Tag Archives: vagrants

This Week’s Highlights, 1/15-21, 2022

Barrow’s Goldeneyes are one of my favorite visitors to Maine in winter. The hens provide a nice challenge to pick out, too. This was one of two distinctive Barrow’s visible from the
Bernard Lown Peace Bridge in Auburn/Lewiston on the 13th.

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).
  • 7 Brant, Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, 10/18 (with Jeannette).
  • At least 2 hen BARROW’S GOLDENEYES.  A third hen is suggestive of an odd Barrow’s or a Common x Barrow’s hybrid (see photo captions), Bernard Lown Peace Bridge, Auburn/Lewiston, 1/20.
  • Fun to hear two Carolina Wrens counter-singing across the Androscoggin River – one in Lewiston and one in Auburn – from Little Andy Park, Auburn, 1/20.
  • 1 drake Northern Pintail and 3 1st-winter Iceland Gulls, Auburn Riverwalk, 1/20.
  • 1 female Northern Pintail, Westbrook Riverwalk, 1/21.
In addition to a bright-orange-billed classic Barrow’s, and the perfectly good smudgy-billed individual above (and here, on the left), there was a third bird that I am pondering. It’s either a third female Barrow’s (a great tally, especially for Androscoggin County) or perhaps a hybrid between Barrow’s x Common – the males of which do occur in Maine and are fairly straightforward to identify.

This Week’s Highlights, 1/1-7, 2022

This dapper drake American Wigeon at Brunswick’s historic Swinging Bridge on the 4th very well could have been the same bird that I found upriver in Durham three days prior, as the river was finally beginning to freeze over.

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.

2022 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

No one could have predicted the bird of the year, err..century..err, ever.  This magnificent Steller’s Sea-Eagle spent four days in Georgetown right around the New Year.

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.

  • 1) Neotropical Cormorant
  • 2) Graylag Goose
  • 3) California Gull
  • 4) Spotted Towhee
  • 5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • 6) Bermuda Petrel
  • 7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • 8) Common Shelduck
  • 9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin) *Edit, 4/1. See Below*
  • 9) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
  • 10) Little Stint
  • 11) Anna’s Hummingbird
  • 12) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
  • 13) Common Ground-Dove
  • 14) Allen’s Hummingbird
  • 15) Spotted Redshank
  • 16) Painted Redstart
  • 17) Ross’s Gull
  • 18) Black-capped Petrel
  • 19) Lesser Nighthawk
  • 20) Barolo Shearwater (a good record, with photographs, unlike my “it has to be this” sight record!)
  • 21) Elegant Tern
  • 22) Kelp Gull
  • 23) Black-tailed Gull
  • 24) Hooded Oriole
  • 25) Common Scoter

***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.

I am overdue to luck into an American White Pelican in the state!

This Week’s Highlights, 11/6-11/11

No shame in chasing a bird that is this stunningly gorgeous! And like the chase of the ATFL earlier this week, we put in the effort to find out own beforehand – and then rewarded ourselves with another exceptional rarity!
What a dapper goose.

Despite my best efforts, my “best” birds of the week were all chased and not found. Nonetheless, I had a great week of birding and birdfinding. My highlights over the past six days were as follows:

  • 1 continuing CATTLE EGRET, 2 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Pine Warbler, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 8 Laughing Gulls, etc, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/6 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
  • 2 Blackpoll Warblers, Saco Riverwalk, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 3 Great Egrets, The Pool, Biddeford Pool, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 1 continuing PRAIRIE WARBLER, 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 1 Indigo Bunting, 1 Great Horned Owl, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, etc, Biddeford Pool neighborhood, Biddeford, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian)
  • 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 2 Lincoln’s Sparrows, etc, Private property in Cape Elizabeth, 11/7 (with Cameron Cox and Evan Obercian).
  • 1 still-continuing late Fish Crow, Cook’s Corner, Brunswick, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 continuing BARNACLE GOOSE, South Elementary School, Rockland, 11/9 (with Jeannette). Photos above and below.
  • 1 American Coot and 10 American Wigeon, The Samoset, Rockport, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 1 American Woodcock, Rte 1, Thomaston, 11/9 (with Jeannette).
  • 2 American Wigeon and 1 Killdeer, Old Brunswick Road, Durham, 11/11.
I simply love the subtle beauty in the color and pattern of the wings and back of this species.

This Week’s (Non Sandy-Point) Highlights, 9/24-9/30: Monhegan Island

This Blue Grosbeak was among the stars of the show from an exceptional weekend of
great birds on Monhegan Island.

I haven’t yet posted a Monhegan tour blog from last weekend, so I figured I’d at least post some of the highlights from our extremely exciting weekend chock-full of great birds!

9/24 (with Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour group):

  • 1 adult GREAT BLACK BACKED X HERRING GULL HYBRID
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • 1 Sora

9/25 (with tour group):

  • 1 adult PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Found by me at “Chat Bridge” and refound nearby a short while later by Kristen Lindquist and part of my group.  Only bird of the weekend not seen again.
  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 8 DICKCISSELS (in flock together at one point)
  • 2 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS (in flock with 8 Dickcissels).
  • 1 Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush (presumed Gray-cheeked)
  • 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

9/26 (with Tour group):

  • 1 YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 7 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

9/27 (with tour group):

  • 1 WESTERN KINGBIRD (found by Kristen Lindquist. Refound by us at the Trailing Yew, then later by our group again at the cemetery. Last sighting?)
  • At least 5 DICKCISSELS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • 9/28 (with Jeannette and Kristen Lindquist):
  • 1 immature male BLUE GROSBEAK
  • 2 LARK SPARROWS
  • At least 4 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS
  • At least 4 DICKCISSELS
  • 1 Orange-crowned Warbler
  • 1 unidentified jaeger at a floating Minke Whale carcass offshore.
  • 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

Other Highlights:

  • 2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, Dry Ledges off of Allen Island from Port Clyde Ferry, 9/28 (with Jeannette).

And don’t forget, our next pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s out of Boothbay Harbor is coming up, on October 11th. Information and registration can be found here.

OK, back to work on my Monhegan blog.

A Rufous Hummingbird in our Yard!

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.

References:

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.

2021 Maine Birds Predictions

It might “only” have been a second state record, but the Rock Wren that was discovered along Marginal Way near the Perkin’s Cove parking lot in Ogunquit in November was a state bird for everyone who enjoyed it during its long stay that continues right through today.

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.

2020 was definitely a different year. “Worst year ever” was a common refrain by year’s end, but don’t tell that to 2021 which seems to be taking up the challenge so far. I’ve written this blog for over a decade now, but this was the first one written about, and during, a national crisis that was so deadly that many birders stayed home for much of the year. Before spring had arrived in Maine and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic had fully arrived in Maine, trips were cancelled, many folks stayed closer to home if venturing out at all, and many birders avoided crowded seasonal hotspots. I wrote about birding in a pandemic in this early spring blog, but a small silver lining to this tragedy was the huge growth in birding, especially in the backyard.  I was even interviewed about this in the New York Times this summer.

By fall, the growth in birding and bird-feeding and the new online community connections made while stuck at home yielded even more opportunities to see amazing birds and add some really spectacular rarities to brand-new life lists. A massive incursion of birds from the western US was underway throughout the East this fall, and this resulted in some of the most incredible “mega” rarities, such as Rock Wren and Bullock’s Oriole. The first chaseable Rufous Hummingbird in many years was another real crowd-pleaser and was made accessible by gracious hosts.

Nonetheless, there were not any first state records detected this year. Therefore, my list of next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2021 remains unchanged:

  1. Neotropical Cormorant
  2. Graylag Goose
  3. California Gull
  4. Spotted Towhee
  5. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  6. Bermuda Petrel
  7. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  8. Common Shelduck
  9. Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
  10. Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good).
  11. Little Stint
  12. Anna’s Hummingbird
  13. “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
  14. Common Ground-Dove
  15. Allen’s Hummingbird
  16. Redwing
  17. Spotted Redshank
  18. Painted Redstart
  19. Ross’s Gull
  20. Black-capped Petrel
  21. Lesser Nighthawk
  22. Elegant Tern
  23. Kelp Gull
  24. Black-tailed Gull
  25. Common Scoter

Despite such a great year for rare birds in Maine, I actually only added two birds to my own state list however. But they were good ones! But first, let’s check in with last year’s prediction list to see how I did…at least for the birds, the rest of the year, no, I did not predict.

Of course, there was (is) the Rock Wren (Honorable Mention) in Ogunquit (photo above), but for me, the bigger one was the Say’s Phoebe in New Gloucester on 9/24. It was #4 on my list, but my #1 nemesis bird.

As usual, there were also a handful of potential state birds for me that I did not see.  Common Ringed Plover (#12) on Seal Island in September and a Sooty Tern (Honorable Mention) on Matinicus Rock following Tropical Storm Isaias were obviously beyond my reach, obviously, a Franklin’s Gull (#5) in Lamoine on 11/5 did not linger, and a Yellow Rail (#22) was kept secret. The big miss however was the Golden-crowned Sparrow (Honorable Mention) in October at a feeder in Abbot that I just did not chase for a variety of reasons, including how busy the fall was at the store.

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. Slaty-backed Gull
  9. Boreal Owl
  10. Calliope Hummingbird
  11. Common Ringed Plover
  12. Cerulean Warbler
  13. White Ibis
  14. Gull-billed Tern
  15. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  16. Spotted Towhee
  17. Pacific Golden-Plover
  18. Wood Stork
  19. Ross’s Gull
  20. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  21. Brewer’s Blackbird
  22. Yellow Rail
  23. Loggerhead Shrike
  24. Virginia’s Warbler
  25. Common Shelduck

So let’s see what 2021 brings to the Maine birding world. A return to a sense of normalcy would be a nice start, however.

My favorite rarity photo of the year, however, was the Freeport Bullock’s Oriole feeding in front of the Maine state flag!

Say’s Phoebe – A Maine Nemesis No More!

While out to dinner last night (9/23/2020), I pulled my phone out to look up a couple of things on the menu Jeannette and I were perusing. I usually don’t bother clicking on an email with a subject line “Bird ID” when I am out to dinner; that’s for working hours. But I decided to click on this one from Dave Fensore.

I am sure glad that I did, because those were the photos it contained. Dave and his daughter, Sarah, were out for an afternoon stroll when they found this bird which they identified as a Say’s Phoebe. But they also noted its range: breeding no closer than central North Dakota and winter no closer than southern Texas, they began to have their doubts. Luckily the Sibley Guide shows that they are rare throughout the East, so it is not without precedence, but still, rare birds are rare, and so they sent the photos to me to be sure.

Needless to say, there’s not much question about the birds identify from these stellar photos!

The only question I had was whether or not it would be there in the morning, because for me, the chase was on!

See, Say’s Phoebe (with over a dozen records in Maine) is what I can definitely call a “nemesis” bird in the state for me. I’ve missed three birds on Monhegan, by a sum of less than about 30 hours. One that I missed by a couple of hours resulted in a sprained ankle that lingers with the occasional flare-up of tendinitis. A few friends love to point out how many Say’s Phoebes they have seen in Maine (what are friends for, afterall!). So this bird has physically and mentally scarred me for some time. I also missed at least one on the mainland because I was on Monhegan for the week.

But not anymore.

Sure, I skipped another Morning Flight at Sandy Point, but as of 6:55am this morning, I had finally seen a Say’s Phoebe in Maine. Dave and Carolyn, and Matthew Gilbert, were waiting there, fingers pointing, as I rolled up.

Early morning backlighting made for challenging photography conditions, and my camera is having some front-focusing issues. So my photos are not very good. Dave’s are definitely better, and my flight shots turned out to be a complete disaster. But mine are sweet, oh, so sweet. And my ankle doesn’t even hurt today.

The bird can be observed from the quiet and safe side of Shaker Rd (Old Rte 26…note that Shaker Rd leaves the Rte 26 Bypass a short distance south of here), from the crest of the hill immediately south of the historic village.

Please note, the Village is currently closed. There is no parking there or trespassing into the fields. Luckily, there is plenty of roadside parking on a wide shoulder, and all of the fields are easily visible from the roadside, so this should not be an issue. In fact, it cannot be an issue here; we must respect the community.

The bird is moving around the various fence lines, with the temporary white fence through the closest field being one of its favorite haunts.

I got the word out and birders began to arrive. I departed, owing Dave a whole lot of thanks. And wondering if I’ll find a Say’s Phoebe on Monhegan this weekend, because once you see your nemesis…

2020 Maine Birds Predictions Blog

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After missing Maine by just a few miles in 2018, it’s only a matter of time before we see the state’s first Neotropic Cormorant – a species that is rapidly expanding northward. Be sure to double-check a lone cormorant in a tiny pond or river!

As we put 2019 to bed and begin 2020, we have our eyes set on the birding future. As for the future of birding, well, that’s a blog for another day, but for now, what about the next “new birds” to be seen in Maine?

Yup, 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.

But first, let us check in with my 2019 Predictions post, and see how I did.

The epic 2018 was going to be hard to follow – in fact, who knows if we’ll ever see a year as exceptional for new birds like that.  While an above-average five new species were added to Maine’s state list in 2018, the infamous Great Black Hawk is a headliner for the ages.

We came back to Earth in 2019, with only 1 or 2 new species for Maine. The first, was a Zone-tailed Hawk in Bridgeton on May the 4th. This was #18 on my predictions list for next new species to be found in Maine following several regional sightings over the past few years.

I say 1-2 because on October 30th, I found a Barolo’s Shearwater in Maine waters, just west of George’s Bank. The problem was it was a single-observer sight record and that’s hard for a functioning and respected rare birds records committee to accept as a first state record. So who knows what Maine’s will do.

Barolo’s Shearwater was on my honorable mention list, but I certainly did not expect to see it; I would have assumed it would have been photographed from a NOAA fisheries research ship in the summer in deeper waters near the continental shelf, or perhaps immediately following a hurricane.

With only 1-2 new species for Maine in 2018, I’ve only made a few minor changes to my forecast, including the debut of Black-capped Petrel. Therefore, my updated predictions for the next 25 species to occur in Maine for 2020 is now:
1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Spotted Towhee
5) Hammond’s Flycatcher
6) Bermuda Petrel
7) Black-chinned Hummingbird
8) Common Shelduck
9) Trumpeter Swan (of wild, “countable” origin)
10) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
11) Little Stint
12) Anna’s Hummingbird
13) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
14) Common Ground-Dove
15) Allen’s Hummingbird
16) Redwing
17) Spotted Redshank
18) Painted Redstart
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-capped Petrel
21) Lesser Nighthawk
22) Elegant Tern
23) Kelp Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Personally, I added a respectable 5 species to my own Maine list this year as well, including my long-sought #1 (and #1 nemesis): Great Skua. We scored one in Maine waters on our cruise – the aforementioned cruise that resulted in the Barolo’s Shearwater.  Whether you have respect for your state records committee or not, functioning ones are not the “list police” that tell you what you can and cannot count. After much review, study, and discussion, I am confident I saw a Barolo’s Shearwater, so I am putting it on my list. Since I don’t submit my list the the ABA, eBird, or anyone else, I get to make my own rules!  But sorry folks, if you are playing the listing game, you have to play by the listing rules.

Regardless, I did not have Barolo’s on my own prediction list, so for this particular game, it definitely does not count. But prior to getting my #1 bird, I also was lucky enough to be leading a group on Monhegan and was minutes away when my #2 bird – Eurasian Collared-Dove – was discovered(only the second ever in Maine…for now).
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We were at a trade show in Portland when a Tundra Swan (#7 on my list) was spotted at Dunstan Landing in Scarborough Marsh, so we skipped out for a spell and successfully “twitched” it. It was a welcome break from being indoors all day, and it was an easy 15-minute chase.
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Last, but definitely not least, was the Harris’s Sparrow at a feeder in Levant that I was lucky enough to see with friends on December 8th…my 385th species in Maine, but only on my list of honorable mentions. But I’ll call predicting 3 our of 5 new state birds a win!
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Then, as always, there were the misses. American White Pelican (#5) is becoming a nemesis, with several brief sighting in Portland on May 16th, and another bird in Aroostook County in August. I worked hard for post-Hurricane Dorian rare terns in late September, but missed out on a Gull-billed Tern (#17) at Hill’s Beach on 9/28.

Not in my top 25, but no less disappointing to miss was Brown Booby that was spotted on and off, here and there, for perhaps much of the summer and a Tropical Kingbird in East Machias on 10/31. Much worse, however, was the dead Purple Gallinule found under the wires at Sandy Point on 10/19.

So with some big changes at the top, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine looks quite different.

1) American White Pelican
2) Neotropic Cormorant
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) Franklin’s Gull
6) Brown Pelican
7) California Gull
8) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
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) Wood Stork
19) Ross’s Gull
20) Black-chinned Hummingbird
21) Brewer’s Blackbird
22) Yellow Rail
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

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Maybe 2020 is the year for this nemesis of mine in Maine to come in for a landing in front of me!

GREAT BLACK HAWK IN BIDDEFORD!!!!

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No seriously. This is not a test, do not adjust your television. This is not a drill. This is insane, but it is real.

The Timeline.

8/7.

9:13 AM. Ryan Wirtes posted a photo to the “What Bird is This Facebook Page” of a raptor photo sent by a friend. He suspected a black hawk of some flavor, but at the time, the sighting information was nothing more than “photographed this month in Maine.”

10:35 am. Tim Swain shares that post to the “ABA Rare Bird Alert” Facebook page. All hell breaks loose. While many people discuss the ID, others immediately jump to the conclusion that it is far too rare and far too out of range to be possible, so the conspiracy theories take hold. One person claimed to debunk it in multiple forums based on the plants in the scene. His plant ID was seriously flawed. I was brought into the discussion and identified the plants in the two pictures as all occurring in and around Biddeford Pool: Japanese Knotweed, Red Maple, and an invasive bush honeysuckle that I left as Lonicera sp (presumably tatarica). I know these thickets and habitats extremely well, and all looked just like a number of areas around here. While I was not vouching for the credibility of the sighting, the misidentification of the plants should not have impacted anyone’s decision to get the heck out there and search for it. And while skepticism and critical evaluation of exceptional sightings is important, I felt too many people were immediately looking to debunk it – that is not constructive, especially when using nothing more than simple misinformation spoken loud enough to be believed.

Luckily, people were out searching for it, and didn’t need my plant ID to be encouraged to do so!

Later in the day, Michael Smith was able to contact the photographer, and it turned out the bird was photographed only one day prior, on Maddox Pond Road in the Fortunes Rocks Beach section of Biddeford. The plot thickened.

8/8.

Birders searched the area extensively in the morning. The exact location of the photograph was confirmed. There was no hoax, conspiracy, or simple mistake/miscommunication. But there was no bird.

6:03 pm: Doug Hitchcox relocates the bird in a backyard on nearby Lily Pond Road. Birders converge. I arrived at about 7pm, and about 15 of us continued to observe the bird, with several remaining through dark.

I managed a few phone-scoped photos.IMG_2287_best,kinda_edited-1preening1_edited-1

But, given the low light, I had better luck with video, which I did extensively. I posted one here, on our store’s Facebook Page.

For the record, it was perched in a Black Locust when I saw it.

8/9.

7:20 am: With dozens of people from several states converging and looking, it was refound on Lily Pond Road. And now all hell will really break loose! Jeannette went down this am and scored some great photos as the bird flew around, hunted eggs and nestlings (it was observed eating a nestling and robbing an American Goldfinch nest for eggs), and as since its first observation, being constantly mobbed by passerines (for good reason).

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For those looking to find it, I’d recommend the play-by-play on the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook Page. I’ll leave it to there, and the Maine-birds listserve, to provide the specifics on sightings, observation details, and any concerns (like extensive and problematic permit parking restrictions in the area) that may arise.

Furthermore, Fortunes Rocks Beach is covered in Site Y11 in my Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide and Biddeford Pool (including parking tips) is extensively treated as Y12.  Besides carpooling, my recommendations are to arrive early or late, or hoof it (I’ll throw a bike on the rack next time I go) a considerable distance from somewhere with open, public parking.  And, like with several of the “Mega” rarities that have occurred in recent years, I am (somewhat) available for private guiding, including round-trips from the Portland Jetport!

But since I have been asked by many people about “how,” “why,” and “WTF?” I figured I would pull some info together here for convenience.

The Identification:

First, the identity of the bird is not in question: it is an immature Great Black Hawk (often written as Great Black-hawk), separated from the similar Common Black Hawk by a combination of plumage and structural features. I’ll quote Howell and Webb’s A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America:

“(GBH) has narrower wingbase, longer tail (esp juv) often less spread when soaring and gliding. At rest, note longer legs and short primary projection…juv and immature usually have whitish head that lacks strong dark malar stripe; note more numerous dark tail bars of the juv. With very broad distal dark band or narrow dark bars to tail tip.”

I believe those are the same features that are used to separate it from the Cuban Black Hawk (or Cuban race of the Common Black Hawk), but I need to do more research on that.

And finally, Solitary Eagle is “larger with more massive legs and bill; at rest, wingtips extend to or beyond relatively shorter tail…juv and immature have solidly dark brown thighs, juv has pale grayish tail band with no distinct dark barring, imm. tail similar but with broad paler median band. (Howell and Webb, 2014)

Great Black Hawk is a large buteo-like raptor of Northern South America, extending north along the coasts of Mexico. Many folks are citing the first accepted “ABA-area” record that occurred only this past spring in Texas.  The Texas Bird Records Committee voted unanimously to add it to the official list on July 3rd:

“The TBRC has voted unanimously to add GREAT BLACK HAWK (Buteogallus urubitinga) to the state list. A juvenile was well documented with several excellent photos as it landed briefly and passed over South Padre Island on 24 April 2018. This species has been somewhat hoped for/expected to show up in Texas as it regularly ranges as close as southern Tamaulipas, Mexico but it was still a surprising and exciting find for folks that were on the island taking in spring migration that day. The addition of Great Black Hawk brings the state list to 649 in good standing. This record will now be considered by the ABA Checklist Committee as a first for the ABA. There have been a few Great Black Hawk sightings in Florida since the 1970s though there has been questions/concern about the provenance of those birds.”

Ah, but yes, those Florida birds. Here’s where things get murky. And while Great Black Hawks do not seem to be kept by falconers, they are kept in captivity. And with all records of exceptionally far-flung vagrants, captivity needs to be considered. The “cage bird” and wildlife smuggling plague in the world is rampant, and likely constitutes billions of dollars annually. While “charismatic megafauna” (or parts there of) get all of the attention, birds are being smuggled – as well as legally traded – all over the world. And I believe it is much, much worse than usually suggested, so it’s worth considering “provenance” and just because it’s not used for some purpose, I do not believe we can immediately discount captive origin. But let me be clear: there is absolutely no evidence of that here – no bands, no “cage wear,” no obviously problematic behavior – although it is rather confiding and does allow close approach which could be suspect.

Jon Greenlaw, co-author of the recently-fully revised and updated The Robertson and Woolfenden Florida Bird Species: An Annoted List (2014) wrote to me with the following analysis of the Florida occurrence of “black hawks:”

“They occur in Mexico in Yucatan north to Tamaulipas on the Atlantic side, so both possible in Texas and Florida. To my knowledge only the Great Black Hawk is known from the Atlantic coast in Florida. No Common Black-Hawks have been confirmed from Florida out of more than 20 reports, but one of the two records (photographic) (one specimen w/ no label details in Archbold BS collection) remained for several years in the Greater Miami Area (Virginia Key, Key Biscayne) and was seen by many observers and photographed well by Robin Diaz of Miami. It was initially ID’d as a Common Black-Hawk, but it was later confirmed as a Great Black-Hawk as more photos & details came in. Greenlaw et al. 2014 provides the most recent update of status in Florida. Smith FFN 23:101, 1995 reviewed the Florida reports and concluded them to represent Great Black-Hawks. The belief previously has been that the Florida reports were likely escapes in captivity (they are known to occur as captive birds in s. Florida), but the numbers of reports here over the years make it difficult to totally reject the presence of vagrant individuals (esp immatures) from their range in the Americas, esp Yucatan. Still, photographs of the Virginia Key bird (the most recent occurrence example) indicate the adult was from the sedentary population (nominate) in South America.

And more extensively treated here for those looking for the complete story of this complex conundrum, click here.

Let me reiterate, there is absolutely no suggestion of non-wild origin, and while a hoax or miscommunication has been debunked, provenance (where it came from and how) must always be carefully considered. While listing powers-that-be may eventually decide whether or not you “can count it,” I would recommend going to look at this magnificent bird and, well, my list is my list…and I’ll probably count it!

The How.

Besides feeling like the tropics these past few weeks, the weather pattern that has brought us this oppressive (well, to us in Maine not used to it) heat and especially humidity could very conceivably result in a bird escorted this far away from its usual home range.

Although a resident species not particularly prone to wandering, some likely do, and presumably this would especially true of juveniles. Some have suggested this could even be the same bird as the South Padre Island sighting in April; photos will undoubtedly be studied carefully to see if there are any clues. Whether it’s the bird from Texas or another individual, the extensive and stubborn southerly flow created by a strong and persistent Bermuda High spinning off the southern Atlantic Coast would certainly facilitate the bird’s peregrinations. Whether originally “lost,” misguided, navigationally-challenged (simply mis-wired, or as one of the apparent impacts from our chronic use of pesticides), or just a “pioneer” prospecting for new habitats in the face of a rapidly warming climate and rampant tropical deforestation, there are a lot of ways where a large raptor that can soar with little effort and cover hundreds of miles in a day and end up in the Northeast.  While weather rarely “causes” vagrancy, it certainly plays a role in where a vagrant could show up.

Heck, North America’s first record of the tropical Variegated Flycatcher occurred (in November of 1977) in the Biddeford Pool neighborhood just up the road! Which is more exceptional would be up for debate, but clearly birds from a long way off can make it to Maine’s coast (for additional example, our relatively numerous records of Fork-tailed Flycatcher). And, as circumstantial evidence that the recent weather pattern is delivering birds from the south to New England, notice that New Hampshire currently has a Wood Stork and a Neotropical Cormorant!

Now what?

Birders are flying in from all over the country already, and likely hundreds if not thousands of birders will descend on the area in the coming days, and if we are all lucky, weeks. Of course, the bird could leave any minute now.

Folks will debate provenance, and others will simply enjoy the sighting and take a lot of photographs. Hopefully, birders will spend a few dollars in the area (can I recommend Bufflehead’s restaurant on Hill’s Beach, Palace Diner in Biddeford, and Saco Island Deli in Saco to start?) and let it be known that they are here to see this epic rarity.

Furthermore, there is always the chance of the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect,” wherein birders descending on an area for a rare bird sighting find additional rare birds.  What could be next? And from where? I very much look forward to what else is turned up. This could be fun.

At the very least, don’t forget there is a Little Egret just up the road in Scarborough Marsh! Remember when, 4 years ago, that’s what everyone was flying in for?

Final Disclaimer:

I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be repeated. This is a quiet, residential area with extremely limited daytime public parking. The bird is often in yards, and since the best hours to visit are before 8:00am and after 5:00pm when parking is available at nearby Fortunes Rocks Beach, PLEASE be extremely respectful to local residents and private property. Do not enter any yard unless invited to do so, and do not block driveways. And yes, police have been actively patrolling the parking areas! And always, put the bird – and its neighbors – first, no matter how much you want a slightly better look or photo!

Thanks for reading!
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UPDATE #1:
Photo reviews by Tom Johnson and others of the April Great Black Hawk from Texas and our Maine bird shows the exact same pattern of brown flecks on the outermost underwing coverts. Variable in this species, this is too perfect to be a coincidence, so it is almost unquestionably the same bird!

UPDATE #2:
Unfortunately, at 1:52pm (I believe) on Thursday, August 9, the black hawk was observed flying over Fortunes Rocks Beach and “out to sea.” It has not been seen again since. Birders scoured the area for the rest of the day, and again on Friday, August 10th to no avail…and so far without turning up anything else of note. In fact, not even the Little Egret has been seen in the last few days (I looked carefully at every Snowy in Scarborough Marsh this morning when guiding for a family from Indiana). We’ll see if any interesting reports roll in by day’s end.