Tag Archives: Roseate Tern

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.
WILL

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.
GADW,MS
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.

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.
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(Phone-scoped photo).