Tag Archives: waterfowl

Twelve Birds on Tap – Roadtrips in 2018!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on twelve great outings for 2018 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!
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For 2018, we have added two brand-new tours, and significantly changed several additional itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Classics such as Spring and Fall editions of “Ducks and Draughts” and “Grassland and Grains” remain unchanged, while tweaks to tours such as “Gulls and Growlers” (now in January), and “Warblers and Wort” (now in Portland!) will make these new favorites even better. And we think the newest additions: “Harlequins and Hops” and “Sod-pipers and Sips” are not to be missed!

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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So without any further ado, the twelve – count ‘em, 12! – tours for 2018 are as follows:

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, January 6th, 2018 – 9:00am-3:30pm.

(Snowdate: none)
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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles. Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks. In addition, if time permits, we’ll seek out some Snowy Owls if they are being seen near our route.

Breweries: Sebago Lake Distillery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Harlequins and Hops” (*New Tour!)
Sunday February 11th – 10:00am to 4:00pm

SNOW DATE: Sunday February 18th
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The first new itinerary of 2018 takes advantage of some of the amazing birding opportunities right here in Greater Portland in the depths of winter. We’ll begin on the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, where the stunning Harlequin Duck joins a wide array of winter seaducks, from Common Eider to all three species of scoters. We’ll also look for Purple Sandpipers, Black Guillemots, Red-necked and Horned Grebes, Common and Red-throated Loons, and much more. Depending on weather and ice conditions, our second stop may include more seaduck searching, or we might check some of the concentrations of gulls in Portland and and South Portland to look for Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, or perhaps seek out a lingering dabbler among the city park Mallard aggregations. We’ll remain flexible to take advantage – or seek shelter – from whatever winter weather may be at hand.

Breweries: Eighteen Twenty Wines and Goodfire Brewing Company in Portland.

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday March 4th – 9:00am to 3:30pm

SNOW DATE: Sunday March 11th
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 8 – 9:00am to 3:30pm.

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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling in Newcastle.

Warblers and Wort (*New Itinerary!)
Sunday May 6th – 8:00am to 2:00pm

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May means warbler migration, and the new destination for Warblers and Wort will hit two of Maine’s most famous springtime migrant traps, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery and nearby Capisic Pond Park. Two oases in the urban jungle, featuring water sources and a mix of various habitats, help concentrate migrant birds that found themselves in or over the city come sunrise. After migrating all night, tired travelers looks for refuge: food, water, and shelter, and urban greenspaces are absolutely critical for refueling. While we’re a little early in the month for the largest diversity of warblers, early May could produce incredible numbers of some of the first arrivals, especially Palm and Yellow-rumped. 10-12 species of warblers are certainly possible by this early date, depending on the progression of the season. However, other migrants, such as sparrows, raptors, and other Neotropical Migrants such as orioles and tanagers are also on the move, increasing our chances of seeing a diversity of species. If the cemetery’s apples and cherries are already blooming, we may be in for quite a treat as these are absolute magnets for hungry migrants. It’s sometimes hard to leave Evergreen on a busy spring morning, but if we do, it will be for the very short trip over to Capisic Pond Park, where we’ll continue to seek migrants of all shapes and sizes.

Breweries: Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham and Hardshore Distillery in Portland.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 4th – 8:00am to 2:30pm.

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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow in Lyman and Stone Fort Distilling in Biddeford.

“Terns and Taps” (New name, but same great tour!)
Sunday, July 16th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.

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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds. Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barreled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Steins” (New name, but same classic tour!)
Sunday, August 13th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.

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The original BoT Roadtrip! in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Sod-pipers and Sips”
Sunday September 9th – 8:00am to 3:00pm

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Our second brand-new tour of 2018 takes us inland to the farms and fields of Fryeburg Harbor. We’ll be a little more specific in our targets for this trip, as we’re heading this way to seek the sought-after group of birds affectionately known as “Grasspipers,” but for both accuracy and alliteration, we’re calling them “sod-pipers.” Our goals include the uncommon American Golden-Plover, but we’re heading to one of the most reliable places in the state for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Baird’s Sandpiper, two rare-but-regular species that visit us in very small numbers each fall. While Killdeer is probably our only sure bet, other shorebirds are always hoped for, with our focus on the fields and turf farms that are best for Buff-breasted and Baird’s. In the open areas we’ll also look for Sandhill Cranes (a flock usually begins to assemble here by early September), American Pipits, and Horned Larks, while riparian edges could produce some migrant warblers. Raptors are regular as well, including Bald Eagles and American Kestrels.

Breweries: Saco River Brewing Co and TBA.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 14th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.

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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two. This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Blue Current Sake Brewery and Tributary Brewing Co. in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 18th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.

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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation” (Subject to Change)
Sunday, December 10th – 9:00am to 3:30pm.

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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including easy on-line registration), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website.

And for a little history about how this partnership developed and continues to grow, check out this blog entry from early 2016, as we introduced the first full season on 6 Roadtrips.

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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An Incredible 2017 “Fall Ducks and Draughts!”

One of the most popular Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! is our annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” One of the original two BoT – Roadtrips! back in 2015, this popular outing visits Sabattus Pond near the peak of fall waterfowl migration with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

It rarely disappoints, but today it far surpassed expectations! We began at the south beach, where an American Coot was a surprise. However, more surprising was the flock of shorebirds littered around the south end. While many of the 30 or so Dunlin took off and kept going, about 10 White-rumped Sandpipers returned and landed right in front of the group, no more than about 30 feet away! We were able to carefully study the progression from juvenile to 1st winter plumage, with most individuals, such as these two, mostly still in colorful juvenile plumage (with one bigger, grayer Dunlin in the background).
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With our focus back on waterfowl, we began to sort through the masses, starting with 6 spiffy Northern Pintails joining the Mallards nearby, while one lone female Green-winged Teal quickly paddled away. 18 Ring-necked Ducks loafed just a little further offshore, providing a good intro to the genus Aythya. Sabattus Pond is famous for its legions of Ruddy Ducks, and this cute little “stiff tail” was out in full force. We had a couple of hundred nearby, but a distant raft of many hundreds remained just a little too far to enjoy. We also began our comparison of Greater and Lesser Scaup, and took a moment to learn about the Chinese Mystery Snail that makes up a large percentage of the food source of all of the diving ducks we were here to enjoy.

I had set the over/under for waterfowl species at 13.5, and our list quickly began to grow: Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers a’plenty, but surprisingly only one Common Merganser and a mere three Canada Geese. American Black Ducks and a single hen American Wigeon made for a tally of 13 species of waterfowl; just falling short of covering the spread…in part because we never did make it to our third stop!

Over at Martin’s Point Park on the southwest side of the pond, we worked the dabbling ducks and enjoyed stunning Hooded Mergansers. Then, I finally had a nice, close group of the two scaup species in perfect light to give us a lesson in how to identify this challenging species-pair.

We began to walk closer, I began the lecture, and then I heard a call note from the trees that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not a Yellow-rumped Warbler – the only expected warbler species at this season – and it’s sharp tone was very suggestive. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be here, whatever it was, and my suspicions of its identity were soon proven correct when a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler popped out!
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Sticking close to the trunk of some large Eastern White Pines, it foraged within a small mixed-species foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets before eventually disappearing towards the neighborhood.

This is a real rarity in Maine, and because of the white in the front of the supercilium, we know it is of the interior subspecies albilora, and therefore not likely the result of the recent storm system. While there was unprecedented three together on Monhegan earlier in the month, this is quite the rarity, especially so far inland, and especially in Androscoggin County (I couldn’t help but wonder if there has ever been a record of this species anywhere in the county).

Unfortunately, in the meantime, some fisherman came to the shoreline, and the closest scaup departed. We did have a slightly farther raft to work through, but I ended up having to employ my rudimentary artistic skills to explain how to differentiate the two species!
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It was truly hard to leave the pond today, and I of course couldn’t help but wonder what was around the next corner, but it was time to switch gears, turn our attention to Dawn – our driver and beer guide today – and make our way over to Baxter Brewing Company, you know, to celebrate our vagrant warbler discovery!

At Baxter, housed in one of the beautifully restored mills down by the Androscoggin River, we enjoyed five samples of their most popular beers. We learned about their philosophy and history – including the noteworthy fact that they were the first 100% canning brewery in Maine – and sampled some of their best selling beers, such as Pamola pale, Tarnation lager, Per Diem stout, and the venerable Stowaway IPA. We also sampled Ceremony Green Tea IPA which surprised a lot of people and showed off the creativiTEA (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the brewery.
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We stepped outside of the brewery and were once again greeted by the local Peregrine Falcon atop the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center. After a few minutes of enjoying it through the scope, we hit the road, and discussed the beers we had just sampled. People’s favorites were rather evenly divided, aligning with their preferred style of beer, showing that Baxter really does offer something for everyone.

We followed the Androscoggin River towards the coast, and soon arrived at Maine Beer Company. MBC needs no introduction – at least if you are into IPAs or hoppy pales – but with so many folks on the trip today from “away” and/or making their first visit to this popular destination, we started things off with none other than their Peeper – their first brew that got it all started.
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Spenser came out to introduce the beers and tell us all about how MBC is dedicated to “do(ing) what’s right.” And that philosophy transcends the beer.
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They graciously offered everyone a choice of their next samples (I of course followed Lunch with Another One) and then Spenser really rolled out the red carpet for us, taking the group on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of their brewhouse…including a sneak peek at the massive new expansion that is underway. Clearly, Spenser’s excitement was evident and the group came out of this special tour absolutely bursting with MBC enthusiasm, and lots of promises to be back soon.

Thirteen species of waterfowl, many up close and personal. A most-unexpected rarity that no one in the group had seen in Maine before – and for some, a “life bird.” Urban Peregrine Falcon. Baxter Brewing Co and Maine Beer Company. Yeah, this is what Birds on Tap – Roadtrips are all about!

There are still some spaces left for the 10th and final Roadtrip of 2017, “Farms and Fermentation” coming up on Sunday, December 10th. And stay tuned – we’ll soon be announcing all TWELVE BoT Roadtrips for 2018!

Northern Pintail x Mallard Hybrid in York (Wood Ducks, too)!

While birding The Nubble on Tuesday (not seeing Dovekies or Thick-billed Murres), Jeannette and I chatted with a local birder who turned us onto a Dickcissel that was in the House Sparrow flock at the entrance to Sohier Park.
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Chatting a little longer, we learned of some overwintering Wood Ducks in York. Now, the occasional overwintering Woodie in Maine is not a shock, especially when a mild winter finally turns cold. In fact, I have seen a few this winter, including a bird that was at South Portland’s Mill Creek Cove for almost a month. But the location he mentioned was new to me, and I like learning about new places.

So we found our way over to tiny Abbott’s Pond, where, well, a few ducks overwinter.
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During our visit, we chatted with the landowner, who had come to feed the flock. He said it started with a few geese and other ducks that “people dropped off,” and then it was discovered by wild ducks. Mallards love little places like this, and in winter, the numbers swell, as if often the case where handouts are offered. And A LOT of food is offered here, fed daily from a silo holding three tons of waterfowl feed!

A bubbler and the heat from so many birds keeps some water open, which keeps numbers up during the middle of winter (or, as in now, when winter finally arrives).

And what’s so fun, from a birding perspective, about places like this where multitudes of Mallards congregate (such as Riverbank Park in Westbrook or Mill Creek Park in South Portland), there are bound to be a few unusual species now and again. This winter, a pair of Wood Ducks was recently joined by a second drake.
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Comfortable among the habituated inhabitants, the photography opportunities are unparalleled. But even more exciting, we spotted this stunning drake Northern Pintail x Mallard hybrid that has been present here, on and off, for a month or so. This rare (especially in the East) combination is not something I had seen before, so we were excited to photograph and study it!
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But even if it’s just a bunch of Mallards – the gorgeous drake would be more people’s favorite duck if it wasn’t so common – to enjoy, I know I will be back (in fact, I’ll probably be adding this unassuming little spot to the itinerary of Sunday’s Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Seaducks and Suds!” which does, by the way, have a few spaces left).

So a casual conversation led to finding one of my new favorite southern Maine birding hotspots. Who knows what has shown up here before, but I know I’ll find out what shows up next!

Putative Ring-necked Duck x Scaup Sp Hybrid on Sabattus Pond, 4/11/16

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On Monday, April 11th, Jeannette and I found a fascinating duck, clearly of the genus Aythya, at Sabattus Pond in Sabattus.  Off of Martin’s Point Park in the southwest corner of the pond, it was hanging out with a mixed flock of Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup.

Appropriate enough, because this bird appears to be a hybrid between Ring-necked Duck (RNDU) and one of the two scaup species! Unfortunately, it was windy, a light rain was falling, and so my phone-scoped attempts at the moderately-distant bird don’t capture this critter in all of his glory. But, they’re good enough for “documentation,” and they offer a chance to do a little analysis.

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2nd from the left, with Ring-necked Ducks.

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2nd from the left, with Lesser Scaup pair and a drake Ring-necked Duck

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With Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and a Bufflehead. Note the apparent size (see below).

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The hybrid (right), with Ring-necked Duck and overexposed Lesser Scaup.

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Note the dark gray back (intermediate between RNDU and scaup) and the gentle curve on the upper edge of the sides, very much like a RNDU. The sides and flanks are very pale gray, also intermediate between RNDU and breeding plumages scaup. There’s also a narrow whiter area on the front of the chest-sides, suggestive of the distinct white “spur” on the sides of RNDU.

The head shape is also intermediate, with a decidedly peak-headed appearance that is closer to RNDU than either scaup, with a fairly straight nape and the peak at the rear of the head. The bill has a wide, but diffuse pale subterminal ring, suggestive of RNDU as well, but not as crisp or narrow (and no additional ring at the base of the bill). I could not see the width of the black tip at this distance, nor did I have the ability to see if there was a maroon ring around its neck (the namesake, if not very field-worthy, ring-neck of the Ring-necked Duck!).

So, it’s clearly part RNDU. Whether the other half is Greater Scaup (GRSC) or Lesser Scaup (LESC), well, that is another question entirely. While RNDU x LESC are the expected species pair (in large part due to an extensively-overlapping breeding range) that Reeber calls “regular,” RNDU x GRSC have also been recorded.

I never saw the spread wing, and I think a detailed and sharp photo of the wingbar could shed some light on the subject. Short of that – or preferably, a DNA analysis – we can’t say for sure, but there were two interesting observations.

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Note the Lesser Scaup on the left and the apparent size of the hybrid compared to it and the nearby Ring-necked Ducks. 

For one thing, in all lights, the head had a distinctly greenish sheen; never purple.  While head color on scaup is notoriously misleading and the interpretation of it is of little value for ID in most conditions, I found it interesting that when seen side-by-side with LESC, it still always looked green as the LESC looked purple (as does RNDU). However, Reeber notes that this hybrid pairing can have a green sheen as well. Remember, not all characteristics of hybrids are necessarily intermediate.

However, the one thing that was intriguing about the possibility of a GRSC  as the other parent (documented, but likely exceptionally rare) is that in almost every angle, the hybrid was noticeably larger than the LESC it was occasionally with, and it usually appeared larger than the RNDUs. Unfortunately, no GRSC were present – they were all on the other side of the pond today. If this bird was indeed larger than RNDU, it’s hard to imagine that one parent was the even smaller LESC. But with a scope shaking in the wind, the play of light on light colors verses dark, and the inherent subjectivity of the judgment of size, I would not swear to it that this bird was large enough to rule out LESC as one of the two parents.  Therefore, I am most comfortable with calling this a Ring-necked Duck x Scaup species hybrid. A rare and beautiful bird regardless!

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The hybrid (left) with Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck.

Reference:
Reeber, Sebastien. 2015. Wildfowl of Europe, Asia, and North America. Christopher Helm: London.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Spring Ducks and Draughts 2016

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One of the trips’ highlights was the two dozen Northern Pintail at the Mouth of the Abby. We enjoyed the gorgeous males, but also took time to appreciate the subtle beauty of the hens. We also learned how to separate “all the brown ducks” but considering shape and size. Female Northern Pintail, April 2009 – Riverbank Park, Westbrook.

On Sunday, our “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” tour headed up to the spring waterfowl hotspot of Merrymeeting Bay. The Spring edition of “Ducks and Draughts” focused on the multitudes of waterbirds that congregate on this productive body of water with our partners at the Maine Brew Bus.

With the abnormally (even by modern standard) early spring, ice was out on ponds, lakes, and rivers to our north well over a month ago. Not surprisingly then, diving ducks were few. Dabbling ducks, however, are still present in great numbers, taking advantage of the food resources (last year’s wild rice and other seeds) in the fine mud of the bay’s extensive flats.

After a quick stop at Bowdoinham’s Mailley Park (Double-crested Cormorants, Common Mergansers, and my first Pied-billed Grebe of the year), we moved over to the famous “Mouth of the Abby,” where the Abagadasset River drains into the bay proper. And it most definitely did not disappoint: About 1,000 American Black Ducks were joined by 200 or so Green-winged Teal, at least 100 Mallards, a goodly tally of 24 Northern Pintails, a dozen more Common Mergansers, 8 Canada Geese, a mere 8 Ring-necked Ducks, and a pair of Wood Ducks. 6 Killdeer also foraged on the flats, and the second Bald Eagle of the day passed right overhead.
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With Jill hard at work taking photos for the paper.

The three Wood Ducks in the small pond on Brown’s Point Road flushed as the bus approached, and they didn’t let us get much closer on foot as we walked back. A Cooper’s Hawk was well seen, however.
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After squiggling cross-country to Newcastle, we pulled into the brewery and rustic tasting room of Oxbow. After a couple of samples – Bandolier, their spring printemps was one of the favorites; it certainly was mine – Rocky took us on a tour of the brewery, and a part of the impressive property.
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Oxbow’s connection to the land is evident, from the sour cherry orchard to the welfare of their livestock (pigs coming soon!). We learned about the philosophy of their beer, and some of the new and creative things they’re working on.
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Sorry folks, not “countable!”

After another round, it was back on the road, as we weaved our way through scenic rural vistas to Brunswick, where we made a quick stop at Bay Bridge Landing Park. We hoped to add a previously-reported Eurasian Wigeon to our waterfowl list, but the tide was already too high, and the low pass from a Bald Eagle – our 6th or 7th of the day – probably did not help matters! However, a low pass of an Osprey, hovering right overhead, was a nice consolation prize.
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Lively Brewing at Ebenezer’s Brewpub was our second brewery stop of the day. Kelso offered up three samples of some of their representative beers, guiding us through the different styles and some of the intriguing and creative options they play with here.
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Whether it’s the birding or the beer-ing portion of these tours, there really is never enough time, so before we all knew it (time really does indeed fly when you are having fun; please excuse the pun) it was time to head back to Freeport and Portland, bringing another fun and successful Birds on tap – Roadtrip! to a close.

So that’s my recap on the trip. But this tour welcomed Meredith Goad, the food writer from the Portland Press Herald on board. You know you have a unique collaboration when you have a food writer wanting write about a birding tour! For Meredith’s perspective, comments from the participants, and more information about this truly unique birds and beer tour concept, check out Meredith’s excellent article in today’s paper!

Needless to say, the rest of the year’s four tours are filling up fast! For more information on those, see the Tours, Events, Programs, and Workshops Page of our website, and check out my blog about all of this year’s journeys. And don’t forget about Birds on Tap – Monhegan! in May.

My beautiful picture

No matter how common they might be, there are few things more stunning than a drake Mallard!

Simpson’s Point, Brunswick – Our Local Duck Hotspot.

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Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and Greater Scaup (Vermont, March 2014)

Simpson’s Point in Brunswick, at the northern end of Middle Bay (Delorme Map 6: C-3) has become one of the best waterbird-watching spots in Casco Bay over the last few years. That trend continues this spring, with outstanding concentrations of waterfowl.

While there might not be a rarity or an addition to your year list right now, I highly encourage a visit to see the concentration (a scope is highly recommended), and it is certainly ripe for a rarity to be discovered!

I visited the point twice times this week, each yielding some remarkable counts (my attempts to visit it for a third time today was thwarted by unexpectedly dense fog). The first number is the count or estimate from 3/26 with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group, and the second is from Monday, 3/27 with Jeannette.

– Mixed Black and Surf Scoters (roughly 60-65% Black: 1200/2100. A really incredibly count for the bay, this is by far the largest raft(s) of scoters I have seen within Casco Bay.
– Mixed Scaup (at least 80% Greater, but plenty of Lesser usually visible): 650/650. Down a few hundred birds from the massive overwintering flock.
– American Black Duck: 100/40
– Common Goldeneye: 75/40
– Bufflehead: 50/125
– Common Eider: 40/60
– Horned Grebe: 43/30
– Red-breasted Merganser: 10/25
– Common Loon: 5/3
– White-winged Scoter: 0/2

While more birder attention has definitely worked in its favor, it was always a well-known duck-watching hotspot. However, these numbers are outstanding, even based on the renewed attention to this spot over the last few years. I wonder what has changed? Sure, this winter the water was open and that kept the scaup around, but what is attracting all of these scoters? Is there a new food source? Is there a lack of some food somewhere else?

But it’s the oversummering birds (exceptionally rare for the state birds in summer like scoters, Red-necked Grebes and Red-throated Loons, and Long-tailed Ducks) that really suggest the uniqueness of this area. While rarities over the past few years, including Eared Grebe and Pacific Loon, have put this spot “on the map,” it is the numbers of common birds and small numbers of oversummering “winter” ducks that is most noteworthy. Is it nothing more than more birders paying more attention in mid-summer? I certainly am.

So go out and have a look, and perhaps you’ll get there on the day the scaup are close enough to pull out a Tufted Duck!

Meanwhile, nearby Wharton Point is always worth a visit, and can easily be combined with a trip to Simpson’s. Currently, it is hosting more typical-for-here large numbers of dabblers, led by American Black Ducks (800/495). On 3/28, Jeannette and I teased out a pair of American Wigeon and 1 Green-winged Teal from the masses, while 8 Dunlin were on the flats.

So in between the excitement of new arrivals, hawkwatching, and the anticipation of the diversity of May, I know I’ll be taking some more time to do a little local ducking!

Common Teal to Northern Lapwing; American Woodcocks to Wood Ducks: 5 Great Days of Spring Birding!

Well, that was a helluva good five days of birding! And, I covered a heckuva lot of ground in the process. Yes, spring – and spring birding – is finally upon us.

After checking local hotspots on Thursday morning (lots of Killdeer and my first Eastern Phoebes), I began my trek eastwards after lunch. I was giving a presentation and book signing at the Maine Coastal Islands NWR headquarters in Rockland, thanks to an invite from the Friends of Maine Seabird Islands. On the way, I hit a handful of water overlooks, with the only birds of note being my FOY Fish Crows in downtown Brunswick and FOY Double-crested Cormorant in Damariscotta Harbor.

But then I arrived at Weskeag Marsh, and that was most productive. Highlighted by two drake “Eurasian” Green-winged (aka “Common”) Teal, a nice diversity of waterfowl also included two pairs of American Wigeon and a pair of Northern Pintail. I flushed two American Woodcocks and four Fox Sparrows from the short trail that leads to the viewing blind. Afterwards, I found a single 2nd-Cycle Glaucous Gull with four 1st-cycle Iceland Gulls still at Owl’s Head Harbor.

Here’s a poorly phone-scoped image of one of the Common Teal, showing the bold horiztonal white bar across the wing and the lack of a vertical white bar on the side of the chest.
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Spending the night with friends, I then met up with staff from the Coastal Mountains Land Trust for a walk around their Beech Hill Preserve to discuss and offer suggestions as to augment and improve bird habitat there. A spiffy male Northern Harrier and a Northern Shrike (my 11th of the season!) were me rewards.

I then took the (very) long way home, checking farm fields on my way to the Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta. Although 900-1000 gulls were present at the dump – a nice number for here – all but 5 were Herring Gulls (plus three Great Black-backed and 2 Ring-billed). At least 10 Bald Eagles were still present however.

Working my way down the Kennebec, I checked the mouth of the Abagadasset River in Bowdoinham, which I found to still be frozen. Nearby Brown’s Point, however, had open water, and duck numbers were clearly building, including 44 Ring-necked Ducls and 50+ Green-winged Teal. Back at the store soon thereafter, I found our Song Sparrow numbers had grown from four to 12 overnight.

As the rain and drizzle ended on Saturday morning, the birdwalk group convened, and we headed inland (for the first time since December!) to work the “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.” Highlighted by two Cackling Geese that were first located on Thursday (a couple of hours after I checked the fields in the fog, dammit!) and yet another Northern Shrike (our third week in a row with a shrike on the birdwalk!), this very productive outing is fully covered on our website, here – as are all of our birdwalk outings.
IMG_3244_CACG,GreelyRd,Cumberland,4-5-14One of the two Cackling Geese, phone-scoped through the fog.

Normally, the birdwalk’s return to the store is the end of my birding on Saturday, but not this week. Soon, Kristen Lindquist, Barb Brenneman, and I raced off to Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth to twitch a real “mega,” the stunning Northern Lapwing! Discovered Friday evening, the bird was enjoyed by many throughout the day on Saturday, but it was not seen again on Sunday despite much searching. This is the 4th record of lapwing in Maine, and the third in just three years! I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have seen the last two. My distantly-phone-scoped photos of the Cape Elizabeth bird hardly do this stunner justice.
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Yet even still my birding day was far from over, as Saturday night was our annual “Woodcocks Gone Wild at Pineland Farms” dusk trip. Keeping an eye on the weather (the rain had cleared, but increasing winds were a concern), Jeannette and I wondered if we should postpone the outing. Moments after we decided to give the go-ahead in the afternoon, the winds began to gust – a lot. Then, at about 5pm, they died. When our walk got underway at 6:30, there was a little breeze once again, but it was not enough to keep the woodcocks from going wild! In fact, it’s possible that a little wind kept the birds’ display a little lower – especially the first handful of flights – which resulted in quite possibly the best show we’ve ever had here! At least 7 males were displaying, including one repeatedly right over our heads – and at least two more silent birds were observed flying by. Add to this lots of American Robins and a Northern Shrike before the sun set, and the group was treated to a wonderful spring evening performance!

Next up was Androscoggin County on Sunday with my friend Phil McCormack. While our primary target was a pancake breakfast at Jillison’s Farm in Sabattus, we were also hoping for a Redhead that was discovered on the outlet stream at Sabattus Pond a few days ago. Well, the pancake chase (the more important one!) was successful, but the Redhead chase was not. However, a very good day of birding was enjoyed nonetheless.

Scattered ducks on the river including Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers, a couple of pockets of Tree Swallows, and other assorted species were trumped by two flooded fields along Rte 136 in Durham. With ponds and marshes still frozen, ducks are stacking up at more ephemeral – but unfrozen – habitats.  Thousands of ducks and geese were present, mostly Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks.  However, between the two fields, we tallied an unbelievable 273 Wood Ducks (probably about quadruple my previous high count in the state). Two immature Snow Geese were my first of the year, and very rare away from the coastal marshes in the spring. 18 Green-winged Teal, 12 Ring-necked Ducks, 10 Northern Pintail, and two pairs of American Wigeon were also among the masses.
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Although these phone-scoped photos hardly do the scene justice, they should at least give you a taste of what things looked like.

After brunch, we birded the west side of the Androscoggin River (more Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers, etc) before spending our last hour of our birding (half) day at Bradbury Mountain.  Our disappointment over missing an unprecedented 9 Sandhill Cranes was alleviated when #10 was spotted, along with my first two Ospreys of the year.

After four days of extensive birding, my Monday agenda at the store was lengthy, but the weather in the morning was just too good to pass up!  A spin of the local waterfowl hotspots was fruitful.  The Goose Fields yielded the two continuing Cackling Geese along Greely Road, along with my first American Kestrels of the year, and my FOY Wilson’s Snipe, also along Greely.

No luck finding a lingering Barrow’s Goldeneye in the Harraseeket River, but at Wharton Point, a group of 7 Northern Shovelers was one of the largest flocks of this species I have seen in Maine. My first Greater Yellowlegs of the year was also present, as were 60+ Green-winged Teal, 16 Ring-necked Ducks, about 30 distant scaup, 8 American Wigeons, and 1 Northern Pintail among several hundred American Black Ducks.

Two joyous hours at the Brad were full of raptors: 127 birds had past the watch when I departed at noon, including 4 Osprey. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks continue to add to their all-time record tallies. Hundreds of Canada Geese were sorted through, hoping for a rarity, while other migrants included Tree Swallows, American Black Ducks, Common Mergansers, and Great Blue Herons.

Furthermore, signs of a good flight last night included the return of Golden-crowned Kinglets to the area – after we were virtually devoid of them this winter, and an increase in Red-breasted Nuthatches (relatively few and far between this winter as well), Song-Sparrows, and at the store, a Fox Sparrow – a bird we don’t get here every spring due to our open habitat.

So long story short, it’s been a great few days of birding!  But now, I should probably get some work done!