Author Derek Lovitch’s Birding at Monhegan Island

Keeping with this feathered trend, Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder, has been blogging full steam ahead about his birdwatching this fall, including his adventures on Monhegan Island earlier this week. While there weren’t too many birds to be spotted this week, it didn’t stop Lovitch from taking some cool pictures and having a few rare sightings!

Be sure to check out Lovitch’s blog, MaineBirdingFieldNotes, and to scroll to the bottom of the page to check out our Fall Migration Giveaway.


Monhegan Island, 9/20-22/2013

On a morning with a big overnight migration in the fall, there’s no where I’d rather be than SandyPoint.  I just wish there was a direct ferry from there right to MonheganIsland.  Any other time, I would just rather be on Monhegan.

While our annual MonhegZEN Fall Migration Weekend coming up this weekend (still some space available), Jeannette and I headed to the island Friday through Sunday for a few days of birding and visiting with friends.  It was kinda odd being there without a group!  Not surprisingly, I did not bird much less hard.

I’ll post some radar images from the weekend on a forthcoming blog entry that I hope to post by day’s end.  A decent flight Thursday night into Friday produced a fair amount of birds on the island, even after our late (relatively speaking) arrival at 10:00am, and even though it seemed – as is often the case on calm mornings – birds that arrived at dawn continued on to the mainland.  Three of our first handful of species, however, were Philadelphia Vireo, Cape May Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Welcome (back) to Monhegan.

The birding improved in the afternoon, highlighted by a Western Kingbird.
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A Lark Sparrow and two Dickcissels – all present for a few days – were enjoyed (here, one of the Dickcissels with the Lark Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow in the background). Typical “Monhegan Trash Birds:” birds that are noteworthy anywhere else in the state but are fully expected in an autumn visit here.
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We ended up with 67 species of birds on the day, including 11 species of warblers.  Yup, a slow day of birding on Monhegan beats a good day of birding almost anywhere else.  Light southerly winds that developed over the course of the day became calm by nightfall, and call notes early in the night were suggestive of birds departing the island.
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With a southerly flow aloft, I didn’t have high hopes of a lot of new arrivals for the next morning.  The radar image, simply put, was weird – some sort of temperature anomaly or perhaps a malfunction, so I couldn’t use that to confirm or alleviate my concerns.  A mere handful of bird overhead at dawn on Saturday morning confirmed it though – there was not much on the move overnight.

Fog rolled in and out for most of the morning, clearing out in the afternoon on an increasing south to southwesterly breeze.  We beat the bush hard, and covered a lot of ground, but birds were hard to come by.  There were quite a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers around than on previous mornings, Kristen noted, and we added plenty of species to our trip list over the course of the day.  While the Dickcissels apparently departed, the Lark Sparrow continued, and the island was now up to three Clay-colored Sparrows.
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Clay-colored Sparrows, Dickcissels, and Lark Sparrow, check:  the triumvirate of Midwestern regular-rarities out here.  Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a tarrying Eastern Kingbird, a Semipalmated Plover, and a good afternoon Northern Gannet show were the other highlights of what amounted to be an exceptionally slow day of birding for Monhegan in the fall.  Nevertheless, complaints were not uttered – we were on Monhegan! – and besides, I got to mooch a TV (Thanks Paul and Sue!) to watch Rutgers come from behind to defeat Arkansas in an exciting finish, and we visited the Monhegan Brewing Company.  Yup, tough day.
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This young Peregrine Falcon – with a bulging crop from its last meal – also had a good day.

Unfortunately, an increasing southerly wind overnight precluded much in the way of any migration.  Take a look at the next blog to see what “almost nothing” looks like on a radar image.  Clouds were thick by dawn, too, but the rain held off until after breakfast.  After another fulfilling and scrumptious breakfast at the Trailing Yew, Jeannette, Kristen, and I headed down to Lobster Cove for a bit of seawatching.  We could see the wall of rain on the radar, and we could now see it on the horizon.  But as it marched closer, tubenoses joined the gannets.  In a mere 15 minutes or so, 20+ Great Shearwaters and 6+ Sooty Shearwaters zoomed through my scope.  And then the skies opened up.  This is what a line of rain – ahead of a cold front – looks like on the radar.
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The southerly winds were diminishing as the rain tapered off rather quickly over the course of the morning, but seawatching was less productive before lunchtime – apparently those tubenoses were all on the move just ahead of the precipitation.  But with the sun beginning to peak out after lunch, at least more birds were more visible again: two of the Clay-colored Sparrows, a Philly Vireo, etc.  Joined by Paul and Doug, we encountered a – or the – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and then a calling flyover Lesser Yellowlegs became my 202nd species on Monhegan.

Moments later, Paul spotted a night-heron in a narrow drainage, and Doug soon relocated it.  A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!  Once a more regular bird in Maine, and even on Monhegan, it had been about a decade since one had made an appearance on the island.  But this bird showed up a couple of weeks ago, and was often seen foraging on grasshoppers in lawns.  Rumors of its continued presence were circulated, but there were no confirmed sightings for over a week.  Until today.
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Monhegan bird #203!  And two island birds in about 10 minutes.  Now that’s the way to finish strong.

When it was time to go, we were very happy to see the waves were rapidly dropping off.  Seven foot seas this morning had been reduced to 3-4 at most as we hopped on the Hardy Boat for the trip back.  A Great Cormorant on the Outer Ducks was our 88th species for the Monhegan tally for this trip, but 88 –including a mere 13 species of warblers – was a fairly low total for three days out here at this time of year.  That being said, it could have been much lower had we not continued to beat the bush.

Two juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined some hopeful Herring Gulls following the boat to shore, and westerly winds were increasing as the cold front pushed through.  There would no doubt be a lot of new birds come morning on Monhegan.  While I would be sorry to miss them, I knew fun was going to be had at SandyPoint, so I was not upset.

And I was right…


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This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< West Coast WarblerThe Raptor Round-Up: Identifying Birds of Prey >>