Category Archives: Private Guiding and Tours

2017 Birds on Tap – Roadtrips!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2017 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” (sm) series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

Who would have thought that, when I made that first call a year and a half ago to pitch the idea, we would not only be expanding to ten tours, but we would also featured in the Portland Press Herald (in the Food section no less) and Maine Public Radio. And then we went national via the Associated Press! (And for a little more about the history of our tour partnership, check out this blog entry from last year).

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For 2017, we have added several new itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Some of our most exciting new tours include March’s “Gulls and Growlers” where we’ll see dozens of eagles and look for rare gulls, and in July, we’ll spend a day at the beach looking at terns and shorebirds. In between, we’ll revisit all of our successful tours from 2016, including both Spring and Fall editions of Ducks and Draughts.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 12th – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: Sunday, Feb 19)
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: SoMe Brewing Co. in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, March 4 – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: SATURDAY, Mar 11)
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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles.  Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.  After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks if they are around.

Breweries: Lost Orchard/Crooked Halo Cidery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 2 – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling, both in Newcastle.

“Warbler and Wort”
Sunday, May 14 – 8:00am to 2:00pm.
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We’ll be taking two easy hikes on this outing to enjoy breeding birds and migrants in the inland forests. Our first stop will be in pine barren habitat. Although not all breeding birds will be present in full force, some of our targets, such as Prairie and Pine Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees will be. We’ll also look for a Clay-colored Sparrow should a territorial bird return, and there’s always the chance that Red Crossbills could be around. Our next stop will be a location in search of Louisiana Waterthrushes. Once thought to be rare in Maine, they are actually a locally common breeding bird in very specific habitat. We’ll visit one of two locales for this species taking another walk in search of this shy bird. Hearing them is likely, but we’ll accept the challenge of getting to see one!  A variety of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and many others may also be encountered.

Breweries: Gneiss Brewing Co. in Limerick and Sebago Brewing Co. in Gorham.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 4th – 8:00am to 2:30pm.
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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow  in Lyman and Banded Horn in Biddeford.

“Beach and Brews”
Sunday, July 16th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds.  Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barrelled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Beer”
Sunday, August 13th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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The original BoT Roadtrip!  in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 8th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.
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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two.  This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Tributary Brewing Co. and Woodland Farms Breweries in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 12th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation”
Sunday, December 10th – 9:00am to 3:30pm.
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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.  And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including online sign-ups with a credit card), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website:

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Farms and Fermentation, 12/11/16

Our seventh and final “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2016, entitled “Farms and Fermentation” traveled inland on Sunday. Unlike most of our itineraries, Farms and Fermentation has a very flexible birding route, affording us the opportunity to take advantage of seasonal highlights and variables including weather, northern bird irruptions, and local food supplies.

The theme of the tour is the connection between agricultural lands and birds, but we also spent plenty of time checking out the region’s most significant bodies of water as recent cold weather has slowly frozen small ponds and lakes, pushing waterfowl to the open waters of the deep Lake Auburn and the fast-flowing Androscoggin River.

It was a frigid day, but with temperatures rapidly rising through the 20’s and virtually no wind at most of our stops, we enjoyed a very pleasant and productive morning of birding. Our first stop was a large, open agricultural field in Gray and New Gloucester, where we immediately found 16 Horned Larks within about 30 yards of the road. No Snow Buntings, as I had hoped for, but the views of the four larks that stayed with us were hard to beat.
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Letting the temperatures climb a bit, we hit the road for a longer stretch to arrive on the north shore of Lake Auburn. Unfortunately, the ducks were elsewhere today – perhaps flushed by an eagle or two  – but we did view two Horned Grebes (rare inland in Maine except for here and Sebago Lake and a rather late date for them away from the coast). One distant Common Loon was also spotted.
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A short hop to North River Road sampled the birds of early successional forest, undoubtedly the first step in reforestation of an abandoned farm. American Tree Sparrows, quite a few Northern Cardinals, and a number of House Finches were present, while a Bald Eagle soared over the river beyond the cornfields across the road (still no Snow Buntings). The highlight, however, was a Red-tailed Hawk that circled up and then glided low over our heads, with the reflection of the thin coating of snow on the ground acting as a spotlight to really light up its pale plumage.

Three punk-rock Hooded Mergansers were at the nearby boat launch, and we finished up with some more waterfowl along the Auburn Riverwalk. Nearly 200 Mallards were present, affording us the chance to study individual variation and hybridization, as well as taking a moment to savor a truly beautiful critter.
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As for this individual, I am not sure how to interpret its odd plumage: a very old female taking on male characteristics, a hybrid with something domesticated, or perhaps a male that for some reason is unable to fully attain an adult plumage. Whatever it is, it was a perfect example of how much there is to be learned from looking at our most common birds!
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Four American Black Ducks and some odd Domestic things were present, but I was hoping for an unusual dabbler or two to have joined the masses with the recent freezing. However, we did have two more Hooded Mergansers, and downriver, two spiffy drake Common Mergansers. A Common Loon was a little out of place on the river, likely a bird that woke up to encroaching ice on a lake this morning!
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Don then took over as layers were shed for good, as we crossed the bridge into Lewiston on our way to Bear Bones Beer. Don was giving us some of the history of this new brewery, but I interrupted to have him pull into a parking lot. We quickly disembarked to temporarily resume our birding with scope views of the local male Peregrine Falcon eating lunch atop of the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center, as per our tradition during “Birds on Tap – Roadtrips” to Lewiston!

Arriving at Bear Bones Beer, a nanobrewery with a focus on sustainable production and ingredients, co-founder Eban Dingman welcomed us into the comfortable space in a renovated portion of a former department store in the heart of downtown.

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We began our tasting with their 2X C.R.E.A.M, a smooth cream ale that featured a very nice balance, avoiding overdoing it with the hops. Dry-hopped with fruity Mosaic hops, Robot Bear Porter finished with a fruit flavor not typical of porters, putting a nice twist on a good winter stand-by. Picea, a dry stout brewed with spruce tips added to the whirlpool process, featured a subtle hint of spruce/resin, especially on the back end.

After sampling some of their applewood smoked barley malt, we tasted it in action. I went with the New Dead Smoked IPA, with just the hint of the smoky flavor and a more subtle hop kick than most IPAs these days. The “over-hopping” bandwagon had definitely not arrived – thankfully, if you ask me – here on Lisbon Street.
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Winston provided additional entertainment

Trekking back across country, keeping an eye out for Northern Shrikes (we did spot two Northern Mockingbirds today however, much rarer in winter in interior Maine than shrikes!) as we returned to New Gloucester for a special visit to Norumbega Cidery. Open to the public only for the occasional special event, this was a real treat to learn about Noah Fralich’s family farm and his four-year-old cidery. Discussing his plans for the property, including the cultivation of a wide variety of heirloom and specialty apples, we also discussed the value of orchards to birding: in fact, if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings had made it this far south by now, we likely would have visited an orchard or two on today’s tour – and wondered if in a few years, we might see these species right here at Norumbega.
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I’m not a big cider guy, as I usually don’t like sweet drinks in general. Many of the most popular hard ciders today (at least from the national brands) are loaded with sugar, and are more akin to soda. Dry ciders, however, are closer to wine, and the white wine yeasts that Noah uses produce a very crisp, very dry, and very delicious product that retains aromatics and subtle flavors.

We began with the clean and crisp Classic, with just a hint of tartness followed by the Berry Medley with a sweet and bitter contrast from the tannins and sugars found in four varieties of berries. Sweeter than the others, but still finishing very smooth and crisp, the Honey (technically, a ceyser because of the use of honey) was next up, featuring its very subtle honey notes and nose. And finally, we tried the Spice – my new favorite cider that I left with four bottles of – with a really complex taste profile and depth of flavor produced by only three added spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (admittedly, I also tend to love anything with nutmeg) that made me think of an unsweetened apple pie.
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Taking the back roads back to Freeport, we slammed on the breaks when a Barred Owl was spotted, and quickly unloaded. Unfortunately, the Barred Owl was less excited and melted away into the woods, bringing our birding day, and our successful “Farms and Fermentation” tour to a close.

With ten tours on the schedule for 2017, including some really exciting new itineraries, we look forward to having your on board soon. All of the tours are posted on the “Tours, Events, and Workshops” page of our website, with direct links for online reservations.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Migrants and Malts, 10/9/2016

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The forecast called for light showers ending in the early morning, and the sun coming out. With rain developing overnight with the passage of a cold front, dreams of a fallout danced in our head as we headed south on the Maine Turnpike on Sunday for our latest installment of the “Birds on Tap (sm)– Roadtrip!” series.

Fort Foster in Kittery was our destination, and there are few other places I’d rather be in Maine if a fallout was going to occur. But had the winds shifted early enough? Did birds take to the air before the rain arrived? Would the rain stop in time for sun to shine on the hottest corners of the park?

With anticipation – and quite a bit of apprehension because most of us were dressed for a few brief light showers – we stepped off the bus at the entrance to Fort Foster in a light, but steady rain. I was watching a plume of moisture offshore; moisture that was being sucked up from Hurricane Matthew.  It was supposed to remain offshore.

It didn’t.

It kept raining. And then it rained some more. We got soaked to the bone, and suffice to say, there was no fallout. (And for the record, the “showers ending in the early morning” continued to fall, moderate at times, through about 11pm that night!).
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But luckily it was fairly warm, we were mostly in shelter from the wind, and we found a few good pockets of birds.  Our first bird of the day was a low and close Blackpoll Warbler along the entrance road, which stoked the fallout hopes briefly. But other than a couple of pockets of White-throated Sparrows, the woods were rather slow.

We spent some time with plant ecology, and talked about the importance of the shrub-scrub habitat in the park. We played in the wrack line on the beach to observe Springtails and Seaweed Flies.  A large male Gray Seal on offshore rocks dwarfed the Harbor Seals around it.  A Great Cormorant posed for us to compare it to the plethora of Double-crested Cormorants nearby, and Common Eiders and a couple of Common Loons, joined by 8 newly-arrived Surf Scoters, plied the waters.
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A couple of cooperative Least Sandpipers were on the beach, while a single mixed-species foraging flock that contained a truant Wilson’s Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers amongst a band of Black-capped Chickadees hinted at the migrant potential of the place, as did a low and close late American Redstart a little earlier.
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Four Semipalmated Sandpipers were studied at exceptionally close range at nearby Seapoint Beach, which also hosted 6 Semipalmated Plovers. Unfortunately, Legion Pond only contained a handful of Mallards today.

These were all new locations for everyone on the tour, so the value of exploring new areas (to return to on a sunny day!) was recognized, even if the birding was on the lackluster side of things. As was the weather.

So with our rather damp birding time coming to a close, Don Littlefield took over and delivered us to Kittery’s Tributary Brewing Company.

After working at several breweries throughout his career, New England brewing legend Tod Mott – the creator of the Harpoon IPA that is often credited with beginning the American IPA revolution – and his wife, Galen, opened their own brewery in September of 2014. With a focus on “traditional, well-balanced, full-bodied beers” and locally-sourced ingredients, Tributary has rapidly become a favorite tasting room destination for many aficionados.
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And it just happened to be down the road from Fort Foster – which, when it’s not pouring rain – is one of Maine’s premier birding destinations and therefore was a natural fit for a Birds on Tap (sm) – Roadtrip! destination.  One half of the Ian and Ian tag-team duo of brewers, Ian Goering, came into work early to open the doors to welcome us out of the elements.
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We began our tasting with an American Mild brewed with an experimental hops that offered an essence of strawberry. Downplaying malts in order to showcase the hops, it was a little bitter by design, with a less sweet finish.

Next up was the Oktoberfest – which turned out to be the favorite beer of the day for many –a fuller bodied lager, heavier in malts, yet with a crisp finish.
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As we sipped it, Ian gave us a tour of their ultra-clean and efficient brew house.

Next up was their Blueberry Ale which – unlike many blueberry beers that add artificial flavors or blueberry syrup – added real blueberries into the kettle to allow the sugars of the fruit to be fermented by the brewing yeasts. The result was a decidedly un-sweet pale ale that had just the essence of blueberries.

Last but not least, we enjoyed a taste of their smoky and very chocolate-y – while still being nice and hoppy – Black IPA.
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New fans of Tributary. Well, and/or just cold and needing another layer?

We were able to dry out further as Don filled us in on some of Maine’s brewing facts and history as we headed up the road to Hidden Cove Brewing Company in Wells.

Formerly a restaurant with a small house brewery, the building has been creatively re-purposed into a growing brewing operation.  A “tale of two breweries,” as Don put it, with “traditional offerings alongside more creative barrel-aged” options, Hidden Cove offers a wide array of options in their tasting room.
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Today, we sampled five diverse offerings, beginning with their Patroon IPA – their best selling, flagship beer which was rich in juicy hops.

Next up was the Compadre Pale Ale, “the sidekick to the flagship IPA and is a classic West Coast IPA that utilizes a single hop, Belma.”  The tropical fruit flavors really came through for me, with a very crisp and clean finish.

Rich with the flavor of Meyer Lemon peel, the refreshing Summer Ale brought us back to warmer days. Bitter (remember, that is not always meant as a negative when tasting beer!) and yet quite bready from the yeast, the hop-forward Belgian IPA was the last planned sample.
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However, Don wanted to show off the creative brews that are coming out of their aging barrels, so we were treated to a sample of the very complex Mo-Lay, a sour pumpkin with chili, chocolate (mole), and finished in bourbon barrels with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus. Like a lot of complicated beers, some people loved it, some didn’t, but everyone enjoyed the opportunity to see what people are doing with beer these days.

Afterall, part of the goal of the Birds on Tap (sm) – Roadtrip! series is to introduce folks to new breweries and new birding sites, new beers and new birds, and broaden horizons and open eyes wider to each!

Speaking of, our next Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour is coming up. On November 13th, join us for our second annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts” when we venture north to the waterfowl hotspot of Sabattus Pond, followed by stops at Baxter Brewing and Maine Beer Company!

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2016 Fall MonhegZen Migration Weekend

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Our annual “MonhegZen” Fall Birding Weekend visited Monhegan Island over the weekend. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to find nearly as few birds as when I departed four days prior, as my week on the island with my WINGS tour concluded. However, there was a noticeable increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Swamp and White-throated Sparrows; clearly, the transition to October had been underway. No rarities to catch up with or track down for my tour group, either. So I enjoyed some time with friends, and that evening’s sunset (here, from the Island Inn) more than made it worth the early arrival.
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Thanks to a strong flight overnight on a light to moderate northeasterly wind, there were, however, a lot of birds to kick off the tour as I met the group of nine at the dock at 8:00am. Yellow-rumped Warblers (over 90% of the flight, apparently), were swirling overhead and we ran into large groups and scattered small, reorienting flocks all morning. It was nice and birdy through lunch, even if almost everything was a Yellow-rump! However, the homogeny was punctuated by good looks at things like a cooperative Northern Waterthrush at the Ice Pond.

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…and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows in gardens.
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We had a fun day, with a nice diversity of birds, including one Dickcissel, several Cory’s Shearwaters, lots of Northern Gannets, and a respectable 11 species of warblers.
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We awoke to light showers and continuing northeasterly winds on Saturday morning, with the radar indicating merely a light flight overnight. There was virtually no morning flight over the Trailing Yew after sunrise, and it was exceptionally slow after breakfast. Five species of sparrows on one of my seed piles was decent, and again we had a single Dickcissel.

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Some thought I was worshiping this Brown Thrasher, perhaps praying to the bird gods for more migrants. But really, I was just conducting an experiment on how many mealworms a thrasher can eat. For the record: 9, with one taken to go.

But it was hard to sugar-coat things, especially for the three new arrivals that came mid-morning! This was as slow as Monhegan gets, but I can say this: the weather was much better than expected. We only had a little spitting rain after the early morning showers, and light east winds. Expecting a possible wash-out, I would take it, and I would definitely take the results of our afternoon seawatching from Whitehead: 30+ Cory’s Shearwaters (just a few years ago, they were genuinely rare here), 50+ Northern Gannets, a Pomarine Jaeger, and 6 newly-arrived Surf Scoters landing with hundreds of Common Eiders.
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And on our way back into town, we hit a couple of nice birdy spots which helped to end on a high note, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had been trying to catch up with.
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Several Monarch butterfly chrysalises were noted behind the Trailing Yew. They better hurry!

Northeasterly winds continued for a 4th or 5th straight night, and a little light rain was once again falling at sunrise. With virtually no visible migration on the radar with diminishing northeasterly winds and scattered showers after midnight, there was yet another nearly-bird-less morning flight over the Yew at dawn. Well, there were the TWO Yellow-rumped Warblers to be exact!

It was another wicked slow morning – I found myself apologizing profusely to those members of the group who were new to the island; I swear this is not what Monhegan is usually about! But at least the rain ended by the time we were done with breakfast, and with the ceiling lifting, we finished strong with birds coming out into the open. There was the Clay-colored Sparrow once again in the Peace Garden by the church comparing itself perfectly to nearby Chipping Sparrows…
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…the two Dickcissels together in town (here’s one of them)…
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And several really good looks at Cape May Warblers, including this male.
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Blue-headed Vireos seemed to have arrived overnight, as did a smashing drake Wood Duck that was feeding in the bushes at the Ice Pond’s wide muddy edge. In fact, the 61 species we recorded on the day (with a 4:30 departure) was our best total of the three days.
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Most of the group departed, and those who took the late boat back to Port Clyde with me saw a Razorbill and a few more Cory’s Shearwaters, including one rather close to the boat. The two couples that stayed on the island dreamed of sunshine and a fallout for the next morning (sunshine and more birds, but no fallout, alas).

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“Yellow” Palm Warbler catching flies emerging from a compost bin

So while “tour guide spin” suggests I should just talk about the Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissels, Cape May Warblers, and all of the Cory’s Shearwaters, it’s hard to not see through that. It was slow…and weekends like this happen in the fall. Unlike my week-long WINGS tour that saw multiple changes in the weather, we were stuck in a dreary, northeasterly pattern that doesn’t produce a whole lot of birds for Monhegan. And, as true of the entire fall, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the continued lack of cold fronts continues to minimize numbers and concentrations along the coast and offshore. A mere 71 species were recorded in our three days together; our average for the weekend is 99 species (with an average of 20 species of warblers)! Or should I say, was.

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So now comes the “spin:” If I would have to spend a weekend anywhere else in a “slow” fall, it sure has heck would be Monhegan! The best pizza in the state and other great meals, fantastic beer, good company, and the unique and truly special sense of place that Monhegan offers (including Trap Day, which we enjoyed from afar on Saturday). And yeah, Dickcissels, Clay-colored Sparrows, Cory’s Shearwaters, and 11 species of warblers in three days in early October really isn’t too shabby.
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Of course, there are always things like Fringed Gentian to look at as well!

We’ll just make up for it in spring!

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The daily lists:
Species: Fri 9/30, Sat 10/1, Sun 10/2.

Canada Goose: 0,5,0
Wood Duck: 0,0,1
American Black Duck: 1.5,1.5,1.5
Mallard: 8,12,12
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,6,0
Common Loon: 3,1,0
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 5,30,5
Northern Gannet: 100,50,20
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 6,10,10
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1
Bald Eagle: 2,1,0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,4,2
American Kestrel: 1,1,1
Merlin: 6,5,3
Peregrine Falcon: 1,2,2
POMARINE JAEGER: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 0,1,0
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 6,2,4
Mourning Dove: 4,4,8
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 4,5,6
Downy Woodpecker: 3,3,2
Northern Flicker: 30,10,4
Eastern Phoebe: 3,3,1
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,2
Red-eyed Vireo: 6,4,3
Blue Jay: 28,24,16
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 1,3,2
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 30,20,10
White-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2
Brown Creeper: 2,6,1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 25,25,20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 5,4,3
American Robin: 4,1,0
Gray Catbird: 6,6,4
Brown Thrasher: 1,1,1
European Starling: 11,11,11
Cedar Waxwing: 75,50,40
Yellow Warbler: 1,0,1
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,2
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,2,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 200,30,30
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1,0,0
Palm Warbler: 20,6,4
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,4,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,0
American Redstart: 1,0,0
Northern Waterthrush: 1,0,0
Common Yellowthroat: 10,4,2
Chipping Sparrow: 4,6,4
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0,1,1
Savannah Sparrow: 6,5,8
Song Sparrow: 20,20,20
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 3,0,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,25
White-crowned Sparrow: 5,6,6
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 4,12,10
Rusty Blackbird: 1,0,0
Common Grackle: 2,2,2
Brown-headed Cowbird: 0,0,2
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,2
Purple Finch: 1,0,1
American Goldfinch: 4,4,2\

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White-throated Sparrow

A Week on Mohegan with WINGS, 2016

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Every other year, I have the pleasure of spending a week on Monhegan Island in the fall with a tour group for WINGS. Unlike my annual weekend tour through the store, this allows us to fully experience multiple changes in the weather and the resultant changes in bird numbers and diversity.

This year’s tour, which took place from September 19-25, recorded 116 species (including 5 seen only from the ferry or while we were on the mainland), including 18 species of warblers. Both tallies were a little low, as the weather was often simply “too nice” for much of the week, and fewer birds found themselves on the island. But as usual, great looks at a wide variety of common birds, spiced up by a smattering of rarities, made for a wondrous week of birding.

Birds from any direction are possible at this migrant trap, and this week, we experienced visitors from the south (e.g. Orchard Oriole), west (e.g. Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows), and even the east (Cory’s and Great Shearwaters). While the allure of a “Mega” kept us searching, local rarities kept us entertained. From Peregrine Falcons overhead to a Sora at our feet, you never quite know what’s around the next corner. Even the “slow” days offered new birds, as our relaxed and casual pace simply allowed us the opportunity to enjoy whatever happened to be in front of us. And the overall weather and food was unbeatable – adding to the mystique of this truly special place.
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While daily turnover in the island’s birdlife is expected during the peak of fall migration, a shift in the weather can yield a distinct change in the birds we see. Several clear and calm nights allowed migration to continue unimpeded, while a northwesterly wind on the night of the 22nd yielded numerous birds overhead in the morning – including our first big push of Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Blackpoll Warblers. However, no fallouts – the stuff Monhegan birding legends are made of – occurred this week as unseasonably warm and relatively pleasant weather continued. It might not have produced massive numbers of birds, but it sure made for comfortable birding!

A couple of nights of southwesterlies produced dreams of vagrants, and likely resulted in the arrival of several “southern” birds such as Orchard Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. In contrast, by week’s end, the first White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and other late-season migrants from the north began to appear.

“Drift migrants/vagrants” such as Lark Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows, along with a number of Dickcissels, all normally found further west, were present and accounted for as usual out here.
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Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows

Two immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (perhaps part of a small scale northward irruption into the New England coast) stood guard in the early mornings at the Ice Pond.  Later in the week, the world’s most confiding Sora appeared, spending one afternoon foraging in the open at the pond’s muddy edges – this year’s drought had reduced it to a mere muddy puddle.
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Sora and a Blue Jay

A Connecticut Warbler was one of our finds of the week, heard by all, seen by some on two occasions; an “exclusive” for our group. A late Olive-sided Flycatcher was another treat, as was the Black-billed Cuckoo that we caught up with thanks to the efforts (and game of charades) of friends – exemplifying the spirit of the Monhegan birding community shared by most.
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Calm winds and the season produced excellent seawatching conditions on the 21st, and from the high cliffs of White Head, we observed Cory’s Shearwaters (once a rarity this far north and east) and Great Shearwaters – with massive rafts of one or both just beyond the realm of identification– and a few Minke Whales. Always a highlight in the fall is the raptor passage, which most of the week was limited to numerous Merlins, scattered Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the occasional Peregrine Falcon, On our last day, a light northerly wind also ushered in a steady movement of Northern Harriers and Ospreys, along with another surge of falcons.

And then there was the food: exquisite fine dining at the Island Inn, the best pizza in Maine at the Novelty, and a candlelight lobster dinner – with lobsters brought in just for us! – at the rustic Trailing Yew, complete with a lobster ecology and human ecology lesson and step-by-step instructions. And that’s in addition to the limitless lobster scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning!

Highlights for our group each day were as follows, along with a brief synopsis of the overnight flight and the day’s weather.

9/19: Balmy Days ferry from Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Long-tailed Duck (FOF; early)
– 1 Pomarine Jaeger (harassing Northern Gannet)
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater

Island:
– A few light showers, drizzle, and fog occasionally lifting on light and variable, and rather warm winds throughout the day. Calm and foggy at dusk.
– 1 female Orchard Oriole (new)
– 1 Lark Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow (continuing)
– 1 Carolina Wren (continuing)
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Like everywhere in Maine this fall, Red-breasted Nuthatches were abundant.
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Ichneumon wasp sp on window screen.

9/20:
– Sunrise: 62F, dense fog, very light southeast. Light migration likely overnight, but hard to decipher on the radar due to fog.  Fog coming and going throughout the day, warm and humid, very light southeast.  Light south and fog at dusk.

Another relatively “slow” day, but these were the highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 2 juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Lark Sparrow
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 2 American Golden-Plovers
– 1 Cory’s Shearwater
– 1 Greater Shearwater
– 1 Carolina Wren

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I tell people never to leave their binoculars behind when on Monhegan; you never know what you will see where. They also can come in handy for reading the fine print of menus!
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Lark Sparrow

9/21:
– Am: 62F, mostly clear, calm. Light to moderate migration overnight on lt SW to W, but again intensity obscured by fog. Moderate-good morning flight overhead at dawn, with lots of new birds around. Hot and calm!  Clear and calm at dusk.

73 species on the day, including the world’s most cooperative Sora and some fantastic afternoon seawatching.

Highlights:
– 1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 3 Dickcissels
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 10 Cory’s and 12 Great Shearwaters plus 125 large shearwater sp.
– 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
– 1 Eastern Kingbird
– 1 Warbling Vireo
– 1 Sora
– 3 Minke Whales
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Brown Thrasher on the Trailing Yew lawn
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Sphinx moth caterpillar with parasitic wasp pupae
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Merlins were all around
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I’m not sure of this Rusty Blackbird left this particular group of yards for the rest of the week!
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Afternoon seawatching from Whitehead.
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Ending the afternoon with a Sora at the Ice “pond,”
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9/22:
– AM: 59F, clear, very light NW. Light-moderate migration overnight on light SW to West to NW. Lots of birds overhead at sunrise (mostly Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warblers), but less landing than expected as many birds kept going to the mainland. Relatively hot once again, with light and variable breeze. Clear and light South by dusk.

Highlights:
– 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
– 1 Yellow-throated Vireo
– 1 Olive-sided Flycatcher
– 2 Dickcissels
– 1 American Golden-Plover
– 1 Clay-colored Sparrow
– 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
– 1 Carolina Wren

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American Redstart
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Baltimore Oriole
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Unidentified caterpillar- some sort of tussock moth?
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9/23:
– AM: 65F, cloudy, lt-mod SW. Little to no visible migration overnight on lt-mod SW and rain approaching from north with dropping cold front. Drizzle and some light rain ending by mid-morning. Overcast but warm on light west winds. Increasing north by dusk.

A slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than a good day of birding most anywhere else with NINE new species for the week today.

Highlights:
– 1 Black-billed Cuckoo
– 2 Dickcissels
– 2 Cory’s Shearwaters
– 1 White-crowned Sparrow (FOF)
– pair of Pine Warblers were our 18th species of warbler on the week (a little low).
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Here comes the front!
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Dickcissel
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Special delivery!
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9/24:
– 50F, mostly clear, light N. Huge flight overnight on radar on diminishing N, but very little overhead at dawn. Although new birds had definitely arrived, it was not the huge flight that was hoped for. Apparently, there were more birds arriving on the south end of the island today (we always started on the west-north-west side) as reorienting migrants were returning to the island, or likely departing from the island’s north end. Diminishing N wind became light and variable before NW began to increase in the late morning, producing a good hawk flight.

With the hopes a big flight dashed by the lack of a westerly wind component by morning, we had a very casual and relaxed pace for our last day with some hawk watching taking precedence. Quite a few new birds were around, including several new species for out week’s list: Northern Harrier, American Pipit, and a single Semipalmated Plover. Cape May Warblers were particularly conspicuous today (at least 5), and as always it is painful to say goodbye. Good thing I’ll be back next weekend with the store’s annual weekend!

Highlights:
– 2 American Pipits (FOF)
– 1 Dickcissel

Ferry back to Boothbay Harbor:
– 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (about half way, heading towards the mainland)
– 2 White-winged Scoters

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Cape May Warblers were conspicuous the last few days
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Boothbay Arrival

And now I’m off this afternoon for for three more days!
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2016 Washington County Weekend Tour

I simply love birding Washington County, and my biennial “Washington County Weekend” van tour is little more than an excuse for me to bird the area. Of course, in doing so, I get to share the avian, scenic, and culinary glories of Downeast.  So everybody wins!

We set out from Freeport on Friday, 8/26. Not wanting to squander the entire morning just driving, we break up the trip by birding our way north. Corrina Marsh was our first stop this year, yielding Wood Ducks, side-by-side comparisons of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the jewelweed, and a Northern Harrier coursing low over the marsh.

Nearby Alder Stream held multitudes of Wood and Ring-necked Ducks, along with a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. More Wood Ducks were at Plymouth Pond, along with Common Loons, but we didn’t find the Sandhill Cranes that we had hoped for.

After lunch at the flagship Dysart’s (no Maine roadtrip is complete for me without at least one grilled cheese from a Dysart’s), we strolled Essex Woods and marsh in Bangor. Four rare-so-far-inland Snowy Egrets were joined by a single Great, and we enjoyed superior views of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs for comparison, along with more Solitary Sandpipers for comparison.

Our entrance into Washington County via The Airline was met with a bang: our first birds in the county were a migrant flock of 18 Common Nighthawks bounding overhead. Dinner, and of course, pie, from Helen’s in Machias (not to mention the blueberry sangrias!) was a sure sign we had arrived.
1. view from hotel

2. blueberry sangria

Without a doubt one of the best reasons for visiting this area in August is the massive congregation of gulls and seabirds, along with whales, that occurs in Head Harbor Passage, off of Eastport.  Therefore, one of the highlights of this tour is our private charter on the “Pier Pressure” for whale- and bird-watching. And this trip most definitely did not disappoint.

5. boat trip 24. Boat trip 1

Sorting through 5,000-7,000 Bonparte’s Gulls finally yielded a Sabine’s Gull, a stunning adult, and one of the most sought-after species on the trip. It was nearly the end of the boat ride, my eyes were shot from combing through so many Bonies, and then I spotted it on the water, a short distance away.  It took off and joined some commuting Bonies, and we tried to follow it, but despite Captain Butch’s best efforts, we unfortunately could not keep up with it as it headed towards Maine waters, and lost it as it mingled with a large flock of Bonies. But my goodness, what a stunning species it is!
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300-400 Black-legged Kittiwakes was likely a ridiculously low guesstimate, as is the goodly 200+ Razorbills. Although Razorbills are regular in the passage in most summers, the numbers this year have been exceptional. Scattered Great Cormorants among the multitudes of Double-cresteds, plenty of Black Guillemots, about a dozen tarrying Common Terns, and a total of 15+ Bald Eagles added to the show. A total at of 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls of various ages were detected, but I admit to not sifting through every large gull – it was the rare “hooded” gulls that we were on the lookout for!
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Adult Great Cormorant.

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Juvenile and adult Black-legged Kittiwakes with Bonaparte’s Gulls. 

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Lots and Lots of Bonaparte’s Gulls (and Black-legged Kittiwakes).

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Black-legged Kittiwakes

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Black-legged Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants

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Razorbills.

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Razorbill father with juvenile (L).

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Snazzy juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises were common, and we visited with some massive Gray Seals as well. We spotted a single Minke Whale, and then drifted with a massive Fin Whale for a little while.
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21. boat trip 12 - Gray Seal 320. boat trip 11 - Gray Seal 2

While we only has one fly-by unidentified phalarope and did not find a single tubenose (despite spending some time off of East Quoddy Head), the trip was an incredible success, because, well…Sabine’s Gull!

We fueled up on arguably the best lobster rolls in the state at the Quoddy Bay Lobster Company, before spending some time seawatching at the end of Clark St (hoping for the Sabine’s to reappear!). Close-up kittiwakes and Bonaparte’s Gulls were nice, as were a couple more Lesser Black-backed Gulls. However, it was the molting adult Black-headed Gull that was the welcomed consolation prize.
29. Eastport lobster rolls

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We slowly worked our way up the peninsula, checking out various viewpoints, and seeing a smattering of shorebirds and lots of Black Guillemots in the process. Finally, at the Sipayik Trail at the ballfields at Pleasant Point, a nice mix of birds as always included a trio of out-of-place Sanderlings, a few Bobolinks, more Bonaparte’s Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes offshore, and 2 Nelson’s Sparrows in the marsh. Another close Northern Harrier coursing low over marsh stirred the pot, kicking up more Green-winged Teal and Least Sandpipers than we thought were present.

Dinner at the Hansom House in Dennysville left much of the group speechless. It is a very interesting, and very different place indeed!
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Day 3 found us making an even earlier start, but we were rewarded with our efforts with a dapper male Spruce Grouse doing its thing in the trail at Boot Head Preserve in Lubec.
3. Sat morning
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Following that success, some edge- and sky-watching at the bog there yielded fly-over Red Crossbills (2+), 3 Pine Siskins, and among the scattered warblers in small flocks working the edge, at least 6 Palm Warblers (local breeders).  We also began to truly get a sense for just how incredibly abundant Red-breasted Nuthatches are in the forests around here right now – undoubtedly portending a great finch winter to come!

Our Lubec-area day continued with a stroll at Quoddy State Park, where Red-breasted Nuthatches were once again downright deafening. At least 4 Red and 3+ White-winged Crossbills were detected, and we spotted a Philadelphia Vireo within one of the mixed flocks around the edge of the bog. There, we also took time to enjoy the plants of this fascinating habitat, including carnivorous Pitcher Plants and the two species of sundews.

Our busy and productive morning continued at the Lubec Bar and Flats, where a large number of shorebirds had aggregated. Although it has apparently been slow here recently, we found a rather decent number and diversity of shorebirds. I do wish we were arrived about a half hour earlier, and had about an hour more time here, however!  About 1500 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 250+ Least Sandpipers were joined by 75-100 Sanderlings (a surprisingly high count for here), 60-80 Black-bellied Plovers, a handful of Semipalmated Plovers, 1 Ruddy Turnstone, and 1 Whimbrel.

Lunch at Cohill’s was a hit. In fact, the Shepherd’s Pie turned out to be the favorite meal of the trip for two people, although I was quite over-satisfied with my “Drunken Potato” with Guinness gravy and cheese curds.

Following the obligate stop at Monica’s Chocolates – where we left with the cooler overflowing! – we headed back to Quoddy State Park for some relaxing sea-watching. In 1.5 hours, we tallied at least 14 Sooty Shearwaters (making up for the lack of them on our boat trip), counted 10 juvenile Laughing Gulls (they seemed unusually frequent up here this year, and of course, we tried to string each of them into a jaeger!), picked out a few Razorbills, and spotted two Northern Gannets, and excitingly, two Atlantic Puffins. A few more Great Cormorants and a dozen Black-legged Kittiwakes were noted, for those who hadn’t yet gotten their fill.
35. Quoddy SP

Scanning the flats again, but this time from the roadside, we finally picked up a single White-rumped Sandpiper, increased our tally to 6 Short-billed Dowitchers, and otherwise improved on our looks at the other species from earlier.
36. Lubec flats

While Pike’s Puddle was nearly dry and devoid of birds, the beach on the other side of the road yielded a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper. That was cause for celebration enough, but the show was stolen when a Merlin came out of nowhere and nabbed an unsuspecting Semipalmated Plover. That’s a hearty meal for even a female Merlin, so after quickly dispatching it, she struggled to drag it across the rocky beach before finally taking off and disappearing into the trees to have her dinner.
38. MERL

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Phone-scoped documention of the Baird’s Sandpiper

As did we…and no Derek Lovitch tour is complete without a brewery, apparently, so our evening’s destination simply had to be the new Lubec Brewing Co!

No visit, tour or otherwise, gives me enough time to bird this area. This four-day weekend is truly just a sample, and despite my interests in going back to the Lubec flats or the Eastport gulls, after two long days of jam-packed birding, we began our day (after a leisurely breakfast at Helen’s) simply by watching the shorebirds behind our motel.  606 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 41 Semipalmated Plovers, 20-30 Least Sandpipers, and another out-of-place-on-mud Sanderling surpassed expectations.

I like to slowly mosey back home, and I like to mix in a new site or two on each tour. Therefore, instead of racing east only to start the drive back west, I decided to do some exploring, beginning with the Mason Bay Conservation Area on the Jonesboro/Jonesport border.  More Red-breasted Nuthatches and a couple of mixed species foraging flocks were indication that this is a spot worth checking in the breeding season, and at the end of our stroll (which included some more botanizing, a few butterflies, and fun with Tent Caterpillars) another Red Crossbill passed overhead.

A typical stop for me when taking Route One back towards Ellsworth is Addison Marsh. Although we arrived at high tide and the productive mudflats and river edge were no longer visible, the salt pannes provided some entertainment. Although diversity was low, we could not have asked for more enjoyable views of a mixed flock of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. A couple of Solitary Sandpipers and a Greater Yellowlegs passed overhead, and a couple more Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles, along with three migrant Ospreys, stirred the pot.
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A great opportunity to compare Least and Semipalmated (center) Sandpipers.
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Exploring access points to scan Flat Bay in Harrington, we found some shorebirds here and there as the ride finally started to go out. As shorebirds were appearing off of Oak Point, I realized lunchtime was approaching, and I decided to get back into the van before I spent the next three hours making everyone (myself most definitely included) starve as I sorted through shorebirds. Besides, a rapidly increasing northwesterly wind was making it challenging to see any birds in the distance (our first experience with anything other than perfect weather all weekend!).

But to be honest, most of that exploring was just to put us in position for Vazquez Mexican Takeout in Millbridge for lunch (second only to Helen’s pie as sought-after “twitches” for this tour!). I ate too much, as usual. Actually, gluttony was a regular theme of this tour, as many of us were forced to roll out of many of our meals. Apparently, we were all single-handedly trying to jumpstart the region’s economy with our consumption!
41. Tacos

A quick check of Hog Bay was thwarted by the increasing winds, and that was a sign it was time to begrudgingly bring our birding to an end and make our way back home. From Sabine’s Gulls to Spruce Grouse, from thousands of Bonaparte’s Gulls to hundreds of Red-breasted Nuthatches, from blueberry pie to “tacos as good as in McAllen, Texas” (according to one of our transplanted participants), and from pitcher plants to Fin Whales, there is no doubt that I will be looking forward to my next tour to this awesome area!  In fact, one participant on this year’s tour has already signed up for 2018. That should tell you something!

2016 Birding By Schooner Trip Report

My 7th (now annual) Birding By Schooner aboard the Lewis R. French tour got underway on Monday morning from Camden Harbor with sunny skies and a light breeze perfect for a little sailing. Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, and Laughing, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls escorted us out of the harbor, as Ospreys kept a close eye on the proceedings.
1. Camden Harbor Departure_edited-1
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Out in the bay, Harbor Porpoise were soon spotted (they were very plentiful on this trip) and plenty of Harbor Seals. Merlin, Bonaparte’s Gulls, and Common Loons were quickly added to the list. Sailing towards the Fox Islands Thorofare, we picked up an unexpected inshore Great Cormorant, an immature hanging out with Double-cresteds on Scraggy Island. Burnt Cove Harbor on Swan’s Island was our destination for the evening.
2. Entering Fox Islands Thorofare_edited-1

In the morning, we took a walk onshore, birding and naturalizing our way to the lighthouse. A Red Crossbill flew over calling as we landed at the dock, my 132nd all time Birding-by-Schooner species! The walk sampled the common denizens of the Red Spruce-dominated Acadian habitat of the region, with numerous Black-throated Green Warblers and many others. A White-tailed Deer crossed our path, and we spent some time learning the local trees.
5. Burnt Coat Harbor 2_edited-1
As we checked out the feeding station at this house, we couldn’t help but feel as if we were being watched…and we were!  I remember being creeped out by this doll when we last landed here a few years ago.
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7. Burnt Coat Harbor 4_edited-1
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9. Burnt Coat Harbor -later_edited-1
10. Burnt Coat Harbor-departing_edited-1

Back on board, the fog had lifted, and we sailed through Blue Hill Bay, arriving at tiny Babson Island for the evening. Usually, the famous lobster bake is the finale of the trip, but this tour’s focus is having the chance to get out to Seal Island – far offshore and needing a narrow suite of conditions to make it possible (or, at least comfortable). Therefore, Captain Garth decided to mix things up a bit and take advantage of a pleasant evening and a lovely little beach. Much food was consumed. Several more Bald Eagles were noted.
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12. Babson Island 2_edited-1
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Tobias, visiting us from Sweden, shares the story – and flavors – of Skane aquavit, while Dan shares stories of Garth as a young mate.
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15. Lobster Bake 3_edited-1
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The crew.

17. post Lobster Bake1
18. post Lobster bake2

Once again, Garth nailed the window, and conditions were absolutely perfect for a trip out to Seal Island, part of the Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge.  We passed between Stonington and Isle Au Haut, and cruised by Saddleback Ledge and into open water. I became more vigilant.
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Saddleback Ledge

One of the reasons I most look forward to the annual trip is for the chance to visit Seal Island. Our goal is to head out there every year and spend a night anchored offshore. It’s a very unique and special opportunity, and of course a chance at some great birding. Not the least of which is the chance to see “Troppy,” the Red-billed Tropicbird that has come to the island for the past 10 summers (and 11th year in the area overall). But this year, my anticipation about a visit was stoked even more with a spate of other rarities recently, including a Royal Tern, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and – two days prior to our departure, an inconceivable 1st Western Atlantic seaboard record of a Great Knot! A bird that breeds in Siberia and winters mostly in Southeast Asia and Australia, this is truly an incredible record.  Needless to say, it was not on my annual list of Next 25 Birds for Maine! I was showing symptoms of rarity fever.

Also, needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get out there!  But, at the mercy of the wind (or often, lack thereof), I had little say in whether or not we’d have a chance to look for it (although I really had zero expectations of it sticking around), Troppy, other rarities, or simply enjoy puffins, Common Murres, Razorbills, and calling Leach’s Storm-Petrels through the night.

With Seal Island on the horizon, we scanned the open waters, which we found to be unusually quiet. Commuting Common Terns and several Arctic Terns (who recently regained the crown of longest-distance migrants in the world: up to 55,000 miles a year!) began to appear, a sign that we were getting close. Under full sail (we often have to motor-sail to get this far out on a nice enough day), we spotted a lone Northern Gannet, and as we neared the island, numerous Atlantic Puffins became visible.
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Juvenile Arctic Tern
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We slowly plied the waters off the islands southwest side, enjoying close up puffins, practicing our tern identification, watching Great Cormorants, and keeping an eye out for…

Troppy!  Just a few minutes ahead of schedule at 4:17pm, the famous Red-billed Tropicbird appeared. I was able to spot him as he was flying low, and dropped in for his usual (as long as it is sunny!) afternoon bath. Captain Garth and 1st mate/co-Captain Dan adeptly positioned the boat to slowly approach him on the water, without flushing him. We got incredibly close and cameras clicked away (my photos are a little distant as I decided to try for video this year when we were making our closest approach). Soon, he relocated to his more-usual bathing location closer to the island.
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24. Troppy8_edited-1

Success!  And with happy birders and a Captain basking in his glory of once again perfectly timing our arrival to once again put us in perfect position for an enjoyable view, we sailed over to the Eastern Bight and dropped anchor for the evening. Besides our incredible success rate of seeing Troppy (5 out of 6 visits to Seal now, a great batting average), this tour also – again, conditions permitting – affords the unique opportunity to spend a night off of this incredible and remote island.

As per tradition, we invited the Seal Island crew of Puffin Project biologists aboard for dinner (thanks to the talents and perfect planning of our cook, Carla and her Mess Mate, Genevieve) and a visit, giving the crew and participants a chance to pepper them with all sorts of questions. We all kept an eye out for shorebirds passing or rounding the island, and Keenan and crew took the opportunity to survey the growing contingent of Laughing Gulls that have been congregating on the island. The sunset was particularly spectacular this evening as well.
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26. Seal Sunset 2_edited-1

But we weren’t done with the “unique experiences” yet!  In addition to the remoteness of our anchorage, spending the night at Seal also gives us a chance to listen (and perhaps even see) Leach’s Storm-Petrels, vocalizing as they return to their nesting burrows under the cover of darkness.

While staying up a little later, or getting up a little earlier, would likely yield some calling birds, I don’t want to just hear them; I want to experience the cacophony to its fullest extent. Therefore, I suggest people wake up in the middle of the night for a listen. This year, I proposed waking up at 3:00am, and since several folks wanted to also see them, staying up through the twilight until sunrise.

As I stumbled to the deck at 3, I was pleasantly surprised to see seven people had joined me in the insanity. And, with a light fog rolling in (perfect!), the birds were calling a lot – and some giving their almost-sinister, cackling chatter very close to the boat.  Five of us stayed up right through daybreak, and although we didn’t actual spot a Leach’s (although Dan glimpsed a shadow of what was undoubtedly one), we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Adding to the mystique was the low fog, and the low, deep moans and groans of baying Gray Seals.
27. Seal sunrise_edited-1

We were, however, anxiously anticipating the arrival of morning coffee and muffins!

A Savannah Sparrow briefly alighted on the boat before returning to the island, puffins and guillemots were abundant, and terns were busy, heading to and fro. We only saw one Razorbill on the water, and no Common Murres on this visit, and sorted through the handfuls of shorebirds that were around (migrants, mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers and a smattering of others, along with local and vocal family groups of Spotted Sandpipers).

The skies cleared after breakfast and with a light south-southwest wind, we decided to head out for a little offshore sailing. We passed along Seal, hoping for another visit from Troppy, but then turn around the north end of the island and tacked our way offshore. Dan, Garth, and the sailing fans were having fun, while the birding fans enjoyed the numerous commuting puffins. We also spotted a few good pelagics: led by a Cory’s Shearwater, my first ever from the windjammer, soon followed by a second sighting. A single Great Shearwater passed close by, shortly before encountering a more-distant raft of 36.  There were painfully few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, but we did have a Minke Whale, and moments after I said we “could use a Manx Shearwater now” a Manx Shearwater passed by!
28. Seal Day 2_edited-1<

We had hopes of sailing around Matinicus Rock, but time and wind suggested it was time to head inshore. We rounded Wooden Ball Island, still under full sail, but then the wind ran out. Drifting mostly with the incoming tide, and soon into dense fog our progress was slow. But napping was in order, and this was the perfect opportunity.

We needed our yawl boat to push our way past Vinalhaven and into the Fox Island Thorofare where the fog finally lifted. Anchoring between the village on North Haven and a dock on Vinalhaven, our day came to a close. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day for an evening walk.
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Look? We saw “the green flash” at sunset!

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Tobias’s breakfast of champions.
It was a lovely, albeit humid and rapidly warming, morning, which began with a pair of vocal Merlins from the boat. Making up for lost time, we hopped to shore, and I lead a walk in the North Perry Creek Preserve on Vinalhaven. Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and many others were added to our triplist, but most birds were Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-throated Green Warblers, or Red-breasted Nuthatches. Twelve-spotted Skimmer (a dragonfly), Smooth Green Snake, Wood Frog, and a spiffy diurnal moth, the Virginia Ctenucha were also observed.
51. North Perry Creek Preserve_edited-1
52. North Perry Creek Preserve 2_edited-1

We extended our loop a bit, but our selected return trail turned out to be more rugged than expected, so we made it back just in time for lunch. After another scrumptious, and this time well-earned, meal, we pushed to the east, then set sail and turned north into East Penobscot Bay.

While the occasional Razorbill is regular in the bay, small groups are often found after storms, and at this time of year fathers leading flightless juveniles are regularly encountered. But earlier in the season, Garth had started noticing 30-40 regularly in a particular area, roughly between Eagle, Butter, and Bradbury Islands. Seeing them often enough, it was more than a random occurrence.

Needless to say, I was intrigued (and a little bit proud, I must say!), and since we only had one distant Razorbill out at Seal, it seemed like a good plan to check it out today. As we approached the area, I spotted one Razorbill in flight, then a group of 5 passed by. Black Guillemots were even more numerous than usual, and gulls (including several Bonaparte’s) were more common than elsewhere in the bay. But no rafts of Razorbills.
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I kept scanning, but noticed Garth was looking a little disappointed. Then I asked Dan to check out what appeared to be a large raft of birds. I immediately thought Razorbills, but the group was so big, I doubted myself. It was way more than 30-40. Were they just eiders distorted by distance and heat shimmer, or were we about to see something really, really exceptional?

We’re going to go with the latter. But no, there were not 30-40 Razorbills anymore. There were now 252. And while there were a few fathers escorting kiddos, the majority of the group were adults. I need to do some research, but this is probably an unprecedented number for inshore waters, and perhaps even a summertime record for Maine? Regardless of the statistics, it was amazing, and as we simply drifted among them, many photographs were taken, and we were even able to hear many of them growling, and one of the juveniles piping.
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I also spotted a spec in the distance, which I photographed for later analysis. Blowing it up on the computer, I can confirm the 134th species to be seen from the Lewis R. French during the Birding By Schooner Tour: Red-throated Loon (a rare but regular summertime lingerer that I have been expecting to spot at some point).

But, did I mention all the Razorbills!?

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With another extraordinary experience under our belts, we pulled into Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro for the night.
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Carla at work. 
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I was up early the final morning, hoping to add a few more singing birds from the mainland to what was a paltry total triplist. But once again, the dawn chorus was nearly non-existent, and for the first time, species such as Swainson’s Thrush and Winter Wren went undetected during our tour. Was it just because of our few-days-later-than-usual outing? Did the drought lower productivity and birds have already cleared out? Or, was it an early and successful breeding season and birds have already finished doing everything other than secretively undergo molt?
33. last morning1_edited-1

While we did have 1 or 2 fewer walks than usual, we had a better seabird tally than in most years. But no migrant swallows? And a low diversity of migrant shorebirds.  So our total checklist was well below average, so I was working hard to pad the list: American Black Duck and Belted Kingfisher in the harbor, and as we slowly sailed back to Camden: Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk over the Camden Hills.

Of course, no one would have traded Troppy, three shearwaters, countless calling Leach’s Storm-Petrels, or an unprecedented aggregation of Razorbills for a few more total ticks!

As Ospreys called around us as we entered Camden Harbor – the same ones that announced our departure, and the trip came to a close, another successful, unique, and bird-tastic Birding By Schooner tour was in the books.
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One of the first birds we saw was also the last, this Common Loon, apparently with a broken lower mandible, sneaking away from our docking boat.

Here’s our complete list from the trip:

  1. Mallard
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Osprey
  4. American Goldfinch
  5. Yellow Warbler
  6. Rock Pigeon
  7. European Starling
  8. Cedar Waxwing
  9. American Robin
  10. Song Sparrow
  11. Chimney Swift
  12. Double-crested Cormorant
  13. Herring Gull
  14. Great Black-backed Gull
  15. Black Guillemot
  16. Laughing Gull
  17. Common Loon
  18. Ring-billed Gull
  19. Bonaparte’s Gull
  20. Merlin
  21. GREAT CORMORANT
  22. Bald Eagle
  23. American Crow
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Killdeer
  26. RED CROSSBILL
  27. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  28. Purple Finch
  29. White-throated Sparrow
  30. Black-capped Chickadee
  31. Gray Catbird
  32. Dark-eyed Junco
  33. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  34. Black-throated Green Warbler
  35. Common Yellowthroat
  36. Savannah Sparrow
  37. Broad-winged Hawk
  38. Hermit Thrush
  39. Eastern Phoebe
  40. Great Blue Heron
  41. Spotted Sandpiper
  42. ARCTIC TERN
  43. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  44. Northern Gannet
  45. ATLANTIC PUFFIN
  46. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD
  47. Greater Yellowlegs
  48. Semipalmated Plover
  49. Ruddy Turnstone
  50. LEACH’S STORM-PETREL
  51. RAZORBILL
  52. CORY’S SHEARWATER
  53. Great Shearwater
  54. Wilson’s Storm-petrel
  55. MANX SHEARWATER
  56. Common Raven
  57. Blue Jay
  58. Downy Woodpecker
  59. Northern Parula
  60. Black-and-white Warbler
  61. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  62. Northern Flicker
  63. Chipping Sparrow
  64. RED-THROATED LOON
  65. American Black Duck
  66. Belted Kingfisher
  67. Turkey Vulture
  68. Red-tailed Hawk

And the list of mammals, and a selection of other critters:

  1. Harbor Seal
  2. Harbor Porpoise
  3. Red Squirrel
  4. White-tailed Deer
  5. Orange Sulphur
  6. Gray Seal
  7. Minke Whale
  8. Wood Frog
  9. Twelve-spotted Skimmer
  10. Smooth Green Snake
  11. Virginia Ctenucha
  12. Great Spangled Fritillary
  13. Red Admiral

Since every year’s tour is so different, if you would like to look back on previous trips and their respective birdlists, please click on the links below. Furthermore, for more (and better!) photographs of the birds we see, check out the tours (2015 + 2013) that Jeannette was on!

2015

2014

2013

Hope to see you aboard next year!