Fall Songbird Workshop with DownEast Adventures Trip report, 9/12/2020

Well, that was a great morning of birding! Thanks to an absolutely huge flight of migrants overnight, we had oodles of birds to look at for our Fall Songbird Workshop with our partners, DownEast Adventures.

Well, they might not have been coming out into the sun like this one, but we did see a lot of Swainson's Thrushes, and a whole lot of them in the open, throughout the morning.

Migratory bird workshops are always a gamble because we don’t know where birds might be on a given day during the season’s protracted migration. I chose to start at Portland’s Capisic Pond Park because even on a slow day for migration, there are enough common and conspicuous birds here to keep us occupied.

It was not a slow day for migrants here.

In fact, at times it was almost too active – birds darting left and right, another new bird in our field of view while still discussing the last bird, and lots to look at. It’s a good problem to have, indeed.

We jumped into the basics of warbler vs vireo when a Red-eyed Vireo stayed unusually still in the warming morning sun. Soon thereafter we spotted an uncommon Philadelphia Vireo which is always a treat to see in migration. Even better, a short while later we had an instructive comparison with a bright Warbling Vireo. Perhaps if we had any complaints it was that warbler diversity was limited to Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-white Warbler, and Yellow Warbler, but great looks at 2 Veeries, Northern Flickers in morning re-determined migration, migrant Ospreys, a fly-over Great Egret, and several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds helped make up for it. White-throated Sparrows also arrived overnight, with the first handful of the season showing up in migrant traps this morning.

While Red-eyed Vireos were the most common migrant overall, I think Swainson’s Thrushes stole the show. Normally shy and very secretive in fall migration, we not only saw a bunch, we saw them very, very well; at least 8-10 individuals, and some perching out in the open for rather considerable amounts of time. No doubt migrants that dropped in overnight, they were busy feasting on what’s left of the fruiting trees in this urban oasis.

Our next stop was Evergreen Cemetery, which is under-birded in the fall, and made for a nice contrast to the early-successional edge at Capisic. But once again Swainson’s Thrushes were the most common and unusually-conspicuous migrant. At least 9 were tallied including the one that interrupted my field guide basics lecture by walking out into the open grass like a robin. More Red-eyed Vireos here as well, along with a Solitary Sandpiper, lots of Painted Turtles, and a demonstration of molt provided by the local gang of Mallards.

But, we also had more warblers. We found 1-2 mixed-species foraging flocks led by Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches that had a nice variety of migrants in tow. We saw a few Northern Parulas, and one each of Magnolia Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart and heard a still-singing Pine Warbler. The highlight, however, was the adult male Cape May Warbler nicely demonstrating the “bird-finding by habitat” concept when we spotted it in the row of tall spruces around the pond that they seek out in migration.

We finished up with a very basic overview of “birding by radar” in an attempt to explain why we had such good success this morning in finding migrants. Lots of birds, nice diversity, quality looks, and good demonstrations of birding concepts rounded out a very successful workshop on a lovely fall morning.

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