Tag Archives: Harpswell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…
surface-map-10-28-16

…a Sabine’s Gull was discovered on Sabattus Pond.
l1080338_sagu1_edited-1l1080346_sagu2_edited-1
l1080280_sagu3_edited-1

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.
l1080288_icgusabattus10-29-16_edited-1

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.
l1080409_blkifortunesrocksbeach10-30-16_edited-1

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:
lasp1pottspoint11-10-16-edited

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!
rthu_cousins_island11-10-16phil_bunch_edited-1

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.

l1080470_badobaileyisland11-4-16_edited-1
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…
l1080390_ipsp1timberpoint10-30-16_edited-1

…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.

l1080426_sand_and_dunl1biddpoolbeach10-30-16_edited-1
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.
cistmontanus_type_dejuyard11-6-16cistmontanus_type_deju_yard211-6-16

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.

wind-map-11-11-16
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!

Rarity Season is Upon Us!

I do like a good storm system. Especially as Rarity Season is now upon us! So besides our desperately-needed rain, I was anxious for this weekend’s weathah in the hopes it will set up some action for my favorite time in the birding year.

The winds turned east on Thursday (10/20), and strengthening easterly winds, scattered showers, and developing fog minimized the migration overnight into Friday morning. It was hard to tell from the radar is there was some limited, low movement, which would be indicative of the sparrows that move this time of year. Florida Lake Park was slow in the morning, though, and nothing new was under our feeders at home or at the store, however.

During the day on Friday, a shortwave moved out of the Ohio Valley, and overrunning precipitation fell during the day. By dark, however, that low was deepening and strengthening, and overnight, it tapped tropical moisture, leading to torrential rains, isolated thunderstorm, and by far our best soaker in at least 6 months: 3-6 inches of rain fell over the area! Southeasterly winds turned back to the east before going calm with thickening fog by morning.
wind-map-10-21-16

Fog and a little drizzle on Saturday morning was all that our Saturday Morning Birdwalk had to contend with on our outing to Wolfe’s Neck Farm; it does seem like there are more Laughing Gulls around later this year than I can ever remember (just the warm weather or are these related to Hurricane Mathew?).

The low slowly moved into the Canada, with an onshore flow (I had hoped for more southwesterlies) throughout the day. On the backside of the system, winds shifted to the west overnight while more rain and showers continued from the afternoon through the first half of the night. Winds were howling west by the morning, and the air definitely felt seasonable for a change.
wind-map-10-22-16

With the storm system pulling away to the north…
wind-map-10-23-16

…and the temperatures falling (and even some snowfall was seen in the mountains!) it’s time to really go birding!
surface-map-10-23-16

On Sunday, Phil McCormack and I headed over Peak’s Island, a place I really want to spend more time searching in the fall. Afterall, it’s a mere 15-minute ferry ride, there are a variety of interesting habitats, and the maritime climate tempers the onset of the seasons a little more. In other words, it looks good for rarities! (And you know I need to seek them somewhere other than Portland now!)

And with my Rarity Fever stoked, a productive morning of scouring the southern 1/3rd of the island yielded the seasonal rare-but-regular stuff that makes one keep coming back: A Clay-colored Sparrow, a Yellow-breasted Chat, and an Orange-crowned Warbler (my second of the season). Add to that single Nashville and Palm Warblers among a total of 6 species of warblers, a fly-by flock of 57 Brant, 8 lingering Red-winged Blackbirds, a good Northern Gannet flight, a Merlin, and recently arrived Red-necked Grebe and 9 Red-breasted Mergansers and you can see why I will be birding here more and more (my once a fall needs to become at least 3-4 visits each season, me thinks).
ccsp_peaksisland10-23-16
Not the best photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow (can you find it?) that I have taken!

battery_steele1peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1battery_steele2peaksisland10-23-16_edited-1
peaks_shoreline10-23-16_edited-1

There wasn’t any migration visible on the radar overnight, but there were southwesterly winds – the direction that can help facilitate the arrival of vagrants to the Northeast. But with winds once again rapidly increasing during the day on Monday, the detection of birds was limited. However, Jeannette and I enjoyed a visit to a particularly productive patch of private property in Cape Elizabeth, where a Blue Grosbeak and a Clay-colored Sparrow that I found last week continued. Dark-eyed Juncos increased to 100+ and White-throated Sparrows were up to 50. Other sparrows had decreased, as expected, but there were still 75 or so Song Sparrows, 6 Chipping, and 2 White-crowned, along with about ten each of Swamp and Savannah. Singleton Indigo Bunting and Common Yellowthroats were both getting late.

With the low pressure system still spinning over the Maritimes, and another shortwave disturbance rotating through, winds remained gusty through the night. Despite the preferred northwest wind (slowly becoming west through the night) there were just not a lot of migrants willing to deal with the winds and likely resultant turbulence overnight. And the winds were gusty and increasing by dawn once again.

I was in Harpswell for the morning, leading a birdwalk for the Curtis Library as part of their fall reading series. Mitchell Field, a true hotspot at this time of year, was our destination, but it was anything but hot from a temperature perspective! However, there were a bunch of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few flocks of migrant Common Grackles easily eclipsed 1,000 – a sign that it wasn’t just the birders who were thinking that it’s finally starting to feel like winter is approachintg! Migrant Turkey Vultures (10), Sharp-shinned Hawks (4), and a trickle of Northern Flickers were also winging it south.

Despite the wind, I poked around a couple of other spots on the peninsula since I was down there, with Stover’s Point yielding a 3 Horned Larks, a “Yellow” Palm Warbler, and 9 Black-bellied Plovers among others. But it was windy!
stoverscove10-25-16

Winds died down a little overnight, finally, and with it, some birds took to the air. For the first time in seven days, there was at least a moderate flight underway. Here’s the 10pm radar image for example, which shows a strong flight underway:
10pm-radar10-25-16

But by 1:00am, the flight was already rather light, suggestive of the short-distance migrants of the season making a little bit of progress, but for the most part, more birds departing than arriving:
1am-radar10-25-16

And therefore, Sandy Point wasn’t as great as I had hoped for on Wednesday morning. However, I still enjoyed a respectable morning flight for this time of year. A total of 444 individuals of 22 species were led by 262 American Robins and 82 Common Grackles, but also included my first Fox Sparrow of fall, my 3rd Orange-crowned Warbler of the season (and only the 6th Sandy Point record), and this very tardy (or perhaps, “reverse” or 180-misoriented) migrant Prairie Warbler.
prawsandypoint10-26-16_edited-1

Strong northwest to northerly winds continued through the day, but they are finally expected to lighten up overnight. The current forecast looks good for a big flight tonight, and, if the winds stay more northwest – or at least north – than northeast by morning, I might get a “big one” at Sandy Point.
10-27_wind_forecast
wind-map-10-26-16

I sure hope so, as I haven’t had a lot of great mornings there this year, between all of my time on Monhegan, our recent quick trip to Cape May, and the overall lack of cold fronts this entire fall. The good news is that it seems to be changing now, and at the very least, a more active weather pattern should not only bring some more rainfall, but some good winds for producing good birding. While weather doesn’t necessarily cause vagrancy of fall migrants, winds certainly facilitate their arrival in far-off places.

Hopefully, the onset of cooler weather and more north and northwesterly winds will usher them to the coast and concentrate them in those seasonal hotspots that I will be hitting hard in the coming weeks. Also, this series of strong low pressure systems could in fact displace some birds, or at least get birds that are still on the move a littler further northeast (I am of course, drastically over-simplifying the mechanisms of vagrancy here). At the very least, the little bit of snow to our north and west, colder nights, and the end of our growing season – and resultant greatly diminished numbers of insects and other food sources – should help those patches that get better when the weather turns towards winter.

You know I’ll be out looking! So stay tuned to our store’s Facebook feed and other resources, all of which are available at our website, for the latest news. And go birding! Rarity Season is upon us!

Morning Flight Fail

Following yesterday’s cold front, a huge flight was underway come nightfall. It was by far the biggest of the season to date, and one of the stronger (by density) flights as you can see around here.

Here are the midnight radar and velocity images, for example:
12am_radar

12am_velocity

Even as of 4:00am, with the eastern sky likely showing a little light, the flight was still strong:
4am_radar

4am_velocity

So of course I was up early to go to Sandy Point. However, the winds were forecasted to be out of the northeast, becoming easterly in the morning. And, the local weather stations I looked at (and my windometer at home ) were all reading north or northeast when I awoke a little before 5:00 this am. The 6:00am Intellicast “Wind cast” image shows this coastal northeasterly wind very well:
6amWIND_map

After almost any night in the fall with a little migration, there will be a few birds at Sandy Point. And after a migration as strong as last night’s, there were bound to be some birds. However, due to a combination of geography and the instinct to fly into the wind to compensate for overnight drift (to oversimplify things a bit), there are just never a lot of birds at Sandy Point on northeasterly winds.

On the other hand, on both north and northeast winds, I have witnessed good morning flights (aka Morning Re-determined Migration” or “Morning Reorientation”) in the south-facing peninsulas that reach into Casco Bay, including the dual peninsulas of Harpswell.  What I have not figured out yet, however, is which point is best, how, and when. This is mostly because I can’t tear myself away from Sandy Point long enough to find out!

But this morning, as I reached I-295, something made me turn north instead of south. With what was supposed to be an increasing northeasterly wind and a huge flight, this should have been a perfect morning to test my hypotheses at the tip of Harpswell.  So, with no small feeling of impending regret, I drove down to Pott’s Point at the end of Rte 24 for the dawn.

As birds that were over and beyond Casco Bay at sunrise begin to work their way inland and compensate for that drift, island-hopping to the north and northeast deposits birds in the long fingers of the Mid-Coast. Unlike Sandy Point on Cousin’s Island, however, there isn’t a single leading line, perfectly-pointing peninsula, narrow crossing, and raised bridge (for visibility) that combine to offer a perfect morning flight observation location.

So I thought today would have been a perfect morning to see if Pott’s Point was the answer on a northeasterly wind, even if it meant missing a few birds at Sandy Point.

I was wrong.

I arrived at the end of Pott’s Point at 6:27, 20 minutes after sunrise, but found the wind to not be northeast, or even north, but to be north-northwest. Uh-oh, I thought.

But since I have yet to find a way to be in two places at once, I settled in for the next hour at Pott’s Point (it would have taken at least 45 minutes to get from Pott’s Point to Sandy Point), and counted…very, very little:
16 Cedar Waxwings
11 American Goldfinches
5 American Redstarts
5 Unidentified
2 Yellow-rumped Warblers
1 Pileated Woodpecker

Now, all of those birds were doing the “right” thing, flying from over the bay or from Haskell Island just to the south, then over Pott’s Point and northward up the peninsula.  There were just so few of them!

CousinsIslandPowerPlant
If I only had a boat…

The view of the top of the power plant at the other end of Cousin’s Island was a reminder of what could have been, as Sandy Point is excellent in a NNW wind. Was I missing a huge flight? Or, were the winds northeasterly on the other side of the bay, and only a light flight was passing through there (although it would have undoubtably been better than the “flight” at Pott’s, I will convince myself of the latter!)?

In other words, I was here:
PottsPointMap

But should have been here:
SandyPointMap_edited-1

Besides, it’s a peaceful spot to spend the morning, with the only traffic being a few lobster boats.
panorama

And the narrow peninsula does have a Monhegan-esque feel to it and its birding (sometimes).
IMG_5997

So if the migrants were not at Sandy Point, where was the Morning Flight concentration this morning?  Looking back at the radar images, there was not a ton of offshore drift (due to the lack of a westerly component throughout the night), so maybe there just weren’t a lot of birds offshore come sunrise.  But there still looks like more than enough for a good reorientation flight at sunrise.

Bascially, I am not only left without an answer to my pursuit of a good Mid-Coast morning flight spot, but now I will no doubt spend the rest of the season being over-cautious about missing a flight at Sandy Point and therefore miss the next huge flight through Pott’s Point on a northeasterly wind!

There wasn’t much else left to do but go birding, so I poked my way up the peninsula and into Brunswick, checking a few of the hotspots. Some day I will find a rarity at Stover’s Point, but today wasn’t the day for that either. However, I did have some pretty good birding at Mitchell Field, including a trickle of warblers overhead. A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a Lincoln’s Sparrow were highlights, and other migrants present included seven species of warblers. OK, it was small consolation, but at least there were some migrants around Harpswell today!

Unfortunately, the wind and weather forecasts for the coming days hardly look good for Sandy Point, so it might be as much as a week before I am back to spending the sunrise at “my office” where I should be!

P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for my “Morning Flight Phenomenon on Cousin’s Island” workshop for RSU5 Recreation and Community Education next week. More information and registration details are here.

9/5 UPDATE: I received an email this morning from Bill Hancock who was at Sandy Point on Friday and reported it was “dead” and did in fact have a northeasterly wind. Phew!  Meanwhile, I tallied 110 migrants on calm conditions on Saturday morning – a very light flight, as expected this time.

BELL’S VIREO in Harpswell!!!

Yesterday, Jeannette and I discovered a Bell’s Vireo on Abner Point Road, Bailey Island in Harpswell.  There are only three previous records of Bell’s Vireo for the state of Maine. 

In other words: MEGA!  And needless to say – especially since I missed the two from last year, despite my best efforts – this was a thrilling find, capping a very productive morning of birding Bailey Island that included a Yellow-breasted Chat (my first of the year) at Land’s End, and a total of 5 species of warblers on Bailey Island this am:  Hundreds of Yellow-rumps, and one each of Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Common Yellowthroat, and Blackpoll.  Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and other seasonal migrants made for a very birdy visit.

In what turned out to be our last stop of the morning, Jeannette and I walked Abner Point Road.  Upon reaching a promising thicket (see directions below), I began to pish.  Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Winter Wren responded immediately, and as Jeannette attempted to photograph the wren, I sorted through the yellow-rumps, hoping to find one with a yellow throat.  A handful of minutes later (about 10:35am), we heard a harsh, scolding chatter emanating from the dense vegetation.  “Vireo?” Jeannette asked quizzically as we both looked at each other, unsure of the sound – it sounded like nothing we are used to hearing.  I wondered out loud about a Carolina Wren making some odd sound (they’re good at that, and there was one in that particular thicket), and the nasal quality led me to consider a funky Red-breasted Nuthatch.  We looked hard but could not turn up anything that fit the sound.

About 5 minutes later, a small vireo pops out of the brush in front of me.  At first I called “White-eyed Vireo” due to the bright yellow flanks and overall shape, but then I got a clear look at the head.  “BELL’S VIREO!” I exclaimed, as Jeannette, a few yards away still working on photographing the wren rushed over.

As is often the case for Bell’s Vireos, it quickly ducked back into the cover.  I continued to pish, and the bird popped back up.  I had a second brief, but unobstructed view of the whole bird.  Jeannette went for the camera, and prepared to fire away, only to see the bird dive back into the shadows once again.  One last brief glimpse of the bird was all we would have for the next hour.

We searched hard, but could not relocate it.  A Blue-headed Vireo was more cooperative, and permitted us some comparison.  We listened to a recording of the call of a Bell’s, and there was no question in either of our minds’ that is what we had heard earlier.

We thought we heard that call in the distance of the thicket one more time, and perhaps even a snippet of a song, but background noise and an increasing southerly wind made us unsure of that.  And that wind was clearly not making this skulker any more likely to show itself.  At 11:50, we heard the distinctive call once again, but from thick shrubs behind a house across the street.  We hustled over, but unfortunately only managed to pish in a cat (one of at least five in this immediate area; it was worse than Monhegan!), which was likely the object of the vireo’s recent ire.  We worked the area as best as we could, and eventually saw the homeowner in her yard and received permission to wander around.  No luck.  We had also received permission earlier from the homeowner adjacent to the first thicket to check her yard, so we did another circuit, but we came up empty, and it was getting breezier and cloudier.  Lunchtime was calling us, too.

While I left with almost three pages of field notes, it was rather frustrating to not get a photo, especially since Jeannette was so close to snapping it!  However, as a firm believer in the value of written field notes for documentation of rare birds, I scrawled away in my notebook.  Here are the particulars, after seeing the entire bird well a couple of times, with notes entered in rough order of observation, not in order of relative importance (edited only for context, not content):

–  Overall relatively dully-marked, small vireo.  Body shape and size, and brief glimpse of the body color first suggestive of White-eyed Vireo, the expected rarity here.

– Fairly bright and extensive yellow on sides, from chest through undertail (suggestive of the Eastern subspecies?)

– Dull olive-gray back.  Dull greenish-gray wings.  Lack of contrast anywhere except the bright yellow of the flanks and undertail.

– One fairly bright whitish wingbar, on the tips of the greater coverts.  An indistinct second wing bar, presumably on the edges of the lesser coverts, was discernable, but did not stick out.  Not the bold, bright white double-wing bars like Blue-headed Vireo.

– Head grayish, perhaps with a hint of an olive cast.

– White or off-white throat contrasting with gray head and face and yellow on the rest of the underparts.

– Very dull face pattern consisting of a partial eye-ring (or perhaps best described as two eye-crescents) and indistinct supercilium restricted to in front of the eye.  Maybe a small hint of a supercilium a very short distance behind the eye, but I am unsure of this.  A darker line, or narrow smudge, through the eye gave a subtle hint of a face pattern reminiscent of a darker Warbling Vireo or very pale Philadelphia Vireo.

– Perhaps due to the angle, I though the bill looked relatively long compared to the size of the head, but it was clearly rather narrow for a vireo, and was diminutive compared to the Blue-headed Vireo observed a short time later.

– Relatively long-tailed (NOTE: although in comparing photos later, I wondered if it was actually suggestive of the shorter-tailed Eastern subspecies).

– The first view was of a “sleeker” or slimmer vireo, not the chunky, broad-chested shape of Blue-headed.

– Very active, and did not come out into the open for very long (NOTE: tail movement not seen, or not noticed, which could have been a good key for subspecies), always disappearing into low, dense brush.

In comparison to other species:
– Wingbars and bright yellow underparts distinguish it from Warbling Vireo.

– Lack of yellow in the throat and pale face pattern, along with wing bars and fairly long tail and slim shape help distinguish it from Philadelphia Vireo.

– Incomplete eye ring and lack of broad and bright yellow spectacles separate it from White-eyed Vireo.  Wings paler and less contrasty, and no contrasting pale gray nape as on WEVI.

Directions to the bird (although I have not heard any reports, positive, or negative, about the bird as of 4:00pm today):
To reach the thicket we first found it in, take Rte 24 from Cook’s Corner in Brunswick south through Orr’s Island and onto Bailey’s.  Make a right onto Abner Point Road at the Johnson Field Preserve.  Park on your left in the gravel parking lot for the beach.  Walk down Abner   Point Road a couple hundred yards, around the bend.  On the right, you’ll see a small parking lot with little white signs with people’s names on them.  The bird was in the thicket behind these signs, along with a Blue-headed Vireo and a mess of Yellow-rumps.