Seabirds: You Eider See 'Em or You Don't

By Lena Moser

Note: click on the hyperlinked names of the locations to access the eBird checklist for each spot.

Today we headed to Cape Elizabeth and visited all its famed birding spots in a whirlwind tour.  In the chill of morning, we first gathered at Dyer Point, where we enjoyed seeing fly-by Great Cormorants, close Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of distant, chunky Razorbills zooming speedily over the rolling ocean, a Red-necked Grebe, and several sizable rafts of colorful Harlequin Ducks.  A male King Eider was recently spotted at this location, and although we poured all our keen attention into scanning the waters for his lovely countenance, we sadly came up empty-handed, as the King was nowhere to be found.

Next, we explored Two Lights State Park and were rewarded with good looks at the three species of scoter: White-winged, Surf, and Black.  Although our walk through the brushy woods along the ocean was quiet and unproductive, we did see a couple of American Crows feeding on Staghorn Sumac berries, which was interesting to observe.  Sumac berries are quite nutritious, containing vitamin C, protein, fiber, and generous amounts of the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus.  Perhaps this is why the crows were enjoying munching on them.  Just as we piled into the cars to leave Two Lights, Brendan spotted a large bird soaring behind all the trees and asked, "Hey, what's that?"  It was big and dark, but we weren't quite sure what it was because it was flying behind all the tree trunks, concealed from view.  Suddenly, the bird rose up into the air, giving us great looks: a juvenile Bald Eagle!  It was fun to get this good bird from inside the cars, only moments before we left.  Great spotting, Brendan!

As we drove to Strawberry Fields, we listened to the apropos Strawberry Fields Forever by the Beatles.  We were hoping to find some Cedar Waxwings or Snow Buntings here, but we had no such luck.  Perhaps the windy morning kept these passerines down.  We did, however, see a Northern Flicker, which was an unexpected treat.

Afterwards, at Kettle Cove, we were rewarded by excellent, close looks at four Brant bobbing up and down in the water right along the shore.  Unfortunately, our brief walk through the woods was ridiculously quiet and unproductive... alas, simply not a good day for passerines.  At Crescent Beach State Park we had another Red-necked Grebe and 10 Great Black-backed Gulls who flew overhead in a loose flock.  We were enjoying watching their contrasting black-and-white plumage from below, until we were interrupted by a loud Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey military aircraft that flushed all birds from its path, and us too.  Birders flushed by an Osprey... who would have thought!

Our penultimate destination was the Spurwink River crossing, where we hoped beyond hope to find a Short-eared Owl, but our timing wasn't right, since Short-eareds are crepuscular and prefer to be active during dawn and dusk.  Perhaps we'll find this bird some other day.  We scanned through over 80+ American Black Ducks at the marsh, and Seth's sharp eyes picked out a female Hooded Merganser and a beautiful male American Wigeon, which is considered a seasonal rarity!  An alarmed American Crow also alerted us to a Red-tailed Hawk that few across the road and cooperatively perched up in an oak long enough for us to get nice looks through the scope.

We ended our birding adventure back at Dyer Point, where we crossed our fingers for another chance of finding the King Eider.  Several other birders were at the Point already, with the same intention.  While scanning a distant raft of Common Eiders, Lena picked out the King, and pretty soon several others were on him, too.  There was a flurry of scope searches for this less-than-cooperative, distant bird, who frequently dove or disappeared behind the swelling of the waves.  After some time working on the eider, though, everyone came away with satisfied looks at this special lifer.  We were getting ready to leave the Point when Ian cried out, "Wait, what's this gull?  I think it's a white-wing!"  Sure enough, an Iceland Gull flew past us, and we were grateful to Ian for spotting this pretty, cream-colored gull for us.  What an eventful day indeed!

Christmas Bird Count 2017

By Seth Davis

5 young birders joined count-leader Noah Perlut, Jonathan Alderfer (of National Geographic fame) and several others in participating in the 118th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the Greater Portland area.

Our circle began early out at Scarborough Marsh. It was certainly a frigid morning, but despite the temperature, we walked the trail across from the Nature Center.  As the sun rose, numerous groups "murders" of American Crows streamed across the the sky - leaving their nighttime roosts and heading out for the day.  To our surprise there was a group "unkindness" of 15 Common Ravens among them... a new high count for this CBC area!  We also got great views of American Black Ducks and Herring Gulls among others.

We then moved down the road to the Eastern Trail where we spotted 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, one Belted Kingfisher, and a few Golden-crowned Kinglets above the Scarborough fowl (chicken coop :).  As we walked down the trail where there was a group "hermitage" of Eastern Bluebirds followed by amazing looks at Snow Buntings, which Ian spotted, and some Red-breasted Mergansers in the alpen glow.  As we moved further down the trail we came across a group "ascension" of Horned Larks which came in surprisingly close to us, and we got some distant views of Common Goldeneye and Hooded Mergansers.

Continuing our circle, we moved to the Scarborough River Wildlife Sanctuary which was extremely quiet and unproductive save for a pair of Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, and a White-breasted Nuthatch.  There was a small group "ear-full" of Cedar Waxwings that flew over head.  

Moving on we stopped by briefly at Seaveys Landing where we saw a pair of Common Loons and a few Common Eiders.  Another brief stop at Pelreco, which again was rather slow, but we did pick up a Red-tailed Hawk, our first raptor of the day!

Arguably the highlight of the trip was Pine Point, where we warmed up with hot chocolate, cookies, and got views of numerous sea ducks including Long-tailed Ducks, Black and White-winged Scoters, and Bufflehead.  It is duck hunting season and there were several hunters far out on the water.  Though one's initial reaction may be negative, we found this a really good time to discuss how duck hunting provides a lot toward conservation efforts through the purchase of Duck Stamps (which 98 cents of every dollar goes directly to habitat conservation).  We then got an opportunity to talk to some incoming duck hunters and they allowed us to see and study some of the birds they had.  There was also a distant flyby of a Bald Eagle, but since it was outside of our count circle, we couldn't list it :(

We wrapped up the trip with a walk to Pine Point beach where we had a couple of Red-throated Loons and Horned Grebes. 

Two young birders, Anna and Andrew, made a full day of it by attending the compilation where all of the teams tally up how many birds they saw.  This is a very important part of this citizen science project, and over the years provides insight into the state of birds.  It was a fun and educational day, and we hope to see everybody next year for the 119th CBC!

Gilsland Farm Goldeneyes

By Lena Moser

On Sunday, November 12, five intrepid young birders gathered at the headquarters of Maine Audubon at Gilsland Farm on a very chilly (20-degree!) morning.  We were joined by Jeremy Cluchey (Maine Audubon Communications Director) and Ari van den Akker (Staff Photographer).  Jeremy and Ari will be writing an article about the MYBC, which is due to be published in the March 2018 newsletter Habitat.  We are excited that word is spreading about MYBC!

We were also joined by Maine Audubon's Staff Naturalist and birder-extraordinaire, Doug Hitchcox.  He made this trip especially great thanks to his birding expertise, thorough knowledge of the local habitats, and sincere willingness to share his enthusiasm, time, and energy with our group.

We started our bird walk at the pond, where we measured the thickness of pond ice and looked for muskrat dens along the banks.  On our way to West Meadow, we spotted a distant group of crows harassing a hawk.  Doug helped us identify it: Rough-legged Hawk!  This was a lifer for most in the group, so we were thrilled to get scope looks at this uncommon visitor from the arctic.  Also, a flock of a dozen Red-winged Blackbirds flew over our heads, and we briefly heard a flyover Snow Bunting, too.

Most of our time was spent at the Presumpscot River Estuary, where we scanned the river and examined the ducks on the water.  We saw large rafts of Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, and Bufflehead, along with a few Common Eiders, Mallards, and American Black Ducks.  Doug spotted a Red-throated Loon and Lesser Scaup for us (the latter was great to compare to the female goldeneyes around it).  Ian kept trying to find a Barrow's Goldeneye in the group, and lo and behold, after some time, Doug says, "I have a Barrow's!"  The strange thing is that it didn't look like a typical Barrows.  The more we observed this bird, the more we noted how odd it was.  Its head was peaked and had a bright purple sheen to it.  Instead of a thin, white crescent on its face, it had a blobby triangle.  The bird also lacked the black "spur" of plumage on the sides of the upper chest, and its upper body looked very white... much like the surrounding Common Goldeneyes.  It only had thin lines of black across its wings.  Very strange.  Turns out this was a Common X Barrow's Goldeneye hybrid!  We all thought this was very cool, though sadly it could not be added to our life lists because a hybrid does not count as a full species.  We will have to start a new hybrid list instead!

Ebird checklist 1

To warm ourselves, we took shelter from the cold in the Maine Audubon headquarters building, where we observed Black-capped Chickadees, American Tree Sparrows, and three species of rodents (Gray Squirrel, Red Squirrel, and Eastern Chipmunk) up-close and personal as they came to the feeders outside the Discovery Room.  We also took a stab at a bird face ID quiz, which was a fun challenge!

Ebird checklist 2

Continuing on, we walked from the Audubon center through a grove of Eastern Hemlocks, where we learned about the invasive wooly adelgid that's decimating hemlocks in the Northeast.  We searched for owls roosting in the hemlocks but found a couple of squirrel nests instead ;).  From there, we walked to the Community Garden and around back to the parking area along the road.  We saw two Northern Flickers, a couple of aggressive Northern Mockingbirds chasing each other, and a Red-tailed Hawk circling overhead.

Ebird checklist 3

Overall, we are so happy we endured the cold and got to have such a great experience visiting the headquarters of Maine Audubon!  Thanks again to Jeremy and Ari for accompanying us in order to write a story about our club.  Also huge thanks to Doug Hitchcox for giving us so much of his time this morning.. your leadership and deep love of birding were inspiring and much appreciated by our group!

Young birders tackle a bird ID quiz at the Maine Audubon headquarters at Gilsland Farm, Falmouth.  Video by Doug Hitchcox.

Hooray for Mt. A!

By Seth Davis

On Saturday, October 21st, two young birders led our team around Mt. Agamenticus and the Center for Wildlife, and we had a blast!  Despite it being the tail end of fall migration and having slightly unfavorable winds, we had a pretty “birdy” day.

Some of the highlights on the mountain included Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers, a close interaction with a mixed flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a Brown Creeper. After hiking around, we came upon some fallen logs and decided to perch on them for a while.  As we rested, we exchanged nature stories about our personally memorable encounters with wildlife.  We left our mark on Mt. A in the form of some MYBC graffiti.  (Don’t worry!  We used pieces of charcoal that we found to draw the silhouettes of birds and tracks on some rocks.  These will wash off in the rain soon.)  We “topped” it all off with a hawk watch at the peak of Mt. A, where we spotted 12 Turkey Vultures and 5 Red-tailed Hawks.

We then drove to the base of Mt. A. to the Center for Wildlife, where we did a self-guided tour. This was a fun experience, since we got close-up views of awesome wildlife like a Long-eared Owl, Merlin, Porcupine, and some Painted Turtles!  We also learned about how the Center for Wildlife cares for sick and injured animals.  (As we were walking around, we also had three Common Ravens fly overhead, croaking loudly.)  Toward the end of the tour, one of the staff—Sarah Kern—was kind enough to bring out one of their ambassador Peregrine Falcons, Freyja, and she fed her a quail and a couple of mice.  Watching this majestic falcon feed at such a close distance was simply incredible.  Sarah shared with us a wealth of information about Peregrine Falcon ecology and behavior, and she answered our many questions.  Thank you, Sarah, and the Center for Wildlife, for being the highlight of our day for all the hard work you do to help wildlife.

Our full eBird list can be found here. Thanks to our two young birders, Brendan and Anna, for making the day super fun and reminding us how a walk in the woods can be so rejuvenating and uplifting.

It's Shorebirding Time!

By Lena Moser

Today five young birders headed out onto the sand and waves to look for migrating shorebirds.  We are proud to admit that we did not go home empty-handed!  (Or is it "empty-binoculared"?)

Highlights included Sanderlings, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers, and a Short-billed Dowitcher on the Basket Island causeway at Hills Beach.  A female Belted Kingfisher also put on a show, hovering in place for long periods of time as she honed in on the fish she wanted to catch in the tide pools below.  Local birder Pat Sanborn pointed out a raft of nearby Green-winged Teal.  We loved seeing their bright green specula (colorful secondary feathers) glistening in the sun.  When we were done birding at Hills Beach, we relaxed and ate our lunches in the Park in the Pines as Cedar Waxwings serenaded us with their high-pitched calls.  After the brief rest, though, we were eager to continue our shorebirding adventure.

Next, we headed down Mile Stretch Road to South Point Sanctuary, where we were greeted by a flock of over 7 Black-and-white Warblers, a Magnolia Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart, and a loudly-calling Northern Flicker.  Coming off the boardwalk, onto the beach, we scanned the rack of seaweeds for peeps and were grateful to birder Richard for helping us find the Western Sandpiper: a rare visitor that was a lifer for all the young birders!  Of course, that made everyone's day.

Fortunes Rocks Beach also rewarded us with great looks at a White-rumped Sandpiper and a couple of Laughing Gulls.  Unfortunately, we also saw an injured Herring Gull with a broken/bloody wing... the sight of which made us all a bit sad because we knew this bird wasn't going to make it very long.  Micah Pietraho spotted a Red-necked Grebe with his sharp eyes, and we had to work hard to get good looks at that bird because it preferred diving to swimming.  We couldn't believe how many Northern Gannets were out on the ocean... we counted over 30, including a couple that flew in very close to shore.  One individual floated on the water for a while, affording excellent scope views.  A flock of White-winged Scoters flew past us quickly, but the large rafts of Common Eiders floated about lazily and were easy to enjoy.

Before calling it a day, we stopped at Great Pond, where we saw a young Black-crowned Night-Heron and a sleeping male Wood Duck, who presented quite the identification puzzle at first.  A good-sized flock of Snowy Egrets showed off their plumes as they preened in the trees, and a Spotted Sandpiper wobbled along the exposed mud bank.  We found some ripe blackberries nearby and enjoyed a sweet treat to boot!  

What a fabulous day of birding it was.  Conclusion: shorebirding is awesome!  Let's do everything we can to protect and care for our shorebirds, whose habitats and ways of living are continually under threat from habitat destruction, pollution, dogs-off-leash, climate change, and hunting.  We know there is hope for the future, especially with more educated and caring young birders out and about ;)

Sunset Puffin Cruise

By Lena Moser

On Saturday, July 15th, seven young birders and their families set out on the Maine Audubon puffin cruise to Eastern Egg Rock.  This tiny, 7-acre island is famous for being the most easily-accessible Maine island for observing nesting Atlantic Puffins.  We were well-rewarded with fabulous looks at puffins up-close, including a couple that flew right over the boat!  Laughing Gulls were abundant, as were Common Terns, though we picked out a few Roseate Terns, too.  Other highlights were a Bonaparte's Gull, Bald Eagles, a young Northern Gannet, and some cool mammals like Harbor Porpoise and over one-hundred Harbor Seals!  Everyone left the trip happy, especially since the puffin was a "lifer" (a first-time-seen) bird for many.

A big thank you to Maine Audubon for sponsoring this trip for the young birders and club coordinators.  Also thanks to naturalist Doug Hitchcox for adeptly navigating children, parents, wildlife spotting, and announcing/interpreting  - all at the same time!  We appreciated his excellent leadership on this trip.

The full eBird checklists for our trip can be found below.

New Harbor to Eastern Egg Rock

Eastern Egg Rock

Eastern Egg Rock to Franklin Island to New Harbor

Photos by Lena Moser and Nathan Hall.

Kids "Birding Blitz" at the Acadia Birding Festival

By Lena Moser

Billy Helprin (Director of the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary on Mt. Desert Island) and Lena Moser guided a walk for young birders at the Acadia Birding Festival in early June.  They were joined by 16 kids and their teachers from a local elementary school.  What a fun, memorable bird walk it was!

View bird checklist here.  

Images and video by Lena Moser and Sue Shaw.

Canada Goose goslings cause quite the excitement

Young Birder Outreach in Nicaragua

By Lena Moser

On May 22-31, Lena Moser traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students from the University of New England.  The students were all members of ImmUNE: International Medical Missions at UNE, an undergraduate club devoted to bringing healthcare to impoverished communities in Latin America.  (Lena Moser served as the travel advisor for this student club.)

While in Nicaragua, Lena took every opportunity to introduce kids to birding in the local communities.  The children of these small, rural villages had never held a pair of binoculars before, nor had they seen a field guide.  Once they were introduced to binoculars, however, they were hooked!  For them it was nothing short of magical to see birds up close.  The boys in the village of Pochocuape wanted to see every bird possible, which turned a short stroll into a multi-hour adventure across the entire village!  They sought out Tropical Kingbirds, Clay-colored Robins, Rufous-naped Wrens, Great Kiskadees, Groove-billed Anis, Ruddy Ground-Doves, and other common species.  Each time a new bird was spotted, the boys enthusiastically flipped through the field guide to identify the species.  They taught Lena the Spanish names of their favorite birds, and they asked her to return again one day with the "binoculares increibles" (incredible binoculars) so they could go birding again.

Lena also visited an orphanage where the kids dove into birding with great enthusiasm and eagerness.  Their authentic curiosity and love of learning made her wish that she could stay back to start a Nicaragua Young Birders Club!  In a country where poverty and politics undercut progress towards environmental conservation, it is even more essential to expose children to natural environments and wildlife, as well as to nurture their sense of wonder and love of exploring.  Resources are very limited in a country like Nicaragua, where families struggle with basic day-to-day needs, such as acquiring nourishing meals.  Children have no access to optics and books that would enhance their appreciation of the natural world, not to mention knowledgeable mentors who could guide them.  Hopefully someday this will change.

The American Birding Association is trying to make a difference in Latin America with the Birders’ Exchange program.  Birders' Exchange collects donated new and used equipment and distributes it to researchers, educators, and conservationists working to protect birds and their habitats throughout Latin America and the Caribbean but who lack basic equipment, such as binoculars and field guides.  If you are interested in learning more or helping out, visit http://bex.aba.org/.

The Maine Young Birders Club is proud to do young birder outreach wherever we may find ourselves on the globe!

All photography and videos by Lena Moser.

Boys birding in Pochocuape

Excited about spotting a bird

Girl trying to identify a bird.

Warblerin' at Florida Lake

By Lena Moser

Migration is now in full swing, and to make the most of it, we traveled to a renowned migrant trap: Florida Lake in Freeport.  We were well-rewarded, with good looks at several warbler species: Wilson's, Black-throated Blue, Canada, Black-throated Green, Nashville, and Northern Parula.  One of our highlights was seeing a singing Ovenbird through the scope!  We also had a Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and great looks at a singing Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Some species are already busy constructing nests; we watched a Red-breasted Nuthatch flying to and from its nest hole in a dead snag, and we saw a Black-capped Chickadee carry a beak full of lichen to its nest hole, too.  A hunched-over Green Heron was a treat to see at the lake, as well as a Cliff Swallow cruising over the water.  To view our full eBird checklist for Florida Lake, click HERE.  

Aside from birds, we found many Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) egg masses.  Some of us thought they could be Wood Frog eggs, but there are several clues that synched our identification: the gelatinous sheath around the egg mass (Wood Frogs don't have that), the number of eggs (Wood Frogs have about 300 in a typical mass), the location in the center of the water column (Wood Frogs' masses are usually located at the surface), and stage (most, but not all, Wood Frog egg masses have hatched out by now).  What a great lesson!

After Florida Lake, we headed over to the Captain William Fitzgerald Recreation and Conservation Area in Brunswick for our target species: Prairie Warbler.  We lucked out and saw a couple of gorgeous Prairies, as well as Field Sparrows, Ospreys, and a close Broad-winged Hawk and Bald Eagle.  Our full eBird list is HERE.  Not too bad for an early May birding day!  

Special thanks to our guest-birder-of-the-day, Seth Davis.  Seth is currently doing postdoctoral neuroscience research at the University of New England.  He helped us spot many birds today with his sharp eyes, and he let us use his scope to see birds up-close.  Thanks for joining us, Seth!

Photos by Lena Moser:

Field Trip #2: Scarborough Marsh

By Lena Moser

For our second trip, we ventured out to Scarborough Marsh and surroundings.  Highlights were numerous Glossy Ibis, Green-winged Teal, Greater Yellowlegs, and very large rafts of Long-tailed Ducks at Pine Point.  We also saw a couple of showy American Oystercatchers at Pine Point, and three species of swallow: Tree, Barn, and Northern Rough-winged.  

Raptors were cooperative, too.  We had an adult Bald Eagle fly directly over our heads twice, and we had good looks at an Osprey hovering in mid-air, as well as a Sharp-shinned Hawk gaining lift in a thermal.  Sebastian spotted a far-off Little Blue Heron in the hazy distance at Pelreco (great eye!)  We said "hi" to a friendly, outdoor Siamese cat at Pine Point and had a good discussion about the severe impact of outdoor cat predation on birds.  Overall, the day was sunny, warm, and beautiful... we truly enjoyed being out together in the field!

Our eBird checklists can be found here: Eastern Trail, Dunstan Landing, Pelreco, Pine Point.