Owling

by Seth Davis

“We saw every owl…” is what we wanted to say after our long early-morning outing. Unfortunately, it turns out that these elusive raptors are in fact, very elusive. We were a trio for this trip (not unexpected for our early morning adventures) and we traveled all over Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough to some known owling hotspots. Our hope was that we would at the very least hear some owls as February is the beginning of their breeding season, but no such luck. Some in the party were pretty convinced they heard a Great Horned Owl near Ram Island, however it was considered a “Dirty Bird” (a term meaning that only some of a birding party saw/ID’d a bird and not everyone) thus we didn’t count it.

All was not lost however! We did see some great birds as it started to get light out. Most notably we saw 3 Red-tailed Hawks and 1 Rough-legged Hawk near the Spurwink River Crossing. There were also hundreds of Mallards, American Black Ducks, and Canada Geese among others.

The lack of sleep did not alter our determination, we will continue to seek out these amazing birds! Our next trip will be in late March so keep your eyes open for the announcement!

Seabirding

By Marion Sprague

On January 26, the MYBC set out with 5 young birders for our seabirding outing. We started the morning at East Point Sanctuary in Biddeford. We walked along the trail next to the golf course keeping our eyes out for geese, hawks and birds in the thickets. We saw a few cooperative Black-Capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Norther Cardinals. We continued our walk out to the point hoping to see a Snowy Owl, but had no such luck.  We did, however, see the MYBC mascot a Black Guillemot decked out in its winter plumage.

We then treaded very carefully across the snow covered trails to the pines. It started out very quiet, but a mob of American Crows soon drew our attention. Seth ventured in to see if he could spot what they were mobbing. Something large and light colored flew out of one of the trees, but we didn’t get a clear enough look to identify it.  View the full checklist here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52180382.

After that excitement we headed to Cape Elizabeth and visited some of its well-known birding spots. We stopped briefly along Rt. 77 to view a Red-tailed Hawk sitting conspicuously on the telephone wires overlooking the marsh.

Driving into the parking lot at Kettle Cove, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk flew up and over the hood of our cars in pursuit of a flock of Rock Pigeons feeding at a neighborhood feeder. There was already a large groups of birders at Kettle Cove that turned out to be the Merry Meeting Audubon group who was incidentally on an outing as well. We picked up our first sparrows of the day, a very agitated Song Sparrow scolded us from the thickets near the bridge and an American Tree Sparrow was foraging along the edges of the parking lot. Check out our full Kettle Cove checklist here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52180382.

Our next stop was Dyer Point. We picked up Harlequin Ducks, Razorbills, Red-Necked Grebe and Purple Sandpipers. The highlight came just as we were going to head over to Two Lights to see if we could find the King-Eider, spotted earlier by the Merry Meeting Audubon birders. We met a woman from Avian Haven who had just released a Thick-Billed Murre. Of course, we ran back out to the point to see it. We got some great looks of it stretching it wings and diving among the surf. See our full checklist here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52180380.

After the official outing had wrapped up a small group of us lingered behind and went over to Two Lights State Park to see if we could spot the King Eider, sadly the King was nowhere to be found. We instead enjoyed a few more Harlequin Ducks and Red-Necked Grebes before calling it a day.

We also want to give a huge thank you to the anonymous donor who provided a Swarovski scope and tripod to MYBC. We will put it to great use!! You can see Garrett below using it to scan for snowies at East Point Sanctuary.

Keep your eyes peeled for the February trip posting coming shortly!

MYBC CBC

MYBC set out on Dec. 29th to partake in our own Christmas Bird Count section for the Biddeford/Kennebunk CBC! Though it was a slow birding day in general we had a great time and several young birders made the long-haul staying out birding from 3 am all the way to the final compilation which took place at 5 pm. Special guest Nathan Hall lead the team and took us by several awesome locations in the Biddeford/Saco area.

Owling was largely unsuccessful unfortunately. Probably the most exciting thing was having a run-in with local police who thought we were up to no good… Once we explained the history of the CBC and how MYBC was out looking for owls in the early hours of the day, they understood and let us go on our way. Do note it is important to follow all local rules and regulations including “when” you can go to certain locales.

Once it became light out, we stopped off by Rt. 9 in Saco and we were greeted with a quick rain shower and scenic rainbow view along with some cool birds (Northern Pintail, Yellow-rumped Warbler, among others).

We made our way down to the beach nearby to pick up some sea birds. We were pretty successful with highlights including several Razorbills, a couple Northern Gannets. Moving down the road we hit Old Orchard Beach and found a huge flock of 150-200 gulls. Trying to see if we could spot an unusual gull (white-winged) among them we crept closer, but sadly we didn’t have any luck.

Later in the day, we decided to go back and hit up some of the spots where we went owling to see if daylight would result in more birds. One of the neatest locations we went to was Saco Heath. While wonderful habitat, birding was incredibly slow (we weren’t the only ones with a slow day). The young birders made the lack of birds fun however, by engaging in a winnerless competition to see who could name the most birds :)

Finally we stopped at a small apple orchard in Saco and picked up a few necessary birds (Hairy and Downy Woodpecker etc.) and got some really close views of some vocal Common Ravens going through the neighborhood. We attempted a last-ditch effort to see the Barrows Golden eye at the mill, but apparently it was hanging out up river.

Several young birders attended the compilation and were active participants in the count process. This gave a great opportunity to see the process as well as appreciate the significance of this country’s longest running citizen science project. In total (now that the official results are in) there were 81 different species seen on the count day across 8 teams. Everyone logged close to 300 miles of travel both by car and foot! So though it may have not been the “birdiest” day, MYBC had a lot of fun and can’t wait to participate next year!

Fort Foster

by Marion Sprague

On Saturday November 17th, seven Maine Young Birders joined us at Fort Foster where our goal was to see some lingering passerines and our returning winter visitors. Before we even officially started our walk we were greeted by a Red-tailed Hawk that alighted in a tree just over the parking area.

We started our day along the road leading to the observation tower. As we walked through the marsh we saw a fantastic variety of sparrows including multiple Fox and Swamp Sparrows. These were not to be outdone by the White-throated, Savannah and Song Sparrows. Perhaps our best view was of one immature White-crowned Sparrow that seemed undeterred by our presence as it foraged along the path.

We continued our walk along the shore trials along Rocky and Windersurfer’s Beaches. Highlights included 1 Winter Wren flitting along the trees in the marsh, over 45 American Robins flying overhead in large groups, and 1 American Pipit seen by two members of the group. We tried to relocate the bird later in the day without success.

We picked up a great sample of Maine’s woodpeckers with 4 species including multiple Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. On the walk back to the car for mid-morning snack break we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker flying back and forth among the trees. Back at the car we could hear the tapping of what seemed to be a large woodpecker. We were thrilled when a Pileated Woodpecker poked its head out briefly.

After our break we ventured out to the pier, where despite some unfriendly winds we picked up 2 Red-necked Grebes, a few Purple Sandpipers and a mix of scoters, gulls, and ducks.

As with any trip we are happy to take a minute to pause for things other than birds. We had quite a mammal show including a red fox sunning itself on a log, a delightful red squirrel eating berries along the shore trial and a white-tailed deer that crossed the road only 15 feet from the group.

We had a total of 51 species to round out our day! We did manage to see a few late migrants including 1 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet and 1 Blackpoll Warbler. You can see our full list of birds here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49995980.

Stay tuned for our December trip announcement coming shortly. Happy birding!

Mt. Agamenticus Pt. II

by Seth Davis

Five of Maine’s elite young birders ventured to Mt. Agamenticus last Saturday in an effort to do some hawk watching and catch some of the late fall migrants. We were greeted at the top by Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows, two Common Ravens, and an excellent view of a Red-tailed Hawk searching for a meal remaining almost motionless in the sky with the wind! We started out by birding the trails on the east side of the mountain. Hermit Thrushes seemed to be the dominant species having seen at least a dozen of them rooting on the ground, but we found patches of mixed-flocks of Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice (Titmouses? Still not sure on that one!) and Ruby-crowned/Golden-crowned Kinglets among others.

On our way back up (having only gotten a little lost) we came across a nice warbler flock. They were primarily Yellow-rumped Warblers, but among them was a late Black-throated Green Warbler, which sadly only a couple of us got a view of.

When back at the top, we decided to test our skills at hawk watching from the viewing platform. Due to the fairly strong westerly winds, hawks were not too prevalent, though we did pick up some distant Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures. While the majority of us were focused miles away, Weston was keenly aware of what was going on under our noses and amazingly spotted a Baltimore Oriole that landed right in front of us! Due to the lack of excitement of distant hawks, and the renewed excitement from Weston’s excellent spotting we moved our efforts to the immediate area and sure enough we spotted goldfinches, and Eastern Phoebe, Gray Catbird, and a Blackpoll Warbler!

We then walked down the mounting (Seth drove because he’s lazy) and on the way down the group saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Ian got a brief glimpse of a Ruffed Grouse flushing into the trees!

At the base, we made our yearly visit to Center for Wildlife to look at all the ambassador birds and wildlife there. It was exciting to get to see these birds up close and learn more about all the good that the center does for the animals in the area. We picked up a few additional “wild” species while there brining our final species count to 27, which is very decent for mid-October! The full eBird checklist can be seen here.

We had a blast, and can’t wait until next year to get to do it all over again! Our next trip will be in mid-November so be on the lookout for our trip announcement ~2 weeks prior to the event.

Shorebirding

By Marion Sprague

On September 22, four young birders met us before dawn to begin our shorebirding adventure. As they say, they early bird gets the worm. Or in this case, the early birder gets the birds! Thank you to all the parents who got up early!

Just at the sun was rising we started our morning at Hills Beach. We arrived about 2 hours after low-tide hoping to catch some of the early morning birds searching for breakfast.  We walked the beach and the causeway to Basket Island. Highlights included lots of Black-bellied Plovers (100+), Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, 2 Long-billed Dowitchers and a single Bonaparte’s Gull nestled among the other gulls. While we got very excited over a single White-rumped Sandpiper, the bird of the day was spotted by Weston Barker when he noticed a shorebird tucked in among the other sandpipers that was bigger and showed off yellow legs.  At first sight, we all thought it was a Least Sandpiper, but after examining many photos and consulting an expert we determined we had a Pectoral Sandpiper! Full checklist for Hill Beach can be found here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48663617

Next we headed to South Point Sanctuary, where the shorebirds did not disappoint. We scanned the beach and found a large mixed flocked of shorebirds comprised of Sanderlings, Sempipalmated Sandpipers, Semiplamated Plovers, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls. A group of Northern Gannets put on a great show diving offshore. Isla Tucker spotted our only Ruddy Turnstone of the day and  Ian Doherty spotted our only Spotted Sandpiper.  The highlight for many was the spectacular aerobatics of the Peregrine Falcon that sped through the scattering flocks.  Full checklist of Southpoint Sanctuary can be found here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48664982

We wrapped things up with a short stop at Biddeford Pool to scan for shorebirds in the marsh.  We picked up a single Northern Pintail dabbling with a few American Black Ducks and one Greater Yellowlegs. Full checklist of Biddeford Pool can be found here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48665425

We had a fantastic trip and are looking forward to some Hawk Watching at Mt. Agameticus in October. Outing details will be sent out about 2 weeks prior to the outing.

Cathance River Preserve

By Seth Davis

Special guest guide John Berry led four young birders around the Cathance River Preserve on Saturday, August 18th.  Good thing young birders are hardy because it was a difficult 5-hour outing with extreme humidity and some rain.  MYBC persevered despite the conditions and some cases of improperly fitting boots.  We managed to tally 24 different species which is surprisingly good for mid-August when birds are still hunkering after the breeding season.  

Some of the highlights included a very curious Common Yellowthroat that was "pished" out of the underbrush, an amazing midday Osprey flyover that Ilsa spotted, and a curious study of some Broad-winged Hawks that were heard but not seen, thus beginning a debate if it could have been one of the numerous Blue Jays that may have been imitating it (we concluded it was too good of a BWHA call to be an imitation).

Though difficult to see with all the new growth that has come in this year, we did catch a small flurry of warbler activity, noting a Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, and a Pine Warbler among the mixed flock.  Any day becomes a good day with warblers!

You can see our full eBird checklist here.  

We want to give a special thank you to John Berry who took a large chunk of time off on Saturday to lead us around and show us this fantastic birding location. 

Our next outing will be in mid-September and the plan is to catch some of the shorebirds migrating around Hills Beach and Biddeford Pool.  Keep an eye out for our trip announcement approximately 2 weeks prior to the event! 

Sunset Puffin Cruise

By Marion Sprague

On Saturday, July 14th, four of our young birders and their families set out on the Maine Audubon Puffin Cruise into Muscongus Bay to Eastern Egg Rock.  The island is home to the world's first restored seabird colony. The restoration of Eastern Egg Rock has been replicated worldwide to help endangered and threated seabirds.  On the ride out to the island, Captain Al gave a brief overview of the history of puffins and what makes this tiny, 7-acre island so important for in their continued breeding success.  Last year there were over 175 breeding pairs of Atlantic Puffins on the island.

Eastern Egg Rock is known as the most easily-accessible Maine island for observing nesting Atlantic Puffins.  As we approached the island, we were greeted by one of the researchers waving from atop their cabin. From mid-May to mid-August, 4-5 people live on the island to monitor the nesting colonies of the birds.

One of our young birders was the first to spot a puffin sitting on the water! Everyone jumped into action to see the football sized bird. The group was treated to many more spectacular sightings including several rafts of puffins floating very close to the bow of the boat.

Laughing Gulls, Black Guillemots (the MYBC mascot!) and Common Terns were plentiful, and we saw a single Roseate Tern sitting on a rock.  Other highlights were the island roost covered in Double-crested Cormorants, a  female Common Eider with a brood of chicks, and the raucous calls of the Laughing Gulls as they flew around the island. While birds were our focus, we also took some time to appreciate sighting of Harbor Porpoises and Harbor Seals!  On the return trip Captain Al took the group by Franklin Light to view the 3rd oldest lighthouse in Maine.

MYBC wants to give a huge thank you to Maine Audubon for sponsoring this trip for the young birders and club coordinators.  Also thanks to naturalist Doug Hitchcox for sharing his expertise with the young birders and parents!  We appreciated his excellent leadership on this trip.

Photos by Marion Sprague

Kennebunk Plains

By Seth Davis

Six young birders, including two new members (Jack and Weston) took to the plains this past Saturday despite the ominous forecast.  The evening began at 4:30 pm and we were greeted by a very vocal Northern Mocking bird mimicking the calls of cardinals, titmice, and Blue Jays.  Our goal was to see some of the less common sparrows including the state-endangered Grasshopper Sparrow,  as well as other notable birds like the state-endangered Upland Sandpipers, and Eastern Whip-poor-wills.  

We had an early success, with numerous Vesper Sparrows along the pathway, and we heard several Grasshopper Sparrow calls, though at the time we didn't get any solid views.  Seth spotted a bird that he was certain was a Grasshopper Sparrow, how ever Weston, being a very keen birder, pointed out that it was better for a Savannah Sparrow, and he was correct!  As we continued, a bird flew by that had a very "shorebirdy" profile.  Sure enough our first Upland Sandpiper!  It was a lifer for many!

We decided to move down toward the pond at the far side of the Kennebunk Plains.  We heard a Veery that was strangely close to the trail, several Common Yellowthroats, and a mystery bird that sounded an awful lot like a Eastern Wood-pewee, however it was too repetitive of a song to be confirmed.  

We continued around a loop and came upon a good sized patch of blueberries, so we decided to take a break and have a snack.  Around that time Weston got an excellent shot of a Grasshopper Sparrow and we were able to get it scoped, our first confirmed view!  

When we arrived back at the parking lot we had another break to eat some dinner/snacks and then ventured out again around dusk in hopes to hear some whip-poor-wills calling, but sadly they didn't start up.  

All-in-all it was a very successful trip, and outside of one small sprinkle, we didn't get rained out!  Some of the young birders reported that they had six lifers on the trip!  

See our full checklist here: https://ebird.org/me/view/checklist/S46751361

Sanford Lagoons

By Seth Davis

MYBC had an excellent opportunity to go birding for an extended period at the Sanford Lagoons on Saturday the 12th.  7 young birders and special guests David Doubleday, Sue Keefer, and Steve Norris had an awesome time exploring this amazing hotspot outside of Sanford during peak migration time. 

We wouldn't have had this opportunity if it weren't for the generosity of the management at Sanford Lagoons allowing us to spend additional time on the weekend.  We would like to thank them along with Andy Aldrich for helping to coordinate this effort. 

The day started out strong with upwards of 20 species within the first 10-15 minutes, including several Bobolinks, Least and Spotted Sandpipers, and brief but solid view of Wilson's Snipe.  The latter being a lifer for many! 

Our goal was to try and see the influx of wood warblers, but to do that we needed to make our way past the treatment ponds to the tree line.  As one may guess, there were LOTS of birds along the way.  As we made our way further down the path, we heard a very distinct "err-uh, err-uh" coming from the reeds.  As we wanted to make this a learning experience Lena and Seth tried quizzing the young birders to figure out what family the bird that was making that call was from.  After a short time, the young birders deduced that it was a rail, and specifically that bird was a Sora.  We wanted to get a actual view of the bird if possible, but with rails it is difficult to catch a glimpse without using playback of some form.  Another learning opportunity arose regarding the ethics of playback.  Especially in the Spring, bird song playback is discouraged as it may unnecessarily disrupt normal bird activity and increase stress levels of territorial males etc.  Using bird calls is far better than songs, but should be used sparingly.  After some discussion, we concluded that this would be a reasonable use of playback so we tried it.  The Sora began increasing it rate of calls, but alas, we never got a view of the bird.  

Moving forward, we spotted some small ducks in one of the ponds, and excitingly, one of them was a Ruddy Duck!  That was on the "hope-to-see" list for several of the young birders.  

We finally made it to the tree line, and had a decision to make of going left or right.  We may have made a poor decision in going left as the sun was backlighting the trees making it more difficult to see the warblers... Regardless, it started out slow with a lot of "heard-only" warblers, but things picked up as we got further down the line.  Sue called out "Blackburnian!" which despite being high in the tree, many (unfortunately not all) were able to get a glimpse of this beautiful bird.  At one point it became difficult to keep track as there were Ovenbirds, American Redstarts, Yellow-rumped Warblers singing and moving about in the trees.  Lena then heard a very high pitched song that turned out to be a Blackpoll Warbler!  Again many saw it, but the group was getting fragmented at this point making it more difficult to communicate.  

There were some other fun highlights.  Garrett spotted a pair of Bald Eagles, one of which was attacking a female Mallard with ducklings looking for an easy meal.  Ian noticed a beautiful male Chestnut-sided Warbler which alighted on a branch where we were walking.  We also spent considerable time trying to deduce an unfamiliar bird call, which Lena concluded was a Wilson's Warbler in the distance. 

As we were concluding the trip, we noticed some very motionless Snapping Turtles in the ponds.  Sadly they were no longer alive (we deduced this by the age-old trick of tossing pebbles near one of them), but it is a fairly common occurrence coming out of the cold winters.

Here is our final eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/atlasme/view/checklist/S45585307

On another note, this was Lena Moser's final outing with MYBC as co-coordinator.  Lena was one of the original co-founders of the club and MYBC would not be here today if it were not for her vision and passion for educating youth in the natural world.  Though we are sad to see her go, we know she has a lot of fun and amazing adventures in her future, and we are forever thankful for her help and dedication to the Maine Young Birders Club.