Monthly Archives: May 2014

2014 MonhegZen Spring Migration Birding Weekend.

Ahh, Monhegan Island.

If only I could bird there every day for a full spring (or fall; I won’t be picky). But for now, I will relish my weekends there, and last weekend was our MonhegZen Migration Spring Birding Weekend…and the island did not disappoint.

So while we always expect the unexpected, we most definitely were not expecting this one.
DSC_0124_BRSP1,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1 (Click on the photos for a larger image).

This first state record Brewer’s Sparrow was definitely not high on anyone’s list of next birds for Monhegan, or Maine (certainly not mine!). But more on the sparrow later.

Half of the group arrived with me on the Hardy Boat out of New Harbor on Friday morning, greeted by a veil of fog.

Arrival on Monhegan, 5-23-14
While the shroud of mist offered a lovely scene, it did put a damper on the birding for a little while (excuse the pun), but soon it cleared, and as the ceiling rose, so did the bird activity. In fact, this was the start of a fine weekend of weather – OK, it was rather chilly; extra blankets were dispersed for the night – but other than a few brief, very light showers, our Gore-Tex remained tucked away. We’ll call that a win.

Just about the first bird that we glassed upon our arrival was an immature male Orchard Oriole.  That’s the way we like to start a MonhegZen Birding Weekend!

The rest of Day 1 was highlighted by re-finding one of two immature male Summer Tanagers that had been frequenting the island lately. Friends picked up some seed on their way down (yes, the guy that owns a birdseed store and has several tons of seed on hand forgot to bring seed and had to have someone slum it at a hardware store. Gasp!), and we restocked the stash that kept the tanager visible for all through the weekend.
DSC_0017_SUTA,Monhegan,5-23-14_edited-1

The tanager was our first “good” bird of the trip, but most of us agreed that the kingbird show near the pumphouse was the highlight of the first day. Indeed, it was a highlight for the entire weekend.  Sheltered from a persistent, but raw and cold, easterly wind, the back corner of the town marsh was just about the only place with flying insects out and about. Therefore, flycatchers had piled up here, led by 21 Eastern Kingbirds (growing to 25 by Saturday afternoon, before diminishing on Sunday and Monday).
DSC_0051_2EAKI,Monhegan,5-24-14, edited-1 DSC_0030_3EAKI,Monhegan,5-24-14_edited-1

Other flycatchers were present here, including a couple of cooperative Eastern Wood-Pewees, and several Least Flycatchers.
DSC_0047_LEFL1,Monhegan,5-24-14_edited-1

Little to no migration was visible on the radar overnight Friday into Saturday, and the lack of reorienting birds overhead after sunrise on Saturday morning confirmed the minimal movement overnight.  Although I awoke to a singing Mourning Warbler out my window, we never did catch up with one over the weekend.

But over the course of the day (as our group grew in size), we beat the bush and slowly but surely built up our species total. The Summer Tanager, the immature male Orchard Oriole, a very entertaining Peregrine Falcon over Manana, and 16 species of warblers were the day’s headliners. But yeah, by Monhegan standards, this was a slow day.

Sunday was not.

A light to moderate migration clearly produced some turnover, and plenty of new birds.  Some warblers were reorienting over the Trailing Yew after sunrise – always a good sign – and our walk to Lobster Cove was much slower in pace than on Saturday. A singing Field Sparrow, a calling Common Nighthawk, and a streaking Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush were among the species that we added to our tally.

Then the text came through.

When describing our itinerary – or lack thereof – for the coming days upon our arrival, I talked about how chasing birds (dropping everything and running across the island) is often a futile exercise here, and instead we would work our way towards good birds, keeping our eyes open for them – and enjoying everything in our path. I joked that “but if I need it for my island list, all bets are off.”

First state records?  Fuhgettaboutit. Off we went. And I make no apologies…luckily, the coffee pot was on the way. I might not have gotten away with it otherwise.

So yeah, “Maine’s International Birder of Mystery” discovered a Brewer’s Sparrow.  First found at the edge of the road at its terminus at the Ice Pond, it soon made its way into a nearby yard. Dandelion seeds were its quarry.

DSC_0120_BRSP3,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1

  DSC_0131_BRSP7,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1  DSC_0116_BRSP6,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1  DSC_0075_BRSP5,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1  DSC_0069_BRSP2,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1

There were other birds to look at too. While I scrutinized the extent of streaking on the nape and crown of the sparrow and took way too many photos, the more sane of the group enjoyed a splash of color at the nearby feeders – at least 3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and an Indigo Bunting.
DSC_0100_RBGRandINBU,Monhegan,5-25-14_edited-1

Elsewhere, a Clay-colored Sparrow on one of my other seed stashes, several great views of Philadelphia Vireos, the continuing Summer Tanager, a second Orchard Oriole (an adult male) and a variety of warblers were the other highlights.

All weekend long we had been enjoying lots of warblers, but somehow we only amassed 19 species (we missed singles of Nashville and Prairie seen by others). But of those that we did see, most of them we saw stunningly well. Magnolia, American Redstart, Yellow, and Common Yellowthroat dominated each day, but we had a bunch of Northern Parulas and Chestnut-sided on Sunday as well.  And the views of Canada Warblers and one particular Northern Waterthrush will be tough to beat.

Like each of our first two days on the island, Sunday’s tour came to an end at the Monhegan Brewing Company. On Sunday night, the Brewer’s Sparrow was celebrated, and ideas for a “Brewer’s Brew” or something like that was hatched.

The group had accumulated 89 species (including the aforementioned 19 species of warblers), which was actually well below average for my MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekends.  But at least for me, I had one day left to add to the total, as I extended my stay for another night.

A very strong flight overnight suggested that this was a good call, but I was surprised by how many fewer birds were around on Monday morning than on Sunday. Especially when surrounded by fog – as we were overnight and into the morning – I have found that on really strong flights with favorable conditions, birds probably fly over the island. Perhaps the shroud of fog prevented them from even knowing there was an island below.

However, nearly three hours after sunrise, the winds shifted to the southwest, the ceiling lifted, and all of the sudden, there were warblers in the air. Had they been silently creeping around the forests, waiting for some clearing to reorient to the mainland?  Or, were these birds that were overhead, lost above the fog, looking for a place to finally land?

Hard to say, but for a couple of hours, the birding was quite good. Blackpoll Warblers had increased dramatically, and I had more Bay-breasted and Tennessee Warblers than the previous days, and the Cedar Waxwing flock increased dramatically.

Jeannette and Sasha (finally making her first trip here at the age of 14) arrived, and our friends Paul and Kristen joined us for the next couple of hours.  Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers continued to put on a good show, as did the Brewer’s Sparrow.  More importantly for Jeannette, she was able to successfully twitch all three things she was after today: Hardy Boat cinnamon rolls, Novelty pizza, and Monhegan Brewing.  Yeah, she looked at the sparrow, too.

While Sasha was unable to successfully add Brewer’s Sparrow to her list, she did carefully study plumage variation in Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. 
Sasha_watching_gulls,Monhegan,5-26-14

She also joined us at the brewery for one final pint.
Sasha_atMonheganBrewery,5-26-14

When many of us present for the weekend’s excitement boarded the boat at 3:15, I was sorry to go, as usual. I eked out 94 species when all was said and done (still below average for a spring weekend out here) including 19 species of warblers (I almost never miss hitting 20 here). While the overall list might have been a little low, the quality of views of most species was hard to beat. The overall quality of the bird list wasn’t too shabby, either. A first state record doesn’t hurt.

The following is my checklist for the group for Friday through Sunday. Monday’s total included birds seen with Jeannette, Paul, and Kristen. The included numbers for each day are conservative estimates or counts of the number of individuals of each species we saw and/or heard on the island (not including the ferry rides).

Species: Friday, May 23rd/Saturday May 24th/Sunday, May 25th/Monday, May 26th.

American Black Duck: 1/0/0/0
Mallard: 15/21/10/10
Black Scoter: 0/0/0/2
Common Eider: x/x/x/x
Red-breasted Merganser: 0/0/0/1
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3/4/5/4
Common Loon: 4/6/6/4
Northern Gannet: 5/6/6/12
Double-crested Cormorant: x/x/x/x
Great Blue Heron: 0/3/0/0
Osprey: 1/3/1/0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 0/0/0/1
Peregrine Falcon: 0/1/0/0
Merlin: 1/0/0/0
Virginia Rail: 1/1/1/1
Laughing Gull: 5/12/4/2
Herring Gull: x/x/x/x
Great Black-backed Gull: x/x/x/x
Black Guillemot: x/x/x/x
RAZORBILL: 0/1/0/0
Mourning Dove: 6/6/8/4
Common Nighthawk: 0/0/1/0 (FOY)
Chimney Swift: 1/1/2/0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 2/4/4/3
Downy Woodpecker: 2/0/0/0
Northern Flicker: 1/0/2/2
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 2/2/2/3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher: 0/1/2/2
Alder Flycatcher: 0/0/0/3 (FOY)
“Traill’s” Flycatcher: 0/0/0/5
Least Flycatcher: 3/1/6/6
Eastern Phoebe: 1/0/0/0
Eastern Kingbird: 27/25/14/15
Blue-headed Vireo: 0/0/0/1
Philadelphia Vireo: 0/0/2/4
Red-eyed Vireo: 2/2/12/20
Blue Jay: 8/12/8/8
American Crow: x/x/x/x
Common Raven: 2/2/2/2
Tree Swallow: 8/5/6/6
Bank Swallow: 2/2/2/0
Cliff Swallow: 0/0/1/0
Barn Swallow: 2/2/1/2
Black-capped Chickadee: x/x/x/x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 0/1/2/3
Carolina Wren: 4/8/6/6
Winter Wren: 0/0/1/0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 0/2/2/4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 0/0/0/1 (late)
Veery: 1/1/1/0
GRAY-CHEEKED/BICKNELL’S THRUSH: 0/0/1/0
Swainson’s Thrush: 0/0/1/0
Hermit Thrush: 0/0/1/0
American Robin: 10/10/8/6
Gray Catbird: x/x/x/x
Brown Thrasher: 0/1/1/0
European Starling: 6/4/8/6
Cedar Waxwing: 3/4/18/60
Tennessee Warbler: 0/2/0/4
Northern Parula: 3/12/30/15
Yellow Warbler: 25/25/35/30
Chesnut-sided Warbler: 6/5/20/10
Magnolia Warbler: 25/20/25/20
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 6/8/8/4
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 6/8/0/0
Black-throated Green Warbler: 10/15/15/15
Blackburnian Warbler: 2/0/2/3
Bay-breasted Warbler: 0/1/0/8 (FOY)
Blackpoll Warbler: 4/3/10/50
Black-and-white Warbler: 5/5/10/5
American Redstart: 10/15/35/30
Ovenbird: 0/0/2/0
Northern Waterthrush: 0/3/3/3
MOURNING WARBLER: 0/1/0/0 (FOY)
Common Yellowthroat: 35/35/30/30
Wilson’s Warbler: 4/0/5/1
Canada Warbler: 2/4/4/2
SUMMER TANAGER: 1/1/1/0
Chipping Sparrow: 10/10/6/8
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0/0/1/0
BREWER’S SPARROW!!!!: 0/0/1/1
Field Sparrow: 0/0/1/1
Savannah Sparrow: 1/1/3/1
Song Sparrow: x/x/x/x
Swamp Sparrow: 1/2/2/1
White-throated Sparrow: 1/0/10/10
Northern Cardinal: 6/8/8/6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0/0/4/3
Indigo Bunting: 1/3/4/2
Bobolink: 8/6/4/4
Red-winged Blackbird: x/x/x/x
Common Grackle: 10/15/15/10
ORCHARD ORIOLE: 1/1/2/1
Baltimore Oriole: 0/1/3/4

American Goldfinch: 6/12/8/6

A Great May Week of Birding in Review, and Some Predictions for More Feathery Fun.

DSC_0027_SUTA,Georgetown1,5-6-14

Simply put, it has been a helluva week of birding in Maine!  Strong flights of migrants occurred on 5 of the last 7 nights, producing a whole lot of new arrivals throughout the region. And then there were rarities, but we’ll get to that shortly.

As for regularly-occurring migrants, birds are arriving right about on time now. By week’s end, some of the latest arriving warblers, like Blackpoll have begun to trickle in, while the early migrants like Yellow-rumped and Palm have thinned out considerably. Some locally-breeding Pine Warblers are rarely singing now, as breeding season for them is well underway.

Almost anywhere you went this week, 12 or more species of warblers was possible.  I enjoyed 15 species at Florida Lake on Monday and 17 species at Evergreen Cemetery on Thursday, for example. The third week of May is when the coveted 20-species morning total is most likely around here, so you know I will be gunning for that in the coming days.

I added Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, White-crowned Sparrow (#126, 127, and 128 respectively) to my Bradbury Mountain patch lists this week, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow was the first in our Pownal yard (#116) on Sunday. Meanwhile, a spiffy male Orchard Oriole was the 114th species at our store, a one-day wonder at our feeders on the 10th.  So it’s been a great week for patch listing as well!

And Scarborough Marsh was just awesome on Tuesday morning, when Katrina and I had unbelievable numbers (for spring) off of Eastern Road, including 1500+ Tree Swallows, 500+ Least Sandpipers, 400+ Barn Swallows, ~125 Greater and ~100 Lesser Yellowlegs, 75-100 Bank Swallows, 6++ Semipalmated and 2++ White-rumped Sandpipers (both FOY), 2 adult Dunlin, and the continuing Tricolored Heron. Nothing rare per se, but the biomass of birdage was impressive, and was definitely the highlight of the week.

Following the “Mega” rarity Northern Wheatear that was last seen last Saturday in Scarborough Marsh, rarity news has been decidedly southern in nature. Although small numbers of “overshooting” southern vagrants are typical in Maine every spring, the number of White-eyed Vireos (I caught up with one at Capisic Pond Park on Thursday with my friend Lois), Summer Tanagers (I saw one in Georgetown last week with Katrina; see above), and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (they’re everywhere!) is most impressive. Then there was a Painted Bunting on Monhegan this week, a Swallow-tailed Kite at the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch on 5/7, and a Mississippi Kite also at The Brad as the grand finale on the 15th.  The widespread smattering of Orchard Orioles is a little more typical.

This pattern of southerly vagrants is not caused by birds being “blown” here in a simple sense, but instead we believe it is caused by southerly winds facilitating their arrival beyond their normal range – perhaps by causing a bird to travel much further (in relation to the ground) in each night’s flight thanks to a favorable tailwind. Perhaps others were entrained by strong winds off the South Atlantic Bight and were pushed northwards until they made landfall in the Northeast (I wonder if the Boston Fork-tailed Flycatcher arrived this way?).

Less fitting of any particular pattern is the remarkable adult Black-headed Grosbeak that was on Monhegan this week – at the SAME FEEDER as the Painted Bunting, 2 Summer Tanagers, a Lark Sparrow, and a Dickcissel. <expletive deleted> And, not to be overshadowed, a dapper male Ruff was found in Bangor.

With a deep southerly flow continuing, and some very unsettled weather coming for the weekend, I think things will be getting quite interesting in the coming days. (I don’t want to know how many “Island Birds” Kristen Lindquist will pick up over me on Monhegan this weekend!).  Check out this wind map from the 15th, showing a very strong southerly flow originating all of the way from Florida and the Caribbean.

wind map, 5-15-14

For those of us not on Monhegan this weekend, I sure hope you’ll be birding hard – not despite the weather, but because of the inclement weather. At the very least, keep an eye on those feeders. Both here at the store and at home, we’re stocked up with mealworms, jelly, oranges, insect suet, and nut blocks. Not only will the cool, wet weather limit natural food sources, but the slow progression of the season continues to put a lot of important food sources well behind the birds’ required schedules.

For example, apples and cherries are only now starting to bloom. Early-arriving nectavores and insectivores flock to these (and other early-season bloomers like Shadbush, azalea, and quince) for both nectar and the insects attracted to that nectar. The lack of a lot of flowers so far this season has pushed many orioles (including some Orchards in addition to the regular Baltimores), Gray Catbirds, and Scarlet (and some Summers) Tanagers to feeding stations in above-average numbers.  I expect that trend to continue through the middle of next week, as a stubborn upper-level low remains locked overhead producing unsettled weather.

So keep an eye out the window, get outside, and find some good birds!  And regardless of rarities, it’s just a great time to be birding!

David Sibley Presentation and Book Signing, 5/16

Jeannette and I are honored to be hosting David Sibley on Friday (5/16) for a presentation and book signing. This event will be held at the Freeport Public Library on Main Street, just north of the downtown shopping area.

The event begins at 5:00pm.  Visit our store’s Events page for more information, and a link to directions to the library.

Sibley poster

 

Book Review: Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin

By Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny, and Bob Montgomerie

This was an impressive book. Impressive in breadth, width, and, yes, weight. In fact, since I often read in bed before falling asleep, one of my biggest concerns was nodding off and having the book fall on my face. Its 524 pages would have easily broken my nose!Ten

Luckily, the writing made me anything but sleepy. While this is not a “curl up on the coach and read cover to cover on a cold winter day” book, it is exceedingly well-written for what is essentially a text book.  The authors have amassed a mind-boggling amount of information covering a range of ornithological topics.

Although the scientific study of birds can be traced back to ancient Greece, ornithology has really come of age in the century following the revolutionary work of Charles Darwin. A fascinating factoid in the preface mentioned that “in 2011, there were as many papers on birds published as there have been during the entire period between Darwin’s Origin (of Species) and 1955.”  Wow!

As noted in the Preface, there are several other compilations of ornithological history.  I will readily admit that when I first learned of this book, my first thought was “Really, another one?”  But this one is different.

They chose to begin with Darwin for good reason as “nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.”  But no book could cover every aspect of ornithology; not everything we’ve learned could fit in any one volume. I’d break my back lifting it before I could break my nose dropping it.

Therefore, the authors narrowed down the focus to the highlight of ornithological research that has “influenced the course of scientific progress.” They explain the rationale that included ranking a database of citations and a survey of senior ornithologists. In the end, the authors decided to synthesize things into a topic-based series of chapters, guided by their findings of the most influential researchers and books:

Chapter 1: Yesterday’s Birds – a synopsis of the discovery and analysis of the first birds, and the history of the now-dominant “birds ARE dinosaurs” theory.

Chapter 2: The Origin and Diversification of Species– the evolution of these 10,000 or so birds that we share our planet with.

Chapter 3: Birds and the Tree of Life – the difficult process of figuring out which birds are related to whom and how.

Chapter 4: Ebb and Flow – about migration, the topic in the book that was of most interest to me personally.

Chapter 5: Ecological Adaptations for Breeding.

Chapter 6: Form and Function – the study of avian physiology: how birds do what they do and the evolutionary processes that shape the birds of today and how they exploit their specific niches.

Chapter 7: The Study of Instinct.

Chapter 8: Behavior as Adaptation.

Chapter 9: Selection in Relation to Sex – what birds look like and why. Spoiler alert: it’s about sex.

Chapter 10: Population Studies of Birds.

Chapter 11: Tomorrow’s Birds – what does the future hold for bird species, populations, and survival in the face of humanity and our changes to the planet?

So there’s a fairly wide range of topics, and each topic is covered in depth. There’s a lot of research into each topic and the players involved. A graphic timeline of important events and publications are included in each chapter, almost as a tour guide for the events and people in the coming chapter, or a “Cliff-Notes” version for convenient skimming. What is really remarkable about this tome however, is the very personal approach the authors take. They intentionally attempted to avoid a dull, boring history book.

“…Our experience teaching undergraduates show us that histories were brought to life by stories about the people that populate them. The history of ornithology is overflowing with extraordinary individuals and intriguing stories. Science – ornithological or otherwise – is conducted by real people with real human attributes, including ambition, integrity, jealousy, obsession, and deception. In telling their stories we encounter the full gamut of human frailties from fraud to murder.” 

No, this is not your run of the mill dry, boring textbook. The authors make it personal, and make it engaging by emphasizing the people involved. They want you to not just read about discoveries, but join the researchers as they make them – and embroil in controversies surrounding them. As exemplified by this passage in Chapter 3, “Birds on the Tree of Life”, the authors were not shy about delving into issues of these controversies:

“The first volley in what David Hall would later call the ‘Systematics Wars’ had been fired – the 1960’s and 1970’s would see one of the most contentious periods in the history of any branch of science. While not everyone likes this term, to those of us looking in from the outside, systematics at the time seemed clearly at war, as egos and emotions ran high, and the field seemed to attract some of the most arrogant, opinionated, and downright nasty individuals who have ever called themselves scientists.”

In other words, the authors were more than willing to call a spade a spade and that is refreshing; sugar-coating of controversies was held to a minimum. I loved that. Prosaic and engaging writing keeps the reader interested, and allows the non-scientist to absorb the wealth of information.

History is important, and the authors teach us the value of understanding ornithological history in order to 1) see a researcher’s own work in context, 2) knowing what predecessors have done is an “essential part of scholarship, and at the very least helps to avoid reinventing the wheel, and 3) Perhaps most importantly, “it can be a crucible of creation, triggering new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems.” And the authors went to great lengths to make this needed task as engaging and interesting as possible, and I believe they succeeded.

Each chapter includes added color with an autobiographical vignette from leading scientists, and closes each chapter with a “Coda,” that briefly summarizes what we have learned about the topic and how it applies to current research and why this particular topic is so important. Often, the authors include additional color-commentary as well and perhaps even a little opportunity for some brief opinionated editorializing.

I am not an “ornithologist” by any definition, and while the term “field ornithologist” could be applied to my previous career, I am not an expert in the rigorous science of any of these topics. Therefore, I would not be able to comment on any biases, any missing information, oversights, or errors within the information presented. I am most definitely a student of migration, however, and therefore found Chapter 4 to be the most interesting and valuable to me, and very well done.

I would argue that Chapter 11, however, is the most important, but unfortunately, I found it to be the weakest chapter in the book.  While every other chapter came across as very well laid out, planned, and thorough, I found “Tomorrow’s Birds” to be scattered, at times superficial, and sometimes even a little awkward as the authors skip from one topic to another. That disappointed me quite a bit, and it was a tough way to end. Perhaps it was nothing more than so much new information to be covered, that a sample was the most reasonable option, rather than the through surveys of the preceding chapters.

However, the last two pages of that final chapter, wrapping up the past, present, and future of birds and the study thereof, were poignant and valuable.

“Topics of interest will come and go, but there is one topic whose relentless progress should be of concern to us all. As the human population continues to increase, bird populations will continue to decline. Birds provide a convenient indicator of the quality of the environment, but they also contribute immensely to the quality of the environment and of our lives…A century from now, if someone decides to repeat our survey of the preceding hundred years, it is unlikely that they would be able to use the title  – Ten Thousand Birds…The long-term health of birds and other wildlife depend on teaching our children and students to value the natural world, but it also depends on our training them to be both effective ambassadors for ornithology and first-rate scientists, so they are able to make the right decisions.”

(As with all books reviewed in the blog, of course it is available here at Freeport Wild Bird Supply!)

Three Days of Migration Watching in May -Day and Night.

In my blog last Wednesday, I made some prognostications about what we might expect for birds in the coming days. Let’s see how I did so far.

Rain began to fall Wednesday evening, and continued, heavy at times, through Thursday morning. With a persistent easterly wind, overnight migration was non-existent. In the rain on Thursday morning, Katrina and I checked out Florida Lake Park, but found only about 20 Yellow-rumped and 10 Palm warblers – fewer than in recent days. The local River Otter pair, however, put on a great show. Nothing new under the feeders at home (or at the store), either.

Afterwards, I took a spin through the local farms and fields, but found nothing out of the ordinary; it’s too early for most shorebirds anyway. Admittedly, however, I had vagrants on my mind (and still do! As usual). Although the southerly winds conducive to southern overshoots (as I discussed in the aforementioned blog) had yet to kick in, the deep easterly flow that we have been ensconced within could offer up its own surprises. With reports of the “largest incursion of Icelandic/European birds to Newfoundland in recent memory,” including amazing tallies of European Golden-Plovers, 9 Black-tailed Godwits, North America’s 4th (or so) Common Redhank…yeah, the “Rarity Fever” in me can’t help but kick up. Perhaps something will ride one of those Iceland-Portland cargo ships that are in service these days!

Light rain continued through Thursday morning, diminishing to drizzle and fog until the afternoon, when a shift to westerly winds began to clear things out. Overnight, light and variable winds suggested a good migration should occur, but the radar wasn’t showing more than a light flight.
1am radar, 5-2-14  1am velocity, 5-2-14

However, it was foggy for much of the night, and fog can obscure the image of birds on the radar, especially if they are flying low. “Birding by radar” is not infallible, and I had a feeling it might have been a little misleading this morning. A steady trickle of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving over the yard at dawn confirmed this. The weather was just too-not-terrible for there not to be a lot of birds on the go.

So off to Florida Lake I went.  And, for a change this spring, I was not disappointed.  100+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 20+ Palm Warblers, my first Northern Waterthrush and Black-throated Green Warbler (finally!) of the year, a singing migrant Greater Yellowlegs, and much, much more. I caught the lingering pair of Green-winged Teal copulating; are they going to breed here? Ring-necked Ducks had increased to 16 and there is still a pair of Common Mergansers here.

As the fog burned off, the sun shone brightly, and heat began to rise in swirling thermals, hawks took to the skies on the light westerly wind. I had to pull myself away from the hawkwatch kicking and screaming at 12:30, but by then we had eclipsed (at 10:35) our all-time record count of 4,474 birds when a Merlin streaked by. 388 Broad-winged Hawks and 22 Sharp-shinned Hawks were included in the total of 429 migrant raptors when I departed.

Last night’s passerine migration – yup, the fog on the radar definitely obscured the intensity of the flight! – was still evident well past noon, as Yellow-rumped Warblers were still on the go, reorienting inland after last night’s flight. Well over 200 had passed the summit by the time I departed, as did my first two Chimney Swifts and Eastern Kingbirds (also 2) of the year. And by day’s end, 705 raptors led by 583 Broad-wings were tallied, adding to our record totals. Around 4:00pm, our 5000th raptor had passed – a milestone we never thought we would reach.

Come nightfall, the radar was active once again.  Here are the 1am reflectivity and velocity images for example:
1am radar, 5-3-141am velocity, 5-3-14

Notice the dark greens in the center of the return, but overall the rather narrow diameter of the image?  My guess is that mostly overcast skies and a light westerly winds, perhaps including some turbulence from the passing cold front, kept birds low once again.  But, without fog around, it was certain that this was birds – confirmed by the distance SW-NE pattern of the velocity image, and its speed. I think it was actually a lot of birds.

And come morning, Yellow-rumped Warblers were overhead as I stood on the back porch at dawn, and the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group and I headed over to Florida Lake.  Yeah, it was good.  Very good.

In the past few days, we’ve also finally had the first couple of reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles, so that those have just begun to arrive.  As I mentioned the other day, food is in short supply for these backyard favorites, so feeders are going to be important for the first arrivals.

But no vagrants from the south, or East …yet!

Birds, Books, and Beers III: Will Russell, co-author of Rare Birds of North America, Monday May 5th!

Please join us for our third installment of the Birds, Books, and Beers Series.  On Monday, May 5th, we’ll welcome Will Russell, co-author of Rare Birds of North America for a talk and question-and-answer session.  We have plenty of copies of Rare Birds for you at the store, and Will will be happy to sign them.  You can pick one up at the store, and Will will be here at 6:00pm. At 6:30, we’ll head over to our neighbors, the Maine Beer Company for the short talk, questions, and casual conversation until 8:00pm. And yes, we will have book in tow.

MBC is normally closed on Mondays, so they’re opening up especially for us; we’ll have the place to ourselves!  So drop by, pick up a book, learn some more about rare birds (and how they get here!) and enjoy some of MBC’s fantastic brews…P.S. a fresh batch of Lunch is now available!

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