Epic Twitch of Mid-Coast Megas, 1/30/17

Fully caught up on work and life from our recent vacation, Jeannette and I spent Monday and Tuesday birding hard!  On Monday, we did our monthly “South-coastal Tour” from Kittery through Wells, enjoying a total of 49 Harlequin Ducks, two unseasonable American Pipits at Seapoint Beach, a hen Northern Pintail in the Moody Marsh, and finding a rare Pacific Loon off of The Cliff House (distantly phone-scoped here within an armada of Common Loons).

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But on Tuesday, it was time to get caught up with some of this winter’s rarities. And so far this year, the Mid-Coast is where it’s at!

We began at Owl’s Head Harbor, arriving at 9:25. In about 10 minutes, we found the recently-discovered 2nd-cycle Mew Gull at the second lobster impoundment. Undoubtedly the same bird that spent last winter here, it was exciting to see it has returned, and with a more mature plumage. We watched it for about 20 minutes, as it regularly took flight, foraged in the cove, checked out the pens, and loafed with other gulls. Eventually, we watched it as it flew out into the bay, rounding the corner to the east and out of view. It steadfastly refused to fly into good lighting, however.
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A lingering Belted Kingfisher was present as well, but surprisingly, not a single Iceland Gull was around.

We then went over to Owl’s Head State Park, where a little seawatching produced a couple of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Razorbills, but to our surprise, the Mew Gull as well!  It was feeding quite a bit off the lighthouse, out at a tideline.

Next up was a search for two Pink-footed Geese that have been around since December.  We didn’t find them in the playing fields they usually frequent, so we began a search of Rockland Harbor. The Mechanic Street Boat Launch yielded a Northern Shrike and lots of Mallards, but no geese.

We worked our way around the harbor, expecting to eventually find them in the greens of the Samoset Resort. Instead, we spotted them on the green of a sunny lawn in a small backyard off of Samoset Road. However, we were viewing them through a scope from a considerable distance, out across the large cove, from our vantage point in the parking lot at the end of Fales Street in downtown. They were not close.

So we raced over to Samoset Road, and got really lucky, finding them – along with a group of merely 15 or so Canada Geese – between a couple of houses.
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After lunch, we worked our way towards Camden, checking a handful of waterfowl sites, but finding nothing of note. But a pair of Buffleheads off of Mechanic St in Camden were particularly photogenic.
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We then arrived at 4 Central Street, the home that has been hosting a Bullock’s Oriole – merely Maine’s 2nd ever – since the early winter. Jeannette had not looked for it yet, so a visit seemed overdue. We arrived at 2:09, and after waiting a mere 7 minutes (many observers have waited multiple hours), it arrived, landing in a tall tree behind the house, catching some late afternoon rays.

It dropped to the feeder, and instead of its usual brief visit, it spent well over 5 minutes gorging itself on mealworms and grapes.
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Mew Gull, Pink-footed Geese, and Bullock’s Oriole: an incredible January hat-trick of Mid-coast Megas!

2017 Birds on Tap – Roadtrips!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2017 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” (sm) series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

Who would have thought that, when I made that first call a year and a half ago to pitch the idea, we would not only be expanding to ten tours, but we would also featured in the Portland Press Herald (in the Food section no less) and Maine Public Radio. And then we went national via the Associated Press! (And for a little more about the history of our tour partnership, check out this blog entry from last year).

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For 2017, we have added several new itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Some of our most exciting new tours include March’s “Gulls and Growlers” where we’ll see dozens of eagles and look for rare gulls, and in July, we’ll spend a day at the beach looking at terns and shorebirds. In between, we’ll revisit all of our successful tours from 2016, including both Spring and Fall editions of Ducks and Draughts.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 12th – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: Sunday, Feb 19)
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: SoMe Brewing Co. in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, March 4 – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: SATURDAY, Mar 11)
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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles.  Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.  After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks if they are around.

Breweries: Lost Orchard/Crooked Halo Cidery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 2 – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling, both in Newcastle.

“Warbler and Wort”
Sunday, May 14 – 8:00am to 2:00pm.
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We’ll be taking two easy hikes on this outing to enjoy breeding birds and migrants in the inland forests. Our first stop will be in pine barren habitat. Although not all breeding birds will be present in full force, some of our targets, such as Prairie and Pine Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees will be. We’ll also look for a Clay-colored Sparrow should a territorial bird return, and there’s always the chance that Red Crossbills could be around. Our next stop will be a location in search of Louisiana Waterthrushes. Once thought to be rare in Maine, they are actually a locally common breeding bird in very specific habitat. We’ll visit one of two locales for this species taking another walk in search of this shy bird. Hearing them is likely, but we’ll accept the challenge of getting to see one!  A variety of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and many others may also be encountered.

Breweries: Gneiss Brewing Co. in Limerick and Sebago Brewing Co. in Gorham.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 4th – 8:00am to 2:30pm.
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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow  in Lyman and Banded Horn in Biddeford.

“Beach and Brews”
Sunday, July 16th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds.  Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barrelled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Beer”
Sunday, August 13th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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The original BoT Roadtrip!  in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 8th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.
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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two.  This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Tributary Brewing Co. and Woodland Farms Breweries in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 12th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation”
Sunday, December 10th – 9:00am to 3:30pm.
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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.  And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including online sign-ups with a credit card), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website:

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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A January Big Day

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Yesterday, (Monday, January 10, 2017), Luke Seitz and I partook in a semi-serious Big Day, attempting to see as many species as we could in one day. Winter Big Days are tough because the days are short, rarities are usually relatively few, wintering birds tend to move around a lot more than territorial songsters, and it’s often firggin’ cold.

And it was certainly cold to start – 11 degrees to be exact as we greeted the sunrise seawatching at Dyer Point. Heat shimmer and sea smoke impacted our tally, but much worse was finding our second stop, Grondin Pond, completely frozen! Just 2 days ago it had at least three “good birds:” American Coot, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Duck!
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We then dipped on the long-staying Orange-crowned Warbler at Pond Cove, but the unexpected fly-over Northern Harrier plus Northern Mockingbird, Red-throated Loon, and Golden-crowned Kinglet put us back in the game. We then found a female Wood Duck at Mill Creek Cove in South Portland – our 50th species of the day, and it was only 9:53.
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Phone-binned by Luke

Hmmm…maybe we should start taking this a little more seriously.

We started to clean up with a slew of successful twitches of very good birds: Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail in South Portland, King Eider in Portland Harbor, Barrow’s Goldeneye in Cumberland, Great Blue Herons in Yarmouth, and Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin at Winslow Park.

We even celebrated our good fortunes with a fueling, hot breakfast sandwich from Maple’s Organics in Yarmouth.
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Unfortunately, we then hit a cold stretch, striking out on Purple Finch and Hermit Thrush in my yard, and Evening Grosbeaks at a Pownal feeder. Snowy Owl and Snow Bunting at Brunswick Landing was followed by a strategic error – the absolute slowest service in history at the Five Guys in Brunswick!

Like I said, we were only so serious about this Big Day, as exemplified by stopping for food…twice! But a to-go order of some fries, a veggie sandwich, and a milkshake should not have taken so long. First, our sandwiches were left on the counter as they forgot to bag them with fries. Then they had to wait for more fries to cook, and then it turned out someone had accidentally switched off the milkshake machine.
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Although that whole event really only wasted about 10 minutes, it was 10 minutes further behind schedule…our Pownal swing was a time suck, and the walk at Winslow took much longer than planned. And the days are short this time of year!

A Gadwall in Damariscotta was a nice pick-up, and we added a few en route twitches, but we got to Rockland with way too little time. We failed in our search of the harbor for the Pink-footed Geese and Snow Goose (they weren’t on the school fields due to the recent snow cover), and dithered on our decision to head to Camden, picking up a nearly-drive-by Bonaparte’s Gull on the way.

We didn’t run into any Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks on our drive, and we arrived way too late in the day to be graced with a visit from the Bullock’s Oriole. The thickening clouds ahead of the approaching storm was rapidly bringing the birding day to an early end. Quick-thinking rewarded us with the female Greater Scaup which we relocated in the Megunticook River after not seeing her in the harbor, and in very last light we somehow picked up American Wigeon in Rockport Harbor (not one as had been reported, but three, plus another Green-winged Teal), our 73rd and final species of the day.

We had hoped for a Barred Owl on the drive home; surprised that we didn’t run into one during the day, but the arrival of a mix of ice pellets, sleet, and dreezing rain didn’t help matters. However, with almost no scouting, no owling, and only about 9 hours of daylight, we agreed that this day was really an extraordinary success. 22 species of waterfowl in the middle of winter is pretty darn good, and we saw some great birds over the course of the day.

It’s almost certainly a record – if only because we don’t think anyone has done a January Big Day before (or submitted to the ABA as such!), even if it fell short of our goal of 75. And with quite a few misses and birds “left on the table,” we can’t help but wonder what a little planning, more discipline, and a packed lunch could have resulted in? (Or, having run it a couple of days earlier when Grondin was open!)

Finally, here’s an annotated checklist of the species we encountered, with notes on the rarities, single-sightings, or species seen only at one location.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck: female at Mill Creek park, South Portland
Gadwall: 1 drake, Oyster Creek, Damariscotta
American Wigeon: 1 male and 2 females, Rockport Harbor
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Pintail: male behind Bay Harbor Car Wash, South Portland
Green-winged Teal: male behind Bay Harbor Car Wash, South Portland and female at Rockport Harbor
Greater Scaup: female, Megunticook River from Mechanic Street, Camden
King Eider: female, Portland Harbor from Fish Pier
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck: Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye: male, Cumberland Town Landing
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Wild Turkey
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant: 1, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth.
Great Blue Heron: 2, Lower Falls Landing, Yarmouth
Northern Harrier: male, flying over Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Ruddy Turnstone: 3, Winslow Park, Freeport
Dunlin: 30+, Winslow Park, Freeport
Purple Sandpiper
Razorbill: several, Dyer Point, Cape Elizabeth
Black Guillemot
Bonaparte’s Gull: 1, Glen Cove, Rockland
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Snowy Owl: 1 Brunswick Landing
Red-bellied Woodpecker: at least 8-9 over the course of the day!
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Peregrine Falcon: 1, Portland Harbor
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper: 2, Winslow Park, Freeport
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Snow Bunting: 20+, Brunswick Landing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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Misses: Pink-footed Geese and Snow Goose in Rockland; American Coot, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and Northern Shoveler at Grondin Pond; Black-legged Kittiwake; Barred Owl; Cooper’s Hawk; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike; Hermit Thrush (1); Bohemian Waxwing; Orange-crowned Warbler (1); Bullock’s Oriole (1), Purple Finch, Pine Grosbeak; Evening Grosbeak.

(Also,we posted a little play-by-play in a thread on the store’s Facebook page during the day. Check it out…we added commentary in the comments section, culminating with a video of me doing what it takes to get those wigeon at last light!)

The 2017 Maine Bird Predictions Blog

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Yup, it’s that time of year again. Not just time to celebrate the end of 2016 (is anyone really upset to see this year end?) and ring in the new, but reset the ol’ Year List (if you keep such a thing) and look forward to the avian wonders of 2017.

That means it’s time for my annual Predictions Blog, where I view into my crystal binoculars and attempt to forecast some of the “new” birds to grace the State of Maine, and my own personal state list, in the coming year.

But first, let us check in with my 2016 Predictions post, and see how I did.

Two birds were added to the cumulative Maine list in 2016. Incredibly, both were on Seal Island! A Great Knot on July 23rd followed an Ancient Murrelet in May that was later seen (presumably the same bird) at Petit Manan Island and then Machias Seal Island. While Ancient Murrelet was on my radar, and was part of my lengthy honorable mention list, Great Knot most definitely was not! In fact, this was one of the most amazing vagrant records in the state in some time.

My predictions for the next 25 species to be found in the state therefore has not changed too much. The new list is now:

1) Neotropical Cormorant
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Roseate Spoonbill
5) Spotted Towhee
6) Hammond’s Flycatcher
7) Bermuda Petrel
8) Black-chinned Hummingbird
9) Common Shelduck – with a recent spate of records in Eastern Canada, including three birds in New Brunswick in December,a pattern of vagrancy is definitely emerging. Provenance will always be a question however, as this species is kept in captivity. However, we used to dismiss every Barnacle Goose – for example – as simply an “escapee,” but its clear many are of natural vagrancy. Increases in the species in Iceland are a good sign that some of these recent records are of wild birds.
10) Fieldfare
11) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
12) Little Stint
13) Anna’s Hummingbird
14) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
15) Vermillion Flycatcher
16) Common Ground-Dove
17) Allen’s Hummingbird
18) Redwing – one in New Hampshire in March was a “near-miss!”
19) Western Wood-Pewee
20) Spotted Redshank
21) Zone-tailed Hawk
22) Gray Flycatcher
23) Ross’s Gull
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

Meanwhile, I was very pleased to add six species to my own Maine list this fall. First up was the Black-throated Sparrow in Winter Harbor, which I visited on January 17th. Because it was discovered before I posted my Predictions Blog last year, I can’t count that as a prediction! But you can be sure I was happy to put this stunning southwestern sparrow on my state list anyway.
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My only self-found addition was my 6th ranked species: Western Grebe. I found one at Simpson’s Point in Brunswick on April 17th. It’s always much, much sweeter to find, rather than chase, a new state bird!

Adding American Three-toed Woodpecker to my list was just a matter of finding the time and putting in the effort. In Mid-July, Evan Obercian and I used it as an excuse to spend a weekend around Baxter State Park, which eventually yielded a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers along Telos Road.

A long-staying King Rail near Moody Point in the Webhannet Marsh was my 4th addition of the year. It was very high on my honorable mention list, but I left it off the ranking this year.

My Washington County Tour in August once again produced a Sabine’s Gull, and once again it was in Canadian waters, despite our best efforts to follow it across the border. Therefore, I was elated when one was discovered at Sabattus Pond on October 29th. This was my only “drop what I was doing and rush out the door” twitch of the year. It was worth it. I really like Sabine’s Gulls.

And certainly last but not least was the Bullock’s Oriole in Camden that Luke Seitz and I drove up to see on November 25th. Another bird high on my Honorable Mention list, but it too was not on the official Top 25.

Great Skuas were again seen with regularity off of Bar Harbor, but I missed them on my paltry few trips offshore again this year. The nemesis continues! There was also a one-afternoon wonder Harris’s Sparrow in Belgrade in November.

But with my #1, #6, and #13 “next species” checked off, my updated list for my own next 25 species in Maine now reads:

1) Great Skua
2) Eurasian Collared-Dove
3) Graylag Goose
4) Say’s Phoebe
5) American White Pelican
6) Neotropic Cormorant
7) Fork-tailed Flycatcher
8) Tundra Swan
9) California Gull
10) Franklin’s Gull
11) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
12) Slaty-backed Gull
13) Yellow Rail
14) Boreal Owl
15) Calliope Hummingbird
16) Cerulean Warbler
17) White Ibis
18) Gull-billed Tern
19) Hammond’s Flycatcher
20) Loggerhead Shrike
21) Ivory Gull
22) Roseate Spoonbill
23) Spotted Towhee
24) Virginia’s Warbler
25) Common Shelduck

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Bullock’s Oriole on 11/25 in Camden

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Farms and Fermentation, 12/11/16

Our seventh and final “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2016, entitled “Farms and Fermentation” traveled inland on Sunday. Unlike most of our itineraries, Farms and Fermentation has a very flexible birding route, affording us the opportunity to take advantage of seasonal highlights and variables including weather, northern bird irruptions, and local food supplies.

The theme of the tour is the connection between agricultural lands and birds, but we also spent plenty of time checking out the region’s most significant bodies of water as recent cold weather has slowly frozen small ponds and lakes, pushing waterfowl to the open waters of the deep Lake Auburn and the fast-flowing Androscoggin River.

It was a frigid day, but with temperatures rapidly rising through the 20’s and virtually no wind at most of our stops, we enjoyed a very pleasant and productive morning of birding. Our first stop was a large, open agricultural field in Gray and New Gloucester, where we immediately found 16 Horned Larks within about 30 yards of the road. No Snow Buntings, as I had hoped for, but the views of the four larks that stayed with us were hard to beat.
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Letting the temperatures climb a bit, we hit the road for a longer stretch to arrive on the north shore of Lake Auburn. Unfortunately, the ducks were elsewhere today – perhaps flushed by an eagle or two  – but we did view two Horned Grebes (rare inland in Maine except for here and Sebago Lake and a rather late date for them away from the coast). One distant Common Loon was also spotted.
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A short hop to North River Road sampled the birds of early successional forest, undoubtedly the first step in reforestation of an abandoned farm. American Tree Sparrows, quite a few Northern Cardinals, and a number of House Finches were present, while a Bald Eagle soared over the river beyond the cornfields across the road (still no Snow Buntings). The highlight, however, was a Red-tailed Hawk that circled up and then glided low over our heads, with the reflection of the thin coating of snow on the ground acting as a spotlight to really light up its pale plumage.

Three punk-rock Hooded Mergansers were at the nearby boat launch, and we finished up with some more waterfowl along the Auburn Riverwalk. Nearly 200 Mallards were present, affording us the chance to study individual variation and hybridization, as well as taking a moment to savor a truly beautiful critter.
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Hooded Mergansers

As for this individual, I am not sure how to interpret its odd plumage: a very old female taking on male characteristics, a hybrid with something domesticated, or perhaps a male that for some reason is unable to fully attain an adult plumage. Whatever it is, it was a perfect example of how much there is to be learned from looking at our most common birds!
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Four American Black Ducks and some odd Domestic things were present, but I was hoping for an unusual dabbler or two to have joined the masses with the recent freezing. However, we did have two more Hooded Mergansers, and downriver, two spiffy drake Common Mergansers. A Common Loon was a little out of place on the river, likely a bird that woke up to encroaching ice on a lake this morning!
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Don then took over as layers were shed for good, as we crossed the bridge into Lewiston on our way to Bear Bones Beer. Don was giving us some of the history of this new brewery, but I interrupted to have him pull into a parking lot. We quickly disembarked to temporarily resume our birding with scope views of the local male Peregrine Falcon eating lunch atop of the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center, as per our tradition during “Birds on Tap – Roadtrips” to Lewiston!

Arriving at Bear Bones Beer, a nanobrewery with a focus on sustainable production and ingredients, co-founder Eban Dingman welcomed us into the comfortable space in a renovated portion of a former department store in the heart of downtown.

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We began our tasting with their 2X C.R.E.A.M, a smooth cream ale that featured a very nice balance, avoiding overdoing it with the hops. Dry-hopped with fruity Mosaic hops, Robot Bear Porter finished with a fruit flavor not typical of porters, putting a nice twist on a good winter stand-by. Picea, a dry stout brewed with spruce tips added to the whirlpool process, featured a subtle hint of spruce/resin, especially on the back end.

After sampling some of their applewood smoked barley malt, we tasted it in action. I went with the New Dead Smoked IPA, with just the hint of the smoky flavor and a more subtle hop kick than most IPAs these days. The “over-hopping” bandwagon had definitely not arrived – thankfully, if you ask me – here on Lisbon Street.
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Winston provided additional entertainment

Trekking back across country, keeping an eye out for Northern Shrikes (we did spot two Northern Mockingbirds today however, much rarer in winter in interior Maine than shrikes!) as we returned to New Gloucester for a special visit to Norumbega Cidery. Open to the public only for the occasional special event, this was a real treat to learn about Noah Fralich’s family farm and his four-year-old cidery. Discussing his plans for the property, including the cultivation of a wide variety of heirloom and specialty apples, we also discussed the value of orchards to birding: in fact, if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings had made it this far south by now, we likely would have visited an orchard or two on today’s tour – and wondered if in a few years, we might see these species right here at Norumbega.
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I’m not a big cider guy, as I usually don’t like sweet drinks in general. Many of the most popular hard ciders today (at least from the national brands) are loaded with sugar, and are more akin to soda. Dry ciders, however, are closer to wine, and the white wine yeasts that Noah uses produce a very crisp, very dry, and very delicious product that retains aromatics and subtle flavors.

We began with the clean and crisp Classic, with just a hint of tartness followed by the Berry Medley with a sweet and bitter contrast from the tannins and sugars found in four varieties of berries. Sweeter than the others, but still finishing very smooth and crisp, the Honey (technically, a ceyser because of the use of honey) was next up, featuring its very subtle honey notes and nose. And finally, we tried the Spice – my new favorite cider that I left with four bottles of – with a really complex taste profile and depth of flavor produced by only three added spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (admittedly, I also tend to love anything with nutmeg) that made me think of an unsweetened apple pie.
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Taking the back roads back to Freeport, we slammed on the breaks when a Barred Owl was spotted, and quickly unloaded. Unfortunately, the Barred Owl was less excited and melted away into the woods, bringing our birding day, and our successful “Farms and Fermentation” tour to a close.

With ten tours on the schedule for 2017, including some really exciting new itineraries, we look forward to having your on board soon. All of the tours are posted on the “Tours, Events, and Workshops” page of our website, with direct links for online reservations.

2016 Fall Rarity Season Redux Part II

Well, it’s finally cold out! And snowy. Yeah, winter is here, and with it, I expect some hot birding!

After a fairly slow start to the Rarity Season, as I recounted in my last blog, November continued to be slow. A Cattle Egret continued in Pittson through 11/22, and the long-staying Marbled Godwit surprisingly (and rather incredibly) continued through at least 12/4.  Meanwhile, the usual smattering of otherwise “late” rare-but-regular birds were spotted here and there like Yellow-breasted Chats and Dickcissels.

Once it finally got a little colder, a little snow and ice fell (especially to our north and west), and natural food sources became harder to find, excitement finally began to pick up a little. With warm coastal microclimates and pockets of seasonally abundant food finally starting to concentrate birds, a few goodies began to turn up -just not as many as there should have been. In fact, it was not a very good second half of November, as far as second halves of November usually go.

As usual, I combed my favorite haunts, with several visits to my favorite late fall/early winter hot (pun intended) spots, including the Saco Riverwalk, patches in Cape Elizabeth and Harpswell, etc. In doing so, I found quite a few late/lingering/pioneering/stuck birds such as a Common Yellowthroat and a Winter Wren at Kettle Cove on 11/27; a male Wilson’s Warbler and 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the remaining un-clear-cut woods at the western end of the Eastern Promenade in Portland on 11/27; a Wood Duck at Old Town House Park in North Yarmouth on 12/1; 2 Northern Flickers and a Double-crested Cormorant along the Saco Riverwalk on 12/2; an incredible Saturday Morning Birdwalk on 12/3 that yielded Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-bellied Plovers, a hen American Wigeon, along with Ruddy Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers; a female Wilson’s Warbler on Bailey Island on 12/4; plus a Hermit Thrush in our Pownal yard on 12/5; as well as the usual smattering of Swamp Sparrows and a few Chipping Sparrows here and there.

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Rather unexpected considering the date, location, and especially the insanely confiding behavior, this Red Knot was at Wharton Point in Brunswick on 12/1 as I spent the morning guiding for a client from Maine interested in learning the local winter hotspots.

Shockingly, however, despite combing the coast from Kittery through Wells all day on 11/28, Jeannette and I didn’t turn up a single thing out of the ordinary – it might have just still been too warm to concentrate birds in Maine’s “banana belt.” With temperatures in the mid to upper 40’s for several days at the end of November into early December, our wait for real cold weather continued.

Same was true as I thoroughly birded the greater Biddeford Pool area from the Saco Riverwalk through Timber Point on December 2nd with good friends Barbara Carlson and Paul Lehman visiting from California. We enjoyed some good birding, led by this Pacific Loon we found of East Point, but nothing unseasonably “lingering.”
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This heavily-cropped phone-scoped photo shows the rounded head, dark back and hindneck, small straight bill, and even the narrow chinstrap (not always present or visible) of the Pacific Loon. It was also much smaller than nearby Common Loons, as well as darker and with a different profile from the Red-throated Loons also present.

Paul and Barbara had been birding their way from New Jersey, and the same refrain was heard everywhere: “it’s slow.” The coastal thickets, migrant traps, and other seasonable hotspots are just not what they usually are this time of year. Although there are a smattering of rarities here and there, it’s just not that “good” right now overall. At the very least, I know we’re not alone here in Maine!

Trying things further afield, Evan Obercian, Jeannette, and I scoured the Belfast area on the 6th. Unfortunately, the only bird of note we turned up was a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet in East Belfast.
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However, well-stocked feeding stations have became a bit of a hotspot, as they often do at this time of year. “Feeder Rarity Season” began with a one-evening wonder Harris’s Sparrow in Central Maine on November 18th. Four days later, a Bullock’s Oriole showed up at a feeder in Camden and stayed through at least 12/3. Luke Seitz and I drove up to successfully twitch it on Black(bib) Friday – my 374th species in Maine!
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Two Dickcissels continue at a feeder in Clinton, but a female Black-throated Blue Warbler coming into a feeder in Portland was perhaps the most unexpected of all.

Other recent, more-seasonal highlights for me included a Northern Shoveler amongst 13 species of waterfowl at Sanford Lagoons on 11/22; 24 American Coots at Chickawaukie Pond in Rockland/Rockport on 11/25; a Rough-legged Hawk over Richmond Island from Kettle Cove on 11/27; a continuing American Coot at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on 12/2; and the “Blue” Snow Goose continues in the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields through last week. Jeannette and I also had a great visit to Sabattus Pond before the snow began to fall on 12/5, tallying an excellent late-season total of 16 species of waterfowl despite the pond being about half covered with a thin layer of ice. A rare-inland female Long-tailed Duck, 3 Gadwall, 1 drake American Wigeon, a pair of Northern Pintails, 21 Green-winged Teal, 1 Ring-necked Duck, and 73 remaining Ruddy Ducks were among the highlights.

Finches continue to trickle in and through, with scattered Evening Grosbeaks and Red Crossbills over the past couple of weeks. And some more birds of the season included all the fun stuff like Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers along the coast, Snow Buntings scattered about, etc.

So, although we lament what the season has yet to bring – for example, I’ve only had twospecies of warblers (Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s) so far this December compared to the insane total of 10 that I accumulated in December of 2015 – there really is never a “bad” season of birding here in Maine! It’s just that our expectations are elevated at this time of year.

But now it’s cold. And snowy. That should finally push birds to the coastal microclimates and migrant traps. And in less than 2 weeks, Christmas Bird Counts get underway, believe it or not, and hopefully a return to more seasonably cold weather will turn up the heat on the birding season!

2016 Rarity Season Part I

In my last blog, I predicted some great birding was in store for us here in Maine. Our entry into “Rarity Season” coupled with an active weather pattern was undoubtedly going to make for some exciting birding in the near future. It certainly started off with a bang!

Immediately following the Nor’Easter that drenched us on Friday, October 28th…
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…a Sabine’s Gull was discovered on Sabattus Pond.
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This gorgeous gull was my 373rd species in Maine, and while I knew I was going to see one sooner than later, I expected to finally get one in Maine waters during my Washington County Weekend tour (we were close!), and not well inland on a small lake!

Whether blown inland by the strong winds or “grounded” as it cross-cut over land, this pelagic is not what one expects while scanning the ducks at Sabattus.  An early 1st Winter Iceland Gull (later, two), and a rare-inland sweep of all three species of scoters (9 Surf, 4 Black, and 1 White-winged) were all related to the weather as well.
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Similarly, an adult Black-legged Kittiwake out of place in a pond at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on Sunday was likely storm-related. Although regular to downright common offshore, this is not a bird we usually see onshore in southern Maine.
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One can only imagine what else was on the 2,600+ lakes in the state of Maine during and immediately after the storm! Jeannette and I did check a few spots around Sebago Lake on Halloween, but it was surely too long after the storm, and the only birds of some note we turned up were single Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover (fairly rare inland, especially this late) at Raymond Town Beach.

I bird hard this time of year, doing my best to finish projects and keep my schedule as clear as possible to afford as much time in the field during these fruitful weeks. While I skipped birding in Portland, I did cover a lot of ground, and searched for odd birds in odd places, as well as focusing on the seasonal “migrant trap” hotspots.

In doing so, I found a few good birds, including this Lark Sparrow (always a treat away from Monhegan) at Pott’s Point in Harpswell on 11/10:
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As for wayward vagrants seen around the state by others, there were quite a few from the south: a Blue Grosbeak in Portland on 10/31, a couple more Yellow-breasted Chats were found here and there, and most surprisingly, a Blue-winged Warbler in Saxl Park in Bangor on November 7th – this early migrant simply has to be a reverse-migrant or 180-degree misoriented migrant from points south; right? And the headlines, from the southwest, as a Cave Swallow reported from Cape Elizabeth on the 12th.

From the west (and/or mid-west) came a Clay-colored Sparrow at Two Lights State Park on 11/6 and a few scattered Dickcissels around the state (but where are the Western Kingbirds this year?). A Cattle Egret in South Thomaston on 11/6 and another in Pittston on the 13th could have come from either direction.

But it’s not just rarities that make this time of year so much fun. There are all of the regular migrants that are still “lingering.” Some of the late birds that I have seen in the past weeks included a Red-eyed Vireo along the Saco Riverwalk and 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper at Biddeford Pool Beach on 10/30, a Red-eyed Vireo at Sandy Point on 11/1, a Pine Warbler and a late-ish Winter Wren on Bailey Island in Harpswell on 11/4, a slightly tardy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with Jeannette at Beaver Park in Lisbon on 11/8, a Turkey Vulture over Falmouth on 11/11, two Winter Wrens on Peak’s Island on 11/14, and a smattering of Hermit Thrushes.

Other birders also reported the usual slew of truant migrants, such as a smattering of Baltimore Orioles, a couple of Scarlet Tanagers, and a decent variety of late warblers here and there. There’s still a Marbled Godwit, 4 American Oystercatchers, and 2 Red Knots at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford Pool; I enjoyed them on the 30th, but they continued to be reported through at least 11/2 with the godwit still being reported as of 11/12!  A few Long-billed Dowitchers were reported, with the one at Sabattus Pond on 11/5 being at the most unexpected location.

The winner, however, is the immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that appeared at a feeder on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth on November 10th! I viewed it the next morning and it continues through today, the 14th. Although the photos taken by the homeowner looked good for “just” a Ruby-throat, I hoped I was missing something from the still images. Any lingering questions/hopes I had were dashed however.

That being said, it’s still a great record. Through our store we have been promoting keeping up hummingbird feeders into November for over a decade, and our database of observations after early October is growing. When I first got a call yesterday, I was sure this was going to be “a good one.” It was Nov 10th after all!

Amazingly, this is the same house that hosted a Selasphorus hummingbird last fall! In other words, it sure does pay to keep those feeders out, even if it’s “just” a Ruby-throat!
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Other, more seasonal, highlights for me over these two weeks included the following. Jeannette and I had 100 Horned Larks along Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester on 10/31; 18 Snow Buntings and 13 Horned Larks flew over Bailey Island on 11/4; a Lapland Longspur with 6 Horned Larks were at Stover’s Point Preserve in Harpswell on 11/10; two Ruddy Turnstones were at Winslow Park in Freeport on 11/12 with the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group – one of only two or three places in the state we regularly see them during the winter.

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This Barred Owl on Bailey Island on 11/4 was a treat. Any day with an owl is a good day!

Meanwhile, the new arrivals – including many species that will be spending the winter with us – continue to arrive, my “first of seasons” this week included 2 Common Goldeneyes at Sabattus Pond on the 29th, 2 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows at Timber Point in Biddeford on 10/30…
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…lots of Horned Grebes arriving all over, 2 Harlequin Ducks at East Point in Biddeford Pool and 3 Purple Sandpipers at Hill’s Beach on 10/30.

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There were also plenty of Dunlin and Sanderlings around this week, such as this one Dunlin nestled amongst the Sanderlings on Biddeford Pool Beach on the 30th.

Waterfowl migration is in full effect, and not just at Sabattus Pond (although that is certainly one of the top spots in the state). Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers are all piling in, and dabblers are also on the go, such as the single drake Northern Pintail and American Wigeon at Great Pond in Biddeford on 10/30. Common Mergansers are also now arriving; I saw my first migrants at Sebago Lake on 10/31.

Jeannette and I visited Sabattus on a gorgeous, warm day on the 8th, with glass-calm conditions allowing for careful combing through the masses: 649 Ruddy Ducks, 510 Mallards, 176 Lesser and 119 Greater Scaup, 104 American Black Ducks, 73 Buffleheads, 69 Hooded Mergansers, 40 Common Mergansers, 13 Northern Pintails,11 Common Goldeneye, 8 Green-winged Teal, 5 White-winged and 1 Surf Scoter, 4 American Wigeons, 4 Common Loons, and a very-rare-inland Red-necked Grebe.

On 11/13, I returned with a Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour with our partners at the Maine Brew Bus. Although I didn’t count everything as carefully as I do when on my own, “Fall Ducks and Draughts” did record 600+ Ruddy Ducks, 3 Gadwalls, AND 2 White-winged Scoters amongst the 14 species of waterfowl present.

The “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields” have been slow this year so far, likely also due to the mild weather and lack of early snowfalls to our north. In fact, the only “good” goose so far has been a “Blue” Snow Goose that showed up during the week of October 17th continuing through at least 11/11.  Canada Geese numbers remain rather low however; I have still not surpassed even 600 total birds this season.

There’s still some passerine migration a’happening, as well. For example, my last two days at Sandy Point for the season yielded 221 birds on 10/31 (led by 123 American Robins and 18 American Crows) and 131 on 11/1 (led by 59 Dark-eyed Juncos and 44 American Robins). Common Grackles and a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds are still heading south, although their numbers are greatly reduced over the past week.

Sparrows also continue to move through, with lots of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows on the move, and my first American Tree Sparrow arriving at the Yarmouth Town Landing on 11/5 during our Saturday Morning Birdwalk, followed by more as the weeks progressed. A White-crowned Sparrow at Biddeford Pool on 10/30 was getting late, but there are still scattered Chipping Sparrows here and there as usual, including one still here at the store’s feeders.
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This junco on our back porch on November 6th appears to be of the inter-mountain subspecies/hybrid swarm often labeled as “cistmontanus.”  It’s definitely not a pure “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco, and the curved hood with buff of the sides traveling up to below the fold of the wing, however, suggest that this is not a pure “Slate-colored” Junco either.

And speaking of feeder birds, a recent spate of Evening Grosbeak reports (I have heard or seen several 1’s and 2’s recently, but 6 were at Old Town House Park on 11/3), along with an uptick in Purple Finches and Pine Siskins are suggestive of a decent winter around here for at least some of the finches. I also had a few single Red Crossbills fly over in a handful of locations recently. And the first Northern Shrike reports have started trickling in.

But overall, we’re off to a fairly slow start to the November Rarity Season. My guess is the lack of cold fronts early in the fall ushered fewer birds east (e.g. Western Kingbird) but also it remains fairly mild. I’m just not sure birds have begun concentrating yet in places that birders find them (like coastal migrant traps, city parks, etc). But as temperatures continue to drop, this might change. Afterall, after a very slow November last year (also very mild), December was simply incredible.

As the shorter days get colder (maybe), I would expect more birds to begin turning up, especially at feeders and along the immediate coast. The coming weeks always produce something remarkable.

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A blast of cold, Canadian air finally arrived this past weekend, as evidenced by the wind map of 11/11.

However, it might be hard to top the incredible and unprecedented White Wagtail that showed up in Rye, New Hampshire on 11/2 through early the next. You know I’ll be trying though!