Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

April 2017

Vol. 45, No. 2

Sixth Report of the Maine Bird Records Committee

Louis R. Bevier


Maine continues to produce amazing birds. This breeding-plumaged Great Knot stopped on the island on July 23, 2016, providing an extremely rare record for eastern North America. Photograph by Keenan Yakola.

This sixth report of the Maine Bird Records Committee (hereafter ME-BRC or the committee) summarizes assessment of 40 records involving 28 species, including one species pair and one subspecies group. Evaluation of these records occurred during 2015 and 2016. The committee accepted 32 records for an acceptance rate of 80%. Although a majority of birds in this report were documented in 2015–16, the years of occurrences range from 1831–32 to 2016, the earliest of which is review of a specimen illustrated by John James Audubon.

Highlights in this report include eight species accepted as documented for the first time in the state of Maine: Great Knot, Surfbird, Ancient Murrelet, Tufted Puffin, Trindade Petrel, Crested Caracara, Rock Wren, and Brewer’s Sparrow. In addition, photographic documentation of a Black-throated Sparrow provided the first solid evidence of that species for the state and the first evidence evaluated by the committee. An older, second-hand, sight record has not yet been formally reviewed but had been accepted on the official list when the committee first formed in 2005. These records bring the total number of accepted species on Maine’s state list to 453. The official list of bird species recorded in Maine, our review procedures, and members can be found at the committee’s website.

Records in this report are grouped by species, including both reports accepted and not accepted in the same species account. Each account provides location, county in italics, and date(s) of occurrence followed in parentheses by observers names and the committee’s record number. Observers listed are those providing documentation to the committee, or in some cases, documentation from public web sites. All reviewed materials and member comments are archived. If known, the finder or finders names are listed first and separated from other names by a semicolon. The type of evidence reviewed is noted as follows: photographic, video, or audio denoted by a dagger (†); written notes are denoted with an asterisk (*). As always, the committee strongly encourages written submissions even where photographs exist. Species accounts follow the current taxonomic classification and sequence adopted as of 2016 by the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), now the American Ornithological Society. Family-level sequence arrangements recently underwent a major overhaul by taxonomists using the latest genetic evidence. Consequently, the sequence of species may be unfamiliar to many readers. Please see the AOU link above for references cited in support of these recent taxonomic changes.

SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Black-bellied Whistling Duck. These six were on Mt. Desert Island, Hancock County, Maine May 27–30, 2013. Photograph May 28, 2013 by Trevor Persons.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis). Up to six were in the towns of Mount Desert and Bar Harbor, Hancock, May 27–30, 2013 (Steve Dugay† and Rich MacDonald*; Ed Hawkes, Becky Marvil, William Nichols*, and many others; 2013-003). Dugay photographed the flock in a small wetland at the north end of Long Pond, Mount Desert (44.35526° N, 68.36410° W). MacDonald et al. independently discovered the birds the next day at settling ponds next to Mount Desert Island High School, Bar Harbor (44.37284° N, 68.30321° W), which is about 3.24 miles ENE from the previous location. One bird died of unknown causes on May 28 and this specimen is at Colby College.

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus). An immature was at Cherryfield, Washington, November 5–28, 2012 (Joel Wilcox†; Sandy Wilcox, Chris Bartlett†, Louis Bevier†, Bruce Cole†, Pat Moynahan*, Tal Roberts†, Bill Sheehan*, Margaret Viens†, et al.; 2012-020). One was found at Puddledock Pond, Fort Fairfield, Aroostook, October 13–15, 2014 (Bill Sheehan*†; John Wyatt†, Jerry Smith†, Clay Hardy; 2014-009). These sightings are the 3rd and 7th state records of this now annual vagrant.

Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii). An adult was on the coast at Rockland, Knox, January 31–February 4, 2013 (Don Reimer†; Louis Bevier†, Doug Hitchcox†, et al.; 2013-001). Another was at Westbrook, Cumberland, November 30–December 28, 2015 (Pat Moynahan*; Doug Hitchcox*, Rob Speirs†; 2015-008).

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula). An adult male was on Sabattus Pond in the town of Greene, Androscoggin, March 31, 2016 (Don F. Smith*; Rob Speirs†; 2016-006).

This cooperative Western Grebe was at Owls Head Harbor, Knox County, Maine February 11–19, 2016. Photograph February 11, 2016 by Mike Fahay.

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis). An apparent male by bill shape was at Owls Head, Knox, February 11–19, 2016 (Mike Fahay†; Nancy Houlihan*; 2016-004). Another, thought to be a female by bill shape, was on Middle Bay, Brunswick, Cumberland, April 17–23, 2016 (Derek Lovitch; Louis Bevier*†, Doug Hitchcox*†; 2016-005). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: one was seen by a competent observer who described, sketched, photographed, and videotaped a bird in Middle Bay, Brunswick, Cumberland, December 26, 2014 (2014-011). Unfortunately, due to the distance involved, the photographs were felt inconclusive. Most members agreed the bird was an Aechmophorus Western or Clark’s Grebe, but some were uncertain if the bird could be identified even to genus. It is possible that this bird was the same Western Grebe well documented at the same location the following winter (2016-005, above).

Rufous or Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus or sasin). An immature female at Cousin’s Island, Yarmouth, Cumberland, October 16–17, 2015 was photographed (Lois Randall, Phil Bunch†; 2015-004). The images clearly show a bird that is either Rufous or Allen’s hummingbird and not another Selasphorus species, e.g. Broad-tailed (S. platycercus) or Calliope (S. calliope). Feather details that might allow identification to either Rufous or Allen’s could not be seen in the photographs, and, even so, photos alone may not be sufficient to identify immature females of this species pair. Minor differences in the breadth of the outer tail feather, the shape at the tip of the next to innermost tail feathers, and, perhaps, how graduated the tail appears are necessary.

This and another King Rail were present at Webhannet Marsh in Wells, York County, Maine from May 1–July 4, 2016. Although clearly territorial, breeding was never documented. Photograph June 9, 2016 by Josh Fecteau.

King Rail (Rallus elegans). Up to two were well documented in the southern part of Webhannet Marsh, part of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, Wells, York, May 10–July 14, 2016 (Bri Benvenuti*†; Louis Bevier*†, Josh Fecteau†, Doug Hitchcox†, and others; 2016-012). Because the two species hybridize in southern New England, Dr. James Maley, an expert on the King and Clapper rail species complex, evaluated the evidence. Dr. Maley, who is at the Moore Laboratory of Zoology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, stated that he saw no reason to suspect mixed ancestry (in litt. to L. Bevier). One bird repeatedly gave calls that match male advertising vocalizations of King Rail in pacing and rate of note delivery. Another bird was heard countering or responding at the same time. If nesting occurred was never determined, despite a clearly established territory.

Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris). A stunning first for Maine, a breeding plumage bird stopped on Seal Island, Knox, July 23, 2016 (Keenan Yakola†; 2016-018). This species has a limited breeding range in northeastern Russia and winters in Australia. The global population is in decline and designated as Endangered by Birdlife International (2017). It is a rare migrant to western Alaskan islands and the Seward Peninsula, with a few vagrants down the West Coast of North America. Exceptionally, one was found August 13, 2007 in West Virginia (Fazio and Wiltraut 2008).

This Surfbird delighted birders from throughout the region when it lingered at Biddeford Pool, York County, Maine March 21–April 18, 2015. Photograph March 26, 2015 by Louis Bevier.

Surfbird (Calidris virgata). One first-year in basic plumage delighted many March 21–April 18, 2015 at Biddeford Pool, York (Tin Mountain Bird Society with Chris Lewey, Rick Steber, Sean Ashe, et al.; John Lazzaro†, Sandra Mitchell†, and many others*†; 2015-009). Not surprisingly, this bird was unexpected and not identified in the field. Photos sent by Lewey and, independently, by Mitchell and Lazzaro, were soon identified, making the bird’s presence widely known. This record was a first for Maine and only the second for the Atlantic Coast proper. The only previous Atlantic record is from Florida in 2005—four other Florida records are from the Gulf Coast peninsula and panhandle. There is one fall record for Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. There are at least 10 accepted records for Texas. Given that the species winters as far south as southern Chile—even wrapping around Tierra del Fuego, it is plausible that some birds cross at the Isthmus of Panama to enter the Atlantic and Caribbean basins.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax). A rufous and black adult male was at Scarborough Marsh, Scarborough, Cumberland, June 30, 2016 (Timothy Fennell*†; Travis Marceron*†; 2016-015). A female, or Reeve, was at Scarborough Marsh, Scarborough, Cumberland, May 9, 2015 (Zeke Smith*†, Collette Lauzau, Rob Lambert; 2015-001).

Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus). One in breeding plumage was first found at Seal Island, Knox, May 13, 2016 (John Drury*; Keenan Yakola†; 2016-007). Presumably the same bird appeared at two other locations in the Gulf of Maine during the following weeks: Petit Manan Island, Washington, May 22 and June 1 (Jill Tengeres* and Nancy Magnusson† respectively) and Machias Seal Island, Washington, May 27 (Tim Dunn†). Machias Seal Island is also claimed by Canada and the province of New Brunswick but lies in Maine waters. This species has a long history of vagrancy to eastern North America, but this sighting was the first for Maine.


This Ancient Murrelet, first found at Seal Island, Knox County, Maine on May 13, 2016, visited other alcid colonies in the Gulf of Maine, being seen at Petit Manan Island, Washington County May 22 and June 1, and Machias Seal Island, Washington County May 27. Photograph at Seal Island May 13, 2016 by Keenan Yakola.

This Tufted Puffin frequented the alcid colony on Machias Seal Island, Washington County, Maine. The island is claimed by Canada but is within Maine waters. June 17–July 23, 2014. Photograph July 8, 2014 by Durlan Ingersoll.

Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata). An apparent adult was collected by a “fisherman gunner” somewhere near the mouth of the Kennebec River, Sagadahoc, during the winter of 1831–1832 (John James Audubon; 1832-001). One was on and around Machias Seal Island (and in Maine waters), Washington, June 17–July 23, 2014 (Ralph Eldridge*†; Durlan Ingersoll†, Steve Shreiner†, Amanda Didychuk†, Claus Wolter†, Ben West†, et al.; 2014-015). Audubon states explicitly that his plate is based on a bird procured in Maine (Plate 249 in Audubon 1835a), and the specimen ascribed to this bird is a mount preserved at the New York State Museum (NYSM zo-9435). Audubon may have seen only the skin, and the mount might have been made up at a later date—John Bell was a New York taxidermist associated with Audubon. Audubon’s plate shows the prostrate and inwardly curved inner toenails that all puffins exhibit, but the mount has the toes unnaturally straightened. If the specimen is the same skin that Audubon saw may be in question, but the committee accepted Audubon’s account (Audubon 1835b). One member noted that the number of furrows on the bill suggested an older bird and might thus be unusual given that most vagrants are immature birds. The record has long been accepted, and the committee endorses it here. The Machias Seal Island bird fittingly reaffirms the validity of the species in the state and also was a first for New Brunswick. Note the last date for this bird is July 23 (fide S. Tingley, contra Petersen 2015 and Seeler 2015).

Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan). A bird in breeding plumage was on Stratton Island, Saco, York, June 3, 2015 (Kristina McOmber†; 2015-003). An immature at Sebasticook Lake, Newport, Penobscot, October 28–November 14, 2015 presaged a major influx to the Northeast that occurred in mid-November (Bruce Cole*†; L. Bevier†, Steve Mierzykowski†, et al.; 2015-006).

This first-winter Mew Gull at Owls Head Harbor, Knox County, Maine January 7–March 13, 2016 was easily identified as belonging to the West Coast subspecies, Short-billed Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus). Photograph January 19, 2016 by Louis Bevier.

Mew Gull (Larus canus). One adult or subadult was at Thomaston, Knox, August 3–26, 2013 (Don Reimer†; Louis Bevier†, Mike Fahay†, Rob Speirs†, et al.; 2013-007). This bird showed characters of the western North American race, Short-billed Gull (L. c. brachyrhynchus) based on analysis by L. Bevier (also see Adriaens and Gibbins 2016). One bird identified from photos was briefly seen on Harbor Island, Knox, September 24, 2013 (Peter Vickery†, Geoff LeBaron*; 2013-022) and may have been the Thomaston bird. A first-winter bird, also a Short-billed Gull, was at Owls Head, Knox, January 7–March 13, 2016 (Margaret Viens†, Scott Hall*, and Don Reimer†; many observers; 2016-002).

Maine’s first Trindade Petrel washed up on Ogunquit Beach, York County, Maine June 10, 2014. Photograph by Doug Hitchcox.

Trindade Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana). Maine’s first was a corpse found on Ogunquit Beach, Ogunquit, York, June 10, 2014 (Doug Hitchcox†; 2014-008). Measurements of bill and foot made from the photographs coupled with plumage characters eliminated other similar taxa. Massachusetts recorded its first two occurrences in late July the same year (Garvey et al. 2015).

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus). Sanford Lagoons, Sanford, York, July 1, 2016 (Josh Fecteau*†; 2016-016).

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: A bird at Frenchville, Aroostook, April 20, 2012 (2012-018) was documented with poor cell phone photos and was not identified in the field. It was circulated as this species because the observer thought the bird was a raptor, and Mississippi Kite was suggested by one reviewer. The images are inconclusive, one member suggesting Swallow-tailed Kite was not eliminated and would be more likely in mid-late April. No conclusion was reached on the identity of the bird.

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). A juvenile flew over Cadillac Mountain, Hancock, October 30, 2015 (Jason Bojczyk*†; 2015-005). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: One seen briefly at Laudholm Farm, Wells, York, February 2, 2016 (2016-003*). Details were felt insufficient to verify what would be an extraordinary date for this species in the Northeast.

Maine’s first Crested Caracara was originally found August 26–27, 2014 at Unity Township, Kennebec County and relocated at Norridgewock, Somerset County September 2–8, 2014. Photograph August 27, 2014 by David Ladd.

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). Providing a first state record, Steve and Debby Muise(*†) found a bird at Unity Township, Kennebec, where seen August 26–27, 2014. The same bird was found subsequently over 22 miles to the west-northwest at Norridgewock, Somerset, September 2–8, 2014 (Derek Willette†, and many others; 2014-014). The bird at both locations was in the same state of molt and had a missing toe nail on the outer toe of the left foot. Comparison of photos of a caracara in New Brunswick during April 2014 were inconclusive as to whether the Maine bird was the same. Comparison of primary patterns and other features with birds recently seen in Nova Scotia was likewise inconclusive. A strong pattern of vagrancy has developed for this species in recent years, with some individuals ranging hundreds of miles over long periods of time.

Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: The committee reviewed an older, published report (Bent 1942) of two birds at Deer Isle, Stonington, Hancock, September 14, 1938 (Martin Curtler*; 1938-001). The date is within the expected time for a vagrant to New England, but the occurrence of two together was viewed as too unlikely. Some members felt Western Kingbird was not eliminated, but the observer never mentioned yellow underparts, only underwings, which Gray Kingbird indeed shows. Moreover, the observer noted similarity to shrikes in appearance, suggesting the dark mask, also shown by Gray Kingbird. The notes, however, are simply too vague to be sure of the identification.

Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus). One was at Bog Brook Cove, Trescott Twp., Washington, October 29, 2013 (Tom and Pat Cabe*; 2013-017). The observers described salient features of plumage and behavior that were convincing. This first state record is one of the few accepted based only on descriptive evidence. Its occurrence fits a late fall and winter pattern for the species in the Northeast.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides). One was at Lincoln, Penobscot, November 23, 2014 (Ty Oliver*†; 2014-010). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: A bird described at Skowhegan, Somerset, May 13–14, 2015 was from a date that is highly unusual for the species in the Northeast (2015-002).

MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei). A composite of descriptions and a voice-recording supported one at Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, November 27–29, 2015 (Derek Lovitch, Luke Seitz*; Doug Hitchcox†, Becky Marvil*; 2015-007). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: The description of a bird at the Saco River Walk, Saco, York, October 28, 2014 lacked enough detail to support the identification (2014-012).

Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: A bird photographed incidentally was thought to be an adult male of this species at Sandy Point, Yarmouth, Cumberland, September 26, 2011 (2011-014). The single image was thought by most members to show a Townsend’s Warbler but insufficient to definitively support the identification. The date is on the early side for vagrants to the Northeast, most being for late fall, but there are similar early records, even involving adult males.

Monhegan Island, Lincoln County, Maine always produces surprises. Maine’s first Brewer’s Sparrow was present there May 25–29, 2014. Photograph May 25, 2014 by Doug Hitchcox.

Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella breweri). One bird that occasionally sang was on Monhegan Island, Lincoln, May 25–29, 2014 (Lysle Brinker*†, Jeremiah Trimble*†, Doug Hitchcox†, Blair Nikula, and many others; 2014-006). Analysis of the plumage—paler brown with thin black crown streaks—and of the song—exhibiting broad frequency range—suggest the bird was nominate S. b. breweri versus S. b. taverneri.

This handsome Black-throated Sparrow, found on the Schoodic Point CBC, was present in a Winter Harbor, Hancock County, Maine neighborhood January 1–March 17, 2016. Photograph January 8, 2016 by Louis Bevier.

Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata). One found at Winter Harbor, Hancock, January 1–March 17, 2016 (Chuck Whitney, Ed and Debbie Hawkes; many others; 2016-001). This bird provided much enjoyment and solid documentation of the species in the state.

Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco (Junco hyemalis [oreganus group]). A bird showing characters of the “Oregon” Junco subspecies group was at Reid State Park, Georgetown, Sagadahoc, December 7, 2015 (Derek Lovitch†, Kristen Lindquist; 2015-010).

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena). NOT ACCEPTED, IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONED: A bird incidentally photographed and later thought possibly this species was on Monhegan Island, Lincoln, May 25, 2010 (2010-019†). The bird shows whitish wing bars and plumage features suggestive of Lazuli Bunting. The notion of a female vagrant in spring and lack of more details meant the record failed to gain support.

Recent noteworthy occurrences in Maine that have not yet been reviewed include a returning Little Egret to Cumberland and York Counties; a Corn Crake on Monhegan Island that, if accepted, would be the second state record (the first in 1889); and two separate Bullock’s Orioles.

Acknowledgments

The committee thanks Jeremy Kirchman for photographs of the Tufted Puffin specimen. Mary LeCroy and Bob Peck provided helpful background on Audubon’s work. Ian McLaren and Stu Tingley helped with comparison of Crested Caracaras photographed in the Maritime provinces. Thank you to the following committee members and secretary who provided comments on drafts of the manuscript: Lysle Brinker, Becky Marvil, Trevor Persons, Will Russell, and Margaret Viens. The committee as of this publication includes: Louis Bevier, Lysle Brinker, Doug Hitchcox, Becky Marvil (secretary), Pat Moynahan, Trevor Persons (chair), Will Russell, Luke Seitz, Bill Sheehan, and Margaret Viens. Robby Lambert also voted on many of the records in this report; he retired from the committee in 2016.

References

  • Adriaens, P., and C. Gibbins. 2016. Identification of the Larus canus complex. Dutch Birding 38 (1): 1–64.
  • Audubon, J.J. 1835a. The Birds of America. Volume 3. London. Published by the author.
  • Audubon, J. J. 1835b. Ornithological Biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America. Judah Dobson, Philadelphia.
  • Bent, A.C. 1942. Life Histories of North American Flycatchers, Larks, Swallows, and Their Allies. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 179: 1–555.
  • BirdLife International. 2017. Species factsheet: Calidris tenuirostris. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/22693359 on January 10, 2017.
  • Fazio, V. W., III, and R. Wiltraut. 2008. Fall migration: eastern highlands & upper Ohio River valley. North American Birds 62 (1): 66–71.
  • Garvey, M. P., J. R. Trimble, and M. J. Iliff. 2015. Nineteenth report of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee. Bird Observer 43 (5): 299–311.
  • Petersen, W. R. 2015. Nesting Season: New England region. North American Birds 68 (4): 481–484.
  • Seeler, D. 2015. Nesting Season: Atlantic provinces & St. Pierre et Miquelon. North American Birds 68 (4): 475–479.

Louis Bevier can be reached at 25 Great Meadow Lane, Fairfield, Maine 04937, email: lrbevier@colby.edu.

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