Tag Archives: radar

Excellent Morning Flight at Sandy Point, 9/16/2015

Over 2,000 migrants. 45 species, including 17 species of warblers. Yeah, it was a good morning to be at Sandy Point!

L1030171_CMWA,SandyPt,9-1-15_edited-1
Cape May Warbler, male.

I arrived, as usual, a few minutes before sunrise, but unlike most mornings, birds had already begun to cross. And once the sun crested the horizon, the floodgates open. OK, so it wasn’t “Warblergeddon” at Cape May, but it was fun for me and it was an excellent flight for here.

Well, mostly fun. A lot of birds were high, especially as the wind went calm. Big pockets of birds were just too high to identify. I did my best to just keep count. Birds were dropping into the trees on both sides of the road, others were zipping through underneath. As I focused on something in the elm, I am sure I missed birds overhead. It was tough to keep track, but I did my best.
L1030173_PRAW,SandyPoint_edited-1
Prairie Warbler, male.

By the time I departed at 9:30, the tally was the 7th highest I’ve had at Sandy Point (the 6th highest in September), and by far my best flight of the season to date. It also had some interesting birds, and I’ll analyze some of the numbers below.

6:16-9:30am.
61F, clear, West 6.3mph to calm.

940 Unidentified
403 Northern Parulas (3rd highest)
161 American Redstarts
155 Black-throated Green Warblers
61 Cedar Waxwings
55 Tree Swallows (record high)
34 Black-and-white Warbler (3rd highest)
30 Blackpoll Warblers
22 Northern Flickers
22 Magnolia Warblers
18 Yellow Warblers
16 American Goldfinches
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Red-eyed Vireos
11 Black-throated Blue Warblers
10 Chipping Sparrows
9 Blue Jays
9 Nashville Warblers
8 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Tennessee Warblers (3rd highest)
8 Baltimore Orioles
6 Scarlet Tanagers
5 White-breasted Nuthatches (record high)
4 Purple Finches
3 Eastern Phoebes
3 Blue-headed Vireos
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrel
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
1 unidentified Empid
1 unidentified Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Robin
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Cape May Warbler
1 Prairie Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 EASTERN TOWHEE (present in scrub; only 3 previous records here).
1 Savannah Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Rusty Blackbird (first of fall)
x Common Yellowthroat

Total = 2044

L1030179_BTBW,SandyPt,9-16-15_edited-1
Black-throated Blue Warbler, male. Look at how the “pocket hankercheif” is blown out by the low sun angle.

Several counts were noteworthy, including the two record highs. Tree Swallows usually don’t bother crossing from the island to the mainland via Sandy Point, but more often continue on to the south, crossing the bay with little trouble. Plus, most swallows are probably moving through after I depart in the morning. These birds, mostly in one large and a couple of small groups, were funneling over the bridge along with the rest of the typical Morning Flight migrants. Meanwhile, the 5 White-breasted Nuthatches were noteworthy as I usually see no more than a couple all fall here. The previous record for a single morning was two.

As for the higher counts, I was surprised by how large of a percentage of identified migrants were American Redstarts compared to Blackpoll Warblers. However, I think this is an “identification bias.” Redstarts are the easiest warbler to ID for me in flight, and few pass through at almost any height without being identified. I doubt many of the overwhelming “unidentified” count were redstarts. However, I would wager that a sizeable percentage of them were Blackpoll Warblers. Based on the date and what I’m seeing in the woods these days, there should have been a lot more blackpolls. However, these strong fliers are often very high overhead on light winds, and my guess is that the diminishing westerly this morning was of little consequence for them, and that a lot of those little dots overhead were blackpolls.

Yesterday, I was lamenting not being at Sandy Point. The conditions were great in the morning, and the radar was quite good overnight. However, I was guiding in the Camden area, and at least a little morning flight (ca 100 birds) flew over and through Merryspring Nature Center Park in town. It was a tease to think what might have been going on at “my office” however.

But last night’s radar was even better! Here are the very active 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images from the overnight. See how much was offshore, even as of 4am?
10pm radar

10pm velocity

12am radar

12am velocity

2am radar

2am velocity

4am radar

4am velocity

And come dawn, the winds aloft were perfect for a good Morning Flight at Sandy Point.
5am wind map

In other words, that’s what produced 2,000 birds at Sandy Point, and with a busy schedule this fall, I was quite pleased to catch one of the big ones.

Three Days of Migration Watching in May -Day and Night.

In my blog last Wednesday, I made some prognostications about what we might expect for birds in the coming days. Let’s see how I did so far.

Rain began to fall Wednesday evening, and continued, heavy at times, through Thursday morning. With a persistent easterly wind, overnight migration was non-existent. In the rain on Thursday morning, Katrina and I checked out Florida Lake Park, but found only about 20 Yellow-rumped and 10 Palm warblers – fewer than in recent days. The local River Otter pair, however, put on a great show. Nothing new under the feeders at home (or at the store), either.

Afterwards, I took a spin through the local farms and fields, but found nothing out of the ordinary; it’s too early for most shorebirds anyway. Admittedly, however, I had vagrants on my mind (and still do! As usual). Although the southerly winds conducive to southern overshoots (as I discussed in the aforementioned blog) had yet to kick in, the deep easterly flow that we have been ensconced within could offer up its own surprises. With reports of the “largest incursion of Icelandic/European birds to Newfoundland in recent memory,” including amazing tallies of European Golden-Plovers, 9 Black-tailed Godwits, North America’s 4th (or so) Common Redhank…yeah, the “Rarity Fever” in me can’t help but kick up. Perhaps something will ride one of those Iceland-Portland cargo ships that are in service these days!

Light rain continued through Thursday morning, diminishing to drizzle and fog until the afternoon, when a shift to westerly winds began to clear things out. Overnight, light and variable winds suggested a good migration should occur, but the radar wasn’t showing more than a light flight.
1am radar, 5-2-14  1am velocity, 5-2-14

However, it was foggy for much of the night, and fog can obscure the image of birds on the radar, especially if they are flying low. “Birding by radar” is not infallible, and I had a feeling it might have been a little misleading this morning. A steady trickle of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving over the yard at dawn confirmed this. The weather was just too-not-terrible for there not to be a lot of birds on the go.

So off to Florida Lake I went.  And, for a change this spring, I was not disappointed.  100+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 20+ Palm Warblers, my first Northern Waterthrush and Black-throated Green Warbler (finally!) of the year, a singing migrant Greater Yellowlegs, and much, much more. I caught the lingering pair of Green-winged Teal copulating; are they going to breed here? Ring-necked Ducks had increased to 16 and there is still a pair of Common Mergansers here.

As the fog burned off, the sun shone brightly, and heat began to rise in swirling thermals, hawks took to the skies on the light westerly wind. I had to pull myself away from the hawkwatch kicking and screaming at 12:30, but by then we had eclipsed (at 10:35) our all-time record count of 4,474 birds when a Merlin streaked by. 388 Broad-winged Hawks and 22 Sharp-shinned Hawks were included in the total of 429 migrant raptors when I departed.

Last night’s passerine migration – yup, the fog on the radar definitely obscured the intensity of the flight! – was still evident well past noon, as Yellow-rumped Warblers were still on the go, reorienting inland after last night’s flight. Well over 200 had passed the summit by the time I departed, as did my first two Chimney Swifts and Eastern Kingbirds (also 2) of the year. And by day’s end, 705 raptors led by 583 Broad-wings were tallied, adding to our record totals. Around 4:00pm, our 5000th raptor had passed – a milestone we never thought we would reach.

Come nightfall, the radar was active once again.  Here are the 1am reflectivity and velocity images for example:
1am radar, 5-3-141am velocity, 5-3-14

Notice the dark greens in the center of the return, but overall the rather narrow diameter of the image?  My guess is that mostly overcast skies and a light westerly winds, perhaps including some turbulence from the passing cold front, kept birds low once again.  But, without fog around, it was certain that this was birds – confirmed by the distance SW-NE pattern of the velocity image, and its speed. I think it was actually a lot of birds.

And come morning, Yellow-rumped Warblers were overhead as I stood on the back porch at dawn, and the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group and I headed over to Florida Lake.  Yeah, it was good.  Very good.

In the past few days, we’ve also finally had the first couple of reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles, so that those have just begun to arrive.  As I mentioned the other day, food is in short supply for these backyard favorites, so feeders are going to be important for the first arrivals.

But no vagrants from the south, or East …yet!

South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup TEN!

BLPW,SheridanStreet,Portland,11-3-14
This Blackpoll Warbler was one of the record 9 species of warblers tallied on the day, and one of the top birds in my Portland territory. It was only the third time that this species was spotted by Rarity Roundup teams.

Each year on the first weekend of November, a group of us get together to scour the Southern Maine coast for vagrants, lingering migrants, pioneers, irruptive, and other seasonal highlights.  Coinciding with the peak of “Rarity Season,” we set out to use the geography of the Maine coast, coupled with knowledge of the best habitats and vagrant traps in order to find as many “good” birds as possible.  While this year failed to produce any “Megas,” we once again had a great day in the field, found lots of fun stuff, and enjoyed good food and beer at the Great Lost Bear at the end of the day (the real reason we all get together for this event!)

119 species were tallied by the 8 teams of the TENTH Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup, six species above our 10-year average, despite somewhat more limited coverage than in the past few years. The continuing “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler was added to the cumulative checklist, while we also had our second-ever Snowy Egret, Prairie Warbler, and Nelson’s Sparrow.  Blackpoll Warbler and Clay-colored Sparrow appeared for the third time.

Most teams experienced a decidedly “birdy” day, especially from Portland through Scarborough.  A fallout of Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and Hermit Thrushes occurred with overnight northwesterly winds and a line of pre-dawn showers, with the fallout especially evident on the Portland Peninsula.  I’ll have more about the fallout on a blog entry later today.

Record high tallies were set for Pectoral Sandpiper (13), Northern Flicker (10), Carolina Wren (11), Hermit Thrush (52: the 26 in Portland alone was only one short of the previous all-time high), “Western” Palm Warbler (3), Chipping Sparrow (12), Field Sparrow (3; tie), and Lapland Longspur (37).  9 species of warblers was a new record as well, and Painted Turtle was added to our non-feather species list.  All but the longspurs can likely be explained by the unusually warm season to date.

Territory Highlights were as follows:

– Area 1, Kittery-York: Davis Finch.
1 NASHVILLE WARBLER, Legion Pond, Kittery.
1 Pine Warbler, Fort Foster.
1 PRAIRIE WARBLER, Fort Foster.
1 “AUDUBON’S” YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, Fort Foster.

– Area 2, Ogunquit/Kennebunport: Turk Duddy.
2 American Wigeon, Phillip’s Cove, Ogunquit.
1 Northern Pintail, Phillip’s Cove, Ogunquit.
1 Lesser Yellowlegs, Goose Rocks Beach.

– Area 3, Wells/Kennebunk: Doug Suitor, David Ladd, and Slade Moore.
2 Semipalmated Sandpipers, Webhannet Marsh
2 Gray Catbirds, Laudholm Farm.

– Area 4, Biddeford-Saco: Pat Moynahan, Marian Zimmerman, Joanne Stevens, et al.
1 NASHVILLE WARBLER, Saco Yacht Club.
1 CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, Timber Point.
1 NELSON’S SPARROW, Day’s Landing.
2 Lapland Longspurs, Day’s Landing.

– Area 5, Scarborough: Ed Hess, Noah Gibb, and Leon Mooney.
8 Great Egrets
1 SNOWY EGRET, Pelreco marsh
12 American Coots, Prout’s Pond.
8 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, Eastern Road.
35 Lapland Longspurs

– Area 6, Cape Elizabeth: International Man of Mystery, Claudia, Robby Lambert.
2 “Western” Palm Warblers, private property
1 “Yellow” Palm Warbler, private property
1 DICKCISSEL, Higgin’s Beach.

– Area 7, South   Portland: John Berry and Gordon Smith.
1 Ring-necked Pheasant, Fort Williams Park.
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Calvary Cemetery.
1 Pine Warbler, Bug Light Park

– Area 8, Portland: Derek Lovitch and Kristen Lindquist; Jeannette Lovitch (Capisic and Evergreen); and a cameo by Doug Hitchcox.
2 Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Promenade.
1 BLUE-HEADED VIREO, Mercy Pond.
1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, Eastern Promenade.
1 BLACKPOLL WARBLER, Sheridan Street.
1 White-crowned Sparrow, West Commercial Street.

As usual, I exhaustively cover the Portland Peninsula and once again the most urban block in the state produced some great birds.  Kristen joined me for the second year in a row, while Jeannette (and Sasha) helped out with a few outlying patches.  Doug joined us just long enough to find the only White-crowned Sparrow of the entire day.  In addition to the goodies listed above, Kristen and I amassed 9 species of sparrows.

The fallout that I mentioned above was very evident in the morning, as we birded Portland’s East End. 150+ White-throated Sparrows and 100+ Song Sparrows littered the Eastern Promenade.  While Dark-eyed Juncos were fewer there, we encountered some big groups elsewhere, such as 60+ behind the East End School and 50+ in the lot on Sheridan Street, with 70+ later in the day in Western Cemetery. White-throats were everywhere: 50+ on Sheridan   Street for example.  And once again there was a decidedly disproportionate number of White-throated Sparrows in gardens and landscaping of downtown Portland.  A short loop from One City Center through Monument Square, behind Portland High, and back through Post Office Park yielded 35 White-throats, with the only other native migrant being 7 Hermit Thrushes.  Like the sparrow, Hermit Thrushes appear in a wildly disproportionate number to other migrants – especially all other thrushes – in downtown Portland.  I’m convinced that something causes White-throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes to either a) become disoriented by urban lights more often/more readily, especially under low ceilings (it was cloudy for most of the night and morning) or perhaps b) they simply don’t leave these lots in a morning flight as species such as Dark-eyed Juncos might.  In fact, I just read in an article in the Brown Alumni Magazine that a friend of the store dropped off about collisions in New York City that since 1997, more White-throated Sparrows have been found dead than any other species.  Coincidence?

Our sum of 26 Hermit Thrushes was truly amazing, as was our overall diversity on the day.  While the mild weather certainly has a lot to do with the number of lingering/pioneering birds that we, and other teams, encountered, the late-season fallout earlier in the morning certainly helped our cause.

Here are the overnight reflectivity and velocity images, with 10pm, 1am, and 4am once again used as an example.
a 10pm 11-2-13 ref

b 10pm 11-2-13 vel

c 1am 11-3-13 ref

d 1am 11-3-13 vel

e 4am 11-3-13 ref

f 4am 11-3-13 vel

At 10pm, there’s mostly rain in the area, but birds are mixed in.  By 1:00am, birds are on the move, as the rain has mostly moved into the Mid-Coast and offshore.  Birds were still on the go at 4:00am, as a narrow line of showers moved through the coast.  About an hour later, a steady rain developed (not shown) that continued until a short time before the 6:20 sunrise.  I believe this is why there were so many sparrows in and around the city come dawn.

In other words, it was another great day of birding in urban Portland in the heart of “Rarity Season!”

My Last Good Flight of the Season at Sandy Point?

A strong, if relatively homogenous, flight passed over and through SandyPointBeach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth this morning.

7:03-9:00
39F, mostly clear, light-moderate but rapidly increasing W wind.

708 American Robins
88 Yellow-rumped Warblers
45 Dark-eyed Juncos
34 American Crows
22 Unidentified
8 American Goldfinches
7 Palm Warblers
6 Golden-crowned Kinglets
5 Savannah Sparrows
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
3 Chipping Sparrows
3 Rusty Blackbirds
2 Brown Creepers
2 Unidentified sparrows
1 Common Loon
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Tufted Titmouse (they keep on coming this year)
1 American Pipit
1 AMERICAN REDSTART (very late)
1 White-throated Sparrow

Total = 945

I actually expected more juncos and especially White-throated Sparrows (at least in the parking lot, they almost never cross the water here), but the American Robin count was actually my third highest here.  The redstart, one of the first birds of the morning, was definitely unexpected – it has been several weeks since I have seen one.

Unlike Tuesday night into Wednesday, last night’s radar was unambiguous (I posted briefly about yesterday on the store’s Facebook page).  This was a solid late-season flight.  Here are the 10pm, 1am, and 4am reflectivity and velocity images for example.  You can see the rain mostly remaining well offshore.
a -10pm radar, 10-23-13 b - 10pm velocity, 10-23-13

c - 1am radar, 10-24-13 d - 1am velocity, 10-24-13

e - 4am radar, 10-24-13 f - 4am velocity, 10-24-13

So was this my last good flight at Sandy Point?  I sure hope not, but the calendar is getting late.  There’s no doubt there is still a big push of juncos at least.  But we’ll see if the weather conditions cooperate.

Meanwhile, as SandyPoint winds down, “Rarity Season” starts to pick up.  There’s our Bell’s Vireo in Harpswell, an Ash-throated Flycatcher on Monhegan, a Pink-footed Goose that was up in The County, and the usual smattering of fun fall stuff like a White-eyed Vireo or two, a couple of juvenile Red-headed Woodpeckers, and a sprinkling of “late” birds in no doubt partially due to the mild season.  I believe there are symptoms of Rarity Fever welling up inside me!

A Mid-Western Road Trip

When the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union invited me out to be the Keynote Speaker for their 2013 Fall Meeting, I jumped at the opportunity to get some birding in in a part of the country that I have not spent very much time exploring.  Add to that a program and book signing at Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center, and I had a solid excuse to work on some under-served state lists…and visit some good friends.  Each day, I posted a short synopsis of my travels and birding on my book’s Facebook page.  Here, I’ve simply edited those and added some photos for your viewing pleasure.

10/10: Travel to Des Moines, Iowa.  Departing Portland at 6:14am.

10/11: Ankeny, Iowa.
On my way to the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union‘s Fall Meeting, I spent the first day and a half of my trip birding the Des Moines-Ankeny area with my friend Danny Akers, the 2009 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch Official Counter.

I had hoped for Smith’s Longspurs to fill in a gap on the ol’ life list, but unfortunately, we came up empty, despite a few miles of walking up and down short-cut fields at a couple of locations. While a stiff southerly wind has not helped, they just don’t seem to be “in” yet. Unseasonably warm temperatures – a high of 78 yesterday for example – has likely put quite a few fall arrivals behind schedule.

A nice consolation prize for me, however, was a fair number of LeConte’s Sparrows – a bird I really like, but don’t get to see too often. Other birds that were a treat for me include Franklin’s Gull, Sedge Wren, Red-headed Woodpecker, and American White Pelican. Our best bird, however, was probably the Pileated Woodpecker at Waterworks Park in Des Moines – a long overdue Polk County bird for Danny.

But as always, I just flat out enjoy birding new places. And since I’ve only barely birded Iowa once before, my state list is growing by leaps and bounds. I was not too happy that I was unable to bird the famous Saylorville Reservoir, however, thanks to the government shutdown. John Boehner: you owe me some state birds!

We then headed east towards Clinton, where Danny and I would be leading a field the next morning.  I very much looked forward to seeing what might be moving behind this approaching cold front. While it might not clear in time for a flight tonight, Sunday morning could be a lot of fun.
a LESPA phone-binned juvenile LeConte’s Sparrow.

b Chichaqua WMALooking for Smith’s Longspurs at Chichaqua WMA.

10/12: Clinton, Iowa – Iowa Ornithologists’ Union Fall Meeting.
Danny and I led a field trip this morning to Princeton Marsh here in Clinton, IA. We had a great turnout – I was honored! – of birders. I just wish there were more birds than mosquitoes!

Few migrants were around in the morning; there was no morning re-determined migration today. The approaching cold front took its sweet time in getting here, and had not pushed through easternmost Iowa by dawn. It was interesting to see the huge flight on the Des Moines radar overnight, just west of the front, compared to the Davenport radar, just east of the front (where we were).

So the woods were quiet, but we had ample numbers of things like Yellow-rumped Warblers, both kinglets, and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds commuting overhead. A heard-only Pileated Woodpecker and a good look at a Winter Wren were local highlights. Oh, and I got a life frog: Cricket Frog! And lots of Leopard Frogs were around; it was not a good sign that I was ranting about bush honeysuckle and playing with frogs within the first 30 minutes of the walk.

A scrubby, weedy wetland area near the southern edge of the property was much birdier, however, highlighted by a teed-up LeConte’s Sparrow, 7 Wilson’s Snipe, and a Sora. A small group of 5 Eurasian Tree Sparrows were a little unexpected.

The front had now pushed through, dropping just a few sprinkles, but also blowing away the skeeters. That was nice. Danny and I decided to try a little river migration watching, so we headed over to a small riverfront park in Princeton that intrigued us during a quick visit yesterday.

Now we were in business! A trickle of raptors began to move overhead, as soon as the clouds cleared. A handful of Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Merlin, a few Red-tails, etc. A group of about 30 Franklin’s Gulls sitting on the sandbar took flight, soaring high and perhaps southwards. As we were about to depart, a line of 32 American White Pelicans came cruising down the river. Yay, migration in action!

In the afternoon, I presented my Russian Far East: In Search of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper program. Yeah, I apologize I went a little long there. Oops. But it was such a great experience to share, and really, is there ever such thing as too many Tufted Puffin pictures?
c Miss River Eco Center, ClintonHome base for the Meeting.

d birdwalk1, Princeton WMAEarly morning in Princeton Marsh.

10/13: Clinton, Iowa.
What a difference a day makes! A very strong flight took place overnight Saturday into Sunday, and a lot of birds arrived for Sunday morning.

Not only was I very happy to see a lot of birds on our field trip to Princeton Marsh, but I was happy to see that my predictions came to fruition. Following my evening program “A Sandy Point Case Study,” in which I concluded with a little local radar analysis, I predicted it was going to be a good morning (it’s always a risk sticking one’s neck out like that!).  And it certainly was at Princeton Marsh at least!

Large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers were reorienting overhead at dawn, and new arrivals included Palm Warblers and Fox Sparrow. Some waterfowl also arrived with Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, and Gadwall becoming new entries in my state list. 2 Nelson’s Sparrows joined two LeConte’s Sparrows; both species were seen very well by all, and Nelson’s is fairly rare around here.

Very local in Iowa, a conspicuous Pileated Woodpecker was enjoyed (a lifer for some, actually), as was a spiffy adult Red-shouldered Hawk. But the bird-of-the-day was a very truant adult White-faced Ibis that was foraging in a shallow wetland.

A great morning of birding concluded a most enjoyable and productive weekend for me. I thank the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union for having me out, and I hope to see you again soon!
e birdwalk2, Princeton WMAPrinceton Marsh.

10/14: Clinton, Iowa:
Danny and I headed north this morning. Our first stop was the Goose Lake WMA.

After another good flight on the radar overnight, we found a lot of birds here. American Robins, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Song Sparrows were all abundant, trumped only by the cloud of 500+ Tree Swallows.

A flock of Rusty Blackbirds were in the marsh, along with a single Ring-necked Duck – the last two new species for my Iowa list of the trip. The highlight for me, however, was the 60+ Wilson’s Snipe that joined ~25 Killdeer on a mudflat in the marsh; I’m not used to seeing so many snipe together.

We then drove to Madison, Wisconsin, picked up David La Puma and new friend Jessica Gorzo, and – in what, in hindsight was not a great idea – raced north to chase a long-staying White-tailed Kite. Not that an occasional chase with friends is a bad idea, but the fact that we were essentially racing the sun made us reconsider this.

Arriving in the area with about 30 minutes to sunset didn’t provide much hope, but an ultra-distant male Northern Harrier hovering over a field did – at least for a little while. Flocks of Sandhill Cranes were heading to roost, as was a massive cloud of Canada Geese. No small – in my mind – consolation prize, however, was the flock of about 30 Greater Prairie-Chickens that I spotted as they flew just over the tops of a field, before disappearing into the grass. Although known to be here – and intensively managed for them – they are not often seen, especially at this season, so that was a real treat for me. Having seen Greater Prairie-Chicken many fewer times than White-tailed Kite, I left satisfied. Mostly.
f Goose Lake WMA'Goose Lake WMA.

 

g DubuqueDubuque up the Mississippi from Mines of Spain State Recreation Area

h DubuqueDubuque Monument.

i WTKI chase“I think it’s too late” – All of us.

10/15: Madison, Wisconsin.
Danny said goodbye and took off in pursuit of the White-tailed Kite once again (unfortunately, despite many people looking it was not seen, and has never been seen again. Apparently, we missed it for good by exactly one hour). David and I wished him luck, but we thought our time would be better spent birding locally in Madison before heading over to Milwaukee.

The Pheasant Branch Conservancy was our destination – after a ridiculously late start for all (our respective travels had clearly caught up with all of us!). While the radar did not suggest that this was a morning that could not be missed, we probably – it’s October afterall – should have motivated sooner, but sometimes the body makes such decisions for you.

However, even in the middle of the morning, this Middleton preserve was decidedly birdy! It was full of sparrows, and my paltry state list grew by leaps and bounds. Fox Sparrows had arrived, White-crowned Sparrows were in good numbers, and plenty of White-throated and Song Sparrows were to be found, along with a goodly number of Lincoln’s Sparrows – one of my favorites!

Before we knew it, however, it was time to head to the Urban Ecology Center for my evening program. At a pre-presentation dinner, it was great to meet some new friends, and get re-acquainted with some of the people who joined me (OK, technically, I joined them) aboard the UEC’s private charter aboard the Schooner Lewis R. French out of Camden, ME last summer. They were stuck with me for 5 days yet came back to hear me talk even more, so I guess that is a good sign!

I wanted to thank Tim Vargo of the Urban Ecology Center for inviting me over, and I thank everyone who came out last night. I hope you all enjoyed the show!

j Urban Ecology CenterInside the Urban Ecology Center.

10/16: Madison, Wisconsin.
Following my Sandy Point Case Study presentation at the IOU Meeting over the weekend, I looked at the local radar with the group and suggested it would be a very good morning in the field. And, in most places, it definitely was. After my Urban Ecology Center program last night, we looked at the radar and saw virtually nothing that suggested bird migration.

David chastised me a little bit for even hinting that “no migration on the radar” means “don’t go birding in the morning.” “It’s migration – go birding every morning!” (My point in the progrAm was simply that I would not have gone to Sandy Point that next morning). And he’s absolutely right. There are plenty of birds around in mid-October even when they have not moved in the night before.

While there might not be a Morning Flight of note without many “new” birds, there are plenty of birds in the field – literally. It’s sparrow season, and just to prove the point, local Madison birding once again proved why you go birding every day in migration! First, we walked through the woods from David’s neighborhood to the 1918 Marsh. Not much happening. A walk around and through the marsh, out to Picnic Point. A little dissapointed by the low numbers of sparrows, we instead enjoyed a nice little sampling of newly-returned migrant waterfowl (Northern Pintail, Bufflehead, Gadwall, American Wigeons, and Redhead), and lots of American Coots. Coots always amuse me. And drake Wood Ducks are always worth and extended view.

Readers of my blog and the store’s Facebook Page know I am a big fan of birding community gardens in the fall, so you could image my glee when we exited the Biocore Prairie (which itself had a goodly number of sparrows) and I stepped into the acres of the Eagle Heights Community Garden. This is where all of the sparrows were! 400+ House Sparrows, 150+ American Goldfinches, 100+ White-throated Sparrows, 75+ Song Sparrows, 50+ White-crowned Sparrows including one of the western subspecies Gambelli. A couple of dozen Lincoln’s Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. A smattering of Field Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Chipping Sparrows. A handful of Palm and Orange-crowned Warblers, 1-2 Fox Sparrows, and my 100th Wisconsin Bird: 2 Brown-headed Cowbirds. Times flies (as in almost 3hrs here!) when you are having fun!
k 1918 Marsh, MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin from 1918 Marsh.

l Picnic Point, MadisonPicnic Point.

la Eagle Heights GardenEagle Heights Community Garden.

m MadisonDowntown Madison.

10/17: Madison, Wisconsin.
This was my last day of birding of my little Midwest trip. After David and I hit the Eagle Heights Community Garden in Madison (more juncos and Chipping Sparrows, 1 Nashville Warbler, multiple Orange-crowned Warblers, a late Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a continuing “Gambell’s” White-crowned Sparrows, etc), I hit the road for Minneapolis.

Visiting a non-birding friend – yeah, sometimes I tolerate hanging out with people that don’t like birding – my birding was limited to a walk around LoringPark and the art museum’s SculptureGarden. White-throated Sparrows were quite common, with a fair number of Dark-eyed Juncos, Swamp Sparrows, and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows. There was actually a reasonable diverse selection of migrants in this small, very manicured city park. And I do love city park birding!
a href=”https://mebirdingfieldnotes.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/n-rtha1.jpg”>n RTHAQuite possibly the world’s most cooperative Red-tailed Hawk in the Eagle Heights Community Garden.  This is just a standard photo with my iPhone.

o RTHA Phone-scopingDavid works on some phone-scoping.

p Loring Park, MNLoring Park, Minneapolis

q Minneapolis

10/18: Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As much as I love to travel, I love to come home even more! It’s good to be back, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time birding, visiting, and chatting about “How to Be a Better Birder” in Iowa and Wisconsin. Thanks again to the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union, Tim Vargo at the UrbanEcologyCenter, Danny Akers, and David La Puma for making this tour happen.

Next up, New Hampshire Audubon in Concord on 10/24.

Sandy Point on 10/9, Goose Fields Redux, and More.

After three nights with little to no migration, birds took to the skies en masse come nightfall last night.  It was a big flight.  For examples, here are the 10pm, 1am, and 4am reflectivity and corresponding velocity images:
10pm radar, 10-8-1310pm velocity, 10-8-13
1am radar, 10-9-13 1am velocity, 10-9-13 4am radar, 10-9-13 4am velocity, 10-9-13

That’s a heckuva flight!  But as October goes on, more and more of the migrants are sparrows. Most sparrows (juncos and Chipping Sparrows are the exceptions) do not partake – or barely so – in the morning re-determined migration (“morning flight”), at least at Sandy Point, so I have been disappointed with the tally come dawn at Sandy Point on more than one occasion in mid-October.  While this morning’s flight was still good, it was not as busy as I would have expected based on the density of those radar returns.  But there were a lot more sparrows around in the bushes at Sandy Point and elsewhere this morning; I wonder what percentage of last night’s flight were White-throated Sparrows?

At the bridge at Sandy Point, the morning’s flight started out quite slow.  By 7:30, I had even considered packing it in and going to look for sparrows.  But then things picked up a little bit, and a steady trickle of birds slowly added up to a respectable tally.  Both kinglets spent a lot of time swirling around the point this morning (as usual, I was conservative in my count of how many were actually crossing, as many would turn around, come back, and try again), and the sparrow tally was probably a lot higher.  However, by the time I left the bridge, most White-throats had already dispersed into the woods.  Song Sparrows – which I do not attempt to tally due the number of breeding birds in the powerline cut – were definitely more abundant than they have been as well.

Here’s the scorecard:
6:45-9:15
39F, light NNW to calm, partly cloudy to clear

323 Yellow-rumped Warblers
105 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
71 Unidentified
60 Dark-eyed Juncos
52 Palm Warblers
39 Golden-crowned Kinglets
30 White-throated Sparrows
15 Unidentified kinglets
13 Blackpoll Warblers
12 Black-capped Chickadees
12 Black-throated Green Warblers
8 American Robins
7 Blue-headed Vireos
7 Northern Parulas
6 Blue Jays
4 Common Loons
4 Common Yellowthroats
4 Chipping Sparrows
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Savannah Sparrows
3 Swamp Sparrows
3 American Goldfinches
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Eastern Phoebes
2 Tufted Titmice
2 American Pipits
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 Common Grackle

T=800

Afterwards, I did a circuit of the local “goose fields.” As with everywhere to our south, the resident, non-migratory population of Canada Geese is burgeoning in southern Maine.  This resident population begins to coalesce in the fields of Yarmouth, Cumberland, and Falmouth in early August, and by the middle to end of September, the flock includes a sizeable percentage of the local breeders.  The percentage of local breeders that are in the fields on any given day increases with the onset of early Canada Goose hunting season in early September.

This year, the number of geese among all fields has varied between 200-300 total birds since early September. This number of pre-migrant birds has grown steadily over the past five years in particular.  This week, the first real influx of geese arrived, presumably from some points north.  It is the flock of resident geese that know the safe fields (no hunting, less Bald Eagle activity) and travel corridors to and from the bay where they roost that attract the migrants, including those occasional rarities.

My high count this week of 445 Canada Geese today was my highest tally since the spring.  A couple of Eastern Meadowlarks and up to 8 Killdeer were also present at Thornhurst Farm this week, and Eastern Bluebirds have been rather widespread. A Pied-billed Grebe was once again in the pond on Woodville Road in Falmouth, as is often the case at this time of year.

The goose numbers and the chance for finding rarities should only increase (well, with various ebbs and flows) from now through the first heavy snow.  In fact, I often find my first “good” goose in the second week of October.  It’s also primetime for sparrows.  And this is why I hate leaving the state in October, but once again, I am off!

Early tomorrow morning I depart for Iowa, where I will be speaking at the Iowa Ornithologist Union’s Fall Meeting.  I’ll be giving the keynote presentation on “How to Be a Better Birder” using my SandyPoint case study program and I will also be showing my Russian Far East travelogue.  Finally, I will be joining the 2009 Bradbury Mountain Hawkcounter, Danny Akers, in leading a field trip.

After my weekend in the Hawkeye State, I head to Wisconsin to visit the Urban Ecology Center in Wisconsin.  In between and thereafter, I’ll be spending a couple of days birding and visiting with friends.   I’ll post the occasional update about migration in the Midwest, my birding, and other musings on my book’s Facebook page should you be interested in following my travels.

Now I am just left to wonder what state bird I will miss here in Maine while I am away (there’s always one!)

Black Skimmer at Sandy Point!

Well, I sure wasn’t expecting this on my Sandy Point Patch List!
DSC_0021_BLSK1,SandyPoint,10-4-13
Black Skimmer, SandyPoint #180!

An otherwise slow morning flight (more on that shortly) was interrupted by an odd call emanating from upriver of the bridge. “Hmm, sounds like a Black Skimmer, I thought.”  Uh, wait…but alas, there it was!  It alighted on what was left of a small sandbar with a couple of gulls, and as that sandbar became inundated, it took to the wing again and began to forage.  I lost sight of it as it moved up the bay, but a little pocket of Palm Warblers moving through distracted me.

Looking at the radar last night, the flight seemed strong, but the Morning Flight was decidedly slow.  Here are the 1am radar and velocity images for example:
1am radar, 10-4-13 1am velocity, 10-4-13

A couple of things are noticeable.  For one there’s the fairly narrow diameter of the flight reflection which would suggest a low flight (the radar beams well out from the tower are above the height of birds; the “angle of elevation).  This definitely happens when birds, such as sparrows – and they’re definitely on the move right now – which tend to fly relatively low dominate the flight.  So perhaps a lot of the flight last night was of the sparrow variety.

However, the velocity image suggests the north to south motion was rather slow.  Perhaps it was just because it was so calm and slower-flying migrants were in the air and therefore were making less progress (ground speed).  Or maybe there’s a lot of dust and bugs up there; it has been warm and dry after all.

Regardless of the explanation, or lack thereof, the flight was slow.  But did I mention I had a Black Skimmer?

– 6:38-8:20
– 46F, partly cloudy, calm.

41 Yellow-rumped Warblers
31 Palm Warblers
31 Unidentified
24 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
13 Blackpoll Warblers
12 Northern Parulas
10 Green-winged Teal
9 Golden-crowned Kinglets
6 Blue Jays
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 American Robins
4 Nashville Warblers
4 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Chipping Sparrows
4 White-throated Sparrows
3 Common Loons
2 Blue-headed Vireos
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Osprey
1 BLACK SKIMMER
1 Northern Flicker
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Pipit
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Magnolia Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Savannah Sparrow
1 DICKCISSEL (5th of season here)
1 American Goldfinch

Total = 226

Afterwards, I decided to check on my “lots of sparrows moving last night” hypothesis, so I visited Old Town House Park.  There were an ample amount of sparrows (30+ Song, 20+ Swamp, a small number of White-throated, 2 Lincoln’s, 1 Savannah, and 1 White-crowned), but not enough to conclude much about the composition of last night’s flight, or lack there of.  But it was pleasantly birdy, with a nice sprinkling of other migrants, including 11 Eastern Bluebirds, 2 Pine Warblers, and the first Purple Finch that I have had in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, in the goose fields, things have not yet begun to heat up.  While there may be some bona fide migrants around, my tally of 283 Canada Geese today fits right there within the 200-300 that have been present since late August, when the local resident birds began to flock up post-breeding.  This will change soon.