Category Archives: Weather and Birding

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.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Migrants and Malts, 10/9/2016

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The forecast called for light showers ending in the early morning, and the sun coming out. With rain developing overnight with the passage of a cold front, dreams of a fallout danced in our head as we headed south on the Maine Turnpike on Sunday for our latest installment of the “Birds on Tap (sm)– Roadtrip!” series.

Fort Foster in Kittery was our destination, and there are few other places I’d rather be in Maine if a fallout was going to occur. But had the winds shifted early enough? Did birds take to the air before the rain arrived? Would the rain stop in time for sun to shine on the hottest corners of the park?

With anticipation – and quite a bit of apprehension because most of us were dressed for a few brief light showers – we stepped off the bus at the entrance to Fort Foster in a light, but steady rain. I was watching a plume of moisture offshore; moisture that was being sucked up from Hurricane Matthew.  It was supposed to remain offshore.

It didn’t.

It kept raining. And then it rained some more. We got soaked to the bone, and suffice to say, there was no fallout. (And for the record, the “showers ending in the early morning” continued to fall, moderate at times, through about 11pm that night!).
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But luckily it was fairly warm, we were mostly in shelter from the wind, and we found a few good pockets of birds.  Our first bird of the day was a low and close Blackpoll Warbler along the entrance road, which stoked the fallout hopes briefly. But other than a couple of pockets of White-throated Sparrows, the woods were rather slow.

We spent some time with plant ecology, and talked about the importance of the shrub-scrub habitat in the park. We played in the wrack line on the beach to observe Springtails and Seaweed Flies.  A large male Gray Seal on offshore rocks dwarfed the Harbor Seals around it.  A Great Cormorant posed for us to compare it to the plethora of Double-crested Cormorants nearby, and Common Eiders and a couple of Common Loons, joined by 8 newly-arrived Surf Scoters, plied the waters.
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A couple of cooperative Least Sandpipers were on the beach, while a single mixed-species foraging flock that contained a truant Wilson’s Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers amongst a band of Black-capped Chickadees hinted at the migrant potential of the place, as did a low and close late American Redstart a little earlier.
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Four Semipalmated Sandpipers were studied at exceptionally close range at nearby Seapoint Beach, which also hosted 6 Semipalmated Plovers. Unfortunately, Legion Pond only contained a handful of Mallards today.

These were all new locations for everyone on the tour, so the value of exploring new areas (to return to on a sunny day!) was recognized, even if the birding was on the lackluster side of things. As was the weather.

So with our rather damp birding time coming to a close, Don Littlefield took over and delivered us to Kittery’s Tributary Brewing Company.

After working at several breweries throughout his career, New England brewing legend Tod Mott – the creator of the Harpoon IPA that is often credited with beginning the American IPA revolution – and his wife, Galen, opened their own brewery in September of 2014. With a focus on “traditional, well-balanced, full-bodied beers” and locally-sourced ingredients, Tributary has rapidly become a favorite tasting room destination for many aficionados.
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And it just happened to be down the road from Fort Foster – which, when it’s not pouring rain – is one of Maine’s premier birding destinations and therefore was a natural fit for a Birds on Tap (sm) – Roadtrip! destination.  One half of the Ian and Ian tag-team duo of brewers, Ian Goering, came into work early to open the doors to welcome us out of the elements.
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We began our tasting with an American Mild brewed with an experimental hops that offered an essence of strawberry. Downplaying malts in order to showcase the hops, it was a little bitter by design, with a less sweet finish.

Next up was the Oktoberfest – which turned out to be the favorite beer of the day for many –a fuller bodied lager, heavier in malts, yet with a crisp finish.
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As we sipped it, Ian gave us a tour of their ultra-clean and efficient brew house.

Next up was their Blueberry Ale which – unlike many blueberry beers that add artificial flavors or blueberry syrup – added real blueberries into the kettle to allow the sugars of the fruit to be fermented by the brewing yeasts. The result was a decidedly un-sweet pale ale that had just the essence of blueberries.

Last but not least, we enjoyed a taste of their smoky and very chocolate-y – while still being nice and hoppy – Black IPA.
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New fans of Tributary. Well, and/or just cold and needing another layer?

We were able to dry out further as Don filled us in on some of Maine’s brewing facts and history as we headed up the road to Hidden Cove Brewing Company in Wells.

Formerly a restaurant with a small house brewery, the building has been creatively re-purposed into a growing brewing operation.  A “tale of two breweries,” as Don put it, with “traditional offerings alongside more creative barrel-aged” options, Hidden Cove offers a wide array of options in their tasting room.
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Today, we sampled five diverse offerings, beginning with their Patroon IPA – their best selling, flagship beer which was rich in juicy hops.

Next up was the Compadre Pale Ale, “the sidekick to the flagship IPA and is a classic West Coast IPA that utilizes a single hop, Belma.”  The tropical fruit flavors really came through for me, with a very crisp and clean finish.

Rich with the flavor of Meyer Lemon peel, the refreshing Summer Ale brought us back to warmer days. Bitter (remember, that is not always meant as a negative when tasting beer!) and yet quite bready from the yeast, the hop-forward Belgian IPA was the last planned sample.
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However, Don wanted to show off the creative brews that are coming out of their aging barrels, so we were treated to a sample of the very complex Mo-Lay, a sour pumpkin with chili, chocolate (mole), and finished in bourbon barrels with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus. Like a lot of complicated beers, some people loved it, some didn’t, but everyone enjoyed the opportunity to see what people are doing with beer these days.

Afterall, part of the goal of the Birds on Tap (sm) – Roadtrip! series is to introduce folks to new breweries and new birding sites, new beers and new birds, and broaden horizons and open eyes wider to each!

Speaking of, our next Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour is coming up. On November 13th, join us for our second annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts” when we venture north to the waterfowl hotspot of Sabattus Pond, followed by stops at Baxter Brewing and Maine Beer Company!

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

2015 (Southern) York Co CBC: Moody Territory.

It’s Christmas Bird Count season!

The count period began yesterday (Monday, 12/14), and as usual, I participated in Maine’s first count of the season, the (Southern) York County Count. This year, I was joined by Kristen Lindquist and Jeannette, covering the “Moody Territory” that covers the marshes, beaches, thickets, and neighborhoods on the east side of Route 1, between Eldridge Road in Wells and the center of downtown Ogunquit, including Moody Point and Moody Beach.

Despite temperatures well above normal in the mid-40’s, a light east wind and persistent light drizzle made for a rather raw day. However, the continuing mild temperatures also reduced the concentration of birds in the warm microclimates and dense thickets that usually make this territory so, well, fruitful (pardon the pun!). And although we had a lot of birds overall, diversity was a little below average for me, and there were fewer concentrations of birds – many species were in fairly low numbers compared to what I usually find here.

The lack of snow and ice was certainly supporting plenty of birds in this area, but they weren’t concentrated at warm edges and seasonal hotspots like they usually are. In fact, the best days on this count are when it’s clear and cold, with seasonably cold (or colder) and snowy (or snowier) days and weeks prior. Check out my report from the frigid and snowy 2013 count, for example.

We began the day as usual, with a dawn seawatch at Moody Point, with several close alcids, fairly close Black-legged Kittiwakes, and decent numbers of all of the expected overwintering waterbirds. Three small flocks of Lesser Scaup (total of 21) migrating south were a surprise. We were even more surprised to later notice that not only was this just the 5th count record of the species, but it was also the first time more than 1 had been seen! These birds are no doubt late in departing their still-unfrozen northern lakes, bays, and rivers.

Conspicuous in their absence however, was the complete dearth of Yellow-rumped Warblers (almost no bayberry crop was seen at all), and Carolina Wrens (they really did get hammered over these last two winters), but our other “feeder birds” such as Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch were actually above average.

Although our birdlist and respective counts grew steadily through the day, we were lamenting the lack of rarities that this territory has become known for. Granted, the bar was pretty high. But our perception changed over the course of about 5 minutes. First, I spotted the count’s second ever Clay-colored Sparrow (on Huckleberry St, and then later relocated and photographed on Cranberry St).

IMG_6964_CCSP,CranberrySt,Wells,12-14-15

As the sparrow flew from his original spot, I spotted a Baltimore Oriole as we searched for the sparrow on Huckleberry St. This was a 5th count record. But note that my phone-binning attempt was not nearly as successful (the real cameras were in the car due to the persistent drizzle). You can kinda see it’s a bird, and there are two wingbars, and if you look really, really hard, you can just barely make out a little bit of orange on the head and chest. A little imagination will help.
BAOR,HuckleberrySt,Wells,12-15-15

We also finished the day off with a continuing Dickcissel (6th count record) that has been present for several weeks now at The Sweatshirt Shop on Route One, a perfect way to end our birding day.

Hours by car: 1
Party hours by foot: 5.75
Miles by car: 12.7
Party miles by foot: 11

Start: 7:15 – 45F, very light E, cloudy.
End: 2:40 – 46F, very light E, drizzle.

Canada Goose: 27
Mallard: 161
American Black Duck: 51
LESSER SCAUP: 21
Common Eider: 36
Surf Scoter: 65
White-winged Scoter: 60
Long-tailed Duck: 166
Bufflehead: 37
Common Goldeneye: 62
Red-breasted Merganser: 43
Red-throated Loon: 7
Common Loon: 7
Horned Grebe: 3
Red-necked Grebe: 14
Northern Gannet: 10
Great Cormorant: 6
Northern Harrier: 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1
Cooper’s Hawk: 1
Red-tailed Hawk: 1
Bonaparte’s Gull: 11
Ring-billed Gull: 29
Herring Gull: 180
Great Black-backed Gull: 29
Black-legged Kittiwake: 9
Black Guillemot: 1
Razorbill: 7
Mourning Dove: 49
Rock Pigeon: 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker: 4
Downy Woodpecker: 9
Blue Jay: 9
American Crow: 43
Black-capped Chickadee: 97
Tufted Titmouse: 18
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2
White-breasted Nuthatch: 19
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 2
Eastern Bluebird: 1
American Robin: 1
Northern Mockingbird: 2
European Starling: 62
Cedar Waxwing: 12
American Tree Sparrow: 28
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1
Song Sparrow: 17
Dark-eyed Junco: 42
White-throated Sparrow: 4
Northern Cardinal: 24
DICKCISSEL: 1
BALTIMORE ORIOLE: 1
House Finch: 96
Pine Siskin: 12
American Goldfinch: 76
House Sparrow: 229

Total species: 56 (just a little below average).

Not Your Usual December Highlights!

While this fall’s rarity season got off to a fairly slow start at the end of October, things have really heated up lately. In fact, it’s been a really outstanding couple of weeks.  And in the past few days, I have enjoyed some really great birding.

The mild temperatures have certainly played a role – while the southerly and southwesterly winds that have ushered in much of the unseasonably warm air may still be facilitating the arrival of some vagrants, at the very least the mild temperatures and benign weather are allowing vagrants and unseasonable “lingering” migrants to survive long enough to be found! And, the lovely weather is certainly keeping more birders out in the field. I have certainly been taking full advantage of this beautiful weather.

On Sunday, Ed Hess and I visited the Saco Riverwalk. While this is always a hotspot at this season, it is really extraordinary this year. After 8 species of warblers were seen there in November, the mild weather has allowed at least 5 species to continue – almost unprecedented for December. Ed and I saw the Tennessee Warbler, a really remarkable December record…
L1040092_TEWA,SacoRiverWalk, 12-6-15_edited-1

…both of the two continuing Yellow Warblers (the photos are of one of the two individuals), which is another exceptional species for the date…
L1040022_YWAR,SacoRiverWalk,12-6-15_edited-1

…the Nashville Warbler (and confirmed the continued presence of a second Nashville!)…
NAWA by Ed_edited-1

…the Common Yellowthroat (more expected for the season)…
L1040098_COYE1,SacoRiverWalk,12-5-15_edited-1

…and we saw one of the two Ruby-crowned Kinglets still present (much more regular in December than any warbler).
L1040116_RCKI,SacoYachtClub,12-6-15-edited

And although we didn’t see it, the most amazing of them all, a Blackburnian Warbler is still present. (Jeannette and I saw and photographed it earlier in the week, 11/30).
IMG_3040_edited-2

Ed and I then headed to Cape Elizabeth, where we photographed the continuing Grasshopper Sparrow at Dyer Point, and odd bird to see juxtaposed with Harlequin Ducks (18) and Purple Sandpipers (6)…
L1040136_GHSP2,DyerPt,12-6-15_edited-1L1040151_GHSP3,DyerPoint,12-6-15_edited-1L1040163_GHSP1,DyerPoint,12-6-15

…And we twitched a Wilson’s Warbler found earlier in the day nearby, just so we could say we saw five species of warblers in a day in December!  It cannot, however, be said that we “photographed” five species:
WIWA,CapeElizabethm12-6-15

The Grasshopper Sparrow was also our fifth species of sparrow on the day (Song, American Tree, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco) – I doubt I’ve had five species of warbler and 5 species of sparrows in the same day in December in Maine before.

Of course, that only somewhat consoled us about missing the vagrant Western Tanager that was found at the Riverwalk later in the afternoon. Damn.

On Monday, I headed over to Reid State Park in Georgetown with Kristen Lindquist. It was a rather quiet day here, but it’s always one of my favorite places to take a walk, especially on such (another) gorgeous morning.  43 Red-necked Grebes, a Northern Harrier, a flyover Red Crossbill (my first of the season), oh yeah, and another rarity: “Oregon” Junco.

While some might dismiss it as “merely a subspecies,” the westernmost subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco is truly a rarity in the Northeast, and this was the first definitive “Oregon” Junco that I have seen in Maine (although I have never chased one at a feeder, where they are usually seen). It was in a small flock of “Slate-colored” Juncos and an American Tree Sparrow in the scrubby central ridge in the middle of the Griffith’s Head parking lot.

The flock flushed from short grass at the edge as we rounded the corner, and as it briefly alighted in a shrub, I was shocked to see a black-hooded junco. Closer inspection as we followed it for about 20 minutes yielded all of the pertinent field marks for a “textbook” Oregon, nicely eliminating the intermediate “hybrid swarm” – or whatever it is – that we sometimes refer to as “Cassiar’s” Junco.

Note the complete, black (not dark gray) hood, lacking contrast in the supraloral area. Also, the hood is cleanly demarcated on the back of the head, contrasting crisply with the reddish-brown back. The flanks and sides are particularly pale salmon-buff, which is not atypical for adult males (although many are much brighter). At the lower margin of the hood, note the smooth, rounded margin across the chest and up to the “shoulder.”
IMG_6908_ORJU4,meIMG_6909_edited-1IMG_6910_ORJU1,K_edited-1IMG_6912_edited-1,K.Lindquist

Afterwards, Kristen and I birded around Bath – no white-winged gulls or Barrow’s Goldeneyes yet, no doubt related to the mild temperatures as well, but we did spot one of the Snowy Owls at Brunswick Landing – unlike warblers, a slightly more expected highlight for early December in Maine.

While Jeannette and I didn’t turn up any rarities – or much of anything else for that matter! – birding Harpswell Neck this morning, I very much look forward to what the coming weeks will produce, especially when it finally turns cold!