This coastal migrant trap on Cousin’s Island is the site of massive early-morning fall flights of songbirds, including robins, Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, kinglets, siskins, parulas, and other birds.
By Derek Lovitch | Published: 8/20/2010
I am enthralled with the spectacle of migration in action. In fall, light west and northwest winds nudge southbound migrant passerines offshore into the Gulf of Maine as they fly overnight. Come dawn, the birds need to get to the shelter, safety, and food resources of the mainland. As the sun rises on the horizon, “morning reorientation flight” begins.
Geography funnels birds to Cousin’s Island as they island-hop their way inland. Sandy Point Beach, the northwest corner of the island, is the closest point to the mainland, so birds concentrate here before crossing. When conditions are prime, I’ll be at my “office” at the base of the bridge — hot tea and hand-clickers at the ready — attempting to quantify the spectacle of small specks hurtling overhead at breakneck speeds. I’ve tallied 166 species in the park, including 27 warbler species.
Luckily, Sandy Point is about much more than just passing silhouettes. On the best mornings, the short trees and scrub of the parking lot can be dripping with birds as they fuel up or rest before making the half-mile crossing to the mainland. — Derek Lovitch
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location: 43°46’24.39″N 70°8’42.74″W
Scrub, shrubs, small trees, weedy edges, beach, sand and mud bar, small saltmarsh, open water.
Most birding is done from the parking lot edge, so it is wheelchair-accessible. A moderately steep trail descends about 75 yards to the water, and a rutted track leads through a power-line cut.
166 species. Massive flights of regular migrants, including 3,069 birds on October 7, 2008, and 2,514 birds on September 25, 2009. Notable high counts: 735 American Robins, 731 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 471 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 444 Blackpoll Warblers, 304 American Redstarts, 250 Dark-eyed Juncos, 232 Pine Siskins, 170 Cedar Waxwings, 155 Golden-crowned Kinglets, 143 Northern Parulas, 106 Northern Flickers, 53 Snow Buntings, 32 Blue-headed Vireos, and 4 Cape May Warblers. In winter, check the water for Barrow’s Goldeneye (1-2 annually), Harlequin Duck (one record), and Greater Scaup among the hundreds of Common Eiders. Rarities include Prothonotary and Blue-winged Warblers, Blue Grosbeak, and Dickcissel (rare but regular).
When to go
Mid-August through late October, in the first two to three hours after sunrise after a night with west or northwesterly winds.
The author takes his free, weekly Saturday Morning Birdwalk group to the site when conditions are conducive. A portable toilet is present sometimes, but all other necessities are a few miles away in downtown Yarmouth.
Town beach. Free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.
Fall mornings in Maine are often chilly, so dress accordingly. Bring a spotting scope to scan the mudflats and open water.
For more info
Spear Farm Estuary Preserve
On Bayview St. in Yarmouth. Good for migrants in spring and fall, especially after a strong flight at Sandy Point Beach.
Eight miles from Sandy Point Beach in Freeport. Good for shorebirds and waterbirds; excellent numbers of waterfowl in the fall and winter, including Barrow’s Goldeneye.