Tag Archives: Brunswick

Birds on Tap: Gulls and Growlers!

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With windchills around -15F, even the gulls looked cold today. And there’s no way to sugar-coat it: it was brutally cold. The coldest temperatures in over a month – and one of the coldest days this entire winter – greeted the start of the first edition of the “Gulls and Growlers” tour in our “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

Donning plenty of layers, we hit the road and headed north to an unusual destination – well, only unusual if you’re not really, really into serious birding: the Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta. And the swirl of birds that greeted us quickly explained why we were here on this bitter day.

1,000-1,500 Herring Gulls (with a few Great Black-backed Gulls sprinkled in) would rise up in a swirling cloud every time one of the 8-10 Bald Eagles made a close pass. Add to that 500 or so American Crows and a few hundred European Starlings, and you have a lot of biomass! We learned a little about aging of eagles as birds passed overhead and perched in the towering pines behind us. We sorted through the masses of gulls for any unusual species, and the sight of so many birds in one place allowed for us to forget about the cold – at least for a moment.
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My original plan was to spend 1 to 1 ½ hours here, watching and photographing eagles and studying gulls, hoping to tease out a rarity or at least foster an appreciation for just how approachable gull identification really is. But I’m also at least somewhat rational – well, unless I had spotted a rare gull! – so we knew when to say when and boarded the bus for a short ride to one of the local gull roosts.

At least 300 gulls were present, with dozens arriving every few seconds, so it would have been the perfect opportunity to carefully sort through them. Unfortunately, the 20+ mph wind was directly in our face. We soon moved on.

After a quick coffee/hot chocolate/bathroom stop – perhaps the most welcome stop of the day! – we shifted gears a bit and focused on the Kennebec River. Starting at Mill Park on the north side of Augusta’s downtown, we made several stops as we traveled south to Gardiner (often using the bus as a windbreak!).
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In doing so, we spotted at least 4 more Bald Eagles, and a tallied 132 Common Mergansers. In fact, the mergansers stole the show today, with several rafts actively displaying and some birds fishing in close proximity, diving into the strong current and surfacing between chunks of ice. It was a good count for this time of year, but we enjoyed uncommonly good views of many of the birds.
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We checked through a few small groups of gulls – mostly Herring and Ring-billed as expected – and even though we were freezing, we were reassured that spring is right around the corner thanks to the Turkey Vulture that was weeble-wobbling its way through the gusty winds over Gardiner.

Mike, our driver and beer guide for the day, took over as we traveled between our last few birding stops, offering an abbreviated history of alcohol in Maine, and for a dark period, lack there of. Maine was at the forefront of the Prohibition movement, but now, we are back at the forefront of local, innovative, and cutting edge production of beer, cider, spirits, and much more.

Our first stop in the beverage half of today’s tour was Lost Orchard Brewing/Crooked Halo Cidery where David Boucher and his father, Nick are doing some really “crazy” things with hard cider. By using all sorts of different yeasts and adding lots of creative ingredients, David is working to make “a traditional style untraditional” with his self-admitted “mad science.” And speaking of untraditional, their repurposing of an old church as their tasting room – complete with a bar on the alter, which Nick constructed from the wood of old pews – made for a very unique place to visit. They even offered to turn the organ on for us!
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Closed to the public in winter, they opened their doors just for us, and treated us to some special drinks. In fact, we were the first members of the public to sample their new Exodus, a McIntosh apple cider fermented with farmhouse yeasts and Brettanomyces, which made for a well-balanced cider that was just tart, sweet, and dry enough.

Genesis was drier, “more like an apple wine,” and Hellfire – a strawberry-jalapeno-infusion – played with our taste buds with sweet strawberry up front and a jalapeno burn on the back end. Sour Sister used sour cherries and four strains of souring yeasts, and then David dipped into their private reserve to tantalize us with Dante’s Inferno. Aged in cinnamon whiskey barrels loaded with cinnamon sticks, this is my new favorite cider – and one of the favorite drinks of the day for the group. Our only complaint was that they didn’t have anything bottled for sale at the moment; I know I would have left with a case of Dante’s Inferno!
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Heading south, our second stop was the brand-new Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick. This was another special treat for the tour as they opened a mere two weeks ago, and we were the first tour group to visit. And we immediately saw first hand how well it has been received by the community, as the place was packed – as it has been since the day they opened; over 5,000 people were served in their first week alone!

Another really cool renovated building, Jared and Nate’s burgeoning brewery is housed in the former indoor small arms range of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. The path is paved with cement blocks cut from the walls to install windows, and they have an entirely electric, seven-barrel brewhouse run on 100% renewable energy from the old base’s micro-grid powered by solar and biomass.

Head brewer Jared described the process and their brewing philosophy, while Nate joined us to describe their unique system, location, and goals for the new business. Meanwhile, we sipped a few of their delicious beers. We started out the Pilot’s Porridge Oatmeal Stout, a “session stout” that was light in body compared to many stouts, and fairly low in alcohol, it still had the flavors we know and love in stouts.
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Our next beer was 44th Parallel IPA, a traditional and straightforward IPA, and one that will no doubt be a standby for locals. But for me personally, both were overshadowed by the Irish Breakfast. A pale ale base with a day-long steeping of Irish breakfast tea made for a unique and fun beer. The tea definitely stood out, but its bitterness and herbaceous-ness was balanced by a sweet, malty backbone. I’m getting into some of these tea-beers, and I think this is a solid effort (they were already out of their Hibiscus Tea beer that was my favorite on a recent “scouting mission” here).
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Winds were still howling, and temperatures- believe it or not – were dropping again, so we decided to forgo a search for Snowy Owls (none had been reported recently here, or we would have definitely cowboyed up!) and head home. While learning that Portland (well to the south of our sojourn today) reached a mere 17 degrees above zero, setting a new all-time record-low high temperature for the date didn’t make us feel any warmer, it certainly proved we earned our afternoon beverages!

While I can’t control the weather, or the birds, I do love the Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! because I know the beverages will always be there for us! And I believe this was a great itinerary that I look forward to leading again next year…hopefully with a few more degrees on the thermometer (and a little less wind!).

I have a feeling it will be warmer on the next eight Roadtrips we have in 2017, starting with the annual favorite, “Spring Ducks and Draughts” on Sunday, April 2nd. Oh, and by the way, as of today, there are only two spaces available! I hope to see you aboard one of our unique and exclusive trips, all of which are listed on our website.
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Western Grebe at Simpson’s Point (4/17/16)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what a hotspot of Simpson’s Point in Brunswick currently is. I also predicted that it was about due for another rarity. And recently, with increasing numbers of migrant ducks, my Rarity Fever was further stoked.

Last Thursday, I counted an amazing 2600 Black Scoters – a really ridiculous count for interior Casco Bay. After enjoying a growing number of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers among other migrants (first of year Swamp Sparrows, etc) at Florida Lake this am, I took advantage of the finally-calm conditions to visit them again, and perhaps do a little sorting through the masses.

Those scoters were still present this morning, and the goodly number of Horned Grebes (20+ each day) continued. Horned Grebes molting into breeding plumage can look a lot like vagrant Eared Grebes, especially as the blond tufts are still growing in. I was scanning a small raft of Horned Grebes, thinking about finding the second Eared Grebe record for here.

That’s when I found…a Western Grebe! Not only was this a significant rarity, it was actually a “State Bird” for me (the first time I have seen the bird in the state). A long overdue one that was becoming a nemesis of sorts, it was #6 on my latest predictions list for my next 25 species to see in Maine. And of course, it is always sweeter and more rewarding for me to find it for myself.

It was not close, but the distinctive shape and profile was unmistakable. The relatively short body riding low on the water – like all grebes – looked disproportionally small as that long and skinny neck was craned up. The long bill and fairly large head (relative to the width of the neck) further added to the bird’s distinctive profile.

Upon closer look, the two-toned black-and-white neck and face was obvious. There’s little doubt as to this bird was a member of the genus Aechmophorus – Western and Clark’s Grebe. Luckily, as the active bird moved a smidge closer, I was able to scrutinize several features that ruled out Clark’s. For one, the black hindneck was evenly wide, not narrow and thin, and not pinching toward the top. Although it was too far to see the details of the face, it definitely did not look “white-faced” and I certainly could not see the eye (On Clark’s, the eye stands out in the white face in breeding plumage, on Western, the eye is harder to see as it is enshrouded by dusky black). The bill also looked yellow, but not as bright “banana yellow” or even orange-y like Clark’s.

But it was far, and perhaps a hybrid could not fully be ruled out. However, with one record of Clark’s for Maine (and all of New England) and with at least a dozen or so records of Western for Maine alone, there’s a fair “percentage play.”

Anyway, like many birds at Simpson’s Point, it was off to the east, and the light was not great in the mid-morning. After diving several times, it began to preen, and then loafed for a bit before tucking in its sinuous neck and falling asleep (had I scanned while it was asleep, I probably would have never picked it up!). In between, I managed to rattle off a bunch of phone-scoped “documentation” shots. Well, for what they are worth…

And here’s another lousy photo, from 4/21. However, it was in better light, so the bill color is a little more evident. However, the overexposure of the distant phone-scoped photo makes the face look much more whiter than it really is.
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Simpson’s Point, Brunswick – Our Local Duck Hotspot.

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Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and Greater Scaup (Vermont, March 2014)

Simpson’s Point in Brunswick, at the northern end of Middle Bay (Delorme Map 6: C-3) has become one of the best waterbird-watching spots in Casco Bay over the last few years. That trend continues this spring, with outstanding concentrations of waterfowl.

While there might not be a rarity or an addition to your year list right now, I highly encourage a visit to see the concentration (a scope is highly recommended), and it is certainly ripe for a rarity to be discovered!

I visited the point twice times this week, each yielding some remarkable counts (my attempts to visit it for a third time today was thwarted by unexpectedly dense fog). The first number is the count or estimate from 3/26 with my Saturday Morning Birdwalk group, and the second is from Monday, 3/27 with Jeannette.

– Mixed Black and Surf Scoters (roughly 60-65% Black: 1200/2100. A really incredibly count for the bay, this is by far the largest raft(s) of scoters I have seen within Casco Bay.
– Mixed Scaup (at least 80% Greater, but plenty of Lesser usually visible): 650/650. Down a few hundred birds from the massive overwintering flock.
– American Black Duck: 100/40
– Common Goldeneye: 75/40
– Bufflehead: 50/125
– Common Eider: 40/60
– Horned Grebe: 43/30
– Red-breasted Merganser: 10/25
– Common Loon: 5/3
– White-winged Scoter: 0/2

While more birder attention has definitely worked in its favor, it was always a well-known duck-watching hotspot. However, these numbers are outstanding, even based on the renewed attention to this spot over the last few years. I wonder what has changed? Sure, this winter the water was open and that kept the scaup around, but what is attracting all of these scoters? Is there a new food source? Is there a lack of some food somewhere else?

But it’s the oversummering birds (exceptionally rare for the state birds in summer like scoters, Red-necked Grebes and Red-throated Loons, and Long-tailed Ducks) that really suggest the uniqueness of this area. While rarities over the past few years, including Eared Grebe and Pacific Loon, have put this spot “on the map,” it is the numbers of common birds and small numbers of oversummering “winter” ducks that is most noteworthy. Is it nothing more than more birders paying more attention in mid-summer? I certainly am.

So go out and have a look, and perhaps you’ll get there on the day the scaup are close enough to pull out a Tufted Duck!

Meanwhile, nearby Wharton Point is always worth a visit, and can easily be combined with a trip to Simpson’s. Currently, it is hosting more typical-for-here large numbers of dabblers, led by American Black Ducks (800/495). On 3/28, Jeannette and I teased out a pair of American Wigeon and 1 Green-winged Teal from the masses, while 8 Dunlin were on the flats.

So in between the excitement of new arrivals, hawkwatching, and the anticipation of the diversity of May, I know I’ll be taking some more time to do a little local ducking!

2014-15 Freeport-Brunswick CBC: West Freeport Territory.

The Freeport-Brunswick Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on Saturday, January 3rd. With the exception of the last two winters in which we were away visiting family during the count, Jeannette and I have taken part in the count since 2004.

In our first year, as newcomers to the count, we were assigned the least-popular “West Freeport” territory, which includes all of Freeport west of I-295, a corner of Yarmouth and Durham, and a sliver of Pownal. With open water (in some winters) limited to a small stretch of the Cousin’s River and Pratt’s Brook and adjacent brackish marsh, the territory doesn’t get the diversity of the other sections, that include productive places like Cousin’s Island, Winslow Park, and Harpswell.

While Hedgehog Mountain Park and Florida Lake Park are included, these are not usually very productive places in the middle of winter. But I still enjoy being able to cover two of my favorite patches, plus our own backyard (which makes for a good excuse to take a mid-day break for a hot lunch while counting at our feeding station). But in order to adequately sample this large area, with lots of yards, woodlots, and scattered fields, adequately, Jeannette and I spend a lot of time walking.

And whether it’s a CBC or any other birding, I always prefer more time walking than driving. So instead of driving all of these suburban and exurban roads, we walk them. And we walk a lot. Leap-frogging each other with the car, walking one mile stretches at a time, we walk about 20 miles (about 11-12 miles each) in all, and drive only 18-20. In doing so, we pass by a lot of feeders, and encounter mixed species foraging flocks that we would most likely never detect by just driving around.

And so we count a lot of birds. We sift through hundreds of Black-capped Chickadees as we pick out the other members of the winter flock. We listen for finches, check out feeders, and otherwise just go birding! This is how I like to CBC!

One of the other things I particular enjoy about covering this territory is that I am able to quantify some of my impressions of the winter’s birding that I have been noting walking Sasha at the ‘Hog, or watching my own feeders, and just while birding in general.

This year, a lack of snowcover made for easy walking, but reduced concentrations of birds, especially at edges and feeders. Some of the impressions that I have had turned out to be true: although feeders are often a little slower than usual, there are plenty of birds around. Red-breasted Nuthatches are abundant, but Golden-crowned Kinglets are nearly absent. Irruptive finches are still in short supply, but I expect them to now increase as winter returns. There also seem to be a lot of Red-tailed Hawks around, Wild Turkeys and Red-bellied Woodpeckers continue to increase, and the daily “commute” of gulls overhead (which I often note from the yard and Florida Lake Park in particular) no longer occurs following the closing of a feed lot in Auburn (gulls used to travel from Casco Bay to and from this and other Lewiston-Auburn feeding locations).

Dan Nickerson joined us this year, also welcoming the opportunity to bird his neighborhood as well, and making sure his feeder birds get counted. And we really lucked out with the weather. It was indeed the calm before the storm, with light winds all day and the first flurries not falling until we were at the wrap-up in the evening. It was cold though: 10F to start, with a high of only 21F. Increasing humidity and cloud cover made for a very raw afternoon, and a bone-chilling day. That lunch break at our feeders was a necessary respite today, as was some hot chai.

Due to the complex geography of the circle, we actually have two compilers, and two compilations, splitting the long peninsulas of the eastern edge off from the rest of the circle. Therefore, we usually speak of the western half of the circle (nicknamed “The Bean Count”) when comparing our numbers. Of the western half teams, we tallied 9 high counts, and had the only Common Redpolls, White-winged Crossbills, and Northern Shrike of the parties in our area.

The bird of the day was definitely the four White-winged Crossbills that Dan and I had departing a feeder on Beech Hill Road in Freeport. Jeannette and I were very excited to find a shrike at Hidden Pond Preserve where we also hope to see one, and hopefully the two Common Redpolls that flew over us on Granite Road in Yarmouth are a sign of things to come.

But my highlight was the Red-bellied Woodpecker that Dan and I found along Hunter Road. As we were coming up onto the Hunter Road Fields, the Red-bellied called and we spotted it at the edge of the road. I greatly amused Dan, apparently, as I sprinted across the road, got my feet onto the Hunter Road Fields property – which is part of my Hedgehog Mountain Patch List area – and logged the Red-belly for my 148th Patch Bird! …A long overdue, border-line nemesis patch bird at that!

Good conversation throughout the day, and Stella’s chili at the wrap-up at the store, were icing on today’s frosty cake. While our crossbills were one of the best birds of “The Bean Count” area, one could argue the Snowy Owl found at Brunswick Landing would take the crown. 31 Northern Pintails in the “Winter of the Pintail” at Simpson’s Point may have been the most unexpected, along with a Common Grackle in Brunswick, and two Barrow’s Goldeneyes were other highlights.

Because Jeannette and I conduct the CBC with such a consistent route and methodology, I find it unusually valuable to compare data from year to year. Therefore, as I offer the list of this year’s sightings, in parenthesis, I also offer the average for our territory. An *asterix signifies a new record high for our territory.

American Black Duck (8): 4
Wild Turkey (12): 23
Cooper’s Hawk (<1): 1
Red-tailed Hawk (1): 4*
Herring Gull (23): 3
Rock Pigeon (14): 19
Mourning Dove (47): 54
Red-bellied Woodpecker (<1): 2*
Downy Woodpecker (12): 26*
Hairy Woodpecker (7): 27*- by almost triple the previous high!
Pileated Woodpecker (2): 1
NORTHERN SHRIKE (1): 1
Blue Jay (66): 97
American Crow (76): 66
Common Raven (2): 3
Black-capped Chickadee (283): 380
Tufted Titmouse (24): 48*
Red-breasted Nuthatch (13): 44*- by more than triple!
White-breasted Nuthatch (20): 45*
Brown Creeper (3): 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet (13): 0 – our first-ever miss of this species
American Robin (42): 7
European Starling (14): 7
American Tree Sparrow (24): 30
Song Sparrow (1): 3*
White-throated Sparrow (1): 1
Dark-eyed Junco (15): 34
Northern Cardinal (5): 21* – more than double the previous high
House Finch (6): 3
COMMON REDPOLL (9): 2
American Goldfinch (63): 66
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: 4* 1st territory record.
House Sparrow (12): 22

Total (31): 33 species.

The “West Freeport” section of the Freeport-Brunswick CBC doesn’t offer the rarities of the “Moody” section that I annually cover on the York County CBC, nor does it offer the intrigue and surprises when I cover the Portland Peninsula on the Greater Portland CBC. However, this is our “home field” CBC, and with thorough coverage, we quantify a nice sample of what occurs away from the shorelines in the winter. I look forward to learning more, counting lots of chickadees, and getting my exercise on next year’s CBC.