Not Seeing a Tufted Puffin at Machias Seal Island…but not really caring!

I don’t chase birds too often. But every now and then, I do get the urge. When a Tufted Puffin was spotted on Machias Seal Island, off of Cutler, on June 17th, I knew that this was one that I was going to chase: it’s one of my favorite birds in the world, and this was only the 3rd of 4th record for the entire Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, it has been seen only sporadically; nothing consistent. It can go a week between observations. Machias Seal is not exactly convenient for a quick check. The Bold Coast Charter Company – now the only access in Maine to the island – is booked solid this time of year. We had to charter. I needed enough people to not spend a fortune. The weather had to cooperate. I went to Colorado. So yeah, this was going to be a challenge.

But Captain Andy Patterson was game, so I put thing together. After the first two attempts were called off due to weather (including the passage of Tropical Storm Arthur), 14 of us joined Andy on Sunday afternoon.  And conditions were glorious.

I have never seen it so glass-calm out here! The lighting was great, and there were boatloads of birds on the water. We spent over three hours around the island, slowly cruising through and around rafts of loafing alcids. We scanned each and every rock of the island, twice. We checked out every bird commuting to and from the island.

In the end, I believe that we looked at every single Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, and Razorbill at least three times. Not that the Tufted was a challenging ID, but everyone was being extra careful. But alas, finally we had to throw in the towel and motor back to Cutler.

Rarely have I seen so many smiles on a “dip” (when you miss a bird you are “chasing.”). But of all of the chases I have been on, few could compare to the enjoyment of a gentle boat ride in calm seas out to a remote offshore island with thousands upon thousands of breeding seabirds. So yeah, there are worse places to have not been seeing a specific rare bird. In fact, if all chases were like this, I might chase more.

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Everyone on Little River Island paused to take a look at us, too.

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Northern Gannet on Gull Rock, a recent occurrence.

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Harbor Seals.

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DSC_0014_COMU_taking_flight,MSI,7-20-14_editedC

Common Murre departing.

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Like I was saying, there were a lot of birds on the water!

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1st-summer Atlantic Puffin.

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Colorado!

It’s been 18 years since I have been to Colorado, and over 10 years as part of Jeannette’s family. Yet I had not made the pilgrimage to her aunt and uncle’s ranch in Ridgway. In other words, I was overdue for a trip to this wonderful, and bird-wise, exceptionally diverse state.

We arrived in Denver late on the 8th of July, and somewhat early the next morning began our birding at Genessee Mountain Park. It was a very birdy location, and I enjoyed a host of birds that I have not seen in a good while, including Cordilleran Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Green-tailed Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, and so much more. Like just about everywhere we went in the state, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were talkative: their chirpy-buzzes created by their namesake tail feathers whipping through the air. Animated Black-billed Magpies worked the picnic areas, and Western Wood-Pewees called here and there.
Genessee Park, 7-9-14_edited-1(Don’t forget to click on the images for a full-sized photo).

GTTOGreen-tailed Towhee

Reynold’s Park was next on the agenda, rapidly growing our trip list with the likes of MacGillivray’s Warblers and Townsend’s Solitaire. But as we departed for our drive out of town, I was left still not believing that Williamson’s Sapsuckers actually exist.

This was primarily a friends and family trip, but of course there would be plenty of birding involved. While there were plenty of birds we hoped to see, the primary target species was the Gunnison Sage-Grouse. An overdue candidate for the Endangered Species List, this range-restricted and declining bird was a priority for us. But we were here in mid-summer, not when the males are “booming” conspicuously on the lek in the early spring. We knew we had our work cut out for us, and didn’t truly expect to find this needle in the sagebrush haystack.
Gold Basin Road, Gunnison, 7-10-14

After over two hours of walking up and down roads along and off Gold Basin Road (just south of Gunnison) first thing in the morning, we resigned ourselves to the expected failure, but enjoyed the multitudes of Brewer’s Sparrows and Sage Thrashers. Then, about 100 yards from the car, a big, brown chicken erupts from the side of the road. Gunnison Sage-Grouse! A female, and only about 15 feet away!
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GUSG2

GUSG3

We watched her mosey up a small hillside (did she have chicks hiding nearby?), and so we retreated to some rocks and waited. She didn’t return to the grassy road edge, so we walked around a small rocky mound to get a better look. And that’s when we flushed another one!

We really couldn’t believe our luck as we returned to the car, our mission complete and our spirits high. We also both were happy that we wouldn’t be tempted to try again on the way back to Denver at the end of the trip.

At a more relaxed state now, we birded around the Curecanti National Recreation Area, adding a nice array of waterbirds to our trip list, including a single California Gull, and unexpected over-summering hen Common Goldeneye, and about 25 Western Grebes. One pair of grebes was displaying, head bobbing and posturing to each other. Eventually, they rose to their feet and ran across the water, wings tucked in, necks bent, crests raised, and in perfect unison. I have always wanted to see Western Grebes display.
Curecanti National Rec Area, 7-10-15

Even though it was after noon, and the temperatures had risen well into the 80’s, we decided to give Grace’s Warbler – another potential lifer for me – a shot. Jeannette and had done some excellent research for the trip, and as soon as we stepped out of the car at an unassuming road junction, we heard the male singing! We walked into the open woods here and after a little pishing, the female popped out a mere 15-20 feet away! Then, the male resumed singing and continued to do so until we had fully soaked in his beauty and committed the song to memory (or, at least, attempted to).
GRWAThe cooperative female.

Antlope 

Pronghorn Antelope as we drove back to the highway!

It was hot, but Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was not to be missed. I for one had not known much about the place, and I was stunned by how impressive it was. Black-throated Gray Warblers worked the brush, White-throated Swifts chattered overhead, and the glorious song of the Canyon Wren echoed from the cliffs below. But it was the scenery more than stole the show here.
BTGW'

Black Canyon1,7-10-14

Black Canyon3,7-10-14

We arrived at Deedee and Peter’s Ridgway Ranch in time for dinner, and in need of a good night’s sleep. Come morning, we were greeted by Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the feeder, Western Meadowlarks in the fields, and Western Kingbirds around the house.
Hummers 2Black-chinned Hummingbird

Hummers 3Rufous Hummingbird

Hummers1Broad-tailed Hummingbirds

Family ranch,7-11-14 And this view!

We visited Ouray for lunch, and then hit Box Canyon Falls. How have I not heard of this place? Although I had seen Black Swifts before, I had never imagined there was a place to see them like this – there was one nest about 15 feet off of the staircase! At least three nests (out of about 12 known here) were very easily visible, and looking into these nests was a remarkable experience.
J-Mo at Box Canyon,7-11-14

BLSW

COFL - Box Canyon
Not to mention what might have been the world’s most confiding Cordilleran Flycatcher.

Birding up Camp Bird Road, we encountered lots of singing White-crowned Sparrows and Swainson’s Thrushes, a few Gray Jays, and runners taking part in a grueling ultra-marathon.
Camp Bird Road, 7-11-14

On the 12th, we got an earlier start and ventured north into Colorado National Monument. While the park itself was the primary motivation for this outing, the chance at my lifer Gray Vireo only added to the anticipation. And with two birds well seen at our first stop (the Devil’s Kitchen picnic area), we were free to take in the scenery, and enjoy the likes of Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black-throated Sparrows (a favorite of both of us), cute Juniper Titmice, and comical Gambell’s Quail. Oh, and the scenery was simply breathtaking.
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lizard - Colorado N.M. Does anyone know what kind of lizard this is?

Making a big loop, we climbed into Grand Mesa National Forest where Jeannette caught the birding bug while working on a field biology project with Boreal Owls. Wilson’s Warblers, Lincoln Sparrows, and an Olive-sided Flycatcher were added to the triplist, but I was more interested in hearing Jeannette reminisce. No Boreal Owls, however.
Grand Mesa,7-12-14

Half-way through our trip on Sunday the 13th, we were content with our birding successes (well, expect Williamson’s Sapsucker, but that doesn’t exist) so we planned a relaxing day in Telluride. Or so we thought.

We went out for a big breakfast before heading southwest, steadily climbing into the mountains. A hike to work off breakfast was in order, so we headed up the Bear Creek Trail from downtown Telluride. Cordilleran Flycatchers were impressively vocal and conspicuous in town and the trail, which also held lots of Warbling Vireos, Pine Siskins, and “Gray-headed” Juncos.

But our less-bird-centric day would take a turn just over a half-mile up the trail. Jeannette and I stopped dead in our tracks as we heard the enchanting song of a “Winter Wren” emanating from the gully. But Winter Wrens aren’t supposed to be here. Plus, it doesn’t sound right – the song is a higher-pitched, buzzier, and more mechanical than what we are used to. Pacific Wren!? Well, that’s not supposed to be here either. We listened longer, and I made a recording of this complex song using my iPhone. We briefly sighted the bird on the top of a spruce on the other side of the stream. It looked dark, and lacking the pale-throated contrast of a Winter Wren, but the lighting was poor, and the look was distant and short.

We checked the range map on the Sibley app. Hmm…neither Pacific nor Winter Wrens are supposed to be here. And it sure has heck sounded to us like a Pacific Wren. I had limited cell signal, so I shot a text to our friend David LaPuma, who was currently in the state as an instructor at the American Birding Association’s Camp Colorado. I asked him about the status of Pacific Wren in Colorado in the summer, and he simply replied “Unheard of.”

But by the time we received that exhilarating and intriguing response, the bird had ceased singing, and we had continued along on our hike. The scenery was beautiful, the songs of Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes were emanating from the woods, and a close encounter with a foraging pair of Evening Grosbeaks was enjoyable. But we were distracted.
Bear Creek Trail, Telluride,7-13-14

We were going to email some birders in Colorado to determine just how “good” this “good bird” was once we got back into town, but just to be sure, we decided to try for better documentation and very specific directions so that others could re-find it should they so desire. The bird was once again belting out its vocals at the same spot, so we took careful field notes, made some more recordings, and this time I was able to take this “documentation” shot by holding my phone up to my binoculars.

PAWR,BearCreekTrail,Telluride,D_edited-1

After listening to the bird for over 20 minutes, observing it as long as we could, and discussing the song as compared to our knowledge of the variation in Winter Wren (a species we are very familiar with from a wide part of its range) – unlike Pacific Wren, which neither of us have heard in some time. In fact, the last time either of us heard one, it didn’t have the name of Pacific Wren (it was a group of subspecies under the moniker “Winter Wren’)! But we were convinced.

When Tony Leukering replied with “…no summer records and less than five overall…” for Pacific Wren, we realized the magnitude of this “Mega.” We sent him, and others, including Ted Floyd, our notes, the voice recordings, and the lousy photo for what it was worth.

The next morning, two local birders re-found the bird, and managed to get “crippling” photos of it. Not only that, but they watched it building a nest! The close-up photos showed the rich buff color of the throat and upper chest that we expect on a Pacific Wren, although these two species are notoriously challenging to separate. Preliminary analysis of the song – including by those very familiar with the two species – seemed to confirm our identification (but since we’re still learning how to separate these two “new” species, we know there is always the chance our judgment could be overturned; the song was going to be analyzed with a spectrograph for example).

We were elated! Finding a mega-rarity on vacation is outstanding, especially on a day when birding wasn’t a priority. But isn’t that always the case? The unexpected love to show up when they are least expected, aka when you don’t have your real camera.

But we still had 2 1/2 days of vacation remaining. Could we top the wren? Probably not, but we did enjoy more good birding. Presumably set off by the onset of the monsoon season, most places we visited were full of birds – and unlike July in the Northeast – full of birdsong. This included the family ranch, where a morning stroll added Virginia’s Warbler to the triplist and a Calliope Hummingbird arrived at the feeder (yay, 4-hummingbird species at a feeder!). Two flycatching Lewis’s Woodpeckers were a pleasant surprise over the downtown Ridgway as we began our journey back to Denver.

We had one last target bird, and as soon as we got out of the car just outside of Montrose, we heard Jeannette’s lifer Sagebrush Sparrow singing. And then saw four. Score!

The rest of the day was spent traversing the countryside to get back to Denver. Beautiful scenery was to be had at almost every bend of the road.
driving to Denver,7-14-14

driving to Denver2,7-14-14

Arriving at my friends’ place in Denver – a dear friend since college – we settled down into a couple of relaxing days of catching up, being tourists, and enjoying way too much food, and a little beer.

Of course, Jeannette and I would go through withdrawal if we didn’t pick up our binoculars once a day, so while Jess pushed the stroller (for her son, not us, for the record) and guided us through Washington Park, Jeannette and I padded our trip – and my state – list with Black-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy Egret, Blue Jay, and Chimney Swifts (yup, back in the “East” now!). An afternoon in downtown Denver included a walk around Confluence Park – hmm, I think this would be my “patch” if I lived locally; it looked very intriguing for migration I thought
Confluence Park, Denver, 7-15-14

We had the morning of the 16th to bird before departing for home, so we headed over to another urban park, Belmar Park in Lakewood. Cooper’s Hawk was new for our trip list, but a low-soaring Swainson’s Hawk was the highlight. A brief stop at nearby Sanctuary Park – it looked like it had some birds from the road – trumped Belmar Park. “The pond of fuzziness” including chicks and young juveniles of a surprising array of birds: Mallards, American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, and Redheads. The latter three, along with a single hen Northern Pintail, were all state birds for me.
PBGR with kids Pied-billed Grebe with chicks.

REDH Redhead juveniles.

Sanctuary Park,Lakewood,7-16-14 It’s a fuzzy romper room!

But alas, eventually it was time to go home. We said goodbye to Jess, and little Stone, but had some more time with Adam as we carpooled to the airport. We encountered an impressive 120 species on this rather-casual trip, and my state list grew by leaps and bounds. On our way to the airport, Western Kingbirds lined the roadways, and we said goodbye to the birds of the Mountain West as we took off and returned to our favorite state of them all.

Post-Arthur Beach Birding and Catch-Up

I know I haven’t been blogging much this summer, but I hope you know that doesn’t mean I haven’t been birding. Quite the contrary, actually! My June was as busy with tours and private guiding as it could have been, and with some other projects going on, much of my birding was rather purposeful. Of course, there was some wholly-recreational birding mixed in as well from time to time. Despite my irregular blogging, I did my best to keep folks up to date with my birding adventures and discoveries, mostly with near-daily posts to our store’s Facebook Page. (Remember, you need not be “on Facebook” to browse the posts of a business page.)

It was a busy month. But that’s not a complaint. And now, Jeannette and I are off to Colorado for a bona-fide vacation, to visit friends, family, and yes, do some birding. But first, I had Sunday morning to find some birds. My third attempt to organize a charter to see the Tufted Puffin that has been seen irregularly at Machias Seal Island (3rd or 4th record for the entire Atlantic Ocean!) was thwarted by residual high seas and localized damage from the passage of Tropical Storm Arthur. While Arthur took away my chance to see a Tufted Puffin in Maine waters, I was hoping it would produce some rarities of its own.

In a tropical system, birds are sometimes entrained in the eye, while others are pushed out ahead of the storm. This displacement usually occurs in the strong northeastern quadrant of the storm, and birds escape the eye when it hits land. With the storm passing to the east of Maine, I did not expect to see any vagrants on Friday. However, when the storm reached land in southern Nova Scotia on Saturday morning, birders there were in prime position for rarities. And sure enough: lots of Black Skimmers, several Gull-billed, Royal Terns, and Forster’s Terns…all rarities from points further south. (You can peruse the reports from the province, here).

These birds, commonly displaced by tropical systems, were likely picked up by the storm as it passed over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Thursday. Here’s the cumulative wind map as of 11:00am on Friday, with the storm’s center already off of the Delmarva Peninsula.
entrainment

As the storm hit Nova Scotia, birds finally had a chance to escape its grips. But notice the winds for Maine – they were already strong out of the northwest, on the backside of the storm (note the light winds of the disintegrating eye over the northern Bay of Fundy).
current winds,7-5-14

So Nova Scotia birders were having a lot of fun…and I was not seeing a Tufted Puffin. So instead, I decided to comb the beaches to look for some of these terns that perhaps are already returning south. While most of these birds likely made a bee-line straight across the Gulf of Maine on their return journey, some birds might conceivably follow the coast.

After birding Eastern Road at high tide (34 Least Sandpipers and 20 Short-billed Dowitchers – fall migration is definitely underway!), Lois Gerke and I headed to Pine Point Beach, where we spent a little more than an hour watching from the jetty. As the tide went out, exposing the sandbar and flats, Common, Least, and a few Roseate Terns were feeding, roosting, and loafing with at least a hundred Bonaparte’s Gulls. But alas, there was nothing unusual among them.

I then checked the mudflats from the co-op (more Short-billed Dowitchers, a few more Roseate Terns, and a lot of feeding Common Terns) before I spent the remainder of low tide at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford. At least 8 Roseate Terns, 75+ Bonaparte’s Gulls, 17 Short-billed Dowitchers, and my first Whimbrel of the year joined the regulars, but alas, no rare terns.

It appears I had the right idea, but just the wrong timing. Later in the afternoon, a Royal Tern was found at Hill’s Beach. And then, this morning, two Black Skimmers were roosting at Stratton Island. There are still quite a few waifs being seen in Nova Scotia, so it is conceivable that the coming days could see some reports of returning rarities here in Maine. Unfortunately, this morning, I had time only for a quick stroll at Capisic Pond Park. No rare terns there, but I did see my first Monarch butterfly of the season – which, the way things are going for this species, is even more exciting.

Meanwhile, indirectly storm-related were the 6 Glossy Ibis that were a little bit of a surprise on my Saturday Morning Birdwalk along Highland Road in Brunswick. The heavy rain nicely saturated the soil, and gulls and these ibis had moved inland to take advantage of the bounty.

In other birding news, a pair of Evening Grosbeaks has been frequenting our Pownal feeders – which are particularly exciting considering the dearth of them this year…in fact, these are the only ones that I have seen all year long. And, even more unexpectedly, three Eastern Bluebirds have hatched right here at the store!

Arthur gave us a momentary glimmer of rarity fever, and “fall’ shorebird migration is definitely underway. But July is for breeding birds – from terns to “sharp-tailed” sparrows to bluebirds and warblers. In other words, there’s no such thing as the “summer birding doldrums!”

The 2014 “Claybrook Mountain Lodge Birding Weekend” Trip Report

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White-throated Sparrows were one of an impressive 87 species of birds recorded in just 2 days of birding on this enjoyable, “Maine Woods Immersion” tour.

The “Claybrook Mountain Lodge Birding Weekend” tour is one of my favorite outings that we offer. Its focus is not about species, but learning about habitats, and immersing ourselves in the birds, plants, and wildlife of the Maine Woods. This is a different style of tour than what usually occupies me in June. Following private tours for “target species” and three trips for Bicknell’s Thrush, this is a welcome change of pace. It’s a nice way to end my June guiding busy-season.

While the goal of the trip is to see a lot of species, and we were all excited to reach – and then eclipse – the 85 species spotted on this trip in 2012, the list is just record-keeping; it is not the primary purpose. Instead, our goal is to spend two days immersed in birds: learning songs, observing behaviors, and simply enjoying the diverse avifauna that summer in Maine has to offer.
Lodge,K

We began on Friday afternoon, with the group assembling on the porch and lawn of the Claybrook Mountain Lodge. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest was found, a Great-crested Flycatcher sallied for bugs around the garden, and a various birds foraged in the trees, from Red-eyed Vireos to an American Redstart while Tree and Barn Swallows zoomed around.

After our first scrumptious dinner, we enjoyed some casual birding in the evening light, and then headed out at dusk for a little owling. Of course the Barred Owl – as is often the case at this season – waited for just about everyone to fall asleep before finally calling nearby.

On Saturday, a stroll before breakfast resulted in lots of “awwww’s” when a family group of recently-fledged Eastern Bluebirds were discovered.
EABL_kids,N

Fueled by a hearty breakfast, we boarded the van and Greg Drummond – a master of the Maine Woods – took us around, as we worked our way up and down Long Falls Dam Road. We sampled a variety of habitats, starting in the mostly-deciduous woods around the lodge and working our way in and out of spruce-fir-tamarack dominated bogs.
Kettle_bog,K

Some of the bogs we visited hosted some of the species reaching the very southern limits of their breeding range, such as Palm and Wilson’s Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. Meanwhile, species such as Pine Warbler are at their northernmost reaches. Over the course of the day, other avian highlights included two well-seen American Bitterns, at least four different Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest holes, displaying Wilson’s Snipe, Common Merganser chick riding Mom’s back across Flagstaff Lake, and lots of good looks at a wide range of species.

Of course we looked for Boreal “specialties” including the likes of Black-backed Woodpeckers, Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, and “spruce” warblers such as Bay-breasted and Cape May. While it is unfortunate that the boreal forest pockets that we did hit failed to produce any of these birds today, it is the habitat that is the primary focus – I have other tours if the “Boreal Breeders” are primary targets. They would have just been another layer of icing on the cake. The dearth of finches in Maine this summer was also apparent – only Purple and goldfinches were seen this weekend.

In addition to spending time to stop and smell the Twinflower (which at one point resulted in the startling discovery of a Dark-eyed Junco nest), we spent a lot of time studying and discussing habitats. Birds are our priority, but a host of other species was enjoyed, from a variety of butterflies to a range of amphibians. In fact, after adding a Northern Leopard Frog early Sunday morning, we heard – and for the most part, saw –  all of Maine’s frogs and toad: Green, Mink, Bull, Pickerel, Leopard, Spring Peeper, Gray Tree Frog, and American Toad!
Pickerel_Frog,K

The world’s most aggressive young Garter Snake –of the checkered and non-gartered “Maritime” subspecies – put on quite show and we all enjoyed seeing so many Snowshoe Hares on our morning drive…and lots of Moose sign.

Maritime_Garter_Snake,N Maritime_Garter_Snake,K

Plants were not ignored either. In addition to looking at the trees that make up the various habitats here, we checked out a range of wildflowers, and especially marveled at the magnificent plants of the bog, such as the insectivorous Sundew…
Sundew,K_Lindquist_edited-1

…and the surprising flowers of the Pitcher Plant.
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Butterflies included numerous Northern Crescents and Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, but also some clusters of the bog-breeding Harris’s Checkerspot.
flutterby,Nancy_Houlihan_edited-1

All the while we learned about life in the Maine Woods from Greg. Whether it was explaining Moose tracks, showing bear scratches, or explaining the good, the bad, and the ugly of timber and wildlife “management,” his wealth of knowledge about so many topics is one of the best aspects of this tour – I for one learn a ton from him every time he points something out.

So this tour benefits from Greg’s knowledge and expertise…and Pat’s home cooking!  Perfectly-simple sandwiches on homemade bread are packed for lunch, and when Greg takes us to a place like this to devour them, well, it’s as good as life can get.
Lunch_at_Flagstaff,K

It was hot, and birds were quiet in the afternoon. We checked a few patches on the way back to the lodge – as much for the forest as its birds – but everyone welcomed the designated naptime.  Another delectable dinner fueled our bonus evening tour, when Greg took us out once again to hit some local hotspots, and our list grew, as did our collection of breathtaking views and lovely photos.

Back_Road_Bog,K

We were up and at it again shortly after sunrise on Sunday, but I postponed our planned walk of the Drummond’s 200-acres of carefully-managed property (we compared and contrasted these woods to those ravaged by the likes of Plum Creek). Instead, we set out in pursuit of Mourning Warblers – breaking my rule of not going after “target birds” on this trip!  But after failing to turn one up at several seemingly-promising stops on Saturday, and after hearing how many people had not seen a MOWA for their year, ABA, or even life lists, I decided to bend the rules a little. Besides, we are in one of the best areas for this charismatic species.

Besides, I think Greg likes a challenge!  A loop through some likely spots in the area failed to produce however, but as Greg passed by one last clearcut, he slammed on the breaks. And sure enough, within just a couple of minutes, we all had our binoculars on a most-cooperative Mourning Warbler! I think Greg was as happy as anyone…as usual, I was relieved as much as anything (I’m not supposed to get guide-stress on this trip!).

Returning to the lodge, we took a walk through the woods, adding a couple more species to the list, and checking out the famous “bear pole” where generations of Black Bears have come to sent mark – and take chunks out of the last bear’s efforts.
Bear pole, Me_edited-1

Following lunch on the porch, we began our journey home by caravanning down to Gilman Pond.  Osprey and Common Loon at the lake we added to our list, more Bald Eagles were spotted, and at the farm along the road, Canada Geese, Bobolinks, and Killdeer were our final “new” birds for the trip.
Gilman_Pond,K

But I was presented with one last challenge. A persistent call from the edge of the pond in the meadow had me at a total loss.  Then, there was a second individual, confusing things further. I wracked my brain and went through every possible species I could think of – from the common to the rare. I was leaning towards Common Gallinule – a rarity in Maine, but not a stretch given the nearby habitat – when somehow I spotted a distant shorebird head poking through the grass.  As I got the scope on what was probably a Wilson’s Snipe, the bird took off, flew closer to us, and called. Then, our mystery sound burst from the grass, and fluttering towards the adult. “Baby snipe!” I exclaimed.  Mystery solved. And with that – and with rapidly rising temperatures – the trip concluded. A learning experience for all was just right to bring a successful Claybrook Mountain Lodge Birding Weekend Tour to a close.

When all was said and done, our 48-hr trip list was 87 species of birds, including 19 species of warblers. While this is not a “listing” trip with focused effort on specific species (well, mostly; see above), our objective is to see a wide range of the breeding species of the Maine woods. That, we most certainly accomplished. Here’s the complete list.

(* indicates juveniles or active nests observed; doesn’t include the array of other breeding behaviors observed, such as “carrying food” or “agitation.”)

Canada Goose*
Wood Duck
American Black Duck
Mallard*
Hooded Merganser*
Common Merganser*
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern (4!)
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Wilson’s Snipe*
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker*
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker*
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker*
Eastern Wood-Pewee
YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER
Alder Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe*
Great-crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven*
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee*
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET
Eastern Bluebird
Veery
Swainson’s Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling*
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Nashville Warbler
MOURNING WARBLER
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
PALM WARBLER
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
WILSON’S WARBLER
Scarlet Tanager
Chipping Sparrow*
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco*
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

I hope you will join us when we return in 2016! (For more information on this, and other Freeport Wild Bird Supply tours, visit the “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page of our website.

group_birding,K

“Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” Trip(s) Report

June is my busiest guiding season. Bicknell’s Thrush, Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, and Atlantic Puffin are my most popular requests, and there is little doubt that I could fill my entire month with Bicknell’s Thrush tours!

My first visit of the season to the realm of the thrush was last week, as part of a very successful three-day tour for a client visiting from Vancouver. We saw 7 of 8 of our targets: Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrow, Great Cormorant (3!), Bicknell’s Thrush, American Woodcock, Atlantic Puffin, and Manx Shearwater. And most we saw very, very, well. We only missed Razorbill due to a strategic decision that we agreed upon, and in the end, said decision worked out very well as we had unbelievable views of the shearwater.

DSC_0006_GRCO1,CapeNeddick,6-10-14_edited-1 First-summer Great Cormorant.

DSC_0049_MASH1,Revere,6-12-14_edited-2 Manx Shearwater!

In addition to the species we were seeking, we ran into several other highlights, the most noteworthy of which was an unseasonable subadult male Common Goldeneye at Cutt’s Island in Kittery. Other highlights included a truant Olive-sided Flycatcher at Reid State Park, and an Arctic Tern – usually an offshore feeder – feeding with Roseate and Common Terns off of East Point in Biddeford Pool.

Then, this past weekend was my popular annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” van tour. Meeting at the store on Saturday morning, we headed for the hills, beginning with a surprise detour to West Paris.  For this:

DSC_0006_SNOW,West_Paris,JUNE-14-14_edited-1

That’s right, a Snowy Owl in Maine in June! Really remarkable. And how’s that for a way to start off a weekend tour?  We then made a turn for the White Mountains, and after a couple of stops, arrived at Trudeau Road for this:

DSC_0025_BBWO,TrudeauRd,NH,6-14-14_edited-1

Of course, as awesome as a Snowy Owl and a nest-ful of Black-backed Woodpeckers (this is the male above, who kindly paused to preen between visits to feed the young. We also had a great look at the female, who nearly dropped a fecal sac on the group!) are on a birding tour, this is a thrush trip, so our remarkable day of birding would rapidly fade into memory if we didn’t find our one true quarry.

After an early dinner, we boarded the specialized vans of the Mount Washington Stage Line for our private charter up the mountain. It was gorgeous at the base, but looking up, we knew the summit would be different.

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And it was!

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Luckily, the thrushes’ habitat was below the clouds tonight, and so after visiting the summit and checking for American Pipits (too windy, but the flowers were fantastic), we dropped down and began our real mission.

Birding_Auto_Road_by_Kristen_edited-1  Birding_Auto_Road_by_Kristen2_edited-1

Although it took a lot more work than usual, we were all eventually rewarded with good to great views of this enigmatic species. We saw two or three different birds, and heard up to 4 others – a good count for the short stretch of habitat that we cover. It was even the 700th ABA-area bird for one of the clients – a fantastic bird for an impressive milestone. A short celebration was called for upon our return to our hotel.

On Sunday morning, the second day of this two-day “target species” tour, the weather looked gorgeous, but the birding was challenging. Granted, it was going to be hard to top Day 1 anyway – we were probably the first tour in history to see a Bicknell’s Thrush and a Snowy Owl in the same day!  It certainly was a novel – and a completely unexpected – experience for me.

Birding the Caps Ridge Trail in dense fog and cool temperatures to start the day was less productive than usual, but it was still a nice walk into boreal habitat and enjoy the beautiful forest here. Blackpoll Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were conspicuous today, at least.

Very strong, downsloping winds cleared the skies for us at our next few stops, but those winds only increased, and birding became a challenge. My favorite spot for Philadelphia Vireo, for example, was just too windswept. Actually, standing upright was occasionally a challenge. But finding some shelter on the backside of a mountain via a short, but steep hike, a few of us were treated to another view of a Bicknell’s Thrush – just as a little more icing on the cake.

A great lunch followed our birding, fueling us for the drive back to Freeport (or, at least, until the ice cream stop) and capping another successful “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” weekend.  With one more private thrush tour next weekend, I can only hope my luck with the weather and with seeing the thrush – a mythological bird to some – continues.

IMG_3632 Happy Thrush-watchers!

2014 MonhegZen Spring Migration Birding Weekend.

Ahh, Monhegan Island.

If only I could bird there every day for a full spring (or fall; I won’t be picky). But for now, I will relish my weekends there, and last weekend was our MonhegZen Migration Spring Birding Weekend…and the island did not disappoint.

So while we always expect the unexpected, we most definitely were not expecting this one.
DSC_0124_BRSP1,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1 (Click on the photos for a larger image).

This first state record Brewer’s Sparrow was definitely not high on anyone’s list of next birds for Monhegan, or Maine (certainly not mine!). But more on the sparrow later.

Half of the group arrived with me on the Hardy Boat out of New Harbor on Friday morning, greeted by a veil of fog.

Arrival on Monhegan, 5-23-14
While the shroud of mist offered a lovely scene, it did put a damper on the birding for a little while (excuse the pun), but soon it cleared, and as the ceiling rose, so did the bird activity. In fact, this was the start of a fine weekend of weather – OK, it was rather chilly; extra blankets were dispersed for the night – but other than a few brief, very light showers, our Gore-Tex remained tucked away. We’ll call that a win.

Just about the first bird that we glassed upon our arrival was an immature male Orchard Oriole.  That’s the way we like to start a MonhegZen Birding Weekend!

The rest of Day 1 was highlighted by re-finding one of two immature male Summer Tanagers that had been frequenting the island lately. Friends picked up some seed on their way down (yes, the guy that owns a birdseed store and has several tons of seed on hand forgot to bring seed and had to have someone slum it at a hardware store. Gasp!), and we restocked the stash that kept the tanager visible for all through the weekend.
DSC_0017_SUTA,Monhegan,5-23-14_edited-1

The tanager was our first “good” bird of the trip, but most of us agreed that the kingbird show near the pumphouse was the highlight of the first day. Indeed, it was a highlight for the entire weekend.  Sheltered from a persistent, but raw and cold, easterly wind, the back corner of the town marsh was just about the only place with flying insects out and about. Therefore, flycatchers had piled up here, led by 21 Eastern Kingbirds (growing to 25 by Saturday afternoon, before diminishing on Sunday and Monday).
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Other flycatchers were present here, including a couple of cooperative Eastern Wood-Pewees, and several Least Flycatchers.
DSC_0047_LEFL1,Monhegan,5-24-14_edited-1

Little to no migration was visible on the radar overnight Friday into Saturday, and the lack of reorienting birds overhead after sunrise on Saturday morning confirmed the minimal movement overnight.  Although I awoke to a singing Mourning Warbler out my window, we never did catch up with one over the weekend.

But over the course of the day (as our group grew in size), we beat the bush and slowly but surely built up our species total. The Summer Tanager, the immature male Orchard Oriole, a very entertaining Peregrine Falcon over Manana, and 16 species of warblers were the day’s headliners. But yeah, by Monhegan standards, this was a slow day.

Sunday was not.

A light to moderate migration clearly produced some turnover, and plenty of new birds.  Some warblers were reorienting over the Trailing Yew after sunrise – always a good sign – and our walk to Lobster Cove was much slower in pace than on Saturday. A singing Field Sparrow, a calling Common Nighthawk, and a streaking Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush were among the species that we added to our tally.

Then the text came through.

When describing our itinerary – or lack thereof – for the coming days upon our arrival, I talked about how chasing birds (dropping everything and running across the island) is often a futile exercise here, and instead we would work our way towards good birds, keeping our eyes open for them – and enjoying everything in our path. I joked that “but if I need it for my island list, all bets are off.”

First state records?  Fuhgettaboutit. Off we went. And I make no apologies…luckily, the coffee pot was on the way. I might not have gotten away with it otherwise.

So yeah, “Maine’s International Birder of Mystery” discovered a Brewer’s Sparrow.  First found at the edge of the road at its terminus at the Ice Pond, it soon made its way into a nearby yard. Dandelion seeds were its quarry.

DSC_0120_BRSP3,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1

  DSC_0131_BRSP7,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1  DSC_0116_BRSP6,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1  DSC_0075_BRSP5,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1  DSC_0069_BRSP2,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1

There were other birds to look at too. While I scrutinized the extent of streaking on the nape and crown of the sparrow and took way too many photos, the more sane of the group enjoyed a splash of color at the nearby feeders – at least 3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and an Indigo Bunting.
DSC_0100_RBGRandINBU,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1

Elsewhere, a Clay-colored Sparrow on one of my other seed stashes, several great views of Philadelphia Vireos, the continuing Summer Tanager, a second Orchard Oriole (an adult male) and a variety of warblers were the other highlights.

All weekend long we had been enjoying lots of warblers, but somehow we only amassed 19 species (we missed singles of Nashville and Prairie seen by others). But of those that we did see, most of them we saw stunningly well. Magnolia, American Redstart, Yellow, and Common Yellowthroat dominated each day, but we had a bunch of Northern Parulas and Chestnut-sided on Sunday as well.  And the views of Canada Warblers and one particular Northern Waterthrush will be tough to beat.

Like each of our first two days on the island, Sunday’s tour came to an end at the Monhegan Brewing Company. On Sunday night, the Brewer’s Sparrow was celebrated, and ideas for a “Brewer’s Brew” or something like that was hatched.

The group had accumulated 89 species (including the aforementioned 19 species of warblers), which was actually well below average for my MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekends.  But at least for me, I had one day left to add to the total, as I extended my stay for another night.

A very strong flight overnight suggested that this was a good call, but I was surprised by how many fewer birds were around on Monday morning than on Sunday. Especially when surrounded by fog – as we were overnight and into the morning – I have found that on really strong flights with favorable conditions, birds probably fly over the island. Perhaps the shroud of fog prevented them from even knowing there was an island below.

However, nearly three hours after sunrise, the winds shifted to the southwest, the ceiling lifted, and all of the sudden, there were warblers in the air. Had they been silently creeping around the forests, waiting for some clearing to reorient to the mainland?  Or, were these birds that were overhead, lost above the fog, looking for a place to finally land?

Hard to say, but for a couple of hours, the birding was quite good. Blackpoll Warblers had increased dramatically, and I had more Bay-breasted and Tennessee Warblers than the previous days, and the Cedar Waxwing flock increased dramatically.

Jeannette and Sasha (finally making her first trip here at the age of 14) arrived, and our friends Paul and Kristen joined us for the next couple of hours.  Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers continued to put on a good show, as did the Brewer’s Sparrow.  More importantly for Jeannette, she was able to successfully twitch all three things she was after today: Hardy Boat cinnamon rolls, Novelty pizza, and Monhegan Brewing.  Yeah, she looked at the sparrow, too.

While Sasha was unable to successfully add Brewer’s Sparrow to her list, she did carefully study plumage variation in Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. 
Sasha_watching_gulls,Monhegan,5-26-14

She also joined us at the brewery for one final pint.
Sasha_atMonheganBrewery,5-26-14

When many of us present for the weekend’s excitement boarded the boat at 3:15, I was sorry to go, as usual. I eked out 94 species when all was said and done (still below average for a spring weekend out here) including 19 species of warblers (I almost never miss hitting 20 here). While the overall list might have been a little low, the quality of views of most species was hard to beat. The overall quality of the bird list wasn’t too shabby, either. A first state record doesn’t hurt.

The following is my checklist for the group for Friday through Sunday. Monday’s total included birds seen with Jeannette, Paul, and Kristen. The included numbers for each day are conservative estimates or counts of the number of individuals of each species we saw and/or heard on the island (not including the ferry rides).

Species: Friday, May 23rd/Saturday May 24th/Sunday, May 25th/Monday, May 26th.

American Black Duck: 1/0/0/0
Mallard: 15/21/10/10
Black Scoter: 0/0/0/2
Common Eider: x/x/x/x
Red-breasted Merganser: 0/0/0/1
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3/4/5/4
Common Loon: 4/6/6/4
Northern Gannet: 5/6/6/12
Double-crested Cormorant: x/x/x/x
Great Blue Heron: 0/3/0/0
Osprey: 1/3/1/0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 0/0/0/1
Peregrine Falcon: 0/1/0/0
Merlin: 1/0/0/0
Virginia Rail: 1/1/1/1
Laughing Gull: 5/12/4/2
Herring Gull: x/x/x/x
Great Black-backed Gull: x/x/x/x
Black Guillemot: x/x/x/x
RAZORBILL: 0/1/0/0
Mourning Dove: 6/6/8/4
Common Nighthawk: 0/0/1/0 (FOY)
Chimney Swift: 1/1/2/0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 2/4/4/3
Downy Woodpecker: 2/0/0/0
Northern Flicker: 1/0/2/2
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 2/2/2/3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher: 0/1/2/2
Alder Flycatcher: 0/0/0/3 (FOY)
“Traill’s” Flycatcher: 0/0/0/5
Least Flycatcher: 3/1/6/6
Eastern Phoebe: 1/0/0/0
Eastern Kingbird: 27/25/14/15
Blue-headed Vireo: 0/0/0/1
Philadelphia Vireo: 0/0/2/4
Red-eyed Vireo: 2/2/12/20
Blue Jay: 8/12/8/8
American Crow: x/x/x/x
Common Raven: 2/2/2/2
Tree Swallow: 8/5/6/6
Bank Swallow: 2/2/2/0
Cliff Swallow: 0/0/1/0
Barn Swallow: 2/2/1/2
Black-capped Chickadee: x/x/x/x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 0/1/2/3
Carolina Wren: 4/8/6/6
Winter Wren: 0/0/1/0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 0/2/2/4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 0/0/0/1 (late)
Veery: 1/1/1/0
GRAY-CHEEKED/BICKNELL’S THRUSH: 0/0/1/0
Swainson’s Thrush: 0/0/1/0
Hermit Thrush: 0/0/1/0
American Robin: 10/10/8/6
Gray Catbird: x/x/x/x
Brown Thrasher: 0/1/1/0
European Starling: 6/4/8/6
Cedar Waxwing: 3/4/18/60
Tennessee Warbler: 0/2/0/4
Northern Parula: 3/12/30/15
Yellow Warbler: 25/25/35/30
Chesnut-sided Warbler: 6/5/20/10
Magnolia Warbler: 25/20/25/20
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 6/8/8/4
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 6/8/0/0
Black-throated Green Warbler: 10/15/15/15
Blackburnian Warbler: 2/0/2/3
Bay-breasted Warbler: 0/1/0/8 (FOY)
Blackpoll Warbler: 4/3/10/50
Black-and-white Warbler: 5/5/10/5
American Redstart: 10/15/35/30
Ovenbird: 0/0/2/0
Northern Waterthrush: 0/3/3/3
MOURNING WARBLER: 0/1/0/0 (FOY)
Common Yellowthroat: 35/35/30/30
Wilson’s Warbler: 4/0/5/1
Canada Warbler: 2/4/4/2
SUMMER TANAGER: 1/1/1/0
Chipping Sparrow: 10/10/6/8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0/0/1/0
BREWER’S SPARROW!!!!: 0/0/1/1
Field Sparrow: 0/0/1/1
Savannah Sparrow: 1/1/3/1
Song Sparrow: x/x/x/x
Swamp Sparrow: 1/2/2/1
White-throated Sparrow: 1/0/10/10
Northern Cardinal: 6/8/8/6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0/0/4/3
Indigo Bunting: 1/3/4/2
Bobolink: 8/6/4/4
Red-winged Blackbird: x/x/x/x
Common Grackle: 10/15/15/10
ORCHARD ORIOLE: 1/1/2/1
Baltimore Oriole: 0/1/3/4

American Goldfinch: 6/12/8/6