It was another slow week of migration. This week, high pressure dominated, and a northerly to easterly flow continued essentially unabated from Saturday through Thursday. Winds were at least light enough at night that some birds fought the unfavorable conditions and “new” birds arrived almost every day, just never in large numbers. But it remains slim pickings, especially at migrant traps this week. Even on Thursday morning (more calm winds overnight allowed a few more birds to proceed) – my best day of the spring so far – numbers at Florida Lake were still very low for the date. The quality more than made up for it, however!
My observations of note over the past six days included:
10 species of warblers in one place for the first time this spring – finally – but led by only 14 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 8 Black-and-white Warblers, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 continuing Louisiana Waterthrush, Morgan Meadow WMA, 5/11.
1 PROTHONOTARY WARBLER among 15 species of warblers, Florida Lake Park, 5/12, led by ~25 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 9+ Black-and-white Warblers. The PROW was my 169th all-time species at the park! I first found it along the base of the long dike at the north edge of the pond, as it belted out a song within about 8-10 feet from me. Foraging in low shrubs along the pond edge, in perfect light, I was of course without my camera. I did get some identifiable video and a recording of the song with my phone, before taking off in a sprint to the parking lot. I returned with my camera and eventually refound the bird when it sang again from the small wooded island in the lake (photo above), just as Noah Gibb arrived. It then flew right past me as it disappeared into the woods. It reappeared a short while later on the island and was seen by several more people. I am still kicking myself, however, for leaving the camera in the car when it was so close. Such a stunning bird deserves a better photo.
And my list of personal “first of years” this week also included the following:
1 Veery, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 Nashville Warbler, Florida Lake Park, 5/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler, Florida Lake Park, 5/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow, Florida Lake Park, 5/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
1 Northern Waterthrush, Florida Lake Park, 5/7 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
“It was like the good ol’ days!” When every other bird you saw was a rare one, and you barely walked 10 steps before finding more birds. But this was not what we were expecting, and the weekend sure didn’t start out that way!
After a very rough boat ride, we were still putting ourselves back together when one birder said “Go back, there are no birds here.” Apparently, it had been a dreadfully slow week of little migration, but at least nice weather. This weekend, the weather wasn’t supposed to be very nice. So without many birds on the island, and quite a bit of rain on the way, were less enthused about arriving than usual…well, that might have had something to do with the boat ride.
And I am not sure if it helped that one of the first birds I looked at was a rare hybrid Herring X Great Black-backed Gull. I am not sure if anyone was ready to take in gull hybrids yet. Even more when we feared that this could be our best bird of the trip if the pattern held.
And sure enough, it was a very slow afternoon. But we did have good luck. We found a Sora that walked out into an open patch of mud, quickly caught up with the adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that has been hanging around, and after lunch immediately found the Least Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper at Lobster Cove that have been playing hard to get all week. There was also a good Northern Gannet show, which is always a treat. So at least we were seeing what was around, which sadly, really was not very much. But hey, it still hadn’t rained!
A period of rain, heavy at times, fell overnight, but the band was much narrower and less heavy than forecast. It did not rain all night, and it even appeared that a light flight of migrants had developed on the radar after midnight. And sure enough, come dawn, there was a light Morning Flight overhead. It was mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, but hey, there were new birds around! And once, again, it was not raining.
A fly-over Dickcissel or two, a calling Gray-cheeked Thrush, and more. Birds! Yay!
Then, after breakfast, I went to spread some seed in my favorite corner to attract some birds for the group to enjoy this morning. Turning the corner near the famous “Chat Bridge” a shockingly bright flash of the most intense yellow you can imagine. And blue wings, and a flash of white in the tail. Prothonotary Warbler I exclaimed to no one around.
I raced back towards the group meeting point and sent them on their way. Kristen Lindquist took off running. I eventually made it back with the rest of the group and we divided to conquer. Kristen and about half the group spotted it repeatedly, while it remained tantalizingly out of view from where I and others were standing.
As other birders converged, a classic “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” occurred. First, there were two Dickcissels, then I spotted a Yellow-breasted Chat making a short flight over the brush. While searching for that, Ilsa spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that would sit still, preening, for well over and hour. It might have been the most cooperative cuckoo ever on the island! Another group had a brief look at a Clay-colored Sparrow.
Unfortunately, the Prothonotary Warbler was never seen again.
It was already a pretty amazing day for one that we thought would be a wash-out. And it was still not raining. After our lunch break, we convened at the Monhegan House at 1:30, and spent the next hour and a half on its lawn, and going no where else.
One Dickcissel became two, and then four, and when the group finally took off together, we were shocked to confirm a genuine flock of 8 Dickcissels – exceptional, even for Monhegan. And there were not one, but two Clay-colored Sparrows! And other birds just kept arriving, as standing in one spot saw our list quickly grow: American Redstart, Brown Creeper, Warbling Vireo, etc, etc. One “Western” Palm Warbler became 4, a couple of Cape May Warblers paid us a visit, a Savannah Sparrow dropped in…
It was truly incredible! It felt like my first tours here 15 years ago. By now, a light shower was falling, but we didn’t seem to care. We finally pulled ourselves away as the action waned, wanting to see what the next hot corner would offer. After spotting at least 8 Baltimore Orioles along Pumphouse Road, the rain finally arrived in earnest by about 3:30pm. We called it quits, but considering the day we had, no complaints were to be heard. It was a really special day; one that will not soon be forgotten.
Rain fell overnight again, and come dawn on Sunday (Day 3), dense fog had rolled in. There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers overhead, especially during a short respite from the fog, but there were not nearly as many birds around as the day before. But, with fog overnight, we expected birds who were on the island to stay, which was good, because yesterday was awesome and there were still a few birds we had not yet encountered.
We delayed the start of the after-breakfast walk to let a batch of heavier rain clear through. We were stuck in such an odd fall weather pattern, with virtually no west-east progression of weather systems. But we had been so lucky with the timing of the rainfall so far, that a little delay was of no concern. Regrouping at 10:00, light showers gave way to just some lingering drizzle by 11, and it soon became apparent that there were new birds around. We had two Prairie Warblers, a Scarlet Tanager joining the growing flock of Baltimore Orioles, and a Blue-winged Teal joined a Green-winged Teal in the marsh. Two Cliff Swallows and a Barn Swallow foraged over Manana, and we had our second Yellow-breasted Chat of the trip – this one in the Island Farm garden on Pumphouse Road. And another Clay-colored Sparrow?
Pockets of Yellow-rumped Warblers here and there often contained another warbler species or two, and we had good looks at stuff all morning, even often-challenging birds to see with a group like Lincoln’s Sparrows.
And after lunch, the sun was out! We had the Lesser Black-backed Gull again, more looks at Clay-colored Sparrows, and finally the immature male Blue Grosbeak showed up for us, and show it did!
It wasn’t as birdy once the sun was out, but a light raptor flight, including at least 6 Peregrine Falcons helped make up for it.
On Monday, our last day of the tour, it appeared that little moved overnight on a light southwesterly flow aloft. But that had our daydreams going for rarities from our west and southwest. And sure enough, while some of us were dallying over breakfast, a Western Kingbird that Kristen Lindquist found earlier flew right over us at the Yew and alighted nearby!
After breakfast, we “cleaned it up” for the group when we relocated it at the cemetery, affording great looks for all. A slower day finally gave us an opportunity to head into the deeper woods. And while we expected fewer birds in the island’s interior, a couple of mixed-species foraging flocks finally put Red-breasted Nuthatch on the list, and we found the first Pine Warbler of the weekend.
Jeannette joined us by lunchtime, and after lunch, we had a frustratingly brief glimpse of the original Yellow-breasted Chat, along with more great looks at Clay-colored Sparrows.
The tour came to a close with the 3:15 departure back to New Harbor, bringing our incredible four days together to the always-bittersweet end.
Jeannette and I birded the rest of the afternoon together, picking up a few things, like my first “Yellow” Palm Warblers of the weekend and a Solitary Sandpiper. Our walk to dinner yielded a second Pine Warbler, and at the harbor: a juvenile Ring-billed Gull (actually fairly rare out here in the early fall) and another view of the lingering Lesser Black-backed Gull.
On Tuesday, Jeannette and I enjoyed our day off on the island, and Kristen Lindquist joined us for most of the day. A diminishing light southwest wind overnight gave way to a little bit of northwesterly winds by dawn, but it didn’t appear that much had arrived on the island overnight.
However, we soon located a Lark Sparrow found yesterday by Bryan Pfeiffer, the immature male Blue Grosbeak paid us a visit, and we heard the Sora briefly. We then found an Orange-crowned Warbler out past the Ice Pond, my 20th warbler species of the weekend! Unfortunately, we were sans cameras with a little light rain falling.
After lunch, we were excited to find two Lark Sparrows sitting next to each other at the cul-de-sac, there were now two Ring-billed Gulls in the harbor, and yes, there were still at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows and several Dickcissels around!
Just for a change of pace, we decided to walk the diffuse trail along the island’s southwestern end, but were soon distracted by something large in the water in the distance. Retrieving my scope, it was clear that it was indeed a dead whale, and eventually it floated close enough to identify it as a dead (and rather bloated) Minke Whale. A handful of gulls were around it, and briefly, a quick pass by a jaeger that was too far to claim the identity of. It was a fascinating, if not rather sad, end to our visit as by now it was time for Jeannette and I to head to the dock to return to the real world.
A much more pleasant boat ride back, this time to Port Clyde yielded a number of Common Loons and plenty of Northern Gannets, and a surprise of a small pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. I’m not sure if I have seen this pelagic species from a Monhegan ferry before, or this close to land at all.
And finally, one last “good” bird: a pair of truant American Oystercatchers on Dry Ledges (off of Allen Island)! Interestingly, we had a pair on the same exact ledge on our way back from the island on October 5th of last year.
At least 8 Dickcissels, at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows, 2 Lark Sparrows, and an Orange-crowned Warbler from the Midwest. A Western Kingbird from the West. A Prothonotary Warbler, 2 Yellow-breasted Chats, and a Blue Grosbeak from the South. 105 total species (102 with the tour) including 20 species of warblers. Yeah, that was a good trip – and the stuff that Monhegan legends are made of, at least sans fallout.
And finally, here is our birdlist from the extraordinary weekend:
9/24 = * denotes ferry ride only 9/27 = * with just Jeannette 9/28 = with Jeannette; *denotes ferry ride only