This first summer male Blue Grosbeak was present on Monhegan for at least a week, and unexpectedly, was flycatching for seaweed flies in shoreline rocks for most of the time, including the two days we looked at it with my Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend tour group.
With 5 days on Monhegan and one (half) day offshore, I enjoyed a lot of great birds this week. My observations of note over the past seven days included:
Monhegan Island with our Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend Tour group (full trip report and photos to come).
Impressive numbers of Red Crossbills swirling around the island and tough to quantify, including many juveniles. High counts of largest flock(s) in the mid-20’s. Three WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS were present each day at least through the end of the weekend. Rare for the island, a pair of HOUSE FINCHES appeared on the 27th and continued through the end of our stay. Here are my group’s other daily highlights.
11 Bay-breasted Warblers (FOY)
1 Cape May Warbler (FOY)
1 female Evening Grosbeak
1 Black-billed Cuckoo
1 continuing ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Philadelphia Vireo (FOY)
1 continuing male DICKCISSEL
1 continuing female/imm male SUMMER TANAGER
1 female ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Olive-sided Flycatcher (FOY)
9 GLOSSY IBIS – circled the island early in the morning but did not land. My 225th Island Bird!
1 probable immature male PURPLE MARTIN
1 continuing 1st-year male BLUE GROSBEAK
1 immature BROAD-WINGED HAWK
1 continuing male DICKCISSEL
1 pair ORCHARD ORIOLES
1 continuing SNOWY EGRET – Jeannette and I finally caught up with it for my 226th Island Bird!
1 continuing 1st year male BLUE GROSBEAK
5/30 (With Jeannette):
1 continuing male ORCHARD ORIOLE
1 Field Sparrow
Did not try to catch up with continuing rarities, although two quick checks did not turn up the Dickcissel or the Blue Grosbeak.
The Zeiss Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises out of Boothbay Harbor, 6/2. This special mini-pelagic, sponsored by Zeiss Optics visited Eastern Egg Rock before heading 20 miles offshore. Trip report to come, but for now, the highlights:
1 Razorbill at Eastern Egg Rock
1 COMMON MURRE (between Eastern Egg Rock and Murray Hole)
350-400 total Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (FOY)
12 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES
TOURS AND EVENTS:
I’ll see you next week at the Rangely Birding Festival! Most (but not all) tours are sold out, but everyone can join me for the free and open to the public Birds on Tap! Event at Parkside and Main (beverages not included)!
With my guiding season now in full swing, I have no choice but to be out in the field a lot, regardless of my shoulder situation. And with much finer weather and some good nights of especially Saturday and Thursday nights, the arrivals of migrants caught up to the date quite rapidly. Many new arrivals – as well as a lot of personal first-of-years since I had not been getting out much – resulted in a nice long list of highlights for me -and my clients – over the past 7 days.
My observations of note over the past seven days included:
10 Greater Yellowlegs, our property in Durham (thanks to a flood in our field), 5/5 diminishing to 3 by 5/7.
250-300++ White-throated Sparrow in impressive fallout, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, 5/8 (with client from Spain).
1 female Red Crossbill, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/8 (with client from Spain).
10 species of warblers, Evergreen Cemetery, 5/8 (with client from Spain). This tied my latest date for reaching 10 species at one place in one morning for the first time of the season.
1 WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (looking very out of place) and a pair of RUDDY DUCKS, Sanford Lagoons, Sanford, 5/8 (with clients from Spain and Maine).
1 drake Northern Shoveler, Dunstan Landing, Scarborough Marsh, 5/8 (with clients from Spain and Maine).
1 pair LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, Morgan Meadow WMA, Gray/Raymond, 5/11 (with clients from Spain and Maine).
1 BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, Florida Lake Park, Freeport, 5/11 (with clients from Spain and Maine).
The long list of my personal FOY’s this week also included:
1 Ovenbird, Florida Lake Park, 5/6 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
I arrived on the island on Thursday (9/22). Be happy that the tour didn’t start this day. It rained. A Lot. However, I was greeted by 6 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Smuttynose Island upon my arrival: 5 adults and 1 juvenile. It turned out to be one of the highest counts ever on the island. That would also turn out to be my birding highlight of the day, as a short jaunt in the afternoon only yielded one species that I would not end up seeing with the group: a juvenile Ring-billed Gull, which is actually a very uncommon bird out here.
The sunset, however, was worth the trip, and the clearing skies foretold some good birding to come.
Overnight, a moderate migration on clearing skies brought many new birds to the island. The group met at 9:00, and we picked up the rest of the day’s participants as their ferry arrived. It was very windy today, but all day long, whenever we found a pocket of shelter, we found birds. It was mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, as expected for the date, but there was a decent smattering of diversity.
Between the winds and the raptors, birds were keeping low though! But speaking of raptors – wow, the falcon show! It was incredible. There is absolutely no way of knowing how many Peregrine Falcons and Merlins we saw today, with birds whipping by overhead. Some were hunting, and likely circling the island to do so, but it’s also possible that there was a steady flow of birds moving south, only pausing to wink at the island. It was impossible to quantify, but it was a whole lot of fun to watch!
We enjoyed quality time with Cedar Waxwings, Monarch butterflies, and enjoyed some gorgeous Question Mark butterflies as well. White-crowned Sparrows were rather conspicuous, and we had a good lesson in duck identification with Mallards, an American Black Duck, and a hybrid thereof all side-by-side.
Wind was whipping all night long and continued to gust well over 20mph as of sunrise. With a high-pressure system building in, and powerful Hurricane Fiona passing well to our east, the wind would just not let up. Several ferries were cancelled, and if you happened to be in the room that a screen door was slamming up against all night (ahem), then maybe you were not as rested as you would have liked.
The Gray NEXRAD radar was down, but the Caribou station showed a moderate flight of birds overnight with marginally lighter winds over the mainland. A light morning flight – mostly strong-flying Blackpoll Warblers – didn’t portend a lot of birds had arrived, but pockets of White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers in places where they weren’t yesterday suggested otherwise. In fact, there were a bunch of birds around, and it was a very productive morning!
We visited with two cooperative Dickcissels that have been around for days, caught up with the lingering Lark Sparrow, and were among the lucky ones who caught up with an early Orange-crowned Warbler. All before lunch.
And while the wind continued to gust, and uncountable falcons continued to wreak havoc, anytime we found a corner of shelter, we found birds – and often lots of them! White-throated Sparrows littered the woods, and because of the wind, many birds were insanely easy to see.
One of the highlights were warblers on the ground – hatches of large flies were feasting on rotting apples below laden trees, and with no flying insects able to survive a foot into the air today, we spent a lot of time looking DOWN at warblers.
Finally, as dusk fell, the winds subsided. Unfortunately, by early nightfall, the winds were already a little more westerly than we would have liked. Come Sunday morning, a surprisingly light morning flight, dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers almost exclusively, reflected the lack of the northerly component overnight. Birds seemed to be in lower quantities overall – a lot of Blackpoll Warblers had apparently departed – and with calm conditions (so, so welcome), there were fewer concentrations of birds.
Throughout the day, it was relatively slow by Monhegan standards, but we just kept adding new species to the triplist, and basking in repeated stellar views. The two Dickcissels were in their usual place throughout the day, a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull continued, and later in the morning we found a Marsh Wren – very uncommon out here.
In the afternoon, we had a splendid sparrow session. We had our longest looks yet at the Lark Sparrow, but after a report of one Clay-colored Sparrow at the same spot, we arrived to find three! A Lincoln’s Sparrow even came out into the open to join the Song, Chipping, White-throated, White-crowned, and Savannah Sparrows, making for an impressive total of 7 species of sparrows from one spot! Of course, the comparative experience makes all the difference in learning these species – as most look so very different from each other. Well, most of them did, anyway! A solid 76 species were tallied by day’s end.
The last day of the tour was Monday the 26th, and our time was winding down. So were the number of non-Yellow-rumped Warblers. Some light showers overnight may have put a few birds down, but winds were southwesterly thereafter, and the Caribou radar (the Gray station was still down) showed little movement. The morning flight was therefore virtually non-existent.
We found an Indigo Bunting, and later, an Alder Flycatcher confused and disoriented, stuck in the ice cutting display building of the Monhegan Museum. Three Clay-colored Sparrows were still present; we had good looks at two of them at the school and had another session comparing them to the variety of ages of Chipping Sparrows they were cajoling around with. The Lark Sparrow also performed nicely for us again.
It felt very slow, especially in the afternoon, when we took time to enjoy Fringed Gentian and repeatedly “dip” on a Red-headed Woodpecker that most everyone except us had eventually seen. Yet interestingly, we kept finding new species for our day’s list, and by the time the tour ended in time to catch the 4:30 ferry to Port Clyde, we had accumulated our highest species total of the weekend – a goodly 81.
The apparent abundance of some species – such as White-breasted Nuthatch, which we conservatively estimated included the presence of 4-6 pairs despite apparent omnipresence and Blackpoll Warblers on the ground – continued to impress as well.
With today’s new additions along with Laughing Gulls on our ferry ride back, our total trip listed amounted to 95 species! So despite the strong winds that howled for the first two days of the tour, and unfavorable southerly winds for the last day and a half, our 95 species was exactly average for the 11 years we have run the trip on this same weekend. 16 species of warblers was a mere one species below average. Taking our challenging weather into consideration, I would absolutely call this a win! Plus, we were on Monhegan, so all is well, as an average day/weekend on Monhegan sure beats the same anywhere else – for so many reasons.
* denotes ferry ride only
23-Sep 24-Sep 25-Sep 26-Sep
All. The. Shorebirds. And rare wading birds! Here are my observations of note over the past seven days:
1 TRICOLORED HERON (my first pure TRHE of the year), Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/9 (with Jeannette).
26 WHITE IBIS, Webhannet Marsh, Wells, 8/11. 29 were present earlier, but I had to settle for “only” 26. Either way, wow…A flock of White Ibis! Rapidly expanding up the Eastern Seabird, this was just a matter of time.
Shorebird high counts this week, with many species now peaking:
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 2 ad with 1 juv, Upper Green Island, Casco Bay, 8/12 (with Seacoast Tours and private tour group). Is this a family group from Ram Island, or perhaps another pair is now breeding further up the bay?
Black-bellied Plover: 62, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Killdeer: 5, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Semipalmated Plover: 300+, Pine Point, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Whimbrel: 2, Pine Point, 8/8 (with client from NY).
Ruddy Turnstone: 1, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
STILT SANDPIPER: 9 (great count!), Eastern Road Trail, 8/8 (with client from NY) and 8/9 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 34, Hill’s Beach, Biddeford, 8/7 (with Down East Adventures Shorebird Workshop Group).
Least Sandpiper: 75+, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 8/8 (with client from NY).
“It was like the good ol’ days!” When every other bird you saw was a rare one, and you barely walked 10 steps before finding more birds. But this was not what we were expecting, and the weekend sure didn’t start out that way!
After a very rough boat ride, we were still putting ourselves back together when one birder said “Go back, there are no birds here.” Apparently, it had been a dreadfully slow week of little migration, but at least nice weather. This weekend, the weather wasn’t supposed to be very nice. So without many birds on the island, and quite a bit of rain on the way, were less enthused about arriving than usual…well, that might have had something to do with the boat ride.
And I am not sure if it helped that one of the first birds I looked at was a rare hybrid Herring X Great Black-backed Gull. I am not sure if anyone was ready to take in gull hybrids yet. Even more when we feared that this could be our best bird of the trip if the pattern held.
And sure enough, it was a very slow afternoon. But we did have good luck. We found a Sora that walked out into an open patch of mud, quickly caught up with the adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that has been hanging around, and after lunch immediately found the Least Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper at Lobster Cove that have been playing hard to get all week. There was also a good Northern Gannet show, which is always a treat. So at least we were seeing what was around, which sadly, really was not very much. But hey, it still hadn’t rained!
A period of rain, heavy at times, fell overnight, but the band was much narrower and less heavy than forecast. It did not rain all night, and it even appeared that a light flight of migrants had developed on the radar after midnight. And sure enough, come dawn, there was a light Morning Flight overhead. It was mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, but hey, there were new birds around! And once, again, it was not raining.
A fly-over Dickcissel or two, a calling Gray-cheeked Thrush, and more. Birds! Yay!
Then, after breakfast, I went to spread some seed in my favorite corner to attract some birds for the group to enjoy this morning. Turning the corner near the famous “Chat Bridge” a shockingly bright flash of the most intense yellow you can imagine. And blue wings, and a flash of white in the tail. Prothonotary Warbler I exclaimed to no one around.
I raced back towards the group meeting point and sent them on their way. Kristen Lindquist took off running. I eventually made it back with the rest of the group and we divided to conquer. Kristen and about half the group spotted it repeatedly, while it remained tantalizingly out of view from where I and others were standing.
As other birders converged, a classic “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” occurred. First, there were two Dickcissels, then I spotted a Yellow-breasted Chat making a short flight over the brush. While searching for that, Ilsa spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that would sit still, preening, for well over and hour. It might have been the most cooperative cuckoo ever on the island! Another group had a brief look at a Clay-colored Sparrow.
Unfortunately, the Prothonotary Warbler was never seen again.
It was already a pretty amazing day for one that we thought would be a wash-out. And it was still not raining. After our lunch break, we convened at the Monhegan House at 1:30, and spent the next hour and a half on its lawn, and going no where else.
One Dickcissel became two, and then four, and when the group finally took off together, we were shocked to confirm a genuine flock of 8 Dickcissels – exceptional, even for Monhegan. And there were not one, but two Clay-colored Sparrows! And other birds just kept arriving, as standing in one spot saw our list quickly grow: American Redstart, Brown Creeper, Warbling Vireo, etc, etc. One “Western” Palm Warbler became 4, a couple of Cape May Warblers paid us a visit, a Savannah Sparrow dropped in…
It was truly incredible! It felt like my first tours here 15 years ago. By now, a light shower was falling, but we didn’t seem to care. We finally pulled ourselves away as the action waned, wanting to see what the next hot corner would offer. After spotting at least 8 Baltimore Orioles along Pumphouse Road, the rain finally arrived in earnest by about 3:30pm. We called it quits, but considering the day we had, no complaints were to be heard. It was a really special day; one that will not soon be forgotten.
Rain fell overnight again, and come dawn on Sunday (Day 3), dense fog had rolled in. There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers overhead, especially during a short respite from the fog, but there were not nearly as many birds around as the day before. But, with fog overnight, we expected birds who were on the island to stay, which was good, because yesterday was awesome and there were still a few birds we had not yet encountered.
We delayed the start of the after-breakfast walk to let a batch of heavier rain clear through. We were stuck in such an odd fall weather pattern, with virtually no west-east progression of weather systems. But we had been so lucky with the timing of the rainfall so far, that a little delay was of no concern. Regrouping at 10:00, light showers gave way to just some lingering drizzle by 11, and it soon became apparent that there were new birds around. We had two Prairie Warblers, a Scarlet Tanager joining the growing flock of Baltimore Orioles, and a Blue-winged Teal joined a Green-winged Teal in the marsh. Two Cliff Swallows and a Barn Swallow foraged over Manana, and we had our second Yellow-breasted Chat of the trip – this one in the Island Farm garden on Pumphouse Road. And another Clay-colored Sparrow?
Pockets of Yellow-rumped Warblers here and there often contained another warbler species or two, and we had good looks at stuff all morning, even often-challenging birds to see with a group like Lincoln’s Sparrows.
And after lunch, the sun was out! We had the Lesser Black-backed Gull again, more looks at Clay-colored Sparrows, and finally the immature male Blue Grosbeak showed up for us, and show it did!
It wasn’t as birdy once the sun was out, but a light raptor flight, including at least 6 Peregrine Falcons helped make up for it.
On Monday, our last day of the tour, it appeared that little moved overnight on a light southwesterly flow aloft. But that had our daydreams going for rarities from our west and southwest. And sure enough, while some of us were dallying over breakfast, a Western Kingbird that Kristen Lindquist found earlier flew right over us at the Yew and alighted nearby!
After breakfast, we “cleaned it up” for the group when we relocated it at the cemetery, affording great looks for all. A slower day finally gave us an opportunity to head into the deeper woods. And while we expected fewer birds in the island’s interior, a couple of mixed-species foraging flocks finally put Red-breasted Nuthatch on the list, and we found the first Pine Warbler of the weekend.
Jeannette joined us by lunchtime, and after lunch, we had a frustratingly brief glimpse of the original Yellow-breasted Chat, along with more great looks at Clay-colored Sparrows.
The tour came to a close with the 3:15 departure back to New Harbor, bringing our incredible four days together to the always-bittersweet end.
Jeannette and I birded the rest of the afternoon together, picking up a few things, like my first “Yellow” Palm Warblers of the weekend and a Solitary Sandpiper. Our walk to dinner yielded a second Pine Warbler, and at the harbor: a juvenile Ring-billed Gull (actually fairly rare out here in the early fall) and another view of the lingering Lesser Black-backed Gull.
On Tuesday, Jeannette and I enjoyed our day off on the island, and Kristen Lindquist joined us for most of the day. A diminishing light southwest wind overnight gave way to a little bit of northwesterly winds by dawn, but it didn’t appear that much had arrived on the island overnight.
However, we soon located a Lark Sparrow found yesterday by Bryan Pfeiffer, the immature male Blue Grosbeak paid us a visit, and we heard the Sora briefly. We then found an Orange-crowned Warbler out past the Ice Pond, my 20th warbler species of the weekend! Unfortunately, we were sans cameras with a little light rain falling.
After lunch, we were excited to find two Lark Sparrows sitting next to each other at the cul-de-sac, there were now two Ring-billed Gulls in the harbor, and yes, there were still at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows and several Dickcissels around!
Just for a change of pace, we decided to walk the diffuse trail along the island’s southwestern end, but were soon distracted by something large in the water in the distance. Retrieving my scope, it was clear that it was indeed a dead whale, and eventually it floated close enough to identify it as a dead (and rather bloated) Minke Whale. A handful of gulls were around it, and briefly, a quick pass by a jaeger that was too far to claim the identity of. It was a fascinating, if not rather sad, end to our visit as by now it was time for Jeannette and I to head to the dock to return to the real world.
A much more pleasant boat ride back, this time to Port Clyde yielded a number of Common Loons and plenty of Northern Gannets, and a surprise of a small pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. I’m not sure if I have seen this pelagic species from a Monhegan ferry before, or this close to land at all.
And finally, one last “good” bird: a pair of truant American Oystercatchers on Dry Ledges (off of Allen Island)! Interestingly, we had a pair on the same exact ledge on our way back from the island on October 5th of last year.
At least 8 Dickcissels, at least 4 Clay-colored Sparrows, 2 Lark Sparrows, and an Orange-crowned Warbler from the Midwest. A Western Kingbird from the West. A Prothonotary Warbler, 2 Yellow-breasted Chats, and a Blue Grosbeak from the South. 105 total species (102 with the tour) including 20 species of warblers. Yeah, that was a good trip – and the stuff that Monhegan legends are made of, at least sans fallout.
And finally, here is our birdlist from the extraordinary weekend:
9/24 = * denotes ferry ride only 9/27 = * with just Jeannette 9/28 = with Jeannette; *denotes ferry ride only
My observations of note over the past fourteen days included the following:
Rare mid-summer SCOTER hat-trick with 4 Black, 2 White-winged, and 1 Surf, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 7/3.
4 Greater and 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 7/3.
Seawatching from Eastern Point, Gloucester, MA on 7/8 during Tropical Storm Elsa (with family): In about 2 hours where fog lifted enough to see, Great Shearwaters were passing at an average of 199 per 5-minute segment and Sooty Shearwaters were passing at an average of 314 per 5-minute segment. Plus 2 MANX SHEARWATERS, 1 unidentified JAEGER, and 1 Cory’s Shearwater.
Our second “Search for Troppy” tour with our partners the Isle au Haut Boat Services took place on Saturday the 10th. With Tropical Storm Elsa roaring through the day before, building seas to 7-10 feet, we were of course just hoping to run the tour.
But we remained optimistic, and as winds turned to the northwest behind the storm, the surf rapidly got knocked down. With calm winds by dawn, they came down even further. And by our 1:00pm departure on the M.V. Otter, Stonington Harbor was nearly flat calm, the sun was shining, and our offshore reports were positive.
With high hopes, we set off, and pretty soon came across several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and of course, Black Guillemots. As we cleared the shelter of Isle au Haut, we found more storm-petrels, but we also found leftovers waves from the storm. There were a few pretty big swells remaining, but Captain Tracy handled them with skill and kept us surprisingly comfortable.
Scattered Wilson’s Storm-Petrels gave way to some massive groups loafing on the calm surface. Led by a single group of 91, I tallied a conservative estimate of 210! Unfortunately, the swells were just high enough that we couldn’t safely turn around for the single Sooty Shearwater that we saw bobbing in the waves, or what turned out to be the only Common Murre of the day.
Reaching the lee of Seal Island, the waves disappeared, and we began our slow cruise enjoying the island’s summer denizen. Arctic and Common Terns were in abundance, there were plenty of Black Guillemots, and we checked out a couple of rafts of Atlantic Puffins. Likely due to the post-storm day, puffins were busy and not doing much loafing, so we actually saw relatively few. Unlike our previous tour where we had as many puffins close to the boat as I have ever seen out there, this was about as few as I have ever had. The Pufflings must be hungry!
We finally spotted 2 Razorbills on our way to the bustling Great Cormorant colony, noted a pair of Common Ravens, and spotted a Peregrine Falcon – a rather unwelcome guest out here.
Thanks to the charter, we had plenty of time, and we needed as much patience as possible. I admit I was getting as worried as the guests that Troppy was not home today.
But then, this happened:
It was simply one of best 2 or 3 shows that I have ever had. He made repeated passes right overhead, did a lot of calling and displaying, and then finally sat on the water and took his bath. Captain Tracy did a great job returning us to good lighting, and we cut the engine once again and drifted along with him, enjoying the sights and sounds of the island, and of course, basking in the glory of a successful twitch!
Three Short-billed Dowitchers with three peeps launched from the island; a sign of the season as these are already on their way south. The other island birds including Song and Savannah Sparrows, Spotted Sandpipers, and oodles of Common Eiders were also present and accounted for.
Captain Tracy finally had to pull us away, but we were just getting greedy. It was time to leave Troppy alone to enjoy his afternoon bath in peace. He earned it today.
We made really good time coming back as the waves continued to subside. Unfortunately, it was too rough around Saddleback Ledge to check it carefully, but we did have 4 more Great Cormorants there. To and from the ledge, we encountered plenty of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (although not nearly as many as on the way out) and a couple of Northern Gannets.
Surprisingly, we didn’t have any shearwaters on the way back, but a short distance beyond Saddleback Ledge, we spotted a couple of Razorbills. Then a small raft, and then another. In all, about 40-50 Razorbills – I guess that’s why we didn’t have many at the island; they were all feeding inshore!
A single Atlantic Puffin was with them, and we had several more Razorbills when we checked out a feeding frenzy of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls not far out of the harbor entrance. And of course, a few ledges full of Harbor Seals.
In the end, we saw every possible island summer resident, especially, yeah, THAT one. It was a very good day.
It sure felt good to have a normal tour run, well, normally, in 2020! Other than the requirement of wearing masks all day – despite the annoyance of fogged glasses in the 100% humidity, and some logistical and safety changes at mealtimes, it was as close to normal as 2020 gets. And that felt good. The birding was great, too!
Most of Friday’s participants arrived with me on the early Hardy Boat out of New Harbor, and we sure hit the ground running! A strong flight the night before yielded tons of birds, and it was very birdy right off the bat. Yellow-rumped Warblers were still darting overhead and were in every bush. White-throated Sparrows virtually littered the ground in places. Small flocks of Purple Finches seemed to be everywhere.
A continuing juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (a very good bird out here) and a Dickcissel got us started, while in the afternoon we found two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (a juvenile and a really messy 2nd Cycle) and at dusk, a fly-by from a late Common Nighthawk. We ended up with 63 species on the day, which isn’t bad for arriving at 10:15, and likely there were many other species around; we just couldn’t see them through all of the Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows.
But before you ask, I’ll let you know: No, you will not find the gratuitous annual photo of Novelty Pizza in this blog this year. It was different, and it was terrible. I was sad. But the handpies for lunch at the Trailing Yew made up for it (but I repeatedly remembered to take the obligatory photo only after it was rapidly consumed in its entirety).
We awoke to very dense fog on Saturday morning, and with very light southerly winds overnight, only a very light migration had occurred. There was a decent amount of call notes overhead (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers) at what was supposed to be the time of sunrise, but these birds could have just been moving around. Nonetheless, throughout the day we found plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows once again, along with ample number of Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches. It was birdy, but the diversity remained rather low.
By the afternoon, things had slowed down quite a bit, but we grew our triplist steadily with pockets of activity here and there. Two continuing Rusty Blackbirds put on a good show for us, as did an unusually cooperative Ovenbird. It’s always nice to see Indigo Buntings; we had two today. Although it seemed rather slow and lacking in diversity, our thoroughness accumulated 64 species by day’s end.
We awoke to more dense fog on Sunday morning, with no detectable migration overnight on a southwesterly flow. But sometimes slower days allow us a chance to be more thorough, and by covering a good amount of ground today, we caught up with – and discovered – several very good birds.
We began with coffee in hand as we marched down to the Ice Pond to catch up with the three continuing Yellow-crowned Night-Herons which we had someone missed each of the previous two days. The drake Wood Duck – very close now to full-spiffiness (technical term!) added to the joy. Then, after breakfast we had the thrilling discovery (OK, Tom discovered it; he deserves the credit) of a Yellow-breasted Chat. Glimpses were fleeting, and through fogged glasses, were not always satisfactory. We then found a Marsh Wren at Lobster Cove, and continued to slowly add birds to the list, such as an Eastern Towhee, a few more warbler species, and the fog finally lifted enough for us to see the water and nearby islands to sort out Great Cormorants from Double-cresteds.
On Monday, our last day of the group tour, we had significant turnover in participants from the weekend, but less turnover in birds. With another night with little to no nocturnal movement on persistent southerly winds and fog. Only a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were calling overhead at coffee pot o’clock, and it was very slow on our pre-breakfast walk. Northern Flickers were definitely moving around though, so it’s possible a few of these birds were new arrivals overnight.
Like all of Maine, Monhegan is desperate for rain, but of course we selfishly were hoping it would not fall on us! The forecast was looking good to get most of the day in, rain-free, but when we reconvened at 9:15, there was a steady light shower. It did not last long, however, and we continued on, unimpeded. Once again, we spent a lot of time sparrow-workshopping, as we regularly encountered fun mixed flocks all weekend of Song, White-throated, Savannah, and often one other species, be it Chipping, White-crowned, Swamp, or Lincoln’s. The side-by-side comparisons are very instructive, and as a guide, I tend to pivot to whatever the birds were offering, and this weekend, they were offering a chance to study, learn, and appreciate the diversity and beauty of sparrows.
We covered a fair amount of ground in the afternoon, checking in with two of the three Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, the continuing Wood Duck and 2 Rusty Blackbirds, and some blooming Fringed Gentian. At least 6 Baltimore Orioles were still present (we had a high of 9+ on Friday), and we had some really good looks at Cape May Warblers and others. Partial clearing in the later afternoon was just enough to get our first view of town from Lighthouse Hill. A mere 56 species by day’s end showed the lack of overall diversity after three full nights with some birds leaving, but very little arriving.
With the last boat of the day at 4:30, the Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend officially came to a close. However, one of Monday’s participants stayed on for a day of private guiding, so Kate and I continued on for a full day of birding on Tuesday. But, like the weekend, we awoke to more fog and another night of little to no migration on SSE winds. There was, however, some more swirling of Yellow-rumped Warbles around dawn, coming to and from Manana. It was very suggestive of zugunruhe (migratory restlessness) after four days of being stuck on the island with unfavorable winds. Or, it could have been some birds had indeed arrived overnight.
The extensive southerly winds had finally started to pay dividends, however, with the delivery of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The Dickcissel continued, and we had our best look at it since Friday. With only two of us, we covered grown more quickly and efficiently, so we tallied several species that the group had not seen together, such as the two ridiculously cooperative Soras at the Pumphouse. We also found an unusually-cooperative Mourning Warbler, which is always a treat in migration.
With a storm a’brewing, Kate and I departed together on the 3:15 Hardy Boat, and were treated to a Cory’s Shearwater and a Northern Fulmar that materialized out of the still-thick fog. Once a rarity in these waters, the Cory’s was rather late in departing, while the fulmar was on the early side of their arrival. I don’t recall having seen both species on a boat trip on the same day before, and any tubenose is “good” in these nearshore waters.
So that officially brought the 2020 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour to a close; ending on a real high note. Below, I will include Tuesday in the list, but I have separated out the species count for the four-day weekend for comparison sake. Please let me know if I missed something (it’s easy to do as I sit down and try to recall the day as the bed is calling my name!), but our tally for now was a solid 92 species – just two species below our average for the past 10 years.
However, the 12 species of warblers were well below our 10-year average of 18 species for the weekend. But given the accelerated migration season (food supply shortages due to drought and/or benign weather allowing migration to proceed relatively unimpeded), this was expected. And we made up for it with more sparrows than usual, and an impressive irruption underway. This was the most Purple Finches and White-breasted Nuthatches I can recall on the island, and along with a goodly number of Red-breasted Nuthatches and the first few Pine Siskins of fall, our island sample reflected what we are seeing on the mainland, and throughout the East.
A tropical storm in Maine? Interfering with our first tour since early March? Of course! Because 2020!
But thanks to the flexibility of our partners, the Isle au Haut Boat Services, and the registered participants, we moved up our “Search for Troppy” tour by 24 hours. Not the easiest thing to do within 48 hours of the new departure, but for those who were unable to make the switch, we had an overwhelming response to the few extra spaces we offered up (more on that later).
While we can plan around a tropical storm, you can’t plan around fog in the Gulf of Maine – especially this summer. With 23 particpants, all of which – along with the guides and crew – wearing masks the whole time (no exceptions) and social distancing as much as possible, we set off from Stonington into the very, very dense fog.
There wasn’t much to see on the way out, except for the common nearshore species,like Common Eiders.
And, visibility was close to zero the whole ride out…until Seal Island miraculously appeared. Not clearly, mind you, but it was there.
But thanks to the fog, many of the island’s seabirds, especially the Atlantic Puffins, were loafing in the water. And with glass-calm conditions, they were all around us and easy to observe.
Arctic and Common Terns continuously zipped by as we motored about the island, hoping for Troppy in his usual place, but contenting ourselves with lots of puffins, and the island’s record number of Razorbills this year.
We cruised around the island’s south end, taking in the last remaining Great Cormorant colony in the state…
…And after much searching, finally found a couple of Common Murres including this one (L) standing tall among the puffins and a Razorbill.
Considering the trials and tribulations of getting this tour running, we were pretty happy with seeing all of the breeding birds of the island, and the puffins were putting on a particularly good show today.
Of course, however, the star of the show was missing, and my hopes were fading – unlike the fog, which was definitely not at all fading. But then, as visibility lifted just enough to see a little more of the island, the distinctive cackling rattle display call of the world’s most famous Red-billed Tropicbird rang out as he materialized out of the fog and made a close pass of the boat. People were spinning, there was shouting, and there was celebration. But then he disappeared. Was that it? Well, it was good enough to count, but come on, he could do better. So we cut the engine, drifted, and waited.
And several minutes later he was back. Heading right towards us, calling aggressively, seemingly displeased with our intrusion and/or my color commentary over the loudspeakers. He made several passes, some very close, a few right overhead, and he did not stop. We watched him circling around, as per his usual routine, for a good 45 minutes in all. Every time we thought the show was over, and I would start talking about something else, he would reappear. It was truly incredible – one of my top two best performance from him, and definitely my longest duration of observation. He only briefly landed once, but without sun, apparently bathing wasn’t in his plans.
In fact, he was still being spotted now and again as we had to depart to head back to the dock. It deal feel weird turning away from one of the most sought-after individual birds in North America, but we did so knowing he had more than earned his peace and quiet today.
This was my 8th visit with Troppy in 9 attempts (third in a row with “The Otter” of the Isle au Haut Boat Services) and my first observation in dense fog. He must have known I was expecting him. I owe him some squid, or whatever it is that he eats (since no one knows!).
Needless to say, there was quite a bit of jubilation on the way back, even if we couldn’t see much (and very little birdlife) until we returned to port.
So the spacing worked. Mask use was respected. And Troppy more than cooperated.
And therefore, by popular demand, what do you say we try again?
That’s right, we’re going to make a second run on Saturday, July 25th. Same time, same price, same social distancing. Details can be found here.
UPDATE: Despite insanely beautiful weather on the 25th, we did not see Troppy. He just wasn’t home today. It was perfectly calm, warm, and abundantly sunny, so if he was on the island, we would have seen him. Alas. However, it was a most enjoyable day, with great looks at Razorbills, Common Murres, and plenty of Atlantic Puffins. Arctic and Common Terns remain busy, and we had scattered migrant shorebirds. Highlights including 4 Mola Mola and a Cory’s Shearwater just off the eastern shore of Seal.
It was definitely a more photogenic day than our first trip!
Woodcocks Gone Wild!
April 4th (Weather date, 4/11)
Our most popular annual tour, join us for an evening witnessing the aerial ballet of displaying American Woodcocks on a special outing at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. No registration necessary.
Migratory Songbird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
This half-day workshop will focus on the migrant songbirds, especially warblers, that are passing through Maine’s most famous migrant trap, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. At the peak of warbler migration, we’ll learn how to identify these charismatic birds and we’ll discuss their mind-boggling migration and what they’re up to in Maine.
Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend
May 22nd – 25th
Join Derek on Monhegan during the height of spring migration for 1-4 days searching the island for regular visitors, rarities, and vagrants. Warblers in their summer finery are pouring through the Northeast, and many will drift over the Gulf of Maine on their nocturnal flights. Rapidly changing weather conditions can result in massive “fallouts” of tired migrants, many of which will forage in the rocks on the shoreline. The possibility of overshoots from the south and vagrants from almost any direction adds icing to the cake.
Bicknell’s Thrush Tour
Stay tuned to our website for details on this tour.
Seal Island Charter: The Search for Troppy
This special 5-hour charter aboard Isle au Haut Ferry Service’s Otter will allow us to travel out to Seal Island specifically to look for “Troppy”, Maine’s famous Red-billed Tropicbird. And, we will also enjoy looks at the puffins, guillemots, terns, and Razorbills that call this island home in summer.
Ladona Island Birding Cruise (Birding by Schooner II) with DownEast Adventures
July 13th – 17th
Join Derek aboard the Schooner Ladona for a truly unique and exclusive birding and culinary experience. Enjoy peace, quiet, and tranquility as we spend four days aboard the Ladona enjoying unbelievable food and drink, lots of rest and relaxation, and some great birding! Weather permitting, we’ll have the chance to visit the waters around a seabird breeding colony (likely the famous Eastern Egg Rock) to place us among thousands of breeding seabirds, including Atlantic Puffins, three species of tern, and likely a few Razorbills.
Shorebird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
In this full-day workshop, we will hit some of the marshes, beaches, and rocky roosts that shorebirds prefer at the peak of their migration. The ebbs and flows of the season, daily and recent weather, and other factors could produce more than 20 species of shorebirds in our time together. Our focus will be in comparative experience, learning how to recognize each species both near and far.
Maine Coast in Fall with Derek and WINGS
September 13th – 20th
Join Derek on this all-inclusive tour to enjoy Monhegan Island at its finest.
Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend
September 25th – 28th
Join Derek on Monhegan during the height of migration for 1-4 days searching the island for regular visitors, rarities, and vagrants. This is a casual outing, with boat and hotel reservations, as well as meals, on your own, allowing for more flexibility (and more time at the brewery if you so desire).
Birds On Tap℠ – Roadtrip!
Our Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrip! series is entering its sixth year and features 10 tours! Traveling in the Maine Brew Bus, the first half of each 6-hour tour is spent in the field with Derek as your guide to learn about the birds and their habitats. This is followed by two brewery (and one “kombuchery”) tours led by the Brew Bus guides. The locations were chosen to enjoy the peak of birding at a particular locale at certain times of year. One does not need to be a “birder” to enjoy these outings. People of all skill levels are encouraged to join us!
The 2020 schedule is as follows:
Gulls and Growlers
January 18th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
Hatch Hill Landfill, Augusta
Bateau & Black Pug Brewing
Seaducks and Suds
February 16th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
York County coast
(seaducks, alcids, gulls)
York Beach Beer & TBA
Spring Ducks and Draughts
April 5th, 12:00pm – 6:30pm
(migrant waterfowl, eagles)
Oxbow & Bath Brewing
Warblers and Wort
May 10th, 8:00am – 2:00pm
(warblers, other songbird migrants)
Bissell Brothers & Brewery Extrava
Grassland and Grains
June 14th, 8:00am – 2:30pm
(Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow)
Funky Bow & Banded Brewing
Terns and Taps
July 26th, 9:00am – 3:00pm
(terns, Piping Plover)
Nuts and Bolts & Island Dog Brewing
Shorebirds and Steins
August 23rd, 10:00am – 4:00pm
Foulmouthed & Lone Pine Brewing
“Sod-pipers” and Sips
September 6th, 8:00am – 4:00pm
(grassland sandpipers, Sandhill Cranes)
Ebenezer’s Pub & Saco River Brewing
Fall Ducks and Draughts
October 25th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
Sabattus Pond (migrant waterfowl, eagles)
Side by Each Brewing & Maine Beer Co.
November 8th, 8:00am – 3:00pm
Portland to Wells
(potential vagrants, general birding)
Root Wild Kombucha & Goodfire Brewing