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.
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.