Monhegan Island, May 18-20, 2015.

Hooded Warbler, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Summer Tanager, Grasshopper Sparrow, 19 species of warblers and 89 species? All in 48 hours? It must be Monhegan!

Jeannette and I escaped for a quick trip to Monhegan Island this week. It was all-too-brief as usual, but we’re always happy for whatever short visit we can muster. With the early season ferry schedule still in effect, we couldn’t arrive until noon on Monday, and departed at 12:30 on Wednesday. That only gave us 48 hours of birding.

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Northern Parulas were common and conspicuous – and looking mighty fine! – throughout the visit.

A strong flight overnight Sunday into Monday ushered in some new migrants to the island, but also ushered out several of the rarities that had been present over the weekend. Luckily, a few goodies lingered, including the adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was seen almost all day for all three days of our visit in a corner of the Ice Pond. Our best discovery of the trip was a Grasshopper Sparrow that we kicked up near the microwave tower. Unfortunately, it was not seen again by us or anyone else.

The remnants of the good morning were present – it was decidedly birdy and we managed 16 species of warblers and 65 total species of birds before dinner…and with the pleasant surprise of finding Monhegan Brewing open, we may have spent a little afternoon time there instead of beating the bush.

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FOY.

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Magnolia Warbler was our most common warbler on Day 1.

Come nightfall, birds took the air on light southerly winds. However, after midnight, there were very few
birds on the radar near the coast, suggesting many more birds would have departed than arrived. And that certainly was the case!

It was a quiet morning, and in the dense fog, birds were few and far between. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was present and accounted for however. Then, in the afternoon, Jeannette and I (mostly) circumnavigated the island – a hike I haven’t done in a while, so that was a nice change of pace. The only Cape May Warbler we saw in the three days was during the hike, in one of quite a few small mixed-species foraging flocks that we encountered on the island’s east side.
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We also came upon a tired and wet Scarlet Tanager (I can’t believe I didn’t bring mealworms on this trip!), which was slowly working the rocks for seaweed flies. It was finding several, and after watching it for about 15 minutes, we can tell it was getting a little more strength.

Upon our return to town, we were alerted to the re-sighting of the weekend’s Summer Tanager, flycatching on Swim Beach. To say it posed for pictures would be an understatement.
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Overall, it was a slow day of birding by Monhegan standards (55 species including 13 species of warblers), but a slow day of birding on Monhegan is a great day of birding most anywhere else!

Although we awoke to more dense fog on Wednesday (5/20), our last day on the island, there were soon peaks of sun overhead, and a lot of new birds were to be seen. A moderate flight overnight on light southwest winds then saw birds drift offshore a little more as the winds shifted to the west after midnight. This brought an array of new arrivals to the island, although nothing in exceptionally large quantities, but our trip list grew steadily.

Our morning began with a nice flight of Northern Gannets off Lobster Cove and ended with 17 total species of warblers. Personal first-of-years included the gannets, 1 American Pipit at Lobster Cove, and a singing Willow Flycatcher.  The Summer Tanager continued, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was still standing guard.

And finally, we ran into the one rarity that we had not yet caught up with – a female Hooded Warbler that had been present since the weekend. In true MonhegZen birding style, after being told we “just missed it” several times, I played a hunch and gave one little thicket a quick check before we headed up to the Trailing Yew to grab our carry-on bags.

And sure enough, there she was!
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While both a Wood Thrush and Snowy Egret that were seen on Tuesday would have been “Island Birds” for me, we managed to see all of three of the continuing rarities, plus finding our own in the Grasshopper Sparrow (a very good bird out here).

In other words, it was a great – albeit quick – trip. I look forward to returning no later than our MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend, if not sooner.  And for the record, Monhegan Brewing’s new Flyway IPA – named for the birds and birders that descend on the island each spring and fall – is fantastic!

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The trip was also way too short for Sasha. Not only did she not get any lifers, but her little island romance with Chaco came to an all-too soon end.

Our full trip list was as follows:

Mallard: 6, 8, 10.
Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid: 0,0,2
Common Eider: x,x,x
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,5,4.
Red-throated Loon: 0,0,1.
Common Loon: 2, 0,0.
Northern Gannet: 0,0,73
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 0,0,1.
Great Blue Heron: 0,0,1.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 1,1,1.
Osprey: 0,0,1.
Merlin: 1,1 or 2, 1
Sora: 1,1,1 (calling incessantly all day long all three days!)
Greater Yellowlegs: 2,1,0
Spotted Sandpiper: 0,0,2
Laughing Gull: 0,0,4.
Herring Gull: x,x,x.
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: x,x,x.
Mourning Dove: 6,6,6.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0,1,2.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER: 1,1,0.
HAIRY WOODPECKER: 1,0,1.
Northern Flicker: 1,1,0.
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 1,0,3.
Alder Flycatcher: 0,0,2.
Willow Flycatcher: 0,0,1.
Least Flycatcher: 2,2,20.
Eastern Phoebe: 2,0,2.
Eastern Kingbird: 6,1,3.
Warbling Vireo: 0,0,2.
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,1,6.
Blue Jay: 4,5,5.
American Crow: x,x,x.
Common Raven: 2,2,2.
Tree Swallow: 10,6,8.
Cliff Swallow: 1,0,0
Barn Swallow: 2,0,2.
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2.
Winter Wren: 0,1,1.
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 0,8,2.
Swainson’s Thrush: 0,1,1.
American Robin: x,x,x.
Gray Catbird: #,#,#
Brown Thrasher: 3,2,2.
European Starling: x,4,6.
American Pipit: 0,0,1.
Cedar Waxwing: 0,0,15.
Nashville Warbler: 0,0,2.
Northern Parula: 10,20,25.
Yellow Warbler: 10,10,20.
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 1,1,8.
Magnolia Warbler: 15,30,40.
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 5,3,2.
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 10,15,12.
Black-throated Green Warbler: 3,15,18.
CAPE MAY WARBLER: 0,1,0.
Blackburnian Warbler: 1,0,0.
Blackpoll Warbler: 2,2,10.
Black-and-white Warbler: 6,10,15.
American Redstart: 2,3,25.
Ovenbird: 1,0,1.
Northern Waterthrush: 3,1,2.
Common Yellowthroat: #,#,#.
HOODED WARBLER: 0,0,1.
Wilson’s Warbler: 2,0,6.
Canada Warbler: 1,0,3.
SUMMER TANAGER: 0,1,1.
Scarlet Tanager: 0,1,0.
Eastern Towhee: 0,0,2.
Chipping Sparrow: 2,1,0.
Savannah Sparrow: 3,2,2.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW: 1,0,0.
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 1,0,0.
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,3.
White-throated Sparro: 15,10,10.
White-crowned Sparrow: 1,6,7.
Northern Cardinal: 4,6,6.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 4,5,5.
Indigo Bunting: 0,0,1.
Bobolink: 6,4,3.
Red-winged Blackbird: 4,4,8.
Common Grackle: x,x,x.
Baltimore Oriole: 2,1,4.
Pine Siskin: 0,0,1.
Purple Finch: 1,0,0.
American Goldfinch: 8,4,6.

Day totals: 65, 56,77

But most conspicuous in their complete absences was the lack of Carolina Wrens. The island usually has the densest population of this “southern” species anywhere in the state (although one neighborhood in Wells might rival it), but we did not have a single bird the entire trip! Same for everyone else we talked to. Apparently, the unusually harsh, long, and snowy (especially for out here) winter took its toll – as it is wont to do on Carolina Wrens pushing the northern limits of their range.

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Chestnut-sided Warblers were one of many species that were more frequently encountered this morning that in the previous two days.

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

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

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

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

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

An early spring view from “My Office.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparent “Lesser” Sandhill Crane, North Yarmouth, 4/24/15

A mere decade ago, Sandhill Cranes were a truly rare bird in Maine. Birders from around the state traveled to Messalonskee Lake in Belgrade in the hopes of seeing “the” cranes. Even that pair, or two, was remarkable.

My, how things have changed!  31 in a field together in Norridgewock last fall. The 10th of the season passing the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch earlier today. My best guess is that there are now at least 2 dozen pairs breeding – or attempting to breed/prospecting – around the state.

All of these birds are big, gray (rustier in spring), typical “Greater” Sandhill Cranes that are the expected subspecies in eastern North America. Whether colonizing or re-colonizing the state, there’s little doubt that Sandhill Cranes are becoming a “bird of Maine.”

There is a lot of variability in how much rusty-brown staining is shown by each Greater. Some have decidedly more than others – a feature acquired by preening with tannin-rich mud, or so we think. And every now and then there is one that looks a little small – especially when seen alone in a field. But nonetheless, I have not seen, seen photos of, nor heard any reports of any cranes in Maine that were anything other than “Greaters.”

And then there was this bird that Andrew Wolfgang and I saw this morning at Old Town House Park in North Yarmouth (my 140th Patch Bird!).  Andrew spotted it first, but we both immediately thought “wow, that is small and brown.”

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To me, this looks just like a “Lesser” Sandhill Crane: the smaller, more northerly subspecies that breeds in the high Canadian Arctic and winters mostly in Texas and the southwest. The noticeably small size – even without anything else around to compare – was so apparent, as was the more squat, or even “dumpy” shape.

And look at that tiny (relatively speaking!) bill!  I’ve never seen even a runty Greater that looked like that. And of course, there is the extensively-rusty plumage. Again, although this feature is variable, this bird’s thoroughness of the staining, from the middle of the neck through the “bustle,” looks a lot like a Lesser to me.

The bird was across the river from the park’s northern side, in a private field. Not that I was going to flush it, but if it was to take flight, I would have liked to photograph the wing pattern which could be an aid in identification.  Intriguingly, however, a few hours later, Andrew had a Sandhill – the aforementioned 10th of the season – pass by the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch. We’ll take a look at his distant photos to see if we can figure out if it’s the same bird or not, and take a look at the wing pattern if possible.

I have some more reading to do, and I will be sending these photos to some knowledgeable colleagues. However, with Feathers Over Freeport this weekend, it might be a few days before I can delve further into this intriguing bird. In the meantime enjoy and/or ponder some more photos, and stay tuned.

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UPDATE, 4/27:  As I suspected, comments received from friends and respected colleagues all agree that this bird looks very small, very small billed, and is impressively rusty (yes, even for spring). Those features combined would be rather coincidental, BUT, the spread wing shot would be helpful. But the reality is this bird is alone, and as I discussed, everything is subjective. How small is it really? How brown is it really?

Of course, even if this was small enough and small billed enough, with a typical “Greater” standing next to it, subspecific identity is likely impossible based on our current knowledge. Individual variation (in both “Greater” and “Lesser”) is wide, and there is likely an intermediate population of the two subspecies that might render such analysis moot. Some even argue that it is more of a clinal issue and two distinct subspecies may not even exist.

So, as expected, no firm conclusions can be drawn. We can prove nothing here. That being said, for those like me who are always learning, and always willing to learn, the analysis of such interesting individuals is worthwhile on its own, both to learn about status and distribution of cryptic species/identifiable forms and for our own personal growth as birders.

Feathers Over Freeport This Weekend! April 25-26, 2015

“Feathers over Freeport” Offers Birding Fun for All Ages

AUGUSTA – The fifth annual “Feathers over Freeport” event will take place the last weekend in April. This unique event is designed to appeal to birdwatchers of all abilities, especially families and children.

“Feathers over Freeport” will highlight special birding opportunities at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, including the Hawk Watch at the summit, and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, home to nesting ospreys.

Sponsored by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands  and the Freeport Wild Bird Supply, the two-day event will feature a wide variety of activities and presentations, including live-bird presentations, bird walks for adults and children, a hawk watch workshop and numerous children’s activities.

Details of the event are:

Feathers over Freeport:

8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, April 25, Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal

8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 26, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, Freeport

Park entry fees apply; all programs and activities included with park admission.

Two special programs will highlight the event, including a live bird presentation on birds of prey, scheduled for 1 p.m., Saturday, April 25, at Bradbury Mountain and a live birds presentation scheduled for 1 p.m., Sunday, April 26, at Wolfe’s Neck. The programs, presented by Hope Douglas of Wind Over Wings, will feature a Golden Eagle on Saturday, and a Saw-whet and Great Horned owl on Sunday, as well as other live birds.

New this year, “Bird Watching for Beginners” will be held on Sunday at Wolfe’s Neck Woods. This is a great program for beginners of all ages! Join us to learn the best places to observe birds and the basics of identification. Other programs this year include a Vernal Pool Exploration and Hawk Watch Workshop on Saturday, and a Springtime Plant Walk on Sunday. Bird-related activities geared toward children and families will be offered both days from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. where birding basics will be presented through games, crafts, and hands-on activities. Children accompanied by an adult are welcome to come and build a birdhouse. These are available on a first come, first served basis and supplies are limited.

And look for details of a Photography Workshop with Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics to be added to the schedule in the next day or two.

Event partners are the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry- Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Freeport Wild Bird Supply. Sponsors include: Ben & Jerry’s, Birds & Beans, Bow Street Market, Freeport Conservation Trust, Leica, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

For more information, including the complete schedule of events, please click here.

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So you know where I’ll be this weekend! I’ll be leading the birdwalks on Saturday and Sunday mornings, along with Jeannette and Jeff Bouton of Leica. Jeff and I will be leading the hawkwatch workshop on Saturday as well, and I’ll be helping out on various walks throughout the weekend.

This is a great event, with so many things to do for folks of all ages. I look forward to seeing you at the parks this weekend!

Birds on Tap! A new speaking series from Freeport Wild Bird Supply begin 4/14 with Erynn Call at Rising Tide Brewing Co.

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OK, so that was kind of a long title, so I think you get the idea. And we are excited about this!

Freeport Wild Bird Supply (FWBS) is excited to introduce a new series of talks that will feature speakers in the field of ornithology and conservation. But, these are not just ordinary presentations. Each one will be held at one of our favorite local breweries allowing guests to sample beers while learning about bird research that is being conducted in our region. In addition, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to further the work of the featured speaker.

“It is our hope that these programs, with a casual atmosphere, will help bridge the gap between ornithologists, bird watchers, and the general public,” said Derek Lovitch, FWBS co-owner. “Building on our successful series of book signings at the Maine Beer Company, Dr. Noah Perlut of the University of New England, approached us to expand our series to include academic and more scientific presentations. We can think of no better partner than one of our favorite brewers, Rising Tide Brewing Company.” “By hosting these events in Portland, we are equidistant between Bowdoin College and the University of New England, within walking distance of the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, and of course are right in the heart of the Portland population. This central location should provide easy access for students, birders, and the general public from a wide area,” added Jeannette Lovitch.

The series kicks off on April 14th at Rising Tide Brewing Company (103 Fox Street, Portland) with Erynn Call. In her talk titled From Recreation to Conservation – Taking birding to the next level, Call will highlight The Maine River Bird Network, a statewide citizen science initiative aimed at better understanding the links between rivers and birds and the role of birds as ecological indicators. River features such as water flow, presence of dams, and land cover may be altered by climate change, river restoration, and urbanization. The project has made progress in shedding light on relations between river features and bird abundance. This knowledge improves the value of birds as measures of change within river ecosystems.

Call discovered her passion for birds while growing up in northeast Michigan and developed a keen interest in avian ecology while studying at Michigan State University. Research on reproduction, movement, and survival of Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, and Bobwhite quail led her to Michigan, Kansas, and Missouri. After working as a wading bird ecologist with the South Florida Water Management District Everglades Research Division and as a wildlife biologist in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, she decided to pursue a doctorate degree at the University of Maine – Orono. The statewide citizen science initiative – Maine River Bird Network – was formed from these efforts and continue as part of her new position as the Raptor Specialist in the Wildlife Research and Assessment Section Bird Group of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“Ms. Call was the perfect guest to kick off the series,” according to Mr. Lovitch, “as her work collected data from ‘citizen scientist’ bird watchers in order to analyze river health, dam removal, and other pertinent current events in Maine’s ecology.”

“We’re pleased to work with our friends at Freeport Wild Bird Supply to support the Maine Birder Band and their conservation efforts.” adds Stasia Brewczynski, tasting room manager at Rising Tide.

The event is free – non-alcoholic beverages and light snacks will be provided free of charge. For every beer purchased, Rising Tide will donate $1 directly to Maine Birder Band, a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife fund which supports efforts to protect Maine’s birds, bird habitat, and access for birders, earmarked for the Maine River Bird Network.

The Bahamas!

Bahama Warbler

Bahama Warbler

Jeannette and I traveled with our friends Paul Doiron and Kristen Lindquist for a 10-day escape from winter’s grip. While the 5 endemics (species found nowhere else on Earth) of the Bahamas (not including the “new” hummingbird on the Inaguas that was split after we planned this trip) were our primary targets, these were, in all reality, the excuse to visit, not the sole reason.

Like all of our journeys, Jeannette and I use species of interest as a guide, getting us to interesting places, seeing great birds, eating great food, and perhaps even resulting in a little rest and relaxation. When most people think of the Bahamas, they think of resorts with expansive landscapes of concrete pools and golf courses, or casinos. Yeah, we didn’t visit any of those. Instead, we prefer the periphery of where the hoards of tourists flock (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t help it). In other words, we flock to where the birds are.

We arrived in Nassau on the heavily-developed island of New Providence less than three hours after departing from Boston. That short trip resulted in a welcome gain of over 70-degrees. I was soon hot.

We had a relaxed afternoon, mostly being “regular” tourists around town, including a visit to the John Waitling rum distillery where the opening scene of Casino Royale was filmed, and where some fine rums are made.
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Wintering migrants such as Yellow-throated and Prairie Warblers foraged in gardens and street trees, and Jeannette scored her lifer White-crowned Pigeon as it came into roost in a tree just outside our downtown hotel. Eurasian Collared-Doves were ubiquitous, but it was interesting to see them here. Besides the surprising “dark morph” birds in the city, there is a fair amount of ornithological history with these birds: it was here in Nassau that they were released in 1974 and from here, rapidly colonized the North American continent, now breeding all of the way to southern Alaska!

The next morning (2/27), we were already back at the airport, this time for the short 30-minute jump over to Abaco. Now it was time to really go birding!

Poking our way from the airport to Marsh Harbor, as Paul adeptly navigated the “wrong side” of the road for the first time, we soon found just how outdated the Birder’s Guide to the Bahamas was. Nonetheless, we still found the first lifer for all four of us – LaSagra’s Flycatcher. Shortly after arriving at our quiet little cabin rental at The Lofty Fig (much more our speed than a loud and bustling downtown hotel!), the first of the five endemics we were after flew overhead – 4 Bahama Swallows!

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LaSagra’s Flycatcher

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Black-faced Grassquit

A short walk over to the Abaco Beach Resort yielded lifer Greater Antillean Bullfinches and Thick-billed Vireo, and lifer Western Spindalis for Jeannette in the neighborhood nearby. The spiffy, white-bellied resident race of American Kestrel was exciting to see and we became familiar with the common cast of migrant warblers that would appear at almost every “pish:” Prairie, Cape May, Yellow-throated, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, and especially Palm, and of course one of our favorite birds, the Bananaquit.
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Thick-billed Vireo

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American Kestrel

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Western Spindalis

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Saw-scaled Curlytail.

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The 28th was our most important birding day, with three endemics and several other regional specialties on the agenda as we birded the south end of the island. Following breakfast in a little shop in Sandy Point (lifer Guava Duff!), we immersed ourselves in the pine forests of Abaco National Park.
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Homemade next door, hand-delivered with extra sauce.

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Bahama Swallow

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Atala

Olive-capped Warblers and Cuban Emeralds were abundant, Cuban Pewees were scattered about, and we teased out two skulking Bahama Yellowthroats – endemic #2. We finally picked up a couple of Bahama Warblers – their long, decurved bill and yellow bellies rapidly separating them from Yellow-throated.
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Cuban Emerald

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Cuban Pewee

When you think of mockingbirds, you think of bold and conspicuous, but apparently not so for the Bahama Mockingbird in the middle of winter. We only saw one bird on our trip, and it was a skulker. After a bit of gentle squeaking, however, it popped out and offered a short but satisfying moment. Apparently, we were lucky to see one at all at this time of year.
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While looking for it to give a second good view, a female Bahama Woodstar zipped by and landed on a nearby bush – our third endemic of walk!
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We wandered around a little bit before arriving in the afternoon at the Bahama Palm Shores to look for the endemic subspecies of the Cuban Parrot. It took us all of about 10 minutes before we heard parrots, and a handful of yards further down the road, we found ourselves surrounded by a confiding flock of 20 or so feeding on fruit.
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Having cleaned up on our first full birding day, the agenda was more relaxed on our second full day on the island. We worked our way north to Treasure Cay, stopping at a roadside coppice which yielded more migrants, another Bahama Warbler, and more Thick-billed Vireos than we could look at.

Thanks to two mutual friends, we hooked up with local birding expert Woody Bracey. Woody generously offered to show us around his part of the island. Mentioning we hadn’t yet seen our life White-cheeked Pintails, Woody took us to a local golf course pond, where 48 pintails were present. What a gorgeous bird; here’s one where the field guides definitely don’t do them justice! Cute and elegant, dapper and colorful all at once, these great little ducks were a great way to start our birding day together.
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Cool “gray-morph” or somewhat leucistic pintail.

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“Please take MY picture! Or, give me bread.”

Interestingly enough, the rarest bird in the pond was a vagrant Canada Goose, which arrived here in November – a great bird for the islands. Three Mallards, if indeed genuine vagrants, would be a close second for their rarity. The Blue-winged Teals and Pied-billed Grebes, however, were common and expected.

Further exploration yielded our lifer Loggerhead Kingbirds, and much improved views of both Bahama Yellowthroat and Bahama Warbler.
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As luck would have it, after working hard for West Indian Woodpecker to no avail, we heard one call right behind our Marsh Harbor lodging on the morning of the 2nd. However, in about an hour, it only yielded two glimpses as it darted between tall ficus trees. Four Loggerhead Kingbirds were more conspicuous however, and a small thicket of trees held a nice mixed species foraging flock of overwintering warblers, included a Black-throated Blue and a Worm-eating.

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I’m a fan of fried chicken, and the fried chicken was darn good down here, such as at the little “Just Chicken” shack that Jeannette and I ate at tonight.

Today we took the short ferry ride to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Wandering through the village – which reminded us all a little of Monhegan Island (but with palm trees) – we did the touristy thing before heading out of town and walking the edges of coppice habitat outside of town all of the way to White Sound. And guess what we saw – West Indian Woodpeckers! Two, about 20 feet away foraging on a roadside tree for over 10 minutes. Isn’t that always how it works out? No Key West-Quail Doves as we hoped for, however.
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Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls from our lunch stop.

Early in the morning on March 3rd, we departed Abaco, and arrived back on New Providence. With 6 hours until our next flight, we splurged on a car rental and checked out some birding sites on New Providence. The Harold and Wilson Ponds National Park was the most productive of the destinations. Our trip list grew with Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Tricolored Heron, Virginia Rail, and Sora, plus 6 more White-cheeked Pintails. Another female Bahama Woodstar entertained us at the Clifton Heritage National Park, which unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore.
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Following the shortest flight of our lives, we arrived on Andros Island a mere 15 minutes after takeoff. We even took off early, which resulted in our arrival time being our scheduled departure time!
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Jeannette did the planning for this trip, and once again, she had us in prime position for our target bird. This time, it was the rarest bird of our trip (and therefore my “most-wanted” species), the critically endangered Bahama Oriole. We checked into the Lighthouse Yacht Club Marina motel, a place that’s glory days are long since past. While its history was fascinating, it was a tired place, but we weren’t here for the ambience – or thankfully, the “pool.” Instead, we were here for orioles.
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And within about 10 minutes of stepping outside into the front “yard,” an oriole sounded off. We hustled down the entrance road, and Paul spotted the bird teed up on a dead snag. It turned out that a pair was present, and they afforded good views. Now, with the last of the island endemics checked off, we could finally relax a little!
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There wasn’t much of a town here in Fresh Creek, but Hank’s Place – the only restaurant open in the area – was not just a great meal, but had the local color, character, and ambiance that one misses staying at gated resorts. Bahama Swallows were on the wires as we crossed the bridge, but unfortunately, we didn’t rediscover any extinct three-foot-tall Barn Owls on the walk home.

The next morning, White Ibis were out on the front lawn of the Lighthouse Yacht Club, and then spent some more quality time with the orioles – at least three were in the area, including two males counter-singing.
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Soon thereafter, we took a cab for a short ride over to our final destination of the trip, the Small Hope Bay Lodge to end our vacation in style. Wandering around the grounds and some of the trails yielded more quality time with Thick-billed Vireos, Cuban Emeralds, Bananaquits, Greater Antillean Bullfinches, Black-faced Grassquits, and pockets of North American migrants. Vocal Clapper Rails were added to our trip list.
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Paul finally gets into his element.

Jeannette and I took a bike ride (5 miles on old bikes and mostly rough dirt roads, so this might have been slightly more effort than we had anticipated!), through pine forest that was alive with the songs of resident Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, to the most impressive of the local “blue holes.” Circular sinkholes into the limestone, blue holes are famous for their relaxing swimming. In we went.
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The next morning, one of the resident guides, Tarran Simms, took us on a van tour two three blue holes, taught us about traditional medicinal plants, and brought us to one of the more productive coppices for two of our last “target birds.” Although the notoriously challenging-to-see Key West Quail-Dove was heard twice, it was not surprising that we couldn’t track it down through the impenetrable forest. However, although we heard at least two different Great Lizard-Cuckoos, we weren’t able to spot one of those either. We couldn’t complain, though, as these were our only to “misses” of the trip.

And Paul finally got to go fishing, and reel in a bunch of Bonefish. A “Fisherman’s Lifer.”
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Two Least Grebes were at the Rainbow Blue Hole, along with a chance to dip your feet in for a little fish-exfoliation treatment. A Merlin was new for our trip near Cousteau’s Blue Hole, where Tarran also pointed out an old Barn Owl nest. It’s certainly not where I would have expected to see a Barn Owl nest, but without any barns around, clearly they make do. No one was home at this season, but several pellets below proved they have been eating rats nearby.
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After lunch, Jeannette, Kristen, and I rode into “town” to check out the Androsian batik (fabric) factory and store, passing a small pond that hosted a few waterbirds. An Osprey, of the regional subspecies “ridgewayi” with a nearly all-white head flew over, our first (surprisingly) Osprey of the trip.

On our last morning on Andros, Jeannette and I briefly spotted a Bahama Oriole in a Coconut Palm as we left our cabin. We then took a longer trail through the property, hoping for quail-doves or lizard-cuckoos. We didn’t hear or see either, but we did get an unexpected lifer: Swainson’s Warbler. One of the few eastern North American birds neither of us have seen, we’ve never been in the right place at the right time to look for one, so it was exciting to first see the bird in its “wintering” grounds – the place where it spends almost 8 months of each given year. A really good look at a Red-legged Thrush was nice, as well.

For a chance at seeing some seabirds, Jeannette had booked us on the ferry from Fresh Creek back to Nassau, instead of flying back. The boat left from near the Lighthouse Marina, and as we departed, a Bahama Oriole was singing away, teeing up for one last look as Bahama Swallows zipped around the creek.

It was a nice boat ride, and seeing 6 flying fish was pretty neat, but we only had one distant seabird in the three-hour journey: an unidentified shearwater that was really far away, but presumably an Audubon’s (which would have been a lifer for Jeannette). A few Laughing Gulls were finally around as we approached Nassau, and once in the harbor, we added Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls to our trip list.
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Jeannette and I like to splurge at least once on a trip, if possible, and we went all out on this one: dinner the Greycliff in Nassau. And it was fantastic…and amazingly expensive. But you only live once, right? Besides, while waiting to be seated, we strolled the impressive gardens as dusk approached. A Louisiana Waterthrush wandered around the edge of the tile-lined pool, and a Red-legged Thrush foraged in the garden. White-crowned Pigeons and Eurasian Collared-Doves were arriving to roost in the palms and other trees around the property. And the refined guava duff (no Styrofoam clam-shell here!) was exquisite.
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March 7th was our last day of vacation, so Jeannette and I wanted to make the most of it. Paul joined us for a walk around the tourist Mecca/hell of Paradise Island. It was not our cup of tea, but thickets of vegetation, especially around a couple of stagnant but very productive ponds, were surprisingly birdy. Especially around the ponds, there were White-crowned Pigeons and Bananaquits in the trees, all of the now-expected wintering migrants at every pish, and several really good looks at Red-legged Thrushes. Mourning Dove was new for our trip.
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Phone-binned Red-legged Thrush

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Great Egret with begging fish and turtles.

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Paul peeled off, and Jeannette and I set out on two missions. One, was my now-desperate attempt to find a place that had invasive Lionfish on the menu (I’ve heard it tastes great, and with the damage it is doing to the reefs of the region, I was hoping to single-handily increase demand for it!). No luck there. Our other mission was to find the introduced Cuban Grassquits.

We walked towards a well-known place to see them, finding a great little café (Le Petit Gourmet) for lunch, before we arrived at the Bahama Art Handicraft Gift Shop on Shirley St. We soon spotted some feeders, and within seconds, Cuban Grassquits started arriving. There were at least twenty of these darling little birds…and a rather gorgeous one at that; the field guides didn’t really do it justice. House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, and a single Common Ground-Dove were the only other visitors to this feeder, but the grassquits were yet another life bird that offered stellar views and solid “life bird moments.”
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“We’re going to see a life bird here?”

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Phone-binned photos of the Cuban Grassquits

It was a long, hot walk back to our hotel, making a couple of stops in pursuit of leads on Lionfish, but finding another grassquit at Betty Cole Park near the waterfront. Then, the four of us rendezvoused back at our downtown Towne Hotel, and took the bittersweet cab ride back to the airport. It was time to head home: back to winter, back to work, but back to Sasha and the climate I am more comfortable in!
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This is our triplist, in order of first appearance. Birds marked with an (*) were lifer birds for me and Jeannette, and two (**) were the two species that were new for just Jeannette. Endemics or regional specialties are in all caps.
New Providence Island:
1. House Sparrow
2. Northern Mockingbird
3. Killdeer
4. Laughing Gull
5. Eurasian Collared-Dove
6. Rock Pigeon
7. Yellow-throated Warbler
8. Prairie Warbler
9. Black-and-white Warbler
10. American Kestrel (endemic subspecies)
11. WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON**
12. Cape May Warbler
13. Smooth-billed Ani
14. Common Gallinule
15. American Coot
16. Great Egret
17. Belted Kingfisher

Abaco:
18. Common Ground-Dove
19. Bananaquit
20. Black-faced Grassquit
21. LASAGRA’S FLYCATCHER*
22. Ring-billed Gull
23. Magnificent Frigatebird
24. BAHAMA SWALLOW*
25. Little Blue Heron
26. Red-tailed Hawk (resident subspecies)
27. Tree Swallow (actually, a pretty good rarity)
28. American Redstart
29. Northern Parula
30. Greater Antillean Bullfinch
31. Red-legged Thrush
32. Palm Warbler
33. Yellow-throated Vireo
34. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
35. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
36. THICK-BILLED VIREO*
37. Red-winged Blackbird
38. European Starling
39. American Oystercatcher
40. Indigo Bunting
41. WESTERN SPINDALIS**
42. Turkey Vulture
43. Limpkin
44. Pine Warbler
45. “GOLDEN” YELLOW WARBLER
46. Northern Waterthrush
47. CUBAN EMERALD*
48. OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER*
49. CUBAN PEWEE*
50. Great Blue Heron
51. BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT*
52. BAHAMA WARBLER*
53. BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD*
54. BAHAMA WOODSTAR*
55. Hairy Woodpecker (endemic subspecies)
56. Ruddy Turnstone
57. Royal Tern
58. Double-crested Cormorant
59. CUBAN (BAHAMA) PARROT
60. Reddish Egret
61. Common Yellowthroat
62. Worm-eating Warbler
63. Yellow-rumped Warbler
64. WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL*
65. Blue-winged Teal
66. Pied-billed Grebe
67. Canada Goose (mega-rarity!)
68. Mallard (very rare)
69. Forster’s Tern
70. Gadwall
71. LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD*
72. Peregrine Falcon
73. Spotted Sandpiper
74. White-eyed Vireo
75. WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER*
76. Black-throated Blue Warbler
77. Ovenbird
78. Willet

New Providence:
79. Snowy Egret
80. Neotropical Cormorant
81. Tricolored Heron
82. Virginia Rail
83. Sora

Andros Island:
84. BAHAMA ORIOLE*
85. Magnolia Warbler
86. White Ibis
87. Green Heron
88. Clapper Rail
89. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
90. Least Grebe
91. Merlin
92. Osprey (ssp. Ridgewayi)
93. Swainson’s Warbler*

New Providence Island:
94. Lesser Black-backed Gull
95. Herring Gull
96. Louisiana Waterthrush
97. Mourning Dove
98. CUBAN GRASSQUIT*

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2015 Bradbury Mountain SPRING Hawkwatch starts Sunday!

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Bald Eagles are already on the move, but the delayed start to spring have kept most of the birds to our south…just waiting to be tallied as they begin to push north.

Hawkwatching season is here! Freeport Wild Bird Supply (FWBS) will once again be partnering with Leica Sport Optics to sponsor the Spring Hawkwatch at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, beginning on March 15th. 2015 marks the ninth consecutive season for this project through which valuable data is collected while providing an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors. Not only does it feel like spring today, but in a mere four days (weather permitting), spring hawkwatching will be underway!

This year, we welcome Andrew Wolfgang as our official Hawkcounter. Andrew is a Biology graduate of Millersville University of Pennsylvania where he created two research projects studying bird diversity in riparian habitats and bird vocalization detection. Most recently, he worked as an environmental educator at Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Virginia. He is an experienced birder and hawkwatcher with a particular interest in Raptor Ecology. He’ll be stationed at the summit from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily from March 15th to May 15th.

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Sharp-shinned Hawks shattered their previous record count last season. What will this season’s totals look like?

Rising 485 feet above the southern coastal plain, Bradbury Mountain provides unimpeded views to the south and east all the way to the islands of Casco Bay. Whether using updrafts off the mountain, gliding overhead, or soaring over the plains, observers watch raptors utilizing a variety of migratory methods as they work their way north. The goal of the project is to document this migration by identifying and counting all raptors that pass by the mountain. Last year’s count was record-setting, with 6,015 hawks tallied, including 97 Bald Eagles, 724 Ospreys and 2,357 Broad-winged Hawks. All but two of our regularly occurring species were counted in above average numbers, with seven species showing record season highs. We were particularly excited to count 190 Red-shouldered Hawks (160% above the average) – a species that had not been known to migrate through Maine in any significant numbers before the start of this project nine years ago. Over a period of years, these data can be analyzed to determine trends in species numbers as well as changes in distributions, which when studied in conjunction with other monitoring sites across the continent, give us a broadscale idea of what is happening with raptor populations.

Last year’s record-shattering season got off to a great start thanks to the late arrival of spring. Late snowfall well to our south, cold temperatures and ice cover on lakes and rivers, and the lack of favorable southerly winds greatly limited the number of birds (especially Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and Red-tailed Hawks) that pushed north before the beginning of our count season. We would expect a similar situation this spring – there hasn’t been a whole lot of spring prior to March 15th this year once again. That should get things off to a great start.

But, it is not just about the numbers. Hawkwatching is a very social activity that is accessible to birders of all abilities. Last spring, we interacted with more than 1500 visitors! Seeing your first kettle (group of birds rising up on an updraft or thermal) of 50+ Broad-winged Hawks, or learning how to tell the difference between a Bald Eagle and a Turkey Vulture several miles away is an eye-opening experience for many folks. Organized hawkwatch sites, like Bradbury Mountain, are great places to meet new people and learn about raptors and the conservation issues they face at the same time.

So, grab your binoculars and join us atop Bradbury Mountain this spring. Andrew will gladly answer questions about the raptors you will see and help visitors learn what to look for to identify the 18 species that may pass by. The hawkwatch is free, though there is an entry fee to the park.

Also, be sure to mark your calendar for Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend on April 25th – 26th. The Hawkwatch will be one of many featured activities during this family-oriented event at Bradbury Mountain and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Parks.

More information about the hawkwatch, including a link to daily counts, can be found on our website, here.

And to read about last spring’s record-shattering season, check out this blog entry on Leica’s blog.

And you know where to find me on most birding days for the next two months!

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Northern Harrier was also among the eight species that set a new record last season.