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. 

Bird Banding with Professor Noah Perlut

By Lena Moser

On Saturday, April 21st, five young birders came out to the University of New England to learn all about bird banding from Professor Noah Perlut.  In short, we did not leave disappointed!  Dr. Perlut showed us exactly how birds are captured and banded, and he explained the importance of this practice for understanding and conserving birds. 

After banding birds, we visited the Department of Environmental Studies, where we got to see UNE's small but growing collection of avian specimens.  We discussed the importance of museum collections and why bird skinning is a useful skill to have.  Finally, we visited the new student commons building - the Ripich Commons - and learned all about bird-safe glass.  Specifically, we talked about why it is essential to design window glass in a way that prevents birds from crashing into the glass and needlessly dying.  All in all, our UNE trip was a very educational and inspiring experience!  Many thanks to Dr. Perlut for generously volunteering his time, energy, and expertise to the Maine Young Birders Club on this day.  We were all very grateful to spend the morning learning from him.

A picture often says a thousand words, so enjoy viewing our extensive gallery of photos below :)

Woodcock Walk

By Lena Moser

On Sunday, April 15, three young birders braved the icy roads and cold weather to join MYBC in the search for the American Woodcock, also amusingly known as the "timberdoodle" or "bog sucker."  Lucky for us, we struck gold!  Shortly after sunset, we arrived at a field in Kennebunkport, where we were greeted by a couple of recent arrivals: Hermit Thrush and Eastern Phoebe.  We walked out onto the frozen field, which was coated in a crunchy layer of ice, stood still, and listened for the distinctive, nasal "peent!" of the woodcock. 

In a few minutes, we heard one off in the distance, followed by another one closer by.  As the air grew darker around us, we heard the woodcock twittering high overhead as he performed his elaborate flight display.  While he frolicked high above, we took this chance to approach his display turf by quickly jogging our way closer.  Standing still under a large white pine, we held our breaths in the hope that he would land back on his favorite patch of field again. 

The woodcock did not disappoint.  He descended, loudly chirping, and landed about 20 feet in front of us!  Lena spotlighted him, and everyone got great looks through binoculars at the plump, peenting bird.  The next time he shot off into the sky, we set up the scope and got in line, ready for better looks.  Again, the male woodcock landed back on his favorite piece of earth, and Seth trained the scope on him as Lena kept the bird in the spotlight.  One by one, each young birder got to relish incredible looks of this unique bird and admire his fabulous brown-mottled camouflage.  Needless to say, we were all made very happy!

Prior to our woodcock outing, we enjoyed a pizza dinner and dessert a la Anna.  (Anna baked us cupcakes and served them with berry frosting and blackberries on top.  YUM!  Thank you so much, Anna, for the delicious treats!)  After dinner, we tested our birding know-how with The Great North American Bird Watching Trivia Game.  Some questions were very challenging and sure stumped us, but we certainly learned more about birds in the process.  We also played Bird Bingo and enjoyed learning about various birds outside the US, such as the Shoebill, Blue Coua, and Superb Lyrebird.  We watched a great David Attenborough video about the latter and were highly amused by the lyrebird's ability to mimic camera clicks and chainsaws.  Anna also told us about the lyre in Greek mythology... about how Hermes invented this instrument from a turtle's shell and later gave it to Apollo.  So yes - everyone went away with more knowledge and good entertainment this evening.

One last bird highlight of note: just before sunset, at around 6:45 pm, Brendan yelled out, "Great Blue Herons!"  We all looked out the window, and to our great surprise, we saw 18 Great Blue Herons rise up out of the marsh from behind the UNE soccer field along Hills Beach Road.  The herons proceeded to soar around in one giant flock like vultures!  It was an amazing sight... Lena and Seth said that they had seen lots of Great Blue Herons at rookeries before but never in a soaring flock like that, so it was very cool.  Perhaps this was a group of migrants returning together?  It was certainly odd to see them all soaring in a large flock up in the sky like that.  We will now need to look into the migratory behaviors of Great Blue Herons to learn more.  Nice spotting, Brendan!

Owl Outing (aka Owlting)

by Seth Davis

Five of Maine's top young birders and two parents tested their endurance with lack of sleep and freezing temperatures on Saturday to try and spot one of the more elusive order of birds, owls.  We met at 3 a.m. in Robinson Woods in Cape Elizabeth.  We spent 15 minutes or so discussing owling ethics and the most appropriate use of tools like audio playback as well as how to be cognizant of lighting and excess noise we can create.  After this briefing, we moved out in hopes to find Great Horned Owls (GHOWs) reportedly nesting in the area.  After 20 minutes of listening very patiently and limited playback, we didn't hear or see any GHOWs, though Lena thought she may have heard one or two toots of a Northern Saw-whet Owl.  We didn't feel confident enough to count it. 

Our next stop was Two Lights State Park.  This was supposedly a good spot to hear/see Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWOs).  After a short walk to the parking lot we spent some time calling for NSWOs with no luck, however on our walk back we heard a shrilling call of some mammal.  Brendan thought it may have been a fox or fisher cat, but it didn't repeat its call so we did not fully ID it. 

We then went to Crescent Beach State Park, another good area for GHOWs and NSWOs.  We spent some listening and looking in the trees for any owl silhouettes, but again, we had no luck.  Several in the group heard a distant GHOW perform a short burst of song, but again, not everybody heard it to be 100% convinced.  Besides, at this point our desire to hear/see owls was getting to our heads!

Moving on, we stopped by the entrance to a property owned by the Sprague Corporation where we have heard there has been a NSWO for the past several years who has been rather chatty.  Besides being spooked by ice cracking very loudly on a nearby pond, we had no luck finding any owls...  Our worst fears were starting to come true.  Maybe this MYBC outing would turn out to be a bust.

On our way out to go to Prout's Neck, Seth noticed a small field off to the right that looked like it would be good habitat for owls.  It was worth a shot, so we pulled off the side of the road and played a few NSWO songs in hopes for a response.  We didn't hear a response from a NSWO, but SUCCESS!!!  We all clearly heard a GHOW announce, "Who's awake? Me too!" off in the distance! We immediately drove down toward the tree line where it was heard and got out of our cars.  To our amazement, the owl was directly in the tree above us! It took some processing time as there was some confusion with it being so early in the morning, but suddenly the owl took off from its perch and most were able to see the silhouette of it flying against the sky as dawn was just beginning to break.  

Stopping briefly at Prout's Neck where there had been a report of the extremely-difficult-to-get Long-eared Owl, we did some playback to no success.  But it was exhilarating to see some of the more common birds like Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, and Black-capped Chickadees begin to stir in the early morning and fly over our heads.  We then focused on trying to get to some of the open marshland where we had our last chance to hear owls calling from a distance.  

We rushed out to parts of the Scarborough Marsh, again with little success, but we did see a group of crows that began mobbing something, which we hoped was an owl, but sadly we couldn't get close enough to confirm it.  We spent some time discussing owl facts as we definitely wanted this to be a learning event, but we eventually rounded out the day with only one confirmed owl on our "owlting".  

But wait, there's more!  As we gathered to send everyone off at the Maine Audubon Scarborough Marsh Center, several young birders saw Herring an Great Black-backed Gulls in the distance, as well as a small flock of Snow Buntings that flew over.  As people were literally getting into their cars, Lena spotted a hawk(?) flying slowly in the distance.  Upon further examination, it turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon with something in its talons!  What a great way to end our "owlting" adventure with such a great bird.