Unlike a hybrid with a Snow or a Domestic Goose, this neat bird was the same shape and size as the average Canada, but with a dull brownish cast to the head, neck, and wingtips. It cannot, however, be said that we “photographed” five species: The Grasshopper Sparrow was also our fifth species of sparrow on the day (Song, American Tree, White-throated, and Dark-eyed Junco) – I doubt I’ve had five species of warbler and 5 species of sparrows in the same day in December in Maine before. The body plumage and wings have a violet iridescence in strong light. Although known to be here – and intensively managed for them – they are not often seen, especially at this season, so that was a real treat for me. By Herb Wilson And of course there are the goose fields to scour. [Photos, left to right: Lee Karney, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bugwood.org;
I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary today – best birds were probably the Carolina Wren at Pott’s Point, a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the Skofield Shore Preserve, and a Nelson’s Sparrow at Stover Point – but almost all sites were delightfully birdy. The growing season comes to an end (although in many spots the killing frost has not yet reached the immediate coastline yet this year), and food sources become greatly limited. More rice was lost to the insects than to House Sparrows. Each day, I posted a short synopsis of my travels and birding on my book’s Facebook page. 1 DICKCISSEL (5th of season here) It was in a small flock of “Slate-colored” Juncos and an American Tree Sparrow in the scrubby central ridge in the middle of the Griffith’s Head parking lot. The flanks and sides are particularly pale salmon-buff, which is not atypical for adult males (although many are much brighter). 1 Osprey Combined, the Sandy Point Morning Flight was reduced to a mere dribble totaling 91 birds, led by 36 Yellow-rumped Warblers. While weather rarely “blows” birds off-course, winds and weather systems can certainly facilitate their arrival in far-flung places, especially when combined with some sort of misorientation (for a thorough discussion of the concept, see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder). Tennessee Warbler: 0,0,3,0 Following my evening program “A Sandy Point Case Study,” in which I concluded with a little local radar analysis, I predicted it was going to be a good morning (it’s always a risk sticking one’s neck out like that!). On my way to the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union‘s Fall Meeting, I spent the first day and a half of my trip birding the Des Moines-Ankeny area with my friend Danny Akers, the 2009 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch Official Counter. Another bird that can be frustratingly similar in appearance are the sparrows. House Sparrows certainly compete with birds that live and nest in our urban, suburban and agricultural habitats. While a stiff southerly wind has not helped, they just don’t seem to be “in” yet. However, even in the middle of the morning, this Middleton preserve was decidedly birdy! American Robin: 1,5,4,1 And since I’ve only barely birded Iowa once before, my state list is growing by leaps and bounds. Least Flycatcher: 1,2,1,0 If the clouds clear by dawn, I might get a big push at Sandy Point. This was my last day of birding of my little Midwest trip. Several species of sparrows abound in Maine’s collection of birds. Other then a few Blackpoll Warblers, my only other warblers were single Pine at Skofield and a Black-throated Blue at the Curtis Farm Preserve. An effective way to deter House Sparrows is to have the nest box openings no greater than 1.25 inches in diameter. 421 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (*2nd highest). Our first stop was the Goose Lake WMA. 2 Gray Catbirds, Laudholm Farm. Maine Sparrows My last blog post from Maine showed off photos of gulls and told how to tell some of them apart. Al stayed until the 4:30 Port Clyde boat, and his bonus time (three leaders: me, Jeannette, and Kristen Lindquist who assisted me throughout the weekend as I added a second leader when I added a 9th participant – I, and my clients, prefer a small group, especially on Monhegan!) “Hmm, sounds like a Black Skimmer, I thought.” Uh, wait…but alas, there it was! They are very social, sometimes forming flocks in the millions. They thrive around people: in agricultural fields, lawns, parking lots, athletic fields, roadsides, towns, and city garbage dumps. Coincidence? And if Cape Elizabeth today was a sign of things to come, the RR should be a whole lot of fun. Needless to say, I will be out looking, and I hope you will to! Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 2,12,15,4 Great Cormorant: 0,2,2,2 They include the Chipping, Song, and White-throated sparrows. I have certainly been taking full advantage of this beautiful weather. Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,0,3 Mourning Dove: 4,4,4,3 I’ll have more about the fallout on a blog entry later today. You can see how strong and extensive these northwesterly winds finally were from the wind map that day. Large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers were reorienting overhead at dawn, and new arrivals included Palm Warblers and Fox Sparrow. Northern Gannet: 15,50,20,50 And we did indeed have a great day, including the 2nd Count Record Clay-colored Sparrow, the 5th Count Records of Baltimore Oriole and Lesser Scaup (21 – also a record high), and 6th Count Record of Dickcissel. With another active week of weather, I was antsy to get out birding, but unfortunately my schedule was a little busy. Birds were still on the go at 4:00am, as a narrow line of showers moved through the coast. All White-crowned Sparrows migrating through Maine are passage migrants. It is now one of the most abundant songbirds on the continent. I was back to the Saco Yacht Club with Luke Seitz the next morning, once again hoping for the Blackburnian. Unidentified Hummingbird:0,0,0,1 2 Black-and-white Warblers The next day I was once again at the Saco Yacht Club, looking for the Blackburnian Warbler (which I saw on Nov 30th – one day too early!). 18 Northern Fulmars were a treat, but birds-of-the-trip honors goes to a rather unseasonable Manx Shearwater. The next day, a Townsend’s Solitaire was found on Hermit Island in Phippsburg. And I do love city park birding! Chipping Sparrow. 17 Canada Geese In agricultural areas, House Sparrows may become pests on cereal grains. Dark-eyed Juncos have increased in numbers in the past couple of weeks. This one is the widespread and common Song Sparrow. Palm Warbler: 0,6,3,7 38F, clear, NW 5.1 to calm to WNW 4.7mph. Good diversity and good (but not, by Monhegan standards, great) numbers made for a fun day of birding, but it was definitely a lot more relaxing once we finally caught up with the Yellow-headed Blackbird! I have an expert birder nearby that I forward the photos to and he quickly can identify them. Throughout the day, pockets of Song and American Tree Sparrows were indicative of recent movements and concentration following the snow and ice, but we were not prepared for the concentration of sparrows at a particularly fruitful patch. Oh, and a relative abundance of Monarch butterflies was heartening. 5. This massive coastal Nor’easter drenched Maine with up to 5” of rain, and moderate to strong northeasterly winds battered the state, especially the coast. Apparently, those northwesterly winds that finally gave me my flight at Sandy Point also pushed sea creatures out from these waters! 87 Pine Siskins 116 Unidentified A Warbler (and Sparrow) Big Month. For the past five days, October birding was at its finest, and my adventures nicely summarized what this glorious month has to offer. Not surprisingly, such an unseasonable month resulted in some very-unseasonable birding. Our best bird, however, was probably the Pileated Woodpecker at Waterworks Park in Des Moines – a long overdue Polk County bird for Danny. Unfortunately, I waited until December 8th to decide to embark on this silly little hunt, so I had some catching up to do. American Goldfinch: 2,2,4,4. With the exception of the Middle East grassland House Sparrows, these birds have married their fortunes together with humans. Our annual tour takes places to coincide with the last waves of warblers, first waves of sparrows, peak of raptors, and the beginning of “Rarity Season.” Check, check, check, and check…and it was hot! I was really hoping for a Great Skua – my real reason (legitimate excuses aside) for this trip, afterall – but it was a rather slow day on the water.