Tag Archives: Yarmouth

A Record-Shattering 5 Days at Sandy Point!

NOPA
Northern Parulas were certainly the “bird of the week” at Sandy Point.

It was a special five-day run at Sandy Point Beach on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. It was a record-shattering run in fact, in which I tallied nearly 18,000 migrants engaging in the “Morning Flight,” or “morning re-determined migration” when nocturnally-migrating passerines relocate (to drastically oversimplify things) come sunrise.
SandyPoint_sunrise,9-13-17

(To learn more about Sandy Point, check out the site entry in Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide, and for more on nocturnal migration, interpreting the radar, and the “morning flight” phenomena, check out Chapter 5 in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder. Whaddya mean you don’t have these two books!?)

I’ve had a handful of four-day runs, but I cannot think of a time when conditions were favorable – and I was actually present, and not leading tours on Monhegan for example – for five straight days. But I have most certainly never had five days like this!

I recorded 72 species “deemed migrating” through here, not including migrants that were in the bushes, such as the Gray Catbirds and Song Sparrows that are so abundant in the brush here. It does not include species like Osprey, in which some of the many I saw this week were likely southbound, but impossible to separate from the still-locals. And this tally did not include all of the waterbirds, from Common Eiders to herds of dabbling American Black Ducks, and from Bald Eagles to hunting Great Blue Herons, as well as resident species.

I tallied 25 species of warblers, including a single Connecticut Warbler, one of the most sought-after parulids in Maine. A Northern Mockingbird was only my 5th ever noted here, and two passing Dickcissels are always a treat. But certainly the icing on the cake of this great week was the Lark Sparrow found by the group in the parking lot on the relatively quiet morning of 9/13. This was a first record for Sandy Point, and my personal 184th species here.
LASP, Becky

But it was the morning of the 11th that will go down in Sandy Point history!  8,185 migrants was not only a new record, but almost doubled the previous record (4,346 on Sept 21, 2010). It was incredible. More on that epic morning later.

A number of records for high counts for individual species were set, and I am sure even more would have been shattered if I had a higher rate of identification during the onslaught of the 11th.   Other trends, typical of the season, were evident, such as the slow but steady change in the composition of the flight. The early migrants like Magnolia Warblers were giving way to a growing percentage of Yellow-rumped Warbles and Blackpoll Warblers for example. But it sure seems like we’re not yet running our of Yellow Warblers and American Restarts, however!
AMRE
immature male American Redstart

YWAR
Yellow Warbler, adult male

So first, here’s the numbers (bold font indicates a new daily record).

 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12 9/13
Blue-winged Teal 3 0 0 0 0
Unidentified teal 0 0 4 0 0
Surf Scoter 3 0 0 0 0
Common Loon 4 0 0 3 0
Northern Harrier 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 1 0 0 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1 0
Mourning Dove 0 1 0 1 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 0 0 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Flicker 1 256 68 26 12
Pileated Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 0
American Kestrel 0 0 3 0 1
Merlin 1 1 0 1 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 4 0 0 0
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 0
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 0
Least Flycatcher 9 11 3 2 0
Unidentified Empidonax 5 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 3 2 2 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 1 0 0 0
Unidentified flycatcher 6 1 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 3 1 2 0
Philadelphia Vireo 3 4 2 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 42 49 30 9 4
Unidentified vireo 1 2 0 0 0
Blue Jay 0 0 0 2 5
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 0 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 1 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 1 0
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 1 5 4 0
Swainson’s Thrush 10 0 0 2 0
American Robin 4 3 1 2 0
Unidentified thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Cedar Waxwing 21 265 377 54 0
Ovenbird 0 0 0 0 1
Northern Waterthrush 0 0 0 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 33 59 41 32 5
Tennessee Warbler 4 2 2 8 0
Nashville Warbler 8 8 10 4 0
CONNECTICUT WARBLER 1 0 0 0 0
Mourning Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 5 5 2
American Redstart 602 550 844 119 16
Cape May Warbler 18 5 8 5 0
Northern Parula 705 630 692 612 205
Magnolia Warbler 66 117 32 23 2
Bay-breasted Warbler 5 3 1 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 7 6 1 0 0
Yellow Warbler 19 52 38 67 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 5 2 0 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 9 3 27 25 35
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8 7 4 4 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
“Western” Palm Warbler 1 0 0 0 0
Pine Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 6 3 19 11
Prairie Warbler 1 2 1 1 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 118 63 73 57 26
Canada Warbler 6 0 1 0 0
Wilson’s Warbler 12 17 7 4 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 1 3 1
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 2 0 0 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 1 1 4 1 0
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 1 0 0 0
Indigo Bunting 0 0 1 1 0
DICKCISSEL 0 0 1 0 1
Bobolink 1 2 0 0 0
Red-winged Blackbird 1 2 0 0 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 2 1 1 1 1
House Finch 0 0 0 1 1
Purple Finch 0 0 0 8 0
American Goldfinch 5 12 3 6 4
Unidentified 1915 1887 5893 737 192
TOTAL 3705 4057 8185 1866 540

 

Now, let’s take a look at the radar. Here are the density and velocity images from 1am (as a sample) on 9/9 and 9/10. That’s a ton of birds on the radar.
1amRadar,9-09-17
1amVelocity,9-09-17

1amRadar,9-10-17
1amVelocity,9-10-17

And even as late as 4:00am on each day, a lot of birds were visible, and a lot of birds were offshore.
4amRadar,9-09-17
4amRadar,9-10-17

The night of 9/8 through 9/9 featured light westerly winds, shifting to northwest by sunrise. And on the next night, light north winds became northwest overnight. Both, as expected, produced great flights over and through Sandy Point some dawn.

Weather patterns, especially at this time of year, rarely produce three great nights for migrants in a row. And when they do, it often results in fewer birds overnight (and therefore at Sandy Point) come sunrise; essentially, the well temporarily runs dry.

And as you can see by the 1:00am radar image from September 11th, the density was nowhere near the previous two nights, despite mostly light westerly winds overnight.
1amRadar,9-11-17
1amVelocity,9-11-17

And by 4:00am, it was rather quiet.
4amRadar,9-11-17

Light northwesterly winds in the evening slowly gave way to light north, before becoming light and variable. After midnight, they became west but didn’t really increase until after 2:00am. Coupled with a lackluster radar return, this was not a recipe for a huge flight.

Nonetheless with a light westerly wind at sunrise, I was heading to Sandy Point anyway. If only because it was a day off, and I won’t have many more chances to visit “my office” this month. A milky sunrise further clouded (sorry) my optimism for a big flight, but there were plenty of birds in the air.
Sunrise_on_big_day_atSP,9-11-17

And then all hell broke loose.

It was incredible. It was frustrating. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was amazing. It was indeed overwhelming, and at times, my only hopes at quantifying the flood was to skip attempting identification and just click my unidentified clicker as fast as I could.

And I really can’t explain it. It “shouldn’t” have been this amazing.

Come nightfall, with high pressure remaining in control, and with light westerly winds and clear skies once again, a moderate to strong flight occurred overnight. Here are the 1:00am and 4:00am radar images from the wee hours of 9/12:
1amRadar,9-12-17
1amVelocity,9-12-17

4amRadar,9-12-17

With light westerly winds come dawn, I was once again stationed at the bridge, and what was – prior to three days ago! – considered a very good flight passed over and through. It was even downright relaxing – and manageable – after the chaos of the previous morning. I had fun.

Not surprisingly, after four consecutive nights, the flight was much lighter overnight on the 12th into the 13th, as evidenced once again by the 1:00am and 4:00am images.
1amRadar,9-13-17
1amVelocity,9-13-17

4amRadar,9-13-17

And despite very light westerly winds in the morning, and clear skies, only a light flight was to pass through the point. Of course, that Lark Sparrow more than made up for it. It was also nice to enjoy a slower flight – and identify many more birds than not!

So almost every morning made sense: radar plus weather conditions correctly predicted the intensity of the flight. Except for one. The Big One. And I can’t explain it. But, I am OK (mostly) with that – it’s one of the fascinating and flabbergasting aspects of documenting the morning redetermined migration!

Winds turned to the south during the day on the 13th, and continued light and southerly overnight, bringing the streak of five great nights of migration to an end. Come morning, I also slept in – relatively speaking – and then went for a massage. As my therapist began to work on my aching neck, she simply uttered, “Wow” and got to work. I felt the same on Monday morning when the greatest flight I have ever recorded passed through Sandy Point.

IMG_6455-edited-edited
Species, such as this Swainson’s Thrush, that can be rather secretive in migration, are sometimes seen really well at Sandy Point!

2016 Rarity Season Part I

In my last blog, I predicted some great birding was in store for us here in Maine. Our entry into “Rarity Season” coupled with an active weather pattern was undoubtedly going to make for some exciting birding in the near future. It certainly started off with a bang!

Immediately following the Nor’Easter that drenched us on Friday, October 28th…
surface-map-10-28-16

…a Sabine’s Gull was discovered on Sabattus Pond.
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This gorgeous gull was my 373rd species in Maine, and while I knew I was going to see one sooner than later, I expected to finally get one in Maine waters during my Washington County Weekend tour (we were close!), and not well inland on a small lake!

Whether blown inland by the strong winds or “grounded” as it cross-cut over land, this pelagic is not what one expects while scanning the ducks at Sabattus.  An early 1st Winter Iceland Gull (later, two), and a rare-inland sweep of all three species of scoters (9 Surf, 4 Black, and 1 White-winged) were all related to the weather as well.
l1080288_icgusabattus10-29-16_edited-1

Similarly, an adult Black-legged Kittiwake out of place in a pond at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on Sunday was likely storm-related. Although regular to downright common offshore, this is not a bird we usually see onshore in southern Maine.
l1080409_blkifortunesrocksbeach10-30-16_edited-1

One can only imagine what else was on the 2,600+ lakes in the state of Maine during and immediately after the storm! Jeannette and I did check a few spots around Sebago Lake on Halloween, but it was surely too long after the storm, and the only birds of some note we turned up were single Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover (fairly rare inland, especially this late) at Raymond Town Beach.

I bird hard this time of year, doing my best to finish projects and keep my schedule as clear as possible to afford as much time in the field during these fruitful weeks. While I skipped birding in Portland, I did cover a lot of ground, and searched for odd birds in odd places, as well as focusing on the seasonal “migrant trap” hotspots.

In doing so, I found a few good birds, including this Lark Sparrow (always a treat away from Monhegan) at Pott’s Point in Harpswell on 11/10:
lasp1pottspoint11-10-16-edited

As for wayward vagrants seen around the state by others, there were quite a few from the south: a Blue Grosbeak in Portland on 10/31, a couple more Yellow-breasted Chats were found here and there, and most surprisingly, a Blue-winged Warbler in Saxl Park in Bangor on November 7th – this early migrant simply has to be a reverse-migrant or 180-degree misoriented migrant from points south; right? And the headlines, from the southwest, as a Cave Swallow reported from Cape Elizabeth on the 12th.

From the west (and/or mid-west) came a Clay-colored Sparrow at Two Lights State Park on 11/6 and a few scattered Dickcissels around the state (but where are the Western Kingbirds this year?). A Cattle Egret in South Thomaston on 11/6 and another in Pittston on the 13th could have come from either direction.

But it’s not just rarities that make this time of year so much fun. There are all of the regular migrants that are still “lingering.” Some of the late birds that I have seen in the past weeks included a Red-eyed Vireo along the Saco Riverwalk and 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper at Biddeford Pool Beach on 10/30, a Red-eyed Vireo at Sandy Point on 11/1, a Pine Warbler and a late-ish Winter Wren on Bailey Island in Harpswell on 11/4, a slightly tardy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with Jeannette at Beaver Park in Lisbon on 11/8, a Turkey Vulture over Falmouth on 11/11, two Winter Wrens on Peak’s Island on 11/14, and a smattering of Hermit Thrushes.

Other birders also reported the usual slew of truant migrants, such as a smattering of Baltimore Orioles, a couple of Scarlet Tanagers, and a decent variety of late warblers here and there. There’s still a Marbled Godwit, 4 American Oystercatchers, and 2 Red Knots at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford Pool; I enjoyed them on the 30th, but they continued to be reported through at least 11/2 with the godwit still being reported as of 11/12!  A few Long-billed Dowitchers were reported, with the one at Sabattus Pond on 11/5 being at the most unexpected location.

The winner, however, is the immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that appeared at a feeder on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth on November 10th! I viewed it the next morning and it continues through today, the 14th. Although the photos taken by the homeowner looked good for “just” a Ruby-throat, I hoped I was missing something from the still images. Any lingering questions/hopes I had were dashed however.

That being said, it’s still a great record. Through our store we have been promoting keeping up hummingbird feeders into November for over a decade, and our database of observations after early October is growing. When I first got a call yesterday, I was sure this was going to be “a good one.” It was Nov 10th after all!

Amazingly, this is the same house that hosted a Selasphorus hummingbird last fall! In other words, it sure does pay to keep those feeders out, even if it’s “just” a Ruby-throat!
rthu_cousins_island11-10-16phil_bunch_edited-1

Other, more seasonal, highlights for me over these two weeks included the following. Jeannette and I had 100 Horned Larks along Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester on 10/31; 18 Snow Buntings and 13 Horned Larks flew over Bailey Island on 11/4; a Lapland Longspur with 6 Horned Larks were at Stover’s Point Preserve in Harpswell on 11/10; two Ruddy Turnstones were at Winslow Park in Freeport on 11/12 with the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group – one of only two or three places in the state we regularly see them during the winter.

l1080470_badobaileyisland11-4-16_edited-1
This Barred Owl on Bailey Island on 11/4 was a treat. Any day with an owl is a good day!

Meanwhile, the new arrivals – including many species that will be spending the winter with us – continue to arrive, my “first of seasons” this week included 2 Common Goldeneyes at Sabattus Pond on the 29th, 2 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows at Timber Point in Biddeford on 10/30…
l1080390_ipsp1timberpoint10-30-16_edited-1

…lots of Horned Grebes arriving all over, 2 Harlequin Ducks at East Point in Biddeford Pool and 3 Purple Sandpipers at Hill’s Beach on 10/30.

l1080426_sand_and_dunl1biddpoolbeach10-30-16_edited-1
There were also plenty of Dunlin and Sanderlings around this week, such as this one Dunlin nestled amongst the Sanderlings on Biddeford Pool Beach on the 30th.

Waterfowl migration is in full effect, and not just at Sabattus Pond (although that is certainly one of the top spots in the state). Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers are all piling in, and dabblers are also on the go, such as the single drake Northern Pintail and American Wigeon at Great Pond in Biddeford on 10/30. Common Mergansers are also now arriving; I saw my first migrants at Sebago Lake on 10/31.

Jeannette and I visited Sabattus on a gorgeous, warm day on the 8th, with glass-calm conditions allowing for careful combing through the masses: 649 Ruddy Ducks, 510 Mallards, 176 Lesser and 119 Greater Scaup, 104 American Black Ducks, 73 Buffleheads, 69 Hooded Mergansers, 40 Common Mergansers, 13 Northern Pintails,11 Common Goldeneye, 8 Green-winged Teal, 5 White-winged and 1 Surf Scoter, 4 American Wigeons, 4 Common Loons, and a very-rare-inland Red-necked Grebe.

On 11/13, I returned with a Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour with our partners at the Maine Brew Bus. Although I didn’t count everything as carefully as I do when on my own, “Fall Ducks and Draughts” did record 600+ Ruddy Ducks, 3 Gadwalls, AND 2 White-winged Scoters amongst the 14 species of waterfowl present.

The “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields” have been slow this year so far, likely also due to the mild weather and lack of early snowfalls to our north. In fact, the only “good” goose so far has been a “Blue” Snow Goose that showed up during the week of October 17th continuing through at least 11/11.  Canada Geese numbers remain rather low however; I have still not surpassed even 600 total birds this season.

There’s still some passerine migration a’happening, as well. For example, my last two days at Sandy Point for the season yielded 221 birds on 10/31 (led by 123 American Robins and 18 American Crows) and 131 on 11/1 (led by 59 Dark-eyed Juncos and 44 American Robins). Common Grackles and a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds are still heading south, although their numbers are greatly reduced over the past week.

Sparrows also continue to move through, with lots of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows on the move, and my first American Tree Sparrow arriving at the Yarmouth Town Landing on 11/5 during our Saturday Morning Birdwalk, followed by more as the weeks progressed. A White-crowned Sparrow at Biddeford Pool on 10/30 was getting late, but there are still scattered Chipping Sparrows here and there as usual, including one still here at the store’s feeders.
cistmontanus_type_dejuyard11-6-16cistmontanus_type_deju_yard211-6-16

This junco on our back porch on November 6th appears to be of the inter-mountain subspecies/hybrid swarm often labeled as “cistmontanus.”  It’s definitely not a pure “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco, and the curved hood with buff of the sides traveling up to below the fold of the wing, however, suggest that this is not a pure “Slate-colored” Junco either.

And speaking of feeder birds, a recent spate of Evening Grosbeak reports (I have heard or seen several 1’s and 2’s recently, but 6 were at Old Town House Park on 11/3), along with an uptick in Purple Finches and Pine Siskins are suggestive of a decent winter around here for at least some of the finches. I also had a few single Red Crossbills fly over in a handful of locations recently. And the first Northern Shrike reports have started trickling in.

But overall, we’re off to a fairly slow start to the November Rarity Season. My guess is the lack of cold fronts early in the fall ushered fewer birds east (e.g. Western Kingbird) but also it remains fairly mild. I’m just not sure birds have begun concentrating yet in places that birders find them (like coastal migrant traps, city parks, etc). But as temperatures continue to drop, this might change. Afterall, after a very slow November last year (also very mild), December was simply incredible.

As the shorter days get colder (maybe), I would expect more birds to begin turning up, especially at feeders and along the immediate coast. The coming weeks always produce something remarkable.

wind-map-11-11-16
A blast of cold, Canadian air finally arrived this past weekend, as evidenced by the wind map of 11/11.

However, it might be hard to top the incredible and unprecedented White Wagtail that showed up in Rye, New Hampshire on 11/2 through early the next. You know I’ll be trying though!

Rarity Season is Upon Us!

I do like a good storm system. Especially as Rarity Season is now upon us! So besides our desperately-needed rain, I was anxious for this weekend’s weathah in the hopes it will set up some action for my favorite time in the birding year.

The winds turned east on Thursday (10/20), and strengthening easterly winds, scattered showers, and developing fog minimized the migration overnight into Friday morning. It was hard to tell from the radar is there was some limited, low movement, which would be indicative of the sparrows that move this time of year. Florida Lake Park was slow in the morning, though, and nothing new was under our feeders at home or at the store, however.

During the day on Friday, a shortwave moved out of the Ohio Valley, and overrunning precipitation fell during the day. By dark, however, that low was deepening and strengthening, and overnight, it tapped tropical moisture, leading to torrential rains, isolated thunderstorm, and by far our best soaker in at least 6 months: 3-6 inches of rain fell over the area! Southeasterly winds turned back to the east before going calm with thickening fog by morning.
wind-map-10-21-16

Fog and a little drizzle on Saturday morning was all that our Saturday Morning Birdwalk had to contend with on our outing to Wolfe’s Neck Farm; it does seem like there are more Laughing Gulls around later this year than I can ever remember (just the warm weather or are these related to Hurricane Mathew?).

The low slowly moved into the Canada, with an onshore flow (I had hoped for more southwesterlies) throughout the day. On the backside of the system, winds shifted to the west overnight while more rain and showers continued from the afternoon through the first half of the night. Winds were howling west by the morning, and the air definitely felt seasonable for a change.
wind-map-10-22-16

With the storm system pulling away to the north…
wind-map-10-23-16

…and the temperatures falling (and even some snowfall was seen in the mountains!) it’s time to really go birding!
surface-map-10-23-16

On Sunday, Phil McCormack and I headed over Peak’s Island, a place I really want to spend more time searching in the fall. Afterall, it’s a mere 15-minute ferry ride, there are a variety of interesting habitats, and the maritime climate tempers the onset of the seasons a little more. In other words, it looks good for rarities! (And you know I need to seek them somewhere other than Portland now!)

And with my Rarity Fever stoked, a productive morning of scouring the southern 1/3rd of the island yielded the seasonal rare-but-regular stuff that makes one keep coming back: A Clay-colored Sparrow, a Yellow-breasted Chat, and an Orange-crowned Warbler (my second of the season). Add to that single Nashville and Palm Warblers among a total of 6 species of warblers, a fly-by flock of 57 Brant, 8 lingering Red-winged Blackbirds, a good Northern Gannet flight, a Merlin, and recently arrived Red-necked Grebe and 9 Red-breasted Mergansers and you can see why I will be birding here more and more (my once a fall needs to become at least 3-4 visits each season, me thinks).
ccsp_peaksisland10-23-16
Not the best photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow (can you find it?) that I have taken!

battery_steele1peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1battery_steele2peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1
peaks_shoreline10-23-16_edited-1

There wasn’t any migration visible on the radar overnight, but there were southwesterly winds – the direction that can help facilitate the arrival of vagrants to the Northeast. But with winds once again rapidly increasing during the day on Monday, the detection of birds was limited. However, Jeannette and I enjoyed a visit to a particularly productive patch of private property in Cape Elizabeth, where a Blue Grosbeak and a Clay-colored Sparrow that I found last week continued. Dark-eyed Juncos increased to 100+ and White-throated Sparrows were up to 50. Other sparrows had decreased, as expected, but there were still 75 or so Song Sparrows, 6 Chipping, and 2 White-crowned, along with about ten each of Swamp and Savannah. Singleton Indigo Bunting and Common Yellowthroats were both getting late.

With the low pressure system still spinning over the Maritimes, and another shortwave disturbance rotating through, winds remained gusty through the night. Despite the preferred northwest wind (slowly becoming west through the night) there were just not a lot of migrants willing to deal with the winds and likely resultant turbulence overnight. And the winds were gusty and increasing by dawn once again.

I was in Harpswell for the morning, leading a birdwalk for the Curtis Library as part of their fall reading series. Mitchell Field, a true hotspot at this time of year, was our destination, but it was anything but hot from a temperature perspective! However, there were a bunch of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few flocks of migrant Common Grackles easily eclipsed 1,000 – a sign that it wasn’t just the birders who were thinking that it’s finally starting to feel like winter is approachintg! Migrant Turkey Vultures (10), Sharp-shinned Hawks (4), and a trickle of Northern Flickers were also winging it south.

Despite the wind, I poked around a couple of other spots on the peninsula since I was down there, with Stover’s Point yielding a 3 Horned Larks, a “Yellow” Palm Warbler, and 9 Black-bellied Plovers among others. But it was windy!
stoverscove10-25-16

Winds died down a little overnight, finally, and with it, some birds took to the air. For the first time in seven days, there was at least a moderate flight underway. Here’s the 10pm radar image for example, which shows a strong flight underway:
10pm-radar10-25-16

But by 1:00am, the flight was already rather light, suggestive of the short-distance migrants of the season making a little bit of progress, but for the most part, more birds departing than arriving:
1am-radar10-25-16

And therefore, Sandy Point wasn’t as great as I had hoped for on Wednesday morning. However, I still enjoyed a respectable morning flight for this time of year. A total of 444 individuals of 22 species were led by 262 American Robins and 82 Common Grackles, but also included my first Fox Sparrow of fall, my 3rd Orange-crowned Warbler of the season (and only the 6th Sandy Point record), and this very tardy (or perhaps, “reverse” or 180-misoriented) migrant Prairie Warbler.
prawsandypoint10-26-16_edited-1

Strong northwest to northerly winds continued through the day, but they are finally expected to lighten up overnight. The current forecast looks good for a big flight tonight, and, if the winds stay more northwest – or at least north – than northeast by morning, I might get a “big one” at Sandy Point.
10-27_wind_forecast
wind-map-10-26-16

I sure hope so, as I haven’t had a lot of great mornings there this year, between all of my time on Monhegan, our recent quick trip to Cape May, and the overall lack of cold fronts this entire fall. The good news is that it seems to be changing now, and at the very least, a more active weather pattern should not only bring some more rainfall, but some good winds for producing good birding. While weather doesn’t necessarily cause vagrancy of fall migrants, winds certainly facilitate their arrival in far-off places.

Hopefully, the onset of cooler weather and more north and northwesterly winds will usher them to the coast and concentrate them in those seasonal hotspots that I will be hitting hard in the coming weeks. Also, this series of strong low pressure systems could in fact displace some birds, or at least get birds that are still on the move a littler further northeast (I am of course, drastically over-simplifying the mechanisms of vagrancy here). At the very least, the little bit of snow to our north and west, colder nights, and the end of our growing season – and resultant greatly diminished numbers of insects and other food sources – should help those patches that get better when the weather turns towards winter.

You know I’ll be out looking! So stay tuned to our store’s Facebook feed and other resources, all of which are available at our website, for the latest news. And go birding! Rarity Season is upon us!

Birding and Conserving Sandy Point and Knight’s Pond-Blueberry Hill

Warbler migration is in full swing right now, with at least 10 or more species easily found on most mornings at most productive patches. Nonetheless, I really hate to say it, but in less than 3 months, some of these birds will already be returning home to the Neotropics. In fact, in a little more than three months, I’ll be back at “my office” at the base of the bridge at Sandy Point on Yarmouth’s Cousin’s Island to count southbound migrants!

It’s true: the birds we think of as “our” birds that spend the winters in the tropics are actually tropical birds that spend a few months of the year taking advantage of the bounty of insects in the northern forests in the short summer. While it may feel like fall today (after yesterday’s 80-degre temps!), I only bring this up because the Morning Flight at Sandy Point was on my mind this morning, as I met with Central Maine Power and Lucas Tree.

As many of you will remember from the fall of 2011, enhanced maintenance (Federally required) of the high-tension powerline corridor through Sandy Point significantly impacted the most critical migratory bird habitat here. With the help of many of you also calling CMP and sending letters, the clear-cutting was stopped, but much to my chagrin, was resumed in the spring of 2012 without notice. To make a long story short, after several months, an agreement was reached. The agreement and essentially an apology from CMP has been posted on our website ever since.

The trees were planted, and the River Birch is doing well. While the Red Oak didn’t make it through last summer, a cherry has naturally resprouted nearby and is currently outperforming the other trees at the base of the bridge – the most critical trees for reorienting migrants. These trees are outside of the critical clearance area under the lines (one of my biggest arguments in the first place) and will continue to grow (excuse the pun) in importance to birds seeking shelter or rest before making the crossing to the mainland.Sandy Point1,5-8-15

An early spring view from “My Office.”

Knowing that Sandy Point was due for the three-year maintenance schedule, I sent a email to CMP this winter, just to check in. I was assured that someone would be in touch this year when this stretch of corridor was due to be cut. And sure enough, last week, Nicholas Hahn of the Vegetation Management division of CMP got in touch, and I met with him and a crew from Lucas Tree this morning to discuss the current cutting regime.

First, let me say that I am very happy that CMP honored their commitment to notifying me about upcoming maintenance, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to offer input. We all agree it’s easier to get on the same page before any work is done. I’m not unreasonable, and I don’t need to get upset any more than I have to.

We walked through the site and the trees that needed to be removed or pruned (fast-growing trees that could get too tall before the next scheduled maintenance in three years, aka “capable”) were identified. It all seemed very reasonable to me, and I had no objections. I did make sure the cutting of the Staghorn Sumac patch was kept to a minimum, and Lucas Tree agreed to take out a few bush honeysuckles before they got any bigger and further impacted the valuable Arrowwood Viburnum stands.SandyPoint2,5-8-15

So all in all, it went very well, in my opinion. There wasn’t much that needed to be done, and this small stretch of corridor will continue to be maintained with the lightest hand possible, offering safety and refuge for tired birds, and exceptional opportunities for us birders.

After the meeting, I finally got over to the Knight’s Pond – Blueberry Hill property on the Cumberland/North Yarmouth border that the Royal River Conservation Trust and other organizations have been diligently working to preserve. It’s only my affinities for my local patches at this time of year that has kept me from checking out the preserve sooner.  But I am glad I finally did.

It was already 8:20am by the time I arrived, and therefore the sunny edges were less busy. And since the deeper woods are not yet too active, the overall birding was a little slow today. However, there’s clearly a lot of potential for birding opportunities here.

KnightsPond1,5-8-15

10 species of warblers were present this morning, including my first Chestnut-sided and, in the powerline corridor, my first Prairie of the season. My “FOY” Great Crested Flycatcher sounded off, and I was rather surprised to encounter a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a state Threatened (and proposed for upgrading to Endangered species). The pond is big enough to be worth a check in waterfowl migration, and I bet it can host a lot of swallows in early spring.  And there’s likely a lot more breeding around its edges and deeper in the woods than what I detected this (still) early spring day.

In other words, I will be back, and don’t be surprised to end up here on a future Saturday Morning Birdwalk. This property is a great addition to our local birding patches. Unfortunately, politics has put the purchase at risk. This is one of 30 projects at risk thanks to the Governor’s refusal to release voter-approved bond money for the Lands For Maine’s Future Program.

Voter-approved bonds are not political bargaining chips. These have been approved by voters and are not subject to the Governor’s personal approval – he’s not a king, although sometime he tries to act like it. The protection of Knight’s Pond has no relation at all to increased timber harvesting on state land (don’t get me started on that one…deer yard “thinning” anyone?). Hey, I get politics – things are negotiated and compromised. In theory. But as usual, with this “Governor,” it’s not about compromise – it’s about getting his way.

We all know how kids change the rules of the game when they’re not winning. I probably did, and you probably did too. And every neighborhood had that kid who, upon not getting his way, took his ball and went home. To me, this is akin to what the Governor is attempting to do – except this is not a child’s playground. There’s a reason it’s called the “Land for Maine’s Future” program. And the time is now for the Governor to grow up, act like a Governor and not a spoiled child, and release these bonds so this property and other valuable parcels can be conserved for all Mainers – forever – before it’s too late.

My Last Good Flight of the Season at Sandy Point?

A strong, if relatively homogenous, flight passed over and through SandyPointBeach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth this morning.

7:03-9:00
39F, mostly clear, light-moderate but rapidly increasing W wind.

708 American Robins
88 Yellow-rumped Warblers
45 Dark-eyed Juncos
34 American Crows
22 Unidentified
8 American Goldfinches
7 Palm Warblers
6 Golden-crowned Kinglets
5 Savannah Sparrows
3 Hermit Thrushes
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
3 Chipping Sparrows
3 Rusty Blackbirds
2 Brown Creepers
2 Unidentified sparrows
1 Common Loon
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Tufted Titmouse (they keep on coming this year)
1 American Pipit
1 AMERICAN REDSTART (very late)
1 White-throated Sparrow

Total = 945

I actually expected more juncos and especially White-throated Sparrows (at least in the parking lot, they almost never cross the water here), but the American Robin count was actually my third highest here.  The redstart, one of the first birds of the morning, was definitely unexpected – it has been several weeks since I have seen one.

Unlike Tuesday night into Wednesday, last night’s radar was unambiguous (I posted briefly about yesterday on the store’s Facebook page).  This was a solid late-season flight.  Here are the 10pm, 1am, and 4am reflectivity and velocity images for example.  You can see the rain mostly remaining well offshore.
a -10pm radar, 10-23-13 b - 10pm velocity, 10-23-13

c - 1am radar, 10-24-13 d - 1am velocity, 10-24-13

e - 4am radar, 10-24-13 f - 4am velocity, 10-24-13

So was this my last good flight at Sandy Point?  I sure hope not, but the calendar is getting late.  There’s no doubt there is still a big push of juncos at least.  But we’ll see if the weather conditions cooperate.

Meanwhile, as SandyPoint winds down, “Rarity Season” starts to pick up.  There’s our Bell’s Vireo in Harpswell, an Ash-throated Flycatcher on Monhegan, a Pink-footed Goose that was up in The County, and the usual smattering of fun fall stuff like a White-eyed Vireo or two, a couple of juvenile Red-headed Woodpeckers, and a sprinkling of “late” birds in no doubt partially due to the mild season.  I believe there are symptoms of Rarity Fever welling up inside me!

Sandy Point on 10/9, Goose Fields Redux, and More.

After three nights with little to no migration, birds took to the skies en masse come nightfall last night.  It was a big flight.  For examples, here are the 10pm, 1am, and 4am reflectivity and corresponding velocity images:
10pm radar, 10-8-1310pm velocity, 10-8-13
1am radar, 10-9-13 1am velocity, 10-9-13 4am radar, 10-9-13 4am velocity, 10-9-13

That’s a heckuva flight!  But as October goes on, more and more of the migrants are sparrows. Most sparrows (juncos and Chipping Sparrows are the exceptions) do not partake – or barely so – in the morning re-determined migration (“morning flight”), at least at Sandy Point, so I have been disappointed with the tally come dawn at Sandy Point on more than one occasion in mid-October.  While this morning’s flight was still good, it was not as busy as I would have expected based on the density of those radar returns.  But there were a lot more sparrows around in the bushes at Sandy Point and elsewhere this morning; I wonder what percentage of last night’s flight were White-throated Sparrows?

At the bridge at Sandy Point, the morning’s flight started out quite slow.  By 7:30, I had even considered packing it in and going to look for sparrows.  But then things picked up a little bit, and a steady trickle of birds slowly added up to a respectable tally.  Both kinglets spent a lot of time swirling around the point this morning (as usual, I was conservative in my count of how many were actually crossing, as many would turn around, come back, and try again), and the sparrow tally was probably a lot higher.  However, by the time I left the bridge, most White-throats had already dispersed into the woods.  Song Sparrows – which I do not attempt to tally due the number of breeding birds in the powerline cut – were definitely more abundant than they have been as well.

Here’s the scorecard:
6:45-9:15
39F, light NNW to calm, partly cloudy to clear

323 Yellow-rumped Warblers
105 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
71 Unidentified
60 Dark-eyed Juncos
52 Palm Warblers
39 Golden-crowned Kinglets
30 White-throated Sparrows
15 Unidentified kinglets
13 Blackpoll Warblers
12 Black-capped Chickadees
12 Black-throated Green Warblers
8 American Robins
7 Blue-headed Vireos
7 Northern Parulas
6 Blue Jays
4 Common Loons
4 Common Yellowthroats
4 Chipping Sparrows
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Savannah Sparrows
3 Swamp Sparrows
3 American Goldfinches
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Eastern Phoebes
2 Tufted Titmice
2 American Pipits
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 Common Grackle

T=800

Afterwards, I did a circuit of the local “goose fields.” As with everywhere to our south, the resident, non-migratory population of Canada Geese is burgeoning in southern Maine.  This resident population begins to coalesce in the fields of Yarmouth, Cumberland, and Falmouth in early August, and by the middle to end of September, the flock includes a sizeable percentage of the local breeders.  The percentage of local breeders that are in the fields on any given day increases with the onset of early Canada Goose hunting season in early September.

This year, the number of geese among all fields has varied between 200-300 total birds since early September. This number of pre-migrant birds has grown steadily over the past five years in particular.  This week, the first real influx of geese arrived, presumably from some points north.  It is the flock of resident geese that know the safe fields (no hunting, less Bald Eagle activity) and travel corridors to and from the bay where they roost that attract the migrants, including those occasional rarities.

My high count this week of 445 Canada Geese today was my highest tally since the spring.  A couple of Eastern Meadowlarks and up to 8 Killdeer were also present at Thornhurst Farm this week, and Eastern Bluebirds have been rather widespread. A Pied-billed Grebe was once again in the pond on Woodville Road in Falmouth, as is often the case at this time of year.

The goose numbers and the chance for finding rarities should only increase (well, with various ebbs and flows) from now through the first heavy snow.  In fact, I often find my first “good” goose in the second week of October.  It’s also primetime for sparrows.  And this is why I hate leaving the state in October, but once again, I am off!

Early tomorrow morning I depart for Iowa, where I will be speaking at the Iowa Ornithologist Union’s Fall Meeting.  I’ll be giving the keynote presentation on “How to Be a Better Birder” using my SandyPoint case study program and I will also be showing my Russian Far East travelogue.  Finally, I will be joining the 2009 Bradbury Mountain Hawkcounter, Danny Akers, in leading a field trip.

After my weekend in the Hawkeye State, I head to Wisconsin to visit the Urban Ecology Center in Wisconsin.  In between and thereafter, I’ll be spending a couple of days birding and visiting with friends.   I’ll post the occasional update about migration in the Midwest, my birding, and other musings on my book’s Facebook page should you be interested in following my travels.

Now I am just left to wonder what state bird I will miss here in Maine while I am away (there’s always one!)

Black Skimmer at Sandy Point!

Well, I sure wasn’t expecting this on my Sandy Point Patch List!
DSC_0021_BLSK1,SandyPoint,10-4-13
Black Skimmer, SandyPoint #180!

An otherwise slow morning flight (more on that shortly) was interrupted by an odd call emanating from upriver of the bridge. “Hmm, sounds like a Black Skimmer, I thought.”  Uh, wait…but alas, there it was!  It alighted on what was left of a small sandbar with a couple of gulls, and as that sandbar became inundated, it took to the wing again and began to forage.  I lost sight of it as it moved up the bay, but a little pocket of Palm Warblers moving through distracted me.

Looking at the radar last night, the flight seemed strong, but the Morning Flight was decidedly slow.  Here are the 1am radar and velocity images for example:
1am radar, 10-4-13 1am velocity, 10-4-13

A couple of things are noticeable.  For one there’s the fairly narrow diameter of the flight reflection which would suggest a low flight (the radar beams well out from the tower are above the height of birds; the “angle of elevation).  This definitely happens when birds, such as sparrows – and they’re definitely on the move right now – which tend to fly relatively low dominate the flight.  So perhaps a lot of the flight last night was of the sparrow variety.

However, the velocity image suggests the north to south motion was rather slow.  Perhaps it was just because it was so calm and slower-flying migrants were in the air and therefore were making less progress (ground speed).  Or maybe there’s a lot of dust and bugs up there; it has been warm and dry after all.

Regardless of the explanation, or lack thereof, the flight was slow.  But did I mention I had a Black Skimmer?

– 6:38-8:20
– 46F, partly cloudy, calm.

41 Yellow-rumped Warblers
31 Palm Warblers
31 Unidentified
24 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
13 Blackpoll Warblers
12 Northern Parulas
10 Green-winged Teal
9 Golden-crowned Kinglets
6 Blue Jays
6 Black-throated Green Warblers
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 American Robins
4 Nashville Warblers
4 Black-throated Blue Warblers
4 Chipping Sparrows
4 White-throated Sparrows
3 Common Loons
2 Blue-headed Vireos
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Osprey
1 BLACK SKIMMER
1 Northern Flicker
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Pipit
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Magnolia Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Savannah Sparrow
1 DICKCISSEL (5th of season here)
1 American Goldfinch

Total = 226

Afterwards, I decided to check on my “lots of sparrows moving last night” hypothesis, so I visited Old Town House Park.  There were an ample amount of sparrows (30+ Song, 20+ Swamp, a small number of White-throated, 2 Lincoln’s, 1 Savannah, and 1 White-crowned), but not enough to conclude much about the composition of last night’s flight, or lack there of.  But it was pleasantly birdy, with a nice sprinkling of other migrants, including 11 Eastern Bluebirds, 2 Pine Warblers, and the first Purple Finch that I have had in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, in the goose fields, things have not yet begun to heat up.  While there may be some bona fide migrants around, my tally of 283 Canada Geese today fits right there within the 200-300 that have been present since late August, when the local resident birds began to flock up post-breeding.  This will change soon.

Yet Another Great Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

k -DSC_0024_PIWO,SandyPoint,9-26-13
I do love it when the big ones fly by, especially on mornings like this.  They’re easier to identify and tally…especially when they are Pileated Woodpeckers!

It’s also nice when more birds pause in the trees at the point, allowing for identification as a “sample” of what’s going overhead.  It’s especially nice when they land in front of my face…like this Philadelphia Vireo did.  If only there weren’t a few twigs between us!
i -DSC_0008_PHVI,SandyPoint,9-26-13

I usually leave the bridge before raptors begin to get going, but today, I was treated to an early-morning Peregrine Falcon flight.  A couple of the birds didn’t even blink and eye and kept going.  Others terrorized migrant flickers.
j -DSC_0017_PEFA,SandyPoint,9-26-13

Normally, I start off with the overnight radar analysis to describe why there were (or were not) so many birds come morning.  But today, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the numbers:

6:32-10:10am
43F, light NW, mostly cloudy, slowly clearing.

1662 Unidentified (*2nd highest)
441 Yellow-rumped Warblers (*2nd highest)
263 Northern Parulas (how are there still so many parulas!?)
193 Black-throated Green Warblers  (*2nd highest)
188 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest)
150 Northern Flickers
56 Golden-crowned Kinglets
52 Magnolia Warblers (*2nd highest)
46 Black-throated Blue Warblers (*new record; old = 13!)
44 Cedar Waxwings
44 Dark-eyed Juncos
41 Black-and-white Warblers (*2nd highest)
31 Red-eyed Vireos
29 Blue-headed Vireos (2nd highest)
27 Blackpoll Warblers
26 Eastern Phoebes (*new record)
26 Nashville Warblers (*new record)
23 Palm Warblers
22 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
15 American Robins
15 American Goldfinches
14 Blue Jays
12 Scarlet Tanagers
12 Rusty Blackbirds
9 White-throated Sparrows
8 Eastern Bluebirds (*new record)
7 Philadelphia Vireos
7 Chipping Sparrows
6 Peregrine Falcons (*new record)
6 Unidentified vireos
6 Brown Creepers
5 Yellow Warblers
4 Tufted Titmice (*new record)
4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
3 Black-capped Chickadees
3 Tennessee Warblers
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Cape May Warblers
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Red-breasted Merganser (first of fall)
1 Common Loon
1 American Kestrel
1 Merlin
1 Mourning Dove
1 PILEATED WOODPECKER (my third crossing ever; crossed after 4 false-starts)
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (crossed after 3 false-starts)
1 Warbling Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Swainson’s Thrush
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 DICKCISSEL (4th of season)
1 Red-winged Blackbird

Total= 3523 (*third highest total)

So there you have it.  Wow.  <Insert various superlatives and/or swear words>   I just wish I could have whittled down that unidentified total a little bit more – who knows how many single-species records I might have set?

There were two reasons the unidentified tally was so high.  One is that early-morning cloud cover once again reduced many of the birds to silhouettes.  Secondly, the intensity of the first two hours of the flight was really exceptional.  On multiple occasions, I could do nothing more than step back look up, smile, and click off a cloud of unidentified warblers – no point of even lifting the binoculars.  Bunches of birds high overhead; I’d follow one bird into the Magic Elm, and 20 would shoot out.  Birds were sneaking below me.   It was, at times, a bit overwhelming!  But it was also exceedingly fun; I like the challenge, and since my interest lies in quantifying the flight as much as identifying the composition of it, the high unidentified tally only bothers me a little…OK, maybe a little more than a little, but anyway…

I couldn’t resist taking a few photos, such as the Philadelphia Vireo landing in front of me, or the majestic Pileated Woodpecker cruising by.  16 species of warblers, a bunch of new records and near-records, and some “good” birds.  Yeah, that’s a good flight.  But I actually think my highlight was one little female American Redstart.  She dropped in from high overhead, straight down into the regenerating cherry that stands directly in front of me (and perfectly blocks the sun from my eyes for the first hour of the day) – the one the Philly V was in – and hopped her way to the near edge.  She looked at me, and cocked her head to look at the camera lens that was lying down next to me.  I am guessing she saw her reflection.  She looked at me, chirped in a gentle contact call – not the harsh alarm call or even the sharp flight call – and then hopped back into the brush.  We had a moment.  I enjoyed that.

OK, back to business…the radar.  Save these images for future reference.  This is what “GO BIRDING IN THE MORNING!!!” looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images for example <insert “boom” sound>:
a-10pm radar, 9-26-13 b -10pm velocity, 9-26-13 c -12am radar, 9-27-13 d -12am velocity, 9-27-13 e -2am radar, 9-26-13 f -2am velocity, 9-26-13 g -4am radar, 9-26-13 h -4am velocity, 9-26-13

Even at 6:00am, with light more than peaking into the eastern sky, birds were still on the move.  If I had not expected to go to SandyPoint for sunrise this morning, and I had seen this image, I would have flown out the door.
6am radar, 9-26-13 6am velocity, 9-26-13

When there are this many birds in the air so close to sunrise, there are going to be a lot of birds taking part in the “morning redetermined migration” come dawn, along with crepuscular migrants that are moving in the early light.  The radar provided all of the suggestions of a big flight.  And, with a light northwesterly breeze, many more birds were low and in the trees than on the westerly breezes of the last few mornings.  Here’s the wind map, showing that low moving off of the Maritimes, ushering in a north to northwesterly flow behind it – as I postulated on my blog yesterday.
wind map, 9-25-13

While I am rarely even at Sandy Point for four days in a row, it is exceedingly rare that the fourth day would be so busy.  But I think that upper level low finally pulling out of the way re-opened the floodgates.  And it looks like tomorrow should be good as well, continuing a most impressive string of good flight nights.  But I will give my neck a break tomorrow from staring straight up and spinning back and forth at Sandy Point.  Instead, I’ll just have to see what the flight will be like with my tour on Monhegan Island.  Yeah, I know, tough life.

On Sandy Point, Winter Finches, and Portland’s Congress Square Park

I’ve spent each of the last three mornings at Sandy Point, and it is a rare treat indeed (but not for my neck!) that the winds tonight will likely be conducive to yet another morning in my “other office.”  Yesterday’s moderate flight produced two Patch Birds: Western Kingbird and Gray-cheeked Thrush while today’s better than expected flight yielded 15 species of warblers.  (Tallies from both days are on our store’s Facebook Page as always).

While I can’t believe there are more Northern Parulas left to migrate through, I am optimistic about tomorrow morning.  The upper-level low spinning over Atlantic Canada that has produced rain to our northeast and the clouds overhead that have reduced the flight – and my ability to identify it! – is expected to move out, and I wonder if that will open up another wave of birds to head south from that region.  It is exceedingly rare for me to have four days in a row of good Morning Flights at Sandy Point, so I look forward to another early start tomorrow.

With each passing flight, the changing season is becoming more obvious.  Fewer early warblers and growing numbers of Yellow-rumps and sparrows, for example.  And of course, as a season progresses, we birders often think ahead to the next season.  The near-complete dearth of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins (zero) that have passed SandyPoint is an early indicator that it will be an “off” winter for northern finches as expected.  Few Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees passing through also suggest an abundance of food to our north.

These observations reflect what I am seeing elsewhere in Maine, and reflect the information contained in this year’s “Winter Finch Forecast” by Ron Pittaway that just came out this week.  This venerable resource is posted each fall, and reflects a lot of effort by the author to bring together various tidbits of information.  Its arrival each fall is highly anticipated – even if it does not portend the arrival of lots of highly anticipated finches.

But today, I wanted to take a moment to discuss one of the local issues that we have decided to wade into.  As most Portland – at least – residents may know, there is a proposal to transfer a portion of Congress Square Park to private development for a conference center.  The city needs a conference center, and the park needs some attention.  I’ll leave it to the residents of Portland to weigh the costs and benefits of this particular plan, but one aspect that concerns me greatly is the current blueprints that show a massive glass wall facing a smaller park with limited vegetation.

Here’s a link to what I believe to be the most recent development proposal; I don’t think any significant updates have been made.  Jeannette and I believe that we can use our store as a vehicle to promote bird conservation, and although we certainly don’t stick our nose into every project, sometimes we feel that we need to be the voice for birds, birding, and bird conservation.  Capisic Pond Park, the Eastern Promenade, Sandy Point, and now development at the fringes of Florida Lake have been projects we have worked on.  While we may not go too much further with our efforts in this case, we thought it was best to offer expertise to point out a potential issue with this projects design.  I have sent this letter to city officials and the new group, Friends of Congress Square Park.  I post it here for your information, and if anyone has suggestions on whom else to send this to, don’t hesitate to let us know.

September 18, 2013

RE: Congress Square Redevelopment plans

To whom it may concern:

I am writing you today not to take a stand for or against the current proposal at this time, but instead to bring to your attention a couple of aspects of urban parks, construction, and wildlife interactions that has raised a significant amount of concern with me.

First, a little bit of background.  Migrating birds that stream over Portland every spring and fall face a myriad of risks.  Many of our favorite songbirds, such as warblers, orioles, and tanagers all fly at night.  For reasons unknown – likely due to the use of stars for navigation – birds can become disoriented by lights.  Lights on communication towers, lights on buildings, lights at stadiums, lights left on in office buildings, and even lights in people’s homes.  Especially on cloudy and foggy nights, birds will be drawn to this artificial lighting, and many will meet an untimely death as they collide with structures or even drop dead from exhaustion as their bodies metabolize their muscles in order to fuel the last gasps of flight as the bird circles, and circles, and circles, confused by the light, drawn in by its grasp.  The cumulative light pollution of cities, towns, and even single-family homes, results in perhaps hundreds of millions of deaths of migrating birds each year.

However, not every bird disoriented by city lights will die.  Some find refuge in a well-landscaped park and find enough food to survive, refuel, and eventually move on. Most others find just enough refuge to move on come sunrise, when the direction of the sunrise and visual landmarks can usher a bird in the right direction.  In order to avoid predators, many of these birds will fly low through the city streets, dropping in to the next tree, the next park, or even the next garden as these birds – in what is termed “redetermined migration” attempt to correct for the errors of their ways overnight.  These errors could result from disorientation from lights, “groundings” from severe weather, or even from drifting too far on strong winds behind a cold front.

Especially for those birds exhausted from their travels or their disorientation, every single tree in an urban environment can be a life-saver.  A place to rest, a place to forage for just a little food or at the very least a place to avoid predators.  Working from some part of the city, the birds will work their way inland (in the case of a coastal city such as Portland) looking for more extensive habitat where they can refuel.

I have watched flocks of White-throated Sparrows winging it down side streets, landing in potted plants at the first sight of a possible threat.  I’ve seen an American Woodcock walking down a sidewalk near Monument Square.  I have seen waves of Blackpoll Warblers streaking by just over the treetops of Deering Oaks Park.

As the birds work their way to quality habitat, such as Evergreen Cemetery, many of these birds are more than strong enough to avoid predators, avoid traffic, and fly at full speed over the course of the first couple of hours of daylight.

Thud.

The migrant lays still on the sidewalk; dead.    It has hit a window.

It has flown hundreds of miles from the forests of Canada.  It has survived ever-changing weather, dodged hawks at every turn, and found enough food to pack on enough fat to fuel an epic journey to the rainforests of South America for the winter.   A shift in the wind the prior night resulted in foggy conditions as it arrived in the airspace over Portland.  Attempting to orient itself, it circles the red blinking light on the top of a building until it is too tired.  But this bird is lucky.  Below this building there is a small park with a handful of trees.  Good enough, and the bird alights.  The sun rises, and the bird, not finding much food in a few ornamental plantings, decides to head further inland.

Flying from tree to tree, the bird sees the next tree just ahead.  But that tree was only a reflection in glass.  Its journey ends.

Glass kills as many as 1 billion birds per year in North America. Urban light pollution may kill as many as 31 million birds per year.  Lighted communication towers may kill upwards of 100 million.  Only free-roaming cats are estimated to kill more birds per year than any of these other anthropogenic causes.  You can see why glass in lighted urban areas is such a problem.

The current proposal for a new Event Center in what is now Congress Square Park includes a massive glass façade, with “doors” that open, putting glass walls out at multiple angles.  All of this glass will be reflective.  Architects and admirers like that about glass.  But whatever trees remain will be reflected by that glass.

Thud.  Another migrant is dead.  How many dead birds will people pick up on the sidewalk before anyone takes notice?  Or will the rats clean up the mess before the morning rush?

Is the new CongressSquareEventCenter going to be a death trap for exhausted and confused migrants?  Probably.  Can this risk be minimized or avoided?  Yes.  Does anyone care?  That, to me, is always the toughest question.

But there are solutions out there.  There are treatments that make glass less-reflective, or ways to break up the reflection so birds will not be drawn to it.  Glass can be positioned to reflect the ground, and trees can be positioned to minimize reflection.  There are certainly plenty of materials that don’t cast a reflection as well.  There are even city-wide efforts to reduce bird collisions that range from lighting standards to simple programs to get people to turn off the lights as they leave their office for the night.

My only goal with this letter is to raise awareness about a significant problem, but one that might well be avoided.

For the sake of brevity – I think you will agree that this letter is long enough already – I will simply point you towards two sources for more information, from background to solutions.  The first is the “Birds and Collisions” page from the American Bird Conservancy: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/glass.html

The second is the home page of the Fatal Light Awareness Program: http://www.flap.org/

I sincerely hope that you will recognize my concerns and take them under consideration.  I would be happy to offer more first-hand observations to describe why this issue is real in Portland, and why a glass façade facing some of the few trees that exist in the center of an urban area could result in significant avian mortality.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Derek Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply

Huge Morning Flight at Sandy Point!

My last blog entry ended with a little bit of foreshadowing, did it not? But before we get to Sandy Point this morning, let us take a moment to review the radar images from the weekend for comparison.

This is the 12:00am image from Sunday.  This is what “no migration” looks like on the radar.  You can also see the rain approaching from the west.
12am radar, 9-22-13

Now this is the midnight image from Saturday.  This is what “I have no idea what’s going on” looks like on the radar.  While anything from some weird warping of the radar beams from changes in air temperature to a simple malfunction could result in this, what it is NOT is a lot of birds.  It’s too irregular…and bird’s don’t “explode” in narrow bands!
IMG_1575_edited-1 IMG_1576_edited-1

So, compare those to what “a whole boatload” of birds looks like.  Here are the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am base reflectivity and velocity images from last night.

10pm radar, 9-22-13 10pm velocity, 9-22-13

12 am radar, 9-23-13 12 am velocity, 9-23-13

2am radar, 9-23-132am velocity, 9-23-13

4am radar, 9-23-134am velocity,9-23-13

Yeah, it would have been nice to be on Monhegan this morning.  But I was in my other sanctuary – my office at Sandy Point.  And this is what happened:

6:28 – 10:05am.
43F, increasing W to NW, clear.

1338 Unidentifed (*2nd highest)
416 Northern Parulas (* Seriously, how are there any more parulas to come through!  This is the second highest count of all time, and now all three of the highest tallies are from this year!)
281 Northern Flickers
179 Black-throated Green Warblers (*2nd highest)
163 Blackpoll Warblers
91 Yellow-rumped Warblers
43 Black-and-white Warblers (*record high)
39 Red-eyed Vireos
35 American Redstarts
29 Blue Jays
29 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
23 Yellow Warblers
22 Blue-headed Vireos
21 Scarlet Tanagers (*record high)
21 Dark-eyed Juncos
19 Cedar Waxwings
18 Magnolia Warblers
17 Nashville Warblers (*record high)
17 American Goldfinches
13 Black-throated Blue Warblers
12 Eastern Phoebes (* ties high)
11 Swainson’s Thrushes
9 Palm Warblers
6 Rusty Blackbirds
5 American Robins
4 Unidentified vireos
4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
4 White-throated Sparrows
3 Least Flycatchers
3 Cape May Warblers
3 Bay-breasted Warblers
2 Common Loons
2 Broad-winged Hawks
2 TUFTED TITMICE (rarely seen crossing)
2 Unidentified thrushes
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Blackburnian Warblers
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrels
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
1 Common Raven
1 Philadelphia Vireos
1 Veery
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER (My third of the season here; it’s the fall of the CONWs in Maine!)
1 Northern Waterthrushes
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 DICKCISSEL (third of the season here)
1 Baltimore Oriole

Total = 2, 905 (4th highest tally all time for me)

DSC_0016_REVIonAlternate-leafedDogwood,Sandy Point, 9-23-13DSC_0026_SWTH_onWinterberry2,Sandy Point,9-23-13
Some of the migrants pause long enough at Sandy Point to do a little snacking.  Here’s a Red-eyed Vireo eating Alternate-leafed Dogwood fruits, and a Swainson’s Thrush stepping out into the sun to dine on Winterberries.

DSC_0034_WISN,GreelyRoad,9-23-13_edited-1
A little post-Sandy Point birding yielded two Wilson’s Snipe trying to stay hidden along the edge of a puddle along Greely Road in Cumberland.

And tonight looks just as good…perhaps even a little better with a more northwesterly flow.  See ya at the bridge at sunrise!
wind forecast, 9-23-13