Tag Archives: warblers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Warbler (and Sparrow) Big Month. In December. In Maine.

December was unusually warm. In fact, it was record warm. And not just barely… records were shattered. The average temperature for the month was 38F. Not only was that a ridiculous 9 degrees above normal, it smashed the previous record of 24.8F (set in 2001). Surprisingly, despite the everlasting warmth, record daily highs were rare. Christmas Day was an exception, however, when temperatures soared to 62 in Portland, crushing the previous record high of 53, set just last year.

Our first measurable snow of the season didn’t fall until December 29th – the second latest date on record. Those 5-8 inches in southern Maine finally ushered in “real winter” and hopefully set the stage for a return to more normal conditions (although the last few days have once again been 5-10 degrees above normal).

Not surprisingly, such an unseasonable month resulted in some very-unseasonable birding. A variety of “lingering” or perhaps more accurately “pioneering” as Ned Brinkley, editor of North American Birds once dubbed it warblers in particular were making headlines.

So I decided to do a December Warbler Big Month. Because, well, warblers in December! In Maine!

With Tennessee, Yellow (2!), Nashville (2!), Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s on December 6th, I was half-way to my newly-set goal of 10 species for the month. The unusually mild fall has allowed more “lingering” birds to survive longer, and normal November hotspots are still hot (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, I waited until December 8th to decide to embark on this silly little hunt, so I had some catching up to do. There were some relatively easy ones (Yellow-rumped Warblers overwinter in a few places, along with “known” Blackburnian and Pine Warblers). That meant I just need to find an Orange-crowned Warbler (the second most-regular December warbler after Yellow-rumped) and then one other stray.

So off I went…

Not wanting to take any species for granted, I twitched a Pine Warbler that was reliably coming to a feeder in Brunswick on the 10th. I had to wait all of three minutes for it to arrive on my way back from walking Sasha. If only they were all this easy!
L1040178_PIWA2,JayStormers,Brunswick,12-10-15_edited-1

The next day I was once again at the Saco Yacht Club, looking for the Blackburnian Warbler (which I saw on Nov 30th – one day too early!). Activity didn’t pick up until the fog finally lifted after 10am, but I ran out of time. I did, however, enjoy another visit with the Tennessee, and 1 each of Yellow and Nashville Warblers. 2-3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also present, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler dropped in: my 7th species of the month! That and the Western Tanager were the consolation prizes (yes, I did just relegate the tanager to a consolation prize…shame on me… but I “needed” the Blackburnian!).
L1040189_WETA1,SacoRiverwalk,12-11-15_edited-1

I worked hard for an Orange-crowned Warbler in Portland on the 13th to no avail, but I did turn up the continuing Nashville Warbler along the Eastern Promenade (oh look, Portland ravaged vegetation here, too!) and a Gray Catbird on Sheridan St. I also took time to go visit the continuing Ross’s Goose along Stroudwater St in Westbrook – the third I have seen in Maine, and only the 6th or 7th state record.
IMG_6946_ROGO1,StroudwaterSt,Westbrook,12-13-15_edited-1(Phone-scoped image)

Continuing the quest, I had high hopes for the Southern York County Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. With a great territory that almost always turns up a good bird or three, Jeannette, Kristen Lindquist, and I worked the marsh, thickets, neighborhoods, and beach of the “Moody” sector. And we did indeed have a great day, including the 2nd Count Record Clay-colored Sparrow, the 5th Count Records of Baltimore Oriole and Lesser Scaup (21 – also a record high), and 6th Count Record of Dickcissel. But alas, not a single warbler. We didn’t even get a Yellow-rumped – for the first time, as there was virtually no fruit on the bayberry bushes along Ogunquit Beach or anywhere else.

When my friend Evan Obercian found a Yellow-throated Warbler at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on the 13th, my goal was definitely in sight (this was the “additional rarity” I needed), but in the weeks before Christmas, finding time was going to be a challenge. Luckily, a break in my schedule – and the rain – came on Thursday the 17th, so I got an early start and headed east.

I met up with Evan and Kristen and we wandered the grounds of the Samoset for almost two hours. I was not happy to find a stiff onshore breeze when I arrived, and it was increasing over the course of the morning. Then the mist rolled in, and soon, a steadier drizzle. There were not a lot of birds around (other than Canada Geese and Mallards on the golf course), and I was beginning to work on a plan to come back again. And not long thereafter, it called!

We spotted it in an isolated cluster of Scotch Pines, very near where Evan first saw it (and where we walked by 3 times already this morning). We followed it for about 30 minutes as it relocated to another grove before heading over to the hotel building, where it proceeded to forage in the sheltered porches of the four story building! Presumably gleaning insects from old webs in the corners and around furniture, clearly this bird had figured out a novel way of finding sustenance – especially on such a snotty day.

It was my 8th warbler of the month.
L1040215_YTWA3,Samoset,Rockport,12-17-15_edited-1L1040251_YTWA1,Samoset,Rockport,12-17-15_edited-1

I was back to the Saco Yacht Club with Luke Seitz the next morning, once again hoping for the Blackburnian. We worked the hillside and surrounding habitats hard, and absolutely cleaned up! The quick glimpse of a fly-by Western Tanager was more frustrating that satisfying, but we had great looks at the continuing Tennessee, Yellow, 2 Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and then, finally, the Blackburnian! My 9th warbler of the month!

Luke’s quote sums it up: “Let’s take a moment to appreciate what we are seeing and hearing around us right now. What. The. (Expletive deleted)!”

I had a little more time, so I made a quick trip down to Biddeford Pool. Working the neighborhood and thickets, I found a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4-5), a nice addition to the day list. Besides, up until now, I had only seen one all month!

I was in the midst of plotting “Operation Orange-crowned” when I wandered over to look at a chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A loud chip note caught my attention, and I looked up to see this Prairie Warbler – my 10th species of warbler for the month (and 7th of the day)!
L1040305_PRAW,BiddPool,12-18-15_edited-1

But did you really think I would stop at 10?

Hunting for Orange-crowns in Portland and South Portland on the 21st, I turned up a Baltimore Oriole on Sheridan Street (likely the same individual that Jeannette and I found here on 11/23), and along West Commercial Street (in what’s left of the vegetation here!), I had a Swamp Sparrow, and a Field Sparrow – my 8th sparrow of the month.
L1040314_FISP,WCommercialSt,Portland,12-21-15_edited-1

Hmmm…do I need to go for 10 sparrows, too?

Obviously!

So I went to Scarborough Marsh the next day, and quickly picked up a Savannah Sparrow along the Eastern Road Trail for #9.

Jeannette and I, post-holiday madness, continued the search on the 28th, combing the coast from Kittery through Wells. While nothing new was added, we did find three different Swamp Sparrows (two at Fort Foster, 1 in York Beach), and most excitingly, we relocated the Clay-colored Sparrow that we found on the CBC – a mere one block away. Once again, however, I managed only some quick phone-binned photos.
CCSP,Wells,12-28-15

A Northern Flicker and 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers were at Wells’ Community Park, while other highlights included 14 Sanderlings with Purple Sandpipers along Marginal Way in Ogunquit.

But before I knew it, it was December 31st. I still had yet to see an Orange-crowned Warbler (inconceivable!) for the month, and I was stuck at 9 species of sparrow. Therefore, Phil McCormack and I had a mission when we set out in the morning. We worked thickets and fields in Cape Elizabeth, with stops at various nooks and crannies in South Portland and Portland.

While we did not relocate the Lark Sparrow along Fessenden Road (it’s been a week since I have seen a report), we did have a Merlin there, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers at Crescent Beach State Park. Luke had an Orange-crowned Warbler at Camp Ketcha back on the 20th, but it was rather devoid of birds today.

Throughout the day, pockets of Song and American Tree Sparrows were indicative of recent movements and concentration following the snow and ice, but we were not prepared for the concentration of sparrows at a particularly fruitful patch. In fact, it was astounding!

75+ American Tree and 50+ Song Sparrows flew out of the field, joined by 10 or so White-throated Sparrows and 20 or more Dark-eyed Juncos. A continuing female Brown-headed Cowbird was there, along with at least 80 American Goldfinches and 30 or so House Finches. A Carolina Wren sang from the woods, and two Swamp Sparrows and a female Common Yellowthroat were in the marsh…I knew my 10th species of sparrow was here somewhere!
L1040338_mixed_sparrows,Alewives,CapeE,12-31-15

After a teasing brief, distant but highly suggestive look, I finally found it – a Chipping Sparrow! My 10th species of sparrow in December!
L1040361_CHSP,Alewives,CapeE,12-31-15

Shortly thereafter, a Savannah Sparrow (my second of the month) appeared – not just our 7th species of the day, but the 7th species in this one spot! Amazing! And now I had a 7 species of sparrow day and 10 species for the month to match my 7 species of warbler day and 10 species for the month! (The Double 7/10 Split?)

But of course, I still wanted an Orange-crowned Warbler, so we kept birding (well, after a long, celebratory lunch of course), and I tried a few more OC spots in Portland after Phil departed. I still can’t believe I saw 10 species of warbler in Maine in December, and none of them were Orange-crowned, but it seems a fitting finish to the month, and the year, was the continuing Baltimore Oriole and Gray Catbird sitting in the same tree in the Sheridan St lot!
BAORandGRCA,SheridanSt,Portland,12-31-15_edited-2

Meanwhile, some other highlights over the course of the month, of the non-warbler or sparrow variety, including more seasonal species, such as two Snowy Owls on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk on the 12th, my first Iceland Gull of the season (finally) in Old Port on the 15th, a Snowy Owl at Biddeford Pool on the 18th, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a growing legion of wintering waterbirds.

Other signs of the unseasonably warm month included a lingering Double-crested Cormorant in Portland Harbor on 12/15, a few more lingering dabblers and Great Blue Herons than usual, but surprisingly, I didn’t see a Hermit Thrush all month – had they all moved on or would some now show up as the snow and ice pushes them to coastal migrant traps? But the most unexpected of them all was the Little Blue Heron that was found in the tiny Jordan Park Marsh in Ocean Park. I stopped by to visit it on the 22nd, about two weeks into its unseasonable stay.
L1040320_LBHE1,OOB,12-22-15_edited-1

Unfortunately, as much fun as this month has been – and as nice as it has been to not yet wear my parka – it’s impossible for me to ignore what this all means: the climate HAS changed. While no one month – warm or cold – is “climate change,” it is impossible for any rational person to not realize that our weather has become more and more unpredictable, less and less “normal,” and prone to more and more wild swings in seasonal and within-season variability. No, a hot day doesn’t mean Global Warming, nor does a snowstorm mean there’s not (Please James Inhoffe, please go away and shut the hell up). But the trends are real, very apparent, and very much here. Now. And they are most definitely affecting birds and bird migration.

That being said, I would not use these warblers as an example of this. Instead, I think the fact that here in December and they are still ALIVE, is however, a perfect example of just how ridiculously warm our weather has been! The mechanisms that delivered these birds to the Saco Riverwalk and elsewhere are likely varied. Perhaps the deformed, crossed-bill of the Tennessee Warbler impedes its ability to efficiently forage and put on the necessary weight for its next leg of migration. Perhaps the extensive southerly winds that have ushered in this warm air also facilitated the arrival of a 180-degree misoriented migrant Yellow-throated Warbler, and I would propose, the Prairie Warbler as well (I think the rare-but-regular late fall Prairies are actually birds from our south) that were “messed up” and flew the wrong way. But it is also possible that some of these warblers are “reverse migrants” that started to go south and then turned around, but I doubt it – facultative migrants like swallows and blackbirds do it, but I don’t know of any known proof that long-distance Neotropical migrants pull it off (on purpose, anyway).

These mechanisms occur every year, and rare warblers are found at places like the Saco Riverwalk every fall. However, they’re usually found in October and November and either move on (or, more likely perish) by now. So I think what’s remarkable is not that all of these warblers are here, but that they are still ALIVE well into December – and that is most definitely due to the mild winter so far. There have still been insects to be found, there’s plenty of fruit left to consume, and fewer calories have been spent to keep up internal body temperatures, meaning there are fewer calories that need to be consumed.

Migration in long-distance, obligate migrants is not triggered by temperatures, but trigged by physiological changes directed by hormones responding to the changing length of the day. In the fall, southbound migration is triggered in part by a response to changes in fat loading to fuel these epic journeys. At some point, the controls are switched away from building the fat reserves that are necessary for migration. I don’t know at what point in the season “pioneering” warblers lose the ability (perhaps, even the “desire”) to migrate. My guess is that even if you pumped these birds full of fat, at this point, they won’t be going anywhere – this is now their winter territory, for better, or for most likely, worse.

So what does this mean besides some amazing early winter birding? Good question. Conventional wisdom says these birds are all “evolutionary dead ends” that will soon be eliminated from the gene pool (it has to get cold sometime, right? If they’re not picked off by a Sharp-shinned Hawk or all of the damn outdoor cats that hunt there). However, with the effects of Global Climate Change clearly upon us, and not reversing anytime soon (if ever), perhaps these “pioneers” are the wave of the future. Maybe someday, warblers will successfully overwinter in Maine, and return to their breeding grounds to pass on those genes.

Maybe. Afterall, without vagrancy, we would not have Hawaiian honeycreepers or Darwin’s finches; distant islands would be sans all landbirds. Perhaps phenomena like “reverse migration” and this pioneering thing will allow the next wave of adaption to a changing climate. Of course, never before in the history of life on earth, has this change occurred so rapidly, and we have little evidence suggesting long-distant migrants can adapt this quickly – it’s going to take more than a few individuals of 10 species of warblers.

Sparrows, however, aren’t obligate long-distance migrants that are “programmed” to leave at a prescribed time. Instead, they are more flexible in their movements, and being seed-eaters, they aren’t reliant on warm-weather dependent insects. As long as seeds are available, and with the complete dearth of snow, they most certainly have been, those that linger can do just fine. White-throated, American Tree, Song, and Dark-eyed Juncos are all regular parts of our winter avifauna in southern Maine, lingering or “pioneering” Swamp Sparrows are regular here and there, and every now and then a Lark Sparrow (a “drift migrant/vagrant” from the Midwest) or Field Sparrow spends the winter in the state. Field and Clay-colored are also rare-but-regular in late fall/early winter, so once again, the presence of 10 species of sparrows is also not in and of itself caused by the record temperatures, but it is most definitely another sign of how mild – and especially snow-free – it has been.

But this is all a blog for another time…this blog was supposed to be about warblers (and sparrows!). In Maine. In December. And that’s amazing. Or, as Luke said, “What. The. (Expletive deleted).”

Not Your Usual December Highlights!

While this fall’s rarity season got off to a fairly slow start at the end of October, things have really heated up lately. In fact, it’s been a really outstanding couple of weeks.  And in the past few days, I have enjoyed some really great birding.

The mild temperatures have certainly played a role – while the southerly and southwesterly winds that have ushered in much of the unseasonably warm air may still be facilitating the arrival of some vagrants, at the very least the mild temperatures and benign weather are allowing vagrants and unseasonable “lingering” migrants to survive long enough to be found! And, the lovely weather is certainly keeping more birders out in the field. I have certainly been taking full advantage of this beautiful weather.

On Sunday, Ed Hess and I visited the Saco Riverwalk. While this is always a hotspot at this season, it is really extraordinary this year. After 8 species of warblers were seen there in November, the mild weather has allowed at least 5 species to continue – almost unprecedented for December. Ed and I saw the Tennessee Warbler, a really remarkable December record…
L1040092_TEWA,SacoRiverWalk, 12-6-15_edited-1

…both of the two continuing Yellow Warblers (the photos are of one of the two individuals), which is another exceptional species for the date…
L1040022_YWAR,SacoRiverWalk,12-6-15_edited-1

…the Nashville Warbler (and confirmed the continued presence of a second Nashville!)…
NAWA by Ed_edited-1

…the Common Yellowthroat (more expected for the season)…
L1040098_COYE1,SacoRiverWalk,12-5-15_edited-1

…and we saw one of the two Ruby-crowned Kinglets still present (much more regular in December than any warbler).
L1040116_RCKI,SacoYachtClub,12-6-15-edited

And although we didn’t see it, the most amazing of them all, a Blackburnian Warbler is still present. (Jeannette and I saw and photographed it earlier in the week, 11/30).
IMG_3040_edited-2

Ed and I then headed to Cape Elizabeth, where we photographed the continuing Grasshopper Sparrow at Dyer Point, and odd bird to see juxtaposed with Harlequin Ducks (18) and Purple Sandpipers (6)…
L1040136_GHSP2,DyerPt,12-6-15_edited-1L1040151_GHSP3,DyerPoint,12-6-15_edited-1L1040163_GHSP1,DyerPoint,12-6-15

…And we twitched a Wilson’s Warbler found earlier in the day nearby, just so we could say we saw five species of warblers in a day in December!  It cannot, however, be said that we “photographed” five species:
WIWA,CapeElizabethm12-6-15

The Grasshopper Sparrow was also our fifth species of sparrow on the day (Song, American Tree, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco) – I doubt I’ve had five species of warbler and 5 species of sparrows in the same day in December in Maine before.

Of course, that only somewhat consoled us about missing the vagrant Western Tanager that was found at the Riverwalk later in the afternoon. Damn.

On Monday, I headed over to Reid State Park in Georgetown with Kristen Lindquist. It was a rather quiet day here, but it’s always one of my favorite places to take a walk, especially on such (another) gorgeous morning.  43 Red-necked Grebes, a Northern Harrier, a flyover Red Crossbill (my first of the season), oh yeah, and another rarity: “Oregon” Junco.

While some might dismiss it as “merely a subspecies,” the westernmost subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco is truly a rarity in the Northeast, and this was the first definitive “Oregon” Junco that I have seen in Maine (although I have never chased one at a feeder, where they are usually seen). It was in a small flock of “Slate-colored” Juncos and an American Tree Sparrow in the scrubby central ridge in the middle of the Griffith’s Head parking lot.

The flock flushed from short grass at the edge as we rounded the corner, and as it briefly alighted in a shrub, I was shocked to see a black-hooded junco. Closer inspection as we followed it for about 20 minutes yielded all of the pertinent field marks for a “textbook” Oregon, nicely eliminating the intermediate “hybrid swarm” – or whatever it is – that we sometimes refer to as “Cassiar’s” Junco.

Note the complete, black (not dark gray) hood, lacking contrast in the supraloral area. Also, the hood is cleanly demarcated on the back of the head, contrasting crisply with the reddish-brown back. The flanks and sides are particularly pale salmon-buff, which is not atypical for adult males (although many are much brighter). At the lower margin of the hood, note the smooth, rounded margin across the chest and up to the “shoulder.”
IMG_6908_ORJU4,meIMG_6909_edited-1IMG_6910_ORJU1,K_edited-1IMG_6912_edited-1,K.Lindquist

Afterwards, Kristen and I birded around Bath – no white-winged gulls or Barrow’s Goldeneyes yet, no doubt related to the mild temperatures as well, but we did spot one of the Snowy Owls at Brunswick Landing – unlike warblers, a slightly more expected highlight for early December in Maine.

While Jeannette and I didn’t turn up any rarities – or much of anything else for that matter! – birding Harpswell Neck this morning, I very much look forward to what the coming weeks will produce, especially when it finally turns cold!

2015 MonhegZen Fall Migration Birding Weekend

As always, the last weekend in September finds me at one of my favorite birding locales in the world, Monhegan Island. My annual “MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend” tour takes place then, and with it, a wealth of birds and good times are to be had.

Well, usually a wealth of birds are to be had! But yeah, this year was slow. As slow as I have ever seen it. But my goodness, was it nice out! Of course, this same pleasant, unseasonable warm and benign weather was exactly why there were so few (relatively speaking) birds out there. It seems that with night after night of great flying conditions, birds are proceeding unimpeded, with no fallouts, or even concentrations near the coast or offshore.

So in writing this blog, I was trying to figure out how to sugarcoat the weekend. Perhaps this will do it:
sunset1_edited-1

Or this?
Sunset2_edited-1

Beautiful sunsets, and wonderous moonrises:
group watching moonrise_edited-1

moonrise_edited-1

Or maybe this will help:
Monhegan_from_lighthouse_edited-1

So yeah, it was gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. And the Novelty Pizza was just as good, and Monhegan Brewing Company’s beer was just as great.

The butterflying was good, and the wildflowers were a nice distraction, especially the Fringed Gentian as always.
Fringed_Gentian1_edited-1

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And don’t worry, there were still plenty of birds – just not as many as usual. We enjoyed some great studies of Great and Double-crested Cormorants…
GRCOs_withDCCO,Monhegan,9-26-15_edited-1

…and of course a few rarities were around. The two headliners were the two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that would spend dawn at the Ice Pond. They would fly in just before 6 (presumably from feeding around the rocky shoreline), drink and preen a bit, and then shortly after sunrise, take off to roost in the trees. You needed to be here dark and early to get them, and on Sunday morning, the group made the lovely twilight walk (fly-by American Woodcock!) to reach the pond, and we arrived just a few minutes after the night-herons did. One lingered until it was just light enough to grab a snapshot.
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A Great Blue Heron kept watch as well.
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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Monhegan weekend if I didn’t attempt to string one Empidonax flycatcher. Of course, this one was a Least Flycatcher – as expected, and as usual. It did offer a very nice, prolonged study, however.
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One of the other significant birding highlights was the seawatching from the tall cliffs. In the afternoon each day, we strolled over to White Head to enjoy Northern Gannets, study Great Cormorants, and do a little seawatching.
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With northeasterly winds picking up Sunday afternoon, gannets were breathtakingly close. A little trickle of shearwaters, which included 2 Cory’s Shearwaters among a handful of Greats, were anything but near.

Here’s the three-day checklist of all birds seen:
American Black Duck: 0,1,0
Mallard: 6,6,6
American Black Duck x Mallard: 1,1,1
Green-winged Teal: 1,1,1
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,1,8
Common Loon: 0,1,2
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 0,0,2
GREAT SHEARWATER: 0,0,6
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,3,1
Northern Gannet: #,#,##
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 2,13,3
Great Blue Heron: 1,0,2,
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 0,0,2 (present all three days, but we only made it to the Ice Pond at dawn on the last day).
Osprey: 1,2,2
Bald Eagle: 1,2,1
Northern Harrier: 0,0,1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,6,1
American Kestrel: 0,3,9
Merlin: ??,4,3
Peregrine Falcon: 0,2,1
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 1,1,0
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Black Guillemot: x,x,x
Mourning Dove: 6,4,6
Belted Kingfisher: 1,1,2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 8,4,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,2,2
Northern Flicker: 0,6,8
Least Flycatcher: 0,1,1
Eastern Phoebe: 0,3,3
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 0,1,0
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,6,3
Blue Jay: 4,8,15
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 3,2,2
Horned Lark: 0,1,0
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6,8,12
Brown Creeper: 0,1,2
Winter Wren: 0,1,0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15,20,40
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 20,6,5
Swainson’s Thrush: 1,0,0
American Robin: 2,1,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,x
European Starling: 8,8,8
American Pipit: 3,1,0
Cedar Waxwing: 30,25,30
Nashville Warbler: 1,1,1
Northern Parula: 10,4,4
Yellow Warbler: 2,1,1
Magnolia Warbler: 1,0,0
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,1
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,0,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 150,75,75
Black-throated Green Warbler: 6,2,2
PINE WARBLER: 1,0,0
Prairie Warbler: 1,0,1
Palm Warbler: 4,2,2
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,10,10
American Redstart: 0,1,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,1
Common Yellowthroat: 4,x,x
Chipping Sparrow: 1,4,4
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,1,1
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,10
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 10,8,8
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,1
Common Grackle: 10,29,29
Baltimore Oriole: 2,2,2
American Goldfinch: 2,4,4

Total species = 80
Total warbler species = 15

Although this year’s tour was one day shorter than usual (since Jeannette and I had to leave for a tradeshow on Monday), the 80 total species was a whopping 22% below the average of 102 species for my usual 4-day tour, and 16% below my average of 95 species for a three-day fall tour.

But the “MonhegZen Migration Weekend” isn’t called that for some existential reason – no meditation required. Instead, it’s a suggestion of the mindset of going with the flow, taking what the island gives us, and enjoying a truly unique and remarkable place that superlatives fail to completely describe.

So yeah, it was pretty slow. But it’s not just cliché: a slow day on Monhegan is better than a “good” day almost anywhere else. And not just for the birds! Don’t believe me? Well, how about joining us next fall to see for yourself? I mean, did you see those sunsets?

P.S. To get a better idea of what it’s usually like out there, check out my blog from last fall’s weekend tour.

Excellent Morning Flight at Sandy Point, 9/16/2015

Over 2,000 migrants. 45 species, including 17 species of warblers. Yeah, it was a good morning to be at Sandy Point!

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Cape May Warbler, male.

I arrived, as usual, a few minutes before sunrise, but unlike most mornings, birds had already begun to cross. And once the sun crested the horizon, the floodgates open. OK, so it wasn’t “Warblergeddon” at Cape May, but it was fun for me and it was an excellent flight for here.

Well, mostly fun. A lot of birds were high, especially as the wind went calm. Big pockets of birds were just too high to identify. I did my best to just keep count. Birds were dropping into the trees on both sides of the road, others were zipping through underneath. As I focused on something in the elm, I am sure I missed birds overhead. It was tough to keep track, but I did my best.
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Prairie Warbler, male.

By the time I departed at 9:30, the tally was the 7th highest I’ve had at Sandy Point (the 6th highest in September), and by far my best flight of the season to date. It also had some interesting birds, and I’ll analyze some of the numbers below.

6:16-9:30am.
61F, clear, West 6.3mph to calm.

940 Unidentified
403 Northern Parulas (3rd highest)
161 American Redstarts
155 Black-throated Green Warblers
61 Cedar Waxwings
55 Tree Swallows (record high)
34 Black-and-white Warbler (3rd highest)
30 Blackpoll Warblers
22 Northern Flickers
22 Magnolia Warblers
18 Yellow Warblers
16 American Goldfinches
13 Yellow-rumped Warblers
11 Red-eyed Vireos
11 Black-throated Blue Warblers
10 Chipping Sparrows
9 Blue Jays
9 Nashville Warblers
8 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
8 Tennessee Warblers (3rd highest)
8 Baltimore Orioles
6 Scarlet Tanagers
5 White-breasted Nuthatches (record high)
4 Purple Finches
3 Eastern Phoebes
3 Blue-headed Vireos
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Wilson’s Warblers
1 Osprey
1 American Kestrel
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
1 unidentified Empid
1 unidentified Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Robin
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Cape May Warbler
1 Prairie Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 EASTERN TOWHEE (present in scrub; only 3 previous records here).
1 Savannah Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Rusty Blackbird (first of fall)
x Common Yellowthroat

Total = 2044

L1030179_BTBW,SandyPt,9-16-15_edited-1
Black-throated Blue Warbler, male. Look at how the “pocket hankercheif” is blown out by the low sun angle.

Several counts were noteworthy, including the two record highs. Tree Swallows usually don’t bother crossing from the island to the mainland via Sandy Point, but more often continue on to the south, crossing the bay with little trouble. Plus, most swallows are probably moving through after I depart in the morning. These birds, mostly in one large and a couple of small groups, were funneling over the bridge along with the rest of the typical Morning Flight migrants. Meanwhile, the 5 White-breasted Nuthatches were noteworthy as I usually see no more than a couple all fall here. The previous record for a single morning was two.

As for the higher counts, I was surprised by how large of a percentage of identified migrants were American Redstarts compared to Blackpoll Warblers. However, I think this is an “identification bias.” Redstarts are the easiest warbler to ID for me in flight, and few pass through at almost any height without being identified. I doubt many of the overwhelming “unidentified” count were redstarts. However, I would wager that a sizeable percentage of them were Blackpoll Warblers. Based on the date and what I’m seeing in the woods these days, there should have been a lot more blackpolls. However, these strong fliers are often very high overhead on light winds, and my guess is that the diminishing westerly this morning was of little consequence for them, and that a lot of those little dots overhead were blackpolls.

Yesterday, I was lamenting not being at Sandy Point. The conditions were great in the morning, and the radar was quite good overnight. However, I was guiding in the Camden area, and at least a little morning flight (ca 100 birds) flew over and through Merryspring Nature Center Park in town. It was a tease to think what might have been going on at “my office” however.

But last night’s radar was even better! Here are the very active 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images from the overnight. See how much was offshore, even as of 4am?
10pm radar

10pm velocity

12am radar

12am velocity

2am radar

2am velocity

4am radar

4am velocity

And come dawn, the winds aloft were perfect for a good Morning Flight at Sandy Point.
5am wind map

In other words, that’s what produced 2,000 birds at Sandy Point, and with a busy schedule this fall, I was quite pleased to catch one of the big ones.

Monhegan Island, May 18-20, 2015.

Hooded Warbler, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Summer Tanager, Grasshopper Sparrow, 19 species of warblers and 89 species? All in 48 hours? It must be Monhegan!

Jeannette and I escaped for a quick trip to Monhegan Island this week. It was all-too-brief as usual, but we’re always happy for whatever short visit we can muster. With the early season ferry schedule still in effect, we couldn’t arrive until noon on Monday, and departed at 12:30 on Wednesday. That only gave us 48 hours of birding.

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Northern Parulas were common and conspicuous – and looking mighty fine! – throughout the visit.

A strong flight overnight Sunday into Monday ushered in some new migrants to the island, but also ushered out several of the rarities that had been present over the weekend. Luckily, a few goodies lingered, including the adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was seen almost all day for all three days of our visit in a corner of the Ice Pond. Our best discovery of the trip was a Grasshopper Sparrow that we kicked up near the microwave tower. Unfortunately, it was not seen again by us or anyone else.

The remnants of the good morning were present – it was decidedly birdy and we managed 16 species of warblers and 65 total species of birds before dinner…and with the pleasant surprise of finding Monhegan Brewing open, we may have spent a little afternoon time there instead of beating the bush.

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FOY.

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Magnolia Warbler was our most common warbler on Day 1.

Come nightfall, birds took the air on light southerly winds. However, after midnight, there were very few
birds on the radar near the coast, suggesting many more birds would have departed than arrived. And that certainly was the case!

It was a quiet morning, and in the dense fog, birds were few and far between. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was present and accounted for however. Then, in the afternoon, Jeannette and I (mostly) circumnavigated the island – a hike I haven’t done in a while, so that was a nice change of pace. The only Cape May Warbler we saw in the three days was during the hike, in one of quite a few small mixed-species foraging flocks that we encountered on the island’s east side.
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We also came upon a tired and wet Scarlet Tanager (I can’t believe I didn’t bring mealworms on this trip!), which was slowly working the rocks for seaweed flies. It was finding several, and after watching it for about 15 minutes, we can tell it was getting a little more strength.

Upon our return to town, we were alerted to the re-sighting of the weekend’s Summer Tanager, flycatching on Swim Beach. To say it posed for pictures would be an understatement.
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Overall, it was a slow day of birding by Monhegan standards (55 species including 13 species of warblers), but a slow day of birding on Monhegan is a great day of birding most anywhere else!

Although we awoke to more dense fog on Wednesday (5/20), our last day on the island, there were soon peaks of sun overhead, and a lot of new birds were to be seen. A moderate flight overnight on light southwest winds then saw birds drift offshore a little more as the winds shifted to the west after midnight. This brought an array of new arrivals to the island, although nothing in exceptionally large quantities, but our trip list grew steadily.

Our morning began with a nice flight of Northern Gannets off Lobster Cove and ended with 17 total species of warblers. Personal first-of-years included the gannets, 1 American Pipit at Lobster Cove, and a singing Willow Flycatcher.  The Summer Tanager continued, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was still standing guard.

And finally, we ran into the one rarity that we had not yet caught up with – a female Hooded Warbler that had been present since the weekend. In true MonhegZen birding style, after being told we “just missed it” several times, I played a hunch and gave one little thicket a quick check before we headed up to the Trailing Yew to grab our carry-on bags.

And sure enough, there she was!
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While both a Wood Thrush and Snowy Egret that were seen on Tuesday would have been “Island Birds” for me, we managed to see all of three of the continuing rarities, plus finding our own in the Grasshopper Sparrow (a very good bird out here).

In other words, it was a great – albeit quick – trip. I look forward to returning no later than our MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend, if not sooner.  And for the record, Monhegan Brewing’s new Flyway IPA – named for the birds and birders that descend on the island each spring and fall – is fantastic!

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The trip was also way too short for Sasha. Not only did she not get any lifers, but her little island romance with Chaco came to an all-too soon end.

Our full trip list was as follows:

Mallard: 6, 8, 10.
Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid: 0,0,2
Common Eider: x,x,x
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,5,4.
Red-throated Loon: 0,0,1.
Common Loon: 2, 0,0.
Northern Gannet: 0,0,73
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 0,0,1.
Great Blue Heron: 0,0,1.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 1,1,1.
Osprey: 0,0,1.
Merlin: 1,1 or 2, 1
Sora: 1,1,1 (calling incessantly all day long all three days!)
Greater Yellowlegs: 2,1,0
Spotted Sandpiper: 0,0,2
Laughing Gull: 0,0,4.
Herring Gull: x,x,x.
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: x,x,x.
Mourning Dove: 6,6,6.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: 0,1,2.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER: 1,1,0.
HAIRY WOODPECKER: 1,0,1.
Northern Flicker: 1,1,0.
Eastern Wood-Pewee: 1,0,3.
Alder Flycatcher: 0,0,2.
Willow Flycatcher: 0,0,1.
Least Flycatcher: 2,2,20.
Eastern Phoebe: 2,0,2.
Eastern Kingbird: 6,1,3.
Warbling Vireo: 0,0,2.
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,1,6.
Blue Jay: 4,5,5.
American Crow: x,x,x.
Common Raven: 2,2,2.
Tree Swallow: 10,6,8.
Cliff Swallow: 1,0,0
Barn Swallow: 2,0,2.
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2.
Winter Wren: 0,1,1.
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 0,8,2.
Swainson’s Thrush: 0,1,1.
American Robin: x,x,x.
Gray Catbird: #,#,#
Brown Thrasher: 3,2,2.
European Starling: x,4,6.
American Pipit: 0,0,1.
Cedar Waxwing: 0,0,15.
Nashville Warbler: 0,0,2.
Northern Parula: 10,20,25.
Yellow Warbler: 10,10,20.
Chestnut-sided Warbler: 1,1,8.
Magnolia Warbler: 15,30,40.
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 5,3,2.
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 10,15,12.
Black-throated Green Warbler: 3,15,18.
CAPE MAY WARBLER: 0,1,0.
Blackburnian Warbler: 1,0,0.
Blackpoll Warbler: 2,2,10.
Black-and-white Warbler: 6,10,15.
American Redstart: 2,3,25.
Ovenbird: 1,0,1.
Northern Waterthrush: 3,1,2.
Common Yellowthroat: #,#,#.
HOODED WARBLER: 0,0,1.
Wilson’s Warbler: 2,0,6.
Canada Warbler: 1,0,3.
SUMMER TANAGER: 0,1,1.
Scarlet Tanager: 0,1,0.
Eastern Towhee: 0,0,2.
Chipping Sparrow: 2,1,0.
Savannah Sparrow: 3,2,2.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW: 1,0,0.
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 1,0,0.
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,3.
White-throated Sparro: 15,10,10.
White-crowned Sparrow: 1,6,7.
Northern Cardinal: 4,6,6.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 4,5,5.
Indigo Bunting: 0,0,1.
Bobolink: 6,4,3.
Red-winged Blackbird: 4,4,8.
Common Grackle: x,x,x.
Baltimore Oriole: 2,1,4.
Pine Siskin: 0,0,1.
Purple Finch: 1,0,0.
American Goldfinch: 8,4,6.

Day totals: 65, 56,77

But most conspicuous in their complete absences was the lack of Carolina Wrens. The island usually has the densest population of this “southern” species anywhere in the state (although one neighborhood in Wells might rival it), but we did not have a single bird the entire trip! Same for everyone else we talked to. Apparently, the unusually harsh, long, and snowy (especially for out here) winter took its toll – as it is wont to do on Carolina Wrens pushing the northern limits of their range.

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Chestnut-sided Warblers were one of many species that were more frequently encountered this morning that in the previous two days.

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On Recent and Upcoming Weather, Vagrant Season, and Recent Great Birding

Late October through early November is traditionally the best “rarity season” in Maine, where vagrants from all directions are hoped for, and even expected. We’ve been in a rather active and dynamic weather pattern of late, and this may help to usher vagrants in our direction. While weather rarely “blows” birds off-course, winds and weather systems can certainly facilitate their arrival in far-flung places, especially when combined with some sort of misorientation (for a thorough discussion of the concept, see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder).

As October progresses, the nights get longer, and the days (usually) get colder. The growing season comes to an end (although in many spots the killing frost has not yet reached the immediate coastline yet this year), and food sources become greatly limited. This can push vagrants that may have arrived over the course of the fall migration into favorable micro-climates and patches of seasonal food abundance. More recently-deposited vagrants, “late/lingering” migrants, and other more typical species can also concentrate in such prime areas, such as urban parks, coastal migrant traps, and so on.

Let’s take a look at some of the recent weather, and attempt to identify some possible species to consider.

Over the past ten days, above normal temperatures were regular, thanks to southerly winds. Take a look at the wind map from October 13th, for example.
wind map, 10-13-14

Strong southerly winds pumped warm air into the area from the Deep South and the Bahamas (and the South Atlantic Bight). These are favorable conditions for depositing “180-degree misoriented migrants” from the south, such as Summer Tanagers and White-eyed Vireos. I wonder if it’s a little too late for a big push of southern birds, however, as many of the Neotropical migrants have already departed the continent. Meanwhile, that extensive southerly flow all of the way into Mexico is the type of weather pattern that can facilitate the arrival of long-distance vagrants, such as Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

Sparrows are on the move now, and northerly winds with cloudy skies overnight on 10/18 to 19 resulted in a big push of sparrows. The low ceiling likely resulted in disorientation of these low-flying migrants by the big city lights, resulting in a massive flight of birds in Portland’s East End on the morning of the 19th. I estimated over 2000 White-throated Sparrows and 500 Song Sparrows just on the Eastern Promenade alone, with dozens more in almost every lot I checked. A hundred White-throats were in the North St Community Garden, and by the end of the morning, I had tallied 8 species of sparrows, and impressive numbers of Chipping Sparrows (76) and Eastern Phoebes (15) among others. Although 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were my 175th species on my Eastern Promenade Patch List, I was surprised that I could not tease out any rarities from the volumes of birds (the sheer number of birds plus gusty winds hampered detection, no doubt).

By 10/19, a strong cold front – a rare occurrence this season – pushed through, and with it, a huge flight of migrants. I tallied over 1100 birds at Sandy Point on the morning of the 20th, led by 461 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 159 American Robins.

You can see how strong and extensive these northwesterly winds finally were from the wind map that day.
wind map, 10-19-14

Rain began to arrive in the afternoon of the 21st, and it didn’t let up until this morning. This massive coastal Nor’easter drenched Maine with up to 5” of rain, and moderate to strong northeasterly winds battered the state, especially the coast.
wind map, 10-23-14

Birding was a challenge on Wednesday and Thursday, as strong winds and often-heavy rain made things difficult. Rain and coastal fog and mist precluded seawatching, and any lake-watching for grounded waterfowl was rendered impossible by visibility and waves. Essentially, feeder-watching was the best bet these two days, and a growing contingent of sparrows at both our home and here at the store provided the entertainment. About 200 Common Grackles descended into our Pownal yard on the 23rd as well.

But now, today (Friday), this massive storm is finally pulling away.
wind map, 10-24-14

And I had a great day of birding in Cape Elizabeth. I began with some seawatching at Dyer Point. From 7:50 to 9:50, I had moderate to good visibility for all but a total of 47 minutes as light showers and mist rolled through. Seas were down to 4-6 feet, and moderate north winds continued. Here’s the scorecard (all southbound unless otherwise noted) – which was actually a little lighter than I had expected:
317 Double-crested Cormorants
127 Northern Gannets (about evenly split between north and southbound)
77 Common Eiders (several hundred northbound)
20 White-winged Scoters
18 Black Scoters
17 Red-breasted Mergansers
16 unidentified ducks
16 Common Loons (plus 18 northbound)
15 Surf Scoters
10 “dark-winged” scoters
8 Long-tailed Ducks (first of fall)
8 Red-throated Loons
5 Great Blue Herons
5 Bonaparte’s Gulls
3 Red-necked Grebes
2 Green-winged Teal
2 Great Cormorants
2 Laughing Gulls
1 Black Guillemot
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 White-throated Sparrow (flew in off the water at 8:05am).

Next up was Kettle Cove, where a nice diversity of migrants, especially sparrows, also included an Orange-crowned Warbler and 3 Common Yellowthroats. Even more interesting was this gull, which appears to be a hybrid Herring x Great Black-back. Intermediate in size and shape between the two, and with an intermediate mantle color, the short wings and pinkish legs separate it from Lesser Black-backed.
DSC_0002_HERGxGBBG1,KettleCove,10-24-14_enlarged_edited-1

DSC_0001_HERGxGBBG2,KettelCove,10-14-14_edited-1

A local sparrow-rific patch of private property was fruitful as well. Although a very tardy Bobolink was the only surprise here, plentiful numbers of sparrows included 200+ White-throated, 100+ Song, 50+ Swamp, 50+ Savannah, 50+ Dark-eyed Juncos, at least 10 White-crowned Sparrows, and a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. A Red-bellied Woodpecker and my second Carolina Wren of the morning were added to the tally.

A male Black-throated Blue and a female Black-and-white Warbler joined Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers feasting on seaweed flies in and near the wrack at Pond Cove, where another Red-bellied Woodpecker was sounding off.

On my way back, I swung through the goose fields, and clearly more Canada Geese have arrived in the last few days. 718 was a new season-to-date high count, with the most interesting new arrival being this spiffy leucistic Canada. Unlike a hybrid with a Snow or a Domestic Goose, this neat bird was the same shape and size as the average Canada, but with a dull brownish cast to the head, neck, and wingtips.
IMG_4625_leucisticCANG1,GreelyRd,10-24-14_edited-1

As this nasty low rides up into Atlantic Canada and beyond, strong wrap-around winds will offer the potential to displace Northern Wheatears or rare geese from Greenland. Meanwhile, next week, we’ll see unseasonable warmth return on southwesterly winds (“vagrant winds” as I like to call them), just the type of scenario that can facilitate the arrival of strays from the southwest, such as Cave Swallows and Ash-throated Flycatchers. They will also facilitate the survival for at least a little longer of vagrants that are still present but as so far gone undetected.

There isn’t one predominate pattern that yields a strong suggestion of any particular vagrant (or group of vagrants) from any particular direction. However, it is clear that we are getting a nice sample of different conditions that could produce some fun stuff.

At the very least, I expect some big flights of migrants, both day and night in the coming days. In fact, I think there will be a big one tonight. Check out these northwesterly winds that should be ushering in a big push of birds:
wind forecast, overnight

Sparrows will make up the bulk of the flight, especially White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. If the clouds clear by dawn, I might get a big push at Sandy Point. If the ceiling stays low overnight, look for concentrations of sparrows in migrant traps, especially in and around bright cities. Meanwhile, during the day, a lovely weather forecast should get plenty of birders out into the field.

Needless to say, I will be out looking, and I hope you will to! I look forward to what the coming days and weeks will bring.