June is my busiest guiding season. Bicknell’s Thrush, Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, and Atlantic Puffin are my most popular requests, and there is little doubt that I could fill my entire month with Bicknell’s Thrush tours!
My first visit of the season to the realm of the thrush was last week, as part of a very successful three-day tour for a client visiting from Vancouver. We saw 7 of 8 of our targets: Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrow, Great Cormorant (3!), Bicknell’s Thrush, American Woodcock, Atlantic Puffin, and Manx Shearwater. And most we saw very, very, well. We only missed Razorbill due to a strategic decision that we agreed upon, and in the end, said decision worked out very well as we had unbelievable views of the shearwater.
In addition to the species we were seeking, we ran into several other highlights, the most noteworthy of which was an unseasonable subadult male Common Goldeneye at Cutt’s Island in Kittery. Other highlights included a truant Olive-sided Flycatcher at Reid State Park, and an Arctic Tern – usually an offshore feeder – feeding with Roseate and Common Terns off of East Point in Biddeford Pool.
Then, this past weekend was my popular annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” van tour. Meeting at the store on Saturday morning, we headed for the hills, beginning with a surprise detour to West Paris. For this:
That’s right, a Snowy Owl in Maine in June! Really remarkable. And how’s that for a way to start off a weekend tour? We then made a turn for the White Mountains, and after a couple of stops, arrived at Trudeau Road for this:
Of course, as awesome as a Snowy Owl and a nest-ful of Black-backed Woodpeckers (this is the male above, who kindly paused to preen between visits to feed the young. We also had a great look at the female, who nearly dropped a fecal sac on the group!) are on a birding tour, this is a thrush trip, so our remarkable day of birding would rapidly fade into memory if we didn’t find our one true quarry.
After an early dinner, we boarded the specialized vans of the Mount Washington Stage Line for our private charter up the mountain. It was gorgeous at the base, but looking up, we knew the summit would be different.
And it was!
Luckily, the thrushes’ habitat was below the clouds tonight, and so after visiting the summit and checking for American Pipits (too windy, but the flowers were fantastic), we dropped down and began our real mission.
Although it took a lot more work than usual, we were all eventually rewarded with good to great views of this enigmatic species. We saw two or three different birds, and heard up to 4 others – a good count for the short stretch of habitat that we cover. It was even the 700th ABA-area bird for one of the clients – a fantastic bird for an impressive milestone. A short celebration was called for upon our return to our hotel.
On Sunday morning, the second day of this two-day “target species” tour, the weather looked gorgeous, but the birding was challenging. Granted, it was going to be hard to top Day 1 anyway – we were probably the first tour in history to see a Bicknell’s Thrush and a Snowy Owl in the same day! It certainly was a novel – and a completely unexpected – experience for me.
Birding the Caps Ridge Trail in dense fog and cool temperatures to start the day was less productive than usual, but it was still a nice walk into boreal habitat and enjoy the beautiful forest here. Blackpoll Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were conspicuous today, at least.
Very strong, downsloping winds cleared the skies for us at our next few stops, but those winds only increased, and birding became a challenge. My favorite spot for Philadelphia Vireo, for example, was just too windswept. Actually, standing upright was occasionally a challenge. But finding some shelter on the backside of a mountain via a short, but steep hike, a few of us were treated to another view of a Bicknell’s Thrush – just as a little more icing on the cake.
A great lunch followed our birding, fueling us for the drive back to Freeport (or, at least, until the ice cream stop) and capping another successful “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” weekend. With one more private thrush tour next weekend, I can only hope my luck with the weather and with seeing the thrush – a mythological bird to some – continues.