Category Archives: Private Guiding and Tours

2017 Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend Tour Report.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, one of the more common and conspicuous migrants all weekend.

After spending what was probably the slowest week of birding I have ever experienced in fall on Monhegan with my WINGS tour a week prior, I was even more anxious to get back to the island. I know what this island can offer (well, besides great food, beer, and friends, that is)!

Because of ferry schedules, we added a new wrinkle this year, meeting for a birdwalk in Port Clyde before the mid-am ferry to the island (9/29). Golden-crowned Kinglets were particularly abundant and some Yellow-rumped Warblers were around, hinting at the amount of birds that arrived overnight. On the trip out, Northern Gannets were scattered about, and a flock of 7 probable American Pipits zipped by. When passerines are encountered on the ferry, as they return to the mainland, it’s usually a good sign that there are a lot of newly-arrived birds on the island.

When several Yellow-rumped Warblers were darting around near the dock, I thought it might be worth swinging into The Barnacle for a quick, early lunch so we could hit the ground running. And we are all glad we did, as it took us 2 ½ hours to walk from the dock to our lodging at the Trailing Yew!
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It was fantastic…birds were everywhere. While it wasn’t a fallout with birds dripping out of the trees, every cluster of trees and bushes had some migrants in it. The “Cape May Spruces” on dock road hosted several Cape May Warblers and an immature male Pine Warbler – a rarity on the island. We soon tracked down a continuing Orange-crowned Warbler, and we slowly made our way through town, pausing at every apple tree and every weedy garden.
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Cape May Warbler
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Pine Warbler

A lot had changed in the 5 days between my visits, with many more sparrows, and a much greater percentage of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Overall warbler diversity was down, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were everywhere! The raptor show wasn’t half-bad, either.
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Peregrine Falcon

I think I saw more birds today, even though we didn’t arrive until 11:30 than I did all week with my other tour! And 60 species by day’s end wasn’t too shabby either.
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Red-eyed Vireo
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Friday night featured a very strong flight on the radar, but with a light winds becoming northeast after midnight, many fewer birds were around come morning (thanks to Hurricane Jose, this was the bane of our existence during the aforementioned tour), and the morning flight was very light. The afternoon was quite slow, but we continued to encounter new birds here and there. An unexpected surprise was a Wood Thrush calling at dusk. Although we never saw it, the calls are distinctive, and they were close by, and this was my 208th Monhegan bird (They’re usually long gone by the time I get here in mid-September).
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Northern Gannet

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Red-eyed Vireo

But this was only a fraction of the day’s excitement. First, a Bell’s Vireo was reported just as we arrived at breakfast. I thought about skipping the meal (it’s really a good bird if I consider passing on a Trailing Yew breakfast!) but after hearing about how chaotic it was (lots of owl calls and counter-productive tape use – tell me why a bird, exhausted from migration and without any hormonal urge to breed would come out in the open because you are playing an adult male’s territorial song? Especially when vagrants are often immature birds, the last thing they are looking for is a conflict; it’s amazingly ignorant…but I digress) down there, we decided to let the masses subside and fuel up for the hunt.

By the time we arrived, almost everyone had dispersed, and no sign of a Bell’s Vireo. But Pumphouse Road and the nearby yards were birdy, so we just started working the thickets. We had dispersed up and down Pumphouse Road, joined by several friends and fellow birders, including Kristen Lindquist and Bill Thompson. I was with just two members of our group, when a small flock of five or so vireos came in. There were three Red-eyed, but then I spotted what I thought could have been the Bell’s -a very pale, dull vireo creeping around the understory, with its tail cocked. With no one else around, I took off to assemble the group, and to get Bill to secure the documentation photos. When guiding, a bird doesn’t count unless the group is with you, so before I had anything definitive, I started running (only then remembering my ankle was still in a brace)!

Barb and Terez were still on what she thought was the bird in question, but as we all returned, it was clearly just a normally-pale, immature Blue-headed. Did I screw this up that badly? But wait, where was that 5th vireo?

I don’t remember who spotted it next, but when we did, it was clear it was not a Bell’s, but wow, that was pale. Like really, really, pale, and as we began studying it, we realized this may be even rarer!

At one point, I made eye contact with Marshall Iliff, and we both kinda smiled and nodded. We were on to something. Bill began to fire away. We watched. And then we began to discuss. And discuss. And at the brewery later, discuss some more. And the next day, yup, we were still talking about this bird. Almost two weeks later, as well.

Bill sent me his photos the next day, and on Sunday evening – at the brewery, of course, it’s where all great conversations occur – we realized that every single feature of this bird was consistent with Cassin’s Vireo, the member of the “Solitary Vireo Complex” that breeds in the west, and can be virtually indistinguishable from our regular Blue-headed. However, this bird had every feature perfect for Cassin’s, and as we sent around photos, everyone agreed that “if this isn’t a Cassin’s, then we can’t identify a bird as a Cassin’s.”
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This would be the first record for Maine, and one of very, very few records for all of the East Coast. See, this is what a “slow” day on Monhegan should be like.

Anyway, back to the actual birding on Sunday. After only a surprisingly moderate flight overnight on light westerly winds, only a light morning flight was over the island, and it was almost exclusively Yellow-rumped Warblers. Increasing south winds helped keep activity reduced through the afternoon, when most of the group slowly departed on their respective ferries. We had great looks at the two continuing Dickcissels, more great views of Cape May Warblers, and finished the day off with the last member of the group by enjoying the long-staying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Ice Pond.
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Dickcissel

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That chase and discussion of the vireo was exhausting!

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It was just me and group-holdover John Lorenc on Monday morning, when Jeannette joined us for the day on the early Port Clyde boat. Her visit during my WINGS tour yielded fog and little else, so she was anxious to see and photograph some birds!

Interestingly enough, despite a rather light flight on the radar overnight (which really surprised me) on a light northwesterly wind, a strong morning flight developed come sunrise. As expected by the date, it was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were many more kinglets and sparrows around. It was very busy before breakfast, and quite birdy – if rather homogenous – through lunch, with “new” birds scattered about. Even the early afternoon was pleasantly birdy, with pockets of activity here and there.

At least 4 Dickcissels were now present, and likely a new Clay-colored Sparrow. We had a fly-by of a Northern Pintail at Lobster Cove, one of very few records for the island. A calling Greater Yellowlegs, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe, and large flocks of southbound Canada Geese high overhead were among the additions to the weekend’s checklist.
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Two Dickcissels

When all was said and done, and Cassin’s Vireo was (fairly) confidently added to the list, a total of 89 species (including 15 species of warblers) were recorded in these four days, a respectable if not overwhelming total for a long weekend on the island.

And the food, beer, and conversation were great as always. And the butterflies, my goodness the butterflies. Monarchs were common, but Painted Ladies were downright abundant…
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Here’s the full scoreboard, not including birds seen in Port Clyde or from the ferry en route:

9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
Canada Goose 30 1 33 100
American Black Duck 2 1 2 2
Mallard 12 20 15 15
NORTHERN PINTAIL 0 0 0 1
Common Eider x x X X
Surf Scoter 0 8 0 0
Common Loon 0 0 0 1
Northern Gannet 30 30 20 20
Double-crested Cormorant 100 400 100 X
Great Cormorant 0 0 1 2
Great Blue Heron 2 4 1 0
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON 0 0 1 0
Osprey 8 3 1 2
Bald Eagle 3 3 1 1
Northern Harrier 2 0 0 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4 5 5 4
American Kestrel 6 8 3 2
Merlin 8 15 8 6
Peregrine Falcon 12 3 4 6
Greater Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1
Wilson’s Snipe 0 0 0 1
Ring-billed Gull 1 0 0 0
Herring Gull X x X X
Great Black-backed Gull X x X X
Black Guillemot 20 4 6 8
Mourning Dove 4 6 6 4
Belted Kingfisher 0 0 1 0
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 8 20 25 20
Downy Woodpecker 0 0 1 1
Northern Flicker 10 8 6 2
Eastern Phoebe 2 2 3 6
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 5 1 2
CASSIN’S VIREO 0 1 0 0
Philadelphia Vireo 2 1 1 3
Red-eyed Vireo 4 10 9 8
Blue Jay 8 15 21 18
American Crow x x X X
Common Raven 0 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 1 0 0
Black-capped Chickadee 10 20 X X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0 4 4 4
Brown Creeper 0 2 1 12
Carolina Wren 0 1 1 0
Winter Wren 0 1 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 15 30 35 50
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 40 40 25 40
Hermit Thrush 0 0 0 2
WOOD THRUSH 0 1 0 0
American Robin 2 0 3 1
Gray Catbird 3 3 4 3
European Starling 25 20 20 15
American Pipit 0 2 1 1
Cedar Waxwing 2 25 25 40
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 1 0 0 0
Nashville Warbler 5 3 3 0
Northern Parula 0 3 0 0
Magnolia Warbler 1 0 0 0
Cape May Warbler 5 5 2 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 30 40 150
Black-throated Green Warbler 2 2 0 0
PINE WARBLER 1 1 0 0
Prairie Warbler 1 0 0 0
Palm Warbler 6 6 0 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1 1 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 1 1 1 0
American Redstart 0 2 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 4 4 4 3
Wilson’s Warbler 0 1 1 0
Scarlet Tanager 0 1 0 0
Chipping Sparrow 4 5 3 2
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW 0 0 0 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 2 0 0
Song Sparrow X X X X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 0 0 4
Swamp Sparrow 1 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 2 4 3 8
White-crowned Sparrow 0 1 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3 0 0 0
Northern Cardinal 4 6 8 4
Indigo Bunting 1 0 0 1
DICKCISSEL 1 0 2 4
Bobolink 0 1 1 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 1 1
Common Grackle 4 2 4 4
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 3 2
Purple Finch 0 0 0 0
Pine Siskin 0 1 0 0
American Goldfinch 2 8 2 1

 
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Baltimore Oriole

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Beach and Brews,” 7/16/17

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The third new Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! itinerary of 2017 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success on Sunday, July 16th. The working title had been “Beach and Brews,” but I think “Terns and Taps” might be the new title. Whatever it ends up getting called, expect to see this outing return next year. It’s a winner!

Timing our visit to Hill’s Beach for the incoming tide, we thanked our friends at Buffleheads restaurant for giving us permission to park the bus in their lot. Nearby, we crossed over to the beach and began our birding adventure.
1. at Buffleheads

Shorebirds and birders had to share the sand with many other beachgoers, but at Hill’s, there’s room enough for most everyone. Gulls had assembled along the western end of the beach, so we started with a quick gull identification workshop, sorting out tiny Bonaparte’s Gulls from massive Great Black-backed Gulls, and separating Herring from Ring-billed Gulls in between.
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Scattered shorebirds were here and there, but the action really started, as usual, as we crested the Basket Island Sandbar and scanned the rapidly-inundating flats to its east.  A growing number of shorebirds – already heading south (yup, it’s fall in the shorebird world!) included at least 50 total Short-billed Dowitchers and about 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
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We quickly learned how to pick out Endangered Roseate Terns from the ubiquitous Common Terns – one of the target species of the trip. With practice, we learned it’s not as hard as some field guides suggest to separate these species, using a combination of size, relative tail length, wingbeats, and overall color. Hint: Roseates are the white ones. (Photo from a here on a different day above).

A growing contingent of gulls at this end eventually included a spiffy adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; an unexpected treat in mid-summer, and a nice way to cap our introduction to the gull identification lesson.
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(Photo from another time and place)

All too soon, however, it was time to depart, but as we turned around I spottan interesting bird. One lone Willet, a tall but hefty shorebird, was standing on the flats. It struck my eye as very godwit-like, which got my heart racing at first. Tall, lanky, and very long-billed, a godwit-like gestalt is typical of the “Western” Willet, a subspecies that is rare but regular in Maine in fall, but very rare here in mid-summer.

Out of expected season, I was very careful in sorting through the salient features, and I admit to waffling a little about its identification at first. As we got closer, however, details became more apparent, such as the very long and thinner bill that suggested a hint of an upturn. It flew across the sandbar, landing close by, and in much better light, showing the overall grayer plumage, and paler undersides with considerably less markings than the browner and heavily-marked “Eastern” subspecies which breeds around here. It also began to wade in the water to feed, a behavior very typical of “Westerns.”
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Although our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series is not necessarily focused on the challenging aspects of serious birding, like nuanced subspecific identification, the group admitted they enjoyed the process (and admittedly, enjoyed seeing me perplexed for a bit!). Having had our fill of the unexpected unseasonable rarity, we crossed the peninsula to the Park in the Pines to view the muddier flats of The Pool. There, at least a hundred “Eastern” Willets were present in their preferred habitat, but unfortunately, they weren’t close enough to really compare plumage details.

Scanning across the flats, we were able to sort through the masses, even though few shorebirds were very close here today, including a few Black-bellied Plovers and a stately Whimbrel – it’s disproportionally long, downcurved bill always nice to see.

And there’s no better way to celebrate a rare bird (or two today, the “Western” Willet and the Lesser Black-backed Gull) than with a beer or two. There’s also no better way to relax after a long walk on the beach on a sultry summer day than with a beer.

Good thing it was time for Don to take over, and guide us to Barreled Souls, our first brewery stop on the day’s itinerary. And they could not have started us off with a better first sample, the salty and refreshing Space Gose – perfect after a hot day on the beach.

Co-owner and operator Matt Mills was a gracious host, and shared with us their operation, methodology, and brewing philosophy. Fermenting 100% of their beer in barrels via a Burton-Union system and also ageing everything in barrels makes for some very unique and interesting flavors (I recommend checking out the “About Us” page of their website, linked here, for more information). They wanted to be different and stand out from an every-growing, crowded field, making big, malty, and high-alcohol beers but now including offerings of almost every variety.
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As we learned about the brewing process, Kristi kept us hydrated with additional samples, including the MEmosa, a take on a “beer mimosa” featuring lots of orange zest in a light blonde ale with a lemony hop profile. Next up was Transformer, a new pale ale that features rotating hops (this incarnation used Amarillo and Idaho 7).
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Fun (and for some, games)…
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..were had by all, especially after changing things up with Dark Matter, a big and bold 10.1% sweet dark ale, similar to a stout or porter, but much sweeter. Their description was simply a quote from NASA: “We are much more certain what dark matter isn’t than what it is.”  But what it definitely was today was a favorite for most of the group.

Don and I love to offer special opportunities on our Roadtrips, and today was no different. Just a half-mile away, we were the first tour group to visit the new production facility for Barreled Souls. In a mere three years they have so far outgrown their current space that they are increasing their production space from a mere 700 square feet to an incredible 7800 square feet!
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Including a custom-built, climate-controlled “cellar” to house their Burton-Union system.
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Back on the bus, we discussed our favorite beers, and Don introduced our next brewery, South Portland’s Fore River Brewing Company – a real neighborhood brewery nestled into the Ligonia section of town.
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Don took us on a tour of their brewhouse, as we sampled their Spring Point, a Belgian whit, smooth and lemony, with a distinct biscuit finish.
13. Fore River 2

Next up was their Timberhitch Irish Red, another favorite on the day for this group. It was sweet, with just the right amount of hoppiness, and with a sweet and malty finish. Last but certainly not least was the Lygonia IPA, a clear and crisp IPA with pleasant notes of tropical fruits. This round was enjoyed out on the “patio,” a lush lawn full with picnic tables reclaimed from the site of a former salt barn.
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But as we know, all good tours must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye, celebrate our life birds and life beers, and make the short jaunt north to our Portland and then Freeport drop-off sites.
11. bus ride

Endangered terns and migrant shorebirds with a couple of rarities mixed in. The only 100% Burton-Union brewery in the country making some really unique brews and a fun and successful neighborhood brewery featuring some of the area’s most popular styles. I think it’s safe to say that we will see you aboard for this tour in 2018!

(By the way, as of the writing of this, we still have one space left for our next Birds on Tap Roadtrip! “Shorebirds and Beer” on Sunday, August 13th.

2017 “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” Trip report

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Three weeks ago (OK, so maybe I am a little behind in my blogging and trip reports this summer due to an extremely busy tour and guiding schedule!) I conducted our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van tour to New Hampshire. This favorite outing features multiple opportunities to see one of the most sought-after, range-restricted, and enigmatic of North American breeders: the Bicknell’s Thrush.

For the only time this whole, busy, month, the weather could not have been better for the entire weekend! In fact, we began the tour close to home at Old Town House Park. Not for any “target birds,” but simply just to take a walk at a birdy place – full of Eastern birds our five visitors (of the eight on the tour) from California would appreciate – and enjoy such a beautiful morning. It was just that nice out.
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Bobolink.

We then worked our way around the Falmouth-Portland waterfront hoping to rediscover the Little Egret of the past two years(quite possibly oversummering in Delaware this year), still enjoying the morning, but also enjoying hearing a calling Virginia Rail at the end of Providence Avenue in Falmouth among other locally common species.

But then it was time to head for the hills. We picked up sandwiches, picnicked and sight-seed at Glen Ellis Falls, and paid a visit to the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center.
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After scoring a Philadelphia Vireo at my “secret spot,”
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…I began to stress about the evening’s outing up Mount Washington, the success of which is completely weather-dependent.
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We then checked into our hotel, had a short rest, and then thoroughly enjoyed our usual early dinner at the Saalt Pub in Gorham, once again keeping an eye to the sky (and some people come back on this tour a second time just to eat here!).
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But the timing of the weather could not have been any better. As we arrived at the base of Mount Washington to meet our Mount Washington Stage Company van and driver, the skies began to part.
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And as we climbed Mount Washington, we could not have dreamed about better weather in one of the windiest places on Earth.
Up at the “cow pasture” even the American Pipits were basking in the rare calm winds and sunshine. In fact, this one bird perched on a rock, preening for several minutes, was about as good as a look as I have ever had from the Auto Road on an evening tour.
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It was hard not to enjoy the privilege of being on the mountain after-hours, and the privilege of being atop the mountain on a truly exquisite evening!
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But then it was time to get to work. We were in the realm of the thrush – the only bird that mattered for the weekend! – and once again, the calm winds were incredible. If anything, the clearing skies made for a little too much light, and the birds remained in the shadows, and when the sun finally did set, it got dark quickly.

Some folks saw one particular bird very well, and everyone at least glimpsed a bird as it darted between openings. Incredibly though, we heard at least 15 birds, as the benign conditions and flexible driver (thanks, Wink!) permitted us to walk a good portion of the length of the road that passes through the birds’ narrow band of habitat. It was by far the best vocal performance I have experienced here in a very long time.
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Day Two of the tour began with a stroll at Trudeau Road, where Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and other boreal-transition species were vocal and often visible.
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Then, we took the aerial tram up Cannon Mountain, where once again we had incredible conditions. In fact, if anything, it was a little too warm with summit temperatures already a balmy 72!
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Although it was fairly quiet overall with increasing temperatures and increasing winds, we did get a good look at a Blackpoll Warbler, among other summit denizens. Most importantly of course, we saw another Bicknell’s Thrush (and heard at least three more), and this one was seen quite well by just about everyone!

Despite being high noon and a scorching 82-degrees, we easily found the Mourning Warbler along Base Road, and then moseyed our way into North Conway for our traditional late lunch at Moat Mountain Brewery to celebrate another successful Bicknell’s Thrush experience!

We’ll announce dates for the 2018 outing this fall, but be sure to keep an eye on the “Tours, Events, and Workshops” page of our website – this perennial favorite fills up quickly!

The “Coastal Quick Hit” Van Tour report

I think it is safe to say that the inaugural “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour was a resounding success! We not only found all of the target species that we were after, but also a few surprises, and we saw all of our target species incredibly well! And we really lucked out with the weather, as the only rain we encountered was a brief downpour while we were driving. I have “no” doubt that all future tours will be this successful.

We receive numerous requests for guiding for several local breeding species that can be hard, if not impossible, to see elsewhere. While Bicknell’s Thrush is my number one request, there are a number of coastal species that are also sought. Folks travel from far and wide for our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van trip, and often I get requests for private guiding for many of the other species before and after that tour. Therefore, for efficiency and economy, we introduced the “Coastal Quick Hit” tour.

We had four visitors from California on board who were here to take part in the weekend’s thrush tour, plus three local birders out for the day. The eight of us met here at the store on Friday morning, and worked our way south.

Beginning in Scarborough Marsh, we had the opportunity to study Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows side-by-side, and ponder over some hybrids as well. We compared their songs and subtleties of identification – and learned how to simply leave many, likely hybrids and intergrades, as unidentified. Meanwhile, “Eastern” Willets and many other marsh denizens were numerous, and several sparrows and Willets posed for photos.
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Walking the Eastern Road Trail, a Fish Crow was unexpected, and we enjoyed Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and more. We then found this wading bird, which immediately brought to mind one of the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret (and now, possible a backcross there of) that calls Scarborough Marsh home.
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However, it soon became clear that this was a “pure” Little Blue Heron – nothing about its shape, size, structure, or behavior (a regular adult was nearby, and sometimes in the same field of view) was suggestive of anything else (or partly anything else), and so I hypothesized about a leucistic Little Blue Heron. Immature (1st through 2nd summer) little blues are piebald, but this was much, much paler than what I usually see, with more of a uniform “wash” of the purple-blue on the body and wings. What threw me off a bit were the essentially fully-developed head and back plumes (the “aigrettes”) that I did not think were present on a bird who’s plumage was this early in development. A little research showed those plumes were just fine for a 1st-summer bird, even one in which so little adult-like plumage had been obtained. Therefore, unless this bird looks exactly the same come fall, I think it’s just a paler-than-average 1st summer Little Blue Heron. Nevertheless, it was a fun bird to study and ponder – offering a lesson in comparing shape, structure, and behavior in two birds that didn’t look the same.

Also off Eastern Road, we noted Glossy Ibis, American Black Ducks, and a White-rumped Sandpiper in spiffy breeding plumage – a treat for folks from the West Coast, and not a bird we see many of in spring here in the Northeast. It was hanging out with 4 tardy Semipalmated Sandpipers.
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A drake Gadwall at the Pelreco marsh was a nice sight as well.

Four unseasonable Brant greeted us at Pine Point, where we soon spotted one of our most sought-after species, Roseate Tern. At least 8, and likely many times that, as birds were coming and going, were quickly picked out from the crowds of Common Terns, with plenty of Least Terns zipping around.
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Common Tern

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Least Tern

This tour was designed to have at least two chances at all of our target species, but we “cleaned up” in Scarborough, so we elected to brake up our upcoming drive with a stop in Webhannet Marsh near Moody Point for a visit with the King Rail that, for the second summer in a row, has occupied a small corner of the marsh. While waiting for it, we spotted more Willets, and had another great view of a Saltmarsh Sparrow or too.

The rail never called, but about 2/3rds of the group, myself NOT included, were able to spot the rail as it crossed two successive small openings in the marsh grass. The rest of us were just a little too far up the road, and it never made it to the third clearing we were stationed at. But still, a King Rail in the middle of the afternoon! A loafing Surf Scoter with Common Eiders offshore was also unexpected.

A delicious lunch fueled the rest of our drive south and the timing of the rainfall could not have been better. Traffic was relatively minimal as we fought our way through the outskirts of Boston, arriving at Revere Beach just as a thunderstorm passed to our south.
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While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
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…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
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…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
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…from land, in a city, and not very far offshore!

This incredible phenomena (they are clearly nesting locally, but where!? One of the Boston Harbor Islands?) was the icing on the cake to a most-successful trip. Based on these results, you can expect to see the “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour again in 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned to the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com for more information about this and all of our tours.

Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend, 5/26-30/2017

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Our group found a singing male Orange-crowned Warbler, one of the best birds of the weekend.

For the 7th year spring a row (fall tours since for over a decade), I spent my Memorial Day Weekend with a tour group visiting the magical and magnificent Monhegan Island. Exactly 100 species (including birds seen offshore during the ferry crossing) later – including 18 species of warblers – I was forced to depart, already counting down the days to my two fall tours (and perhaps making some plans for a summer visit…just because).

But the usually stress-free tour (compared to the logistics of much of the rest of my summer slate) got off to a rocky start (pun intended) with the early boat from New Harbor cancelling their morning trip late in the evening on Thursday. We made plans to head up to Port Clyde instead, and early in the morning, we received confirmation that all was well with the 10:30 am departure and we were reserved on it. Phew!

The whole group rendezvoused in Port Clyde, where based on the ride, well, let’s just say we were glad we were taking a big, heavy boat with a route that is sheltered for the first half. Because once we cleared the islands, well, things got a ‘rollin! But as always, the captain of the Monhegan Boat adeptly chose the route, and we basically tacked our way to Monhegan to avoid taking the swells on broadside. It was breezy enough that we were able to avoid the rain but remain in the fresh air outside on the stern (without diesel fumes), and we even spotted two Atlantic Puffins on the trip! But as for that small gull that was wheeling off in the distance just as we hit a trough and I hit John in my scramble for a view…well, we’ll never know.

Not surprisingly, the trip took longer than usual, but it allowed us to miss the rain! We arrived shortly after noon, with just a little lingering drizzle and mist. With diminishing northeast winds, we were prepared for worse, so we were fine with merely cool, only damp, and rather slow birding. Sure was better than steady rain and wind! And there were a few good birds to track down, led by the three Cattle Egrets that had been frequenting the island – my 206th species on the island, and a state bird for most of the group, at least. They were not hard to find, and were in fact pretty hard to miss for the better part of the next two and a half days. Really, until Jeannette arrived on Sunday, but that’s a story for a different day.
CAEG

Good looks at Philadelphia Vireo, a very vociferous Sora, and a dusk vigil which resulted in very close encounters with Common Nighthawks rounded out a productive first day.
EAKI
Eastern Kingbirds spent most of the weekend foraging low along the shoreline.

5/27: Day 2.
Well, that was a cold night in the rooms! Clearly the buildings of the island didn’t have a whole lot of ambient warmth built up, and extra blankets were at a premium. And with light northeast winds overnight, little to no migration was visible on the radar or in the dawn flight, but it was our first morning on the island, so we had a lot of birding to do.

A few pockets of migrants here and there slowly built up the checklist, with occasionally goodies including the Cattle Egrets, an immature male Orchard Oriole, a good look for most of a singing Mourning Warbler, and a fleeting White-eyed Vireo. We finally caught up with a female Summer Tanager (a bona fide one, not the female Scarlet with some missing feathers near the base of her bill), and we once again finished the day with feeding nighthawks, the incessantly calling Sora, and last but not least, a displaying American Woodcock.
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Female Summer Tanager

BAOR
Immature male Baltimore Oriole.

BLPW
Male Blackpoll Warbler

In between, we feasted on delicious pizza at The Novelty, fueled ourselves with coffee at the Black Duck, and relaxed in the late afternoon with a beer at Monhegan Brewing (including ginger beer and root beer, too). Yeah, a slow day of birding on Monhegan is better than most days most anywhere else!
Yew_Sunset, 5-27-17_edited-1

5/28: Day 3
With some people departing on Saturday, and others joining us for Sunday, we started Day 3 with a great find: A singing Orange-crowned Warbler right outside the Trailing Yew. Well, OK, it found us, and I’ll admit to taking way too long to identify it by sound with my pre-coffee and poor-night’s-sleep foggy state. Eventually, we had great looks at it, and those who were not yet with us were able to catch up with it later in the day or early Monday morning. This is a great bird in Maine in spring. In fact, it may have been my first in Maine in this season.
OCWA

Clearing skies and calm winds overnight allowed for an impressive migration, and the Orange-crowned was just the start of a great day of birding. The first half of the day was very birdy, with lots of new arrivals and new species. It was one of those mornings that were hard to break for breakfasts…but those breakfasts are all so damn good!

We found a second White-eyed Vireo, had unusually good looks at several Swainson’s Thrushes and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and slowly built up our triplist. It was a very good day, featuring a goodly total of 70 species.
MAWA
Magnolia Warbler
RBGR
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
WIWA
Wilson’s Warbler
YWAR
Yellow Warbler

5/29: Day 4
Light southerly winds at dusk had me optimistic as birds took to the air en masse come sunset. However, overnight, the winds shifted more easterly, shunting the flight inland, and overall, many more birds departed than arrived. With dense fog and a little mist come morning, my hopes for fallout conditions were dashed by the light to moderate easterly.

And accordingly, birding was very slow. I had a private tour for the first 2/3rds of the day, and we clawed our way through scattered small migrant flocks to find the goodies. There were definitely more Yellow-bellied Flycatchers around – including several unusually well out in the open. But the skies cleared up as the fog lifted, and we had a decent morning, a good part of which was simply spent exploring the woodlands of the interior of the island.
YBFL
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Smooth_Green_Snake
A photo session with a Smooth Green Snake was a nice treat, however.

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In the afternoon, Jeannette and I joined with several friends for some casual birding and conversation. Of course, once “off the clock,” my luck returned. After two of our friends had spent the weekend desperate for a good look at the Mourning Warbler, I walk by Donna’s lawn and calmly proclaim “umm, the Mourning Warbler is in Donna’s lawn.” We received permission to enter her yard, and followed it around the house for a while as it foraged around the foundation. This is not where I usually expect to see a Mourning Warbler, but we’ll take it. Unfortunately, all of Jeannette’s photos of it are of its butt.

Although it remained very slow overall, we had some really great looks at several birds we never did see on the tour, like a male Indigo Bunting, a Northern Waterthrush, and two very cooperative Olive-sided Flycatchers. We also caught up with the immature male Summer Tanager that was hanging out with the female and at least three Scarlet Tanagers – an impressive swatch of color and splendor, let alone offering good studies and comparisons.
INBU

OSFL

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Undersides of a Red-bellied Snake
Male_SCTA
Male Scarlet Tanager
Male_SUTA
Immature male Summer Tanager

And in the afternoon, after everyone else departed, Jeannette and I happened upon a female Bay-breasted Warbler at Fish Beach that needed some help. Several mealworms later (a new species for my fed-mealworms list!) she hopped off into cover to digest. And I am happy to report that by the next morning, she didn’t need any handouts as she was actively foraging on her own.
female_BBWAfemale_BBWA_withMealworms

Jeannette and I enjoyed dinner at the Island Inn as our 24-hour vacation got underway, with Common Nighthawk, Sora, and American Woodcock serenading us on the way home.
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Willets spotted earlier in the day by Jeannette and several others as they briefly alighted on the island.

Day 5: 5/30.
It was just Jeannette and I today, and with no visible migration on the radar and expansive fog, our main plans were to sleep in for a change – and for the last time for me until July! So we did not expect to be woken up by sun shining into our windows.

Not surprisingly, I popped up and outside, and began birding with another great look at the continuing Orange-crowned Warbler. There were not a lot of new birds around, not surprisingly, but with sun shining, birds were out at edges and easy to see. The female Bay-breasted Warbler was busy catching seaweed flies at Fish Beach, joined by a companion male Blackburnian Warbler and later, a young male American Redstart.
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BLBW-FishBeach
AMRE-FishBeach

We finally saw a Bald Eagle after five days on the island, and 4-7 Great Blue Herons dropped in for a visit. It was extremely quiet after breakfast, but again birds were just pleasantly visible in the sun, especially in blooming apple trees. Things like the Eastern Kingbirds, which spent most of the weekend feeding in and around patches of seaweed on the beaches were up and about, flycatching “normally” from treetops. We also slowly padded the triplist, with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (incredibly, the first woodpecker of my five days here – how did I miss the resident Downies?) and great look at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (my first of the year, and later, a very good look at a Black-billed as well). The male Summer Tanager, at least, continued to frequent a feeding station, and a Garter Snake was my third snake of the weekend (Smooth Green on a couple of occasions, and a single Red-bellied on Monday morning).
GBHE

FISP
Field Sparrow

A little wave of presumed migrant swallows increased the number of Barn and Tree Swallows by 2-3 each, but also including 3 Bank and 1 Cliff Swallow, the final two new species of our stay.

The afternoon was quite slow otherwise, but admittedly, we spent a decent portion of the last couple of hours of the afternoon involved in conversation at the brewery, and about everywhere in between.
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But alas, it was time to go, on the late boat back to Port Clyde. We said our goodbyes, for now, wondering if we’ll be back next spring (depending on if that misguided wind project gets underway), but also how soon we can get back this summer!
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While we didn’t have any puffins – or any other seabirds – on our smooth ride back, we did have a couple of Roseate Terns as we approached Port Clyde. And then it was time for the drive home, and back into entry into the real world!

Here’s the five day daily checklist:
Mallard 16-16-10-12-10
Common Eider x-x-x-x-x
Ring-necked Pheasant 0-0-1-1-1
Common Loon 0-0-2-1-3
Northern Gannet 10-0-1-3-3
Double-crested Cormorant x-x-x-x-x
Great Cormorant 0-0-2-2-1
CATTLE EGRET 3-3-2-0-0
Great Blue Heron 0-0-0-0-4
Green Heron 0-2-0-0-0
Osprey 0-0-1-0-1
Bald Eagle 0-0-0-0-1
Merlin 0-1-1-1-1
Peregrine Falcon 0-1-0-0-0
Sora 1-1-1-1-1
Greater Yellowlegs 1-0-0-0-0
Spotted Sandpiper 0-1-0-0-0
American Woodcock 0-1-0-0-0
Laughing Gull (8)-0-2-2-11
Herring Gull x-x-x-x-x
Great Black-backed Gull x-x-x-x-x
Common Tern (x)-0-0-0-0
Roseate Tern 0-0-0-0-(2)
Black Guillemot x-x-x-x-x
ATLANTIC PUFFIN (2)-0-0-0-0
Mourning Dove 4-8-6-6-4
Black-billed Cuckoo 0-1-0-0-1
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0-0-0-0-1
Common Nighthawk 2-2-0-1-0
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2-3-3-2-3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0-0-0-0-1
Belted Kingfisher 0-0-1-1-0
Olive-sided Flycatcher 0-0-0-2-0
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2-1-2-2-1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 0-0-3-6-0
Alder Flycatcher 0-0-1-1-0
Willow Flycatcher 0-3-3-2-1
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 1-2-0-0-0
Least Flycatcher 0-3-4-0-2
Eastern Kingbird 5-4-3-2-2
WHITE-EYED VIREO 0-1-1-0-0
Blue-headed Vireo 0-1-0-0-0
Philadelphia Vireo 1-3-4-3-2
Red-eyed Vireo 3-6-15-6-4
Blue Jay 6-8-6-6-6
American Crow 4-x-x-x-x
Common Raven 0-0-0-1-0
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 0-0-1-0-0
Tree Swallow 0-2-2-2-2
Bank Swallow 0-0-0-0-03
Barn Swallow 0-3-3-0-4
Cliff Swallow 0-0-0-0-1
Black-capped Chickadee x-x-x-x-x
Red-breasted Nuthatch 4-4-8-8-4
House Wren 0-1-0-0-0
Winter Wren 0-0-2-2-1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0-0-6-10-4
Veery 1-0-1-0-0
Swainson’s Thrush 0-0-4-1-1
American Robin 8-10-10-12-15
Gray Catbird 20-x-x-x-x
Brown Thrasher 0-1-0-1-0
European Starling 4-6-6-10-10
Cedar Waxwing 40-40-40-30-50
Tennessee Warbler 0-0-2-0-0
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER 0-0-1-1-1
Northern Parula 3-6-8-8-8
Yellow Warbler 15-20-15-12-20
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0-4-10-8-6
Magnolia Warbler 1-3-20-10-15
Yellow-rumped Warbler 0-0-0-2-0
Black-throated Green Warbler 2-3-8-8-4
Blackburnian Warbler 0-1-6-6-8
Bay-breasted Warbler 0-1-0-1-1
Blackpoll Warbler 4-10-20-10-15
Black-and-white Warbler 0-2-2-2-1
American Redstart 6-15-40-20-10
Northern Waterthrush 0-0-0-1-0
MOURNING WARBLER 0-1-0-1-0
Common Yellowthroat 12-20-x-x-x
Wilson’s Warbler 1-0-4-1-2
Canada Warbler 0-1-2-0-1
SUMMER TANAGER 0-1-0-2-2
Scarlet Tanager 1-4-3-3-3
Chipping Sparrow 0-4-2-4-2
Field Sparrow 0-1-0-1-1
Savannah Sparrow 0-2-2-2-1
Song Sparrow x-x-x-x-x
White-throated Sparrow 0-1-1-0-1
Northern Cardinal x-8-8-8-6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1-3-3-3-4
Indigo Bunting 0-0-1-2-1
Bobolink 0-1-2-1-0
Red-winged Blackbird 15-14-x-x-x
Common Grackle x-x-x-x-x
ORCHARD ORIOLE 0-1-0-0-0
Baltimore Oriole 4-3-5-3-3
Purple Finch 2-3-2-2-1
Pine Siskin 0-0-1-0-0
American Goldfinch 10-12-10-10-8

so_many_birders2,Monhegan,5-17-17_edited-1
Just a typical Memorial Day Weekend full of birders on Monhegan!

2017 Birds on Tap – Roadtrips!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2017 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” (sm) series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

Who would have thought that, when I made that first call a year and a half ago to pitch the idea, we would not only be expanding to ten tours, but we would also featured in the Portland Press Herald (in the Food section no less) and Maine Public Radio. And then we went national via the Associated Press! (And for a little more about the history of our tour partnership, check out this blog entry from last year).

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For 2017, we have added several new itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Some of our most exciting new tours include March’s “Gulls and Growlers” where we’ll see dozens of eagles and look for rare gulls, and in July, we’ll spend a day at the beach looking at terns and shorebirds. In between, we’ll revisit all of our successful tours from 2016, including both Spring and Fall editions of Ducks and Draughts.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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malts

“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 12th – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: Sunday, Feb 19)
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: SoMe Brewing Co. in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, March 4 – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: SATURDAY, Mar 11)
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landfill_eagles

That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles.  Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.  After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks if they are around.

Breweries: Lost Orchard/Crooked Halo Cidery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 2 – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling, both in Newcastle.

“Warbler and Wort”
Sunday, May 14 – 8:00am to 2:00pm.
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We’ll be taking two easy hikes on this outing to enjoy breeding birds and migrants in the inland forests. Our first stop will be in pine barren habitat. Although not all breeding birds will be present in full force, some of our targets, such as Prairie and Pine Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees will be. We’ll also look for a Clay-colored Sparrow should a territorial bird return, and there’s always the chance that Red Crossbills could be around. Our next stop will be a location in search of Louisiana Waterthrushes. Once thought to be rare in Maine, they are actually a locally common breeding bird in very specific habitat. We’ll visit one of two locales for this species taking another walk in search of this shy bird. Hearing them is likely, but we’ll accept the challenge of getting to see one!  A variety of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and many others may also be encountered.

Breweries: Gneiss Brewing Co. in Limerick and Sebago Brewing Co. in Gorham.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 4th – 8:00am to 2:30pm.
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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow  in Lyman and Banded Horn in Biddeford.

“Beach and Brews”
Sunday, July 16th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds.  Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barrelled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Beer”
Sunday, August 13th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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patches

The original BoT Roadtrip!  in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 8th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.
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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two.  This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Tributary Brewing Co. and Woodland Farms Breweries in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 12th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation”
Sunday, December 10th – 9:00am to 3:30pm.
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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.  And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including online sign-ups with a credit card), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website:

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Farms and Fermentation, 12/11/16

Our seventh and final “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2016, entitled “Farms and Fermentation” traveled inland on Sunday. Unlike most of our itineraries, Farms and Fermentation has a very flexible birding route, affording us the opportunity to take advantage of seasonal highlights and variables including weather, northern bird irruptions, and local food supplies.

The theme of the tour is the connection between agricultural lands and birds, but we also spent plenty of time checking out the region’s most significant bodies of water as recent cold weather has slowly frozen small ponds and lakes, pushing waterfowl to the open waters of the deep Lake Auburn and the fast-flowing Androscoggin River.

It was a frigid day, but with temperatures rapidly rising through the 20’s and virtually no wind at most of our stops, we enjoyed a very pleasant and productive morning of birding. Our first stop was a large, open agricultural field in Gray and New Gloucester, where we immediately found 16 Horned Larks within about 30 yards of the road. No Snow Buntings, as I had hoped for, but the views of the four larks that stayed with us were hard to beat.
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Letting the temperatures climb a bit, we hit the road for a longer stretch to arrive on the north shore of Lake Auburn. Unfortunately, the ducks were elsewhere today – perhaps flushed by an eagle or two  – but we did view two Horned Grebes (rare inland in Maine except for here and Sebago Lake and a rather late date for them away from the coast). One distant Common Loon was also spotted.
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A short hop to North River Road sampled the birds of early successional forest, undoubtedly the first step in reforestation of an abandoned farm. American Tree Sparrows, quite a few Northern Cardinals, and a number of House Finches were present, while a Bald Eagle soared over the river beyond the cornfields across the road (still no Snow Buntings). The highlight, however, was a Red-tailed Hawk that circled up and then glided low over our heads, with the reflection of the thin coating of snow on the ground acting as a spotlight to really light up its pale plumage.

Three punk-rock Hooded Mergansers were at the nearby boat launch, and we finished up with some more waterfowl along the Auburn Riverwalk. Nearly 200 Mallards were present, affording us the chance to study individual variation and hybridization, as well as taking a moment to savor a truly beautiful critter.
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Hooded Mergansers

As for this individual, I am not sure how to interpret its odd plumage: a very old female taking on male characteristics, a hybrid with something domesticated, or perhaps a male that for some reason is unable to fully attain an adult plumage. Whatever it is, it was a perfect example of how much there is to be learned from looking at our most common birds!
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Four American Black Ducks and some odd Domestic things were present, but I was hoping for an unusual dabbler or two to have joined the masses with the recent freezing. However, we did have two more Hooded Mergansers, and downriver, two spiffy drake Common Mergansers. A Common Loon was a little out of place on the river, likely a bird that woke up to encroaching ice on a lake this morning!
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Don then took over as layers were shed for good, as we crossed the bridge into Lewiston on our way to Bear Bones Beer. Don was giving us some of the history of this new brewery, but I interrupted to have him pull into a parking lot. We quickly disembarked to temporarily resume our birding with scope views of the local male Peregrine Falcon eating lunch atop of the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center, as per our tradition during “Birds on Tap – Roadtrips” to Lewiston!

Arriving at Bear Bones Beer, a nanobrewery with a focus on sustainable production and ingredients, co-founder Eban Dingman welcomed us into the comfortable space in a renovated portion of a former department store in the heart of downtown.

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We began our tasting with their 2X C.R.E.A.M, a smooth cream ale that featured a very nice balance, avoiding overdoing it with the hops. Dry-hopped with fruity Mosaic hops, Robot Bear Porter finished with a fruit flavor not typical of porters, putting a nice twist on a good winter stand-by. Picea, a dry stout brewed with spruce tips added to the whirlpool process, featured a subtle hint of spruce/resin, especially on the back end.

After sampling some of their applewood smoked barley malt, we tasted it in action. I went with the New Dead Smoked IPA, with just the hint of the smoky flavor and a more subtle hop kick than most IPAs these days. The “over-hopping” bandwagon had definitely not arrived – thankfully, if you ask me – here on Lisbon Street.
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Winston provided additional entertainment

Trekking back across country, keeping an eye out for Northern Shrikes (we did spot two Northern Mockingbirds today however, much rarer in winter in interior Maine than shrikes!) as we returned to New Gloucester for a special visit to Norumbega Cidery. Open to the public only for the occasional special event, this was a real treat to learn about Noah Fralich’s family farm and his four-year-old cidery. Discussing his plans for the property, including the cultivation of a wide variety of heirloom and specialty apples, we also discussed the value of orchards to birding: in fact, if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings had made it this far south by now, we likely would have visited an orchard or two on today’s tour – and wondered if in a few years, we might see these species right here at Norumbega.
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I’m not a big cider guy, as I usually don’t like sweet drinks in general. Many of the most popular hard ciders today (at least from the national brands) are loaded with sugar, and are more akin to soda. Dry ciders, however, are closer to wine, and the white wine yeasts that Noah uses produce a very crisp, very dry, and very delicious product that retains aromatics and subtle flavors.

We began with the clean and crisp Classic, with just a hint of tartness followed by the Berry Medley with a sweet and bitter contrast from the tannins and sugars found in four varieties of berries. Sweeter than the others, but still finishing very smooth and crisp, the Honey (technically, a ceyser because of the use of honey) was next up, featuring its very subtle honey notes and nose. And finally, we tried the Spice – my new favorite cider that I left with four bottles of – with a really complex taste profile and depth of flavor produced by only three added spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (admittedly, I also tend to love anything with nutmeg) that made me think of an unsweetened apple pie.
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Taking the back roads back to Freeport, we slammed on the breaks when a Barred Owl was spotted, and quickly unloaded. Unfortunately, the Barred Owl was less excited and melted away into the woods, bringing our birding day, and our successful “Farms and Fermentation” tour to a close.

With ten tours on the schedule for 2017, including some really exciting new itineraries, we look forward to having your on board soon. All of the tours are posted on the “Tours, Events, and Workshops” page of our website, with direct links for online reservations.