Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Very Jersey Christmas

A whirlwind Christmas trip to my homeland of New Jersey was filled with fun and festivities with friends and family.  Birding time was limited in this visit, but Jeannette and I simply had to spend at least one day birding in the “deep south.”

Arriving on Christmas morning, we took Sasha for a stroll around my Mom’s neighborhood, enjoying Carolina Chickadees and goodly numbers of things like Carolina Wrens and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  A similar suite of species greeted us the next morning at nearby Turkey Swamp Park.  In the afternoon, a big vulture roost a couple of blocks away from a friend’s house gave us the chance to enjoy Black Vultures, along with bunches of Turkey Vultures.

Friday the 27th was our big birding day however, and we elected for the “North Shore Tour,” one of my favorite NJ winter birding tours.  Covering ponds, inlets, and ocean from Point Pleasant Beach north through Monmouth Beach, we tallied a respectable 22 species of waterfowl, and found a few goodies.

LittleSilverMany of the ponds remain open in the winter nowadays, and concentrate nice numbers of waterfowl.  Since they are surrounded by development and activity, the birds are often fairly confiding and approachable, affording great opportunities for photographs, such as this shoveling Northern Shoveler…

NSHO1…and these Ruddy Ducks…

RUDU…and other waterbirds such as this Great Blue Heron.

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The goal of this tour is for 25 species of waterfowl.  (A very long day that begins at Barnegat Lighthouse and ends at Sandy Hook has the potential for 30 species of waterfowl).  I later learned that siltation – augmented by flooding from Hurricane Sandy – has limited the number of diving ducks, and less emergent non-phragmite vegetation has limited lingering dabbling ducks.  Twenty-five seems like a lofty goal, but we were off to a good start.  Two American Wigeons in Lake Louise – our only wigeons of the day – were our tenth species, after only four stops.

Arriving at the Manasquan Jetty at the north end of Point PleasantBeach, we began to add seaducks to the list, but then I spotted a Pacific Loon!  A rarity and “review-list” bird in New Jersey (like most of the East), we set off to document it.  It soon disappeared behind the jetty to the north, and we raced around the inlet to look for it from ManasquanBeach.  It took a while, but we finally found it, and I set about attempting to phone-scope it – a distinct challenge on a distant, actively-feeding loon.  Then we lost it.

A text-blast resulted in a birder being on the seen in a matter of minutes, soon followed by our good friend Scott who joined us for most of the rest of the afternoon.  The bird finally reappeared, and I did manage a series of “documentation” shots.  This was the “best” of the lot:

PALO1Purple Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Sanderlings were on the jetties, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull was at Fisherman’s Cove.  We had stalled at 15 species of waterfowl however (including many hundreds of Brant in the ManasaquanRiver), but we had more important things on the agenda – like lunch, and our first “slices” of the trip.  Even average pizza in NJ is better than 98% of the cardboard and ketchup served in Maine, so this was definitely a priority.

Refueled, we returned to the coast, and worked our way north with Scott.  An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at SylvanLake and 8 Snow Buntings at the mouth of the SharkRiver were other highlights, but waterfowl were the stars of the show, such as these Hooded Mergansers.

Scanning the ocean again from the end of Roosevelt Avenue in Deal, Scott spotted ANOTHER Pacific Loon – 2 ½ hours after the first bird (although only 10-15 miles or so apart) we believed this to be a bona fide second bird, which is exceptional in NJ.  I’ve certainly never seen two PALO in the same day in the state.  This time, the bird was much closer, so Jeannette took over the documentation.

PALO-2aIncluding this nice comparison shot with a Red-throated Loon.

PALO-2bA pair of Wood Ducks on Lake Tackanassee put us at 21 species of waterfowl on the day, with the hopes for one more up the road. Scott had to depart, but gave us instructions on how to look for a massive aggregation of scoters that had been building off of MonmouthBeach.

damageAlthough this section of the coast was not as badly devastated by Hurricane Sandy, plenty of evidence of her destruction was readily apparent.

We saw plenty of Black Scoters from various locales, but the big group of 3-4000 birds alone (80-90% Black, a few White-wings, and the rest Surf) were across the street from the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center.  The sun was getting low, and many of the birds were quite distant in the outgoing tide, but we still managed to tease our two immature male King Eiders – our 22nd and final waterbirds species of this most productive and enjoyable day of birding the JerseyShore.

Saturday was the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, so Jeannette and I joined a bunch of friends for a train ride to and from the game.  An unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny day made for a very enjoyable bowl experience, at least until the last seven minutes of the game when Notre Dame pulled away from my beloved Rutgers.  During TV timeouts, Jeannette and I kept an eye open overhead, yielded a stadium list of 7 species: Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, and House Sparrow. No bird lists were kept for the pre- and post-game bars.

We had plans to bird in Connecticut with a friend on our way home on Sunday, but with the next storm rapidly approaching, we hit the road early and somehow stayed just ahead of the storm – nothing more than light rain or sprinkles from southern Connecticut all of the way to Freeport. Although light rain caught up with us as we had lunch in Meriden, CT, it was worth it as we visited the famous Ted’s for the local specialty, steamed cheeseburgers.

Teds

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We also tallied raptors on our drive home, including a goodly count of 47 Red-tailed Hawks.  Three Turkey Vultures (NJ), 1 American Kestrel (NJ), and 1 Cooper’s Hawk (NY) were added to the road list.

Rain began to fall in earnest soon after we returned, and a couple of hours later snow began to fall heavily. Another 6 ¼ inches accumulated by morning as Sasha and I broke trail at The Hog.  Yup, we’re back in the north…and quite happy about it.  It was a great trip, but it’s always good to be home.

Happy New Year everyone!

A HERMIT WARBLER in Harpswell – BELATED.

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A warbler arrived at a Cundy’s Harbor, Harpswell feeding station on November 18th.  Any non-Yellow-rumped Warbler is exciting in Maine by the end of November, but most turn out to be Pine Warblers – a rare but regular “half-hardy” that often winters outside of its usual winter range, and often takes advantage of feeders to do so.  This particular bird was identified as a Black-throated Green Warbler – an outstanding late-November record but not one without precedence.  Intriguingly, on the first day, it appeared with a second warbler that may have been a Black-throated Blue Warbler, but that bird was not seen again.  However, on December 11th, the homeowner brought in an iPhone snapshot of their visitor to the store to confirm the identification.  Distant and blurry through a window, the bright yellow face and black beady eye immediately stood out. “Um, can I come over?” I inquired.

I arrived at 6:55 the next morning, as the bird was regularly being seen just after 7.  And sure enough, it showed up at 7:02!  It remained for just a few minutes, eating hulled sunflower seeds at the feeders with a small band of Black-capped Chickadees. And as I surmised, this was definitely a Hermit Warbler – only the second-ever to be seen in Maine!

The light was low, and the feeders were still in the long, early-morning shadows, so my photos were pretty poor.  I asked to stay a little longer, and after a brief visit at 7:35, the bird returned and fed extensively between 7:55 and 8:03, in which time I was able to photograph the bird extensively.
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The bright yellow face was readily apparent, which sets off the seemingly-large dark, beady eye.  There’s a very limited amount of dusky green on the auriculars, and the greenish crown tapers to a “widow’s peak” on the forehead.  The back is greenish-gray and the gray wings are set off by two bold whitish wingbars and pale-fringed secondaries.  The throat was almost wholly yellow, except for a small white chin and a couple of dusky smudges.

I aged this bird as an immature female due to the overall relatively drab colors and lack of black almost anywhere in the plumage.  However, I was not familiar with this plumage in the field, and some photos online and in some books concerned me a bit, so I sent a couple of the photos to a friend in California for confirmation.  He forwarded them to Kimball Garrett, the Ornithological Collections Manager for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the co-author of Warblers in the Peterson field guide series.

His response was straightforward, it was an immature female, born this past summer: “I certainly wouldn’t have called it anything other than a female Hermit Warbler.  The yellow across the uppermost throat is fine for female Hermits (shown to various degrees in all 3 of our skins of HY [hatch year] females).  I would worry about prominent streaks on the flanks and undertail coverts, but I really see almost nothing there (and what there is could be explained by darker feather shafts that sometimes lend the impression of streaks).”

This is truly a remarkable record.  The first state record, found by Scott Surner on MonheganIsland between September 29th and October 1st was seen by only a handful of birders – not including yours truly despite my presence on the island at the time, and eventually much effort, but that’s a long story for another day.  Breeding in the mountains of the Pacific Coast from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington south through the Sierra Nevada range to about south-central California, Hermit Warblers normally winter in southwestern Mexico through the mountains of Central America down to Nicaragua.

Therefore, for this bird to arrive in Maine it likely had to fly 90-degrees in the wrong direction.  While “180-degree misorientation” in which birds fly north when they “should” be flying south (for example) is a fairly well-established pattern that results in far-flung vagrancy, 90-degree misorientaton appears to be even rarer.  In other words, this bird was not “blown here,” (although it could certainly have been facilitated in its arrival by a strong storm or persistent westerly winds) but was somehow “miswired” to fly in a very wrong direction.  Although it is fun to ponder (at least for me!), how and why vagrants arrive in certain places, we obviously can’t know for sure what mechanism(s) delivered this bird to a feeder along the shore in Harpswell, Maine.

As I enjoyed this bird, and a wealth of other activity at the feeders, the homeowners and I discussed the significance of this sighting.  Of course, I broached the topic of “visitation,” as many birders would love the opportunity to see this bird as well.  I was exceptionally grateful for the chance to see this fantastic bird, and I knew other birders would be grateful as well.

Sometimes, rare birds at feeders are “easy” to share, such as when they are at a feeder visible from a road with ample parking nearby.  For a variety of reasons, some birds simply cannot be made public.  After much discussion, it was decided that this bird would not be publicized.  A small, private dead-end dirt road with virtually no parking, close neighbors, and no visibility from the road made this a challenge.  Simply put, you had to be in the kitchen…and with life schedules and all of the above considerations, it was, unfortunately, in the best interest of the homeowners to keep this bird under wraps even though everyone regretted this conclusion.

The bird was seen regularly through the 13th of December, but after the homeowners were out of town for the weekend, they came back on the 16th and have not seen the bird again.  A heated birdbath and live mealworms were deployed upon their return, but the bird is nowhere to be found.  Seeing that it has now moved on, I post this blog to document this “Mega” rarity for the permanent record, as per my agreement with the lucky homeowners who were graced by this special visitor from the “other” coast.

Random Photos Using SLR and Phone-scoping Techniques Over the Last Few Days.

Over the past few days, I have squeezed in a healthy amount of birding, giving the season and a life in retail!  It has been fruitful birding, too, and I posted daily highlights to our store’s Facebook Page for the complete story of recent birding outings.

I also took an unusual amount of photos for me.  I’m really not a bird photographer.  Instead, I call myself a “birding photographer.”  I even wrote an article for the recent Birder’s Guide to Gear from the American Birding Association about techniques of birding photography, from traditional digital SLR’s to phone-scoping.

In the past few days, I have employed both techniques to grab some photos while birding.  Some are better than others, and some are nothing more than “documentation” shots. In the shots below,  I employed either a Nikon D80 with a 300mm F4 lens and a 1.4x teleconveter, or a iPhone 4s coupled with a Zeiss Diascope T*FL 65 using a Phone Skope brand adapter.  Unfortunately, fairly thick cloud cover on both days impacted my lame photographing attempts.  Please remember to double-click the photos to get a larger image.

Yesterday, Luke Seitz, Maegan Krieger, and I met at Back Cove in Portland.  While waiting for their arrival, I spotted this Snowy Owl, and phone-scoped it early in the morning.
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When we returned to the parking lot around 2:00pm, the day was marginally brighter, and the bird was significantly closer.  We used an excersize wall in the playing field as a very convenient blind, and I went to the SLR.
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Upon our arrival at Pine Point, this 1st-year Bald Eagle landed nearby.  I was without the SLR, so I snapped these photos using my phone-scoping system!
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We also found some good birds during the course of the day, including these treats at Grondin Pond: a 1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull and a male Gadwall – both of which were phone-scoped.
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This morning, I visited the Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta to study gulls, such as this rather dark 1st-winter Iceland Gull, which I phone-scoped on top of the hill.
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However, at least a dozen Bald Eagles of various ages were particularly active today, so I grabbed the SLR and fired away.  There was this 4th-year bird:
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And this interesting 2nd or 3rd year individual:
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Southern York County CBC

The Southern York County Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held on Monday, and this year, Kristen Lindquist and Phil McCormack joined me in the Moody section of the territory.  I’ve been doing this territory for about 8 years now, and have come to know and love it.

There’s lots of thickets, wooded neighborhoods with feeders, dunes, beach, river, Saltmarsh, ocean, and just about everything in between.  Running from about Eldridge Rd in the Moody section of Wells, south to the center of downtown Ogunquit, lots of intriguing winter habitats are contained within.  The Moody Marsh of the Ogunquit River, Beach Plum Farm, Ogunquit Beach, and the edges of the Wells Sewage treatment facility are all now regular parts of my birding routine after first visiting them when doing this CBC.

Having a small territory allows us to thoroughly cover many nooks and crannies.  We do a lot of walking – about 10 miles combined for the party, compared to only 10.5 by car.  Being outside – even in the bitter cold of yesterday morning – and being thorough always produces good birds and good variety on a CBC, but each year I am absolutely blown away by the quality and diversity of the birds I find in this territory.  In fact, one year, Luke Seitz and I had a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th count record, and in the very next year, we had a 1st, 2nd (x2), 3rd, 4th, 5th,  6th, and 7th count record!  Incredible!

And yesterday did not disappoint.

Deep snow and frigid temperatures certainly caused some rarities and so-called half-hardies to perish, or at least pushed many of them to points further south.  Open fresh water was limited, and deep snow prevented us from checking a few places.  So it did not surprise me that we “only” tallied 57 species (compared to last year’s mild December, when Luke and I tallied an exceptional 67 species), and we didn’t get a whole lot of top-5 records.  Of course, TWO 1st count records more than made up for it!  And a 5th, and a 6th, and a 7th, and two 9th!

As usual, we began with a dawn seawatch at Moody Point.  Heat shimmer and painful cold reduced visibility and our duration here, but there wasn’t too much going on thanks to a light westerly wind.
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A nearby thicket produced a Common Yellowthroat, our first good bird of the day.  A short while later, we pulled into the Wells Sewage Treatment plant, which I told Phil and Kristen is usually good for something “good.”  A Hermit Thrush quickly appeared to prove me right.  But then, as I glanced over at some Dark-eyed Juncos I noticed a Spizella sparrow.  I was excited enough for a Chipping Sparrow on a Maine CBC, but the bird looked warm and buffy to me.  Upon closer inspection, sure enough – the count’s first Clay-colored Sparrow
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As I was photographing it, it flew closer, and landed right over my head as I was kneeling in over a foot of snow.
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Apparently, it wanted to get back to its favorite spot (which is continued to frequent at least through day’s end) at the edge of the parking lot where a plow had scraped down to the soil.
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We were still talking about our spiffy little Clay-color when Kristen spotted a Brown Thrasher hunkered down in a tangle of Multiflora Rose.  Another first count record!
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Perhaps the rest of the day was bound to be a bit anticlimactic after all of that fun before 9:30am, but we still had some great birding.  A lone hen Greater Scaup flew down the OgunquitRiver, while a huge assemblage of 480 Mallards and 86 American Black Ducks roosted at the edge of the marsh.  Much to my surprise – given those numbers – there were no other lingering dabblers.    An Iceland Gull passed by MoodyBeach, heading south, and on OgunquitBeach, we found an American Pipit.  A huge aggregation of 186 Sanderlings (an all-time high count for the entire territory in a season!) contained a dozen Dunlin.  And finally, another group (poachers!) pointed out a Peregrine Falcon having lunch on the marsh – just before its lunch was pilfered by a marauding Bald Eagle!  Speaking of lunch, a round of grilled veggie sandwiches at the Village Market in Ogunquit rounded out our experience.

Oh yeah, and then with an hour of daylight left, we raced down to Hampton, New Hampshire in an attempt to twitch a white Gyrfalcon that had been seen that morning (and the previous two days).  Unfortunately, we soon learned that it had not been seen since about 8:00am.  Well, it was worth a shot.

Anyway, as for the CBC, here’s the full roster and tallies for our rewarding little territory:
148 Canada Geese
143 American Black Ducks
522 Mallards
1 GREATER SCAUP (6th year)
91 Common Eiders
14 Surf Scoters
30 White-winged Scoters
16 Black Scoters
136 Long-tailed Ducks
24 Bufflehead
7 Common Goldeneyes
2 Hooded Mergansers
4 Common Mergansers
12 Red-breasted Mergansers
18 Common Loons
7 Horned Grebes
12 Red-necked Grebes
1 Northern Gannet
3 Great Blue Herons
2 Bald Eagles
4 Northern Harriers (including an adult male migrating offshore at sunrise)
1 PEREGRINE FALCON (5th count record)
12 DUNLIN (7th count record)
2 Purple Sandpipers
189 Sanderlings
322 Herring Gulls
1 Iceland Gull
19 Great Black-backed Gulls
242 Ring-billed Gulls
4 Black-legged Kittiwakes
36 Rock Pigeons
6 Mourning Doves
3 Downy Woodpeckers
7 Blue Jays
31 American Crows
71 Black-capped Chickadees
9 Tufted Titmice
4 White-breasted Nuthatches
3 Carolina Wrens
8 Eastern Bluebirds
1 HERMIT THRUSH (9th year)
40 American Robins
3 Northern Mockingbirds
1 BROWN THRASHER (1st count record)
1 AMERICAN PIPIT (13th count record)
77 European Starlings (very low)
17 Yellow-rumped Warblers (high)
1 COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (9th count record)
9 American Tree Sparrows
1 CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (1st count record)
17 Song Sparrows
7 White-throated Sparrows
73 Dark-eyed Juncos
29 Northern Cardinals
44 House Finches
90 American Goldfinches
215 House Sparrows

Our Letter in Opposition of the Monhegan Wind Project & Press Coverage of the Story.

Early last week, we sent the following letter to various authorities, decision-makers, relevant agencies, and the press regarding the proposal to build a massive industrial wind “farm” very close to Monhegan Island.  I think it’s a terrible place for such a scheme, and Jeannette and I – having lost faith in the state’s environmental organizations – decided we had to do something about it and make our voice heard.

An excellent article appeared in this week’s edition of The Forecaster, our regional newspaper.

The 12/11 broadcast of WGME-13’s Evening News (Portland’s CBS affiliate) included this story.

I also had a good chat with a knowledgeable staffer from Senator King’s office.  Hopefully, this is just the beginning of our effort to make a difference here.

December 2, 2013

Re: Monhegan Wind Project

To whom it may concern:

We are writing today in strong opposition to proposed industrial wind development in the Gulf of Maine off of MonheganIsland.  This is a terrible location for a project that will likely result in a significant amount of avian mortality in a place that is internationally recognized for its value to migratory birds and is an internationally recognized destination for those seeking to see and enjoy these migrants.

Ask any birder or ornithologist where the greatest concentrations of migratory birds occur in Maine, and MonheganIsland will be at the top of everyone’s list.  The quantity and diversity of migrant passerines (songbirds) in spring and fall is well documented, and can readily be seen by the quantity of birders that descend on the island in the spring and fall.  Outside of the peak tourism season, birders provide an important economic input for the inns and restaurants on the island during the “shoulder season.”  And while birders are valuable to the island of Monhegan, the island is absolutely invaluable to the birds themselves.

Thousands upon thousands of migrant passerines descend upon the island, especially during certain weather conditions.  In fall, migrants from the north drift offshore on northwesterly winds and fan out across the Gulf of Maine.  Some, like Blackpoll Warblers may launch directly offshore and not stop until they hit the West Indies.  Others are crossing from Nova Scotia towards Maine or southern New England.  In the spring, birds are returning to Nova Scotia, drifting over the ocean on developing cross winds, or overshooting land following a night of strong tailwinds.  In other words, there is no “flyway” from point A to B, but a broad flood of birds spread across the sky during the night, as the vast majority of our passerines migrate exclusively at night.  Come sunrise, birds seek land for safety, rest, and refueling.  Isolate islands are critical to birds that don’t have the capability to make it to the mainland, especially during inclement weather.

Why birds migrate at night is not known for sure, but what we do know is that nocturnal migrants use the stars to aid in navigation.  For millions of years, birds have navigated across vast and inhospitable stretches of water on their epic journeys between where they breed and where they spend the winter.  Unfortunately, over the past half-century or so, our skies have become much less favorable for migrating birds.  For reason also unknown, lighted structures (radio towers, buildings, and yes, wind turbines) can confuse birds, especially under cloudy conditions –and fog, which we know is frequent in the Gulf of Maine – and draw birds in, not unlike a moth to a porch light.  Confused, they circle the light in an attempt to reorient or simply escape the halo of light.  Unfortunately, in the process, many can collide with the structure, each other, or simply drop dead of exhaustion as their flight muscles are metabolized in a last-ditch effort to find safety.

Most lights in the sky kill birds.  That is a fact.  The more lighted structures there are the more birds will die.  The more material that is surrounding those lights – such as guy wires or massive, spinning turbine blades – the more likely there will be a collision before a bird can regroup and escape the glow.  When those lights are over water, the birds drop into the sea, where they are consumed by scavengers such as fish and gulls.  We’ll never know the true death toll of lighted structures over water, as current guesstimates are simply extrapolations of land-based surveys based mostly on the fundamentally-flawed methodology of carcass searching.  My own experience with carcass search trials offers me no reason for faith in the effectiveness of these estimates, so oft-quoted figures on bird mortality by wind turbines are likely a gross understatement.

As most post-construction surveys are suppressed as “proprietary information,” even when the surveys are designed to fail, concerned citizens are left to take the word of the wind power industry.  I am sorry, but that’s not good enough for me.  Repeated denial of a significant bird mortality issue shows that the wind industry refuses to recognize the conservation implications of their development.  Instead of addressing the concern and working to minimize the threat via lighting requirements or proper citing, the concern from respected ornithologists and the general public are ignored and drowned out by unfulfilled claims of “green energy,” empty promises, or lost in the debate of what wind farms look like.

Since the most vocal, and often most-well-funded, critics of wind power developments are often those who don’t want to look at them, the wind industry looks towards remote areas, especially those with small populations that can put up a fight.  With claims of all sorts of economic returns, rural communities offer less resistance than more developed areas where the power is most needed.

So-called “offshore” development is seen by fewer people, and some see this as a reason to not oppose these equally-destructive proposals.  These near-shore developments (if they were truly so far offshore as to not be seen by people and to minimize threats to wildlife, the cost of construction and transmission lines are prohibitive) are indeed visible from land, especially at night when those bird-killing lights will be readily apparent.  I cannot imagine standing at the island’s south end, seeing those slow blinking lights pulsating in the not-so-distance, imagining how many birds are slamming into blades, consuming their own bodies until they cannot fly, and plunge to their final deaths.

Here, in one of the greatest concentrations of birds in the Gulf of Maine, and one that attracts many hundreds of birders each spring and fall, here is where a massive wind development is proposed.  So much for minimizing the costs.  While no electricity production is truly green, there are methods and locations for those methods where benefits outweigh their economic and environmental costs.  This is not one of those places.

The sense of place that makes MonheganIsland so unique, the quantities of migrant birds that find shelter here, and the volume of tourists of all kinds drawn to this island make it a place worth protecting.  What will happen when migrant birds, heading towards the island or other land refuges instead find themselves confused and disoriented in a maze of towers and spinning blades?  How many birds will die?  How will we even know?  One thing is for certain however, no matter how destructive these things are, they don’t come down once they go up.

Meanwhile, new transmission lines will be strung through some of the stunning landscapes in the peninsulas of Mid-Coast Maine.  Additional forest fragmentation and habitat loss will occur.  And these transmission lines themselves will kill many more birds, especially iconic species such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Great Blue Herons.  In dense fog, birds of all shapes and sizes will collide with the wires and their support towers.  Many of our largest birds simply cannot quickly evade a powerline that they only see at the very last minute.  Common Loons traversing the peninsulas during their journey to and from Maine’s lakes and ponds will strike these wires as well, especially where they cross channels and bays.  Meanwhile, a significant amount of electricity will be lost during the transmission (as is the case with all high-tension transmission lines), of the electricity being generated by these projects off in the distance, making the megawatt promises of the wind developers even further from reality.

Another erroneous assertion put forth about near-shore wind development is that they won’t kill raptors or bats.  That too is untrue.  There are migratory bats that cross the Gulf of Maine, and the risks that wind turbines pose to them could be substantial, especially as we struggle with precipitous declines of these critical pest control agents.  Migrating raptors (birds of prey) which are recognized as threatened by wind development on the mainland also occurs in the Gulf of Maine, especially Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and American Kestrels.  In fact, the largest concentrations of Peregrine Falcons observed in Maine occur on MonheganIsland each fall.

Maybe I, and countless other ornithologists and birders are wrong.  Maybe they won’t kill vast numbers of birds.  Unfortunately, a lack of transparency and a clear and decisive unwillingness to address and mitigate these concerns presents me with little reason to trust companies such as First Wind.  In the rush to capitalize on subsidies and a mostly-favorable political climate, the true costs and concerns are swept under the rug or ignored completely.

This project cannot and will not be ignored.  There is too much at risk, for far too little of a reward.  Instead of finding the best locations for wind development with the fewest risks, here we find a scheme to put a massive project right in one of the largest concentrations of migrant birds, and a short distance away from one of the most special places in Maine.  And of course, the refusal to admit the bird-death problem means we cannot go forward and work together to use the best available technology to minimize the problem, such as using lighting colors and strobe duration that have been proven to reduce bird collisions.  At the absolute very least, we demand that any lighted structure, from test turbine to permanent structures that are to be constructed off of Monhegan Island be equipped with lighting configurations that have been found to be less hazardous.

This massive project is too big, too costly, and far too destructive to be tolerated.  As a wildlife tour operator, bird conservationists, and avian ecologists, we must stridently oppose this project.  It is simply in the wrong place, and actually maximizes risk for much less benefit than is promised.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Derek and Jeannette Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply
541 Route One, Suite 10
Freeport, ME04032
(207)865-6000
freeportwildbirds@yahoo.com

Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Connecticut!

“I don’t always chase birds, but when I do…”
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…And I almost never chase birds away from Maine, and I rarely even chase birds more than an hour away from home.  Therefore, it was exceedingly out of character for me to even consider chasing the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that has been present in Lyme, Connecticut.

A vagrant from South America, most Fork-tailed Flycatchers that show up in late spring or fall are notorious “one day wonders:” found one day, and gone the next.  That is why I have missed several, including a handful in Maine.  In fact, one showed up 15 minutes away in Brunswick the day we left for Russia two years ago.  Figures.  I even chased one with friends on Stratton Island that involved a boat charter, a borrowed dingy, a rope, and a signpost as a paddle.  We missed that one by about an hour.

In other words, this bird was a bona-fide nemesis, so one hanging out for 9 days as of Sunday was tempting my self-restraint.  Then, as my friend Phil and I and were planning a birding day, we decided to go for it.  Why not?  We didn’t have a better idea, it would be a fun drive of listening to music and conversing, and we’d have the Patriots game to pass the time on the trek back.  So off we went.

The drive seemed like it took forever!  We were anxious – seeing reports that the bird had been seen first thing that morning only made us more excited – and it was a long, often-boring drive.  Once the sun got high enough, we counted roadside Red-tailed Hawks to pass the time (17 starting at the 95/495 junction in Massachusetts).

We arrived at the Hadlyme Ferry slip parking lot at 10:40am, with about a half-dozen other birders still present.  We were informed that it was seen as of about 25 minutes ago. 
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Although it usually only disappears for about 20-30 minutes at a time (to feed behind a nearby inaccessible hillside), it wasn’t until 11:20 that it reappeared – an agonizing, and bone-chilling (30F, light northwest wind off the river) forty minutes!  The bird was well seen by all going about its business through 11:35.
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The flycatcher was surprisingly inconspicuous as it fed on Pokeweed berries on the hillside.

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It was far more obvious when it came out to attempt to flycatcher (we did see it go after a couple of small bugs, despite the cold temperatures).

But Phil and I were not yet satisfied – we didn’t come all this way for 15 minutes – so we waited for its return.  This time, the wait was merely 15 minutes, and we then had a most-satisfactory and fulfilling time with the bird for about 40 minutes.  Quality time with a stunning lifer!  And more time for photographs and studying.  The birds’ behavior – so far out of place at such an amazing season certainly piqued my interest to see what it was eating to survive.
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It was already lunchtime, and Phil and I were definitely getting hungry.  Furthermore, I did want to get over to Hammonasset Beach State Park for some fruitful birding to work on my Connecticut state list – a list lacking quite a few common birds, especially winter waterbirds. But it was hard to leave a bird as sexy as a Fork-tailed Flycatcher!  “Let’s walk away from this Fork-tailed Flycatcher so I can look for Common Goldeneyes” said no one, ever.

The ferry slip area was quite birdy, with a little flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows that also included a Hermit Thrush.  A flock of 8 Common Mergansers were heading south down the river, while a migrant Northern Harrier passed overhead just as we were leaving.  But I wanted more than one state bird on the trip, so after spending way too much time trying to find a place to eat: “closed at 1” does not mean “breakfast all day!” were among the examples of our lunch attempts being foiled.

We needed to start to make some progress eastward, and daylight is limited this time of year, so we skipped Hammonasset, and looked for lunch on a way to a park that looked promising on a map that was more or less on our way home.  We finally had lunch – despite rather slow service that resulted in our birding time rapidly ticking away – and then rolled into Bluff Point State Park in Groton.  There were two impounded back-bays, next to an airport, just a mile or two from the coast.  On a map, that looked like a perfect spot to find some ducks…and Snowy Owls.

Unfortunately, we soon learned that we had to walk to the coast, and we didn’t have time to do that.  A scan of the airstrip didn’t yield any owls, but the water – that looked good on the map – was nearly devoid of waterbirds!  8 Mute Swans, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, and 2 American Black Ducks were it – and none of those were state birds.

I was disappointed, but really, I saw a Fork-tailed Flycatcher!   The disappointment of only seeing one state bird on the day did not last long…and was completely forgotten as Phil and I cheered on the Patriots during their remarkable and exciting comeback that certainly helped make the drive home feel a lot shorter.  As did -of course – the fact that we were successful in our twitch of one of the more charismatic vagrants that shows up in North America.  I’d call the day a success, to say the least!

Rarity Season Ain’t Over Yet..and Fun Store News and Contest Stuff

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” – Yogi Berra

Before we get to my birding of recent days, a couple of quick orders of business. First of all, tonight is our “After Hours Sale” here at the store.  This is our biggest sale of the year.  From 6:00 to 8:00 tonight only, everything in the store (with the usual exception of seed, optics, and sale items) is 25% OFF!  And we’ll have treats, coffee, and other refreshments to fuel your shopping

Then rest up and be sure to join us on Saturday morning for our usual Saturday Morning Birdwalk (meets at the store at 8:00am for a carpool to a local park.  We’ll return for coffee and feeder-watching between 10 and 10:30).  While I would, of course, love to see you all year long, you don’t want to miss tomorrow (or any of the next 17 weeks) as it’s the start of the Fifth Annual “SnowBird(er) Contest,” where we’ll award points to birdwalk participants based on how cold it is.  The top three birders at the end of March will receive some great prizes!

GRAND PRIZE: MAINE BIRDS by RALPH PALMER!
The classic tome from 1948 is still a valuable reference for students of the birds of Maine. This excellent condition copy is valued at over $75. It’s great for comparing status and distribution from then to now, and for collectors of birding books.

2ND PRIZE: BACKYARD BIRDHOUSE from Coveside Conservation in Casco. Perfect for everything from House Wrens to White-breasted Nuthatches, this house is perfect for any yard and made from New England White Pine.

3RD PRIZE: $25 GIFT CERTIFICATE to EDNA & LUCY’S in Pownal – Enjoy a great sandwich, award-winning donuts, and more. Perfect for your next trip up to the Bradbury Mtn. Hawkwatch!

Visit our website for more information and how the game is played. 

OK, back to birding….

In my blog a few weeks ago in which I summarized the Rarity Season through the middle of November, I suggested that it was unlikely that many rare passerines will turn up away from feeding stations.  However, the possibility of strays “concentrat(ing) along the coast as they seek out more favorable microclimates or seasonal food sources,” still seemed like a cause for hope.  And sure enough, yesterday, I found female Hooded Warbler in the Biddeford Pool neighborhood – a wicked good December bird anywhere in the US!

Unseasonable rarities like this really fascinate me.  How did it get here?  Had it flown the wrong way during the usual period of Hooded Warbler migration and only now was detected as it moved towards the coast to escape the recent cold?  How long has it been present – maybe it’s been in these thickets for months and only now did someone walk by the right place at the right time? (Based on how thoroughly I, and a few others, work this area in November, I find this scenario a little less likely)  Or perhaps, it was a mirror-migrant afterall that flew north instead of south from its usual range in the Southeastern US.  Instead of ending up in Central America, it ended up somewhere in the interior of southern New England.  Then, the recent cold “encouraged” the bird to move on.  But “mis-wired” somehow, it just kept flying the wrong way.  I always wonder why so many birders assume that once birds have made a mistake (i.e. flown north instead of south), they’ll magically figure things out and do the “right” thing the next time.  Of course, who really knows?  But it’s a fun thing to ponder (well, it is to me anyway).

Of course, I was only down at the Pool to look for Snowy Owls.  In that same blog, I wondered if we were seeing the first signs of an irruption.  My goodness, were we ever, and so far, it is HUGE!  There have been dozens up and down the Maine coast.  Jeannette had an amazing TEN in and around Biddeford Pool on Tuesday.  Not only are they widespread, but they are in unusual concentrations.  I “only” found four yesterday, but some of my time was spent walking a mile back for the camera (it was raining and my shoulder was aching when I departed the car) and then not refinding the warbler.
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This particular bird, that Jeannette also photographed on Tuesday, has made a temporary home for itself in the marsh behind Hattie’s.

While it is unlikely that this density of Snowy Owls will continue, we’ll certainly enjoy it while we can.  Some will head further south, and unfortunately, no small number will succumb to starvation (the reason they’re here in the first place – and with up to 80% of raptors dying in their first winter, it’s no surprise that most of these birds will not make it back to the tundra).  I also wonder if these recent very high tides (astronomical high tide plus a deep low pressure system well offshore) will flood the marshes too much.  In such cases, many rodents (especially voles) will drown as they run out of high ground.  That’s a natural occurrence, but if there are few voles in the marshes, that will be a lot less food for hungry owls.

Meanwhile, in that aforementioned blog I also postulated about the potential of finally getting a good goose in the “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields,” despite the late date.  Finally!  Although my high count of Canada Geese was only 434 birds (on Wednesday), they were punctuated by an adult Greater White-fronted Goose, in the field off of Cross and Winn Road in Cumberland – the first rarity of the season in the fields.  My stubborn perseverance finally paid off.  Today, I improved upon my photos, and I posted a couple here.

I also had a Gray Catbird at Biddeford Pool yesterday, along with the Hermit Thrush that Jeannette found on Tuesday.  I also had a Winter Wren near the store while walking Sasha on Wednesday afternoon and a Northern Flicker fly over the highway in South Portland yesterday. So there are still some “lingering” migrants around.  Meanwhile, with another increase in seaducks offshore (250+ Black Scoters off of East   Point for example), things are picking up along the coast.

Oh yeah, and there are Snowy Owls everywhere!  In other words, go birding…well, after you visit us at the store, that is!