As 2022 ends, I’m tempted to make some New Year’s resolutions for 2023. But what’s the use? I won’t keep them anyway.
I’d rather look back at 2022 — a memorable year for birders in Maine. Just about 12 months ago, we were all chasing Steller’s sea eagles around Boothbay Harbor. Spoiler alert: that’ll be No. 1 on my Top 10 list of rare birds that visited Maine this year.
There are many contenders for No. 10 on the list. I’ll go with September’s fork-tailed flycatcher that was photographed in Machias. It’s not the first time this rare bird has appeared in Maine. Although it’s a tropical species, it has a remarkable tendency to wander.
Coming in at No. 9, two Henslow’s sparrows showed up in Brunswick in early August. It’s a secretive bird, even on its home territory. It nests in weedy fields from the Allegheny Mountains to the Mississippi River. I’ve seen just one in my life, on April 23, 2021, in Frostburg, Maryland. The little twerp kept singing, despite trying to hide from me under a bush. I only got a glimpse, but it counts. How anyone could see and identify one in Maine astonishes me.
Kennebunkport produced No. 8, a northern wheatear. Weirdly, I’ve seen one previously, at the same spot, in 2012. Apparently, the mouth of the Mousam River looks much like the braided rivers and tundra of its home range in the far north. It nests across northern Eurasia and winters in Africa.
Northern lapwings are crested shorebirds, similar in appearance and behavior to killdeers. They range across northern Eurasia, from Iceland to Japan. Occasionally, they get blown off course and pop up in North America. It’s rare to see one in Maine. So, when five showed up on a field in Hodgdon two weeks ago, that’s good enough to list at No. 7.
I saw a Townsend’s solitaire in June on a mountain slope in Alaska’s Denali National Park. I haven’t seen the one that is still hanging out at Laudholm Farm in Wells, making it No. 6. John Kirk Townsend collected the first one in Oregon in 1835. These thrushes don’t migrate far, so any bird east of the Rockies is unusual.
That Townsend guy really got around. The Townsend’s warbler is also named after him. This species is rarely seen east of the Mississippi. Two appeared in Maine this year, the first on Monhegan Island in May, putting it at No. 5 on the list.
A sage thrasher showed up in Falmouth last week, just in time to take the fourth spot. It’s still there. Oddly, this western bird that prefers desert sagebrush was discovered and photographed by a crowd, during a weekly bird walk at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm headquarters. If it wanted attention, it couldn’t have picked a better place. Are you listening, Henslow’s sparrow? Only one has ever been seen in Maine before, a bird that spent more than a week at the Nubble Lighthouse in York 18 years ago. Yes, I did go see that one.
When a tufted puffin appeared on Petit Manan in June, it guaranteed itself the No. 3 spot on my 2022 rare bird list. It’s an abundant species in the Pacific Northwest. I saw a ton of them in Alaska. To get to Maine, the bird would have to navigate its way through the once-frozen Northwest Passage. Still, it’s the second one to find its way here in the last eight years. Maybe there’s something to this whole global warming thing.
No question, the Eurasian marsh-harrier that arrived on Vinalhaven and moved to Thomaston in August grabs the No. 2 spot. This Old World bird had only been reported one other time in all of North America, 28 years ago.
It’s impossible to explain why so many rare birds turned up in Maine this year. Birds have always wandered. Evolution favors birds that adapt to environmental changes by expanding their ranges. Either more birds are wandering these days, or we’re just getting better at spotting them. There are more of us out there than ever. Birding has never been more popular. Perhaps you were somewhere in the crowd that witnessed this year’s rarest celebrity.
The Steller’s sea eagle. At No. 1, it’s still around, having spent most of the summer in Newfoundland. It moved down to New Brunswick at the end of November, and I won’t be surprised if Mainers get to chase it again in 2023. Keep your eyes open for a mega-rare bird the size of a school bus.