Birders tell themselves that it’s fun to bird in December, but c’mon.
Wiping ice out of your binocular eyecups while you try to identify gulls in the whipping wind? Not great. Waking up before sunrise for a Christmas bird count where you find six total species? Not great, either.
Birding in December is best for talking about how good birding is in the spring, and also for reminiscing. Let’s look back now on the rarest birds found in Maine last year.
10 — Ash-throated flycatcher, Nov. 8-17, Biddeford Pool. Found by Alan Kneidel and Taj Schottland, visiting birders from Vermont (that stings!), this lovely bird was reliably seen for more than a week.
9 — Black-headed grosbeak, Jan. 14-Feb. 15, Capisic Park, Portland. Typically only found from the Rockies westward, this bird took up winter residence at Capisic, where it was somewhat overshadowed by the No. 1 bird on our list. It was originally found by birder Frank Paul.
8 — Townsend’s solitaire, June 16, Lily Bay Township. Another Western species, Susan Brickner-Wren photographed this bird near Moosehead Lake at an especially unusual time since most of these strays are seen in the late fall or winter.
7 — Barnacle goose, Nov. 5-25, Rockland. One of these beautiful geese likely got mixed up with a flock of Canada geese heading south from Greenland and ended up not in its species’ normal wintering range of the United Kingdom or Europe, but in downtown Rockland. It was first spotted by Don Reimer.
6 — Brown booby, June-August, Gulf of Maine. Southern seabirds are becoming a more regular presence as the Gulf of Maine warms. What was likely a single brown booby was seen repeatedly in the gulf this summer, first by Thierry Besancon on a whale watch in June, and then by Nathan Dubrow and other researchers on Mt. Desert Rock and Great Duck Island.
5 — Gray kingbird, Dec. 3-5, Goose Rocks Beach, Kennebunkport. This flycatcher is typically found no further north than the Gulf Coast but was spotted by Loren Merrill at Goose Rocks Beach, one of just a handful of individuals of this species ever seen in Maine.
4 — Rock wren, November 2020-February 2021, Perkins Cove, Ogunquit. Maine’s first-ever rock wren, a western species, was found on the rocks by the Jackie’s Too Restaurant by Diana Onacki and was seen reliably until early February.
3 — Masked booby, Aug. 9, Mt. Desert Rock. Maine’s first-ever masked booby, another seabird of tropical waters, was spotted by Nathan Dubrow, along with Georgia Lattig and Levi Sheridan, flying past the island.
2 — Redwing, Jan. 29-Feb. 22, Capisic Park, Portland. Birder Brendan McKay took a break from waiting for the No. 8 black-headed grosbeak to appear and instead found something even rarer: a beautiful European thrush that was never before seen in Maine. The obliging bird hung out for nearly a month, calmly eating berries with American robins while tolerating a crush of birders and the normal Capisic throngs of dog-walkers.
1 — Steller’s sea eagle, Dec. 30-?, Five Islands, Georgetown. An incredible, last-moment addition to this list, and right at the top. I’d argue that this is the rarest bird ever seen in Maine. It’s native to Russia and is just one of 4,000 in the world (compared to hundreds of thousands of bald eagles), and this single individual has just up and decided to wander the globe. It was first spotted in Alaska, then Texas(!), then the Canadian Maritimes, then Massachusetts. On Dec. 30, it was spotted at Five Islands, and it’s been seen every day since, to the delight of hundreds of birders from all over the country – and to the bemusement of local lobstermen just trying to do their jobs.
It was an incredible year, as always, for Maine birds and Maine birders. Now we can start compiling a new list for 2022. Thanks to Maine Audubon’s Doug Hitchcox for his help getting the word out about all these birds, and with compiling this list.
Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.