Tag Archives: Sandy Point

October Birding in Maine.

October is my favorite month of birding in Maine. Great diversity, opportunities for observing the thrilling phenomena of migration, an increased chance for rarities, and often-beautiful weather combine to make for exciting times in the field.  I keep my schedule as free as possible for the month to maximize my birding time, and luckily, a current project dictates even more time in the field for me. For the past five days, October birding was at its finest, and my adventures nicely summarized what this glorious month has to offer.

On Friday, I spent the morning exploring 8 preserves of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. Six hours and about 5 miles of walking later, I had a better feel for the properties on Harpswell Neck, and their (significant) birding potential.

IMG_4568
Widgeon (sic) Cove Preserve.

I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary today – best birds were probably the Carolina Wren at Pott’s Point, a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the Skofield Shore Preserve, and a Nelson’s Sparrow at Stover Point – but almost all sites were delightfully birdy. Yellow-rumped Warblers were in abundance (especially at Mitchell Field) and there were plenty of Palm Warblers around (again, especially at Mitchell Field).  Other then a few Blackpoll Warblers, my only other warblers were single Pine at Skofield and a Black-throated Blue at the Curtis Farm Preserve.

Sparrows were widespread, as were Purple Finches and Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and increasing waterbirds including a few groups of Surf Scoters. Mitchell Field was definitely the hotspot today, with good numbers of all expected migrants, along with migrant Osprey, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a single Indigo Bunting, 3 Gray Catbirds, and 5 Monarchs.

After several nights with little visible migration (although there’s almost never “no” migration at this time of year!), clear and mostly light westerly conditions overnight Friday into Saturday produced a huge flight. Unfortunately, come dawn, clouds had rolled in and winds immediately shifted the northeast. Combined, the Sandy Point Morning Flight was reduced to a mere dribble totaling 91 birds, led by 36 Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was then shocked by a relatively slow birdwalk (even sparrow numbers were far lower than I would have expected) at Old Town House Park – where did all of the migrants overnight go? A Brown Thrasher was a good bird for here though.

Luckily, Saturday was the anomaly. After another very strong flight overnight, Sunday morning finally featured a light northwesterly wind.  Therefore, I finally got my fix in at Sandy Point, with my largest flight of the season.  9 species of warblers and a few new records highlighted the flight, with the following tally:

6:49-9:35am.
38F, clear, NW 5.1 to calm to WNW 4.7mph.

768 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*New Record).
421 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest).
179 Dark-eyed Juncos
116 Unidentified
87 Pine Siskins
79 American Robins
62 Black-capped Chickadees (*New a Record).
31 Golden-crowned Kinglets
26 Purple Finches (*New Record High).
21 Palm Warblers
20 Rusty Blackbirds (*Tied Record High).
17 Canada Geese
14 Blue-headed Vireos
14 Red-breasted Nuthatches
14 White-throated Sparrows
12 Chipping Sparrows
11 Savannah Sparrows (*New Record).
9 Northern Flickers
7 Eastern Phoebes
6 Black-throated Blue Warblers
5 Gray Catbirds
5 Swamp Sparrows
4 Unidentified kinglets
4 Black-throated Green Warblers
3 Brown Creepers
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 Nashville Warblers
3 White-crowned Sparrows
2 American Black Ducks
2 Blue Jays
2 WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (*tied record high).
2 Unidentified Catharus thrushes
2 Common Yellowthroats
2 Black-and-white Warblers
2 Lincoln’s Sparrows
2 American Goldfinches
1 Osprey
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Unidentified vireo
1 TUFTED TITMOUSE
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Nashville/Orange-crowned Warbler
1 Northern Parula
1 Blackpoll Warbler
1 MAGNOLIA WARBLER
1 Cedar Waxwing

Total = 1798 (*3rd Highest October Count).

Afterwards, I began a quick trek east, visiting a friend in Camden, and having dinner with friends in Bar Harbor. In between, I enjoyed a little casual birding, and the fall foliage.
IMG_4574
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge.

On Sunday, Rich MacDonald and I did a little birding on the western half of Mount Desert Island.  An “interior/bay” subspecies of Nelson’s Sparrow at Back Beach in Tremont was a highlight, as was a nice variety of birds off Seawall Beach, including an unseasonable 148 Laughing Gulls.  20 Red-necked Grebes and about a dozen White-winged Scoters were also present.
IMG_4586

At noon, we boarded the Friendship V of the Bar Harbor Whale Watch for 3.5 hours offshore. I was really hoping for a Great Skua – my real reason (legitimate excuses aside) for this trip, afterall – but it was a rather slow day on the water. But hey, any day with a jaeger is a good day in my book, and we saw 3 Pomarines. 18 Northern Fulmars were a treat, but birds-of-the-trip honors goes to a rather unseasonable Manx Shearwater.  A single Great Shearwater, Black-legged Kittiwake, and a measly 3 Northern Gannets were all we could muster. Apparently, those northwesterly winds that finally gave me my flight at Sandy Point also pushed sea creatures out from these waters!
IMG_4591

DSC_0003_subadultPOJA,BarHarbor,10-13-14_edited-1
Subadult Pomarine Jaeger.

It was a quick trip Downeast, so I was home by Monday night, and in the morning – following a night with a return to southwesterly winds and no visible migration on the radar – Jeannette and I headed in the other direction. A ridiculously gorgeous day (light winds, temps in the low 70’s!) encouraged us to spend all daylight hours outside and birding hard, covering our usually route between Kittery and Wells.

As usually, Fort Foster provided the highlights, led by a White-eyed Vireo and an Orange-crowned Warbler.  Another Orange-crowned was at Seapoint Beach, an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow was in The Nubble neighborhood, 12 Brown-headed Cowbirds were at the feeders behind The Sweatshirt Shop in Wells, and Community Park hosted a Nelson’s Sparrow (ssp. subvirgatus).

Ten (and a half) species of sparrows (Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Savannah – plus “Ipswich,” Nelson’s, Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp, White-throated, White-crowned, and Dark-eyed Juncos) and six species of warblers (Orange-crowned, Black-throated Blue, Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Common Yellowthroat) were tallied, along with six species of butterflies (including a few dozen Monarchs).  Throughout the day we encountered lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song and White-throated Sparrows, along with most of the regular October migrants from Horned Grebes (FOF) to Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

So there you have it. That’s just a sample of what mid-October has to offer here in Maine.  What’s left?  Finding that “Mega” rarity of course!

My Last Good Flight of the Season at Sandy Point?

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

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

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

Total = 945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T=800

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Skimmer at Sandy Point!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total = 226

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

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

Yet Another Great Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

k -DSC_0024_PIWO,SandyPoint,9-26-13
I do love it when the big ones fly by, especially on mornings like this.  They’re easier to identify and tally…especially when they are Pileated Woodpeckers!

It’s also nice when more birds pause in the trees at the point, allowing for identification as a “sample” of what’s going overhead.  It’s especially nice when they land in front of my face…like this Philadelphia Vireo did.  If only there weren’t a few twigs between us!
i -DSC_0008_PHVI,SandyPoint,9-26-13

I usually leave the bridge before raptors begin to get going, but today, I was treated to an early-morning Peregrine Falcon flight.  A couple of the birds didn’t even blink and eye and kept going.  Others terrorized migrant flickers.
j -DSC_0017_PEFA,SandyPoint,9-26-13

Normally, I start off with the overnight radar analysis to describe why there were (or were not) so many birds come morning.  But today, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the numbers:

6:32-10:10am
43F, light NW, mostly cloudy, slowly clearing.

1662 Unidentified (*2nd highest)
441 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*2nd highest)
263 Northern Parulas (how are there still so many parulas!?)
193 Black-throated Green Warblers  (*2nd highest)
188 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest)
150 Northern Flickers
56 Golden-crowned Kinglets
52 Magnolia Warblers (*2nd highest)
46 Black-throated Blue Warblers (*new record; old = 13!)
44 Cedar Waxwings
44 Dark-eyed Juncos
41 Black-and-white Warblers (*2nd highest)
31 Red-eyed Vireos
29 Blue-headed Vireos (2nd highest)
27 Blackpoll Warblers
26 Eastern Phoebes (*new record)
26 Nashville Warblers (*new record)
23 Palm Warblers
22 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
15 American Robins
15 American Goldfinches
14 Blue Jays
12 Scarlet Tanagers
12 Rusty Blackbirds
9 White-throated Sparrows
8 Eastern Bluebirds (*new record)
7 Philadelphia Vireos
7 Chipping Sparrows
6 Peregrine Falcons (*new record)
6 Unidentified vireos
6 Brown Creepers
5 Yellow Warblers
4 Tufted Titmice (*new record)
4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
3 Black-capped Chickadees
3 Tennessee Warblers
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Cape May Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Red-breasted Merganser (first of fall)
1 Common Loon
1 American Kestrel
1 Merlin
1 Mourning Dove
1 PILEATED WOODPECKER (my third crossing ever; crossed after 4 false-starts)
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (crossed after 3 false-starts)
1 Warbling Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 DICKCISSEL (4th of season)
1 Red-winged Blackbird

Total= 3523 (*third highest total)

So there you have it.  Wow.  <Insert various superlatives and/or swear words>   I just wish I could have whittled down that unidentified total a little bit more – who knows how many single-species records I might have set?

There were two reasons the unidentified tally was so high.  One is that early-morning cloud cover once again reduced many of the birds to silhouettes.  Secondly, the intensity of the first two hours of the flight was really exceptional.  On multiple occasions, I could do nothing more than step back look up, smile, and click off a cloud of unidentified warblers – no point of even lifting the binoculars.  Bunches of birds high overhead; I’d follow one bird into the Magic Elm, and 20 would shoot out.  Birds were sneaking below me.   It was, at times, a bit overwhelming!  But it was also exceedingly fun; I like the challenge, and since my interest lies in quantifying the flight as much as identifying the composition of it, the high unidentified tally only bothers me a little…OK, maybe a little more than a little, but anyway…

I couldn’t resist taking a few photos, such as the Philadelphia Vireo landing in front of me, or the majestic Pileated Woodpecker cruising by.  16 species of warblers, a bunch of new records and near-records, and some “good” birds.  Yeah, that’s a good flight.  But I actually think my highlight was one little female American Redstart.  She dropped in from high overhead, straight down into the regenerating cherry that stands directly in front of me (and perfectly blocks the sun from my eyes for the first hour of the day) – the one the Philly V was in – and hopped her way to the near edge.  She looked at me, and cocked her head to look at the camera lens that was lying down next to me.  I am guessing she saw her reflection.  She looked at me, chirped in a gentle contact call – not the harsh alarm call or even the sharp flight call – and then hopped back into the brush.  We had a moment.  I enjoyed that.

OK, back to business…the radar.  Save these images for future reference.  This is what “GO BIRDING IN THE MORNING!!!” looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images for example <insert “boom” sound>:
a-10pm radar, 9-26-13 b -10pm velocity, 9-26-13 c -12am radar, 9-27-13 d -12am velocity, 9-27-13 e -2am radar, 9-26-13 f -2am velocity, 9-26-13 g -4am radar, 9-26-13 h -4am velocity, 9-26-13

Even at 6:00am, with light more than peaking into the eastern sky, birds were still on the move.  If I had not expected to go to SandyPoint for sunrise this morning, and I had seen this image, I would have flown out the door.
6am radar, 9-26-13 6am velocity, 9-26-13

When there are this many birds in the air so close to sunrise, there are going to be a lot of birds taking part in the “morning redetermined migration” come dawn, along with crepuscular migrants that are moving in the early light.  The radar provided all of the suggestions of a big flight.  And, with a light northwesterly breeze, many more birds were low and in the trees than on the westerly breezes of the last few mornings.  Here’s the wind map, showing that low moving off of the Maritimes, ushering in a north to northwesterly flow behind it – as I postulated on my blog yesterday.
wind map, 9-25-13

While I am rarely even at Sandy Point for four days in a row, it is exceedingly rare that the fourth day would be so busy.  But I think that upper level low finally pulling out of the way re-opened the floodgates.  And it looks like tomorrow should be good as well, continuing a most impressive string of good flight nights.  But I will give my neck a break tomorrow from staring straight up and spinning back and forth at Sandy Point.  Instead, I’ll just have to see what the flight will be like with my tour on Monhegan Island.  Yeah, I know, tough life.

On Sandy Point, Winter Finches, and Portland’s Congress Square Park

I’ve spent each of the last three mornings at Sandy Point, and it is a rare treat indeed (but not for my neck!) that the winds tonight will likely be conducive to yet another morning in my “other office.”  Yesterday’s moderate flight produced two Patch Birds: Western Kingbird and Gray-cheeked Thrush while today’s better than expected flight yielded 15 species of warblers.  (Tallies from both days are on our store’s Facebook Page as always).

While I can’t believe there are more Northern Parulas left to migrate through, I am optimistic about tomorrow morning.  The upper-level low spinning over Atlantic Canada that has produced rain to our northeast and the clouds overhead that have reduced the flight – and my ability to identify it! – is expected to move out, and I wonder if that will open up another wave of birds to head south from that region.  It is exceedingly rare for me to have four days in a row of good Morning Flights at Sandy Point, so I look forward to another early start tomorrow.

With each passing flight, the changing season is becoming more obvious.  Fewer early warblers and growing numbers of Yellow-rumps and sparrows, for example.  And of course, as a season progresses, we birders often think ahead to the next season.  The near-complete dearth of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins (zero) that have passed SandyPoint is an early indicator that it will be an “off” winter for northern finches as expected.  Few Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees passing through also suggest an abundance of food to our north.

These observations reflect what I am seeing elsewhere in Maine, and reflect the information contained in this year’s “Winter Finch Forecast” by Ron Pittaway that just came out this week.  This venerable resource is posted each fall, and reflects a lot of effort by the author to bring together various tidbits of information.  Its arrival each fall is highly anticipated – even if it does not portend the arrival of lots of highly anticipated finches.

But today, I wanted to take a moment to discuss one of the local issues that we have decided to wade into.  As most Portland – at least – residents may know, there is a proposal to transfer a portion of Congress Square Park to private development for a conference center.  The city needs a conference center, and the park needs some attention.  I’ll leave it to the residents of Portland to weigh the costs and benefits of this particular plan, but one aspect that concerns me greatly is the current blueprints that show a massive glass wall facing a smaller park with limited vegetation.

Here’s a link to what I believe to be the most recent development proposal; I don’t think any significant updates have been made.  Jeannette and I believe that we can use our store as a vehicle to promote bird conservation, and although we certainly don’t stick our nose into every project, sometimes we feel that we need to be the voice for birds, birding, and bird conservation.  Capisic Pond Park, the Eastern Promenade, Sandy Point, and now development at the fringes of Florida Lake have been projects we have worked on.  While we may not go too much further with our efforts in this case, we thought it was best to offer expertise to point out a potential issue with this projects design.  I have sent this letter to city officials and the new group, Friends of Congress Square Park.  I post it here for your information, and if anyone has suggestions on whom else to send this to, don’t hesitate to let us know.

September 18, 2013

RE: Congress Square Redevelopment plans

To whom it may concern:

I am writing you today not to take a stand for or against the current proposal at this time, but instead to bring to your attention a couple of aspects of urban parks, construction, and wildlife interactions that has raised a significant amount of concern with me.

First, a little bit of background.  Migrating birds that stream over Portland every spring and fall face a myriad of risks.  Many of our favorite songbirds, such as warblers, orioles, and tanagers all fly at night.  For reasons unknown – likely due to the use of stars for navigation – birds can become disoriented by lights.  Lights on communication towers, lights on buildings, lights at stadiums, lights left on in office buildings, and even lights in people’s homes.  Especially on cloudy and foggy nights, birds will be drawn to this artificial lighting, and many will meet an untimely death as they collide with structures or even drop dead from exhaustion as their bodies metabolize their muscles in order to fuel the last gasps of flight as the bird circles, and circles, and circles, confused by the light, drawn in by its grasp.  The cumulative light pollution of cities, towns, and even single-family homes, results in perhaps hundreds of millions of deaths of migrating birds each year.

However, not every bird disoriented by city lights will die.  Some find refuge in a well-landscaped park and find enough food to survive, refuel, and eventually move on. Most others find just enough refuge to move on come sunrise, when the direction of the sunrise and visual landmarks can usher a bird in the right direction.  In order to avoid predators, many of these birds will fly low through the city streets, dropping in to the next tree, the next park, or even the next garden as these birds – in what is termed “redetermined migration” attempt to correct for the errors of their ways overnight.  These errors could result from disorientation from lights, “groundings” from severe weather, or even from drifting too far on strong winds behind a cold front.

Especially for those birds exhausted from their travels or their disorientation, every single tree in an urban environment can be a life-saver.  A place to rest, a place to forage for just a little food or at the very least a place to avoid predators.  Working from some part of the city, the birds will work their way inland (in the case of a coastal city such as Portland) looking for more extensive habitat where they can refuel.

I have watched flocks of White-throated Sparrows winging it down side streets, landing in potted plants at the first sight of a possible threat.  I’ve seen an American Woodcock walking down a sidewalk near Monument Square.  I have seen waves of Blackpoll Warblers streaking by just over the treetops of Deering Oaks Park.

As the birds work their way to quality habitat, such as Evergreen Cemetery, many of these birds are more than strong enough to avoid predators, avoid traffic, and fly at full speed over the course of the first couple of hours of daylight.

Thud.

The migrant lays still on the sidewalk; dead.    It has hit a window.

It has flown hundreds of miles from the forests of Canada.  It has survived ever-changing weather, dodged hawks at every turn, and found enough food to pack on enough fat to fuel an epic journey to the rainforests of South America for the winter.   A shift in the wind the prior night resulted in foggy conditions as it arrived in the airspace over Portland.  Attempting to orient itself, it circles the red blinking light on the top of a building until it is too tired.  But this bird is lucky.  Below this building there is a small park with a handful of trees.  Good enough, and the bird alights.  The sun rises, and the bird, not finding much food in a few ornamental plantings, decides to head further inland.

Flying from tree to tree, the bird sees the next tree just ahead.  But that tree was only a reflection in glass.  Its journey ends.

Glass kills as many as 1 billion birds per year in North America. Urban light pollution may kill as many as 31 million birds per year.  Lighted communication towers may kill upwards of 100 million.  Only free-roaming cats are estimated to kill more birds per year than any of these other anthropogenic causes.  You can see why glass in lighted urban areas is such a problem.

The current proposal for a new Event Center in what is now Congress Square Park includes a massive glass façade, with “doors” that open, putting glass walls out at multiple angles.  All of this glass will be reflective.  Architects and admirers like that about glass.  But whatever trees remain will be reflected by that glass.

Thud.  Another migrant is dead.  How many dead birds will people pick up on the sidewalk before anyone takes notice?  Or will the rats clean up the mess before the morning rush?

Is the new CongressSquareEventCenter going to be a death trap for exhausted and confused migrants?  Probably.  Can this risk be minimized or avoided?  Yes.  Does anyone care?  That, to me, is always the toughest question.

But there are solutions out there.  There are treatments that make glass less-reflective, or ways to break up the reflection so birds will not be drawn to it.  Glass can be positioned to reflect the ground, and trees can be positioned to minimize reflection.  There are certainly plenty of materials that don’t cast a reflection as well.  There are even city-wide efforts to reduce bird collisions that range from lighting standards to simple programs to get people to turn off the lights as they leave their office for the night.

My only goal with this letter is to raise awareness about a significant problem, but one that might well be avoided.

For the sake of brevity – I think you will agree that this letter is long enough already – I will simply point you towards two sources for more information, from background to solutions.  The first is the “Birds and Collisions” page from the American Bird Conservancy: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/glass.html

The second is the home page of the Fatal Light Awareness Program: http://www.flap.org/

I sincerely hope that you will recognize my concerns and take them under consideration.  I would be happy to offer more first-hand observations to describe why this issue is real in Portland, and why a glass façade facing some of the few trees that exist in the center of an urban area could result in significant avian mortality.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Derek Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply

Huge Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

My last blog entry ended with a little bit of foreshadowing, did it not? But before we get to Sandy Point this morning, let us take a moment to review the radar images from the weekend for comparison.

This is the 12:00am image from Sunday.  This is what “no migration” looks like on the radar.  You can also see the rain approaching from the west.
12am radar, 9-22-13

Now this is the midnight image from Saturday.  This is what “I have no idea what’s going on” looks like on the radar.  While anything from some weird warping of the radar beams from changes in air temperature to a simple malfunction could result in this, what it is NOT is a lot of birds.  It’s too irregular…and bird’s don’t “explode” in narrow bands!
IMG_1575_edited-1 IMG_1576_edited-1

So, compare those to what “a whole boatload” of birds looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am base reflectivity and velocity images from last night.

10pm radar, 9-22-13 10pm velocity, 9-22-13

12 am radar, 9-23-13 12 am velocity, 9-23-13

2am radar, 9-23-132am velocity, 9-23-13

4am radar, 9-23-134am velocity,9-23-13

Yeah, it would have been nice to be on Monhegan this morning.  But I was in my other sanctuary – my office at Sandy Point.  And this is what happened:

6:28 – 10:05am.
43F, increasing W to NW, clear.

1338 Unidentifed (*2nd highest)
416 Northern Parulas (* Seriously, how are there any more parulas to come through!  This is the second highest count of all time, and now all three of the highest tallies are from this year!)
281 Northern Flickers
179 Black-throated Green Warblers (*2nd highest)
163 Blackpoll Warblers
91 Yellow-rumped Warblers
43 Black-and-white Warblers (*record high)
39 Red-eyed Vireos
35 American Redstarts
29 Blue Jays
29 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
23 Yellow Warblers
22 Blue-headed Vireos
21 Scarlet Tanagers (*record high)
21 Dark-eyed Juncos
19 Cedar Waxwings
18 Magnolia Warblers
17 Nashville Warblers (*record high)
17 American Goldfinches
13 Black-throated Blue Warblers
12 Eastern Phoebes (* ties high)
11 Swainson’s Thrushes
9 Palm Warblers
6 Rusty Blackbirds
5 American Robins
4 Unidentified vireos
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
4 White-throated Sparrows
3 Least Flycatchers
3 Cape May Warblers
3 Bay-breasted Warblers
2 Common Loons
2 Broad-winged Hawks
2 TUFTED TITMICE (rarely seen crossing)
2 Unidentified thrushes
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrels
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
1 Common Raven
1 Philadelphia Vireos
1 Veery
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER (My third of the season here; it’s the fall of the CONWs in Maine!)
1 Northern Waterthrushes
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 DICKCISSEL (third of the season here)
1 Baltimore Oriole

Total = 2, 905 (4th highest tally all time for me)

DSC_0016_REVIonAlternate-leafedDogwood,Sandy Point, 9-23-13DSC_0026_SWTH_onWinterberry2,Sandy Point,9-23-13
Some of the migrants pause long enough at Sandy Point to do a little snacking.  Here’s a Red-eyed Vireo eating Alternate-leafed Dogwood fruits, and a Swainson’s Thrush stepping out into the sun to dine on Winterberries.

DSC_0034_WISN,GreelyRoad,9-23-13_edited-1
A little post-Sandy Point birding yielded two Wilson’s Snipe trying to stay hidden along the edge of a puddle along Greely Road in Cumberland.

And tonight looks just as good…perhaps even a little better with a more northwesterly flow.  See ya at the bridge at sunrise!
wind forecast, 9-23-13

Fall Plans

Seriously, it’s already the end of August?  Where the heck did the summer go?  It feels like shorebird season just started, and now here I am checking the radar nightly as fall songbird migration heats up.  Goldfinches are eating seed heads in the perennial gardens, hummingbirds are molting and tanking up (many males have already departed), and biting insects are at a minimum.  As much as I love late August – and autumn is my favorite season – it’s always a little bittersweet to let summer slip away.

In most years, by the end of August I have combed through flocks of roosting peeps at Biddeford Pool or strained to see distant mudflats at Pine Point at least a dozen times.  I can’t believe Sunday was actually my first visit to Biddeford Pool on a high tide all summer!  This week isn’t helping either, with a visit to Massachusetts these past two days and some New Hampshire birding with a friend tomorrow.  In other words, I have been busy – wicked busy even!  This is by no means a complaint, however, just a statement – and an excuse as to why I never did find a Red-necked Stint for Maine this summer.

What is normally a “slower” season for me was anything but, and now, with September right around the corner, I am about to get even busier!  I have a trip to the Upper Midwest in October to speak at the Iowa Ornithologists Union Fall Meeting and the UrbanEcologyCenter in Milwaukee with some birding and visiting with friends in between.  I’ll be talking to New Hampshire Audubon in October as well, and I will be helping out Leica Sports Optics at the Cape Cod Birding Festival next month.

In between, I hope to spend as much time as possible at SandyPoint.  Keep an eye on the store’s Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/freeportwildbird) for my Morning Flight counts.  I’ll post the occasional significant flight report and corresponding radar analysis here, but most counts will just get posted directly to the FB page (as a “public” business page, it functions as a regular website; no need to “be on” FB to view).

SandyPoint at sunrise is probably my favorite place to be in the fall, but MonheganIsland is a very close second.  Actually, it’s probably a tie.  I wish I could be at both almost every morning all season long!  And speaking of Monhegan, I still have spaces on my “MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend” tour, September 27through 30th.  It’s a “per diem” tour, so you can join me for anywhere between one and four days of birding at this amazing place.

In preparation of what is likely to be a whirlwind fall for me, I have updated our website with all of my events, programs, and tours on a newly-expanded “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page at http://www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com.  There you’ll find more information about the MonhegZEN Birding Weekend tour, and all of my programs for the coming months.  We’ve also started to finalize plans for an exciting 2014, including everything from our “Woodcocks Gone Wild” evening walk to a two-week tour to the Russian Far East.  More Monhegan, our now-annual trip with the Schooner Lewis R. French, and much, much more is now posted, with details rapidly being filled in.

So whether it’s in Iowa, the parking lot at SandyPoint, or on MonheganIsland, I hope to see you this fall.  And if you happen to have a cup of bird-friendly coffee handy, I will probably need it!

A Record-setting First Day of the Season at Sandy Point

I definitely had second thoughts when the alarm went off at 4:45 this morning.  I hate pre-5am alarms.  But August flights at Sandy Point Beach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth can be so much fun.  I just wish dawn didn’t come so darn early right now.

But as of 9:30 last night, the NEXRAD radar was absolutely on fire!  Light northwest winds and clear skies really put birds on the move.  Here are the 10pm, 1am, and 4 am radar and velocity images for example.  For a detailed explanation of how to read and interpret these images, see Chapter 5 of my book, How to be a Better Birder.
10pm radar,8-23-13

10pm velocity, 8-23-13

4am velocity, 8-24-13

4am radar,8-24-13

1am velocity, 8-24-13

1am radar,8-24-13

This was really an exceptional flight for this early in the season. But back to that alarm clock…I woke up, and saw that the winds had become northerly overnight.  The lack of a westerly component usually diminishes the Morning Flight here.  However, with that high of a density on the radar, even as late as 4:00am, I figured I would give it a go, despite serious contemplation of rolling over and waiting until the next cold front (and waiting for a few more minutes of darkness).  Let’s just say I was glad I motivated.  Come sunrise, a little northwesterly to westerly breeze at the surface developed, and encouraged more birds to cross at the point.  The winds were very light, so a lot of birds were high; the trees and shrubbery were fairly quiet this morning.  Therefore, with so many high birds, and some big groups just too far to the north of the bridge, my “unidentified” tally was higher than I would have liked.

Regardless, it was still great.  In fact, it was record-setting.  A new August high count, and a new high count for 6 species.  Plus a Patch Bird!  Here’s the morning’s scorecard (*= new record high count):

408 American Redstarts*
379 Unidentified
67 Yellow Warblers
59 Northern Parulas
59 Magnolia Warblers*
50 Cedar Waxwings
33 Black-and-white Warblers*
28 Black-throated Green Warblers
25 Yellow-rumped Warblers (all in active molt)
8 Bay-breasted Warblers*
8 Blackburnian Warblers*
7 “Traill’s” Flycatchers*
7 Canada Warblers*
6 Chestnut-sided Warblers
5 Unidentified empids
4 American Robins
3 Chipping Sparrows
3 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 Olive-sided Flycatchers
2 Least Flycatchers
2 Black-throat Blue Warblers
2 Bobolinks
2 American Goldfinches
2 Purple Finches
1 SOLITARY SANDPIPER (my 174th species here!)
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1 Pine Warbler
1 Wilson’s Warbler
1 Dark-eyed Junco (record early)
1 DICKCISSEL (first of fall; my 3rd August record here)

Total= 1177* (new August record)