Tag Archives: Manx Shearwater

The “Coastal Quick Hit” Van Tour report

I think it is safe to say that the inaugural “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour was a resounding success! We not only found all of the target species that we were after, but also a few surprises, and we saw all of our target species incredibly well! And we really lucked out with the weather, as the only rain we encountered was a brief downpour while we were driving. I have “no” doubt that all future tours will be this successful.

We receive numerous requests for guiding for several local breeding species that can be hard, if not impossible, to see elsewhere. While Bicknell’s Thrush is my number one request, there are a number of coastal species that are also sought. Folks travel from far and wide for our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van trip, and often I get requests for private guiding for many of the other species before and after that tour. Therefore, for efficiency and economy, we introduced the “Coastal Quick Hit” tour.

We had four visitors from California on board who were here to take part in the weekend’s thrush tour, plus three local birders out for the day. The eight of us met here at the store on Friday morning, and worked our way south.

Beginning in Scarborough Marsh, we had the opportunity to study Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows side-by-side, and ponder over some hybrids as well. We compared their songs and subtleties of identification – and learned how to simply leave many, likely hybrids and intergrades, as unidentified. Meanwhile, “Eastern” Willets and many other marsh denizens were numerous, and several sparrows and Willets posed for photos.
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Walking the Eastern Road Trail, a Fish Crow was unexpected, and we enjoyed Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and more. We then found this wading bird, which immediately brought to mind one of the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret (and now, possible a backcross there of) that calls Scarborough Marsh home.
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However, it soon became clear that this was a “pure” Little Blue Heron – nothing about its shape, size, structure, or behavior (a regular adult was nearby, and sometimes in the same field of view) was suggestive of anything else (or partly anything else), and so I hypothesized about a leucistic Little Blue Heron. Immature (1st through 2nd summer) little blues are piebald, but this was much, much paler than what I usually see, with more of a uniform “wash” of the purple-blue on the body and wings. What threw me off a bit were the essentially fully-developed head and back plumes (the “aigrettes”) that I did not think were present on a bird who’s plumage was this early in development. A little research showed those plumes were just fine for a 1st-summer bird, even one in which so little adult-like plumage had been obtained. Therefore, unless this bird looks exactly the same come fall, I think it’s just a paler-than-average 1st summer Little Blue Heron. Nevertheless, it was a fun bird to study and ponder – offering a lesson in comparing shape, structure, and behavior in two birds that didn’t look the same.

Also off Eastern Road, we noted Glossy Ibis, American Black Ducks, and a White-rumped Sandpiper in spiffy breeding plumage – a treat for folks from the West Coast, and not a bird we see many of in spring here in the Northeast. It was hanging out with 4 tardy Semipalmated Sandpipers.
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A drake Gadwall at the Pelreco marsh was a nice sight as well.

Four unseasonable Brant greeted us at Pine Point, where we soon spotted one of our most sought-after species, Roseate Tern. At least 8, and likely many times that, as birds were coming and going, were quickly picked out from the crowds of Common Terns, with plenty of Least Terns zipping around.
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Common Tern

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Least Tern

This tour was designed to have at least two chances at all of our target species, but we “cleaned up” in Scarborough, so we elected to brake up our upcoming drive with a stop in Webhannet Marsh near Moody Point for a visit with the King Rail that, for the second summer in a row, has occupied a small corner of the marsh. While waiting for it, we spotted more Willets, and had another great view of a Saltmarsh Sparrow or too.

The rail never called, but about 2/3rds of the group, myself NOT included, were able to spot the rail as it crossed two successive small openings in the marsh grass. The rest of us were just a little too far up the road, and it never made it to the third clearing we were stationed at. But still, a King Rail in the middle of the afternoon! A loafing Surf Scoter with Common Eiders offshore was also unexpected.

A delicious lunch fueled the rest of our drive south and the timing of the rainfall could not have been better. Traffic was relatively minimal as we fought our way through the outskirts of Boston, arriving at Revere Beach just as a thunderstorm passed to our south.
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While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
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…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
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…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
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…from land, in a city, and not very far offshore!

This incredible phenomena (they are clearly nesting locally, but where!? One of the Boston Harbor Islands?) was the icing on the cake to a most-successful trip. Based on these results, you can expect to see the “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour again in 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned to the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com for more information about this and all of our tours.

“Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” Trip(s) Report

June is my busiest guiding season. Bicknell’s Thrush, Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, and Atlantic Puffin are my most popular requests, and there is little doubt that I could fill my entire month with Bicknell’s Thrush tours!

My first visit of the season to the realm of the thrush was last week, as part of a very successful three-day tour for a client visiting from Vancouver. We saw 7 of 8 of our targets: Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrow, Great Cormorant (3!), Bicknell’s Thrush, American Woodcock, Atlantic Puffin, and Manx Shearwater. And most we saw very, very, well. We only missed Razorbill due to a strategic decision that we agreed upon, and in the end, said decision worked out very well as we had unbelievable views of the shearwater.

DSC_0006_GRCO1,CapeNeddick,6-10-14_edited-1 First-summer Great Cormorant.

DSC_0049_MASH1,Revere,6-12-14_edited-2 Manx Shearwater!

In addition to the species we were seeking, we ran into several other highlights, the most noteworthy of which was an unseasonable subadult male Common Goldeneye at Cutt’s Island in Kittery. Other highlights included a truant Olive-sided Flycatcher at Reid State Park, and an Arctic Tern – usually an offshore feeder – feeding with Roseate and Common Terns off of East Point in Biddeford Pool.

Then, this past weekend was my popular annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” van tour. Meeting at the store on Saturday morning, we headed for the hills, beginning with a surprise detour to West Paris.  For this:

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That’s right, a Snowy Owl in Maine in June! Really remarkable. And how’s that for a way to start off a weekend tour?  We then made a turn for the White Mountains, and after a couple of stops, arrived at Trudeau Road for this:

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Of course, as awesome as a Snowy Owl and a nest-ful of Black-backed Woodpeckers (this is the male above, who kindly paused to preen between visits to feed the young. We also had a great look at the female, who nearly dropped a fecal sac on the group!) are on a birding tour, this is a thrush trip, so our remarkable day of birding would rapidly fade into memory if we didn’t find our one true quarry.

After an early dinner, we boarded the specialized vans of the Mount Washington Stage Line for our private charter up the mountain. It was gorgeous at the base, but looking up, we knew the summit would be different.

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And it was!

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Luckily, the thrushes’ habitat was below the clouds tonight, and so after visiting the summit and checking for American Pipits (too windy, but the flowers were fantastic), we dropped down and began our real mission.

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Although it took a lot more work than usual, we were all eventually rewarded with good to great views of this enigmatic species. We saw two or three different birds, and heard up to 4 others – a good count for the short stretch of habitat that we cover. It was even the 700th ABA-area bird for one of the clients – a fantastic bird for an impressive milestone. A short celebration was called for upon our return to our hotel.

On Sunday morning, the second day of this two-day “target species” tour, the weather looked gorgeous, but the birding was challenging. Granted, it was going to be hard to top Day 1 anyway – we were probably the first tour in history to see a Bicknell’s Thrush and a Snowy Owl in the same day!  It certainly was a novel – and a completely unexpected – experience for me.

Birding the Caps Ridge Trail in dense fog and cool temperatures to start the day was less productive than usual, but it was still a nice walk into boreal habitat and enjoy the beautiful forest here. Blackpoll Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were conspicuous today, at least.

Very strong, downsloping winds cleared the skies for us at our next few stops, but those winds only increased, and birding became a challenge. My favorite spot for Philadelphia Vireo, for example, was just too windswept. Actually, standing upright was occasionally a challenge. But finding some shelter on the backside of a mountain via a short, but steep hike, a few of us were treated to another view of a Bicknell’s Thrush – just as a little more icing on the cake.

A great lunch followed our birding, fueling us for the drive back to Freeport (or, at least, until the ice cream stop) and capping another successful “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” weekend.  With one more private thrush tour next weekend, I can only hope my luck with the weather and with seeing the thrush – a mythological bird to some – continues.

IMG_3632 Happy Thrush-watchers!