November is an interesting time for birding in Maine. Virtually all of our summer birds have packed their bags and headed for points south. Some like the Red-winged Blackbird only retreat to Massachusetts while Arctic Terns fly over 9,000 miles to their winter home off Antartica.
Meanwhile, our winter birds have arrived . . . sea ducks can be found off the Maine coast, while finches and grosbeak are moving into our conifer forests.
With millions of birds migrating across the continents, occasionally a few of them will turn the wrong way, north instead of south, east instead of west. This vagrancy is what gets birders really exciting . . . a rare bird miles outside its normal range.
In the last three day, Ingrid and I have seen three of these rarities.
On Sunday, we observed a Black Vulture, flying over the Maine Turnpike near Portland. I pulled over in the breakdown lane and almost got us both killed . . . but more importantly got photographs of this bird rarely seen north of Connecticut. It was soaring with a handful of common Turkey Vultures.
Yesterday we spent three hours at the exclusive Samoset Resort in Rockland. We were not lounging by the pool or eating chocolates off silk pillows . . . instead we were scanning the thickets behind the dumpster and refuge area . . . looking for a Yellow-breasted Chat. It finally popped into view for a whole 30 seconds. It was a thrill to see this bird whose summers range runs from Pennsylvania to California. The Yellow-breasted Chat should be in Central America by now.
Under normal circumstances, we’d be consider two rarities on successive days all one could ask for . . . but the real excitement came today when we joined a handful of crazy fellow birders in coaxing a Spotted Towhee out of the scrub at Fort Foster in Kittery. This Towhee was found on Sunday Morning by Derrick Lovitch and has remained elusive since then, appearing for brief glimpses and then disappearing, much to the disappointment of excited birders.
This is probably the first Spotted Towhee ever seen in Maine, although there was a single unconfirmed report from the 1960s. The Spotted Towhee is a relatively common bird west of Minnesota and Missouri but there a very few reports of this bird east of the Mississippi . . . the Spotted Towhee simply does not appear to wander.
This morning we watched the bird for 20 minutes as moved through cedar, pine and sumac trees. A real thrill.