August Report

As the calendar turned to August I was still vacationing in Maine, with a North America year list at 215 species. My first outing of the month was a brief visit to the Valentine Farm Conservation Center, a hot spot I haven’t visited until this year. I didn’t find any new year birds there, but it is always exciting to find a Pileated Woodpecker and a nice cache of warblers (7 species).

On August 2nd, I took my family out to Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine. The beach, which is in Sagadahoc county, is really cool and has a few islands you can walk to when the tide is low. I got a very passing glimpse at a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a lifer. However, by far, the most exciting observation was a Bald Eagle scattering tons of gulls on one of the rock islands.

On August 5th and 6th, I took my wife to Freeport and Portland. We also returned to Popham Beach, this time minus our kids. As you might guess, some incidental birding occurred! Our hotel in Freeport, had a marsh view. I saw 15 Great Egrets at one moment while looking out our window in the morning!

Our return to Popham Beach was amazing bird-wise, with three lifers (Guillemot, Sanderling, and Roseate Tern). Certain parts of the beach were hopping with terns, and I saw 35 Common Terns! I also had the satisfaction of picking out a lone White-rumped Sandpiper from a group of Semipalmated Ssandpipers. Most of all, though, I was thrilled to see an alcid (the Guillemot) from land! I have horrible photos to prove it 🙂

Returning home, I resumed the quest to reach 200 year species in Essex County. The evening I returned, I saw a Semipalmated Plover (#194) at the Essex lagoons. Sadly, before I would tally my next year bird, my camera was out of commission well into September. I think not having a camera for a while forces me to use my binoculars well and probably makes me a more effective and observant birder overall, but it is hard not to have photos to back up IDs and certainly I do enjoy photography even when it does not aid ID. I’ve had some really close-up views of Short-billed Dowitchers at the lagoons, and unfortunately, I have no (good) pictures to show for it!

Proceeding without my camera, and leaning heavily on my binoculars, there came an amazing bird–the Purple Gallinule (#194)–which is a great rarity in Essex County and the most beautiful bird I’ve ever seen. I guess you could call it an outlandish and odd sort of beauty.

After the Gallinule, I saw #196 (Black-crowned Night Heron) and #197 (Baird’s Sandpiper) at the Essex lagoons. A trip to Point Pelee brought #198 (Common Tern). And another trip to the Essex lagoons brought #199 (Wilson’s Phalarope). It was fun to initially discover the Baird’s and Phalarope–and also satisfying to know that my reports allowed others to enjoying seeing these cool shorebirds! There are other reasons I find it important to report my bird sightings, but certainly one very important reason is the satisfaction of knowing that my reports are helping others.

Alas, August has come to a close. And my county year count sitting, tantalizingly I might add, at 199. I look forward to September and all fall will bring. Good birding!

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July Report

July started on an exciting note. A friend called me to report the presence of some Eastern Screech Owls near his house in Essex, both red-phase and gray-phase individuals. Screech Owls have been a major nemesis bird for me and I hadn’t seen one since 2009!

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Also of note in July was the return of shorebirds to the Essex lagoons, including Short-billed Dowitchers (year bird), a Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Wilsons Snipes, Least Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers.

My first lifer of this July was a Hooded Warbler I heard at Brunet Park.

As of July 28, I started birding in Western Maine, and on my first day I saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which was the year bird that brought me to 200 species on the year in North America!  Other year birds found in Western Maine (and the trip there) include Common Raven and Red-shouldered Hawk.

Most exciting, though, was a hike day I took on July 31st to wrap up the month. Thus far, my hike days in Maine have usually been in the boreal forest in the Western part of the state. This year, however, I decided to stick to the coast. For my location, I chose Biddeford, Maine.

First, I visited East Point Audubon Sanctuary. Situated at the end of Biddeford Pool, the sanctuary has a short trail along the perimeter of the point. It is wonderful, giving good access to the rocky coast, with views of the Wood Island light house. I was impressed with the number of Common Eiders (a year bird) which are quite common in coastal Maine. I also was delighted to spot two Red-necked Grebes (lifer) and a Black-crowned Night Heron and a Northern Mockingbird (year birds). Being from Essex County, Ontario, it was odd to see a Northern Harrier harrying this time of year. The biggest highlight, however, was finding my #1 target on this trip, two American Oystercatchers (sadly, the photos are quite horrible.

Next, I moved to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge’s Timber Point trail. I had visited this gem briefly the previous year, but didn’t do it justice then. This year, I was determined to give it a thorough survey. I met and birded with volunteer/guide Susan Keefer and also spoke briefly with her husband Steve. She was an excellent companion and was very helpful in her knowledge of the local wildlife.  Previously privately owned land, this recently acquired (2011) plot is spectacular.  The seaside roses are simply delightful.

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The trail, which is approximately a mile, provides access to Timber Island, tide permitting.  I had a great photo session with a very compliant Bonaparte’s Gull. I was floored to see no less than 36 Semipalmated Plovers (year bird). The Common Tern count was also impressive and I was able to spot a Least Tern (lifer). Snowy Egrets (year bird) were plentiful and I got my first photo of one which shows the species lovely yellow feet.  I was able to notch a couple more lifers, seeing a Laughing Gull and three Whimbrels flying over.

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All in all, this “tide watching” was quite amazing. As if the day was not birdy enough, next I proceeded to Hills Beach, which is also in Biddeford and right next to the University of New England campus. There I struck gold with some amazingly close views of endangered Piping Plovers. No less than 8 of them! These stunning cuties walked and flew amazingly close to unwitting beachgoers. I first saw this species last year at Wells Reserve in Maine, but the views were extremely unsatisfying (and the pictures were even worse), so I was very happy to get some “up close” time with this remarkable species.

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What a finale to July! My Essex County year count is at 193 species and the North America count is at 214. I added six lifers and 21 year birds this month. I call that a good July.

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June Report

June has been HOT. I didn’t spend too much time birding, especially not in the second half of the month.

Nevertheless, the species count far exceeded last June and I made considerable progress toward my goal of 200 species for the year in Essex County. I am now at 188.

I found seven year birds and three lifers. The lifers were White-rumped Sandpiper, American White Pelican, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Onward to July!

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May Report

May is a special time of year for birders. Spring migration season is exciting and fast paced in a way which Fall migration is not.

This time around, there were some disappointing misses. I was never at Pelee during a true warbler “fallout”. I missed the two Cuckoo species and a number of warbler species I was hoping to find. My shorebird counts were dismal. The Essex lagoons were lacking mudflats, and consequently the shorebird turnout there was very sparse. These gripes notwithstanding, this was a fantastic May. I saw 137 species this month (last May it was 97) and 9 lifers. Now my Essex County year total is at 181, only 19 species away from my goal!

Two Snowy Owls in the town of Essex were still showing at the beginning of the month. Imagine that! May Snowy Owl sightings within five minutes of my house!!! A year ago, I would have never guessed! I hope to add one to my June list, but who knows?

I had some fantastic warbler hauls at various “lesser” migration hotspots such as Sadler’s Pond and Malden Park. As usual during Spring migration, on a good day these smaller hotspots were superb in warbler diversity.

I ended up getting out to Point Pelee twice. The first time was an active day a little too early in the season. The second day was a slow day a little too late in the season. Neither day lived up to Point Pelee’s potential. However, a slow day in May at Pelee, is quite active! A major highlight was getting to bird with some excellent local birders including Jeremy Bensette, Tim Arthur, Jeremy Hatt, and Rick Mayos. You learn so much by birding with these fine folks!

My lifers this month were:

  • Grey-cheeked Thrush (May 2–Point Pelee)
  • Prothonotary Warbler (May 2–Point Pelee)
  • Marbled Godwit (May 2–Hillman Marsh)
  • Sora (May 7–Spring Garden)
  • Cape May Warbler (May 10–Sadler’s Pond)
  • Black Scoter (May 19–Point Pelee)
  • Acadian Flycatcher (May 19–Point Pelee)
  • Willow Flycatcher (May 19–Point Pelee)
  • Cattle Egret (May 22–Point Pelee)

I’m a bit sad that May migration is already over, but it was fun while it lasted. Now we march on to Fall migration! 🙂

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April Report

The migrants were a bit slow coming in this April, just like the warm weather.

Nevertheless, I brought my Essex County year species total to 117, which is 7 ahead of last year’s count. I’m starting to feel pretty good about my chances of reaching 200 this year.

Here were some Essex County highlights:

  • A lifer Vesper Sparrow in Ojibway’s Tallgrass Prairie.
  • Lifer Wilson’s Snipes at the Essex Lagoons while birding with Jeremy B.
  • An unbelievable amount of Brown Creepers at Point Pelee (I counted 30, but there probably were many more.)
  • The continuing Snowy Owls in Essex. They could be still here in MAY!!

I spent a few days in Indiana for a friend’s wedding, and I did do a bit of birding there, though the species I saw there obviously don’t count for my Essex County totals. I was able to find 2 lifers as well as 9 FOY species. The two lifers were: a Louisiana Waterthrush and Yellow-throated Warbler (which I was very happy to get, since Yellow-throated Warblers are hard to find in Essex County–none were found last year). The FOY birds were: Wood Thrush, Bobolink, Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Carolina Chickadee, Sandhill Crane, and Pileated Woodpecker.

May is upon us. Good birding to you!

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Chickadee Facts

Did you know that the number of “dee” sounds chickadees make can convey information about the size or threat level of a predator?

Did you know that chickadees in harsher climates, (such as Maine or Alaska) have a larger hippocampus (part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial learning) than those in Iowa or Kansas?

Source: The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

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