Unlike last week, I was out birding plenty this week, including some of my favorite fall activities: Sandy Point and sorting through shorebirds. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days:
Morning flight over our Pownal yard, 9/10: 6:15-7:30am: 250+ warblers of at least 10 species, led by 40++ Northern Parulas and including 1 Bay-breasted and 2++ Cape May Warbler.
“Zeiss Day” Hakwatch right here at the store, 9/10 (with Rich Moncrief): 95 individuals of 11 species of raptors led by 21 Ospreys and 18 Broad-winged Hawks. Full count here.
20-25 Common Nighthawks, over our yard in Pownal at dusk, 9/10, and 5-10 on 9/11.
6 Northern Waterthrushes, 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, etc, Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 9/11 (with Down East Adventures Fall Songbird Workshop group).
It was a slow start to the week with just a trickle of migrants arriving from the weekend through the storm system on Wednesday. However, a successful twitch, and a couple of light flights overnight made for a great week of spring birding. Of course, there was also another successful Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Even though they didn’t produce any birds of note, it was a wonderful weekend full of birdwatching highlights. Photos will be posted soon, while the summary of our morning birdwalks is posted here.
My observations of note over the past seven days included:
1 SANDHILL CRANE (Finally, my FOY after missing a bunch of them at the watch this year), Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 5/1.
Persistent winds from unfavorable directions precluded a big push of migrants this week, but the season is slowly progressing. There were a couple of decent nights of migration this week, on Sunday and Monday nights. My observations of note over the past seven days included:
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (FOY), our yard in Pownal, 4/23.
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cape Elizabeth Greenbelt Trail, 4/25 (with Jeannette).
My personal highlights over the past six were as follows. Not surprisingly, it was mostly first-of-year new arrivals. The new bird for my Bradbury Mountain list, however, was definitely more of a surprise!
3 male and 1 female NORTHERN SHOVELERS (FOY), 100+ Greater and 10+ Lesser Scaup, 1 drake American Wigeon, 1 Bonaparte’s Gull (FOY), etc, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 3/19 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
4 Horned Larks and 1 American Wigeon, Highland Road, Brunswick, 3/19 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
2 Eastern Meadowlarks (FOY) and 5 Brown-headed Cowbirds (FOY), Chesley Hill Road, Durham, 3/20.
1 Great Blue Heron (FOS), Cousin’s River Marsh, 3/20.
4 American Kestrels (FOY), Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 3/20.
1 adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, fly-by at the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 3/20 (with Zane Baker). This was my 142nd all-time Bradbury Mountain State Park species!
20 Ring-necked Ducks (FOY), 2 American Wigeon, etc, Mouth of the Abagadasset River, Bowdoinham, 3/21 (with Jeannette).
6 Fish Crows (FOY), Maine Mall Road, 3/22.
6 Brant, Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, 3/22.
7+ American Woodcocks, Pownal, 3/23 (with Jeannette).
The Blizzard of 2022 provided some great opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing locally for the first time this winter, so I took full advantage of that, even if it did further limit my dedicated birding during this busy week plus. Interestingly, my most “serious” birding was a half day (post-snowblowing and shoveling) on Sunday searching Portland through Cape Elizabeth for storm-related birds, but that effort turned up nothing at all of note! Here are my observations of note over the past 9 days:
5 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 2 COMMON REDPOLLS (FOY), 6 Pine Siskins (FOY), and 1 Purple Finch, Long Falls Dam Road area of Carrying Place Township, 1/31 (with Jeannette).
The Androscoggin River between the downtowns of Lewiston and Auburn remain a surprisingly productive mid-winter hotspot. On 2/1, Jeannette and I discovered an incredible (especially for the interior of Maine) five species of dabblers from the Auburn Riverwalk! Amongst the Mallards and a couple of American Black Ducks, there were single female GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, and NORTHERN PINTAIL. Making this even more interesting is the fact that it’s usually the drakes that we find overwintering in Maine. Additionally, the drake RING-NECKED DUCK continues, and we had a single 1st-winter Iceland Gull. Two Bufflehead and 5 Hooded Mergansers joined the usual Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers for a goodly inland total of 10 species of waterfowl. A unusually conspicuous Beaver continues to amuse here as well.
3 drake and 1 hen BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and 8 Dunlin (FOW here), Winslow Park, Freeport, 2/13.
My article – a 13-page photo salon – on the Hybrid Herons of Scarborough Marsh (Patches!) has finally been published in the most recent issue of North American Birds. In it, I lay out the theory that at least 5 different individuals have been seen in Scarborough Marsh since I first found an odd juvenile heron in July of 2012 that we now believe is a hybrid between a Snowy Egret and a Tricolored Heron.
I made the case that the two current birds are backcrosses, one with a Snowy Egret (SNEG X TRHE X SNEG) and the other with a Little Egret (SNEG X TRHE X LIEG). I’ll be watching them carefully for the potential of a developing hybrid swarm.
Unfortunately, at this time, the journal is only available online to members of the ABA. However, digital e-memberships (with access to all of the ABA publications) are only $30 a year, and you can purchase issues of the magazine directly from the ABA by emailing email@example.com. Also, if you wanted to take a peek at the article, I do have a couple of extra copies here at the store for you to peruse.
Believe it or not, a hybrid heron is much rarer than a Steller’s Sea-Eagle, at least from a world perspective…in fact, it’s possible these birds are one of a kind!
On Saturday, July 31st, 2021, Jeannette and I were sitting on our back porch in Pownal sharing a beer in our usual after work beer o’clock/feeder and yard bird watch. We almost skipped it, however. We were leaving for a trip the next day and had yet to pack, the mosquitoes have been annoying, and besides, the Olympics were on. But I said “It’s my birthday and I can have a beer on the porch if I want to!”
We were enjoying our beverage while watching the constant activities of baby woodpeckers learning the ropes at the suet and nut feeders, and the aerial acrobatics and constant combat of hummingbirds. I’ve worked hard at increasing our hummingbird population with feeders, of course, but more importantly a near-constant source of natural nectar throughout the season. We have been rewarded in our efforts with two nesting females almost every year, and a constant stream of adult males. And now juveniles were about to fledge, adding to that activity.
It was about 7:00pm when I was enthralled with a particularly aggressive dogfight in the red Bee Balm. And then I basically did a spit-take when one of the combatants flashed rufous in its tail.
A SELASPHOROUS HUMMINGBIRD!!!!
I scrambled for the binoculars, Jeannette raced for her camera, and Bonxie wondered what all of the commotion was about and why we were disturbing his chipmunk watching.
We observed and photographed it for over an hour, finally retiring inside for dinner at about 8:15 when the hummingbird activity shut down for the evening. Emails were sent and calls were made.
Here are Jeannette’s best photos from the evening:
It was already getting dark, it was tough to observe details, and her shutter speed was too slow to capture motion: and we really needed to see the spread-tail to have hopes of identifying this inordinately tricky genus.
We decided to invite a handful of folks over to our yard the next morning to share in our excitement over this special backyard visitor. We also hoped to have more long lenses pointed at that tail!
Studying the books and reviewing the photos – along with soliciting some input from other birders – it became readily clear that this was an adult female (based on overall wear and throat pattern) Rufous or Allen’s Hummingbird. We systematically eliminated the other members of the genus, and saw nothing suggestive of the even less likely Allen’s. But this is one of the most challenging species-pairs in North America, depending on the age and sex.
The next morning, 6 people joined us on the porch, and luckily, our bird showed up. And eventually, showed up really, really, well! Unlike the previous evening however, where she spent prolonged periods at the feeder, she rarely lingered at any one flower or feeder for long before be driven off by one of the resident Ruby-throats (at least two adult males, 2 adult females, and either another female or a juvenile were all present and protecting their resources). Plenty of photos were taken, but we had not yet seen the tail pattern clearly.
Jeannette and I really needed to go pack now, and so we left the hummingbird watchers to themselves. Eventually, Bonxie went off to camp, I packed the car, and soon it was time for us to depart. Luckily, Ethan and Ingrid remained vigilant as Ethan finally acquired those critical tail shots:
His arrows point to the critical R2, the 2nd tail feather from the center on each half of the tail. On most – but not all – adult female Rufous Hummingbirds, there is an emargination (often called a “nipple tip”) which is not present on Allen’s Hummingbird. Unfortunately, this birds tail is worn – not surprising at this time of year – and the exact original pattern is just impossible to deduce.
We are therefore left with less-reliable set of field marks and circumstances. Often, the fallback here is to band and measure it, but we decided not to consider that unless she was still present when we returned.
So this is what we have:
Tail feathers, including R5, look “wide enough” to be a Rufous. This is pretty subjective visually, however, and usually takes in-hand measurements to confirm.
Limited rufous in the uppertail coverts as expected on Rufous.
Overall wear and fading of plumage is rather minimal; most Allen’s Hummingbirds would look very worn and likely really tattered by now.
The circumstantial evidence is also quite strong:
Rufous Hummingbirds are early long-distance migrants who are on the move in the west by now. Breeding as far north as southeastern Alaska, Rufous Hummingbirds have a pattern of fairly regular vagrancy to the East in late summer. Allen’s does not.
The only New England record of Allen’s Hummingbird is from Nantucket on 8/26/1988 (Massachusetts Avian Records Committee). Admittedly, that is only a month later (I was surprised to learn!).
The next closest records are seven in New Jersey (mostly from Cape May) that all were first found between September 3rd and November 14.
Of course, the preponderance of unconfirmed/unidentifiable “Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds” records clouds the judgment of this pattern of occurrence a little.
We already had scheduled someone to take care of our feeders while we were gone, and when he did so on 8/4, he did not see our Selasphorous. We returned home in the evening of 8/8, and sugar water was still available and our meadow of Wild Bergamot was now in full bloom. But alas, our visitor was not present. There were plenty of Ruby-throats still buzzing around – perhaps one less adult male and one more juvenile now, but not surprisingly, our vagrant had continued on, whether by choice or by force.
Now if she was still here, we would have pondered opening our yard up to visitors (not visible from the road, let alone a public one) and perhaps arranging for a bander to visit and attempt to capture her for measurements. But alas, these are the best shots and information we have to work with at this time.
So I am still soliciting comments, but personally, I think this bird is a Rufous Hummingbird. While we might not have absolute conclusive proof, I see absolutely nothing to suggest Allen’s so for me, I am happy with the most probable identification and Rufous Hummingbird is our 133rd Yard Bird!
And after 16 years here, our backyard has finally attracted a bona fide vagrant (although the two Hoary Redpolls were pretty great as well). I just wish her timing was a little better. Then again, she could have shown up the next day and we would have never known! Nevertheless, it was a wonderful birthday present!
Thanks to Michael O’Brien and Paul Lehman for helpful comments on the bird’s suspected identity, and especially to Ethan Whitaker for the diagnostic (or nearly so?) photos.
Howell, Steve N.G. 2002. Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford.
West, George C. 2015. North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.
Williamson, Sheri L. 2001 Hummingbirds of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company: New York and Boston.
Highly suggestive of the extremely pale “Krider’s” Red-tailed Hawk (a subspecies or quite possibly just a very pale color morph) from Central North America and with scattered vagrant records along the Eastern seaboard, we believe this individual shows features most consistent with an “intergrade” between the so-called Krider’s and our typical Eastern subspecies.
The very pale white head first brought my attention to this bird as it approached the summit from the north-northeast, and circled overhead and slightly behind the plethora of counters and observers on our biggest flight day of the season. Tova Mellen gets the award for the best photos – by far – and we appreciate her effort and willingness to share them. Thanks, Tova!
Andrew Sharp, Mathew Gilbert, and Charles Duncan also managed photos, and I was able to capture (poorly!) a few additional angles that show some helpful features.
The mostly-white head, very pale underparts, and lightly-marked underwings (especially the reduced patagium) all suggest Krider’s. However, the darker crown and fairly-dark spots on what would be the edges of the belly band are more suggestive of an intergrade.
The relatively bold white panel on the upperwings is also suggestive of Krider’s, but it’s not as bold and bright as many photos suggest. The back color is also brownish-gray. Both of these look to be more consistent with an intergrade.
The white uppertail coverts/lower rump area was more evident than this too-dark photo suggests, nonetheless, it does not seem white and broad enough to be a Krider’s. Unfortunately, the pattern of the uppertail was not decipherable.
The poor exposure of this photo makes the bird look much darker than it appeared in the field (looked more like Tova’s photos, above), but it does accentuate where the dark markings are and are not.
As for printed references, this bird looks to be a near-perfect match for the “Juv/1st Year Eastern x Krider’s Integrade on Page 66 of The Crossley ID Guide to Raptors.
We had limited views of the upperparts, but they did suggest the presence of fairly extensive white on the scapulars, the large pale window, and the narrow pale uppertail covert band as shown on page 293 of Raptors of Eastern North America by Brian K. Wheeler.
Therefore, we reached the tentative conclusion that this bird was an Eastern x Krider’s, but as with all subspecies and especially hybrid thereof, designations of Red-tailed Hawk, absolute identification is likely impossible. Fun bird though!
I’ll add any comments and feedback I receive here:
On Sunday, Jeannette and spent the day participating in the annual Brunswick-Freeport Christmas Bird Count. For 14 out of the past 16 years, we have covered the “West Freeport” territory, which includes all of Freeport west of I295, with a corner of Yarmouth, a sliver of Pownal, and a notch of Durham.
As I have written about before, this suburban and exurban route covers a lot of ground. We walk miles upon miles of backroads, and we sample the public open spaces of Hedgehog Mountain Park, Florida Lake Park, and Hidden Pond Preserve. Our only waterfront is the Cousin’s River marsh complex, which was mostly open today – as were almost all flowing streams, woodland drainages, and the outlet channel at Florida Lake. This was the most open water we have had in some time.
The weather was fantastic: after a chilly start, bright sunshine and virtually no wind made for a pleasant, temperate day, and aided detection. The lovely morning even led to singing from some of our resident species, especially White-breasted Nuthatch, and territorial drumming by Hairy Woodpeckers.
By doing this route consistently year in and year out, Jeannette and I can use it to compare winter seasons. We like to compare the tallies to test our preconceived notions of the season, and we can even use it as a sample to gauge seed sales at the store for the coming months! 2019 was a good example of that.
Yesterday, we did confirm several recent trends and hypotheses that we have seen so far this winter. Native sparrows including Dark-eyed Juncos are very low, woodpeckers are above average, and “winter finches” have really cleared out. Even Pine Grosbeaks are now diminishing, but the bulk of other nomadic species have either moved through (Pine Siskin; Evening Grosbeak) or are just not around in large numbers (Common Redpoll).
Meanwhile, the very mild fall and early winter has helped “half-hardies,” like our first sector records of Hermit Thrush and – finally a – Carolina Wren survive. The minimal snow cover and mild temperatures usually keeps a lot of ground-feeding sparrows around through the winter, but this is not the case this year – low “weed” seed crops due to our summer-long drought continues to be my hypothesis.
Fruit crops, especially crabapples, are being rapidly depleted as Pine Grosbeaks and American Robins have moved through en masse of late. It will be slim pickings for Bohemian Waxwings if they arrive.
But perhaps most relevant was the fantastic numbers of birds that make up our “mixed-species foraging flocks.” I was surprised to tally only our average number of Black-capped Chickadees (310 compared to an average of 307.9), but Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Downy Woodpeckers were well above average (see below). Blue Jays were a little above average (but that number fluctuates widely based on acorn crops), as were Northern Cardinals. Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and especially Eastern Bluebirds reflected their continuing steady increase as wintering species in the region.
These are also many of the most common and conspicuous visitors to feeding stations, and our survey correlated with what we have been hearing at the store all season. We also noted that neighborhoods with well-stocked feeders had far more birds than wooded parks, neighborhoods with few or no feeders, or other less developed stretches. Clearly, feeders and their supplemental food are important to our resident birds this year. And our bird seed sales, even after the massive finch flight of the fall has moved on, reflect that as well.
But yeah, our first-ever Hermit Thrush, Carolina Wren, and Pine Siskins, plus our first Ruffed Grouse in 11 years, and yeah, Pine Grosbeaks, were all nice, too!
Here is our full, annotated checklist:
Begin: 7:19am. 20F, clear, calm.
End: 3:45pm. 30F (high of 31F), mostly cloudy, calm.
Party Miles/foot: 22.5
Party Miles/car: 23.5
American Black Duck: 2
Ruffed Grouse: 1
Wild Turkey: 0
Rock Pigeon: 20
Mourning Dove: 46
Herring Gull: 11
Cooper’s Hawk: 2
Red-tailed Hawk: 3 (*tied highest count)
Red-bellied Woodpecker: 3
Downy Woodpecker: 30
Hairy Woodpecker: 13
Pileated Woodpecker: 5
Blue Jay: 94
American Crow: 115 (*new record high)
Common Raven: 2
Black-capped Chickadee: 310
Tufted Titmouse: 53
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 28
White-breasted Nuthatch: 47 (* 2nd highest)
Brown Creeper: 3
Carolina Wren: 1 (*1st sector record, finally!)
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 3
Eastern Bluebird: 31 (* New record high count…old record was 10!)