Friday, July 30, 2010

Been quiet, off to AZ again

Every month or so I have a stretch of 12 straight days at work, and I'm just finishing up one of those periods now...hence the lack of posts during prime shorebird season.

But tomorrow I'm off to southeast Arizona with James Restivo, Phil Rusch, and Glenn Williams. We'll have a whole lotta fun and see a ton of birds during our one-week visit. I'll be sure to post our best sightings and hopefully some cool photos too.

The shorebirds can wait for now...

- NB

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jul 15 - South Beach, MA

I spent the afternoon and evening of July 15th birding South Beach, Chatham, MA. This is the premier shorebird location in New England and, arguably, all of the northeast US.

I took the 11:30am shuttle from Outermost Harbor to the beach. High tide was around 3:30pm, and the shuttles stop running at 4:30pm, so walking all the way back was the only way to catch the best shorebirding. I ended up leaving the roosts around 6:15pm and getting back to the car by 8pm.

Here are my shorebird estimates:

275 Black-bellied Plover (mostly basic/first-summer birds)
200 Semipalmated Plover
15 Piping Plover (several juv)
6 American Oystercatcher (adults)
2 Spotted Sandpiper
35 Greater Yellowlegs
125 “Eastern” Willet (two young juv, otherwise all adults)
8 “Western” Willet
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
3 Whimbrel
25 Hudsonian Godwit (highest count of birds in view at one time, but I
suspect there were more around)
13 Ruddy Turnstone
110 Red Knot (two flagged adults; viewed with Mass Audubon's Mo Correll)
40 Sanderling
1100 Semipalmated Sandpiper
3 Western Sandpiper
550 Least Sandpiper
2 White-rumped Sandpiper
1 Pectoral Sandpiper
4 Dunlin (one alternate, 3 basic-plumaged)
1600 Short-billed Dowitchers (at least 30 hendersoni)

Short-billed Dowitchers (griseus at left, hendersoni at right)

Hudsonian Godwits

"Western" Willet. The Willets were particularly interesting to study. I hope to make a Willet-centric blog post soon.


poor photo of a flagged Red Knot

two roosting Western Sandpipers

- NB

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stratford Pintail, area shorebirds

Got out for some local shorebirding around high tide before a steady rain began. The highlight, though, was a duck. A female-type NORTHERN PINTAIL was present among a flock of Mallards at Stratford Marina.

Northern Pintail

I didn't run into any uncommon shorebirds, but numbers continue to slowly build. For example, Milford Pt held 107 Semipalmated Sandpipers and a couple Stratford spots had a combined 40+ Greater Yellowlegs.

- NB

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stratford Moorhen, shorebirds

I spent a few hours shorebirding in Milford and Stratford around high tide before a few showers rolled through. After the rain cleared, I walked out Sandy Pt in West Haven on the falling tide.

The best bird of the day was found by Charlie Barnard...a COMMON MOORHEN at the 'warehouse pool' in Stratford.

Common Moorhen (wonder where this bird tried to breed?)

Milford Point held a small flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers with a single WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER among them. A Diamondback Terrapin walked right in front of me on its way from the outer point to the marsh...a female after egg-laying?

Diamondback Terrapin

Highlights here:
Semipalmated Plover
6 Piping Plovers (2 ad, 4 juv)
11 Oystercatchesr (10 ad, 1 chick)
2 Spotted Sandpipers
24 Semipalmated Sandpipers
2 Least Sandpipers
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
4 Common Tern
3 Least Tern
2 Purple Martin
3 Bank Swallow

Greater Scaup. Worn bird summering here.

Short-billed Dowitcher (griseus)

Stratford Marina had 15 Greater Yellowlegs on the pilings.

The Access Road pool in Stratford had, as usual at this time of year, multiple Lesser Yellowlegs among others:
4 Wood Duck
2 Killdeer
11 Gr Yellowlegs
6 Lr Yellowlegs
3 Least Sandpipers
4 Short-billed Dowitcher
2 Boat-tailed Grackle

Sandy Point didn't have anything unexpected, but a count of 8 adult "Eastern" Willets indicates staging/migration of this species here. A lone juvenile Willet was likely hatched here, as an adult was actively defending it in the marsh.

Piping and fully-grown juv

juv "Eastern" Willet

2 Semipalmated Plovers
11 Piping Plover (4 ad, 7 juv)
4 Oystercatchers
2 Spotted Sandpipers
9 "Eastern" Willet (8 ad, 1 juv)
10 Semipalmated Sandpiper
4 Least Sandpipers
3 Common Tern
80 Least Tern (all adults)
Willow Flycatcher

12 shorebird species on the day.

- NB

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Fall" migration begins

On July 2, a trip to Sandy Point in West Haven, CT revealed a flock of 13 Least Sandpipers. These are the first southbound shorebirds I've seen, and they're right about on time.

2 of thirteen Least Sandpipers

The first of these "fall" migrants typically arrive in Connecticut around the Fourth of July. The first few species that can confidently be called fall migrants are usually Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Short-billed Dowitcher. But once the games begin, pretty much anything can show up.

Things got started a bit early on South Beach in Chatham, MA when Blair Nikula found a RED-NECKED STINT on June 27th. Other presumed southbound birds at SB included 3 Hudsonian Godwits (common at this location).

My first sighting of fall shorebirds is always a nice moment, as it signifies the start of what is likely my favorite 6-8 weeks of the year.

- NB

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Maine: Day 4 (June 30)

Today all my efforts would go to finding a Spruce Grouse. My strategy, courtesy of Al Maley of New Hampshire, would be to enter the park as early as possible and slowly drive the same 4 miles of habitat north of Nesowadnehunk Campground at which I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon. Al's strategy made good sense...this way you cover more ground than walking, you can use your car as a blind, and the grouse often come to the roadside early to dust-bathe, grit, and feed.

I entered the park at its 5am opening time. By the time I traveled the 17 miles to the campground, it was about 5:55am. Along the way the only thing I stopped for was a deer with young fawn in the middle of the road.

My first pass through the habitat, heading north, took nearly an hour. No grouse yet, but singing Fox Sparrows, Bay-breasts, and Blackpoll Warblers were good to hear again. I was focused on the grouse, so didn't leave the car to view these birds.

On my way back south, at about 7:15am, there was a male SPRUCE GROUSE along the roadside.

Spruce Grouse (male)

That felt really good, especially after spending so much time searching over the past couple days. I was able to spend a good few minutes observing the bird before it meandered back into the woods.

At this point I thought I would walk the road and one of the trails in hopes of running into a Black-backed Woodpecker. I didn't need this as a life bird after getting some great views in Washington state a few years ago, but it would be nice to see this species again, and now in New England. I enjoyed more views of Bay-breasted Warbler and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Two very noisy family groups of Boreal Chickadees moved through, and they put on a good show for a while. Red-breasted Nuthatches were especially common and inquisitive, and two more Gray Jays made a brief appearance. The only woodpecker was a Hairy.

Boreal Chickadee

Bay-breasted Warbler

Red-breasted Nuthatch

By this time it was around 10am and I decided to bird the road on my way back toward the park entrance. I had the road to myself in this part of the park, which really helped the birding (and made finding that grouse a bit easier). That is until a large MOOSE decided to cross the road in front of my car. It's too bad my camera wasn't ready because it would have made for a nice shot. After a brief moment the beast awkwardly trotted back into the thick woods and completely out of sight. Missed my chance!

As I continued down the road I heard a repeated low-pitched 'pik' out the window that sounded a bit like chopping wood. BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER. Luckily here the conifers were thinned out enough to get a view deeper into the woods. After a minute of waiting, the Black-backed Woodpecker flew into view, called again once or twice, and flew back down and out of sight. A brief but satisfying view of this elusive species. Now my trip total was (2) Three-toed WP and (1) Black-backed WP. I'll take that ratio.

I continued down the road, back into primarily deciduous woodland. My plan was to head to the part of the park with the thickest density of Moose in hopes of getting some photos, enjoying the scenery on the way.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

On the way I got out of the car to digiscope some Cedar Waxwings that were flycatching from low perches along the road. In the process I dropped my camera on its lens, jammed the external zoom, and rendered the camera useless.

At this point I was bummed, not so much because of the camera loss (paid just $150 for it, and I have a backup at home), but because my chance at a halfway-decent Moose photo was gone.

I weighed my options, as I had planned on staying one more night and birding Baxter again in the morning, likely hiking Mount Katahdin if the weather was going to cooperate (Bicknell's Thrush and breeding American Pipit likely on the hike). But I had mildly sprained my knee earlier by slipping on a moss-covered stump. That, combined with the broken camera, convinced me to head home that afternoon. So I left the park around 1pm and headed for I-95 South.

I did make one stop on my way home: Messalonskee Lake in Belgrade for breeding Black Tern. The spot isn't far off I-95, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see this species in full alternate plumage. On arrival to the boat launch a BLACK TERN was foraging just offshore. Further out were two more, all adults. A great way to end the trip!

Maine has some stunningly beautiful areas and some damn good breeding birds. I was particularly struck by the beauty of Baxter State Park, and I'm already looking forward to a return visit. I did a lot of driving over 4+ days, and it would have been a bit more fun if I wasn't alone for the last few, but I still had a blast. I got all my target birds (minus the Tropicbird), saw some fantastic wildlife, and took in the spectacular scenery.

I'd like to give a special thanks to everyone who provided information that helped me out, whether privately or publicly on Maine-Birds. In particular, Bill Sheehan (Aroostook County) and Bob Duchesne (Downeast) shared invaluable information. I'm very grateful for their generosity.

- Nick

Friday, July 2, 2010

Maine: Day 3 (June 29)

The fine mist from the day before had continued through the night, but was more intermittent this morning. So I headed to the Burnt Land Road at Square Lake with high hopes of finding the American Three-toed Woodpeckers that had been around for the past several weeks.

I started down the woods road and quickly had a 'che-bunk'ing Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a Lincoln's Sparrow in full song. I proceeded very slowly, stopping every few steps to listen for woodpecker rapping and scanning the ground for Spruce Grouse. There was a good amount of birdsong from the expected species in this habitat, such as RB Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, both kinglets, Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes, Nashville, Magnolia, Palm and Wilson's Warblers, White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. Plus a single Boreal Chickadee.

About 1/4 mile down the road I heard my first few raps from some trees on the right. It didn't take long to locate a woodpecker just a few feet off the ground...a 3-TOED WOODPECKER. Awesome. The bird was very active and hopped from trunk to trunk, then flew across the road in front of me and began to forage right along the road. This apparent young bird gave fantastic scope views and even called a few times before moving deeper into the woods.

American Three-toed Woodpecker - immature bird or adult male? Note the small-ish yellow cap, and its anterior location on the head...leads me to believe this is a young bird but I would love some input.
*Update: Bill Sheehan also believes this to be a juv bird, noting the fresh plumage as well.

fine 3-toed Woodpecker habitat

Now that my #1 Aroostook target was in the bag, it was time to focus more on Spruce Grouse. Of my pre-trip target birds, this was the last one remaining. I continued to bird this road for a couple hours, and the birding was good. Further down the road I located another 3-toed, a brief look at a female-type bird. From here I could also hear an Olive-sided Flycatcher calling in the distance, but I was never able to get a look.

On my way back I had a few interesting ducks fly by: a female Green-winged Teal, a male Northern Shoveler, and an American Black Duck. All local breeders?

four ducklings with no parent in sight...Black Ducks??

No grouse though..

After leaving Burnt Land Road I was headed back to Caribou and decided to walk the Moscovic Road again. Again no boreal woodpeckers, and the only interesting new birds from the afternoon before were a flyby drake Common Goldeneye and a Blackburnian Warbler.

Moose tracks in the mud...they "love the slop! It's in his bloodlines! His father was a mudda, his mother was a mudda..."

While driving to the Loring Commerce Center to search for previously-reported Cape May and Mourning Warblers, the rain began to fall again. That might help explain why I missed both species, or maybe it was my late-morning timing. A flyby American Bittern in this region was a nice surprise.

After Loring, I realized I had hit all my Aroostook spots and got my big target bird. I figured that Spruce Grouse might be more likely in Baxter State Park, so I decided to head there a bit earlier than expected. And I was getting sick of the bleak weather!

lots of farmland along the major roads in eastern Aroostook County...this is a typical view

The clouds finally began to part while heading back south on I-95. While heading toward Baxter's north entrance I spotted a grouse along the road a few miles outside the park. Given the deciduous habitat I wasn't surprised it was a Ruffed. I pulled to the side of the road while the grouse put on a bit of a show. Given the bird's behavior and occasional strange grunting noises, I suspected that young might be nearby though I never saw any.

After that very cool encounter I continued into the park and headed straight toward the Spruce Grouse habitat located just north of the Nesowadnehunk Campground. I spent the next few hours birding a ~4 mile stretch of park road that runs through thick spruces/firs.

Threatening skies on the way into Baxter SP. A brief shower was followed by more sun.

Baxter SP has one road, 40+ miles long, that runs between the north and south entrance gates. Driving though without any stopping takes over 2 hours. I can drive through Rhode Island in half that time...

typical view along the Tote Road, which is in very good shape and easily traversed in a 2WD vehicle

some of that boreal birds' habitat

Once again, not a hint of a Spruce Grouse in appropriate habitat after 3+ hours of searching. Not a big deal...I like a challenge, though it did worry me that I had already dipped in Lubec and Square Lake. Seeing Spruce Grouse was the impetus for making this trip north, so I wasn't about to go home without one.

Despite the mid-late afternoon timeframe, the birding was darn good here. The ringing songs of Fox Sparrows were heard several times from the road. Other highlights included superb looks at 2 male Bay-breasted Warblers over the road, another Boreal Chickadee, a flyby Pine Siskin, and many Swainson's Thrushes singing their spiraling song.

White Admirals were present by the dozens

view from the Nesowadnehunk Campground

Snowshoe Hare

Night in Millinocket.

- NB