Summer’s over. The days are getting shorter. Birds are already heading south for the winter. Dang, that was a brief summer.
It was a weird summer, too. Birds kept wandering into places they shouldn’t. On June 2, a swallowtailed kite was witnessed in Milo. They do meander a bit in migration and seem to make an annual appearance in Maine, but Milo? Even many Mainers can’t find Milo without a Delorme’s, but this south Florida raptor managed the trick.
The feat was upstaged by the appearance of six black-bellied whistling ducks in Bar Harbor on May 28. These ducks have a summer range in Arizona, a year-round breeding area around San Antonio, Texas, and they have more recently established themselves in central Florida wetlands. While there is evidence that they are expanding their range in the Deep South, an appearance in Maine is borderline crazy. Or it would be if another sextet hadn’t turned up briefly at the sewage treatment lagoons in Sanford last summer. Some birds are born to roam.
The appearance of the black-bellied whistling ducks could not have been better timed. For several days, they took up residence in the water treatment ponds behind MDI High School. They were still there as this year’s Acadia Birding Festival kicked off. There is nothing like a mega-rarity to get the festival juices flowing when birders from around the nation come to visit.
But that’s behind us now. Some shorebirds that breed up north have headed down south. They’ve been popping up across the state for several weeks, fleeing Maine before winter gets here.
Rather than lament the end of summer, I propose that we declare a second summer. Second summer may not have the singing songbirds — most stopped singing weeks ago — and it may not have the birding festivals that dotted the map in May and June, but it has plenty of other opportunities to lure birders outdoors.
We’re entering the season when shorebirds dominate the mud flats from mid-August through September. One of the best mudflats is in Lubec, near Quoddy Head State Park, and any of the mudflats from Cutler to downtown Machias can be productive. Weskeag Marsh in South Thomaston is exciting at high tide. At low tide, many of these shorebirds pop over to the riverfront in Thomaston. Popham Beach State Park and nearby Seawall Beach, which is part of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, are already attracting thousands of shorebirds. Scarborough Marsh and Pine Point are celebrated shorebird spots in the Portland area. Farther south, Biddeford Pool has quite a reputation.
Meanwhile, wandering ocean birds are fattening up in the Gulf of Maine. Many have flown north from the South Atlantic where they breed, including Wilson’s storm-petrels, great shearwaters, and sooty shearwaters. Other species nested in the far north and they are now foraging their way down our coast.
Red and red-necked phalaropes, as well as northern gannets, fall into this category. These northerners and southerners mix and swarm around whale-watch boats until October, occasionally harassed by parasitic and pomarine jaegers.
If you’re not ready to give up on warblers, then take advantage of their tendency to form feeding flocks prior to migration. There is safety in numbers and several different species of songbirds may forage together in order to keep multiple eyes watching for predators. They may not be singing, but they do chatter a lot to keep the flock together. During a walk through the woods, you may notice long periods of silence punctuated by brief periods of concentrated clamor. That’s a foraging flock.
Furthermore, since the birds are hyper-vigilant during this period, they have a tendency to investigate your pishing or squeaking or whatever funny noise you make that attracts a bird’s curiosity. Songbirds start their southbound migration in mid-August, with the majority hurrying out of here by mid-September. During second summer, they can put on quite a show.
Hawks skedaddle in mid-September. Broad-winged hawks are among the first to go, which makes sense since most are headed all the way to South America. They are loath to cross ocean, so their route takes them west as well as south. Huge kettles of broad-winged hawks ride the Texas winds across the Mexican border as a river of raptors streams south. During second summer, you can watch the beginning of the spectacle from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia.
Having now declared second summer, I also proclaim this additional advantage for birding: fewer bugs.
Bob Duchesne serves as a Maine Audubon trustee and vice president of its Penobscot Valley Chapter. Bob developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at www.mainebirdingtrail.com. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.