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.

2015 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Season in Review

The 2015 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, co-sponsored by Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Leica Sport Optics, came to its conclusion on May 15th. This season was an interesting one, especially in how the weather affected our counts. During the 2-month period, the Official Hawkcounter, Andrew Wolfgang, tallied a total of 3628 raptors. This included vultures, hawks, eagles, and falcons. Over the 8-year span that we have conducted this standardized count, this year was the second lowest, coming in 12% below average.

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Welcome to spring hawkwatching in Maine, Andrew!

However, a single year’s count tells us little beyond what the weather conditions were like during the course of the season. The late arrival of spring was actually a benefit to the count at the start, as few early migrants had progressed north by March 15th. Therefore, we had very good counts of our earliest migrants: Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. In fact, we set a new record for eagles deemed migrating, and vultures produced our second highest tally of all time. We simply didn’t “miss” any of these migrants before the project got underway.
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Bald Eagles set a new all-time record this season.

However, as the season progressed, spring still didn’t seem to arrive. Lots of unfavorable (for viewing birds at Bradbury Mountain) winds meant that viewing migrating hawks past this mountain was not optimal. Strong and cold west winds, for example, push birds towards the coast beyond our view, while persistent easterlies seem to shunt birds inland before they reach the northern terminus of the coastal plain. Simply put, the poor conditions during the peak of our migration period in mid to late April really lowered the overall numbers and it’s those couple of weeks that can really make or break the overall count for the season. Therefore, the below-average numbers of our two most abundant migrants (Broad-winged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk) combined to yield a below-average season total.

However, we had some great birds once again, highlight by our 4th record of a Golden Eagle.
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Andrew also recorded a new record of 3 Rough-legged Hawks, no doubt due to the late onset of the spring’s flight (most Rough-legs probably move north before the start of the count in most years).

Meanwhile, a total of 85 species were recorded, including an ever-increasing number of Sandhill Cranes. This year a total of 11 migrant cranes were recorded. Other highlights included frequent visits by Bohemian Waxwings to the summit for much of the first half of the count, both Red and White-winged Crossbills. Fox Sparrow was recorded at the summit for the first time as well (two dates).

But, this hawkwatch is not just about the numbers. We also work hard to educate visitors to the park, both birders and non-birders. Every year we expose more and more people to the world of hawkwatching and bird migration in general. Bradbury Mountain is just one of many hawk migration sites throughout the continent. The data we collect becomes part of this vast network allowing researchers to determine population and geographical trends in particular species. So, even though our numbers this year were low relative to past seasons, it becomes no small part of building this data set. 1174 visitors were recorded at the hawkwatch (tabulated as coming specifically for the hawkwatch or spending time chatting with the counter), plus many hundreds more who at least briefly read the sign or asked a question or two. This was slightly below average, but likely due to the cool conditions for most of the season.
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There are few public projects where scientific data collection so effectively goes hand-in-hand with public outreach and education. With the growth of regular hawkwatch visitor volunteers, and especially the growth of the “Feather Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend” festival, we look forward to many more years of introducing people to hawkwatching and hawk research and conservation.

Season Totals:
Turkey Vulture 374
Osprey 382
Bald Eagle 102*
Northern Harrier 101
Sharp-shinned Hawk 610
Cooper’s Hawk 85
Northern Goshawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 104
Broad-winged Hawk 1190
Red-tailed Hawk 236
Rough-legged Hawk 3*
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 307
Merlin 75
Peregrine Falcon 8
Unidentified Hawk 46

Total 3628

*Denotes new season record

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Peregrine Falcons just eclipsed our annual average this year; most migrants in this area stick closer to the coast.

Our ninth Spring Hawkwatch kicks off again on March 15th, 2016! We invite everyone, whether seasoned veteran hawkwatchers or casual nature enthusiast, to join our professional biologist and naturalist at the summit once again.

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Ospreys are a fan favorite at the hawkwatch.

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It was quite a change in climate and the color of the scenery since the start of the count!

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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