Feathers Over Freeport!

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Looking for an excuse to get outside and learn something about birds and migration? Ever wonder how you or your kids can get started with this wonderful pastime? What about learning about the things that live in the woods that don’t have feathers – from flowers to frogs?

No matter what your interests are, or what your level of birding experience is, then we have just the event for you! Join us on the last weekend of April (every year!) for “Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend!”

With events all day, Saturday April 26th at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal and all day Sunday, April 27th at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport is the event for the whole family. It started four years ago as a way to introduce people to birding and gain an appreciation for the feathered life around us. It is not meant to be a “birding festival” per se, but a way get people excited about birds – the first step.

Events begin each day with my morning birdwalks – 8:00am on Saturday at Bradbury and 8:00am on Sunday at Wolfe’s Neck. Bird migration is just beginning to kick into high gear in late April, so it is a fun time to begin learning some of those early migrants without getting too overwhelmed.

The timing of the weekend also perfectly coincides with the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch’s peak. My hawkwatching workshop will teach visitors how to identify the 15+ species of hawks that pass by this mountain every spring.

And, speaking of hawks, the Osprey pair at Wolfe’s Neck is back on nest, providing a great opportunity to view these awesome birds and learn a little about their biology. As in past years, both parks with be hosting programs by Hope Douglas from Wind Over Wings. See live birds of prey up close and personal, including a Golden Eagle!

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Feathers Over Freeport is also the State’s official Pledge 2 Fledge event. This is an international effort to get people who already have an interest in birds to share that with someone new. The children’s activities and workshops during this weekend help us work towards that goal.

For a complete listing of all of the weekend’s events, visit the Feathers Over Freeport webpage. Hope to see you there!

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Birds, Books, and Beers Series: Richard King, author of The Devil’s Cormorant, 4/18

King Freeport Event
Jeannette and I are excited to welcome Richard J. King, author of The Devil’s Cormorant to the store on Friday, 4/18 for the next installment of our “Birds, Books, and Beers Series.”

This free event will include a talk and book signing here at the store at 5:00pm, followed by informal conversation and signing at Maine Beer Company beginning at 6:00pm.

This is one of our new favorite natural (and cultural) history books, and we are honored that Mr. King will be joining us, and we hope you will too. For more information, visit our website, here  (and save the date for upcoming events with Will Russell and David Sibley!)

Here is the review of the book that I posted to my blog a couple of months ago.

Hope to see you on Friday.

Thanks,
Derek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, More About the “Westbrook Gull.”

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A great day of birding on Friday included new arrivals and migrant waterfowl around Scarborough Marsh (oh yeah, and two more Snowy Owls), continuing good numbers of white-winged gulls in Portland Harbor, and “quality time” with “Westie,” the still unidentified white-winged gull in Westbrook (highlights posted to the store’s Facebook page as usual).

As for this frustrating, fun, and challenging obsession of mine with the “Westbrook Gull,” I won’t rehash the entire story here, but for that please visit this blog entry from January.

During our outing on Friday, Kristen Lindquist and I enjoyed my best photo session of the season with the bird. I’ve posted a variety of photos of the bird into the growing gallery of photos of this bird on our store’s Facebook page, here.

But here I want to discuss a few of the more pertinent images, and explore some of the still-unanswered questions about this bird. First and foremost, and perhaps the single most critical factor in being able to simply dismiss this as an Iceland Gull – likely (due to its pure white wingtips and pale mantle) of the nominate subspecies glaucoides – is the fact (not subject to interpretation) that the wings are short: only two primaries extend beyond the tail, as with Glaucous Gull, and unlike the long, four-primary extension of Iceland Gull of either subspecies. No photo of this bird in four years has shown the typical “long-winged” appearance of Iceland Gull of either subspecies.
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It’s impossible to ignore this significant structural feature, but of course, we never base an identification (or lack thereof!) on any one particular characteristic. Unfortunately, nothing else is this clear and distinct.

As the bird reached adulthood, I had hoped that the orbital ring – the narrow band of bare skin that surrounds the eye – might yield a clue, and now that we are in late spring, the bird’s head is pure white and the brighter bill suggests that it is now in “high breeding” (or at least close to it), the color should be as true as possible. Howell and Dunn list the orbital ring of Larus glaucoides glaucoides as pinkish to red, turning brighter reddish by spring. L.g kumlieni is described as purplish-pink to reddish, brightening by spring. As for Glaucous Gull: orange to pale pink flesh, brightening in spring to “orange or chrome yellow.” As for Westie?
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I call that simply “pink.” But does that only mean that this bird is not in high breeding yet (which is suggested by the still-brightening yellow of the bill)? If this is as colorful as it gets, it’s a significant strike against a Glaucous Gull, or at least a pure one, but it is not clinching for Iceland Gull of either subspecies, either.

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Westie’s dominance of the park leads to aggressive behavior towards other gulls, especially anything of similar size or larger. While the aggressive behavior is more typical of Glaucous Gulls, I think the rather unnatural environment, along with the decided “home-turf’ behavior negates the value of this circumstantial evidence. What it does mean, however, is that it is a royal pain in the ass to get this bird next to something else other than a smaller Ring-bill. I would like to see it next to an adult Herring Gull to compare grayscale, but especially an Iceland Gull of any shape, size, or variety! This was the closest I have come to that goal.
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As for Herring Gulls, this youngster was tolerated for a few seconds.
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In other words, I still don’t know what this is. But at least it gives me something to do in the winter, and offers a really good exercise in studying the finer points of the endless variation in “large white-headed gulls.” Oh yeah, and it’s a pretty bird, too. Might just have to leave it at that…for now.
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And believe it or not, there are other birds at Riverbank Park and the adjacent Westbrook Riverwalk.  On Friday, this included one of the continuing Canvasbacks (a rarity in Maine), and a handful of ultra-cooperative Cedar Waxwings!
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The Decline of Barrow’s Goldeneyes in Freeport and Beyond.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneyes! And I like getting to see them every winter, and sometimes in numbers…and only a few miles away from home. But I wish I could see more of them.

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Unfortunately, with each passing year, I am seeing fewer and fewer. My local Barrow’s Goldeneye (BAGO) “patch” is the Lower Harraseeket River here in South Freeport. A couple of miles of river between Winslow Park and Bartol Island hosts the southernmost wintering flock on the East Coast…or at least what nowadays passes for a flock.

One of just a handful of locales in the state that regularly hosts more than one or two birds, this once-impressive flock has declined dramatically in the past ten years that I have been watching them. Scanning the river once a week, from early December through the middle of April from a variety of locations (Sand Beach, the Town Wharf, the Harraseeket Yacht Club, Winslow Park, and/or Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park) I have kept track of arrival and departure dates, and perhaps most importantly, overall numbers.

“High counts” are the maximum number of birds seen at one time in a given time period. While some individuals come and go over the course of the winter, it seems to me that the seasonal high count is a reasonable way of estimating the local population (as keeping track of individual birds is impossible). And my high counts for each of the last nine winters show an alarming pattern:

2004-2005: 23
2005-2006: 15
2006-2007: 10
2007-2008: 2
2008-2009: 9
2009-2010: 2
2010-2011: 6
2011-2012: 3
2012-2013: 2

It has become readily obvious that the less ice there is, the fewer Barrow’s concentrate in the Lower Harraseeket. A deep channel and strong tide combine to keep at least a stretch of the gut at the mouth of the river (between Winslow and tiny Pound of Tea Island) open in the coldest winters. Back in 2004-2005, the river was almost completely frozen, and the narrow strip of open water was so thick with ducks, especially Common Eiders, that it looked as if you could almost walk across the river on their backs!

We also know that the climate, and the temperature of Casco Bay, is getting warmer (yes, that is fact, and yes, this year’s cold winter/spring weather does nothing to disprove this – note that “climate” and “weather” are actually different words that describe different things!). Therefore, I optimistically wondered if the apparent decline in the population of BAGO was nothing more than a lack of ice-caused concentration. The less ice, the fewer BAGO I see.

Therefore, when about 90-95% of the Harraseeket froze this winter (the most extensive coverage since 2004-2005) and ducks concentrated in numbers not seen since then, I was cautiously optimistic that BAGO number would spike:

2013-2014: 5

Not the spike I was hoping for. I searched long and hard to find BAGO elsewhere in the vicinity, but I did not see any (the closest was an overwintering bird in South Portland that has returned to the Fore River for the last two or three years now). That’s a 78% decline from the 2004-2005 high.

Unfortunately, Christmas Bird Counts occur too early in the winter to adequately gauge seasonal high counts of BAGO, although the graph does reflect a decrease in the past ten years (the long-term data set is clouded by low birds-per-party-hour totals as a whole, along with misconceptions about identification in the past).

But this decline is not just apparent in the Harraseeket. Birders have detected a decline in all other known wintering concentrations, especially in Belfast Bay. They are now longer seen on most visits in mid-winter there and it’s been a long time since I have seen a report from Bucksport. However, according to the 1996 A Birder’s Guide to Maine, *1 aggregations of 15+ birds are “regular features in most winters” at these two sites.

In other words, at least in Maine, the decline is real. And it’s time for the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife to do something about it. No more half-assed, non-action policies that bow to the hunting lobby. No more “please tell us if you shoot one and then say you’re sorry and it will be OK” (with only a disincentive to do so) state policy. *2

In 2009 IF&W listed the Barrow’s Goldeneye as “Threatened.” …And has done almost nothing since, other than set up surveys that are conducted every four years. Oh, and they hung up some posters at boat launches asking people to not shoot them (might as well put a target on them, in my mind).

Let me be clear, there is no evidence to suggest that hunting is causing a decline in BAGO. I think much larger factors are at play. There’s acidification and warming of the ponds and lakes in their limited and narrow eastern Quebec breeding range to changes in winter food sources. Forestry practices could be reducing the availability of suitable nesting cavities as well. There’s lead ingestion and heavy metal bioaccumulation. Then there’s reduced ice in most winters in their primary wintering areas of the St. Lawrence estuary (thereby reducing how many birds come further south) to competition with other native and non-native species (BAGO eat small mollusks, especially mussels – could invasive Green Crabs be impacting the food supply for ducks here, too?). In other words, there are a lot of possible proximate and ultimate causes to the species’ decline. But if hunters shoot one or two (by accident, of course) of the remaining 5, well then the decline becomes even quicker. Even repeated disturbance from concentrated hunting pressure on other species could be impacting where the birds tarry, where they feed, and how much energy they waste fleeing boats and shots.

I am not opposed to waterfowl hunting. But I am opposed to hunting that impacts an endangered species (see, for example: Conservation and Management/Effects of Human Activity in the Birds of North America entry referenced below). The closure of a handful of tiny areas will affect very few hunters, and with more than 99% of the state still available to them, this rates as a minor inconvenience at most. However, this fraction of a percent of water closed to hunting could protect a significant majority of the wintering population – or at least what’s left of it. At the very least, this could buy us some time to find out what the root of the problem is.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneye, and if you do too, it’s time to pressure IF&W and politicians to act. Otherwise, there is a very legitimate chance that this bird will no longer be a part of Maine’s winter avifauna.

Notes:

*1 = Pierson, Elizabeth C., Jan Erik Pierson, and Peter D. Vickery. A Birder’s Guide to Maine. 1996. Down East Books: Camden, ME.

*2 = https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/alert_waterfowl_hunters.htm

For more information on the status of BAGO in Maine, see:
https://www.maine.gov/ifw/pdfs/species_planning/birds/barrowsgoldeneye/speciesassessment.pdf

Additional Reference:
Eadie, John M., Jean-Pierre L. Savard and Mark L. Mallory. 2000. Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/548 doi:10.2173/bna.548

A Vermont and Montreal Roadtrip In Photos

Jeannette and I made a run for the border in our annual pre-hawkwatch roadtrip getaway.  We’ll be covering Katrina’s days off at the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch through the end of the season.  Then, my guiding season kicks off in full force through early July.  In other words, it’s a good time for us to get a little break.

This year’s destination was a visit with family in Vermont, followed by a few days in Montreal.  I had not been to Montreal before – no excuse for that, really – so this was a good incentive to head (mostly) west.  Sure, the weather could have been a little more seasonable, but we enjoyed a really great trip nonetheless.

While this trip wasn’t necessarily a “birding trip,” we obviously were going to do some birding.  And there were a few “goodies” around that, if nothing else helped guide us in fruitful directions.  First up was the Northern Hawk Owl that has been spending the winter in Waterbury, Vermont.  Since we had to pass through the intersection that the bird has been frequenting on the way to see the fam, I don’t think this counts as a chase, does it?

Although most hawk owls are notoriously tolerant of people, this bird was ridiculous!   People were walking back and forth on a trail right below it, and it didn’t care.
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Then, spotting something of interest, it dove through the line of admirers, and landed in the snow.  It scuffled around for a bit, and then came up with a White-footed/Deer Mouse, which is proceeded to devour on a nearby snag…in clear view of everyone.  Returning to its original perch, it flew between two photographers, right at head-level!
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The lighting and the proximity were so good that I believe these are the best phone-scoped photos that I have ever taken!

After visiting friends and family, we departed the next day.  Of course, we couldn’t help but stop at the hawk-owl once again.  “Let’s just drive past this Northern Hawk Owl,” said no one, ever.
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After lunch in Burlington…
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…we dipped down to Charlotte to board the ferry over to Essex, NY.  With such extensive ice on the lake, the only open water is limited to the ferry channels.  Ducks have concentrated in this narrow band of open water, including some very good birds.  The Tufted Duck being seen here was nothing more than an excuse to take the ferry, and we are very glad we did.
5. NHOW-phonescoped1a,3-9-14 (24)This was a great little “mini-pelagic!”  In fact, after we took the car across to NY, we hopped back on as round-trip passengers to have another look.  Good thing we did, because as we began the half-hour journey back to Vermont, the Tufted Duck was right in front of the bow!  And Jeannette “nailed” it, I think it’s safe to say.
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In addition to the Tufted, impressive numbers of Common Goldeneyes and both Greater and Lesser scaup were enjoyed and extensively photographed.  Mallards, American Black Ducks, a small number of Common Mergansers and Buffleheads, 3 Ring-necked Ducks, 2 female Long-tailed Ducks, and 1 White-winged Scoter (the latter three only in New York, and the final two being good birds for the season here) were also present, and early in the third leg, we spotted a female Barrow’s Goldeneye among the masses for a nice addition to my paltry Vermont state list. Jeannette very nicely augmented here library of waterfowl –especially flight – photos, and this fun little ride turned out to be a real highlight of the entire trip.
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How many species can you identify in this photo?

A quick stop to look for coffee in Plattsburgh, NY resulted in what was perhaps the best cupcake we have ever had (a butter cream-iced tres leches cupcake at Delish), and eventually we made our way across the border and arrived in Montreal in the evening.

The next morning, we walked from our downtown hotel to Parc du Mont Royal, the expansive park in the heart of the city.  There’s been a Black-backed Woodpecker here all winter, but we did not know exactly where.  We did find a grove of Scotch Pine that had the classic sign of foraging Black-backs, but we didn’t see it…or much else, really.  Just like at home, deciduous-dominated forests are awfully quiet right now.
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After lunch, we visited the Botanical Gardens, including their impressive Insectarium and extensive greenhouse biomes.  Stealing the show, however, was the free-flying butterfly (and some moths) exhibit.
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A stroll around Olympic Park…
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…Was followed by dinner, at a place with 30 kinds of poutine on the menu: Poutine la Banquisse!
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The next day, another walk at Parc du Mont Royal (which was actually less birdy than our first visit) …
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…was followed by exploration of Old Montreal and the OldPort.  Unfortunately, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.
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The storm was fully upon us…
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…as we ventured out for our “splurge” dinner of the trip at the famous Au Pied de Cochon.  Because we didn’t have enough poutine the night before, we shared the intriguing and tasty fusion of a poutine temaki, and the duck carpaccio.  Entrees were outstanding as well, with Jeannette getting primal with a Bison rib as I went all in with what may have been the best sandwich I have ever eaten – and by far the most expensive!  With 10 grams of truffles and an apparent three pounds of butter, this was not your everyday grilled cheese!
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The snow was piling up as we departed the restaurant…
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…and about 8 inches had accumulated by morning.  Now that we actually knew where to look for the Black-backed Woodpecker at Mont Royal, it turned out it was rather east to find after all!

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Before hitting the road, we took a walk around Ile Sainte-Helene, which was actually quite birdy; the birdiest place in the city during this short visit.  In addition to the usual woodland residents, goodly numbers of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins were present.  Waterbirds in the fast-moving river were limited to four Common Mergansers and a single Common Loon, however.
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It was a long and slow drive home, in large part due to the heavy snow in the mountains.  With about two feet in some places, a few of the passes in northern New Hampshire and Maine were a little interesting.  I think it’s safe to say it was a good idea to have taken our Subaru on this road trip!
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Back to work early in the morning on Friday, we were very pleased to be greeted at the store by some Red-winged Blackbirds.  The hawkwatch is underway, with a goodly 38 birds on the first day (6 Red-shouldered Hawk!), spring is definitely here…even if, once again, it doesn’t feel like it!

The Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch Gets Underway on 3/15!

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Hawkwatching season is here!  Freeport Wild Bird Supply (FWBS) will be partnering with Leica Sport Optics to sponsor the Spring Hawkwatch at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, beginning on March 15th.  2014 marks the eighth consecutive season for this project through which valuable data is collected while providing an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors. 
           
This year, we welcome back Katrina Fenton for her third season as the Official Counter.  A native New Englander, Katrina is an experienced hawkwatcher, having spent many hours over five years with the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory and Carter Hill Hawkwatch in New Hampshire as well as her extensive experience at The Brad.  She’ll be stationed at the summit from 9:00am to 5:00 pm daily from March 15th to May 15th.    
           
Rising 485 feet above the southern coastal plain, Bradbury Mountain provides unimpeded views to the south and east all the way to the islands of Casco Bay. Whether using updrafts off the mountain, gliding overhead, or soaring over the plains, observers watch raptors utilizing a variety of migratory methods as they work their way north.  The goal of the project is to document this migration by identifying and counting all raptors that pass by the mountain.  During our best spring (2010), we counted 4474 hawks, including 52 Bald Eagles, 500 Ospreys and 1746 Broad-winged Hawks.  Over a period of years, these data can be analyzed to determine trends in species numbers as well as changes in distributions, which when studied in conjunction with other monitoring sites across the continent, give us a broadscale idea of what is happening with raptor populations. 
           
But, it is not just about the numbers.  Hawkwatching is a very social activity that is accessible to birders of all abilities.  Last spring, we saw more than 1600 visitors!  Seeing your first kettle (group of birds rising up on an updraft or thermal) of 50+ Broad-winged Hawks, or learning how to tell the difference between a Bald Eagle and a Turkey Vulture is an eye-opening experience for many folks.  Organized hawkwatch sites, like Bradbury Mountain, are great places to meet new people and learn about raptors and the conservation issues they face at the same time.
          
With the cold and snowy weather of late, few of the early-season migrants (Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Rough-legged hawks) have already passed through, which bodes very well for our early-season tallies.   And tomorrow’s weather looks perfect to get things off with a bang!
           
So, grab your binoculars and join us atop Bradbury Mountain this spring.  Katrina will gladly answer questions about the raptors you will see and help visitors learn what to look for to identify the 18 species that may pass by.  The hawkwatch is free, though there is an entry fee to the park.
Hope to see you on the summit!
For more information (including directions to the count site and previous seasons’ data, please visit:
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