Portland Eviscerates Capisic Pond Park

Several years ago, I joined a group of concerned residents in working for substantial restoration of Capisic Pond Park following the necessary – and federally mandated – replacement of the sewer line that runs the length of the park. The post-construction restoration plan was essentially “spread some grass seed.”

After countless meetings, public hearings, and workshops, a plan was implemented that not only limited damage from the construction process, but improved it. Over $150,000 was spent on restoration, including extensive planting of native plants to not only beautify the park, but improve biodiversity. Birds, and the many birders who frequent this little treasure of an urban park, would benefit.

Over the years, as those plantings have slowly come into their own, and began to bear fruit (literally!), bird diversity has only continued to increase. From the continued presences of Orchard Orioles – the only breeding pair known in the state, to a wealth of migrant sparrows, to rarities (including just last month, one of only 6 or so Ash-throated Flycatchers to ever be seen in Maine) have attracted birders from far and wide.

On Monday, Jeannette and I headed to Portland to work the productive micro-habitats and micro-climates in urban areas to search for rarities, and “lingering” migrants. We began our day at Capisic Pond Park.

And we were greeted by this:

We were appalled. We were horrified. We were saddened.

What the hell has happened?

According to the Facebook page for the Friends of Capisic Pond Park, posted on October 31st:
“Don’t be alarmed by the mowing and cutting that will be done in the first week or so of November. It is important to mow the park for several reason. First, and most important, if the small trees and brush aren’t mowed and cut periodically the meadow environment will transform (in time) into a forest. Just like the open farm fields of the 19th century that covered virtually all of Maine are now woods, Capisic Pond Park will move from field to brush to forest unless it is mown and tended. Second, regular cutting will spread seeds and improve the habitat overall. Lastly, we will again be able to see the pond (what’s left of it, anyway) and access the ice (!) during the months before everything regrows next Spring and Summer. FOCP members Donna and Steve Williams and Andy Graham met with Jeff Tarling of Public Services on Friday October 30th to walk the park and talk about what should and should not be cut – we are fortunate to have Jeff as a knowledgeable and caring partner.

“Also – if you were wondering about the trees being cut on Capisic St near the pond, this is the first preparation for the pond restoration work to be done next year. Apparently this will be an access point for the equipment needed to dredge and remove the spoils next August and September.”

This wasn’t a “haircut.” This was a clear-cut.

Quite frankly, I am left to question either the motives or the expertise behind the decisions that were made – at least beyond the third rationales listed: “…we will again be able to see the pond.” And the reason I question whether that clear-cutting had anything to do with anything other than what site-lines some people preferred seems simple as the other reasons given are complete B.S.

1) Cutting is not necessary to spread seeds. Plants are built to do that on their own, either through wind, animals, or gravity.
2) Improve habitat? Granted this depends on what habitat you are trying to improve, but I would argue that this type of mechanized treatment did not in any way improve habitat for much of anything at Capisic. In fact, it damaged or even ruined the habitat for most of the species that frequent the park.
3) Selective cutting, girdling, or other low-impact methods are widely available to eliminate forest succession, especially on a scale as small as Capisic. Almost any other treatment would substantially improve and augment habitat, not ravage it. And that goes for the aesthetics, too – the place is a mess right now.

So I fail to see what was accomplished here, other than opening up some views or fitting in with some outdated philosophy that parks should be open. Actually, what was accomplished was that the value of Capisic Pond Park to most migratory (just about all passage warblers), breeding (including both Baltimore and the famous Orchard Orioles) and year-round resident species (i.e. Northern Cardinals) was severely, and very negatively, impacted.

The significant improvement in food source diversity (especially for frugivores) from the park’s restoration was set back by a decade – or permanently if native plants are not replaced and restored. This heavy-handed, unselective approach favors invasive species, as they out-compete regenerating natives. If left alone, Capisic will end up with significantly more Asiatic Bittersweet, bush honeysuckle, and Multiflora Rose after this misguided effort. Limited biodiversity begets limited biodiversity.

And we’ve seen this throughout the city, for example, the Eastern Promenade, where – despite the efforts of a handful of local residents attempting to stem the tide of invasives – city mismanagement continues to accelerate their spread and the degradation of the habitat. Portland has already ruined (for birds and birders) the “Dragon Field” (behind the Quarry Run Dogpark), annihilated critical migratory bird habitat along West Commercial Street and wiped out any shelter of any sort along the Fore River Parkway Trail, and continues to assault any sort of cover in roadside edges and overgrown lots (all critical for disoriented and exhausted migrants, and “pioneers” that are attempting to overwinter after possibly becoming “stuck” in the city. Portland stood by as Evergreen Cemetery had a road plowed through it and neglect continues to degrade the pond areas – despite being the most-visited birding location in that state. See a pattern here?

And through all this, little ol’ Capisic Pond Park stood as the lone bastion of hope. Residents, birders, engineers, and city officials came together to not only restore the park after the sewer reconstruction, but actually improve the habitat for migratory and resident birds. And birders have been reaping those dividends, as improved plant diversity continues to provide a greater array of native foodstuffs as the replanted vegetation matures. And that has meant more birds.

I was proud of what was accomplished at Capisic Pond Park. I – and many others – worked tireless to make that happen. A lot of time, effort, dedication – and yes, a substantial amount of money – was invested.

And then, with a few passes of a brush-hog mower, it was gone. All of that time, effort, dedication, money, and concern, wasted. Just like that. Poof.

I’m sickened by what I saw at Capisic Pond Park on Monday. And personally, it will be hard for me to go back. There will always be birds in the park – it’s truly an urban oasis, and some migrants will have no choice but to search for food here. However, the knowledge of how much better the bird habitat, and therefore the birding, should be will forever be a reminded to me about how much time and energy I have wasted fighting for birds in the City of Portland.

But at least I can simply go somewhere else. If you’re a bird in Portland, you’re running out of choices.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Ducks and Draughts! 11/15/15.

scaup scanning

The second “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2016 was another resounding success.  As a follow up to our first event in August that featured shorebirds in Scarborough Marsh, we once again partner with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a fun, bird- and beer- filled outing.

Our theme for the this tour was “Ducks and Drafts,” and so we headed northwest to Sabattus Pond in Sabattus, one of the premier duck-watching sites in Maine, and arguably THE waterfowl hotspot in late fall in the southern half of the state. After pick-ups in Portland and Freeport, the bus, Paul (our driver and beer guide for the day), and I arrived at the south end of Sabattus Pond. It didn’t take long to know why this place is such a destination for birders at this time of year.

A large number of ducks were immediately encountered, but we soon focused our attention on the pair of Redheads – rare, but fairly-regular migrants in Maine – that were a “Life” or “State” Bird for some. For others, it was nothing more than the pleasure of seeing this attractive bird!
group at south end

We covered the three primary hotspots on Sabattus Pond, amassing a total of 17 species of waterbirds. In addition to the Redheads, highlights included a Red-necked Grebe (rare in Maine’s interior), 24 American Coots, 4 Northern Pintails, 6 Green-winged Teal, and several hundred Ruddy Ducks. Although a relatively low number for here, “several hundred” Ruddy Ducks is not a statement uttered anywhere else in Maine…and especially not when proceeded by the word “low!”  Other waterbirds species seen today included Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Black Duck, Ring-billed and Herring (1) Gulls, Buffleheads, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and one Great Blue Heron.
group on east side

Sabattus also affords the opportunity to study the two scaup species together, so we took plenty of time to go over this identification challenge. Side-by-side, the major differences are often readily apparent, so we practiced our skills to apply them to a homogenous group, or worse, the “dreaded” lone, single, distant scaup!

Having our fill of the nuances of Aythya identification, Paul took charge and delivered us to Lewiston’s Baxter Brewing. But as we stepped out of the bus at the renovated mill, it was back to the binoculars and scopes as we enjoyed a Peregrine Falcon pair – one busy feasting on a Rock Pigeon lunch – a top a nearby building.  With that, it was beer time!
outside Baxter

The first brewer in New England to can all of its beer, Baxter is known for such go-to brews as their Pamola Pale Ale and especially, their Stowaway IPA. Less well-known, however, is their ultra-creative 10-gallon Small Batch Series. Samples of Tarnation Lager, Phantom Punch Winter Stout, and Bootleg Fireworks Double IPA were enjoyed and discusses, and I simply had to quench my curiosity (as well as my thirst, of course), with the Small Batch “Sweet Tea Chai Spice Stout.”
baxter tour 2Baxter tour

A tour of the brewery and the brewing processed followed, and soon we were off – with one last quick look at the Peregrines, heading down the Androscoggin River to Freeport for a date at Maine Beer Company. Samples of Zoe (Hoppy Amber), Mo (Pale Ale), King Titus (Porter) and one of my absolute favorites, Lunch (IPA) were served, and a few folks sampled their most recent Pilot 8, their take on a Kolsch. Fueled by the delicious brews, we continued the discussion of…well, ducks…and draughts!
MBC beers

outside MBC

The “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series, a partnership between the Maine Brew Bus and Freeport Wild Bird Supply will continue in 2016. In fact, several new tours are in the works, which we hope to announce soon. Stay tuned!

The Rarity Fever Juices are Flowing – It must be November, and There was a Storm…

Rarity season is upon us, and there’s no better time for a big ol’ storm. Especially with an impressive southerly flow before and during the storm, and a strong cold front clearing things out behind it, my “Rarity Fever” symptoms got fired up.

Just look at those extensive southerly winds on Friday and Sunday, for example…
wind map,10-28-15

wind map,10-30-15

…following Thursday’s storm system.
surface map, 10-29-15

Heavy rain Wednesday night into Thursday gave way to a few hours of well-above normal temperatures and mostly sunny skies before winds and rain began to pick up in the late afternoon ahead of the cold front. I was able to squeeze in a visit to Sabattus Pond in the early afternoon, hoping for storm-grounded waterbirds.

While it was simply gorgeous out, the waterbird numbers remained below seasonal-norms here. A continuing pair of Redheads was the highlight, and a pair of White-winged Scoters was just the type of rare-inland migrant seaduck I hope to find after some weathah’. Otherwise, waterbird counts were modest: 219 Ruddy Ducks (well, modest for Sabattus – this is an epic count for anywhere else in the state!), 164 Lesser Scaup, 75+ Ring-billed Gulls, 62 Mallards (not sure where the masses were today), 41 Bufflehead, 39 Greater Scaup, 36 Ring-necked Ducks, 16 American Coots, 13 American Black Ducks, 11 Canada Geese, 2 Common Loons, 1 Mallard x black duck hybrid, and 1 Double-crested Cormorant.

On Friday, with southwesterly winds (more rarity wind!) gusting ahead of a secondary cold front, I spent the morning in Cape Elizabeth. While I had Cave Swallow on my mind, I settled for a nice mix of late migrants, including four species of warblers (Orange-crowned at Kettle Cove, my 4th of the year; Blackpoll and “Western” Palm at Pond Cove, and scattered Yellow-rumps), a Gray Catbird at Kettle Cove, and an Indigo Bunting on private property.
BLPW,PondCove, 10-30-15_edited-1

With a light (but decent-for-the-date) migration overnight, I started at sunrise at “My Office” at Sandy Point to take in what’s left of the Morning Flight. Calm winds seemed to preclude as many birds from reorienting here as I would have expected based on the decent-for-the-date radar image overnight. However, it was a very pleasant morning with nice little flight featuring good late-season diversity. I tallied a total of 247 migrants, led by an even 100 American Robins, 66 Dark-eyed Juncos, and a nice total of 14 Snow Buntings. “Tardy” birds included 3 “Yellow” Palm Warblers, an Eastern Phoebe, 2 Hermit Thrushes, a Red-winged Blackbird, and best of all, a late Black-and-white Warbler that I found in the trees after my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group had joined me.

But on Sunday, vagrant-hunting was the name of the game. Although I did not organize a South Coast-wide “Rarity Roundup” this year for the first time in a decade, Kristen Lindquist, Evan Obercian, Jeannette and I ran my usual Portland Rarity Roundup itinerary, scouring the Portland peninsula for vagrants, “lingering” migrants, and other surprises. It was not exactly the birdiest of days on the Portland Pen’ but the Eastern Promenade was fairly productive, led by 2 Orange-crowned Warblers, a Palm Warbler, a Field Sparrow, and three Hermit Thrushes.
Here’s a terrible shot in the dawn dark and drizzle of one of the two Orange-crowns.

Elsewhere in the East End, we turned up a Hermit Thrush on Anderson Street, and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan Street, but then the passerines really dried up. The usually-productive stretch of woods on either side of West Commercial Street has been rendered useless, and was essentially devoid of birds.

On the riverside, there’s development, clearing a great stand of birch and scattered crabapples that once resided here:

But it’s a city, and development occurs, and there are lot worse places for trees to be cleared. The abandoned railyard and old docks along this stretch of degraded river is hardly habitat worth conserving. “There are more important places to protect,” as Evan stated. However, it was at least some habitat for tired and disoriented migrants that found themselves in the city and looking for food and shelter.

But degraded urban “brownfields” are exactly where development should occur. More frustrating – and rather perplexing – however, is the continued ravaging of quality habitat throughout the city by the City of Portland. From incredibly valuable parkland habitat at the Eastern Promenade to scattered thickets on undeveloped hillsides, it’s as if Portland doesn’t want birds to find refuge in the city. Of course, there are “other considerations” for this land mis-management, but that’s a blog for another day. But the misguided efforts to do whatever it is the city thinks it’s going to accomplish by clear-cutting what was the best strip of woods on the peninsula, reduced habitat for migrants – and resident species from Black-capped Chickadees to Hairy Woodpeckers, to Barred and Great Horned Owls (breeding) to this:

What a mess, and what an abomination! And what a waste. So yeah, there weren’t any birds here, either.

So after lunch, we gave up on the city (and crossed off several birding hotspots from the list…don’t get me started about what they have done to the Fore River Parkway Trail area!) and headed to Cape Elizabeth.

Unfortunately – especially with an increasing southerly wind in the afternoon – it wasn’t overly productive here. In fact, several of the best hotspots were incredibly slow – as slow as I have ever seen them at this time of year. However, we did hit some hotspots, led by a great amount of activity at Trundy Point. The five Snow Buntings on the beach were nice (photo below), but a feeding frenzy of 40+ Common and 6 Red-throated Loons, a single Red-necked Grebe, 1 Bonaparte’s Gull, and a goodly amount of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls made for a fun visit. Northern Gannets were diving further offshore as well.
SNBU, 11-1-15

Maxwell’s Farm was productive, too: 17 Eastern Bluebirds, 5 American Pipits, and a Wilson’s Snipe led the way, and we had another snipe flying over little Joe’s Pond Park in South Portland. Mill Creek Park might have been the birdiest stop of the day – even if it was almost all Mallards and Ring-billed Gulls, however!

We then finished up the day, with the sun setting, at Portland’s Back Cove, with arguably the bird of the day – a late American Golden-Plover going to sleep with 9 Black-bellied Plovers and 5 Dunlin at the edge of the marsh. It was a nice way to cap an enjoyable day of birding with good friends, with the senseless optimism of Rarity Season keeping us going through nearly 14 miles of walking and searching.

No major rarities were to be found at Reid State Park on Monday morning, either, but Jeannette and I enjoyed a lovely, birdy walk on a beautiful morning. 8 late Semipalmated Plovers joined 151 Sanderlings on the beach, along with 8 American Pipits and 18 Snow Buntings. A lingering Nelson’s Sparrow (subvirgatus) was in the saltmarsh, and we spotted a Northern Harrier flying south, low over the water offshore. In the water, winter ducks and waterbirds are rapidly increasing: 31 Red-necked Grebes, 15+ Red-throated Loons, all three scoters, and a whole bunch of Long-tailed Ducks were among the growing legions today.

And then, I came into the store for a couple of hours of work this afternoon and was distracted by a Dickcissel at our feeders!

After spending so much time sifting through urban House Sparrow flocks yesterday, of course one would show up right in front of me. It was a long overdue addition to our store’s yard list – #114! And it was my 5th mainland Dickcissel of the fall.

While the appearance of a vagrant after a storm could simply be coincidence, storms can facilitate the departure of already-wayward strays (to oversimplify things a bit). It’s hard to pin any one bird down to any particular weather event, but the appearance of a Swainson’s Hawk (about 6 or 7 state records) that was nicely photographed at the Cadillac Mountain Hawkwatch in Acadia on Friday, only served to further flare my Rarity Fever Symptoms. However, despite my best efforts, I didn’t turn anything of great significance up this weekend, and nor did anyone else in Maine.

From the lack of birdlife in many Portland spots (the ones that still have vegetation that is!) and especially in the warm Cape Elizabeth microclimates that I have been checking, it’s possible that the mild weather (remember we’ve only had that once cold snap so far) has simply not yet concentrated lingering/pioneering individuals and wayward vagrants in the little nooks and crannies that we seek them in at this time of year. And with a very mild week in store, perhaps it will be a little longer before we see them concentrate.

But there is one thing we can be sure of: there will be a “Mega” rarity soon. How do I know? Because I am going away during Rarity Season!

Selasphorous Hummingbird in Yarmouth (October 16-17, 2015)

Most of Maine’s Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have departed by the middle of September, but there are always a few migrants and lingering juveniles into the first few days of October. But as October progresses, Ruby-throats become few and far between, and with each passing day, any hummingbird becomes more and more likely to be something other than our familiar Ruby-throat. In recent years, Western vagrants including Rufous and Calliope have appeared in Maine, while neighboring states have seen several others including Black-chinned and Allen’s. It’s just a matter of time before Maine adds another hummer to its state list. In fact, my Next 25 Birds for Maine predictions list includes Black-chinned (#9), Anna’s (#13), and Allen’s (#16).

Key to the observation of late season hummingbirds is continuing to dispel the silly (but persistent) myth that you have to take down your hummingbird feeders (on some arbitrary day like Labor Day) or the birds won’t migrant. But as usual, the birds are smarter than we are, and proceed as directed by hormonal changes triggered by the decreasing daylength. A nice patch of nursed flowers or any number of hummingbird feeders won’t stop them, but it’s the last truant birds and wayward vagrants that can really use the helping hand.

Here at the store, we have been working hard to dispel this myth for years, and get people to not only keep their feeders clean and nectar fresh (and always free of dye and color!) for as long as feasible, preferably into early November. We also urge people to contact us with any hummer sightings after October 1st, and take a picture if possible.

And happily, folks have. Some have gone unconfirmed as a brief sighting came and went or we learned of the observation belatedly, and others have been nicely documented. Last fall, I chased one in Falmouth on October 14th that turned out to be a Ruby-throat, much to my surprise (and somewhat, to my chagrin). The word is getting out, at least.

Last Friday (10/17) we got a call from Lois Randall and Phil Bunch on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. A hummingbird had been present all day, and it was photographed. I learned of the bird too late in the day to chase it, but I had hoped to go on Saturday. Lois told us it was still present in the morning, so I found some time in the early afternoon to make a quick run over. Unfortunately, I arrived to find out the bird was last seen at around 8:00am, but I was able to view Phil’s photos. And sure enough, this one was NOT a Ruby-throat.

Photo 1

(Click on the following photos for a larger image)
Photo 2







I received all of the photos today (10/22) and was able to take a long, hard look at them with references handy. It’s clearly a hummingbird of the genus Selasphorus, with its extensive buffy sides, buffy undertail, and – although it’s really hard to see – just a hint of the rufous in the base of the tail feather (see Photo 1). There’s not much here to work with, but the overall pale plumage and limited rufous-orange further suggests that this bird is an immature female, although some young males can be equally as pale.

And immature Selasphorus hummingbirds are tough, especially the females! In fact, most are unidentifiable beyond Rufous/Allen’s, with only (most) adult males readily identifiable in the field. In-hand measurements are usually required, or the holy grail of hummingbird photos – the upperside of the spread-tail. And of course, seeing the upperside of the tail (especially when spread), uppertail coverts, and rump would go a long way in identifying this bird, but we will work with what we have – and I am thankful for these photos (most hummingbird reports we receive are not photographed at all)!

The bill and tail both look too long to me for Calliope, and there’s probably a little too much white in the tail. I also think we can rule out Broad-tailed by the fairly extensive buff sides, but perhaps that could still be considered an outside possibility.

But despite Phil’s fine photos, I don’t think we can move beyond Rufous/Allen’s here, although the relatively broad and rounded outermost tail feathers (visible especially on Photo 1) are more suggestive of the more-expect rarity: Rufous Hummingbird. I think Photo 2 is also suggestive of the width of those outer tail feathers, but it also shows an awful lot of white, making me think we’re also seeing an artifact of light passing through the tail tips in this photo. Other photos show the buffy undertail typical of the family, better views of the sides and flanks, and the overall color and pattern of the head and throat.

Lois also diligently took some notes, and wrote them up for me:
1. First sighted on Friday October 16 at 8AM feeding amongst the flowering Agastache plants (common name: Hyssop) on our deck. As the bird darted rapidly back and forth, I caught a glimpse of its back and saw patches of iridescent green. The bird soon discovered the tube feeders hanging on our sliding glass doors and proceeded to feed on the hummingbird nectar vigorously throughout the day.

2. In addition to the single glimpse I got of the green “highlights” on areas of the hummer’s back (thanks to a flash of sunlight on an otherwise cloudy day), I noticed the white tips on the hummer’s tail, and noted rusty highlights on the bird’s “armpits”, otherwise whitish shoulders, and on the bird’s sides (flanks?) I also noted that the bird had a rounded full-looking belly.

3. I last saw the hummingbird briefly at 8AM, Saturday October 17, 2015. It visited the hyssop flowers briefly, flew off, and we haven’t seen it since. We will continue to watch for it in case it returns sometime this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Our best hope is that it “refueled” here and safely continued on its journey south.

So while this bird will remain unidentified to species, Lois’s notes and Phil’s photos combine to nicely document an immature Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbird – one of just a handful of confirmed records for Maine.

I suspect vagrant hummers are more regular in Maine then currently reported, so keep those feeders up, nurse those plants, and keep the reports coming in!

2015 MonhegZen Fall Migration Birding Weekend

As always, the last weekend in September finds me at one of my favorite birding locales in the world, Monhegan Island. My annual “MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend” tour takes place then, and with it, a wealth of birds and good times are to be had.

Well, usually a wealth of birds are to be had! But yeah, this year was slow. As slow as I have ever seen it. But my goodness, was it nice out! Of course, this same pleasant, unseasonable warm and benign weather was exactly why there were so few (relatively speaking) birds out there. It seems that with night after night of great flying conditions, birds are proceeding unimpeded, with no fallouts, or even concentrations near the coast or offshore.

So in writing this blog, I was trying to figure out how to sugarcoat the weekend. Perhaps this will do it:

Or this?

Beautiful sunsets, and wonderous moonrises:
group watching moonrise_edited-1


Or maybe this will help:

So yeah, it was gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. And the Novelty Pizza was just as good, and Monhegan Brewing Company’s beer was just as great.

The butterflying was good, and the wildflowers were a nice distraction, especially the Fringed Gentian as always.


And don’t worry, there were still plenty of birds – just not as many as usual. We enjoyed some great studies of Great and Double-crested Cormorants…

…and of course a few rarities were around. The two headliners were the two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that would spend dawn at the Ice Pond. They would fly in just before 6 (presumably from feeding around the rocky shoreline), drink and preen a bit, and then shortly after sunrise, take off to roost in the trees. You needed to be here dark and early to get them, and on Sunday morning, the group made the lovely twilight walk (fly-by American Woodcock!) to reach the pond, and we arrived just a few minutes after the night-herons did. One lingered until it was just light enough to grab a snapshot.
YCNH,Monhegan, 9-27-15_edited-1

A Great Blue Heron kept watch as well.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Monhegan weekend if I didn’t attempt to string one Empidonax flycatcher. Of course, this one was a Least Flycatcher – as expected, and as usual. It did offer a very nice, prolonged study, however.

One of the other significant birding highlights was the seawatching from the tall cliffs. In the afternoon each day, we strolled over to White Head to enjoy Northern Gannets, study Great Cormorants, and do a little seawatching.

With northeasterly winds picking up Sunday afternoon, gannets were breathtakingly close. A little trickle of shearwaters, which included 2 Cory’s Shearwaters among a handful of Greats, were anything but near.

Here’s the three-day checklist of all birds seen:
American Black Duck: 0,1,0
Mallard: 6,6,6
American Black Duck x Mallard: 1,1,1
Green-winged Teal: 1,1,1
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,1,8
Common Loon: 0,1,2
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,3,1
Northern Gannet: #,#,##
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 2,13,3
Great Blue Heron: 1,0,2,
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 0,0,2 (present all three days, but we only made it to the Ice Pond at dawn on the last day).
Osprey: 1,2,2
Bald Eagle: 1,2,1
Northern Harrier: 0,0,1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,6,1
American Kestrel: 0,3,9
Merlin: ??,4,3
Peregrine Falcon: 0,2,1
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 1,1,0
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Black Guillemot: x,x,x
Mourning Dove: 6,4,6
Belted Kingfisher: 1,1,2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 8,4,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,2,2
Northern Flicker: 0,6,8
Least Flycatcher: 0,1,1
Eastern Phoebe: 0,3,3
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 0,1,0
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,6,3
Blue Jay: 4,8,15
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 3,2,2
Horned Lark: 0,1,0
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6,8,12
Brown Creeper: 0,1,2
Winter Wren: 0,1,0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15,20,40
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 20,6,5
Swainson’s Thrush: 1,0,0
American Robin: 2,1,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,x
European Starling: 8,8,8
American Pipit: 3,1,0
Cedar Waxwing: 30,25,30
Nashville Warbler: 1,1,1
Northern Parula: 10,4,4
Yellow Warbler: 2,1,1
Magnolia Warbler: 1,0,0
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,1
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,0,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 150,75,75
Black-throated Green Warbler: 6,2,2
Prairie Warbler: 1,0,1
Palm Warbler: 4,2,2
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,10,10
American Redstart: 0,1,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,1
Common Yellowthroat: 4,x,x
Chipping Sparrow: 1,4,4
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,1,1
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,10
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 10,8,8
Common Grackle: 10,29,29
Baltimore Oriole: 2,2,2
American Goldfinch: 2,4,4

Total species = 80
Total warbler species = 15

Although this year’s tour was one day shorter than usual (since Jeannette and I had to leave for a tradeshow on Monday), the 80 total species was a whopping 22% below the average of 102 species for my usual 4-day tour, and 16% below my average of 95 species for a three-day fall tour.

But the “MonhegZen Migration Weekend” isn’t called that for some existential reason – no meditation required. Instead, it’s a suggestion of the mindset of going with the flow, taking what the island gives us, and enjoying a truly unique and remarkable place that superlatives fail to completely describe.

So yeah, it was pretty slow. But it’s not just cliché: a slow day on Monhegan is better than a “good” day almost anywhere else. And not just for the birds! Don’t believe me? Well, how about joining us next fall to see for yourself? I mean, did you see those sunsets?

P.S. To get a better idea of what it’s usually like out there, check out my blog from last fall’s weekend tour.

Interesting Still-Breeding-Plumaged Dunlin at Pine Point, 9-20-15


Earlier today, I found an interesting Dunlin at Pine Point, at the mouth of Scarborough Marsh. It flew in from across the channel on the incoming tide, and landed up Jones Creek, a couple of hundred feet away.

It was an adult bird, including an extensively black belly, and it appeared pale above and rather small. I needed a better look, but as I waited for the bird to slowly come closer, I posted to the Maine-birds listserve of a “…pale-backed Greenland (or other European-type)-like Dunlin,” mostly to alert other birders in the area (there were quite a few today as usual here). Based on the fact that this bird looked small, pale, and had not yet undergone molt, my mind immediately went to one of the “European” subspecies.

The bird had come considerably closer by the time Noah Gibb and Leon Mooney arrived, and it was clear that this was not a short-billed bird, perhaps on its own eliminating the Greenland subspecies arctica (one fitting this description was photographed this summer at Popham). But I will admit to not knowing the full range of variation in bill length among all of the 10 subspecies of Dunlin, so we went to work photographing and studying the bird.

We agreed that the bird appeared small (although the three other “typical” juvenile Dunlin that were present were never seen nearby, a comparison that would have been most helpful) and “not short-billed.” It wasn’t the longest, droopiest billed Dunlin that we’ve seen, but well within the range of our typical migrant subspecies, hudsonia.

As the bird came closer, plumage details and patterns blurred by heat shimmer and scope-shake in the 20+mph winds at a distance became more discernable. Arctica, the smallest and shortest-billed subspecies, also has a small belly patch. I don’t think this bird would be characterized as being short-billed or with a small belly patch.

Meanwhile, in response to my Maine-birds post, Louis Bevier chimed in that the subspecies arcticola which breeds in northwestern Canada and Alaska “is somewhat paler-backed than our typical hudsonia and delays molt until after migration.” That was not something I had remembered, but it’s been a while since I’ve done much reading on the subject. However, The Shorebird Guide by Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson – which I grabbed as soon as I returned to the store – references arcticola as molting on the breeding grounds, as does our typical hudsonia. Bevier also stated that it is from “northern Alaska and the West Coast,” but that, I believe is actually referring to pacifica, which also molts on the breeding grounds (Arcticola winters in Japan, Korea, and China).

The Shorebird Guide cautions that “a few individuals of pacifica, arcticola, and hudsonia migrate before molting extensively.” While I could not see any signs of molt on the wings, back, scapulars, etc on this bird, of course some birds don’t always molt according to the book. Injuries (none obvious) or malnutrition (harder to decipher in the field) could delay molt, and some individuals can suspend molt for similar reasons – and others, such as simply being “screwed up!”

The only other reference I have handy here at the store is Richard Chandler’s Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia which offers a similar array of caveats about subspecific identification. While saying “identification to race may be possible in favorable circumstances, most readily in breeding plumage,” it then goes on to warn that “At the end of the breeding season, separation will often be difficult, as feather wear renders the distinctions less obvious and upperparts become dull and blackish.”

It’s late September, and therefore it’s well past the end of the breeding season, making feather wear a serious issue. While I couldn’t see anything that suggested extreme wear (like on the flight feathers of a retarded 1st summer bird), there’s no doubt that any colors we were seeing were likely paler, and perhaps considerably so, than what the bird would be in fresh plumage.

Chandler takes the time to reason that “It is not easy to identify any of the races of Dunlin in breeding plumage away from the breeding grounds…Since races are established largely on the basis of the average characters of specimens taken on the breeding grounds, variation between individuals and differences between sexes, as well as variation with time owing to fading and wear as the season progresses, result in caution being needed when attempting to assign race to any particular individual. Consequently, there will always be more than an element of speculation with the racial identification of many migrant Dunlins in breeding plumage.”

So where does that leave me with subspecific identification? Completely and utterly unsure.

Is this simply a hudsonia that has not molted yet for some odd reason? Maybe. Is this an arctica, like my first impression? I don’t think so anymore (too long-billed and with too much black on the belly). The only thing that is definitive is that this is an interesting and educational bird. Hopefully, it will be seen again, and perhaps better photos – and photos with “normal” Dunlin – could be acquired. But for now, I am fine with saying “I don’t know.”

I present an array of phone-scoped images for you to ponder (or not). I’ll also send this link out to those who know more about Dunlin subspecies than I do. It’s going to be a busy two weeks for me (Birds on Tap!, Monhegan tour, than travel to a trade show), so I may not get back to an analysis of the analysis for some time, but if anything revelatory becomes apparent, I’ll discuss that here.

Thanks for reading!2
















IMG_6180_18 IMG_6181_19

9/23 UPDATE: Jeannette and I observed the bird again yesterday, 9/22 and Jeannette took excellent photos, as usual. It was also a whole lot closer, allowing for much more detailed study. You can ignore those awful photos above, this is what the bird really looked like!







So, the next session with the bird shows several pertinent details:
1) This bird IS in molt, as several new coverts and tertials are visible.
2) The outermost primaries (especially as you can see in flight) ARE indeed very heavily worn (it could be a 1st summer/2nd winter bird afterall?).
3) The size and structure looks more than fine for our typical subspecies, hudsonia.

Those, combined with the details of the plumage, show that this is undoubtedly NOT a European bird. Instead, it is either one of the North American subspecies in very retarded molt (or perhaps a vagrant East Asian bird). I’ll synthesis what I learn when I return in a couple of weeks, but for now, I wanted to get these much more useful photos posted for you to ponder, enjoy, and/or ignore.

Excellent Morning Flight at Sandy Point, 9/16/2015

Over 2,000 migrants. 45 species, including 17 species of warblers. Yeah, it was a good morning to be at Sandy Point!

Cape May Warbler, male.

I arrived, as usual, a few minutes before sunrise, but unlike most mornings, birds had already begun to cross. And once the sun crested the horizon, the floodgates open. OK, so it wasn’t “Warblergeddon” at Cape May, but it was fun for me and it was an excellent flight for here.

Well, mostly fun. A lot of birds were high, especially as the wind went calm. Big pockets of birds were just too high to identify. I did my best to just keep count. Birds were dropping into the trees on both sides of the road, others were zipping through underneath. As I focused on something in the elm, I am sure I missed birds overhead. It was tough to keep track, but I did my best.
Prairie Warbler, male.

By the time I departed at 9:30, the tally was the 7th highest I’ve had at Sandy Point (the 6th highest in September), and by far my best flight of the season to date. It also had some interesting birds, and I’ll analyze some of the numbers below.

61F, clear, West 6.3mph to calm.

940 Unidentified
403 Northern Parulas (3rd highest)
161 American Redstarts
155 Black-throated Green Warblers
61 Cedar Waxwings
55 Tree Swallows (record high)
34 Black-and-white Warbler (3rd highest)
30 Blackpoll Warblers
22 Northern Flickers
22 Magnolia Warblers
18 Yellow Warblers
16 American Goldfinches
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Red-eyed Vireos
11 Black-throated Blue Warblers
10 Chipping Sparrows
9 Blue Jays
9 Nashville Warblers
8 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Tennessee Warblers (3rd highest)
8 Baltimore Orioles
6 Scarlet Tanagers
5 White-breasted Nuthatches (record high)
4 Purple Finches
3 Eastern Phoebes
3 Blue-headed Vireos
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrel
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 unidentified Empid
1 unidentified Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Robin
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Cape May Warbler
1 Prairie Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 EASTERN TOWHEE (present in scrub; only 3 previous records here).
1 Savannah Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Rusty Blackbird (first of fall)
x Common Yellowthroat

Total = 2044

Black-throated Blue Warbler, male. Look at how the “pocket hankercheif” is blown out by the low sun angle.

Several counts were noteworthy, including the two record highs. Tree Swallows usually don’t bother crossing from the island to the mainland via Sandy Point, but more often continue on to the south, crossing the bay with little trouble. Plus, most swallows are probably moving through after I depart in the morning. These birds, mostly in one large and a couple of small groups, were funneling over the bridge along with the rest of the typical Morning Flight migrants. Meanwhile, the 5 White-breasted Nuthatches were noteworthy as I usually see no more than a couple all fall here. The previous record for a single morning was two.

As for the higher counts, I was surprised by how large of a percentage of identified migrants were American Redstarts compared to Blackpoll Warblers. However, I think this is an “identification bias.” Redstarts are the easiest warbler to ID for me in flight, and few pass through at almost any height without being identified. I doubt many of the overwhelming “unidentified” count were redstarts. However, I would wager that a sizeable percentage of them were Blackpoll Warblers. Based on the date and what I’m seeing in the woods these days, there should have been a lot more blackpolls. However, these strong fliers are often very high overhead on light winds, and my guess is that the diminishing westerly this morning was of little consequence for them, and that a lot of those little dots overhead were blackpolls.

Yesterday, I was lamenting not being at Sandy Point. The conditions were great in the morning, and the radar was quite good overnight. However, I was guiding in the Camden area, and at least a little morning flight (ca 100 birds) flew over and through Merryspring Nature Center Park in town. It was a tease to think what might have been going on at “my office” however.

But last night’s radar was even better! Here are the very active 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images from the overnight. See how much was offshore, even as of 4am?
10pm radar

10pm velocity

12am radar

12am velocity

2am radar

2am velocity

4am radar

4am velocity

And come dawn, the winds aloft were perfect for a good Morning Flight at Sandy Point.
5am wind map

In other words, that’s what produced 2,000 birds at Sandy Point, and with a busy schedule this fall, I was quite pleased to catch one of the big ones.