Monthly Archives: June 2016

The 2016 Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains Tour


Perhaps if our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” tour wasn’t so darn successful each year, I could justify relieving myself of the stress and high blood pressure I suffer from this tour!  As I often say, if I could control the weather, I would probably do something a little more lucrative than bird tours, but since I can’t, I might as well lead tours for one of the most enigmatic and range-restricted breeding birds in North America. It doesn’t help that it’s also a real challenge to see – especially in a group and especially without an overnight backpacking trip – and the places we go have some of the wildest weather on the continent!

Every year, as we descend Mount Washington – where the thrushes are getting harder and harder to see (perhaps due to declines, over-playing of tapes, or, more and more, I believe due to competition with the Swainson’s Thrushes marching up the mountains) without everyone getting a satisfactory view – I say “never again.” I was especially worried this year, as the forecast for rapidly strengthening winds through the night jeopardized our second effort.

But before we ascended the mountains, we began our birding by heading from Freeport straight to the White Mountains. Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge was our destination. Jeannette came along on the tour for the first time this year – mostly just to find out where we eat our delicious meals! – and so as co-leader, she took half the group for some casual birding in the area, yielding great looks at an American Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher among many others.

My half of the group went for a hike. We heard an Olive-sided Flycatcher, had a Coyote walk out into the open and check us out before bounding off, and oh, yeah, we had this:



And these breathtaking views.

Even more remarkable was the fact that the Presidentials, including the summit of Mount Washington, were crystal clear all day.

Once again together, we made another check of the Whitefield airport marsh, where the Pied-billed Grebe was still calling, and all five species of swallows (Tree, Barn, Cliff, Bank, and Northern Rough-winged) were zooming around as steady rain began to fall.

Back in Gorham, we had a little R&R time, visited with this Mourning Dove that was nesting on a light fixture at our hotel’s restaurant (Everybody loves bacon! Or, is this dove’s name “Bacon?”), and then had another delicious meal with the gracious staff and owners of the Saalt Pub and Libby’s Bistro.

They got us on the road quickly, and fueled up, we joined Ernie and the Mount Washington Stage Company for an after-hours van trip up to the summit. Remember those earlier images of a clear summit? Well, that was then…
Ice left over from a storm a few days prior.

And with winds rapidly approaching 50mph, Ernie held the doors, and we hopped back into the van to get to work. Enough of this tourist stuff!

Unfortunately, the winds were picking up at lower elevations as well. Some of my favorite spots for the thrush were just whipping with wind. We heard two birds calling at one spot, and two more a short distance below, but we had little hope of seeing them until we found some shelter.

And when we did, the fog was so dense that we could barely see. Apparently, neither could the thrushes, as one bird flew from behind me and either hit me in the head as it flew across the road, or I simply felt the wind from its wings as it made a last-second turn. Needless to say, that was a remarkable close encounter, and the folks who were looking in the right direction at the right time were witness to my near death-by-thrush experience.

A short while later, it actually perched up briefly, but just in the wrong place for most of the group – including myself – to get a view. At our last stop, at least 4 birds were singing, and most everyone at least glimpsed one or more birds in flight, but it was getting late, getting dark, and getting quite cold. It was time to head downhill and back to Gorham.

While just about everyone saw the bird “well enough to count,” and the birds’ vocal performance was about as good as I have ever experienced on Mt. Washington, the lack of total satisfaction was palpable.

My concern about the next day’s weather increased, especially with the need for a better view of the reclusive thrush. And come morning, with winds already howling in Gorham, I was resigned to Cannon Mountain simply closing their tram line.

So we birded the Trudeau Road area, enjoying whatever was not blowing away. More sheltered patches of woods yielded several Canada Warblers, at least six singing Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and one of the longest looks at a Northern Waterthrush you’ll ever get: and it was about as high as you’ll ever see one as this bird was singing from the very top of a 40 foot tall dead tree!

We looked at plants like Rhodora, and enjoyed the wind for at least limiting the presence of mosquitoes.

Arriving at Cannon Mountain, I was relieved to find the tram open, and we were in the first car up to the summit. While the winds were reasonable, the fog was not, and it began to pour.

But the downpour was short lived, so we moved on through the fog…

…and then we heard a Bicknell’s Thrush call nearby. And then it was perched on an understory branch, calling, and we were all looking right at it!  It stayed there for a solid 30 seconds, allowing prolonged, and breathtaking views. It was satisfying.

I was relieved.  And as if on queue, the fog began to lift.

And our next loop around the trail yielded another singing thrush, but also stellar views!


We celebrated with coffee, hot chocolate, and/or cinnamon rolls, before triumphantly riding the tram back down the hill. Smiles were abundant.

A couple of short birding stops on our way through the mountains yielded Alder Flycatchers and a variety of warblers, but we didn’t turn up a Mourning Warbler we were seeking. We did, however,  see a Moose! So that’s a win.

Our traditional celebratory lunch at Moat Mountain Brewery in North Conway saw the group in high spirits, and enjoying great beer and food. I celebrated with gluttony.

Also as per tradition, I make a stop or two on the way back to Freeport, and after hearing chatter about covered bridges, I decided to skip more mediocre mid-afternoon birding in strong winds and kept people guessing as we weaved around the back roads to Fryeburg, ending up at the historic Hemlock Bridge.

A Broad-winged Hawk flew over the river with about half of a snake, and Chipping Sparrows sung from the parking area. But it was time to head home, and with our last fun stop, we iced the cake of another wildly successful “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” adventure. I guess we’ll just have to do it again next year!

Birds on Tap – Grassland and Grains, 6/5/16

The third Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour of 2016, with our partner the Maine Brew Bus, ventured south to the unique habitat of the Kennebunk Plains…and a couple of very unique breweries!

A managed blueberry barrens, one of the few habitats for grassland species in the region, the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area is home to one of the state’s largest (if not the absolute largest) concentrations of Grasshopper Sparrows (a state Endangered Species), Vesper Sparrows, and Upland Sandpipers (a state Threatened species). Additionally, large numbers of Prairie Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Field and Savannah Sparrows, and much more call this special area home.

Unfortunately, due to a likely combination of a light breeze, dense fog, and the mid-morning arrival of our group, overall bird activity was suppressed, and all of the first time visitors were left with only a taste of what the Plains can offer. Our last stop, a pocket of activity that included a couple of Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers, a confiding Chestnut-sided Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, and singing Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher hinted at what one could expect here on a future visit.

But we did see just about all of the plains denizens, expect for Upland Sandpiper which just a couple of people were able to glimpse as a displaying bird disappeared into the fog. I warned the women in our group not to immediately slug the guy next to them if they thought they were being wolf-whistled at. Unfortunately, only one or two distant “Uppies” sounded off, limiting the potential for any such confusion. This is what it would have looked like.

On the other hand, Vesper Sparrows were incredibly conspicuous. Many were foraging in the open in the dirt roads, others were singing, and it was the most frequently observed bird on the day…

…and near the end of our birding time, we finally got a good look at a Grasshopper Sparrow. Perched on a rock along Maquire Road, the sparrow was spotted by a member of the group and enjoyed by all. The subtle orange-buff tones in the face contrasted nicely with the gray day.


As usual, Eastern Kingbirds were conspicuous.

And we were treated to some good looks at spiffy Prairie Warblers.

As we walked through the plains, occasionally lamenting about the lack of birdsong and the first light showers of the day…

…a streaking larger animal caught our eye.  And while it’s especially true on a “slow” birding day, as is often the case when you’re out birding, the highlight of the day wasn’t even a bird. We soon realized our speedster was an Eastern Coyote (or CoyWolf) that treed a Gray Squirrel!  We watched the coyote as it tried every angle, leaping a short distance up each small trunk of the young Paper Birch tree. The squirrel, frozen at the very tip of the tallest stem, peered down, no doubt hoping that its chosen stem would not waver. The coyote, focused on the hors d’oeuvre, was oblivious to our presence.

Eventually, we caught its eye, or perhaps its nose, and it turned and sprinted back to the trees. The squirrel remained frozen. We wondered for how long.

Of course, even though I predicted the coyote would cross the two-track ahead of us, I failed to take my eyes off the captivating situation long enough to have my camera ready!

We also had a special guest aboard, Caroline Losneck, who was on assignment to record a story on our unique birding and beer-ing tours for MPBN. I think Caroline had more recordings of me making desperate pishing and squeaking sounds than actual bird sounds today, unfortunately.

As steadier rain arrived, it was time to head back to the bus, and turn things over to Don. The good thing about brewery tours, is you are guaranteed that the beer will be there (unlike, sometimes, the birds)!

And the beer – and fresh brick-oven pizza for lunch – was waiting for us as we arrived at Funky Bow Brewery and Beer Company in Lyman for the first stop in the brewery half of the tour (which we learned was the only place on Trip Advisor in the town of Lyman!)

Co-founder Paul Lorraine greeted us and introduced us to the brewery, their mission, and their history…

…then the pizza oven….

…and last, but most certainly not least, the beer!

As we sampled four of the eight beers on tap, Paul added the color commentary. Don listened intently.

I chose to sip on their Citra IPA, one of my new favorites from Funky Bow, and G-String Pale Ale – still my favorite offering from the brewery. I just find it so refreshing and perfectly balanced, with a nice hop bite for a pale, but smooth and easy-drinking throughout.  I hadn’t had their American Wheat before – which I found pleasantly hop-forward for a wheat, and gave their new Blackberry Wheat a try. I am not usually a fan of fruited beers (which is why I like tasting samplers at breweries to try new and different things out of my usual comfort zone), but I found the tartness of the blackberry just subtle and suggestive enough without being overwhelmingly fruity…and admittedly, the color was very appealing (second from right).

Next up was Banded Horn Brewing Company in Biddeford. The “Eurotrash trifecta” of European Starling, House Sparrow, and Rock Pigeon greeted us, while Chimney Swifts fluttered overhead.
Entering the beautiful restored mill, a much different atmosphere than the rustic setting of Funky Bow, we were greeted by brewer Bob Bartholomew, who just happened to be a wildlife biologist in his former life.

In complete coincidence to the title of our tour “Grassland and Grains,” which was chosen for alliteration more than anything, Bob focused on the grains – malted barley in particular – that go into beer. We sampled several malts from bready pale malt to rich and roasty chocolate malts.

Breaking down beer into components helps you understand the subtle tastes and differences in each brew, not unlike how we use subtle differences in shape and structure to sort sparrows into family groups before we go about specific identification.

We also sampled the edible white spruce tips (Bob informed us they are exquisite deep-fried, something I undoubtedly will be testing in the near future) that go into their Green Warden beer, learned the differences between lagers and ales (it’s like warblers verses sparrows!), and sampled four of their current offerings.

We began with their light-bodied but flavorful Pepperell Pilsner (local pilsners are a rarity in Maine), followed by Wicked Bueno, a Mexican-style lager using corn to bump up the sugar content pre-fermentation without adding too much body. Their flagship IPA, Veridian, was up next, a West Coast style IPA and finished up with their Austry Imperial Lager with Maine-made bitters. This is one of my favorite brews by Banded Horn, as it brings back memories of sitting on the veranda of the Asa Wright Nature Center, watching hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and tanagers at the feeders, shortly after finding a couple of drops of Angostura bitters added complexity and flavor to the otherwise bland and boring (but thirst-quenching) lagers typical of the region. (Yes, it always comes back to birding!)

As we begrudgingly began our return northward, conversations about new birds, new beers, and new adventures continued. And plans were made for the next two Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! in August (a second date was added by popular demand, and this is before Caroline’s story airs with hours of recordings of my pishing!)

(Note: As you may have guessed from the bright sunlight, these bird photographs were not taken during the Roadtrip tour…but all except the Grasshopper Sparrow were photographed in the Kennebunk Plains by Jeannette).

2016 MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekend PLUS Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

As I do most Memorial Day weekends, I head to Monhegan Island with a tour group for my “MonhegZen Spring Birding Weekend.”  But this was not going to be “just” a weekend on this wonderful, joyful, and bird-filled place. This was going to be truly special – it was “Birds on Tap – Monhegan!

A small group arrived with me on Friday, and boy did we hit the ground running. The first bird we saw off the boat was a Purple Martin zipping overhead – a nice rarity to get things started. As if my usual Monhegan-stoked Rarity Fever wasn’t already in full effect, the next bird we saw was a wet Empid. And let the games begin! Of course, this one was a pretty straightforward Alder Flycatcher after we got good looks at it and heard it call.

American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, and Blackpoll Warblers were common and conspicuous as it took us over an hour just to walk up Dock Road!  A great look at a male Bay-breasted Warbler near the Ice Pond was a treat, and we caught up with part of the small flocks of Red and White-winged Crossbills that have been wandering around the island. We saw at least 8 Red and at least 6 White-winged, including fresh juveniles of each – likely having bred out here in the late winter and early spring.

A Sora calling in the marsh didn’t really stop all weekend, and Yellow Warblers were particularly conspicuous around town.

And our FOY Novelty pizza.
Novelty Pizza

While I – and the group – were hearing a little too much “you should have been here yesterday,” we were pretty content with the leftovers of the fallout, with 16 species of warblers by day’s end, including impressive numbers of Northern Parulas.

A rare-in-spring Dickcissel flew over the Trailing Yew as we awaited coffee, soon followed by a close-passing Yellow-billed Cuckoo. After a strong flight overnight, there were a lot of new birds around. Fueled by the delicious Birds & Beans coffee being brewed by the Trailing Yew all weekend, we began our birding, soon picking up lots of new arrivals including Cape May Warbler and Swainson’s Thrush.

Apple trees in full bloom all around town were one of the major draws for birds and birders. In fact, you could basically pick an apple tree and sit in front of it long enough to see at least one of all of the common migrants that were about, such as Magnolias Warbler…
MAWA male

MAWA female

…and Chestnut-sided…

Jeannette met up with the rest of the tour group arriving on the first boat from New Harbor, and caught up with us after catching up with two of the most cooperative Philadelphia Vireos you’ll ever meet that we all enjoyed along Dock Road.

In town, we heard a White-eyed Vireo, another rarity (although one of the expected ones out here), ran into a few more of both species of crossbills behind the Ice Pond, and spotted the young Humpback Whale that has been making regular appearances close to shore off the island’s western shore!  And this Scarlet Tanager…which seemed an appropriate find since we have been consuming the coffee named for it!

After hearing a singing Mourning Warbler earlier in the day for our 20th species of warbler on the trip, we had a handful of glimpses of a skulking female near the Yew. I turned around to follow a flitting Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Training my bins on the flycatcher, I first focused on the branch behind it, which turned out to be hosting a roosting Common Nighthawk!


83 species of birds on the day, including 19 species of warblers made for one helluva day, but the fun was just beginning! In addition to my annual tour, this was the weekend of Birds On Tap – Monhegan!

A collaboration between our Freeport Wild Bird Supply, Trailing Yew, Birds & Beans, and Monhegan Brewing, we took our “Birds on Tap” series of events offshore to celebrate birds, migration, bird conservation (especially through consumer choices like what coffee to drink), and, yes, beer!

And one of the truly special events was a limited, 31-gallon batch of a special coffee-infused milk stout from Monhegan Brewing, featuring a pound and a half of the dark roast Scarlet Tanager coffee from Birds & Beans!

I had the honor of announcing the official release, taking some of the first sips of this delicious light-bodied stout featuring a subtle sweetness from lactose perfectly balanced with a bitter roastiness from the coffee.
Me_At MonheganBrewing_Paul_Wolter_edited-1


Of course, we were also still birding. I promise!

In fact, we momentarily cleared out the brewery when a possible Orange-crowned Warbler (one was seen by others over the past two days) was spotted nearby. Rushing over, we carefully studied the bird before reaching the conclusion that it was indeed a pale Tennessee Warbler.

After an unfortunate but necessary cancellation from our original speaker, Dr. Steve Kress arrived to save us – admittedly a feat marginally less heroic than what he did for puffins and endangered seabirds all over the world!


Giving the weekend’s keynote presentation on his work to bring Atlantic Puffins back to nearby Eastern Egg Rock, Steve explained the challenges he and the puffins faced before finally realizing his novel approach finally bore fruit, or should I say, pufflings.

Overnight, a back door cold front sagged southward, shifting the winds to an easterly direction and limiting the arrival of new migrants to the island. Our “Morning Flight Watch” with plentiful free Birds & Beans coffee for all at the Trailing Yew wasn’t too eventful, but things definitely picked up for the post-breakfast walk.


Jeannette led my tour group, and the birding was still a bit slow, relatively speaking. But, they finally made their way down to the pump house to see Eastern Kingbirds flycatching in the marsh. And, up to the lighthouse for the first time which was highlighted by a fantastic view of a female Blackburnian Warbler.
BLBW female

Meanwhile, Kristen Lindquist assisted me in leading the free, open-to-all birdwalk as part of the weekend’s special events. A nice mix of birders, residents, and visitors enjoyed a casual stroll. We chatted as we went, covering a variety of topics from bird migration to conservation to coffee to the ill-conceived industrial wind development scheme for the island’s southern waters.


Some folks, new to birding, may have left with the impression that Red-eyed Vireos were about the most common bird in the world, as quite a few were calmly and methodically foraging through apple trees in and around town.

But perhaps this male Blackburnian Warbler would end up being a “spark” bird for someone! Because male Blackburnian Warbler!
BLBW male

With a light easterly wind continuing, and our group back together after more Novelty pizza, we walked up to Burnt Head, where we enjoyed some nice close passes from Northern Gannets

Jeannette and I spent an extra night on the island, knowing we would need a little time to unwind after the even-more-chaotic-than-expected weekend of events. After a great dinner with friends, we listened to two Soras calling from the marsh and an American Woodcock still displaying somewhere overhead before turning in.

We awoke on Monday to dense fog and no visible migration on the radar, but the birding was actually quite good. We found a Nelson’s Sparrow in the Lobster Cove marsh, but also enjoyed how the damp weather (mist, drizzle, and a few showers) were keeping activity low and close, easily viewed in the blooming apple trees around town once again.
As a warm front passed through, with only a little more drizzle but rapidly warming temperatures and clearing skies, we took a post-pizza hike, heading deeper into the woods, which netted more of the island’s breeding species, such as many more Black-throated Green Warblers.

Somehow – now how did this happen? – our hike ended at the brewery, where another pour of the Birds & Beans-infused beer was in order.

Unfortunately, especially since the sun was now shining brightly, it was indeed time for us to head back to the real world, so Jeannette and I begrudgingly plodded down to the dock and boarded the Hardy Boat for the return.  It’s never easy saying goodbye to the island – its birds and our friends there – but today was especially challenging as we know a fight about the future of the island – including many of the migratory birds that pass over and through here – is looming.

Here’s the complete daily checklist for the weekend:
26-May 27-May 28-May 29-May
1 Canada Goose 0 0 1 0
American Black Duck x Mallard 0 1 0 0
2 Mallard 2 10 12 8
3 Common Eider x x x x
4 Ring-necked Pheasant 3 3 3 4
5 Common Loon 1 1 0 1
6 Northern Gannet 0 0 12 0
7 Double-crested Cormorant x x x x
8 Great Cormorant 0 0 0 1
9 Great Blue Heron 0 1 0 0
10 Green Heron 1 0 0 0
11 Osprey 0 1 0 0
12 Bald Eagle 2 1 0 0
13 Merlin 0 1 0 1
14 Virginia Rail 0 0 0 1
15 Sora 1 1 2 1
16 American Woodcock 0 0 1 0
17 Black Guillemot x x x x
18 Laughing Gull x x 12 4
19 Herring Gull x x x x
20 Great Black-backed Gull x x x x
21 Common Tern 2 0 0 0
22 Mourning Dove 8 10 4 6
24 Common Nighthawk 0 1 0 0
25 Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 3 2 2
26 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0 1 0 0
27 Downy Woodpecker 4 4 2 0
28 Northern Flicker 0 1 1 1
29 Eastern Wood-Pewee 2 10 4 6
30 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 4 0 5
31 Alder Flycatcher 1 2 0 0
32 Willow Flycatcher 0 4 0 1
33 “Traill’s” Flycatcher 0 6 2 1
34 Least Flycatcher 5 8 2 5
35 Eastern Kingbird 8 14 7 6
37 Philadelphia Vireo 2 3 0 0
38 Red-eyed Vireo 15 100 30 25
39 Blue Jay 4 4 6 6
40 American Crow x x x x
41 Tree Swallow 8 2 2 2
42 Cliff Swallow 0 1 0 0
43 Barn Swallow 0 0 2 0
44 PURPLE MARTIN 0 0 0 0
45 Black-capped Chickadee x x x x
46 Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 4 2 3
47 House Wren 0 2 2 2
48 Winter Wren 0 0 0 1
49 Golden-crowned Kinglet 2 2 2 4
50 Swainson’s Thrush 0 1 0 0
51 American Robin 10 8 10 8
52 Gray Catbird x x x x
53 Brown Thrasher 1 0 2 0
54 Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0
55 European Starling x x x x
56 Cedar Waxwing 30 80 60 40
57 Ovenbird 0 1 0 0
58 Northern Waterthrush 1 1 0 0
59 Black-and-white Warbler 8 10 6 3
60 Tennesee Warbler 1 10 1 1
61 Nashville Warbler 1 1 1 2
63 Common Yellowthroat x x x x
64 American Redstart 25 40 10 15
66 Northern Parula 40 50 20 20
67 Magnolia Warbler 5 15 12 20
68 Bay-breasted Warbler 1 0 0 0
69 Blackburnian Warbler 3 3 2 2
70 Yellow Warbler 20 20 25 20
71 Chestnut-sided Warbler 15 15 10 15
72 Blackpoll Warbler 20 70 30 40
73 Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 3 1 2
74 Yellow-rumped Warbler 0 4 1 2
75 Black-throated Green Warbler 6 7 10 30
76 Canada Warbler 0 1 1 0
77 Wilson’s Warbler 1 0 0 1
78 Eastern Towhee 0 1 0 0
79 Chipping Sparrow 4 1 1 0
81 Song Sparrow x x x x
82 Lincoln’s Sparrow 0 1 0 1
83 Swamp Sparrow 0 1 0 1
84 White-throated Sparrow 1 2 2 1
85 Scarlet Tanager 0 2 0 0
86 Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 8
87 Rose-breasted Grosbeak 0 1 0 1
88 Indigo Bunting 1 3 1 0
89 DICKCISSEL 0 1 0 0
90 Bobolink 2 6 3 0
91 Red-winged Blackbird x x x x
92 Common Grackle x x x x
93 Baltimore Oriole 4 2 2 1
94 Purple Finch 2 2 2 1
95 RED CROSSBILL 8 2 3 ?
97 Pine Siskin 15 30 30 40
98 American Goldfinch 6 4 4 4