Category Archives: Bird Conservation

Cat Wars Book “Review”

Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella

Every now and then I find a book that I really want to bring attention to. This is one of those books.

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My plan was to do a book review here, but as I read through it, engrossed by its pages and the sound, scientific, and reasonable arguments being made – even though yes, it’s most definitely preaching to the choir here – I struggled to find a way to synthesize this into a standard book review. There’s just too much stuff that’s too important.

This book needs to be read from cover to cover, by anyone and everyone who cares about birds…and yes, truly cares about cats as well. So I failed, really, at a comprehensive analysis. I am left to simply urge – no, implore you – to read this book, from cover to cover. It gives a history of the cultural ties between humans and cats, and the problems that have arisen from cat domestication.

One particular passage really stuck out to me though:
“A majority of ecologists, ornithologists, and millions of bird aficionados see outdoor cats, whether owned or unowned, as killing machines. Many biologists are convinced that predation by this invasive species is indeed contributing to the catastrophic downward spiral of many bird and mammal populations. The tens of thousands of well-meaning people who nurture unowned cats, and the millions of domestic-cat owners who let their cats outdoors, all value these animals as sentient beings. They view them as part of the landscape, as much an element of the natural order as trees and clouds. Some in the cat advocacy world say, “We are a nation of animal lovers. We are not a nation of cat people or bird people.” Yet there is a conflict between cat advocates and bird advocates – a war, quite literally to the death in the animals’ case, whether or not the cat lovers or bird lovers will admit it.”

So yeah, did I mention I think you need to read this book?

(Plenty of copies are now in stock here at Freeport Wild Bird Supply)

Protect Monhegan!

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Today, I wanted to update you on some developments regarding the fight against the misguided and misplaced wind turbines off Monhegan Island.

I’ve written about the issue here on several occasions. I encourage you to check out these posts, and the links contained within, for some background if you need it:

1) Our Letter in Opposition of the Monhegan Wind Project & Press Coverage of the Story.  December 12, 2013.

2) Yup, We’re Still Against Industrial Wind Development near Monhegan Island. December 21, 2015.

3)  Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island. July 6, 2016.

The latest news come from the new group “Protect Monhegan,” formed by a group of island residents to fight the placement of the project. In order to keep this in their own words – and not mine – I will simply offer their recent press release below. It includes more background as well as contact information.

In the meantime, I urge you to stay abreast of the ongoing struggle. I’ll do my best to inform via this blog and our store’s Facebook page, but please “like” and follow the new Protect Monhegan Facebook page. That’s your best source for up to date information.

**********************************************************************

For immediate release

November 1, 2016

Contact: Travis Dow
(207) 594-2527
tgdow@hotmail.com

MONHEGAN RESIDENTS SAY WIND TURBINES ARE TOO CLOSE TO ISLAND

New group calls on Maine Aqua Ventus partners to re-locate the project.

MONHEGAN, Maine – A group of residents from Monhegan Island are calling on the partners in the Maine Aqua Ventus offshore wind project to move their massive turbines further away from the island, saying the proposed project will do “irreparable harm” to their community 10 miles off the Maine coast.

In a letter sent last month to the project partners, Travis Dow of the newly formed group, Protect Monhegan, said: “Monhegan is Maine’s most iconic offshore island and a place of major historical significance and natural beauty. The location of massive wind turbines less than three miles from Monhegan’s shores threatens the beauty and tranquility that has made Monhegan such a special place for so many for generations.”

The letter was sent to the leaders of the Aqua Ventus partnership: Emera, Inc., Cianbro Corporation, and the University of Maine and its Advanced Structures & Composites Center. Dow, a Monhegan resident, town official, and small businessperson, said that he has yet to receive a response.
According to Dow, what began several years ago as a proposal for a 1/8 scale wind turbine to be located off Monhegan for only two five-month periods, has now become a full-scale wind energy project, with two massive wind turbines (approximately 600 feet tall) to be located just two and a-half miles off Monhegan for the next 20 years or more.

Dow said Monhegan residents were not aware of the implications of the legislation that allowed this project to go forward on a fast track. There are no height restrictions in the legislation, and UMaine spoke only of an 85’ model being in the test site. Dow also said that the community was not represented in the negotiation of the subsequent term sheet between the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Aqua Ventus partners, which was signed prior to Monhegan hiring a lawyer.

“The whole process has been littered with misinformation and closed door meetings,” Dow said.

The Protect Monhegan letter reminds the AquaVentus project partners of Monhegan’s history, noting that it was used as a fishing camp by Native Americans, was visited by European explorers even before the Plymouth Colony was established and has been home to generations of fishing families. Monhegan also has been an inspiration to many of America’s foremost artists, and is visited by thousands of tourists and summer residents each year.

“Monhegan’s special character can never be replaced, but your wind turbines can – and must – be moved out of the island’s sightlines,” the letter states. “Simply put, Monhegan is no place to experiment with wind turbines or to establish a commercial wind farm, any more than it would be to place these massive turbines this close to Acadia National Park or Mt. Katahdin. Surely there must be other locations in the vast Gulf of Maine that would serve your purposes without forever marring Monhegan’s unrivalled 360-degree view of the ocean and incredible night skies,”

Dow also noted the importance of Monhegan from an ecological standpoint. The island is arguably the most important landfall in Maine for migrating birds along the North Atlantic Flyway. Monhegan was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1966, and the waters around Monhegan were designated a Lobster Conservation Area by the State of Maine in 1997.

Members of Protect Monhegan support the further exploration and development of offshore wind, but their letter makes it clear that they are adamant in their belief that putting wind turbines so close to Monhegan will do “irreparable harm to our beloved island.”

Protect Monhegan (facebook.com/ProtectMonhegan) is made up of island year-round residents, summer residents and friends of Monhegan. The group has been formed to fight the proposed location of the Maine Aqua Ventus wind turbines and to create a thoughtful, comprehensive, realistic vision for the island for the next 50 to 100 years.

In addition to Dow, who serves as president, other officers are Candis Cousins, vice president, Paul Hitchcox, treasurer, and Kathie Iannicelli, secretary. Protect Monhegan can be found online at facebook.com/ProtectMonhegan and can be reached by email at protectmonhegan@gmail.com or by phone at 207-691-1399.

# # #

NOTE: Travis Dow can be interviewed by Skype from Monhegan. Please contact him at (207) 594-2527 to arrange a Skype video conference or an interview on the mainland.

Additional media contact:

Ted O’Meara | Corporate Communications & Public Affairs

207-653-2392

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I am so over birding in Portland.

Walking around various former hotspots and seasonal patches of significance in and around the Portland peninsula recently (including a few yesterday), I have come to one conclusion: I am so over birding in Portland during migration!

It used to be all I did – come late fall, head to the big city, especially the peninsula, and poke around the Eastern Promenade, weedy gardens, wooded hillsides, and scrubby patches. I’ve found lots of really good birds this way, from a Yellow-throated Warbler in a small grove of pines in front of the old Scotia Prince ferry terminal to annual Yellow-breasted Chats and regular Orange-crowned Warblers and Dickcissels.

But I give up.

I’ve chronicled the destruction to the uplands at Capisic Pond Park – after having once been a shining example of urban landscaping for wildlife and users, and a great way of showing what good can come of people, politicians, and professionals working together. And then it was gone. And that’s before the pond-dredging-skating-rink-creation-project-mess started.

The lack of oversight resulted in a road being built through some of the best woods behind Evergreen Cemetery – and that was even after the same city officials and engineers working on the same (necessary) sewer repair project supposedly learned their lessons with the Capisic Pond Park section. And then there’s the road the University of New England built through the other side of the woods, spreading invasive plants deeper into the forest and destroying some of the best scrub habitat in the park for migrants. Oh yeah, and natural and unnatural sedimentation in the ponds, along with the diminishing shoreline vegetation (erosion, overuse, etc) has greatly reduced the volume of migrant birds that find food and shelter around what was once one of the best spring migrant traps in the entire state. While the cemetery is still pretty good for birding – especially in spring, after “fallouts” – the degraded habitat just doesn’t hold birds like it used to.

Next, although the area known to birders as “Dragon Field” has long since lost its bird appeal due to mismanagement that allowed for the rapid overtake of invasive plants, there won’t be much of a chance of recovering it anymore. Of course, distributed solar is the way of the future, and this is truly a great project…I just wish it was atop a warehouse roof or over a parking lot instead of one of the city’s greenspaces. But it’s mostly going to be covering Japanese Knotweed and Stinging Nettles now anyway.

Do you see a theme yet?

Urban areas present all sorts of challenges, and it takes very knowledgeable and talented land managers to balance all of the issues, environmentally, socially, and economically. But we also know how important greenspaces are to urban areas, environmentally, socially, and economically.

While I do not expect that the number one priority of any city will be “migratory bird habitat and birding opportunities,” it is clear that Portland does not prioritize at all the health of its greenspaces and the welfare of the wildlife, especially migratory birds, that call these places home for some period of time and various parts of the year.

Today, I want to focus on how much the City of Portland has destroyed the green spaces on the Portland peninsula. Surrounded by water and dense, urban development, city parks and gardens provide critical cover for migratory birds. When certain weather conditions result in migrants being deposited within the urban jungle, they are forced to seek shelter and food wherever they can.

Personally, I love urban birding: immersing myself in fallouts, finding vagrants in the oddest places – like that aforementioned Yellow-throated Warbler – and seeing so-called “late” migrants eking out an existence in seemingly inhospitable corners.

But I am running out of places to bird in the city of Portland!  Especially now, in the fall through early winter, when “lingering,” “pioneering,” and vagrant birds seek the warmer microclimates of urban parks, or become “stuck” in low-quality habitat, unable to accumulate the fuel reserves needed to move further. However marginal urban habitats are, they are absolutely critical for these birds to have a chance. Healthy migrants will simply wait out the day and take off under the cover of darkness, while others will find the resources (such as weed seed in the case of many of our native sparrows) necessary for a full recovery.

But such places are becoming impossible to find in Portland.

The once-productive trees and scrub along the Commercial Street Extension is mostly gone – developed or simply clear-cut to hell. Replacing a fairly healthy canopy is little more than regenerating knotweed, bittersweet, and buckthorn.
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Many small lots have been developed, and several years ago, the trees and brush throughout the Fore River Parkway Trail was clear cut. Not much for birds left there anymore.

Mercy Pond remains a miniscule oasis – although the edge is far to narrow to hold songbirds for very long.
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Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely much of this will remain if hospital expansion plans go through. Which seems incredible to me, as this little pond regularly hosts (are they even breeding?) State Endangered Black-crowned Night-Herons!

But I think the most egregious example of poor management and devastation of bird habitat and birding potential is along the Eastern Promenade. A favorite patch of mine since I moved here, I have seen a whopping 176 species along it, including some really “good” birds over the years. With a cumulative list of 208 species as of this year, a lot of people have enjoyed a lot of good birding in this urban greenspace.

Unfortunately, mismanagement and misguided “maintenance” continues to greatly degrade it. Native plants are significantly reduced, and invasive plants have taken over and continue to proliferate. Despite the efforts of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade (who I have worked closely with over the years), it always seems that for every step forward, there’s three or more taken back. In fact, it’s about as bad as ever now, following yet more devastating clearing in late fall of 2015.
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Continued slashing of what’s left of the native vegetation continues.  On 9/9, I noticed yet more hacked swaths like this.
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Unfortunately, this is so incredibly counter-productive on multiple levels, as all it does is allow dense and ornithologically-useless invasive plants, especially Japanese Knotweed to proliferate even more.
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And makes it easier for Asiatic Bittersweet to take over everything else.
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Meanwhile, valuable native plants like this Gray-Stemmed Dogwood is hacked to hell.
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And it’s great at accelerating erosion.
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The “Mid-Slope” Trail, which is often the most productive in late fall, has been destroyed…
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…And the weedy slopes full of goldenrods, late-blooming primrose, and other great birdfood was mowed too early this year. Sparrows will be wanting for sustenance, and those late-lingering warblers – especially Orange-crowned – will be hard pressed to find food and cover. Additionally, it seems that it was mowed in perfect time to destroy any chance Monarchs would have had to breed successfully there this year. This is particularly unnecessary and unjustified mismanagement.
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Based on the overall size of the greenspace and it’s placement along the shoreline at the northern terminus of the peninsula, there’s little doubt there will still be some birds along the Prom this fall, and perhaps even a rarity or two. But as for regular migrants and vagrants that are seeking shelter and sustenance, there will be little reason to stay very long.

Fallouts will occur because of weather events and the disorientation of migratory birds in city lights (especially in fog) and those birds will still descend on the Prom. However, most will likely leave as soon as they can, winging it inland in “morning redetermined migration,” hopefully not hitting windows or being hit by cars as they do.  It also likely means birding opportunities will be greatly reduced as these birds depart immediately in search of better habitat. Get there early!

But the exceptional days of fall birding, such as thousands of White-throated Sparrows scratching in the undergrowth or several Orange-crowned Warblers working the meadows, are unlikely to occur anymore. Birders lose. Birds lose more.

And what does any of this accomplish? It looks like crap. Thickets grow back denser, and people move back in – they’re just harder to see now. And then you clear-cut once again. And in between, tired and hungry migrant birds find little. And birders go elsewhere. Great solution.

As for me, with “Rarity Season” approaching and weather getting cooler, birds seek out warmer microclimates, like sunny hillsides, urban lots, and so on, where moderated temperatures can extend the availability of food resources, even insects.  This is the time of year – through the “Christmas Count Season” – where I usually would spend an increased amount of time birding all of the nooks and crannies throughout the peninsula, looking for late migrants and hoping for rarities.

Unfortunately, with so few opportunities left in Portland, I’m forced to look elsewhere. That means fewer eyes covering what’s left of the habitats, and fewer lunches I’ll be eating in town and fewer cash-burning errands.

But much more importantly, there are just fewer places that tired and desperate birds can go to find safety and refuel. That means even more birds hitting windows, being hit by cars, and being killed by cats. All of the trials and tribulations of a bird finding itself in an urban environment are exacerbated when there’s no good habitat left.

And all of the reasons there’s less habitat left in an urban environment are exacerbated when open space is managed as poorly as it is in the City of Portland. For a city that loves to bill and market itself as being “green,” it really does a terrible job in its greenspaces. While cities who honestly attempt to make themselves greener encourage or even mandate “bird safe” building guidelines to reduce collisions with glass surfaces (Portland on the other hand, promotes new developments with glass predominating), and work on “Lights Out!” campaigns to reduce the disorientation of birds from light pollution.

Taking things even further, 24 cities (Baltimore was the most recent) have signed onto the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s “Urban Bird Treaty City Program” which works to:

  • Protect, restore, and enhance urban/suburban habitats for birds
  • Reduce hazards to birds
  • Educate and engage citizens in monitoring, caring about, and advocating for birds and their conservation
  • Foster youth environmental education with a focus on birds
  • Manage invasive species to benefit and protect birds
  • Increase awareness of the value of migratory birds and their habitats, especially for their intrinsic, ecological, recreational, and economic significance

Now that’s what a “Green” Portland should be doing. Instead, all it does is fire up the brush-hogs and chain saws.

I’ll be birding elsewhere this Rarity Season. I just hope the birds find somewhere better to go as well.

Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island

As many of you know by now, Monhegan Island has become near and dear to our hearts. It is an iconic birding destination in spring and fall which we, and many other birders, enjoy frequenting on our own as well as while leading tours. Unfortunately, the construction of wind power turbines within 3 miles of the island is closer to becoming a reality, and now more than ever requires action!

Hiking_East_Side,5-19-15

We are not opposed to wind power. But we are opposed to poorly-sited projects that put inordinate numbers of birds at risk. This is quite possibly the worst place in the state of Maine for such a wind power project due to its concentrations of migratory birds. And therefore we feel personally and professionally obligated to do whatever we can to defeat the plan, change the design and lighting to minimize impacts, or, if all else fails, mitigate the potential consequences.

Our most recent statement was posted to the blog this past December, as this misguided project was resurrected from the dead.

Our initial concern about the project was described in this letter and press release from 2013. The link includes our letter, as well as some links to press coverage of our concerns.

In the case of Monhegan, aesthetic concerns are directly tied to not just a sense of place, but the tourism economy. Jobs and livelihoods are put at risk – along with property values – if there is an outsized visual or auditory impact. The visual impact on some of the best views from the island – many of which have been made famous by some of the region’s most famous artists – will be negatively impacted by the placement of this project.

Additionally, while I will not speak for others, suffice it to say that birding tourism will decline. In addition to the direct mortality of birds that is likely, especially under the weather circumstances that cause “fallouts” that are the thing Monhegan birding legends are made of, there are no small number of birders who simply won’t want to look at those blinking lights atop the turbine towers (the biggest direct threat to migratory birds as it will attract and disorient already stressed and confused migrants). I for one will be forgoing my 2-3 tours annually to the island – I simply cannot imagine looking out at those blinking lights knowing the conditions that we are hoping for to bring countless birds on the island for our enjoyment will result in the death of countless birds as they collide with the turbines or simply drop dead of exhaustion. I’ll have to go somewhere else.

Instead of addressing the impacts that such projects cause, the wind industry simply denies the problem exists, suppressing data that proves otherwise, and hiding the facts behind a cloak of “proprietary information.” We know what they are hiding, and they are hiding the massive destruction of birds and bats from poorly sited projects (not all projects, if sited correctly and operated accordingly, will have a sizeable impact). We have the knowledge and expertise to reduce, if not eliminate, much of the direct threat that lighted structures of all kinds have on birds. But instead of addressing lighting color, intensity, and flash interval, the wind industry (unlike the communications industry), simply denies the problem exists.  Just like Big Tobacco and Bog Oil, it’s cheaper (or something) to deny, deny, deny than do anything at all.

Unfortunately, due to false pretenses and false promises, the project was approved and is once again on its way to becoming a dreadful reality. Luckily, people who believe in the island – its people, its birds, its economy, and everything that makes Monhegan, Monhegan, are not lying down as the University of Maine and Aqua Ventus clearly hoped. They are not willing to give up everything that makes this place so special for some free electricity and internet (maybe).

Below, I have copied the statement released on July 5, 2016 by the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition. Jeannette and I, and our business, Freeport Wild Bird Supply are fundamentally opposed to the construction of industrial wind turbines and towers in close proximity to Monhegan Island. Therefore, we are willing to put our money where our mouth is (this gets expensive; I have a big mouth!) and we will be supporting the campaign to raise money for the defense of the birds that pass through Monhegan Island.

First of all, Freeport Wild Bird Supply will be donating $500 to the fight. We urge you to consider a donation, of any size, to protect the birds and the way of life on Monhegan Island (see the letter below for instructions).

Additionally, we will donate 100% of the proceeds of EVERY optics sale in July to the cause. In other words, every cent we would earn from selling any pair of binoculars, spotting scope, phone-scoping adapter, or tripod through the end of the month will go to the fight. So if you have been thinking of a new pair of bins, do it this month, and help us save the migrants of Monhegan in the process.

We will also, personally, and professionally, be continuing to support the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition in any way we can, and we urge you to join us. Please, for the sake of the birds and birding on Monhegan, read the following statement that was released yesterday by Travis Dow for the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition, and we encourage you to add to the support.

“Hello Everyone…Travis, here. A new group is forming. Here is a statement (and a plea for donations) that we put out today. We have yet to have a name, but here is our intent:

A group of concerned Monhegan community members have sought legal advice concerning the Maine Aqua Ventus wind turbine project. This project would place two 585 foot wind turbines 2.7 miles off the southern coast of Monhegan. The information about potential impacts from the project on our unique and iconic island has been contradictory and incomplete. Given the possibility of too many unknowns and unintended consequences, we are compelled to protest the siting of this experiment.

Our objective is to uphold and protect Monhegan’s environmental, historical, and social legacy:

* In 1954, a Certificate of Organization was issued to the Monhegan Associates and was registered with the State of Maine. The Associates have been charged with a mission to preserve Monhegan’s environs, “as well as the simple, friendly way of life that has existed on Monhegan as a whole.” The Associates own approximately 380 acres of land, comprising about two-thirds of the island;

* In 1966, Monhegan was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

* In 1997, the waters around Monhegan were designated a Lobster Conservation Area by the State of Maine, and have had a regulated fishing season since the early 1900’s;

* Monhegan is an important landfall for migrating birds along the North Atlantic flyway;

* Monhegan is home to the highest ocean-side cliffs on the eastern seaboard. The island’s iconic vistas have been recorded by some of the most important artists and writers of our time, including, George Bellows, Edward Hooper, N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, and many others;

* Monhegan is one of the last year-round island communities in Maine and is heavily supported by an active tourism economy.

* Monhegan is home to many of us.

It must be emphasized that we are not against the wind turbine project itself, just the siting of the project. We are not willing to risk Monhegan’s extraordinary legacy for an experimental wind project. The project can move. Monhegan’s character is irreplaceable.

Legal counsel has informed us that Monhegan may not have been afforded due process and that there is likely a case to be made that a variety of legal procedures were not properly followed. It is also clear that we cannot delay.

We are in the process of raising $25,000 to retain Doyle & Nelson as legal counsel. Jon Doyle is the attorney that helped Monhegan establish the Lobster Conservation Area. We have already raised over $13,000.00, from a large number of people, and your contribution will help reach this goal. Any amount will help. Checks can be made out to Doyle & Nelson, and sent to Travis Dow at P.O. Box 132, Monhegan, Maine 04852. Checks will not be cashed until reaching this funding goal. For more information, contact Travis at tgdow@hotmail.com, .”

surf at Lobster Cove

2016 MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekend PLUS Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

As I do most Memorial Day weekends, I head to Monhegan Island with a tour group for my “MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekend.”  But this was not going to be “just” a weekend on this wonderful, joyful, and bird-filled place. This was going to be truly special – it was “Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

A small group arrived with me on Friday, and boy did we hit the ground running. The first bird we saw off the boat was a Purple Martin zipping overhead – a nice rarity to get things started. As if my usual Monhegan-stoked Rarity Fever wasn’t already in full effect, the next bird we saw was a wet Empid. And let the games begin! Of course, this one was a pretty straightforward Alder Flycatcher after we got good looks at it and heard it call.
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American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, and Blackpoll Warblers were common and conspicuous as it took us over an hour just to walk up Dock Road!  A great look at a male Bay-breasted Warbler near the Ice Pond was a treat, and we caught up with part of the small flocks of Red and White-winged Crossbills that have been wandering around the island. We saw at least 8 Red and at least 6 White-winged, including fresh juveniles of each – likely having bred out here in the late winter and early spring.

A Sora calling in the marsh didn’t really stop all weekend, and Yellow Warblers were particularly conspicuous around town.
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And our FOY Novelty pizza.
Novelty Pizza

While I – and the group – were hearing a little too much “you should have been here yesterday,” we were pretty content with the leftovers of the fallout, with 16 species of warblers by day’s end, including impressive numbers of Northern Parulas.
NOPA

A rare-in-spring Dickcissel flew over the Trailing Yew as we awaited coffee, soon followed by a close-passing Yellow-billed Cuckoo. After a strong flight overnight, there were a lot of new birds around. Fueled by the delicious Birds & Beans coffee being brewed by the Trailing Yew all weekend, we began our birding, soon picking up lots of new arrivals including Cape May Warbler and Swainson’s Thrush.

Apple trees in full bloom all around town were one of the major draws for birds and birders. In fact, you could basically pick an apple tree and sit in front of it long enough to see at least one of all of the common migrants that were about, such as Magnolias Warbler…
MAWA male

MAWA female

…and Chestnut-sided…
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Jeannette met up with the rest of the tour group arriving on the first boat from New Harbor, and caught up with us after catching up with two of the most cooperative Philadelphia Vireos you’ll ever meet that we all enjoyed along Dock Road.
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In town, we heard a White-eyed Vireo, another rarity (although one of the expected ones out here), ran into a few more of both species of crossbills behind the Ice Pond, and spotted the young Humpback Whale that has been making regular appearances close to shore off the island’s western shore!  And this Scarlet Tanager…which seemed an appropriate find since we have been consuming the coffee named for it!
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After hearing a singing Mourning Warbler earlier in the day for our 20th species of warbler on the trip, we had a handful of glimpses of a skulking female near the Yew. I turned around to follow a flitting Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Training my bins on the flycatcher, I first focused on the branch behind it, which turned out to be hosting a roosting Common Nighthawk!
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83 species of birds on the day, including 19 species of warblers made for one helluva day, but the fun was just beginning! In addition to my annual tour, this was the weekend of Birds On Tap – Monhegan!

A collaboration between our Freeport Wild Bird Supply, Trailing Yew, Birds & Beans, and Monhegan Brewing, we took our “Birds on Tap” series of events offshore to celebrate birds, migration, bird conservation (especially through consumer choices like what coffee to drink), and, yes, beer!

And one of the truly special events was a limited, 31-gallon batch of a special coffee-infused milk stout from Monhegan Brewing, featuring a pound and a half of the dark roast Scarlet Tanager coffee from Birds & Beans!
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I had the honor of announcing the official release, taking some of the first sips of this delicious light-bodied stout featuring a subtle sweetness from lactose perfectly balanced with a bitter roastiness from the coffee.
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ON PORCH

Of course, we were also still birding. I promise!
GROUP AT BREWERY

In fact, we momentarily cleared out the brewery when a possible Orange-crowned Warbler (one was seen by others over the past two days) was spotted nearby. Rushing over, we carefully studied the bird before reaching the conclusion that it was indeed a pale Tennessee Warbler.
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After an unfortunate but necessary cancellation from our original speaker, Dr. Steve Kress arrived to save us – admittedly a feat marginally less heroic than what he did for puffins and endangered seabirds all over the world!

 

Giving the weekend’s keynote presentation on his work to bring Atlantic Puffins back to nearby Eastern Egg Rock, Steve explained the challenges he and the puffins faced before finally realizing his novel approach finally bore fruit, or should I say, pufflings.
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Overnight, a back door cold front sagged southward, shifting the winds to an easterly direction and limiting the arrival of new migrants to the island. Our “Morning Flight Watch” with plentiful free Birds & Beans coffee for all at the Trailing Yew wasn’t too eventful, but things definitely picked up for the post-breakfast walk.

 

Jeannette led my tour group, and the birding was still a bit slow, relatively speaking. But, they finally made their way down to the pump house to see Eastern Kingbirds flycatching in the marsh. And, up to the lighthouse for the first time which was highlighted by a fantastic view of a female Blackburnian Warbler.
BLBW female

Meanwhile, Kristen Lindquist assisted me in leading the free, open-to-all birdwalk as part of the weekend’s special events. A nice mix of birders, residents, and visitors enjoyed a casual stroll. We chatted as we went, covering a variety of topics from bird migration to conservation to coffee to the ill-conceived industrial wind development scheme for the island’s southern waters.

 

Some folks, new to birding, may have left with the impression that Red-eyed Vireos were about the most common bird in the world, as quite a few were calmly and methodically foraging through apple trees in and around town.
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But perhaps this male Blackburnian Warbler would end up being a “spark” bird for someone! Because male Blackburnian Warbler!
BLBW male

With a light easterly wind continuing, and our group back together after more Novelty pizza, we walked up to Burnt Head, where we enjoyed some nice close passes from Northern Gannets
NOGA

Jeannette and I spent an extra night on the island, knowing we would need a little time to unwind after the even-more-chaotic-than-expected weekend of events. After a great dinner with friends, we listened to two Soras calling from the marsh and an American Woodcock still displaying somewhere overhead before turning in.

We awoke on Monday to dense fog and no visible migration on the radar, but the birding was actually quite good. We found a Nelson’s Sparrow in the Lobster Cove marsh, but also enjoyed how the damp weather (mist, drizzle, and a few showers) were keeping activity low and close, easily viewed in the blooming apple trees around town once again.
As a warm front passed through, with only a little more drizzle but rapidly warming temperatures and clearing skies, we took a post-pizza hike, heading deeper into the woods, which netted more of the island’s breeding species, such as many more Black-throated Green Warblers.
BTNW

Somehow – now how did this happen? – our hike ended at the brewery, where another pour of the Birds & Beans-infused beer was in order.
CLOSE UP POUR

Unfortunately, especially since the sun was now shining brightly, it was indeed time for us to head back to the real world, so Jeannette and I begrudgingly plodded down to the dock and boarded the Hardy Boat for the return.  It’s never easy saying goodbye to the island – its birds and our friends there – but today was especially challenging as we know a fight about the future of the island – including many of the migratory birds that pass over and through here – is looming.
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Here’s the complete daily checklist for the weekend:
26-May 27-May 28-May 29-May
1 Canada Goose 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck x Mallard 0 1 0 0
2 Mallard 2 10 12 8
3 Common Eider x x x x
4 Ring-necked Pheasant 3 3 3 4
5 Common Loon 1 1 0 1
6 Northern Gannet 0 0 12 0
7 Double-crested Cormorant x x x x
8 Great Cormorant 0 0 0 1
9 Great Blue Heron 0 1 0 0
10 Green Heron 1 0 0 0
11 Osprey 0 1 0 0
12 Bald Eagle 2 1 0 0
13 Merlin 0 1 0 1
14 Virginia Rail 0 0 0 1
15 Sora 1 1 2 1
16 American Woodcock 0 0 1 0
17 Black Guillemot x x x x
18 Laughing Gull x x 12 4
19 Herring Gull x x x x
20 Great Black-backed Gull x x x x
21 Common Tern 2 0 0 0
22 Mourning Dove 8 10 4 6
23 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0 1 0 0
24 Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0
25 Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 3 2 2
26 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0 1 0 0
27 Downy Woodpecker 4 4 2 0
28 Northern Flicker 0 1 1 1
29 Eastern Wood-Pewee 2 10 4 6
30 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 4 0 5
31 Alder Flycatcher 1 2 0 0
32 Willow Flycatcher 0 4 0 1
33 “Traill’s” Flycatcher 0 6 2 1
34 Least Flycatcher 5 8 2 5
35 Eastern Kingbird 8 14 7 6
36 WHITE-EYED VIREO 0 1 0 0
37 Philadelphia Vireo 2 3 0 0
38 Red-eyed Vireo 15 100 30 25
39 Blue Jay 4 4 6 6
40 American Crow x x x x
41 Tree Swallow 8 2 2 2
42 Cliff Swallow 0 1 0 0
43 Barn Swallow 0 0 2 0
44 PURPLE MARTIN 0 0 0 0
45 Black-capped Chickadee x x x x
46 Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 4 2 3
47 House Wren 0 2 2 2
48 Winter Wren 0 0 0 1
49 Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 2 2 4
50 Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0
51 American Robin 10 8 10 8
52 Gray Catbird x x x x
53 Brown Thrasher 1 0 2 0
54 Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0
55 European Starling x x x x
56 Cedar Waxwing 30 80 60 40
57 Ovenbird 0 1 0 0
58 Northern Waterthrush 1 1 0 0
59 Black-and-white Warbler 8 10 6 3
60 Tennesee Warbler 1 10 1 1
61 Nashville Warbler 1 1 1 2
62 MOURNING WARBLER 0 3 0 0
63 Common Yellowthroat x x x x
64 American Redstart 25 40 10 15
65 CAPE MAY WARBLER 0 1 0 0
66 Northern Parula 40 50 20 20
67 Magnolia Warbler 5 15 12 20
68 Bay-breasted Warbler 1 0 0 0
69 Blackburnian Warbler 3 3 2 2
70 Yellow Warbler 20 20 25 20
71 Chestnut-sided Warbler 15 15 10 15
72 Blackpoll Warbler 20 70 30 40
73 Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 3 1 2
74 Yellow-rumped Warbler 0 4 1 2
75 Black-throated Green Warbler 6 7 10 30
76 Canada Warbler 0 1 1 0
77 Wilson’s Warbler 1 0 0 1
78 Eastern Towhee 0 1 0 0
79 Chipping Sparrow 4 1 1 0
80 NELSON’S SPARROW 0 0 0 1
81 Song Sparrow x x x x
82 Lincoln’s Sparrow 0 1 0 1
83 Swamp Sparrow 0 1 0 1
84 White-throated Sparrow 1 2 2 1
85 Scarlet Tanager 0 2 0 0
86 Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 8
87 Rose-breasted Grosbeak 0 1 0 1
88 Indigo Bunting 1 3 1 0
89 DICKCISSEL 0 1 0 0
90 Bobolink 2 6 3 0
91 Red-winged Blackbird x x x x
92 Common Grackle x x x x
93 Baltimore Oriole 4 2 2 1
94 Purple Finch 2 2 2 1
95 RED CROSSBILL 8 2 3 ?
96 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL 6 8 0 12
97 Pine Siskin 15 30 30 40
98 American Goldfinch 6 4 4 4

Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

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“Coffee Warbler” would be a better name for the Magnolia Warbler due to their affinity, and perhaps even reliance, on shade-grown coffee plantations in winter.

Beer + bird-friendly coffee + birds + migration + Monhegan + Dr. Steve Kress* = Epic.

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You never know what will show up on Monhegan on Memorial Day weekend, like this female Hooded Warbler.

For a while now, I have been hinting at a big event in the works for Memorial Day Weekend on Monhegan Island. Partnering with Birds & Beans Coffee, Monhegan Brewing, and The Trailing Yew, Freeport Wild Bird Supply is pleased to announce:

Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

We have the “Birds on Tap!” lecture series at Rising Tide in partnership with Dr. Noah Perlut, and the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series in conjunction with the Maine Brew Bus, and now, we’re going even bigger with a weekend on the birding Mecca of Monhegan Island!
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Eastern Kingbirds.

But now we’re adding coffee to the mix, specifically bird-friendly, shade-grown, organic, and fair-trade certified – not to mention absolutely delicious – Birds & Beans coffee! Roasted right here in Maine, Birds & Beans (available at Freeport Wild Bird Supply and several other retailers around the state) coffee carries the “gold standard” of certification, the “Bird Friendly” label of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. With this level of certification, we can protect the rainforest habitat required for the Neotropical migrants that us birders flock to places like Monhegan Island in spring and fall to see.
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Want to see warblers, vireos, tanagers, and orioles? Well then we really can’t afford to lose more rainforest where these birds spend up to eight months of every year. So this year, while enjoying the migrants that pass over and through Monhegan, we’re going to work to save them. By drinking coffee…and a little beer.
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Northern Parula on springtime apples on Monhegan.

Dr. Stephen Kress will be giving a program titled: “Saving Seabirds: Lessons from Puffins and Terns”. Worldwide, about one third of all seabird species are globally threatened due to human caused threats. A recent study has shown that 70% of all seabirds have vanished in the last 60 years. Now, often at the last hour, there is a bold approach emerging to help some of the most threatened species. Dr. Kress will review how techniques developed on Maine islands have led to the restoration of puffins and terns to historic nesting islands. He will also discuss how these techniques are helping to expand breeding ranges and reduce risks to extinction worldwide while serving as a bellwether to the effects of commercial fishing and climate change. His lecture includes reviews of several inspiring and hopeful seabird restoration projects worldwide. Dr. Kress will also share the recent discovery of the previously unknown winter home for puffins- to an area known as New England’s remarkable ‘coral canyons and seamounts’ off the NE continental shelf. Discovery of the puffin wintering area provides an additional reason to protect this biologically diverse habitat.

Dr. Kress is Vice President for Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society and Director of Project Puffin and the Hog Island Audubon Camp. His career has focused on developing techniques for managing colonial nesting seabirds. In this role, he manages 13 seabird nesting islands in Maine that are home to more than 42,000 seabirds of 27 species. Each year his program trains about 25 interns; hundreds of professional seabird biologists can trace their first interest in seabirds to Project Puffin. Methods first developed in Maine such as seabird chick translocations and social attraction are now standard practice worldwide. Dr. Kress received his Ph.D. from Cornell University and his Master’s and undergraduate degrees from Ohio State University. In the summer he lives in Bremen and winters in Ithaca, NY with his wife Elissa and daughter Liliana. He is author (with Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe) of a new autobiography (Project Puffin: the Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock). The book tells the inside story of how puffins were brought back to Egg Rock and other Maine islands.

 

The Trailing Yew will be serving Birds & Beans Coffee for its guests all weekend, and there will be an ample supply available to fuel Sunday Morning. We’ll begin by sipping coffee while observing the “Morning Flight” above the Trailing Yew and keeping an eye on the spruces around the property – often one of the most productive patches on the island at sunrise! After breakfast, local experts will lead a birdwalk to some of the nearby hotspots, departing the Yew at 9:00am and returning around 11:00am.

Memorial Day weekend is prime time to view migrants on their way north, in full breeding garb, and we’ll also be seeking rarities – unusual species from all directions often show up on this weekend; expect the unexpected.

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Such as near-annual Summer Tanagers…

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… or, as in 2014, Maine’s first-ever Brewer’s Sparrow!

“But wait,” many of you are saying, “you said something about beer!” It is called “Birds on Tap!” afterall, so beer will definitely be at the forefront of this special weekend. But not just any beer, Monhegan Brewing’s fantastic beer! In fact, the event kicks off on Saturday afternoon with an exclusive, limited-edition, small-batch coffee stout brewed with Birds & Beans! “Beer-listers” will want to head out just for this one-time offering, just like birders flock to Monhegan for those once-in-a-lifetime bird sightings!
Sasha_atMonheganBrewery,5-26-14_edited-1Monhegan_Brewing,5-18-15_edited-1

Kenn and Kim will be signing books, birds will be discussed, and beer will be imbibed. And that’s just the kickoff!

Sold yet?

This is going to be a one of a kind event, so you’ll want to make your reservations soon. You can join my MonhegZen Birding Weekend Tour for 1, 2, or 3 days (see details on the “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page of our website) or make your reservations to spend a night on the island (our group, and our guest speakers, will be staying and dining at the Trailing Yew if you would like to join us!) and join us for some of these outstanding events…all of which are completely free (with books and beer available for purchase). Edit (5/12): NOTE: The tour is full, but all of the following events are free and open to the public, with no registration necessary.

Here’s the complete schedule of events.
Saturday, May 28th:
3:00pm – Release of Monhegan Brewing Company’s coffee-infused Milk Stout. Location: Monhegan Brewing Co.
7:30pm – Presentation by Dr. Stephen Kress. Location: community church. (Note: Trailing Yew will be offering an early dinner service at 6pm).

Sunday, May 29th:
6:30-7:30am – Casual birding while sampling B&B coffee with local experts around the Trailing Yew
9:00-11:00am – Guided birdwalk with local experts (Location: begins and ends at the Trailing Yew)

You often hear birders on Monhegan exclaim “it doesn’t get any better than this!” Except now, it has! I sincerely hope you’ll join us on the island for this fun-filled weekend, as if you needed more incentive than visiting Maine’s premier migration hoptspot!

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Monhegan, 5-21-11_edited-1

BBlogofinalThis. Is. Going. To. Be. Awesome.

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St. Vincent and St. Lucia (with a quick stop in Barbados), Feb 2016!

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St. Lucia Parrot.

Awoken by the light and warmth of the sun, I could muster little more than to roll over, push the curtains aside, and look at the tiny brown bird sitting on the fence. My lifer Barbados Bullfinch! Jeannette staggered to the window to glimpse it as well. We then went back to sleep for a couple more hours.

Those extra two hours did little to alleviate our exhaustion, but hey, at least we saw our bullfinch! The only endemic landbird on Barbados (as well as an endemic subspecies of Carib Grackle, which we also saw out the window), this was the reason for our layover here. A layover that was supposed to be 24 hours, including some time to explore and a get a full night’s rest. Instead, we had 10 hours on the island. And by the time we finally got out of bed for real, it was only about 5 hours – and that included getting to and waiting at the airport.

See, our trip from Maine was anything but smooth. During the second half of the Super Bowl, our early am flight from Portland to JFK in New York was cancelled, and everything was re-booked for two full days later. That was not going to work. So Jeannette spent the better part of the half on hold, and eventually getting us on a flight the next afternoon, and rebooking our JFK-Barbados flight.

Jet Blue ostensibly cancelled that early am flight due to weather, but that was complete B.S. There was nothing more than some wet snow at JFK that next morning, and snow didn’t reach Maine until after noon. There would not have been any interference with that 5:20am flight.

But there was a storm coming, so we were worried about our 3:10pm flight out of Portland. Instead of chancing it, we took the 6:30am Concord Trailways bus from New York City (a newer service, under better circumstances, this was actually a very pleasant experience and one we would consider again…especially at only $69 per person each way). 6 hours later, we walked a mile to a subway station for the E train, and took the E to the Airtrain. While on the Airtrain, a text message alerted us to the arrival of our original flight to Barbados. Salt in the wounds. Moments later, the Airtrain was evacuated when someone left a bag on board.

Finally arriving at the airport, we had 8 hours to explore. 8 hours is a lot in an airport terminal. Anyway, at least we were there, and our 9:30 pm flight out of JFK left with only a minor delay, and we were on our way.

We arrived on Barbados at 3:30am, cleared customs, and then got a cab to our Christ Church guesthouse where we were supposed to spend the night. We had alerted them to our delay, but when our cab dropped us off and sped away, no one was to be found. We knocked, and knocked some more, and finally got someone to pick up the phone. We crawled into our room at about 5:00am.

It was about 7:30 when I looked out the window, and by the time we made it outside (sans coffee, so it was really a struggle! And thank goodness we travel with Cliff Bars) we had just little more than an hour to wander. But Barbados Bullfinch was as common and conspicuous as promised, and so were the grackles.  And Bananaquits – one of our favorite birds in the world.

A short walk fueled by a Coca-Cola from a little shop provided just a glimpse into the island’s town avifauna, such as zippy Black-faced Grassquits, stunning Green-throated Caribs, and ubiquitous Gray Kingbirds.
1_edited-1Our Barbados guest house.

1a_edited-1With bullfinch habitat right out the door.

2a_edited-2Caribbean Elaenia

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Barbados Bullfinch.

2c_edited-2Green-throated Carib.

2d_edited-2Carib Grackle

3_edited-1View of Kingstown from Grenadine Hotel.

But before we knew it, we were back at the airport. 40 minutes after departure we were back on the ground – and back on schedule – in St. Vincent, the first of our two primary destinations of our trip. We were kinda awake on the cab ride to our hotel, the Grenadine House, on the outskirts of Kingstown. An early dinner, and then early to bed. It was a much needed night of rest.

Unfortunately, we had another snafu, as our birding guide for the day had to postpone because the truck she was going to be using for the day broke down. Luckily, we had two full days on the island, so we just rescheduled for the next day.

This turned out to work to our advantage, as we awoke to pouring rain in the morning. Once again, we went back to bed.

Finally revived, we took a walk to the nearby botanical gardens. We were finally birding for real (read: awake), and enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with some of the common birds of the region, including Grenada Flycatcher, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, and Scaly-naped Pigeons. And the spiffy all-black St. Vincent race of the Bananaquit – one of our favorite birds just got even better!

The afternoon was spent wandering the markets and shops of Kingstown, adding a few species to our fledgling island list along the waterfront, such as migrant Barn Swallows and resident Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
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5_edited-1Cannonball Tree flower.

6_edited-2St. Vincent Bananaquit.

6a_edited-2Gray Kingbird

7_edited-1St. Vincent Parrot captive breeding program.

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Day 3, 2/11:
Lystra Culzac-Wilson (one of the island’s two birding guides) picked us up early in the morning, and by 6:00 we were already on the trail. Shortly after sunrise, from an overlook, we had spotted our quarry: St. Vincent Parrots! At least 15 in all, with pairs and family groups (pairs plus a youngster from the previous year) squawking from nearby hillsides, flying from ridge to ridge, and feeding in trees across the valley. It was cloudy, and the light was still low, and most of the birds were far, so photography was a challenge.

However, Jeannette managed a couple of shots of a close fly-over, and we did enjoy great views as the birds flew around.  Wow. What a bird!  (Yeah, I know, our pictures don’t do it justice.)

Moseying along the nearby Vermont Nature Trail, Purple-throated Caribs were our next lifer – big, gorgeous, stunning hummers.  The endemic subspecies of House Wren finally showed itself, and we saw regional endemics like Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Lesser Antillean Tanager for the first time since we visited Grenada 7 years ago.

But the endemic and Endangered Whistling Warbler eluded us, so we were off to the other side of the island to search for it. On some seemingly-random trail (accessed by crossing some farm fields and cattle pasture) in the Montreal area (yes, we traveled from Vermont to Montreal, but had to pass through Mesopotamia to do it!), we hiked up yet more stairs (there are a lot of stairs on trails in St. Vincent, we found) and after quite some effort, Lystra whistled a Whistling Warbler into our vicinity, and after a couple of glimpses, I was treated to a stunning view as this shy little bird popped out in the open for a moment just where I happened to be looking. Unfortunately, Jeannette wasn’t looking in the same exact place, so she only caught a fleeting glimpse. Lystra worked hard for us though.

Our lifer Brown Tremblers a’ trembling were anything but fleeting, as near the bottom of the trail three birds put on quite a show. The “chocolate thrasher-wren” was one of our most-wanted non-endemics (but limited to the Lesser Antilles) of the trip, so it was nice to get a good show.
9_edited-19a_edited-2St. Vincent Parrots!

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Day 4, 2/12.
Since Jeannette wasn’t completely satisfied with her Whistling Warbler, we decided to try again at the Vermont Nature Trail. We glimpsed a few more parrots, had some better looks at Purple-throated Carib, but unfortunately only heard a single Whistling Warbler. We knew it was time to give up when several busloads of cruise ship passengers arrived on the trail, quite a few clearly out of their element and voicing their displeasure about things like steps, mud, and the pleasantly few mosquitoes.

Back in Kingstown, we finally twitched some delectable curried goat at Stoplight 2 restaurant, on Lystra’s recommendation. As you know, food is second only to birds when we travel, and it’s a local place off the tourist route (well, what there was for a tourist route here) that we love to find.

Also, unlike most tourists, we prefer mass transit, and although we did need a cab to get to the Vermont Trail in the morning, the afternoon was spent traveling strictly by mini-bus. Cheap, easy, a great way to see the towns, meet the people, and especially here (as in Grenada), listen to some local beats.

A short trip to Villa Beach was a change of scenery from the rainforest, and added several birds to our paltry island list, including Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, Osprey, and Belted Kingfisher. A walk into the village of Villa Flat added Tropical Mockingbird, and since we were on the island’s dry side, most of the Bananaquits had yellow-bellies. Undoubtedly, the extra melanin was a benefit in the wet environs, where it likely helps protect the feathers from mold or lice or something.

The Friday afternoon-evening streets of Kingstown were hopping, so after a couple more Harouns (the local endemic lager), we foraged for dinner, finding a great little barbeque stand near the harbor, where we enjoyed a little local flavor – both food wise and conversation. Actually, talking with the grillmaster was a lot of fun and provided that view into local life that you don’t get at a sterilized resort. I do think we were officially “liming,” which is an art form of relaxation and conversation that is practiced like a religion in the Caribbean. Oh yeah, and the BBQ pork was outstanding – perfectly succulent, tender, and the sauce hit every note.
12_edited-112a_edited-214_edited-1Curried Goat at Stoplight2 Restaurant.

15_edited-1 Villa Beach

16_edited-117_edited-1Kingstown BBQ

Day 5, 2/13.
We felt our return to the Vermont Nature Trail the prior day in the hopes of improving Jeannette’s view of the Whistling Warbler precluded exploration of more of the island and its habitats. However, despite the temptation to go further afield, we decided to take it easy (despite having also missed the endemic subspecies of Brown-throated Solitaire which apparently had not yet begun to sing; we never heard a peep from a single one while in the forest), and just return to the Botanical Gardens, a short walk away, for some relaxed birding and photography.

A single Little Blue Heron was the only “new” bird for us (our 38th species on the island), but we had great looks at all of the local flycatchers, including Yellow-bellied Eleanias and Grenada Flycatcher. We were also very surprised to spot a Lesser Antillean Tanager so low, and at the back of the gardens, we flushed a hunting Common Black-hawk, which also came as a surprise to us at the outskirts of the city.

We then went into town for lunch once again (the food at the Grenadine House was quite good, but as usual, we prefer to be even more local in our dining). Our disappointment that our new BBQ friend wasn’t open yet was alleviated when I turned on my “food-dar” and found a fried chicken stand down a waterfront alley, which turned out to be the best piece of fried chicken we have ever had. It was thoroughly coated with what tasted like more spices than flour, and each bite was packed with flavor.

We really could have used another day on the island, but once again, we were back at an airport, and this time, we were heading to St. Lucia. Rich (for its size) in endemics, and with an impressive conservation ethic (compared to most of the region), this island has always been very high on my list.  And it did not disappoint.

Our hour-long taxi ride crossed through the middle of the island, and deposited us at our quaint and quiet little guesthouse, Peace of Paradise (aka “Lorraine’s’). Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, and Bananaquits (100% yellow-bellied on this island) greeted us, which were more welcome than whom we shared our bedroom with(The next day we learned that Sun Spiders were completely harmless. Nonetheless, we were thankful for the bug netting over the bed at night…even if I may have become a bit ensnared in it as I stumbled to the restroom in the middle of the night).

19_edited-219a_edited-2Black-faced Grassquit

19b_edited-2Grenada Flycatcher.

20_edited-1Best fried chicken ever!

21_edited-122_edited-1“Lorraine’s” Peace of Paradise, St. Lucia.

23_edited-1Our bedroom Sun Spider.

Day 6, 2/14:
With a larger roster of endemics, and with two sides of the island to seek them on, we hired local birding guides for two days to hedge the bet. While we can’t really afford to hire a guide for every day of a trip, we also wouldn’t really want to as we like to also learn and explore on our own. However, we ALWAYS hire local guides for a day or two, for several reasons.

Obviously, they are LOCAL and therefore know the spots better than reading someone’s trip report <ahem>. We certainly could have gotten to the Vermont Nature Trail on St. Vincent without Lystra, but we could never have known the best places to stop and the prime patches to search. We also never would have found that back-up trail near Montreal (nor did I have any interest in renting a car and taking on those roads!). We want to see these endemics, and we never want to leave feeling we “need” to come back (wanting to come back is another story) because we missed something. We also want to learn more about the birds, the habitat, the plants and animals, the places to eat lunch, and what life is really like in the places we visit. Some of our best experiences with guides haven’t even been about the birds, such as eating street food in Port of Spain, Trinidad or getting a tour of our guide’s mother’s garden in Grenada.

Most importantly, however, after we leave, these guides are the ones who will make sure these birds exist for the next visitor. Protecting the birds and places they love, and that provide the income for them and their families, are how these special places and special species will have a chance to survive. Without supporting the local economy, too many of the remaining natural areas we want to protect will fall to development, agriculture, and other ways for an economy to be developed or sustained.

St. Lucia has a great infrastructure (much wider and safer-seeming roads than we saw on St. Vincent, for example) to get around, and it wasn’t hard to discover online that the Des Cartier Rainforest Trail was the place to go. Nonetheless, we looked forward to our time there with our local guide and dark and early (checking clothes and footwear for snoozing Sun Spiders), we met our guide, Vision, who, along with Adams (who we would spend time with the next day), make up Wildlife Ambassadors, the upstart nature tour company of the island.

Our first stop was in fact the Des Cartier trail, and it wasn’t long before Vision pointed out our first St. Lucian endemic (and one of the more challenging and endangered ones), the St. Lucia Black Finch.

And that’s when our life list really began to blossom (at least from an island), as in rapid succession, we added St. Lucia Oriole, Antillean Euphonia, St. Lucia Parrot, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, and St. Lucia Pewee (split by most everyone except the AOU). And unlike on St. Vincent, we lucked into some great views and photo opportunities of the local parrot.

Our luck continued with great views of two more lifers, Rufous-throated Solitaire and St. Lucia Warbler. The song of the solitaire was other-worldly, and the charismatic (and common) little warbler would become one of our favorite birds of the trip.

Earlier, I mentioned how local guides are so important for conservation, and after we exited the forest, our next stop was a perfect example of this. The Aupicot Wetlands was an old coconut estate that the local guides have gained access to and are working to protect. With future plans for an ecotourism destination of some sort, for now, they have got the local landowners to reduce the impact of local fisherman and protect the habitat. And because of this effort, it was teeming with birdlife, even though a very dry season was quickly drying out the shallow pond. Migrant Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plovers were joined by migrant Blue-winged Teal and American Wigeons. Great and Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons were joined by single Green and Great Blue Herons, and we identified a spiffy Little Egret among the flock. A couple of Common Gallinules joined a little “cover” of coots – both resident the-species-formerly-known-until-very-recently-as-Carribean-Coots and presumed migrant, small-shielded “American” American Coots.

After a check of some of the environs around the Hewanorra International Airport (migrant Solitary Sandpipers and some of the only Eared Doves on the island), we dined on chicken curry and chicken pelau among Carib Grackles on the beach at The Reef Beach Café.

Next up was the southern tip of the island, with the second highest lighthouse in the world. More importantly, however, there were Red-billed Tropicbirds below.

Back in Prasline, Vision had one more trick up his sleeve, eventually pulling out our lifer Endangered White-breasted Thrasher from some roadside scrub, along with a couple of Lesser Antillean Saltators – our 12th lifer of the day!

23b_edited-2St. Lucia Parrot pair.

24_edited-124a_edited-2Little Egret, Aupicot Wetlands.

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Day 7, 2/15:
We really cleaned up the day before, but we had a few more birds to search for – and more of “someone else doing the work” – as Vision picked us up dark and early for a drive to the island’s northeastern side. There, we met up with his colleague, Adams, and three other visiting birders from the States to pile into one high-clearance, 4WD vehicle for the rough and treacherous road to dry native forest in Grand Anse.

A most fruitful Mango tree (pun intended!) yielded our next lifer, the Gray Trembler, plus better looks at St. Lucia Oriole and several Lesser Antillean Saltators. The forest yielded oodles of St. Lucia Warblers, at least two pairs of St. Lucia Black Finches, a whopping 7+ White-breasted Thrashers, and a pair of ultra-cooperative Lesser Antillean Flycatchers.

Bridled Quail-Doves were giving us fits though, as this shy and reclusive bird was not making it easy for us. Adams worked hard, and we stalked at least 5 different birds. Mostly, they were glimpsed by one or two people as they flew across a gully or flushed straight away. Eventually, I saw one (in flight) well enough to count, but Jeannette was still looking for more than a shadow. I had a decent look at one on the ground as we returned to the vehicle and Vision (rejoining us after a quick vehicle repair) spotted one, but Jeannette is still waiting for her satisfactory view.

Back up the hill and in Vision’s roomy van, the group headed towards the water, arriving at Pigeon Island National Landmark. We ate chicken rotis as we watched Royal Terns and Brown Boobies.

At Gros Islet Bay, Vision was excited to point out the first island record of Great Black-backed Gull, a 1st winter bird that he found here in December. While there was some disagreement over its identification, he and Adams had become convinced by a visiting birder that it was in fact a Great Black-backed Gull. Just on a quick impression of overall shape and size, I thought otherwise, so we pulled around for a closer view.

And as I suspected, it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and an impromptu gull workshop explained why. I felt bad, however, as I was afraid I had burst the bubble of a rarity, and I took a lifer off my guide’s list. But then Vision assured me it was quite alright – Lesser Black-backed Gull was also a first record for the island and a life bird for himself!  (I’ll be submitting a write-up to Vision, Adams, and the regional editor for North American Birds, so feel free to shoot me an email if you too would like a copy of the report)

Sandwich Terns and a handful of Ruddy Turnstones were new for our triplist, and we finished up with yet another high-note: an urban Cattle Egret rookery teaming with adults, juveniles, and sprinkled with Snowy Egrets, a family of Common Gallinules, and a confiding Green Heron (hmm… I think I know which hotel, and which rooms, we want to stay at next time!).

Vision dropped us off at our final lodging of the trip (speaking of ending on a high note), Fond Doux Plantation and Resort. A heavily-vegetated eco-lodge with its own cocoa plantation (and fruit trees, and garden that provided much of the food for the restaurant), we were surrounded by Scaly-breasted Thrashers and hummingbirds in our little cottage. Yup, we were definitely on vacation now!
27_edited-127a_edited-2St. Lucia Oriole

27b_edited-2St. Lucia Warbler.

27c_edited-2White-breasted Thrasher

27d_edited-2Lesser Antillean Flycatcher

28_edited-2Adams and Vision.

29_edited-129a_edited-1

Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1st St. Lucia Record!

29b_edited-230_edited-130a_edited-2Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron.

30b_edited-2Green Heron.

30c_edited-2Cattle Egrets.
30d_edited-2

Day 8, 2/16.
Jeannette out did herself finding this place, as it was a real birder’s paradise (without trying). A St. Lucia Oriole surprised us on a pre-breakfast walk, and at breakfast, we were joined by dining Lesser Antillean Bullfinches. Two bold pairs not only picked up scraps, but they also foraged on the table while we were eating. One even landed on Jeannette’s water glass and took a sip!

This was pretty awesome, and the biologists in us had to have some fun, too, so we conducted a little “food preference study,” a video of which we posted to our store’s Facebook page.

After a long and educational breakfast full of lots of fresh fruit and good coffee (finally!), we decided to explore the island by mini-bus. We took the bus from Fond Doux into the town of Soufriere, then got a connection to the big city of Castries.

Small city parks hosted Zenaida Doves, Carib Grackles, Rock Pigeons, Gray Kingbirds, Shiny Cowbirds, Black-faced Grassquits, Bananaquits, and American Kestrels, while walking the path along the harbor yielded Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and a couple more Green-throated Caribs. But after lunch, some shopping for spices, hot sauce, and a couple of souvenirs, we had enough of city life (and crowds of cruise ship passengers) and took the bus back to the quieter town of Soufriere.

Laughing Gulls (our first of the trip) were right where Vision told us they would be, and bacon-wrapped fried plantains at Petit Peak restaurant which we enjoyed with a couple of afternoon Pitons (the endemic beer) need to become “a thing.”  Also, you couldn’t beat the view of Petit Piton for the enjoyment of your Piton beer.

After a little walk, we decided to have dinner at Water Front De Belle View because I wanted some more curried goat and I was desperate for a good callaloo soup (the one at Fond Doux was just too salty). I wholeheartedly recommend both here.

We grabbed one of the last mini-buses back to Fond Doux, and called it a night.
31a.31b. Bullfinch maleFemale (top) and Male (bottom) Lesser Antillean Bullfinches joining us for breakfast.

30e_edited-2Scaly-breasted Pigeon.

34_edited-1Castries.

Day 9, 2/17.
We squeezed in a little more birding by hopping on the bus and taking it uphill from Soufriere to the Bouton Gap. A short, but steep and muddy hike brought us to a series of small overlooks and passed through some productive edge habitat.

We were out in search of our last likely lifer of the trip, Lesser Antillean Swift, but with frequent downpours and low clouds, we were not holding out much hope for high-flying aerial insectivores. So we were forced to content ourselves with a couple of looks at fly-by St. Lucia Parrots, lots of St. Lucia Warblers, cooperative St. Lucia Pewees, and our best view yet of a Pearly-eyed Thrasher.  And then, between a break in the rain, several dozen swifts were on the move, heading into the valley below, affording us very good views from above and below. It was my 20th lifer of the trip (19 for Jeannette and she remained unsatisfied with her quail-dove shadows).

We found some great vegetarian Jamaican-style patties from a food truck on the streets of Soufriere, before we hopped on a bus once again for the short ride back to Fond Doux. There, we finally took the plantation tour that we have been trying to find time (or lack of heavy rain) for, enjoyed some good views and nice looks at Purple-throated Caribs, St. Lucia Warblers, and another Pearly-eyed Thrasher. The grounds turned out to be more extensive, and with more less-disturbed forest than we thought, so had we a little more time, no doubt we could have picked up a few more “yard birds” of note.

Our last night of vacation, it was time for our splurge dinner, and so we headed over to Boucan Resort – “the chocolate hotel” – where everything on the menu of their fine restaurant had cacao incorporated in it some way. Sometimes themes like this come across as gimmicky and forced, but that was most definitely not the case here. From the cocktails to the amuse bouche to each entrée – and of course, dessert! – were incredibly well-conceived and perfectly executed. In fact, when all was said and done, Jeannette and I both agreed it was one of the top 3 or 5 meals we have ever had. Anywhere.  So yeah, good way to finish a trip!
38_edited-1

39_edited-139a_edited-2Antillean Crested Hummingbird

39b_edited-2St. Lucia Pewee.

39c_edited-2Antillean Crested Hummingbird

40_edited-141_edited-1.1Our cottage at Fond Doux.

41a_edited-2Purple-throated Carib

42_edited-1.2Dinner at Boucan.44_edited-2

Day 10, 2/18.
We awoke to heavy rain, and rain that didn’t quite let up as quickly as we would have liked. Therefore, we dallied a bit, fed more bullfinches at breakfast, and eventually had a break in the rain to walk up a nearby side road towards a Nature Trail that was recommended for its birding, and especially its views of the two Pitons.  A Gray Trembler, lots of St. Lucia Warblers, and a couple of good looks at Mangrove Cuckoos suggested we probably should have done this sooner as well. In fact, the birding was good enough, and combined with waiting out a few downpours under trees, we made it to the entrance of the trail just as we had to turn around.

Jeannette worked on photographing Antillean Crested Hummingbirds and both Green-throated and Purple-throated Caribs from the porch of the office at Fond Doux as we waited for Adams, who surprised us with an offer of a ride to the airport in exchange for a discussion about developing their ecotourism business. With the third employee now on board, Wildlife Ambassadors has the potential to become a force in birding and nature tourism on the island, and this could be a very good thing for birds and bird conservation here. The Aupicot Wetlands and their protection is a perfect example, as both resident and migratory birds (including some of “our” birds from North America) are rapidly losing safe refugia in the Lesser Antilles. Even better, unlike some islands, they don’t shoot everything that lands here.

We were happy to add our limited travel dollars to the cause – money will talk; when these places are financially worth protecting, they are much, much easier to protect – but also happy to offer some advice and suggestions on everything from websites and Facebook, to tour amenities. We certainly wish Adams and Vision well, and look forward to keeping in touch and seeing what they accomplish in the future.

We also made a quick stop to see if any Grassland Yellow-finches were present near the airport, squeezing in a few more minutes of birding before we began the long trip home.  But alas, it was smooth and easy, and nothing like our trip south!
44a_edited-2Scaly-breasted Thrasher.

45_edited-1Fond Doux. At least I finally looked at the pool!

45a_edited-2Green-throated Carib

45b_edited-2Purple-throated Carib.

Trip/Island List (* life bird).

Barbados:

  1. Barbados Bullfinch*
  2. Zenaida Dove
  3. Carib Grackle
  4. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  5. Black-faced Grassquit
  6. Cattle Egret
  7. Caribbean Elaenia
  8. Bananaquit
  9. Shiny Cowbird
  10. Gray Kingbird
  11. Green-throated Carib
  12. Common Ground-Dove
  13. Rock Pigeon
  14. Scaly-naped Pigeon
  15. Antillean Crested Hummingbird

St. Vincent:

  1. Cattle Egret
  2. Magnificent Frigatebird
  3. Bananaquit
  4. Black-faced Grassquit
  5. Rock Pigeon
  6. House Sparrow
  7. Shiny Cowbird
  8. Gray Kingbird
  9. Common Ground-Dove
  10. Antillean Crested Hummingbird
  11. Broad-winged Hawk
  12. Yellow-bellied Elaenia
  13. Grenada Flycatcher
  14. Scaly-naped Pigeon
  15. Green-throated Carib
  16. Eared Dove
  17. Great Egret
  18. Barn Swallow
  19. Carib Grackle
  20. Brown Booby
  21. Spotted Sandpiper
  22. Common Black-Hawk
  23. St. Vincent Parrot*
  24. House Wren
  25. Black-whiskered Vireo
  26. Lesser Antillean Bullfinch
  27. Lesser Antillean Tanager
  28. Purple-throated Carib*
  29. Smooth-billed Ani
  30. Whistling Warbler*
  31. Brown Trembler*
  32. Green Heron
  33. Royal Tern
  34. Brown Pelican
  35. Osprey
  36. Belted Kingfisher
  37. Tropical Mockingbird
  38. Little Blue Heron

St. Lucia:

  1. Royal Tern
  2. Cattle Egret
  3. Zenaida Dove
  4. Rock Pigeon
  5. Carib Grackle
  6. Gray Kingbird
  7. Common Ground-Dove
  8. Lesser Antillean Bullfinch
  9. Bananaquit
  10. Antillean Crested Hummingbird
  11. Green-throated Carib
  12. Spectacled Thrush
  13. Scaly-naped Pigeon
  14. Mangrove Cuckoo
  15. St. Lucia Black Finch*
  16. St. Lucia Oriole*
  17. Purple-throated Carib
  18. Antillean Euphonia*
  19. Pearly-eyed Thrasher*
  20. St. Lucia Parrot*
  21. Broad-winged Hawk
  22. Scaly-breasted Thrasher*
  23. Lesser Antillean Flycatcher*
  24. St. Lucia Pewee*
  25. Rufous-throated Solitaire*
  26. St. Lucia Warbler*
  27. American Kestrel
  28. Greater Yellowlegs
  29. Great Blue Heron
  30. Little Blue Heron
  31. Snowy Egret
  32. Great Egret
  33. Green Heron
  34. American + Caribbean Coots
  35. Little Egret
  36. American Wigeon
  37. Blue-winged Teal
  38. Common Gallinule
  39. Yellow Warbler
  40. Lesser Yellowlegs
  41. Semipalmated Plover
  42. Osprey
  43. Eared Dove
  44. Solitary Sandpiper
  45. Shiny Cowbird
  46. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  47. Red-billed Tropicbird
  48. Caribbean Eleania
  49. Lesser Antillean Saltator*
  50. White-breasted Thrasher*
  51. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  52. Spotted Sandpiper
  53. Tropical Mockingbird
  54. House Wren
  55. Gray Trembler*
  56. Black-whiskered Vireo
  57. Bridled Quail-Dove*
  58. Brown Booby
  59. Magnificent Frigatebird
  60. Barn Swallow
  61. Sandwich Tern
  62. Ruddy Turnstone
  63. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  64. Laughing Gull
  65. Lesser Antillean Swift*

36_edited-1Enjoying a Piton in Soufriere, overlooking Petit Piton.