Monthly Archives: May 2017

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Warblers and Wort.

Whether from a guide’s perspective or a participant, one of the great benefits of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series of tours with The Maine Brew Bus is that no matter what the weather, no matter what the season, the breweries WILL be there. The same, obviously, cannot always be said for the birds, especially when rain and wind is forecast. Well, they will be there, but whether or not we get to see them is an entirely different thing.

And the forecast for Mother’s Day was not good. One of the local forecaster’s simply called it a “complete wash-out.” But rescheduling these events, outside of winter, is a real challenge, and like I said, we can at least guarantee that the breweries will be dry and open! Certainly, the radar, as we departed Portland, did not offer much in the way of optimism.

But despite the forecast, the May 14th “Warblers and Wort” Roadtrip was anything but a washout. In fact, half of the birding was done without a drop of rain and even a little filtered sun. But yeah, the first stop was rather damp.

We began at the Waterboro Barrens Preserve in Shapleigh, where we enjoyed numerous and conspicuous Eastern Towhees. Several people commented that they had never seen so many towhees, and seen them so well. But with light rainfall falling steadily, the birding was rather slow. We only heard one Prairie Warbler, did not locate a single Field Sparrow, but we were quite pleased to have a singing Red Crossbill fly over. We did get to see a rather rare habitat for Maine – managed Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak barrens – and we compared the forest composition within the reserve to the degraded woods outside the property. We didn’t see all of the denizens of this specialized habitat, but plans were made for return visits on drier days.
Waterboro Habitat
Female Red Crossbill and a Chipping Sparrow, from a different time and place.

Our second stop conveniently took place in the midst of a break in the precipitation. Unfortunately, wet, winding roads slowed down our transit, I spent a few more minutes than I should have at Waterboro, and a little communication error led to us falling well behind schedule. Therefore, we were on a mission as we marched into the Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington.
Group at Jagolinzer

This beautiful little spot, which was one of my favorite discoveries while writing my new book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide is home to several territories of the localized Louisiana Waterthrush – a bird that today’s group was really hoping to see. As soon as we reached the river, we heard one singing, and then, in my favorite viewing spot, got one to immediately pop out of cover and provide unusually long and unimpeded views as he was clearly challenging the bird singing across the river.

Meanwhile, a rather confiding Veery competed for our attention. We would have worked harder for more of the breeding warblers here – this was “Warblers and Wort” afterall – but we celebrated our Louie success – the primary “target” of this visit.

The mixed woodlands here, and the deciduous-dominated riparian corridor on the banks of the Saco River were in marked contrast to the rather homogeneous pine barrens. A larger sample of the birdlife would show some significant differences in resultant avian species composition.
Jagolinzer Habitat
If “Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat” was listed in the dictionary, this picture would be it definition.

All too soon Andy, our driver and beer guide for the day, had to crack the whip and get us on our way. Back in the bus, we shed layers, and Andy took over on the microphone as we weaved our way back around Sawyer Mountain and over to Limerick’s Gneiss Brewing Company, fueled by our kale and feta hand pies for lunch.

Not only had they opened just for us, they fired up the woodstove, and we rapidly dried out the remnants of that rain in Waterboro. Concentrating on classic German styles, we learned about Gneiss’s brewing philosophy and operation. Having produced 400 barrels last year, plans are in the works for future expansion and canning. We glimpsed a Wild Turkey strutting through the backyard as we toured the facility and sampled four of their beers.
Gneiss 1Gneiss 2

Beginning with their flagship Gneiss Weiss, a full-bodied wheat beer with low bitterness and a subtle hint of banana, we moved on to Sonnenschein, a crisp and well-balanced Kolsch. I really liked this beer; crisp, clean, and easy-drinking but with really good balance and flavor. Next up was Obsius, a stout brewed with roasted wheat and fermented with their house hefeweizen yeast, making for a subtle banana note to go along with the traditional roasty and nutty stout flavors.
Gneiss 3

Last but not least, we were offered a sample of any one of their ten beers on tap at the moment, and on recommendation, I sampled Pyroclast, a collaboration with Orono Brewing Company. Starting with a potent golden ale, it was aged for 13 months in various barrels, including those of both red and white wines, with several rounds of various wild yeasts. The result was an ultra-complex brew with lots of fruity and tart flavors. And, with the Brettanomyces, just a little bit of funk.
Gneiss 4

The second brewery on today’s itinerary was the production facility of Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham. It was fascinating to compare the size of the facility and equipment, and learning how craft beer is scaled up to accommodate growing demand. Ahead of the curve, opening their first brewpub way back (in the world of modern craft brewing, downright ancient) in 1998, Sebago now operates four brewpubs, and supplies cans and bottles around New England.
Sebago 1

A generous helping of seven samples of a wide range of their offerings helped guide us through the tour and the discussion, starting with Yellow on Friday, their Czech Pilsner. Light in body, crisp, and mellow, this was a rare lager from Sebago. Next up was the Red X, a pale ale recipe using red malt. This one-time brew was surprising – the palette is expecting a sweet amber from the color, but this is an illusion – it was light and dry like a typical pale. It was definitely unique, and I quite liked it.
Sebago 2

A single hopped pale ale featuring a new New Zealand hop variety offered some tangerine and bitter blood orange flavor, before we relaxed with a new stand-by, the light and refreshing session, Simmer Down. One of their new top-sellers, this was already the fourth release this year of what will likely be a new summer go-to, featuring lots of tropical fruit notes and low alcohol.

Sebago’s number one seller is their Frye’s Leap IPA, which may be up to 60% of what they produce in a month these days. Citrus and a touch of pine are featured in this classic IPA. Next up was one of my favorites from Sebago, the Whistlepunk DIPA, which has lots of citrus and other hop flavors, and although it’s a goodly 8% is not boozy to me. We then finished up with their Hop Yard Porter, with local hops, and a fairly light body for a porter.

Needless to say, we had all fully warmed up by now! The short trip to Portland and then on to Freeport, discussion revolved around the wide variety of beers that were sampled, and for many, life birds – especially the Louisiana Waterthrush – that were spotted. And the fact that it wasn’t even raining for the whole day; that is most definitely a win!

My Statement on LD1262 “An Act to Protect Monhegan Island by Limiting Wind Turbines”

On Tuesday, May 2nd, I -and many, many others – spoke to the Energy Utilities and Technology Joint Committee of the Maine State Legislature. I was duly impressed by the resolve of the committee to listen to both sides – and listen for nearly 4 hours of testimony. Below is the extended version of my comments (trimmed for the hearing to just barely fit into the three minute time allowance). For information on LD1262 and the fight to protect Monhegan, and the birds that pass through it, I’d recommend following Protect Monhegan via Facebook.

Hello. My name is Derek Lovitch. My wife and I are Pownal residents, owners of Freeport Wild Bird Supply, and field biologists in our previous lives. I am currently also a tour guide, author, and advocate for birds and birders.
I am here today to voice my strong support for LD1262. Unfortunately, I – and many other concerned citizens – are here today to support this legislation because a place we love and a way of life is under threat. While I believe the residents of Monhegan Island are the ones who should speak about the sense of place, quality of life, and socioeconomic impacts of this project, I do feel qualified – both from a degree in Environmental Policy to a career spent sharing the wonders of bird migration with the public – to speak about the threat this project poses to one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds – and birders – in the Northeast.
I personally bring dozens of clients to Monhegan Island each year, often with at least three tours per year a amounting to a minimum of 10-15 days spent on the island each spring and fall enjoying birds, contributing to the economy, and studying the wonders of bird migration.
This year alone, I expect to bring a minimum of 30-35 birders to the island for 3-6 days each, spending money on food, lodging, and let’s be honest: the brewery. I have spent over a decade visiting the island, both personally and professionally. Over that period, I have gotten to know many of the year-round and summer residents of the island, developed friendships, and learned about the trials and tribulations of Monhegan Island life. I am not naïve to the issues beyond birds and birding, nor am I ignorant of the fact that many of the supporters of this project have genuinely good intentions.
Unfortunately, while on Monhegan Island, I, and my clients, are hoping for the conditions that bring migratory birds that are crossing the Gulf of Maine in a broad front to seek shelter on Monhegan Island. Storms, wind shifts with the passage of cold fronts, low clouds and fog, and many other meteorological conditions can force exhausted migrants who find themselves out over open water to seek the nearest piece of land – the proverbial any port in a storm – to rest, refuel, and eventually continue along their epic journey.
However, these conditions also impact a bird’s ability to navigate and lead to disorientation. For reasons we still don’t full understand, when birds lose the ability to navigate by stars, they can become confused by artificial light. Perhaps in an attempt to reorient using the North Star, lights in the sky cause a bird to become confused, circling and circling, after a long flight, metabolizing their very own muscles in an attempt to reach safety and recharge. Unfortunately, countless others keep going until they drop from exhaustion or slam SMACK into a tower or turbine blade.
Think about it: a Blackpoll Warbler winging its way from Alaska sets off from the coast of Maine for an unfathomable 2 ½ day non-stop journey over the open ocean to reach the Lesser Antillies only to become disoriented by a fog bank – an all-to-common feature of the Maine Coast and spends its entire fuel load circling a silly little light placed atop a tower stuck smack dab in the middle of one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds in the region. Or, perhaps it’s even worse to think of a Magnolia Warbler born and raised in Baxter State Park who was one of the lucky ones to survive its winter in a shade-grown coffee plantation in Central America only to start the amazing journey north again a few months later.
Fighting cold fronts, avoiding predators, finding food, avoiding skyscrapers and communication towers, it finds itself drifting over the Gulf of Maine when a rapid-moving cold front exits the Maine coast and suddenly switches that favorable tailwind to a gusting headwind. Exhausted from flying through the night, the sun begins to rise, and the bird begins to desperately look for a place to land.
It descends into the low clouds to find an island, but instead sees a blinking light several hundred feet in the air, and, with the last of its fuel reserves used up, it circles and circles until it drops dead. After all that. It didn’t make it to Monhegan and the birders waiting, binoculars pointed south, anxiously awaiting a fallout on the shores of Lobster Cove.
Birding can be a paradox – we often hope for conditions that are not great for birds, but are good for our chances to see them. Many birders go to bed at night in their lodge on Monhegan hoping for those conditions. I for one, will no longer be able to sleep knowing that the conditions I am waiting for will put the critters we care passionately about at even graver risk because of a boondoggle, a cash-grab of federal subsidies, and a half-baked idea about how to maximize profit while not doing a darn thing to combat the very real and very problematic issue of Climate Change.
Wind power will be part of our energy solution. But it doesn’t work everywhere. In some places, such as Monhegan Island, the costs will far outweigh the promised benefits. This isn’t about solving Climate Change, it’s not about helping the people of Monhegan, and it’s certainly not about minimizing risks. This is about the worst place you can put such a project, from environmental to socio-economic reasons.
Conservation organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy are opposed to this project due to the threat it poses to migratory birds and Federal Endangered species such as the Roseate Tern. I am opposed to this project because it puts the place I love and the birds that find respite here at grave risk.
I for one, and the clients I travel with, will no longer visit the island if this project is built. I cannot fathom going to bed knowing that the conditions I need for a successful birding tour could result in the death of hundreds or thousands of migratory birds that night. No, I will not be able to sleep just so some wealthy family in Connecticut can sleep better with their air conditioner running and their mythological “green energy” credits making them feel OK.
I am not opposed to wind power, but I am opposed to bad ideas. This is a bad idea. The risks are too great, the rewards are too few, and migratory birds will not be saved with free internet. Therefore, I urge the committee to support this bill and let’s develop new energy technologies that will really combat climate change and do them based on sound science, solid math, and in places that minimize risk while maximizing benefits.
I sincerely thank you for your time.