Birder's Guide

DEC 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 24 of 43

23 December 2018 | Birder's Guide to Listing & Taxonomy serendipitous discovery that makes for Big Year fun, and proves the idea that the most important part of finding rarities is just be- ing out in the field. After putting in quite bit of time, Jeannette and I found a very satisfying Yellow-breasted Chat at Battery Steele on Peaks Island (Site C11) on November 27. Searching for specific birds in specific hab- itats at specific times of the year is much more fulfilling to me than waiting for someone else to find something and rac- ing around looking for it. Chats are notori- ously hard to re-find in the fall, as they are ultra-skulkers, so self-found is even more rewarding—and much less frustrating. The year was winding down, and few regularly occurring species were likely any- more, regardless of effort. One bird that is likely much more regular than records sug- gest is Eastern Screech-Owl, and I decided to make a dedicated effort come December. On December 3, Pat Moynahan and I set out for an evening of owling in Wells. At the first stop we made, just after dusk, a short whistle resulted in not one, but two, very aggressive and vociferous Eastern Screech- Owls right over our heads (at an undis- closed location within Site Y5). That was too easy! And finally, the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields (Site C15) yielded a rarity for me this fall: a Cackling Goose on December 6 for my 305th bird of the year in Maine. Now is where I would like to tell you I finished my Book Big Year with a bang: how I trudged through the snow and ice, braving sub-zero temperatures, march - ing uphill (both ways!), and digging out every possible addition for my year list. But alas, it ended more like a thud than a bang: a very snowy, very icy, and very bitterly cold thud. One of the aspects of a Big Year that I— and most every other participant in such a silly pursuit—enjoy is that extra little bit of motivation to at the right time, this bird had somehow eluded me all year. With my year list sitting at 293, I wanted my two fall tours to Monhegan Island to come up big for me. First was my six-day WINGS tour, which produced only Clay- colored Sparrow, Yellow-crowned Night- Heron, and Red-headed Woodpecker. I missed Say's Phoebe for the fourth time ever out here—one of my two biggest nem- eses for the state—this time by all of about 45 minutes. The next weekend, my annual "Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend" tour with my store's group didn't add much to the year list, but I did get a big one: the state's first Cassin's Vireo. Back on the mainland, I had some work to do. Jeannette and I found a Greater White-fronted Goose at Fryeburg Harbor (Site O3) on October 3 on our way to a gluttony-fest at the Fryeburg Fair. We then took advantage of the flood tide on October 10 to hit the Eastern Trail to try to add Long-billed Dowitcher to my Big Year tally. Every few summers, a few Seaside Sparrows stake out a territory in Scarborough Marsh, but this was not one of those summers. Therefore, I was quite happy when we found one here on this very late date. This was the type of strategizing that I really enjoyed throughout the year: Find a species that I needed and figure out how to see it. Long-billed Dowitchers are rare but regular in Maine, and they're usually juveniles near the tail end of shorebird mi- gration. The first full moon in October is typically a good time to see one out in the marsh, with areas of dry ground for roost- ing at a premium. And sure enough, there one was—my 300th species of the year. November rarity season featured an im- pressive wave of southern vagrants depos- ited by a storm at the very end of October. But by having had good southerly luck so far this year, I didn't add anything to my year list until November 12, when I found a spiffy Yellow-throated Warbler at the most unexpected location: Martin's Point Park in Sabattus, during my Birds on Tap Roadtrip: "Fall Ducks and Draughts". Being teased by a "flock" of three on Monhegan earlier in the month, and saving me from chasing a few later in the month, this was the type of get into the field. Such additional incen- tive was more than necessary on December 27 and 28, with morning lows of -5º and -10º F, respectively. Without the hopes and dreams of one or two more species for the Big Year, it's unlikely I would have done much more than sit around, watch- ing the feeders and sipping coffee. Instead, I forced myself to get out for just a little bit, mostly working hard for Thick-billed Murre and hoping Common Redpolls ar- rived. While no year birds resulted, I did have some nice consolation prizes. But that evening spent in a last-ditch effort to find a Long-eared Owl in sub-zero tem- peratures was just stupid. Therefore, my 2018 Birdwatching in Maine: The Big Year finished at 305 spe- cies. When I started the year, my goal was 300, so I am quite satisfied with the tally. Additionally, I saw four species away from book sites: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Great Gray Owl, Bullock's Oriole, and a Fieldfare—a first state record in a backyard in April—for a total year list of 309. I had several holes in the list at the end of the year, from Leach's Storm-Petrel to a handful of annual rarities like Western Kingbird. While missing the Least Bittern on Monhegan that almost everyone in my group—except me—saw over four days this spring was incredibly frustrating, I think my most painful miss of the year was Brown Pelican. Likely n Few birds better represent a birding year in Maine than the iconic Atlantic Puffin. Photo © Derek Lovitch

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