermentation” traveled inland on Sunday. Unlike most of our itineraries, Farms and Fermentation has a very flexible birding route, affording us the opportunity to take advantage of seasonal highlights and variables including weather, northern bird irruptions, and local food supplies.

The theme of the tour is the connection between agricultural lands and birds, but we also spent plenty of time checking out the region’s most significant bodies of water as recent cold weather has slowly frozen small ponds and lakes, pushing waterfowl to the open waters of the deep Lake Auburn and the fast-flowing Androscoggin River.

It was a frigid day, but with temperatures rapidly rising through the 20’s and virtually no wind at most of our stops, we enjoyed a very pleasant and productive morning of birding. Our first stop was a large, open agricultural field in Gray and New Gloucester, where we immediately found 16 Horned Larks within about 30 yards of the road. No Snow Buntings, as I had hoped for, but the views of the four larks that stayed with us were hard to beat.
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Letting the temperatures climb a bit, we hit the road for a longer stretch to arrive on the north shore of Lake Auburn. Unfortunately, the ducks were elsewhere today – perhaps flushed by an eagle or two  – but we did view two Horned Grebes (rare inland in Maine except for here and Sebago Lake and a rather late date for them away from the coast). One distant Common Loon was also spotted.
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A short hop to North River Road sampled the birds of early successional forest, undoubtedly the first step in reforestation of an abandoned farm. American Tree Sparrows, quite a few Northern Cardinals, and a number of House Finches were present, while a Bald Eagle soared over the river beyond the cornfields across the road (still no Snow Buntings). The highlight, however, was a Red-tailed Hawk that circled up and then glided low over our heads, with the reflection of the thin coating of snow on the ground acting as a spotlight to really light up its pale plumage.

Three punk-rock Hooded Mergansers were at the nearby boat launch, and we finished up with some more waterfowl along the Auburn Riverwalk. Nearly 200 Mallards were present, affording us the chance to study individual variation and hybridization, as well as taking a moment to savor a truly beautiful critter.
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Hooded Mergansers

As for this individual, I am not sure how to interpret its odd plumage: a very old female taking on male characteristics, a hybrid with something domesticated, or perhaps a male that for some reason is unable to fully attain an adult plumage. Whatever it is, it was a perfect example of how much there is to be learned from looking at our most common birds!
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Four American Black Ducks and some odd Domestic things were present, but I was hoping for an unusual dabbler or two to have joined the masses with the recent freezing. However, we did have two more Hooded Mergansers, and downriver, two spiffy drake Common Mergansers. A Common Loon was a little out of place on the river, likely a bird that woke up to encroaching ice on a lake this morning!
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Don then took over as layers were shed for good, as we crossed the bridge into Lewiston on our way to Bear Bones Beer. Don was giving us some of the history of this new brewery, but I interrupted to have him pull into a parking lot. We quickly disembarked to temporarily resume our birding with scope views of the local male Peregrine Falcon eating lunch atop of the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center, as per our tradition during “Birds on Tap – Roadtrips” to Lewiston!

Arriving at Bear Bones Beer, a nanobrewery with a focus on sustainable production and ingredients, co-founder Eban Dingman welcomed us into the comfortable space in a renovated portion of a former department store in the heart of downtown.

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We began our tasting with their 2X C.R.E.A.M, a smooth cream ale that featured a very nice balance, avoiding overdoing it with the hops. Dry-hopped with fruity Mosaic hops, Robot Bear Porter finished with a fruit flavor not typical of porters, putting a nice twist on a good winter stand-by. Picea, a dry stout brewed with spruce tips added to the whirlpool process, featured a subtle hint of spruce/resin, especially on the back end.

After sampling some of their applewood smoked barley malt, we tasted it in action. I went with the New Dead Smoked IPA, with just the hint of the smoky flavor and a more subtle hop kick than most IPAs these days. The “over-hopping” bandwagon had definitely not arrived – thankfully, if you ask me – here on Lisbon Street.
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Winston provided additional entertainment

Trekking back across country, keeping an eye out for Northern Shrikes (we did spot two Northern Mockingbirds today however, much rarer in winter in interior Maine than shrikes!) as we returned to New Gloucester for a special visit to Norumbega Cidery. Open to the public only for the occasional special event, this was a real treat to learn about Noah Fralich’s family farm and his four-year-old cidery. Discussing his plans for the property, including the cultivation of a wide variety of heirloom and specialty apples, we also discussed the value of orchards to birding: in fact, if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings had made it this far south by now, we likely would have visited an orchard or two on today’s tour – and wondered if in a few years, we might see these species right here at Norumbega.
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I’m not a big cider guy, as I usually don’t like sweet drinks in general. Many of the most popular hard ciders today (at least from the national brands) are loaded with sugar, and are more akin to soda. Dry ciders, however, are closer to wine, and the white wine yeasts that Noah uses produce a very crisp, very dry, and very delicious product that retains aromatics and subtle flavors.

We began with the clean and crisp Classic, with just a hint of tartness followed by the Berry Medley with a sweet and bitter contrast from the tannins and sugars found in four varieties of berries. Sweeter than the others, but still finishing very smooth and crisp, the Honey (technically, a ceyser because of the use of honey) was next up, featuring its very subtle honey notes and nose. And finally, we tried the Spice – my new favorite cider that I left with four bottles of – with a really complex taste profile and depth of flavor produced by only three added spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (admittedly, I also tend to love anything with nutmeg) that made me think of an unsweetened apple pie.
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Taking the back roads back to Freeport, we slammed on the breaks when a Barred Owl was spotted, and quickly unloaded. Unfortunately, the Barred Owl was less excited and melted away into the woods, bringing our birding day, and our successful “Farms and Fermentation” tour to a close.

With ten tours on the schedule for 2017, including some really exciting new itineraries, we look forward to having your on board soon. All of the tours are posted on the “Tours, Events, and Workshops” page of our website, with direct links for online reservations.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Ducks and Draughts! 11/15/15.

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The second “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2015 was another resounding success.  As a follow up to our first event in August that featured shorebirds in Scarborough Marsh, we once again partner with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a fun, bird- and beer- filled outing.

Our theme for the this tour was “Ducks and Draughts,” and so we headed northwest to Sabattus Pond in Sabattus, one of the premier duck-watching sites in Maine, and arguably THE waterfowl hotspot in late fall in the southern half of the state. After pick-ups in Portland and Freeport, the bus, Paul (our driver and beer guide for the day), and I arrived at the south end of Sabattus Pond. It didn’t take long to know why this place is such a destination for birders at this time of year.

A large number of ducks were immediately encountered, but we soon focused our attention on the pair of Redheads – rare, but fairly-regular migrants in Maine – that were a “Life” or “State” Bird for some. For others, it was nothing more than the pleasure of seeing this attractive bird!
group at south end

We covered the three primary hotspots on Sabattus Pond, amassing a total of 17 species of waterbirds. In addition to the Redheads, highlights included a Red-necked Grebe (rare in Maine’s interior), 24 American Coots, 4 Northern Pintails, 6 Green-winged Teal, and several hundred Ruddy Ducks. Although a relatively low number for here, “several hundred” Ruddy Ducks is not a statement uttered anywhere else in Maine…and especially not when proceeded by the word “low!”  Other waterbirds species seen today included Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Black Duck, Ring-billed and Herring (1) Gulls, Buffleheads, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and one Great Blue Heron.
group on east side

Sabattus also affords the opportunity to study the two scaup species together, so we took plenty of time to go over this identification challenge. Side-by-side, the major differences are often readily apparent, so we practiced our skills to apply them to a homogenous group, or worse, the “dreaded” lone, single, distant scaup!

Having our fill of the nuances of Aythya identification, Paul took charge and delivered us to Lewiston’s Baxter Brewing. But as we stepped out of the bus at the renovated mill, it was back to the binoculars and scopes as we enjoyed a Peregrine Falcon pair – one busy feasting on a Rock Pigeon lunch – a top a nearby building.  With that, it was beer time!
outside Baxter

The first brewer in New England to can all of its beer, Baxter is known for such go-to brews as their Pamola Pale Ale and especially, their Stowaway IPA. Less well-known, however, is their ultra-creative 10-gallon Small Batch Series. Samples of Tarnation Lager, Phantom Punch Winter Stout, and Bootleg Fireworks Double IPA were enjoyed and discusses, and I simply had to quench my curiosity (as well as my thirst, of course), with the Small Batch “Sweet Tea Chai Spice Stout.”
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A tour of the brewery and the brewing processed followed, and soon we were off – with one last quick look at the Peregrines, heading down the Androscoggin River to Freeport for a date at Maine Beer Company. Samples of Zoe (Hoppy Amber), Mo (Pale Ale), King Titus (Porter) and one of my absolute favorites, Lunch (IPA) were served, and a few folks sampled their most recent Pilot 8, their take on a Kolsch. Fueled by the delicious brews, we continued the discussion of…well, ducks…and draughts!
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outside MBC

The “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series, a partnership between the Maine Brew Bus and Freeport Wild Bird Supply will continue in 2016. In fact, several new tours are in the works, which we hope to announce soon. Stay tuned!

2015 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Season in Review

The 2015 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, co-sponsored by Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Leica Sport Optics, came to its conclusion on May 15th. This season was an interesting one, especially in how the weather affected our counts. During the 2-month period, the Official Hawkcounter, Andrew Wolfgang, tallied a total of 3628 raptors. This included vultures, hawks, eagles, and falcons. Over the 8-year span that we have conducted this standardized count, this year was the second lowest, coming in 12% below average.

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Welcome to spring hawkwatching in Maine, Andrew!

However, a single year’s count tells us little beyond what the weather conditions were like during the course of the season. The late arrival of spring was actually a benefit to the count at the start, as few early migrants had progressed north by March 15th. Therefore, we had very good counts of our earliest migrants: Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. In fact, we set a new record for eagles deemed migrating, and vultures produced our second highest tally of all time. We simply didn’t “miss” any of these migrants before the project got underway.
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Bald Eagles set a new all-time record this season.

However, as the season progressed, spring still didn’t seem to arrive. Lots of unfavorable (for viewing birds at Bradbury Mountain) winds meant that viewing migrating hawks past this mountain was not optimal. Strong and cold west winds, for example, push birds towards the coast beyond our view, while persistent easterlies seem to shunt birds inland before they reach the northern terminus of the coastal plain. Simply put, the poor conditions during the peak of our migration period in mid to late April really lowered the overall numbers and it’s those couple of weeks that can really make or break the overall count for the season. Therefore, the below-average numbers of our two most abundant migrants (Broad-winged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk) combined to yield a below-average season total.

However, we had some great birds once again, highlight by our 4th record of a Golden Eagle.
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Andrew also recorded a new record of 3 Rough-legged Hawks, no doubt due to the late onset of the spring’s flight (most Rough-legs probably move north before the start of the count in most years).

Meanwhile, a total of 85 species were recorded, including an ever-increasing number of Sandhill Cranes. This year a total of 11 migrant cranes were recorded. Other highlights included frequent visits by Bohemian Waxwings to the summit for much of the first half of the count, both Red and White-winged Crossbills. Fox Sparrow was recorded at the summit for the first time as well (two dates).

But, this hawkwatch is not just about the numbers. We also work hard to educate visitors to the park, both birders and non-birders. Every year we expose more and more people to the world of hawkwatching and bird migration in general. Bradbury Mountain is just one of many hawk migration sites throughout the continent. The data we collect becomes part of this vast network allowing researchers to determine population and geographical trends in particular species. So, even though our numbers this year were low relative to past seasons, it becomes no small part of building this data set. 1174 visitors were recorded at the hawkwatch (tabulated as coming specifically for the hawkwatch or spending time chatting with the counter), plus many hundreds more who at least briefly read the sign or asked a question or two. This was slightly below average, but likely due to the cool conditions for most of the season.
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There are few public projects where scientific data collection so effectively goes hand-in-hand with public outreach and education. With the growth of regular hawkwatch visitor volunteers, and especially the growth of the “Feather Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend” festival, we look forward to many more years of introducing people to hawkwatching and hawk research and conservation.

Season Totals:
Turkey Vulture 374
Osprey 382
Bald Eagle 102*
Northern Harrier 101
Sharp-shinned Hawk 610
Cooper’s Hawk 85
Northern Goshawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 104
Broad-winged Hawk 1190
Red-tailed Hawk 236
Rough-legged Hawk 3*
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 307
Merlin 75
Peregrine Falcon 8
Unidentified Hawk 46

Total 3628

*Denotes new season record

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Peregrine Falcons just eclipsed our annual average this year; most migrants in this area stick closer to the coast.

Our ninth Spring Hawkwatch kicks off again on March 15th, 2016! We invite everyone, whether seasoned veteran hawkwatchers or casual nature enthusiast, to join our professional biologist and naturalist at the summit once again.

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Ospreys are a fan favorite at the hawkwatch.

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It was quite a change in climate and the color of the scenery since the start of the count!

MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend, 9/26-30/13

This past weekend was my annual “MonhegZEN Migration Weekend.”  A small group – absolutely no more than eight people per day – joins me on a per diem basis to enjoy the wonder of fall migration at this offshore hotspot.  While the 105 total species was right about my Fall Weekend average, it did include 20 species of warblers, and a variety of the usual fall-on-Monhegan cast of characters.  And a few “good” birds as always.

But before I get into the daily rundown, let me post a quiz.  Here are the 1am radar and velocity images from each of the four nights preceeding each of my four days on the island.  Can you guess which days had the most birds?
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If you said the first two had more birds than the second two, you would be absolutely right!  And yes, Saturday (Day 2) was definitely the best day for migrants on the island.  And yes, Monday (Day 4) was very, very slow.  The radar certainly suggested it, and our birding over the course of each day definitively ground-thruthed it.

IMG_1587Leaving Port Clyde, 9/26.

After the good flight on Thurday night into Friday morning, I arrived with part of my group from Port Clyde on the 7am ferry, dropping us on the island just before 8.  The birding was still going strong.  In fact, it took us almost an hour and a half just to walk to the end of Dock Road (about ¼ mile)!  At least six Cape May Warblers in one cluster of spruces, Rusty Blackbirds were overhead (including one just as our boat docked, a nice welcome to the island), and then a buzz-by from a Cooper’s Hawk.

Common on the mainland, Coops are rather rare this far offshore, and I don’t see them on the island every fall, so this was a real treat – and an “Island Bird” for a friend I was exchanging info with.  A short while later we caught up with the last individual of what was once 5 Broad-winged Hawks that drifted to the island – only my second-ever out here.   A Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a continuing Lark Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Dickcissel – yup, most of the usual fall Monhegan “trash birds!”
a -DSC_0007_LASP1,Monhegan,9-28-13Lark and White-throated Sparrows

b -DICK1,Monhegan,9-27-13Very pale juvenile Dickcissel

c -CCSP,Monhegan,9-27-13Clay-colored Sparrow.

Honestly however, the bird of the day – from an island rarity perspective – was probably House Sparrow.  Seriously.   A male that apparently landed on the Hardy Boat half way to the island a few days prior had taken up residence here.  Were a female to show up – almost certainly in similar fashion – then we could have an issue <insert ominous foreshadowing music here>.

The morning flight was hot and heavy on Saturday morning.  In fact, there was so much overhead that we barely left the grounds of the Trailing Yew before breakfast.  All we could do was stand around, look up, and marvel at the wonders of migration.  Hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, 10’s of Palm Warblers, oodles of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets…2-3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, another Dickcissel or two, and a fly-by Blue Grosbeak (the first on the island this fall?) – it would have been overwhelming to quantify, but luckily, when I am away from SandyPoint, I am not nearly as compulsive.  Phew.

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This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher visited us while we were dining on Novelty pizza.

ea -DSC_0092_BRCR,Monhegan,9-29-13Brown Creepers were common, and unusually photogenic, throughout the day.

Good birding continued throughout the day.  We confirmed a Nelson’s Sparrow in the marsh at Lobster Cove and found a Marsh Wren.  We tallied 17 species of warblers over the course of the day. It was warm.  It was calm.  It was simply perfect!

But we all agreed that the highlight was the afternoon on White Head.  A light southeasterly breeze produced a light updraft off of the cliffs, and Peregrine Falcons were taking full advantage.  Some birds were swirling around, doing little more than what could be described only as “playing” in the wind.  Some birds were undoubtably passage migrants getting a quick lift from the rising warm air.  We know there were at least six Peregrines, as we had a bona-fide kettle of six swirling together at one point.  Normally, the hawkcounter in me swings into action.  But alas, this is MonhegZEN birding, so I just sat back and enjoyed the show.
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g -DSC_0124_PEFA3,Monhegan,9-28-13j -DSC_0053_OSPR1,Monhegan,9-26-13me_with_group_Monhegan,9-28-13,K.Lindquist (Photo (c) K. Lindquist).
Sea- and Hawk-watching from White Head. Lots of eye-to-eye Peregrine Falcons, an Opsrey, and a distant Minke Whale or two.

A shroud of fog enveloped the island on Sunday morning, but there weren’t too many birds overhead to be obscured by it.  Although there were few birds overhead or moving around once the fog lifted, there was still an ample supply of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets.   We happened upon a Prairie Warbler, and added a few other species to our trip list, such as two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and – finally – Ring-necked Pheasants (how did I go two days without hearing or seeing a pheasant here?).  Lark Sparrow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Rusty Blackbird, Least Flycatcher (finally, after three days I had an Empid to try and string!)…the list goes on.  But overall, birding was decidedly slower than the previous two days (note what constitutes a slow day on Monhegan!), and rather warm.
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While the birding was slow, we took time to enjoy the scenery in the fog.

Remember when I said that all that male House Sparrow needed was a female to arrive?  Uh-oh.
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I am unsure how long it’s been – if ever? – since two House Sparrows were on the island.  While only die-hard island-listers appreciated these birds as much as I did (I remain captivated by the way birds – all birds – find their way to islands and what their lives are like once they get there ), the members of my group that have birded here before at least understood the significance, and potential colonization consequences of this sighting.

Luckily, we had other intrigue to talk about as well.  The spruces along Dock Road were happenin’ again today, but one warbler in particular occupied us for a while.  I first called it a Blackburnian, and then I back-tracked…a lot.  It was so impressively pale, and feeding above us, some of the most diagnostic features were not visible.  We spent about a half hour with this bird, which eventually obliged us as it fed in the lowest boughs of the tree.  We worked it carefully and thoroughly, taking the opportunity to really learn from this individual.  It took a while, but I was finally convinced it was a Blackburnian in large part due to the very pale but distinct “braces” on the back, and what we would (via camera-screen “instant replay”) finally confirm as a small, pale orange central forehead stripe.
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The orange feet seem odd to me, and the dark auriculars appeared much more contrasting on these photos than we interpreted it in the field.  This was a good “learning and teaching bird,” and therefore this was one of my favorite birds of the trip.

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I visited the Monhegan Brewing Company a couple of times for good beer and conversation.  And we know good business can be conducted over a beer.  In fact, during my last beer there on Sunday evening, I struck a deal with Sue to buy the sunflower heads from the Island Farm.  They’re currently drying at our house, but they’ll soon be for sale here at the store.  The money will go to help the Island Farm in their pursuit to provide a sustainable source of produce for the island.  The gardens are also great birding!
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Very few birds were on the move Sunday night, and with almost nothing visible on the radar, I didn’t exactly pop out of bed in the morning.  I did get out for a little while before breakfast, however, and once again the morning flight – or lack thereof – proved what the radar suggested.  My tour had come to an end, but I elected to stay out for the day to bird with my friend Kristen.  We both just wished there were a few more birds to see!

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Although I like the photo on the left of the Yellow-rumped Warbler atop a Red Spruce, as you can see on the right, I excel at photographs of fuzzy twigs.

IMG_1603 A most impressive Fringed Gentian.

We worked the bush hard, checking all sorts of seldom-searched nooks and crannies.  Some of our totals for the day were higher than previous days simply because we covered more ground.  The Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows continued, as did the two Green-winged Teal in the town marsh.  A spiffy Chestnut-sided Warbler was my 20th species of warbler for the weekend, and we added a few more waterbirds to the list by dedicating some time to sea-watching and scanning the gulls in the harbor.

Unfortunately, most of the afternoon – following one last pizza – was spent keeping an eye on our watches and watching our time rapidly tick away.  At least we weren’t nursing a concern about leaving hot and heavy birding – it was slow, very slow, today, and that did make our departure a little less unwelcome.  A little; it’s never easy to leave this magical place.
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Trap Day!

Here’s my weekend’s checklist, with estimates or counts of each species per day (not including ferry):

Mallard: 12, 12, 12, 12
American Black Duck: 1, 1, 1, 5
Green-winged Teal: 1, 1, 2, 2,
Common Eider: x, x, x, x
Surf Scoter: 0, 0, 0, 4
Ring-necked Pheasant: 0, 0, 3, 2
Common Loon: 3, 2, 1, 1
Red-necked Grebe: 0, 1, 0, 0
Great Cormorant: 1, 5, 1, 7
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x,x
Northern Gannet: 0, 125, 8, 30
Great Blue Heron: 1, 1, 1, 0
Osprey: 0, 2, 0, 0
Bald Eagle: 2, 2, 2, 2
Northern Harrier: 1, 1, 0, 0,
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 6, 5, 5, 4
COOPER’S HAWK: 1,0,0,0
BROAD-WINGED HAWK: 1,0,0,0
American Kestrel: 2, 2, 1, 1
Merlin: 15, 8, 4, 3
Peregrine Falcon: 8, 12, 1, 1
Semipalmated Plover: 2, 0, 1, 0
Laughing Gull: 0, 0, 0, 2
Ring-billed Gull: 0, 0, 0, 1
Herring Gull: x,x,x,x
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL: 0, 0, 0, 2
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 10, 20, 10, 15
Mourning Dove: 3, 3, 3, 3
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO: 1, 0, 1, 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0, 0, 2, 2
Belted Kingfisher: 1, 0, 1, 1
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER: 1, 0, 0, 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 25, 50, 25, 20
Downy Woodpecker: 0, 1, 1, 1
Northern Flicker: 20, 15, 25, 20
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 0, 1, 0, 0
Least Flycatcher: 0, 0, 1, 0
Eastern Phoebe: 8, 5, 3, 1
Red-eyed Vireo: 30, 20, 18, 12
Blue-headed Vireo: 12, 20, 25, 6
Blue Jay: 6, 10, 8, 8
Common Raven: 2,2,2,2
American Crow: x,x,x,x
Black-capped Chickadee: 20, 15, 15, 20
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6, 15, 10, 8
Brown Creeper: 15, 35, 20, 3
Carolina Wren: 5, 8, 10, 12
House Wren: 0, 1, 1, 0
Winter Wren: 1, 1, 1, 1
Marsh Wren: 0, 1, 1, 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15, 75, 50, 35
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 25, 40, 25, 15
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER: 1, 2-3, 2, 0
American Robin: 0, 1, 0, 0
Gray Catbird: 6, 8, 10, 18
Northern Mockingbird: 1, 1, 0, 0
Brown Thrasher: 2, 1, 1, 0
European Starling: 8, 10, 12, 14
American Pipit: 2, 2, 1, 0
Cedar Waxwing: 40, 60, 40, 40
Tennessee Warbler: 0, 1, 0, 0,
Nashville Warbler: 5, 3, 6, 1
Northern Parula: 1, 0, 2, 2
Yellow Warbler: 2, 6, 7, 0
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 0, 0, 0, 1
Magnolia Warbler: 6, 5, 2, 0
Cape May Warbler: 9, 3, 0, 0
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 0, 8, 6, 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 300, 400, 300, 175
Black-throated Green Warbler: 0, 4, 2, 1
Blackburnian Warbler: 0, 0, 1, 0
PRAIRIE WARBLER: 0, 0, 1, 0
Palm Warbler: 30, 100, 30, 15
Bay-breasted Warbler: 0, 2, 0, 0
Blackpoll Warbler: 1, 20, 1, 3
Black-and-white Warbler: 25, 30, 15, 2
American Redstart: 2, 1, 2, 0
Northern Waterthrush: 0, 1, 1, 0
Common Yellowthroat: 10, 15, 10, 18
Wilson’s Warbler: 3, 4, 1, 0
Scarlet Tanager: 1, 0, 0, 0
Chipping Sparrow: 4, 6, 6, 5
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1, 0, 1, 1-2
LARK SPARROW: 1, 1, 1, 1
Savannah Sparrow: 2, 15, 12, 10
NELSON’S SPARROW (spp. subvirgatus): 0, 1, 0, 0
Song Sparrow: 15, 15, 20, 25
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 0, 2, 2, 2
Swamp Sparrow: 2, 30, 20, 15
White-throated Sparrow: 25, 50, 60, 30
White-crowned Sparrow: 1, 5, 4, 2
Dark-eyed Junco: 3, 10, 6, 8
Northern Cardinal: 8, 6, 5, 8
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0, 0, 0, 1
BLUE GROSBEAK: 0, 1, 0, 0
Indigo Bunting: 0, 1, 0, 0
DICKCISSEL: 0, 2, 0, 0
Rusty Blackbird: 4, 9, 1, 0
Common Grackle: 1, 3, 4, 4
Baltimore Oriole: 1, 2, 2, 0
American Goldfinch: 12, 10, 10, 8
HOUSE SPARROW: 1, 1, 2, 0

Total species: 64, 83, 79, 66 (Total =105)

Mammals:
Minke Whale
Gray Seal
Harbor Seal
Harbor Porpoise
Muskrat
Brown Rat

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Yet Another Great Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

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I do love it when the big ones fly by, especially on mornings like this.  They’re easier to identify and tally…especially when they are Pileated Woodpeckers!

It’s also nice when more birds pause in the trees at the point, allowing for identification as a “sample” of what’s going overhead.  It’s especially nice when they land in front of my face…like this Philadelphia Vireo did.  If only there weren’t a few twigs between us!
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I usually leave the bridge before raptors begin to get going, but today, I was treated to an early-morning Peregrine Falcon flight.  A couple of the birds didn’t even blink and eye and kept going.  Others terrorized migrant flickers.
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Normally, I start off with the overnight radar analysis to describe why there were (or were not) so many birds come morning.  But today, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the numbers:

6:32-10:10am
43F, light NW, mostly cloudy, slowly clearing.

1662 Unidentified (*2nd highest)
441 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*2nd highest)
263 Northern Parulas (how are there still so many parulas!?)
193 Black-throated Green Warblers  (*2nd highest)
188 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest)
150 Northern Flickers
56 Golden-crowned Kinglets
52 Magnolia Warblers (*2nd highest)
46 Black-throated Blue Warblers (*new record; old = 13!)
44 Cedar Waxwings
44 Dark-eyed Juncos
41 Black-and-white Warblers (*2nd highest)
31 Red-eyed Vireos
29 Blue-headed Vireos (2nd highest)
27 Blackpoll Warblers
26 Eastern Phoebes (*new record)
26 Nashville Warblers (*new record)
23 Palm Warblers
22 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
15 American Robins
15 American Goldfinches
14 Blue Jays
12 Scarlet Tanagers
12 Rusty Blackbirds
9 White-throated Sparrows
8 Eastern Bluebirds (*new record)
7 Philadelphia Vireos
7 Chipping Sparrows
6 Peregrine Falcons (*new record)
6 Unidentified vireos
6 Brown Creepers
5 Yellow Warblers
4 Tufted Titmice (*new record)
4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
3 Black-capped Chickadees
3 Tennessee Warblers
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Cape May Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Red-breasted Merganser (first of fall)
1 Common Loon
1 American Kestrel
1 Merlin
1 Mourning Dove
1 PILEATED WOODPECKER (my third crossing ever; crossed after 4 false-starts)
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (crossed after 3 false-starts)
1 Warbling Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 DICKCISSEL (4th of season)
1 Red-winged Blackbird

Total= 3523 (*third highest total)

So there you have it.  Wow.  <Insert various superlatives and/or swear words>   I just wish I could have whittled down that unidentified total a little bit more – who knows how many single-species records I might have set?

There were two reasons the unidentified tally was so high.  One is that early-morning cloud cover once again reduced many of the birds to silhouettes.  Secondly, the intensity of the first two hours of the flight was really exceptional.  On multiple occasions, I could do nothing more than step back look up, smile, and click off a cloud of unidentified warblers – no point of even lifting the binoculars.  Bunches of birds high overhead; I’d follow one bird into the Magic Elm, and 20 would shoot out.  Birds were sneaking below me.   It was, at times, a bit overwhelming!  But it was also exceedingly fun; I like the challenge, and since my interest lies in quantifying the flight as much as identifying the composition of it, the high unidentified tally only bothers me a little…OK, maybe a little more than a little, but anyway…

I couldn’t resist taking a few photos, such as the Philadelphia Vireo landing in front of me, or the majestic Pileated Woodpecker cruising by.  16 species of warblers, a bunch of new records and near-records, and some “good” birds.  Yeah, that’s a good flight.  But I actually think my highlight was one little female American Redstart.  She dropped in from high overhead, straight down into the regenerating cherry that stands directly in front of me (and perfectly blocks the sun from my eyes for the first hour of the day) – the one the Philly V was in – and hopped her way to the near edge.  She looked at me, and cocked her head to look at the camera lens that was lying down next to me.  I am guessing she saw her reflection.  She looked at me, chirped in a gentle contact call – not the harsh alarm call or even the sharp flight call – and then hopped back into the brush.  We had a moment.  I enjoyed that.

OK, back to business…the radar.  Save these images for future reference.  This is what “GO BIRDING IN THE MORNING!!!” looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images for example <insert “boom” sound>:
a-10pm radar, 9-26-13 b -10pm velocity, 9-26-13 c -12am radar, 9-27-13 d -12am velocity, 9-27-13 e -2am radar, 9-26-13 f -2am velocity, 9-26-13 g -4am radar, 9-26-13 h -4am velocity, 9-26-13

Even at 6:00am, with light more than peaking into the eastern sky, birds were still on the move.  If I had not expected to go to SandyPoint for sunrise this morning, and I had seen this image, I would have flown out the door.
6am radar, 9-26-13 6am velocity, 9-26-13

When there are this many birds in the air so close to sunrise, there are going to be a lot of birds taking part in the “morning redetermined migration” come dawn, along with crepuscular migrants that are moving in the early light.  The radar provided all of the suggestions of a big flight.  And, with a light northwesterly breeze, many more birds were low and in the trees than on the westerly breezes of the last few mornings.  Here’s the wind map, showing that low moving off of the Maritimes, ushering in a north to northwesterly flow behind it – as I postulated on my blog yesterday.
wind map, 9-25-13

While I am rarely even at Sandy Point for four days in a row, it is exceedingly rare that the fourth day would be so busy.  But I think that upper level low finally pulling out of the way re-opened the floodgates.  And it looks like tomorrow should be good as well, continuing a most impressive string of good flight nights.  But I will give my neck a break tomorrow from staring straight up and spinning back and forth at Sandy Point.  Instead, I’ll just have to see what the flight will be like with my tour on Monhegan Island.  Yeah, I know, tough life.

Monhegan Island, 9/20-22/2013

On a morning with a big overnight migration in the fall, there’s no where I’d rather be than SandyPoint.  I just wish there was a direct ferry from there right to MonheganIsland.  Any other time, I would just rather be on Monhegan.

While our annual MonhegZEN Fall Migration Weekend coming up this weekend (still some space available), Jeannette and I headed to the island Friday through Sunday for a few days of birding and visiting with friends.  It was kinda odd being there without a group!  Not surprisingly, I did not bird much less hard.

I’ll post some radar images from the weekend on a forthcoming blog entry that I hope to post by day’s end.  A decent flight Thursday night into Friday produced a fair amount of birds on the island, even after our late (relatively speaking) arrival at 10:00am, and even though it seemed – as is often the case on calm mornings – birds that arrived at dawn continued on to the mainland.  Three of our first handful of species, however, were Philadelphia Vireo, Cape May Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Welcome (back) to Monhegan.

The birding improved in the afternoon, highlighted by a Western Kingbird.
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A Lark Sparrow and two Dickcissels – all present for a few days – were enjoyed (here, one of the Dickcissels with the Lark Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow in the background). Typical “Monhegan Trash Birds:” birds that are noteworthy anywhere else in the state but are fully expected in an autumn visit here.
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We ended up with 67 species of birds on the day, including 11 species of warblers.  Yup, a slow day of birding on Monhegan beats a good day of birding almost anywhere else.  Light southerly winds that developed over the course of the day became calm by nightfall, and call notes early in the night were suggestive of birds departing the island.
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With a southerly flow aloft, I didn’t have high hopes of a lot of new arrivals for the next morning.  The radar image was, simply put, was weird – some sort of temperature anomaly or perhaps a malfunction, so I couldn’t use that to confirm or alleviate my concerns.  A mere handful of bird overhead at dawn on Saturday morning confirmed it though – there was not much on the move overnight.

Fog rolled in and out for most of the morning, clearing out in the afternoon on an increasing south to southwesterly breeze.  We beat the bush hard, and covered a lot of ground, but birds were hard to come by.  There were quite a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers around than on previous mornings, Kristen noted, and we added plenty of species to our trip list over the course of the day.  While the Dickcissels apparently departed, the Lark Sparrow continued, and the island was now up to three Clay-colored Sparrows.
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Clay-colored Sparrows, Dickcissels, and Lark Sparrow, check:  the triumvirate of Midwestern regular-rarities out here.  Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a tarrying Eastern Kingbird, a Semipalmated Plover, and a good afternoon Northern Gannet show were the other highlights of what amounted to be an exceptionally slow day of birding for Monhegan in the fall.  Nevertheless, complaints were not uttered – we were on Monhegan! – and besides, I got to mooch a TV (Thanks Paul and Sue!) to watch Rutgers come from behind to defeat Arkansas in an exciting finish, and we visited the Monhegan Brewing Company.  Yup, tough day.
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This young Peregrine Falcon – with a bulging crop from its last meal – also had a good day.

Unfortunately, an increasing southerly wind overnight precluded much in the way of any migration.  Take a look at the next blog to see what “almost nothing” looks like on a radar image.  Clouds were thick by dawn, too, but the rain held off until after breakfast.  After another fulfilling and scrumptious breakfast at the Trailing Yew, Jeannette, Kristen, and I headed down to Lobster Cove for a bit of seawatching.  We could see the wall of rain on the radar, and we could now see it on the horizon.  But as it marched closer, tubenoses joined the gannets.  In a mere 15 minutes or so, 20+ Great Shearwaters and 6+ Sooty Shearwaters zoomed through my scope.  And then the skies opened up.  This is what a line of rain – ahead of a cold front – looks like on the radar.
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The southerly winds were diminishing as the rain tapered off rather quickly over the course of the morning, but seawatching was less productive before lunchtime – apparently those tubenoses were all on the move just ahead of the precipitation.  But with the sun beginning to peak out after lunch, at least more birds were more visible again: two of the Clay-colored Sparrows, a Philly Vireo, etc.  Joined by Paul and Doug, we encountered a – or the – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and then a calling flyover Lesser Yellowlegs became my 202nd species on Monhegan.

Moments later, Paul spotted a night-heron in a narrow drainage, and Doug soon relocated it.  A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!  Once a more regular bird in Maine, and even on Monhegan, it had been about a decade since one had made an appearance on the island.  But this bird showed up a couple of weeks ago, and was often seen foraging on grasshoppers in lawns.  Rumors of its continued presence were circulated, but there were no confirmed sightings for over a week.  Until today.
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Monhegan bird #203!  And two island birds in about 10 minutes.  Now that’s the way to finish strong.

When it was time to go, we were very happy to see the waves were rapidly dropping off.  Seven foot seas this morning had been reduced to 3-4 at most as we hopped on the Hardy Boat for the trip back.  A Great Cormorant on the Outer Ducks was our 88th species for the Monhegan tally for this trip, but 88 –including a mere 13 species of warblers – was a fairly low total for three days out here at this time of year.  That being said, it could have been much lower had we not continued to beat the bush.

Two juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined some hopeful Herring Gulls following the boat to shore, and westerly winds were increasing as the cold front pushed through.  There would no doubt be a lot of new birds come morning on Monhegan.  While I would be sorry to miss them, I knew fun was going to be had at SandyPoint, so I was not upset.

And I was right…