Tag Archives: Sabattus Pond

This Week’s Highlights: December 3 – 9, 2022

The still-unfrozen waters of Sabattus Pond were fantastic this week. One of the highlights was this continuing drake Canvasback.

So-called “half-hardies” dominated my highlights away from a still-productive Sabattus Pond, as if often the case this time of year.

  • 1 adult Iceland Gull, Yarmouth Town Landing, 12/3 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • Sabattus Pond, 12/5: 1 continuing immature male EURASIAN WIGEON, 1 continuing drake CANVASBACK, 1 PIED-BILLED GREBE, 1 1st winter Iceland Gull, ~350 Ruddy Ducks, 3 Northern Pintails, 2 Ring-necked Ducks, 1 Horned Grebe, etc.  Full waterbird list here.
  • 1 Winter Wren, 1 Hermit Thrush, 1 Northern Flicker, and 3 Red Crossbills, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 12/5.
  • 1 Evening Grosbeak, our yard in Durham, 12/6.
  • 1 Fox Sparrow, feeders here at the store, 12/6-7.
  • 1 Gray Catbird, 3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and 1 Swamp Sparrow, Saco Riverwalk, Saco, 12/9 (with Allison Anholt).

I take a lot of photos this time of year of birds with Multiflora Rose stems in front of their faces. Like this – and every other – Ruby-crowned Kinglet shot from the Saco Riverwalk on 12/9.

This Week’s Highlights: November 11 – November 18, 2022

I found this presumptive BLACK-HEADED X RING-BILLED GULL HYBRID along Greely Road in Cumberland during steady rain in the late morning of the 13th. It looks very similar to the individual of this hybrid pair that wintered on the Falmouth waterfront for at least two years, 2019-20, and 2020-21. Could it be the same bird with a little more black on the head due to the earlier date?

Rarity season is upon us, but most of my birding this week was in and around our yard. Not that that wasn’t extremely enjoyable though!  A few forays afield did not produce those hoped-for November “Megas,” but I did see a few things of note over the past eight days including:

  • Evening Grosbeaks have been present daily at our feeders in Durham all week. 7 on 11/11 peaked at 32 on 11/12 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • 1 Lapland Longspur (FOF), over our yard in Durham, 11/11.
  • 1 RUSTY BLACKBIRD, our feeders in Durham, 11/12 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • 1 first-winter Iceland Gull (FOF), Thornhurst Farm, 11/13.
  • 1 PUTATIVE BLACK-HEADED X RING-BILLED GULL HYBIRD, Greely Road, Cumberland, 11/13. First distant observation in driving rain suggested a much, much darker head and mantle, but finally relocated closer to the road. Joined by Nick Lund and Reed and Laura Robinson. 
  • Red Crossbills have been regular fly-overs in our Durham yard this week, but 10 were feeding on Eastern Hemlocks on 11/17.
  • 3 continuing CANVASBACKS, 398 Ruddy Ducks, 320 mixed scaup (too far to reliably sort through, 1 Evening Grosbeak, 1 Winter Wren, etc, etc, Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/17.

This Week’s Highlights: October 8 -14, 2022

Northern Fulmar on our ½ day Pelagic on Tuesday.

My birding levels were closer to par for me this week, albeit concentrated on building our new yard list! The last two group tours of the year – both by boat – were conducted this week, with overall great success. It was also nice to have a few mornings to get some casual birding in before work. This is my favorite time of the birding year, afterall!

  • 1 Marsh Wren (in a dry patch of burdock!), our yard in Durham, 10/8.
  • 1 Bobolink, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 10/8 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • 1 Long-tailed Duck (first of fall), 3 Snowy Egrets, 115 Surf Scoters, etc, Birds of Casco Bay Boat Tour, 10/9.
  • 1 Indigo Bunting in a very light morning flight at Sandy Point, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth, 10/10 (total – 87 migrants).
  • ½ Day Pelagic out of Boothbay Harbor on 10/11: 1 Common Murre, 1 Parasitic Jaeger, 1 Pomarine Jaeger, 3 Northern Fulmars, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, etc.  Full trip report with photos and annotated checklist, along with my Stercorariidae mea culpa can be seen here.
  • Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 10/13: 158 RUDDY DUCKS, 84 Lesser Scaup, 56 Greater Scaup, 2 American Wigeon, 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 1 Ring-necked Duck, etc.

This Week’s Highlights, 11/20-26, 2021

The Short-eared Owls were a little far for photographs under fading light,
but the sunset made for a nice backdrop to the evening’s observations.

My observations of note over the past seven days were as follows as birdlife become decidedly wintery very quickly!

  • 2 “Ispwich” Savannah Sparrows, Crescent Beach State Park, Cape Elizabeth, 11/21
  • 1 Brown-headed Cowbird, Private property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/21.
  • 2 SHORT-EARED OWLS, Brunswick Landing from Bowdoin Sand Plain, Brunswick, 11/21 (with Jeannette).
  • 3 Red Crossbills, Runaround Pond, Durham, 11/25.
  • 1 Rusty Blackbird, Route 9, Pownal, 11/25.
  • Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/26 – 14 species of waterfowl:

344 Ruddy Ducks

279 Mallards

159 Common Mergansers

156 Canada Geese

127 Lesser Scaup

63 American Black Ducks

17 Green-winged Teal

63 Greater Scaup

11 Buffleheads

9 American Wigeon

4+ Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid

4 Hooded Mergansers

4 Northern Pintails

1 Common Goldeneye

1 continuing hen White-winged Scoter

  • 1 hen Wood Duck, Thornhurst Farm, 11/26.

This Week’s Highlights, 11/17-19, 2021.

Part of this fall’s incursion of Cattle Egrets into the Northeast, we caught up with this cooperative individual while birding in Vermont at the Goose Viewing Area of the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area on 11/13.

After spending a long weekend in Vermont – including quite a few birding highlights – it’s been mostly catching up here at the store. Nonetheless, I did have a great morning at Sabattus Pond on Friday.

  • 1 Winter Wren, Highland Road, Brunswick, 11/18.
  • Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/19 – 16 species of waterfowl!

520 Ruddy Ducks

444 Mallards

251 Lesser Scaup

154 American Black Ducks

74 Green-winged Teal

48 Greater Scaup

41 Common Mergansers

19 Hooded Mergansers

18 Canada Geese

16 American Wigeon

13 Northern Pintails

8 Buffleheads

3 Common Goldeneyes

2 Surf Scoters

1 White-winged Scoter

1 Ring-necked Duck

X Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid

37 Turkey Vultures

1 Carolina Wren

This out of place Brant graced the Burlington Waterfront Park when we spent the morning strolling it on the 11/14.

Additional Highlights This Week, 10/16-22

Here’s the world’s worst photo of the Orange-crowned Warbler that appeared at Sandy Point on Tuesday. I drew an outline around it to (maybe) help you find it. It was my 8th ever here.

My non-Sandy Point observations of note over the past seven days included:

  • ~60 American Pipits, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 10/16 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 10/19 (with Jeannette). Choppy water made a thorough count challenging.

360+ Ruddy Ducks

173+ mixed Greater and Lesser Scaup

31 Mallards

15 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS

3 Buffleheads

2 Common Loons

  • 1 Nashville Warbler, 4 Red-throated Loons (FOF), etc, Peak’s Island, 10/22 (with Dan Nickerson).

Derek’s Birding This Week, 11/21-27/2020

Pine Grosbeaks have already started to arrive in Southern Maine, such as this female at the Yarmouth Library on the 25th.

I didn’t get very far afield much this week, but feeder-watching, local patches, and a visit to Sabattus Pond at week’s end made up for it.  My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:

  • 1 continuing LINCOLN’S SPARROW, feeders here at the store through 11/21.
  • 8 American Pipits, Highland Road, Brunswick, 11/21.
  • 1 Fox Sparrow, feeders here at the store, 11/21.
  • 1 Turkey Vulture, over the store, 11/24.
  • 100+ Horned Larks and about 40 Snow Buntings, Mayall Road, Gray/New Gloucester, 11/25.
  • 1 Common Grackle, feeders here at the store, 11/25 -present.

Sabattus Pond, Sabattus, 11/27:

  • It was a great morning as the fog lifted and the water was dead calm. Unfortunately, a high-speed fishing boat, several duck hunting parties, and two hunting Bald Eagles made it difficult to make an accurate count as birds were flushing in different directions.
  • 476 Mallards
  • 301 Canada Geese
  • 231 Ruddy Ducks
  • 174 Common Mergansers
  • 144 American Black Ducks
  • 44 Greater Scaup
  • 26 Hooded Mergansers
  • 18 Lesser Scaup
  • 8 Buffleheads
  • 5 GADWALL
  • 4 Green-winged Teal
  • 4 Common Goldeneyes
  • 3 Northern Pintails
  • 2 Common Loons
  • 1 drake American Wigeon
  • 1 probable hen American Wigeon (very brown-headed individual found last week by P. Moynahan and N. Houlihan. Spotted off South Beach but flushed by fishing boat. Refound on west shore and distantly phone-scoped, but flushed by eagle before I could get closer. Appeared to have white bar on upperwing greater coverts to rule out Eurasian, but not conclusively viewed…other details suggestive or ambiguous. Good luck ruling out a hybrid on a hen wigeon, however!)
  • 1 CACKLING GOOSE (FOY) – in distance from South Beach with large group of Canadas. Flushed by fishing boat before I could get to Riley Road to attempt phone-scoping. Very tiny bird with short neck and very short, stubby bill. Barely larger than the Mallards. Flew north, but not relocated, including searching of farm fields along eastern shore.
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher

The Finch-Tastic Fall festivities continue:

  • EVENING GROSBEAK: 9 continue daily at our feeders at home in Pownal; 1 (Highland Rd, 11/21); 2 (Martin’s Point Park, Sabattus, 11/27.
  • Red Crossbills: 3 (Highland Road, 11/21).
  • PINE GROSBEAK: 4 (Highland Road, 11/21); 3 (Yarmouth Library, 11/25).
  • Purple Finch: 0
  • Common Redpoll: scattered very few.
  • Pine Siskin High Count This Week: 6 (our feeders in Pownal, 11/22).

An Incredible 2017 “Fall Ducks and Draughts!”

One of the most popular Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! is our annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” One of the original two BoT – Roadtrips! back in 2015, this popular outing visits Sabattus Pond near the peak of fall waterfowl migration with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

It rarely disappoints, but today it far surpassed expectations! We began at the south beach, where an American Coot was a surprise. However, more surprising was the flock of shorebirds littered around the south end. While many of the 30 or so Dunlin took off and kept going, about 10 White-rumped Sandpipers returned and landed right in front of the group, no more than about 30 feet away! We were able to carefully study the progression from juvenile to 1st winter plumage, with most individuals, such as these two, mostly still in colorful juvenile plumage (with one bigger, grayer Dunlin in the background).
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With our focus back on waterfowl, we began to sort through the masses, starting with 6 spiffy Northern Pintails joining the Mallards nearby, while one lone female Green-winged Teal quickly paddled away. 18 Ring-necked Ducks loafed just a little further offshore, providing a good intro to the genus Aythya. Sabattus Pond is famous for its legions of Ruddy Ducks, and this cute little “stiff tail” was out in full force. We had a couple of hundred nearby, but a distant raft of many hundreds remained just a little too far to enjoy. We also began our comparison of Greater and Lesser Scaup, and took a moment to learn about the Chinese Mystery Snail that makes up a large percentage of the food source of all of the diving ducks we were here to enjoy.

I had set the over/under for waterfowl species at 13.5, and our list quickly began to grow: Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers a’plenty, but surprisingly only one Common Merganser and a mere three Canada Geese. American Black Ducks and a single hen American Wigeon made for a tally of 13 species of waterfowl; just falling short of covering the spread…in part because we never did make it to our third stop!

Over at Martin’s Point Park on the southwest side of the pond, we worked the dabbling ducks and enjoyed stunning Hooded Mergansers. Then, I finally had a nice, close group of the two scaup species in perfect light to give us a lesson in how to identify this challenging species-pair.

We began to walk closer, I began the lecture, and then I heard a call note from the trees that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not a Yellow-rumped Warbler – the only expected warbler species at this season – and it’s sharp tone was very suggestive. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be here, whatever it was, and my suspicions of its identity were soon proven correct when a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler popped out!
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Sticking close to the trunk of some large Eastern White Pines, it foraged within a small mixed-species foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets before eventually disappearing towards the neighborhood.

This is a real rarity in Maine, and because of the white in the front of the supercilium, we know it is of the interior subspecies albilora, and therefore not likely the result of the recent storm system. While there was unprecedented three together on Monhegan earlier in the month, this is quite the rarity, especially so far inland, and especially in Androscoggin County (I couldn’t help but wonder if there has ever been a record of this species anywhere in the county).

Unfortunately, in the meantime, some fisherman came to the shoreline, and the closest scaup departed. We did have a slightly farther raft to work through, but I ended up having to employ my rudimentary artistic skills to explain how to differentiate the two species!
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It was truly hard to leave the pond today, and I of course couldn’t help but wonder what was around the next corner, but it was time to switch gears, turn our attention to Dawn – our driver and beer guide today – and make our way over to Baxter Brewing Company, you know, to celebrate our vagrant warbler discovery!

At Baxter, housed in one of the beautifully restored mills down by the Androscoggin River, we enjoyed five samples of their most popular beers. We learned about their philosophy and history – including the noteworthy fact that they were the first 100% canning brewery in Maine – and sampled some of their best selling beers, such as Pamola pale, Tarnation lager, Per Diem stout, and the venerable Stowaway IPA. We also sampled Ceremony Green Tea IPA which surprised a lot of people and showed off the creativiTEA (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the brewery.
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We stepped outside of the brewery and were once again greeted by the local Peregrine Falcon atop the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center. After a few minutes of enjoying it through the scope, we hit the road, and discussed the beers we had just sampled. People’s favorites were rather evenly divided, aligning with their preferred style of beer, showing that Baxter really does offer something for everyone.

We followed the Androscoggin River towards the coast, and soon arrived at Maine Beer Company. MBC needs no introduction – at least if you are into IPAs or hoppy pales – but with so many folks on the trip today from “away” and/or making their first visit to this popular destination, we started things off with none other than their Peeper – their first brew that got it all started.
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Spenser came out to introduce the beers and tell us all about how MBC is dedicated to “do(ing) what’s right.” And that philosophy transcends the beer.
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They graciously offered everyone a choice of their next samples (I of course followed Lunch with Another One) and then Spenser really rolled out the red carpet for us, taking the group on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of their brewhouse…including a sneak peek at the massive new expansion that is underway. Clearly, Spenser’s excitement was evident and the group came out of this special tour absolutely bursting with MBC enthusiasm, and lots of promises to be back soon.

Thirteen species of waterfowl, many up close and personal. A most-unexpected rarity that no one in the group had seen in Maine before – and for some, a “life bird.” Urban Peregrine Falcon. Baxter Brewing Co and Maine Beer Company. Yeah, this is what Birds on Tap – Roadtrips are all about!

There are still some spaces left for the 10th and final Roadtrip of 2017, “Farms and Fermentation” coming up on Sunday, December 10th. And stay tuned – we’ll soon be announcing all TWELVE BoT Roadtrips for 2018!

2016 Rarity Season Part I

In my last blog, I predicted some great birding was in store for us here in Maine. Our entry into “Rarity Season” coupled with an active weather pattern was undoubtedly going to make for some exciting birding in the near future. It certainly started off with a bang!

Immediately following the Nor’Easter that drenched us on Friday, October 28th…
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…a Sabine’s Gull was discovered on Sabattus Pond.
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This gorgeous gull was my 373rd species in Maine, and while I knew I was going to see one sooner than later, I expected to finally get one in Maine waters during my Washington County Weekend tour (we were close!), and not well inland on a small lake!

Whether blown inland by the strong winds or “grounded” as it cross-cut over land, this pelagic is not what one expects while scanning the ducks at Sabattus.  An early 1st Winter Iceland Gull (later, two), and a rare-inland sweep of all three species of scoters (9 Surf, 4 Black, and 1 White-winged) were all related to the weather as well.
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Similarly, an adult Black-legged Kittiwake out of place in a pond at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on Sunday was likely storm-related. Although regular to downright common offshore, this is not a bird we usually see onshore in southern Maine.
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One can only imagine what else was on the 2,600+ lakes in the state of Maine during and immediately after the storm! Jeannette and I did check a few spots around Sebago Lake on Halloween, but it was surely too long after the storm, and the only birds of some note we turned up were single Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover (fairly rare inland, especially this late) at Raymond Town Beach.

I bird hard this time of year, doing my best to finish projects and keep my schedule as clear as possible to afford as much time in the field during these fruitful weeks. While I skipped birding in Portland, I did cover a lot of ground, and searched for odd birds in odd places, as well as focusing on the seasonal “migrant trap” hotspots.

In doing so, I found a few good birds, including this Lark Sparrow (always a treat away from Monhegan) at Pott’s Point in Harpswell on 11/10:
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As for wayward vagrants seen around the state by others, there were quite a few from the south: a Blue Grosbeak in Portland on 10/31, a couple more Yellow-breasted Chats were found here and there, and most surprisingly, a Blue-winged Warbler in Saxl Park in Bangor on November 7th – this early migrant simply has to be a reverse-migrant or 180-degree misoriented migrant from points south; right? And the headlines, from the southwest, as a Cave Swallow reported from Cape Elizabeth on the 12th.

From the west (and/or mid-west) came a Clay-colored Sparrow at Two Lights State Park on 11/6 and a few scattered Dickcissels around the state (but where are the Western Kingbirds this year?). A Cattle Egret in South Thomaston on 11/6 and another in Pittston on the 13th could have come from either direction.

But it’s not just rarities that make this time of year so much fun. There are all of the regular migrants that are still “lingering.” Some of the late birds that I have seen in the past weeks included a Red-eyed Vireo along the Saco Riverwalk and 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper at Biddeford Pool Beach on 10/30, a Red-eyed Vireo at Sandy Point on 11/1, a Pine Warbler and a late-ish Winter Wren on Bailey Island in Harpswell on 11/4, a slightly tardy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with Jeannette at Beaver Park in Lisbon on 11/8, a Turkey Vulture over Falmouth on 11/11, two Winter Wrens on Peak’s Island on 11/14, and a smattering of Hermit Thrushes.

Other birders also reported the usual slew of truant migrants, such as a smattering of Baltimore Orioles, a couple of Scarlet Tanagers, and a decent variety of late warblers here and there. There’s still a Marbled Godwit, 4 American Oystercatchers, and 2 Red Knots at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford Pool; I enjoyed them on the 30th, but they continued to be reported through at least 11/2 with the godwit still being reported as of 11/12!  A few Long-billed Dowitchers were reported, with the one at Sabattus Pond on 11/5 being at the most unexpected location.

The winner, however, is the immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that appeared at a feeder on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth on November 10th! I viewed it the next morning and it continues through today, the 14th. Although the photos taken by the homeowner looked good for “just” a Ruby-throat, I hoped I was missing something from the still images. Any lingering questions/hopes I had were dashed however.

That being said, it’s still a great record. Through our store we have been promoting keeping up hummingbird feeders into November for over a decade, and our database of observations after early October is growing. When I first got a call yesterday, I was sure this was going to be “a good one.” It was Nov 10th after all!

Amazingly, this is the same house that hosted a Selasphorus hummingbird last fall! In other words, it sure does pay to keep those feeders out, even if it’s “just” a Ruby-throat!
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Other, more seasonal, highlights for me over these two weeks included the following. Jeannette and I had 100 Horned Larks along Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester on 10/31; 18 Snow Buntings and 13 Horned Larks flew over Bailey Island on 11/4; a Lapland Longspur with 6 Horned Larks were at Stover’s Point Preserve in Harpswell on 11/10; two Ruddy Turnstones were at Winslow Park in Freeport on 11/12 with the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group – one of only two or three places in the state we regularly see them during the winter.

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This Barred Owl on Bailey Island on 11/4 was a treat. Any day with an owl is a good day!

Meanwhile, the new arrivals – including many species that will be spending the winter with us – continue to arrive, my “first of seasons” this week included 2 Common Goldeneyes at Sabattus Pond on the 29th, 2 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows at Timber Point in Biddeford on 10/30…
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…lots of Horned Grebes arriving all over, 2 Harlequin Ducks at East Point in Biddeford Pool and 3 Purple Sandpipers at Hill’s Beach on 10/30.

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There were also plenty of Dunlin and Sanderlings around this week, such as this one Dunlin nestled amongst the Sanderlings on Biddeford Pool Beach on the 30th.

Waterfowl migration is in full effect, and not just at Sabattus Pond (although that is certainly one of the top spots in the state). Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers are all piling in, and dabblers are also on the go, such as the single drake Northern Pintail and American Wigeon at Great Pond in Biddeford on 10/30. Common Mergansers are also now arriving; I saw my first migrants at Sebago Lake on 10/31.

Jeannette and I visited Sabattus on a gorgeous, warm day on the 8th, with glass-calm conditions allowing for careful combing through the masses: 649 Ruddy Ducks, 510 Mallards, 176 Lesser and 119 Greater Scaup, 104 American Black Ducks, 73 Buffleheads, 69 Hooded Mergansers, 40 Common Mergansers, 13 Northern Pintails,11 Common Goldeneye, 8 Green-winged Teal, 5 White-winged and 1 Surf Scoter, 4 American Wigeons, 4 Common Loons, and a very-rare-inland Red-necked Grebe.

On 11/13, I returned with a Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour with our partners at the Maine Brew Bus. Although I didn’t count everything as carefully as I do when on my own, “Fall Ducks and Draughts” did record 600+ Ruddy Ducks, 3 Gadwalls, AND 2 White-winged Scoters amongst the 14 species of waterfowl present.

The “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields” have been slow this year so far, likely also due to the mild weather and lack of early snowfalls to our north. In fact, the only “good” goose so far has been a “Blue” Snow Goose that showed up during the week of October 17th continuing through at least 11/11.  Canada Geese numbers remain rather low however; I have still not surpassed even 600 total birds this season.

There’s still some passerine migration a’happening, as well. For example, my last two days at Sandy Point for the season yielded 221 birds on 10/31 (led by 123 American Robins and 18 American Crows) and 131 on 11/1 (led by 59 Dark-eyed Juncos and 44 American Robins). Common Grackles and a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds are still heading south, although their numbers are greatly reduced over the past week.

Sparrows also continue to move through, with lots of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows on the move, and my first American Tree Sparrow arriving at the Yarmouth Town Landing on 11/5 during our Saturday Morning Birdwalk, followed by more as the weeks progressed. A White-crowned Sparrow at Biddeford Pool on 10/30 was getting late, but there are still scattered Chipping Sparrows here and there as usual, including one still here at the store’s feeders.
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This junco on our back porch on November 6th appears to be of the inter-mountain subspecies/hybrid swarm often labeled as “cistmontanus.”  It’s definitely not a pure “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco, and the curved hood with buff of the sides traveling up to below the fold of the wing, however, suggest that this is not a pure “Slate-colored” Junco either.

And speaking of feeder birds, a recent spate of Evening Grosbeak reports (I have heard or seen several 1’s and 2’s recently, but 6 were at Old Town House Park on 11/3), along with an uptick in Purple Finches and Pine Siskins are suggestive of a decent winter around here for at least some of the finches. I also had a few single Red Crossbills fly over in a handful of locations recently. And the first Northern Shrike reports have started trickling in.

But overall, we’re off to a fairly slow start to the November Rarity Season. My guess is the lack of cold fronts early in the fall ushered fewer birds east (e.g. Western Kingbird) but also it remains fairly mild. I’m just not sure birds have begun concentrating yet in places that birders find them (like coastal migrant traps, city parks, etc). But as temperatures continue to drop, this might change. Afterall, after a very slow November last year (also very mild), December was simply incredible.

As the shorter days get colder (maybe), I would expect more birds to begin turning up, especially at feeders and along the immediate coast. The coming weeks always produce something remarkable.

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A blast of cold, Canadian air finally arrived this past weekend, as evidenced by the wind map of 11/11.

However, it might be hard to top the incredible and unprecedented White Wagtail that showed up in Rye, New Hampshire on 11/2 through early the next. You know I’ll be trying though!

Putative Ring-necked Duck x Scaup Sp Hybrid on Sabattus Pond, 4/11/16

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On Monday, April 11th, Jeannette and I found a fascinating duck, clearly of the genus Aythya, at Sabattus Pond in Sabattus.  Off of Martin’s Point Park in the southwest corner of the pond, it was hanging out with a mixed flock of Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup.

Appropriate enough, because this bird appears to be a hybrid between Ring-necked Duck (RNDU) and one of the two scaup species! Unfortunately, it was windy, a light rain was falling, and so my phone-scoped attempts at the moderately-distant bird don’t capture this critter in all of his glory. But, they’re good enough for “documentation,” and they offer a chance to do a little analysis.

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2nd from the left, with Ring-necked Ducks.

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2nd from the left, with Lesser Scaup pair and a drake Ring-necked Duck

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With Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and a Bufflehead. Note the apparent size (see below).

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The hybrid (right), with Ring-necked Duck and overexposed Lesser Scaup.

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Note the dark gray back (intermediate between RNDU and scaup) and the gentle curve on the upper edge of the sides, very much like a RNDU. The sides and flanks are very pale gray, also intermediate between RNDU and breeding plumages scaup. There’s also a narrow whiter area on the front of the chest-sides, suggestive of the distinct white “spur” on the sides of RNDU.

The head shape is also intermediate, with a decidedly peak-headed appearance that is closer to RNDU than either scaup, with a fairly straight nape and the peak at the rear of the head. The bill has a wide, but diffuse pale subterminal ring, suggestive of RNDU as well, but not as crisp or narrow (and no additional ring at the base of the bill). I could not see the width of the black tip at this distance, nor did I have the ability to see if there was a maroon ring around its neck (the namesake, if not very field-worthy, ring-neck of the Ring-necked Duck!).

So, it’s clearly part RNDU. Whether the other half is Greater Scaup (GRSC) or Lesser Scaup (LESC), well, that is another question entirely. While RNDU x LESC are the expected species pair (in large part due to an extensively-overlapping breeding range) that Reeber calls “regular,” RNDU x GRSC have also been recorded.

I never saw the spread wing, and I think a detailed and sharp photo of the wingbar could shed some light on the subject. Short of that – or preferably, a DNA analysis – we can’t say for sure, but there were two interesting observations.

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Note the Lesser Scaup on the left and the apparent size of the hybrid compared to it and the nearby Ring-necked Ducks. 

For one thing, in all lights, the head had a distinctly greenish sheen; never purple.  While head color on scaup is notoriously misleading and the interpretation of it is of little value for ID in most conditions, I found it interesting that when seen side-by-side with LESC, it still always looked green as the LESC looked purple (as does RNDU). However, Reeber notes that this hybrid pairing can have a green sheen as well. Remember, not all characteristics of hybrids are necessarily intermediate.

However, the one thing that was intriguing about the possibility of a GRSC  as the other parent (documented, but likely exceptionally rare) is that in almost every angle, the hybrid was noticeably larger than the LESC it was occasionally with, and it usually appeared larger than the RNDUs. Unfortunately, no GRSC were present – they were all on the other side of the pond today. If this bird was indeed larger than RNDU, it’s hard to imagine that one parent was the even smaller LESC. But with a scope shaking in the wind, the play of light on light colors verses dark, and the inherent subjectivity of the judgment of size, I would not swear to it that this bird was large enough to rule out LESC as one of the two parents.  Therefore, I am most comfortable with calling this a Ring-necked Duck x Scaup species hybrid. A rare and beautiful bird regardless!

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The hybrid (left) with Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck.

Reference:
Reeber, Sebastien. 2015. Wildfowl of Europe, Asia, and North America. Christopher Helm: London.