This Week in Shorebirds: 8/22-28/2015

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Two juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers at Popham Beach State Park on Friday morning, “rare-but-regular” fall migrants.

August is for shorebirds. Although the “fall” southbound migration started in late June (when the first non-breeders begin to turn around to mosey back south) and continues into November when Purple Sandpipers are still filling in, August is the month of peak numbers and diversity in Maine.
Most weeks from mid-July into September of recent years, I post a weekly “shorebird high counts this week” summary to my weekly “Additional Highlights This Week” summary posts to the Maine-birds listserve. While I do hope this is interesting and of value to folks, I also do it to organize my own notes, allowing me to quickly reference the peaks and valleys of particular species with ease should I need to.

I generally only post this when I have hit at least two “primary” and at least one “secondary” site each week, to make the numbers meaningful. And I prefer at least one prime high tide location (Eastern Road Trail in Scarborough Marsh, Biddeford Pool Beach/Ocean Avenue, or Popham Beach State Park in some years) with one low or mid-tide hotspot (Pine Point, Hill’s Beach/The Pool, or Popham and nearby environs).

This week was a particularly productive week for my own shorebirding, so this week’s summary is a helpful future reference for me. I also thought it was worth going into a little more detail, since it yielded a goodly 21 species (plus one subspecies) and some excellent totals.

The inclement weather of the weekend into the middle of the week (regular rain, lots of fog, easterly or southerly winds) was perfecting for “grounding” shorebirds and allowing numbers to build. I think my only surprise was my lack of a real rarity – like Western Sandpiper (although I worked pretty hard for one!)

I hit the low-tide hotspot of Pine Point on Monday with Jeannette, followed by the Eastern Road Trail at high tide later that afternoon. Jeannette and I spent the incoming to high tide at Biddeford Pool Beach on Tuesday, and on Friday, Serena Doose and I visited Popham on the incoming to high tide. Additionally, Jeannette and I checked one of the “secondary” sites, Brunswick’s Wharton Point on Tuesday and on Thursday I visited Wells Harbor before the evening’s Scott Weidensaul talk that we co-sponsored with Birds and Beans coffee and York County Audubon.

It’s always good to hit a freshwater location for diversity and high counts of pond-preferring-migrants, so when my Poplar Hut Tour Group with Maine Huts & Trails visited the Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds on Sunday, my high counts of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers were acquired, along with my only Wilson’s Snipe of the week.

And, as if often the case during the peak of shorebird migration, there is some other “incidental sighting” of a migrant in some weird place – but not as weird as the Whimbrel (my only of the week) foraging at 4,200 feet atop Sugarloaf Mountain that Paul Doiron, Kristen Lindquist, and I observed on Sunday afternoon. While I knew they forage on mossberry during migration, such as in the bogs Downeast, I was most definitely not expecting one up here!

Therefore, with a total of 7 shorebirding locations – plus that mountaintop Whimbrel! – “this week’s shorebird high counts” scoreboard looks like this:

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER: 1 ad, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Black-bellied Plover: 160, Pine Point, Scarborough, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Plover: 350, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Killdeer: 3, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: 5, Pine Point, 8/11 (with Jeannette).
Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Lesser Yellowlegs: 38, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“Eastern” Willet: 8 juvs, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
“WESTERN” WILLET: 1 juv. (FOY), Pine Point, 8/24 (with Fyn Kind, Gary Roberts, and Jeannette).
Solitary Sandpiper: 4, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Spotted Sandpiper: 5, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).
Whimbrel: 8, Wells Harbor, 8/27.
Ruddy Turnstone: 8, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Sanderling: 40, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette).
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1000, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25 (with Jeannette)..
Least Sandpiper: 75 mostly juv, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
White-rumped Sandpiper: 80-100 adults, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER: 2 juveniles, Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg, 8/28 (with Serena Doose).
Pectoral Sandpiper: 6, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
STILT SANDPIPER: 4 ads, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Short-billed Dowitcher: 19 juveniles, Pine Point, 8/24 (with Jeannette).
Wilson’s Snipe: 1, Carrabassett Valley Snowfluent Ponds, 8/23 (with Poplar Hut Tour group).

Furthermore, writing this blog gives me a chance to show off some of Jeannette’s photography! These are just a few of the shots she got during our visit to Scarborough on Monday.
IMG_2024_edited-2Adult Black-bellied Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2069_edited-2Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2092_edited-2Adult Semipalmated Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2148_edited-2Adult and juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers with one juvenile Semipalmated Plover, Pine Point, 8/24.

IMG_2256_edited-2Adult Pectoral Sandpiper and juvenile Least Sandpiper, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24.

IMG_2295_edited-2Adult White-rumped Sandpiper, Eastern Road Trail, 8/24.

IMG_2331_edited-2Semipalmated Sandpipers with one adult Semipalmated Plover and one adult Sanderling, Biddeford Pool Beach, 8/25.

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Of course, it’s not just shorebirds that are on the move – there are plenty of passerines as well! A migrant Wilson’s Warbler and a whopping 14 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were at Old Town House Park on Saturday morning when I visited it with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group. My tour group to the Poplar Hut encountered mixed-species foraging flocks as we hiked to and from the hut, highlighted by an immature female Cape May Warbler in a little wave around the hut itself on Sunday morning.
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Other highlights this week included 14 Wood Ducks and a bumper crop of juvenile Common Yellowthroats at Florida Lake Park (8/24), the whiter of the two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids (“Splotchy”) in the Rte 1/9 salt pannes in Scarborough Marsh with Jeannette on the same day and a drake White-winged Scoter off of Biddeford Pool Beach on 8/25.

While a diversity of shorebirds will continue for several more weeks (and there’s a better chance for Western, Baird’s, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers), I tend to spend less time focusing on them (and therefore not enough time at enough prime locations over the course of the week), and therefore only occasionally post summary totals. In fact, if the much-reduced numbers at Popham today are any indication, a lot of shorebirds departed with the passage of this recent cold front.

Instead, I spend most of my free mornings now at “my office,” the bridge at Sandy Point Beach, Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth, observing and obsessively counting migrant passerines in the “Morning Flight.” In fact, my first visit of the season there on Thursday morning yielded 438 migrants, including 17 species of warblers, 1 early Dickcissel, 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (my 3rd-ever here), and 5 Prairie Warblers – my 2nd highest count.

(Much) more on that soon.

“Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Shorebirds and Beers!” Trip report, 8/2/15

It’s pretty clear that I am not the only birder who loves beer. And based on the success of the “Birds, Books, and Beers” series at Maine Beer Company, the first of hopefully many “Birds on Tap!” lectures at Rising Tide Brewing, and the fact that many of my tours finish the day at a brewery (e.g. Monhegan Brewing), I was looking for a way to build on these events.

Enter the “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series with our friends at the Maine Brew Bus. And the first of what we hope will be a regular schedule of unique birding and beer-ing outings took place on Sunday.

Combining three hours of birding with visits to two of our great local breweries, we strive to showcase some of Maine’s best birding, and best craft brewers. Beginning in August, there’s no better place to bird in southern Maine than Scarborough Marsh.
on the bus

After two convenient pick-ups, one at the store and one in Portland, it was down the marsh, starting at Pine Point on the incoming tide. Common Terns were feeding in the channel, and we took a moment to check out the truly beautiful turquoise eye of a nearby Double-crested Cormorant.
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Out on the mudflats, 150+ Semipalmated Plovers were joined by at least 75 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 30 or so Short-billed Dowitchers, 15 “Eastern” Willets, and a few Black-bellied Plovers. As the ride rolled in, many of these birds flew closer, landing on the last strip of mud and sand right in front of us, offering detailed study of plumage details to complement the “general impression of size and shape” methodology of identifying birds afar.
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Some birds, like this Semipalmated Plover, were incredibly close and offered great studies of plumage detail.

Our next stop, with the tide approaching high, was the Eastern Road Trail. The wide, raised trail crossing the marsh provided convenient access and easy viewing of the many hundreds of shorebirds out in the salt pannes. 300+ Semipalmated Sandpipers, 100-150 Semipalmated Plovers, 100+ Short-billed Dowitchers, 50+ Least Sandpipers, 20+ Greater and 6 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 “Eastern” Willets, 2 White-rumped Sandpipers, and a single Spotted Sandpiper.

Joining the shorebirds in the pannes were a variety of wading birds, with 40+ Snowy and 25 Great Egrets, 8 Glossy Ibis, 4 Great Blue Herons, 3 Little Blue Herons, and “Patches:” the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrid that has been frequenting the marsh for at least three summers now.
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There were a lot of birds in the pannes today, with shorebirds covering all of the exposed mud and wading birds standing guard at the edges.

Several singing Nelson’s Sparrows, including a couple of birds that offered unusually prolonged scope-views, a soaring Bald Eagle, and a hunting Northern Harrier added to the diversity of the day.

As we enjoyed some scrumptious vegetable hand-pies, Josh took over the show, and escorted us down to Saco’s Barreled Souls. While several birders got a life bird or two today, everyone in the group had their “life beers” from Barreled Souls. All of Barreled Souls’ beers are fermented in oak barrels using a version of the Burton Union system, a method developed in England in the 1800’s. Unique ingredients coupled with this system that offer subtle flavor additions and changes to the beer, provides a healthy growing environment for the yeast that does the dirty work of making the sugar into alcohol, and allows for the capture the healthiest yeast crops for the next batch of brew.
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We received a tour of the facility, before being invited in the cozy tasting room. All the while, four unique and very flavorful beers, all very different in taste and body, were sampled, including Half-Nelson, an IPA with 100% Nelson Sauvin hops and Space Gose, a tart German style beer with coriander, Maine sea salt, and lemon zest. Mixing things up a bit, the fruity Eat a Peach and the finale, the malty and nutty – and potent – Quaker State Heavyweight.

Conversations about birds during the first half of the tour rapidly turned to conversations about beer, often spurred on by discussions about the samples, and several people remarked how these beers were outside of their usual comfort zone, broadening their horizons and challenging their pallets. One could say there is a parallel to our discussions about the finer point of “peep” identification while out in the marsh!
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It seemed most appropriate that our second brewery of the tour would be Rising Tide Brewing in Portland – our partner in the Birds on Tap! lecture series. Refreshing Daymark, a clean and classic APA; Ishmael, the rich and malty American copper ale; Zephyr, Rising Tide’s hoppy but incredibly well-balanced IPA; and of course, the venerable Maine Island Trail Ale the citrusy, hoppy, and summertime-perfect American Ale that is one of the favorite beers of many a Maine beer drinker, myself included.
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MITA

While many of the Maine residents in the group – we also had guests from Kansas and folks who share Maine with another home state – were more familiar with the offerings of this favorite brewery, Alex did a great job explaining the philosophy of the brewery and the methods they use to produce so many quality, unique, – and in many cases, exceedingly approachable – brews.

As we wrapped things up and Josh transported us back to our respective drop-offs, the bus was filled with chatter about birds, beers, and more than one question for when the next Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! from Freeport Wild Bird Supply and the Maine Brew Bus will be taking place…stay tuned!

Birding By Schooner Trip Report, 2015

It’s hard for me to pick my “favorite” tour, but if pressed, I would probably answer our annual “Birding by Schooner” aboard the Lewis R. French tour. It just offers such a unique way to bird, and such unique birding experiences. The scenery, the food, and the good conversation can also not be beat.

Last week was my 6th tour aboard the French. And one of the aspects of the tour that I so very much enjoy is that every tour is different. We often don’t know where we are going even as we depart Camden Harbor on our first morning! Weather (especially wind, or lack there of) dictates the plan. And I must say, it’s a nice bit of respite to not have any control over where we go! All I have to do is point out birds wherever our captain takes us.

Of course, this is a birding-themed trip, so we make our best efforts to get into position for some great birding, especially to visit one or more islands with breeding seabirds. But when I boarded the vessel on Sunday night, I could only guess what a plan might be.

We awoke to fog and calm on Monday morning, departed the harbor on the very lightest of breezes, and pushed our way across a bay with only the minimum of ripples. We found a whole in the fog bank as we rounded Owl’s Head Light…
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(click on photos for larger images)

…but soon we were back in the murk.
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Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to show up, with at least 50 noted by the time we pulled into Port Clyde. Bald Eagles were conspicuous, as were the common bay denizens such as Black Guillemot…
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…and Common Eider.
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A stroll to Marshall Point Light added to our landbird list, while a Greater Yellowlegs in the harbor was the first migrant shorebird of the trip.

Overnighting in Port Clyde set us up nicely for a short trip to Eastern Egg Rock, which we rounded slowly to enjoy Roseate Terns among the Arctic and Commons, lots of Black Guillemots, and over 100 Atlantic Puffins. The fog lifted enough for us to have great visibility when near the island, but the offshore fog bank and cloudy skies meant a lot of puffins were on the water, and many loafed close to our boat or zipped right by.
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Back into the fog as we trudged offshore, seabirds were few and far between. Or, I should say, we saw few seabirds…I am sure plenty were out there. We encountered some more puffins, and this one Northern Gannet.
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Our destination this afternoon was none other than Monhegan Island…one of my favorite places in the world. It was pretty foggy, so the views were limited…
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…But few complained. Especially those of us who ended up at the Monhegan Brewing Company (Wait, how do so many of my tours end up at breweries?).
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Several common breeding birds were added to our trip list, but no mid-summer vagrants were detected. We had hoped to overnight in the harbor and take a birdwalk in the morning, but a tenuous anchorage and an approaching cold front led Captain Garth to err on the side of caution, and head for the shelter of the mainland, so we said an early farewell to Monhegan.
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We sought shelter up the St. George River, first in Turkey Cove, but then Garth made a last minute decision to anchor on the river’s other bank, in the Pleasant Point Gut. Overnight, the storm cleared, and so did the fog.
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We didn’t have much wind, but what we did have facilitated a trip out to remote Seal Island. We had to motor-sail most of the way, but we had an afternoon date with a punctual local.

On the way, we enjoyed some great birding. While we didn’t have enough wind to take the long way out to Matinicus Rock and deeper water, cutting a straight line around the north end of Metinic produced a whole lot of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (450+ on the day), 6 Red Phalaropes (along with another 20 phalaropes that were just a little too far to ID), and a Mola Mola that gave us the slip. Most surprising, however, was a pair of American Oystercatchers that were flying around Little Green Island. Whether this is a previously-unknown pair of this slowly-increasing species in Maine, southbound migrants, or Maine breeders undergoing post-breeding dispersal is impossible to know, but it was a new “Schooner Bird” for me: my 116th species seen during our “Birding by Schooner” tours!

It was a bit of work, but we made it to Seal Island on a sunny, fairly calm day at the perfect time. And “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird that has returned to Seal Island for its 9th straight summer (10th overall in the area), made his afternoon appearance for a little bath. This was my fourth visit to Seal aboard the French, and we have seen Troppy three times (the only miss was on a cloudy day with fog the next morning).
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And despite that sign, we dropped anchor for a special evening. One of the unique experiences for participants on this most unique tour is an evening with the Seal Island’s biologists. Not only do the passengers get a break from hearing me talk, the biologists get a break from cooking and their usual routine.
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Yet another unique experience afforded by spending a night out at Seal is to get up and listen for Leach’s Storm-Petrels returning to the island from foraging trips in the middle of the night. While clear skies and a light westerly wind reduced the cacophony, the eerie, sinister chuckling of the petrels rang through the night.

And if a sunrise over Seal isn’t enough…
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…there was what seemed to be the entire tern colony in the air…
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… more puffins, a couple of dozen Razorbills and 1 Common Murre, Great Cormorants, and more Black Guillemots than you could count.
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Migrant shorebirds included a Whimbrel, a flock of small shorebirds that totaled 20 Semipalmated and 2 Least Sandpipers along with 4 Semipalmated Plovers, and unexpectedly, a fly-by Wood Duck! Not to mention another view of the Red-billed Tropicbird!

If your head wasn’t already on a swivel from looking at all of that, looking down offered a mesmerizing ballet of traveling jellies, both Moon and White-cross Jellies(here)…
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…and painful Lion’s Mane Jellies.
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For me, it is always too soon to depart, but we had other fish to fry, or to be exact, lobsters to boil. So we set a course towards Stonington, keeping our eyes open along the way. Two male Razorbills with their chick in tow were nice to see, as was a Minke Whale. A handful of Northern Gannets and about 10 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were our only other seabirds, however.

As we entered nearshore waters, we kept an eye out on islands, both big and small. You never know what you might see, and while I am on the lookout for something “mega” like a Brown Booby, we did spot a Great Cormorant on tiny Saddleback Ledge.
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Back in the usual domain of the Schooner fleet, we passed The Heritage…
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…and while the water boiled on Russ Island, the Angelique cruised passed us.
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A little bird, plant, and ecology walk further swelled our appetites. Which was good, because we had a few lobsters to eat tonight. Swainson’s Thrushes offered the evening’s musical performance.
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A Sharp-shinned Hawk carrying breakfast over Russ Island was another addition to my Schooner List, and our morning walk around Stonington added several new species to our triplist.
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Rounding North Haven Island, we kept tallying Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (we don’t always see these birds inshore on this tour), spotted a few small groups of southbound swallows and a few shorebirds, and watched the storm clouds build.
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Um, should we have been worried?
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Nah, this crew has got it covered!
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Although we had some good sailing winds ahead of the storm, and some moderate rain during the storm, the skies looked much worse than what we weathered. In fact, by the time we motored into Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro, the rain was ending and the skies showed a few hints of blue. And once again, we ate. Ate real well.
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It’s amazing how fast a week aboard the Schooner French flies by – even without the birds – but it was now time to crank the anchor one last time. A Greater Yellowlegs sounded off and Ospreys circled overhead as we departed the quiet harbor for the bustle of Camden.

Crossing West Penobscot Bay, we encountered yet more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, and surprisingly (for this far up the bay) another Razorbill father and kid.

Chimney Swifts twittering over Camden were our 79th and final species of the tour – two over our average. Emails were exchanged, bunks were cleared, and one last photo-op capped off yet another stellar “Birding By Schooner” tour.
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Here’s the complete, annotated checklist for this year’s trip, in order of appearance:

  1. American Crow
  2. House Sparrow
  3. Rock Pigeon
  4. Canada Goose (a couple of family groups in Camden Harbor)
  5. Mallard
  6. Song Sparrow
  7. Double-crested Cormorant
  8. Laughing Gull (common; all days)
  9. Osprey (common, just about every day)
  10. House Finch
  11. Herring Gull
  12. Great Black-backed Gull
  13. Cedar Waxwing
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Mourning Dove (all of the above from the boat within Camden Harbor)
  16. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (daily; high day count of 450+ on 7/22, with 400+ between Little Green Island and Seal Island. Unusually common within Penobscot Bay).
  17. Black Guillemot (Abundant daily; several hundred on multiple days).
  18. Common Eider (very common; all days)
  19. Common Tern (abundant, including thousands at Eastern Egg Rock and Seal Island, but also scattered throughout inshore waters)
  20. Bald Eagle (common and seen daily; high count of 7 on 7/20).
  21. Bonaparte’s Gull (scattered few)
  22. Common Loon (scattered few on several days)
  23. Great Blue Heron
  24. Northern Parula
  25. European Starling
  26. Black-capped Chickadee
  27. Common Grackle
  28. American Robin
  29. Common Yellowthroat
  30. Black-throated Green Warbler
  31. Purple Finch
  32. Common Raven
  33. White-throated Sparrow
  34. Blue Jay
  35. Greater Yellowlegs (scattered singletons)
  36. Least Sandpiper (scattered few)
  37. Northern Flicker
  38. Gray Catbird
  39. Semipalmated Sandpiper (scattered small groups; high of 30 at Seal Island on 7/23)
  40. White-rumped Sandpiper (1 each at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and Seal Island, 7/22)
  41. Spotted Sandpiper
  42. ATLANTIC PUFFIN (100+ at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and hundreds at Seal Island 7/22-23)
  43. ROSEATE TERN (dozens at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22)
  44. ARCTIC TERN (many hundreds at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  45. Northern Gannet (1 between Eastern Egg and Seal, 7/22; 5 between Seal and Stonington, 7/23)
  46. Tree Swallow (several southbound groups seen offshore and around islands)
  47. Brown-headed Cowbird
  48. Red-winged Blackbird
  49. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  50. Winter Wren
  51. Black-throated Green Warbler
  52. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  53. Barn Swallow (scattered small numbers, many southbound over water)
  54. Blue-headed Vireo
  55. Killdeer
  56. AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (pair at Little Green Island, 7/22)
  57. RED PHALAROPE (6 between Little Green Island and Seal Island, 7/22, plus 20 unidentified phalaropes)
  58. GREAT CORMORANT (35+ including juveniles at Seal Island, 7/22-23, plus 1 at Saddleback Ledge light, 7/23).
  59. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (Troppy! Seal Island, 7/22-23).
  60. RAZORBILL (20+ Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  61. Bank Swallow (6 off of Seal Island, 7/22)
  62. COMMON MURRE (1 at Seal Island, 7/22)
  63. LEACH’S STORM-PETREL (many heard overnight at Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  64. Savannah Sparrow
  65. Whimbrel (one at Seal Island, 7/23)
  66. WOOD DUCK (one unexpected fly-by at Seal Island, 7/23)
  67. Semipalmated Plover (4 at Seal Island, 7/23 and 4 off North Haven, 7/24)
  68. Turkey Vulture
  69. Dark-eyed Junco
  70. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  71. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  72. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  73. Chipping Sparrow
  74. Black-and-white Warbler
  75. Yellow Warbler
  76. Hermit Thrush
  77. Belted Kingfisher
  78. Ring-billed Gull (just a few in and around Camden Harbor)
  79. Chimney Swift

Since every trip is unique, here are links to the trip reports from the previous two tours.

August, 2014.
And July 2013.

And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be posting dates and information for our 2016 adventure. This trip fills up fast, so don’t dally…sign up soon and we’ll see you aboard next year!

June 2015 Month in Review

I guide nearly full-time in the month of June, and this year was no different. Add a few days at the store here and there and three days for working on writing projects, it was, needless to say, a very busy month. Please excuse my lack of blogging. I’ll try and make up for it here with a summary of the birds and my birding for the month as I try to catch up here and everywhere else.

After a troublingly-dry spring, rain began to fall in early June, with three inches in the first few days of the month, temporarily alleviating our drought conditions. But unseasonably cool temperatures continued to dominate through much of the month, but at least we started to see rain on a regular basis (but we could still use more) with a more active weather pattern. Unfortunately, it sometime fell at inopportune time for me and my clients!

Early June is often a time for rarities, especially of southern “overshoots” that are often found prospecting for territories – things like Hooded or Worm-eating Warblers, Summer Tanagers, etc. It was rather surprising, actually, that these southern strays weren’t found, considering May ended with several days of southwesterly winds – perfect for facilitating the arrival of late migrants (and kites)!
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It’s also a great time for even more exceptional vagrants.  But this year, rarities in early June were limited to a short-staying Franklin’s Gull on Stratton Island on 6/3, and a 1st-summer Little Gull that was hanging out with Bonparte’s Gulls on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough through the first week of the month (following an adult in late May).
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But on June 8th, a Little Egret was found in Falmouth, and was followed into Portland. On the 9th, I spent the afternoon chasing it around with Luke Seitz, eventually relocating it several times and eventually getting some good photos.  Hanging out some of the time with Snowy Egrets, this summertime occurrence is most intriguing. This was the third record for Maine, all of which have occurred in the summer, and all since 2011 – could they all be of the same bird?
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I’m a full-time guide in June, and this summer my private guiding (following a postponement due to the heavy, steady rain on the 1st) kicked of on June 3rd with a two-day tour for a couple who currently reside in Nicaragua. After amazing experiences with Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows in Scarborough Marsh – with the aforementioned Little Gull as a welcomed treat – we headed for the hills for my first of three visits to the mountaintop realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush. Despite a private, after-hours charter up Mount Washington one evening, and an exhaustive search on another mountain the next morning, for the first time in over 30 attempts, I failed to produce satisfactory views of the enigmatic thrush for my clients. No small part of me was frustrated and disappointed that I could no longer claim a perfect score!  I knew it would happen eventually, however.

Was it too early? Especially during such a cold start to the season? Or was it just too nice out both days? Warm temperatures in the low 50’s and very light winds just don’t seem to be as useful for seeing these birds!

We had a great birdwalk outing on 6/6, and local guiding for a visitor from Alabama on the 7th was fruitful: some of our local breeders here in Freeport, followed by a visit to Pine Point Beach (no Little Gull this day, but the continuing raft of “winter” diving ducks: ~40 White-winged, ~30 Black, and 4 Surf Scoters, along with a single Long-tailed Duck) made for a nice morning.

My next overnight trip was on June 8-9, taking me to Rangeley with a client from Massachussetts. We managed all 6 of our target birds, including finding a Black-backed Woodpecker and with the help of a friend, a new spot for Mourning Warbler.

The weekend of the 13-14th was my annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” tour. Licking my chops from my first whiff earlier in the month, I was excited to get back on the horse and see some Bicknell’s Thrushes. Of course, even more pressure is on when you’re running a two-day trip solely dedicated to one species!  While we do bird our way to and from the mountain thrush locations, this is an all-or-nothing trip for a lot of people. Let’s just say, a new streak has begun – and wow, what a way to do it!

With rare days off, I squeezed in some relaxed birding with Jeannette and Sasha. We didn’t see the Portland area Little Egret on the 15th, but did enjoy a birdy visit to Capisic Pond Park to walk Sasha, including a nice view of the male Orchard Oriole. A Red Crossbill in the afternoon in our Pownal yard was a surprise. The next day, we did our annual march around all of the Kennebunk Plains. At least five Upland Sandpipers (all very well-seen), 10 Grasshopper Sparrows (low), 18 Vesper Sparrows, 38 Prairie Warblers, and all of the other expected barrens denizens. A visit to Peak’s Island on the 18th yielded a very late migrant Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a sampling of the breeding birds of this lovely island. Willow Flycatchers and Black-crowned Night-Herons were in the marsh by Battery Steele but I did not hear or see a single Carolina Wren – wow, did this bird get hammered by our winter this year. Of course, there were a few morning dogwalks to local patches as well mixed in

The grand finale of my June this year was my 10-day Maine-New Hampshire Tour for WINGS. This biennial tour is exhaustive, and exhausting.  But 5 hotels, 1300 miles, and 159 species later, we all knew it was well worth it: 20 species of warbler (including Bay-breasted), all 9 species of Maine’s flycatchers (including Olive-sided), 7 species of thrush (including Bicknell’s in New Hampshire), 5 species of tern, 5 species of vireo, 4 species of alcids, and so much more.

After seeing Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, American Oystercatchers, etc at Scarborough Marsh, we successfully searched for the Little Egret – a life or ABA-area bird for everyone.  Bicknell’s Thrush played hard to get on Mount Washington, but my secret spot produced crippling views the next day.  It rained – a lot – in Rangeley, but we still managed to get several sought-after species, including Gray Jays and Moose. Messalonskee Lake was its usual awesomeness, and then we headed east, way east, arriving in Machias.
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Machias Seal Island needs no explanation; although landed was thwarted by swells, we couldn’t have asked for more birds up close and personal from the boat.
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Spruce Grouse eluded my group for the first time, but we picked up lifers for many, especially as we rode the whale/puffin watch trip out of Bar Harbor (2 Manx and 14 Great Shearwaters, 3 Leach’s and 350+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Northern Fulmars, and another view of puffins, Razorbills, and Common Murres.  And we finally turned up some Great Cormorants – 7 actually – in Acadia National Park.
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The Great Shearwaters we encountered today had some serious molt going on!

Besides the Little Egret, which obviously stole the show, unexpected treats included an immature male Purple Martin at Pine Point exploring nesting/roosting cavities with 6 White-winged Scoters off the beach and 2 Black-bellied Plovers off the point. A pair of Black Scoters was off of Quoddy Head State Park was another unseasonable addition to the checklist.

We filled in a few holes on the checklist on the tour’s last day, including Barred Owl, and some feeder watching in our backyard. And like all of my tours, we ate well- very, very well; food is always an important part of my tours as it is so important to tell an area’s story.
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With rain falling and clients departing on Sunday the 28th, I slept. A lot. I also slept a lot the next two days, although of course, but I made some time for some casual birding with Jeannette and Sasha, including another chase of the Little Egret – this time resulting in Jeannette’s 600th ABA-area bird!  Then, on Tuesday, we visited Simpson’s Point and spotted the remarkably-unseasonable Pacific Loon that was found there the day before. Joining almost-as-amazing summer records of two Red-throated Loons, a drake Bufflehead, and three Long-tailed Ducks, this amazing bay that has become a real summer oddity hotspot delivers once again.

And with that, my June comes to a close. I have a few tours and private guiding outings coming up, but I look forward to a slightly more relaxed schedule, with perhaps a few minutes on the recliner and wading out to sandbars to enjoy shorebirds!

The 2015 “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” Van Trip

Our annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” van trip to New Hampshire took place on the weekend of June 13-14 this year. Still licking my wounds from failing to provide satisfactory views for clients (on a private trip earlier in the week) for the first time in over 30 tours to look for this enigmatic, secretive, and range-restricted Northeastern breeding endemic earlier in the week, I was ready to get back in the game and start a new streak.

We departed the store on Saturday morning, and began our drive to the mountains. I always stop somewhere on the way to the Whites, and this year I mixed it up a bit with an easy walk at the pleasantly birdy Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington. Good views of Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were highlights.

It was already 11am when we arrived at the Caps Ridge Trail in Jefferson Notch, where we casually birded the road, parking area, and the beginning of the trail. It was not the best time of day, of course, but we heard quite a few Blackpoll Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, along with spotted a variety of warblers, including a couple of the Blackpolls, Black-throated Greens, and Magnolias.

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After a little r&r, we had a fantastic early dinner at Saalt Pub, a lovely little gastropub run by a James Beard Award semifinalist who worked for the legend, Julia Child. It’s not what one expects to find in little Gorham. Luckily, with our regular, casual eatery now open only for breakfast and lunch, they were able to squeeze us in. Rest assured this will likely be a regular feature of this tour from now on.
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Fueled up and ready to go, we made the short trip to the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road for our private, after-hours charter up to the realm of the thrush.
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The view from the summit was magnificent, with amazingly clear views in all directions…thanks to winds now gusting over 60mph!  It was a challenge to walk around, and especially to open the doors of our van!

Escaping the gale before any of were blown away, we dropped down to the Cow Pasture to enjoy some flowers, like this glowing Lapland Rosebay and dainty white Diapensia.
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With dusk finally approaching, we dropped down into the krummholz to get to work.
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Unfortunately, the winds were increasing, and they were whipping around the mountain. My favorite spots were just too windy to hear or see the thrush, or much of anything else. One sheltered stretch of road did host several thrushes, and we did glimpse a few birds crossing the road, and especially one that flew overhead providing unusually decent looks in flight.  We had one close bird that seemed to be having a negative interaction with a Swainson’s Thrush – was the Swainson’s chasing it?  Swainson’s are marching up the mountain, residing higher and higher each year – are they displacing Bicknell’s?  It was a really interesting auditory show, but we couldn’t get a good look at either bird.

Unfortunately, a thrush that froze in our headlights as it was time to go was a Swainson’s, not our quarry.  Another miss – was I entering a slump?

But this tour gives us two chances to see the bird, and the next morning – another lovely day – we went to a different mountain to try our luck there.
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We worked hard for the bird, and although some were close, and some quick glimpses were to be had, we were running out of time, and running out of chances to really see the bird.  Then, this happened:
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These are arguably my best photos ever of this reclusive bird, and we were all ecstatic. With everyone happy now, and with these new photos, I even took a moment to enjoy the view.
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Restoring the Belgrade Purple Martin Colony.

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The Purple Martin is an iconic bird of the Northeast and has long had a “relationship” with people. Their large apartment-style houses grace the yards of many homeowners. However, this large swallow species reaches its northern range limit in Maine, so nesting colonies in our state are very localized and spread out. One such colony has been active since at least 1909 in Belgrade. Over the years, Maggie and Carl Yeaton maintained several martin houses on this property, most recently with assistance from Hammond Lumber Company workers. But, there has come a point where even those houses started to fall into disrepair. Without these houses would this colony that birders from far and wide come to see disappear, as other colonies this far north have done? Many of Maine’s birders, including myself, saw their first Purple Martins here, and the colony is frequented by birders working on their state and year lists, or just want to enjoy one of the state’s rarest breeding birds.

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Last summer, I stopped at the colony with a client, John Alexander, visiting from Sheffield, MA. After noticing the poor state of the houses, Alexander offered a donation to replace them. That got the ball rolling. I then contacted local resident, birder, and active member of the Belgrade community, Don Mairs to assist with the project. Don was instrumental in getting this project going; we couldn’t have done it without him. He arranged for all of the permissions necessary, and began to drum up local support for the project.

IMG_1250_edited-2The martins have been returning annually to houses that are now beyond repair. Something needed to be done before this vibrant colony no longer had adequate housing.

One year later, in May 2015, our store, Freeport Wild Bird Supply procured a new steel pole with pulleys (to facilitate cleaning) and plastic gourd array, which is now the preferred style of martin dwelling. With the additional help of local volunteers, Bob Lewis and Ed Slattery, this new set-up was established at the old Yeaton property, now owned by Don and Mary Hammond, of Hammond Lumber.IMG_5413The new gourd array in the background of the colony between Depot Road and Rte 27.

But, the plan does not stop there. Alexander and FWBS supplied a second array to be placed in another location. The thought here is that as martins from the original colony are out foraging, they may notice this nearby housing and eventually establish themselves in this “suburb;” starting an auxiliary colony as a back-up in case the original colony was to fail due to some catastrophic event or circumstances changed. After consultation with Belgrade Librarian Janet Patterson and her Board, and President Mike Barrett of the Friends of the Library Board, it was decided to put this other gourd set-up in the open space behind the library.  This pleasant and bird-friendly location has the advantage of proximity to Belgrade Central School, with obvious potential for collaboration.

IMG_5474It was obvious that Maine birders do not have much experience installing martin poles. The second installation, however, took about 1/4 of the time than the first, so clearly we are learning…slowly.

IMG_5478Sasha’s supervision must have made the difference.

Although it is probably too late for nesters to use the new set-ups this year, the idea is to give the inhabitants of the old houses a chance to check out the new arrays, which they are already doing, along with allowing prospecting immatures to check out future homes. And, as of last check at the library, a pair of Tree Swallows had taken up residence in one of the gourds – a good sign. We at FWBS are excited that this collaboration between us, the Hammonds, the Belgrade Library, and several local residents has resulted in what may just be the beginning of a project to maintain and grow this Purple Martin colony.