Tag Archives: Pine Point

Interesting Still-Breeding-Plumaged Dunlin at Pine Point, 9-20-15

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Earlier today, I found an interesting Dunlin at Pine Point, at the mouth of Scarborough Marsh. It flew in from across the channel on the incoming tide, and landed up Jones Creek, a couple of hundred feet away.

It was an adult bird, including an extensively black belly, and it appeared pale above and rather small. I needed a better look, but as I waited for the bird to slowly come closer, I posted to the Maine-birds listserve of a “…pale-backed Greenland (or other European-type)-like Dunlin,” mostly to alert other birders in the area (there were quite a few today as usual here). Based on the fact that this bird looked small, pale, and had not yet undergone molt, my mind immediately went to one of the “European” subspecies.

The bird had come considerably closer by the time Noah Gibb and Leon Mooney arrived, and it was clear that this was not a short-billed bird, perhaps on its own eliminating the Greenland subspecies arctica (one fitting this description was photographed this summer at Popham). But I will admit to not knowing the full range of variation in bill length among all of the 10 subspecies of Dunlin, so we went to work photographing and studying the bird.

We agreed that the bird appeared small (although the three other “typical” juvenile Dunlin that were present were never seen nearby, a comparison that would have been most helpful) and “not short-billed.” It wasn’t the longest, droopiest billed Dunlin that we’ve seen, but well within the range of our typical migrant subspecies, hudsonia.

As the bird came closer, plumage details and patterns blurred by heat shimmer and scope-shake in the 20+mph winds at a distance became more discernable. Arctica, the smallest and shortest-billed subspecies, also has a small belly patch. I don’t think this bird would be characterized as being short-billed or with a small belly patch.

Meanwhile, in response to my Maine-birds post, Louis Bevier chimed in that the subspecies arcticola which breeds in northwestern Canada and Alaska “is somewhat paler-backed than our typical hudsonia and delays molt until after migration.” That was not something I had remembered, but it’s been a while since I’ve done much reading on the subject. However, The Shorebird Guide by Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson – which I grabbed as soon as I returned to the store – references arcticola as molting on the breeding grounds, as does our typical hudsonia. Bevier also stated that it is from “northern Alaska and the West Coast,” but that, I believe is actually referring to pacifica, which also molts on the breeding grounds (Arcticola winters in Japan, Korea, and China).

The Shorebird Guide cautions that “a few individuals of pacifica, arcticola, and hudsonia migrate before molting extensively.” While I could not see any signs of molt on the wings, back, scapulars, etc on this bird, of course some birds don’t always molt according to the book. Injuries (none obvious) or malnutrition (harder to decipher in the field) could delay molt, and some individuals can suspend molt for similar reasons – and others, such as simply being “screwed up!”

The only other reference I have handy here at the store is Richard Chandler’s Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia which offers a similar array of caveats about subspecific identification. While saying “identification to race may be possible in favorable circumstances, most readily in breeding plumage,” it then goes on to warn that “At the end of the breeding season, separation will often be difficult, as feather wear renders the distinctions less obvious and upperparts become dull and blackish.”

It’s late September, and therefore it’s well past the end of the breeding season, making feather wear a serious issue. While I couldn’t see anything that suggested extreme wear (like on the flight feathers of a retarded 1st summer bird), there’s no doubt that any colors we were seeing were likely paler, and perhaps considerably so, than what the bird would be in fresh plumage.

Chandler takes the time to reason that “It is not easy to identify any of the races of Dunlin in breeding plumage away from the breeding grounds…Since races are established largely on the basis of the average characters of specimens taken on the breeding grounds, variation between individuals and differences between sexes, as well as variation with time owing to fading and wear as the season progresses, result in caution being needed when attempting to assign race to any particular individual. Consequently, there will always be more than an element of speculation with the racial identification of many migrant Dunlins in breeding plumage.”

So where does that leave me with subspecific identification? Completely and utterly unsure.

Is this simply a hudsonia that has not molted yet for some odd reason? Maybe. Is this an arctica, like my first impression? I don’t think so anymore (too long-billed and with too much black on the belly). The only thing that is definitive is that this is an interesting and educational bird. Hopefully, it will be seen again, and perhaps better photos – and photos with “normal” Dunlin – could be acquired. But for now, I am fine with saying “I don’t know.”

I present an array of phone-scoped images for you to ponder (or not). I’ll also send this link out to those who know more about Dunlin subspecies than I do. It’s going to be a busy two weeks for me (Birds on Tap!, Monhegan tour, than travel to a trade show), so I may not get back to an analysis of the analysis for some time, but if anything revelatory becomes apparent, I’ll discuss that here.

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9/23 UPDATE: Jeannette and I observed the bird again yesterday, 9/22 and Jeannette took excellent photos, as usual. It was also a whole lot closer, allowing for much more detailed study. You can ignore those awful photos above, this is what the bird really looked like!
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So, the next session with the bird shows several pertinent details:
1) This bird IS in molt, as several new coverts and tertials are visible.
2) The outermost primaries (especially as you can see in flight) ARE indeed very heavily worn (it could be a 1st summer/2nd winter bird afterall?).
3) The size and structure looks more than fine for our typical subspecies, hudsonia.

Those, combined with the details of the plumage, show that this is undoubtedly NOT a European bird. Instead, it is either one of the North American subspecies in very retarded molt (or perhaps a vagrant East Asian bird). I’ll synthesis what I learn when I return in a couple of weeks, but for now, I wanted to get these much more useful photos posted for you to ponder, enjoy, and/or ignore.

This Week in Shorebirds: 8/22-28/2015

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Two juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers at Popham Beach State Park on Friday morning, “rare-but-regular” fall migrants.

August is for shorebirds. Although the “fall” southbound migration started in late June (when the first non-breeders begin to turn around to mosey back south) and continues into November when Purple Sandpipers are still filling in, August is the month of peak numbers and diversity in Maine.
Most weeks from mid-July into September of recent years, I post a weekly “shorebird high counts this week” summary to my weekly “Additional Highlights This Week” summary posts to the Maine-birds listserve. While I do hope this is interesting and of value to folks, I also do it to organize my own notes, allowing me to quickly reference the peaks and valleys of particular species with ease should I need to.

I generally only post this when I have hit at least two “primary” and at least one “secondary” site each week, to make the numbers meaningful. And I prefer at least one prime high tide location (Eastern Road Trail in Scarborough Marsh, Biddeford Pool Beach/Ocean Avenue, or Popham Beach State Park in some years) with one low or mid-tide hotspot (Pine Point, Hill’s Beach/The Pool, or Popham and nearby environs).

This week was a particularly productive week for my own shorebirding, so this week’s summary is a helpful future reference for me. I also thought it was worth going into a little more detail, since it yielded a goodly 21 species (plus one subspecies) and some excellent totals.

The inclement weather of the weekend into the middle of the week (regular rain, lots of fog, easterly or southerly winds) was perfecting for “grounding” shorebirds and allowing numbers to build. I think my only surprise was my lack of a real rarity – like Western Sandpiper (although I worked pretty hard for one!)

I hit the low-tide hotspot of Pine Point on Monday with Jeannette, followed by the Eastern Road Trail at high tide later that afternoon. Jeannette and I spent the incoming to high tide at Biddeford Pool Beach on Tuesday, and on Friday, Serena Doose and I visited Popham on the incoming to high tide. Additionally, Jeannette and I checked one of the “secondary” sites, Brunswick’s Wharton Point on Tuesday and on Thursday I visited Wells Harbor before the evening’s Scott Weidensaul talk that we co-sponsored with Birds and Beans coffee and York County Audubon.

It’s always good to hit a freshwater location for diversity and high counts of pond-preferring-migrants, so when my Poplar Hut Tour Group with Maine Huts & Trails visited the Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds on Sunday, my high counts of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers were acquired, along with my only Wilson’s Snipe of the week.

And, as if often the case during the peak of shorebird migration, there is some other “incidental sighting” of a migrant in some weird place – but not as weird as the Whimbrel (my only of the week) foraging at 4,200 feet atop Sugarloaf Mountain that Paul Doiron, Kristen Lindquist, and I observed on Sunday afternoon. While I knew they forage on mossberry during migration, such as in the bogs Downeast, I was most definitely not expecting one up here!

Therefore, with a total of 7 shorebirding locations – plus that mountaintop Whimbrel! – “this week’s shorebird high counts” scoreboard looks like this:

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER: 1 ad, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Black-bellied Plover: 160, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Plover: 350, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Killdeer: 3, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 5, Pine Point, 8/11 (with Jeannette).
Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Lesser Yellowlegs: 38, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“Eastern” Willet: 8 juvs, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“WESTERN” WILLET: 1 juv. (FOY), Pine Point, 8/24 (with Fyn Kind, Gary Roberts, and Jeannette).
Solitary Sandpiper: 4, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Spotted Sandpiper: 5, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Whimbrel: 8, Wells Harbor, 8/27.
Ruddy Turnstone: 8, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 40, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1000, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette)..
Least Sandpiper: 75 mostly juv, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
White-rumped Sandpiper: 80-100 adults, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER: 2 juveniles, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 8/28 (with Serena Doose).
Pectoral Sandpiper: 6, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
STILT SANDPIPER: 4 ads, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Short-billed Dowitcher: 19 juveniles, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Wilson’s Snipe: 1, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).

Furthermore, writing this blog gives me a chance to show off some of Jeannette’s photography! These are just a few of the shots she got during our visit to Scarborough on Monday.
IMG_2024_edited-2Adult Black-bellied Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2069_edited-2Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2092_edited-2Adult Semipalmated Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2148_edited-2Adult and juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers with one juvenile Semipalmated Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2256_edited-2Adult Pectoral Sandpiper and juvenile Least Sandpiper, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24.

IMG_2295_edited-2Adult White-rumped Sandpiper, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24.

IMG_2331_edited-2Semipalmated Sandpipers with one adult Semipalmated Plover and one adult Sanderling, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25.

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Of course, it’s not just shorebirds that are on the move – there are plenty of passerines as well! A migrant Wilson’s Warbler and a whopping 14 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were at Old Town House Park on Saturday morning when I visited it with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group. My tour group to the Poplar Hut encountered mixed-species foraging flocks as we hiked to and from the hut, highlighted by an immature female Cape May Warbler in a little wave around the hut itself on Sunday morning.
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Other highlights this week included 14 Wood Ducks and a bumper crop of juvenile Common Yellowthroats at Florida Lake Park (8/24), the whiter of the two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids (“Splotchy”) in the Rte 1/9 salt pannes in Scarborough Marsh with Jeannette on the same day and a drake White-winged Scoter off of Biddeford Pool Beach on 8/25.

While a diversity of shorebirds will continue for several more weeks (and there’s a better chance for Western, Baird’s, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers), I tend to spend less time focusing on them (and therefore not enough time at enough prime locations over the course of the week), and therefore only occasionally post summary totals. In fact, if the much-reduced numbers at Popham today are any indication, a lot of shorebirds departed with the passage of this recent cold front.

Instead, I spend most of my free mornings now at “my office,” the bridge at Sandy Point Beach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth, observing and obsessively counting migrant passerines in the “Morning Flight.” In fact, my first visit of the season there on Thursday morning yielded 438 migrants, including 17 species of warblers, 1 early Dickcissel, 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (my 3rd-ever here), and 5 Prairie Warblers – my 2nd highest count.

(Much) more on that soon.

Post-Arthur Beach Birding and Catch-Up

I know I haven’t been blogging much this summer, but I hope you know that doesn’t mean I haven’t been birding. Quite the contrary, actually! My June was as busy with tours and private guiding as it could have been, and with some other projects going on, much of my birding was rather purposeful. Of course, there was some wholly-recreational birding mixed in as well from time to time. Despite my irregular blogging, I did my best to keep folks up to date with my birding adventures and discoveries, mostly with near-daily posts to our store’s Facebook Page. (Remember, you need not be “on Facebook” to browse the posts of a business page.)

It was a busy month. But that’s not a complaint. And now, Jeannette and I are off to Colorado for a bona-fide vacation, to visit friends, family, and yes, do some birding. But first, I had Sunday morning to find some birds. My third attempt to organize a charter to see the Tufted Puffin that has been seen irregularly at Machias Seal Island (3rd or 4th record for the entire Atlantic Ocean!) was thwarted by residual high seas and localized damage from the passage of Tropical Storm Arthur. While Arthur took away my chance to see a Tufted Puffin in Maine waters, I was hoping it would produce some rarities of its own.

In a tropical system, birds are sometimes entrained in the eye, while others are pushed out ahead of the storm. This displacement usually occurs in the strong northeastern quadrant of the storm, and birds escape the eye when it hits land. With the storm passing to the east of Maine, I did not expect to see any vagrants on Friday. However, when the storm reached land in southern Nova Scotia on Saturday morning, birders there were in prime position for rarities. And sure enough: lots of Black Skimmers, several Gull-billed, Royal Terns, and Forster’s Terns…all rarities from points further south. (You can peruse the reports from the province, here).

These birds, commonly displaced by tropical systems, were likely picked up by the storm as it passed over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Thursday. Here’s the cumulative wind map as of 11:00am on Friday, with the storm’s center already off of the Delmarva Peninsula.
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As the storm hit Nova Scotia, birds finally had a chance to escape its grips. But notice the winds for Maine – they were already strong out of the northwest, on the backside of the storm (note the light winds of the disintegrating eye over the northern Bay of Fundy).
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So Nova Scotia birders were having a lot of fun…and I was not seeing a Tufted Puffin. So instead, I decided to comb the beaches to look for some of these terns that perhaps are already returning south. While most of these birds likely made a bee-line straight across the Gulf of Maine on their return journey, some birds might conceivably follow the coast.

After birding Eastern Road at high tide (34 Least Sandpipers and 20 Short-billed Dowitchers – fall migration is definitely underway!), Lois Gerke and I headed to Pine Point Beach, where we spent a little more than an hour watching from the jetty. As the tide went out, exposing the sandbar and flats, Common, Least, and a few Roseate Terns were feeding, roosting, and loafing with at least a hundred Bonaparte’s Gulls. But alas, there was nothing unusual among them.

I then checked the mudflats from the co-op (more Short-billed Dowitchers, a few more Roseate Terns, and a lot of feeding Common Terns) before I spent the remainder of low tide at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford. At least 8 Roseate Terns, 75+ Bonaparte’s Gulls, 17 Short-billed Dowitchers, and my first Whimbrel of the year joined the regulars, but alas, no rare terns.

It appears I had the right idea, but just the wrong timing. Later in the afternoon, a Royal Tern was found at Hill’s Beach. And then, this morning, two Black Skimmers were roosting at Stratton Island. There are still quite a few waifs being seen in Nova Scotia, so it is conceivable that the coming days could see some reports of returning rarities here in Maine. Unfortunately, this morning, I had time only for a quick stroll at Capisic Pond Park. No rare terns there, but I did see my first Monarch butterfly of the season – which, the way things are going for this species, is even more exciting.

Meanwhile, indirectly storm-related were the 6 Glossy Ibis that were a little bit of a surprise on my Saturday Morning Birdwalk along Highland Road in Brunswick. The heavy rain nicely saturated the soil, and gulls and these ibis had moved inland to take advantage of the bounty.

In other birding news, a pair of Evening Grosbeaks has been frequenting our Pownal feeders – which are particularly exciting considering the dearth of them this year…in fact, these are the only ones that I have seen all year long. And, even more unexpectedly, three Eastern Bluebirds have hatched right here at the store!

Arthur gave us a momentary glimmer of rarity fever, and “fall’ shorebird migration is definitely underway. But July is for breeding birds – from terns to “sharp-tailed” sparrows to bluebirds and warblers. In other words, there’s no such thing as the “summer birding doldrums!”

Shorebird Pseudo-Big Day

Luke Seitz and I embarked on a semi-serious “Shorebird Big Day” on Wednesday.  I say “semi-serious” because we didn’t exactly try too hard to build our list…at least not after our first stop.  Instead, we spent more time watching shorebirds, studying, and photographing them.  We still, however, tallied 14 species of shorebirds, but instead of heading inland to pick up Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Upland Sandpiper, we just splashed in the water and studied dowitchers at Hill’s Beach.  It wasn’t a bad way to spend a gorgeous summer day.

We began in the morning at high tide by scouring Scarborough Marsh from the Eastern Road Trail.  If we were to have a chance at 20 species of shorebirds on the day, we would need to add a rarity or two from the pannes.  Unfortunately, high water levels from all of the recent rain minimized habitat, and shorebirds were not as plentiful as we would have preferred.  We did, however, see 2 or 3 Stilt Sandpipers, a decent bird in the summer.  Other than Greater Yellowlegs, with about 55 individuals, numbers were relatively low: 75 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 40 Short-billed Dowitchers, 25+ Least Sandpipers, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Black-bellied Plovers, 2 Semipalmated Plovers, and 1 Willet.

Making up for the low shorebird totals, however, were the high wading bird totals: 85 Snowy Egrets, 60 Great Egrets, 40 Glossy Ibis, 39 Little Blue Herons, and 9 Great Blue Herons.  In addition to teasing out one of the continuing White-faced Ibises and spotting the continuing full Tricolored Heron, we also saw BOTH of the presumed Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids.  Yup, there are two of these beasties out there!

The first is the bird that has been present all summer, with a ghostly cast to an otherwise Tricolored-like pattern.  Pure white is confined to the belly, the throat, and a thin line in the foreneck.
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However, recently, a second bird has appeared, which is very reminiscent of the first, but has some splotchy areas of white, including mostly white wingtips.  I believe I saw this bird on July 18th when I was out with a client and sans camera; I remember commenting (and my field notes confirm) that I didn’t remember so much white in the wing
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Meanwhile, it was nice to see that at least one of the White-faced Ibises continue, although at this stage of molt, it was impossible to age.  It was also not very close.  Here’s Luke’s best shot (mine were not passable at all).
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After spending more time with waders and a little time of sparrows, such as this Nelson’s Sparrow…
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…we attempted to regain our shorebird focus over at Pine Point, as the tide was rolling out.  The mudflats had plenty of birds, including a few birds that would be important for a Shorebird Big Day, such as the pair – now, featuring two fledglings! – of American Oystercatchers (the only breeding pair in the state!).  We also had four Whimbrel, along with 296 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 124 Semipalmated Plovers, 25 Willets, 25 Short-billed Dowitchers, 19 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 Ruddy Turnstones, and 2 each of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

But with a morning total of a mere 11 species of shorebirds, we elected for a leisurely lunch at Saco Island Deli instead of heading inland to work on our shorebird list – it is really too early in the season for a true Shorebird Big Day, but I am not sure if I have ever hit 20 in July, and since this was a day we both had a chance to get out all day together, we figured it was at least worth considering.  Anyway, on the incoming tide, we visited Hill’s Beach, where once again, we elected to forego shorebird listing for shorebird “quality” time, and therefore just spent close to three hours playing in the sand.

While the two Red Knots…
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…4 Piping Plovers (a pair fledged two young here for the first time in recent memory), and 8 Sanderlings brought our count to 14 species on the day, we became distracted by photographing terns and studying dowitchers.  While our goodly count of 155 Semipalmated Plovers were augmented by about 65 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 8 Black-bellied Plovers, 4 Ruddy Turnstones, and 1 Least Sandpiper, it was the 120 or so Short-billed Dowitchers that kept our attention.

We were looking for individuals of the interior subspecies hendersonii, as I did on Sunday with Phil. (See blog and photos here:

https://mebirdingfieldnotes.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/biddeford-in-shorebird-season/).  We had what was possibly the same bright bird as Sunday (see above) fly-by, it was the paler birds that had us intrigued.
Luke on Hills, 7-31-13_edited-2

We thought the combination of a bright orange chest, and a fair amount of orange between the legs and on the undertail coverts, compared with the paler face and lightly, but distinctly spotted flanks and side (especially the side of the breast) of this bird made it look “good.”
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But we were pondering how extensive of color a hendersonii “needs” to have, as most of the individuals of the expected Eastern subspecies griseus, also were showing at least a touch of peachy-orange color in the undertail, etc.
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Here are some typical, and typically variable, griseus for comparison.
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In the end, we simply said, “who knows!?”  and went back to photographing other fun stuff, such as this Bonaparte’s Gull…
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And this juvenile Roseate Tern…which was actually one of my targets to photograph today.
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Ok, so we really quit on the Big Day attempt by about 10:33 in the morning, but 14 species of shorebirds included Stilt Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher, and two hendersonii Short-billed Dowitcher, along with two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids, White-faced Ibis, Tricolored Heron, a mid-summer marsh Merlin (these birds have simply got to be breeding in coastal Cumberland County!), it was hardly a bad day of birding.  In fact, it was actually a spectacular day!