Author Archives: Derek

The “Coastal Quick Hit” Van Tour report

I think it is safe to say that the inaugural “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour was a resounding success! We not only found all of the target species that we were after, but also a few surprises, and we saw all of our target species incredibly well! And we really lucked out with the weather, as the only rain we encountered was a brief downpour while we were driving. I have “no” doubt that all future tours will be this successful.

We receive numerous requests for guiding for several local breeding species that can be hard, if not impossible, to see elsewhere. While Bicknell’s Thrush is my number one request, there are a number of coastal species that are also sought. Folks travel from far and wide for our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van trip, and often I get requests for private guiding for many of the other species before and after that tour. Therefore, for efficiency and economy, we introduced the “Coastal Quick Hit” tour.

We had four visitors from California on board who were here to take part in the weekend’s thrush tour, plus three local birders out for the day. The eight of us met here at the store on Friday morning, and worked our way south.

Beginning in Scarborough Marsh, we had the opportunity to study Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows side-by-side, and ponder over some hybrids as well. We compared their songs and subtleties of identification – and learned how to simply leave many, likely hybrids and intergrades, as unidentified. Meanwhile, “Eastern” Willets and many other marsh denizens were numerous, and several sparrows and Willets posed for photos.
WILL

Walking the Eastern Road Trail, a Fish Crow was unexpected, and we enjoyed Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and more. We then found this wading bird, which immediately brought to mind one of the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret (and now, possible a backcross there of) that calls Scarborough Marsh home.
LBHE,Marion_Sprague,6-9-17_edited-1

However, it soon became clear that this was a “pure” Little Blue Heron – nothing about its shape, size, structure, or behavior (a regular adult was nearby, and sometimes in the same field of view) was suggestive of anything else (or partly anything else), and so I hypothesized about a leucistic Little Blue Heron. Immature (1st through 2nd summer) little blues are piebald, but this was much, much paler than what I usually see, with more of a uniform “wash” of the purple-blue on the body and wings. What threw me off a bit were the essentially fully-developed head and back plumes (the “aigrettes”) that I did not think were present on a bird who’s plumage was this early in development. A little research showed those plumes were just fine for a 1st-summer bird, even one in which so little adult-like plumage had been obtained. Therefore, unless this bird looks exactly the same come fall, I think it’s just a paler-than-average 1st summer Little Blue Heron. Nevertheless, it was a fun bird to study and ponder – offering a lesson in comparing shape, structure, and behavior in two birds that didn’t look the same.

Also off Eastern Road, we noted Glossy Ibis, American Black Ducks, and a White-rumped Sandpiper in spiffy breeding plumage – a treat for folks from the West Coast, and not a bird we see many of in spring here in the Northeast. It was hanging out with 4 tardy Semipalmated Sandpipers.
GADW,MS
A drake Gadwall at the Pelreco marsh was a nice sight as well.

Four unseasonable Brant greeted us at Pine Point, where we soon spotted one of our most sought-after species, Roseate Tern. At least 8, and likely many times that, as birds were coming and going, were quickly picked out from the crowds of Common Terns, with plenty of Least Terns zipping around.
COTE,MS
Common Tern

LETE,MS
Least Tern

This tour was designed to have at least two chances at all of our target species, but we “cleaned up” in Scarborough, so we elected to brake up our upcoming drive with a stop in Webhannet Marsh near Moody Point for a visit with the King Rail that, for the second summer in a row, has occupied a small corner of the marsh. While waiting for it, we spotted more Willets, and had another great view of a Saltmarsh Sparrow or too.

The rail never called, but about 2/3rds of the group, myself NOT included, were able to spot the rail as it crossed two successive small openings in the marsh grass. The rest of us were just a little too far up the road, and it never made it to the third clearing we were stationed at. But still, a King Rail in the middle of the afternoon! A loafing Surf Scoter with Common Eiders offshore was also unexpected.

A delicious lunch fueled the rest of our drive south and the timing of the rainfall could not have been better. Traffic was relatively minimal as we fought our way through the outskirts of Boston, arriving at Revere Beach just as a thunderstorm passed to our south.
Revere_Beach2

While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
Revere_Beach1

…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
PIPL,MS

…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
MASH1,MS

MASH2,MS

…from land, in a city, and not very far offshore!

This incredible phenomena (they are clearly nesting locally, but where!? One of the Boston Harbor Islands?) was the icing on the cake to a most-successful trip. Based on these results, you can expect to see the “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour again in 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned to the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com for more information about this and all of our tours.

Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend, 5/26-30/2017

OCWA_day5
Our group found a singing male Orange-crowned Warbler, one of the best birds of the weekend.

For the 7th year spring a row (fall tours since for over a decade), I spent my Memorial Day Weekend with a tour group visiting the magical and magnificent Monhegan Island. Exactly 100 species (including birds seen offshore during the ferry crossing) later – including 18 species of warblers – I was forced to depart, already counting down the days to my two fall tours (and perhaps making some plans for a summer visit…just because).

But the usually stress-free tour (compared to the logistics of much of the rest of my summer slate) got off to a rocky start (pun intended) with the early boat from New Harbor cancelling their morning trip late in the evening on Thursday. We made plans to head up to Port Clyde instead, and early in the morning, we received confirmation that all was well with the 10:30 am departure and we were reserved on it. Phew!

The whole group rendezvoused in Port Clyde, where based on the ride, well, let’s just say we were glad we were taking a big, heavy boat with a route that is sheltered for the first half. Because once we cleared the islands, well, things got a ‘rollin! But as always, the captain of the Monhegan Boat adeptly chose the route, and we basically tacked our way to Monhegan to avoid taking the swells on broadside. It was breezy enough that we were able to avoid the rain but remain in the fresh air outside on the stern (without diesel fumes), and we even spotted two Atlantic Puffins on the trip! But as for that small gull that was wheeling off in the distance just as we hit a trough and I hit John in my scramble for a view…well, we’ll never know.

Not surprisingly, the trip took longer than usual, but it allowed us to miss the rain! We arrived shortly after noon, with just a little lingering drizzle and mist. With diminishing northeast winds, we were prepared for worse, so we were fine with merely cool, only damp, and rather slow birding. Sure was better than steady rain and wind! And there were a few good birds to track down, led by the three Cattle Egrets that had been frequenting the island – my 206th species on the island, and a state bird for most of the group, at least. They were not hard to find, and were in fact pretty hard to miss for the better part of the next two and a half days. Really, until Jeannette arrived on Sunday, but that’s a story for a different day.
CAEG

Good looks at Philadelphia Vireo, a very vociferous Sora, and a dusk vigil which resulted in very close encounters with Common Nighthawks rounded out a productive first day.
EAKI
Eastern Kingbirds spent most of the weekend foraging low along the shoreline.

5/27: Day 2.
Well, that was a cold night in the rooms! Clearly the buildings of the island didn’t have a whole lot of ambient warmth built up, and extra blankets were at a premium. And with light northeast winds overnight, little to no migration was visible on the radar or in the dawn flight, but it was our first morning on the island, so we had a lot of birding to do.

A few pockets of migrants here and there slowly built up the checklist, with occasionally goodies including the Cattle Egrets, an immature male Orchard Oriole, a good look for most of a singing Mourning Warbler, and a fleeting White-eyed Vireo. We finally caught up with a female Summer Tanager (a bona fide one, not the female Scarlet with some missing feathers near the base of her bill), and we once again finished the day with feeding nighthawks, the incessantly calling Sora, and last but not least, a displaying American Woodcock.
female_SUTA
Female Summer Tanager

BAOR
Immature male Baltimore Oriole.

BLPW
Male Blackpoll Warbler

In between, we feasted on delicious pizza at The Novelty, fueled ourselves with coffee at the Black Duck, and relaxed in the late afternoon with a beer at Monhegan Brewing (including ginger beer and root beer, too). Yeah, a slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than most days most anywhere else!
Yew_Sunset, 5-27-17_edited-1

5/28: Day 3
With some people departing on Saturday, and others joining us for Sunday, we started Day 3 with a great find: A singing Orange-crowned Warbler right outside the Trailing Yew. Well, OK, it found us, and I’ll admit to taking way too long to identify it by sound with my pre-coffee and poor-night’s-sleep foggy state. Eventually, we had great looks at it, and those who were not yet with us were able to catch up with it later in the day or early Monday morning. This is a great bird in Maine in spring. In fact, it may have been my first in Maine in this season.
OCWA

Clearing skies and calm winds overnight allowed for an impressive migration, and the Orange-crowned was just the start of a great day of birding. The first half of the day was very birdy, with lots of new arrivals and new species. It was one of those mornings that were hard to break for breakfasts…but those breakfasts are all so damn good!

We found a second White-eyed Vireo, had unusually good looks at several Swainson’s Thrushes and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and slowly built up our triplist. It was a very good day, featuring a goodly total of 70 species.
MAWA
Magnolia Warbler
RBGR
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
WIWA
Wilson’s Warbler
YWAR
Yellow Warbler

5/29: Day 4
Light southerly winds at dusk had me optimistic as birds took to the air en masse come sunset. However, overnight, the winds shifted more easterly, shunting the flight inland, and overall, many more birds departed than arrived. With dense fog and a little mist come morning, my hopes for fallout conditions were dashed by the light to moderate easterly.

And accordingly, birding was very slow. I had a private tour for the first 2/3rds of the day, and we clawed our way through scattered small migrant flocks to find the goodies. There were definitely more Yellow-bellied Flycatchers around – including several unusually well out in the open. But the skies cleared up as the fog lifted, and we had a decent morning, a good part of which was simply spent exploring the woodlands of the interior of the island.
YBFL
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Smooth_Green_Snake
A photo session with a Smooth Green Snake was a nice treat, however.

Zippy_GreenSnake,5-28-17_edited-1

In the afternoon, Jeannette and I joined with several friends for some casual birding and conversation. Of course, once “off the clock,” my luck returned. After two of our friends had spent the weekend desperate for a good look at the Mourning Warbler, I walk by Donna’s lawn and calmly proclaim “umm, the Mourning Warbler is in Donna’s lawn.” We received permission to enter her yard, and followed it around the house for a while as it foraged around the foundation. This is not where I usually expect to see a Mourning Warbler, but we’ll take it. Unfortunately, all of Jeannette’s photos of it are of its butt.

Although it remained very slow overall, we had some really great looks at several birds we never did see on the tour, like a male Indigo Bunting, a Northern Waterthrush, and two very cooperative Olive-sided Flycatchers. We also caught up with the immature male Summer Tanager that was hanging out with the female and at least three Scarlet Tanagers – an impressive swatch of color and splendor, let alone offering good studies and comparisons.
INBU

OSFL

RedBelliedSnake2,5-29-17_edited-1
Undersides of a Red-bellied Snake
Male_SCTA
Male Scarlet Tanager
Male_SUTA
Immature male Summer Tanager

And in the afternoon, after everyone else departed, Jeannette and I happened upon a female Bay-breasted Warbler at Fish Beach that needed some help. Several mealworms later (a new species for my fed-mealworms list!) she hopped off into cover to digest. And I am happy to report that by the next morning, she didn’t need any handouts as she was actively foraging on her own.
female_BBWAfemale_BBWA_withMealworms

Jeannette and I enjoyed dinner at the Island Inn as our 24-hour vacation got underway, with Common Nighthawk, Sora, and American Woodcock serenading us on the way home.
IMG_4562-edited-edited
Willets spotted earlier in the day by Jeannette and several others as they briefly alighted on the island.

Day 5: 5/30.
It was just Jeannette and I today, and with no visible migration on the radar and expansive fog, our main plans were to sleep in for a change – and for the last time for me until July! So we did not expect to be woken up by sun shining into our windows.

Not surprisingly, I popped up and outside, and began birding with another great look at the continuing Orange-crowned Warbler. There were not a lot of new birds around, not surprisingly, but with sun shining, birds were out at edges and easy to see. The female Bay-breasted Warbler was busy catching seaweed flies at Fish Beach, joined by a companion male Blackburnian Warbler and later, a young male American Redstart.
BBWA_day5
BLBW-FishBeach
AMRE-FishBeach

We finally saw a Bald Eagle after five days on the island, and 4-7 Great Blue Herons dropped in for a visit. It was extremely quiet after breakfast, but again birds were just pleasantly visible in the sun, especially in blooming apple trees. Things like the Eastern Kingbirds, which spent most of the weekend feeding in and around patches of seaweed on the beaches were up and about, flycatching “normally” from treetops. We also slowly padded the triplist, with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (incredibly, the first woodpecker of my five days here – how did I miss the resident Downies?) and great look at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (my first of the year, and later, a very good look at a Black-billed as well). The male Summer Tanager, at least, continued to frequent a feeding station, and a Garter Snake was my third snake of the weekend (Smooth Green on a couple of occasions, and a single Red-bellied on Monday morning).
GBHE

FISP
Field Sparrow

A little wave of presumed migrant swallows increased the number of Barn and Tree Swallows by 2-3 each, but also including 3 Bank and 1 Cliff Swallow, the final two new species of our stay.

The afternoon was quite slow otherwise, but admittedly, we spent a decent portion of the last couple of hours of the afternoon involved in conversation at the brewery, and about everywhere in between.
brewery_bins,5-30-17_edited-1

horn_hill,5-30-17_edited-1

But alas, it was time to go, on the late boat back to Port Clyde. We said our goodbyes, for now, wondering if we’ll be back next spring (depending on if that misguided wind project gets underway), but also how soon we can get back this summer!
departure,5-30-17_edited-1

While we didn’t have any puffins – or any other seabirds – on our smooth ride back, we did have a couple of Roseate Terns as we approached Port Clyde. And then it was time for the drive home, and back into entry into the real world!

Here’s the five day daily checklist:
Mallard 16-16-10-12-10
Common Eider x-x-x-x-x
Ring-necked Pheasant 0-0-1-1-1
Common Loon 0-0-2-1-3
Northern Gannet 10-0-1-3-3
Double-crested Cormorant x-x-x-x-x
Great Cormorant 0-0-2-2-1
CATTLE EGRET 3-3-2-0-0
Great Blue Heron 0-0-0-0-4
Green Heron 0-2-0-0-0
Osprey 0-0-1-0-1
Bald Eagle 0-0-0-0-1
Merlin 0-1-1-1-1
Peregrine Falcon 0-1-0-0-0
Sora 1-1-1-1-1
Greater Yellowlegs 1-0-0-0-0
Spotted Sandpiper 0-1-0-0-0
American Woodcock 0-1-0-0-0
Laughing Gull (8)-0-2-2-11
Herring Gull x-x-x-x-x
Great Black-backed Gull x-x-x-x-x
Common Tern (x)-0-0-0-0
Roseate Tern 0-0-0-0-(2)
Black Guillemot x-x-x-x-x
ATLANTIC PUFFIN (2)-0-0-0-0
Mourning Dove 4-8-6-6-4
Black-billed Cuckoo 0-1-0-0-1
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0-0-0-0-1
Common Nighthawk 2-2-0-1-0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2-3-3-2-3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0-0-0-0-1
Belted Kingfisher 0-0-1-1-0
Olive-sided Flycatcher 0-0-0-2-0
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2-1-2-2-1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 0-0-3-6-0
Alder Flycatcher 0-0-1-1-0
Willow Flycatcher 0-3-3-2-1
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 1-2-0-0-0
Least Flycatcher 0-3-4-0-2
Eastern Kingbird 5-4-3-2-2
WHITE-EYED VIREO 0-1-1-0-0
Blue-headed Vireo 0-1-0-0-0
Philadelphia Vireo 1-3-4-3-2
Red-eyed Vireo 3-6-15-6-4
Blue Jay 6-8-6-6-6
American Crow 4-x-x-x-x
Common Raven 0-0-0-1-0
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 0-0-1-0-0
Tree Swallow 0-2-2-2-2
Bank Swallow 0-0-0-0-03
Barn Swallow 0-3-3-0-4
Cliff Swallow 0-0-0-0-1
Black-capped Chickadee x-x-x-x-x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 4-4-8-8-4
House Wren 0-1-0-0-0
Winter Wren 0-0-2-2-1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0-0-6-10-4
Veery 1-0-1-0-0
Swainson’s Thrush 0-0-4-1-1
American Robin 8-10-10-12-15
Gray Catbird 20-x-x-x-x
Brown Thrasher 0-1-0-1-0
European Starling 4-6-6-10-10
Cedar Waxwing 40-40-40-30-50
Tennessee Warbler 0-0-2-0-0
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 0-0-1-1-1
Northern Parula 3-6-8-8-8
Yellow Warbler 15-20-15-12-20
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0-4-10-8-6
Magnolia Warbler 1-3-20-10-15
Yellow-rumped Warbler 0-0-0-2-0
Black-throated Green Warbler 2-3-8-8-4
Blackburnian Warbler 0-1-6-6-8
Bay-breasted Warbler 0-1-0-1-1
Blackpoll Warbler 4-10-20-10-15
Black-and-white Warbler 0-2-2-2-1
American Redstart 6-15-40-20-10
Northern Waterthrush 0-0-0-1-0
MOURNING WARBLER 0-1-0-1-0
Common Yellowthroat 12-20-x-x-x
Wilson’s Warbler 1-0-4-1-2
Canada Warbler 0-1-2-0-1
SUMMER TANAGER 0-1-0-2-2
Scarlet Tanager 1-4-3-3-3
Chipping Sparrow 0-4-2-4-2
Field Sparrow 0-1-0-1-1
Savannah Sparrow 0-2-2-2-1
Song Sparrow x-x-x-x-x
White-throated Sparrow 0-1-1-0-1
Northern Cardinal x-8-8-8-6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1-3-3-3-4
Indigo Bunting 0-0-1-2-1
Bobolink 0-1-2-1-0
Red-winged Blackbird 15-14-x-x-x
Common Grackle x-x-x-x-x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0-1-0-0-0
Baltimore Oriole 4-3-5-3-3
Purple Finch 2-3-2-2-1
Pine Siskin 0-0-1-0-0
American Goldfinch 10-12-10-10-8

so_many_birders2,Monhegan,5-17-17_edited-1
Just a typical Memorial Day Weekend full of birders on Monhegan!

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Warblers and Wort.

Whether from a guide’s perspective or a participant, one of the great benefits of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series of tours with The Maine Brew Bus is that no matter what the weather, no matter what the season, the breweries WILL be there. The same, obviously, cannot always be said for the birds, especially when rain and wind is forecast. Well, they will be there, but whether or not we get to see them is an entirely different thing.

And the forecast for Mother’s Day was not good. One of the local forecaster’s simply called it a “complete wash-out.” But rescheduling these events, outside of winter, is a real challenge, and like I said, we can at least guarantee that the breweries will be dry and open! Certainly, the radar, as we departed Portland, did not offer much in the way of optimism.
Radar

But despite the forecast, the May 14th “Warblers and Wort” Roadtrip was anything but a washout. In fact, half of the birding was done without a drop of rain and even a little filtered sun. But yeah, the first stop was rather damp.

We began at the Waterboro Barrens Preserve in Shapleigh, where we enjoyed numerous and conspicuous Eastern Towhees. Several people commented that they had never seen so many towhees, and seen them so well. But with light rainfall falling steadily, the birding was rather slow. We only heard one Prairie Warbler, did not locate a single Field Sparrow, but we were quite pleased to have a singing Red Crossbill fly over. We did get to see a rather rare habitat for Maine – managed Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak barrens – and we compared the forest composition within the reserve to the degraded woods outside the property. We didn’t see all of the denizens of this specialized habitat, but plans were made for return visits on drier days.
Waterboro Habitat
RECR
CHSP
Female Red Crossbill and a Chipping Sparrow, from a different time and place.

Our second stop conveniently took place in the midst of a break in the precipitation. Unfortunately, wet, winding roads slowed down our transit, I spent a few more minutes than I should have at Waterboro, and a little communication error led to us falling well behind schedule. Therefore, we were on a mission as we marched into the Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington.
Group at Jagolinzer

This beautiful little spot, which was one of my favorite discoveries while writing my new book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide is home to several territories of the localized Louisiana Waterthrush – a bird that today’s group was really hoping to see. As soon as we reached the river, we heard one singing, and then, in my favorite viewing spot, got one to immediately pop out of cover and provide unusually long and unimpeded views as he was clearly challenging the bird singing across the river.
LOWA

Meanwhile, a rather confiding Veery competed for our attention. We would have worked harder for more of the breeding warblers here – this was “Warblers and Wort” afterall – but we celebrated our Louie success – the primary “target” of this visit.

The mixed woodlands here, and the deciduous-dominated riparian corridor on the banks of the Saco River were in marked contrast to the rather homogeneous pine barrens. A larger sample of the birdlife would show some significant differences in resultant avian species composition.
Jagolinzer Habitat
If “Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat” was listed in the dictionary, this picture would be it definition.

All too soon Andy, our driver and beer guide for the day, had to crack the whip and get us on our way. Back in the bus, we shed layers, and Andy took over on the microphone as we weaved our way back around Sawyer Mountain and over to Limerick’s Gneiss Brewing Company, fueled by our kale and feta hand pies for lunch.

Not only had they opened just for us, they fired up the woodstove, and we rapidly dried out the remnants of that rain in Waterboro. Concentrating on classic German styles, we learned about Gneiss’s brewing philosophy and operation. Having produced 400 barrels last year, plans are in the works for future expansion and canning. We glimpsed a Wild Turkey strutting through the backyard as we toured the facility and sampled four of their beers.
Gneiss 1Gneiss 2
GNEISS 5

Beginning with their flagship Gneiss Weiss, a full-bodied wheat beer with low bitterness and a subtle hint of banana, we moved on to Sonnenschein, a crisp and well-balanced Kolsch. I really liked this beer; crisp, clean, and easy-drinking but with really good balance and flavor. Next up was Obsius, a stout brewed with roasted wheat and fermented with their house hefeweizen yeast, making for a subtle banana note to go along with the traditional roasty and nutty stout flavors.
Gneiss 3

Last but not least, we were offered a sample of any one of their ten beers on tap at the moment, and on recommendation, I sampled Pyroclast, a collaboration with Orono Brewing Company. Starting with a potent golden ale, it was aged for 13 months in various barrels, including those of both red and white wines, with several rounds of various wild yeasts. The result was an ultra-complex brew with lots of fruity and tart flavors. And, with the Brettanomyces, just a little bit of funk.
Gneiss 4

The second brewery on today’s itinerary was the production facility of Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham. It was fascinating to compare the size of the facility and equipment, and learning how craft beer is scaled up to accommodate growing demand. Ahead of the curve, opening their first brewpub way back (in the world of modern craft brewing, downright ancient) in 1998, Sebago now operates four brewpubs, and supplies cans and bottles around New England.
Sebago 1
SEBAGO 4

A generous helping of seven samples of a wide range of their offerings helped guide us through the tour and the discussion, starting with Yellow on Friday, their Czech Pilsner. Light in body, crisp, and mellow, this was a rare lager from Sebago. Next up was the Red X, a pale ale recipe using red malt. This one-time brew was surprising – the palette is expecting a sweet amber from the color, but this is an illusion – it was light and dry like a typical pale. It was definitely unique, and I quite liked it.
Sebago 2

A single hopped pale ale featuring a new New Zealand hop variety offered some tangerine and bitter blood orange flavor, before we relaxed with a new stand-by, the light and refreshing session, Simmer Down. One of their new top-sellers, this was already the fourth release this year of what will likely be a new summer go-to, featuring lots of tropical fruit notes and low alcohol.
SEBAGO 3

Sebago’s number one seller is their Frye’s Leap IPA, which may be up to 60% of what they produce in a month these days. Citrus and a touch of pine are featured in this classic IPA. Next up was one of my favorites from Sebago, the Whistlepunk DIPA, which has lots of citrus and other hop flavors, and although it’s a goodly 8% is not boozy to me. We then finished up with their Hop Yard Porter, with local hops, and a fairly light body for a porter.

Needless to say, we had all fully warmed up by now! The short trip to Portland and then on to Freeport, discussion revolved around the wide variety of beers that were sampled, and for many, life birds – especially the Louisiana Waterthrush – that were spotted. And the fact that it wasn’t even raining for the whole day; that is most definitely a win!

My Statement on LD1262 “An Act to Protect Monhegan Island by Limiting Wind Turbines”

On Tuesday, May 2nd, I -and many, many others – spoke to the Energy Utilities and Technology Joint Committee of the Maine State Legislature. I was duly impressed by the resolve of the committee to listen to both sides – and listen for nearly 4 hours of testimony. Below is the extended version of my comments (trimmed for the hearing to just barely fit into the three minute time allowance). For information on LD1262 and the fight to protect Monhegan, and the birds that pass through it, I’d recommend following Protect Monhegan via Facebook.

Hello. My name is Derek Lovitch. My wife and I are Pownal residents, owners of Freeport Wild Bird Supply, and field biologists in our previous lives. I am currently also a tour guide, author, and advocate for birds and birders.
I am here today to voice my strong support for LD1262. Unfortunately, I – and many other concerned citizens – are here today to support this legislation because a place we love and a way of life is under threat. While I believe the residents of Monhegan Island are the ones who should speak about the sense of place, quality of life, and socioeconomic impacts of this project, I do feel qualified – both from a degree in Environmental Policy to a career spent sharing the wonders of bird migration with the public – to speak about the threat this project poses to one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds – and birders – in the Northeast.
I personally bring dozens of clients to Monhegan Island each year, often with at least three tours per year a amounting to a minimum of 10-15 days spent on the island each spring and fall enjoying birds, contributing to the economy, and studying the wonders of bird migration.
This year alone, I expect to bring a minimum of 30-35 birders to the island for 3-6 days each, spending money on food, lodging, and let’s be honest: the brewery. I have spent over a decade visiting the island, both personally and professionally. Over that period, I have gotten to know many of the year-round and summer residents of the island, developed friendships, and learned about the trials and tribulations of Monhegan Island life. I am not naïve to the issues beyond birds and birding, nor am I ignorant of the fact that many of the supporters of this project have genuinely good intentions.
Unfortunately, while on Monhegan Island, I, and my clients, are hoping for the conditions that bring migratory birds that are crossing the Gulf of Maine in a broad front to seek shelter on Monhegan Island. Storms, wind shifts with the passage of cold fronts, low clouds and fog, and many other meteorological conditions can force exhausted migrants who find themselves out over open water to seek the nearest piece of land – the proverbial any port in a storm – to rest, refuel, and eventually continue along their epic journey.
However, these conditions also impact a bird’s ability to navigate and lead to disorientation. For reasons we still don’t full understand, when birds lose the ability to navigate by stars, they can become confused by artificial light. Perhaps in an attempt to reorient using the North Star, lights in the sky cause a bird to become confused, circling and circling, after a long flight, metabolizing their very own muscles in an attempt to reach safety and recharge. Unfortunately, countless others keep going until they drop from exhaustion or slam SMACK into a tower or turbine blade.
Think about it: a Blackpoll Warbler winging its way from Alaska sets off from the coast of Maine for an unfathomable 2 ½ day non-stop journey over the open ocean to reach the Lesser Antillies only to become disoriented by a fog bank – an all-to-common feature of the Maine Coast and spends its entire fuel load circling a silly little light placed atop a tower stuck smack dab in the middle of one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds in the region. Or, perhaps it’s even worse to think of a Magnolia Warbler born and raised in Baxter State Park who was one of the lucky ones to survive its winter in a shade-grown coffee plantation in Central America only to start the amazing journey north again a few months later.
Fighting cold fronts, avoiding predators, finding food, avoiding skyscrapers and communication towers, it finds itself drifting over the Gulf of Maine when a rapid-moving cold front exits the Maine coast and suddenly switches that favorable tailwind to a gusting headwind. Exhausted from flying through the night, the sun begins to rise, and the bird begins to desperately look for a place to land.
It descends into the low clouds to find an island, but instead sees a blinking light several hundred feet in the air, and, with the last of its fuel reserves used up, it circles and circles until it drops dead. After all that. It didn’t make it to Monhegan and the birders waiting, binoculars pointed south, anxiously awaiting a fallout on the shores of Lobster Cove.
Birding can be a paradox – we often hope for conditions that are not great for birds, but are good for our chances to see them. Many birders go to bed at night in their lodge on Monhegan hoping for those conditions. I for one, will no longer be able to sleep knowing that the conditions I am waiting for will put the critters we care passionately about at even graver risk because of a boondoggle, a cash-grab of federal subsidies, and a half-baked idea about how to maximize profit while not doing a darn thing to combat the very real and very problematic issue of Climate Change.
Wind power will be part of our energy solution. But it doesn’t work everywhere. In some places, such as Monhegan Island, the costs will far outweigh the promised benefits. This isn’t about solving Climate Change, it’s not about helping the people of Monhegan, and it’s certainly not about minimizing risks. This is about the worst place you can put such a project, from environmental to socio-economic reasons.
Conservation organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy are opposed to this project due to the threat it poses to migratory birds and Federal Endangered species such as the Roseate Tern. I am opposed to this project because it puts the place I love and the birds that find respite here at grave risk.
I for one, and the clients I travel with, will no longer visit the island if this project is built. I cannot fathom going to bed knowing that the conditions I need for a successful birding tour could result in the death of hundreds or thousands of migratory birds that night. No, I will not be able to sleep just so some wealthy family in Connecticut can sleep better with their air conditioner running and their mythological “green energy” credits making them feel OK.
I am not opposed to wind power, but I am opposed to bad ideas. This is a bad idea. The risks are too great, the rewards are too few, and migratory birds will not be saved with free internet. Therefore, I urge the committee to support this bill and let’s develop new energy technologies that will really combat climate change and do them based on sound science, solid math, and in places that minimize risk while maximizing benefits.
I sincerely thank you for your time.

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Hooded Warbler, and Other April Rarities thanks to this Storm.

While outdoor enthusiasts, those with yardwork to do, Zane at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, and many others bemoaned the coastal storm that made for inclement weather from Tuesday through Friday morning, birders from the Mid-Atlantic to Nova Scotia were gearing up.

With the large (if not overall strong) area of low pressure riding up the Atlantic seaboard in late April when numerous species are now on the move, “Rarity Fever” symptoms were reported widely. As if recent “Megas” like Vermillion Flycatcher and Fieldfare here in Maine weren’t enough to stoke the fire, friends in Cape May began posting their “wish list” of possibilities. Storms such as these, sometimes called “slingshot” events can deposit birds further north than usual, facilitate the arrival of record-early migrants, and perhaps produce some astounding vagrant.

This far north, I simply had daydreams of southern “overshoots” that occur in most years – but especially following such storm systems – such as Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, and Hooded Warbler. But I also started thinking about things from further afield like Swainson’s Warbler, all sorts of terns, and maybe even something from even further away like a South American Fork-tailed Flycatcher who overshot its goal and then got caught up in the system. Maybe a Magnificent Frigatebird? Or perhaps something else on one of my predictions lists for next birds for Maine, and myself.

While weather isn’t truly the ultimate cause of many vagrants, it certainly facilities their arrival in far-flung places. And weather can certainly impact migrants and displace them slightly further afield than they usually range. And storms like this, moving out of the Bahamas, strengthening in the South Atlantic Bight, and marching up the coast has quite a history of producing some great birding. (I wrote more in depth about some of these factors and causes of vagrancy in Chapter 4 of my first book, How to Be a Better Birder).

Here are the wind maps and surface maps from Tuesday through Thursday.
surface map, 4-25-17
wind map, 4-25-17

surface map, 4-26-17
wind map, 4-26-17

surface map, 4-27-17
wind map, 4-27-17

So, I cleared my schedule, kept an eye on the listserves to our south during the rain on Wednesday, and hit the field on Thursday, starting at Biddeford Pool. A few years ago, one similar (but stronger) storm system yielded a Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Hooded Warbler in the neighborhood, and I had similar hopes for this morning.

I got really excited when one of the first birds I saw was a Magnolia Warbler (very early, perhaps by as much as 10-14 days!). Surprisingly, it was the ONLY warbler I saw all morning, and its early arrival is undoubtedly related to the storm. My first House Wrens were right about on schedule, however, and my first Veery was only marginally early.

However, in the same yard on Third Street, and loosely associating with said Veery, was not a bird I expected at all! In fact, I have a rule that I like to instill on my birdwalk participants: if it’s April in Maine and you see a dark-spotted Catharus thrush, it IS a Hermit Thrush. This was the exception to the rule.
L1090495_GCTH1L1090520_GCTH3

There’s no doubt it was either a Gray-cheeked or a Bicknell’s Thrush, but those birds can be very challenging to ID. Generally very secretive in migration, getting good looks – let alone good photos – is often impossible. And neither is expected to be walking around front yards in a neighborhood!

It is also incredibly early, as neither of these species is usually detected in Maine (if at all, especially Gray-cheeked) until the third week of May, and sometimes not until even later. This was beyond early, and certainly suggests its arrival here was at least partially influenced by the storm system.

The overall cool gray appearance without any hints of reddish-brown anywhere (no matter what light angle I viewed it in) immediately suggested Gray-cheeked Thrush, but the date and circumstances warranted careful study. I even posted the photos online, sent them directly to friends, and added them to at least one forum, hoping for additional feedback.
L1090565_GCTH6

However, other than the seemingly “dumpy” shape of the bird, nothing here suggests Bicknell’s Thrush to me. There’s just nothing warm anywhere in this bird’s plumage, and the cheeks are finally streaked gray, not more even washed warmish-brown as in most Bicknell’s. There’s no contrast within the wings, or especially between the uppertail and the rump, either.

Although this bird’s bill is fairly extensively pale, it isn’t as bright yellow as many Bicknell’s – although I can admit to not really being a fan of this fieldmark – and even has a hint of pinkish.

In other words, as several commenters mentioned, this really looks like a “classic” Gray-cheeked Thrush, with perhaps the appearance of a smaller size and more compact shape suggestive of the subspecies minimus that breeds mostly in Newfoundland and Labrador (it’s also the subspecies whose breeding range makes the most geographical sense to appear in Maine in spring). Of course, without measurements or vocalizations, there is still a little tinge of doubt in coming to a conclusive identification.

Now, a Bicknell’s Thrush, wintering somewhere in the northern West Indies or perhaps Cuba, beginning its trek to the mountains of the northeast, could have been entrained or “slingshot” by this storm. In fact, it would make a lot of sense. But Gray-cheeked Thrushes winter mainly in northern South America, and head north through Central America. That route would not seem to be effected by this storm. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, and the storm was only a proximate cause of its arrival in Biddeford Pool.

Anyway, elsewhere in Maine, a White-eyed Vireo was in Cape Elizabeth (present through Friday) and a Summer Tanager was reported in Southwest Harbor. Early migrants included a Scarlet Tanager in Ogunquit and one found deceased in Cape Elizabeth, along with a few scattered Indigo Buntings as far inland as North Yarmouth.

Meanwhile, to our south, birders in Cape May had a White Ibis (and, even more excitingly, a –our!? – Little Egret, a first state record that may not have anything to do with the storm); a Red Phalarope and a smattering of birds just beyond their normal range, such as Summer Tanager, were in Manhattan, and a Kentucky and Yellow-throated Warbler were on Cape Cod among some of the widespread reports of “early” migrant arrivals.

During the day on Thursday, the low pressure system continued to weaken and dissipate over the Gulf of Maine, with a snotty easterly and drizzly onshore flow continuing. A weak, slow-moving cold front finally cleared things out mid-day on Friday.
surface map, 4-28-17
wind map, 4-28-17

In the dense fog on Bailey Island in Harpswell early Friday morning, I found pockets of migrants (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows) but also several surprises, led by 1 male Hooded Warbler and a White-eyed Vireo, both along Elden Point Road – the kind of southern “overshoots” we have come to expect here in Maine from these type of storms.
L1090659_WEVI,BaileyIsland,4-28-17_edited-1

There were quite a few other migrants around, as well. A total of 9 Blue-headed Vireos included a flock of 6 together, and there were scattered other migrants such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Savannah Sparrows.

An early Yellow Warbler was also present, as were marginally-early (based on the current progress of the season) included 1 Common Yellowthroat and 1 Great-crested Flycatcher, while other personal FOY’s included more on-time Black-and-white Warbler (7) and Ovenbird (1-2). 11 Palm Warblers were my seventh species of warbler on the morning (plus Pine Warblers singing at home).

Elsewhere, another Hooded Warbler was found at Timber Point in Biddeford, and smattering of other early migrants included a Warbling Vireo on the Eastern Promenade (where a goodly number of birds were reported in the fog this morning)

I can only imagine what might have been found if every peninsula and island was covered over the past few days! So, with more birders hitting the field this weekend, and more people home from work to check on their feeders, I wonder what will be found. Maybe a Painted Bunting at a feeder? A Purple Gallinule in a marsh? But you know what I would like the most? A Swallow-tailed Kite over Bradbury Mountain during my hawkwatch workshop as part of the annual Feathers Over Freeport events!

Reference:
Clement, Peter. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

FIELDFARE in Newcastle (and a rare April case of Rarity Fever!)

Last week was an incredible week in Maine birding. First up was the state’s first Vermillion Flycatcher that appeared on Hog Island on Monday the 17th. While it was #15 on my list of “Next New Birds for Maine,” HOW it was discovered defied imagination: it was seen by on observer watching the Hog Island Osprey Cam, as the black-and-scarlet little bird sallied for insects from the platform. Simply incredible.

Then on Wednesday, a long overdue(#10 on my predictions list) Fieldfare was discovered in Sheepscot Village in Newcastle. No, it wasn’t within a flock of thousands of wandering American Robins of the subspecies/clinal extreme from Newfoundland, it was in a front yard with a handful of “normal” robins. And Jeff Cherry saw it on his way to work.

I have been very busy of late with the new book, spring business at the store, the peak of the flight at the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, the obligatory spring yardwork, and all of those usual things in life, plus – and most importantly and distractingly – our dog’s failing health. With Jeannette running the Boston Marathon on Monday, chasing the Vermillion fly wasn’t in the cards for me. Neither was skipping out on the 7,000 seed delivery on Wednesday morning when the Fieldfare was found.

But when the bird was reported again at 2:30pm, I dropped what I was doing and raced up to Newcastle. I spent a couple of hours unsuccessfully looking for the bird. A Vesper Sparrow was a small consolation prize.

Now, I don’t chase very often, but a first state record within an hour’s drive is usually fair game. And I really like Fieldfares. And I’ve wanted to see one in Maine (or anywhere else in North America) for a long time. I’ve daydreamed about finding one as I searched through wintering robin flocks in orchards or migrants passing Sandy Point in late fall or Bradbury Mountain in the spring.

While it was not seen on Thursday, but I made a dumb decision of heading inland to look for a possible waterbird fallout. There was no such waterbird fallout. My first of year Ruddy Ducks at Sabattus Pond and a singing Louisiana Waterthrush at the Papermill Trail in Lisbon were the highlights. Not a Fieldfare.

My book release party was Thursday night, and I was down in Salem, Massachussetts for a book signing and presentation to the Essex County Ornithological Club on Friday night.  The Fieldfare was refound on Friday afternoon.

During a wet and dreary – but fairly productive, actually – birdwalk on Saturday morning, the Fieldfare was reported again, and it continued to be reported for regular intervals throughout the day. And as the cold and rainy day tempered business in the afternoon, Jeannette says “you should probably go” despite having plans to chase it with friends on Sunday.

So I went. And after a mere fifteen minutes, it popped out into the open. FIELDFARE!

In addition to being my 375th species in Maine (although it just fell out of the top 25 of my personal next birds in Maine), it was a new “ABA-area” bird for me. This was a good one.  I spent an hour watching it for a few minutes at a time, as it hopped between a copse of dense scrub and young trees and a mowed field, foraging with a small group of American Robins for a few minutes before disappearing again into the brush.

After about an hour, a total of 24 American Robins flew up from various corners of the fields and into the tops of some nearby Red Maples, where it lingered for about 5-10 minutes before flying off towards the center of town.
IMG_2822_FIEL1,4-22-17

Drizzle, fog, and distance precluded very good photos, but I did Facebook Live the sighting for about 30 seconds…just because.
 
Of course, I was semi-responsible as I headed back to work, while a few other folks relocated the bird much closer to the road in the village. Oh well, I still had Sunday morning.

Terez Fraser, John Lorenc, Erin Walter and I drove east and met up with Paul Doiron and Kristen Lindquist, and about 50 other fellow birders. It was not being seen, so people were beginning to split up and check other areas, besides the fields across the pond from 611 Sheepscot Road, where the bird was most often seen (including by me in the previous day).  So the 6 of us began to mosey down a promising side road, and as we strolled back to the corner, we saw the crowds were on the move.

It was seen in roughly the same spot (other side of the island of trees between the fields on the other side of the pond), but most people had scattered by now, so only a lucky few saw it (and apparently saw it pretty well). Unfortunately, it had disappeared into the larger island of trees by the time we got to the edge of the pond.

So we waited. And waited. And then waited some more. At least it was nice out.
Fieldfare_twitchers,4-23-17_edited-1

Then a couple of hours later, it was spotted in the leaf litter within the dense, young woods. It was glimpsed by many, frustratingly missed by others, and seen well by no one over the course of about 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, I had to force my carpool to depart (although we were all very much ready for lunch by then) to head back to the store for a meeting, which was frustrating to me as I had to pull my friends (only 2/3rds of which had unsatisfying glimpses) away from the stakeout. I was also the genius who suggested we walk first and caused us to miss that initial, decent observation. Well at least we had a great lunch at the Montsweag Roadhouse!  (And yeah, I did see it decently at one point, but not like I wanted).

But such is birding life.

More frustrating to me is the selfish birder who decided to walk down through the woods, opposite the group of more than 50 patient people, pishing (which thrushes don’t respond to, by the way) as he went. At one point, when the bird was coming out in the open, people could see this dumbass through their scopes, and he clearly flushed the bird back into the deeper depths…where it was not, as of at least 3:00pm that day, seen again.

While one might be able to argue he pushed the bird into our view, it seemed tough to argue that he didn’t directly ruin the opportunity for it to come out into an open edge for all to see, including those who had driven in from several states away. Of course, we all know who it was, and we all know how selfish some birders can be. And frankly, if there was one prick in the state of Maine who would act this way, it would be that guy. Thanks, buddy.

Anyway, we had a beer at Montsweag and that made me feel a little better.

Moving on…

So in the course of about a week, there was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in East Machias (also on Monday morning), a Vermillion Flycatcher in Bremen, and a friggin’ Fieldfare in Newcastle. I feel a bit hamstrung right now to hit the field as hard as I like to find out what else might be out there. Perhaps I’ll find the next one tomorrow…

Townsend’s Solitaire at Bradbury Mountain!

It was a very good day up at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, sponsored by Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Leica Sport Optics. The 2017 Official Counter, Zane Baker, had the day off today, so I was the counter for the first half of the day. Jeannette took the second shift, and were it not for Sasha’s declining health, I definitely would have remained until day’s end. We were having too much fun!

With light southwesterly winds aloft (and light and variable at the surface), record warmth, and perfect timing, we knew it was going to be a big day. Zane could not stay away, and Katrina Fenton, the 2012 through 2014 Official Counter, was visiting from New Hampshire. Several other local birders were present as well, as were hawkwatchers from New Hampshire and Mid-coast Maine. After a slow, somewhat chilly start, the day, and the hawkwatch began to heat up.

At approximately 11:10, I spotted a Black Vulture soaring over Hedgehog Mountain. It was low and relatively close, affording prolonged scope views for over five minutes before it drifted away to the north or northeast. Several personal first-of-years included 7 Northern Flickers, 1 Barn Swallow, and 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers. 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet were also first of the season for the count site.  We also had a steady trickle of migrant Tree Swallows, along with a smattering of other passerine migrants. Later in the day, two Sandhill Cranes (our 6th and 7th of the season) also passed overhead.

A steady light flow of raptors was adding up, too. 209 were tallied when I departed at 1:00, led by 59 American Kestrels and 37 Broad-winged Hawks, but a decent total of 11 species in all. (A goodly 361 was our final tally by day’s end).

Sure, we had a little rarity fever on our minds, especially after the Black Vulture (downright expected on such conditions in early to mid-April), but all hell broke loose at 12:18pm EDT. 

Then, a medium-small passerine came flying towards us, moderately high, and suggestive of an Eastern Bluebird with a thrush-like flight and shape. But as I lingered on it, I realized it was definitely not a bluebird – its flight was faster, steadier, and it was solidly colored. It also seemed a little larger and longer. It was backlit by the sun, it was coming right at me, but it was looking odd. 

As it got closer, I said “get on this passerine…Katrina, get your camera!” as she was closer to her long lens than I was to my superzoom. As it passed right overhead, still a little backlit, I yell, “TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE!”

A slim bodied, long-tailed, thrush-like bird passed overhead, with a screaming wide, bold, and buffy stripe through the near-center of the wing (obviously known to be the base of the flight feathers).

As it flew over, then headed straight away, it was finally getting into better light. And it looked gray. Quite gray. As I was calling for it to “turn, turn!” Katrina was unable to find it in the viewfinder, so switched to bins. Zane got on it, as did a couple of other birders, including Don Thompson.

Unfortunately, it did not turn, and I never saw the upperwing. I also never got a real handle on the tail, beyond silhouette.

I don’t think we had really clinched the ID yet, even though I knew it had to be a Townsend’s Solitaire. Only the Catharus thrushes share that wide and distinct buffy wing stripe, which I will address in the notes below.

I stepped aside, turning over the watch to Zane, and wrote two pages of field notes. Only then did I consult a Sibley, and I discussed the bird with others, especially Katrina who was the only other person it saw it fairly well in binoculars.

  • Bold, buff wingstripe obvious, from based of inner secondaries to end, or nearly so, of outer primaries. Wide and fairly even throughout.
  • With sun behind it, it first looked all-dark, with little to no contrast (actually thought of a blackbird at first), but got lighter as it passed roughly overhead, distinctly solid gray as it went straight away. But it was never in perfect light.
  • First impression was of a thin tail, which it may have then partially opened at one point, but as it was going away, no detail was seen (i.e. overall color or white fringes).
  • Only other possibility was a Catharus thrush, but that seems even less likely to be overhead at 12:18pm on April 11th in Maine. While Hermit Thrushes are just now arriving, and we do occasionally see “morning redetermined migration” throughout the day (e.g. some Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, along with at least one surprisingly high Eastern Phoebe today), Catharus thrushes usually don’t reorient, and if they do (at least at Sandy Point in the fall), it’s immediately after sunrise.
  • Question: could the back-lighting have made the wingstripe look wider and bolder from below? From my experience at Sandy Point, when in fact a Catharus does go overhead, that wingstripe is obvious, but it is not as obvious as in this bird. And of course, no lightening scenario would make a brown bird look cool gray.
  • Tail seemed long, and the body especially seemed too slim for a Catharus. It did not have a broad chest or pot-bellied appearance, as it was uniformly more tubular (even slimmer than a bluebird). Smaller and much skinnier than a Wood Thrush, yet larger and longer than a Veery, we of course went to Hermit Thrush as a fallback (due to seasonal status; but see discussion below).
  • Upperwing not seen. Tail pattern not deciphered.

Discussion:

– Katrina: “When I finally got on it (in bins; heading away but now in the best light we had it) it did not look brown at all, and definitely appeared gray.” Zane also thought it looked gray, not brown.

– Katrina thought the tail looked long, body slim and not pot-bellied like a Catharus. And she reviewed my notes with no additional comments or edits.

– We then consulted Sibley Guide to Eastern Birds (2nd edition): Underwing coverts not obviously pale as in Hermit Thrush, wing pattern of solitaire only similar to Swainson’s or Gray-cheeked Thrush/Bicknell’s Thrush. Of course, what would one of those species be doing here now, and flying overhead in the middle of the day? Even if a vagrant/pioneering individual of one of those species wintered far north of usual range, why would it be in flight in the middle of the day? But Townsend’s Solitaires are on the move about now, and do migrate diurnally (like bluebirds).

The light was simply not perfect, and we were unable to get photos, so we carefully discussed the bird. With several birders of various levels of experience around us, we took this as a “teaching moment” to go through the process and exemplify the caution needed to make a call of a rarity under less than ideal circumstances.  But through the process of elimination, we simply cannot come to any alternative conclusions. It was too gray, too slim, and too out of place for a Catharus thrush; we could not figure out how the lighting or the view could have resulted in a solidly-gray undersides with little noticeable contrast (definitely no spots!). Also, I’ll fallback a bit on my initial excited call of Townsend’s Solitaire.

While we would have loved a longer and closer look in better light (or a brief alightment on a nearby tree!), and of course a photo, it is impossible for me to believe this was anything other than a Townsend’s Solitaire, a rare but regular vagrant to the Northeast. This was a new record for the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, and the park in general. And it might very well go down as the bird of the season.