Well, I've decided I could use a break from the regularly scheduled programming here at the blog. It's time for some much-needed white season rest which will afford me the space required to return with a fresh perspective.
If you're in need of inspiration while I'm away, browse the blog's complete index which includes 35 Life List Bird Games and 196(!) Nature Quizzes. To aid your winter exploring, borrow some of my recommended resources from your local library. Also, keep an eye on my upcoming events. If you have feedback or questions for me in the meantime, feel free to reach out.
Lastly, I'd like to express deep gratitude to you for following and supporting my work, and I invite you to look for my next blog post around the spring equinox.
I kicked off 2017 by observing 111 species in January including two life birds -- Pink-footed Goose and Great Gray Owl. With such a big month behind me, I decided to keep it up and continued to bird hard through the rest of winter and into spring. I methodically tracked down resident birds and logged a number of miles chasing rarities.
In April, when I had the opportunity to see a Vermillion Flycatcher and a Fieldfare, both first state records, I began to think I'd be able to top my 2016 total of 305 species and perhaps even set a new state record (the current one held by Doug Hitchcox was 314). On April 28, I reached 200 species, with no intention of slowing down. 250 came on May 18; 275 on June 21; and 300 on August 29. With four months to go, I resolved to find at least 15 more species.
It took a little more than 2 months. On November 1, I found a Summer Tanager (#315) just a couple of miles from home. Two weeks later, I twitched a Yellow-throated Warbler (#316), and finally, on New Year's Eve, I twitched a timely Dovekie (#317).
What follows is the complete list of species I saw/heard in Maine in 2017. You can also view photo highlights on my Flickr page.
* Life Bird
♦ Only at Stakeout (rarity found by someone else), location noted
◊ Originally at Stakeout, but later observed elsewhere
¤ Assisted by guide or birding companion, not at known Stakeout
† Only seen during off-shore boat trip (some with help of other birders/guides)
∴ Self-found rarity
Loons and Grebes [6 species]
Pacific Loon ♦ -- Fortunes Rocks Beach, Biddeford Common Loon
Shearwaters, Storm-Petrels and Tropicbirds [8 species]
Northern Fulmar †
Great Shearwater †
Sooty Shearwater †
Manx Shearwater †
Leach's Storm-Petrel †
Red-billed Tropicbird ♦† -- Seal Island NWR
Frigatebirds, Gannets, Cormorants, and Pelicans [5 species]
Magnificient Frigatebird*♦ -- Prouts Neck, Scarborough
Brown Pelican*♦ -- Prouts Neck, Scarborough
Bitterns, Heron and Allies [13 species]
American Bittern Great Blue Heron
Little Egret ♦ -- Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, Falmouth
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron ♦ -- Wharton Point, Brunswick
Cattle Egret ♦ -- Mud Creek Rd., Lamoine
Green Heron Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron ♦ -- Ice Pond, Monhegan
White-faced Ibis ♦ -- Spurwink Marsh, Cape Elizabeth
Finches [9 species]
Evening Grosbeak ♦ -- River Rd., Arundel
Common Redpoll ♦ -- Waterville Rd., Skowhegan Red Crossbill
____________________________ Grand Total [317 species]
Notable misses include: American Three-toed Woodpecker, Western Kingbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Least Bittern, Long-tailed Jaeger, Seaside Sparrow, Long-eared Owl, Franklin's Gull, and Tundra Swan. And, as in 2016, while I did observe Red Phalaropes on a boat trip out of Maine, I was in Canadian waters when I saw them, so they didn't make my state list.
My record breaking 2017 Big Year was made possible by so many generous people, including birders, eBirders, and boat captains, and so many birds, including backyard residents, short and long-distance annual migrants, and more than a handful of shocking vagrants. Thank you all!
It's time again to look back on and evaluate the Naturalist Goals that I set forth one turn-of-the-seasons ago. For the second year in a row, I unexpectedly dedicated a significant chunk of the year to a Maine Birding Big Year (more on this next week), but I nonetheless managed to meet most of my goals. Here's a breakdown of each one:
explore each of the following locations in northern York County, at least once per season: California Fields Wildlife Area (CFWA) in Hollis; Sawyer Mountain Highlands (SMH) in Limerick/Limington; Waterboro Barrens Preserve (WBP) in Waterboro/Shapleigh
I visited CFWA most often -- 11 times across 9 months. I was less successful with the other two locations. I visited SMH four times in the first half of the year, and I visited WBP only twice, in January and May.
obtain equipment (field recorder and microphone, for starters) to record and share high quality sound recordings of birds, insects, ocean, etc.
I purchased a field recorder and shotgun microphone early in the year, and put them to use documenting bird calls, songs, and non-vocal sounds (e.g., woodpecker drumming).
photograph at least 2 of the 5 birds who I've seen but not yet photographed (Dovekie, Tundra Swan, Prothonotary Warbler, Purple Gallinule, and Northern Bobwhite)
This goal proved difficult to accomplish. I almost had an opportunity to photograph a Tundra Swan in Whitefield, ME, but the day I heard about the bird was the first day the pond he/she had been seen on froze over. I'll either need to travel beyond state lines to secure photos of these birds, or else patiently await a twitchable Maine bird. The good news is that I secured photos of all 13 of my 2018 Life Birds, so I still have just 5 species on my to-be-photographed list.
consume a diversity of wild foods by focusing on a different plant, seaweed, fish, shellfish, insect, mushroom, or mammal, each week of the year
Done! This challenge encouraged me to consume a variety of wild foods, including three types of fish that I caught 20+ miles offshore; some shellfish I gathered or dug myself (and others that I purchased); a multitude of fruits, leaves, shoots, and teas; a couple of fungi; and one seaweed. I didn't end up eating any wild mammals or insects (that I know of) -- perhaps a focus for next year?
hike 10+ miles along the Appalachian Trail in Maine
In late May, with a bit of the trail still covered with ice and snow, a friend and I birded and hiked an 11+ mile round-trip section of the AT from Route 4 in Sandy River Plantation to the summit of Saddleback Mountain.
and continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but on Mondays (instead of Wednesdays), and with a new format; each post will feature one photo (and perhaps an audio clip), three phenology notes, my wild edible of the week report (see above goal), moon challenge updates (when applicable), and finally a nature challenge of the week (for you, the reader)
The 2017 Nature Notes format kept me organized and on task. I was pleased with the outcome.
Lastly, I ask you to consider articulating a specific nature-related goal for the coming turn-of-the-seasons, whether it be something you aim to do daily, weekly, monthly, or even just once during 2018. Please share your goal(s) with other readers in the comments below.
I'm honored that you make space in your day to read my blog. I'm also grateful to everyone who has supported me by responding to my writings with friendly comments, personal stories, quiz guesses, nature questions, and mystery photos -- keep them coming! My hope is that in paying attention to my work, you'll be inspired to get outside and discover the mysteries right outside your door.
If you've benefited from my sharing my words and photographs, or if you've enjoyed attending my walks and workshops, you might like to know that there is another way to offer your support. By contributing $1 or more per month on Patreon, you can help to ensure that I can continue to do my work of connecting people with the natural world. Sixteen awesome people have stepped up to become patrons so far, and today I ask:
Would you kindly consider joining my community of supporters by becoming a patron?
Flipping through some of my files earlier this month, I came across a piece I wrote for a newspaper almost 12 years ago. The following letter appeared on the Opinion page of the December 24, 2005 edition of The Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, MA):
Discover the mysteries just outside your door
To the editor:
After graduating from college last year, I couldn't tell you the difference between a white or red oak. I had no idea what birds lived near my home, aside from the "seagulls" and "pigeons" (which I now know as ring-billed gulls and rocks doves). And I didn't know there were wild turkeys and coyotes living nearby.
In those days I considered myself an environmentalist. I knew about toxins and teratogens. I knew that "recycled" computers were often dumped on Asian countries where they poisoned the land and people.
I knew about (and lobbied to help address) the realities of environmental racism in poor neighborhoods.
Yet, my knowledge was hardly complete.
I can't speak for your schooling experience, but mine was lacking in the local. It's taken me a year to learn some of the most basic knowledge about the non-human communities around me -- knowledge that should be (and not long ago was) common sense.
Now I can identify most native trees, I can recognize a dozen birds by their song alone, and I pay attention to the tracks and signs left by elusive animals.
Since graduating, I find studying nature to be my most meaningful pastime. Every day I notice something different, uncover a new mystery in my backyard.
Flipping through field guides (or, better yet, spending time with a naturalist) and walking in a forest or along a stream should be part of every child's upbringing.
If we desire to live responsibly on the earth, we must start by knowing and appreciating the little part we can see.
Parents especially must provide these opportunities for their children, for the generations to come.