Sabattus Pond Season

How To Be A Better BirderDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, has been spending all Migration Season birding and keeping track of his results. While he’s always avidly posting on his Facebook page, he also recently posted to his blog to report some of his more recent findings at the Sabattus Pond.


Sabattus Pond Season-in-Review

Sabattus Pond was frozen on Monday morning, as I expected, thanks to this recent bout of unseasonably cold weather.  While 35 Mallards, 3 Hooded Mergansers, 2 American Black Ducks, and 1 Mallard x black duck hybrid were present in the outlet stream, this likely brings my Sabattus birding season to a close.

But it is just after Sabattus’s freeze-up that LakeAuburn is its most productive.  Today, 117 Canada Geese, 58 Greater Scaup, 46 Lesser Scaup, 41 Ruddy Ducks, 22 Common Goldeneyes, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Bufflehead, and 1 continuing hen Black Scoter were tallied in a less-than-exhaustive search of the large lake.  The Black Scoter is a great bird inland, and she’s been present for at least five weeks now.  Meanwhile, among the Canada Geese, there was this funky mutt – apparently a hybrid with some sort of domestic thing.
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Between visiting the two lakes, I scoured Upper Street in Turner for Snowy Owls (none) or other raptors (just one Red-tailed Hawk), but I did happen upon a small flock of 35 Horned Larks that contained two Lapland Longspurs.  They were feeding at the edge of Pearl Road, taking advantage of where the plow had scraped the sides of ice and snow.  I got this lucky shot of one of the Lapland Longspurs in flight with the Horned Larks.  Unfortunately, the light mist and heavy cloud cover prevented a really great shot.
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But back to waterfowl…

Sabattus Pond is one of my favorite birding locations from mid-October through freeze-up.  The diversity of ducks is rarely matched in this part of Maine, and the proximity and ability to study birds (such as Lesser vs. Greater Scaup) is unsurpassed.  Each fall I tell myself I needed to visit Sabattus more often, so this fall I committed to visiting once a week, beginning on 10/30 – I would have started a little earlier in the month, but the weather at the time had been so warm that waterfowl were not yet arriving en masse prior to the end of the month.

I tallied all waterbirds (except for Herring and Ring-billed gulls) on each visit.

On each visit, I also visited LakeAuburn, which is a much different body of water (deeper, sandier, and apparently without the invasive Chinese Mystery Snail that provides the sustenance for most of the birds on Sabattus).  Note, however, that as the numbers of ducks decrease on Sabattus, they begin to increase on LakeAuburn – the last lake to freeze in the region.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the birds on the lake on Monday would return to Sabattus if a warm spell opens the pond back up, and if it does, I am sure birds from points north might drop in as well as they are frozen out of lakes and rivers.  In other words, the duck-watching season on Sabattus may not be over yet, but I think I will be turning my attention elsewhere unless it warms up dramatically.

Meanwhile, on all of my visits to the two lakes, I added at least a few other stops in between in the hopes of finally finding a really “good” bird in Androscoggin County (away from Sabattus, that is).  Uh…nope.  My only real highlights away from the two lakes were the two Lapland Longspurs on Monday.  My rarity drought in AndroscogginCounty might continue, but the waterbird watching is certainly exceptional.

By the way, in a series of spring visits, I have found very, very few ducks on Sabattus Pond, for reasons unknown.  Therefore, other than my annual check on Maine Maple Sunday, I’ll have to anxiously await next October!

click here to see the rest of this post, including Lovitch’s birding tallies for his trips


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Derek Lovitch’s Mystery Gull

How To Be A Better BirderDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, spent another chilly week out and about birding before Migration Season comes to an end. While he’s always avidly posting on his Facebook page, he also recently posted to his blog to report some of his more recent findings, including a mystery bird!


A Day Along the New Hampshire Seacoast

It was like birding in another world yesterday as Kristen Lindquist and I headed south of the border…to the New Hampshire Seacoast.  For one, we saw birders everywhere!  Well, everywhere where there wasn’t wall-to-wall development.  And goodness, even in winter, there are a lot of people around here (relatively speaking of course). Yup, we weren’t in Maine anymore!

But I have a lifetime listing goal of seeing 200 species in every state, and my goal was to hit that mark in New Hampshire by the end of this year.  This goal is not for any “total ticks” target, or submission to any listing competitions, or anything else other than an excuse and occasional extra motivation to see more parts of the country.  The 200 number seems a reasonable goal to me for most states (I won’t reach it in Hawai’i!) that involves seeing a fair sample of what a state has to offer, and usually in multiple seasons – whether its scenery, food, or other interests (i.e. Rutgers football bowl games!), there’s always a good reason to travel near and far and lots of fun to be had in the process.  And of course I will be birding in between anyway, so long ago I began keeping track of it.

So the 200 goal was born, and it was time to get to know my neighboring state a little better.  Outside of the White Mountains (where I love to bird, hike, and of course, guide), I really didn’t know New Hampshire birding and birding sites very well, and I am happy to say that has changed this year.  While I joked with friends about “never having to bird in NH again!” after the goal was met, I did learn quite a bit about birding the state in the process.  But yeah, I am partial to birding in Maine.

Anyway, I have been watching the NH listserve and plotting my visit.  I needed 5 more species, and I kept an eye on when a handful of uncommon to rare birds joined the more expected species that I “needed.”  Seeing recent reports from the Seacoast – and seeing that my days off will be limited (aka: likely non-existent) from now to Christmas, I decided yesterday would be the day, despite early morning ice that slowed our drive (lots of cars off the Turnpike yet again) and persistent drizzle and occasional light rain.

We began in the Hampton Marsh, where the high tide was pushing Horned Larks to the edges. Check. We then ran into Ben Griffith and Lauren Kras, and then joined them in a Snowy Owl search.  Unfortunately, this was to no avail.

Pulling into Hampton Beach State   Park, the two hen King Eiders (197) performed nicely.  I teased out a few Purple Sandpipers (199) from the flock of 100 or so Dunlin (198), and ran into more friends.
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Compare the “Queen” Eider with the hen Common Eider on the right. Note especially the concavity of the bill, the face pattern, and the cooler, grayer tone to the plumage.

After chatting and enjoying the eiders for a bit, Kristen and I grabbed some lunch and then returned to the coast.  Snowy Owl would make a nice milestone bird.

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from Ben “Nelson’s-type Gull on Eel Pond,” followed by “Correction – possible Thayer’s Gull.”  And off we went.

Arriving at Eel Pond, the bird in question immediately stuck out, and I set about studying and photographing it.  While it seemed that people were at least leaning heavily towards a Thayer’s Gull by this point, I had my doubts.  But, I also have limited experience with 2nd Cycle Thayer’s Gulls.  I also did not have a better explanation for this odd bird at the time.  But Thayer’s Gulls are tough, 2nd Cycle gulls are a pain in the ass, and a rarity like this (potential 6th NH record) of course warranted extra scrutiny.

I began to take notes, and even a little feather-sketching.  I took lots of photos.  Birders came and went.  Ben, Lauren, Jason Lambert, and I continued to work on the bird.  Kristen headed to the car to check on the Patriots and to warm up.  She was clearly the smart one.

There were a series of things that bothered me about this bird being a Thayer’s Gull, and I scribbled those down in my notes:
-          The primaries were multiple shades darker than any other part of the bird.
-          The tertials were extensively marbled.
-          The bill was so extensively pale with such a finely demarcated black tip for a bird that was otherwise not very advanced in plumage.
-          The bill looked rather large and heavy, especially at the tip.
-          The eye color was orange-yellow, not light, but definitely not dark.
- The legs were dingy pinkish-flesh.

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While none of these features really eliminate Thayer’s Gull, they are consistent with “Nelson’s Gull,” the name given to Herring x Glaucous Gull hybrids as well.  But try as we might, we could not get the bird to fly closer.  I never saw it with the wing fully outstretched, but the bird was photographed well in flight earlier.

It was not a big bird, and looked smaller than most – but definitely not all – of the nearby Herring Gulls.  Most Nelson’s I’ve seen are noticeably larger, but large gulls are notoriously variable.  But look at this shot – it sure doesn’t look small compared to the 1st cycle Herring Gull on the left!  And see that deep build?  It doesn’t look at slim and dainty as many Thayer’s look (speaking of variable – and subjective – gull criteria).  The head looks rather blocky, and the bill was rather hefty.
DSC_0086_NEGUwithsmallHERG,EelPond,12-1-13

Meanwhile, shortly after my arrival and the beginnings of ponder the mystery gull, a Carolina Wren sang…number 200!  Yeah, it was pretty obvious to all that my NH birding has mostly been in the mountains, but this was a silly hole that somehow was not filled on previous coastal trips.  Mission accomplished.  So I went back to pondering the gull.  And, with daylight fading and the long drive (especially for Kristen) still ahead of us, we hurried over to RyeState   Park to catch up with a Snowy Owl (201), which was one of our real targets of the day.  With at least 12 birds seen along the coast on Saturday, we were surprised that – despite the amount of birders combing the coast – it took us all day to see a Snowy (it sounds like a total of 2 or 3 were seen along the coast by day’s end).
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Driving home, we listened to the Pats once again stage a come-from-behind victory, and as Kristen departed, I hit our library and the internet for some gull study time.  After reviewing my photos of the standing gull, and comparing that to the photos in references – especially Howell & Dunn – and online, I was definitely leaning more towards Thayer’s Gull, as most of my concerns seemed to be accounted for.  But I needed to see the spread wing.

And then Ben forwarded me Jason’s photos.  My response was simple, “Ewww.”  The extensively dark primaries were as extensive and dark as they appeared in the field.  While darker Thayer’s can show dark shading bleeding onto the inner webs of the outermost primaries, the outer three primaries on the Eel Pond bird were clearly wholly dark, and the dark was extensive on the next two as well.  I just don’t think a Thayer’s can show that.  While no single field mark alone can define any gull, this very well could be enough on its own to eliminate a Thayer’s (or, dare I say it, a pure – whatever the hell that means – one), a bird known for its “picket fence” primaries of dark outer webs contrasting with pale inner webs.  Adding that with the other features – including the structure of the head, bill, and body – I’m unable to call this a Thayer’s Gull.  Short of a DNA sample, it’s a “Nelson’s Gull” to me, although I think there is some argument to be made for this to not be a first-generation hybrid.  I sent the link to Jason’s photos (which are far superior to my own) to a handful of friends, and they have so far concurred that this is a Nelson’s-type gull.  But, gulls are one of those birds that everyone can have a different opinion on, so I await responses from others.  I just hated to rain on the parade, especially since Lauren and Ben were so helpful in my little listing quest that initiated the day.

Ahh, large gulls. The Snowy Owl was easier to identify. I like Snowy Owls.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Maine Birding Field Notes-Update!

How To Be A Better BirderDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, knows that as migration season continues, his feathered friends will be continuing south for the winter as the cold creeps up on all of us. While he’s always avidly posting on his Facebook page, he also recently posted to his blog to report some of his more recent findings, including a snowy owl!


Cape Neddick through Wells – Snowy Owl!

Jeannette and I birded from Cape Neddick through Wells on Tuesday, seeing a really pleasant variety of birds in the process in the calm before the storm. Delayed by a snowy start and somewhat slick roads (OK, not slick if didn’t drive like it was a dry race car track – 7 cars were off the road between Freeport and York, however) that backed up traffic (“Hey, there’s a car in the ditch, let me look!”), we didn’t reach the Nubble neighborhood until almost 9:00, but by then the snow had ended, the ceiling lifted a bit, and a very light wind made for decent  – albeit a bit raw – birding conditions.  Although we didn’t have anything earth-shattering, we did have a fair number of “good birds.”

Without a day off together in December (the store is open seven days a week from Thanksgiving to Christmas), our annual late November run through our usual route is the last time we focus on thickets and migrant traps in the hopes for lingering migrants and rare passerines.  Next time, waterbirds will be more of a focus.  And the limited number of non-resident passerines that we detected today (other than Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, and a scattered few Yellow-rumped Warblers) confirms that – as did the impressive, and growing, quantity of waterbirds.

Three Carolina Wrens was the highlight of a thorough check of the Nubble neighborhood thickets, although we did have a group of about 40 Snow Buntings fly over.  45 Black Scoters, 13 Purple Sandpipers, 8 Great Cormorants, 6 Harlequin Ducks, etc at The Nubble were a sign of things to come along the shoreline.

Passerines were few and far between along Marginal Way and the adjacent neighborhood, but great numbers of waterfowl along the shoreline more than made up for it.  As with everywhere we looked at the ocean today, all three scoters were present in numbers, including a close and talkative group of about 100 Black Scoters.  Lots of Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, and a total of 20 or 21 Harlequin Ducks were also present, along with a half-dozen Purple Sandpipers.

To read the rest of this post, click here!


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Derek Lovitch’s Rarity Season So Far

How To Be A Better BirderAccording to Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, Rarity Season has been great this year for birders. He’s been avidly posting on his Facebook page about his finds, but in case you haven’t been following along, here’s a little summation thus far that he recently posted to his blog.


Rarity Season-to-date in Review

I hope you didn’t think that my lack of blogging of late equated to a lack of birding!  Quite the contrary, actually – it is Rarity Season afterall!  I’ve just been posting more frequent, shorter updates on our store’s Facebook page (you can scroll through the timeline here to see recent posts), especially since I have found myself a bit over-extended with a variety of other projects at the moment – I’ve been working late most nights recently to make up for my morning birding gallivanting.

In fact, I have been birding even harder than usual – if you can believe that!  Spurred on by extraordinary late October finds of an “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler at Fort Foster and a Bell’s Vireo (a state bird for me!) on Bailey Island, I found myself somehow even more motivated to beat the bush through the first half of November.  In addition to the 10th Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup that I organize every year, I worked hard at various traditional hotspots, favorite late fall patches, and various attempts to think “outside the box,” such as walking the 4.5 miles into work today to check a handful of swales and thickets en route (not very productive, except for the exercise, for the record)

While Audubon’s Warbler and Bell’s Vireo are going to be tough to beat – the early-rarity-season bar was set awfully high! – I have had some outstanding birding in November, even if there has yet to be another “Mega.” Personal highlights in the first half of November include a very nice variety of lingering (pioneering?) warblers, a Yellow-breasted Chat, multiple Orange-crowned Warblers (I’ve had four this season to date), huge numbers of Ruddy Ducks on Sabattus Pond, and overall just really good birding with good diversity.

Elsewhere around the state, current highlights include a Northern Hawk-Owl in Lincoln – not a vagrant in the “Rarity Season” sort of way, but exciting nonetheless! And perhaps that, along with an early Snowy Owl report from Biddeford Pool, portends a decent owl irruption this winter? There certainly won’t be any winter finches around this year.). Other birders have detected a variety of late warblers around the state (wow, November Chestnut-sided in Falmouth!), and lots of lingering shorebirds – especially in Scarborough Marsh. But as far as the first half of November usually goes, there have been no truly exceptional birds. Looking around the region, we see goodies such as a Calliope Hummingbird in New Hampshire, A Black-chinned Hummingbird in Connecticut, and the usual fun array of rarities in Massachusetts (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Western Tanager, American Avocet, etc). However, it is an ultra-spiffy adult Ross’s Gull near Montreal that is the real headliner of the fall in the Northeast so far (and yes, I am being tempted to chase this, I have to admit).

So there are some good birds around the region, and no doubt there are some good birds still to find in Maine. Other than a couple of days, it has been fairly temperate to mild all fall, and I can’t help but wonder if birds that arrived in the state through various vagrancy mechanisms (see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder) have yet to concentrate along the coast as they seek out more favorable microclimates or seasonal food sources. Also, as the season progresses, more rarities turn up at feeding stations as natural food supplies diminish. December rarities, for example, are often discovered at feeders. Two tardy Chipping Sparrows are at our store’s feeders as I type this, by the way; I’m hoping they pick up a clay-colored cousin. A lot of folks are reporting very busy feeders right now, which is a good sign, especially considering the lack of irruptive finches.

To read the rest of this post, click here.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Derek Lovitch’s Tenth Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup

Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder, is still flying high this migration season, spending part of last week along the southern coast of Maine to do some serious birding. In the midst of this ‘rarity season’, Lovitch and his crew recorded some exciting sightings, which he wrote about in this post from his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes.


South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup TEN!

http://mebirdingfieldnotes.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/blpwsheridanstreetportland11-3-14.jpgEach year on the first weekend of November, a group of us get together to scour the Southern Maine coast for vagrants, lingering migrants, pioneers, irruptive, and other seasonal highlights. Coinciding with the peak of “Rarity Season,” we set out to use the geography of the Maine coast, coupled with knowledge of the best habitats and vagrant traps in order to find as many “good” birds as possible. While this year failed to produce any “Megas,” we once again had a great day in the field, found lots of fun stuff, and enjoyed good food and beer at the Great Lost Bear at the end of the day (the real reason we all get together for this event!)

119 species were tallied by the 8 teams of the TENTH Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup, six species above our 10-year average, despite somewhat more limited coverage than in the past few years. The continuing “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler was added to the cumulative checklist, while we also had our second-ever Snowy Egret, Prairie Warbler, and Nelson’s Sparrow. Blackpoll Warbler and Clay-colored Sparrow appeared for the third time.

Most teams experienced a decidedly “birdy” day, especially from Portland through Scarborough. A fallout of Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and Hermit Thrushes occurred with overnight northwesterly winds and a line of pre-dawn showers, with the fallout especially evident on the Portland Peninsula. I’ll have more about the fallout on a blog entry later today.

The fallout that I mentioned above was very evident in the morning, as we birded Portland’s East End. 150+ White-throated Sparrows and 100+ Song Sparrows littered the Eastern Promenade. White-throats were everywhere: 50+ on Sheridan Street for example. And once again there was a decidedly disproportionate number of White-throated Sparrows in gardens and landscaping of downtown Portland. A short loop from One City Center through Monument Square, behind Portland High, and back through Post Office Park yielded 35 White-throats, with the only other native migrant being 7 Hermit Thrushes. Like the sparrow, Hermit Thrushes appear in a wildly disproportionate number to other migrants – especially all other thrushes – in downtown Portland. I’m convinced that something causes White-throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes to either a) become disoriented by urban lights more often/more readily, especially under low ceilings (it was cloudy for most of the night and morning) or perhaps b) they simply don’t leave these lots in a morning flight as species such as Dark-eyed Juncos might. In fact, I just read in an article in the Brown Alumni Magazine that a friend of the store dropped off about collisions in New York City that since 1997, more White-throated Sparrows have been found dead than any other species. Coincidence?

Our sum of 26 Hermit Thrushes was truly amazing, as was our overall diversity on the day. While the mild weather certainly has a lot to do with the number of lingering/pioneering birds that we, and other teams, encountered, the late-season fallout earlier in the morning certainly helped our cause.

In other words, it was another great day of birding in urban Portland in the heart of “Rarity Season!”

To see the rest of this post on Lovitch’s blog, click here.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.


Rarity Season Begins!

Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and an avid birdwatcher, is at it again with his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes, posting about another exciting day of bird-watching as ‘Rarity Season’ starts up. Keep your eyes peeled for some more rare sightings coming your way!


AUDUBON’S WARBLER at Fort Foster!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of leading our annual “York County Rarity Roundup” Field Trip for York County Audubon today. With no rarities to “round up,” we set out to find our own, birding from Kittery through Wells.  We followed a very similar route to what Jeannette and I always do on our monthly south-coastal run.  The difference today was that with a group, and with so many birds at FortFoster, we never made it out of Kittery by lunchtime.  Too bad that meant we just HAD to have lunch at Loco Coco’s Taco (mmm, chili relleno burrito…)!

It was a very birdy day overall, even in the windy afternoon.  A preliminary total of 63 species of birds included 9 species of sparrows, 5 species of shorebirds, and 4 species of warblers.  Excellent-for-the-season bird diversity was augmented by 5 species of butterflies, 3 species of mammals, 2+ species of dragonfly, 1 reptile (Garter Snake), and 1 amphibian (Spring Peeper).

The bird of the day by far was “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler that I found at FortFoster.  This western subspecies of Yellow-rump (it once was, and I believe will likely once again be considered a full species) has only occurred – or should I say, been detected – in Maine a few times.  I can only think of one recent record, an adult that nearly-overwintered at Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth a few years ago.

If anyone wants to look for it, the bird was flycatching and occasionally eating Red Cedar berries along the west edge of the park. Follow the entrance road into the park, until the large gravel parking lot opens up on the left. The bird was loyal to the right (west) edge here, especially around the big cedars in the mowed lawn.

Noah Gibb and I photographed the bird extensively, and I was also able to borrow a phone to get a voice recording.  All aspects of the bird – from plumage to voice – fit perfectly with a pure “Audubon’s” Warbler.

I first glimpsed the bird sallying for insects in and out of shadows.  The overall extremely cool gray plumage tone – top to bottom – brought to mind a first fall female Pine Warbler. But something wasn’t right.  The bird began to call, and that was definitely not the call of a Pine Warbler…but what was it?  We saw the bird briefly a few times, the pieces began to come together, and then as it flew to another tree the bright yellow rump became evident.  “Audubon’s Warbler!!!!” I exclaimed.
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We studied the bird extensively for at least a half hour, occasionally in perfect light for prolonged periods.  I scribbled notes, and encouraged others to do the same before we discussed the bird any further.  Plenty of “Myrtle” Warblers (the Eastern subspecies of Yellow-rumped) were nearby for convenient comparison.

- Obvious “Yellow-rumped” Warbler with bright yellow rump, overall size and shape, bill size and shape, etc.
- Exceptionally cool gray overall plumage tone, not suggesting the brownish tones of even the palest Myrtles.
- Very diffuse streaking below.
- Very restricted and pale yellow “blobs” on sides of chest.
- Very subtle and restricted yellow on throat, not visible in all light conditions, but quite obvious in good sunlight.
- Lacked the extension of pale on the throat that “points” up around the back of the auriculars as on Myrtle.  Therefore, throat patch appeared rounded, or encircled by the cool gray of head.
- Auriculars only marginally darker than rest of head, often looking concolorous.
- Call note very different from surrounding Myrtles, much sharper and not as “blunt.”
- Exceptionally dull plumage highly suggestive of a first fall female, but the lack of a definite molt limit within the greater coverts prevents us from clinching the age. (reference: The Warbler Guide, Stephenson and Whittle, 2013)

Good bird!  And yes, Rarity Season is most definitely in full swing!  Good thing it appears that, after a prolonged drought, I have finally refound my rarity-finding mojo.  Phew.

Now, about that Saltmarsh Sparrow – which I admittedly called an “Interior” Nelson’s Sparrow in the field…  Expecting to see an “Interior” Nelson’s Sparrow based on the timing, micro-habitat, and behavior, I reached for my camera before I fully studied the bird. After firing off some photos, and making sure everyone got on the bird, it took off and we never saw it again. Although I mentioned that the malar looked “quite dark,” I didn’t second-guess the call until I looked at photos on the computer this afternoon.  Yeah, it’s a Saltie.  The malar is not only dark and distinct, but it frames a clear white throat.  The breast streaking is dark and extensive, the bill has a fleshy-pink cast, and it is simply too long-billed for an “Interior” (subspecies alterus or nelsoni; I don’t believe they are identifiable in the field).  As a final clincher, note the fine streaks towards the rear half of the supercilium.  Behavior and timing wise: odd for a Saltmarsh.  Plumage: essentially textbook for a Saltmarsh.  Therefore, “After further review, the call (in) the field is overturned.”
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Derek Lovitch’s Bell’s Vireo Sighting

bellsDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and avid birdwatcher, had an exciting week  as he reported on his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes, to have seen a very rare bird in his recent birdwatching travels in Harpswell.

The Bell’s Vireo (pictured here) has only been seen a handful of times in Maine, so it appears to be a bit of a Maine-birder’s dream day. Congrats on the find Derek!


BELL’S VIREO in Harpswell!!!

Yesterday, Jeannette and I discovered a Bell’s Vireo on Abner Point Road, Bailey Island in Harpswell.  There are only three previous records of Bell’s Vireo for the state of Maine. 

In other words: MEGA!  And needless to say – especially since I missed the two from last year, despite my best efforts – this was a thrilling find, capping a very productive morning of birding Bailey Island that included a Yellow-breasted Chat (my first of the year) at Land’s End, and a total of 5 species of warblers on Bailey Island this am:  Hundreds of Yellow-rumps, and one each of Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Common Yellowthroat, and Blackpoll.  Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and other seasonal migrants made for a very birdy visit.

In what turned out to be our last stop of the morning, Jeannette and I walked Abner Point Road.  Upon reaching a promising thicket, I began to pish.  Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Winter Wren responded immediately, and as Jeannette attempted to photograph the wren, I sorted through the yellow-rumps, hoping to find one with a yellow throat.  A handful of minutes later (about 10:35am), we heard a harsh, scolding chatter emanating from the dense vegetation.  “Vireo?” Jeannette asked quizzically as we both looked at each other, unsure of the sound – it sounded like nothing we are used to hearing.  I wondered out loud about a Carolina Wren making some odd sound (they’re good at that, and there was one in that particular thicket), and the nasal quality led me to consider a funky Red-breasted Nuthatch.  We looked hard but could not turn up anything that fit the sound.

About 5 minutes later, a small vireo pops out of the brush in front of me.  At first I called “White-eyed Vireo” due to the bright yellow flanks and overall shape, but then I got a clear look at the head.  “BELL’S VIREO!” I exclaimed, as Jeannette, a few yards away still working on photographing the wren rushed over.

As is often the case for Bell’s Vireos, it quickly ducked back into the cover.  I continued to pish, and the bird popped back up.  I had a second brief, but unobstructed view of the whole bird.  Jeannette went for the camera, and prepared to fire away, only to see the bird dive back into the shadows once again.  One last brief glimpse of the bird was all we would have for the next hour.

We searched hard, but could not relocate it.  A Blue-headed Vireo was more cooperative, and permitted us some comparison.  We listened to a recording of the call of a Bell’s, and there was no question in either of our minds’ that is what we had heard earlier.

We thought we heard that call in the distance of the thicket one more time, and perhaps even a snippet of a song, but background noise and an increasing southerly wind made us unsure of that.  And that wind was clearly not making this skulker any more likely to show itself.  At 11:50, we heard the distinctive call once again, but from thick shrubs behind a house across the street.  We hustled over, but unfortunately only managed to pish in a cat (one of at least five in this immediate area; it was worse than Monhegan!), which was likely the object of the vireo’s recent ire.  We worked the area as best as we could, and eventually saw the homeowner in her yard and received permission to wander around.  No luck.  We had also received permission earlier from the homeowner adjacent to the first thicket to check her yard, so we did another circuit, but we came up empty, and it was getting breezier and cloudier.  Lunchtime was calling us, too.

While I left with almost three pages of field notes, it was rather frustrating to not get a photo, especially since Jeannette was so close to snapping it!  However, as a firm believer in the value of written field notes for documentation of rare birds, I scrawled away in my notebook.


To see Derek’s notes on the Bell’s Vireo and his full description of its location, click here.

Derek Lovitch Takes The Midwest By Storm

Derek Lovitch’s recent post on his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes, covered his adventures in the Midwest as he made some appearances, visited some friends, and went on some pretty exciting birding adventures. We just put the start of the blog below, but you can read the whole thing on Lovitch’s blog, or check it out on his Facebook page.


A Mid-Western Road Trip

When the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union invited me out to be the Keynote Speaker for their 2013 Fall Meeting, I jumped at the opportunity to get some birding in in a part of the country that I have not spent very much time exploring.  Add to that a program and book signing at Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center, and I had a solid excuse to work on some under-served state lists…and visit some good friends.  Each day, I posted a short synopsis of my travels and birding on my book’s Facebook pagen RTHA

a LESPA phone-binned juvenile LeConte’s Sparrow.

Red-tailed Hawk

 

Next up, David heads to the New Hampshire Audubon in Concord on 10/24!


Derek Lovitch Takes Flight

Derek Lovitch, author of How To Be a Better Birder and bird-blogger extraordinaire, recently posted on his blog Maine Birding Field Notes, that he was planning a flight of his own to visit some friends (feathered and otherwise) and make a few appearances to talk about his book. Live in the area? Maybe you’ll spot the birder while he birds!


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

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

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


Don’t forget to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering. Click on the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.


Uniting For A Feathered Cause

While Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder, spends a lot of his time birding and enjoying the great outdoors, he is also very passionate about protecting our feathered friends, which is why in a recent blog post, Lovitch addresses a serious issue he has noticed in Portland, Oregon that could seriously affect the bird population there:


Today I wanted to take a moment to discuss one of the local issues that we have decided to wade into.  As most Portland – at least – residents may know, there is a proposal to transfer a portion of Congress Square Park to private development for a conference center.  The city needs a conference center, and the park needs some attention.  I’ll leave it to the residents of Portland to weigh the costs and benefits of this particular plan, but one aspect that concerns me greatly is the current blueprints that show a massive glass wall facing a smaller park with limited vegetation.

Here’s a link to what I believe to be the most recent development proposal; I don’t think any significant updates have been made.  Jeannette and I believe that we can use our store as a vehicle to promote bird conservation, and although we certainly don’t stick our nose into every project, sometimes we feel that we need to be the voice for birds, birding, and bird conservation.  Capisic Pond Park, the Eastern Promenade, Sandy Point, and now development at the fringes of Florida Lake have been projects we have worked on.  While we may not go too much further with our efforts in this case, we thought it was best to offer expertise to point out a potential issue with this projects design.  I have sent this letter to city officials and the new group, Friends of Congress Square Park.  I post it here for your information, and if anyone has suggestions on whom else to send this to, don’t hesitate to let us know.

September 18, 2013

RE: Congress Square Redevelopment plans

To whom it may concern:

I am writing you today not to take a stand for or against the current proposal at this time, but instead to bring to your attention a couple of aspects of urban parks, construction, and wildlife interactions that has raised a significant amount of concern with me.

First, a little bit of background.  Migrating birds that stream over Portland every spring and fall face a myriad of risks.  Many of our favorite songbirds, such as warblers, orioles, and tanagers all fly at night.  For reasons unknown – likely due to the use of stars for navigation – birds can become disoriented by lights.  Lights on communication towers, lights on buildings, lights at stadiums, lights left on in office buildings, and even lights in people’s homes.  Especially on cloudy and foggy nights, birds will be drawn to this artificial lighting, and many will meet an untimely death as they collide with structures or even drop dead from exhaustion as their bodies metabolize their muscles in order to fuel the last gasps of flight as the bird circles, and circles, and circles, confused by the light, drawn in by its grasp.  The cumulative light pollution of cities, towns, and even single-family homes, results in perhaps hundreds of millions of deaths of migrating birds each year.

However, not every bird disoriented by city lights will die.  Some find refuge in a well-landscaped park and find enough food to survive, refuel, and eventually move on. Most others find just enough refuge to move on come sunrise, when the direction of the sunrise and visual landmarks can usher a bird in the right direction.  In order to avoid predators, many of these birds will fly low through the city streets, dropping in to the next tree, the next park, or even the next garden as these birds – in what is termed “redetermined migration” attempt to correct for the errors of their ways overnight.  These errors could result from disorientation from lights, “groundings” from severe weather, or even from drifting too far on strong winds behind a cold front.

Especially for those birds exhausted from their travels or their disorientation, every single tree in an urban environment can be a life-saver.  A place to rest, a place to forage for just a little food or at the very least a place to avoid predators.  Working from some part of the city, the birds will work their way inland (in the case of a coastal city such as Portland) looking for more extensive habitat where they can refuel.

I have watched flocks of White-throated Sparrows winging it down side streets, landing in potted plants at the first sight of a possible threat.  I’ve seen an American Woodcock walking down a sidewalk near Monument Square.  I have seen waves of Blackpoll Warblers streaking by just over the treetops of Deering Oaks Park.

As the birds work their way to quality habitat, such as Evergreen Cemetery, many of these birds are more than strong enough to avoid predators, avoid traffic, and fly at full speed over the course of the first couple of hours of daylight.

Thud.

The migrant lays still on the sidewalk; dead.    It has hit a window.

It has flown hundreds of miles from the forests of Canada.  It has survived ever-changing weather, dodged hawks at every turn, and found enough food to pack on enough fat to fuel an epic journey to the rainforests of South America for the winter.   A shift in the wind the prior night resulted in foggy conditions as it arrived in the airspace over Portland.  Attempting to orient itself, it circles the red blinking light on the top of a building until it is too tired.  But this bird is lucky.  Below this building there is a small park with a handful of trees.  Good enough, and the bird alights.  The sun rises, and the bird, not finding much food in a few ornamental plantings, decides to head further inland.

Flying from tree to tree, the bird sees the next tree just ahead.  But that tree was only a reflection in glass.  Its journey ends.

Glass kills as many as 1 billion birds per year in North America. Urban light pollution may kill as many as 31 million birds per year.  Lighted communication towers may kill upwards of 100 million.  Only free-roaming cats are estimated to kill more birds per year than any of these other anthropogenic causes.  You can see why glass in lighted urban areas is such a problem.

The current proposal for a new Event Center in what is now Congress Square Park includes a massive glass façade, with “doors” that open, putting glass walls out at multiple angles.  All of this glass will be reflective.  Architects and admirers like that about glass.  But whatever trees remain will be reflected by that glass.

Thud.  Another migrant is dead.  How many dead birds will people pick up on the sidewalk before anyone takes notice?  Or will the rats clean up the mess before the morning rush?

Is the new CongressSquareEventCenter going to be a death trap for exhausted and confused migrants?  Probably.  Can this risk be minimized or avoided?  Yes.  Does anyone care?  That, to me, is always the toughest question.

But there are solutions out there.  There are treatments that make glass less-reflective, or ways to break up the reflection so birds will not be drawn to it.  Glass can be positioned to reflect the ground, and trees can be positioned to minimize reflection.  There are certainly plenty of materials that don’t cast a reflection as well.  There are even city-wide efforts to reduce bird collisions that range from lighting standards to simple programs to get people to turn off the lights as they leave their office for the night.

My only goal with this letter is to raise awareness about a significant problem, but one that might well be avoided.

For the sake of brevity – I think you will agree that this letter is long enough already – I will simply point you towards two sources for more information, from background to solutions.  The first is the “Birds and Collisions” page from the American Bird Conservancy: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/glass.html

The second is the home page of the Fatal Light Awareness Program: http://www.flap.org/

I sincerely hope that you will recognize my concerns and take them under consideration.  I would be happy to offer more first-hand observations to describe why this issue is real in Portland, and why a glass façade facing some of the few trees that exist in the center of an urban area could result in significant avian mortality.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Derek Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply

To see this post in its entirety, click here.

We Have a Winner!

As our 2013 Fall Migration Giveaway comes to a close with over 1,000 entries, we have a winner! Randomly selected from the hundreds of tweets, likes, and emails that were submitted, the winner is… (drum roll please) ….

Lisa Hessler Stinnett!!

Lisa has won a copy of The Warbler Guide, The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, and How to Be a Better Birder, a pair of Zeiss TERRA binoculars, and the audio companion for The Warbler Guide. Congratulations Lisa!

Thank you to everyone who entered and keep your eyes peeled for the next time we offer a giveaway!


But wait! You don’t have to be a winner to get free stuff! To check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, click on the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.


2013 Migration Giveaway: Last Chance To Enter!

Stephenson_WarblerGSince today is the LAST day you can enter, don’t forget to check out our Rafflecopter giveaway event! In honor of the 2013 bird migration, we’re celebrating all through fall with some of our best books on birding, some of our best experts on identifying them, and with a giveaway with a chance to win some free stuff!

The Crossley ID GuideOur prize package includes a copy of three our our best books about birding: The Warbler Guide, The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, and How to Be a Better Birder, a pair of Zeiss TERRA binoculars, and the audio companion for The Warbler Guide.

How To Be A Better Birder

How to enter? There are numerous ways to enter, including liking any of the three books Facebook pages, emailing us at blog@press.princeton.edu, signing up for our email alerts for Bird and Natural History Titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/,or tweeting at @PrincetonNature or at any of the author’s Twitter pages (@IDCrossleyGuide or @The WarblerGuide). Just follow the steps in the Rafflecopter box below.

The winner will be selected TOMORROW!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Remember, the giveaway ends TONIGHT at midnight, so enter now!

And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, click on the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.