Tag Archives: Sabattus Pond

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.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Ducks and Draughts! 11/15/15.

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The second “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2015 was another resounding success.  As a follow up to our first event in August that featured shorebirds in Scarborough Marsh, we once again partner with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a fun, bird- and beer- filled outing.

Our theme for the this tour was “Ducks and Draughts,” and so we headed northwest to Sabattus Pond in Sabattus, one of the premier duck-watching sites in Maine, and arguably THE waterfowl hotspot in late fall in the southern half of the state. After pick-ups in Portland and Freeport, the bus, Paul (our driver and beer guide for the day), and I arrived at the south end of Sabattus Pond. It didn’t take long to know why this place is such a destination for birders at this time of year.

A large number of ducks were immediately encountered, but we soon focused our attention on the pair of Redheads – rare, but fairly-regular migrants in Maine – that were a “Life” or “State” Bird for some. For others, it was nothing more than the pleasure of seeing this attractive bird!
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We covered the three primary hotspots on Sabattus Pond, amassing a total of 17 species of waterbirds. In addition to the Redheads, highlights included a Red-necked Grebe (rare in Maine’s interior), 24 American Coots, 4 Northern Pintails, 6 Green-winged Teal, and several hundred Ruddy Ducks. Although a relatively low number for here, “several hundred” Ruddy Ducks is not a statement uttered anywhere else in Maine…and especially not when proceeded by the word “low!”  Other waterbirds species seen today included Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Black Duck, Ring-billed and Herring (1) Gulls, Buffleheads, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and one Great Blue Heron.
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Sabattus also affords the opportunity to study the two scaup species together, so we took plenty of time to go over this identification challenge. Side-by-side, the major differences are often readily apparent, so we practiced our skills to apply them to a homogenous group, or worse, the “dreaded” lone, single, distant scaup!

Having our fill of the nuances of Aythya identification, Paul took charge and delivered us to Lewiston’s Baxter Brewing. But as we stepped out of the bus at the renovated mill, it was back to the binoculars and scopes as we enjoyed a Peregrine Falcon pair – one busy feasting on a Rock Pigeon lunch – a top a nearby building.  With that, it was beer time!
outside Baxter

The first brewer in New England to can all of its beer, Baxter is known for such go-to brews as their Pamola Pale Ale and especially, their Stowaway IPA. Less well-known, however, is their ultra-creative 10-gallon Small Batch Series. Samples of Tarnation Lager, Phantom Punch Winter Stout, and Bootleg Fireworks Double IPA were enjoyed and discusses, and I simply had to quench my curiosity (as well as my thirst, of course), with the Small Batch “Sweet Tea Chai Spice Stout.”
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A tour of the brewery and the brewing processed followed, and soon we were off – with one last quick look at the Peregrines, heading down the Androscoggin River to Freeport for a date at Maine Beer Company. Samples of Zoe (Hoppy Amber), Mo (Pale Ale), King Titus (Porter) and one of my absolute favorites, Lunch (IPA) were served, and a few folks sampled their most recent Pilot 8, their take on a Kolsch. Fueled by the delicious brews, we continued the discussion of…well, ducks…and draughts!
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outside MBC

The “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series, a partnership between the Maine Brew Bus and Freeport Wild Bird Supply will continue in 2016. In fact, several new tours are in the works, which we hope to announce soon. Stay tuned!

Rarity Season-to-date: Nov 7, 2014

Two weeks ago (October 24th to be exact), I posted a blog heralding the arrival of “Rarity Season” here in Maine. The next day, a Townsend’s Solitaire was found on Hermit Island in Phippsburg. “Here we go,” I thought.

Unfortunately, things didn’t pick up immediately. In fact, despite some very good birding for the next week, there were few rarities discovered: a few Orange-crowned Warblers here and there, but a lot of “lingering” migrants. American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, and a lot of waterbirds arrived, but these are all typical of the season. Personally, I had some great birding that week, such as an impressive array of tarrying shorebirds (led by the continuing family group of American Oystercatchers, a Hudsonian Godwit, and 6 Red Knots) in and around Biddeford Pool on the 27th, a nice diversity of birds at Reid State Park with Jeannette on the 28th (Tennessee Warbler, first-of-fall Snow Bunting, an impressive 473 Sanderlings), a huge count of 915 Ruddy Ducks and a continuing hen Redhead (a rarity) at Sabattus Pond with a friend on the 30th, more late shorebirds with 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 3 White-rumped Sandpipers at Pine Point on the 31st, and migrant sparrows in local patches and under feeders, including an increasing number of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. I also enjoyed two light flights at Sandy Point. And of course there are the goose fields to scour. (Don’t forget that I post near-daily reports to the store’s Facebook Page).

So yeah, I love October birding, even without rarities, and while landbird diversity decreases in November, there is still a lot of fun stuff to uncover. While rarities had been few during the first week or so of Rarity Season, I think the mild weather played a role: birds have just not been concentrated yet in warm microclimates and seasonally-productive microhabitats.

Plus, with more birders in the field on the weekends, more “good” birds are usually discovered. Unfortunately, the weekend of Nov 1-2 didn’t exactly invite a lot of people outside. In fact, for the first time, my annual Southcoastal Maine Rarity Roundup (where a group of us get together to scour the coast) was postponed. The massive coastal Nor’easter produced a heavy, wet, early-season snowfall (over 15” in Bangor and the Camden Hills!) and very strong north to northeasterly winds. It was a nasty day.
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While sea-watching was undoubtedly fantastic in periods when there was actually visibility, few reports of anything trickled in, as most birders stayed inside or found little of interest to report. The exception was a Greater White-fronted Goose, the first of the season, at the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.

With Jeannette out of town, my time was limited on Sunday and Monday mornings, but a walk with Sasha at Florida Lake Park on Sunday morning yielded a shock, with 5 Redheads. These were my 154th Patch Bird here, and while I went there hoping for some grounded waterfowl, these were definitely not the species I was expecting!

But in the wake of the storm, the first really cold air of the season arrived. Portland had its all time-record latest freeze, and for the first time, it received a measurable snowfall before the first freeze! Not surprisingly, some interesting birds arrived at feeding stations. There was a Baltimore Oriole at a Cape Elizabeth feeder and a Dickcissel at a Winterport feeder, for example. Plus, more Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and the first Fox Sparrows have filtered in (my first of the fall was in our Pownal yard on Monday morning). The usual smattering of late “lingering” warblers have been noted here and there as well, and there are a few very late Hudsonian Godwits and other shorebirds tarrying here and there.

With another active week of weather, I was antsy to get out birding, but unfortunately my schedule was a little busy. I had Tuesday, however, and made the most of it. Although I failed to turn up anything of note in the morning on Bailey and Orr’s Islands in Harpswell, Sabattus Pond was excellent again later that afternoon, led by still amazing counts of Ruddy Ducks, and now a pair of Redheads – it’s shaping up to be a very good fall for them in Maine.

And then this morning in Cape Elizabeth was exceptional. In fact, it was one of the best mornings that I have had so far this late fall. There was an Orange-crowned Warbler at Kettle Cove, a Gray Catbird at Crescent Beach State Park, and a Blackpoll Warbler with a Common Yellowthroat at Pond Cove.

But 2 hours on a private farm was absolutely unreal: Two Clay-colored Sparrows, a Dickcissel, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a wicked late Prairie Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow, an Indigo Bunting, 2 Common Yellowthroats, a Northern Goshawk, and my first Northern Shrike of the year, a brown immature. 100+ each of Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, and American Goldfinch; 75+ each of Song and White-throated Sparrows; 40+ Swamp and 20+ Savannah Sparrows. And a single White-crowned Sparrow was my 10th sparrow species here today!
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1 of 2 Clay-colored Sparrows present this am.

But now we’ve reached the weekend, and I expect some fun stuff to be found. Surrounding states have also been relatively slow for rarities (but New Hampshire has started to pick up with continuing Yellow-headed Blackbirds and now a Western Grebe), likely due to the same factors as here in Maine, principally the mostly mild weather to date. Sunday will be our Rarity Roundup here in Maine, so I will look forward to seeing what we find – there has to be something really good out there! And if Cape Elizabeth today was a sign of things to come, the RR should be a whole lot of fun.

Sabattus Pond Season-in-Review

Sabattus Pond was frozen on Monday morning, as I expected, thanks to this recent bout of unseasonably cold weather.  While 35 Mallards, 3 Hooded Mergansers, 2 American Black Ducks, and 1 Mallard x black duck hybrid were present in the outlet stream, this likely brings my Sabattus birding season to a close.

But it is just after Sabattus’s freeze-up that LakeAuburn is its most productive.  Today, 117 Canada Geese, 58 Greater Scaup, 46 Lesser Scaup, 41 Ruddy Ducks, 22 Common Goldeneyes, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Bufflehead, and 1 continuing hen Black Scoter were tallied in a less-than-exhaustive search of the large lake.  The Black Scoter is a great bird inland, and she’s been present for at least five weeks now.  Meanwhile, among the Canada Geese, there was this funky mutt – apparently a hybrid with some sort of domestic thing.
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Between visiting the two lakes, I scoured Upper Street in Turner for Snowy Owls (none) or other raptors (just one Red-tailed Hawk), but I did happen upon a small flock of 35 Horned Larks that contained two Lapland Longspurs.  They were feeding at the edge of Pearl Road, taking advantage of where the plow had scraped the sides of ice and snow.  I got this lucky shot of one of the Lapland Longspurs in flight with the Horned Larks.  Unfortunately, the light mist and heavy cloud cover prevented a really great shot.
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But back to waterfowl…

Sabattus Pond is one of my favorite birding locations from mid-October through freeze-up.  The diversity of ducks is rarely matched in this part of Maine, and the proximity and ability to study birds (such as Lesser vs. Greater Scaup) is unsurpassed.  Each fall I tell myself I needed to visit Sabattus more often, so this fall I committed to visiting once a week, beginning on 10/30 – I would have started a little earlier in the month, but the weather at the time had been so warm that waterfowl were not yet arriving en masse prior to the end of the month.

I tallied all waterbirds (except for Herring and Ring-billed gulls) on each visit.  I was curious to document the ebbs and flows of respective species throughout a full season here.  I also hoped to find some rarities of course.

Here’s my weekly tally (on 10/30 I birded with Cameron Cox, and on 11/21, Dan Nickerson):

10/30    11/7    11/14   11/21   12/2
Canada Goose                        2          0          0          0          0
American Black Duck          14        53        63        24         2
Mallard                                154      301     254      255       35
Mallard x black duck              2          4          8          6          1
NORTHERN PINTAIL               1          1          0          1          0 (same bird)
Green-winged Teal                 0          0          1          0          0
Greater Scaup                       15        22        27        20         0
Lesser Scaup                       133      185      204      174        0
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER        0          0          0          1         0
Bufflehead                              12          9          5          8         0
Common Goldeneye               2        29          4          2         0
Hooded Merganser               11        17        15        19        0
Red-breasted Merganser        7          1          0          0        0
Common Merganser                0         3          7      224        0
Ruddy Duck                           470     531      541      273        0
Common Loon                          2          4          9          3        0
Horned Grebe                           1          0          0          0        0
RED-NECKED GREBE                0          0          1          0         0
Great Blue Heron                     0          0          0          3         0
Great Black-backed Gull          0          0          0          1         0
American Coot                          0          0          1          0         0
Belted Kingfisher                      0          0          0          2         0

Other highlights at Sabattus included a Peregrine Falcon and 40 Snow Buntings on 11/7 and 3 White-rumped and 3 Pectoral sandpipers on 11/14 (both late and noteworthy inland).

Overall, it was probably only an average season at Sabattus.  The only week I missed was last week, due to my schedule and Thanksgiving, which is unfortunate, as the pre-ice-up week would have provided some interesting data.  There were no fallouts, and only a few unexpected (or at least, expected to be seen rarely) birds (in caps above).   The Ruddy Duck numbers were well above average, but a lot of other things – especially the scaup – were average or below my high counts of recent years.  And why don’t coots visit here much anymore? And really, not a single Ring-necked Duck!? Nevertheless I find it very rewarding to regularly check one location, so I thoroughly enjoyed my extra effort this year.

On each visit, I also visited LakeAuburn, which is a much different body of water (deeper, sandier, and apparently without the invasive Chinese Mystery Snail that provides the sustenance for most of the birds on Sabattus).  Note, however, that as the numbers of ducks decrease on Sabattus, they begin to increase on LakeAuburn – the last lake to freeze in the region.

11/7     11/14   11/21   12/2

Canada Goose                        0          0          0      117
American Black Duck             1          0          0          0
Mallard                                     3          6          0          0
Greater Scaup                         0          0        38        58
Lesser Scaup                           8          0        31        46
SURF SCOTER                          1          0          1          0 (probably same bird)
BLACK SCOTER                       1          0           1          1 (probably same bird)
Bufflehead                              0          2           0          1
Common Goldeneye             0          5         21        22
Hooded Merganser               0        14           5          8
Common Merganser             0          3           0          0
Ruddy Duck                           20         2           0        41
Common Loon                        7         9           1          4
Horned Grebe                         1          0          0          1
RED-NECKED GREBE              0          1          0          0

I can’t help but wonder if some of the birds on the lake on Monday would return to Sabattus if a warm spell opens the pond back up, and if it does, I am sure birds from points north might drop in as well as they are frozen out of lakes and rivers.  In other words, the duck-watching season on Sabattus may not be over yet, but I think I will be turning my attention elsewhere unless it warms up dramatically.

Meanwhile, on all of my visits to the two lakes, I added at least a few other stops in between in the hopes of finally finding a really “good” bird in Androscoggin County (away from Sabattus, that is).  Uh…nope.  My only real highlights away from the two lakes were the two Lapland Longspurs on Monday.  My rarity drought in AndroscogginCounty might continue, but the waterbird watching is certainly exceptional.

By the way, in a series of spring visits, I have found very, very few ducks on Sabattus Pond, for reasons unknown.  Therefore, other than my annual check on Maine Maple Sunday, I’ll have to anxiously await next October!