It took over a month, but I finally made time to look for the Townsend’s Solitaire in Wells on the 2nd. Quality time with it was a worthy consolation for just missing the Northern Lapwing in Arundel that departed this morning.
A few observations of note over the past three days before we head off on vacation included the following:
1 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE (first of season locally) and 19 DUNLIN, Winslow Park, Freeport, 12/31 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
40 continuing American Coots, 6 Ring-necked Ducks, 14 Lesser Scaup, 10 Greater Scaup, etc, Chickawaukie Pond, Rockland (with Paul Dioron, Kristen Lindquist, and Jeannette).
1 continuing Killdeer, Arundel Road, Kennebunkport, 1/2. I missed the Northern Lapwing by 28 minutes.
1 continuing TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE, Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm, 1/2. After about 45 minutes, heard calling from marsh edge north of viewing platform on Laird-Norton Trail. Called as Eastern Bluebirds arrived, often chasing or at least following them. Followed them right through viewing platform and alighted in small tree only about 30 feet away. Unfortunately, it was backlit for photos, but great look. Vocal and conspicuous for 15-20 minutes until bluebirds flew out across marsh. Photo above.
And as the calendar changes, it’s time for my annual Predictions Blog where I attempt to forecast the next 25 birds to occur in Maine, and for my own list:
OK, so it was technically first seen in 2021, but Steller’s Sea Eagle was the bird of the year. Or was it? It’s suffice to say, however, that my only photos of it from 2022 were not my photos of the year! Here it is in Georgetown on February 18th.
It’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.
Well, well, well, what a year of birding 2022 was here in Maine! Four new species were added to the all-time state list this season, and one of them was a complete shock. Let’s take a look at last year’s prognostications and see how I did.
Barolo Shearwater was added to the state list based on a 2021 photo by Doug Gochfeld from well offshore in the Northeast Channel, according to the Maine Bird Records Committee. That was #21 on my predictions list for Maine’s next birds.
A Masked Booby (on my honorable mentions list) at Mount Desert Rock in August was perhaps a sign of things to come – it or another may have been photographed off Monhegan in late September.
Also on my honorable mention list was Broad-tailed Hummingbird that graced a Freeport yard from November 5th through December 23rd. The details and the full story can be found on my blog, here. One could make the argument that this should have made the cut, as it has been long-overdue to be identified in New England.
Since the now-world-famous Steller’s Sea Eagle arrived at the tail end of 2021, it was not technically a new record in 2022. However, just about everyone saw it for the first time this year, and 2022 was definitely the year of the Steller’s Sea Eagle.
Shockingly, however, there was some debate about whether or not that was the bird, or even the raptor, of the year! Seriously. Since Steller’s Sea Eagle have bred on the continent and have been seen on several occasions in Alaska (and then “our bird” which was seen from Texas to Canada), one could argue that the raptor of the year was actually the Eurasian Marsh-Harrier that was discovered on North Haven on 8/25 and then found the next day at Weskeag Marsh in Thomaston (where it remained for less than 3 days). This was only the second record ever for the entire continent! The same bird resurfaced at the Troy Meadows in northern New Jersey in early November, but this is an incredible bird for North America. However, I would argue that the worldwide rarity of the Steller’s (only about 4,000 individuals) trumps the marsh-harrier, as it is quite common through much of the Old World. (These are the things birders like to argue about over pints of beer)
And no, the Eurasian Marsh-Harrier was most definitely not on my predictions list!
So with four new records only one of which was on my list, it’s obvious that predicting vagrancy is getting even more challenging. Climate change, land-use changes, rising and falling populations, perhaps even pesticide contamination or electromagnetic pollution is all conspiring to put odd birds in weird places. And, there are more birders looking, and much better communication.
While I would love to be “right” about my forecasts, we can now truly expect the unexpected, and one could argue almost any bird capable of flight (or long-distance swimming) could become Maine’s latest big twitch. But, if only for tradition’s sake, I’ll take a stab at my Next 25 Birds for Maine forecast:
A Black-chinned Hummingbird is overdue for Maine, but unless it’s an adult male with his purple throat in good light, it’s likely going to take banding and measurements to identify (like this year’s Broad-tailed).
I’ve added Heerman’s Gull to the list thanks to a growing number of Eastern Seaboard records – most of which are likely the same individual moving up and down the coast, although it seems like a longshot to make it this far north. Limpkin also debuts after an incredible irruption in 2022 with extralimital records from as far north as Michigan and New York. Was this a one-off due to some drastic change in water or food levels in its limit range in Florida, or is this another sign of the “new normal” of tropical birds venturing northward? To make room, I’ve dropped Kelp Gull out of the Top 25 for now.
Heerman’s Gull, San Diego, CA, August 2011.
Personally, I added an incredible six birds to my own state list this year. I even predicted two of them: The flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Camden that I twitched on 5/2 were #7 on my personal next list, while the flock of White Ibis in the Webhannet Marsh in Wells on 8/11 were #14 on my list.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
The Sage Thrasher at Gilsland Farm was the first in line on my honorable mentions list, as it was long overdue for Maine to get it’s second. Likewise, the two Henslow’s Sparrows in Brunswick (7/6) and the now-famous Freeport Broad-tailed Hummingbird were both on my honorable mentions list, but had not cracked the top 25 just yet.
Out of the blue was the aforementioned Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, which I happily got to see in Weskeag Marsh on 8/26. As Maine stakes its claim as the Raptor Rarity Capital of North America, I would not have wanted to miss this shocker.
As usual, I missed plenty of rarities too, although I was unable to chase many of them for various reasons (6 for 6 on chases this year is incredible…although it does help make up for all the times I did not see the Steller’s Sea Eagle!). American White Pelican (Grand Isle, 7/5; #1) and Franklin’s Gull (Sabattus Pond, 5/22; #3) are officially nemesis birds now. Other unchaseable potential state birds included Common Gull (Eastport, 2/17-23; honorable mention), Sandwich Tern (Mount Desert Rock, 7/6; honorable mention), and Western Wood-Pewee (banded at Riverpoint, Falmouth, 9/7; honorable mention).
As I approach the 400 species milestone, it’s not getting any easier, although I should hit the mark this year, based on current vagrancy trends! That’s my first prediction. As for what bird it will be, I believe it will be one of these 25. Although, nowadays, anything seems possible!
American White Pelican
Common Ringed Plover
Brown Pelican records are increasing in the northeast. It’s just a matter of time for one to fly by me! San Diego, CA, August 2011.
This snazzy, fresh adult male Red-winged Blackbird at a feeder in Wells was one of the few highlights in my usually-very-productive “Moody Sector” of the Southern York County CBC.
T’was the week before Christmas and all through Wild Bird Supply, no one was birding much, even this guy. Nonetheless, I found some great birds when I did get out this week:
1 incredibly late NELSON’S SPARROW, 1 Savannah Sparrow, 1 Northern Flicker, 4 Snow Buntings, etc, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 12/18. I was unaware that the Portland CBC was being conducted that day, but apparently, the Nelson’s was a first count record!
1 THICK-BILLED MURRE (FOS), Pine Point, Scarborough, 12/18. Not in great shape; I first saw it on land fighting off a crow on land before eventually waddling into the water.
“Moody Sector” of the Southern York County CBC, 12/19: 1538 individuals of 52 species (both quite low for me) with highlights including 4 American Wigeon (very surprisingly only a second count record!), 1 male Red-winged Blackbird, 2 Northern Harrier, and 18 Horned Larks.
1 Great Blue Heron (late for inland) and 1 1st-winted Iceland Gull, Auburn Riverwalk, 12/22.
1 SAGE THRASHER, Gilsland Farm, Falmouth, 12/22. 2nd State Record found earlier in the morning by Doug Hitchcox. I eventually had fantastic looks at it, including in flight, but I was on the wrong side of its favored tree for photographs, so this was the “best” I did!
Meanwhile, left off my weekly updates for the past four weeks has been my regular observation of one particular rarity right here in Freeport – Maine’s first ever Broad-tailed Hummingbird! Here’s the full story.
In the afternoon of 11/19, a customer of the store alerted me to the presence of a hummingbird in her Freeport yard, present since the 5th of November. For over 15 years, we have promoted keeping hummingbird feeders up late into the fall and letting us know about any hummingbirds after October 1st. In addition to several incredibly late reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (now annual in small numbers well into the second week of October), this campaign has resulted in the detection and documentation of a Selasphorous hummingbird on 10/16-17, 2015 in Yarmouth, and a long-staying Rufous Hummingbird observed by many between 10/18 and 12/5, 2020, also in Yarmouth – the first “chaseable” Rufous in eight years in the state.
Upon receiving the report, we urged the homeowner to get any sort of photo. Later that day the bird finally obliged, and the photos sent to us were suggestive of a Selasphorous hummingbird. I was invited to the property the following day to attempt more documentation. I arrived at 3:05pm with snow flurries falling, and soon heard the bird. The call was clearly of a Selasphorous-type hummingbird. My limited experience with separating Selasphorous by call did not permit me to draw any further conclusions (in hindsight though!)
Twenty minutes later, the bird appeared at the feeders, feeding long enough for photographs, before alighting on a nearby snag in a sliver of sunlight. In the field, and upon review of photographs, I immediately knew it was a Selasphorous. Lucky photos of a semi-spread tail showed a fairly broad outer tail feather, but I assumed it was probably “just” a Rufous. Or at least I am not knowledgeable enough to have thought beyond Rufous/Allen’s (it was clearly not a Calliope).
I reached out to Scott Weidensaul with the first few photos, and since he was available the next day to band it, I made arrangements with the homeowner. Scott was intrigued by the tail, and stated “I cannot rule out Broad-tailed from the photos” but also assumed it was likely to be a Rufous. They usually are.
Scott, Doug Hitchcox, and I arrived at noon on 11/21 to attempt to band the bird. In less than an hour, we had safely trapped the bird, and took a series of measurements and photos. The bird was healthy, undergoing active molt, and had a fat score of 1.
When we first observed the bird, Scott pointed out the bluish hue that was sometimes apparent on the back of the bird. He mentioned he saw that in one of my photos from the prior day, but dismissed it as probably being an artifact of the photo. I was unaware of this impression until he pointed it out.
However, as the banding process began, we were still working under the assumption that this was going to be a Rufous Hummingbird, until the “numbers” kept coming in. Doug was recording and noted the significant difference between Rufous Hummingbirds on the data sheet. When Scott read the width of the outer tail feather aloud, he seemed shocked, and immediately measured again. And again. Doug and I kept glancing at each other, eyes wide, attempting to hold back exuberance.
Width of Outer Tail Feather (R5): 5.44!!!
We double-checked all measurements, took lots of photos, and Doug and I tried to not explode with excitement as Scott calmly but clearly excitedly expressed comments such as “this is the biggest tail I have ever seen on a Selasphorous in the East.” We, as well as the homeowner who had joined us for the banding, were all shaking with excitement by now. The below-freezing air temperature played much less of a role. A quick check of references, a final check of the measurements, and then the bird was released. Of course, the bird’s host had the honor of letting it go. After processing, it immediately returned to the feeder and fed regularly for the rest of the day, calling even more vociferously in between.
Upon checking some references at home, and sending photos out for additional opinions, it was clear to Scott that we (OK, he) had just documented the first Broad-tailed Hummingbird, a hatch-year male, for Maine – and apparently, for all of New England!
Jeannette was invited to observe the bird on the 22nd, while I spoke to the homeowner several times over the phone to discuss the opportunity for others to share in the excitement. I arranged for a small group to visit in the morning of the 23rd as a test-run – a few close friends and young birders were the guests. After that successful visit when we all had repeated views, I suggested a feeder be placed in the front yard. If the bird took to it, visitors would have the chance to see it from a public road, without entering the yard.
I placed that one of our feeders on the morning of the 25th, after the holiday so as not to bother the homeowner. I also observed the bird, regularly feeding in the cold rain, making two visits to the feeders within 15 minutes – a faster pace now. It was cold, but was it also tanking up? Later in the day, Jeannette returned with a small shepherd’s hook to give the feeder even better visibility from the road, along with getting it into the morning sun to help keep it warmer on these frigid mornings.
The homeowner has been taking in the feeder (now, feeders), every night so the first feeding will be at room temperature nectar. She’s been heading out early with a headlamp so as not to miss it’s first feeding session! What an amazing host!
My Saturday Morning Birdwalk group was invited over on that first Saturday morning, but the bird never came to the new feeder. As per prior arrangement, an hour later we were able to enter the yard and in doing so we enjoyed immediate prolonged views of it at the original feeder in the backyard.
The next test run was another small group on Sunday morning. We arrived at 8:00, and for almost an hour were teased by the hummer as he darted around the backyard, calling constantly, and briefly perching in obscured views. Then, at 8:56, he finally made a brief visit to the new feeder!
In the next 30 minutes, he visited that carefully-place feeder three times, including two prolonged drinking bouts which provided ample opportunity for people to study, enjoy, and photograph the bird. Success! He is now using a feeder in view from the road, without entering the yard!
And with that success, on Wednesday the 28th, I was given the go-ahead to let the word get out, slowly, methodically, and carefully managed to avoid crowds and overwhelming the homeowner and the neighbors.
In consultation with the homeowner, I was tasked with managing the crowds and birders’ behaviors. People needed to email me for the set of visitation instructions and caveats, and since the end of November birders visited, saw, photographed, and mostly remained on their best behavior. The vast majority (but of course, not all) even followed all of the rules! I remained in close contact with the homeowner and reassured her that just about everyone was receiving the instructions directly from me. I did my best to respond to every one of the emails I received, spacing out visitation as much as possible. Of course, not everyone followed every rule – especially the one about sharing the location.
The bird continued into the middle of December. I would say “miraculously” given the plummeting temperatures, but it was mostly through the passionate dedication of the homeowner. When temperatures failed to reach the freezing mark for a high on December 10th, it ushered in the most challenging stretch of weather in which temperatures did not hit 32 for four days. During the time, the homeowner would go out regularly throughout the day with unfrozen sugar water to replace the simple syrup popsicles. The hummingbird learned to recognize her and this activity and would often visit the feeder immediately after she walked away.
Unfortunately, however, during this time, it saved energy by sitting for long periods in the sun, out of view from visiting, shivering observers. Even more frustrating for some, was hearing it vocalize in the backyard and never seeing it from the road – at the side feeder or his favorite perch. Thankfully, no one decided to tempt fate by entering the yard to look around back.
Earlier in the month, I had asked Scott Weidensaul about possible departure times, given his experience with vagrant hummingbirds in the Northeast. He told me that birds often depart on the first nice day after the first significant cold snap where the temperatures failed to reach the freezing mark for multiple days. Such a day occurred on 12/15, where temperatures reached the low 40’s and a light northerly wind was increasing. Thinking it could be his last day, I finished my morning’s birding at the location.
I arrived at 10:02 and immediately found him sitting in one of his favorite perches in the multiflora Rose. He sat there – save for one short sally, presumably for an insect – for the next 16 minutes before buzzing off, presumably to the feeder in the backyard. I heard him for most of the time but did not glimpse him again before I departed at 10:30.
By the middle of December, his first gorget feathers had already begun to appear – but only on one side of its head, best seen in this photo from the homeowner on 12/12.
I was sure this was it. Storm a’coming. Temperatures above normal in the low 40’s, a light northerly breeze, and the sun was shining for a while. But alas, with the wet snow falling on Friday the 16th, the homeowner informed us that he was still present and feeding actively. He was still present on Saturday Morning, with heavy flakes starting to pile out.
Luckily, the heated hummingbird feeders that the homeowner ordered had arrived and were deployed just in time!
Over 90 100 people have seen it now, and visitors are still welcome to view it, as long as they follow a strict set of rules. If you would like to see it, email us at email@example.com a day that you are interested in going, and we’ll send the instructions and address the day before, as long as the numbers of visitors remain manageable each day and on our best behavior. To minimize the number of emails in the queue, please include the day in your original email.
***12/26 UPDATE:*** We just received an email this afternoon from the homeowner, reporting that she has not seen the bird since 3:47 pm on Friday, 12/23. Pressure was dropping rapidly through the day with rain, heavy at times, and southwesterly winds gusting over 50mph for much of the day. She reported it was drinking regularly throughout that stormy day, with temps rising into the low 50s. Overnight temperatures dropped dramatically, by 40 degrees by sunrise, despite still-strong SW winds. Certainly not the time and conditions I would have expected it to depart on (assuming it survived the night), but it does bring up some interesting questions. Did it survive the storm? Was the storm the final incentive to depart? And if so, did it depart in the “wrong” direction that perhaps it arrived on (i.e. it was a “mirror vagrant” flying in the wrong direction to start with)? But since it’s banded, should it be found anywhere else, we very well might know, but short of that, we are left to conjecture.
The homeowner is leaving the feeders out for a little longer, just in case. If he returns, we’ll post an update here and include new instructions for visitation if possible.
Especially in November – and often again with the first cold snap in December – I talk about “rarity fever,” when there is that additional motivation and encouragement to go birding thanks to the expectation of the unexpected. And usually we in Maine talk about the “winter doldrums” in an non-irruption year. And this year, there are virtually zero irruptives in the southern half of Maine – other than Snowy Owls. But with the Steller’s Sea-Eagle (as you may have heard!), a Bullock’s Oriole at a feeder in Damariscotta Mills, a Townsend’s Warbler in Cape Elizabeth (I missed it twice this week with a limited amount of effort), and a Barnacle Goose in Rockland, there is no doubt I – and many other birders – are experiencing a little mid-winter Rarity Fever! And that has helped motivate me to get out birding as often as I can. The to-do list can wait until February, right?
With the fairly sudden arrival to a bitter “real winter” cold, once again “pioneering” waterfowl made up most of my highlights this week, as I spent most of my birding time searching for the next big deal. My observations of note over the past seven days include the following:
1 Northern Flicker, Village Crossings/Cape Elizabeth Greenbelt Trail, 1/16 (with John Lorenc).
Happy New Year (List) everyone! My sightings of note over the past seven days were as follows. Unfortunately, they did not include the Steller’s Sea-Eagle on Saturday or Sunday (but last week, on Friday…wow, just wow. Still can’t really believe that happened!) but did include a few goodies while searching for where it may have ended up (before its re-discovery in Boothbay on Thursday).
1 drake American Wigeon, Rte 136, Durham, 1/1.
18 Greater Scaup, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 1/3 (with Jeannette).
1 adult GREAT BLACK-BACKED X HERRING GULL HYBRID, Bath Landfill, 1/4 (with Jeannette)
1 drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE, Thorne Head Preserve, Bath, 1/4.
1 drake American Wigeon, Swinging Bridge, Brunswick, 1/4.
44 Greater Scaup, 38 distant unidentified scaup, 625+ American Black Ducks, 130+ Surf and White-winged Scoters, etc, Maquoit Bay Conservation Land, Brunswick, 1/6.
Here is our “West Freeport” territory tally from Sunday’s Freeport-Brunswick CBC:
– 5 American Black Ducks
– 30 Mallards
– 1 Hooded Merganser (2nd sector record)
– 1 Red-tailed Hawk
– 1 Ruffed Grouse
– 30 Wild Turkeys
– 12 Herring Gulls
– 26 Mourning Doves
– 4 Red-bellied Woodpeckers
– 28 Downy Woodpeckers
– 15 Hairy Woodpeckers
– 6 Pileated Woodpeckers (sector high count)
– 1 Northern Flicker (2nd sector record)
– 40 Blue Jays
– 104 American Crows
– 1 Common Raven
– 413 Black-capped Chickadees (2nd highest count)
– 90 Tufted Titmice (sector high count; old record of 44)
– 16 Red-breasted Nuthatches
– 45 White-breasted Nuthatches
– 1 Brown Creeper
– 11 Golden-crowned Kinglets
– 1 Carolina Wren
– 26 Eastern Bluebirds
– 1 American Robin
– 73 European Starlings (sector high count)
– 10 American Tree Sparrows
– 2 Song Sparrows
– 1 White-throated Sparrow
– 18 Dark-eyed Juncos
– 20 Northern Cardinals
– 20 House Finches
– 204 American Goldfinches (2nd highest count)
33 species (2nd highest for territory thanks to extensive open water this year).
8.5 hours: 22.4 miles by car; 18.5 miles by foot.
At the very least, it confirmed some of our preconceived notions: sparrows and frugivores are in short supply; winter finches and other irruptives are not around at all – but a huge pulse of goldfinches arrived late last week; and local resident breeding birds seemed to have done quite well this year.
And finally today, here is my annual blog prognosticating the Next 25 species to appear in Maine, and on my own list. Spoiler alert: I did not predict a Steller’s Sea-Eagle.
It’s once again time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine – and then my own personal state list – in the coming year.
I feel like I could have just recycled my blog from 2021. “…Worst Year Ever.” Ha. 2021 replied, “hold my beer!” That all being said, a complete summary would show the full picture, with all its ups and downs (and there were a lot of downs), but undoubtably with many happy moments contained within. That’s all beyond the scope of this blog. I’ll just stick to the birds.
Of course, nothing compares – or perhaps, ever will compare! – to the headliner of 2021: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle. No, this was not on my predictions list – or anyone else’s at the start of the year. That being said, following reports this summer in New Brunswick, November in Nova Scotia, and then December in Massachusetts, there is no doubt it would have been optimistically added to the list for 2022…had it not shown up in Georgetown on December 30th (or perhaps earlier). This mega-of-megas, one of the world’s most extraordinary birds, might render almost any other first state record pedestrian, or at least anticlimactic.
At the very least, it does overshadow the only other chaseable first Maine record for this year: Redwing, a European thrush. What was the “bird of the year” until three days remaining on the calendar, this bird delighted many hundreds of birders at Capisic Pond Park in Portland at the end of January 2021 – which seems like eons ago! The first state record, however, actually came earlier in the month, when a Redwing – perhaps the very same individual – was a one-day wonder on private property in Steuben. Lucky for all, the next one/sighting of it showed up on public property and stayed around for about three weeks. Redwing was #16 on my “Next 25 Species for Maine” list.
And finally, a Masked Booby surprised observers on Mount Desert Rock on August 9th. With increasing observations of tropical seabirds north of the Gulf Stream, this is less shocking than it would have been a few years ago.
Three first state records in one year is pretty good, and the quality of this year’s roster is impressive. How will 2022 compare?
Therefore, my list of next 25 species to occur in Maine receives just a few tweaks.
***EDIT, 3/31 – When a Trumpeter Swan arrived in Scarborough Marsh, it was noted as the 2nd State Record. I realized that the 2011 bird from Fortune’s Rock Beach in Biddeford was indeed added to the “official” state list. I had counted it on my own list (so no change below), but I never followed up on its status, apparently. With the rapidly expanding introduced populations in the Northeast, along with increasing amount of states “declaring” the bird “established,” I’m shocked it’s taken this long to get a second one. The predictions list has been updated accordingly.***
Personally, I was fortunate to add two birds to my own state list this year. And they were good ones!
The aforementioned Redwing got things started. It was not on my Top 25 list because I expected it to be a one-day wonder in some far-off place, never to be seen again. It was. But then it, or another bird – there were several Redwings in the Northeast part of the continent last winter – debuted at Capisic. That was fun.
Did I mention there was a Steller’s Sea-Eagle? That was my 391st species in Maine!
So neither of my state birds were on my Predictions list. I’ll be OK though, all things considered.
And, as usual, there were also a handful of potential state birds for me that I did not see. Franklin’s Gull appears to be on its way to becoming my nemesis, with another one this year: a one-day wonder at the Sanford Lagoons on 9/9. It was #3 on my list.
A Sandwich Tern at Mount Desert Rock on 7/6 was on my Honorable Mention list, as was Brown Booby, which has started to become regular north of Cape Cod. There was one off of Biddeford Pool on 7/8 ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa, followed by one on Mount Desert Rock August 2nd through 9th (not an easy place to chase!).
So a few tweaks to my list for my next additions to my personal state list are as follows:
1) American White Pelican
2) Neotropic Cormorant
3) Franklin’s Gull
4) Brown Pelican
5) Graylag Goose
6) California Gull
7) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
8) Brown Booby
9) Slaty-backed Gull
10) Boreal Owl
11) Calliope Hummingbird
12) Common Ringed Plover
13) Cerulean Warbler
14) White Ibis
15) Gull-billed Tern
16) Hammond’s Flycatcher
17) Spotted Towhee
18) Pacific Golden-Plover
19) Wood Stork
20) Ross’s Gull
21) Black-chinned Hummingbird
22) Brewer’s Blackbird
23) Yellow Rail
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck
So let’s see what 2021 (edited: 2022) brings to the Maine birding world. A return to a sense of normalcy would be a nice start, however.
On Saturday, July 31st, 2021, Jeannette and I were sitting on our back porch in Pownal sharing a beer in our usual after work beer o’clock/feeder and yard bird watch. We almost skipped it, however. We were leaving for a trip the next day and had yet to pack, the mosquitoes have been annoying, and besides, the Olympics were on. But I said “It’s my birthday and I can have a beer on the porch if I want to!”
We were enjoying our beverage while watching the constant activities of baby woodpeckers learning the ropes at the suet and nut feeders, and the aerial acrobatics and constant combat of hummingbirds. I’ve worked hard at increasing our hummingbird population with feeders, of course, but more importantly a near-constant source of natural nectar throughout the season. We have been rewarded in our efforts with two nesting females almost every year, and a constant stream of adult males. And now juveniles were about to fledge, adding to that activity.
It was about 7:00pm when I was enthralled with a particularly aggressive dogfight in the red Bee Balm. And then I basically did a spit-take when one of the combatants flashed rufous in its tail.
A SELASPHOROUS HUMMINGBIRD!!!!
I scrambled for the binoculars, Jeannette raced for her camera, and Bonxie wondered what all of the commotion was about and why we were disturbing his chipmunk watching.
We observed and photographed it for over an hour, finally retiring inside for dinner at about 8:15 when the hummingbird activity shut down for the evening. Emails were sent and calls were made.
Here are Jeannette’s best photos from the evening:
It was already getting dark, it was tough to observe details, and her shutter speed was too slow to capture motion: and we really needed to see the spread-tail to have hopes of identifying this inordinately tricky genus.
We decided to invite a handful of folks over to our yard the next morning to share in our excitement over this special backyard visitor. We also hoped to have more long lenses pointed at that tail!
Studying the books and reviewing the photos – along with soliciting some input from other birders – it became readily clear that this was an adult female (based on overall wear and throat pattern) Rufous or Allen’s Hummingbird. We systematically eliminated the other members of the genus, and saw nothing suggestive of the even less likely Allen’s. But this is one of the most challenging species-pairs in North America, depending on the age and sex.
The next morning, 6 people joined us on the porch, and luckily, our bird showed up. And eventually, showed up really, really, well! Unlike the previous evening however, where she spent prolonged periods at the feeder, she rarely lingered at any one flower or feeder for long before be driven off by one of the resident Ruby-throats (at least two adult males, 2 adult females, and either another female or a juvenile were all present and protecting their resources). Plenty of photos were taken, but we had not yet seen the tail pattern clearly.
Jeannette and I really needed to go pack now, and so we left the hummingbird watchers to themselves. Eventually, Bonxie went off to camp, I packed the car, and soon it was time for us to depart. Luckily, Ethan and Ingrid remained vigilant as Ethan finally acquired those critical tail shots:
His arrows point to the critical R2, the 2nd tail feather from the center on each half of the tail. On most – but not all – adult female Rufous Hummingbirds, there is an emargination (often called a “nipple tip”) which is not present on Allen’s Hummingbird. Unfortunately, this birds tail is worn – not surprising at this time of year – and the exact original pattern is just impossible to deduce.
We are therefore left with less-reliable set of field marks and circumstances. Often, the fallback here is to band and measure it, but we decided not to consider that unless she was still present when we returned.
So this is what we have:
Tail feathers, including R5, look “wide enough” to be a Rufous. This is pretty subjective visually, however, and usually takes in-hand measurements to confirm.
Limited rufous in the uppertail coverts as expected on Rufous.
Overall wear and fading of plumage is rather minimal; most Allen’s Hummingbirds would look very worn and likely really tattered by now.
The circumstantial evidence is also quite strong:
Rufous Hummingbirds are early long-distance migrants who are on the move in the west by now. Breeding as far north as southeastern Alaska, Rufous Hummingbirds have a pattern of fairly regular vagrancy to the East in late summer. Allen’s does not.
The only New England record of Allen’s Hummingbird is from Nantucket on 8/26/1988 (Massachusetts Avian Records Committee). Admittedly, that is only a month later (I was surprised to learn!).
The next closest records are seven in New Jersey (mostly from Cape May) that all were first found between September 3rd and November 14.
Of course, the preponderance of unconfirmed/unidentifiable “Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds” records clouds the judgment of this pattern of occurrence a little.
We already had scheduled someone to take care of our feeders while we were gone, and when he did so on 8/4, he did not see our Selasphorous. We returned home in the evening of 8/8, and sugar water was still available and our meadow of Wild Bergamot was now in full bloom. But alas, our visitor was not present. There were plenty of Ruby-throats still buzzing around – perhaps one less adult male and one more juvenile now, but not surprisingly, our vagrant had continued on, whether by choice or by force.
Now if she was still here, we would have pondered opening our yard up to visitors (not visible from the road, let alone a public one) and perhaps arranging for a bander to visit and attempt to capture her for measurements. But alas, these are the best shots and information we have to work with at this time.
So I am still soliciting comments, but personally, I think this bird is a Rufous Hummingbird. While we might not have absolute conclusive proof, I see absolutely nothing to suggest Allen’s so for me, I am happy with the most probable identification and Rufous Hummingbird is our 133rd Yard Bird!
And after 16 years here, our backyard has finally attracted a bona fide vagrant (although the two Hoary Redpolls were pretty great as well). I just wish her timing was a little better. Then again, she could have shown up the next day and we would have never known! Nevertheless, it was a wonderful birthday present!
Thanks to Michael O’Brien and Paul Lehman for helpful comments on the bird’s suspected identity, and especially to Ethan Whitaker for the diagnostic (or nearly so?) photos.
Howell, Steve N.G. 2002. Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford.
West, George C. 2015. North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.
Williamson, Sheri L. 2001 Hummingbirds of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company: New York and Boston.