Tag Archives: Western Willet

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Beach and Brews,” 7/16/17


The third new Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! itinerary of 2017 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success on Sunday, July 16th. The working title had been “Beach and Brews,” but I think “Terns and Taps” might be the new title. Whatever it ends up getting called, expect to see this outing return next year. It’s a winner!

Timing our visit to Hill’s Beach for the incoming tide, we thanked our friends at Buffleheads restaurant for giving us permission to park the bus in their lot. Nearby, we crossed over to the beach and began our birding adventure.
1. at Buffleheads

Shorebirds and birders had to share the sand with many other beachgoers, but at Hill’s, there’s room enough for most everyone. Gulls had assembled along the western end of the beach, so we started with a quick gull identification workshop, sorting out tiny Bonaparte’s Gulls from massive Great Black-backed Gulls, and separating Herring from Ring-billed Gulls in between.
2. Group on beach 1

Scattered shorebirds were here and there, but the action really started, as usual, as we crested the Basket Island Sandbar and scanned the rapidly-inundating flats to its east.  A growing number of shorebirds – already heading south (yup, it’s fall in the shorebird world!) included at least 50 total Short-billed Dowitchers and about 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
3. Group on beach 2

We quickly learned how to pick out Endangered Roseate Terns from the ubiquitous Common Terns – one of the target species of the trip. With practice, we learned it’s not as hard as some field guides suggest to separate these species, using a combination of size, relative tail length, wingbeats, and overall color. Hint: Roseates are the white ones. (Photo from a here on a different day above).

A growing contingent of gulls at this end eventually included a spiffy adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; an unexpected treat in mid-summer, and a nice way to cap our introduction to the gull identification lesson.
(Photo from another time and place)

All too soon, however, it was time to depart, but as we turned around I spottan interesting bird. One lone Willet, a tall but hefty shorebird, was standing on the flats. It struck my eye as very godwit-like, which got my heart racing at first. Tall, lanky, and very long-billed, a godwit-like gestalt is typical of the “Western” Willet, a subspecies that is rare but regular in Maine in fall, but very rare here in mid-summer.

Out of expected season, I was very careful in sorting through the salient features, and I admit to waffling a little about its identification at first. As we got closer, however, details became more apparent, such as the very long and thinner bill that suggested a hint of an upturn. It flew across the sandbar, landing close by, and in much better light, showing the overall grayer plumage, and paler undersides with considerably less markings than the browner and heavily-marked “Eastern” subspecies which breeds around here. It also began to wade in the water to feed, a behavior very typical of “Westerns.”
4. WWILL1,HillsBeach,7-16-17_edited-15. WWILL2,HillsBeach,7-16-17_edited-1

Although our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series is not necessarily focused on the challenging aspects of serious birding, like nuanced subspecific identification, the group admitted they enjoyed the process (and admittedly, enjoyed seeing me perplexed for a bit!). Having had our fill of the unexpected unseasonable rarity, we crossed the peninsula to the Park in the Pines to view the muddier flats of The Pool. There, at least a hundred “Eastern” Willets were present in their preferred habitat, but unfortunately, they weren’t close enough to really compare plumage details.

Scanning across the flats, we were able to sort through the masses, even though few shorebirds were very close here today, including a few Black-bellied Plovers and a stately Whimbrel – it’s disproportionally long, downcurved bill always nice to see.

And there’s no better way to celebrate a rare bird (or two today, the “Western” Willet and the Lesser Black-backed Gull) than with a beer or two. There’s also no better way to relax after a long walk on the beach on a sultry summer day than with a beer.

Good thing it was time for Don to take over, and guide us to Barreled Souls, our first brewery stop on the day’s itinerary. And they could not have started us off with a better first sample, the salty and refreshing Space Gose – perfect after a hot day on the beach.

Co-owner and operator Matt Mills was a gracious host, and shared with us their operation, methodology, and brewing philosophy. Fermenting 100% of their beer in barrels via a Burton-Union system and also ageing everything in barrels makes for some very unique and interesting flavors (I recommend checking out the “About Us” page of their website, linked here, for more information). They wanted to be different and stand out from an every-growing, crowded field, making big, malty, and high-alcohol beers but now including offerings of almost every variety.
6. Barreled Souls 1 - tour

As we learned about the brewing process, Kristi kept us hydrated with additional samples, including the MEmosa, a take on a “beer mimosa” featuring lots of orange zest in a light blonde ale with a lemony hop profile. Next up was Transformer, a new pale ale that features rotating hops (this incarnation used Amarillo and Idaho 7).
7. Barreled Souls 2 - samples

Fun (and for some, games)…
8. Barreled Souls 3 - games

..were had by all, especially after changing things up with Dark Matter, a big and bold 10.1% sweet dark ale, similar to a stout or porter, but much sweeter. Their description was simply a quote from NASA: “We are much more certain what dark matter isn’t than what it is.”  But what it definitely was today was a favorite for most of the group.

Don and I love to offer special opportunities on our Roadtrips, and today was no different. Just a half-mile away, we were the first tour group to visit the new production facility for Barreled Souls. In a mere three years they have so far outgrown their current space that they are increasing their production space from a mere 700 square feet to an incredible 7800 square feet!
9. Barreled Souls 4 - new facility

Including a custom-built, climate-controlled “cellar” to house their Burton-Union system.
10. Barreled Souls 5 - new facility

Back on the bus, we discussed our favorite beers, and Don introduced our next brewery, South Portland’s Fore River Brewing Company – a real neighborhood brewery nestled into the Ligonia section of town.
12. Fore River 1

Don took us on a tour of their brewhouse, as we sampled their Spring Point, a Belgian whit, smooth and lemony, with a distinct biscuit finish.
13. Fore River 2

Next up was their Timberhitch Irish Red, another favorite on the day for this group. It was sweet, with just the right amount of hoppiness, and with a sweet and malty finish. Last but certainly not least was the Lygonia IPA, a clear and crisp IPA with pleasant notes of tropical fruits. This round was enjoyed out on the “patio,” a lush lawn full with picnic tables reclaimed from the site of a former salt barn.
14. Fore River 3 - group

But as we know, all good tours must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye, celebrate our life birds and life beers, and make the short jaunt north to our Portland and then Freeport drop-off sites.
11. bus ride

Endangered terns and migrant shorebirds with a couple of rarities mixed in. The only 100% Burton-Union brewery in the country making some really unique brews and a fun and successful neighborhood brewery featuring some of the area’s most popular styles. I think it’s safe to say that we will see you aboard for this tour in 2018!

(By the way, as of the writing of this, we still have one space left for our next Birds on Tap Roadtrip! “Shorebirds and Beer” on Sunday, August 13th.

Current Birds, Weather, Predictions . . . and Pretty Shorebird Photos

Yesterday’s record high temperatures (92 in Portland shattered the old record of 87) were ushered in on a strong southwesterly flow.  Unseasonably warm air continues today, as the southwesterly winds aloft are picking up ahead of tonight’s cold front (more on that shortly).

Here are the continental wind maps from yesterday afternoon, and this afternoon.  Yesterday, you can see the south-southwesterly flow originating from under a broad area of high pressure over the Southeast…

…but notice that by today, cool, Canadian air was pouring down into the Upper Midwest (which resulted in some big flights over the last two nights in that region).

In addition to hot and very muggy conditions, this strong southerly flow has the potential to usher in some hot new rarities to our neck of the woods. While it appears that the Biddeford Pool Kentucky Warbler has moved on, I am expecting some more southern strays to turn up in our region.  Keep in mind, however, that these winds are not “blowing” birds north, but instead facilitating birds to arrive here that are either wandering (post-breeding dispersal, prospecting for new territories, etc) or area already flying in the wrong direction (e.g. “180-degree misorientation”).

In other words, if a Kentucky Warbler – for example – was “miswired” and began to fly north instead of south, a strong southerly wind would push it even farther the “wrong” way.  Then, with tonight’s cold front, the strong northwesterly winds that follow could push the birds towards the coast.  There, they find a coastal migrant trap – i.e. a dense thicket full of fruiting bushes in the woods of Biddeford Pool – to seek shelter in while they refuel.  There, they are more likely to be found by an alert birder than say somewhere in the valleys of the western Maine mountains.  Many migrants spend 3 to 7 days to “refuel.”  I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Biddeford Pool KEWA was seen for five days…and that it disappeared after a night of light southerly winds. Of course, it may have just moved to a richer food patch, or one without birders unnecessarily blasting a tape at it all afternoon.

Anyway, what will the weekend produce?  I might be thinking more along the lines of birds like Summer Tanagers and Hooded Warblers based on this recent weather pattern.  Unfortunately, I won’t be around to find them!  Instead, I will be helping out at the Leica Sports Optics booth at the Cape Cod Birding Festival in Hyannis (I’ll also be signing copies of “How to Be a Better Birder,” which of course covers many of the vagrant-producing and Mega-finding topics that I have touched upon here).

Ahead of tonight’s cold front, and before the forecasted thunderstorms of the afternoon, I – not surprisingly – was out birding this morning.  It’s September – there’s really no such thing as a night with “no” migration.  However, what was flying last night was not being noticed on the radar; likely a limited number of birds were flying below the clouds, however.

Here’s the midnight radar image for example:
12am radar, 9-12-13

That would be thunderstorms.  Not birds.  And we can verify it from the velocity image:
12am velocity, 9-12-13

…A distinct west to east movement, unlike the northerly to southerly movement of southbound fall migrant birds.  Therefore, I was not surprised to have very, very few birds overhead at dawn over our yard this morning, or later on at Hedgehog Mountain Park.  I did, however, find a lot of birds in the woods.  While some of these might have been new arrivals that snuck in below the clouds and between the storms, the mixed-species foraging flocks working through the woods was much more indicative of birds that have been around for a day or two.  The flock that moved through our yard shortly after sunrise, consisting mostly of Blackpoll Warblers, also contained not one, but two new Yard Birds for us: Cape May Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo!  Also, at least two Tennessee Warblers.

Multiple mixed flocks were encountered at The Hog, led by Blackpoll Warblers, along with a healthy serving of Black-throated Greens.  A Lincoln’s Sparrow foraged at the edge, and a mixed-species flock consisting of 40+ Chipping Sparrows, 6 Eastern Bluebirds, and 1 Pine Warbler worked the edge of the transfer station and out through the ballfields.

Afterwards, I zipped down to Pine Point for the low tide.  Shorebird numbers are down considerably, as expected by the middle of September.  And, I would expect a lot of the birds I saw today to clear out behind this next cold front.  About 180 Semipalmated Sandpipers led the way, punctuated by a juvenile Red Knot, and two continuing American Oystercatchers (they were too far to determine age, visible over on Western Beach as viewed from Pine Point Beach).  Four juvenile Dunlins were a sign that their migration – one of our two latest migrant shorebirds – is just now picking up.  The highlight, however, were side-by-side “Eastern” and “Western” Willets.  Unfortunately, I was only able to get the two in the frame together by phone-scoping, here with a Greater Yellowlegs for a convenient reference.
EWIL_with_WWIL2, Pine Point, 9-12-13

I then carefully approached with my “real” camera, but I never again saw the two birds in the same field of view.  However, I did get solid photos of both the juvenile Western…
DSC_0002_WesternWILL1,Pine Point,9-13-13

…and the juvenile Eastern.
DSC_0005_EasternWILL1,Pine Point, 9-13-13

Even from the lousy phone-scoped photos, you can see how distinctive these two subspecies (for now!) are.  The smaller, “dumpier,” browner Eastern nicely contrasts with the larger, lankier, and much grayer Western.  Also, note how the darker brown scapulars of the Eastern contrast with the rest of the wing; Western is more uniform.  The head of the Eastern is also more contrast-y, and in this individual, the bill is so distinctly shorter and blunter.

Elsewhere, I finally got a chance to look for – and find – the juvenile Hudsonian Godwit that has been frequenting the river behind the Scarborough Marsh Nature Center for about a week now.  This is the first “Hud-wit” that I have seen in two years here in Maine – this once-common migrant has definitely declined dramatically in the state.
DSC_0010_HUGOjuv1,NatureShed,9-12-13 DSC_0050_HUGOjuv3,Nature_Shed,9-12-13

Now, my eyes are on the weather maps, and after dusk, the radar, to see if I will be at SandyPoint at sunrise on Friday. This is the wind map as of 5pm.  The northwesterlies behind the front are barely peeking into the region north of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.
winds at 5pm, 9-12-13

Currently, forecasters are suggesting that the cold front won’t pass through until tomorrow morning.  However, with very light winds overnight, perhaps with a westerly component, there could be some birds on the move…depending on when this latest batch of rain and thunderstorms (the storms last night and this afternoon were wicked, weren’t they?  And very un-September-like) moves through. Will the front get here soon enough?  Will birds be moving directly behind the front?  Will they be pushed offshore enough to need to reorient in the morning?  I’ll let you know tomorrow!