Barnacle geese, like these is Helsinki, Finland, will occasionally show up in Maine. Lehtikuva, Martti Kainulainen/Associated Press

We are accustomed to the pulse of fall migration. Swallows, swifts and most of our flycatchers depart first, starting in August. Warblers, wrens, thrushes and vireos leave mostly in September. Sparrows are the last to depart, often lingering through October before taking their leave.

That brings us to November, a month where our daily bird lists are short and we are battening down for the Maine winter. But, November often brings us vagrant birds. Such was the case this November.

Don Reimer found a barnacle goose with a flock of Canada geese in Rockland. The most reliable place to see the goose was on the football field at South Elementary School. Barnacle geese are typically found in Europe and Asia. The closest breeding population to us is Greenland, the likely source of this vagrant. We have eight accepted Maine records of this species, all in the fall.

Other waterfowl have provided Maine with some amazing records. Like the barnacle goose, the pink-footed goose nests in Europe and Asia with the closest population to us in Greenland. We have 15 accepted records of this species, all in the fall. The most cooperative one was found in North Yarmouth on Oct. 14, 2009, and stuck around until Dec. 6, delighting scores of birders.

A couple of tundra swans have been seen recently on Little Ossipee Pond in Waterboro and another on Upper Range Pond in Poland. We have four accepted records of this species in the state, including a record from last November in Waterboro.

Tufted ducks are birds found in Europe and Asia, with occasional vagrancy to both the Atlantic and Pacific coast of North America. Maine has five records including two November records in Bar Harbor and Sabattus.

The fulvous whistling-duck is a species whose U.S. distribution is mainly along the Florida and Texas coast. We have three records for Maine including a flock from Nov. 22, 1963 at Bowdoinham. As the name suggests, a Pacific loon in Maine is out of place. We have two November records for Maine at Biddeford and Schoodic Point.

Franklin’s gull is an inland gull, occurring broadly across the western half of the continent. We have seven accepted records for Maine, including two November records from Wharton Point in Cumberland County and Lamoine.

Beginning on Nov. 7, many birders enjoyed an ash-throated flycatcher, a western vagrant, in Biddeford at the Churchyard of St. Martin’s Chapel. We have nine prior records for the species, including November occurrences in Bar Harbor, Saco, Northport, Portland and Lubec.

Maine’s most notable vagrant has to be the variegated flycatcher at Biddeford Pool on Nov. 5-11, 1977. This is a South American species and the Maine bird was the first record for North America. Subsequently, five other birds have been found in other states, as well as Ontario.

Gray kingbirds nest along the southeastern coast of the U.S. as far north as Georgia. Until last week we had two records for Maine, including a November 2010 record from Ogunquit. On Friday, a third one appeared in Biddeford.

Texas hosts most of the breeding population of cliff swallows in the U.S. We have six records of this species in Maine, all in November, in Scarborough, Ogunquit, Kittery and Cape Elizabeth. What are these aerial insectivores eating in Maine in November?

Who can forget the brave rock wren that showed up in Perkins Cove on Nov. 27, 2020 and stayed until at least Feb. 1, 2021? A most delightful western vagrant.

We have two records of the gorgeous mountain bluebird from western North America. Both were one-day November wonders in South Oxford and Lincoln.

The western black-throated gray warbler, Townsend’s warbler and hermit warbler (all closely related to our black-throated green warbler) occur rarely in Maine, mostly in November.

While it is true that birding can be slow late in the year, there is always the chance that an eye-popping vagrant will appear in your binocular field of view.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.