Tag Archives: Wells

The “Coastal Quick Hit” Van Tour report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Least Tern

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

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

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

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

Where to Eat Lunch when Birding York County

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Whether it’s here on this blog (especially in trip reports), on our store’s Facebook page in posts recounting a birding outing, or elsewhere, people seem to enjoy hearing about where Jeannette and I eat lunch while out birding. In addition to finding “good birds,” we do enjoying finding new places to eat. It’s part of the adventure, and especially when we are out of town, it helps us to explore and appreciate a place for more than just the birding. And apparently, feedback suggests that you have an interest in hearing about these places. Or does it just say something about what you think of my writing about birds!?

In fact, I have often been asked to write some sort of “eating while birding” book, website, or article. Maybe someday the idea will develop, but for now, I thought I would hash out a little list of my favorite places to eat while birding in Maine. And I thought I would start with York County.

Perhaps if you find this of interest, other counties will follow. If not, well, then I know what my next project won’t be!

Let’s start with a little background about the food choices we make. We don’t eat fast food unless we’re desperate, and we avoid chains as much as possible. We’d rather eat at a local establishment – for all of the reasons from economic impact to healthier food (sometimes) to the simple idea that food should not be the exact same thing anywhere you go. We love “fine dining,” but for lunch, we’d rather have a good meal, have it reasonably quickly, and get back to birding. We’ll relax at dinnertime. We also very much believe that “great food” and “inexpensive” do not have to be mutually exclusive!

We bird York County regularly, and we often spend at least half the day doing it. Therefore, we tend to find lots of places to enjoy lunch. They tend to be clustered, however, around where we go birding, and where we end up around lunchtime during our birding routes. There are lots of places we haven’t tried, such as in Kennebunkport, that we just don’t tend to bird near. In other words, this list is by no means a comprehensive review of the “best” places to eat lunch in the county – it’s just our favorite places to have lunch when we are birding our favorite spots to bird.

With that in mind, I present to you, for your reading pleasure and/or future reference, our favorite places to eat lunch when birding in York County, Maine (listed roughly from south to north, no other particular order).

1) Loco Coco’s Taco, Kittery
36 Walker St
Sun-Tues: 11am to 8am
Wed-Sat: 11am to 9am

If Kittery is our only birding destination of the morning, then there’s no question where we go for lunch. We’ve hit fallouts at Fort Foster so amazing that we spend all morning there alone. Or perhaps we end up studying or photographing shorebirds at nearby Seapoint Beach. It’s also a tradition for dinner as we head back from a whale watch out of Rye, NH or a NH Audubon pelagic.

While the carne asada tacos are the best around, neither of us can resist the chili rellenos burrito. Also, a tamale or two to go is the perfect mid-afternoon snack to fuel the rest of your birding day. And we always get a piece of Tres Leches cake for when we get home!

2) Flo’s Steamed Hot Dogs, Cape Neddick
1359 US Route One
Thurs-Tues: 11am-3pm
Closed Wed.

For people who eat so little processed food, it might come as a surprise to those who know us well to find out that this is our most-frequent lunch destination in York County! In fact, we’re here often enough that Kimmie somehow remembers exactly what we order. Once a month, we spend a day birding from Kittery through Wells, and this is our lunch destination most of the time. It didn’t hurt that on our first visit when we first moved to the state and we were birding the area, we popped into the unassuming, but so-crowded-you-know-it-has-to-be-great little building and found the Travel Channel filming!

There isn’t much on the menu. In fact, it’s just one item: steamed hot dogs. While the House Special and the Loaded are popular, for Jeannette and I, we stay simple: just Flo’s famous relish, nothing else. It just works. And if we’re going to eat hot dogs, it’s once a month, and it’s here! (Note: no bathrooms!)

3) Jamaican Jerk Center, Cape Neddick
1400 US Route One

Once or twice each summer, we skip out on Flo’s and head here for a little Caribbean fix. While we have yet to visit Jamaica, we do love the food and flavors of the region, and this little roadside shack serves it up well. The jerk chicken is great, and we always get a couple of patties for lunch the next day. The place doesn’t look like much, but the food is fantastic!

4) Village Food Market, Ogunquit
230 Main Street
Sun-Thurs: 6:30am to 8pm
Fri-Sat: 6:30 am to 9pm

When we don’t make it as far south as Flo’s while birding the Ogunquit shoreline and productive neighborhoods and thickets, then we head here. It’s also the traditional stop for us during the Southern Maine Christmas Bird Count, our territory of which includes the center of town.

I’m sure there are plenty of good things on the menu, but I never order anything other than the grilled veggie Panini. Lots of veggies, lots of cheese, and just enough grease to make this one of the more gut-busting (in all the good ways!) vegetarian sandwiches around.

5) Congdon’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, Wells
1090 Post Road (US Route One)
Winter – Thurs-Sun: 6am to 3pm.
Summer – Open 7 days.

Most of our birding in the Wells area is done in the winter, and on days that this local institution is closed. But if we’re looking for shorebirds in Webhannet Marsh in the summer, or looking at Least Terns and Piping Plovers at Laudholm Farms in the midst of the breeding season, then Congdon’s for “second breakfast” it is. And donuts to go…which, come to think of it, it’s probably best for our health that it’s not always open. Also, during the warmer months, we often follow up a lunch at Flo’s or the JJC with a little mid-afternoon snack here, just because, well, donuts! And forget the cool, trendy places in Portland, these are the real deal – nothing too fancy, just sweet, tasty, and wicked good!

6) Custom Deluxe, Biddeford
1040 Main St.
Tues-Fri, 11am to 2pm.

This is the newest addition to the list, having opened just last fall. Most of our birding lunch stops are quick and cheap, but when we want something just a little “finer,” then this is where we now go. Don’t be surprised to see me here with a tour group or private guiding client sometime this summer. I’m still desperate for another option for a Sunday lunch in the area, unfortunately!

The first visit a couple of weeks ago culminated in the yeast donut with frozen maple mousse, applesauce, and smoked cheddar that a friend and I split for desert (see photo above). Thank goodness we split it, or we would still be in a food coma. It was fantastic, but I was already sold on the place after devouring the house-made noodles.

7) Saco Island Deli, Saco
110 Main St
Mon-Fri, 8am to 4pm.

There are now so many options in the Saco-Biddeford area, that I don’t get here – my favorite sandwich shop in Maine – nearly as often as I used to. Unfortunately, they are closed on weekends, including Sunday, which for whatever reason, I usually when I find myself birding Biddeford Pool or the Saco Riverwalk (in the fall).

However, during the week, and especially when out with clients, there are few better sandwiches anywhere in Maine. You see, the owner, Mark is from New Jersey. That’s what makes the sandwiches so good. Say what you want about my home state, but we know sandwiches. I have not yet had a sandwich here I didn’t like, but in the summer, I always go Primo Veggie – a massive sandwich layered with razor-thin sliced veggies, piled high – nearly too big to get your mouth around: “Double portion of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and fresh basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette on a rustic roll.” This is no lame, afterthought vegetarian option, this is a beastly vegetable meal. But if you want to be really cool, ask for the off-menu Jersey Joe (and expect to have lunch for the next day) to fully understand just how seriously New Jersey takes its sandwiches.

7a) The Run of the Mill, Saco
100 Main St
Sun-Thurs: 11:30am to 9pm.
Fri-Sat: 11:30am to 10pm.

If I am in the Biddeford area on a weekend (when the Saco Island Deli and Luis’s Arepera is closed), especially when it’s cold, I head over to Run of the Mill. After a frigid bout of seawatching at East Point, nothing is better than a piping hot bowl of their Mac & Cheese. The beer cheese soup is another good option, although for me it depends on which cheeses are used.

8) Luis’s Arepera and Grill, Saco
213 North St.
Mon-Thurs: 11am to 8pm.
Fri: 11am to 9pm.

Like the Saco Island Deli, I long for this place to be open on weekends. However, it’s a short enough run south from Scarborough Marsh, or close enough off of the highway (via I-195 to Industrial Way) that I can swing in while heading north from a hotspot like the Kennebunk Plains. And since Jeannette and I discovered their authentic Venezualean cuisine only this summer, it is now a regular stop on our birding agenda, and is definitely deserved as a destination on its own.

An “arepera” is a place that makes the quintessential Venezualean dish, the “arepa.” Luis’s website describes it as “Similar to both a traditional Gordita and Pupusa, it consists of a thick corn tortilla that is fried until golden brown before being filled with a variety of different ingredients, ranging from tangy shredded chicken to meltingly tender braised beef. “ We usually get the “Pabellon Criollo” (traditional with shredded beef and plantains) or one of the veggie options. But no matter what, we simply have to split a side of fried yucca.

Honorable Mention:
(Dinner) Funky Bow Brewery’s “Growler Night” (Lyman)

It’s funny, there seems to be a pattern developing of heading to the Kennebunk Plains at dusk for Whip-poor-wills on a Friday or Saturday night…which just so happens to be when this off-the-beaten path brewery opens up, fires up the brick oven, and serves pizza to go with their hop-a-licious brews.

So let me know what you think, and definitely let me know if there are places I need to try!

The 2016 Maine State List (and my own) Predictions Blog.

The second record (and perhaps the first verified one) for Maine of Black-throated Sparrow was found in Winter Harbor on New Year’s Day, and continues through today, January 6th. I was tempted to chase it yesterday, but instead I am left to hope it sticks around until the end of next week when I return from a short business trip. Fingers crossed!

Before it arrived, I had begun to put together my annual list of the next 25 species to be found in Maine. I then follow that up with my own State List predictions, and no, Black-throated Sparrow was not on that list!

I know, I know, you’ve been awaiting this with baited breath for this. So without any further ado, let’s get started with the annual Maine State Birds Predictions List.

First, a quick recap of 2015.

Only one species was added to the state’s all-time birdlist, a Surfbird, which was discovered at Biddeford Pool in March. It was not a species on anyone’s radar, and it was most definitely not on my Predictions List for 2015!

But I did make several changes to my Next 25 Species for Maine list, and moved things around a bit. So here are the NEW prognostications:
1)Neotropical Cormorant – The new #1! With populations expanding in the Midwest and observations of vagrants increasing around the East, this one is only a matter of time now!
2) Graylag Goose
3) California Gull
4) Roseate Spoonbill
5) Spotted Towhee
6) Ross’s Gull
7) Hammond’s Flycatcher
8) Bermuda Petrel – see notes in last year’s blog entry at the link above.
9) Black-chinned Hummingbird
10) Fieldfare
11) Audubon’s Shearwater – on “hypothetical” list, but I think the record is good.
12) Little Stint
13) Anna’s Hummingbird
14) “Western” Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran) – Hope it calls! After a spate of reports in the Fall of 2015, this is another western bird increasingly being detected well outside of range.
15) Vermillion Flycatcher – Ditto.
16) Common Ground-Dove – A virtual irruption of this bird this fall, including one as close to Massachusetts had me thinking we would have added this in 2015. Maybe one is still out there awaiting discovery.
17) Allen’s Hummingbird
18) Redwing
19) Western Wood-Pewee
20) Spotted Redshank
21) Gray Flycatcher
22) Black-tailed Godwit
23) Brown-chested Martin
24) Black-tailed Gull
25) Common Scoter

As for me, I added three birds to my personal Maine State List in 2015:
A) Gyrfalcon – Wells, 1/17/15 (Ranked #5). This is one I wanted for a while! It was seen sporadically between Wells Harbor and Salisbury, Massachusetts for about a month. If first showed up while we were away at a trade show, but luckily, I caught up with it shortly after our return. I saw it on the 17th, and managed some photos  (my blog entry also includes more background about the sighting), but on April 5th, Jeannette got the better shots!
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B) I also caught up with the aforementioned Surfbird on March 22nd (Definitely not on my list!) and Jeannette got these photos when we visited it again two days later.
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C) Clapper Rail – Scarborough Marsh, 9/22. I had it as an “Honorable Mention,” a list that I also keep to work off of to come up with each year’s respective Top 25.
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I missed a Franklin’s Gull on Sebasticook Lake in November, as it appeared just before I took a trip, and departed shortly after my return. There was also a one-day wonder on Stratton Island in Scarborough in June. With an unprecedented incursion of Franklin’s Gulls into the East this fall (the Sebasticook Lake bird clearly preceded the events that brought record numbers to New Jersey and several birds to Massachusetts and New Hampshire), I thought this would be my fall – and I definitely worked for one! But alas.

My two trips off of Bar Harbor this year did not yield a Great Skua (but a September trip did give me my 3rd South Polar Skua in the state!), and once again my summer went by without a trip up north for American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Therefore, I predict that my next 25 species in Maine will be:
1) American Three-toed Woodpecker
1A) Black-throated Sparrow! OK, I know this does not count as a prediction, but still…
2) Great Skua
3) Eurasian Collared-Dove
4) Graylag Goose
5) Say’s Phoebe
6) Western Grebe
7) American White Pelican
8) Neotropic Cormorant
9) Fork-tailed Flycatcher
10) Slaty-backed Gull
11) Tundra Swan
12) Franklin’s Gull
13) Sabine’s Gull
14) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
15) California Gull
16) Yellow Rail
17) Boreal Owl
18) Calliope Hummingbird
19) Cerulean Warbler
20) White Ibis
21) Gull-billed Tern
22) Hammond’s Flycatcher
23) Loggerhead Shrike
24) Ivory Gull
25) Ross’s Gull

Well, there ya have it! We’ll check back next year to see how I did!

2015 (Southern) York Co CBC: Moody Territory.

It’s Christmas Bird Count season!

The count period began yesterday (Monday, 12/14), and as usual, I participated in Maine’s first count of the season, the (Southern) York County Count. This year, I was joined by Kristen Lindquist and Jeannette, covering the “Moody Territory” that covers the marshes, beaches, thickets, and neighborhoods on the east side of Route 1, between Eldridge Road in Wells and the center of downtown Ogunquit, including Moody Point and Moody Beach.

Despite temperatures well above normal in the mid-40’s, a light east wind and persistent light drizzle made for a rather raw day. However, the continuing mild temperatures also reduced the concentration of birds in the warm microclimates and dense thickets that usually make this territory so, well, fruitful (pardon the pun!). And although we had a lot of birds overall, diversity was a little below average for me, and there were fewer concentrations of birds – many species were in fairly low numbers compared to what I usually find here.

The lack of snow and ice was certainly supporting plenty of birds in this area, but they weren’t concentrated at warm edges and seasonal hotspots like they usually are. In fact, the best days on this count are when it’s clear and cold, with seasonably cold (or colder) and snowy (or snowier) days and weeks prior. Check out my report from the frigid and snowy 2013 count, for example.

We began the day as usual, with a dawn seawatch at Moody Point, with several close alcids, fairly close Black-legged Kittiwakes, and decent numbers of all of the expected overwintering waterbirds. Three small flocks of Lesser Scaup (total of 21) migrating south were a surprise. We were even more surprised to later notice that not only was this just the 5th count record of the species, but it was also the first time more than 1 had been seen! These birds are no doubt late in departing their still-unfrozen northern lakes, bays, and rivers.

Conspicuous in their absence however, was the complete dearth of Yellow-rumped Warblers (almost no bayberry crop was seen at all), and Carolina Wrens (they really did get hammered over these last two winters), but our other “feeder birds” such as Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch were actually above average.

Although our birdlist and respective counts grew steadily through the day, we were lamenting the lack of rarities that this territory has become known for. Granted, the bar was pretty high. But our perception changed over the course of about 5 minutes. First, I spotted the count’s second ever Clay-colored Sparrow (on Huckleberry St, and then later relocated and photographed on Cranberry St).

IMG_6964_CCSP,CranberrySt,Wells,12-14-15

As the sparrow flew from his original spot, I spotted a Baltimore Oriole as we searched for the sparrow on Huckleberry St. This was a 5th count record. But note that my phone-binning attempt was not nearly as successful (the real cameras were in the car due to the persistent drizzle). You can kinda see it’s a bird, and there are two wingbars, and if you look really, really hard, you can just barely make out a little bit of orange on the head and chest. A little imagination will help.
BAOR,HuckleberrySt,Wells,12-15-15

We also finished the day off with a continuing Dickcissel (6th count record) that has been present for several weeks now at The Sweatshirt Shop on Route One, a perfect way to end our birding day.

Hours by car: 1
Party hours by foot: 5.75
Miles by car: 12.7
Party miles by foot: 11

Start: 7:15 – 45F, very light E, cloudy.
End: 2:40 – 46F, very light E, drizzle.

Canada Goose: 27
Mallard: 161
American Black Duck: 51
LESSER SCAUP: 21
Common Eider: 36
Surf Scoter: 65
White-winged Scoter: 60
Long-tailed Duck: 166
Bufflehead: 37
Common Goldeneye: 62
Red-breasted Merganser: 43
Red-throated Loon: 7
Common Loon: 7
Horned Grebe: 3
Red-necked Grebe: 14
Northern Gannet: 10
Great Cormorant: 6
Northern Harrier: 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1
Cooper’s Hawk: 1
Red-tailed Hawk: 1
Bonaparte’s Gull: 11
Ring-billed Gull: 29
Herring Gull: 180
Great Black-backed Gull: 29
Black-legged Kittiwake: 9
Black Guillemot: 1
Razorbill: 7
Mourning Dove: 49
Rock Pigeon: 40
Red-bellied Woodpecker: 4
Downy Woodpecker: 9
Blue Jay: 9
American Crow: 43
Black-capped Chickadee: 97
Tufted Titmouse: 18
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2
White-breasted Nuthatch: 19
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 2
Eastern Bluebird: 1
American Robin: 1
Northern Mockingbird: 2
European Starling: 62
Cedar Waxwing: 12
American Tree Sparrow: 28
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 1
Song Sparrow: 17
Dark-eyed Junco: 42
White-throated Sparrow: 4
Northern Cardinal: 24
DICKCISSEL: 1
BALTIMORE ORIOLE: 1
House Finch: 96
Pine Siskin: 12
American Goldfinch: 76
House Sparrow: 229

Total species: 56 (just a little below average).

GYRFALCON in Wells (January 2015)!

Gyrfalcons are one of those enigmatic birds of the high northern latitudes that are always a favorite among northern birders, and lusted over by those further south. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few in Alaska, one in Michigan, and even one in South Boston. And few sightings of mine will ever surpass the eyrie of three white morph juveniles that we saw in Kamchatka.

But I had yet to see one in Maine. Or, at least, seen one for certain: there was this large, dark falcon with shallow wingbeats that screamed by during a snow squall while birding at Fort Halifax in Winslow one winter morning with a friend. It probably was, but…

On January 13th, a dark morph Gyrfalcon was found ravaging a Herring Gull on a ballfield in Kennebunk by Shiloh Shulte. His crippling photos of this beautiful bird can be seen here.

We were in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the plot thickened. Shiloh’s photos were strongly suggestive of the dark morph Gyrfalcon seen in Madbury, New Hampshire on December 15th, with at least one more sighting later at the Rochester Waste Water Treatment Plant. Meanwhile, it came to light the bird was actually photographed in Maine on January 10th, in the Ogunquit River Marsh from Ocean Street in Ogunquit.

Then, yesterday (Saturday, 1/17), Bob and Sandi Duchesne, et al, refound the bird in the Webhannet Marsh, just north of Wells Harbor (via Harbor Road). Quite a few birders were able to make it down to the marsh, and observe the bird in the area through sundown.

Not surprisingly, a lot of birders converged on Wells Harbor this morning. Myself included.

I arrived at Harbor Road at about 8:00am, and a short while later, chatted with folks at the end of the road, at the marina and boat launch of the harbor. No sign of the “Gyr.” Several us decided to split up and search elsewhere, keeping in touch of course.

I walked Community Park, scanning the marsh along the way (9 Horned Larks, 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers). I then went up to Parson’s Beach, where there was a possible sighting a few days ago. No luck, but I was surprised to find a small flock of 6 Savannah Sparrows at the end of the road; unseasonable.

Next up, I drove Drake’s Island Road. A car was pulled over, and seeing that they were looking at a Rough-legged Hawk (also seen earlier by others from Harbor Road), I too pulled over. I watched the hawk for several minutes, before it took off rather abruptly. I thought I saw something streaking low across the marsh, but blocked by trees, I really assumed it was a figment of my imagination. Driving ahead to a better view of the marsh, I scanned to the south, spotting a dark lump in the middle of the marsh – a lump that I had not noticed before. Four Common Redpolls flew over. The lump moved. I scoped Harbor Rd and did not see any birders. It was dark, it seemed small-headed, and it was fairly big. But there was heat shimmer, and it was far, very far.

I called Noah Gibb, wondering where he was, and mentioning I spotted a “promising lump” to the north of Harbor Rd and I was racing over. As I pulled into the parking lot at the end of Harbor Road, at least a half dozen birders were now present, but looking in different directions, and clearly not excited. “Damn it,” I thought. Was my lump just a bona fide lump? My excitement waned.

But I set up the scope anyway, pointed it towards said lump, and turned to the other birders and said, “Do you guys know the Gyrfalcon is sitting out here?” After they all saw it, we enjoyed a good chuckle, but most importantly, we all knew where the bird was, and dozens of birders converged.

Between 9:55 and 10:50, many of us enjoyed this magnificent bird, which, through a scope, afforded more than satisfactory views. During the time, it made two sorties, one low over the marsh, taking a run at an American Crow, and another higher flight over the water, flushing up roosting gulls.

This is one beastly bird, almost certainly a female based on its size. Gyr’s don’t have narrow wings like a lot of falcons, but big, broad (especially at the base) wings that seem to fight tapering to a point. In many angles, they even suggest buteos or goshawks. The flight of a Gyr is incredibly fast and seemingly effortless. Its shallow wingbeats generate a lot of power. It’s really like a Peregrine Falcon on steroids.

After each flight, the bird returned to a piece of driftwood in the marsh, north-northwest of the end of the parking lot at the end of Harbor Road (Wells Harbor), about 1/3rd the way between here and Drake’s Island Road. From the boat launch on the north side of the parking lot, looking out at about 11:00, somewhat in line with a marsh-edge house along the western end of Drake’s Island Road.

This phone-scoped photo was the best that I could muster:
GYRF1,Wells Harbor, 1-17-15

And this was the best flight shot I got of the bird in flight with my Nikon:
DSC_0001_GYRF2,WellsHarbor,1-17-15

On a couple of occasions, the bird took off to the west, and we all lost site of it behind trees and buildings. It crossed the road once, heading over the salt pannes near the beginning of Harbor Road, and disappearing to the south. Several of us failed to locate it in the marsh to the south, and eventually, Luke Seitz and I gave into the call of second breakfast at Congdon’s Donuts.

When we returned to Harbor Road at 12:25, the Gyrfalcon was once again on her low driftwood perch to the north. At least today, the bird seemed to come back to this spot reliably, and it was observed there on and off through a little before 3:00pm. In other words, for birders seeking the bird, spending time patiently looking north from the end of Harbor Road (also, the parking lot at the end Atlantic Road in Wells Beach, accessed from Mile Road off of Rte 1) would likely be a good idea – and keep an eye out for promising lumps! And clearly, the bird covers some ground, so if it is not being seen, spreading out would be useful eventually. Hopefully, my description of the day’s sightings (and lack there of) offers some help in directing the next search, if necessary.

This was my 366th species in Maine, and Gyrfalcon was #5 on my personal “next birds” for my state list, as I wrote about earlier this month. But it was a Gyr, and Gyrs are awesome, no matter what list they are or are not on.

Several dozen birders came and went today, and not surprisingly, with so many birders in an area, and with so many people spread out and looking for the bird, there was a classic “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” underway: when birders seeking one rare bird start finding others nearby. In addition to the Rough-legged Hawk (not many have been around this winter so far) seen on all three days, 2-3 Yellow-rumped Warblers at Community Park, and scattered Horned Larks, some of the other birds in the area that were reported included:

(Updated, 11:00am, 1/21)

1/18:
– 1 Eastern Meadowlark on Furbish Road in Wells (presumably the same bird that Kristen Lindquist and I found there on the York County CBC in December and has been seen at least once since).
– 6 Savannah Sparrows, Parson’s Beach.
– 2 Bohemian Waxwings, Wells Library.
– 1 Northern Flicker, Drake’s Island Road.
– 1 Snowy Owl, Drake’s Island Beach.

1/19:
– 1 Swamp Sparrow, Eldridge Road.
– 1 Merlin, Wells Harbor.
– 2 Dunlin with 128 Sanderlings, Ogunquit Beach.

1/20:
– Snowy Owl, over Wells Beach.
– 128 Sanderling, Ogunquit Beach.

Meanwhile, the overwintering drake King Eider at The Cliff House in York had quite a bit of visitation during these few days.

While dozens, if not hundreds, of birders from throughout New England were looking for the bird in the afternoon on the 19th and all day on the 20th, the Gyr apparently moved on. Late in the afternoon on the 20th, it was reported back in New Hampshire, in the marshes of Hampton – not far from where it was first spotted last month! Will the bird stick around there? Will it be back in Wells? Who knows, but hopefully, people will continue to enjoy the bird, and when its not being seen, spread out and look throughout all of the marshes of both states. Gyrfalcons travel widely in search of food, and there’s no reason why the entire area from Hampton through Kennebunk can’t be part of this bird’s winter range.

In the meantime, please enjoy Luke Seitz’s photos of the Gyrfalcon from Harbor Road on the evening of Saturday, January 17th (note especially the bird’s massive size and girth, and broad wings in relation to a Red-tailed Hawk that it took a run at).
Lukes_GYR1

Lukes_GYR2

Southern York County CBC

The Southern York County Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held on Monday, and this year, Kristen Lindquist and Phil McCormack joined me in the Moody section of the territory.  I’ve been doing this territory for about 8 years now, and have come to know and love it.

There’s lots of thickets, wooded neighborhoods with feeders, dunes, beach, river, Saltmarsh, ocean, and just about everything in between.  Running from about Eldridge Rd in the Moody section of Wells, south to the center of downtown Ogunquit, lots of intriguing winter habitats are contained within.  The Moody Marsh of the Ogunquit River, Beach Plum Farm, Ogunquit Beach, and the edges of the Wells Sewage treatment facility are all now regular parts of my birding routine after first visiting them when doing this CBC.

Having a small territory allows us to thoroughly cover many nooks and crannies.  We do a lot of walking – about 10 miles combined for the party, compared to only 10.5 by car.  Being outside – even in the bitter cold of yesterday morning – and being thorough always produces good birds and good variety on a CBC, but each year I am absolutely blown away by the quality and diversity of the birds I find in this territory.  In fact, one year, Luke Seitz and I had a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th count record, and in the very next year, we had a 1st, 2nd (x2), 3rd, 4th, 5th,  6th, and 7th count record!  Incredible!

And yesterday did not disappoint.

Deep snow and frigid temperatures certainly caused some rarities and so-called half-hardies to perish, or at least pushed many of them to points further south.  Open fresh water was limited, and deep snow prevented us from checking a few places.  So it did not surprise me that we “only” tallied 57 species (compared to last year’s mild December, when Luke and I tallied an exceptional 67 species), and we didn’t get a whole lot of top-5 records.  Of course, TWO 1st count records more than made up for it!  And a 5th, and a 6th, and a 7th, and two 9th!

As usual, we began with a dawn seawatch at Moody Point.  Heat shimmer and painful cold reduced visibility and our duration here, but there wasn’t too much going on thanks to a light westerly wind.
photo (3)_edited-1

A nearby thicket produced a Common Yellowthroat, our first good bird of the day.  A short while later, we pulled into the Wells Sewage Treatment plant, which I told Phil and Kristen is usually good for something “good.”  A Hermit Thrush quickly appeared to prove me right.  But then, as I glanced over at some Dark-eyed Juncos I noticed a Spizella sparrow.  I was excited enough for a Chipping Sparrow on a Maine CBC, but the bird looked warm and buffy to me.  Upon closer inspection, sure enough – the count’s first Clay-colored Sparrow
DSC_0077_CCSP3,WellsSewerage,12-16-13

As I was photographing it, it flew closer, and landed right over my head as I was kneeling in over a foot of snow.
DSC_0082_CCSP1,WellsSewerage,12-16-13

Apparently, it wanted to get back to its favorite spot (which is continued to frequent at least through day’s end) at the edge of the parking lot where a plow had scraped down to the soil.
DSC_0100_CCSP2,WellsSewerage,12-16-13

We were still talking about our spiffy little Clay-color when Kristen spotted a Brown Thrasher hunkered down in a tangle of Multiflora Rose.  Another first count record!
DSC_0115_BRTH,WellsSewerage_12-16-13

Perhaps the rest of the day was bound to be a bit anticlimactic after all of that fun before 9:30am, but we still had some great birding.  A lone hen Greater Scaup flew down the OgunquitRiver, while a huge assemblage of 480 Mallards and 86 American Black Ducks roosted at the edge of the marsh.  Much to my surprise – given those numbers – there were no other lingering dabblers.    An Iceland Gull passed by MoodyBeach, heading south, and on OgunquitBeach, we found an American Pipit.  A huge aggregation of 186 Sanderlings (an all-time high count for the entire territory in a season!) contained a dozen Dunlin.  And finally, another group (poachers!) pointed out a Peregrine Falcon having lunch on the marsh – just before its lunch was pilfered by a marauding Bald Eagle!  Speaking of lunch, a round of grilled veggie sandwiches at the Village Market in Ogunquit rounded out our experience.

Oh yeah, and then with an hour of daylight left, we raced down to Hampton, New Hampshire in an attempt to twitch a white Gyrfalcon that had been seen that morning (and the previous two days).  Unfortunately, we soon learned that it had not been seen since about 8:00am.  Well, it was worth a shot.

Anyway, as for the CBC, here’s the full roster and tallies for our rewarding little territory:
148 Canada Geese
143 American Black Ducks
522 Mallards
1 GREATER SCAUP (6th year)
91 Common Eiders
14 Surf Scoters
30 White-winged Scoters
16 Black Scoters
136 Long-tailed Ducks
24 Bufflehead
7 Common Goldeneyes
2 Hooded Mergansers
4 Common Mergansers
12 Red-breasted Mergansers
18 Common Loons
7 Horned Grebes
12 Red-necked Grebes
1 Northern Gannet
3 Great Blue Herons
2 Bald Eagles
4 Northern Harriers (including an adult male migrating offshore at sunrise)
1 PEREGRINE FALCON (5th count record)
12 DUNLIN (7th count record)
2 Purple Sandpipers
189 Sanderlings
322 Herring Gulls
1 Iceland Gull
19 Great Black-backed Gulls
242 Ring-billed Gulls
4 Black-legged Kittiwakes
36 Rock Pigeons
6 Mourning Doves
3 Downy Woodpeckers
7 Blue Jays
31 American Crows
71 Black-capped Chickadees
9 Tufted Titmice
4 White-breasted Nuthatches
3 Carolina Wrens
8 Eastern Bluebirds
1 HERMIT THRUSH (9th year)
40 American Robins
3 Northern Mockingbirds
1 BROWN THRASHER (1st count record)
1 AMERICAN PIPIT (13th count record)
77 European Starlings (very low)
17 Yellow-rumped Warblers (high)
1 COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (9th count record)
9 American Tree Sparrows
1 CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (1st count record)
17 Song Sparrows
7 White-throated Sparrows
73 Dark-eyed Juncos
29 Northern Cardinals
44 House Finches
90 American Goldfinches
215 House Sparrows