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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

4/23/2009 2:04:00 PM
Out-of-Range Rarities -
Black-headed Grosbeak that is normally found in the western U.S.  Photo by Don Reimer
Black-headed Grosbeak that is normally found in the western U.S. Photo by Don Reimer
by Don Reimer

Approximately 230 species of birds breed in Maine, and it is possible to observe over 400 species at various seasons of the year. Experience tells us that a given species will usually arrive at a predictable date of the year (generally within a week or so) and within an area of suitable habitat.

One of the fun aspects of bird watching is finding birds that occur far outside their normal territorial range, and still other birds that arrive at odd times of year. While many out-of-range rarities cannot be fully explained, several factors seem to influence these arrivals. During the pre-nesting period of April and early May, Maine birders discover a number of "overshoots." These are birds that migrate northward to find suitable nest sites but end up traveling too far north. Some examples of this phenomenon include the scattered Glossy Ibises and Great Egrets that fly past their intended nesting grounds around Scarborough and end up at places like Weskeag Marsh in South Thomaston.

Following the summer nesting season, we can expect to find a variety of fall wanderers (both immature and adult birds) that explore northern regions before finally retreating southward for the winter. For example, small numbers of Cave Swallows (a species found in Texas, Mexico and the Caribbean) have cruised up the Atlantic coastline into Canada in recent falls. The Black-headed Grosbeak (our photo bird) is another case in point. Somehow this immature male grosbeak wandered eastward toward Maine last fall rather than heading south to Mexico. Some birds continue in their errant ways for several seasons: a single Western Grebe spent 16 winters in the shallow waters off Reid State Park with hundreds of smaller grebes and was recorded on annual Christmas Bird Counts.

Powerful weather systems also deliver southern birds to our Maine doorsteps. In recent weeks, a large low pressure ocean system brought us several Prothonotary Warblers (a bright yellow-headed cavity-nesting warbler from the southeastern U.S.), a Summer Tanager and a Yellow-throated Warbler. Heavy summer storms also bring a notable list of southern ocean species: Brown Pelican, Frigate Birds and a variety of unusual terns, to name just a few. A far-ranging Red-billed Tropicbird has spent four consecutive summers around Matinicus Rock and Seal Island, where it has shown possible interest in nesting.

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