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Where Have All The Songbirds Gone? (A Brief Introduction to Monsoon Molt Migration)

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Though the thermometer outside hits triple digits with alarming frequency in July and August here in California's Great Central Valley, according to the birds, fall migration is already underway! The "fall" migration of shorebirds is well-known for its early start in July, as individuals begin returning from Arctic breeding grounds while summer is still at its peak.  Failed nesters may arrive the earliest, but even those that raise young successfully in the short northern summers begin returning south when the calendar indicates that summer is far from over.   But what about songbirds?  How early do they pack up and head south?   Visit your favorite birding patch in August, even during the cool hours just after dawn, and you will most likely be met with... silence.  Why is it so quiet out there in late summer?  The birds seem to have just... vanished.  But are they really gone?  If so, where have they gone?  Have they migrated south already? Like migration itself, the ans

Birding in Maine: North Woods and Warblers

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After exploring the salt marshes and rocky coasts of Maine's southern and mid-coast regions, we headed north.  Way north.   Boreal forests beckoned at Baxter State Park, so after several days of exploring gorgeous Mount Desert Island and visiting famed Acadia National Park, we followed highway 95 north from Bangor - north into the woods.   Black-throated Green Warbler One of my birding goals for our June trip to New England was to see as many species of warblers as I could.  Small, agile and active, the New World warblers (also called parulids) are a diverse group of largely insectivorous songbirds in the family Parulidae.  Falling under the broad category of neotropical migrants (along with other colorful songbirds, like orioles, grosbeaks, buntings and tanagers), most North American warblers spend the brief summer months breeding in temperate and boreal forests, before migrating south to Central and South America for the winter.   Of the 47 species of warblers that breed in No

Birding in Maine: Seabirds & Puffin Islands!

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Everyone knows and loves the songbirds: bluebirds, robins, finches, sparrows, warblers.  Jewel-like hummingbirds have a strong following among flower gardeners, and powerful raptors are favorites of many birders and non-birders alike.  Hunters toting shotguns as well as those with binoculars know and love waterfowl of all sorts (albeit for strikingly different reasons).  Shorebirds, with their often minute differences, have their own particular subset of devotees as well.  But it takes a special kind of dedication to become intimately familiar with one of the most mysterious groups of birds: the seabirds.   Living their lives entirely at sea and coming ashore only to breed, typically on rocky, remote islands, seabirds are largely inaccessible to the average birder (let alone non-birder!)  Many of us have our first introduction to seabirds with feet planted firmly on dry land, while peering across the blue expanse through spotting scopes.  There, distant birds - shearwaters, jeagers, al

Birding in Maine: Saltmarsh

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Given my predilection for marshy, swampy places, it should come as no surprise that on my very first morning in Maine, the first place I headed was... a saltmarsh.  Scarborough Marsh, to be specific, south of Portland on the winding Nonesuch River.  It was here, in a drizzly rain shortly after dawn, as we squelched through mud and shooed away mosquitoes, that I fell in love with the state of Maine: dark green woods bordering the vividly verdant saltmarsh, brooding clouds reflected on the surface of glassy water, crisp air perfumed with a delightful combination of saltmarsh and conifers that I can't quite describe, and, of course, birds.   It was during my marshland reverie, as we attempted to cross a particularly soggy spot on a precarious plank, that Eric, hood drawn tight against the increasing rain and droning insects, mused aloud that this particular part of our "vacation" would be difficult to explain to our friends and family back home. The Nonesuch River meanders t

Birding in Massachusetts: Plum Island

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After spending the bare minimum amount of time required for a professor of American history to tour the seemingly endless collection of historic sites in the greater Boston area (which turned out to be five days for us, still not nearly long enough for Eric), we headed north to resume our birding adventure, sights set on the rugged and alluring coast of Maine.  But first, we stopped to spend the morning at one of Massachusetts' great birding sites: Plum Island.   The renowned Parker River National Wildlife Refuge occupies most of the island, and during spring migration this is one of the places to be in Massachusetts.  By the time I arrived, in mid-June, the birding had slowed down somewhat - but I still scraped up over fifty species in the very short four or five hours I was able to spend there.   Male Purple Martin The first highlight of the day came as we pulled into the parking lot, just past the entrance gate, and found ourselves face to face with a thriving Purple Martin col