Tag Archives: Dickcissel

Northern Pintail x Mallard Hybrid in York (Wood Ducks, too)!

While birding The Nubble on Tuesday (not seeing Dovekies or Thick-billed Murres), Jeannette and I chatted with a local birder who turned us onto a Dickcissel that was in the House Sparrow flock at the entrance to Sohier Park.
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Chatting a little longer, we learned of some overwintering Wood Ducks in York. Now, the occasional overwintering Woodie in Maine is not a shock, especially when a mild winter finally turns cold. In fact, I have seen a few this winter, including a bird that was at South Portland’s Mill Creek Cove for almost a month. But the location he mentioned was new to me, and I like learning about new places.

So we found our way over to tiny Abbott’s Pond, where, well, a few ducks overwinter.
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During our visit, we chatted with the landowner, who had come to feed the flock. He said it started with a few geese and other ducks that “people dropped off,” and then it was discovered by wild ducks. Mallards love little places like this, and in winter, the numbers swell, as if often the case where handouts are offered. And A LOT of food is offered here, fed daily from a silo holding three tons of waterfowl feed!

A bubbler and the heat from so many birds keeps some water open, which keeps numbers up during the middle of winter (or, as in now, when winter finally arrives).

And what’s so fun, from a birding perspective, about places like this where multitudes of Mallards congregate (such as Riverbank Park in Westbrook or Mill Creek Park in South Portland), there are bound to be a few unusual species now and again. This winter, a pair of Wood Ducks was recently joined by a second drake.
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Comfortable among the habituated inhabitants, the photography opportunities are unparalleled. But even more exciting, we spotted this stunning drake Northern Pintail x Mallard hybrid that has been present here, on and off, for a month or so. This rare (especially in the East) combination is not something I had seen before, so we were excited to photograph and study it!
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But even if it’s just a bunch of Mallards – the gorgeous drake would be more people’s favorite duck if it wasn’t so common – to enjoy, I know I will be back (in fact, I’ll probably be adding this unassuming little spot to the itinerary of Sunday’s Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Seaducks and Suds!” which does, by the way, have a few spaces left).

So a casual conversation led to finding one of my new favorite southern Maine birding hotspots. Who knows what has shown up here before, but I know I’ll find out what shows up next!

2016 Fall MonhegZen Migration Weekend

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Our annual “MonhegZen” Fall Birding Weekend visited Monhegan Island over the weekend. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to find nearly as few birds as when I departed four days prior, as my week on the island with my WINGS tour concluded. However, there was a noticeable increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Swamp and White-throated Sparrows; clearly, the transition to October had been underway. No rarities to catch up with or track down for my tour group, either. So I enjoyed some time with friends, and that evening’s sunset (here, from the Island Inn) more than made it worth the early arrival.
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Thanks to a strong flight overnight on a light to moderate northeasterly wind, there were, however, a lot of birds to kick off the tour as I met the group of nine at the dock at 8:00am. Yellow-rumped Warblers (over 90% of the flight, apparently), were swirling overhead and we ran into large groups and scattered small, reorienting flocks all morning. It was nice and birdy through lunch, even if almost everything was a Yellow-rump! However, the homogeny was punctuated by good looks at things like a cooperative Northern Waterthrush at the Ice Pond.

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…and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows in gardens.
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We had a fun day, with a nice diversity of birds, including one Dickcissel, several Cory’s Shearwaters, lots of Northern Gannets, and a respectable 11 species of warblers.
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We awoke to light showers and continuing northeasterly winds on Saturday morning, with the radar indicating merely a light flight overnight. There was virtually no morning flight over the Trailing Yew after sunrise, and it was exceptionally slow after breakfast. Five species of sparrows on one of my seed piles was decent, and again we had a single Dickcissel.

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Some thought I was worshiping this Brown Thrasher, perhaps praying to the bird gods for more migrants. But really, I was just conducting an experiment on how many mealworms a thrasher can eat. For the record: 9, with one taken to go.

But it was hard to sugar-coat things, especially for the three new arrivals that came mid-morning! This was as slow as Monhegan gets, but I can say this: the weather was much better than expected. We only had a little spitting rain after the early morning showers, and light east winds. Expecting a possible wash-out, I would take it, and I would definitely take the results of our afternoon seawatching from Whitehead: 30+ Cory’s Shearwaters (just a few years ago, they were genuinely rare here), 50+ Northern Gannets, a Pomarine Jaeger, and 6 newly-arrived Surf Scoters landing with hundreds of Common Eiders.
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And on our way back into town, we hit a couple of nice birdy spots which helped to end on a high note, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had been trying to catch up with.
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Several Monarch butterfly chrysalises were noted behind the Trailing Yew. They better hurry!

Northeasterly winds continued for a 4th or 5th straight night, and a little light rain was once again falling at sunrise. With virtually no visible migration on the radar with diminishing northeasterly winds and scattered showers after midnight, there was yet another nearly-bird-less morning flight over the Yew at dawn. Well, there were the TWO Yellow-rumped Warblers to be exact!

It was another wicked slow morning – I found myself apologizing profusely to those members of the group who were new to the island; I swear this is not what Monhegan is usually about! But at least the rain ended by the time we were done with breakfast, and with the ceiling lifting, we finished strong with birds coming out into the open. There was the Clay-colored Sparrow once again in the Peace Garden by the church comparing itself perfectly to nearby Chipping Sparrows…
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…the two Dickcissels together in town (here’s one of them)…
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And several really good looks at Cape May Warblers, including this male.
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Blue-headed Vireos seemed to have arrived overnight, as did a smashing drake Wood Duck that was feeding in the bushes at the Ice Pond’s wide muddy edge. In fact, the 61 species we recorded on the day (with a 4:30 departure) was our best total of the three days.
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Most of the group departed, and those who took the late boat back to Port Clyde with me saw a Razorbill and a few more Cory’s Shearwaters, including one rather close to the boat. The two couples that stayed on the island dreamed of sunshine and a fallout for the next morning (sunshine and more birds, but no fallout, alas).

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“Yellow” Palm Warbler catching flies emerging from a compost bin

So while “tour guide spin” suggests I should just talk about the Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissels, Cape May Warblers, and all of the Cory’s Shearwaters, it’s hard to not see through that. It was slow…and weekends like this happen in the fall. Unlike my week-long WINGS tour that saw multiple changes in the weather, we were stuck in a dreary, northeasterly pattern that doesn’t produce a whole lot of birds for Monhegan. And, as true of the entire fall, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the continued lack of cold fronts continues to minimize numbers and concentrations along the coast and offshore. A mere 71 species were recorded in our three days together; our average for the weekend is 99 species (with an average of 20 species of warblers)! Or should I say, was.

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So now comes the “spin:” If I would have to spend a weekend anywhere else in a “slow” fall, it sure has heck would be Monhegan! The best pizza in the state and other great meals, fantastic beer, good company, and the unique and truly special sense of place that Monhegan offers (including Trap Day, which we enjoyed from afar on Saturday). And yeah, Dickcissels, Clay-colored Sparrows, Cory’s Shearwaters, and 11 species of warblers in three days in early October really isn’t too shabby.
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Of course, there are always things like Fringed Gentian to look at as well!

We’ll just make up for it in spring!

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The daily lists:
Species: Fri 9/30, Sat 10/1, Sun 10/2.

Canada Goose: 0,5,0
Wood Duck: 0,0,1
American Black Duck: 1.5,1.5,1.5
Mallard: 8,12,12
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,6,0
Common Loon: 3,1,0
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 5,30,5
Northern Gannet: 100,50,20
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 6,10,10
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1
Bald Eagle: 2,1,0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,4,2
American Kestrel: 1,1,1
Merlin: 6,5,3
Peregrine Falcon: 1,2,2
POMARINE JAEGER: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 0,1,0
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 6,2,4
Mourning Dove: 4,4,8
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 4,5,6
Downy Woodpecker: 3,3,2
Northern Flicker: 30,10,4
Eastern Phoebe: 3,3,1
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,2
Red-eyed Vireo: 6,4,3
Blue Jay: 28,24,16
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 1,3,2
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 30,20,10
White-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2
Brown Creeper: 2,6,1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 25,25,20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 5,4,3
American Robin: 4,1,0
Gray Catbird: 6,6,4
Brown Thrasher: 1,1,1
European Starling: 11,11,11
Cedar Waxwing: 75,50,40
Yellow Warbler: 1,0,1
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,2
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,2,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 200,30,30
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1,0,0
Palm Warbler: 20,6,4
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,4,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,0
American Redstart: 1,0,0
Northern Waterthrush: 1,0,0
Common Yellowthroat: 10,4,2
Chipping Sparrow: 4,6,4
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0,1,1
Savannah Sparrow: 6,5,8
Song Sparrow: 20,20,20
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 3,0,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,25
White-crowned Sparrow: 5,6,6
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 4,12,10
Rusty Blackbird: 1,0,0
Common Grackle: 2,2,2
Brown-headed Cowbird: 0,0,2
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,2
Purple Finch: 1,0,1
American Goldfinch: 4,4,2\

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White-throated Sparrow

A Week on Mohegan with WINGS, 2016

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Every other year, I have the pleasure of spending a week on Monhegan Island in the fall with a tour group for WINGS. Unlike my annual weekend tour through the store, this allows us to fully experience multiple changes in the weather and the resultant changes in bird numbers and diversity.

This year’s tour, which took place from September 19-25, recorded 116 species (including 5 seen only from the ferry or while we were on the mainland), including 18 species of warblers. Both tallies were a little low, as the weather was often simply “too nice” for much of the week, and fewer birds found themselves on the island. But as usual, great looks at a wide variety of common birds, spiced up by a smattering of rarities, made for a wondrous week of birding.

Birds from any direction are possible at this migrant trap, and this week, we experienced visitors from the south (e.g. Orchard Oriole), west (e.g. Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows), and even the east (Cory’s and Great Shearwaters). While the allure of a “Mega” kept us searching, local rarities kept us entertained. From Peregrine Falcons overhead to a Sora at our feet, you never quite know what’s around the next corner. Even the “slow” days offered new birds, as our relaxed and casual pace simply allowed us the opportunity to enjoy whatever happened to be in front of us. And the overall weather and food was unbeatable – adding to the mystique of this truly special place.
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While daily turnover in the island’s birdlife is expected during the peak of fall migration, a shift in the weather can yield a distinct change in the birds we see. Several clear and calm nights allowed migration to continue unimpeded, while a northwesterly wind on the night of the 22nd yielded numerous birds overhead in the morning – including our first big push of Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Blackpoll Warblers. However, no fallouts – the stuff Monhegan birding legends are made of – occurred this week as unseasonably warm and relatively pleasant weather continued. It might not have produced massive numbers of birds, but it sure made for comfortable birding!

A couple of nights of southwesterlies produced dreams of vagrants, and likely resulted in the arrival of several “southern” birds such as Orchard Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. In contrast, by week’s end, the first White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and other late-season migrants from the north began to appear.

“Drift migrants/vagrants” such as Lark Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows, along with a number of Dickcissels, all normally found further west, were present and accounted for as usual out here.
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Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows

Two immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (perhaps part of a small scale northward irruption into the New England coast) stood guard in the early mornings at the Ice Pond.  Later in the week, the world’s most confiding Sora appeared, spending one afternoon foraging in the open at the pond’s muddy edges – this year’s drought had reduced it to a mere muddy puddle.
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Sora and a Blue Jay

A Connecticut Warbler was one of our finds of the week, heard by all, seen by some on two occasions; an “exclusive” for our group. A late Olive-sided Flycatcher was another treat, as was the Black-billed Cuckoo that we caught up with thanks to the efforts (and game of charades) of friends – exemplifying the spirit of the Monhegan birding community shared by most.
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Calm winds and the season produced excellent seawatching conditions on the 21st, and from the high cliffs of White Head, we observed Cory’s Shearwaters (once a rarity this far north and east) and Great Shearwaters – with massive rafts of one or both just beyond the realm of identification– and a few Minke Whales. Always a highlight in the fall is the raptor passage, which most of the week was limited to numerous Merlins, scattered Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the occasional Peregrine Falcon, On our last day, a light northerly wind also ushered in a steady movement of Northern Harriers and Ospreys, along with another surge of falcons.

And then there was the food: exquisite fine dining at the Island Inn, the best pizza in Maine at the Novelty, and a candlelight lobster dinner – with lobsters brought in just for us! – at the rustic Trailing Yew, complete with a lobster ecology and human ecology lesson and step-by-step instructions. And that’s in addition to the limitless lobster scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning!

Highlights for our group each day were as follows, along with a brief synopsis of the overnight flight and the day’s weather.

9/19: Balmy Days ferry from Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Long-tailed Duck (FOF; early)
– 1 Pomarine Jaeger (harassing Northern Gannet)
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater

Island:
– A few light showers, drizzle, and fog occasionally lifting on light and variable, and rather warm winds throughout the day. Calm and foggy at dusk.
– 1 female Orchard Oriole (new)
– 1 Lark Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Carolina Wren (continuing)
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Like everywhere in Maine this fall, Red-breasted Nuthatches were abundant.
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Ichneumon wasp sp on window screen.

9/20:
– Sunrise: 62F, dense fog, very light southeast. Light migration likely overnight, but hard to decipher on the radar due to fog.  Fog coming and going throughout the day, warm and humid, very light southeast.  Light south and fog at dusk.

Another relatively “slow” day, but these were the highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 2 juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Lark Sparrow
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 2 American Golden-Plovers
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater
– 1 Greater Shearwater
– 1 Carolina Wren

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I tell people never to leave their binoculars behind when on Monhegan; you never know what you will see where. They also can come in handy for reading the fine print of menus!
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Lark Sparrow

9/21:
– Am: 62F, mostly clear, calm. Light to moderate migration overnight on lt SW to W, but again intensity obscured by fog. Moderate-good morning flight overhead at dawn, with lots of new birds around. Hot and calm!  Clear and calm at dusk.

73 species on the day, including the world’s most cooperative Sora and some fantastic afternoon seawatching.

Highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 3 Dickcissels
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 10 Cory’s and 12 Great Shearwaters plus 125 large shearwater sp.
– 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
– 1 Eastern Kingbird
– 1 Warbling Vireo
– 1 Sora
– 3 Minke Whales
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Brown Thrasher on the Trailing Yew lawn
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Sphinx moth caterpillar with parasitic wasp pupae
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Merlins were all around
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I’m not sure of this Rusty Blackbird left this particular group of yards for the rest of the week!
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Afternoon seawatching from Whitehead.
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Ending the afternoon with a Sora at the Ice “pond,”
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9/22:
– AM: 59F, clear, very light NW. Light-moderate migration overnight on light SW to West to NW. Lots of birds overhead at sunrise (mostly Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warblers), but less landing than expected as many birds kept going to the mainland. Relatively hot once again, with light and variable breeze. Clear and light South by dusk.

Highlights:
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 1 Yellow-throated Vireo
– 1 Olive-sided Flycatcher
– 2 Dickcissels
– 1 American Golden-Plover
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Carolina Wren

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American Redstart
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Baltimore Oriole
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Unidentified caterpillar- some sort of tussock moth?
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9/23:
– AM: 65F, cloudy, lt-mod SW. Little to no visible migration overnight on lt-mod SW and rain approaching from north with dropping cold front. Drizzle and some light rain ending by mid-morning. Overcast but warm on light west winds. Increasing north by dusk.

A slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than a good day of birding most anywhere else with NINE new species for the week today.

Highlights:
– 1 Black-billed Cuckoo
– 2 Dickcissels
– 2 Cory’s Shearwaters
– 1 White-crowned Sparrow (FOF)
– pair of Pine Warblers were our 18th species of warbler on the week (a little low).
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Here comes the front!
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Dickcissel
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Special delivery!
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9/24:
– 50F, mostly clear, light N. Huge flight overnight on radar on diminishing N, but very little overhead at dawn. Although new birds had definitely arrived, it was not the huge flight that was hoped for. Apparently, there were more birds arriving on the south end of the island today (we always started on the west-north-west side) as reorienting migrants were returning to the island, or likely departing from the island’s north end. Diminishing N wind became light and variable before NW began to increase in the late morning, producing a good hawk flight.

With the hopes a big flight dashed by the lack of a westerly wind component by morning, we had a very casual and relaxed pace for our last day with some hawk watching taking precedence. Quite a few new birds were around, including several new species for out week’s list: Northern Harrier, American Pipit, and a single Semipalmated Plover. Cape May Warblers were particularly conspicuous today (at least 5), and as always it is painful to say goodbye. Good thing I’ll be back next weekend with the store’s annual weekend!

Highlights:
– 2 American Pipits (FOF)
– 1 Dickcissel

Ferry back to Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (about half way, heading towards the mainland)
– 2 White-winged Scoters

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Cape May Warblers were conspicuous the last few days
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Boothbay Arrival

And now I’m off this afternoon for for three more days!
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The Rarity Fever Juices are Flowing – It must be November, and There was a Storm…

Rarity season is upon us, and there’s no better time for a big ol’ storm. Especially with an impressive southerly flow before and during the storm, and a strong cold front clearing things out behind it, my “Rarity Fever” symptoms got fired up.

Just look at those extensive southerly winds on Friday and Sunday, for example…
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…following Thursday’s storm system.
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Heavy rain Wednesday night into Thursday gave way to a few hours of well-above normal temperatures and mostly sunny skies before winds and rain began to pick up in the late afternoon ahead of the cold front. I was able to squeeze in a visit to Sabattus Pond in the early afternoon, hoping for storm-grounded waterbirds.

While it was simply gorgeous out, the waterbird numbers remained below seasonal-norms here. A continuing pair of Redheads was the highlight, and a pair of White-winged Scoters was just the type of rare-inland migrant seaduck I hope to find after some weathah’. Otherwise, waterbird counts were modest: 219 Ruddy Ducks (well, modest for Sabattus – this is an epic count for anywhere else in the state!), 164 Lesser Scaup, 75+ Ring-billed Gulls, 62 Mallards (not sure where the masses were today), 41 Bufflehead, 39 Greater Scaup, 36 Ring-necked Ducks, 16 American Coots, 13 American Black Ducks, 11 Canada Geese, 2 Common Loons, 1 Mallard x black duck hybrid, and 1 Double-crested Cormorant.

On Friday, with southwesterly winds (more rarity wind!) gusting ahead of a secondary cold front, I spent the morning in Cape Elizabeth. While I had Cave Swallow on my mind, I settled for a nice mix of late migrants, including four species of warblers (Orange-crowned at Kettle Cove, my 4th of the year; Blackpoll and “Western” Palm at Pond Cove, and scattered Yellow-rumps), a Gray Catbird at Kettle Cove, and an Indigo Bunting on private property.
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With a light (but decent-for-the-date) migration overnight, I started at sunrise at “My Office” at Sandy Point to take in what’s left of the Morning Flight. Calm winds seemed to preclude as many birds from reorienting here as I would have expected based on the decent-for-the-date radar image overnight. However, it was a very pleasant morning with nice little flight featuring good late-season diversity. I tallied a total of 247 migrants, led by an even 100 American Robins, 66 Dark-eyed Juncos, and a nice total of 14 Snow Buntings. “Tardy” birds included 3 “Yellow” Palm Warblers, an Eastern Phoebe, 2 Hermit Thrushes, a Red-winged Blackbird, and best of all, a late Black-and-white Warbler that I found in the trees after my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group had joined me.

But on Sunday, vagrant-hunting was the name of the game. Although I did not organize a South Coast-wide “Rarity Roundup” this year for the first time in a decade, Kristen Lindquist, Evan Obercian, Jeannette and I ran my usual Portland Rarity Roundup itinerary, scouring the Portland peninsula for vagrants, “lingering” migrants, and other surprises. It was not exactly the birdiest of days on the Portland Pen’ but the Eastern Promenade was fairly productive, led by 2 Orange-crowned Warblers, a Palm Warbler, a Field Sparrow, and three Hermit Thrushes.
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Here’s a terrible shot in the dawn dark and drizzle of one of the two Orange-crowns.

Elsewhere in the East End, we turned up a Hermit Thrush on Anderson Street, and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan Street, but then the passerines really dried up. The usually-productive stretch of woods on either side of West Commercial Street has been rendered useless, and was essentially devoid of birds.

On the riverside, there’s development, clearing a great stand of birch and scattered crabapples that once resided here:
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But it’s a city, and development occurs, and there are lot worse places for trees to be cleared. The abandoned railyard and old docks along this stretch of degraded river is hardly habitat worth conserving. “There are more important places to protect,” as Evan stated. However, it was at least some habitat for tired and disoriented migrants that found themselves in the city and looking for food and shelter.

But degraded urban “brownfields” are exactly where development should occur. More frustrating – and rather perplexing – however, is the continued ravaging of quality habitat throughout the city by the City of Portland. From incredibly valuable parkland habitat at the Eastern Promenade to scattered thickets on undeveloped hillsides, it’s as if Portland doesn’t want birds to find refuge in the city. Of course, there are “other considerations” for this land mis-management, but that’s a blog for another day. But the misguided efforts to do whatever it is the city thinks it’s going to accomplish by clear-cutting what was the best strip of woods on the peninsula, reduced habitat for migrants – and resident species from Black-capped Chickadees to Hairy Woodpeckers, to Barred and Great Horned Owls (breeding) to this:
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What a mess, and what an abomination! And what a waste. So yeah, there weren’t any birds here, either.

So after lunch, we gave up on the city (and crossed off several birding hotspots from the list…don’t get me started about what they have done to the Fore River Parkway Trail area!) and headed to Cape Elizabeth.

Unfortunately – especially with an increasing southerly wind in the afternoon – it wasn’t overly productive here. In fact, several of the best hotspots were incredibly slow – as slow as I have ever seen them at this time of year. However, we did hit some hotspots, led by a great amount of activity at Trundy Point. The five Snow Buntings on the beach were nice (photo below), but a feeding frenzy of 40+ Common and 6 Red-throated Loons, a single Red-necked Grebe, 1 Bonaparte’s Gull, and a goodly amount of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls made for a fun visit. Northern Gannets were diving further offshore as well.
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Maxwell’s Farm was productive, too: 17 Eastern Bluebirds, 5 American Pipits, and a Wilson’s Snipe led the way, and we had another snipe flying over little Joe’s Pond Park in South Portland. Mill Creek Park might have been the birdiest stop of the day – even if it was almost all Mallards and Ring-billed Gulls, however!

We then finished up the day, with the sun setting, at Portland’s Back Cove, with arguably the bird of the day – a late American Golden-Plover going to sleep with 9 Black-bellied Plovers and 5 Dunlin at the edge of the marsh. It was a nice way to cap an enjoyable day of birding with good friends, with the senseless optimism of Rarity Season keeping us going through nearly 14 miles of walking and searching.

No major rarities were to be found at Reid State Park on Monday morning, either, but Jeannette and I enjoyed a lovely, birdy walk on a beautiful morning. 8 late Semipalmated Plovers joined 151 Sanderlings on the beach, along with 8 American Pipits and 18 Snow Buntings. A lingering Nelson’s Sparrow (subvirgatus) was in the saltmarsh, and we spotted a Northern Harrier flying south, low over the water offshore. In the water, winter ducks and waterbirds are rapidly increasing: 31 Red-necked Grebes, 15+ Red-throated Loons, all three scoters, and a whole bunch of Long-tailed Ducks were among the growing legions today.

And then, I came into the store for a couple of hours of work this afternoon and was distracted by a Dickcissel at our feeders!
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After spending so much time sifting through urban House Sparrow flocks yesterday, of course one would show up right in front of me. It was a long overdue addition to our store’s yard list – #114! And it was my 5th mainland Dickcissel of the fall.

While the appearance of a vagrant after a storm could simply be coincidence, storms can facilitate the departure of already-wayward strays (to oversimplify things a bit). It’s hard to pin any one bird down to any particular weather event, but the appearance of a Swainson’s Hawk (about 6 or 7 state records) that was nicely photographed at the Cadillac Mountain Hawkwatch in Acadia on Friday, only served to further flare my Rarity Fever Symptoms. However, despite my best efforts, I didn’t turn anything of great significance up this weekend, and nor did anyone else in Maine.

From the lack of birdlife in many Portland spots (the ones that still have vegetation that is!) and especially in the warm Cape Elizabeth microclimates that I have been checking, it’s possible that the mild weather (remember we’ve only had that once cold snap so far) has simply not yet concentrated lingering/pioneering individuals and wayward vagrants in the little nooks and crannies that we seek them in at this time of year. And with a very mild week in store, perhaps it will be a little longer before we see them concentrate.

But there is one thing we can be sure of: there will be a “Mega” rarity soon. How do I know? Because I am going away during Rarity Season!

2014 MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend Trip Report

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PHVI,ScottHarvell_edited-1Philadelphia Vireo wrasslin’ a Fall Webworm.

Ninety-seven species of birds, including 16 species of warblers. Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows, and Dickcissel from the mid-west. Blue Grosbeak from the south. Kettles of Peregrine Falcons, clouds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, good food, great beer, and fantastic camaraderie. Yup, it’s another installment of our annual “MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend.”

There are few places in the entire Northeast that I would rather be in fall, especially during the peak of migrant diversity. Our annual tour takes places to coincide with the last waves of warblers, first waves of sparrows, peak of raptors, and the beginning of “Rarity Season.” Check, check, check, and check…and it was hot! In fact, I believe I received the first ever complaint of a room at the Trailing Yew being “too warm in the morning.” Of course, “complaint” is used loosely here, for the record. But it was an unusually warm weekend, and although the birding was not epic by Monhegan standards, great diversity was thoroughly enjoyed – as was the weather (well, at least until the boat ride home a day after the tour ended!).

Two Red-necked Grebes just outside of the harbor were a nice way to start the trip on Friday, as were plenty of Northern Gannets, several Common Loons, and glass-calm seas on our way across. Arriving at 10am via the Hardy Boat from New Harbor, we hit the ground running, and after dropping our bags off to be taken to our inn, we immediately began to bird. Two vocal, dogfighting Peregrine Falcons got us started, and we soon spotted the single continuing Dickcissel. That’s how I like to get things started!
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Although we did find a Yellow-breasted Chat (frustrating as usual, although at least everyone saw twigs moving), the bird of the day was definitely Peregrine Falcon. A bona fide kettle of 8 were soaring overhead at lunch time, and a steady parade of birds was passing overhead throughout the day. There was a lot of swirling as well, however, which made tabulating an actual count of Peregrines impossible. We know we had at least a dozen birds, but likely multiple times that. Some birds were clearly hunting, but most were probably rising high on the thermals and then soaring off to the south, using the light headwind to efficiently move out to sea, and likely not making landfall until Cape Cod!

Unexpectedly, very light southwesterly winds shifted to west overnight, and as a result, we had a very good arrival of birds to the island. Yellow-rumped Warblers – as expected for the date – dominated, with a conservative estimate of 250 birds observed, with many dozens in the air over the Trailing Yew at sunrise. Three Cape May Warblers, including a couple at the edge of the Yew were the highlight of dozen species of warblers we recorded today. The immature male Dickcissel continued in his favorite seed pile, and we had a fly-by Yellow-billed Cuckoo over the Ice Pond. Unfortunately, a short time later, it was found dead below a nearby window, not just sobering our sighting, but punctuating the fact that up to a billion birds a year meet their death at windows each year – and that’s just in the US!

Good diversity and good (but not, by Monhegan standards, great) numbers made for a fun day of birding, but it was definitely a lot more relaxing once we finally caught up with the Yellow-headed Blackbird! This immature male (a lot of folks were calling it a female, but the blackish body, extent of yellow, face pattern, and every-so-slight touch of white on the wing point to this as being a male) had been present for about 4 days, but since it was a “State Bird” for me, and a “Life Bird” for several, it was obviously a priority.

But on Monhegan, you can only do so much to chase most rarities. In fact, more often than not, you have to simply relax and let the rarities come to you! I call this my “MonhegZEN Migration Birding Weekend” not for any existential reasons – or mandatory meditation or yoga – but simply because we (try) to kick back, focus on the bird(s) in front of us, and let good things happen.

But yeah, we wanted to see this bird, and after missing it by about 5 minutes on a brisk, pre-breakfast (but don’t worry, post-coffee!) walk, the MonhegZEN kicked in. A friend spotted the bird as it flew overhead, alighting nearby in the center of town. Good looks were had by all (I apparently said, “Oh, thank God,” in response to the bird’s arrival, feeling as much relief as joy, apparently!) but about a half hour later, we had even better views as it perched atop a spruce along Dock Road.
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We were then able to more thoroughly enjoy the unseasonably warm day, watching Peregrines, and sorting through migrants. Oh, and a relative abundance of Monarch butterflies was heartening.
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The largest Fringed Gentians I have seen.

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Bald Eagle on the Outer Ducks as some of the participants took the short afternoon cruise around the island.

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Great Cormorant and Harbor Seal.

A moderate-strong flight developed on clear and calm skies overnight, but come sunrise, the morning flight over the Yew was a little less busy than Saturday. Nonetheless, there were plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Pine Siskins, and noticeable increases in Cedar Waxwings overhead and White-throated Sparrows in the woods and brush. Although overall numbers of birds were lower today, diversity was fantastic, and our trip list grew with the likes of Tennessee Warblers, a Warbling Vireo (I always wonder if these late Warblings out here are all “180-degree misoriented vagrants” as opposed to simply “lingering/late” birds – the local breeders on the mainland are long gone by now afterall), and we finally caught up with the Lark Sparrow that was visiting the seed with the Dickcissel.
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Lark Sparrow with Dickcissel – a classic Monhegan juxtaposition.

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Tennessee Warbler

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Red-eyed Vireo coughing up a cherry stone; phone-scoped image.

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We found a female Blue Grosbeak in the marsh behind the grocery store, and we enjoyed another short visit from the Yellow-headed Blackbird (minutes after Jeannette, arriving on the mid-day boat with Sasha, walked away of course).
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The eagle was present and accounted for on the way in.

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Trap day is coming!

Due to my schedule, the official weekend tour was only three days this year (instead of the usual four), so most of the group departed on the 3:15 ferry back to New Harbor. Al stayed until the 4:30 Port Clyde boat, and his bonus time (three leaders: me, Jeannette, and Kristen Lindquist who assisted me throughout the weekend as I added a second leader when I added a 9th participant – I, and my clients, prefer a small group, especially on Monhegan!) was partially spent watching a few of us struggle with the identity of a dull warbler who really did not want to give us a good look. It was eventually determined to be an immature female Pine Warbler (actually, quite a good warbler out here), and when Jeannette, Kristen, and I saw it later that afternoon in good light, its ID was much more readily apparent.

The always-successful “MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend” had officially come to a close, but the birding continued for Kristen, Jeannette, and I. Another hot (80-degrees on the last weekend of September on Monhegan!) and somewhat quiet afternoon relegated our birding to the porch of the Monhegan Brewing Company. Their new delectable DIPA and Pale Ale was thoroughly enjoyed, as was “Brewery Pewee” (a single lingering Eastern Wood-Pewee that was a daily feature of our Brewery List…OK, we didn’t actually keep a brewery list this time, but if we did…and no, this was not my first visit to the brewery on the weekend – it is an important destination for the full MonhegZEN Birding experience) capped the end to a fine and productive day.

After dinner, the three of us walked to and from the dock (a big school of fish, presumably Herring (?) attracted by the lights provided the post-dinner entertainment), but the mere four migrant call notes heard overhead foreshadowed the very light flight overnight that saw many more birds depart than arrive on a diminishing southwesterly wind.

In fact, the skies were nearly devoid of birds undergoing “morning redetermined migration” or “morning flight” come Monday morning, and although there were still plenty of Pine Siskins and Cedar Waxwings overhead, the skies were the quietest that they had been all weekend. But there was little doubt more White-throated Sparrows arrived overnight, and there was not a shortage of Yellow-rumped Warblers.
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Rusty Blackbird.

We slowly added a few species to the checklist, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had spent all weekend trying to catch up with. The Dickcissel and Blue Grosbeak were present and accounted for as well, and a Prairie Warbler was a nice addition. But as northeast winds began to pick up, we decided to head into the woods. Cathedral Woods offered scattered Golden-crowned Kinglets and more White-throated Sparrows, but our primary destination was this “Fairy House,” or more accurately, palace, that was not to be missed.
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It was definitely worth the walk, and made even more so by how strong easterly winds were blowing (hmm, that water is looking a little choppy) upon our return to town. It was simply too windy to bird – and rather chilly – after lunch, so we relaxed with a coffee, and then later – just because we “had to” have one more DIPA… err, check of the Brewery Pewee.

The day’s birding was slow, and we had not been able to relocate the Yellow-headed Blackbird…until the literal last minute. The boat was loaded, and we were hustling to the dock, when we asked two birders what they were looking at in the yard of one of the first houses uphill on Dock Rd. “The Yellow-headed Blackbird.” Of course.

And it was, let’s say, confiding, as it walked around the lawn and in some weedy patches a mere 10-15 feet from the gawkers. Sasha even saw it (I would have had a great photo over her head, with her ears up and her face focused on the bird had my phone not just run out of power) – her 127th life bird! It was an exciting way to finish the trip, but the excitement was actually yet to come.
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“How high are the seas running?” I asked as we boarded the boat. “6-8 feet or so, they’ah sure comin’ up fast today. It’s gonna be a wet ride.” Uh-oh; was that last beer a good idea? While Sasha has only been on a boat a few times, she has never been “tested,” but we thought it was best to keep her outside. Plus, a hot and stuffy cabin was the last place any of us wanted to be in high seas, so we donned our raingear and moved outside. We were amply warned about splash-over, but none of the four of us wanted to head inside.

Unfortunately, Sasha was not happy with the vibration on the stern, so we headed upstairs to the exposed top deck. 6-8ft seas? No, they were still growing; more in the 8-10ft range now…by far (actually, well more than double) the highest seas I have ever experienced on a Monhegan crossing. But it was surface chop, and not a deep, rolling swell, so it was actually kind of fun. Except for Sasha and except when a series of waves crashed over the boat and smacked into the four of us. I have never seen our tough dog look so miserable, and frankly, soaked to the bone, none of us were all that comfortable anymore. If any of my group had regrets about leaving on Sunday, I can assure you: be glad! It seemed like forever (OK, it was about an hour) before we passed into the lee of the outermost islands. But don’t worry, in between troughs and huddling over Sasha, I kept my eyes open as much as possible for skuas!

That was a wild ride, and very un-MonhegZEN! But once in the sheltered bay and harbor of Port Clyde, we couldn’t help but laugh with the crew. Seas like this are rare – and rarely do they come up so darn quickly – so please do not think that this is part of a Monhegan birding experience! In fact, glass-calm seas were enjoyed by every member of the group on their return trip on Sunday. I guess we might have stayed just one day too long this time.

Actually, no, we just regretted not staying just one day longer!

Kristen and I tabulated the final day’s checklist on the drive to dinner, bringing my four-day total to 99 species, including this final non-tour day. My 4-day weekend tour averages 102 species of birds, so this was just a little below average (this year’s tour officially ended on Sunday with 93 species, which is just below my 3-day average of 95 species).

Here’s the complete, daily checklist. These numbers only represent what our group observed, making no attempt to actually judge the number of birds (at least the common ones) on the island, or summarize the sightings of others and does not include birds tallied on the boat ride across either way.

Species: 9/26,9/27,9/28,9/29

Wood Duck: 1,0,3,2
Mallard: 4,15,15,15
Mallard x American Black Duck: 0,1,0,0
American Black Duck:0,2,0,0
Common Eider: x,x,x,x
White-winged Scoter: 1,0,0,0
Ring-necked Pheasant: 4,1,3,2
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 0,2,2,2
Red-necked Grebe: 2,0,0,0
Common Loon: 3,0,0,0
Northern Gannet: 15,50,20,50
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1,1
Osprey: 1,8,5,2
Bald Eagle: 1,1,2,2
Northern Harrier: 1,0,0,2
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1,4,6,3
American Kestrel: 0,2,2,1
Merlin: 4+,6+,10,6
Peregrine Falcon: 12++,10+,10+,8
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0,0
Greater Yellowlegs: 0,0,0,1
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,0,2
Herring Gull: x,x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x,x
Black Guillemot: x,x,x,x,
Mourning Dove: 4,4,4,3
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO: 0,1,0,0
Belted Kingfisher: 0,0,1,1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0,2,0,0
Unidentified Hummingbird:0,0,0,1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 2,12,15,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,1,2,2
Northern Flicker: 10,12,10,20
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 0,3,1,1
Least Flycatcher: 1,2,1,0
Eastern Phoebe: 0,0,3,5
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,0,3
Warbling Vireo: 0,0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 1,0,3,3
Red-eyed Vireo: 12,25,30,30
Blue Jay: 4,11,11,6
American Crow: 4,4,4,4
Common Raven: 0,2,2,3
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x,4
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 4,12,15,35
White-breasted Nuthatch: 1,0,0,0
Brown Creeper: 0,1,1,2
Carolina Wren: 5,6,8,7
Winter Wren: 0,0,1,3
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 6,8,12,25
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 3,20,20,6
Swainson’s Thrush: 0,2,1,0
American Robin: 1,5,4,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,4,5
Northern Mockingbird: 1,0,1,0
European Starling: 10,12,12,8
American Pipit: 0,6,2,1
Cedar Waxwing: 40,40,80,50
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,1,1,3
Tennessee Warbler: 0,0,3,0
Nashville Warbler: 2,0,2,1
Common Yellowthroat: 10,6,x,x
American Redstart: 3,3,2,0
Cape May Warbler: 0,2,1,0
Northern Parula: 1,2,3,2
Magnolia Warbler: 0,3,1,1
Yellow Warbler: 0,1,1,1
Blackpoll Warbler: 1,6,5,4
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 0,0,1,1
Palm Warbler: 0,6,3,7
PINE WARBLER: 0,0,1,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 40,250,200,175
Prairie Warbler: 0,0,0,1
Black-throated Green Warbler: 4,10,3,1
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT: 1,0,0,0
Scarlet Tanager: 1,0,0,0
Eastern Towhee: 1,0,0,0
Chipping Sparrow: 7,9,8,9
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0,0,0,1
LARK SPARROW: 0,1,0,0
Savannah Sparrow: 0,9,6,2
Song Sparrow: x,x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 1,0,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 0,1,3,3
White-throated Sparrow: 8,20,100,100
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,3,4,3
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,10,6,10
Northern Cardinal: 2,3,4,4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0,2,3,1
BLUE GROSBEAK: 0,0,1,1
Indigo Bunting: 2,1,1,1
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,1,2
Bobolink: 0,1,0,1
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD:0,1,1,1
Rusty Blackbird: 0,4,4,4
Common Grackle: 0,6,6,8
Baltimore Oriole: 1,2,3,1
Purple Finch: 0,2,8,6
Pine Siskin: 0,80,50,40
American Goldfinch: 2,2,4,4

Daily Total: 58,72,81,79 Total: 97

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Ring-necked Pheasants – the only “countable” ones in Maine!

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Cedar Waxwings.

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Beautiful nightly sunsets free with price of admission.

MonhegZEN Birding Fall Migration Weekend, 9/26-30/13

This past weekend was my annual “MonhegZEN Migration Weekend.”  A small group – absolutely no more than eight people per day – joins me on a per diem basis to enjoy the wonder of fall migration at this offshore hotspot.  While the 105 total species was right about my Fall Weekend average, it did include 20 species of warblers, and a variety of the usual fall-on-Monhegan cast of characters.  And a few “good” birds as always.

But before I get into the daily rundown, let me post a quiz.  Here are the 1am radar and velocity images from each of the four nights preceeding each of my four days on the island.  Can you guess which days had the most birds?
9-27-13 1am ref 9-27-13 1am vel 9-28-13 1am ref 9-28-13 1am vel 9-29-13 1am ref 9-29-13 1am vel 9-30-13 1am ref 9-30-13 1am vel

If you said the first two had more birds than the second two, you would be absolutely right!  And yes, Saturday (Day 2) was definitely the best day for migrants on the island.  And yes, Monday (Day 4) was very, very slow.  The radar certainly suggested it, and our birding over the course of each day definitively ground-thruthed it.

IMG_1587Leaving Port Clyde, 9/26.

After the good flight on Thurday night into Friday morning, I arrived with part of my group from Port Clyde on the 7am ferry, dropping us on the island just before 8.  The birding was still going strong.  In fact, it took us almost an hour and a half just to walk to the end of Dock Road (about ¼ mile)!  At least six Cape May Warblers in one cluster of spruces, Rusty Blackbirds were overhead (including one just as our boat docked, a nice welcome to the island), and then a buzz-by from a Cooper’s Hawk.

Common on the mainland, Coops are rather rare this far offshore, and I don’t see them on the island every fall, so this was a real treat – and an “Island Bird” for a friend I was exchanging info with.  A short while later we caught up with the last individual of what was once 5 Broad-winged Hawks that drifted to the island – only my second-ever out here.   A Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a continuing Lark Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Dickcissel – yup, most of the usual fall Monhegan “trash birds!”
a -DSC_0007_LASP1,Monhegan,9-28-13Lark and White-throated Sparrows

b -DICK1,Monhegan,9-27-13Very pale juvenile Dickcissel

c -CCSP,Monhegan,9-27-13Clay-colored Sparrow.

Honestly however, the bird of the day – from an island rarity perspective – was probably House Sparrow.  Seriously.   A male that apparently landed on the Hardy Boat half way to the island a few days prior had taken up residence here.  Were a female to show up – almost certainly in similar fashion – then we could have an issue <insert ominous foreshadowing music here>.

The morning flight was hot and heavy on Saturday morning.  In fact, there was so much overhead that we barely left the grounds of the Trailing Yew before breakfast.  All we could do was stand around, look up, and marvel at the wonders of migration.  Hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, 10’s of Palm Warblers, oodles of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets…2-3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, another Dickcissel or two, and a fly-by Blue Grosbeak (the first on the island this fall?) – it would have been overwhelming to quantify, but luckily, when I am away from SandyPoint, I am not nearly as compulsive.  Phew.

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This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher visited us while we were dining on Novelty pizza.

ea -DSC_0092_BRCR,Monhegan,9-29-13Brown Creepers were common, and unusually photogenic, throughout the day.

Good birding continued throughout the day.  We confirmed a Nelson’s Sparrow in the marsh at Lobster Cove and found a Marsh Wren.  We tallied 17 species of warblers over the course of the day. It was warm.  It was calm.  It was simply perfect!

But we all agreed that the highlight was the afternoon on White Head.  A light southeasterly breeze produced a light updraft off of the cliffs, and Peregrine Falcons were taking full advantage.  Some birds were swirling around, doing little more than what could be described only as “playing” in the wind.  Some birds were undoubtably passage migrants getting a quick lift from the rising warm air.  We know there were at least six Peregrines, as we had a bona-fide kettle of six swirling together at one point.  Normally, the hawkcounter in me swings into action.  But alas, this is MonhegZEN birding, so I just sat back and enjoyed the show.
eb -DSC_0104_PEFA1,Monhegan, 9-28-13f -DSC_0105_PEFA2,Monhegan,9-28-13

g -DSC_0124_PEFA3,Monhegan,9-28-13j -DSC_0053_OSPR1,Monhegan,9-26-13me_with_group_Monhegan,9-28-13,K.Lindquist (Photo (c) K. Lindquist).
Sea- and Hawk-watching from White Head. Lots of eye-to-eye Peregrine Falcons, an Opsrey, and a distant Minke Whale or two.

A shroud of fog enveloped the island on Sunday morning, but there weren’t too many birds overhead to be obscured by it.  Although there were few birds overhead or moving around once the fog lifted, there was still an ample supply of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets.   We happened upon a Prairie Warbler, and added a few other species to our trip list, such as two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and – finally – Ring-necked Pheasants (how did I go two days without hearing or seeing a pheasant here?).  Lark Sparrow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Rusty Blackbird, Least Flycatcher (finally, after three days I had an Empid to try and string!)…the list goes on.  But overall, birding was decidedly slower than the previous two days (note what constitutes a slow day on Monhegan!), and rather warm.
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While the birding was slow, we took time to enjoy the scenery in the fog.

Remember when I said that all that male House Sparrow needed was a female to arrive?  Uh-oh.
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I am unsure how long it’s been – if ever? – since two House Sparrows were on the island.  While only die-hard island-listers appreciated these birds as much as I did (I remain captivated by the way birds – all birds – find their way to islands and what their lives are like once they get there ), the members of my group that have birded here before at least understood the significance, and potential colonization consequences of this sighting.

Luckily, we had other intrigue to talk about as well.  The spruces along Dock Road were happenin’ again today, but one warbler in particular occupied us for a while.  I first called it a Blackburnian, and then I back-tracked…a lot.  It was so impressively pale, and feeding above us, some of the most diagnostic features were not visible.  We spent about a half hour with this bird, which eventually obliged us as it fed in the lowest boughs of the tree.  We worked it carefully and thoroughly, taking the opportunity to really learn from this individual.  It took a while, but I was finally convinced it was a Blackburnian in large part due to the very pale but distinct “braces” on the back, and what we would (via camera-screen “instant replay”) finally confirm as a small, pale orange central forehead stripe.
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The orange feet seem odd to me, and the dark auriculars appeared much more contrasting on these photos than we interpreted it in the field.  This was a good “learning and teaching bird,” and therefore this was one of my favorite birds of the trip.

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I visited the Monhegan Brewing Company a couple of times for good beer and conversation.  And we know good business can be conducted over a beer.  In fact, during my last beer there on Sunday evening, I struck a deal with Sue to buy the sunflower heads from the Island Farm.  They’re currently drying at our house, but they’ll soon be for sale here at the store.  The money will go to help the Island Farm in their pursuit to provide a sustainable source of produce for the island.  The gardens are also great birding!
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Very few birds were on the move Sunday night, and with almost nothing visible on the radar, I didn’t exactly pop out of bed in the morning.  I did get out for a little while before breakfast, however, and once again the morning flight – or lack thereof – proved what the radar suggested.  My tour had come to an end, but I elected to stay out for the day to bird with my friend Kristen.  We both just wished there were a few more birds to see!

n -DSC_0167_YRWA1,Monhegan,9-30-13n -DSC_0168_YRWA2,Monhegan,9-30-13
Although I like the photo on the left of the Yellow-rumped Warbler atop a Red Spruce, as you can see on the right, I excel at photographs of fuzzy twigs.

IMG_1603 A most impressive Fringed Gentian.

We worked the bush hard, checking all sorts of seldom-searched nooks and crannies.  Some of our totals for the day were higher than previous days simply because we covered more ground.  The Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows continued, as did the two Green-winged Teal in the town marsh.  A spiffy Chestnut-sided Warbler was my 20th species of warbler for the weekend, and we added a few more waterbirds to the list by dedicating some time to sea-watching and scanning the gulls in the harbor.

Unfortunately, most of the afternoon – following one last pizza – was spent keeping an eye on our watches and watching our time rapidly tick away.  At least we weren’t nursing a concern about leaving hot and heavy birding – it was slow, very slow, today, and that did make our departure a little less unwelcome.  A little; it’s never easy to leave this magical place.
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Trap Day!

Here’s my weekend’s checklist, with estimates or counts of each species per day (not including ferry):

Mallard: 12, 12, 12, 12
American Black Duck: 1, 1, 1, 5
Green-winged Teal: 1, 1, 2, 2,
Common Eider: x, x, x, x
Surf Scoter: 0, 0, 0, 4
Ring-necked Pheasant: 0, 0, 3, 2
Common Loon: 3, 2, 1, 1
Red-necked Grebe: 0, 1, 0, 0
Great Cormorant: 1, 5, 1, 7
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x,x
Northern Gannet: 0, 125, 8, 30
Great Blue Heron: 1, 1, 1, 0
Osprey: 0, 2, 0, 0
Bald Eagle: 2, 2, 2, 2
Northern Harrier: 1, 1, 0, 0,
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 6, 5, 5, 4
COOPER’S HAWK: 1,0,0,0
BROAD-WINGED HAWK: 1,0,0,0
American Kestrel: 2, 2, 1, 1
Merlin: 15, 8, 4, 3
Peregrine Falcon: 8, 12, 1, 1
Semipalmated Plover: 2, 0, 1, 0
Laughing Gull: 0, 0, 0, 2
Ring-billed Gull: 0, 0, 0, 1
Herring Gull: x,x,x,x
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL: 0, 0, 0, 2
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 10, 20, 10, 15
Mourning Dove: 3, 3, 3, 3
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO: 1, 0, 1, 0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0, 0, 2, 2
Belted Kingfisher: 1, 0, 1, 1
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER: 1, 0, 0, 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 25, 50, 25, 20
Downy Woodpecker: 0, 1, 1, 1
Northern Flicker: 20, 15, 25, 20
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 0, 1, 0, 0
Least Flycatcher: 0, 0, 1, 0
Eastern Phoebe: 8, 5, 3, 1
Red-eyed Vireo: 30, 20, 18, 12
Blue-headed Vireo: 12, 20, 25, 6
Blue Jay: 6, 10, 8, 8
Common Raven: 2,2,2,2
American Crow: x,x,x,x
Black-capped Chickadee: 20, 15, 15, 20
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6, 15, 10, 8
Brown Creeper: 15, 35, 20, 3
Carolina Wren: 5, 8, 10, 12
House Wren: 0, 1, 1, 0
Winter Wren: 1, 1, 1, 1
Marsh Wren: 0, 1, 1, 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15, 75, 50, 35
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 25, 40, 25, 15
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER: 1, 2-3, 2, 0
American Robin: 0, 1, 0, 0
Gray Catbird: 6, 8, 10, 18
Northern Mockingbird: 1, 1, 0, 0
Brown Thrasher: 2, 1, 1, 0
European Starling: 8, 10, 12, 14
American Pipit: 2, 2, 1, 0
Cedar Waxwing: 40, 60, 40, 40
Tennessee Warbler: 0, 1, 0, 0,
Nashville Warbler: 5, 3, 6, 1
Northern Parula: 1, 0, 2, 2
Yellow Warbler: 2, 6, 7, 0
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 0, 0, 0, 1
Magnolia Warbler: 6, 5, 2, 0
Cape May Warbler: 9, 3, 0, 0
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 0, 8, 6, 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 300, 400, 300, 175
Black-throated Green Warbler: 0, 4, 2, 1
Blackburnian Warbler: 0, 0, 1, 0
PRAIRIE WARBLER: 0, 0, 1, 0
Palm Warbler: 30, 100, 30, 15
Bay-breasted Warbler: 0, 2, 0, 0
Blackpoll Warbler: 1, 20, 1, 3
Black-and-white Warbler: 25, 30, 15, 2
American Redstart: 2, 1, 2, 0
Northern Waterthrush: 0, 1, 1, 0
Common Yellowthroat: 10, 15, 10, 18
Wilson’s Warbler: 3, 4, 1, 0
Scarlet Tanager: 1, 0, 0, 0
Chipping Sparrow: 4, 6, 6, 5
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1, 0, 1, 1-2
LARK SPARROW: 1, 1, 1, 1
Savannah Sparrow: 2, 15, 12, 10
NELSON’S SPARROW (spp. subvirgatus): 0, 1, 0, 0
Song Sparrow: 15, 15, 20, 25
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 0, 2, 2, 2
Swamp Sparrow: 2, 30, 20, 15
White-throated Sparrow: 25, 50, 60, 30
White-crowned Sparrow: 1, 5, 4, 2
Dark-eyed Junco: 3, 10, 6, 8
Northern Cardinal: 8, 6, 5, 8
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 0, 0, 0, 1
BLUE GROSBEAK: 0, 1, 0, 0
Indigo Bunting: 0, 1, 0, 0
DICKCISSEL: 0, 2, 0, 0
Rusty Blackbird: 4, 9, 1, 0
Common Grackle: 1, 3, 4, 4
Baltimore Oriole: 1, 2, 2, 0
American Goldfinch: 12, 10, 10, 8
HOUSE SPARROW: 1, 1, 2, 0

Total species: 64, 83, 79, 66 (Total =105)

Mammals:
Minke Whale
Gray Seal
Harbor Seal
Harbor Porpoise
Muskrat
Brown Rat

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Monhegan Island, 9/20-22/2013

On a morning with a big overnight migration in the fall, there’s no where I’d rather be than SandyPoint.  I just wish there was a direct ferry from there right to MonheganIsland.  Any other time, I would just rather be on Monhegan.

While our annual MonhegZEN Fall Migration Weekend coming up this weekend (still some space available), Jeannette and I headed to the island Friday through Sunday for a few days of birding and visiting with friends.  It was kinda odd being there without a group!  Not surprisingly, I did not bird much less hard.

I’ll post some radar images from the weekend on a forthcoming blog entry that I hope to post by day’s end.  A decent flight Thursday night into Friday produced a fair amount of birds on the island, even after our late (relatively speaking) arrival at 10:00am, and even though it seemed – as is often the case on calm mornings – birds that arrived at dawn continued on to the mainland.  Three of our first handful of species, however, were Philadelphia Vireo, Cape May Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Welcome (back) to Monhegan.

The birding improved in the afternoon, highlighted by a Western Kingbird.
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A Lark Sparrow and two Dickcissels – all present for a few days – were enjoyed (here, one of the Dickcissels with the Lark Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow in the background). Typical “Monhegan Trash Birds:” birds that are noteworthy anywhere else in the state but are fully expected in an autumn visit here.
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We ended up with 67 species of birds on the day, including 11 species of warblers.  Yup, a slow day of birding on Monhegan beats a good day of birding almost anywhere else.  Light southerly winds that developed over the course of the day became calm by nightfall, and call notes early in the night were suggestive of birds departing the island.
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With a southerly flow aloft, I didn’t have high hopes of a lot of new arrivals for the next morning.  The radar image was, simply put, was weird – some sort of temperature anomaly or perhaps a malfunction, so I couldn’t use that to confirm or alleviate my concerns.  A mere handful of bird overhead at dawn on Saturday morning confirmed it though – there was not much on the move overnight.

Fog rolled in and out for most of the morning, clearing out in the afternoon on an increasing south to southwesterly breeze.  We beat the bush hard, and covered a lot of ground, but birds were hard to come by.  There were quite a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers around than on previous mornings, Kristen noted, and we added plenty of species to our trip list over the course of the day.  While the Dickcissels apparently departed, the Lark Sparrow continued, and the island was now up to three Clay-colored Sparrows.
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Clay-colored Sparrows, Dickcissels, and Lark Sparrow, check:  the triumvirate of Midwestern regular-rarities out here.  Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a tarrying Eastern Kingbird, a Semipalmated Plover, and a good afternoon Northern Gannet show were the other highlights of what amounted to be an exceptionally slow day of birding for Monhegan in the fall.  Nevertheless, complaints were not uttered – we were on Monhegan! – and besides, I got to mooch a TV (Thanks Paul and Sue!) to watch Rutgers come from behind to defeat Arkansas in an exciting finish, and we visited the Monhegan Brewing Company.  Yup, tough day.
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This young Peregrine Falcon – with a bulging crop from its last meal – also had a good day.

Unfortunately, an increasing southerly wind overnight precluded much in the way of any migration.  Take a look at the next blog to see what “almost nothing” looks like on a radar image.  Clouds were thick by dawn, too, but the rain held off until after breakfast.  After another fulfilling and scrumptious breakfast at the Trailing Yew, Jeannette, Kristen, and I headed down to Lobster Cove for a bit of seawatching.  We could see the wall of rain on the radar, and we could now see it on the horizon.  But as it marched closer, tubenoses joined the gannets.  In a mere 15 minutes or so, 20+ Great Shearwaters and 6+ Sooty Shearwaters zoomed through my scope.  And then the skies opened up.  This is what a line of rain – ahead of a cold front – looks like on the radar.
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The southerly winds were diminishing as the rain tapered off rather quickly over the course of the morning, but seawatching was less productive before lunchtime – apparently those tubenoses were all on the move just ahead of the precipitation.  But with the sun beginning to peak out after lunch, at least more birds were more visible again: two of the Clay-colored Sparrows, a Philly Vireo, etc.  Joined by Paul and Doug, we encountered a – or the – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and then a calling flyover Lesser Yellowlegs became my 202nd species on Monhegan.

Moments later, Paul spotted a night-heron in a narrow drainage, and Doug soon relocated it.  A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!  Once a more regular bird in Maine, and even on Monhegan, it had been about a decade since one had made an appearance on the island.  But this bird showed up a couple of weeks ago, and was often seen foraging on grasshoppers in lawns.  Rumors of its continued presence were circulated, but there were no confirmed sightings for over a week.  Until today.
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Monhegan bird #203!  And two island birds in about 10 minutes.  Now that’s the way to finish strong.

When it was time to go, we were very happy to see the waves were rapidly dropping off.  Seven foot seas this morning had been reduced to 3-4 at most as we hopped on the Hardy Boat for the trip back.  A Great Cormorant on the Outer Ducks was our 88th species for the Monhegan tally for this trip, but 88 –including a mere 13 species of warblers – was a fairly low total for three days out here at this time of year.  That being said, it could have been much lower had we not continued to beat the bush.

Two juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined some hopeful Herring Gulls following the boat to shore, and westerly winds were increasing as the cold front pushed through.  There would no doubt be a lot of new birds come morning on Monhegan.  While I would be sorry to miss them, I knew fun was going to be had at SandyPoint, so I was not upset.

And I was right…