Tag Archives: travel

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.

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.
COTE,MS
Common Tern

LETE,MS
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.
Revere_Beach2

While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
Revere_Beach1

…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
PIPL,MS

…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
MASH1,MS

MASH2,MS

…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.

The Galapagos (Part II)

For the first half of our trip, visit my previous blog entry here.

6/23: Santa Cruz Island.
Albatross_monument

Anchored in Puerto Ayora, we went ashore and boarded a bus back into the highlands of Santa Cruz to Rancho Primicias. There, we encountered our first WILD Galapagos Tortoises!  It was much more satisfying watching them foraging naturally, rather than eating salad off of a cement platform. Like several other ranches in the area, small pools and ponds are dug and kept filled with spring water to attract these water-thirsty beasts. Altitudinal migrants, they stop in for a drink – especially during the dry season – on their seasonal commutes.
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Our first wild tortoise!

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These ponds also attract a lot of birds, including numerous Common Gallinules that looked out of place walking around woodlands. A Purple Gallinule was spotted as we drove in – perhaps the island’s most recent colonizer, with breeding records only from the last few years. “Darwin’s Gallinule” may only be several thousands of years away! Another treat was the Paint-billed Crake, a widespread South American species that is very uncommon in the Galapagos, but perhaps is not this confiding anywhere else. Great views were had as it poked around the edge of the tortoise-filled mud.
Paint-billedCrake

Finches were also in abundance, attracted by the water. Lots of Small and Medium Ground-Finches were present, along with Woodpecker, Small Tree, and Vegetarian. With a little effort, our guide Peter, also found us a pair of Large Tree-Finches – the only bird Jeannette, Steve, and I were still missing from the group’s first day on the island.

I was, however, having a hard time taking my eye off the tortoises, and yeah, we all posed for some touristy photos. No selfies though; we draw the line somewhere.

While a stop at a nearby lava tube did not produce a Barn Owl as hoped for, it did offer an impressive lavatube. Also, one of the highlights of the day was the Woodpecker Finch that we watched at close range as it probed a trailside branch. It was fascinating to see the bird hammer with its open bill (unlike a true woodpecker), and even more interesting watching its rapidly-flickering tongue appearing almost snake-like in its speed and purpose.  Jeannette, Steve, and I lost the group as they descended into the tube, us left behind smitten with the finch. Luckily for all, it was in the same exact place when we all resurfaced.
WoodpeckerFinch

lava_tube

A rather unhappy and perhaps exceedingly unhealthy Barn Owl was added to the list in a little maintenance shed housing an old air conditioning unit – a circumstance that definitely took away from truly enjoying yet another endemic subspecies.

Back in Puerto Ayora, Jeannette and I were granted permission to leave the group as they returned to the boat for lunch. Instead, we wandered around town, had some local food for lunch, checked email (yup, store, house, and Sasha all fine!), photographed a ton of finches (including several Common Cactus-Finches) and Galapagos Mockingbirds in town.
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A Small Ground-Finch visiting us at lunchtime

Mediumor LargeSmall
Small Medium or large Small? Goodness these things are tough!

A visit to the fish pier provided the chance to study and photograph Lava Gulls at close range: begging and battling pan-handling Brown Pelicans and Galapagos Sea-Lions for fish-gut handouts, these seemed to be de-volving back into Laughing Gulls!
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photographingLavaGull1

Lava_Gull

MAFR

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Reunited with the group, we all walked across town – including a stop at the fish pier, working the occasional finch flock. It was really good to see the finches proliferating in urban and developed areas, but it did take a little of their mystique away – if you know what I mean.
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Common Cactus-Finch not on a cactus.

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A large Medium or a small Large?

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Common Cactus-Finch back on a cactus to restore the mystique.

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Probable Large Ground-Finch?

Photographing_LavaGulls,Steve

We continued on until we reached the visitor’s center for the National Park, and slowly worked the scrub. Arriving at the Darwin Research Station, we learned about the conservation efforts underway for Mangrove Finch and five of the island’s 10 extant populations of tortoises. There was more good finch and mockingbird-watching to be had as well.
DarwinResearchStation1DarwinResearchStation2
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<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-2928″ src=”https://mebirdingfieldnotes.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/saddlebacktortoise.jpg&#8221; alt=”SaddlebackTortoise” width=”3264″ height=”2448″ />
“Saddleback” tortoise

grou_in_town

sunset

6/24: Santa Cruz Island.

We pulled anchor in Puerto Ayora well before dawn and headed over to Plazas Islet. In stark – and most welcome – contrast to the busy harbor or Puerto Ayora (which was like a Maine harbor in summer, but with more frigatebirds!), we awoke to the peaceful cove at Plazas Islet off of Santa Cruz. We were the only boat around, and the only sign of humanity was the rustic concrete landing for our panga (our inflatable zodiac used for landing; any small boat in the Galapagos are called pangas).
Brown_Noddies
Galapagos Brown Noddies

Galapagos Shearwaters and Swallow-tailed Gulls greeted us instead of yachts and city lights, and once ashore, we looked down on the islet’s cliffs onto huge schools of reef fish (mostly Yellow-tailed Mullet, King Angelfish, surgeonfish, and a few stunning Blue-chinned Parrotfish. Swallow-tailed Gulls, Brown Noddies, Blue-footed Boobies, and Red-billed Tropicbirds glided by, with wheeling flocks of Galapagos Shearwaters calling as they returned to their partners in cliffside crevices.

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King Angelfish

MAFR
Female Magnificent Frigatebird

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Roosting “Galapagos” Short-eared Owl

It was a hot, dry, and rather vegetatively-desolate island. It’s been remarkable how different every island has been, and for some reason, my mental vision of what to expect from the Galapagos was more like this – few species, lots of bare lava, hot and dry – than the varied habitats that we have been exploring.
PlazasIslet1PlazasIslet2PlazasIslet3Native plant restoration.

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Petrified sea-lion poop!

We then motored to our next island, Santa Fe. Some deep water snorkeling produced a wide variety of fish, with Blue-chinned Parrotfish and Reef Cornetfish stealing the show.

On land on Santa Fe, we checked out the endemic subspecies of Galapagos Mockingbird – with longer bills, a different call, and more inquisitive behavior than the birds on Santa Cruz. Galapagos Hawks put in a couple of appearances, including some low and close passes overhead. Galapagos Doves, Gray Warbler-Finches, Small and Medium Ground-Finches, Galapagos Flycatchers, and Common Cactus-Finches – with much larger and imposing bills than the birds we have seen elsewhere – joined Santa Fe Ground Iguanas and Galapagos Lava Lizards on the land.
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Santa Cruz Lava Lizard -male.

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Santa Cruz Land Iguana

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Galapagos Flycatcher

The highlight for many, however, were the Galapagos Sea-Lions that greeted us on our arrival on one beach, and others, escorting us away from the departure beach. Inquisitive pups came up to inspect us, with one even exploring Jeannette’s leg with its soft but yet somehow prickly whiskers. It also took a liking to one of her boots.
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Pelagic birding on the way northward off of the east side of Santa Cruz yielded more Galapagos Petrels, Swallow-tailed Gulls commuting offshore to feed after the sun went down (and squid come up to the surface), scattered Band-rumped, Wedge-rumped, and Elliot’s Storm-Petrels. But the massive boil of thousands of Galapagos Shearwaters encountered near a couple of sea stacks was simply astounding.
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6/25: Bartolome Island.
Bartolome
Desolate, bleak, and vulcan: this is how I pictured more of the Galapagos Islands. But the older islands we have been visiting were softened around the edges by time. Soil built up, and endemic plant communities flourished.

It was different in the northern part of the archipelago, which we sampled around the edges of Santiago Island.  In a busy and fulfilling final full day aboard, we did a lot, beginning with a pre-breakfast panga ride around Bartolome Island. At least 17 Galapagos Penguins were encountered, with several calling their donkey-like bey (the closely related Jackass Penguin is named for this sound). One pair engaged in awkward, and as far as we could tell, unsuccessful, copulation, while Blue-footed Boobies looked on from the cliffs above.
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A Great Blue Heron (endemic subspecies) looks on.

humpingPenguins

GalapagosPenguins

Landing on Bartolome, the islands’ geology was on full display. Mostly a tuff cone, there wasn’t much here but lava, ash, and a few pioneering plants. Eeeking out a living among them were only a few Small Ground-Finches and a Galapagos Snake (our first of the trip).  Over 370 steps later (hmmm…it feels like we’ve been mostly sitting on a boat for a week!) we were rewarded with spectacular views of Santiago and the surrounding islets, including Santiago’s massive lava flow from less than 200 years ago.
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GalapagosSnake
Galapagos Snake

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Male Santiago Lava Lizard

While snorkeling nearby didn’t produce any penguins in the water as we hoped, we did see several new fish, and enjoyed more stunning parrotfish (Blue-chinned and Bicolored).

The Nemo III slowly motored past Bainbridge Island, allowing us to peer into its caldera lagoon. Eleven American Flamingos and at least 20 White-cheeked Pintails were present, with more wheeling flocks of Galapagos Shearwaters coming and going from the cliff.

Yet another round of snorkeling offered up a close encounter with two White-tipped Reef Sharks and a jaw-dropping (which was a problem since you had to clench onto the snorkel gear!) Moorish Idol – a spiffy damselfish with a very long, thin and waving dorsal fin that trailed behind it like the underwater equivalent of a tropicbird.

Another panga ride found three Galapagos Penguins (how did we miss those while in the water!?), many more Galapagos Shearwaters, American Oystercatchers, and our first two Whimbrels of the trip – our 58th and final species in the islands.

Motoring again, we encountered several more Galapagos Petrels and countless shearwaters, lots of Brown Noddies, and a few Waved Albatrosses.
ChineseHat
Chinese Hat

We circled Daphne Major, and although we failed to see any Galapagos Martins, we did see our first two juvenile Swallow-tailed Gulls among adults on the short shoreline cliffs.
SWTGU-nest

Also, I was just happy to get an idea of what this island looks like, having read so much about it, such as in The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner, a Pulitzer-prize winning recount of the groundbreaking research by Peter and Rosemary Grant, and others on rapid, ongoing evolution of Darwin’s finches (Small and Medium Ground-finches in particular).

With the sun setting, and few more Galapagos Petrels, Wedge-rumped Shearwaters, etc added to the tally, we dropped anchor between Baltra and North Seymour Island for our final dinner.
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Final evening checklist session

fruitcarvings
Each dinner was accompanied by a fruit/veggie carving. The final one was our favorite.

6/26: Departure.

One last panga ride before breakfast along the shore of North Seymour Island (our first stop on the first day aboard the boat) produced our final endemic mammal of the trip: the Galapagos Fur Seal. Preferring bolder-strewn beaches, or in this case, a few small rubble landslide slips, the more-local fur seal was not expected elsewhere on our itinerary (they’re more common on the western and northern islands, closer to their deep sea fishing grounds).
GalapagosFurSeals

Lots of Swallow-tailed Gulls, both frigatebirds, and Brown Noddies escorted our boat, along with our last looks at Blue-footed Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Lava Gulls, Galapagos Shearwaters, and Brown Pelicans. Elliot’s Storm-Petrels circled the Nemo III, and on the beach of Baltra, a couple of Ruddy Turnstones and singleton Sanderling and American Oystercatcher.

Saying goodbye to the Nemo III’s fantastic crew, we boarded the bus for the short ride to the airport. With a little time to kill, I took a stroll, enjoying some cooperative Galapagos Doves and studying a Medium Ground-Finch for the last time in the foreseeable future.  Small Ground-Finches, meanwhile, were easy to get last looks of as they foraged for crumbs on the tables of the airport food court. At least a couple of us sipped one last vacation Pilsener.
Departure

The flight to Quito, once again with a short layover in Guayaquil, was smooth and easy, and we arrived at our San Jose hotel with just enough daylight for a little more birding. Jeannette and I quickly scored three more lifers: stunning Sparkling Violetears, pantaloon-sporting Western Emeralds, and impressive Great Thrushes (yes, we do need to bird the South American mainland!).
airportHotel

A final group dinner at the hotel was a nice wrap-up to the trip, even if several folks were a bit under the weather. While Don and Bill were joining Steve on his Mindo Tour in the mountains, the rest of us were begrudgingly heading home dark and early the next morning.

As the trip came to a close, Jeannette and I reflected on how lucky we were to be able to take part in this incredible opportunity. Somehow, we made it work, and despite the hellish couple of weeks that made the trip happen, we could not be any more thrilled about the trip. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity WINGS offered us, and it was truly wonderful to marvel at Rich Hoyer’s wide wealth of knowledge from plants to birds, bugs to ecology. Our local guide, Peter Freire, was also tremendously knowledgeable, and throw in a little seabird discussion from Steve Howell, and I am overflowing with new information (ah, now, the key: retain some of it!).  Rich was really a pleasure to travel with, and I have never seen a tour group bond so well. Other than a bit of a bug of some sort that was passed around the boat (‘tis life on a boat tour!) that affected some more extremely than others (i.e. Jeannette), few complaints were uttered.

A friend strongly encouraged us to “take the opportunity…and go NOW!” Noah could not have been more right, and I am glad I heeded his advice. And between different government rules, climate change, tourism and population pressures, and much more, I would also encourage you to go to the Galapagos, and do it soon!

I also highly recommend that if you are a birder, you MUST go here with a birding tour group. We would have not seen many of the rarest species (like Large Tree Finch or Galapagos Rail) were we on a “regular” package tour. And with the need for knowledgeable local guides for almost anywhere you go (and Peter is one of the rare, true and talented birders among them), we would never have pulled off the near-complete list that we did.

Rich will likely be leading a WINGS tour in 2018 to the islands, perhaps the “other” route, that would yield one of our most wanted species: Flightless Cormorant. While we knew this itinerary would not produce it, it did produce most everything else – including some real surprises. But, we still need a subspecies of Large Cactus-Finch that will likely get split…and Galapagos Martin (which we missed on our one chance at Daphne Major; our only “dip” of the trip)…and Sharp-beaked Ground Finch…and the blood-sipping subspecies of Woodpecker Finch…and that cormorant.  Hmm, maybe we’ll just have to see you aboard!

Here’s our trip’s birdlist (an * denotes a life bird for both of us, ** is a life bird for only Jeannette, and *** was a life bird for me alone), in currently-accepted taxonomic order:

        1. White-cheeked Pintail (endemic subspecies galapagensis)
        2. Galapagos Penguin*
        3. Waved Albatross*
        4. Galapagos Petrel*
        5. Galapagos Shearwater*
        6. Elliot’s Storm-Petrel*
        7. Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel (endemic subspecies tethys)*
        8. Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
        9. Markham’s Storm-Petrel***
        10. Red-billed Tropicbird
        11. Magnificent Frigatebird (endemic subspecies magnificens)
        12. Great Frigatebird
        13. Blue-footed Booby (Endemic subspecies excise)*
        14. Nazca Booby*
        15. Red-footed Booby
        16. Brown Pelican (Endemic subspecies urinator)
        17. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (endemic subspecies pauper)
        18. Striated Heron (endemic subspecies sundevalli, including dark morph “Lava Heron”).
        19. Cattle Egret
        20. Great Blue Heron (Endemic subspecies cognata)
        21. Great Egret
        22. American Flamingo**
        23. Galapagos Hawk*
        24. Galapagos Rail*
        25. Paint-billed Crake*
        26. Common Gallinule
        27. Purple Gallinule
        28. Semipalmated Plover
        29. American Oystercatcher (endemic subspecies galapagensis)
        30. Black-necked Stilt
        31. Whimbrel
        32. Wandering Tattler
        33. Ruddy Turnstone
        34. Sanderling
        35. Lava Gull*
        36. Swallow-tailed Gull*
        37. Brown Noddy (endemic subspecies galapagoensis)
        38. Dark-billed Cuckoo
        39. Smooth-billed Ani (introduced)
        40. Barn Owl (subspecies punctatissima)
        41. Short-eared Owl (endemic subspecies galapagoensis)
        42. Galapagos Flycatcher*
        43. Galapagos Mockingbird*
        43a. Sante Fe Galapagos Mockingbird
        44. Espanola Mockingbird*
        45. San Cristobal Mockingbird*
        46. Floreana Mockingbird*
        47. Green Warbler-Finch*
        48. Gray Warbler-Finch (Espanola subspecies cinerascens)*
        48a. Gray Warbler-Finch (San Cristonal subspecies luteola)
        48b. Gray Warbler-Finch (Santa Fe subspecies bifasciata)
        49. Vegetarian Finch*
        50. Woodpecker Finch*
        50a. Woodpecker Finch (San Cristobal subspecies productus)
        51. Large Tree-Finch*
        52. Medium Tree-Finch*
        53. Small Tree-Finch*
        53a. Small Tree-Finch (San Cristobal subspecies salvini)
        54. Small Ground-Finch*
        55. Medium Ground-Finch*
        56. Large Ground-Finch*
        57. Common Cactus-Finch (subspecies intermedia)*
        58. Large Cactus-Finch (Espanola subspecies conirostris)*
        59. Yellow Warbler (endemic subspecies aureola)

Mammals:
1. Black Rat (introduced)
2. House Mouse (introduced)
3. Galapagos Sea Lion*
4. Galapagos Fur Seal*
5. Feral Cat (introduced)
6. Bottlenose Dolphin
7. Short-beaked Common Dolphin
8. Minke Whale
9. Blue Whale

Reptiles:
1. Santa Cruz Giant Tortoise*
2. Green Sea Turtle
3. Marine Iguana (four subspecies)*
4. Land Iguana (two or three subspecies)*
5. Galapagos Lava Lizard*
6. Espanola Lava Lizard*
7. San Cristobal Lava Lizard*
8. Floreana Lava Lizard*
9. Galapagos Snake*

A small variety of insects were also identified, including several endemics, and a wide variety of fish and other marine life.

And finally, we’ve been posting videos daily (with a few more left to post) on our store’s Facebook page that I took with my iPhone during the trip. You can view all of them here.

YWAR
The ubiquitous, adaptable, and inquisitive Yellow Warbler (endemic subspecies) was with us throughout the trip, occupying most any niche. It – the most colorful landbird on the islands! – seems like an appropriate species to bring this travelogue to a close.

The Galapagos (Part I)!

Jeannette and I now have a saying: “When opportunity knocks, we buy plane tickets!” And such was the case when WINGS – for whom I am a Senior Leader – offered their guides and significant others the chance to take some open berths on Rich Hoyer’s Galapagos tour.  Because the boat was chartered, those empty beds would have gone to waste, so for the price of airfare and various expenses, this was a chance we simply had to make happen. Because the Galapagos!

As luck would have it, one of my weekend tours cancelled with too few participants, and I had kept the second half of June much more open than normal to work on a project. Well, with all of my guiding packed into the first two weeks of the month, plus finishing that project, plus running the store in a very busy season, etc, etc, we simply said “we have to do this” (despite all rational common sense suggesting otherwise)!

And so we did.

(I’ve taken the “travelogue” approach to this blog post as usual, recounting our trip and sharing a few thoughts and tidbits here and there. However, for a great and informative treatment of the Galapagos from birds to geology, I highly recommend John Kricher’s Galapagos: A Natural History.)

6/17: Travel Day.

It was a long day. A drive to Logan, a flight to Miami, a four hour layover, and then a flight to Quito…we didn’t get to bed until 11:30 local time (12:30 EDT). We were tired.

6/18: No time for rest yet.

A 5:45 breakfast, which we were barely conscious for, started the day. In addition to seeing Rich for the first time in many years, and Steve Howell (who also took advantage of the opportunity ahead of his upcoming Ecuador tour) for the first time in a few years, we immediately recognized two of the participants. In the “birding is a small world” department, we came to realize that we met Bill and Don in a van on St. Lucia in January!  We came together when the local guides we each were spending time with teamed up to get us to and from a remote part of the island, and search for Bridled Quail-Dove and White-breasted Thrasher. Go figure.

Organizing luggage and getting ready to board the minibus in the hotel’s parking lot, Jeannette and I quickly picked up a couple of life birds, as neither of us have been to the region before: Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Scrub Tanager. There were no doubt others in the garden, but they would have to wait for our return.

Already back to the airport, we boarded our flight to Baltra in the Galapagos, with a short stop in Guayaquil. After landing in Baltra, the short walk from the tarmac to the arrivals building yielded our first endemic of the trip: Galapagos Dove – with its spiffy, screaming-blue eyeliner.
North Seymour Island
Our first Galapagos Island – North Seymour Island, as we arrived in Baltra.

Our first “Darwin’s finches” flitted about: the un-evocatively but fairly descriptively-named Medium Ground-Finch. I was looking at a Darwin’s finch. Seriously, this was a dream come true.

We cleared immigrations and customs, and then we temporarily split off from the group; we were on our own this afternoon. We hopped on the bus to the ferry for the short crossing to Santa Cruz, enjoying numerous (Galapagos) Brown Noddies along the way.

A half-hour drive to our hotel gave us a sample of the transition between habitats as we gained elevation. We arrived at the Twin Lodges Galapagos, a quaint eco-lodge with lovely and spacious rooms, on the outskirts of the town of Bellavista.
Twin Lodges GardenTwin Lodges room

We walked into town for lunch, first feasting on numerous Yellow Warblers of the near-endemic subspecies aureola. Introduced Smooth-billed Anis were also common, and we began our education of Darwin’s finches by comparing numerous Medium and Small Ground-Finches.  Separated almost exclusively by bill shape and size, we struggled a bit, especially with lone birds, even with a small mixed group in town allowing helpful direct comparisons.

Lunch from a small streetside restaurant was superb, and a nice introduction to the local cuisine.
lunch

We picked up some vittles at a bakery for dinner (lunch was the large meal of the day!) and walked back up to our lodge, spotting our lifer Dark-billed Cuckoos.

After a little rest, a short casual mosey in the other direction gave us more time with finches, including our first Green Warbler-finches, as well as garrulous Galapagos Mockingbirds.

We were in bed by 7:30 and slept for 9 ½ hours. It was wonderful.

Twon Lodges Room 2
Perhaps the most “countable” Large Ground-Finch of the day.

6/19: Birding to the Boat.

After a breakfast overflowing with fresh fruit from the garden of the lodge, we took a short cab ride to meet up with the WINGS group at their resort. It was time to let Rich do the work!

A Small Tree-Finch worked the resort grounds, and following a discussion with Rich and Steve, added Large Ground-Finch to our list from yesterday. These birds are not easy, and a lot of them seem best left unidentified, but one pair of birds in the Bellavista town square clearly had the massively deep bill (as deep or deeper than it is long) and bill ridge above its forehead that should, in theory, confirm it as a Large…and not just a large Medium!

Our birding outing uphill yielded a few Woodpecker Finches. In particular, one bird that was perched on a snag was holding a thin, straight twig in its bill. One of the only birds in the world that uses a tool, this bird had its handy, wood-boring-larvae-extracting device at the ready. “Woodpecker Finch with a tool” was one of my most-wanted observations of the trip. Score!
Woodpecker Finch with tool

A Short-eared Owl almost took out Jeannette as it went crashing into the brush, offering up some of the best photographs that this species(s) will ever offer.

Then Rich went to work and got us a great look at the secretive (about the only secretive thing on these islands) Galapagos Rail – one of the most challenging species to see in the islands.
group hike

As we moseyed downhill, several Vegetarian Finches were encountered, including a few that were observed, well, eating their vegetables. One particular bird was fond of a certain type of fern frond. The uniqueness of each of Darwin’s finches is not found in their plumage, but in their diet and the amazing evolution of specialized bills to aid in that particular diet.
Vegetarian Finch

Galapagos Flycatchers, a rather dull Myiarchus, made their presence known, and one bird graciously posed for photos.

We then took a bus down to the ferry across the channel back to Baltra (with our first views of Galapagos Shearwaters). Then the other bus to the airport. And then another bus to the port where we took a zodiac to our home of the next week, the Nemo III.  Marine Iguanas, the endemic subspecies of American Oystercatcher, our first Galapagos Seal Lions and Blue-footed Boobies, were all soon spotted.

We settled into our exceedingly comfortable cabin, then wandered around the boat, spied Elliot’s Storm-Petrels as we ate lunch, and noted a lingering Sanderling on the beach. A single spiffy Lava Gull (arguably the rarest gull in the world with only about 300 pairs) stood guard.
cabin

Blue-footed Boobies and both Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds escorted us out of the harbor as we made our way to North Seymour Island.

As we dropped anchor, the magic really began. Swallow-tailed Gulls, one of my “most wanted” species in the world were jaw-dropping. Much larger than I expected, with a loping wingbeat reminiscent of a small egret, these simply stunning birds were even more astounding than I expected.

And then we landed.

And this is what Galapagos dreams are made of. While studying dull finches in town squares was pretty cool, having to move Swallow-tailed Gulls out of the landing was a little more impressive.
Swallow-tailed Gull

With an onshore breeze, frigatebirds, Blue-footed Boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls were cruising by at literally an arm’s length. Our lifer Nazca Boobies punctuated the sorties of Blue-foots, Galapagos Shearwaters were numerous offshore, and Small Ground-Finches worked the dry ground.
MAFR-flight

As we walked along the trail – a mere half-mile that took almost 3 hours! – both frigatebirds were enganged in all stages of breeding, from “ballooning” males to nearly-fledged chicks. A few Blue-footed Boobies were dancing, but most were already incubating or brooding chicks of various ages.
BFBO1BFBO2BFBO-people

Galapagos Lava Lizards darted and prehistoric Land Iguanas lumbered.  A couple of Galapagos Petrels passed by offshore, and a Great Egret was escorted off the island by a Swallow-tailed Gull.

This place was simply extraordinary, and even surpassed what I thought were outsized expectations and visions for being here. As one member of the group said, “Why the hell did I wait so long to do this!?”  It defied superlatives. I just wandered around with a smile. Jeannette filled three memory cards.  I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.
frigatebirdcolony

iguana crossing
Iguana crossing.

IMG_8496_Swallow-tailedGull1_edited-1

Land Iguana

MAFR

MAFR-nestMale Great Frigatebird

Marine Iguana

prickley pair

sunset

6/20: San Cristobal Island.
sunrise

We awoke at our anchorage of the tiny Sea Lion Island, just offshore of San Cristobal. After the information and sensory overload yesterday, it was rather relaxing to stroll the tiny island. Plenty of Blue-footed Boobies, both Frigatebirds, and –you guessed it – Galapagos Sea-Lions were present. While there was a photo at every turn yesterday, and our heads were on a swivel, we instead spent a little more time closely looking and watching behaviors of the boobies, and still trying to figure out how to separate the different ages and sexes of Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds. Wandering Tattler (2) and Great Blue Heron (1-2) were added to our list, along with Green Sea Turtles just offshore. A Lava Gull finally posed for photos.
BFBO

posing Blue-footed Booby

Sea Lion Island

Sea Lion

The second half of the morning was spent snorkeling, it was stellar. Besides massive amounts of fish of many varieties and Diamond-backed Sting-Rays, we had feeding Marine Iguanas. It was rather surreal looking down into the water at a lizard, and we were treated to one in full swim commuting from patches of green algae – their required food source that is just starting to recover from the recent El Nino (we have seen quite a few dead iguanas that didn’t make it through the spell of warm water that kills the green algae; they apparently cannot digest the brown algae that flourishes in the warmer waters).

The fish – of which I know nothing about – were a lot of fun, but then, out of nowhere, a Sea Lion appears, and is swimming full speed right towards me!  At what seemed to be the last second, it wheeled around and dodged right, as if entertaining itself in a game of chicken. It did this several times to me, then to others, and then appeared to attempt to get one of us to play. Of course, it was probably just showing off – yeah, they’re a little more nimble in the water than us flopping humans.

The icing on the cake for me was the Brown Pelican that dove into a school of baitfish nearby. It was absolutely amazing to see the bird plunge down, massive maw agape. Unfortunately for the pelican, the little fishes dodged skillfully away.

Being in the water with Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Sea-Lions, and plunging pelicans is not something I will ever forget.

Back on the boat, we motored into some deeper water, hoping to see Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels. Galapagos Shearwaters were numerous, and we passed a sea stack with Nazca Boobies and a Swallow-tailed Gull.

We glimpsed only one Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, along with one Band-rumped and many Elliot’s, but as we sat down for lunch, two Wedge-rumps came darting in and spent at least 20 minutes in our wake, affording great views and photo ops.

IMG_8590_edited-1
Anchoring in the unexpectedly (to us) busy harbor of the Galapagonian capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, we boarded a bus for a short drive to the outskirts of town, just uphill. Starting at a small but packed cemetery, followed by a slow walk downhill on a wide bike path, we quickly scored San Cristobal Mockingbird (followed by five more on our walk), Gray Warbler-Finch (at least a dozen in all), the San Cristobal subspecies of Vegetarian Finch and Woodpecker Finch, and the largest-billed Medium Ground-Finches we have so far seen (adding to our confidence of our Large Ground-Finch identification from the first day). Small Tree-Finches and numerous Small Ground-Finches, ubiquitous Yellow Warblers, and several Smooth-billed Anis rounded out the list.
Sea Lions at dock

San Cristobal Mockingbird
San Cristobal Mockingbird

Having gotten slightly more confident in the identification of the Darwin’s finches that we have been seeing, I have found more time to simply study their remarkable behaviors, such as the Woodpecker Finch foraging on a trunk like a nuthatch, the warbler-finch probing the ends of tiny branches like a parula, and the range of foodstuffs fed upon by the two ground-finches.
Gray Warbler-Finch
Gray Warbler-Finch

Small Gorund-Finch
Small Ground-Finch

largerSmallGround-Finch
A larger Small Ground-Finch? Or a small Medium?

Medium Ground-Finch
Definitely a Medium Ground-Finch.

Back in town, we gawked at gaudy Sally Lightfoot Crabs covering the rocks, Galapagos Sea Lions covering the docks, and a patient Lava Heron (dark-morph of the endemic subspecies of Striated Heron) waiting for passing fish.
Sally Lightfoot Crab
Sally Lightfoot Crab

Lava Heron
Lava Heron (dark-morph Striated of the endemic subspecies)

6/21: Espanola Island.
sunrise

Today was incredible! I’m going to let the photos do most of the talking today.

The morning started with the exceptional Espanola (Hood) Mockingbird, the first of which left the beach to inspect the deck of our boat. Many more came out to investigate us as we strolled the beach, taking in the Large Cactus-Finches (soon to be Espanola Ground-Finch) and magnificent Galapagos Hawks – a bird Jeannette and I have wanted to see for a very, very long time.
EspanolamOCKINGBIRD_edited-1
Espanola Mockingbirds

femaleLavaLizard_edited-1
Female Espanola Lava Lizard

GalapagosHawk
Galapagos Hawk.

MarineIguana
Marine Iguana

SeaLion

Another mind-boggling hour of snorkeling (even with a wetsuit, that’s about the maximum in these chilly waters) in deep water, with sealife clinging to the shear cliffs included more close passes by Galapagos Sea-Lions. King Angelfish stole the show, however, although the Chocolate Chip Seastar was also a crowd favorite.

After lunch, we visited the Waved Albatross colony (lifer!) at Suarez Point. Dozens of nesting albatross were scattered about and many more were cruising by the cliffs, riding updrafts.
IMG_8689_WAAV_edited-1

I could have stayed at these cliffs all week: close passes by albatross, countless Red-billed Tropicbirds, many in display flight and Nazca Boobies, with goodly numbers of Blue-footed Boobies mixed in, a smattering of Swallow-tailed Gulls, and staggering numbers of Galapagos Shearwaters coming and going from their cliffside burrows.
MarineIguanaPile
Marine Iguanas

NazcaBoobyNazcaBooby2-SuarezPoint
Nazca Booby.

Red-billedTropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbirds

SuarezPoint

Swallow-tailedGull
Swallow-tailed Gull

usWavedAlbatross

The last hour of daylight was spent searching deeper waters for pelagics, which included our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrels of the trip. Then Steve Howell called out “Markham’s Storm-Petrel!” as this big, dark storm-petrel winged by – a lifer even for Rich, and a most unexpected addition to the now-hefty roster of lifer birds for me (unfortunately, Jeannette had just left to hit the shower!).
ElliotsStorm-Petrels
Elliot’s Storm-Petrels.

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel

6/22: Floreana Island.

As the Nemo III cruised close to the cliffs of Gardiner-by-Floreana, a few curious Charles (Floreana) Mockingbirds came out to investigate. Critically Endangered and now found only on two offshore islets around Floreana, this was a bird I was not counting on seeing. Seeing about a half-dozen was a real treat, even if they were about as far as anything we had seen the whole trip!
Gardner-by-floreanaGardner-by-Floreana2

A landing at Cormorant Point (named for a wrecked ship, and not the endemic flightless bird our itinerary will not be taking us to) to visit a brackish lagoon was an interesting new habitat, and yielded 11 American Flamingos, and the endemic subspecies of White-cheeked Pintail. Resident Black-necked Stilts, oversummering Ruddy Turnstones, and a single tarrying Semipalmated Plover padded the trip list as well.
CormorantPoint,Floreana

displayingBFBO

White-cheekedPintailandRUTU
endemic subspecies of White-cheeked Pintail with an oversummering Ruddy Turnstone

AmericanFlamingo

Flamingo1_edited-1Flamingo2_edited-1
phone-scoped American Flamingos

Some more birding by boat produced one (perhaps 2) Galapagos Penguins in the water – another bird I did not expect to see on this tour. It only surfaced a few times, but it was seen well, and it was a real treat to see a flamingo and a penguin in the same morning!
group_in_panaga

In the afternoon, we landed at Puerto Velasco Ibarra, where a truck ride uphill into the island’s higher interior, took us to a very different habitat, and into the realm of Medium Tree-Finches, a Galapagos Tortoise reserve (non-releasable hybrids; a long story) and some fascinating island history.
truck_to_AsilodelePaz

AsilodelePaz-view

captiveTortoises

MediumTreeFinch
Medium Tree-Finch

YWAR_and_tortoise
The endemic subspecies of Yellow Warbler occupies many niches, including foraging for flies around tortoises.

A couple of Common Cactus-Finches welcomed us back to town, joining the Small and Medium Ground-Finches, not to mention the Marine Iguanas and sea lions lining the pier.
CommonCactus-Finch
Common Cactus-Finch

Heading into our most productive seabirding waters after lunch, we were soon rewarded with a staggering amount of Galapagos Shearwaters, 100’s of Brown Noddies, and countless swirling Elliot’s and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels. A feeding frenzy attracted both Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies, and was centered around a group of feeding whales, which we unfortunately did not get very close to. We did have a couple of Minke Whales before and after, and a little while later, a magnificent Blue Whale – the largest animal to ever roam the earth.
GASH
Galapagos Shearwater

gape
Galapagos Petrel

Steve_checks_in
Steve checks to make sure he isn’t missing anything.

sunset

With our trip already half-over, it seems like a good place to break. Look for Part II (including our species list) in a separate blog post in the coming days!

June 2015 Month in Review

I guide nearly full-time in the month of June, and this year was no different. Add a few days at the store here and there and three days for working on writing projects, it was, needless to say, a very busy month. Please excuse my lack of blogging. I’ll try and make up for it here with a summary of the birds and my birding for the month as I try to catch up here and everywhere else.

After a troublingly-dry spring, rain began to fall in early June, with three inches in the first few days of the month, temporarily alleviating our drought conditions. But unseasonably cool temperatures continued to dominate through much of the month, but at least we started to see rain on a regular basis (but we could still use more) with a more active weather pattern. Unfortunately, it sometime fell at inopportune time for me and my clients!

Early June is often a time for rarities, especially of southern “overshoots” that are often found prospecting for territories – things like Hooded or Worm-eating Warblers, Summer Tanagers, etc. It was rather surprising, actually, that these southern strays weren’t found, considering May ended with several days of southwesterly winds – perfect for facilitating the arrival of late migrants (and kites)!
ADD TO BLOG-wind map, 5-30-15

It’s also a great time for even more exceptional vagrants.  But this year, rarities in early June were limited to a short-staying Franklin’s Gull on Stratton Island on 6/3, and a 1st-summer Little Gull that was hanging out with Bonparte’s Gulls on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough through the first week of the month (following an adult in late May).
L1010930_LIGU1,PinePointBeach,6-4-15_edited-1

But on June 8th, a Little Egret was found in Falmouth, and was followed into Portland. On the 9th, I spent the afternoon chasing it around with Luke Seitz, eventually relocating it several times and eventually getting some good photos.  Hanging out some of the time with Snowy Egrets, this summertime occurrence is most intriguing. This was the third record for Maine, all of which have occurred in the summer, and all since 2011 – could they all be of the same bird?
L1020115_LIEG_best_edited-1

I’m a full-time guide in June, and this summer my private guiding (following a postponement due to the heavy, steady rain on the 1st) kicked of on June 3rd with a two-day tour for a couple who currently reside in Nicaragua. After amazing experiences with Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows in Scarborough Marsh – with the aforementioned Little Gull as a welcomed treat – we headed for the hills for my first of three visits to the mountaintop realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush. Despite a private, after-hours charter up Mount Washington one evening, and an exhaustive search on another mountain the next morning, for the first time in over 30 attempts, I failed to produce satisfactory views of the enigmatic thrush for my clients. No small part of me was frustrated and disappointed that I could no longer claim a perfect score!  I knew it would happen eventually, however.

Was it too early? Especially during such a cold start to the season? Or was it just too nice out both days? Warm temperatures in the low 50’s and very light winds just don’t seem to be as useful for seeing these birds!

We had a great birdwalk outing on 6/6, and local guiding for a visitor from Alabama on the 7th was fruitful: some of our local breeders here in Freeport, followed by a visit to Pine Point Beach (no Little Gull this day, but the continuing raft of “winter” diving ducks: ~40 White-winged, ~30 Black, and 4 Surf Scoters, along with a single Long-tailed Duck) made for a nice morning.

My next overnight trip was on June 8-9, taking me to Rangeley with a client from Massachussetts. We managed all 6 of our target birds, including finding a Black-backed Woodpecker and with the help of a friend, a new spot for Mourning Warbler.

The weekend of the 13-14th was my annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” tour. Licking my chops from my first whiff earlier in the month, I was excited to get back on the horse and see some Bicknell’s Thrushes. Of course, even more pressure is on when you’re running a two-day trip solely dedicated to one species!  While we do bird our way to and from the mountain thrush locations, this is an all-or-nothing trip for a lot of people. Let’s just say, a new streak has begun – and wow, what a way to do it!

With rare days off, I squeezed in some relaxed birding with Jeannette and Sasha. We didn’t see the Portland area Little Egret on the 15th, but did enjoy a birdy visit to Capisic Pond Park to walk Sasha, including a nice view of the male Orchard Oriole. A Red Crossbill in the afternoon in our Pownal yard was a surprise. The next day, we did our annual march around all of the Kennebunk Plains. At least five Upland Sandpipers (all very well-seen), 10 Grasshopper Sparrows (low), 18 Vesper Sparrows, 38 Prairie Warblers, and all of the other expected barrens denizens. A visit to Peak’s Island on the 18th yielded a very late migrant Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a sampling of the breeding birds of this lovely island. Willow Flycatchers and Black-crowned Night-Herons were in the marsh by Battery Steele but I did not hear or see a single Carolina Wren – wow, did this bird get hammered by our winter this year. Of course, there were a few morning dogwalks to local patches as well mixed in

The grand finale of my June this year was my 10-day Maine-New Hampshire Tour for WINGS. This biennial tour is exhaustive, and exhausting.  But 5 hotels, 1300 miles, and 159 species later, we all knew it was well worth it: 20 species of warbler (including Bay-breasted), all 9 species of Maine’s flycatchers (including Olive-sided), 7 species of thrush (including Bicknell’s in New Hampshire), 5 species of tern, 5 species of vireo, 4 species of alcids, and so much more.

After seeing Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, American Oystercatchers, etc at Scarborough Marsh, we successfully searched for the Little Egret – a life or ABA-area bird for everyone.  Bicknell’s Thrush played hard to get on Mount Washington, but my secret spot produced crippling views the next day.  It rained – a lot – in Rangeley, but we still managed to get several sought-after species, including Gray Jays and Moose. Messalonskee Lake was its usual awesomeness, and then we headed east, way east, arriving in Machias.
GRJA1,BoyScoutCamp,Rangeley,6-23-15_edited-1

GRJA-RickSkehen1,Rangeley,6-23-15_edited-1

Machias Seal Island needs no explanation; although landed was thwarted by swells, we couldn’t have asked for more birds up close and personal from the boat.
ATPU2,MachiasSealIsland,6-24-15_edited-1

BAEA_flying1,CutlerHarbor,6-24-15_edited-1

Spruce Grouse eluded my group for the first time, but we picked up lifers for many, especially as we rode the whale/puffin watch trip out of Bar Harbor (2 Manx and 14 Great Shearwaters, 3 Leach’s and 350+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Northern Fulmars, and another view of puffins, Razorbills, and Common Murres.  And we finally turned up some Great Cormorants – 7 actually – in Acadia National Park.
GRSH_takeoff1,offBarHarbor,6-26-15_edited-1
The Great Shearwaters we encountered today had some serious molt going on!

Besides the Little Egret, which obviously stole the show, unexpected treats included an immature male Purple Martin at Pine Point exploring nesting/roosting cavities with 6 White-winged Scoters off the beach and 2 Black-bellied Plovers off the point. A pair of Black Scoters was off of Quoddy Head State Park was another unseasonable addition to the checklist.

We filled in a few holes on the checklist on the tour’s last day, including Barred Owl, and some feeder watching in our backyard. And like all of my tours, we ate well- very, very well; food is always an important part of my tours as it is so important to tell an area’s story.
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With rain falling and clients departing on Sunday the 28th, I slept. A lot. I also slept a lot the next two days, although of course, but I made some time for some casual birding with Jeannette and Sasha, including another chase of the Little Egret – this time resulting in Jeannette’s 600th ABA-area bird!  Then, on Tuesday, we visited Simpson’s Point and spotted the remarkably-unseasonable Pacific Loon that was found there the day before. Joining almost-as-amazing summer records of two Red-throated Loons, a drake Bufflehead, and three Long-tailed Ducks, this amazing bay that has become a real summer oddity hotspot delivers once again.

And with that, my June comes to a close. I have a few tours and private guiding outings coming up, but I look forward to a slightly more relaxed schedule, with perhaps a few minutes on the recliner and wading out to sandbars to enjoy shorebirds!

The Bahamas!

Bahama Warbler

Bahama Warbler

Jeannette and I traveled with our friends Paul Doiron and Kristen Lindquist for a 10-day escape from winter’s grip. While the 5 endemics (species found nowhere else on Earth) of the Bahamas (not including the “new” hummingbird on the Inaguas that was split after we planned this trip) were our primary targets, these were, in all reality, the excuse to visit, not the sole reason.

Like all of our journeys, Jeannette and I use species of interest as a guide, getting us to interesting places, seeing great birds, eating great food, and perhaps even resulting in a little rest and relaxation. When most people think of the Bahamas, they think of resorts with expansive landscapes of concrete pools and golf courses, or casinos. Yeah, we didn’t visit any of those. Instead, we prefer the periphery of where the hoards of tourists flock (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t help it). In other words, we flock to where the birds are.

We arrived in Nassau on the heavily-developed island of New Providence less than three hours after departing from Boston. That short trip resulted in a welcome gain of over 70-degrees. I was soon hot.

We had a relaxed afternoon, mostly being “regular” tourists around town, including a visit to the John Waitling rum distillery where the opening scene of Casino Royale was filmed, and where some fine rums are made.
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Wintering migrants such as Yellow-throated and Prairie Warblers foraged in gardens and street trees, and Jeannette scored her lifer White-crowned Pigeon as it came into roost in a tree just outside our downtown hotel. Eurasian Collared-Doves were ubiquitous, but it was interesting to see them here. Besides the surprising “dark morph” birds in the city, there is a fair amount of ornithological history with these birds: it was here in Nassau that they were released in 1974 and from here, rapidly colonized the North American continent, now breeding all of the way to southern Alaska!

The next morning (2/27), we were already back at the airport, this time for the short 30-minute jump over to Abaco. Now it was time to really go birding!

Poking our way from the airport to Marsh Harbor, as Paul adeptly navigated the “wrong side” of the road for the first time, we soon found just how outdated the Birder’s Guide to the Bahamas was. Nonetheless, we still found the first lifer for all four of us – LaSagra’s Flycatcher. Shortly after arriving at our quiet little cabin rental at The Lofty Fig (much more our speed than a loud and bustling downtown hotel!), the first of the five endemics we were after flew overhead – 4 Bahama Swallows!

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LaSagra’s Flycatcher

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Black-faced Grassquit

A short walk over to the Abaco Beach Resort yielded lifer Greater Antillean Bullfinches and Thick-billed Vireo, and lifer Western Spindalis for Jeannette in the neighborhood nearby. The spiffy, white-bellied resident race of American Kestrel was exciting to see and we became familiar with the common cast of migrant warblers that would appear at almost every “pish:” Prairie, Cape May, Yellow-throated, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, and especially Palm, and of course one of our favorite birds, the Bananaquit.
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Thick-billed Vireo

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American Kestrel

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Western Spindalis

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Saw-scaled Curlytail.

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The 28th was our most important birding day, with three endemics and several other regional specialties on the agenda as we birded the south end of the island. Following breakfast in a little shop in Sandy Point (lifer Guava Duff!), we immersed ourselves in the pine forests of Abaco National Park.
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Homemade next door, hand-delivered with extra sauce.

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Bahama Swallow

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Atala

Olive-capped Warblers and Cuban Emeralds were abundant, Cuban Pewees were scattered about, and we teased out two skulking Bahama Yellowthroats – endemic #2. We finally picked up a couple of Bahama Warblers – their long, decurved bill and yellow bellies rapidly separating them from Yellow-throated.
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Cuban Emerald

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Cuban Pewee

When you think of mockingbirds, you think of bold and conspicuous, but apparently not so for the Bahama Mockingbird in the middle of winter. We only saw one bird on our trip, and it was a skulker. After a bit of gentle squeaking, however, it popped out and offered a short but satisfying moment. Apparently, we were lucky to see one at all at this time of year.
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While looking for it to give a second good view, a female Bahama Woodstar zipped by and landed on a nearby bush – our third endemic of walk!
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We wandered around a little bit before arriving in the afternoon at the Bahama Palm Shores to look for the endemic subspecies of the Cuban Parrot. It took us all of about 10 minutes before we heard parrots, and a handful of yards further down the road, we found ourselves surrounded by a confiding flock of 20 or so feeding on fruit.
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Having cleaned up on our first full birding day, the agenda was more relaxed on our second full day on the island. We worked our way north to Treasure Cay, stopping at a roadside coppice which yielded more migrants, another Bahama Warbler, and more Thick-billed Vireos than we could look at.

Thanks to two mutual friends, we hooked up with local birding expert Woody Bracey. Woody generously offered to show us around his part of the island. Mentioning we hadn’t yet seen our life White-cheeked Pintails, Woody took us to a local golf course pond, where 48 pintails were present. What a gorgeous bird; here’s one where the field guides definitely don’t do them justice! Cute and elegant, dapper and colorful all at once, these great little ducks were a great way to start our birding day together.
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Cool “gray-morph” or somewhat leucistic pintail.

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“Please take MY picture! Or, give me bread.”

Interestingly enough, the rarest bird in the pond was a vagrant Canada Goose, which arrived here in November – a great bird for the islands. Three Mallards, if indeed genuine vagrants, would be a close second for their rarity. The Blue-winged Teals and Pied-billed Grebes, however, were common and expected.

Further exploration yielded our lifer Loggerhead Kingbirds, and much improved views of both Bahama Yellowthroat and Bahama Warbler.
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As luck would have it, after working hard for West Indian Woodpecker to no avail, we heard one call right behind our Marsh Harbor lodging on the morning of the 2nd. However, in about an hour, it only yielded two glimpses as it darted between tall ficus trees. Four Loggerhead Kingbirds were more conspicuous however, and a small thicket of trees held a nice mixed species foraging flock of overwintering warblers, included a Black-throated Blue and a Worm-eating.

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I’m a fan of fried chicken, and the fried chicken was darn good down here, such as at the little “Just Chicken” shack that Jeannette and I ate at tonight.

Today we took the short ferry ride to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Wandering through the village – which reminded us all a little of Monhegan Island (but with palm trees) – we did the touristy thing before heading out of town and walking the edges of coppice habitat outside of town all of the way to White Sound. And guess what we saw – West Indian Woodpeckers! Two, about 20 feet away foraging on a roadside tree for over 10 minutes. Isn’t that always how it works out? No Key West-Quail Doves as we hoped for, however.
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Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls from our lunch stop.

Early in the morning on March 3rd, we departed Abaco, and arrived back on New Providence. With 6 hours until our next flight, we splurged on a car rental and checked out some birding sites on New Providence. The Harold and Wilson Ponds National Park was the most productive of the destinations. Our trip list grew with Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Tricolored Heron, Virginia Rail, and Sora, plus 6 more White-cheeked Pintails. Another female Bahama Woodstar entertained us at the Clifton Heritage National Park, which unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore.
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Following the shortest flight of our lives, we arrived on Andros Island a mere 15 minutes after takeoff. We even took off early, which resulted in our arrival time being our scheduled departure time!
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Jeannette did the planning for this trip, and once again, she had us in prime position for our target bird. This time, it was the rarest bird of our trip (and therefore my “most-wanted” species), the critically endangered Bahama Oriole. We checked into the Lighthouse Yacht Club Marina motel, a place that’s glory days are long since past. While its history was fascinating, it was a tired place, but we weren’t here for the ambience – or thankfully, the “pool.” Instead, we were here for orioles.
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And within about 10 minutes of stepping outside into the front “yard,” an oriole sounded off. We hustled down the entrance road, and Paul spotted the bird teed up on a dead snag. It turned out that a pair was present, and they afforded good views. Now, with the last of the island endemics checked off, we could finally relax a little!
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There wasn’t much of a town here in Fresh Creek, but Hank’s Place – the only restaurant open in the area – was not just a great meal, but had the local color, character, and ambiance that one misses staying at gated resorts. Bahama Swallows were on the wires as we crossed the bridge, but unfortunately, we didn’t rediscover any extinct three-foot-tall Barn Owls on the walk home.

The next morning, White Ibis were out on the front lawn of the Lighthouse Yacht Club, and then spent some more quality time with the orioles – at least three were in the area, including two males counter-singing.
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Soon thereafter, we took a cab for a short ride over to our final destination of the trip, the Small Hope Bay Lodge to end our vacation in style. Wandering around the grounds and some of the trails yielded more quality time with Thick-billed Vireos, Cuban Emeralds, Bananaquits, Greater Antillean Bullfinches, Black-faced Grassquits, and pockets of North American migrants. Vocal Clapper Rails were added to our trip list.
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Paul finally gets into his element.

Jeannette and I took a bike ride (5 miles on old bikes and mostly rough dirt roads, so this might have been slightly more effort than we had anticipated!), through pine forest that was alive with the songs of resident Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, to the most impressive of the local “blue holes.” Circular sinkholes into the limestone, blue holes are famous for their relaxing swimming. In we went.
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The next morning, one of the resident guides, Tarran Simms, took us on a van tour two three blue holes, taught us about traditional medicinal plants, and brought us to one of the more productive coppices for two of our last “target birds.” Although the notoriously challenging-to-see Key West Quail-Dove was heard twice, it was not surprising that we couldn’t track it down through the impenetrable forest. However, although we heard at least two different Great Lizard-Cuckoos, we weren’t able to spot one of those either. We couldn’t complain, though, as these were our only to “misses” of the trip.

And Paul finally got to go fishing, and reel in a bunch of Bonefish. A “Fisherman’s Lifer.”
Pauls Bonefish

Two Least Grebes were at the Rainbow Blue Hole, along with a chance to dip your feet in for a little fish-exfoliation treatment. A Merlin was new for our trip near Cousteau’s Blue Hole, where Tarran also pointed out an old Barn Owl nest. It’s certainly not where I would have expected to see a Barn Owl nest, but without any barns around, clearly they make do. No one was home at this season, but several pellets below proved they have been eating rats nearby.
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After lunch, Jeannette, Kristen, and I rode into “town” to check out the Androsian batik (fabric) factory and store, passing a small pond that hosted a few waterbirds. An Osprey, of the regional subspecies “ridgewayi” with a nearly all-white head flew over, our first (surprisingly) Osprey of the trip.

On our last morning on Andros, Jeannette and I briefly spotted a Bahama Oriole in a Coconut Palm as we left our cabin. We then took a longer trail through the property, hoping for quail-doves or lizard-cuckoos. We didn’t hear or see either, but we did get an unexpected lifer: Swainson’s Warbler. One of the few eastern North American birds neither of us have seen, we’ve never been in the right place at the right time to look for one, so it was exciting to first see the bird in its “wintering” grounds – the place where it spends almost 8 months of each given year. A really good look at a Red-legged Thrush was nice, as well.

For a chance at seeing some seabirds, Jeannette had booked us on the ferry from Fresh Creek back to Nassau, instead of flying back. The boat left from near the Lighthouse Marina, and as we departed, a Bahama Oriole was singing away, teeing up for one last look as Bahama Swallows zipped around the creek.

It was a nice boat ride, and seeing 6 flying fish was pretty neat, but we only had one distant seabird in the three-hour journey: an unidentified shearwater that was really far away, but presumably an Audubon’s (which would have been a lifer for Jeannette). A few Laughing Gulls were finally around as we approached Nassau, and once in the harbor, we added Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls to our trip list.
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Jeannette and I like to splurge at least once on a trip, if possible, and we went all out on this one: dinner the Greycliff in Nassau. And it was fantastic…and amazingly expensive. But you only live once, right? Besides, while waiting to be seated, we strolled the impressive gardens as dusk approached. A Louisiana Waterthrush wandered around the edge of the tile-lined pool, and a Red-legged Thrush foraged in the garden. White-crowned Pigeons and Eurasian Collared-Doves were arriving to roost in the palms and other trees around the property. And the refined guava duff (no Styrofoam clam-shell here!) was exquisite.
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March 7th was our last day of vacation, so Jeannette and I wanted to make the most of it. Paul joined us for a walk around the tourist Mecca/hell of Paradise Island. It was not our cup of tea, but thickets of vegetation, especially around a couple of stagnant but very productive ponds, were surprisingly birdy. Especially around the ponds, there were White-crowned Pigeons and Bananaquits in the trees, all of the now-expected wintering migrants at every pish, and several really good looks at Red-legged Thrushes. Mourning Dove was new for our trip.
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Phone-binned Red-legged Thrush

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Great Egret with begging fish and turtles.

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Paul peeled off, and Jeannette and I set out on two missions. One, was my now-desperate attempt to find a place that had invasive Lionfish on the menu (I’ve heard it tastes great, and with the damage it is doing to the reefs of the region, I was hoping to single-handily increase demand for it!). No luck there. Our other mission was to find the introduced Cuban Grassquits.

We walked towards a well-known place to see them, finding a great little café (Le Petit Gourmet) for lunch, before we arrived at the Bahama Art Handicraft Gift Shop on Shirley St. We soon spotted some feeders, and within seconds, Cuban Grassquits started arriving. There were at least twenty of these darling little birds…and a rather gorgeous one at that; the field guides didn’t really do it justice. House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, and a single Common Ground-Dove were the only other visitors to this feeder, but the grassquits were yet another life bird that offered stellar views and solid “life bird moments.”
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“We’re going to see a life bird here?”

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Phone-binned photos of the Cuban Grassquits

It was a long, hot walk back to our hotel, making a couple of stops in pursuit of leads on Lionfish, but finding another grassquit at Betty Cole Park near the waterfront. Then, the four of us rendezvoused back at our downtown Towne Hotel, and took the bittersweet cab ride back to the airport. It was time to head home: back to winter, back to work, but back to Sasha and the climate I am more comfortable in!
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This is our triplist, in order of first appearance. Birds marked with an (*) were lifer birds for me and Jeannette, and two (**) were the two species that were new for just Jeannette. Endemics or regional specialties are in all caps.
New Providence Island:
1. House Sparrow
2. Northern Mockingbird
3. Killdeer
4. Laughing Gull
5. Eurasian Collared-Dove
6. Rock Pigeon
7. Yellow-throated Warbler
8. Prairie Warbler
9. Black-and-white Warbler
10. American Kestrel (endemic subspecies)
11. WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON**
12. Cape May Warbler
13. Smooth-billed Ani
14. Common Gallinule
15. American Coot
16. Great Egret
17. Belted Kingfisher

Abaco:
18. Common Ground-Dove
19. Bananaquit
20. Black-faced Grassquit
21. LASAGRA’S FLYCATCHER*
22. Ring-billed Gull
23. Magnificent Frigatebird
24. BAHAMA SWALLOW*
25. Little Blue Heron
26. Red-tailed Hawk (resident subspecies)
27. Tree Swallow (actually, a pretty good rarity)
28. American Redstart
29. Northern Parula
30. Greater Antillean Bullfinch
31. Red-legged Thrush
32. Palm Warbler
33. Yellow-throated Vireo
34. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
35. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
36. THICK-BILLED VIREO*
37. Red-winged Blackbird
38. European Starling
39. American Oystercatcher
40. Indigo Bunting
41. WESTERN SPINDALIS**
42. Turkey Vulture
43. Limpkin
44. Pine Warbler
45. “GOLDEN” YELLOW WARBLER
46. Northern Waterthrush
47. CUBAN EMERALD*
48. OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER*
49. CUBAN PEWEE*
50. Great Blue Heron
51. BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT*
52. BAHAMA WARBLER*
53. BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD*
54. BAHAMA WOODSTAR*
55. Hairy Woodpecker (endemic subspecies)
56. Ruddy Turnstone
57. Royal Tern
58. Double-crested Cormorant
59. CUBAN (BAHAMA) PARROT
60. Reddish Egret
61. Common Yellowthroat
62. Worm-eating Warbler
63. Yellow-rumped Warbler
64. WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL*
65. Blue-winged Teal
66. Pied-billed Grebe
67. Canada Goose (mega-rarity!)
68. Mallard (very rare)
69. Forster’s Tern
70. Gadwall
71. LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD*
72. Peregrine Falcon
73. Spotted Sandpiper
74. White-eyed Vireo
75. WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER*
76. Black-throated Blue Warbler
77. Ovenbird
78. Willet

New Providence:
79. Snowy Egret
80. Neotropical Cormorant
81. Tricolored Heron
82. Virginia Rail
83. Sora

Andros Island:
84. BAHAMA ORIOLE*
85. Magnolia Warbler
86. White Ibis
87. Green Heron
88. Clapper Rail
89. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
90. Least Grebe
91. Merlin
92. Osprey (ssp. Ridgewayi)
93. Swainson’s Warbler*

New Providence Island:
94. Lesser Black-backed Gull
95. Herring Gull
96. Louisiana Waterthrush
97. Mourning Dove
98. CUBAN GRASSQUIT*

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Sandy Point on 10/9, Goose Fields Redux, and More.

After three nights with little to no migration, birds took to the skies en masse come nightfall last night.  It was a big flight.  For examples, here are the 10pm, 1am, and 4am reflectivity and corresponding velocity images:
10pm radar, 10-8-1310pm velocity, 10-8-13
1am radar, 10-9-13 1am velocity, 10-9-13 4am radar, 10-9-13 4am velocity, 10-9-13

That’s a heckuva flight!  But as October goes on, more and more of the migrants are sparrows. Most sparrows (juncos and Chipping Sparrows are the exceptions) do not partake – or barely so – in the morning re-determined migration (“morning flight”), at least at Sandy Point, so I have been disappointed with the tally come dawn at Sandy Point on more than one occasion in mid-October.  While this morning’s flight was still good, it was not as busy as I would have expected based on the density of those radar returns.  But there were a lot more sparrows around in the bushes at Sandy Point and elsewhere this morning; I wonder what percentage of last night’s flight were White-throated Sparrows?

At the bridge at Sandy Point, the morning’s flight started out quite slow.  By 7:30, I had even considered packing it in and going to look for sparrows.  But then things picked up a little bit, and a steady trickle of birds slowly added up to a respectable tally.  Both kinglets spent a lot of time swirling around the point this morning (as usual, I was conservative in my count of how many were actually crossing, as many would turn around, come back, and try again), and the sparrow tally was probably a lot higher.  However, by the time I left the bridge, most White-throats had already dispersed into the woods.  Song Sparrows – which I do not attempt to tally due the number of breeding birds in the powerline cut – were definitely more abundant than they have been as well.

Here’s the scorecard:
6:45-9:15
39F, light NNW to calm, partly cloudy to clear

323 Yellow-rumped Warblers
105 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
71 Unidentified
60 Dark-eyed Juncos
52 Palm Warblers
39 Golden-crowned Kinglets
30 White-throated Sparrows
15 Unidentified kinglets
13 Blackpoll Warblers
12 Black-capped Chickadees
12 Black-throated Green Warblers
8 American Robins
7 Blue-headed Vireos
7 Northern Parulas
6 Blue Jays
4 Common Loons
4 Common Yellowthroats
4 Chipping Sparrows
3 Nashville Warblers
3 Savannah Sparrows
3 Swamp Sparrows
3 American Goldfinches
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 Eastern Phoebes
2 Tufted Titmice
2 American Pipits
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 Common Grackle

T=800

Afterwards, I did a circuit of the local “goose fields.” As with everywhere to our south, the resident, non-migratory population of Canada Geese is burgeoning in southern Maine.  This resident population begins to coalesce in the fields of Yarmouth, Cumberland, and Falmouth in early August, and by the middle to end of September, the flock includes a sizeable percentage of the local breeders.  The percentage of local breeders that are in the fields on any given day increases with the onset of early Canada Goose hunting season in early September.

This year, the number of geese among all fields has varied between 200-300 total birds since early September. This number of pre-migrant birds has grown steadily over the past five years in particular.  This week, the first real influx of geese arrived, presumably from some points north.  It is the flock of resident geese that know the safe fields (no hunting, less Bald Eagle activity) and travel corridors to and from the bay where they roost that attract the migrants, including those occasional rarities.

My high count this week of 445 Canada Geese today was my highest tally since the spring.  A couple of Eastern Meadowlarks and up to 8 Killdeer were also present at Thornhurst Farm this week, and Eastern Bluebirds have been rather widespread. A Pied-billed Grebe was once again in the pond on Woodville Road in Falmouth, as is often the case at this time of year.

The goose numbers and the chance for finding rarities should only increase (well, with various ebbs and flows) from now through the first heavy snow.  In fact, I often find my first “good” goose in the second week of October.  It’s also primetime for sparrows.  And this is why I hate leaving the state in October, but once again, I am off!

Early tomorrow morning I depart for Iowa, where I will be speaking at the Iowa Ornithologist Union’s Fall Meeting.  I’ll be giving the keynote presentation on “How to Be a Better Birder” using my SandyPoint case study program and I will also be showing my Russian Far East travelogue.  Finally, I will be joining the 2009 Bradbury Mountain Hawkcounter, Danny Akers, in leading a field trip.

After my weekend in the Hawkeye State, I head to Wisconsin to visit the Urban Ecology Center in Wisconsin.  In between and thereafter, I’ll be spending a couple of days birding and visiting with friends.   I’ll post the occasional update about migration in the Midwest, my birding, and other musings on my book’s Facebook page should you be interested in following my travels.

Now I am just left to wonder what state bird I will miss here in Maine while I am away (there’s always one!)