Monthly Archives: June 2013

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.

IMG_0891-1st night dinner1,6-15-13_edited-1

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.

IMG_0905_Mt WashingtonSummit,6-16-13_edited-1

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.


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


(Harris’s Checkerspot).


(Modest Sphinx moth).


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.


Immature Common Murre.











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.



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!


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).



(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.


Great Shearwaters.


Fin Whale.


Leach’s Storm-Petrel.


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.


  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 for more information.

3 Days of Breeding-Season Private Guiding.

So here it is, my first blog entry as I re-enter the blogosphere. I hope that you enjoy it.

It’s been a busy, and challenging, week for me. As is often the case in June, I spend a lot of my time guiding, both for private clients and on organized tour. In fact, I begin my 9-day comprehensive Maine and New Hampshire tour for WINGS tomorrow. That tour will take us from Scarborough Marsh to the top of Mt. Washington, across the boreal forest, out to Machias Seal Island, and through Acadia National Park. Lots of great birding, good food, and majestic scenery will be enjoyed.

This week, however, my guiding work kept me closer to home. While I hardly dodged all of the raindrops this week, the weather cooperated for my one-day tour on Monday for two couples from Oregon. This was their first birding trip to the Northeast, so there was a wide array of target birds, especially a diversity of warblers. Of course, the challenge at this time of year is seeing warblers, not just hearing them. But we did very well with visual observations of a host of species, all without the use of audio recordings. By positioning ourselves in the right places, we got a look at a very large percentage of what we heard. It just takes a little more patience.

We spent the morning in all of my favorite patches: Florida Lake Park, Hidden Pond Preserve, Old Town House Park, and Hedgehog Mountain Park. By doing so, I was able to capitalize on my familiarity with each park to focus on where specific species were on territory.

I didn’t have high hopes for seeing secretive Black-billed Cuckoos, but when one bird momentarily perched in the open shortly after our arrival, I knew we were going to have good fortune. The cuckoo was the first of many life birds on the day for our visitors. Additionally, we took time to look at everything our local habitats had to offer, from a hen Hooded Merganser with five chicks at Florida Lake Park to the occupied mud nests of Cliff Swallows at The Hog. The highlight, however, was the nest-full of baby Blue-gray Gnatcatchers at OTP – three chicks were absolutely bursting from the round, lichen-encrusted nest. While I didn’t have my camera with me today, my friends were firing away.

On Wednesday morning, however, I returned with another client, and we both had an excellent photo session. The chicks had left the nest by now, but I found them a few trees away. All three were doing well, and we watched the female bring a series of tasty treats to two of the cuties.
BGGN ad with fledglings,OTP, 6-10-13

BGGN ad with fledglings2,OTP, 6-10-13

BGGN fledglings1,OTP,6-10-13

BGGN fledglings2,OTP,6-10-13

BGGN fledglings3,OTP,6-10-13

In the afternoon, we stopped at Simpson’s Point in Brunswick to take a look at an over-summering Common Loon, and I was surprised to find a raft of 52 Black and 3 Surf Scoters, along with 4 Long-tailed Ducks as well. Simpson’s Point once again hosts truant Arctic-nesting sea ducks for a reason that I have yet to ascertain.

Rain was falling steadily on Tuesday morning, as I began a two-day tour with a client from Kentucky. Unlike the more general nature of the efforts on Monday, we were very specifically targeting four species on this two-day tour. However, we filled them time in between with additional birding, showcasing all of the species that our area has to offer.

First up was Scarborough Marsh for Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows. I was definitely a little stressed as we arrived with steady rain still falling, and an easterly breeze beginning to pick up. I didn’t want to waste time, so I headed straight for my favorite spot and we were rewarded with excellent views of both species – as well as a presumed hybrid thereof – in surprisingly short order (once again, sans the need for tapes). One particular pair of Nelson’s Sparrows were too busy going about their business to pay us much attention, so we were able to follow the two for many minutes as the male crept along behind the foraging female, who rewarded him for his persistence by inviting a total of five copulations. It was a rare window into the world of another secretive species.

Roseate Terns, Piping Plovers, 16 lingering Black-bellied Plovers; the birding was good, but the rain had soaked to our bones, and with saturated clothing, we begrudgingly departed the marsh, stopped for hot chocolate, and then enjoyed a leisurely and warming lunch at Hot Suppa in Portland. While I pride myself on feeding my clients well when we are on tour, a lengthy sit-down lunch is either a really good sign (we got what we came for) or a really bad sign (the weather was terrible). Today, it was both.

Afterwards, I once again headed up to Brunswick to take advantage of the diversity of lingering sea ducks to bolster our day list. While we only had 30 Black Scoters today, we did add a fifth Long-tailed Duck. A single Semipalmated Sandpiper was at Wharton Point, and then we headed into the fields to enjoy Bobolinks.

On Wednesday, Vicki and I were back at it, and at least the rain had let up for a while. Heading inland, we took a stroll at Intervale Marsh to study Willow and Alder Flycatchers, and then headed into the woods nearby to tick off Blackburnian Warbler. With a little spare time, I revisited Old Town House Park for photo ops, which included quality time with the aforementioned gnatcatchers (see photos above).

Following an afternoon break, we hit the road for New Harbor. Somehow, the weather gods had done us a favor. The northwesterly winds of the day flattened out the 5+ foot seas of the day before, and with a light wind, and only some scattered showers en route, we were aboard the Hardy Boat for their evening Puffin Cruise. I had been worried for two days about getting out to Eastern Egg Rock (or planned Tuesday evening trip was cancelled), but things were looking up as Vicki, her friend Hanno visiting from the Netherlands, and I crossed the calm bay and arrived at the island.

Black Guillemots, Common, Arctic, and Roseate Terns were a’plenty, but we had made it ¾ the way around the island before we finally got a look at a puffin. I was getting worried, and as I later found out, so was Captain Al! But the last ¼ of the circumnavigation produced some close views of multiple puffins, and with the second of two lifers of the trip for Vicki accomplished, I finally relaxed and settled into some photography…with my mission being in-focus underwings of flying Black Guillemots. Here are a few of my shots from the evening.

ATPU flight1,Eastern Egg Rock,6-12-13

ATPU1,Eastern Egg Rock,6-12-13

BLGU flight1, Eastern Egg Rock, 6-12-13

BLGU flight2, Eastern Egg Rock, 6-12-13

BLGU flight3, Eastern Egg Rock, 6-12-13

BLGU on rocks, Eastern Egg Rock,6-12-13

Of course, before the boat departed, we spent some time at Pemaquid Light…
Pemaquid Light,6-12-13

…where I proved I run a full-service guiding outfit.
walking corgis,6-12-13

My New Blog!

With the apparent demise of my Field Notes blog on, I thought it was time to begin anew.  We will continue to use Facebook ( for “micro-blogging,” including daily bird sightings and short trip reports, conservation news, store news, and more.  Here, however, will be the new home for the lengthier essays, and especially photo-filled trip reports.  I will also archive my rare bird sightings in posts here.