• Ed Jenkins

Poolside Birding

Much has already been written about the quality of birding at Biddeford Pool so I won't rehash what has already been said except to say that it is my favourite spot for observing seaducks in winter in Maine.

I spent two hours in the area this morning, Thursday November 21st, enjoying the ducks and poking around for unusual songbirds. As it was cold when I arrived so I headed first to the bay and walked along Ocean Ave to East Point Sanctuary, scanning the ocean. The sun was low and therefore the lighting was terrible for photography but the ducks themselves did not disappoint, with harlequin and long-tailed ducks, common eiders, and white-winged, black and surf scoters all feeding close to the shore. While many songbirds molt to a duller plumage in the non-breeding season, freshly molted ducks look sharp at this time of year, especially male harlequin and long-tailed ducks which were stunning at close range today.

More surprising were large numbers of red-necked grebes with at least 76 present in the bay and off of Ocean Ave which is the most I've ever seen in one spot as far as I can remember. These regal, swan-necked, grebes breed on boreal pools and lakes in the summer, migrating to spend the winter on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. While most were pale in their non-breeding plumage, some still showed some patchy namesake russet. Sprinkled among them were much smaller, dumpier, horned grebes and dwarfing all were common loons in various plumages, while two red-throated loons flew south. While watching one red-necked grebe I noticed it looking up, cuing me in to a high-flying peregrine falcon powering overhead.

A short seawatch at East Point Sanctuary revealed more ducks as well as a few far-off northern gannets and a single great cormorant and black guillemot. Noticeably missing were any large auks such as murres and razorbills, presumably it being too early in the season.

The rising temperature led to more bird activity among the scrubby trees and bushes at East Point Sanctuary and I watched myrtle warblers, house finches and cardinals feeding on berries, and heard a flyover snow bunting but could not find it against the blue. Back at South Point Sanctuary black-capped chickadees and northern mockingbirds foraged among the low pines, while a sharp-shinned hawk flushed a large flock of starlings.

My last stop was at the Pool itself which was thoroughly disappointing with a single American black duck roosting among the reeds. However, as I was heading back to the car ready to leave I noticed a flyover warbler with no obvious yellow rump, enough to warrant a closer look. The bird alighted in a distant pine and foraged busily but I managed a few blurry photos, concluding it was a late pine warbler due to its greenish upperparts, and white undertail coverts, wing bars and panels in the outer rectrices. However, upon closer analysis of photos and after Doug Hitchcox weighed in, we revised identification to a very late blackpoll warbler, a species that should be long gone from New England by late November, based on the orange legs (not visible in the field), lack of eye ring and greyish nape. While not the rare west coast warbler I was hoping for, it capped off a solid morning's birding!

By Ed Jenkins