Tag Archives: Hill’s Beach

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Beach and Brews,” 7/16/17

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The third new Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! itinerary of 2017 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success on Sunday, July 16th. The working title had been “Beach and Brews,” but I think “Terns and Taps” might be the new title. Whatever it ends up getting called, expect to see this outing return next year. It’s a winner!

Timing our visit to Hill’s Beach for the incoming tide, we thanked our friends at Buffleheads restaurant for giving us permission to park the bus in their lot. Nearby, we crossed over to the beach and began our birding adventure.
1. at Buffleheads

Shorebirds and birders had to share the sand with many other beachgoers, but at Hill’s, there’s room enough for most everyone. Gulls had assembled along the western end of the beach, so we started with a quick gull identification workshop, sorting out tiny Bonaparte’s Gulls from massive Great Black-backed Gulls, and separating Herring from Ring-billed Gulls in between.
2. Group on beach 1

Scattered shorebirds were here and there, but the action really started, as usual, as we crested the Basket Island Sandbar and scanned the rapidly-inundating flats to its east.  A growing number of shorebirds – already heading south (yup, it’s fall in the shorebird world!) included at least 50 total Short-billed Dowitchers and about 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
3. Group on beach 2

We quickly learned how to pick out Endangered Roseate Terns from the ubiquitous Common Terns – one of the target species of the trip. With practice, we learned it’s not as hard as some field guides suggest to separate these species, using a combination of size, relative tail length, wingbeats, and overall color. Hint: Roseates are the white ones. (Photo from a here on a different day above).

A growing contingent of gulls at this end eventually included a spiffy adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; an unexpected treat in mid-summer, and a nice way to cap our introduction to the gull identification lesson.
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(Photo from another time and place)

All too soon, however, it was time to depart, but as we turned around I spottan interesting bird. One lone Willet, a tall but hefty shorebird, was standing on the flats. It struck my eye as very godwit-like, which got my heart racing at first. Tall, lanky, and very long-billed, a godwit-like gestalt is typical of the “Western” Willet, a subspecies that is rare but regular in Maine in fall, but very rare here in mid-summer.

Out of expected season, I was very careful in sorting through the salient features, and I admit to waffling a little about its identification at first. As we got closer, however, details became more apparent, such as the very long and thinner bill that suggested a hint of an upturn. It flew across the sandbar, landing close by, and in much better light, showing the overall grayer plumage, and paler undersides with considerably less markings than the browner and heavily-marked “Eastern” subspecies which breeds around here. It also began to wade in the water to feed, a behavior very typical of “Westerns.”
4. WWILL1,HillsBeach,7-16-17_edited-15. WWILL2,HillsBeach,7-16-17_edited-1

Although our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series is not necessarily focused on the challenging aspects of serious birding, like nuanced subspecific identification, the group admitted they enjoyed the process (and admittedly, enjoyed seeing me perplexed for a bit!). Having had our fill of the unexpected unseasonable rarity, we crossed the peninsula to the Park in the Pines to view the muddier flats of The Pool. There, at least a hundred “Eastern” Willets were present in their preferred habitat, but unfortunately, they weren’t close enough to really compare plumage details.

Scanning across the flats, we were able to sort through the masses, even though few shorebirds were very close here today, including a few Black-bellied Plovers and a stately Whimbrel – it’s disproportionally long, downcurved bill always nice to see.

And there’s no better way to celebrate a rare bird (or two today, the “Western” Willet and the Lesser Black-backed Gull) than with a beer or two. There’s also no better way to relax after a long walk on the beach on a sultry summer day than with a beer.

Good thing it was time for Don to take over, and guide us to Barreled Souls, our first brewery stop on the day’s itinerary. And they could not have started us off with a better first sample, the salty and refreshing Space Gose – perfect after a hot day on the beach.

Co-owner and operator Matt Mills was a gracious host, and shared with us their operation, methodology, and brewing philosophy. Fermenting 100% of their beer in barrels via a Burton-Union system and also ageing everything in barrels makes for some very unique and interesting flavors (I recommend checking out the “About Us” page of their website, linked here, for more information). They wanted to be different and stand out from an every-growing, crowded field, making big, malty, and high-alcohol beers but now including offerings of almost every variety.
6. Barreled Souls 1 - tour

As we learned about the brewing process, Kristi kept us hydrated with additional samples, including the MEmosa, a take on a “beer mimosa” featuring lots of orange zest in a light blonde ale with a lemony hop profile. Next up was Transformer, a new pale ale that features rotating hops (this incarnation used Amarillo and Idaho 7).
7. Barreled Souls 2 - samples

Fun (and for some, games)…
8. Barreled Souls 3 - games

..were had by all, especially after changing things up with Dark Matter, a big and bold 10.1% sweet dark ale, similar to a stout or porter, but much sweeter. Their description was simply a quote from NASA: “We are much more certain what dark matter isn’t than what it is.”  But what it definitely was today was a favorite for most of the group.

Don and I love to offer special opportunities on our Roadtrips, and today was no different. Just a half-mile away, we were the first tour group to visit the new production facility for Barreled Souls. In a mere three years they have so far outgrown their current space that they are increasing their production space from a mere 700 square feet to an incredible 7800 square feet!
9. Barreled Souls 4 - new facility

Including a custom-built, climate-controlled “cellar” to house their Burton-Union system.
10. Barreled Souls 5 - new facility

Back on the bus, we discussed our favorite beers, and Don introduced our next brewery, South Portland’s Fore River Brewing Company – a real neighborhood brewery nestled into the Ligonia section of town.
12. Fore River 1

Don took us on a tour of their brewhouse, as we sampled their Spring Point, a Belgian whit, smooth and lemony, with a distinct biscuit finish.
13. Fore River 2

Next up was their Timberhitch Irish Red, another favorite on the day for this group. It was sweet, with just the right amount of hoppiness, and with a sweet and malty finish. Last but certainly not least was the Lygonia IPA, a clear and crisp IPA with pleasant notes of tropical fruits. This round was enjoyed out on the “patio,” a lush lawn full with picnic tables reclaimed from the site of a former salt barn.
14. Fore River 3 - group

But as we know, all good tours must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye, celebrate our life birds and life beers, and make the short jaunt north to our Portland and then Freeport drop-off sites.
11. bus ride

Endangered terns and migrant shorebirds with a couple of rarities mixed in. The only 100% Burton-Union brewery in the country making some really unique brews and a fun and successful neighborhood brewery featuring some of the area’s most popular styles. I think it’s safe to say that we will see you aboard for this tour in 2018!

(By the way, as of the writing of this, we still have one space left for our next Birds on Tap Roadtrip! “Shorebirds and Beer” on Sunday, August 13th.

Post-Arthur Beach Birding and Catch-Up

I know I haven’t been blogging much this summer, but I hope you know that doesn’t mean I haven’t been birding. Quite the contrary, actually! My June was as busy with tours and private guiding as it could have been, and with some other projects going on, much of my birding was rather purposeful. Of course, there was some wholly-recreational birding mixed in as well from time to time. Despite my irregular blogging, I did my best to keep folks up to date with my birding adventures and discoveries, mostly with near-daily posts to our store’s Facebook Page. (Remember, you need not be “on Facebook” to browse the posts of a business page.)

It was a busy month. But that’s not a complaint. And now, Jeannette and I are off to Colorado for a bona-fide vacation, to visit friends, family, and yes, do some birding. But first, I had Sunday morning to find some birds. My third attempt to organize a charter to see the Tufted Puffin that has been seen irregularly at Machias Seal Island (3rd or 4th record for the entire Atlantic Ocean!) was thwarted by residual high seas and localized damage from the passage of Tropical Storm Arthur. While Arthur took away my chance to see a Tufted Puffin in Maine waters, I was hoping it would produce some rarities of its own.

In a tropical system, birds are sometimes entrained in the eye, while others are pushed out ahead of the storm. This displacement usually occurs in the strong northeastern quadrant of the storm, and birds escape the eye when it hits land. With the storm passing to the east of Maine, I did not expect to see any vagrants on Friday. However, when the storm reached land in southern Nova Scotia on Saturday morning, birders there were in prime position for rarities. And sure enough: lots of Black Skimmers, several Gull-billed, Royal Terns, and Forster’s Terns…all rarities from points further south. (You can peruse the reports from the province, here).

These birds, commonly displaced by tropical systems, were likely picked up by the storm as it passed over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Thursday. Here’s the cumulative wind map as of 11:00am on Friday, with the storm’s center already off of the Delmarva Peninsula.
entrainment

As the storm hit Nova Scotia, birds finally had a chance to escape its grips. But notice the winds for Maine – they were already strong out of the northwest, on the backside of the storm (note the light winds of the disintegrating eye over the northern Bay of Fundy).
current winds,7-5-14

So Nova Scotia birders were having a lot of fun…and I was not seeing a Tufted Puffin. So instead, I decided to comb the beaches to look for some of these terns that perhaps are already returning south. While most of these birds likely made a bee-line straight across the Gulf of Maine on their return journey, some birds might conceivably follow the coast.

After birding Eastern Road at high tide (34 Least Sandpipers and 20 Short-billed Dowitchers – fall migration is definitely underway!), Lois Gerke and I headed to Pine Point Beach, where we spent a little more than an hour watching from the jetty. As the tide went out, exposing the sandbar and flats, Common, Least, and a few Roseate Terns were feeding, roosting, and loafing with at least a hundred Bonaparte’s Gulls. But alas, there was nothing unusual among them.

I then checked the mudflats from the co-op (more Short-billed Dowitchers, a few more Roseate Terns, and a lot of feeding Common Terns) before I spent the remainder of low tide at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford. At least 8 Roseate Terns, 75+ Bonaparte’s Gulls, 17 Short-billed Dowitchers, and my first Whimbrel of the year joined the regulars, but alas, no rare terns.

It appears I had the right idea, but just the wrong timing. Later in the afternoon, a Royal Tern was found at Hill’s Beach. And then, this morning, two Black Skimmers were roosting at Stratton Island. There are still quite a few waifs being seen in Nova Scotia, so it is conceivable that the coming days could see some reports of returning rarities here in Maine. Unfortunately, this morning, I had time only for a quick stroll at Capisic Pond Park. No rare terns there, but I did see my first Monarch butterfly of the season – which, the way things are going for this species, is even more exciting.

Meanwhile, indirectly storm-related were the 6 Glossy Ibis that were a little bit of a surprise on my Saturday Morning Birdwalk along Highland Road in Brunswick. The heavy rain nicely saturated the soil, and gulls and these ibis had moved inland to take advantage of the bounty.

In other birding news, a pair of Evening Grosbeaks has been frequenting our Pownal feeders – which are particularly exciting considering the dearth of them this year…in fact, these are the only ones that I have seen all year long. And, even more unexpectedly, three Eastern Bluebirds have hatched right here at the store!

Arthur gave us a momentary glimmer of rarity fever, and “fall’ shorebird migration is definitely underway. But July is for breeding birds – from terns to “sharp-tailed” sparrows to bluebirds and warblers. In other words, there’s no such thing as the “summer birding doldrums!”

Shorebird Pseudo-Big Day

Luke Seitz and I embarked on a semi-serious “Shorebird Big Day” on Wednesday.  I say “semi-serious” because we didn’t exactly try too hard to build our list…at least not after our first stop.  Instead, we spent more time watching shorebirds, studying, and photographing them.  We still, however, tallied 14 species of shorebirds, but instead of heading inland to pick up Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Upland Sandpiper, we just splashed in the water and studied dowitchers at Hill’s Beach.  It wasn’t a bad way to spend a gorgeous summer day.

We began in the morning at high tide by scouring Scarborough Marsh from the Eastern Road Trail.  If we were to have a chance at 20 species of shorebirds on the day, we would need to add a rarity or two from the pannes.  Unfortunately, high water levels from all of the recent rain minimized habitat, and shorebirds were not as plentiful as we would have preferred.  We did, however, see 2 or 3 Stilt Sandpipers, a decent bird in the summer.  Other than Greater Yellowlegs, with about 55 individuals, numbers were relatively low: 75 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 40 Short-billed Dowitchers, 25+ Least Sandpipers, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Black-bellied Plovers, 2 Semipalmated Plovers, and 1 Willet.

Making up for the low shorebird totals, however, were the high wading bird totals: 85 Snowy Egrets, 60 Great Egrets, 40 Glossy Ibis, 39 Little Blue Herons, and 9 Great Blue Herons.  In addition to teasing out one of the continuing White-faced Ibises and spotting the continuing full Tricolored Heron, we also saw BOTH of the presumed Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids.  Yup, there are two of these beasties out there!

The first is the bird that has been present all summer, with a ghostly cast to an otherwise Tricolored-like pattern.  Pure white is confined to the belly, the throat, and a thin line in the foreneck.
TRHExSNEG-A1,ScarMarsh,7-31-13_edited-1
TRHExSNEG-A2,ScarMarsh,7-31-13_edited-1

However, recently, a second bird has appeared, which is very reminiscent of the first, but has some splotchy areas of white, including mostly white wingtips.  I believe I saw this bird on July 18th when I was out with a client and sans camera; I remember commenting (and my field notes confirm) that I didn’t remember so much white in the wing
TRHExSNEG-B1splotchy,ScarMarsh,7-31-13_edited-2
TRHExSNEG- B2splotchy,ScarMarsh,7-31-13_edited-1

Meanwhile, it was nice to see that at least one of the White-faced Ibises continue, although at this stage of molt, it was impossible to age.  It was also not very close.  Here’s Luke’s best shot (mine were not passable at all).
WFIB_byLuke,EasternRd, 7-31-13_edited-1

After spending more time with waders and a little time of sparrows, such as this Nelson’s Sparrow…
NESP,EasternRd,7-31-13_edited-1

…we attempted to regain our shorebird focus over at Pine Point, as the tide was rolling out.  The mudflats had plenty of birds, including a few birds that would be important for a Shorebird Big Day, such as the pair – now, featuring two fledglings! – of American Oystercatchers (the only breeding pair in the state!).  We also had four Whimbrel, along with 296 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 124 Semipalmated Plovers, 25 Willets, 25 Short-billed Dowitchers, 19 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 Ruddy Turnstones, and 2 each of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

But with a morning total of a mere 11 species of shorebirds, we elected for a leisurely lunch at Saco Island Deli instead of heading inland to work on our shorebird list – it is really too early in the season for a true Shorebird Big Day, but I am not sure if I have ever hit 20 in July, and since this was a day we both had a chance to get out all day together, we figured it was at least worth considering.  Anyway, on the incoming tide, we visited Hill’s Beach, where once again, we elected to forego shorebird listing for shorebird “quality” time, and therefore just spent close to three hours playing in the sand.

While the two Red Knots…
DSC_0175_REKN1,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1

…4 Piping Plovers (a pair fledged two young here for the first time in recent memory), and 8 Sanderlings brought our count to 14 species on the day, we became distracted by photographing terns and studying dowitchers.  While our goodly count of 155 Semipalmated Plovers were augmented by about 65 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 8 Black-bellied Plovers, 4 Ruddy Turnstones, and 1 Least Sandpiper, it was the 120 or so Short-billed Dowitchers that kept our attention.

We were looking for individuals of the interior subspecies hendersonii, as I did on Sunday with Phil. (See blog and photos here:

https://mebirdingfieldnotes.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/biddeford-in-shorebird-season/).  We had what was possibly the same bright bird as Sunday (see above) fly-by, it was the paler birds that had us intrigued.
Luke on Hills, 7-31-13_edited-2

We thought the combination of a bright orange chest, and a fair amount of orange between the legs and on the undertail coverts, compared with the paler face and lightly, but distinctly spotted flanks and side (especially the side of the breast) of this bird made it look “good.”
DSC_0234_HendersoniiSBDO-pale,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1

But we were pondering how extensive of color a hendersonii “needs” to have, as most of the individuals of the expected Eastern subspecies griseus, also were showing at least a touch of peachy-orange color in the undertail, etc.
DSC_0254_SBDOs,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1

Here are some typical, and typically variable, griseus for comparison.
DSC_0236_SBDOs,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1 DSC_0239_SBDOs,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1 DSC_0250_SBDOgriseus,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1

In the end, we simply said, “who knows!?”  and went back to photographing other fun stuff, such as this Bonaparte’s Gull…
DSC_0228_BOGU_HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1

And this juvenile Roseate Tern…which was actually one of my targets to photograph today.
DSC_0218_ROST-juv1,HillsBeach,7-31-13_edited-1

Ok, so we really quit on the Big Day attempt by about 10:33 in the morning, but 14 species of shorebirds included Stilt Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher, and two hendersonii Short-billed Dowitcher, along with two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids, White-faced Ibis, Tricolored Heron, a mid-summer marsh Merlin (these birds have simply got to be breeding in coastal Cumberland County!), it was hardly a bad day of birding.  In fact, it was actually a spectacular day!

Biddeford in Shorebird Season

“Shorebird Season” is in full swing, and the greater Biddeford Pool area is one of the best places in the state to observe and study shorebirds.  Although numbers usually pale in comparison to the Lubec Flats and Scarborough Marsh, and diversity usually lags well behind the latter as well, the area often provides some of the best opportunities to study shorebirds, between Ocean Avenue and Biddeford Pool beach on the high tide, and Hill’s Beach at low tide.

Today, Phil McCormack and I birded the area thoroughly, beginning with viewing of the extensive mudflats of The Pool itself.  Birds were already well dispersed by the time we arrived this morning, so it was a challenge to really study and sort through the masses, but our tally was as follows:
196 Short-billed Dowitchers
~75 Semipalmated Sandpipers
57 “Eastern” Willets (plus one distant bird that may have been a “Western”)
~ 20 Black-bellied Plovers
~10 Semipalmated Plovers
4 Whimbrels (first of fall for me)
4 Least Sandpipers
2 Greater Yellowlegs
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
1 Ruddy Turnstone

At dead low, Biddeford Pool Beach was shorebird-free (which is often the case, as birds take advantage of the ephemeral mud and sand flats of The Pool and Hill’s Beach), but as we birded the neighborhood and Ocean Avenue, we picked up a few birds of note, led by 2 breeding-plumaged Red-necked Grebes.  Three Black-crowned Night-Herons and a few migrant passerines such as two Eastern Kingbirds and an Indigo Bunting were also noted.

As the tide began to turn, we headed over to Hill’s Beach, and hit it perfectly!  Here, the rapidly approaching water pushed birds towards us, and concentrated them in the highest spots for last-minute feeding.  We were able to carefully and critically sort through each individual, checking for rarities and studying variation.  Our effort turned up a few “good” birds, led by a trio of “Hendersonii” Short-billed Dowitchers (the prairie subspecies), a fairly-rare-but-regular stray to Maine.

The third bird we found, was the brightest of the lot, and was very obvious with its rufous coloration throughout its underparts.
HendersoniiSBDO1,HillsBeach,7-28-13_edited-1 HendersoniiSBDO1a,HillsBeach,7-28-13_edited-1
 (Phone-scoped Photos)

The other two were quite a bit paler, so were a little tougher to tease out.   I managed a crummy photo of one of them.
HendersoniiSBDO2,HillsBeach,7-28-13_edited-1
(Phone-scoped Photo).

Another highlight was a single adult Stilt Sandpiper, along with an adult Red Knot.  The complete tally was as follows:
119 Semipalmated Sandpipers
114 Short-billed Dowitchers (ssp griseus)
6 Black-bellied Plovers
3 SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS (ssp HENDERSONII)
2 Ruddy Turnstones
2 Sanderlings
2 Least Sandpipers
1 STILT SANDPIPER
1 Red Knot

So if the shorebird show was quite good, the tern show was simply great.  At least a hundred Common Terns, including many begging juveniles were present, along with at least 30 Roseate Terns.  A few Least Terns also joined the fray, including this adult standing watch on its fledgling.
LETEwFL,HillsBeach,7-28-13_edited-1
(Phone-scoped photo).