Tag Archives: rarities

This Week’s Highlights, 1/15-21, 2022

Barrow’s Goldeneyes are one of my favorite visitors to Maine in winter. The hens provide a nice challenge to pick out, too. This was one of two distinctive Barrow’s visible from the
Bernard Lown Peace Bridge in Auburn/Lewiston on the 13th.

Especially in November – and often again with the first cold snap in December – I talk about “rarity fever,” when there is that additional motivation and encouragement to go birding thanks to the expectation of the unexpected. And usually we in Maine talk about the “winter doldrums” in an non-irruption year. And this year, there are virtually zero irruptives in the southern half of Maine – other than Snowy Owls. But with the Steller’s Sea-Eagle (as you may have heard!), a Bullock’s Oriole at a feeder in Damariscotta Mills, a Townsend’s Warbler in Cape Elizabeth (I missed it twice this week with a limited amount of effort), and a Barnacle Goose in Rockland, there is no doubt I – and many other birders – are experiencing a little mid-winter Rarity Fever!  And that has helped motivate me to get out birding as often as I can. The to-do list can wait until February, right?

With the fairly sudden arrival to a bitter “real winter” cold, once again “pioneering” waterfowl made up most of my highlights this week, as I spent most of my birding time searching for the next big deal. My observations of note over the past seven days include the following:

  • 1 Northern Flicker, Village Crossings/Cape Elizabeth Greenbelt Trail, 1/16 (with John Lorenc).
  • 7 Brant, Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, 10/18 (with Jeannette).
  • At least 2 hen BARROW’S GOLDENEYES.  A third hen is suggestive of an odd Barrow’s or a Common x Barrow’s hybrid (see photo captions), Bernard Lown Peace Bridge, Auburn/Lewiston, 1/20.
  • Fun to hear two Carolina Wrens counter-singing across the Androscoggin River – one in Lewiston and one in Auburn – from Little Andy Park, Auburn, 1/20.
  • 1 drake Northern Pintail and 3 1st-winter Iceland Gulls, Auburn Riverwalk, 1/20.
  • 1 female Northern Pintail, Westbrook Riverwalk, 1/21.
In addition to a bright-orange-billed classic Barrow’s, and the perfectly good smudgy-billed individual above (and here, on the left), there was a third bird that I am pondering. It’s either a third female Barrow’s (a great tally, especially for Androscoggin County) or perhaps a hybrid between Barrow’s x Common – the males of which do occur in Maine and are fairly straightforward to identify.

This Week’s Highlights, 1/1-7, 2022

This dapper drake American Wigeon at Brunswick’s historic Swinging Bridge on the 4th very well could have been the same bird that I found upriver in Durham three days prior, as the river was finally beginning to freeze over.

Happy New Year (List) everyone!  My sightings of note over the past seven days were as follows. Unfortunately, they did not include the Steller’s Sea-Eagle on Saturday or Sunday (but last week, on Friday…wow, just wow. Still can’t really believe that happened!) but did include a few goodies while searching for where it may have ended up (before its re-discovery in Boothbay on Thursday).

  • 1 drake American Wigeon, Rte 136, Durham, 1/1.
  • 18 Greater Scaup, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 1/3 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 adult GREAT BLACK-BACKED X HERRING GULL HYBRID, Bath Landfill, 1/4 (with Jeannette)
  • 1 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE, Thorne Head Preserve, Bath, 1/4.
  • 1 drake American Wigeon, Swinging Bridge, Brunswick, 1/4.
  • 44 Greater Scaup, 38 distant unidentified scaup, 625+ American Black Ducks, 130+ Surf and White-winged Scoters, etc, Maquoit Bay Conservation Land, Brunswick, 1/6.
  • Here is our “West Freeport” territory tally from Sunday’s Freeport-Brunswick CBC:

– 5 American Black Ducks

– 30 Mallards

– 1 Hooded Merganser (2nd sector record)

– 1 Red-tailed Hawk

– 1 Ruffed Grouse

– 30 Wild Turkeys

– 12 Herring Gulls

– 26 Mourning Doves

– 4 Red-bellied Woodpeckers

– 28 Downy Woodpeckers

– 15 Hairy Woodpeckers

– 6 Pileated Woodpeckers (sector high count)

– 1 Northern Flicker (2nd sector record)

– 40 Blue Jays

– 104 American Crows

– 1 Common Raven

– 413 Black-capped Chickadees (2nd highest count)

– 90 Tufted Titmice (sector high count; old record of 44)

– 16 Red-breasted Nuthatches

– 45 White-breasted Nuthatches

– 1 Brown Creeper

– 11 Golden-crowned Kinglets

– 1 Carolina Wren

– 26 Eastern Bluebirds

– 1 American Robin

– 73 European Starlings (sector high count)

– 10 American Tree Sparrows

– 2 Song Sparrows

– 1 White-throated Sparrow

– 18 Dark-eyed Juncos

– 20 Northern Cardinals

– 20 House Finches

– 204 American Goldfinches (2nd highest count)

33 species (2nd highest for territory thanks to extensive open water this year).

8.5 hours: 22.4 miles by car; 18.5 miles by foot.

At the very least, it confirmed some of our preconceived notions: sparrows and frugivores are in short supply; winter finches and other irruptives are not around at all – but a huge pulse of goldfinches arrived late last week; and local resident breeding birds seemed to have done quite well this year.

  • And finally today, here is my annual blog prognosticating the Next 25 species to appear in Maine, and on my own list. Spoiler alert: I did not predict a Steller’s Sea-Eagle.

2022 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

No one could have predicted the bird of the year, err..century..err, ever.  This magnificent Steller’s Sea-Eagle spent four days in Georgetown right around the New Year.

It’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.

I feel like I could have just recycled my blog from 2021.  “…Worst Year Ever.”  Ha. 2021 replied, “hold my beer!”  That all being said, a complete summary would show the full picture, with all its ups and downs (and there were a lot of downs), but undoubtably with many happy moments contained within.  That’s all beyond the scope of this blog. I’ll just stick to the birds.

Of course, nothing compares – or perhaps, ever will compare! – to the headliner of 2021: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle. No, this was not on my predictions list – or anyone else’s at the start of the year. That being said, following reports this summer in New Brunswick, November in Nova Scotia, and then December in Massachusetts, there is no doubt it would have been optimistically added to the list for 2022…had it not shown up in Georgetown on December 30th (or perhaps earlier).  This mega-of-megas, one of the world’s most extraordinary birds, might render almost any other first state record pedestrian, or at least anticlimactic.

At the very least, it does overshadow the only other chaseable first Maine record for this year: Redwing, a European thrush. What was the “bird of the year” until three days remaining on the calendar, this bird delighted many hundreds of birders at Capisic Pond Park in Portland at the end of January 2021 – which seems like eons ago! The first state record, however, actually came earlier in the month, when a Redwing – perhaps the very same individual – was a one-day wonder on private property in Steuben. Lucky for all, the next one/sighting of it showed up on public property and stayed around for about three weeks.  Redwing was #16 on my “Next 25 Species for Maine” list.

And finally, a Masked Booby surprised observers on Mount Desert Rock on August 9th.  With increasing observations of tropical seabirds north of the Gulf Stream, this is less shocking than it would have been a few years ago.

Three first state records in one year is pretty good, and the quality of this year’s roster is impressive. How will 2022 compare?

Therefore, my list of next 25 species to occur in Maine receives just a few tweaks.

  • 1) Neotropical Cormorant
  • 2) Graylag Goose
  • 3) California Gull
  • 4) Spotted Towhee
  • 5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • 6) Bermuda Petrel
  • 7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • 8) Common Shelduck
  • 9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin) *Edit, 4/1. See Below*
  • 9) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
  • 10) Little Stint
  • 11) Anna’s Hummingbird
  • 12) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
  • 13) Common Ground-Dove
  • 14) Allen’s Hummingbird
  • 15) Spotted Redshank
  • 16) Painted Redstart
  • 17) Ross’s Gull
  • 18) Black-capped Petrel
  • 19) Lesser Nighthawk
  • 20) Barolo Shearwater (a good record, with photographs, unlike my “it has to be this” sight record!)
  • 21) Elegant Tern
  • 22) Kelp Gull
  • 23) Black-tailed Gull
  • 24) Hooded Oriole
  • 25) Common Scoter

***EDIT, 3/31 – When a Trumpeter Swan arrived in Scarborough Marsh, it was noted as the 2nd State Record. I realized that the 2011 bird from Fortune’s Rock Beach in Biddeford was indeed added to the “official” state list. I had counted it on my own list (so no change below), but I never followed up on its status, apparently. With the rapidly expanding introduced populations in the Northeast, along with increasing amount of states “declaring” the bird “established,” I’m shocked it’s taken this long to get a second one. The predictions list has been updated accordingly.***

Personally, I was fortunate to add two birds to my own state list this year. And they were good ones!

The aforementioned Redwing got things started. It was not on my Top 25 list because I expected it to be a one-day wonder in some far-off place, never to be seen again. It was. But then it, or another bird – there were several Redwings in the Northeast part of the continent last winter – debuted at Capisic. That was fun.

Did I mention there was a Steller’s Sea-Eagle? That was my 391st species in Maine!

So neither of my state birds were on my Predictions list. I’ll be OK though, all things considered.

And, as usual, there were also a handful of potential state birds for me that I did not see.  Franklin’s Gull appears to be on its way to becoming my nemesis, with another one this year: a one-day wonder at the Sanford Lagoons on 9/9. It was #3 on my list.

A Sandwich Tern at Mount Desert Rock on 7/6 was on my Honorable Mention list, as was Brown Booby, which has started to become regular north of Cape Cod.  There was one off of Biddeford Pool on 7/8 ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa, followed by one on Mount Desert Rock August 2nd through 9th (not an easy place to chase!). 

So a few tweaks to my list for my next additions to my personal state list are as follows:

  • 1) American White Pelican
  • 2) Neotropic Cormorant
  • 3) Franklin’s Gull
  • 4) Brown Pelican
  • 5) Graylag Goose
  • 6) California Gull
  • 7) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  • 8) Brown Booby
  • 9) Slaty-backed Gull
  • 10) Boreal Owl
  • 11) Calliope Hummingbird
  • 12) Common Ringed Plover
  • 13) Cerulean Warbler
  • 14) White Ibis
  • 15) Gull-billed Tern
  • 16) Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • 17) Spotted Towhee
  • 18) Pacific Golden-Plover
  • 19) Wood Stork
  • 20) Ross’s Gull
  • 21) Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • 22) Brewer’s Blackbird
  • 23) Yellow Rail
  • 24) Virginia’s Warbler
  • 25) Common Shelduck

So let’s see what 2021 (edited: 2022) brings to the Maine birding world. A return to a sense of normalcy would be a nice start, however.

I am overdue to luck into an American White Pelican in the state!

This Week’s Highlights, 11/6-11/11

No shame in chasing a bird that is this stunningly gorgeous! And like the chase of the ATFL earlier this week, we put in the effort to find out own beforehand – and then rewarded ourselves with another exceptional rarity!
What a dapper goose.

Despite my best efforts, my “best” birds of the week were all chased and not found. Nonetheless, I had a great week of birding and birdfinding. My highlights over the past six days were as follows:

  • 1 continuing CATTLE EGRET, 2 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Pine Warbler, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 8 Laughing Gulls, etc, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/6 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • 2 Blackpoll Warblers, Saco Riverwalk, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 3 Great Egrets, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 1 continuing PRAIRIE WARBLER, 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 1 Indigo Bunting, 1 Great Horned Owl, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, etc, Biddeford Pool neighborhood, Biddeford, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian)
  • 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 2 Lincoln’s Sparrows, etc, Private property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 1 still-continuing late Fish Crow, Cook’s Corner, Brunswick, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 continuing BARNACLE GOOSE, South Elementary School, Rockland, 11/9 (with Jeannette). Photos above and below.
  • 1 American Coot and 10 American Wigeon, The Samoset, Rockport, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 American Woodcock, Rte 1, Thomaston, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 2 American Wigeon and 1 Killdeer, Old Brunswick Road, Durham, 11/11.
I simply love the subtle beauty in the color and pattern of the wings and back of this species.

This Week’s (Non Sandy-Point) Highlights, 9/24-9/30: Monhegan Island

This Blue Grosbeak was among the stars of the show from an exceptional weekend of
great birds on Monhegan Island.

I haven’t yet posted a Monhegan tour blog from last weekend, so I figured I’d at least post some of the highlights from our extremely exciting weekend chock-full of great birds!

9/24 (with Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour group):

  • 1 adult GREAT BLACK BACKED X HERRING GULL HYBRID
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • 1 Sora

9/25 (with tour group):

  • 1 adult PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Found by me at “Chat Bridge” and refound nearby a short while later by Kristen Lindquist and part of my group.  Only bird of the weekend not seen again.
  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 8 DICKCISSELS (in flock together at one point)
  • 2 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS (in flock with 8 Dickcissels).
  • 1 Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush (presumed Gray-cheeked)
  • 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

9/26 (with Tour group):

  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 7 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

9/27 (with tour group):

  • 1 WESTERN KINGBIRD (found by Kristen Lindquist. Refound by us at the Trailing Yew, then later by our group again at the cemetery. Last sighting?)
  • At least 5 DICKCISSELS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • 9/28 (with Jeannette and Kristen Lindquist):
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • 2 LARK SPARROWS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 4 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 Orange-crowned Warbler
  • 1 unidentified jaeger at a floating Minke Whale carcass offshore.
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

Other Highlights:

  • 2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Dry Ledges off of Allen Island from Port Clyde Ferry, 9/28 (with Jeannette).

And don’t forget, our next pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s out of Boothbay Harbor is coming up, on October 11th. Information and registration can be found here.

OK, back to work on my Monhegan blog.

A Rufous Hummingbird in our Yard!

On Saturday, July 31st, 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.

References:

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.

2021 Maine Birds Predictions

It might “only” have been a second state record, but the Rock Wren that was discovered along Marginal Way near the Perkin’s Cove parking lot in Ogunquit in November was a state bird for everyone who enjoyed it during its long stay that continues right through today.

It’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.

2020 was definitely a different year. “Worst year ever” was a common refrain by year’s end, but don’t tell that to 2021 which seems to be taking up the challenge so far. I’ve written this blog for over a decade now, but this was the first one written about, and during, a national crisis that was so deadly that many birders stayed home for much of the year. Before spring had arrived in Maine and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic had fully arrived in Maine, trips were cancelled, many folks stayed closer to home if venturing out at all, and many birders avoided crowded seasonal hotspots. I wrote about birding in a pandemic in this early spring blog, but a small silver lining to this tragedy was the huge growth in birding, especially in the backyard.  I was even interviewed about this in the New York Times this summer.

By fall, the growth in birding and bird-feeding and the new online community connections made while stuck at home yielded even more opportunities to see amazing birds and add some really spectacular rarities to brand-new life lists. A massive incursion of birds from the western US was underway throughout the East this fall, and this resulted in some of the most incredible “mega” rarities, such as Rock Wren and Bullock’s Oriole. The first chaseable Rufous Hummingbird in many years was another real crowd-pleaser and was made accessible by gracious hosts.

Nonetheless, there were not any first state records detected this year. Therefore, my list of next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2021 remains unchanged:

  1. Neotropical Cormorant
  2. Graylag Goose
  3. California Gull
  4. Spotted Towhee
  5. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  6. Bermuda Petrel
  7. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  8. Common Shelduck
  9. Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
  10. Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good).
  11. Little Stint
  12. Anna’s Hummingbird
  13. “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
  14. Common Ground-Dove
  15. Allen’s Hummingbird
  16. Redwing
  17. Spotted Redshank
  18. Painted Redstart
  19. Ross’s Gull
  20. Black-capped Petrel
  21. Lesser Nighthawk
  22. Elegant Tern
  23. Kelp Gull
  24. Black-tailed Gull
  25. Common Scoter

Despite such a great year for rare birds in Maine, I actually only added two birds to my own state list however. But they were good ones! But first, let’s check in with last year’s prediction list to see how I did…at least for the birds, the rest of the year, no, I did not predict.

Of course, there was (is) the Rock Wren (Honorable Mention) in Ogunquit (photo above), but for me, the bigger one was the Say’s Phoebe in New Gloucester on 9/24. It was #4 on my list, but my #1 nemesis bird.

As usual, there were also a handful of potential state birds for me that I did not see.  Common Ringed Plover (#12) on Seal Island in September and a Sooty Tern (Honorable Mention) on Matinicus Rock following Tropical Storm Isaias were obviously beyond my reach, obviously, a Franklin’s Gull (#5) in Lamoine on 11/5 did not linger, and a Yellow Rail (#22) was kept secret. The big miss however was the Golden-crowned Sparrow (Honorable Mention) in October at a feeder in Abbot that I just did not chase for a variety of reasons, including how busy the fall was at the store.

So a few tweaks to my list for my next additions to my personal state list are as follows:

  1. American White Pelican
  2. Neotropic Cormorant
  3. Franklin’s Gull
  4. Brown Pelican
  5. Graylag Goose
  6. California Gull
  7. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  8. Slaty-backed Gull
  9. Boreal Owl
  10. Calliope Hummingbird
  11. Common Ringed Plover
  12. Cerulean Warbler
  13. White Ibis
  14. Gull-billed Tern
  15. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  16. Spotted Towhee
  17. Pacific Golden-Plover
  18. Wood Stork
  19. Ross’s Gull
  20. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  21. Brewer’s Blackbird
  22. Yellow Rail
  23. Loggerhead Shrike
  24. Virginia’s Warbler
  25. Common Shelduck

So let’s see what 2021 brings to the Maine birding world. A return to a sense of normalcy would be a nice start, however.

My favorite rarity photo of the year, however, was the Freeport Bullock’s Oriole feeding in front of the Maine state flag!

Say’s Phoebe – A Maine Nemesis No More!

While out to dinner last night (9/23/2020), I pulled my phone out to look up a couple of things on the menu Jeannette and I were perusing. I usually don’t bother clicking on an email with a subject line “Bird ID” when I am out to dinner; that’s for working hours. But I decided to click on this one from Dave Fensore.

I am sure glad that I did, because those were the photos it contained. Dave and his daughter, Sarah, were out for an afternoon stroll when they found this bird which they identified as a Say’s Phoebe. But they also noted its range: breeding no closer than central North Dakota and winter no closer than southern Texas, they began to have their doubts. Luckily the Sibley Guide shows that they are rare throughout the East, so it is not without precedence, but still, rare birds are rare, and so they sent the photos to me to be sure.

Needless to say, there’s not much question about the birds identify from these stellar photos!

The only question I had was whether or not it would be there in the morning, because for me, the chase was on!

See, Say’s Phoebe (with over a dozen records in Maine) is what I can definitely call a “nemesis” bird in the state for me. I’ve missed three birds on Monhegan, by a sum of less than about 30 hours. One that I missed by a couple of hours resulted in a sprained ankle that lingers with the occasional flare-up of tendinitis. A few friends love to point out how many Say’s Phoebes they have seen in Maine (what are friends for, afterall!). So this bird has physically and mentally scarred me for some time. I also missed at least one on the mainland because I was on Monhegan for the week.

But not anymore.

Sure, I skipped another Morning Flight at Sandy Point, but as of 6:55am this morning, I had finally seen a Say’s Phoebe in Maine. Dave and Carolyn, and Matthew Gilbert, were waiting there, fingers pointing, as I rolled up.

Early morning backlighting made for challenging photography conditions, and my camera is having some front-focusing issues. So my photos are not very good. Dave’s are definitely better, and my flight shots turned out to be a complete disaster. But mine are sweet, oh, so sweet. And my ankle doesn’t even hurt today.

The bird can be observed from the quiet and safe side of Shaker Rd (Old Rte 26…note that Shaker Rd leaves the Rte 26 Bypass a short distance south of here), from the crest of the hill immediately south of the historic village.

Please note, the Village is currently closed. There is no parking there or trespassing into the fields. Luckily, there is plenty of roadside parking on a wide shoulder, and all of the fields are easily visible from the roadside, so this should not be an issue. In fact, it cannot be an issue here; we must respect the community.

The bird is moving around the various fence lines, with the temporary white fence through the closest field being one of its favorite haunts.

I got the word out and birders began to arrive. I departed, owing Dave a whole lot of thanks. And wondering if I’ll find a Say’s Phoebe on Monhegan this weekend, because once you see your nemesis…

Birding a Pandemic: The “well, we might as well go birding, kinda” Perspective.

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March and early April birding in Maine is such a tease. The first new arrivals – Turkey Vultures, Common Grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds – begin arriving in late February, and waterfowl are on the move shortly thereafter. In a mild spring such as this, the diving ducks that have graced our open waters all winter rapidly begin to disperse – no more big flocks of goldeneyes to sort through for a Barrow’s anymore, for example. And while dabbling duck migration is in full swing, the near-total lack of ice already has limited concentrations and kept the birds on the move. So we are left anxiously awaiting the arrival of new migrants – raptors first, and then the “new arrivals” under the feeders in the backyard.

But when it feels like floodgates are about to open any day now, we get a snowstorm or a requisite cold snap. Or just a few days with a persistent north wind to impede progress. And then we realize it is still March, and the floodgates won’t open for several more weeks or even a month. Even when we turn the page to April, it takes a while to really get going – especially if we have a large area of low pressure stock spinning offshore as we do at the moment.

And then we get a pandemic.

After weeks of limiting our travel, social/physical distancing, park closures, and other methods, we have failed to stem the exponential growth of the illness, those who it is affecting, and very sadly, those who are dying from it. This is no joke, and impacts on our birding are really the least of our concerns. But we’re birders, and we simply have to look at birds for our well-being. Birding walks, backyard bird feeding, and outings to look for a recent rarity are all part of our mental health, and necessary physical activity. And numerous studies have shown the mental and physical health benefits of birding, or many other forms of being immersed in nature. And mental and physical health – including our immune systems – are intrinsically connected.

But our birding needs to change, and it needs to change now. No matter what our reasons, excuses, apathies, and/or concerns are, Maine is now under a “Stay at Home” mandate from the Governor.  We still can – and should –  recreate to the best of our ability, but we have to do it wisely and safely. 

Especially as I take still-fairly-quiet walks in the local woods with the dog or an afternoon stroll down my road, waiting for the next wave of migrants to show up, I have been thinking a lot about what that the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic means for birds and birding. And not the obvious, such as some birders we know could get sick or that physical distancing means no birding groups and tours, but more subtle differences. Really, this is nothing more than a thought exercise; something to think about and discuss to pass the time. And nothing here should suggest I am downplaying the threat of this disease, but instead, just occupying some of the brain time in between. Besides, we’re birders. We find a bright side to everything from massive devastating hurricanes (vagrant seabirds) to climate change (new expanded breeding ranges)…it’s what we do; our optimism is what keeps us going.

• BIRDING HOTSPOTS and NEW PATCHES.
Many birding hotspots are now closed or too crowded to be safely enjoyed by smart people. Stay-at-home orders are now state-wide in Maine, and many more of us are just trying to be as safe as possible. In other words, the birders’ wings have been clipped.

I squeezed in a visit to Scarborough Marsh on Tuesday morning, with the 2020 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Official Counter, hours before the stay at home order was announced rather unexpectedly. I’m glad Luke got a chance to see this wonderful place, and we had a pretty good few hours of birding. A total of 26 Gadwall between three different locations was probably an all-time state high count for me, and we enjoyed our first of year Great Egrets (4) and Greater Yellowlegs (1) as well. Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and other dabbling ducks were in relative short supply as they are already moving inland and to points north, but we enjoyed good diversity.

But now Scarborough Marsh is too far from my home for me to comfortably visit. On Wednesday morning, I hit Wharton Point on the early morning outgoing tide and was thrilled to find a Eurasian Green-winged Teal x American Green-winged Teal hybrid, as well as my first 3 Northern Shovelers of the year. And there were a lot of ducks at Simpson’s Point to.

But, for me, I cannot justify heading out to stand still (no exercise, although if it’s as raw and cold as this morning, I would be burning plenty of calories!). Perhaps a seed delivery run (more on that below) will take me past at the right time in the tide for a quick check.

In other words, like you, I am losing my hotspots. So what’s next? Will birders just bird less? There’s a reason that these are hotspots – they have proven over the years that they are some of the best places to go birding. Or, will we – like I tend to find myself doing anyway! – simply shift to under-visited areas? While I usually prefer to bird off the beaten path, now there is no other choice. Personally, I had been allowing myself one or two mornings a week to go slightly further afield, but for the most part, I have been sticking within a 15 minute radius of my home: dog walks, feeder-watching, local patches, and especially the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch. With the new state-wide order in effect, my birding radius – like yours – will be reduced much, much further. Luckily, us birders – whether limited to a small yard, an outdoor deck, or access to miles of trails, can still indulge in our beloved pastime, at least in some way. But rarities and the unexpected are a large part of what drives many of us.

So what is a birder to do? Do you keep a “Patch List” – a list of all the species seen or heard from your local park, woodlot, neighborhood, etc. Now might be the perfect time to start one (as I wrote about in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder). If you can walk to it, even better! Keep in mind that the less we move about, the less likely we are to spread the virus, or use services – such as emergency services should we have an accident, for a brutal – but ever so real – example – that are already strained right now. And save money on gas and vehicle wear-and-tear – and emit less carbon.

Will that new land trust property down the road turn out to be a new birding hotspot? If it does, will you tell anyone? And I don’t mean this facetiously, especially as many (but certainly not all) birders are always looking to be socially distant when they’re out birding. My Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide includes locations throughout the state, and not just conventional hotspots. Perhaps its time to check out a new site in the book? Or, grab a map and figure out some interesting bird-concentrating geography to explore. Or, pull out Google Maps, put on the satellite mode, and identify a wetland nearby that might end up having something you don’t see every day.

The benefit of a Patch List is that every bird – no matter how common overall – counts. Depending on the habitat, even overall abundant migrants might become patch mega-rarities! Like when a puddle becomes large enough to host a migrant yellowlegs, or when a harrier is spotted as it passes over a forested area. The thrill of discovery is just around the corner, and is likely all yours!

• RARITIES.
Early April isn’t a great time for rare birds in Maine, usually with the exception of waterfowl. But if people aren’t getting out to traditional hotspots will rarities be found? And what will happen if a “Mega” is discovered? Will we forget the rules and race out for it, standing in large, anxious groups discussing and reveling? Or – especially if the bird is in an area that can’t handle crowds – will it be shared at all? Should it be?

As April rolls on, and migration continues in earnest, we usually get a wave of rarities near the end of the month. Especially after a warm spell of southwesterly winds, southern “overshoots” sometimes occur in good numbers. These species flew just a little bit too far north, as their airspeed was aided by strong tailwinds. This deposits species like Summer Tanagers, Hooded Warblers, and Blue Grosbeaks much further north than usual. With food supplies still limited in these parts, some of these – especially Summer Tanagers – show up at feeding stations.
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If rarities and listing are a primary driver, there’s no way around it, the next month (at least) is going to be a real challenge. While we have to make many of our own decisions, we simply have to put more and more of our desires aside for the greater good. While I like a good “twitch” now and again, I’m even happier watching for new yard birds or working on a local patch list while walking the dog. And, of course, there is Bonxie’s Life List to work on!

• FEEDERS.
Speaking of rarities at feeding stations, the backyard is really the place to be. And a lot of us are enjoying watching the feeders right now, safe at home and getting fresh air in the backyard. Our store remains open – with free local delivery and curbside pickup greatly encouraged – and we’ve made it easier than ever to order a much wider range of products online. If our store is one sample, then people are turning to backyard birdwatching as an import source of entertainment and the mental health benefits of watching birds and being in nature are very well established. This is definitely how I am doing much of my birding right now – although I have been making lots of stops at ponds, wet fields, etc, as I go about our seed delivery runs!

But what’s going to happen if a Painted Bunting shows up at a feeder? What if it’s not visible from the road? What if we’re worried about the crowds that might show up? Will it be shared? I definitely don’t think people should be opening their house to birders right now for views out the window, that’s for sure! With more people looking at their feeders – home for work and birding from the window – all day, I bet more unusual birds will be noted (as long as we get the weather patterns that produce rarities), but will the community as a whole find out? Should “yard birds” be posted and publicized right now? This is likely an individual decision, but one in which the desire to share is greatly overshadowed by the need to stay safe. But at least document the rarity and we’ll figure out all the records later. I’d just be very careful right now about posting specific locations that people can find in eBird or on Facebook, especially without the background knowledge of how to behave at that site (e.g stay in the car and view from the road only) being very evident.

Especially with our wonderful new garden at the store, we have been anxiously expecting its first vagrant. Of course, it will happen when the store is basically closed and the only reasonable way to view our feeders without flushing the birds is from inside; figures!

We had 22 species at the feeders here at the store this week, and while our feeders are not quite as diverse at home at the moment, we still have plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos and tons of American Goldfinches. Many more individuals of our common woodland species are augmented by a regular Pileated Woodpecker pair and increasing numbers of Purple Finches right now. We’ll soon have a wave of White-throated Sparrows and the first Chipping Sparrows munching away on the White Proso Millet, and Pine Warblers are starting to show up at feeding stations – the most common (by far) warbler to show up at feeders and the only “yellow warbler” to appear before the end of the month when Palm Warblers start to arrive (which almost never visit feeders).
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• APPRECIATE THE COMMON!

On our currently-suspended Saturday Morning Birdwalks, we have “The Cardinal Rule:” If there is a male cardinal singing in the sun, we all have to stop to look at it through the scope. It’s a reminder to appreciate the most common birds around us, which in many cases are some of the most beautiful. There are few places in the world where the most stunning birds – think cardinals, Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, etc – are common feeder visitors; no distant travel or long searches required!
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Seriously, when was the last time you REALLY looked at a Blue Jay? Watch how the light plays with a pallet of colors as a Common Grackle moves – this is not just a black bird! Check for newly arrived migrant sparrows under your feeders, and step into the backyard to hear the growing chorus of spring birdsong. There is so much beauty around us, right outside our windows. We firmly believe in the mental health benefits of maintaining our connection with the nature world, especially birds, in this time of stress and uncertainty. There is nothing better to do right now for your health and safety than enjoying watching the beauty of birds at our feeders and in our yards.

Personally, on some of my walks recently, I can’t help but smile every time I hear a Brown Creeper sing, and the ethereal and brilliant song of Winter Wrens – which are just now arriving – can bring joy to any day. Pileated Woodpeckers are vocal and conspicuous, and if you live in the boreal zone, now’s a great time to look for Spruce Grouse and Canada Jays! And I was very excited to finally see my first Fox Sparrow of the year under our feeders at home this morning – a Fox Sparrow can brighten any day, even one like today!
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• ROADKILL.
On a completely different note, yes, I was thinking about roadkill when walking the dog the other day. And no, it was not because Bonxie tried to eat some, it was only because a small group of Turkey Vultures were passing overhead. So it got me thinking about how the greatly reduced amount of traffic on the roads will reduce the number of small animals and migrant birds hit by cars. Squirrels battling over territories, porcupines being porcupines, and flocks of migrant sparrows flushing in panic from the roadsides will all likely see reduced mortality. But what does this mean for scavengers? How will Turkey Vultures, still marching northward with a warming climate, find food if the interstates are clear? Will crows spend less time scavenging and more time looking for nests to raid? It seems odd, I know, to think about roadkill as a good thing, but it does now fill a niche, so it’s part of the equation.

I will say, for certainty, however, that if the amphibian migration “big night” occurs while we’re still under stay-at-home advisements or orders, then a whole more frogs and salamanders will make it to their vernal pools to breed. Thursday (4/2) might just end up being a “Big Night,”when a mass migration of amphibians (especially Spotted Salamanders, Wood Frogs, and Spring Peepers) takes place – at least in the southern third of the state. Regardless, on any wet night for the next few weeks, skip the take-out run and leave the car in the driveway. Instead, take a walk with a good flashlight and patrol your local roads for crossing frogs and salamanders as they move from the uplands they spend the winter in to the vernal pools and small ponds they breed in. As long as you don’t have insect repellent or any other products on your hands (or just wear gloves), you can pick them up and carry them to the other side. Just be sure you know which way they were heading before you got to close, so you don’t make them start this deadly part of the trip over.

• BACKYARD HABITAT. As a tie-in to the discussion about bird feeding, this spring is a perfect time to improve the habitat for birds in our backyard. If only to be self-serving by having more birds to enjoy around us, we can improve our habitat with many small steps or larger overhaul projects. Lawns suck, and native plants are always better. Maybe place an order with FedCo or call your local nursey or garcen center for some wildflower seeds for birds and pollinators and convert a few square yards at a time to something more productive than a chemically-laden monoculture? Starting seeds indoors is a great way to be productive right now. Or perhaps get to work on removing invasive species and planting more native plants that offer food and shelter to our native birds and insects. Perhaps our garden projects will yield more birds for us to enjoy the next time we’re stuck in the house for a prolonged period of time? Or better yet, if enough of us convert our yards to wildlife sanctuaries, perhaps we can even stem the decline of some bird populations!

We do, however, have to keep in mind that if we are attracting more birds to our yard, we are bringing them closer to two serious threats – cats and windows. If you still refuse the science and allow your cat to roam free outdoors despite their devastating ecological impact, then please ignore this. At least 3.8Billion birds a year are killed by cats in the US alone. We don’t have that many birds to spare anymore. (But hey, now’s the perfect time to build that “catio” of your feline’s dreams! Seriously). And we really need to work on this window collision issue – that’s as many as another Billion or so birds. We need to rethink window design and construction, but for now, at least leave your screens up and use consumer products especially BirdTape and Feather Friendly (both available here at the store)

These are a few of my recent thoughts and ideas. What do you think? Any potential costs or benefits to birds and birding come to mind for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

2020 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

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After missing Maine by just a few miles in 2018, it’s only a matter of time before we see the state’s first Neotropic Cormorant – a species that is rapidly expanding northward. Be sure to double-check a lone cormorant in a tiny pond or river!

As we put 2019 to bed and begin 2020, we have our eyes set on the birding future. As for the future of birding, well, that’s a blog for another day, but for now, what about the next “new birds” to be seen in Maine?

Yup, it’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2019 Predictions post, and see how I did.

The epic 2018 was going to be hard to follow – in fact, who knows if we’ll ever see a year as exceptional for new birds like that.  While an above-average five new species were added to Maine’s state list in 2018, the infamous Great Black Hawk is a headliner for the ages.

We came back to Earth in 2019, with only 1 or 2 new species for Maine. The first, was a Zone-tailed Hawk in Bridgeton on May the 4th. This was #18 on my predictions list for next new species to be found in Maine following several regional sightings over the past few years.

I say 1-2 because on October 30th, I found a Barolo’s Shearwater in Maine waters, just west of George’s Bank. The problem was it was a single-observer sight record and that’s hard for a functioning and respected rare birds records committee to accept as a first state record. So who knows what Maine’s will do.

Barolo’s Shearwater was on my honorable mention list, but I certainly did not expect to see it; I would have assumed it would have been photographed from a NOAA fisheries research ship in the summer in deeper waters near the continental shelf, or perhaps immediately following a hurricane.

With only 1-2 new species for Maine in 2018, I’ve only made a few minor changes to my forecast, including the debut of Black-capped Petrel. Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2020 is now:
1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Spotted Towhee
5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
6) Bermuda Petrel
7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
8) Common Shelduck
9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
16) Redwing
17) Spotted Redshank
18) Painted Redstart
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-capped Petrel
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Personally, I added a respectable 5 species to my own Maine list this year as well, including my long-sought #1 (and #1 nemesis): Great Skua. We scored one in Maine waters on our cruise – the aforementioned cruise that resulted in the Barolo’s Shearwater.  Whether you have respect for your state records committee or not, functioning ones are not the “list police” that tell you what you can and cannot count. After much review, study, and discussion, I am confident I saw a Barolo’s Shearwater, so I am putting it on my list. Since I don’t submit my list the the ABA, eBird, or anyone else, I get to make my own rules!  But sorry folks, if you are playing the listing game, you have to play by the listing rules.

Regardless, I did not have Barolo’s on my own prediction list, so for this particular game, it definitely does not count. But prior to getting my #1 bird, I also was lucky enough to be leading a group on Monhegan and was minutes away when my #2 bird – Eurasian Collared-Dove – was discovered(only the second ever in Maine…for now).
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We were at a trade show in Portland when a Tundra Swan (#7 on my list) was spotted at Dunstan Landing in Scarborough Marsh, so we skipped out for a spell and successfully “twitched” it. It was a welcome break from being indoors all day, and it was an easy 15-minute chase.
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Last, but definitely not least, was the Harris’s Sparrow at a feeder in Levant that I was lucky enough to see with friends on December 8th…my 385th species in Maine, but only on my list of honorable mentions. But I’ll call predicting 3 our of 5 new state birds a win!
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Then, as always, there were the misses. American White Pelican (#5) is becoming a nemesis, with several brief sighting in Portland on May 16th, and another bird in Aroostook County in August. I worked hard for post-Hurricane Dorian rare terns in late September, but missed out on a Gull-billed Tern (#17) at Hill’s Beach on 9/28.

Not in my top 25, but no less disappointing to miss was Brown Booby that was spotted on and off, here and there, for perhaps much of the summer and a Tropical Kingbird in East Machias on 10/31. Much worse, however, was the dead Purple Gallinule found under the wires at Sandy Point on 10/19.

So with some big changes at the top, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine looks quite different.

1) American White Pelican
2) Neotropic Cormorant
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) Franklin’s Gull
6) Brown Pelican
7) California Gull
8) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
9) Slaty-backed Gull
10) Boreal Owl
11) Calliope Hummingbird
12) Common Ringed Plover
13) Cerulean Warbler
14) White Ibis
15) Gull-billed Tern
16) Hammond’s Flycatcher
17) Spotted Towhee
18) Wood Stork
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-chinned Hummingbird
21) Brewer’s Blackbird
22) Yellow Rail
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

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Maybe 2020 is the year for this nemesis of mine in Maine to come in for a landing in front of me!