I think it is safe to say that the inaugural “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour was a resounding success! We not only found all of the target species that we were after, but also a few surprises, and we saw all of our target species incredibly well! And we really lucked out with the weather, as the only rain we encountered was a brief downpour while we were driving. I have “no” doubt that all future tours will be this successful.
We receive numerous requests for guiding for several local breeding species that can be hard, if not impossible, to see elsewhere. While Bicknell’s Thrush is my number one request, there are a number of coastal species that are also sought. Folks travel from far and wide for our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van trip, and often I get requests for private guiding for many of the other species before and after that tour. Therefore, for efficiency and economy, we introduced the “Coastal Quick Hit” tour.
We had four visitors from California on board who were here to take part in the weekend’s thrush tour, plus three local birders out for the day. The eight of us met here at the store on Friday morning, and worked our way south.
Beginning in Scarborough Marsh, we had the opportunity to study Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows side-by-side, and ponder over some hybrids as well. We compared their songs and subtleties of identification – and learned how to simply leave many, likely hybrids and intergrades, as unidentified. Meanwhile, “Eastern” Willets and many other marsh denizens were numerous, and several sparrows and Willets posed for photos.
Walking the Eastern Road Trail, a Fish Crow was unexpected, and we enjoyed Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and more. We then found this wading bird, which immediately brought to mind one of the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret (and now, possible a backcross there of) that calls Scarborough Marsh home.
However, it soon became clear that this was a “pure” Little Blue Heron – nothing about its shape, size, structure, or behavior (a regular adult was nearby, and sometimes in the same field of view) was suggestive of anything else (or partly anything else), and so I hypothesized about a leucistic Little Blue Heron. Immature (1st through 2nd summer) little blues are piebald, but this was much, much paler than what I usually see, with more of a uniform “wash” of the purple-blue on the body and wings. What threw me off a bit were the essentially fully-developed head and back plumes (the “aigrettes”) that I did not think were present on a bird who’s plumage was this early in development. A little research showed those plumes were just fine for a 1st-summer bird, even one in which so little adult-like plumage had been obtained. Therefore, unless this bird looks exactly the same come fall, I think it’s just a paler-than-average 1st summer Little Blue Heron. Nevertheless, it was a fun bird to study and ponder – offering a lesson in comparing shape, structure, and behavior in two birds that didn’t look the same.
Also off Eastern Road, we noted Glossy Ibis, American Black Ducks, and a White-rumped Sandpiper in spiffy breeding plumage – a treat for folks from the West Coast, and not a bird we see many of in spring here in the Northeast. It was hanging out with 4 tardy Semipalmated Sandpipers.
A drake Gadwall at the Pelreco marsh was a nice sight as well.
Four unseasonable Brant greeted us at Pine Point, where we soon spotted one of our most sought-after species, Roseate Tern. At least 8, and likely many times that, as birds were coming and going, were quickly picked out from the crowds of Common Terns, with plenty of Least Terns zipping around.
This tour was designed to have at least two chances at all of our target species, but we “cleaned up” in Scarborough, so we elected to brake up our upcoming drive with a stop in Webhannet Marsh near Moody Point for a visit with the King Rail that, for the second summer in a row, has occupied a small corner of the marsh. While waiting for it, we spotted more Willets, and had another great view of a Saltmarsh Sparrow or too.
The rail never called, but about 2/3rds of the group, myself NOT included, were able to spot the rail as it crossed two successive small openings in the marsh grass. The rest of us were just a little too far up the road, and it never made it to the third clearing we were stationed at. But still, a King Rail in the middle of the afternoon! A loafing Surf Scoter with Common Eiders offshore was also unexpected.
A delicious lunch fueled the rest of our drive south and the timing of the rainfall could not have been better. Traffic was relatively minimal as we fought our way through the outskirts of Boston, arriving at Revere Beach just as a thunderstorm passed to our south.
While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
…from land, in a city, and not very far offshore!
This incredible phenomena (they are clearly nesting locally, but where!? One of the Boston Harbor Islands?) was the icing on the cake to a most-successful trip. Based on these results, you can expect to see the “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour again in 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned to the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com for more information about this and all of our tours.
“Shorebirds and Beer” was our first-ever “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” in partnership with our friends at The Maine Brew Bus last August. Now our 6th trip together, combining casual yet instructive birding in some of the state’s best seasonal hotspots with visits to two of our fantastic local breweries, we planned a return to Scarborough Marsh – where it all began!
And by popular demand, we added a second date. So this year, we had two “Shorebirds and Beer” departures, on August 7th and again on August 14th. Both visited Scarborough Marsh, focusing our efforts on migratory shorebirds, but combined pairs of very different breweries.
We began the August 7th visit to Scarborough Marsh at the Eastern Road Trail. A nice variety of birds were observed, including a couple of very cooperative singing Nelson’s Sparrows. Unfortunately, we found our destination, the salt pannes on the northern side of the marsh to be completely bone-dry due to this year’s drought. Needless to say, the numbers of shorebirds were not what we were hoping for. In fact, other than a few small groups of Least Sandpipers popping in and out of the grass, the pannes – often the most productive place in the entire marsh at this season – were completely devoid of shorebirds!
However, along the road, we had some good instructive lessons, including ultra-cooperative Least Sandpipers than began our introduction into shorebird identification. We learned how breaking shorebirds down into family by shape and size first narrows the choices, and allows you to focus on just a few species to identify. We even had a perfect example of this, when three members of the genus Tringa were standing side-by-side as a dainty Lesser Yellowlegs joined a couple of Greater Yellowlegs while a bulky Tringa-on-steroids, Willet (of the Eastern subspecies, for the record) looked on.
Heading over to Pine Point as the tide rapidly rolled in, various human disturbances in Jones Creek limited shorebird diversity, but we could not have asked for more cooperative Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers (about 200 and 100, respectively) that really allowed us to practice our plover vs. sandpiper feeding shape and style dichotomy.
We then moved on to work on specific identification.
The remainder of our birding time was spent scanning the last of the distance sandbars (adding Black-bellied Plover to the shorebird checklist), before one of the members of the group called me over to check out an odd bird she found in her scope. It was an American Avocet!
While distance and heat shimmer precluded documentation photos, everyone was treated to a look or two in the scope of this very rare-in-Maine bird that isn’t seen every year anywhere in the state. While the long, fine bill was barely discernable at the distance, the very long legs and overall tall size (compared to nearby gulls) coupled with the distinctive tri-colored appearance (buffy head and neck, white underparts, and black wing with a broad white stripe) looks like no other.
And then it was time for a celebratory beer! After a celebratory hand-pie for lunch, of course.
First up was Barreled Souls in Saco, the only brewery in the country that is producing 100% barrel fermented beer in their Burton-Union system. Producing a mere 400 barrels a year – yet still offering 10-12 brews on tap at all times! – this time-consuming process which included two stages of fermentation, allows for the creation of some very complex beers.
Our samples today began with Half-Shilling, a very-light-bodied and low-ABV Scotch Ale as an introduction. Rosalita followed, using agave nectar in the primary fermentation and then steeped with hibiscus flowers during secondary fermentation, making for a very floral and subtly-sweet brew. Space Gose was next, a summer refresher made with Maine sea salt, lemon zest, and coriander. By request, we then did a complete beer-wise-180 and shifted over to a heavy Barrel-aged MCAM – a very unique breakfast porter made with cinnamon, French toast, and bacon! The spice, sweet, and smokiness were evident, as were the hints of bourbon from the bourbon barrels it was aged in. It was a potent, and very tasty, beer and a good representation of Barreled Souls’ creativity.
Kristi shows off her very-appropriate for a birding/beer tour tattoo.
Our final destination of the day was Lone Pine Brewing in Portland. We began with their flagship Portland Pale Ale, using 90% Aroostook County-grown malts. This is a really great pale, with lots of flavor but incredibly smooth and lacking bitterness. Pale ales are occasionally “boring” to those who like a lot of hops, but this exceedingly well-balanced beer could be a new go-to for quite a few of us on the tour.
Their new Brightside IPA was next on our agenda, and I would put this right up there with the best IPAs in the state. Bright and citrusy, yet without that overwhelming bitterness that often pervades stronger IPAs (this one clocks in at a potent 7% alcohol), it may be way too easy-drinking. It was also a very “accessible” IPA for the non-hopheads. One member of group in particular, who normally doesn’t like IPAs at all, was actually quite a fan of this also well-balanced beer. For me, a sign of a truly great beer is one that is so good is that it appeals to those who normally don’t like that particular style.
The following weekend, we once again began our birding at Eastern Road. Despite some rain in the past few days, however, the salt pannes were still dry. But to and fro, we encountered a nice mix of shorebirds, including some unbelievable cooperative Least Sandpipers once again.
This one was phone-binned (a photo taken with an iPhone through my binoculars)!
Three Spotted Sandpipers – our first shorebirds of the day, actually – were encountered as we began our walk, and a decent number of Semipalmated Sandpipers were in the dried pannes. Both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs were seen together for instructive studies. A distant hunting Northern Harrier, more singing (but this week, not seen) Nelson’s Sparrows, and lots of Cedar Waxwings and Song Sparrows foraging in the trailside scrub were among the highlights. We also took the time to watch Common Wood-Nymph butterflies, Great and Snowy Egrets, and stopped to enjoy the magnificently beautiful color of the eyes of Double-crested Cormorants.
Great Egret posing.
On the walk back, with the tide just starting to recede, we had the opportunity to check out a few Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a Least Sandpiper all side-by-side, just about 20 feet away.
A quick stop at the Pelreco marsh produced yet more Least Sandpipers, a better view of the details of Greater Yellowlegs, two spiffy adult Little Blue Herons, and most importantly: Patches! Arguably one of the rarest birds in the world, this Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrid that has been frequenting the marsh for the past 3 years put on quite a show for us. It could – hypothetically – be the only one of its kind!
Thanks to a change in brewery itinerary for this second run of “Shorebirds and Beer,” I was able to stall at the marsh long enough to allow enough water to flow out that mud was rapidly being exposed at Pine Point. And with it, excellent numbers of all of the expected shorebirds began to appear: 400+ Semipalmated Sandpipers, 300+ Semipalmated Plovers, 150+ Black-bellied Plovers, 22 Short-billed Dowitchers, 8 “Eastern” Willets, 6 White-rumped Sandpipers, 4 Ruddy Turnstones, a few Least Sandpipers, and 2 Greater Yellowlegs.
No American Avocet though, but a hunting Peregrine Falcon zipped through, causing quite the ruckus.
And then it was once again beer o’clock, and today we began our beer-ing tour with a visit to South Portland’s Foulmouthed Brewing. Only open for 7 weeks, it was a new destination for everyone on today’s tour – myself included – and we learned all about the owners, the fledgling (see what I did there?) brewpub (yup, they opened a restaurant too), and their wide range of beers. We even enjoyed a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time sample of their new “Blue Balls,” a Belgian dark, strong beer with blueberries. Still a week or two from being finished, it was a great introduction to their creative brewing side.
Inside at the brewpub, we sat at the big kids’ table and sampled four of their current offerings. Beginning with Brat, a German-style session with its bright and clean Noble hop finish, we moved onto Half Wit, a “hybrid” (not of heron and egret, mind you) of a Belgian Wit and an American Pale. A favorite of many on today’s visit, it was smooth and accessible, with enough body and flavor to hold its own. Kaizen Saison was up next, with its rotating hops producing a different flavor and aroma profile with each batch. We finished up with Rhubarb de Garde, a strong amber aged on rhubarb. I found a little extra sweetness and especially just the hint of tart from the rhubarb complimented each other nicely.
Our final beer stop of the day was a return trip to Lone Pine Brewing. Tom once again took us through their methods and philosophy, and shared with us their Portland Pale Ale and Brightside IPA. The more I drink the Portland Pale, the more I love this perfectly balanced beer.
And Abby was dressed in our honor today.
While Don, always attentive, looked like he had just spotted a Blue-footed Booby.
With our final sips of Brightside, the second installment of Shorebirds and Beer came to a close and it was time to head back home. Every day is different during the window of shorebird migration, and these two visits to Scarborough Marsh exemplified that. A wide range of shorebirds were studied, as we started to expand our identification – and appreciation – toolbox. And between Barreled Souls, Lone Pine, and Foulmouthed, we were exposed to a wide range of beer styles and methodologies.
And both are the goals of our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series: exposure to some of our seasonal birding highlights and our vast array of fantastic local breweries. We hope you’ll join us for our next roadtrip, on October 9th, when we head to the deep south to visit Kittery’s Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach for our birding, and Tributary and Hidden Cove Brewing for our beering. Hope to see you then!
The second record (and perhaps the first verified one) for Maine of Black-throated Sparrow was found in Winter Harbor on New Year’s Day, and continues through today, January 6th. I was tempted to chase it yesterday, but instead I am left to hope it sticks around until the end of next week when I return from a short business trip. Fingers crossed!
Before it arrived, I had begun to put together my annual list of the next 25 species to be found in Maine. I then follow that up with my own State List predictions, and no, Black-throated Sparrow was not on that list!
I know, I know, you’ve been awaiting this with baited breath for this. So without any further ado, let’s get started with the annual Maine State Birds Predictions List.
First, a quick recap of 2015.
Only one species was added to the state’s all-time birdlist, a Surfbird, which was discovered at Biddeford Pool in March. It was not a species on anyone’s radar, and it was most definitely not on my Predictions List for 2015!
But I did make several changes to my Next 25 Species for Maine list, and moved things around a bit. So here are the NEW prognostications:
1)Neotropical Cormorant – The new #1! With populations expanding in the Midwest and observations of vagrants increasing around the East, this one is only a matter of time now!
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Roseate Spoonbill
5) Spotted Towhee
6) Ross’s Gull
7) Hammond’s Flycatcher
8) Bermuda Petrel – see notes in last year’s blog entry at the link above.
9) Black-chinned Hummingbird
11) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
12) Little Stint
13) Anna’s Hummingbird
14) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran) – Hope it calls! After a spate of reports in the Fall of 2015, this is another western bird increasingly being detected well outside of range.
15) Vermillion Flycatcher – Ditto.
16) Common Ground-Dove – A virtual irruption of this bird this fall, including one as close to Massachusetts had me thinking we would have added this in 2015. Maybe one is still out there awaiting discovery.
17) Allen’s Hummingbird
19) Western Wood-Pewee
20) Spotted Redshank
21) Gray Flycatcher
22) Black-tailed Godwit
23) Brown-chested Martin
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter
As for me, I added three birds to my personal Maine State List in 2015:
A) Gyrfalcon – Wells, 1/17/15 (Ranked #5). This is one I wanted for a while! It was seen sporadically between Wells Harbor and Salisbury, Massachusetts for about a month. If first showed up while we were away at a trade show, but luckily, I caught up with it shortly after our return. I saw it on the 17th, and managed some photos (my blog entry also includes more background about the sighting), but on April 5th, Jeannette got the better shots!
B) I also caught up with the aforementioned Surfbird on March 22nd (Definitely not on my list!) and Jeannette got these photos when we visited it again two days later.
C) Clapper Rail – Scarborough Marsh, 9/22. I had it as an “Honorable Mention,” a list that I also keep to work off of to come up with each year’s respective Top 25.
I missed a Franklin’s Gull on Sebasticook Lake in November, as it appeared just before I took a trip, and departed shortly after my return. There was also a one-day wonder on Stratton Island in Scarborough in June. With an unprecedented incursion of Franklin’s Gulls into the East this fall (the Sebasticook Lake bird clearly preceded the events that brought record numbers to New Jersey and several birds to Massachusetts and New Hampshire), I thought this would be my fall – and I definitely worked for one! But alas.
My two trips off of Bar Harbor this year did not yield a Great Skua (but a September trip did give me my 3rd South Polar Skua in the state!), and once again my summer went by without a trip up north for American Three-toed Woodpecker.
Therefore, I predict that my next 25 species in Maine will be:
1) American Three-toed Woodpecker
1A) Black-throated Sparrow! OK, I know this does not count as a prediction, but still…
2) Great Skua
3) Eurasian Collared-Dove
4) Graylag Goose
5) Say’s Phoebe
6) Western Grebe
7) American White Pelican
8) Neotropic Cormorant
9) Fork-tailed Flycatcher
10) Slaty-backed Gull
11) Tundra Swan
12) Franklin’s Gull
13) Sabine’s Gull
14) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
15) California Gull
16) Yellow Rail
17) Boreal Owl
18) Calliope Hummingbird
19) Cerulean Warbler
20) White Ibis
21) Gull-billed Tern
22) Hammond’s Flycatcher
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Ivory Gull
25) Ross’s Gull
Well, there ya have it! We’ll check back next year to see how I did!
Earlier today, I found an interesting Dunlin at Pine Point, at the mouth of Scarborough Marsh. It flew in from across the channel on the incoming tide, and landed up Jones Creek, a couple of hundred feet away.
It was an adult bird, including an extensively black belly, and it appeared pale above and rather small. I needed a better look, but as I waited for the bird to slowly come closer, I posted to the Maine-birds listserve of a “…pale-backed Greenland (or other European-type)-like Dunlin,” mostly to alert other birders in the area (there were quite a few today as usual here). Based on the fact that this bird looked small, pale, and had not yet undergone molt, my mind immediately went to one of the “European” subspecies.
The bird had come considerably closer by the time Noah Gibb and Leon Mooney arrived, and it was clear that this was not a short-billed bird, perhaps on its own eliminating the Greenland subspecies arctica (one fitting this description was photographed this summer at Popham). But I will admit to not knowing the full range of variation in bill length among all of the 10 subspecies of Dunlin, so we went to work photographing and studying the bird.
We agreed that the bird appeared small (although the three other “typical” juvenile Dunlin that were present were never seen nearby, a comparison that would have been most helpful) and “not short-billed.” It wasn’t the longest, droopiest billed Dunlin that we’ve seen, but well within the range of our typical migrant subspecies, hudsonia.
As the bird came closer, plumage details and patterns blurred by heat shimmer and scope-shake in the 20+mph winds at a distance became more discernable. Arctica, the smallest and shortest-billed subspecies, also has a small belly patch. I don’t think this bird would be characterized as being short-billed or with a small belly patch.
Meanwhile, in response to my Maine-birds post, Louis Bevier chimed in that the subspecies arcticola which breeds in northwestern Canada and Alaska “is somewhat paler-backed than our typical hudsonia and delays molt until after migration.” That was not something I had remembered, but it’s been a while since I’ve done much reading on the subject. However, The Shorebird Guide by Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson – which I grabbed as soon as I returned to the store – references arcticola as molting on the breeding grounds, as does our typical hudsonia. Bevier also stated that it is from “northern Alaska and the West Coast,” but that, I believe is actually referring to pacifica, which also molts on the breeding grounds (Arcticola winters in Japan, Korea, and China).
The Shorebird Guide cautions that “a few individuals of pacifica, arcticola, and hudsonia migrate before molting extensively.” While I could not see any signs of molt on the wings, back, scapulars, etc on this bird, of course some birds don’t always molt according to the book. Injuries (none obvious) or malnutrition (harder to decipher in the field) could delay molt, and some individuals can suspend molt for similar reasons – and others, such as simply being “screwed up!”
The only other reference I have handy here at the store is Richard Chandler’s Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia which offers a similar array of caveats about subspecific identification. While saying “identification to race may be possible in favorable circumstances, most readily in breeding plumage,” it then goes on to warn that “At the end of the breeding season, separation will often be difficult, as feather wear renders the distinctions less obvious and upperparts become dull and blackish.”
It’s late September, and therefore it’s well past the end of the breeding season, making feather wear a serious issue. While I couldn’t see anything that suggested extreme wear (like on the flight feathers of a retarded 1st summer bird), there’s no doubt that any colors we were seeing were likely paler, and perhaps considerably so, than what the bird would be in fresh plumage.
Chandler takes the time to reason that “It is not easy to identify any of the races of Dunlin in breeding plumage away from the breeding grounds…Since races are established largely on the basis of the average characters of specimens taken on the breeding grounds, variation between individuals and differences between sexes, as well as variation with time owing to fading and wear as the season progresses, result in caution being needed when attempting to assign race to any particular individual. Consequently, there will always be more than an element of speculation with the racial identification of many migrant Dunlins in breeding plumage.”
So where does that leave me with subspecific identification? Completely and utterly unsure.
Is this simply a hudsonia that has not molted yet for some odd reason? Maybe. Is this an arctica, like my first impression? I don’t think so anymore (too long-billed and with too much black on the belly). The only thing that is definitive is that this is an interesting and educational bird. Hopefully, it will be seen again, and perhaps better photos – and photos with “normal” Dunlin – could be acquired. But for now, I am fine with saying “I don’t know.”
I present an array of phone-scoped images for you to ponder (or not). I’ll also send this link out to those who know more about Dunlin subspecies than I do. It’s going to be a busy two weeks for me (Birds on Tap!, Monhegan tour, than travel to a trade show), so I may not get back to an analysis of the analysis for some time, but if anything revelatory becomes apparent, I’ll discuss that here.
9/23 UPDATE: Jeannette and I observed the bird again yesterday, 9/22 and Jeannette took excellent photos, as usual. It was also a whole lot closer, allowing for much more detailed study. You can ignore those awful photos above, this is what the bird really looked like!
So, the next session with the bird shows several pertinent details:
1) This bird IS in molt, as several new coverts and tertials are visible.
2) The outermost primaries (especially as you can see in flight) ARE indeed very heavily worn (it could be a 1st summer/2nd winter bird afterall?).
3) The size and structure looks more than fine for our typical subspecies, hudsonia.
Those, combined with the details of the plumage, show that this is undoubtedly NOT a European bird. Instead, it is either one of the North American subspecies in very retarded molt (or perhaps a vagrant East Asian bird). I’ll synthesis what I learn when I return in a couple of weeks, but for now, I wanted to get these much more useful photos posted for you to ponder, enjoy, and/or ignore.
August is for shorebirds. Although the “fall” southbound migration started in late June (when the first non-breeders begin to turn around to mosey back south) and continues into November when Purple Sandpipers are still filling in, August is the month of peak numbers and diversity in Maine.
Most weeks from mid-July into September of recent years, I post a weekly “shorebird high counts this week” summary to my weekly “Additional Highlights This Week” summary posts to the Maine-birds listserve. While I do hope this is interesting and of value to folks, I also do it to organize my own notes, allowing me to quickly reference the peaks and valleys of particular species with ease should I need to.
I generally only post this when I have hit at least two “primary” and at least one “secondary” site each week, to make the numbers meaningful. And I prefer at least one prime high tide location (Eastern Road Trail in Scarborough Marsh, Biddeford Pool Beach/Ocean Avenue, or Popham Beach State Park in some years) with one low or mid-tide hotspot (Pine Point, Hill’s Beach/The Pool, or Popham and nearby environs).
This week was a particularly productive week for my own shorebirding, so this week’s summary is a helpful future reference for me. I also thought it was worth going into a little more detail, since it yielded a goodly 21 species (plus one subspecies) and some excellent totals.
The inclement weather of the weekend into the middle of the week (regular rain, lots of fog, easterly or southerly winds) was perfecting for “grounding” shorebirds and allowing numbers to build. I think my only surprise was my lack of a real rarity – like Western Sandpiper (although I worked pretty hard for one!)
I hit the low-tide hotspot of Pine Point on Monday with Jeannette, followed by the Eastern Road Trail at high tide later that afternoon. Jeannette and I spent the incoming to high tide at Biddeford Pool Beach on Tuesday, and on Friday, Serena Doose and I visited Popham on the incoming to high tide. Additionally, Jeannette and I checked one of the “secondary” sites, Brunswick’s Wharton Point on Tuesday and on Thursday I visited Wells Harbor before the evening’s Scott Weidensaul talk that we co-sponsored with Birds and Beans coffee and York County Audubon.
It’s always good to hit a freshwater location for diversity and high counts of pond-preferring-migrants, so when my Poplar Hut Tour Group with Maine Huts & Trails visited the Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds on Sunday, my high counts of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers were acquired, along with my only Wilson’s Snipe of the week.
And, as if often the case during the peak of shorebird migration, there is some other “incidental sighting” of a migrant in some weird place – but not as weird as the Whimbrel (my only of the week) foraging at 4,200 feet atop Sugarloaf Mountain that Paul Doiron, Kristen Lindquist, and I observed on Sunday afternoon. While I knew they forage on mossberry during migration, such as in the bogs Downeast, I was most definitely not expecting one up here!
Therefore, with a total of 7 shorebirding locations – plus that mountaintop Whimbrel! – “this week’s shorebird high counts” scoreboard looks like this:
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER: 1 ad, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Black-bellied Plover: 160, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Plover: 350, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Killdeer: 3, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 5, Pine Point, 8/11 (with Jeannette).
Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Lesser Yellowlegs: 38, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“Eastern” Willet: 8 juvs, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“WESTERN” WILLET: 1 juv. (FOY), Pine Point, 8/24 (with Fyn Kind, Gary Roberts, and Jeannette).
Solitary Sandpiper: 4, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Spotted Sandpiper: 5, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Whimbrel: 8, Wells Harbor, 8/27.
Ruddy Turnstone: 8, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 40, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1000, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette)..
Least Sandpiper: 75 mostly juv, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
White-rumped Sandpiper: 80-100 adults, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER: 2 juveniles, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 8/28 (with Serena Doose).
Pectoral Sandpiper: 6, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
STILT SANDPIPER: 4 ads, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Short-billed Dowitcher: 19 juveniles, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Wilson’s Snipe: 1, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Furthermore, writing this blog gives me a chance to show off some of Jeannette’s photography! These are just a few of the shots she got during our visit to Scarborough on Monday.
Adult Black-bellied Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.
Of course, it’s not just shorebirds that are on the move – there are plenty of passerines as well! A migrant Wilson’s Warbler and a whopping 14 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were at Old Town House Park on Saturday morning when I visited it with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group. My tour group to the Poplar Hut encountered mixed-species foraging flocks as we hiked to and from the hut, highlighted by an immature female Cape May Warbler in a little wave around the hut itself on Sunday morning.
Other highlights this week included 14 Wood Ducks and a bumper crop of juvenile Common Yellowthroats at Florida Lake Park (8/24), the whiter of the two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids (“Splotchy”) in the Rte 1/9 salt pannes in Scarborough Marsh with Jeannette on the same day and a drake White-winged Scoter off of Biddeford Pool Beach on 8/25.
While a diversity of shorebirds will continue for several more weeks (and there’s a better chance for Western, Baird’s, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers), I tend to spend less time focusing on them (and therefore not enough time at enough prime locations over the course of the week), and therefore only occasionally post summary totals. In fact, if the much-reduced numbers at Popham today are any indication, a lot of shorebirds departed with the passage of this recent cold front.
Instead, I spend most of my free mornings now at “my office,” the bridge at Sandy Point Beach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth, observing and obsessively counting migrant passerines in the “Morning Flight.” In fact, my first visit of the season there on Thursday morning yielded 438 migrants, including 17 species of warblers, 1 early Dickcissel, 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (my 3rd-ever here), and 5 Prairie Warblers – my 2nd highest count.
(Much) more on that soon.
For the past ten years, I have organized the “South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup” on the first weekend of November, when a group of friends get together to comb the coast from Kittery through Portland, focusing on finding lingering migrants, rarities, and hopefully “mega” vagrants.
This year, our event was postponed a week thanks to the massive Nor’easter and snowstorm that rendered last Sunday essentially un-birdable. A week later than usual, we expected fewer birds, but perhaps “better birds.” At the very least, we would be less miserable than in the 34-degree weather with driving wet snow and 50mph winds of last Sunday. Recent active weather and some good birds in the area helped stoked our “rarity fever” fire, which I prognosticated about on Friday’s blog.
The teams each cover a specific territory, including destination locations, and casual meanderings. This year, the Roundup was covered by:
Kittery –York: Katrina Fenton and Ken Klapper.
Ogunquit/Kennebunkport: Turk Duddy and Linda Woodward.
Wells: Doug Suitor, Andrew Gilbert, and Allison Moody.
Biddeford-Saco: Becky Marvil, Nancy Houlihan, et al.
Scarborough Marsh: Noah Gibb, Ed Hess, et al.
Cape Elizabeth: Robby Lambert and Lois Gerke.
South Portland: John Berry and Gordon Smith.
Portland: Derek Lovitch, Kristen Lindquist, Evan Obercian, and Jeannette Lovitch.
Although most teams described the day as “fairly slow” overall, we did indeed find some good birds, and surprisingly good diversity. 121 species (plus two subspecies) were recorded in all, well above the 11-year average of 114 species. Two new species were added to the all-time Rarity Roundup list: American Redstart and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Meanwhile, Brown Creeper went unrecorded for the first time, likely a factor of the scrubby habitats and open areas that we focus on at this time of year.
Unfortunately, despite overall high-quality birds, we once again failed to turn up any “mega” rarities. However, we did have a lot of fun as always, which really is the most important part. Or so we tell ourselves.
The full roster of “good” birds that were turned up by all of the teams were as follows:
American Wigeon: 4 at Hill’s Beach; 1 at Evergreen Cemetery.
NORTHERN SHOVELER: 1 pair, Deering Oaks Park, Portland.
Northern Pintail: 2, Fortunes Rocks Beach.
Common Merganser: 2, Saco Riverwalk.
Ruddy Duck: 40, Prout’s Pond.
AMERICAN BITTERN: 1 Eastern Rd; 1 Drake’s Island Road.
Great Egret: 1, Parson’s Beach Rd.
Black-crowned Night-Heron: 1 Mill Creek Park; 4 Mercy Pond.
Northern Goshawk: 1, Perkin’s Cove.
Ruffed Grouse: 1, Laudholm Farms.
American Coot: 64, Prout’s Pond.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER: 1, Pine Point; 1 Wells Beach jetty.
White-rumped Sandpiper: 2 Timber Point; 1 Eastern Road.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 1, Rte 103, Kittery.
Eastern Phoebe: 1, Fore River Parkway Trail; 1 Pond Cove.
Northern Shrike: 1, Fort Williams Park; 1 Laudholm Farms.
RED-EYED VIREO: 1, Chadwick St, Portland.
Carolina Wren: 6 total (low by recent standards).
Gray Catbird: 1, Hill’s Beach; 1 Laudholm Farms.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER: 1, Pond Cove.
NASHVILLE WARBLER: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
NORTHERN PARULA: 2, Fort Williams Park.
PRAIRIE WARBLER: 1, York Cliff Walk.
“Yellow” Palm Warbler: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
“Western” Palm Warbler: 1, Private property in Cape Elizabeth.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER: 1, Saco Roverwalk.
Common Yellowthroat: 1, Capisic Pond Park.
AMERICAN REDSTART: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1 Community Park, Wells; 1 Private property in Cape Elizabeth.
LINCOLN’S SPARROW: Capisic Pond Park.
White-crowned Sparrow: 1, Fort Foster
Lapland Longspur: 51, Eastern Rd.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 60-75, Eastern Promenade
Meanwhile, record high total counts (from all teams) were set for an impressive 14 species:
81 Harlequin Ducks
40 Ruddy Ducks
2 American Bitterns
64 American Coots
69 Purple Sandpipers
11 Red-bellied Woodpeckers
83 Horned Larks
19 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Northern Parulas
9 Chipping Sparrows
51 Lapland Longspurs
25 Purple Finches
60-75 White-winged Crossbills
My guess is the later date this year helped those Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, and Lapland Longspur totals, and perhaps also the higher counts of Ruddy Ducks and American Coots. An overall mild fall likely resulted in the late departure of so many “half-hardies” such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Chipping Sparrows. And the steady increase of Red-bellied Woodpeckers continues.
So not bad, and once again it gives us a fascinating snapshot into the under-birded late fall season along the southern Maine coast.
Personally, I was joined by friends as usual in Portland. While Jeannette (and Sasha) birded Capisic Pond Park, Evergreen Cemetery, and Back Cove, Kristen and Evan joined me on my march through the Portland peninsula. Jeannette gets the territory’s bird-of-the-day honors with the First Rarity Roundup Record Lincoln’s Sparrow at Capisic Pond Park, where she also had the count’s only Common Yellowthroat.
The peninsula, however, was about a slow as I have ever experienced it on a Rarity Roundup, likely due to the later date and resultant fewer food supplies. But even still, the Eastern Promenade was uncharacteristically slow, and development and ridiculous bush-whacking and clear cutting by the City of Portland diminished the value of the habitat along West Commercial Street.
With a few interesting birds, including our best bird of the day, a Red-eyed Vireo in a front yard in the West End, I wish I had gotten to this neighborhood sooner in the day, but alas, hindsight is always 20/20. And while Portland’s overall performance paled in comparison to the hauls from recent years, we still had some great birds. The flock of 60-75+ White-winged Crossbills that flew over us on the Eastern Promenade were the first I have seen all year, the pair of Northern Shovelers in Deering Oaks Park were unexpected, and the 4 immature Black-crowned Night Herons at Mercy Pond were good to see.
But perhaps the bird of the day was the Hermit Thrush. We had an impressive total of 31 throughout our day, including several in small downtown gardens and landscaping corners. White-throated Sparrow (including 24 scattered around downtown as well) were also prevalent. These two species were the only native birds – as usual – that we found in the center of downtown Portland. This always fascinated me, as these two species seem particularly regular in the heart of concrete jungles.
I think this phone-photo of a Hermit Thrush captures the essence of this intriguing topic of conversation.
Perhaps next year we will find the “next big one.” Until then, I have some more fun data to play with.
Some of the “documentation” photos from the day:
American Bittern, Eastern Rd, Scarborough Marsh.
Juv. Black-crowned Night-Heron, Mill Creek Park, South Portland.
I know I haven’t been blogging much this summer, but I hope you know that doesn’t mean I haven’t been birding. Quite the contrary, actually! My June was as busy with tours and private guiding as it could have been, and with some other projects going on, much of my birding was rather purposeful. Of course, there was some wholly-recreational birding mixed in as well from time to time. Despite my irregular blogging, I did my best to keep folks up to date with my birding adventures and discoveries, mostly with near-daily posts to our store’s Facebook Page. (Remember, you need not be “on Facebook” to browse the posts of a business page.)
It was a busy month. But that’s not a complaint. And now, Jeannette and I are off to Colorado for a bona-fide vacation, to visit friends, family, and yes, do some birding. But first, I had Sunday morning to find some birds. My third attempt to organize a charter to see the Tufted Puffin that has been seen irregularly at Machias Seal Island (3rd or 4th record for the entire Atlantic Ocean!) was thwarted by residual high seas and localized damage from the passage of Tropical Storm Arthur. While Arthur took away my chance to see a Tufted Puffin in Maine waters, I was hoping it would produce some rarities of its own.
In a tropical system, birds are sometimes entrained in the eye, while others are pushed out ahead of the storm. This displacement usually occurs in the strong northeastern quadrant of the storm, and birds escape the eye when it hits land. With the storm passing to the east of Maine, I did not expect to see any vagrants on Friday. However, when the storm reached land in southern Nova Scotia on Saturday morning, birders there were in prime position for rarities. And sure enough: lots of Black Skimmers, several Gull-billed, Royal Terns, and Forster’s Terns…all rarities from points further south. (You can peruse the reports from the province, here).
These birds, commonly displaced by tropical systems, were likely picked up by the storm as it passed over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Thursday. Here’s the cumulative wind map as of 11:00am on Friday, with the storm’s center already off of the Delmarva Peninsula.
As the storm hit Nova Scotia, birds finally had a chance to escape its grips. But notice the winds for Maine – they were already strong out of the northwest, on the backside of the storm (note the light winds of the disintegrating eye over the northern Bay of Fundy).
So Nova Scotia birders were having a lot of fun…and I was not seeing a Tufted Puffin. So instead, I decided to comb the beaches to look for some of these terns that perhaps are already returning south. While most of these birds likely made a bee-line straight across the Gulf of Maine on their return journey, some birds might conceivably follow the coast.
After birding Eastern Road at high tide (34 Least Sandpipers and 20 Short-billed Dowitchers – fall migration is definitely underway!), Lois Gerke and I headed to Pine Point Beach, where we spent a little more than an hour watching from the jetty. As the tide went out, exposing the sandbar and flats, Common, Least, and a few Roseate Terns were feeding, roosting, and loafing with at least a hundred Bonaparte’s Gulls. But alas, there was nothing unusual among them.
I then checked the mudflats from the co-op (more Short-billed Dowitchers, a few more Roseate Terns, and a lot of feeding Common Terns) before I spent the remainder of low tide at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford. At least 8 Roseate Terns, 75+ Bonaparte’s Gulls, 17 Short-billed Dowitchers, and my first Whimbrel of the year joined the regulars, but alas, no rare terns.
It appears I had the right idea, but just the wrong timing. Later in the afternoon, a Royal Tern was found at Hill’s Beach. And then, this morning, two Black Skimmers were roosting at Stratton Island. There are still quite a few waifs being seen in Nova Scotia, so it is conceivable that the coming days could see some reports of returning rarities here in Maine. Unfortunately, this morning, I had time only for a quick stroll at Capisic Pond Park. No rare terns there, but I did see my first Monarch butterfly of the season – which, the way things are going for this species, is even more exciting.
Meanwhile, indirectly storm-related were the 6 Glossy Ibis that were a little bit of a surprise on my Saturday Morning Birdwalk along Highland Road in Brunswick. The heavy rain nicely saturated the soil, and gulls and these ibis had moved inland to take advantage of the bounty.
In other birding news, a pair of Evening Grosbeaks has been frequenting our Pownal feeders – which are particularly exciting considering the dearth of them this year…in fact, these are the only ones that I have seen all year long. And, even more unexpectedly, three Eastern Bluebirds have hatched right here at the store!
Arthur gave us a momentary glimmer of rarity fever, and “fall’ shorebird migration is definitely underway. But July is for breeding birds – from terns to “sharp-tailed” sparrows to bluebirds and warblers. In other words, there’s no such thing as the “summer birding doldrums!”
For the 7th consecutive spring, White-faced Ibis have been found in Scarborough Marsh. I found the state’s 5th record in 2008 – a single adult bird – and in each of the next three years, a single adult bird was seen. It is more than likely that this was the same adult returning for each of those years, and likely beyond.
Things became a little more muddied in 2012, however, when three different White-faced Ibis (WFIB) were documented (that spring, I wrote an extensive blog summarizing the difference and the previous records. Although that was posted to my old Mainetoday.com blog that has since imploded, if anyone would like a copy of that synthesis, please let me know).
Additionally, some earlier photos of the sub-adult bird can be seen here, although they are not of high quality.
In 2013, at least three individuals were identified once again.
So the question becomes are these birds all related? How many of these individuals have shown up for home many consecutive years? And, are they breeding?
Last year, WFIB were spotted on occasion through the end of the summer, confirming that the birds are not just spring overshoots or drift vagrants. Although the detection of – and ability to study the – ibis becomes much more challenging as the season progresses due to the growing marsh grasses, last year WFIB was a semi-regular sighting in the marsh. Some of my photos from July and August of last year can be seen here.
Juvenile WFIB are impossible to separate in the field from juvenile Glossy Ibis in the late summer and fall (by late winter, the development of the red eye and perhaps even facial skin coloration would at least tip us off to the possible identification). Therefore, if breeding is to be confirmed, it would likely have to be on Stratton Island – where they would likely breed within the large colony of Glossy Ibis (GLIB) – or, by conjecture as a population increases. Figuring out exactly how many birds are seen each year, and their ages, could help us track potential breeding (and perhaps eventual colonization?). It’s also fun – if you like this sort of thing.
Each year, WFIB show up in late April, about the time that the majority of the GLIB arrive, and this year, the birds were first reported on Saturday (4/19). Two to three birds were reported, and over the past week, we have tried to determine exactly how many birds they are, and, if possible, what ages they are.
On Sunday, Jeannette and I were planning on heading to the marsh in the afternoon anyway (to take advantage of the high tide on our rare extra day off), so looking for the WFIB first reported on Saturday added extra incentive. And luck was with us. As soon as we arrived at the marsh, we found a group of about 70 GLIB foraging close to Pine Point Road. We jumped out, and immediately found two White-faced Ibis within the group, along with one other bird of interest (a bird that looked absolutely fine for a pure GLIB, but with distinctly reddish-pink knees, and perhaps a pinkish hue on the rest of the leg. Jeannette, unfortunately, was unable to get photos of this individual).
Although the facial skin, especially right at the base of the bill, has a slight grayish tint, I see no reason to argue that this is anything other than an adult bird (or very near-adult, perhaps).
Note the greatly reduced amount of white around the face, with no white behind the eye. In the field, I called this bird a sub-adult, but on close inspection of the photos, I don’t feel comfortable calling its age – other than it is definitely more than a year old. Although there isn’t much white on the “face,” the pure red eye, pink facial skin, and pinkish legs with brighter red-pink knees are all fine for an adult, in fact, as are the spiffy, glossy tertials. Perhaps a spread-tail shot could help confirm this. It might simply be a dull (facial-marking-wise) adult.
Meanwhile, photos from other folks suggest that a third WFIB, or perhaps a hybrid, is present. If it is, perhaps we will be able to compare these birds to those of last year, and perhaps even conclude that the same three birds are back. Regardless, it will be an interesting exercise, and quite the challenge, as ibis are a real challenge to age. In fact, we might not even know for sure how to age them! Of course, you know me, that doesn’t necessarily stop me from trying.
What intrigues me is that we have not yet documented a hybrid, even after an adult was present for 4-5 years. Since out of range WFIB are well known to hybridize with GLIB (and visa-versa), we often expected to see hybrid kiddies running around (at least by next spring when they would have been noticeable). Perhaps it did not breed, or the young did not survive. And/or perhaps it waited long enough for another WFIB to arrive. Whatever is going on, it will be most interesting to watch, this summer and beyond.
I decided to blog about my birding outing today, if only to give people a little hope that spring is around the corner. As temperatures plummet once again this week, perhaps the knowledge that spring migration has actually begun will provide a little comfort…and warmth.
Phil McCormack and I birded from Scarborough Marsh into South Portland today, enjoying a very spring-like day (highs in the mid-40’s) and some great birding. A few “new arrivals” and continuing wintering species combined for a respectably tally of 54 species without trying – and with ending our birding at 1:30.
We began on the Eastern Road Trail. Within mere seconds of saying to Phil, “I expect some early migrant waterfowl like pintail and Gadwall today,” three drake Northern Pintails came cruising by. I love the look of pintails in flight; they’re so elegant. The long tail, thin neck, and long, relatively narrow wings suggest a miniature loon, and they have one spiffy pattern. The sense of spring really kicked in when a Killdeer sounded off and came cruising in to an exposed muddy bank – my first of the spring, and a bit on the early side considering the abundant snow cover.
A pair of Gadwall (first of the year – although they were actually southbound) flew over Pine Point, as did at least one Snow Bunting. Twenty-eight Common Loons were in the channel, while over on Western Beach, the dredging operation was pumping sand onto the beach, collecting a nice concentration of gulls. Sifting through them yielded two 1st-winter Iceland and 1 1st-winter Glaucous Gull. American Robins – overwintering birds, not northbound spring migrants – were widespread today, with a high count of 50-75 around Seavey’s Landing.
Rounding the north side of the marsh, we checked a couple of neighborhoods for frugivores, before arriving at Kettle Cove. At Two Lights State Park, a raft of 150 Black Scoter loafed offshore, with 18 Harlequin Ducks in the surf. A Porcupine at the edge of the parking lot was the star of the show, however.
Ten more Harlequin Ducks and a Northern Shrike (an immature; my 6th of the winter) at Dyer Point were signs of the continuing winter, but a Black Guillemot in full breeding plumage was suggestive of the advancing season.
Moving into South Portland, a Red-bellied Woodpecker was among the usual denizens at Trout Brook Preserve, but Mill Creek and Mill Creek Cove were hopping! 286 Mallards and a growing legion of American Black Ducks were joined by a single drake Green-winged Teal, our third “FOY” of the day! Meanwhile, the gull turnover in the cove eventually amounted to eight 1st-winter Iceland Gulls and two or three 1st-winter Glaucous Gulls.