Tag Archives: warblers

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend,9/27-10/1/2019

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The reports trickling out of Monhegan all week were not particularly tantalizing. Other than a few rare but regular vagrants and semi-vagrants, the birding was often dreadfully slow. This fall’s lack of strong, airmass-changing and northwest wind-producing, cold fronts have been sorely lacking, and the season on Monhegan to date had clearly reflected that. But we heard the butterflies were extraordinary!

The first half of our group arrived via the 9:00 Hardy Boat from New Harbor. Even the boat trip was unusually quiet: a handful of Northern Gannets were the only seabirds we saw; even gulls were relatively few and far between.

But it was simply gorgeous, and with clear skies, light winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures, we were not complaining upon our arrival. And we were immediately greeted with a plethora of butterflies, led by Painted and American Ladies, and Monarchs – lots and lots of Monarchs.

Our slow walk up Dock Road would yield our one measly warbler wave of the day, but the Island Farm gardens on Pumphouse Road immediately produced the “best” bird that was being seen on the island: a juvenile Blue Grosbeak. But now, there were 2. And two Dickcissels! And 3 Indigo Buntings! And then two Blue Grosbeaks sitting side-by-side with an Indigo Bunting on the wire for comparison, followed by a lovely look at a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Yeah, that’s a “slow” day on Monhegan in the fall!
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After fueling up on Novelty Pizza as usual, we hit Burnt Head for a gannet and Peregrine Falcon show, but the afternoon was beyond quiet for birds overall. Not for butterflies, however!  So. Many. Question Marks (as in the butterfly, not unanswered questions of course!)
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Question Mark

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As we awoke on Saturday, light south winds had minimized nocturnal bird migration, and the Morning Flight over the Yew consisted of exactly one Great Egret (not a bad bird out here though). It was quiet, very quiet, as dawn rose…but we weren’t cold! And all of those Monarchs!
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After breakfast, we decided to try and relocate a female King Eider that was reported yesterday and posted late at night. Since the seas were building on southwesterly winds, I decided to skip trying Lobster Cove and check the mouth of the harbor. And sure enough, there she was! The “Queen” Eider was an “Island Bird” for me, and an island bird for almost every birder on the island, if not a life bird for many in my group.
sunrise
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With the rest of the group arriving at 10:00am, we raced over to the dock, picked up the eider from the lawn of the Island Inn, and welcomed our new arrivals with a Queen Eider in the scope!  How’s that for a greeting?  I also realized I had a “lifer:” looking at a King Eider with shorts on!
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There were now 3 Blue Grosbeaks in the garden, and a couple of us glimpsed a flash of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near the Ice Pond.  But it was irrationally slow all day. However, almost every bird we did encounter, we saw well, and there were very few instances of “better views desired.”  And it was warm, and I don’t think I have ever spent a whole day out here in just shorts and a t-shirt.  Again.
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Northern Gannet off of White Head.

A slow progression of clouds throughout the day finally arrived overhead by dusk, but rain stayed away. Unfortunately, the cold front that we were so anxiously anticipating did not switch the winds to the west (and then northwest) until about 2:00am, so migration really never got going. There was a little Morning Flight come dawn, mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers as expected, but also several Cape Mays. The chatter, however, was the fact that no one found themselves in dire need of more blankets overnight!
PEFA, A.Siegel
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The next generation teaching the next next generation.
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Once again, however, the warmth scattered roosting Monarchs, and the massive roosts of a thousand or more from the middle of the week were instead widely dispersed. They were still abundant, however, covering gardens and almost every patch of wild asters and goldenrods.
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This one likely had recently taught a Merlin to never try and eat a Monarch!
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Tattered Black Swallowtail departing dill

It was a day to look at everything, from flowers to caterpillars.
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Fringed Gentian
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Hickory Tussock Moth
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Everybody’s favorite caterpillar: Woolly Bears!
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White-faced Meadowhawk.
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Smeared Dagger Moth

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in the harbor helped start our day, and there were definitely some new birds around.
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Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull(R)with multiple age classes of Great Black-backed Gulls.

Our checklist slowly built with the likes of a Pine Warbler, a single Red-winged Blackbird, and finally, after almost 3 days: a couple of Red-eyed Vireos.  The northwesterly breeze was also ushering in a good raptor flight, especially Merlins and American Kestrels, with a healthy dose of Peregrine Falcons, so we often found ourselves looking skyward.

Monarchs were also on the go, with many high overhead and taking off towards the mainland. Our butterfly list grew to a goodly 14 species. And we confirmed via photographs that there were a most-impressive 4 Blue Grosbeaks, a bona fide flock, and perhaps a record high for the state.

It was a great few days, and a lot of birds were seen. It was not the thing Monhegan legends were made of, however, but almost everyone on the tour had at least two Life Birds by the time the majority of the group headed home on Sunday afternoon. And it was still beautiful out. Complaints were few.
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RINP,A.Siegel
And the family group of “re-introduced” (allegedly) Ring-necked Pheasants were a source of constant entertainment.
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Now, no birder is every really ready to leave Monhegan, but those who had to go to work or school the next day were especially upset. But of course, we had high expectations for a big day on Sunday, and that did not materialize.

On Monday morning – I am happy to say for those who remained, but I am very apologetic to those who had to depart! – the birds that did not show on Sunday had arrived. A huge flight overnight on clearing skies and a moderate northerly wind had ushered in a massive wave of birds. By breakfast we had as many species of warblers as we had seen all weekend so far.
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows seemed to be everywhere, at least where there wasn’t a Yellow-rumped Warbler. New arrivals included many of the birds we had somehow been lacking so far, such as Blue-headed Vireos and Brown Creepers, but we also enjoyed a host of “late” migrants, such as Bay-breasted Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, several Magnolia Warblers, and – sorry Anna! – a great look at a Philadelphia Vireo. Although a truant Warbling Vireo late in the day was the “best” vireo of the weekend.
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Palm Warbler
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Savannah Sparrow

The morning alone had more species, and likely more individuals, than the three previous days combined. While all of the Blue Grosbeaks had departed, the Queen Eider was still present, as was 1-2 Dickcissels, and in a late-day feeding frenzy of Harbor Porpoise at the mouth of the harbor, we picked out a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. Today was a day for both quantity and quality – and we walked about 30% less than any of the previous three days! It was a very good day.
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Jeannette had arrived on Monday, and it was just the two of us for a day off on Tuesday. Fears of a wash-out were not realized. Instead, an early morning shower on Trap Day did little more than nicely tamp down the road dust for a good part of the day.  Winds were increasing from the southeast, and there was little to no migration overnight on cloudy skies and light southerly winds.

Therefore, there was once again virtually no morning flight, but there were some new birds around, starting with a Marsh Wren singing at dawn from the meadow, and 3 female/immature Wood Ducks in the Ice Pond before dawn (alas, I never did catch up with the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that others spotted into the weekend).

The morning was quiet overall, however, with scattered pockets of migrants here and there. It wasn’t quiet as slow as Saturday, but we were once again covering a lot of ground to not see many birds. But it felt like a day with something “really good” around, and as we returned to the Ice Pond, I was shocked by a hen Northern Shoveler!  Migrant dabblers are rare out here due to the lack of habitat, and there are not many shovelers in Maine or Maritime Canada to end up here. I am sure that if there were birders out here in April and October, this species would be detected, but based on the historical record in the Vickery checklist and recent records from eBird, it turns out that this is a First Island Record!  (EDIT: A previous island record has come to light, and sure enough, it was from April!)
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While it wasn’t the Mega I was hoping for, it was a great bird for the island list, and joined by a stunning adult male Wood Duck, it added some excitement to an otherwise dreary day. We took the time to have a leisurely lunch, enjoy the Queen Eider, and grab one last beer. We also ran into the Lark Sparrow that showed up the day before. But it was remarkable how many fewer butterflies were around: the Monarchs had mostly departed on the northerly winds of the previous day, and the cloudy skies kept most everything else under cover.
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Lark Sparrow with immature White-crowned Sparrow
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With the first of the morning’s lobster traps already being hauled up, we knew our birding season out here was drawing to a close, unfortunately. Fortunately, however, the seas were much tamer than had been forecast, and we had less concerns about comfort on the ride home.
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Another Harbor Porpoise and gull feeding frenzy developed in the mouth of the harbor.

But Monhegan had one more surprise in store for us. As we pulled away on the 4:30 ferry to Port Clyde, I spotted a Black Skimmer circling Nigh Duck. I alerted the other birders on the boat, and those of us topside had views of it seemingly considering sitting down on the island, but we had picked up steam and were cruising away.  This appears to be the second record of Black Skimmer for Monhegan – another incredibly good bird for my island list, and another reason why you never stop looking!

Three “Island Birds” for me, “life birds” for most of my group, beautiful weather for the tour, and lots of good food and conversation made for a heckuva weekend. And perhaps best of all, I had three kids under 15 on my tour! Besides a rare occurrence for a birding tour, their enthusiasm was contagious, and it gave us hope for the future of birds and birding!

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Swamp Sparrow

Daily Checklist:

* denotes ferry ride only
27-Sep 28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep 10/1 (with Jeannette)
Wood Duck 0 0 0 0 4
American Black Duck 0 2 2 2 2
Mallard 4 16 12 10 10
NORTHERN SHOVELER 0 0 0 0 1
Green-winged Teal 0 0 0 1 0
KING EIDER 0 1 0 1 1
Common Eider x x x x X
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 3 7*
Ring-necked Pheasant 3 7 5 5 6
Mourning Dove 6 8 6 6 10
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 0 0 1 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0 0 0
Black Guillemot X x x x X
Laughing Gull 6* 0 2 0 0
Ring-billed Gull 2* 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x X
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 0 1 1 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x X
BLACK SKIMMER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Loon 1* 0 0 2 2
Northern Gannet 30 30 10 8 20
Double-crested Cormorant X x x 1000 500
Great Cormorant 0 6 1 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 2 2 1
Great Egret 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 3 1 7 4 2
Bald Eagle 3 2 3 4 2
Northern Harrier 0 0 0 1 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 2 4 4 3
Belted Kingfisher 0 1 1 1 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3 3 4 40 30
Downy Woodpecker 0 1 1 2 0
Northern Flicker 3 4 6 20 15
American Kestrel 0 0 8 1 4
Merlin 3 3 15 8 5
Peregrine Falcon 6 2 10 6 3
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 0 0 2 2
Alder Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Least Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 0 0 6 4
Eastern Kingbird 0 2 2 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 0 6 2
Warbling Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Philadelphia Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 0 0 2 25 10
Blue Jay 4 10 14 8 6
American Crow 4 6 4 6 8
Common Raven 1 2 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 0 0 1 0
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 0 0 0 0
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 0 0 0 0
Brown Creeper 0 0 0 8 4
Winter Wren 0 0 0 3 0
Marsh Wren 0 0 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 0 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 10 0 15 20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 10 5
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin 2 1 0 0 1
Gray Catbird 6 4 0 4 4
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 1 0 0
European Starling 20 24 20 20 16
American Pipit 0 0 0 1 0
Cedar Waxwing 20 40 80 60 50
American Goldfinch 2 0 4 6 6
Black-and-white Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Tennessee Warbler 0 0 0 4 2
Nashville Warbler 0 0 0 6 5
Common Yellowthroat 2 2 4 6 3
Cape May Warbler 2 2 6 3 4
Northern Parula 2 0 0 10 3
Magnolia Warbler 0 0 0 4 0
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1 4 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 0 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 4 2 0 2 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 60 20
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 8 15 40 200 50
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 0 0 5 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 3 6 19
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 1 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 25 15
Savannah Sparrow 0 0 0 50 30
Song Sparrow x x x x X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 0 2 2
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 7 4
Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 6 8
BLUE GROSBEAK 2 3 4 0 0
Indigo Bunting 3 2 2 1 2
DICKCISSEL 2 0 1 2 0
Bobolink 0 0 0 6 3
Red-winged Blackbird 0 0 1 0 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 0 0 5 1
Common Grackle 10 10 10 10 10
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 1 2 2

(Rarities seen by others by not the group as a whole: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Yellow-breasted Chat).

Butterfly list:
Monarch
Painted Lady
American Lady
Question Mark
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulfur
Red Admiral
Orange Sulfur
Common Buckeye
Mourning Cloak (1)
White Admiral (1-2)
Black Swallowtail (1)
Bronze Copper (1)
Great Spangled Fritillary (1)

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White Admiral

2019 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend Tour Report

L1140408_SUTA_SCTA1a-editedA spiffy adult male Summer Tanager(middle) joined a small flock of Scarlet Tanagers and was one of the stars of the weekend’s show.

More and more we, as birders, lament “they way it used to be.” Declining populations of so many birds, especially our long-distance Neotropical migrants often leaves us longer for yesteryear. Even a good day can turn wistful as we think of what “a lot” of birds once were. On some of our recent tours to Monhegan Island, even the good days felt lackluster; it was missing the “oomph” of what Monhegan legends are made of.

This was NOT one of those trips.

It was awesome. It felt like it “used to be.”  It was great, it was fun, and at times, the birding was just darn easy!

Most of the first day’s group joined me on the 9:00am departure out of New Harbor. I was amped up. A strong flight on the radar overnight developed between evening showers and thunderstorms, with another line of showers ushering in a shift in the winds from the south to the west by morning. This was a recipe for a fallout – or at least a lot of birds on Monhegan.

A Yellow Warbler – the 124th species in our wooded yard – greeted me as I topped off the feeders, and a couple of Blackpoll Warblers were singing. At Pemaquid Point, Erin Walter and I had several warblers, including one Cape May, in the small grove of spruces near the lighthouse.  These were very good signs.

As we endured a swelly ride on the ferry, an unidentified thrush streaked by, another good sign. Unrelated, but no less exciting, was a single fly-by Atlantic Puffins, a couple of Roseate Terns, and three tardy White-winged Scoters. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers at Neigh Duck was intriguingly late.

We arrived on the island shortly after 10:00am, and Phil Brown – just finishing up a New Hampshire Audubon tour – informed me that all of the signs of a big day were right. In fact, he was clearly having trouble tearing himself away. So we hit the ground running.

Over the next hour and a half, we saw a lot of birds…and we had still not even made it to the end of Dock Road!  For those of you not familiar with the island, that’s about an 1/8th of a mile. We hadn’t even checked in yet, and we had a dozen species of warblers and at least 4 Philadelphia Vireos.
BLBW_dock_road_Erin-editedBlackburnian Warblers along Dock Road was a nice welcome!

The only reason we made it across town was that a White-winged Dove (my first for the island and one of only a handful of previous island records) was just found at Donna Cundy’s famous feeders.  But not even a new island bird for myself could get me to hustle…there were too many birds to pass by; I apparently already had hit the MonhegZen!
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But we did see the dove, and it was great. However, I think it was upstaged for all of us by the 6 Scarlet Tanagers (5 males) that were also at the feeders!  We eventually stopped for a quick lunch, checked in briefly at the Trailing Yew, and slowly made our way down to the south end of the island where warblers were feeding on rocks at the water’s edge.
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And it’s not often you finish the day with 6 Blackburnian Warblers below you!

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In fact, the day was so amazing that I barely even made it to the brewery with enough time to get a growlette to go for dinner!  (Sorry, people who know me and this tour should have been told to sit down before I said that)> Birds were simply everywhere. Tennessee Warblers – a lifer for some of the group were in impressive numbers, and was likely the most common migrant of the day. Blackpoll Warblers were common, but normally-uncommon migrants such as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Cape May Warblers were unusually numerous and conspicuous.  We finished our first day with 19 species of warblers. It was like the good ol’ days.
MAWA_Erin-editedMagnolia Warblers were common and conspicuous all weekend.

PRAW_Erin-editedFinding an uncommon-on-the-island Prairie Warbler (and hearing another or the same on the island’s East side the next day was a good addition to our impressive tally of 22 species of warblers. 

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The only concern I had was would the rest of the trip be anti-climatic?

With light northwesterly winds overnight Friday into Saturday, more birds departed than arrived, but there were still plenty of birds to be seen.  A single singing Ovenbird and a quick sighting of a Nashville Warbler put us to 21 species of warblers, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was a good find.  A singing Sora, a soaring Peregrine Falcon, and a silent Northern Mockingbird were some of the species added to our list, but we continued to enjoy countless warblers. Sure, we “only” estimated 25 Tennessee Warblers today, but remember yesterday when they were a life bird?  Better looks at the White-winged Dove (it was much healthier-looking today, too) were had as well.
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L1140355_SUTA1a-editedThe Summer Tanager eventually found his way to the Tanager Festival at Donna’s feeders. And you really won’t find more cooperative Lincoln’s Sparrows than one of the two (below) that was also at the feeders – for those who appreciate the more subtle beauties!

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With a slower afternoon, we took a little hike to take in the views from Burnt Head and worked various under-birded nooks and crannies. And it was hard not to enjoy a Novelty pizza dinner because: 1) Novelty pizza and 2) we finished our second day of birding with a stunning adult male Summer Tanager joining the Scarlet Tanager convention at Donna’s feeders.
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We went to bed Saturday night with light southerly winds and rain on its way, with dreams of another fallout dancing in our bird-filled heads.  We awoke to light rain, fog, but still a light to moderate southerly wind. There was another strong flight overnight, according to the radar – at least until rain overspread the area by 2:00am.  But alas, whether ushered overhead by the southerly tailwinds, or unable to notice the island as they flew over the fog, there was no fallout, and in fact, there were actually fewer birds around in the early morning.

However, the rain ended as we ate breakfast, and the sun rapidly came out, optimism –and perhaps a little Rarity Fever – reigned supreme. And while numbers were a little low, diversity was excellent, and our trip list grew rapidly with a series of quality birds: Virginia Rail (heard only as usual), Green Heron, Black-billed Cuckoo, Warbling Vireo, and a rare-on-the-island Hairy Woodpecker. I also made friends with a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers that were calling Swim Beach home.
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But unlike the forecast, it was a rather nice day! It did cloud up again after lunch, but rain was limited to a narrow line of showers ahead of the afternoon cold front. And where else but on Monhegan do you end your day with a beer and chocolate pairing at Monhegan Brewing, with lobster rolls and bratwurst…and Tennessee Warblers still singing away!
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Red_Admiral,Marion_Sprague-editedRed Admirals were quite abundant, increasing as the weekend went on. 

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At dusk, I took a walk to catch up with a friend, listening to the Sora and Virginia Rail in the marsh, and several American Woodcocks going wild.

On Monday, the last day of the tour itself, we awoke to moderate fog but very light winds. The radar return was somewhat ambiguous, but it could have been strong in the first 2/3rds of the night despite light easterly winds shifting to the west and then northwest by morning. And very few flight calls were heard overhead before coffee, suggestive of less of a migration overnight as we had hoped.

Immediately, however, we found a nice pocket of mixed warblers right behind the Trailing Yew, so we jumped right into enjoying them.  Then, I got a text that right around the corner – in the direction I usually walk before breakfast! – the state’s second ever Eurasian Collared-Dove was just discovered.  We zipped over to immediately hear and see it – not just another new island bird, but a new Maine bird for me!  And another life bird for most of the group. And it wasn’t even time for breakfast yet.
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Light northeast winds slowly shifted the southeast over the course of the day, but while the day remained rather raw, it was once again precipitation-free. Unfortunately, overall, the birding was on the slow side. Well, even in the good ol’ days there were slow days!
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cemetery-editedEAKI_J-MoEastern Kingbird.

ducking_Marion_Sprague-editedFuzzy baby ducks!  This chick’s mom was a Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid. 

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SCTA_perched_JMO1Female (top) and male Scarlet Tanagers were omnipresent at Donna’s feeders. #MonheganBirdingProblems

While the tour officially came to an end, Jeannette and I remained on the island – joined now and again by a few friends – and enjoyed a relaxing evening and another amazing Island Inn dinner. Winds were forecast to remain northwesterly overnight, with precipitation and fog developing. Our hopes for one last big day were not high as we turned in.
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Winds were northeasterly at dawn, but most of the night saw northwesterly winds – unfavorable to migrants heading northward. Not surprisingly, there was little or no visible migration on the radar overnight. So why was there a morning flight when I finally stumbled outside at 6:15?  A flock of 38 Blue Jays swirling about, more Bay-breasted Warblers than in the last 3 days combined, lots of Blackpoll Warblers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be everywhere.

In fact, it was really birdy again (nothing like Friday, mind you). There were active pockets of birds almost everywhere. Blackpoll Warblers were common, and flycatchers had arrived en masse: while there had been plenty of Least Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees around, Alder Flycatchers were not conspicuous, and I had my first Willow Flycatcher of the year.

EWPE_J-MoEastern Wood-Pewee (from the previous, sunny day).

Jeannette and I enjoyed a great view of the Eurasian Collared-Dove in the morning, but later it was upstaged by a sighting of it flying together with the re-appearing White-winged Dove. I finally saw the one Pine Warbler that had been around; my 22nd warbler species of the trip, but I did miss a Morning Warbler at the ice pond in the morning. Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstarts, and about as many Eastern Wood-Pewees as I have ever seen in a day were among the impressive tallies.
BLPW_J-MoBlackpoll Warbler (male, above) in comparison to Black-and-white Warbler (female, below).
BAWW_J-Mo

Why were there so many more birds around? Where did they come from, and how? Well, predicting bird migration and analyzing it via NEXRAD radar is far from an exact science, and part of the thrill of the day was how unexpected it was. It was thought-provoking at least.
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Unfortunately, shortly after noon, it began to rain, and rain steady enough that bird activity was reduced dramatically. But, with final preparations – such as goodbyes to friends and beer to go – to leave the island, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. But with a little time to spare, Jeannette decided we should do one more walk around the southeast corner of the island, from the cul-de-sac to the Wyeth House, just to see if the concentration of warblers that my group and I saw on Friday had returned in the inclement weather.

So off we went. We were pretty much soaked by now anyway, so why stop now. And good thing that we did. While warblers on the rocks were limited to just a couple immature male American Redstarts, flycatchers were all over the place. Several Alder Flycatchers joined at least a dozen Eastern Wood-Pewees in foraging for flies right at the water’s edge. I thought I spotted another Yellow-bellied Flycatcher heading away, but when it landed, I noticed it was nearly as big as the Alders, and not at all yellow-bellied. The size, fairly long bill, coupled with primary projection almost as long as a pewee and a greenish back with off-white underparts was obviously – well, obvious through the fog and drops of rain on our binoculars – an Acadian Flycatcher. One was reported here the day before – but met with skepticism by me and several others I spoke with, after several exhaustive searches failed to turn it up. But alas, presumably, here it was!

My second on the island, and another southern vagrant that was part of this recent “overshooting” event, it was an exciting way to finish the trip. While I bounced around the rocks trying to photograph the bird with a wet phone held up to equally-wet binoculars, time was ticking, and we really needed to go. In the end, I think my one photograph of the bird might actually just be seaweed on a rock, as I was shooting blindly with a touch screen that was too wet to be much use.

It’s sometimes hard to leave on such a good day, but with so many good birds and excitement over the past five, I could not get too greedy. And a close-up Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin on the ride back helped, too.

As did the feeling that it was, once again, and at least for one long weekend, just like it was in the good ol’ days!
MAWA_J-MoMagnolia Warbler

BTBW_J-MoBlack-throated Blue Warbler

5 days, 112 total species (minus 3 for the Tuesday-only birds) and plus 4 for ferry-only birds with the group. Not bad!

* denotes ferry ride only
24-May 25-May 26-May 27-May 28-May
Wood Duck 0 0 1 0 0
American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid 1 1 1 1 1
Mallard x x x x x
Common Eider x x x x x
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 0 0
White-winged Scoter 3* 0 0 0 1
Red-breasted Merganser 2 0 0 0 0
Ring-necked Pheasant 0 1 0 1 2
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE 0 0 0 1 1
WHITE-WINGED DOVE 1 1 1 0 0
Mourning Dove 4 4 8 6 8
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Chimney Swift 6 1 2 0 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 8 4 8 6 6
Virginia Rail 0 0 1 1 1
Sora 0 1 1 1 1
Black Guillemot x x x x x
ATLANTIC PUFFIN 1* 0 0 0 1*
Razorbill 0 0 0 0 1*
Semipalmated Plover 1 0 0 0
American Woodcock 0 0 3 0
Spotted Sandpiper 0 2 1 0
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 1 1 1
Laughing Gull x* 2 2 3 6
Ring-billed Gull 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern x* 0 0 0
Roseate Tern 2* 0 0 0
Common Loon 2 (10*) 0 0 1 4 (4*)
Northern Gannet 2* 2 6 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
Great Blue Heron 0 2 1 0 0
Green Heron 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 1 0 0 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 2 0 1 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 0 1 0 0
Red-bellied Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 1
HAIRY WOODPECKER 0 0 1 0 1
Merlin 2 1 0 0 0
Peregrine Falcon 0 1 0 0 0
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4 2 4 5 40
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 2
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER 0 0 0 0 1
Alder Flycatcher 1 1 0 2 10
Willow Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 5
Least Flycatcher 15 12 12 10 15
Eastern Kingbird 5 3 2 5 6
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 6 1 0 0 0
Warbling Vireo 0 0 1 0 0
Red-eyed Vireo 4 4 10 4 20
Blue Jay 4 48 12 25 38
American Crow x x x 6 x
Common Raven 2 0 0 2 2
Tree Swallow 0 2 2 5 4
CLIFF SWALLOW 0 0 0 0 1
Barn Swallow 2 2 4 6 6
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 6 6 10 4
Winter Wren 0 1 1 2 0
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 2 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 8 0
Eastern Bluebird 0 0 1 0 0
Swainson’s Thrush 3 3 2 2 0
American Robin 8 8 x x x
Gray Catbird 4 x x x x
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling 8 8 x x
Cedar Waxwing 200 80 100 125 100
Purple Finch 1 1 1 3 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 2 0
American Goldfinch x x 10 10 8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 1 1 0 0
White-crowned Sparrow 1 1 0 0 0
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 1 3 2 1 1
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2 2 0 0 0
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 0 0
Ovenbird 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Waterthrush 2 1 0 2 1
Black-and-white Warbler 4 6 3 3 4
Tennessee Warbler 40 25 20 15 10
Nashville Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
American Redstart 25 10 15 10 60
Cape May Warbler 2 4 4 2 8
Northern Parula 20 10 6 8 6
Magnolia Warbler 30 10 10 6 30
Bay-breasted Warbler 10 4 2 0 6
Blackburnian Warbler 20 6 6 3 5
Yellow Warbler 15 15 20 20 25
Chestnut-sided Warbler 6 20 25 15 15
Blackpoll Warbler 40 10 15 25 80
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 0 1 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 0 0
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4 8 4 4 3
PRAIRIE WARBLER 1 1 0 0 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 10 3 12 2
Canada Warbler 6 2 5 1 1
Wilson’s Warbler 2 1 1 0 2
SUMMER TANAGER 1 1 1 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 7 7 6 4 1
Northern Cardinal 5 4 6 4 4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 2 2 2 2
Indigo Bunting 1 2 3 0 1
Bobolink 7 4 4 4 1
Red-winged Blackbird x x x x x
Common Grackle x x x x x
Baltimore Oriole 1 1 2 1 0
Day Total 70 77 73 67 71

EUCD_J-Mo

Why There are so Many Warblers at Feeders in Maine Right Now (5/3/19).

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On another damp and dreary morning at Florida Lake Park in Freeport on Thursday, I encountered 25-30 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 15 or so Palm Warblers. That was my best total of the season there so far, but in the last week of April through first week of May, I often see tallies of each into the triple digits.

On Friday it was drier, but still cool and raw at Morgan Meadow WMA. I finally hit 5 species of warblers on a morning with my first-of-year (finally) Black-and-white Warbler.  About 20-25 Yellow-rumped and about 15 Palm Warblers were present. For perspective, on 5/3 last year, I hit 10 species of warblers at Florida Lake.

These are two of my favorite mid-spring migration patches, and in most years, I am at Florida Lake Park nearly every day. But this “spring”, it has been lackluster at best; worthless at worst. There just aren’t many birds around.

But it is definitely the spring for warblers at feeders!  After our Facebook post on Wednesday garnered lots of attention and feedback, I thought I would expand a little, as clearly this is a very unusual – perhaps even unprecedented – event.

While Pine Warblers are regular at feeders, especially in early spring – and quite a few of us see some Yellow-rumped Warblers at feeders every year – we cannot recall a spring in which so many people are reporting so many of each at feeders throughout southern Maine.  In fact, many folks are reporting Yellow-rumped Warblers at their feeders for the “first time ever.”  Even more unusual, we’ve had reports of Palm Warblers at feeders, too – something that is almost never seen.
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Pine Warbler is our only regular, wide-spread “feeder warbler” in most seasons

At home in Pownal, we’re up to 20 Yellow-rumped (and our usual pair of Pines), with as many as 8 Yellow-rumps frequenting the feeders at the store this week. We see them annually on our feeders at home, especially on damp and cold mornings, but this year the flock has been slowly but steadily building and has been consistently present for almost 3 weeks. In both locales, a diversity of food is being consumed by this normally-insectivorous (at least in spring and summer) species. In rough order of popularity, they are eating: live mealworms, dried mealworms, insect suet, Nutsie and Mr. Bird nut blocks (especially the Bugs, Nuts,&Fruit block), peanut splits, Birdberry jelly, and even some seed. While a little hulled sunflower isn’t surprising, at home, we even have them gobbling up white proso millet from our tray feeder!
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In fact, until Thursday, I’ve had more Yellow-rumps at our feeders than on any morning at Florida Lake Park! And this is instructive.

Midges are not yet emerging from the pond there, and even through some Red Maples are finally blooming, insect activity has been minimal or even non-existent at this important early-flowering tree. The phenology (to put it simply, the timing of things in nature over the course of the year) is off –way off – this spring. Food resources are not keeping up with the calendar.
Red_Maple

The jet stream is stuck to our south, resulting in unseasonable cool and very unsettled weather, with a steady progression of storm systems and disturbances crossing our area. This pattern is impeding the progress of our spring, and of migrants arriving from the south (I have yet to even see a Black-and-white Warbler this year, for example!). But the cool and wet weather is resulting in natural food sources being well behind schedule, so the birds that are here – on time in many cases – are searching for alternative food sources. And therefore: warblers at feeders.
Jet stream, 4-30-19

This diagram of the jet stream from 4/30 shows the tight gradient and zonal flow that has been dominating our weather pattern and is preventing the arrival of warm temperatures and “spring.”

Or, as better explained by the National Weather Service office in Gray:

April_weather

Meanwhile, cherries, apples, crabapples, Serviceberry, and other important early-season flowering trees aren’t even close to blooming. Nectar, pollen, and even the petals and new buds are consumed, but more importantly for most of our migrants, those flowers attract insects that are then eaten by birds. The forecast is for some better conditions for migration in the coming days, and that will start to deliver us newly returning migrants, but those birds will also have fewer food sources than normal.

In seasons like this, the supplemental food from well-stocked feeding stations becomes more important than usual. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are already being reported; what would those birds do without a nectar feeder (no red dye!!!!) right now? And of course, who knows what kind of condition all of these hungry Yellow-rumped Warblers would be in right now without feeders.
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Soon, other migrants such as orioles, tanagers, catbirds, and a wide array of warblers (or Neotropical migrants) will be arriving, and they need food after their long journeys. Especially until spring catches up (those long-distance migrants have no idea how delayed our season is up here), feeders will continue to be important for migrants – and unexpectedly productive birding hotspots.
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There are a lot of hungry birds out there right now, and without a doubt, many of us will get to enjoy species we don’t usually get to see, or at least no so closely. So put your jacket on, come by the store for some high-quality foodstuffs (our insect suet is flying off the shelves right now!) and keep that feeding station well-stocked.  Our migrants thank you.
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2018 Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend

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The most abundant songbird throughout the weekend, a flock of 125 Cedar Waxwings would ball up each morning and then spread out through the island to feed.

My annual “Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend” battled highs seas (seriously, it was rough and we were all thankful it was only a 1-hr ride!) to arrive on the wonderful island of Monhegan on Friday, May 25th. Five days later, I had two new birds for my Monhegan list, a total of 97 species including 18 species of warblers, and way too much of the best pizza in Maine.
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After regaining our legs and equilibrium, we hit the ground running as always, birding our way to and from our hotel, lunch, and eventually dinner. No daylight was spared, and in doing so, we caught up with a few things, including the flock of 30 or so Red Crossbills, three of which perched nearby by close studies. Personally, however, I was most excited about 2 Eastern Bluebirds (at least one had been present for a while), my 210th species on Monhegan!  We had our first sighting of Warbling Vireo, which, like the 1-2 Field Sparrows – we saw everyday; both very uncommon on the island in spring. Apparently, I either started coming after – or perhaps only took better notes after – they last bred on the island. An island bird is a great way to start off the trip!\
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Red Crossbill – female.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak – female.


Eastern Kingbird

Friday calmly eased us into the weekend, but Saturday blew us away. It was just one of those great days, with birds seemingly everywhere, and many of them low and easy to see. Following a moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, there were a lot of new arrivals. Five Tennessee Warblers heard singing from one spot while tarrying at the Trailing Yew awaiting the coffee pot were a sign of things to come.

As is often the case on such flight days, we didn’t have to cover a lot of ground, as waves of birds were passing through the island and around town, pausing at just about every apple tree. It was hard to estimate the number of birds around, but there was a consistent south to north flow on the island, and several relatively-large flocks of the most common migrants of the day. I finally settled on 80 Red-eyed Vireos, 50 Blackpoll Warblers, and 20 Tennessee Warblers – impressive numbers of birds normally relegated to the tops of the highest oak trees, but today, more often than not, in low brush and short apple
trees.

Tennessee Warbler
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Blackpoll Warbler, male.

While it wasn’t the kind of day that Monhegan legends are made of, it was one of the “good ol’ days” where migrants were plenty, views were crippling, and birding was easy.  And all of that was punctuated by a few goodies, including an immature male Orchard Oriole, three Eastern Bluebirds together (two appeared to leave the island shortly thereafter), a lingering immature Great Cormorant, my first Common Nighthawk of the year fluttering off the high cliffs of White Head, 14 species of warblers including 4 Cape May and 2 Bay-breasted, and much more. And the day ended with two American Woodcocks heard calling and twittering from the lawn chairs of the Trailing Yew.  That’s what Monhegan in migration is all about!
apple_tree
On Monhegan and elsewhere, a good birding rule of thumb is that if you see a blooming apple tree, you should look in it.

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And that sunset from the Yew!

Not surprisingly, Sunday was slower, as light northeasterly winds precluded much in the way of overnight migration. And while it seemed that a lot of yesterday’s migrants had departed or melted into the woodlands, there were plenty of birds around, with a slight improvement in diversity, still plenty of Blackpoll Warblers, and a few highlights including a cooperative Green Heron, more Red Crossbills, a fly-by Black-billed Cuckoo, a Carolina Wren (finally; good to know one is here again), and a Northern Mockingbird (uncommon to rare out here) that we witnessed fly onto the island from behind, or perhaps over, Manana.
harbor

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Green Heron

The afternoon was rather slow overall, but we just kept seeing birds well: the Warbling Vireo at eye level, a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the garden, and continued good views of Tennessee Warblers.
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Field Sparrow
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White-crowned Sparrow
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Eastern Wood-Pewee

Monday the 28th was the last day of the tour, and with a smaller group in tow, we covered a lot of ground. While there was virtually no visible migration on the radar overnight on very light easterly winds once again, there were clearly a lot of new birds around (or at least, birds not seen the previous days) and we ended up with the best diversity of the trip – 71 species by day’s end.
Sunday am

In fact, by days’ end, we added 14 new species to our cumulative weekend list – not bad for a “slow” day and the end of a tour. And there was some quality to it, too: a continuing very late drake Long-tailed Duck that we finally caught up with…
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…a Brown Thrasher, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and especially the Brant that we found on Nigh Duck – my 211th all-time bird on Monhegan, and a new “island bird” for just about every birder on the island.
Brant,Monhegan,5-28-18_edited-1

On Tuesday, it was just Jeannette and I on a one-day vacation, mostly on our own, but meandering in and out of contact with several friends on the island. We awoke to dense fog, but that rapidly lifted, and the strong (for the date) flight overnight produced another new arrival of birds. It sure wasn’t Saturday, but there were plenty more Blackpoll Warblers around, and warbler diversity overall was the best of the weekend with a total of 16 species, highlighted by the Mourning Warbler we found by the Mooring Chain, and an impressive 15 Blackburnian Warblers.
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John and Terez found a (or relocated a brief late-last-week fly-by) Summer Tanager…
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…and we added a few new birds for the trip list including Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, and had more species of butterflies today than total butterfly individuals all weekend, including an early Monarch. It was also a really, really nice day!
last-day_view

The afternoon was slower, and Jeannette and I winded down our visit with good conversation, one last slice (or two) of Novelty pizza and another pint (or two) of Monhegan Brewing beer, and caught up with some good friends who had just arrived with tours of their own. It was a relaxing finish to a great weekend, and the gentle boat ride home was more relaxing than we really needed before driving – just a little different than our outbound trip!

So yeah, it was a good trip. And, after one day at work, I am definitely ready to go back!  At least I have two tours out here this fall. First, I have a full week with my WINGS tour, space on which is still available.

And there’s a little room left on our store’s annual Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend tour, which is only four months away!
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Yellow Warbler in an apple tree.

And finally, here is the daily tally:

5/25 5/26 5/27 5/28 5/29
BRANT 0 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck 0 1 1 1 1
Am. Blac Duck x Mallard hybrid 0 1 0 1 1
Mallard 15 10 12 16 20
Common Eider x x x x x
LONG-TAILED DUCK 0 0 0 1 0
Red-throated Loon 2 1 0 0 0
Common Loon 1 0 1 2 0
Northern Gannet 2 0 0 3 0
Double-crested Cormorant x x x x x
GREAT CORMORANT 0 1 0 0 0
Great Blue Heron 0 0 0 1 0
Green Heron 0 0 1 1 0
Bald Eagle 0 0 0 1 0
Osprey 0 0 1 0 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 0 0 0 1 1
Merlin 0 2 0 1 0
Sora 0 0 0 1 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 0 0 0 3
American Woodcock 0 2 0 0 0
Laughing Gull 1 1 8 20 8
Herring Gull x x x x x
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x x
Common Tern 1 0 0 2 2
Black Guillemot x x x x x
Mourning Dove x x x x x
Black-billed Cuckoo 0 0 1 0 0
Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 2 3 4 4
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Flicker 0 0 0 0 1
Great-crested Flycatcher 0 0 0 0 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 1 2 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 1
Least Flycatcher 1 2 2 2 2
Eastern Phoebe 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Kingbird 2 8 7 4 3
WARBLING VIREO 1 1 2 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2 80 10 6 8
Blue Jay x x x x x
American Crow x x x x x
Common Raven 2 1 2 2 2
Tree Swallow 4 4 4 4 4
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 1 1
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 2 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 1 1
Winter Wren 0 0 1 0 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 0 0 0
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER 0 1 0 0 0
EASTERN BLUEBIRD 2 3 1 1 1
Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin x x x x x
Gray Catbird x x x x x
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD 0 0 1 0 0
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 1
European Starling x x x x x
Cedar Waxwing 60 125 125 125 125
Tennessee Warbler 3 20 8 4 6
Northern Parula 2 6 4 5 10
Yellow Warbler 6 10 12 12 12
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 1 0 0 1
Magnolia Warbler 4 4 3 2 4
Cape May Warbler 0 4 2 1 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 0 1
Yellow-rumped Warblers 3 2 1 0 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 8 3 2 5
Blackburnian Warbler 0 0 1 2 15
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 2 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 12 50 25 20 40
Black-and-white Warbler 3 4 3 1 2
American Redstart 4 15 6 0 15
MOURNING WARBLER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Yellowthroat x x x x x
Wilson’s Warbler 0 2 1 0 1
Canada Warbler 0 0 1 0 0
SUMMER TANAGER 0 0 0 0 1
Chipping Sparrow 4 4 2 2 4
FIELD SPARROW 0 1 2 2 0
Savannah Sparrow 0 1 1 0 0
Song Sparrow x x x x x
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 1 1 1
Swamp Sparrow 2 2 2 2 2
White-throated Sparrow 0 0 0 1 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1 0 1 1 0
Northern Cardinal 4 x x x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2 2 3 3 1
Indigo Bunting 0 1 1 1 1
Bobolink 0 0 2 1 1
Red-winged Blackbird 12 x x x x
Common Grackle 15 x x x x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 1 3 3 4 2
Purple Finch 4 4 2 2 2
RED CROSSBILL (lone good recording identified as Type 10 by M. Young at Cornell). 30 0 5 h.o 2
Pine Siskin 0 1 1 1 0
American Goldfinch 10 x x x x

beets
I forgot to take a photo of the pizza – I ate it too quickly as usual – so here are some beautiful beets from the Island Inn.


And as migrants were passing through, many of the island’s breeding species were well underway, such as this Song Sparrow gathering food for its nestlings.

Three Days at Florida Lake Park

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Northern Parula

One of my favorite aspects of May is that there are “new” birds every day. Constant turnover as the flow of migratory songbirds, especially the long-distance Neotropical migrants, reaches its peak means “first-of-years” can be found almost every day. Even better, is the constant turnover and new arrivals almost anywhere we go birding.

…Including at local patches. And for me, there are few places I’d rather be than staying near home at Florida Lake Park in Freeport. I can get in several hours of birding and still make it to work in time, which is important in one of our store’s two busiest months. We’re luck to have this park only 12 minutes from our house, which makes for a perfect birding “patch.”
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Blackburnian Warbler

With an exceptionally busy week, my birding time was limited to the early mornings, but Florida Lake did not let me down. In fact, it was a lot of fun. With good diversity each day, and new birds arriving each night, there was always something new to look at. And, as is the case with loyal patch-working, the consistency of visitation makes for a nice education on the ebbs and flows of seasonal migrants.

Check out the scorecard of warblers (and a few other personal first-of-years) that I had each day this week, and note the subtle change in diversity and species dominance as the season advances. Numbers of individuals have not been huge, but numbers of species have been great for the second week of May.
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday, 5/9.
46F, dense fog, calm.
Radar down for maintenance.

(14 species of warblers)
25+ Yellow-rumped Warblers
10+ Northern Parulas
10 Common Yellowthroats
8 Black-and-white Warblers
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Ovenbirds
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
3 Northern Waterthrushes
2 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler

4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (FOY)

Thursday, 5/10.
43F, dense fog, calm.
Ambiguous radar due to presence of fog that moved inland overnight, but looked good for birds, too, and possibly large flight inland.

(14 species of warblers)
22 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Black-and-white Warblers
7 Common Yellowthroats
5 Ovenbirds
5 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Northern Parulas
4 Yellow Warblers
3 Pine Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 American Redstarts (FOY)
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Wilson’s Warbler (FOY)
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Wilson’s Warbler

Friday, 5/11.
52F, partly cloudy, moderate NW.
Dry cold front passed overnight with SW to S winds shifting to W to NW by 3:00am. Very strong flight early in overnight diminished rapidly after midnight.

(18 species of warblers; very good tally for the 11th of May here)
16 Black-and-white Warblers
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
10 Common Yellowthroats
7 Northern Parulas
7 Black-throated Green Warblers
7 Magnolia Warblers
6 Ovenbirds
4 Nashville Warblers
4 American Redstarts
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers
2 Pine Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Blackpoll Warbler (FOY)
1 Palm Warbler


And these radar images from midnight showed that it was going to be a great day!

Folks in Portland have been rewarded with daily visits to Evergreen Cemetery and/or Capisic Pond Park, while those closer to Biddeford have headed to Timber Point, for example. But regardless of where you are, there’s a local “patch” to be “worked,” or perhaps to be discovered. And there’s no better time than now!

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Palm Warbler

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Hooded Warbler, and Other April Rarities thanks to this Storm.

While outdoor enthusiasts, those with yardwork to do, Zane at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, and many others bemoaned the coastal storm that made for inclement weather from Tuesday through Friday morning, birders from the Mid-Atlantic to Nova Scotia were gearing up.

With the large (if not overall strong) area of low pressure riding up the Atlantic seaboard in late April when numerous species are now on the move, “Rarity Fever” symptoms were reported widely. As if recent “Megas” like Vermillion Flycatcher and Fieldfare here in Maine weren’t enough to stoke the fire, friends in Cape May began posting their “wish list” of possibilities. Storms such as these, sometimes called “slingshot” events can deposit birds further north than usual, facilitate the arrival of record-early migrants, and perhaps produce some astounding vagrant.

This far north, I simply had daydreams of southern “overshoots” that occur in most years – but especially following such storm systems – such as Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, and Hooded Warbler. But I also started thinking about things from further afield like Swainson’s Warbler, all sorts of terns, and maybe even something from even further away like a South American Fork-tailed Flycatcher who overshot its goal and then got caught up in the system. Maybe a Magnificent Frigatebird? Or perhaps something else on one of my predictions lists for next birds for Maine, and myself.

While weather isn’t truly the ultimate cause of many vagrants, it certainly facilities their arrival in far-flung places. And weather can certainly impact migrants and displace them slightly further afield than they usually range. And storms like this, moving out of the Bahamas, strengthening in the South Atlantic Bight, and marching up the coast has quite a history of producing some great birding. (I wrote more in depth about some of these factors and causes of vagrancy in Chapter 4 of my first book, How to Be a Better Birder).

Here are the wind maps and surface maps from Tuesday through Thursday.
surface map, 4-25-17
wind map, 4-25-17

surface map, 4-26-17
wind map, 4-26-17

surface map, 4-27-17
wind map, 4-27-17

So, I cleared my schedule, kept an eye on the listserves to our south during the rain on Wednesday, and hit the field on Thursday, starting at Biddeford Pool. A few years ago, one similar (but stronger) storm system yielded a Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Hooded Warbler in the neighborhood, and I had similar hopes for this morning.

I got really excited when one of the first birds I saw was a Magnolia Warbler (very early, perhaps by as much as 10-14 days!). Surprisingly, it was the ONLY warbler I saw all morning, and its early arrival is undoubtedly related to the storm. My first House Wrens were right about on schedule, however, and my first Veery was only marginally early.

However, in the same yard on Third Street, and loosely associating with said Veery, was not a bird I expected at all! In fact, I have a rule that I like to instill on my birdwalk participants: if it’s April in Maine and you see a dark-spotted Catharus thrush, it IS a Hermit Thrush. This was the exception to the rule.
L1090495_GCTH1L1090520_GCTH3

There’s no doubt it was either a Gray-cheeked or a Bicknell’s Thrush, but those birds can be very challenging to ID. Generally very secretive in migration, getting good looks – let alone good photos – is often impossible. And neither is expected to be walking around front yards in a neighborhood!

It is also incredibly early, as neither of these species is usually detected in Maine (if at all, especially Gray-cheeked) until the third week of May, and sometimes not until even later. This was beyond early, and certainly suggests its arrival here was at least partially influenced by the storm system.

The overall cool gray appearance without any hints of reddish-brown anywhere (no matter what light angle I viewed it in) immediately suggested Gray-cheeked Thrush, but the date and circumstances warranted careful study. I even posted the photos online, sent them directly to friends, and added them to at least one forum, hoping for additional feedback.
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However, other than the seemingly “dumpy” shape of the bird, nothing here suggests Bicknell’s Thrush to me. There’s just nothing warm anywhere in this bird’s plumage, and the cheeks are finally streaked gray, not more even washed warmish-brown as in most Bicknell’s. There’s no contrast within the wings, or especially between the uppertail and the rump, either.

Although this bird’s bill is fairly extensively pale, it isn’t as bright yellow as many Bicknell’s – although I can admit to not really being a fan of this fieldmark – and even has a hint of pinkish.

In other words, as several commenters mentioned, this really looks like a “classic” Gray-cheeked Thrush, with perhaps the appearance of a smaller size and more compact shape suggestive of the subspecies minimus that breeds mostly in Newfoundland and Labrador (it’s also the subspecies whose breeding range makes the most geographical sense to appear in Maine in spring). Of course, without measurements or vocalizations, there is still a little tinge of doubt in coming to a conclusive identification.

Now, a Bicknell’s Thrush, wintering somewhere in the northern West Indies or perhaps Cuba, beginning its trek to the mountains of the northeast, could have been entrained or “slingshot” by this storm. In fact, it would make a lot of sense. But Gray-cheeked Thrushes winter mainly in northern South America, and head north through Central America. That route would not seem to be effected by this storm. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, and the storm was only a proximate cause of its arrival in Biddeford Pool.

Anyway, elsewhere in Maine, a White-eyed Vireo was in Cape Elizabeth (present through Friday) and a Summer Tanager was reported in Southwest Harbor. Early migrants included a Scarlet Tanager in Ogunquit and one found deceased in Cape Elizabeth, along with a few scattered Indigo Buntings as far inland as North Yarmouth.

Meanwhile, to our south, birders in Cape May had a White Ibis (and, even more excitingly, a –our!? – Little Egret, a first state record that may not have anything to do with the storm); a Red Phalarope and a smattering of birds just beyond their normal range, such as Summer Tanager, were in Manhattan, and a Kentucky and Yellow-throated Warbler were on Cape Cod among some of the widespread reports of “early” migrant arrivals.

During the day on Thursday, the low pressure system continued to weaken and dissipate over the Gulf of Maine, with a snotty easterly and drizzly onshore flow continuing. A weak, slow-moving cold front finally cleared things out mid-day on Friday.
surface map, 4-28-17
wind map, 4-28-17

In the dense fog on Bailey Island in Harpswell early Friday morning, I found pockets of migrants (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows) but also several surprises, led by 1 male Hooded Warbler and a White-eyed Vireo, both along Elden Point Road – the kind of southern “overshoots” we have come to expect here in Maine from these type of storms.
L1090659_WEVI,BaileyIsland,4-28-17_edited-1

There were quite a few other migrants around, as well. A total of 9 Blue-headed Vireos included a flock of 6 together, and there were scattered other migrants such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Savannah Sparrows.

An early Yellow Warbler was also present, as were marginally-early (based on the current progress of the season) included 1 Common Yellowthroat and 1 Great-crested Flycatcher, while other personal FOY’s included more on-time Black-and-white Warbler (7) and Ovenbird (1-2). 11 Palm Warblers were my seventh species of warbler on the morning (plus Pine Warblers singing at home).

Elsewhere, another Hooded Warbler was found at Timber Point in Biddeford, and smattering of other early migrants included a Warbling Vireo on the Eastern Promenade (where a goodly number of birds were reported in the fog this morning)

I can only imagine what might have been found if every peninsula and island was covered over the past few days! So, with more birders hitting the field this weekend, and more people home from work to check on their feeders, I wonder what will be found. Maybe a Painted Bunting at a feeder? A Purple Gallinule in a marsh? But you know what I would like the most? A Swallow-tailed Kite over Bradbury Mountain during my hawkwatch workshop as part of the annual Feathers Over Freeport events!

Reference:
Clement, Peter. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

A Warbler (and Sparrow) Big Month. In December. In Maine.

December was unusually warm. In fact, it was record warm. And not just barely… records were shattered. The average temperature for the month was 38F. Not only was that a ridiculous 9 degrees above normal, it smashed the previous record of 24.8F (set in 2001). Surprisingly, despite the everlasting warmth, record daily highs were rare. Christmas Day was an exception, however, when temperatures soared to 62 in Portland, crushing the previous record high of 53, set just last year.

Our first measurable snow of the season didn’t fall until December 29th – the second latest date on record. Those 5-8 inches in southern Maine finally ushered in “real winter” and hopefully set the stage for a return to more normal conditions (although the last few days have once again been 5-10 degrees above normal).

Not surprisingly, such an unseasonable month resulted in some very-unseasonable birding. A variety of “lingering” or perhaps more accurately “pioneering” as Ned Brinkley, editor of North American Birds once dubbed it warblers in particular were making headlines.

So I decided to do a December Warbler Big Month. Because, well, warblers in December! In Maine!

With Tennessee, Yellow (2!), Nashville (2!), Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s on December 6th, I was half-way to my newly-set goal of 10 species for the month. The unusually mild fall has allowed more “lingering” birds to survive longer, and normal November hotspots are still hot (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, I waited until December 8th to decide to embark on this silly little hunt, so I had some catching up to do. There were some relatively easy ones (Yellow-rumped Warblers overwinter in a few places, along with “known” Blackburnian and Pine Warblers). That meant I just need to find an Orange-crowned Warbler (the second most-regular December warbler after Yellow-rumped) and then one other stray.

So off I went…

Not wanting to take any species for granted, I twitched a Pine Warbler that was reliably coming to a feeder in Brunswick on the 10th. I had to wait all of three minutes for it to arrive on my way back from walking Sasha. If only they were all this easy!
L1040178_PIWA2,JayStormers,Brunswick,12-10-15_edited-1

The next day I was once again at the Saco Yacht Club, looking for the Blackburnian Warbler (which I saw on Nov 30th – one day too early!). Activity didn’t pick up until the fog finally lifted after 10am, but I ran out of time. I did, however, enjoy another visit with the Tennessee, and 1 each of Yellow and Nashville Warblers. 2-3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also present, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler dropped in: my 7th species of the month! That and the Western Tanager were the consolation prizes (yes, I did just relegate the tanager to a consolation prize…shame on me… but I “needed” the Blackburnian!).
L1040189_WETA1,SacoRiverwalk,12-11-15_edited-1

I worked hard for an Orange-crowned Warbler in Portland on the 13th to no avail, but I did turn up the continuing Nashville Warbler along the Eastern Promenade (oh look, Portland ravaged vegetation here, too!) and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan St. I also took time to go visit the continuing Ross’s Goose along Stroudwater St in Westbrook – the third I have seen in Maine, and only the 6th or 7th state record.
IMG_6946_ROGO1,StroudwaterSt,Westbrook,12-13-15_edited-1(Phone-scoped image)

Continuing the quest, I had high hopes for the Southern York County Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. With a great territory that almost always turns up a good bird or three, Jeannette, Kristen Lindquist, and I worked the marsh, thickets, neighborhoods, and beach of the “Moody” sector. And we did indeed have a great day, including the 2nd Count Record Clay-colored Sparrow, the 5th Count Records of Baltimore Oriole and Lesser Scaup (21 – also a record high), and 6th Count Record of Dickcissel. But alas, not a single warbler. We didn’t even get a Yellow-rumped – for the first time, as there was virtually no fruit on the bayberry bushes along Ogunquit Beach or anywhere else.

When my friend Evan Obercian found a Yellow-throated Warbler at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on the 13th, my goal was definitely in sight (this was the “additional rarity” I needed), but in the weeks before Christmas, finding time was going to be a challenge. Luckily, a break in my schedule – and the rain – came on Thursday the 17th, so I got an early start and headed east.

I met up with Evan and Kristen and we wandered the grounds of the Samoset for almost two hours. I was not happy to find a stiff onshore breeze when I arrived, and it was increasing over the course of the morning. Then the mist rolled in, and soon, a steadier drizzle. There were not a lot of birds around (other than Canada Geese and Mallards on the golf course), and I was beginning to work on a plan to come back again. And not long thereafter, it called!

We spotted it in an isolated cluster of Scotch Pines, very near where Evan first saw it (and where we walked by 3 times already this morning). We followed it for about 30 minutes as it relocated to another grove before heading over to the hotel building, where it proceeded to forage in the sheltered porches of the four story building! Presumably gleaning insects from old webs in the corners and around furniture, clearly this bird had figured out a novel way of finding sustenance – especially on such a snotty day.

It was my 8th warbler of the month.
L1040215_YTWA3,Samoset,Rockport,12-17-15_edited-1L1040251_YTWA1,Samoset,Rockport,12-17-15_edited-1

I was back to the Saco Yacht Club with Luke Seitz the next morning, once again hoping for the Blackburnian. We worked the hillside and surrounding habitats hard, and absolutely cleaned up! The quick glimpse of a fly-by Western Tanager was more frustrating that satisfying, but we had great looks at the continuing Tennessee, Yellow, 2 Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and then, finally, the Blackburnian! My 9th warbler of the month!

Luke’s quote sums it up: “Let’s take a moment to appreciate what we are seeing and hearing around us right now. What. The. (Expletive deleted)!”

I had a little more time, so I made a quick trip down to Biddeford Pool. Working the neighborhood and thickets, I found a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4-5), a nice addition to the day list. Besides, up until now, I had only seen one all month!

I was in the midst of plotting “Operation Orange-crowned” when I wandered over to look at a chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A loud chip note caught my attention, and I looked up to see this Prairie Warbler – my 10th species of warbler for the month (and 7th of the day)!
L1040305_PRAW,BiddPool,12-18-15_edited-1

But did you really think I would stop at 10?

Hunting for Orange-crowns in Portland and South Portland on the 21st, I turned up a Baltimore Oriole on Sheridan Street (likely the same individual that Jeannette and I found here on 11/23), and along West Commercial Street (in what’s left of the vegetation here!), I had a Swamp Sparrow, and a Field Sparrow – my 8th sparrow of the month.
L1040314_FISP,WCommercialSt,Portland,12-21-15_edited-1

Hmmm…do I need to go for 10 sparrows, too?

Obviously!

So I went to Scarborough Marsh the next day, and quickly picked up a Savannah Sparrow along the Eastern Road Trail for #9.

Jeannette and I, post-holiday madness, continued the search on the 28th, combing the coast from Kittery through Wells. While nothing new was added, we did find three different Swamp Sparrows (two at Fort Foster, 1 in York Beach), and most excitingly, we relocated the Clay-colored Sparrow that we found on the CBC – a mere one block away. Once again, however, I managed only some quick phone-binned photos.
CCSP,Wells,12-28-15

A Northern Flicker and 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers were at Wells’ Community Park, while other highlights included 14 Sanderlings with Purple Sandpipers along Marginal Way in Ogunquit.

But before I knew it, it was December 31st. I still had yet to see an Orange-crowned Warbler (inconceivable!) for the month, and I was stuck at 9 species of sparrow. Therefore, Phil McCormack and I had a mission when we set out in the morning. We worked thickets and fields in Cape Elizabeth, with stops at various nooks and crannies in South Portland and Portland.

While we did not relocate the Lark Sparrow along Fessenden Road (it’s been a week since I have seen a report), we did have a Merlin there, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers at Crescent Beach State Park. Luke had an Orange-crowned Warbler at Camp Ketcha back on the 20th, but it was rather devoid of birds today.

Throughout the day, pockets of Song and American Tree Sparrows were indicative of recent movements and concentration following the snow and ice, but we were not prepared for the concentration of sparrows at a particularly fruitful patch. In fact, it was astounding!

75+ American Tree and 50+ Song Sparrows flew out of the field, joined by 10 or so White-throated Sparrows and 20 or more Dark-eyed Juncos. A continuing female Brown-headed Cowbird was there, along with at least 80 American Goldfinches and 30 or so House Finches. A Carolina Wren sang from the woods, and two Swamp Sparrows and a female Common Yellowthroat were in the marsh…I knew my 10th species of sparrow was here somewhere!
L1040338_mixed_sparrows,Alewives,CapeE,12-31-15

After a teasing brief, distant but highly suggestive look, I finally found it – a Chipping Sparrow! My 10th species of sparrow in December!
L1040361_CHSP,Alewives,CapeE,12-31-15

Shortly thereafter, a Savannah Sparrow (my second of the month) appeared – not just our 7th species of the day, but the 7th species in this one spot! Amazing! And now I had a 7 species of sparrow day and 10 species for the month to match my 7 species of warbler day and 10 species for the month! (The Double 7/10 Split?)

But of course, I still wanted an Orange-crowned Warbler, so we kept birding (well, after a long, celebratory lunch of course), and I tried a few more OC spots in Portland after Phil departed. I still can’t believe I saw 10 species of warbler in Maine in December, and none of them were Orange-crowned, but it seems a fitting finish to the month, and the year, was the continuing Baltimore Oriole and Gray Catbird sitting in the same tree in the Sheridan St lot!
BAORandGRCA,SheridanSt,Portland,12-31-15_edited-2

Meanwhile, some other highlights over the course of the month, of the non-warbler or sparrow variety, including more seasonal species, such as two Snowy Owls on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 12th, my first Iceland Gull of the season (finally) in Old Port on the 15th, a Snowy Owl at Biddeford Pool on the 18th, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a growing legion of wintering waterbirds.

Other signs of the unseasonably warm month included a lingering Double-crested Cormorant in Portland Harbor on 12/15, a few more lingering dabblers and Great Blue Herons than usual, but surprisingly, I didn’t see a Hermit Thrush all month – had they all moved on or would some now show up as the snow and ice pushes them to coastal migrant traps? But the most unexpected of them all was the Little Blue Heron that was found in the tiny Jordan Park Marsh in Ocean Park. I stopped by to visit it on the 22nd, about two weeks into its unseasonable stay.
L1040320_LBHE1,OOB,12-22-15_edited-1

Unfortunately, as much fun as this month has been – and as nice as it has been to not yet wear my parka – it’s impossible for me to ignore what this all means: the climate HAS changed. While no one month – warm or cold – is “climate change,” it is impossible for any rational person to not realize that our weather has become more and more unpredictable, less and less “normal,” and prone to more and more wild swings in seasonal and within-season variability. No, a hot day doesn’t mean Global Warming, nor does a snowstorm mean there’s not (Please James Inhoffe, please go away and shut the hell up). But the trends are real, very apparent, and very much here. Now. And they are most definitely affecting birds and bird migration.

That being said, I would not use these warblers as an example of this. Instead, I think the fact that here in December and they are still ALIVE, is however, a perfect example of just how ridiculously warm our weather has been! The mechanisms that delivered these birds to the Saco Riverwalk and elsewhere are likely varied. Perhaps the deformed, crossed-bill of the Tennessee Warbler impedes its ability to efficiently forage and put on the necessary weight for its next leg of migration. Perhaps the extensive southerly winds that have ushered in this warm air also facilitated the arrival of a 180-degree misoriented migrant Yellow-throated Warbler, and I would propose, the Prairie Warbler as well (I think the rare-but-regular late fall Prairies are actually birds from our south) that were “messed up” and flew the wrong way. But it is also possible that some of these warblers are “reverse migrants” that started to go south and then turned around, but I doubt it – facultative migrants like swallows and blackbirds do it, but I don’t know of any known proof that long-distance Neotropical migrants pull it off (on purpose, anyway).

These mechanisms occur every year, and rare warblers are found at places like the Saco Riverwalk every fall. However, they’re usually found in October and November and either move on (or, more likely perish) by now. So I think what’s remarkable is not that all of these warblers are here, but that they are still ALIVE well into December – and that is most definitely due to the mild winter so far. There have still been insects to be found, there’s plenty of fruit left to consume, and fewer calories have been spent to keep up internal body temperatures, meaning there are fewer calories that need to be consumed.

Migration in long-distance, obligate migrants is not triggered by temperatures, but trigged by physiological changes directed by hormones responding to the changing length of the day. In the fall, southbound migration is triggered in part by a response to changes in fat loading to fuel these epic journeys. At some point, the controls are switched away from building the fat reserves that are necessary for migration. I don’t know at what point in the season “pioneering” warblers lose the ability (perhaps, even the “desire”) to migrate. My guess is that even if you pumped these birds full of fat, at this point, they won’t be going anywhere – this is now their winter territory, for better, or for most likely, worse.

So what does this mean besides some amazing early winter birding? Good question. Conventional wisdom says these birds are all “evolutionary dead ends” that will soon be eliminated from the gene pool (it has to get cold sometime, right? If they’re not picked off by a Sharp-shinned Hawk or all of the damn outdoor cats that hunt there). However, with the effects of Global Climate Change clearly upon us, and not reversing anytime soon (if ever), perhaps these “pioneers” are the wave of the future. Maybe someday, warblers will successfully overwinter in Maine, and return to their breeding grounds to pass on those genes.

Maybe. Afterall, without vagrancy, we would not have Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s finches; distant islands would be sans all landbirds. Perhaps phenomena like “reverse migration” and this pioneering thing will allow the next wave of adaption to a changing climate. Of course, never before in the history of life on earth, has this change occurred so rapidly, and we have little evidence suggesting long-distant migrants can adapt this quickly – it’s going to take more than a few individuals of 10 species of warblers.

Sparrows, however, aren’t obligate long-distance migrants that are “programmed” to leave at a prescribed time. Instead, they are more flexible in their movements, and being seed-eaters, they aren’t reliant on warm-weather dependent insects. As long as seeds are available, and with the complete dearth of snow, they most certainly have been, those that linger can do just fine. White-throated, American Tree, Song, and Dark-eyed Juncos are all regular parts of our winter avifauna in southern Maine, lingering or “pioneering” Swamp Sparrows are regular here and there, and every now and then a Lark Sparrow (a “drift migrant/vagrant” from the Midwest) or Field Sparrow spends the winter in the state. Field and Clay-colored are also rare-but-regular in late fall/early winter, so once again, the presence of 10 species of sparrows is also not in and of itself caused by the record temperatures, but it is most definitely another sign of how mild – and especially snow-free – it has been.

But this is all a blog for another time…this blog was supposed to be about warblers (and sparrows!). In Maine. In December. And that’s amazing. Or, as Luke said, “What. The. (Expletive deleted).”