It was another busy week of birding for me! And it was another great week of birding, with the vanguard of spring migration coupled with lots of winter specialties still around – and a lot more finches! Turkey Vulture, Red-winged Blackbird, and Common Grackle numbers were slowly increasing by week’s end. Scattered Pine Siskins are now reaching the coastal plain (from the north, west, or south?). My observations of note over the past seven days were as follows:
The Blizzard of 2022 provided some great opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing locally for the first time this winter, so I took full advantage of that, even if it did further limit my dedicated birding during this busy week plus. Interestingly, my most “serious” birding was a half day (post-snowblowing and shoveling) on Sunday searching Portland through Cape Elizabeth for storm-related birds, but that effort turned up nothing at all of note! Here are my observations of note over the past 9 days:
5 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 2 COMMON REDPOLLS (FOY), 6 Pine Siskins (FOY), and 1 Purple Finch, Long Falls Dam Road area of Carrying Place Township, 1/31 (with Jeannette).
The Androscoggin River between the downtowns of Lewiston and Auburn remain a surprisingly productive mid-winter hotspot. On 2/1, Jeannette and I discovered an incredible (especially for the interior of Maine) five species of dabblers from the Auburn Riverwalk! Amongst the Mallards and a couple of American Black Ducks, there were single female GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, and NORTHERN PINTAIL. Making this even more interesting is the fact that it’s usually the drakes that we find overwintering in Maine. Additionally, the drake RING-NECKED DUCK continues, and we had a single 1st-winter Iceland Gull. Two Bufflehead and 5 Hooded Mergansers joined the usual Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers for a goodly inland total of 10 species of waterfowl. A unusually conspicuous Beaver continues to amuse here as well.
3 drake and 1 hen BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and 8 Dunlin (FOW here), Winslow Park, Freeport, 2/13.
My article – a 13-page photo salon – on the Hybrid Herons of Scarborough Marsh (Patches!) has finally been published in the most recent issue of North American Birds. In it, I lay out the theory that at least 5 different individuals have been seen in Scarborough Marsh since I first found an odd juvenile heron in July of 2012 that we now believe is a hybrid between a Snowy Egret and a Tricolored Heron.
I made the case that the two current birds are backcrosses, one with a Snowy Egret (SNEG X TRHE X SNEG) and the other with a Little Egret (SNEG X TRHE X LIEG). I’ll be watching them carefully for the potential of a developing hybrid swarm.
Unfortunately, at this time, the journal is only available online to members of the ABA. However, digital e-memberships (with access to all of the ABA publications) are only $30 a year, and you can purchase issues of the magazine directly from the ABA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you wanted to take a peek at the article, I do have a couple of extra copies here at the store for you to peruse.
Believe it or not, a hybrid heron is much rarer than a Steller’s Sea-Eagle, at least from a world perspective…in fact, it’s possible these birds are one of a kind!
1 juv RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, private property in Freeport, 10/28. First seen on 10/26, but not on the 27th. See photo and caption above.
1 DICKCISSEL (photo below; Abner Point Road), 1 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (first of fall locally), 2 male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS, and 2 American Tree Sparrows (first of fall), Bailey Island, Harpswell, 10/29.
Hmm…how do I spin this one? Well, it could have been colder, and it could have been a lot wetter. The crossbills were pretty amazing, and it was fun to find that Purple Martin.
But yes, as far as Monhegan Spring Migration Weekends go, this was a pretty slow and cold one. In fact, the 77 total species and only 10 species of warblers were both record lows (in 10 years of doing these trips on the last weekend of May). But it is not spin to say a slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than a great day of birding most everywhere else.
The very early spring this year had rapidly advanced vegetation. On many of our Memorial Day weekends, apple trees – one of the most important bird-magnets out here – are not yet blooming. This year, they were just about finished. Meanwhile, the dry and benign weather of the past few weeks have allowed migrant birds to proceed unimpeded. They were either going right overhead or stopping on the island only briefly before continuing onward. No traffic jams of birds held up by unfavorable weather, no concentrations at few and isolated foodstuffs, and certainly no fallouts. Well, at least the abnormally dry conditions we have been experiencing began to break this weekend.
More importantly, while the above complaints made for slow birding, they really made for a great migration for birds who don’t want to get stuck on an island or other migrant trap. Instead, they got to where they needed to go and many seemed to get right to work in order to catch up with the advanced season.
When we arrived on Friday, we found relatively few birds as expected given the preceding week’s beautiful weather. We quickly caught up with the pair of Blue-winged Teal that have been hanging around and possibly breeding out here – a very good bird on offshore islands. I was also happy to finally see my first Tennessee Warblers of the spring. And while diversity was not overly high, it was really nice out and we enjoyed really good looks at a lot of what we encountered, including the aforementioned Tennessee Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and our daily dose of the confiding and stunning Scarlet Tanager that was lingering around the village’s south end.
I had really high hopes for Saturday morning. With very light southerly winds and partly cloudy skies at dusk (I enjoyed a Common Nighthawk and an American Woodcock while watching the sunset with a friend), the winds became very light southwesterly after dark. Then, around 2:00am, some light rain began to fall, and the winds shifted to the northeast. The hopes for a fallout kept me awake as I listened to those first showers in the early morning hours.
Upon sunrise, it soon became clear that my hopes and dreams had been dashed. There was minimal bird movement visible on the NEXRAD radar before the rain arrived. A large area of low pressure passing to our south, with the northern edge of rain moving much further north than forecast, suggested the possibility of fallout conditions. But were there even any birds on the move before the rain? Or, were they cut off to our south by the approaching storm? Or – as we have been surmising on the mainland as well – have they just mostly passed by already?.
Light rain continued for our pre-breakfast walk, and it was very slow. There was definitely not a fallout, and there did not seem to be many birds around at all. That Scarlet Tanager stole the show again though. Great looks at things like Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Redstart, and Northern Parula soon followed.
Rain slowly tapered off during the morning, and while cameras were mostly sealed away, it was more than birdable. We heard a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (my first of the year), a Virginia Rail, and even briefly saw the vociferous Sora that incessantly called from the marsh throughout the weekend. Then, just before lunch, we found a female Purple Martin. Unexpectedly late, and rare out here in general, this was a nice find, and when we relocated it at Swim Beach, we had some great views to make sure it was indeed a Purple Martin.
The afternoon was dry, but the birding remained slow. We did get a better view of the dapper male Blue-winged Teal, and spent some real quality time with the flock of 18 Red Crossbills that contained a single White-winged Crossbill. Many folks got one, if not two, life birds in this flock, and we saw them as well as one could ever hope.
With a light northeasterly wind overnight, little to no migration was detected on the radar Saturday night into Sunday morning, but it was not yet raining. It was a little birdier than the day before, but the pre-breakfast walk only yielded two new species for us: a fleeting glimpse of a Lincoln’s Sparrow and a fly-by American Black Duck. But the crossbills entertained us once again! Also, Smooth Green Snake and Redbelly Snake side-by-side.
A large area of low pressure was rapidly developing off the mid-Atlantic coast, and the rain was heading our way. So we were grateful for another dry – albeit chilly – morning. A couple of late Bobolinks and a Merlin were new for us, and we glimpsed a less-than-cooperative Short-billed Dowitcher that had arrived and played hard to get for the next couple of days. With so little shorebird habitat out here, most shorebirds are noteworthy, even species common on the mainland. According to Brett Ewald, this was only the 16th record for the island, and 10th for spring. In fact, this was my 218th species on Monhegan! Even on a slow day, you never know what might show up out here.
Light rain had arrived by the time we regrouped after lunch and the northeasterly wind was picking up. We called it quits as the rain picked up in earnest around 3:00pm, retiring to our respective rooms – or, mostly, heated common areas – and got some reading and relaxation time in.
Overnight rain ended just about as our pre-breakfast walk got underway on Monday, with only light showers and a little drizzle for the next couple of hours. Given the forecast, this was most definitely a win. We checked gull roosts and other sheltered harbor nooks, turning up only a Savannah Sparrow as a new addition to our list. The rest of the morning was spent enjoying some of the birds we have been seeing for the past days, like the Blue-winged Teal and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
After the weekend tempest, those of us who survived were rewarded with calm, following seas for our ride back to New Harbor. It was foggy, but we had some great sightings on the easy ride back with single fly-by Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, and a feeding Bonaparte’s Gull. Adding these three excellent birds helped our paltry list to a total of 77 species. With a long-term average of about 95 species in four days, you can see that we really did have a weekend of low avian diversity.
So alas, the weekend came to a close. A few good birds, lots of great looks at regular birds, and a few lingering chills. But, as usual, we ate well. Perhaps too well. But hey, we were burning off calories thermoregulating! Hey it happens, and the regulars all know that there will be a “bad” weekend once in a while to make the “best” tours that much sweeter.
Since folks who have been reading several years of these trip reports, I figured I would include the gratuitous food porn photo as usual. However, without the Novelty open, there was no pizza. Besides, we like to class it up once in a while, in this case, at the Island Inn.
(* denotes seen from the ferry only. **Seen only by the leader outside of group time)
The continuing REDWING, Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 2/11 – Although it was seen in its usual spot for much of the day, I had the bird fly over me at 3:25, about 2/3rds the way to the Machigonne Street entrance from Lucas Street. It landed in some taller trees in full sun, with a sizeable group of robins. When many of the robins took off, it joined them, flying just about tree level and exiting the park. It flew NNW over Congress Street, which I believe is roughly its behavior from the very first day. A Cooper’s Hawk passes through seconds later.
1 THICK-BILLED MURRE, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth, 2/12 (with Pat Moynahan).
This Week in Finches:
EVENING GROSBEAK: 0
Red Crossbill: 10 (Merrill Road, Pownal, 2/11).
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 32 Bailey Island, Harpswell, 2/9 (with Jeannette).
PINE GROSBEAK: 1 (Maine Street, Brunswick, 2/9; with Jeannette).
A little more time this week in the field produced the following observations of note:
678 Scaup (too far to sort through, but probably 5-10% Lessers, which are regular to even common within these early winter scaup flocks on Casco Bay contrary to recently published information), Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 1/1 (with Jeannette). Another smaller raft of scaup continue at Wharton Point (12/27 and 1/1 with Jeannette), but too far to sort through.
1 1st winter male Red-winged Blackbird, feeders here at the store, 12/27.
Continuing ROCK WREN, Marginal Way, Ogunquit, 12/29 (with Jeannette). Highlight includes watching it ravage a Western Conifer Seed Bug.
1 Peregrine Falcon, odd location in a tree along Pennell Way, Brunswick, 1/1 (with Jeannette).
This Week in Finches:
EVENING GROSBEAK: 0
Red Crossbill: 2 (our yard in Pownal, 12/27).
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 4 (Furbish Avenue, Wells, 12/29 with Jeannette).
PINE GROSBEAK: up to 10 daily (in and around the yard here at the store all week); up to 18 daily all week (Pine Tree Academy, Freeport); 2 (Route 1, Brunswick, 12/28).
Purple Finch: 0
Common Redpoll High Count This Week: 6 (Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 12/27).
I didn’t get out birding much this week, but my morning on Bailey Island was fantastic! But the good news is that Pine Grosbeaks have been around our store daily, and this morning lost getting snow tires on my car produced the biggest flock I have seen in the area so far this season. It is nice when the birds come to you!
My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 Hermit Thrush, and 1 Northern Flicker, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 12/7.
It’s getting colder and quieter out there. But, we are in the midst of the late fall Rarity Season, so I made time to check as many of the migrant and vagrant traps as I could this week. Other than a great morning with Jeannette on Bailey Island on Tuesday, I didn’t find much in the way of “lingering” birds. Did the late-October unseasonable cold snap have something to do with it? And/or the lack of natural food resources because of the drought? Or I was in the wrong places?
My observations of note over the past seven days included the following:
2 PINE GROSBEAKS, Private Property in Durham, 11/14.
1 Red-shouldered Hawk, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 11/15.
1 AMERICAN REDSTART, 9 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 1 PINE WARBLER, 1 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and 1 Winter Wren, Bailey Island, Harpswell, 11/17 (with Jeannette).