2 Early-Season CBC’s in 2014

Thanks to the calendar, for the first time in 7 years, I was able to partake in the Greater Portland Christmas Bird Count on Sunday. Normally a Saturday event – not something someone in retail can pull off in the last weeks before Christmas! – this year the count was held on the first day of the count period.

I covered my old CBC – and usual outside of the CBC – stomping grounds of the Portland peninsula, joined for half of my day by Luke Seitz.  As usual, the scrubby thickets, warm microclimates, and patches of fruit in the big city did not disappoint.

A second-count record Brown Thrasher in a parking lot crabapple along Spring Street was the highlight…

Phone-binned photo by Luke Seitz.

…followed closely by a total of 6 Hermit Thrushes. The previous circle-wide high count was 5!  This bird feasted on Virginia Creeper climbing up a brick wall along Free St.

Phone-binned photo by Luke Seitz.

Two Swamp Sparrows (1 along the Eastern Promenade and 1 at Mercy Pond) were noteworthy, as were our tallies of 44 Northern Cardinals and 26 Northern Mockingbirds in particular, for a total of 42 species.

(Luke Seitz 8:20-12:45).
Miles by foot: 8
Miles by car: 5.7
Start: 34F, cloudy, NW 7
End: 45F (high of 46), clear, NW8

American Black Duck: 4
Mallard: 112
ABDU x Mallard: 3
Common Eider: 176
White-winged Scoter: 1
Long-tailed Duck: 32
Bufflehead: 81
Common Goldeneye: 9
Red-breasted Merganser: 35
Red-throated Loon: 2
Common Loon: 10
Great Blue Heron: 1
Cooper’s Hawk: CW
Red-tailed Hawk: 5
Ring-billed Gull: 42
Herring Gull: 360
Iceland Gull: 2
Great Black-backed Gull: 51
Rock Pigeon: 484
Mourning Dove: 14
Downy Woodpecker: 3
Hairy Woodpecker: 1
Blue Jay: 9
American Crow: 40
Black-capped Chickadee: 46
Tufted Titmouse: 2
White-breasted Nuthatch: 2
Carolina Wren: 3
Hermit Thrush: 6 (!)
American Robin: 7
BROWN THRASHER: 1 (2nd Count Record)
Northern Mockingbird: 26
European Starling: 257
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 1
American Tree Sparrow: 2
Song Sparrow: 22
Swamp Sparrow: 2
White-throated Sparrow: 44
Dark-eyed Junco: 9
Northern Cardinal: 44
House Finch: 82
Pine Siskin: 1
American Goldfinch: 84
House Sparrow: 247

Portland was birdier than usual for mid-December, likely due to an abundance of fruit (especially crabapples) and overall relatively mild temperatures this fall, allowing things like thrushes to stick around/survive in the area.

Sunrise at Moody Point.

Today, Kristen Lindquist and I covered the Moody (Wells-Ogunquit) area for the Southern York County CBC – my usual, exceptionally productive, territory for this count.  Again, it was a very birdy day, but unlike Portland, the birding was a little more challenging. The lack of snow cover and limited ice in the marsh reduce concentrations of birds, and the mild temperatures minimized concentrations at sunny edges. There was a lot of food to be found, so birds weren’t packed together at feeders or dense thickets in warm microclimates.

Nonetheless, we tallied 59 species (below average for this section), and several “good” birds. The best of which was an Eastern Meadowlark in the saltmarsh off of Furbish Rd, a 5th count record. A Common Yellowthroat (10th count record) was in a cattail marsh at Moody Point where I have had yellowthroats on this count more often than not. 8 Dunlin among a goodly 188 Sanderling on Ogunquit Beach were a 7th count record, and other good birds included a Hermit Thrush, 5 American Pipits (Eldridge Rd), a male and female Northern Pintail, and two Harlequin Ducks at our dawn seawatch at Moody Point. Five Black-legged Kittiwakes off Moody Point and 3 Razorbills off of Ogunquit Beach were expected, but always nice to see.

With Kristen Lindquist
Miles by foot: 10.
Miles by car: 8
Start: 28F, clear, calm.
End: 37F (high of 42), clear, very light Var.

Canada Goose: 80
American Black Duck: 91
Mallard: 251
ABDU x Mallard: 2
Common Eider: 67
Harlequin Duck: 2
Surf Scoter: 26
White-winged Scoter: 100
Black Scoter: 45
Long-tailed Duck: 47
Bufflehead: 15
Common Goldeneye: 11
Red-breasted Merganser: 9
Red-throated Loon: 1
Common Loon: 7
Horned Grebe: 18
Red-necked Grebe: 65
Great Cormorant: 1
Red-tailed Hawk: 6
Sanderling: 188
DUNLIN 8 (7th count record)
Ring-billed Gull: 8
Herring Gull: 171
Great Black-backed Gull: 13
Black-legged Kittiwake: 5
Razorbill: 3
Rock Pigeon: 55 (very low)
Mourning Dove: 58
Downy Woodpecker: 14
Hairy Woodpecker: 2
Blue Jay: 25
American Crow: 46
Black-capped Chickadee: 104
Tufted Titmouse: 10
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 10
White-breasted Nuthatch: 18
Carolina Wren: 2 (very low; presumably affected by last winter)
Eastern Bluebird: 7
Hermit Thrush: 1
American Robin: 18
Northern Mockingbird: 2
European Starling: 582
Cedar Waxwing: 45
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 3
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT: 1 (10th count record)
American Tree Sparrow: 19
Song Sparrow: 38
Swamp Sparrow: 2
White-throated Sparrow: 30
Dark-eyed Junco: 92
Northern Cardinal: 39
EASTERN MEADOWLARK: 1 (5th count record)
Purple Finch: 1
House Finch: 142
Pine Siskin: 1
American Goldfinch: 257
House Sparrow: 188

My next CBC will be Freeport-Brunswick on January 3rd.  Until then, Merry Christmas-counting everyone!

The Deal With Alpha Codes, and some Florida Pics.

This week, my blogging was hosted by the American Birding Association. A synthesis of the results of a query that I put out to the Maine-birds listserve regarding why the use of “four-letter (or “alpha” or “banding”) codes on listserves elicits such strong responses is featured in “Open Mic: The Deal With Alpha Codes.” I hope you’ll check it out, and I hope you’ll enjoy (or at least be thought-provoked by it).

Part 1 is here.

And Part 2 is here.

Please consider joining in on the discussion in the comments field of the ABA blog.

Meanwhile, Jeannette and I escaped the ice for a quick four-day trip to Florida for a wedding, a day with family, and an all-too-short day and a half of birding. I’m not sure if I will get a chance to write much of a blog about it, so let me quickly summarize the highlights:

Florida Scrub-Jay was a life bird for Jeannette.  I think this is a “countable” view!

Jeannette’s first ABA-Area Limpkins were among a lovely diversity of birds at the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, one of which posed nicely.
Limpkin on snag,Circle B Bar Reserve,FL, 12-8-14

And while our mutual-lifer Nanday Parakeets were serendipitously spotted as we stepped out of breakfast at a Waffle House (itself a successful “twitch”), a stop in Gulfport for another look (also successful), presented an unexpected photo session with some, let’s say, very cooperative Wood Storks.

As for local birds, I was happy to see the Townsend’s Solitaire was still at Florida Lake Park in Freeport this morning as I took Sasha for a stroll. I spent about 25 minutes with it today, as it alternated feeding on Winterberry and Multiflora Rose, and in classic solitaire-style, perching up on the tallest trees around. That was a nice welcome home.

Finally today, I wanted to steer you over to the Tri-Town Weekly (Freeport-Pownal-Durham) which ran this nice little feature on our store’s 6th Annual Snowbird(er) Contest for our Saturday Morning Birdwalks.

The All-Time Saturday Morning Birdwalk List

Our store, Freeport Wild Bird Supply, offers free birdwalks every Saturday morning, all year long. Meeting at 8:00am, we carpool to a local park of seasonal interest, and return to the store for bird-friendly coffee between 10 and 10:30. With the exception of inclement weather, we limit the drive to about 10-15 minutes away, and visit a variety of parks, waterfront overlooks, and other hotspots.

Over the years, we have seen a lot of good birds. We’ve “chased” as species or two, but we have found our fair share of “good” birds.  Encompassing a wide variety of habitats each season, we have seen an impressive array of species. Spurred on by the Townsend’s Solitaire that the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group enjoyed this past weekend, I have finally compiled a list of all of the species seen on Saturday Morning Birdwalks over the past 10 ½ years (and not including any other trips, tours, or special walks).

This is the “unofficial” list at the moment. UPPERCASE is for species seen only once or twice. I am hoping participants will take a look at the list and see if I have missed anything, or made any errors. I’ll edit the list as changes come in, so please let me know what I missed!

  1. Greater White-fronted Goose
  2. Snow Goose
  4. Cackling Goose
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Wood Duck
  7. Gadwall
  9. American Wigeon
  10. American Black Duck
  11. Mallard
  12. Blue-winged Teal
  13. Northern Shoveler
  14. Northern Pintail
  15. Green-winged Teal
  16. Canvasback
  17. Ring-necked Duck
  18. Greater Scaup
  19. Lesser Scaup
  20. Common Eider
  22. Surf Scoter
  23. White-winged Scoter
  24. Black Scoter
  25. Long-tailed Duck
  26. Bufflehead
  27. Common Goldeneye
  28. Barrow’s Goldeneye
  29. Hooded Merganser
  30. Common Merganser
  31. Red-breasted Merganser
  32. Ruddy Duck
  33. Ruffed Grouse
  34. Wild Turkey
  35. Red-throated Loon
  36. Common Loon
  37. Pied-billed Grebe
  38. Horned Grebe
  39. Red-necked Grebe
  40. Double-crested Cormorant
  41. Great Cormorant
  42. American Bittern
  43. Great Blue Heron
  44. Great Egret
  45. Snowy Egret
  46. Little Blue Heron
  47. Green Heron
  48. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  49. Glossy Ibis
  50. Turkey Vulture
  51. Osprey
  52. Bald Eagle
  53. Northern Harrier
  54. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  55. Cooper’s Hawk
  56. Northern Goshawk
  57. Red-shouldered Hawk
  58. Broad-winged Hawk
  59. Red-tailed Hawk
  60. Rough-legged Hawk
  62. American Kestrel
  63. Merlin
  64. Peregrine Falcon
  66. Black-bellied Plover
  67. American Golden-Plover
  68. Semipalmated Plover
  69. Killdeer
  70. Greater Yellowlegs
  71. Lesser Yellowlegs
  72. Solitary Sandpiper
  73. “Eastern” Willet
  74. Spotted Sandpiper
  75. Whimbrel
  77. Ruddy Turnstone
  78. Red Knot
  79. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  80. Least Sandpiper
  81. White-rumped Sandpiper
  82. Baird’s Sandpiper
  83. Pectoral Sandpiper
  84. Purple Sandpiper
  85. Dunlin
  86. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  87. Short-billed Dowitcher
  89. Wilson’s Snipe
  90. American Woodcock
  92. Laughing Gull
  93. Bonaparte’s Gull
  94. Ring-billed Gull
  95. Herring Gull
  96. Iceland Gull
  97. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  98. Glaucous Gull
  99. Great Black-backed Gull
  100. Common Tern
  102. DOVEKIE
  104. Razorbill
  105. Black Guillemot
  106. Rock Pigeon
  107. Mourning Dove
  108. Black-billed Cuckoo
  109. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  110. Great Horned Owl
  111. Barred Owl
  112. Chimney Swift
  113. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  114. Belted Kingfisher
  115. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  116. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  117. Downy Woodpecker
  118. Hairy Woodpecker
  119. Northern Flicker
  120. Pileated Woodpecker
  121. Eastern Wood-Pewee
  122. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  123. Alder Flycatcher
  124. Willow Flycatcher
  125. Least Flycatcher
  126. Eastern Phoebe
  127. Great Crested Flycatcher
  128. Eastern Kingbird
  129. Northern Shrike
  130. Blue-headed Vireo
  131. Warbling Vireo
  132. Philadelphia Vireo
  133. Red-eyed Vireo
  134. Blue Jay
  135. American Crow
  136. Fish Crow
  137. Common Raven
  138. Horned Lark
  139. Tree Swallow
  140. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  141. Bank Swallow
  142. Cliff Swallow
  143. Barn Swallow
  144. Black-capped Chickadee
  145. Tufted Titmouse
  146. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  147. White-breasted Nuthatch
  148. Brown Creeper
  149. Carolina Wren
  150. House Wren
  151. Winter Wren
  152. Marsh Wren
  153. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  154. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  155. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  156. Eastern Bluebird
  158. Veery
  160. Swainson’s Thrush
  161. Hermit Thrush
  162. Wood Thrush
  163. American Robin
  164. Gray Catbird
  165. Northern Mockingbird
  166. Brown Thrasher
  167. European Starling
  168. American Pipit
  169. Bohemian Waxwing
  170. Cedar Waxwing
  171. Lapland Longspur
  172. Snow Bunting
  173. Ovenbird
  174. Louisiana Waterthrush
  175. Northern Waterthrush
  176. Black-and-white Warbler
  177. Tennessee Warbler
  178. Nashville Warbler
  179. Common Yellowthroat
  180. American Redstart
  181. Cape May Warbler
  182. Northern Parula
  183. Magnolia Warbler
  184. Bay-breasted Warbler
  185. Blackburnian Warbler
  186. Yellow Warbler
  187. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  188. Blackpoll Warbler
  189. Black-throated Blue Warbler
  190. Palm Warbler
  191. Pine Warbler
  192. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  193. Prairie Warbler
  194. Black-throated Green Warbler
  195. Canada Warbler
  196. Wilson’s Warbler
  198. Eastern Towhee
  199. American Tree Sparrow
  200. Chipping Sparrow
  203. Savannah Sparrow
  204. Nelson’s Sparrow
  205. Saltmarsh Sparrow
  206. Fox Sparrow
  207. Song Sparrow
  208. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  209. Swamp Sparrow
  210. White-throated Sparrow
  211. White-crowned Sparrow
  212. Dark-eyed Junco
  213. Scarlet Tanager
  215. Northern Cardinal
  216. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  218. Indigo Bunting
  219. Dickcissel
  220. Bobolink
  221. Red-winged Blackbird
  222. Eastern Meadowlark
  223. Common Grackle
  224. Brown-headed Cowbird
  226. Baltimore Oriole
  227. Pine Grosbeak
  228. House Finch
  229. Purple Finch
  230. White-winged Crossbill
  231. Common Redpoll
  232. Pine Siskin
  233. American Goldfinch
  234. Evening Grosbeak
  235. House Sparrow

I could not find any records of the following species in my notes, but they are all plausible. Does anyone have any notes suggesting we saw any of the species on this list together?

  1. Virginia Rail
  2. Sora
  3. American Coot
  4. Sanderling
  5. Common Nighthawk
  6. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  7. Yellow-throated Vireo
  8. Orange-crowned Warbler
  9. Red Crossbill

And finally, these are known “holes” on the list that we very well might have to “seek” in the coming years!

  1. Snowy Owl
  2. Mourning Warbler
  3. Hoary Redpoll

235 – and counting! Not to shabby!

And with the 2014-2015 Snowbird(er) Award contest about to get underway, there’s even more incentive to join us on Saturdays.

The 2014 South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup

prairie warbler_edited-1
Prairie Warbler, Cliff Walk, York Harbor.

For the past ten years, I have organized the “South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup” on the first weekend of November, when a group of friends get together to comb the coast from Kittery through Portland, focusing on finding lingering migrants, rarities, and hopefully “mega” vagrants.

This year, our event was postponed a week thanks to the massive Nor’easter and snowstorm that rendered last Sunday essentially un-birdable. A week later than usual, we expected fewer birds, but perhaps “better birds.” At the very least, we would be less miserable than in the 34-degree weather with driving wet snow and 50mph winds of last Sunday. Recent active weather and some good birds in the area helped stoked our “rarity fever” fire, which I prognosticated about on Friday’s blog.

The teams each cover a specific territory, including destination locations, and casual meanderings. This year, the Roundup was covered by:
Kittery –York: Katrina Fenton and Ken Klapper.
Ogunquit/Kennebunkport: Turk Duddy and Linda Woodward.
Wells: Doug Suitor, Andrew Gilbert, and Allison Moody.
Biddeford-Saco: Becky Marvil, Nancy Houlihan, et al.
Scarborough Marsh: Noah Gibb, Ed Hess, et al.
Cape Elizabeth: Robby Lambert and Lois Gerke.
South Portland: John Berry and Gordon Smith.
Portland: Derek Lovitch, Kristen Lindquist, Evan Obercian, and Jeannette Lovitch.

Although most teams described the day as “fairly slow” overall, we did indeed find some good birds, and surprisingly good diversity. 121 species (plus two subspecies) were recorded in all, well above the 11-year average of 114 species. Two new species were added to the all-time Rarity Roundup list: American Redstart and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Meanwhile, Brown Creeper went unrecorded for the first time, likely a factor of the scrubby habitats and open areas that we focus on at this time of year.

Unfortunately, despite overall high-quality birds, we once again failed to turn up any “mega” rarities. However, we did have a lot of fun as always, which really is the most important part. Or so we tell ourselves.

The full roster of “good” birds that were turned up by all of the teams were as follows:
American Wigeon: 4 at Hill’s Beach; 1 at Evergreen Cemetery.
NORTHERN SHOVELER: 1 pair, Deering Oaks Park, Portland.
Northern Pintail: 2, Fortunes Rocks Beach.
Common Merganser: 2, Saco Riverwalk.
Ruddy Duck: 40, Prout’s Pond.
AMERICAN BITTERN: 1 Eastern Rd; 1 Drake’s Island Road.
Great Egret: 1, Parson’s Beach Rd.
Black-crowned Night-Heron: 1 Mill Creek Park; 4 Mercy Pond.
Northern Goshawk: 1, Perkin’s Cove.
Ruffed Grouse: 1, Laudholm Farms.
American Coot: 64, Prout’s Pond.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER: 1, Pine Point; 1 Wells Beach jetty.
White-rumped Sandpiper: 2 Timber Point; 1 Eastern Road.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 1, Rte 103, Kittery.
Eastern Phoebe: 1, Fore River Parkway Trail; 1 Pond Cove.
Northern Shrike: 1, Fort Williams Park; 1 Laudholm Farms.
RED-EYED VIREO: 1, Chadwick St, Portland.
Carolina Wren: 6 total (low by recent standards).
Gray Catbird: 1, Hill’s Beach; 1 Laudholm Farms.
NASHVILLE WARBLER: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
NORTHERN PARULA: 2, Fort Williams Park.
PRAIRIE WARBLER: 1, York Cliff Walk.
“Yellow” Palm Warbler: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
“Western” Palm Warbler: 1, Private property in Cape Elizabeth.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER: 1, Saco Roverwalk.
Common Yellowthroat: 1, Capisic Pond Park.
AMERICAN REDSTART: 1, Saco Riverwalk.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1 Community Park, Wells; 1 Private property in Cape Elizabeth.
LINCOLN’S SPARROW: Capisic Pond Park.
White-crowned Sparrow: 1, Fort Foster
Lapland Longspur: 51, Eastern Rd.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 60-75, Eastern Promenade

Meanwhile, record high total counts (from all teams) were set for an impressive 14 species:
81 Harlequin Ducks
40 Ruddy Ducks
2 American Bitterns
2 Merlins
64 American Coots
69 Purple Sandpipers
11 Red-bellied Woodpeckers
83 Horned Larks
19 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Northern Parulas
9 Chipping Sparrows
51 Lapland Longspurs
25 Purple Finches
60-75 White-winged Crossbills

My guess is the later date this year helped those Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, and Lapland Longspur totals, and perhaps also the higher counts of Ruddy Ducks and American Coots. An overall mild fall likely resulted in the late departure of so many “half-hardies” such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Chipping Sparrows. And the steady increase of Red-bellied Woodpeckers continues.

So not bad, and once again it gives us a fascinating snapshot into the under-birded late fall season along the southern Maine coast.

Personally, I was joined by friends as usual in Portland. While Jeannette (and Sasha) birded Capisic Pond Park, Evergreen Cemetery, and Back Cove, Kristen and Evan joined me on my march through the Portland peninsula. Jeannette gets the territory’s bird-of-the-day honors with the First Rarity Roundup Record Lincoln’s Sparrow at Capisic Pond Park, where she also had the count’s only Common Yellowthroat.

The peninsula, however, was about a slow as I have ever experienced it on a Rarity Roundup, likely due to the later date and resultant fewer food supplies. But even still, the Eastern Promenade was uncharacteristically slow, and development and ridiculous bush-whacking and clear cutting by the City of Portland diminished the value of the habitat along West Commercial Street.

With a few interesting birds, including our best bird of the day, a Red-eyed Vireo in a front yard in the West End, I wish I had gotten to this neighborhood sooner in the day, but alas, hindsight is always 20/20. And while Portland’s overall performance paled in comparison to the hauls from recent years, we still had some great birds. The flock of 60-75+ White-winged Crossbills that flew over us on the Eastern Promenade were the first I have seen all year, the pair of Northern Shovelers in Deering Oaks Park were unexpected, and the 4 immature Black-crowned Night Herons at Mercy Pond were good to see.

But perhaps the bird of the day was the Hermit Thrush. We had an impressive total of 31 throughout our day, including several in small downtown gardens and landscaping corners. White-throated Sparrow (including 24 scattered around downtown as well) were also prevalent. These two species were the only native birds – as usual – that we found in the center of downtown Portland. This always fascinated me, as these two species seem particularly regular in the heart of concrete jungles.
I think this phone-photo of a Hermit Thrush captures the essence of this intriguing topic of conversation.

Perhaps next year we will find the “next big one.” Until then, I have some more fun data to play with.

Some of the “documentation” photos from the day:







American Bittern, Eastern Rd, Scarborough Marsh.






barred owl_edited-1 Barred Owl, Fort Foster, Kittery.


Juv. Black-crowned Night-Heron, Mill Creek Park, South Portland.

GWTE,John Berry_edited-1 Female Green-winged Teal, Mill Creek Park.

RUDDY DUCK NOV 9 2014 SCARBOROUGH, ME IMG_0793_edited-1 Female Ruddy Duck, Prout’s Pond, Scarborough.

Rarity Season-to-date: Nov 7, 2014

Two weeks ago (October 24th to be exact), I posted a blog heralding the arrival of “Rarity Season” here in Maine. The next day, a Townsend’s Solitaire was found on Hermit Island in Phippsburg. “Here we go,” I thought.

Unfortunately, things didn’t pick up immediately. In fact, despite some very good birding for the next week, there were few rarities discovered: a few Orange-crowned Warblers here and there, but a lot of “lingering” migrants. American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, and a lot of waterbirds arrived, but these are all typical of the season. Personally, I had some great birding that week, such as an impressive array of tarrying shorebirds (led by the continuing family group of American Oystercatchers, a Hudsonian Godwit, and 6 Red Knots) in and around Biddeford Pool on the 27th, a nice diversity of birds at Reid State Park with Jeannette on the 28th (Tennessee Warbler, first-of-fall Snow Bunting, an impressive 473 Sanderlings), a huge count of 915 Ruddy Ducks and a continuing hen Redhead (a rarity) at Sabattus Pond with a friend on the 30th, more late shorebirds with 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 3 White-rumped Sandpipers at Pine Point on the 31st, and migrant sparrows in local patches and under feeders, including an increasing number of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. I also enjoyed two light flights at Sandy Point. And of course there are the goose fields to scour. (Don’t forget that I post near-daily reports to the store’s Facebook Page).

So yeah, I love October birding, even without rarities, and while landbird diversity decreases in November, there is still a lot of fun stuff to uncover. While rarities had been few during the first week or so of Rarity Season, I think the mild weather played a role: birds have just not been concentrated yet in warm microclimates and seasonally-productive microhabitats.

Plus, with more birders in the field on the weekends, more “good” birds are usually discovered. Unfortunately, the weekend of Nov 1-2 didn’t exactly invite a lot of people outside. In fact, for the first time, my annual Southcoastal Maine Rarity Roundup (where a group of us get together to scour the coast) was postponed. The massive coastal Nor’easter produced a heavy, wet, early-season snowfall (over 15” in Bangor and the Camden Hills!) and very strong north to northeasterly winds. It was a nasty day.
wind map, 11-3-14

While sea-watching was undoubtedly fantastic in periods when there was actually visibility, few reports of anything trickled in, as most birders stayed inside or found little of interest to report. The exception was a Greater White-fronted Goose, the first of the season, at the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields.

With Jeannette out of town, my time was limited on Sunday and Monday mornings, but a walk with Sasha at Florida Lake Park on Sunday morning yielded a shock, with 5 Redheads. These were my 154th Patch Bird here, and while I went there hoping for some grounded waterfowl, these were definitely not the species I was expecting!

But in the wake of the storm, the first really cold air of the season arrived. Portland had its all time-record latest freeze, and for the first time, it received a measurable snowfall before the first freeze! Not surprisingly, some interesting birds arrived at feeding stations. There was a Baltimore Oriole at a Cape Elizabeth feeder and a Dickcissel at a Winterport feeder, for example. Plus, more Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and the first Fox Sparrows have filtered in (my first of the fall was in our Pownal yard on Monday morning). The usual smattering of late “lingering” warblers have been noted here and there as well, and there are a few very late Hudsonian Godwits and other shorebirds tarrying here and there.

With another active week of weather, I was antsy to get out birding, but unfortunately my schedule was a little busy. I had Tuesday, however, and made the most of it. Although I failed to turn up anything of note in the morning on Bailey and Orr’s Islands in Harpswell, Sabattus Pond was excellent again later that afternoon, led by still amazing counts of Ruddy Ducks, and now a pair of Redheads – it’s shaping up to be a very good fall for them in Maine.

And then this morning in Cape Elizabeth was exceptional. In fact, it was one of the best mornings that I have had so far this late fall. There was an Orange-crowned Warbler at Kettle Cove, a Gray Catbird at Crescent Beach State Park, and a Blackpoll Warbler with a Common Yellowthroat at Pond Cove.

But 2 hours on a private farm was absolutely unreal: Two Clay-colored Sparrows, a Dickcissel, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a wicked late Prairie Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow, an Indigo Bunting, 2 Common Yellowthroats, a Northern Goshawk, and my first Northern Shrike of the year, a brown immature. 100+ each of Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, and American Goldfinch; 75+ each of Song and White-throated Sparrows; 40+ Swamp and 20+ Savannah Sparrows. And a single White-crowned Sparrow was my 10th sparrow species here today!
1 of 2 Clay-colored Sparrows present this am.

But now we’ve reached the weekend, and I expect some fun stuff to be found. Surrounding states have also been relatively slow for rarities (but New Hampshire has started to pick up with continuing Yellow-headed Blackbirds and now a Western Grebe), likely due to the same factors as here in Maine, principally the mostly mild weather to date. Sunday will be our Rarity Roundup here in Maine, so I will look forward to seeing what we find – there has to be something really good out there! And if Cape Elizabeth today was a sign of things to come, the RR should be a whole lot of fun.

Why I have Become Resigned to Voting “Yes on 1,” the “Bear Baiting Question.”

A lot of people have been asking me about my opinion on Question 1 on the November ballot: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?” It’s complicated, so this is not going to be short. My opinion certainly doesn’t fit neatly into a yard sign or 30-second TV spot.

Not surprisingly, Question 1 has generated quite a bit of heated, passionate, and sometimes woefully misinformed debate. A recent bout of misleading television ads from both sides is not helping people make an educated decision – but more about TV later.

I majored in Environmental Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey, with a minor in Wildlife Management. In one of my classes for my minor, I attended a public hearing for discussion on whether or not to institute a bear hunt in NJ. Needless to say, few facts were heard from either side of the debate. There was a lot of passion from both sides, but little in the way of actual information.

There are a lot of bears in NJ. In fact, it has the highest density of Black Bears per square mile than any other state. I’ve seen more bears in a single day during the World Series of Birding in NJ than I have seen in 13 years of living in Maine. We can discuss “cultural carrying capacity” (how big of a population we humans are willing to tolerate) versus “biological carrying capacity” (how big of a population the ecosystem can sustain), but it was safe to say that something was going to be done about the large population of bears in NJ, and a bear hunt was instituted in 2003. After 2005, it took another 5 years – and lots of court challenges – to resume the hunt.

A few years after graduating, I moved to Michigan. Working in the Upper Peninsula, especially for a summer of breeding bird atlasing, I encountered a lot of Black Bears. One thing immediately struck me as different from most of my bear encounters in NJ – Michigan bears ran away from you! They feared humans. And for a Black Bear, this is a very good thing. Bears that lose their fear of humans associate humans with food – bird feeders, dog bowls, beehives, and especially garbage, and an association with humans rarely ends well for a bear.

Therefore, even though I do not hunt anything, I fully support the wildlife management practice of hunting Black Bears. What I don’t fully support are some of the techniques used to hunt this intelligent and magnificent creature.

Looking again at Question 1, we see two methods that I, and a lot of people, am wholeheartedly opposed to: dogs and snares. Snares are archaic, cruel, and sometimes catch more than their intended quarry, including Endangered Species such as Canada Lynx. I hate snares, and I have zero respect for their use and those that use them. I want them banned.

In Michigan, and again in Maine, I saw bear dogs treated poorly. Crammed into tight containers and often brutalized, these are not usually the loyal family pets that accompany your average upland game or waterfowl hunter. Once again, it’s archaic, and for me, crosses the line of cruelty – in this case to both the dogs and the bear. I think it’s time for hunting bears with dogs to go.

And that brings us to baiting. And as you may have noticed, that’s where the discourse starts getting ugly. And my goodness, is there a lot of misinformation out there.

I am not as inherently opposed to baiting as I am to the other two tactics. In fact, I recognize the very real fact that a bear sitting still at a bait pile is a lot easier to kill quickly with a clean shot than a bear that is being tracked through the woods, or happens to mosey by a deer stand. Despite what supporters of Question 1 have claimed, it is simply impossible to compare the forests of Maine to the open forests of the west. Our forests are thicker, darker, and bears don’t concentrate as readily in open patches of food. Bears are harder to find in Maine, and harder to see. I ask you, how many bears have YOU ever seen in Maine?
Forget “fair chase.” As long as only one side has a gun, it ain’t “fair.” Therefore, I want a hunter to have the best chance at killing the bear as quickly and efficiently as possible, and in Maine that usually means over a bait pile. I do have concerns about the volume and the quality of human food that is being dumped in our woods, and I have a concern about fostering the association between humans and food. But I find it hard to believe that the amount of bait being dumped in the woods is large enough to make a significant difference to the population of bears as a whole. And yes, we must consider that quite a few good people make a good portion of their living guiding hunters. While economic consequences are not my favorite consideration when discussing wildlife management, the reality is that state agencies and representatives will consider it. I can tell you that, as a birding guide, the clients only come if there’s a reasonable chance at success. Can we meet supposedly-scientifically set management goals without baiting? I don’t really think so, to be honest.

Four years ago, when a very similar Citizen’s Initiative was on the ballot, I voted against it. I don’t like making wildlife management decisions based on public sentiment. It should be based on science, and I had some apparently-senseless optimism that something else could be done about dogs, and especially snares.
Unfortunately, nothing has happened in the past four years to eliminate the draconian practices of using snares or dogs. (In fact, we instituted an even-more-archaic bounty on coyotes, most of which are taken with snares, so we’re going backwards instead of forwards). Maine’s Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife has done little in the meantime to alleviate my concern that their decisions were based more on simply what hunters want, and not what our wildlife needs. In fact, it seems pretty obvious to me (see: Barrow’s Goldeneye ) that anything that might need to be done that could upset any hunter and their effective and all-powerful lobbying organizations was unlikely to gain much traction. As long as revenue for fish and game agencies is almost solely from the tax (Pittman-Robertson Act, one of the most amazing and effective pieces of user-fee legislation every passed) on hunting and fishing goods, their policies will be biased towards their revenue stream and their supporting constituents. This is a topic for another day, but needless to say, hunters have a disproportionate (as compared to non-consumptive wildlife users or the general public as a whole) voice when it comes to wildlife agency decisions around the country.

So just like in 2010, I personally am left with a decision about whether I would vote to eliminate bear baiting (effective and efficient, and providing jobs) in order to eliminate snares and dogs. Once again, this was not going to be an easy decision for me.

And the supporters of Question 1, “Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting” know that. That’s why the ballot question is worded that way. By linking bear baiting with other cruel practices, the intent is clearly to reduce or eliminate the hunting of bears in Maine. If the group (over 90% of their funding come from the Humane Society – but, to be fair, much of the “No” groups’ money comes from out of state organizations as well…more on this later), wanted to ban the worst, undeniably-cruel practices, a ban on the use of dogs and especially snares would pass in a landslide.

But that’s not what the referendum is asking. And as everyone who doesn’t live under a rock (more and more, I wish I sometimes did!) knows, the debate is around baiting. And this is where things are getting ugly.
I really want objective scientists to make the wildlife management decisions for Maine. That’s how it should be. But if the recent television ads sponsored by the misleadingly-named “Maine Wildlife Conservation Council” (who has actually raised more money than the “Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting”, no small portion of which out of state hunting lobbies, I didn’t do the math…but you can.) featuring state biologists and game wardens make these people sound like objective scientists, than I have a bridge to sell you.

(I was unable to find links to these ads online. If anyone knows where they are posted, please let me know and I will edit the post accordingly)

And the most egregious of them all has just hit the airwaves featuring a 911 call of a woman in Florida.

These so-called objective scientists and enforcers of state and federal laws are basically saying, if you ban baiting, you and your kids are going to die. This fear mongering is despicable and disgraceful. Somehow, this has been ruled to be legal, but it is most definitely not ethical, and sets a much scarier precedence for how our government sways us with fear. Those that appear in uniform in these commercials should simply be ashamed of themselves. Whoever OK’d this (I’m looking at you, Chandler Woodcock) should be immediately fired. Their credibility is shot with me.

This isn’t “trusting your wildlife biologists,” like these tidy little yard signs implore us. No, this is good ol’fashioned fear mongering. Nothing more, nothing less. How many Black Bear attacks have occurred in states with and without hunting? How many injuries and deaths have occurred? What’s the data that shows conflicts are definitively going to arise without baiting? Those are the facts and figures that Maine IF&W should be supplying to educate the public. But instead, they show video of kids playing basketball, complete with ominous music and our trusty game warden in a uniform and vehicle paid for by the taxpayer, asking us to let them manage bears.

For whom? For the children? Or for their sponsors?

IF&W has crossed the line here. They are not offering facts for voters to make an educated decision. They are acting as an “issue advocate,” clearly and unequivocally campaigning for one side of the issue. Crossing that line from “science arbiter” or “honest broker” where they simply provide the facts needed for informed decision-making, IF&W loses scientific credibility when they are so obviously taking up a cause. (For a good discussion of concepts, in this case, as they apply to professional ornithological societies, see “A Vision for an expanded role of ornithological societies in conservation” by Jeffrey R. Walters et al in the May 2014 issue of The Condor: Ornithological Applications – Volume 116: pp278-289). At the very least, the degree to which IF&W is so obviously outspoken on an issue is unusual, and clearly political.

Can we trust them now? How objective are they? They’ve dedicated so much time and money into keeping the status quo, how can we possibly believe they are impartial?

I can’t. These ads are despicable and deplorable. As someone who truly understands many sides of wildlife management, I can no longer “trust my wildlife biologists.” I don’t see an organization that would stoop to such lows as equating bear baiting bans with the death of kids as an objective arbiter of good information.

While I mostly disagree with a recent Bill Nemitz article on the use of the bait itself, I wholeheartedly agree with him on his feelings about the role IF&W is playing here.

I don’t want to see bear baiting banned, but I definitely want to see the use of dogs and snares eliminated. If I had any faith whatsoever in IF&W or other state officials in modernizing our outdated hunting concepts and management objectives, than I would confidently and happily vote no on Question 1. But I can’t. I don’t see anything changing without voting “yes.” And honestly, I do that with apologies to people who may lose their guiding revenue because of it.

Should the Black Bear population in Maine begin to climb, or bears begin to lose their fear of people, then we need honest and objective research into how best to deal with it. It will not be easy to reinstitute bear baiting. In fact, it might be next to impossible. And this is why the decision to vote yes is so hard for me. But without faith in our system to make actually scientific decisions and not decisions that reflect anything other than where the money comes from, then I find it impossible not to do my part to vote against the banning of snares and dogs for use in hunting bears, and therefore, I am resigned (yes, resigned is the best word here) to vote YES ON QUESTION 1.

On Recent and Upcoming Weather, Vagrant Season, and Recent Great Birding

Late October through early November is traditionally the best “rarity season” in Maine, where vagrants from all directions are hoped for, and even expected. We’ve been in a rather active and dynamic weather pattern of late, and this may help to usher vagrants in our direction. While weather rarely “blows” birds off-course, winds and weather systems can certainly facilitate their arrival in far-flung places, especially when combined with some sort of misorientation (for a thorough discussion of the concept, see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder).

As October progresses, the nights get longer, and the days (usually) get colder. The growing season comes to an end (although in many spots the killing frost has not yet reached the immediate coastline yet this year), and food sources become greatly limited. This can push vagrants that may have arrived over the course of the fall migration into favorable micro-climates and patches of seasonal food abundance. More recently-deposited vagrants, “late/lingering” migrants, and other more typical species can also concentrate in such prime areas, such as urban parks, coastal migrant traps, and so on.

Let’s take a look at some of the recent weather, and attempt to identify some possible species to consider.

Over the past ten days, above normal temperatures were regular, thanks to southerly winds. Take a look at the wind map from October 13th, for example.
wind map, 10-13-14

Strong southerly winds pumped warm air into the area from the Deep South and the Bahamas (and the South Atlantic Bight). These are favorable conditions for depositing “180-degree misoriented migrants” from the south, such as Summer Tanagers and White-eyed Vireos. I wonder if it’s a little too late for a big push of southern birds, however, as many of the Neotropical migrants have already departed the continent. Meanwhile, that extensive southerly flow all of the way into Mexico is the type of weather pattern that can facilitate the arrival of long-distance vagrants, such as Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

Sparrows are on the move now, and northerly winds with cloudy skies overnight on 10/18 to 19 resulted in a big push of sparrows. The low ceiling likely resulted in disorientation of these low-flying migrants by the big city lights, resulting in a massive flight of birds in Portland’s East End on the morning of the 19th. I estimated over 2000 White-throated Sparrows and 500 Song Sparrows just on the Eastern Promenade alone, with dozens more in almost every lot I checked. A hundred White-throats were in the North St Community Garden, and by the end of the morning, I had tallied 8 species of sparrows, and impressive numbers of Chipping Sparrows (76) and Eastern Phoebes (15) among others. Although 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were my 175th species on my Eastern Promenade Patch List, I was surprised that I could not tease out any rarities from the volumes of birds (the sheer number of birds plus gusty winds hampered detection, no doubt).

By 10/19, a strong cold front – a rare occurrence this season – pushed through, and with it, a huge flight of migrants. I tallied over 1100 birds at Sandy Point on the morning of the 20th, led by 461 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 159 American Robins.

You can see how strong and extensive these northwesterly winds finally were from the wind map that day.
wind map, 10-19-14

Rain began to arrive in the afternoon of the 21st, and it didn’t let up until this morning. This massive coastal Nor’easter drenched Maine with up to 5” of rain, and moderate to strong northeasterly winds battered the state, especially the coast.
wind map, 10-23-14

Birding was a challenge on Wednesday and Thursday, as strong winds and often-heavy rain made things difficult. Rain and coastal fog and mist precluded seawatching, and any lake-watching for grounded waterfowl was rendered impossible by visibility and waves. Essentially, feeder-watching was the best bet these two days, and a growing contingent of sparrows at both our home and here at the store provided the entertainment. About 200 Common Grackles descended into our Pownal yard on the 23rd as well.

But now, today (Friday), this massive storm is finally pulling away.
wind map, 10-24-14

And I had a great day of birding in Cape Elizabeth. I began with some seawatching at Dyer Point. From 7:50 to 9:50, I had moderate to good visibility for all but a total of 47 minutes as light showers and mist rolled through. Seas were down to 4-6 feet, and moderate north winds continued. Here’s the scorecard (all southbound unless otherwise noted) – which was actually a little lighter than I had expected:
317 Double-crested Cormorants
127 Northern Gannets (about evenly split between north and southbound)
77 Common Eiders (several hundred northbound)
20 White-winged Scoters
18 Black Scoters
17 Red-breasted Mergansers
16 unidentified ducks
16 Common Loons (plus 18 northbound)
15 Surf Scoters
10 “dark-winged” scoters
8 Long-tailed Ducks (first of fall)
8 Red-throated Loons
5 Great Blue Herons
5 Bonaparte’s Gulls
3 Red-necked Grebes
2 Green-winged Teal
2 Great Cormorants
2 Laughing Gulls
1 Black Guillemot
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 White-throated Sparrow (flew in off the water at 8:05am).

Next up was Kettle Cove, where a nice diversity of migrants, especially sparrows, also included an Orange-crowned Warbler and 3 Common Yellowthroats. Even more interesting was this gull, which appears to be a hybrid Herring x Great Black-back. Intermediate in size and shape between the two, and with an intermediate mantle color, the short wings and pinkish legs separate it from Lesser Black-backed.


A local sparrow-rific patch of private property was fruitful as well. Although a very tardy Bobolink was the only surprise here, plentiful numbers of sparrows included 200+ White-throated, 100+ Song, 50+ Swamp, 50+ Savannah, 50+ Dark-eyed Juncos, at least 10 White-crowned Sparrows, and a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. A Red-bellied Woodpecker and my second Carolina Wren of the morning were added to the tally.

A male Black-throated Blue and a female Black-and-white Warbler joined Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers feasting on seaweed flies in and near the wrack at Pond Cove, where another Red-bellied Woodpecker was sounding off.

On my way back, I swung through the goose fields, and clearly more Canada Geese have arrived in the last few days. 718 was a new season-to-date high count, with the most interesting new arrival being this spiffy leucistic Canada. Unlike a hybrid with a Snow or a Domestic Goose, this neat bird was the same shape and size as the average Canada, but with a dull brownish cast to the head, neck, and wingtips.

As this nasty low rides up into Atlantic Canada and beyond, strong wrap-around winds will offer the potential to displace Northern Wheatears or rare geese from Greenland. Meanwhile, next week, we’ll see unseasonable warmth return on southwesterly winds (“vagrant winds” as I like to call them), just the type of scenario that can facilitate the arrival of strays from the southwest, such as Cave Swallows and Ash-throated Flycatchers. They will also facilitate the survival for at least a little longer of vagrants that are still present but as so far gone undetected.

There isn’t one predominate pattern that yields a strong suggestion of any particular vagrant (or group of vagrants) from any particular direction. However, it is clear that we are getting a nice sample of different conditions that could produce some fun stuff.

At the very least, I expect some big flights of migrants, both day and night in the coming days. In fact, I think there will be a big one tonight. Check out these northwesterly winds that should be ushering in a big push of birds:
wind forecast, overnight

Sparrows will make up the bulk of the flight, especially White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. If the clouds clear by dawn, I might get a big push at Sandy Point. If the ceiling stays low overnight, look for concentrations of sparrows in migrant traps, especially in and around bright cities. Meanwhile, during the day, a lovely weather forecast should get plenty of birders out into the field.

Needless to say, I will be out looking, and I hope you will to! I look forward to what the coming days and weeks will bring.