Tag Archives: Atlantic Puffin

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument Needs Your Support!

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The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was designated by President Barack Obama in September of 2016. It was the first such marine monument designated in the Atlantic Ocean, lying roughly 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod. The designation protects 4,913 square miles from energy exploration, undersea mining, and most commercial fishing (with exceptions) in order to protect fish populations and a variety of endangered species, especially Sperm, Fin, and Sei Whales.

Of particular interest and consequence to birders, it has recently been discovered that Atlantic Puffins winter in the area, perhaps even a goodly portion of “our” birds. What would happen if a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster happened out here? Would decades of puffin restoration on Maine’s islands be for nothing? What about the tourism, jobs, and pure enjoyment that puffin tours along the Maine coast create? What about the future of an iconic species that already has to face to challenges of drastic Climate Change and severe overfishing?

The designation of this Marine National Monument was a very good thing for Atlantic Puffins, and therefore, a very good thing for birding in Maine! But it is now under threat.

Canyons Map

In April, “President Donald Trump signed two executive orders – the first calls for a ‘review’ of 27 large-scale monuments on land and in the ocean, and the second takes direct aim at marine monuments and National Marine Sanctuarues. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a target of both orders.” That link, to the Center for American Progress, has a good overview of what’s at stake, and the likely beneficiary of an overturning of this designation (Big Oil).  Be sure to also check out the maps in that report, including the perceived distribution of wintering Atlantic Puffins and the overall offshore seabird abundance estimates (and then compare those maps to the fishing effort map!) Basically, the claims of impacts on fishing grounds is mostly a red herring (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Here in Maine, it has been the review by Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, of the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument that has (rightly) received a lot of attention. His visit to Maine was thoroughly covered as he met with local communities, politicians, and business organizations. Press coverage has been widespread and thorough of the debate, such as this recent article in The Boston Globe.

I certainly support that monument designation, and I look forward to visiting it for the first time later this fall, but I will save that blog for another day.

But the review of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument has received much less attention, especially here in Maine, despite its importance to our puffins. I believe birders therefore need to lead the charge in speaking out in support of the monument, which I believe is at greater risk in the Zinke era than Katahdin Woods and Waters. In no small part because not enough people are paying attention.

Personally, I think this whole “review” process is a dog and pony show – another weapon of mass distraction – from an administration hell-bent on gutting environmental laws. While we argue over the validity and value of each monument, Zinke and company are paving the way for more resource extraction at cut-rate prices on our PUBLIC land, even in National Parks. And attacking Endangered Species protections. Say good-bye to the Greater Sage-Grouse, for example, if this corruption continues.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep fighting for each of them, and I believe Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is worth fighting for. For whales, puffins, and the future of fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

Therefore, to start, please take a moment – if you have not done so already – to submit a comment in support of the monument’s designation. We only have until August 15th to do so. Simply click the “Comment Now” button on the upper right of the federal website linked above, and be sure to specifically mention Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (and all of the other monuments that are important to you).Secretary Zinke is expected to issue his report on the review of all of the monuments on August 24th. We’ll learn more then about exactly what this process has been all about, and how far this administration is going to attempt to go to overturn anything accomplished during the Obama presidency. There will be plenty of lawsuits from all directions, so none of these fights are over yet.

So please, don’t be distracted by tweets, rhetoric, or grandstanding. The real damage is being done right in front of our eyes, through little directives, department policy initiatives, and countless other ways to undermine the economy, environment, and citizens of this country in order to line the pockets of the fortunate few.

I for one am not going go down without a fight. A fight that includes a fight for puffins!

A couple of additional references:

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on Wikipedia.

Pew Charitable Trust applaudes monument’s creation.

 

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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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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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.

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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
22. Seal Island approach_edited-1

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!

 

Birding By Schooner Trip Report, 2015

It’s hard for me to pick my “favorite” tour, but if pressed, I would probably answer our annual “Birding by Schooner” aboard the Lewis R. French tour. It just offers such a unique way to bird, and such unique birding experiences. The scenery, the food, and the good conversation can also not be beat.

Last week was my 6th tour aboard the French. And one of the aspects of the tour that I so very much enjoy is that every tour is different. We often don’t know where we are going even as we depart Camden Harbor on our first morning! Weather (especially wind, or lack there of) dictates the plan. And I must say, it’s a nice bit of respite to not have any control over where we go! All I have to do is point out birds wherever our captain takes us.

Of course, this is a birding-themed trip, so we make our best efforts to get into position for some great birding, especially to visit one or more islands with breeding seabirds. But when I boarded the vessel on Sunday night, I could only guess what a plan might be.

We awoke to fog and calm on Monday morning, departed the harbor on the very lightest of breezes, and pushed our way across a bay with only the minimum of ripples. We found a whole in the fog bank as we rounded Owl’s Head Light…
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(click on photos for larger images)

…but soon we were back in the murk.
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Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to show up, with at least 50 noted by the time we pulled into Port Clyde. Bald Eagles were conspicuous, as were the common bay denizens such as Black Guillemot…
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…and Common Eider.
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A stroll to Marshall Point Light added to our landbird list, while a Greater Yellowlegs in the harbor was the first migrant shorebird of the trip.

Overnighting in Port Clyde set us up nicely for a short trip to Eastern Egg Rock, which we rounded slowly to enjoy Roseate Terns among the Arctic and Commons, lots of Black Guillemots, and over 100 Atlantic Puffins. The fog lifted enough for us to have great visibility when near the island, but the offshore fog bank and cloudy skies meant a lot of puffins were on the water, and many loafed close to our boat or zipped right by.
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Back into the fog as we trudged offshore, seabirds were few and far between. Or, I should say, we saw few seabirds…I am sure plenty were out there. We encountered some more puffins, and this one Northern Gannet.
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Our destination this afternoon was none other than Monhegan Island…one of my favorite places in the world. It was pretty foggy, so the views were limited…
7. L1020530_MonheganFog,7-21_edited-1

…But few complained. Especially those of us who ended up at the Monhegan Brewing Company (Wait, how do so many of my tours end up at breweries?).
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Several common breeding birds were added to our trip list, but no mid-summer vagrants were detected. We had hoped to overnight in the harbor and take a birdwalk in the morning, but a tenuous anchorage and an approaching cold front led Captain Garth to err on the side of caution, and head for the shelter of the mainland, so we said an early farewell to Monhegan.
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We sought shelter up the St. George River, first in Turkey Cove, but then Garth made a last minute decision to anchor on the river’s other bank, in the Pleasant Point Gut. Overnight, the storm cleared, and so did the fog.
10. L1020565_PleasantPointGut,7-22_edited-1

We didn’t have much wind, but what we did have facilitated a trip out to remote Seal Island. We had to motor-sail most of the way, but we had an afternoon date with a punctual local.

On the way, we enjoyed some great birding. While we didn’t have enough wind to take the long way out to Matinicus Rock and deeper water, cutting a straight line around the north end of Metinic produced a whole lot of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (450+ on the day), 6 Red Phalaropes (along with another 20 phalaropes that were just a little too far to ID), and a Mola Mola that gave us the slip. Most surprising, however, was a pair of American Oystercatchers that were flying around Little Green Island. Whether this is a previously-unknown pair of this slowly-increasing species in Maine, southbound migrants, or Maine breeders undergoing post-breeding dispersal is impossible to know, but it was a new “Schooner Bird” for me: my 116th species seen during our “Birding by Schooner” tours!

It was a bit of work, but we made it to Seal Island on a sunny, fairly calm day at the perfect time. And “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird that has returned to Seal Island for its 9th straight summer (10th overall in the area), made his afternoon appearance for a little bath. This was my fourth visit to Seal aboard the French, and we have seen Troppy three times (the only miss was on a cloudy day with fog the next morning).
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And despite that sign, we dropped anchor for a special evening. One of the unique experiences for participants on this most unique tour is an evening with the Seal Island’s biologists. Not only do the passengers get a break from hearing me talk, the biologists get a break from cooking and their usual routine.
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Yet another unique experience afforded by spending a night out at Seal is to get up and listen for Leach’s Storm-Petrels returning to the island from foraging trips in the middle of the night. While clear skies and a light westerly wind reduced the cacophony, the eerie, sinister chuckling of the petrels rang through the night.

And if a sunrise over Seal isn’t enough…
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…there was what seemed to be the entire tern colony in the air…
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… more puffins, a couple of dozen Razorbills and 1 Common Murre, Great Cormorants, and more Black Guillemots than you could count.
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Migrant shorebirds included a Whimbrel, a flock of small shorebirds that totaled 20 Semipalmated and 2 Least Sandpipers along with 4 Semipalmated Plovers, and unexpectedly, a fly-by Wood Duck! Not to mention another view of the Red-billed Tropicbird!

If your head wasn’t already on a swivel from looking at all of that, looking down offered a mesmerizing ballet of traveling jellies, both Moon and White-cross Jellies(here)…
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…and painful Lion’s Mane Jellies.
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For me, it is always too soon to depart, but we had other fish to fry, or to be exact, lobsters to boil. So we set a course towards Stonington, keeping our eyes open along the way. Two male Razorbills with their chick in tow were nice to see, as was a Minke Whale. A handful of Northern Gannets and about 10 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were our only other seabirds, however.

As we entered nearshore waters, we kept an eye out on islands, both big and small. You never know what you might see, and while I am on the lookout for something “mega” like a Brown Booby, we did spot a Great Cormorant on tiny Saddleback Ledge.
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Back in the usual domain of the Schooner fleet, we passed The Heritage…
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…and while the water boiled on Russ Island, the Angelique cruised passed us.
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A little bird, plant, and ecology walk further swelled our appetites. Which was good, because we had a few lobsters to eat tonight. Swainson’s Thrushes offered the evening’s musical performance.
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A Sharp-shinned Hawk carrying breakfast over Russ Island was another addition to my Schooner List, and our morning walk around Stonington added several new species to our triplist.
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Rounding North Haven Island, we kept tallying Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (we don’t always see these birds inshore on this tour), spotted a few small groups of southbound swallows and a few shorebirds, and watched the storm clouds build.
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Um, should we have been worried?
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Nah, this crew has got it covered!
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Although we had some good sailing winds ahead of the storm, and some moderate rain during the storm, the skies looked much worse than what we weathered. In fact, by the time we motored into Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro, the rain was ending and the skies showed a few hints of blue. And once again, we ate. Ate real well.
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It’s amazing how fast a week aboard the Schooner French flies by – even without the birds – but it was now time to crank the anchor one last time. A Greater Yellowlegs sounded off and Ospreys circled overhead as we departed the quiet harbor for the bustle of Camden.

Crossing West Penobscot Bay, we encountered yet more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, and surprisingly (for this far up the bay) another Razorbill father and kid.

Chimney Swifts twittering over Camden were our 79th and final species of the tour – two over our average. Emails were exchanged, bunks were cleared, and one last photo-op capped off yet another stellar “Birding By Schooner” tour.
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Here’s the complete, annotated checklist for this year’s trip, in order of appearance:

  1. American Crow
  2. House Sparrow
  3. Rock Pigeon
  4. Canada Goose (a couple of family groups in Camden Harbor)
  5. Mallard
  6. Song Sparrow
  7. Double-crested Cormorant
  8. Laughing Gull (common; all days)
  9. Osprey (common, just about every day)
  10. House Finch
  11. Herring Gull
  12. Great Black-backed Gull
  13. Cedar Waxwing
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Mourning Dove (all of the above from the boat within Camden Harbor)
  16. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (daily; high day count of 450+ on 7/22, with 400+ between Little Green Island and Seal Island. Unusually common within Penobscot Bay).
  17. Black Guillemot (Abundant daily; several hundred on multiple days).
  18. Common Eider (very common; all days)
  19. Common Tern (abundant, including thousands at Eastern Egg Rock and Seal Island, but also scattered throughout inshore waters)
  20. Bald Eagle (common and seen daily; high count of 7 on 7/20).
  21. Bonaparte’s Gull (scattered few)
  22. Common Loon (scattered few on several days)
  23. Great Blue Heron
  24. Northern Parula
  25. European Starling
  26. Black-capped Chickadee
  27. Common Grackle
  28. American Robin
  29. Common Yellowthroat
  30. Black-throated Green Warbler
  31. Purple Finch
  32. Common Raven
  33. White-throated Sparrow
  34. Blue Jay
  35. Greater Yellowlegs (scattered singletons)
  36. Least Sandpiper (scattered few)
  37. Northern Flicker
  38. Gray Catbird
  39. Semipalmated Sandpiper (scattered small groups; high of 30 at Seal Island on 7/23)
  40. White-rumped Sandpiper (1 each at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and Seal Island, 7/22)
  41. Spotted Sandpiper
  42. ATLANTIC PUFFIN (100+ at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and hundreds at Seal Island 7/22-23)
  43. ROSEATE TERN (dozens at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22)
  44. ARCTIC TERN (many hundreds at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  45. Northern Gannet (1 between Eastern Egg and Seal, 7/22; 5 between Seal and Stonington, 7/23)
  46. Tree Swallow (several southbound groups seen offshore and around islands)
  47. Brown-headed Cowbird
  48. Red-winged Blackbird
  49. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  50. Winter Wren
  51. Black-throated Green Warbler
  52. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  53. Barn Swallow (scattered small numbers, many southbound over water)
  54. Blue-headed Vireo
  55. Killdeer
  56. AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (pair at Little Green Island, 7/22)
  57. RED PHALAROPE (6 between Little Green Island and Seal Island, 7/22, plus 20 unidentified phalaropes)
  58. GREAT CORMORANT (35+ including juveniles at Seal Island, 7/22-23, plus 1 at Saddleback Ledge light, 7/23).
  59. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (Troppy! Seal Island, 7/22-23).
  60. RAZORBILL (20+ Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  61. Bank Swallow (6 off of Seal Island, 7/22)
  62. COMMON MURRE (1 at Seal Island, 7/22)
  63. LEACH’S STORM-PETREL (many heard overnight at Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  64. Savannah Sparrow
  65. Whimbrel (one at Seal Island, 7/23)
  66. WOOD DUCK (one unexpected fly-by at Seal Island, 7/23)
  67. Semipalmated Plover (4 at Seal Island, 7/23 and 4 off North Haven, 7/24)
  68. Turkey Vulture
  69. Dark-eyed Junco
  70. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  71. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  72. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  73. Chipping Sparrow
  74. Black-and-white Warbler
  75. Yellow Warbler
  76. Hermit Thrush
  77. Belted Kingfisher
  78. Ring-billed Gull (just a few in and around Camden Harbor)
  79. Chimney Swift

Since every trip is unique, here are links to the trip reports from the previous two tours.

August, 2014.
And July 2013.

And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be posting dates and information for our 2016 adventure. This trip fills up fast, so don’t dally…sign up soon and we’ll see you aboard next year!

June 2015 Month in Review

I guide nearly full-time in the month of June, and this year was no different. Add a few days at the store here and there and three days for working on writing projects, it was, needless to say, a very busy month. Please excuse my lack of blogging. I’ll try and make up for it here with a summary of the birds and my birding for the month as I try to catch up here and everywhere else.

After a troublingly-dry spring, rain began to fall in early June, with three inches in the first few days of the month, temporarily alleviating our drought conditions. But unseasonably cool temperatures continued to dominate through much of the month, but at least we started to see rain on a regular basis (but we could still use more) with a more active weather pattern. Unfortunately, it sometime fell at inopportune time for me and my clients!

Early June is often a time for rarities, especially of southern “overshoots” that are often found prospecting for territories – things like Hooded or Worm-eating Warblers, Summer Tanagers, etc. It was rather surprising, actually, that these southern strays weren’t found, considering May ended with several days of southwesterly winds – perfect for facilitating the arrival of late migrants (and kites)!
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It’s also a great time for even more exceptional vagrants.  But this year, rarities in early June were limited to a short-staying Franklin’s Gull on Stratton Island on 6/3, and a 1st-summer Little Gull that was hanging out with Bonparte’s Gulls on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough through the first week of the month (following an adult in late May).
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But on June 8th, a Little Egret was found in Falmouth, and was followed into Portland. On the 9th, I spent the afternoon chasing it around with Luke Seitz, eventually relocating it several times and eventually getting some good photos.  Hanging out some of the time with Snowy Egrets, this summertime occurrence is most intriguing. This was the third record for Maine, all of which have occurred in the summer, and all since 2011 – could they all be of the same bird?
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I’m a full-time guide in June, and this summer my private guiding (following a postponement due to the heavy, steady rain on the 1st) kicked of on June 3rd with a two-day tour for a couple who currently reside in Nicaragua. After amazing experiences with Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows in Scarborough Marsh – with the aforementioned Little Gull as a welcomed treat – we headed for the hills for my first of three visits to the mountaintop realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush. Despite a private, after-hours charter up Mount Washington one evening, and an exhaustive search on another mountain the next morning, for the first time in over 30 attempts, I failed to produce satisfactory views of the enigmatic thrush for my clients. No small part of me was frustrated and disappointed that I could no longer claim a perfect score!  I knew it would happen eventually, however.

Was it too early? Especially during such a cold start to the season? Or was it just too nice out both days? Warm temperatures in the low 50’s and very light winds just don’t seem to be as useful for seeing these birds!

We had a great birdwalk outing on 6/6, and local guiding for a visitor from Alabama on the 7th was fruitful: some of our local breeders here in Freeport, followed by a visit to Pine Point Beach (no Little Gull this day, but the continuing raft of “winter” diving ducks: ~40 White-winged, ~30 Black, and 4 Surf Scoters, along with a single Long-tailed Duck) made for a nice morning.

My next overnight trip was on June 8-9, taking me to Rangeley with a client from Massachussetts. We managed all 6 of our target birds, including finding a Black-backed Woodpecker and with the help of a friend, a new spot for Mourning Warbler.

The weekend of the 13-14th was my annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” tour. Licking my chops from my first whiff earlier in the month, I was excited to get back on the horse and see some Bicknell’s Thrushes. Of course, even more pressure is on when you’re running a two-day trip solely dedicated to one species!  While we do bird our way to and from the mountain thrush locations, this is an all-or-nothing trip for a lot of people. Let’s just say, a new streak has begun – and wow, what a way to do it!

With rare days off, I squeezed in some relaxed birding with Jeannette and Sasha. We didn’t see the Portland area Little Egret on the 15th, but did enjoy a birdy visit to Capisic Pond Park to walk Sasha, including a nice view of the male Orchard Oriole. A Red Crossbill in the afternoon in our Pownal yard was a surprise. The next day, we did our annual march around all of the Kennebunk Plains. At least five Upland Sandpipers (all very well-seen), 10 Grasshopper Sparrows (low), 18 Vesper Sparrows, 38 Prairie Warblers, and all of the other expected barrens denizens. A visit to Peak’s Island on the 18th yielded a very late migrant Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a sampling of the breeding birds of this lovely island. Willow Flycatchers and Black-crowned Night-Herons were in the marsh by Battery Steele but I did not hear or see a single Carolina Wren – wow, did this bird get hammered by our winter this year. Of course, there were a few morning dogwalks to local patches as well mixed in

The grand finale of my June this year was my 10-day Maine-New Hampshire Tour for WINGS. This biennial tour is exhaustive, and exhausting.  But 5 hotels, 1300 miles, and 159 species later, we all knew it was well worth it: 20 species of warbler (including Bay-breasted), all 9 species of Maine’s flycatchers (including Olive-sided), 7 species of thrush (including Bicknell’s in New Hampshire), 5 species of tern, 5 species of vireo, 4 species of alcids, and so much more.

After seeing Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, American Oystercatchers, etc at Scarborough Marsh, we successfully searched for the Little Egret – a life or ABA-area bird for everyone.  Bicknell’s Thrush played hard to get on Mount Washington, but my secret spot produced crippling views the next day.  It rained – a lot – in Rangeley, but we still managed to get several sought-after species, including Gray Jays and Moose. Messalonskee Lake was its usual awesomeness, and then we headed east, way east, arriving in Machias.
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Machias Seal Island needs no explanation; although landed was thwarted by swells, we couldn’t have asked for more birds up close and personal from the boat.
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Spruce Grouse eluded my group for the first time, but we picked up lifers for many, especially as we rode the whale/puffin watch trip out of Bar Harbor (2 Manx and 14 Great Shearwaters, 3 Leach’s and 350+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Northern Fulmars, and another view of puffins, Razorbills, and Common Murres.  And we finally turned up some Great Cormorants – 7 actually – in Acadia National Park.
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The Great Shearwaters we encountered today had some serious molt going on!

Besides the Little Egret, which obviously stole the show, unexpected treats included an immature male Purple Martin at Pine Point exploring nesting/roosting cavities with 6 White-winged Scoters off the beach and 2 Black-bellied Plovers off the point. A pair of Black Scoters was off of Quoddy Head State Park was another unseasonable addition to the checklist.

We filled in a few holes on the checklist on the tour’s last day, including Barred Owl, and some feeder watching in our backyard. And like all of my tours, we ate well- very, very well; food is always an important part of my tours as it is so important to tell an area’s story.
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With rain falling and clients departing on Sunday the 28th, I slept. A lot. I also slept a lot the next two days, although of course, but I made some time for some casual birding with Jeannette and Sasha, including another chase of the Little Egret – this time resulting in Jeannette’s 600th ABA-area bird!  Then, on Tuesday, we visited Simpson’s Point and spotted the remarkably-unseasonable Pacific Loon that was found there the day before. Joining almost-as-amazing summer records of two Red-throated Loons, a drake Bufflehead, and three Long-tailed Ducks, this amazing bay that has become a real summer oddity hotspot delivers once again.

And with that, my June comes to a close. I have a few tours and private guiding outings coming up, but I look forward to a slightly more relaxed schedule, with perhaps a few minutes on the recliner and wading out to sandbars to enjoy shorebirds!

Birding By Schooner 2014!

There are no promises when you lead birding trips by sailboats, but the 2014 Birding By Schooner Aboard the Lewis R. French Tour once again delivered!  This is a very unique trip – not just unique in terms of the tours I lead, but unique for Maine, and as far as we know, everywhere else.

While last week found us plagued by beautiful weather – yup, plagued, we need wind! – great birding, great food, and good company were thoroughly enjoyed.  While our total trip list of 78 species of birds (plus 5 mammals: Harbor Porpoise, Harbor Seal, Gray Seal, Minke Whale, Red Squirrel, one amphibian: Red-backed Salamander, several dragonflies, and 6 species of butterflies) was below our average, we had a few real treats…one in particular.

The wind direction and intensity (or, as in this week, lack there of) dictates where we can and cannot go over the course of our 6 days at sea. Luckily, the first day found conditions acceptable for heading to our number one goal: Seal Island.  Departing Camden Harbor, we set sail directly to this remote seabird island.

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Perhaps our only true “schedule” of the week, our goal was to arrive at a very specific time, for a very specific bird. Captain Garth Wells adeptly navigated our way to arrive about 10 minutes before show time.

“Troppy,” the famous Red-billed Tropicbird that has called Seal Island and vicinity its home for the past 10 summers arrived right on queue. I first spotted it flying around the island in the distance.

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Then, he made a sharp turn towards us…

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…and proceeded to circle our boat several times at an increasingly close proximity…

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…Before turning away and heading back to the island, often escorted by Arctic Terns.

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Oh yeah, there were several hundred Atlantic Puffins in the water too, and later, as we hosted the Seal Island biologist crew aboard for dinner and conversation, a Parasitic Jaeger.

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As the sun set, fog rolled in, and by 10:30, we began to hear the cackles and chatters of Leach’s Storm-Petrels as they commuted to and from the island in the cover of darkness. Several of us awoke in the middle of the night to listen, and we were rewarded with a constant cacophony of this intriguing, and a bit disconcerting, sound. Since we have the luxury of anchoring off of Seal – weather permitting of course – we not only have a great success rate with Troppy, but we also have the rare opportunity to listen to the nocturnal chorus of this pelagic specialty.

Come sunrise…

Seal Island Sunrise,8-5-14

…we enjoyed countless puffins, Black Guillemots, and Arctic Terns, along with at least a dozen Great Cormorants from the local breeding colony, a couple of re-orienting migrant Yellow Warblers at dawn, and several singing Song and Savannah Sparrows.  Surprisingly, we tallied 9 species of shorebirds (plus Sanderling the day before): the locally-breeding Spotted Sandpipers, but also 40+ Semipalmated Sandpipers (plus another 50 unidentified peeps), 9 Ruddy Turnstones, 9 Short-billed Dowitchers,  3 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 Semipalmated Plovers, 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Least Sandpipers, and my first White-rumped Sandpiper of the fall (and a pretty good bird out here).  A single Red-winged Blackbird dropped in from high above, and we spotted another Parasitic Jaeger.

Shorebirds – a continued theme throughout the trip – were one of the benefits of conducting this tour two weeks later than usual. We also had high hopes for pelagic shearwaters, but our doldrums had set in. Little wind was present as we traveled from Seal to Matinicus Island, and therefore any shearwaters in the vicinity were likely sitting tight, conserving their energy. Two unidentified jaegers, 5 Red Phalaropes, and 28 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, along with several more Atlantic Puffins and a few Northern Gannets kept our interest however.

Arriving at Matinicus Rock…

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…we saw plenty of puffins and more Arctic and Common Terns, but our late departure date cost us: Common Murres and Razorbills were nowhere to be found (don’t worry; we resume our usual third week of July itinerary next year!). But, we did have a treat with a single cooperative Manx Shearwater!

As we made a pass around Matinicus Rock, it was time to read the winds (or once again, the lack there of) and make a choice. We had hoped to turn towards Monhegan Island for birds (and the brewery!), but that would have been a very long, perhaps even uncomfortable slog. So instead, we turned inland, and set a course of Port Clyde.

We traveled through some relatively deep and open waters, but shearwaters were nowhere to be found. Another Parasitic Jaeger, 100+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, 21 Northern Gannets, 4 migrant Short-billed Dowitchers, a Minke Whale, and two Mola Molas were enjoyed, as were the numerous Harbor Porpoise that were constant companions throughout the tour, easily seen in the often glass-calm waters.

Rounding Metinic Green and passed Marshall Point Light, we dropped anchor in the quintessential mid-coast harbor of Port Clyde.  In the morning, we hopped ashore, and took a bird/plant/sightseeing walk to the lighthouse, slowly but steadily building our trip list. A Broad-winged Hawk being mobbed by a half-dozen or so American Robins was the avian highlight.

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Once again, our goal was Monhegan, but once again, barely a puff of breeze was available. Even if we pushed our way out there with our yawl boat, we would have had a hard time making it back the next day – no wind was forecasted, and we only carry so much fuel!  We also have to plan one step in advance, and set ourselves up for where we needed to be the next day. Mutiny was considered, but the difficult decision to turn east was made.

Heading towards North Haven, another 16 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were added to the tally, but our chumming attempt in these inshore waters was expectedly futile (but we had to try as we had picked up bait in the morning.  Unfortunately, the deepest water that we were to pass through was traversed in the middle of a rather heavy thunderstorm, which we were not able to outrun sailing at a mere 3 knots (well, until the storm itself was upon us!).

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We entered the Fox Island Thoroughfare and dropped anchor in a little bay off of Amesbury Point on North Haven Island. Another delectable dinner was then served by Chef Scott – who is not your average schooner cook!

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The storm clouds cleared by dusk…

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…and we heard several shorebirds calling from up the bay, and two Snowy Egrets passed by overhead.  Therefore, we decided to mix things up a little with a pre-breakfast row to check things out.

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I took the helm, and somehow guided us successfully to and from the boat.

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I was just happy to not run into anything, but a nice mix of shorebirds included 8 Least and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, and one each of Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs.

A short sail (again, little wind) through the Thoroughfare yielded the first Bonaparte’s Gulls of the trip, some Common Loons, and plentiful Ospreys.  Dropping anchor off of the Calderwood Island Preserve, much of the boat hit the water, including our Captain.

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Then, it was time to row ashore for one of everyone’s trip highlights: the lobster bake!  While things got cooking, I led a walk around the preserve, adding a few landbirds to the list. Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats were especially conspicuous, but I couldn’t help but wonder what migrants the extensive raspberry-gooseberry-juniper thickets that covered much of the island would hold…and rarities?

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Storm clouds built up once again…

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…But the lobster bake went off without a hitch…

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…perhaps with the exception of Nihls, who bit off a little more than he could chew.

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Returning to the boat, we adjusted our position for the night, and scoped a small rocky islet that as the tide rolled in, amassed 64 Bonaparte’s Gulls and several families of Common Terns – adults were commuting to and from the island with fish for their hungry fledglings.

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It was clear and calm once again at sunrise (we joined the Mary Day at anchorage last night), but a Winter Wren serenaded us from the island. We rounded the southeast corner of North Haven Island, and headed for Islesboro.

The waters of Penobscot Bay are not overly birdy at this time of year – other than plentiful Black Guillemots, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, gulls (mostly Herring and Great Black-backed with smaller numbers of Laughing, Bonaparte’s, and scattered Ring-billed), Common Eiders, scattered Common Loons, Double-crested Cormorants, and so on. But as we passed various little islands, our triplist slowly grew with the likes of a migrant group of Tree Swallows, a single Barn Swallow, a hunting American Kestrel, and plenty of Harbor Seals. Ruddy Turnstones were also scattered about.

But once again, the day’s calm conditions gave way to building thunderstorms…

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…but we managed to make it to the shelter of Gilkey Harbor off Islesboro before things got too hairy today.

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And as it had for the last three days, the storms cleared for lovely sunsets…

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…more delectable food, and evening entertainment from the crew.

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Several flight calls early in the night overhead suggested that the front had finally cleared, and fall migrants were once again on the move.

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Another lovely morning greeted us on our final day aboard the French, but not before we raced ashore for one last birdwalk. This time, we checked out Warren Island State Park.

We added several species to our list in one single Paper Birch just off the pier (Brown Creeper, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Black-and-white Warbler) while a delightfully birdy stroll added Hermit Thrush and Gray Catbird, plus great views of a variety of other species as we also spent time looking at plants and discussing the ecology of the Maine islands once again (and ranting about invasive plants).

But alas, all good Birding By Schooner tours must come to an end, so sails were set and we headed for home.

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Turkey Vultures over the Camden Hills and Chimney Swifts over the harbor were our final 77th and 78th species of the journey and we pulled into the dock. Goodbyes were said, belongings were gathered, and Captain Garth and I immediately began to plot for next year’s trip.

A special thanks go to Jenny and Garth Wells, and the crew of the Schooner Lewis R. French for making this special trip a reality, and as always, making it a resounding success.  I hope you will consider joining us next year.  For more information, check out The “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page of our website, or visit the the Lewis R. French

Here’s our birdlist of 79 species from this year’s tour, listed in order of appearance:
Mallard
Canada Goose
House Sparrow
Herring Gull
American Crow
Rock Pigeon
Song Sparrow
Cedar Waxwing
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Osprey
Great Blue Heron
Black Guillemot
Double-crested Cormorant
Common Eider
Ring-billed Gull
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Gannet
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
Atlantic Puffin
Arctic Tern
Common Tern
RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD
Savannah Sparrow
GREAT CORMORANT
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Short-billed Dowitcher
Sanderling
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Plover
PARASITIC JAEGER
LEACH’S STORM-PETREL
Yellow Warbler
Black-bellied Plover
White-rumped Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Red-winged Blackbird
RED PHALAROPE
MANX SHEARWATER
American Goldfinch
Bald Eagle
Mourning Dove
American Black Duck
Blue Jay
European Starling
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Yellowthroat
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Chipping Sparrow
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-throated Green Warbler
Broad-winged Hawk
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Cardinal
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Greater Yellowlegs
House Finch
Killdeer
Snowy Egret
Swainson’s Thrush
Northern Flicker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Bonaparte’s Gull
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Winter Wren
American Kestrel
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Brown Creeper
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Turkey Vulture
Chimney Swift

Birding By Schooner 2013!

Jeannette and I were once again had the honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to be the guides on a 6-day birding tour aboard the Lewis R. French out of Camden, Maine.  This was our third tour together (I also was aboard for a private charter last year), and we have been looking forward to this trip since the last time we stepped off the boat.  While this blog entry will obviously focus on the birding and wildlife aspects of the trip, I will not be able to do this tour justice with words nor pictures.  It is truly a unique experience from start to finish.

After boarding the boat the night before, we awoke to sunny skies in Camden Harbor on Day 1 of the trip, July 22nd.  Captain Garth and I chatted about possible destinations, and after another check of the forecast, we decided to take advantage of the benign conditions to make a run way out to SealIsland, off of Matinicus.  We have a total of four islands that feature breeding seabirds – with Atlantic Puffins being the prime target – in three different directions, so with every trip, we hope to hit at least one of them.  Seal is the most remote, and the most extraordinary – featuring not just lots of puffins, but Razorbills, Common Murres, Great Cormorants, Arctic and Common Terns, and for the past seven years – a Red-billed Tropicbird.  A few pairs of Manx Shearwaters also breed there, as do many Leach’s Storm-Petrels.  Unlike the other islands, it also offers a fairly sheltered cove for anchoring, and the opportunity to host the island’s seabird biologists for dinner and conversation. (Note: you can double-click on the photos for larger images)
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The Schooner French, a National Historic Landmark built in 1871 is not mechanized. This means there is plenty of ways to burn a few calories before the next scrumptious meal, such as cranking the anchor…
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…or raising the sails
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As we departed the harbor, we started our trip list with common species such as Mallards, Double-crested Cormorants, Laughing Gulls, and a smattering of landbirds.   Osprey nests were passed and Black Guillemots were in their usual abundance.  Common Eiders were common, as were Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, along with a scattering of Common Loons and Common Terns.  Many of these, especially the gulls, cormorants, eiders, and especially the guillemots would be constant companions throughout the trip, especially in in- and nearshore waters.
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Amanda serving lunch; all meals were, as usual, fantastic. Lunch was “simple:” soup, a salad, fresh baked bread, and desert.

As we left the shelter of Penobscot Bay, the wind died off completely.  This would be the first of what was, unfortunately, a few days where we were forced to use our powered yawl boat to push the French along (Although we still use a tiny fraction of the gas as any other pelagic birding trip out there!).  En route, we encountered a single Leach’s Storm-Petrel that provided a nice view, and a Manx Shearwater passed by – our first two target species spotted, and we hadn’t even reached Seal Island yet!
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I prepare the chum

The waters around Seal were teeming with birds: lots’o’puffins, Razorbills, a handful of Common Murres, Great Cormorants, and a boat-load of Black Guillemots.  Hundreds of Arctic Terns were wheeling about the island, with many birds making close passes of the boat.  It did appear, however, that Common Terns had already mostly fledged, as we didn’t see too many.  Three Common Ravens were a surprise, but Song and Savannah Sparrows singing from the island were expected.  A few migrant shorebirds were darting about, including Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, a few Ruddy Turnstones, and at least one Semipalmated Plover.  Spotted Sandpipers foraged along the shore, too, the only shorebird that breeds out here.
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Razorbills

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Puffins!

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Arctic Tern

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Unfortunately, the famous Red-billed Tropicbird did not put in an appearance.  We were in position for his afternoon bath, but later we learned he often skips it when it isn’t sunny. “He’s a fair weather bather,” one of the biologists later told us.

But our spirits were not dampened.  After all, this is not a hard-core listing trip.  Although everyone would have liked to have seen the tropicbird, this tour is more about taking what the weather and the birds provide, and enjoying a relaxed, casual bird-watching experience.

And just in case anyone was upset about dipping on the tropicbird, dinner was soon served – Amanda and Amber’s meals always put a smile on people’s faces – and we welcomed our special guests, the seabird biologists of SealIsland. It’s a treat for us to ask them questions about life and birds on this remote rock, and no doubt a treat for them to get a brief break from the rigors of island life.
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Black Guillemot with Rock Eel

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Chatting with the biologists on Matinicus Rock…aka “nah, nah, we’re on a schooner!”

As night fell, and a near-full moon rose, many of the birders on board delayed retiring to their bunk until Leach’s Storm-Petrels – who only visit their burrow nests under the cover of night – began to vocalize.  There were only three of us left on deck by 10:00, when I turned in.  The one birder, our good friend Chris, however, stayed topside (and another birder slept on deck) for a while longer.  Not too long after I gave in to sleep, fog rolled in, and that really got the storm-petrels to call.  Chris was rewarded for his stamina with a cacophony of somewhat-disconcerting cackling chatters.
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That fog was still around at sunrise, which unfortunately meant we would leave without the tropicbird.  Even if he did come out for his morning bath, we wouldn’t have seen him – heck, we couldn’t even see his cove from the boat.   So we just had to suffer through more puffins.  It’s a tough life.

Fog and occasional rain reduced visibility as we headed for shelter inshore, but we spotted the occasional commuting puffin and a few Northern Gannets.
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We passed around the west side of Vinalhaven Island, and dropped anchor off of North Haven in the Fox Islands Thorofare.  An evening walk in “town” added landbirds to the list, including a few Purple Finches at a feeder and a Cooper’s Hawk.
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A Great-horned Owl called throughout much the night, and come dawn, we shuttled ashore for a birdwalk on Vinalhaven Island.
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Garth suggested a loop trail that was a short walk away from the dock, but we barely made it to the trailhead – the road in was just too birdy!  A Swainson’s Thrush foraged on the beach, a Blackburnian Warbler sang near the dock, and as we walked the road, we came across a variety of the common birds of these Red Spruce-dominated islands.  Magnolia Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets; Winter Wrens and Dark-eyed Juncos.  One little patch of alder scrub at the edge of a meadow exploded with birds with just a little pishing: two family groups of Black-throated Green Warblers, a pair or two of American Redstarts and Common Yellowthroats, a band of Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, and one Alder Flycatcher.  We had to hustle back to the boat in time for breakfast.
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We rounded Vinalhaven clockwise, and came out of the fog for a time as we crossed East Penobscot Bay.  We were back into the sun as we traversed Merchant’s Row, but once again we found ourselves without even a puff of wind.
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While an island with terns and alcids is usually the highlight of our sail, over the years, the colony of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants of Southern Mark Island has provided us with some entertainment.  Here, Bald Eagles travel to hunt the colony, and in years past, we have seen some incredible shows.  As we slowed down to view the island, two Bald Eagles rapidly approached right on cue.  One landed in the center of the island, presumably to look for unattended gull chicks.  This time, both eagles were driven off empty-taloned.
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Small flocks of southbound migrant shorebirds were also encountered here and there, such as these Semipalmated Sandpipers

Burnt Cove Harbor on Swan’s Island would be our harbor of refuge for the night, and an after-dinner dusk stroll in the village and out to the lighthouse added a couple more species to our growing list.
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It was with anxious anticipation that I went to bed that night, as Garth had decided that – weather forecast holding true of course – we were going to head offshore yet again, perhaps all of the way out to Mount Desert Rock.  It was time for some true pelagic birding!  And just to hedge the bet, we picked up some more bait for chumming.
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Common Terns were common

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A light northeasterly wind helped us get offshore, but yet again, the wind died offshore and we needed the assistance of our yawl boat.  A very long 2-3 foot swell was hardly noticeable in our heavy wooden boat, and as we headed into deeper water, the birding really began to heat up.
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About a mile away from Mount Desert Rock, we hit pay dirt: massive rafts of Great Shearwaters.  We sailed through them, and then back through them.  The lack of wind was keeping them on the water, and most just paddled away from our slow-moving ship.  I began to chum.  You could say it worked.  It worked really, really well.

Great Shearwaters took the bait, literally, and followed us closely.  Now under sail, the silence afforded us the opportunity to hear these surprisingly-vociferous birds as they fought over morsels, and jockeyed for position.  Many birds were coming within only a few yards of the boat, and many of them were not bothering to fly – just walking on water with wings flapping.  They would plunge in after slowly-sinking chunks of Herring (I really wish I had cut things smaller, the chum bucket was going down way too fast!) and we were close enough to see them underwater.

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Great Shearwater

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Northern Gannet

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Molting adult Red-necked Phalaropes

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Juvenile Arctic Tern

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OK everyone, grab your copy of Howell’s ‘Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America and use molt patterns to age this Great Shearwater!

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Sooty Shearwater

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Mmmm…herring

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Great Shearwater coming in for a landing…I think this is my favorite photo of the trip!

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Adult Northern Gannet

Simply put, this was a lot of fun.  And when all was said and done, and we left the hotspot, we had tallied an impressive 764 Great Shearwaters.  They were joined by at least 4 Sooty Shearwaters, and one Manx Shearwater cruised by – not pausing for long, as usual.  A total of 19 Northern Gannets were counted, and Razorbills (9), 2 Common Murres, and more Atlantic Puffins (4+) added to the show.  Although overshadowed by the rafts of shearwaters, Red-necked Phalaropes were in abundance – I estimated at least 400 birds, most of which in tight flocks spinning in floating mats of wrack.  I didn’t pull out any Red Phalaropes from the bunches, but it wouldn’t have surprised me to find some mixed in. Surprisingly, not a single Wilson’s Storm-Petrel was seen – a bird that we somehow didn’t even see all trip!  Where the heck are they this year?  It’s usually the most common tubenose on our tour!

If we didn’t have some important plans for dinner, we would have spent more time out here I am sure, as this was really a great experience.  Even the non-birders aboard were more than impressed by the show.  Unfortunately, only one Fin Whale was briefly spotted.   A feeding frenzy of birds that I spotted in the distance were clearly excited by something feeding – either whales or perhaps tuna, but by the time we made it to the area, the birds had settled into the massive rafts we sailed through.

We skimmed the mouth of BlueHillBay, checking our Harbor Seals basking on ledges exposed by the low tide, and happening upon a few large rafts of molting Common Eiders.
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We dropped anchor off of McGlatheryIsland south of Stonington, and rowed ashore for one of the non-birding highlights of the trip – a lobster bake on the beach!
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After the feast, we moved the boat to a safer anchorage off of Hell’s Half-Acre, where we spent the night.  Rain fell in buckets, and continued on and off through much of the next day.  However, for the first time, we had some solid winds to do some real sailing, and after donning our rain gear, many of us stayed on deck for much of the day as we crossed East Penobscot Bay and tacked our way around North Haven.  Slowly but surely, however, most of us made our way to the wood-burning-stove-warmed galley for snacks, tea, and conversation…and a few games.

The rain cleared and fog lifted in the afternoon, and it was a lovely evening in the shelter of Pulpit Harbor.  Although we had seen plenty of Ospreys on this trip, the Ospreys that nest atop the rock (the “pulpit”) that guards the entrance to the harbor are particularly noteworthy – the explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain noted an Osprey nest atop this very rock sometime between 1604 and 1607!  The one still-present juvenile that was being watched by an adult had no idea what a historic nest it was raised in.
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July 27th, our 6th and final day of the tour, dawned on Pulpit Harbor under clearing skies, calm winds (again), and warmer temperatures.  Barn Swallow, likely a migrant, was added to our trip list as we sailed northeast into Camden Harbor.  Chimney Swifts overhead and a singing Yellow Harbor from the shoreline were our 82nd and 83rd – and final – species of the trip (an “accounting error” led to a mistaken tally of 78 species announced at the end of the trip; sorry folks, update your notes!) but still a tally held down a little by fewer walks ashore (one due to our deep-water pelagic, and the other due to heavy rain).  However, our seabird list was fantastic, and quite a few of the birders added life birds – the Leach’s Storm-Petrels and Manx Shearwaters in particular.  And perhaps, sucked in by the fun of it all, one or two life lists were born.

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The always bittersweet return to the lovely port of Camden.Sure I have birding tours that see more birds, and are more reliable for the most sought-after target birds, but this trip is one of my most favorites (only Monhegan Island can compete).  Yeah, we kept a list, and a few people added some lifers, but this trip is truly about enjoying whatever birds we come across in a really unique way.  The Schooner Lewis R. French is a beautiful boat, with an amazing crew, serving great food and good times.  In this case, the birding is actually the icing on the cake. The complete trip list, in order of appearance:
American Crow
Mallard
Canada Goose
Tufted Titmouse
American Goldfinch
Rock Pigeon
Song Sparrow
Black-capped Chickadee
Cedar Waxwing
Blue Jay
European Starling
Belted Kingfisher
Double-crested Cormorant
Common Loon
House Sparrow
Mourning Dove
House Finch
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Osprey
Common Eider
Black Guillemot
Laughing Gull
Common Murre
Razorbill
Northern Gannet
Common Tern
Leach’s Storm-Petrel
Arctic Tern
Atlantic Puffin
Razorbill
Common Raven
Great Cormorant
Common Tern
Manx Shearwater
Spotted Sandpiper
Savannah Sparrow
Semipalmated Plover
Least Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
White-throated Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Cooper’s Hawk
Purple Finch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-winged Blackbird
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Chipping Sparrow
Great Horned Owl
Common Yellowthroat
Gray Catbird
Blackburnian Warbler
Northern Parula
Swainson’s Thrush
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Magnolia Warbler
Winter Wren
Nashville Warbler
American Redstart
Alder Flycatcher
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Dark-eyed Junco
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Bonaparte’s Gull
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Hermit Thrush
Great Blue Heron
Great Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Red-necked Phalarope
American Black Duck
Tree Swallow
Greater Yellowlegs
Barn Swallow
Chimney Swift
Yellow Warbler
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Our “Birding By Schooner” Tour aboard the Lewis R. French has been run every three years.  However, thanks to increasing interest and demand, we are going to likely be offering this one-of-a-kind birding experience on an annual basis!  Keep an eye on our “Travel, Tours, and Workshops” page at http://www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com/birdingtoursinMaine.asp for information about the possible 2014 (but likely definitely in 2015) sailing dates.

2013 Maine-New Hampshire Tour for WINGS

My Maine-New Hampshire Tour for WINGS is designed to take a comprehensive look at the wide range of breeding birds of northern New England, from Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows at sea-level to Bicknell’s Thrushes on the 6200ft Mount Washington.  From Grasshopper Sparrows and Upland Sandpipers in the blueberry barrens of the Kennebunk Plains to Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays in the boreal forests, and from Spruce Grouse and Bay-breasted Warblers “Downeast” to Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills on MachiasSealIsland, this tour enjoys them all.

Over the course of 7 full days of birding and just about 1200 miles traveled (by van, not including what we did by foot and boat!) amassed 163 species, including 20 species of warblers, 4 species of alcids, 9 species of flycatchers, and 14 species of sparrows.  An outstanding whale/bird watch trip that produced 9 Fin Whales, over 150 Great Shearwaters, 6 Sooty Shearwaters, and an impressive 18 Leach’s Storm-Petrels among over 500 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels.  Breathtaking scenery.  Great food, especially lots of fresh lobster.  Moose and a Wood Turtle, too.  What’s not to like about this all-inclusive experience in the state where our motto is “The Way Life Should Be?”  I think our tour left in full agreement with the accuracy of this.

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We began on Day One in the saltmarshes of Scarborough Marsh, comparing Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows.  “Eastern” Willets voiced their complaints, while Least Terns foraged nearby.  The nearby sandy beaches afforded an opportunity to study Roseate Terns and Piping Plovers, with lingering White-winged Scoters and a Red-throated Loon offshore.  Our first surprise of the trip was a Brant standing on a sandbar off of Pine Point – not a typical summer bird here in Maine.  As we scanned the sandflats for lingering shorebirds (just four Black-bellied Plovers), we spotted two distant American Oystercatchers.  Just as we started to strain to see them, one flies by right off the end of the pier!

By mid-morning, we had arrived in the Kennebunk Plains, surrounded by the state’s largest population – by far – of Grasshopper Sparrows and Upland Sandpipers with goodly amounts of Vesper Sparrows, Prairie Warblers, and the continuing Clay-colored Sparrow.  After a picnic lunch at a particularly birdy spot, we began our climb into the White Mountains.  Our first stop was at an active Black-backed Woodpecker nest, where patience produced visits by both adults, and views of two hungry youngsters bursting out of the hole.  As this was a major target bird of the trip, I added quite a few miles and minutes to today’s marathon to assure us a look at this often secretive (at least away from the nest) boreal specialty.

And as if this wasn’t enough, we had yet another major target yet to bag.  An after-hours private charter up Mount Washington into the realm of Bicknell’s Thrush was rewarded with exceptionally good views, and a chance to experience the winds and weather of the summit.

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Day two began on the Caps Ridge Trailhead, with Gray Jays, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Blackpoll Warblers, before we headed up another mountain for a second helping of Bicknell’s Thrush.  After telling folks that “there’s no way we’ll see a Bicknell’s better than we did last night,” I was made out to be a liar by crippling views of this thrush.

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We also picked up a Philadelphia Vireo at one of my “secret spots,” and enjoyed some “bugs.”

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(Harris’s Checkerspot).

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(Modest Sphinx moth).

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Heading back into Maine, we spent the night in Rangeley, and come morning, Gray Jays dropped in to clean up after our picnic breakfast.  Kirk Betts joined us for a few hours of birding the Boy Scout Road, where Boreal Chickadees and an Olive-sided Flycatcher were well seen, and as we began our trek eastward, Purple Martins, Black Terns, and two (admittedly ridiculously distant) Sandhill Cranes at Messalonskee Lake nicely broke up the drive.

By the beginning of the fourth day, we were far Downeast in Machias.  We dipped on our first attempt at Spruce Grouse, but all was forgiven when we boarded our boat for MachiasSealIsland on a beautifully warm and sunny day.  Thousands of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and many hundreds of Common Murres – many within just a few feet of the observation blinds.  How do you describe this magical place?  I simply cannot; it must be experienced.  I will let these pictures do the talking.

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Immature Common Murre.

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After lunch, we were joined by Chris Bartlett as we worked our way along the BoldCoast to West Quoddy Head and back to Machias.  On the hot summer afternoon, we didn’t see many of our targets, but we were adding birds to our list.  Unfortunately, we had yet to add Spruce Grouse.  

Therefore, on the 5th morning of the trip, Operation Fool Hen (the colloquial name for Spruce Grouse) went into full effect.  The formerly most-reliable place in the state was no longer reliable (0-3 here), and I had pretty much resigned myself to failure by the time we entered the woods at one last place.  We were cleaning up some “dirty birds,” (birds not seen by the whole group), and while I was trying to get some people a look at a Swainson’s Thrush, a hen Spruce Grouse walks out behind me, about 10 feet away and starts preening. The grouse walks even closer to the growing group, including a family that enjoyed the show, patiently waiting to pass.  We watched for well over 15 minutes before she sauntered off.

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Relieved and ecstatic, we continued down the trail.  On our way back, that family, now ahead of us, points to where we saw the hen grouse.  We acknowledged it, they moved on, and instead we see a spiffy male standing just off the trail.  He started walking towards us, we all froze, and he actually walks around a few people in order to take a dust bath within a few feet of us – in the very same spot that we saw the hen.  This guy was not going to be deterred!

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Time flies when you’re having fun with Spruce Grouse, so our time was limited in Moosehorn NWR.  Luckily, we did see Bay-breasted Warbler, but before we knew it, it was time to move on and head towards Bar Harbor, where we enjoyed a lobster dinner the way lobster should be (abundant; and on paper plates with bibs and lots of napkins).

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(Dawn on the Summer Solstice from the Back Porch).

Our second boat trip of the tour departed Bar Harbor on the morning of Day 6, and we headed towards Petit Manan to enjoy yet more puffins, Razorbills, and Common Murres.  And unlike Machias Seal, the tern colony here is present and active, with thousands of Common and Arctic Terns wheeling through the air, and at least a few more Roseates.  Heading further offshore, pelagic birds began to increase.  A conservatively-estimated 500 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were joined by at least 18 Leach’s – probably my best-ever tally from a non-dedicated (no-chumming) pelagic. 150+ Great Shearwaters and 6 Sooty Shearwaters joined the party…oh yeah, and 9 Fin Whales!  It was one of my best pelagic bird shows on this 4-hour trip, and the Fin Whale show was dramatic as well.

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Great Shearwaters.

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Fin Whale.

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Leach’s Storm-Petrel.

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The view from the summit of Cadillac.

Day seven was our last day of birding, and a lot was on the agenda once again.  A picnic and walk at Sieur de Monts Spring was highlighted by a great look at a day-hunting Barred Owl, and the scenic Auto Loop Road filled some holes in our list, and surprised us with a lingering immature Great Cormorant!

Heading towards Portland, we stopped for lobster rolls at the world famous Red’s Eats before birding around Brunswick, still adding some birds to our list, such as some rare-for-the-season Long-tailed Ducks.

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  LL Bean, Freeport Wild Bird Supply (of course to add a few more species to the list at the feeders), the world’s Largest Rotating Globe at Delorme, a colony of Fish Crows, and last but not least, a scrumptious dinner in Portland brought this remarkable trip to a grand finale.

I hope you’ll consider joining me on this tour when we run it again in 2015.  As with all of our trips and tours, stay tuned to www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com/birdingtoursinMaine.asp for more information.