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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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!