OK, so it’s not a thrush – we saw them, too – but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers seemed to be everywhere, and always exceedingly confiding, throughout our trip.
I really like staying at the Claybrook Mountain Lodge, and I really enjoy bringing guests there. Between Pat’s cooking, and Greg’s knowledge of all things Maine woods, a weekend with the Drummonds is not to be missed. So I designed a new tour as an excuse to go there again. And it worked!
The “Thrushes of Maine Weekend at Claybrook Mountain Lodge” was designed to see all seven species of Maine’s thrushes – including the enigmatic (and rather challenging) Bicknell’s Thrush. In between, we planned on looking for a wide variety of other species, of course, as well as all other critters, plants, and everything else in between.
We began on Friday morning at the store, carpooling a very short distance to Hedgehog Mountain Park. There, we tracked down our first four thrushes: Wood, Veery, and of course, the ubiquitous American Robin. We also heard one Hermit Thrush. Wood Thrushes reach the northern limits of their breeding range in Maine, and are much more common here along the southern coastal plain.
Veeries and Hermit Thrushes would be with us throughout the trip, but our first good looks came here.
Venturing inland, we next stopped in the foothills at the appropriately-named Foothills Land Conservancy. This is just a wonderfully-birdy place to which I have looked for an excuse to bring a group, and it did not disappoint. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds (thrush #5) greeted us, and an Indigo Bunting sent us off. In between, loads of Bobolinks and a variety of common edge and meadow species were enjoyed.
After a lunch stop, we visited Gilman Pond Road in New Portland, but we were sent scrambling by a thunderstorm with some impressive lightning. So we waited out the weather in our cars at the edge of Gilman Pond, watching the storm roll by. Upon clearing, we stepped out, spotted a pair of Common Loons with a chick riding one of the parent’s back, and then watched in awe as an American Bittern flew out of the marsh. Heading right towards us, it eventually dropped into the marsh and froze, affording us long looks in the scope.]
Back on the road, 5+ Wilson’s Snipe were flying around, including one heard displaying. Recently-fledged Barn Swallows perched nearby…
While a Tree Swallow was snagged in mid-air by a marauding Merlin right in front of our eyes! Mouths were agape.
Stopping for an American Kestrel, we were treated to this point-blank Brown Thrasher out the car windows.
We arrived at Claybrook just in time for a little R&R, and some feeder-watching including Purple Finches, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a yard chock full of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. American Robins and a family group of Eastern Bluebirds kept us on theme.
Then, the moment we have all been waiting for: Pat’s dinner! I really meant to take more “food porn” shots to show off her work, but apparently we were always way too hungry to think about photos before our plates were clean. Therefore, I have exactly one photo of food, as well as my night’s beverage of choice.
As dusk fell, we chatted with the local Barred Owls and the last of us lingering on the porch watched an American Woodcock fly by.
A very early start on Saturday was fueled by a perfect breakfast. But, I felt as if we were being watched.
We hopped in Claybrook’s van with Greg, and headed into boreal forest habitats. But first, we found a couple of Mourning Warblers in a regenerating clear-cut that Greg was eyeing for their presence. They didn’t exactly sit still, but they were very well seen by all, sometimes flying by in jaw-droppingly perfect light.
A Chestnut-sided Warbler was much more cooperative, however.
Heading into spruce-fir forests and spruce bog habitat, we encountered more Hermit Thrushes…
…Veeries, and thrush number 6: Swainson’s – we heard a number of these, but saw just a few. After hearing a couple of Red Crossbills, we found a flock of 12 that alighted briefly. A Palm Warbler sang from the edge of a kettle bog, and Greg spotted a moose cow at the back of another bog. He got her attention by mimicking a calf calling its mother.
But it was getting hot, and getting hot quickly, and the birding was getting tough. We glimpsed a female Bay-breasted Warbler, and encountered scattered other expected species. A Northern Harrier coursing low over Black Brook Bog and a covey of Ruffed Grouse were among the highlights. However, other than what was almost certainly a drumming Black-backed Woodpecker, we completely dipped on the Big Boreal 4: Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Spruce Grouse.
With temperatures around 90-degrees, and a scorching hot breeze in the afternoon, along with an end-of-June date, we were painfully 0 for Boreal.
Alder Flycatchers and many other “northern” birds were detected, however
Luckily, this is not the Boreal Birds of Long Falls Dam Road Weekend, and so the day was still a wonderful success. Sure, we looked at birds, but we also looked at everything else.
Greg described what he was seeing in Moose tracks.
We looked at butterflies, such as White Admiral and Harris’s Checkerspot…
…and other insects such as stunning Ebony Jewelwings.
We looked at all kinds of plants, like carnivorous Sundews.
And amphibians, such as this Bullfrog (note the tadpoles on and around the log in the water below).
We returned to the lodge in the late afternoon, where most people took a nap, played chess, and/or enjoyed some yard birding. After another delectable dinner, we headed back out with Greg for some dusk birding.
You never know where Greg might lead you, and at our first stop, we checked out a hot tip about a Northern Goshawk. We wandered around the woods and were startled by the loud cackle of an agitated ‘Gos. Some of the group saw it fly through the dark forests, but everyone heard it to say the least.
At dusk, we watched more Wilson’s Snipe before checking out a local hotspot for Eastern Whip-poor-will. We were greeted at the dirt road by two American Woodcock (with one or more heard displaying overhead later), and then heard two counter-singing “Whips.” Soon thereafter, one was flying around overhead, and I was able to repeatedly get a spotlight on it. It was about as good of a look at this nocturnal species as one could ever hope for, so between the Gos and the Whips, we were making up for our misses during the day!
Sunday was our final day of the tour, but it was a big one! We were after Thrush Number 7, and this one was going to take some effort. Loading into the van once again, we took the Carriage Road across the ridge into the Carrabassett Valley.
Before it got too hot, we birded the always-productive Sugarloaf Snowfluent ponds. Along the entrance road, we were greeted by a small mixed flock that included a very cooperative Northern Waterthrush and a couple of Magnolia Warblers.
At the ponds, we had three crèches of fluffy Common Goldeneyes, a pair of American Black Ducks among the Mallards, and a pair of Spotted Sandpipers with a couple of cotton-balls-on-sticks following behind. We also happened upon a Gray Treefrog uncomfortably out in the open.
But then it was time to head up hill, and we let the chairlift at Sugarloaf do most (but certainly not all!) of the work.
We heard Swainson’s Thrushes and several Blackpoll Warblers on our way up, but unfortunately, the highest lifts aren’t the one running right now. So we had to walk straight up hill – and I do mean, straight up hill – to enter the realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush.
But once we got there – how the heck was it that hot at 4200 feet!? – well, why don’t I just let Marion’s photos do the talking?
So, yeah, wow! Perhaps the best broad-daylight show I have ever experienced. It really was incredible. And yes, it was the 7th and final thrush of Maine.
We saw some other birds, too, including Blackpoll Warblers…
…and Dark-eyed Juncos. We saw a number of fresh juveniles…
…and even found a nest.
And when it was too late and hot for thrushes, we stopped to smell the Twinflower.
Greg documented the experience, Marion fired away at thrushes, and at the end, we all stood still long enough to take our only group photo of the trip.
It was definitely tough to leave, but lunch – and iced coffee – was calling, so we moseyed our way down to the chairlift to be whisked to the base.
After lunch, we cooled off…
…and then said goodbye to Pat and Greg and their Claybrook Mountain Lodge
But the tour was not done yet! We carpooled into Belgrade, where we visited the Depot Road Purple Martin colony that our store worked with local partners to restore.
And then we enjoyed Black Terns, a Pied-billed Grebe, a splendid swallow show, and much more from the Messalonskee Lake Boat Launch. Then, and only then, did the trip come to an end. Heading home, we reflected on thrushes, lifers, moose, our hosts and co-leader, and much more…including Pat’s picnic lunches which we all agreed were reminiscent of simpler, young days – only better!