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Hawai’i!

In January, Jeannette and I headed to Hawai’i for our winter vacation. Like all of our vacations, birding is first and foremost, but local food is a close second. And beer.  Oh yeah, and Jeannette was also running a marathon.

In 2013, we visited Oahu and Kauai, which I recounted in this blog. This time, it was Maui and the Big Island.

The Big Island is special to me, as my first field job out of college was there, working with the Palila. Seeing this endangered, finch-billed honeycreeper was one of the primary motivations of the trip, as Jeannette had not seen it before. Nor had she seen hot molten magma. I also left the island without seeing two of its endangered endemics. And neither of us had yet been to Maui, which featured another three endemics.

So off we went.

After an 11-hour non-stop flight from NY’s JFK, we arrived in Honolulu. It did, however, take me all of those 11 hours to confirm that the familiar-looking face just one row in front of me was my cousin Gloria that I hadn’t seen in 25-30 years!  What are the chances!

We reconnected briefly, and then went our separate ways for now. Common Mynas, Zebra Doves, and Cattle Egrets greeted our arrival to the 50th state, but it was dark by the time Jeannette and I landed on Maui – about 20 hours of travel later.

1/13: Day 2/Day 1 of actual vacation.

Needless to say, it was not an early start, but we did eventually motivate and get things started the right way, with macadamia nut pancakes.
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We then checked out the Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary near our hotel, where we were greeted by Pacific Golden-Plovers (Kolea) on the path…
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…and much to our surprise, a wayward flock of 6 immature Snow Geese.
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After our first plate lunch, in Kihei, we checked a nearby wetland, where Jeannette got here lifer African Silverbill and photographed from Scaly-breasted Munias.
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We then spent a few hours birding the Coastal Boardwalk of the Kealia Ponds National Wildlife Refuge…
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..enjoying Hawaiian Coots and “Hawaiian” Black-necked Stilts,
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…a plethora of Black-crowned Night-Herons,
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…and no small number of Cattle Egrets.
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We spent a while in the shade of the viewing platform at the end,
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…when I began to shout to Jeannette, “Large Gull! Take Photo!”
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After some review later and consulting others, it was clear that this was indeed a 2nd-cycle Slaty-backed Gull – a real mega-rarity for the islands, and quite possibly the first on Maui.  Not that we came to Hawai’i to see a Siberian bird, but still! And since the mechanisms of vagrancy fascinate me – especially how they result in the colonization of islands and the eventual adaptive radiation that leads to mind-blowing speciation (and specialization) – and are one of my primary interests in visiting islands as we so often do, this discovery was not only thrilling, but also fit the theme of why we were here.

We decided to celebrate at Maui Brewing Company, which included one of my favorite – and Jeannette’s most favorite- brew of the trip, the Imperial Coconut Porter.

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…followed by a delicious dinner at Da Kitchen, where the ubiquitous spam musubi was taken to a whole ‘nother level with a panko crust and a little deep-frying!
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1/14: Haleakala National Park

This was a relaxed day of sight-seeing and casual birding in Haleakala National Park. What a remarkable place!
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While Chukar was the only bird we saw in and around the crater,
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…we did have some good birding a short distance downhill at Hosmer Grove.
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There, we caught up with Jeannette’s lifer Hawai’i Amakihis (a possible future split), and our first endemic, the Maui ‘Alauahio.
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Gorgeous I’iwis and Apapanes were impressively abundant, with many of the I’iwis dropping down from the tall, non-native trees to feed in the Mamane tree blossoms in the native scrub-forest.
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1/15: Race Day!

Jeannette was a little busier today than I, partaking in the Maui Oceanfront Marathon, starting in the dark at 5:00am and finishing (a new personal record) 3:57:17 later.
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A swim at the beach was followed by an absolutely outstanding lunch at Star Noodle, including these pork katsu buns…
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Kohola Brewery was our next stop – Jeannette earned it (and I had to drive here there), which offered what turned out to be my favorite beer of the trip, their Mighty 88 DIPA.

Afterwards, we took the twisting and turning our way around the north side of the island back to Kahului.
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1/16: Waikamoi.

Today was a special day for us. Thanks to our connection to Chuck, a docent for the Nature Conservancy on Maui, we were granted permission to join him on a tour of the famous Waikamoi Preserve. Some years ago, Chuck actually hired me to show him his lifer Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows here in Maine, and then we reconnected in the restaurant of the Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad!
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This was our one chance of the trip for the two critically endangered endemics on Maui: the Akohekohe and the Maui Parrotbill. As we spent a good couple of hours waiting, watching, and listening from the platform.
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Unfortunately, wind and a lack of Ohia blossoms likely impacted our birding, and we only glimpsed two quick fly-bys of the Akohekoke. The shape, size, and overall dark color eliminated anything else, but even though the looks were good enough to identify, Jeannette and I decided we didn’t want to count it.

We also heard a Maui Parrotbill, but with a 6-acre territory, the chance of spotting one of these inconspicuous mid-story-dwellers was not good. We did see plenty of Maui ‘Alauahio, however, and regardless, we felt truly privileged to even have the opportunity to visit this special place.

Of course, the day after a marathon, Jeannette could have done with a few less than the 250+ stairs!
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After a little picnic, Jeannette and I poked around Hosmer Grove some more, working on photographs of Apapane…
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..and I’iwi.
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We worked our way downhill, into the adorable little town of Paia. There, we rendezvoused with our friend Amanda – the former cook of the Schooner French here in Maine, on which we take our Birding by Schooner tour – who flew in from Kauai just to say hi. OK, and join us for an amazing dinner at The Mill House, where local ingredients and flavors were taken up a few notches.

1/17: Last day on Maui.

Amanda joined us for a little casual birding at Kahana Pond, where we once again ran into the flock of Snow Geese.
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Jeannette and I then headed back to Kealia Ponds NWR, to visit the interior portion of the refuge.
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Chock full of Hawaiian Coots,
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…Black-crowned Night-Herons,
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…tons of “Hawaiian” Black-necked Stilts,
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..and a really great variety of ducks. A vagrant Great Blue Heron was spotted – another nice addition to my Hawaii state list.

We then made a cultural stop at the Sugar Museum on our way back to town.
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Tin Roof, the restaurant of Top Chef contestant Sheldon Simeon, was our lunchtime destination, and it most definitely did not disappoint.
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And with a little extra time before our flight, we checked out the backside of Kahana Pond, where we literally were attacked by a very defensive Nene.
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While the video does the encounter more justice, I can assure you, we did NOT pass this sign! If we had, we might not have survived.
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A Belted Kingfisher was yet another rarity for us to discover – although I later learned it was probably a bird that was around for a little while.  We also took some time to photograph some of the introduced birds, like Common Mynas.
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And then it was off to the Big Island for the second half of our trip.

1/18: Hakalua National Wildlife Refuge

We joined a tour with Hawai’i Forest and Trails in order to venture up the slope of Mauna Kea – on the opposite side of the mountain where I worked with the Palila – and into the wet forest of Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge in search of the two endemics that I have not seen, and a few more lifers for Jeannette.

The howling winds in the saddle caused some consternation, but we arrived at the Puu Akala tract of the Hakalau NWR under crystal-clear skies and without even a puff of wind. In addition to being incredibly gorgeous, weather-wise, the mature forest of massive Koa and flowering Ohia trees was just chock-full of birds.
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There were lots of I’iwis and Apapanes, and plenty of Hawai’i Amakihis.
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But a mere 15 minutes into the hike, the primary quarry for many, the critically endangered Akiapola’au was detected by our guide, Gary.
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We observed this confiding juvenile for over 20 minutes, as it demonstrated its unique adaption. The “Swiss army knife” of honeycreeper bills, the Aki uses its lower mandible to hammer like a woodpecker, and it’s long, decurved upper mandible for extracting tasty larvae and for exploring in lichen and moss.  It’s the best remaining example of the extraordinary evolution that began with one flock of wayward Asian rosefinches (or so we know believe).
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The forest was just beautiful here, and although there was some pig damage, the combination of invasive species control, fencing, and the elevation above the current mosquito line (and the devastating avian diseases they carry) hinted at the diversity, abundance, and wealth of unique life that was once found throughout all of the islands.
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While we were looking at that first Aki, our lifer Hawai’i Creeper joined it, and another was seen even better a little later. We also caught up with a couple of pairs of spritely and colorful Akepas.
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The creeper and the Akepa were the last two endemics I needed to see on the Big Island, but Jeannette also cleaned up with her lifer Omao, Hawai’i Elepaios, and her most-wanted, the I’o or Hawaiian Hawk.
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Thinking about more of the wonders of island biogeography and evolution, we glanced down to check out the native mint that perfectly fits the pollinating bill of the I’iwi.
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And back at the van, we marveled at the success of the Endangered Species Act and its resultant invasive predator control and captive breeding program that brought back the state bird, the Nene, from the brink.
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With the Endangered Species Act and other environmental safeguards under ravenous attack in Washington right now, it serves us well to never forget that extinction is forever. If we don’t act quickly, Akiapola’au, I’iwi, Hawai’i Creeper, Akohekohe, Maui Parrotbill, and so many others will go the way of the 95 species of endemic birds that have gone extinct since the arrival of humans in Hawai’i.

As we descended from the mountain, Pueos (“Hawaiian” Short-eared Owl) were conspicuous, and late in the day, Gary pulled out a flock of introduced Red Avavadats from a roadside ditch – another life bird for us. Cute lil’ fellas.

Dinner at Kona Brewing Company was outstanding, with their Pineapple IPA being my favorite brew of the evening. Clearly they were a lot more than the rather pedestrian Longboard Lager that they are most recognized for.

1/19: Palila Hunting.

But speaking of Endangered species, today was our day to search for Palilas in the dry forest of Mauna Kea, where this specialized species lives almost exclusively on the flowers, seeds, and insects hosted by the Mamane.
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We met up with our good friend Lance Tanino, who runs Manu Conservation and Birding Tours.  There wasn’t anything professional today, just out birding with a friend whose four-wheel drive and high-clearance vehicle was critical in making it to the Palila Discovery Trail within the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve.
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It was a long, hot, and windy day, and unfortunately, we had to work really hard for only a brief view of a Palila (and a couple of others heard calling). It wasn’t overly satisfying, to be honest, but Jeannette had a “countable” look, and I did spend four months with the species!

It’s not usually this hard to find, even if there are probably less than half the number of birds as when I – and two years earlier, Lance – worked with the bird.  But eventually, walking around on lava in the heat brought back some of the less fond memories from our time here, so we headed downhill.

A photogenic Pueo was spotted on the way,
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…and then we found some Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse at a new location, which was exciting as this was the one introduced bird we both really wanted to see. Because sandgrouse are wicked cool.
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Despite the disappointment of not seeing the Palila as well as we would have liked – even though we tried to claim we were satisfied with the effort- we still decided to celebrate at the Big Island Brewhaus, where we devoured these outstanding Kung Pao macadamia nuts..
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And enjoyed one of the most interesting beers of the trip, their Red Sea of Cacao, brewed with molasses, chocolate, pink sea salt, and pink peppercorns. We at least had sandgrouse and friendship to celebrate!  And great food and beer!
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1/20: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

On this solemn Inauguration Day, we could think of no better way to celebrate what is great about our country than visiting one of its premier Crown Jewels. Volcanoes are unstable, unpredictable, and at any moment can erupt and cause massive death and destruction. It seemed even more appropriate today for some reason.

And Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is truly a remarkable, special place. If you haven’t been…you must!

We heard several Omao, spotted a few Hawai’i Elepaio, saw an incredible number of Apapanes, Hawai’i Amakihis, some Nenes, enjoyed White-tailed Tropicbirds soaring around the caldera of an active volcano, and spotted Black Noddies offshore.

However, today was about volcanoes, geology, and Earth at its most raw and primal. There are the steam vents and sulfur deposits,
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…not-very-old-in-the-big-picture flows of hardened lava,
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…and stories of yesteryear in intriguing petroglyphs.
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Eroding lava creates sheer cliffs and arches,
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…and some impressive scenery.
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Lava tubes and collapsed craters showed where molten magma once flowed.
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But it’s Kilauea that steals the show, especially when she’s this active.
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And while the caldera, as viewed from the Jagger Museum and observatory is pretty amazing, it was well worth the effort to make a late-day trek out to see the ocean entry, where “new” land is meeting the sea.

We rented bikes for the 3.5 mile ride (on a nice, fairly flat gravel road) to the overlook of the active entry. It’s just far enough to be safe – but also just far enough for decent photos, but this at least gives you a hint at the fireworks.
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1/21: Back to the Dry Forest!

Despite our late night viewing hot, molten mag-ma, we were up even earlier than usual the next morning. Lance was not surprised to get the message that we “needed” to try again to see the Palila better, and luckily he was free and willing to take us back up the hill.
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The wind was really howling down low, and the forecasts of increasing trade winds really had us worried. We almost called it off. But Palila. So off we went.

Arriving at the Palila Discovery Trail, we were greeted by clear skies and barely a puff of wind. It was simply perfect, and in only about 20 minutes we had great looks at a feeding male Palila. We had even better looks at perhaps the same male a little while later, and Jeannette finally had her satisfying lifer view. No luck with photos, unfortunately, but she did finally get some good Hawai’i Amakihi shots.
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We were all a lot happier as we headed downhill this time, back into the howling winds along the coast. We walked Waikoloa Beach in the hopes of stumbling upon a Bristle-thighed Curlew, but alas, all we had were a few Koleas and a couple of Wandering Tattlers.
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Birder beach gear.

After lunch, we bid adieu to Lance and worked some local hotspots, padding my state list.  It’s rare that it is do far into a Lovitch vacation before we visit a sewage treatment plant, but wow, the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant was incredible!
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I tallied a remarkable 6 state birds, headlined by the mega-rare Marsh Sandpiper that has been present here this winter (we had previously only seen them in Thailand). Western Sandpiper and Buffleheads were a little less rare, but still new for Hawaii for me, as was Cackling Goose…
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…and both American (several) and Eurasian (one drake) Wigeon.
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Yellow-billed Cardinal was actually new for Jeannette, as well, although we would see a bunch more in Hilo.
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Nearby Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park was the home of my 100th species in Hawaii – an overwintering “Black” Brant.
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Two Laughing Gulls was another nice addition, and we took some time to study and photograph some of the more common shorebirds, like this Ruddy Turnstone – one of the few common, regularly-occurring migrants that spend the winter in these distant islands.
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Oh yeah, and a bunch of Green Sea Turtles as well!
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We really needed another day (or two, one on each island), but this was our last evening. Pineapple’s in Hilo was a great last meal, where I had the “Hilo Plate,” which was a finer version of the plate lunches we have been eating so often.
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And appropriately enough, we parked near this mural.
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1/22: Last Day.

There’s never enough time in any vacation, and that reality set in this morning. In fact, despite lodging at the lovely Inn at Kulaniapia Falls for the past three nights, we hadn’t even seen the waterfall in the backyard during the day!  Jeannette went for a run in the morning, so I just strolled around the property, enjoying the flowing falls (that was really showing the signs of the heavy rain overnight) and some of the common introduced birds from all corners of the globes: Northern and Yellow-billed Cardinals, Scaly-breasted Munias, House Finches, Japanese White-eyes, and Yellow-fronted Canaries. I also had an unusually cooperative pair of Hwamei – where was the camera when I needed it?
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The rest of the morning was spent casually birding Hilo, between rain showers, mostly to procrastinate on heading to the airport. Wailoa River State Park (that produced a number of life birds for me nearly 20 years ago!) offered up a rare Canvasback – my 25th state bird of the trip (here with the two migrant Ring-necked Ducks that were present)
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Among the multitudes of mutt ducks of questionable origin,
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…there were Hawaiian Coots, another vagrant Belted Kingfisher, and this unreasonably confiding Nene with a satellite transmitter on its back.
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We said goodbye to some of the familiar friends of birding in the islands, especially the adorable little Zebra Dove.
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Lokowaka Pond yielded another Canvasback among some Lesser Scaup, and a bunch of roosting Cattle Egrets, but there was no better way to finish a trip to Hawai’i than with brunch at the famous Ken’s House of Pancakes, ending the trip the same way we began…with macadamia nut pancakes!

But just to extend the trip a little longer, we picked up some flavors of the island at the airport gift shops.
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We departed Hilo for the short flight to Honolulu, passing by Maui which poked out from the clouds,
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…including the marathon route.
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And then it was time to board our long flight back to the East Coast and begin our journey back to the real world.

Unfortunately, the long flight afforded plenty of time to reflect on said real world, including the endemic Hawaiian birds that we got to see, and the ones on Maui we did not. While we had a great trip on so many levels, including seeing some of these spectacular birds (that truly do put “Darwin’s finches” to shame!), the reality is not as happy as our vacations might suggest. A litany of threats is impacting these birds: development, invasive species, disease, and climate change. The Endangered Species Act – the only reason there are still Nene, for example – is under assault, and without it, most of these endemics don’t stand a chance.

If you enjoyed this blog – and I of course hope you did – please take a moment (I mean, you made it through this excruciatingly long entry; you can spare a few moments more.) to learn more about these imperiled species. The American Bird Conservancy’s Hawai’i program page is a good place to start.

Then, take a minute to call your Senators (here’s a link to all of the local offices where you can leave messages). Tell them to uphold, protect, and increase funding for the Endangered Species Act, and to reject the assault on one of our foremost environmental statutes. Urge them to reject Ryan Zinke for Secretary of the Interior, and any other nominee who has spent a career attempting to gut the ESA.

Because the Palila needs us right now.

2016 Fall Rarity Season Redux Part II

Well, it’s finally cold out! And snowy. Yeah, winter is here, and with it, I expect some hot birding!

After a fairly slow start to the Rarity Season, as I recounted in my last blog, November continued to be slow. A Cattle Egret continued in Pittson through 11/22, and the long-staying Marbled Godwit surprisingly (and rather incredibly) continued through at least 12/4.  Meanwhile, the usual smattering of otherwise “late” rare-but-regular birds were spotted here and there like Yellow-breasted Chats and Dickcissels.

Once it finally got a little colder, a little snow and ice fell (especially to our north and west), and natural food sources became harder to find, excitement finally began to pick up a little. With warm coastal microclimates and pockets of seasonally abundant food finally starting to concentrate birds, a few goodies began to turn up -just not as many as there should have been. In fact, it was not a very good second half of November, as far as second halves of November usually go.

As usual, I combed my favorite haunts, with several visits to my favorite late fall/early winter hot (pun intended) spots, including the Saco Riverwalk, patches in Cape Elizabeth and Harpswell, etc. In doing so, I found quite a few late/lingering/pioneering/stuck birds such as a Common Yellowthroat and a Winter Wren at Kettle Cove on 11/27; a male Wilson’s Warbler and 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the remaining un-clear-cut woods at the western end of the Eastern Promenade in Portland on 11/27; a Wood Duck at Old Town House Park in North Yarmouth on 12/1; 2 Northern Flickers and a Double-crested Cormorant along the Saco Riverwalk on 12/2; an incredible Saturday Morning Birdwalk on 12/3 that yielded Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-bellied Plovers, a hen American Wigeon, along with Ruddy Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers; a female Wilson’s Warbler on Bailey Island on 12/4; plus a Hermit Thrush in our Pownal yard on 12/5; as well as the usual smattering of Swamp Sparrows and a few Chipping Sparrows here and there.

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Rather unexpected considering the date, location, and especially the insanely confiding behavior, this Red Knot was at Wharton Point in Brunswick on 12/1 as I spent the morning guiding for a client from Maine interested in learning the local winter hotspots.

Shockingly, however, despite combing the coast from Kittery through Wells all day on 11/28, Jeannette and I didn’t turn up a single thing out of the ordinary – it might have just still been too warm to concentrate birds in Maine’s “banana belt.” With temperatures in the mid to upper 40’s for several days at the end of November into early December, our wait for real cold weather continued.

Same was true as I thoroughly birded the greater Biddeford Pool area from the Saco Riverwalk through Timber Point on December 2nd with good friends Barbara Carlson and Paul Lehman visiting from California. We enjoyed some good birding, led by this Pacific Loon we found of East Point, but nothing unseasonably “lingering.”
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This heavily-cropped phone-scoped photo shows the rounded head, dark back and hindneck, small straight bill, and even the narrow chinstrap (not always present or visible) of the Pacific Loon. It was also much smaller than nearby Common Loons, as well as darker and with a different profile from the Red-throated Loons also present.

Paul and Barbara had been birding their way from New Jersey, and the same refrain was heard everywhere: “it’s slow.” The coastal thickets, migrant traps, and other seasonable hotspots are just not what they usually are this time of year. Although there are a smattering of rarities here and there, it’s just not that “good” right now overall. At the very least, I know we’re not alone here in Maine!

Trying things further afield, Evan Obercian, Jeannette, and I scoured the Belfast area on the 6th. Unfortunately, the only bird of note we turned up was a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet in East Belfast.
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However, well-stocked feeding stations have became a bit of a hotspot, as they often do at this time of year. “Feeder Rarity Season” began with a one-evening wonder Harris’s Sparrow in Central Maine on November 18th. Four days later, a Bullock’s Oriole showed up at a feeder in Camden and stayed through at least 12/3. Luke Seitz and I drove up to successfully twitch it on Black(bib) Friday – my 374th species in Maine!
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Two Dickcissels continue at a feeder in Clinton, but a female Black-throated Blue Warbler coming into a feeder in Portland was perhaps the most unexpected of all.

Other recent, more-seasonal highlights for me included a Northern Shoveler amongst 13 species of waterfowl at Sanford Lagoons on 11/22; 24 American Coots at Chickawaukie Pond in Rockland/Rockport on 11/25; a Rough-legged Hawk over Richmond Island from Kettle Cove on 11/27; a continuing American Coot at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on 12/2; and the “Blue” Snow Goose continues in the Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields through last week. Jeannette and I also had a great visit to Sabattus Pond before the snow began to fall on 12/5, tallying an excellent late-season total of 16 species of waterfowl despite the pond being about half covered with a thin layer of ice. A rare-inland female Long-tailed Duck, 3 Gadwall, 1 drake American Wigeon, a pair of Northern Pintails, 21 Green-winged Teal, 1 Ring-necked Duck, and 73 remaining Ruddy Ducks were among the highlights.

Finches continue to trickle in and through, with scattered Evening Grosbeaks and Red Crossbills over the past couple of weeks. And some more birds of the season included all the fun stuff like Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers along the coast, Snow Buntings scattered about, etc.

So, although we lament what the season has yet to bring – for example, I’ve only had twospecies of warblers (Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s) so far this December compared to the insane total of 10 that I accumulated in December of 2015 – there really is never a “bad” season of birding here in Maine! It’s just that our expectations are elevated at this time of year.

But now it’s cold. And snowy. That should finally push birds to the coastal microclimates and migrant traps. And in less than 2 weeks, Christmas Bird Counts get underway, believe it or not, and hopefully a return to more seasonably cold weather will turn up the heat on the birding season!

2016 Rarity Season Part I

In my last blog, I predicted some great birding was in store for us here in Maine. Our entry into “Rarity Season” coupled with an active weather pattern was undoubtedly going to make for some exciting birding in the near future. It certainly started off with a bang!

Immediately following the Nor’Easter that drenched us on Friday, October 28th…
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…a Sabine’s Gull was discovered on Sabattus Pond.
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This gorgeous gull was my 373rd species in Maine, and while I knew I was going to see one sooner than later, I expected to finally get one in Maine waters during my Washington County Weekend tour (we were close!), and not well inland on a small lake!

Whether blown inland by the strong winds or “grounded” as it cross-cut over land, this pelagic is not what one expects while scanning the ducks at Sabattus.  An early 1st Winter Iceland Gull (later, two), and a rare-inland sweep of all three species of scoters (9 Surf, 4 Black, and 1 White-winged) were all related to the weather as well.
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Similarly, an adult Black-legged Kittiwake out of place in a pond at Fortune’s Rocks Beach on Sunday was likely storm-related. Although regular to downright common offshore, this is not a bird we usually see onshore in southern Maine.
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One can only imagine what else was on the 2,600+ lakes in the state of Maine during and immediately after the storm! Jeannette and I did check a few spots around Sebago Lake on Halloween, but it was surely too long after the storm, and the only birds of some note we turned up were single Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover (fairly rare inland, especially this late) at Raymond Town Beach.

I bird hard this time of year, doing my best to finish projects and keep my schedule as clear as possible to afford as much time in the field during these fruitful weeks. While I skipped birding in Portland, I did cover a lot of ground, and searched for odd birds in odd places, as well as focusing on the seasonal “migrant trap” hotspots.

In doing so, I found a few good birds, including this Lark Sparrow (always a treat away from Monhegan) at Pott’s Point in Harpswell on 11/10:
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As for wayward vagrants seen around the state by others, there were quite a few from the south: a Blue Grosbeak in Portland on 10/31, a couple more Yellow-breasted Chats were found here and there, and most surprisingly, a Blue-winged Warbler in Saxl Park in Bangor on November 7th – this early migrant simply has to be a reverse-migrant or 180-degree misoriented migrant from points south; right? And the headlines, from the southwest, as a Cave Swallow reported from Cape Elizabeth on the 12th.

From the west (and/or mid-west) came a Clay-colored Sparrow at Two Lights State Park on 11/6 and a few scattered Dickcissels around the state (but where are the Western Kingbirds this year?). A Cattle Egret in South Thomaston on 11/6 and another in Pittston on the 13th could have come from either direction.

But it’s not just rarities that make this time of year so much fun. There are all of the regular migrants that are still “lingering.” Some of the late birds that I have seen in the past weeks included a Red-eyed Vireo along the Saco Riverwalk and 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper at Biddeford Pool Beach on 10/30, a Red-eyed Vireo at Sandy Point on 11/1, a Pine Warbler and a late-ish Winter Wren on Bailey Island in Harpswell on 11/4, a slightly tardy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with Jeannette at Beaver Park in Lisbon on 11/8, a Turkey Vulture over Falmouth on 11/11, two Winter Wrens on Peak’s Island on 11/14, and a smattering of Hermit Thrushes.

Other birders also reported the usual slew of truant migrants, such as a smattering of Baltimore Orioles, a couple of Scarlet Tanagers, and a decent variety of late warblers here and there. There’s still a Marbled Godwit, 4 American Oystercatchers, and 2 Red Knots at Hill’s Beach in Biddeford Pool; I enjoyed them on the 30th, but they continued to be reported through at least 11/2 with the godwit still being reported as of 11/12!  A few Long-billed Dowitchers were reported, with the one at Sabattus Pond on 11/5 being at the most unexpected location.

The winner, however, is the immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that appeared at a feeder on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth on November 10th! I viewed it the next morning and it continues through today, the 14th. Although the photos taken by the homeowner looked good for “just” a Ruby-throat, I hoped I was missing something from the still images. Any lingering questions/hopes I had were dashed however.

That being said, it’s still a great record. Through our store we have been promoting keeping up hummingbird feeders into November for over a decade, and our database of observations after early October is growing. When I first got a call yesterday, I was sure this was going to be “a good one.” It was Nov 10th after all!

Amazingly, this is the same house that hosted a Selasphorus hummingbird last fall! In other words, it sure does pay to keep those feeders out, even if it’s “just” a Ruby-throat!
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Other, more seasonal, highlights for me over these two weeks included the following. Jeannette and I had 100 Horned Larks along Mayall Road in Gray/New Gloucester on 10/31; 18 Snow Buntings and 13 Horned Larks flew over Bailey Island on 11/4; a Lapland Longspur with 6 Horned Larks were at Stover’s Point Preserve in Harpswell on 11/10; two Ruddy Turnstones were at Winslow Park in Freeport on 11/12 with the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group – one of only two or three places in the state we regularly see them during the winter.

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This Barred Owl on Bailey Island on 11/4 was a treat. Any day with an owl is a good day!

Meanwhile, the new arrivals – including many species that will be spending the winter with us – continue to arrive, my “first of seasons” this week included 2 Common Goldeneyes at Sabattus Pond on the 29th, 2 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows at Timber Point in Biddeford on 10/30…
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…lots of Horned Grebes arriving all over, 2 Harlequin Ducks at East Point in Biddeford Pool and 3 Purple Sandpipers at Hill’s Beach on 10/30.

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There were also plenty of Dunlin and Sanderlings around this week, such as this one Dunlin nestled amongst the Sanderlings on Biddeford Pool Beach on the 30th.

Waterfowl migration is in full effect, and not just at Sabattus Pond (although that is certainly one of the top spots in the state). Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers are all piling in, and dabblers are also on the go, such as the single drake Northern Pintail and American Wigeon at Great Pond in Biddeford on 10/30. Common Mergansers are also now arriving; I saw my first migrants at Sebago Lake on 10/31.

Jeannette and I visited Sabattus on a gorgeous, warm day on the 8th, with glass-calm conditions allowing for careful combing through the masses: 649 Ruddy Ducks, 510 Mallards, 176 Lesser and 119 Greater Scaup, 104 American Black Ducks, 73 Buffleheads, 69 Hooded Mergansers, 40 Common Mergansers, 13 Northern Pintails,11 Common Goldeneye, 8 Green-winged Teal, 5 White-winged and 1 Surf Scoter, 4 American Wigeons, 4 Common Loons, and a very-rare-inland Red-necked Grebe.

On 11/13, I returned with a Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour with our partners at the Maine Brew Bus. Although I didn’t count everything as carefully as I do when on my own, “Fall Ducks and Draughts” did record 600+ Ruddy Ducks, 3 Gadwalls, AND 2 White-winged Scoters amongst the 14 species of waterfowl present.

The “Greater Yarmouth Goose Fields” have been slow this year so far, likely also due to the mild weather and lack of early snowfalls to our north. In fact, the only “good” goose so far has been a “Blue” Snow Goose that showed up during the week of October 17th continuing through at least 11/11.  Canada Geese numbers remain rather low however; I have still not surpassed even 600 total birds this season.

There’s still some passerine migration a’happening, as well. For example, my last two days at Sandy Point for the season yielded 221 birds on 10/31 (led by 123 American Robins and 18 American Crows) and 131 on 11/1 (led by 59 Dark-eyed Juncos and 44 American Robins). Common Grackles and a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds are still heading south, although their numbers are greatly reduced over the past week.

Sparrows also continue to move through, with lots of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows on the move, and my first American Tree Sparrow arriving at the Yarmouth Town Landing on 11/5 during our Saturday Morning Birdwalk, followed by more as the weeks progressed. A White-crowned Sparrow at Biddeford Pool on 10/30 was getting late, but there are still scattered Chipping Sparrows here and there as usual, including one still here at the store’s feeders.
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This junco on our back porch on November 6th appears to be of the inter-mountain subspecies/hybrid swarm often labeled as “cistmontanus.”  It’s definitely not a pure “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco, and the curved hood with buff of the sides traveling up to below the fold of the wing, however, suggest that this is not a pure “Slate-colored” Junco either.

And speaking of feeder birds, a recent spate of Evening Grosbeak reports (I have heard or seen several 1’s and 2’s recently, but 6 were at Old Town House Park on 11/3), along with an uptick in Purple Finches and Pine Siskins are suggestive of a decent winter around here for at least some of the finches. I also had a few single Red Crossbills fly over in a handful of locations recently. And the first Northern Shrike reports have started trickling in.

But overall, we’re off to a fairly slow start to the November Rarity Season. My guess is the lack of cold fronts early in the fall ushered fewer birds east (e.g. Western Kingbird) but also it remains fairly mild. I’m just not sure birds have begun concentrating yet in places that birders find them (like coastal migrant traps, city parks, etc). But as temperatures continue to drop, this might change. Afterall, after a very slow November last year (also very mild), December was simply incredible.

As the shorter days get colder (maybe), I would expect more birds to begin turning up, especially at feeders and along the immediate coast. The coming weeks always produce something remarkable.

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A blast of cold, Canadian air finally arrived this past weekend, as evidenced by the wind map of 11/11.

However, it might be hard to top the incredible and unprecedented White Wagtail that showed up in Rye, New Hampshire on 11/2 through early the next. You know I’ll be trying though!

The 2016 Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains Tour

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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:
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And these breathtaking views.
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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.
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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…
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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!
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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.
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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.
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But the downpour was short lived, so we moved on through the fog…
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…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.
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And our next loop around the trail yielded another singing thrush, but also stellar views!
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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…
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…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.
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As usual, Eastern Kingbirds were conspicuous.
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And we were treated to some good looks at spiffy Prairie Warblers.
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As we walked through the plains, occasionally lamenting about the lack of birdsong and the first light showers of the day…
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…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.
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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…
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…then the pizza oven….
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…and last, but most certainly not least, the beer!
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As we sampled four of the eight beers on tap, Paul added the color commentary. Don listened intently.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!)
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(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).

Six “Birds on Tap – Roadtrips” in 2016

As the readers of this blog have probably picked up on, we love birds…and we love beer! And, it turns out, so do lots of other folks. So, we have worked to incorporate these two elements through events at the store, making birding and learning about birds not only educational, but fun too.
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Therefore, we, Freeport Wild Bird Supply (FWBS) are excited to announce the “Birds On Tap – Roadtrip!” series in collaboration with The Maine Brew Bus (MBB). Each tour combines 2-3 hours of birding at one of Maine’s hotspots with a visit to two of our fantastic local breweries. The idea for this series comes on the heels of several very successful programs sponsored by FWBS, working with some of Maine’s finest breweries to combine birding and beer enjoyment. We began with the “Birds, Books, and Beers” author book signings at Maine Beer Company in 2013. The new tradition continues with the “Birds On Tap!” lecture series at Rising Tide Brewing as we host and support scientists conducting research on birds in the Northeast and beyond.

“Birds On Tap – Roadtrip!” seemed like a natural progression – another way to make learning about birds and birding even more fun. Additionally, it is a great way to support several Maine businesses. The trips introduce people to new breweries, new birds, and new places in a casual atmosphere that makes both birding and beer appreciation approachable. “These tours are a perfect way for couples or friends with different interests to spend the day together. We take the pressure off learning about complex topics from identifying shorebirds to hop characteristics.

These trips are truly unique, we know of no other similar tours offered anywhere in the world!

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Don Littlefield, General Manager of the Maine Brew Bus, adds “Craft beer drinkers come from all walks of life and have all kinds of other interests. This pairing of bird observation and ​beer education has proven to be a real hit with all kinds of folks. It gives access to diverse areas of Maine and many different bird species, and also great locally produced Maine beer. We are happy to partner with Derek and his team, it’s been fantastic to see this series mature and take flight!”

In 2015, we had two very successful outings. In August “Shorebirds and Beer” visited Scarborough Marsh for migrant shorebirds, Barreled Souls, and Rising Tide. In November, we ventured north for a visit to Sabattus Pond for waterfowl, and then visited Baxter Brewing and Maine Beer Company.

Based on the popularity of these trips, we are excited to offer six different trips in 2016, covering birding and breweries from Kittery to Lewiston. Traveling in the Maine Brew Bus, I’ll be guiding the first half of each, as we learn about the birds and their habitats at seasonal hotspots. This is followed by two brewery tours led by the MBB guides. The locations were chosen to enjoy the peak of birding at a particular locale at certain times of year. One does not need to be a “birder” to enjoy these outings. People of all skill levels are encouraged to join us!

The 2016 schedule is as follows:

Surf and Suds
February 28th , 8:00am – 2:30pm
York and Ogunquit (wintering waterfowl especially Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and  alcids)
SoMe Brewing & Fore River Brewing

Spring Ducks & Draughts
April 10th, 10:00am – 4:00pm.
Merrymeeting Bay (migrant waterfowl and Bald Eagles)
Oxbow & Lively Brewing

Grassland and Grains
June 5th , 8:00am – 2:00pm
Kennebunk Plains(Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow)
Funky Bow & Banded Horn Brewing

Shorebirds and Beer
August 7th, 9:00am-3:00pm.
Scarborough Marsh (migrant shorebirds)
Barreled Souls & Rising Tide

Migrants and Malts
October 9th , 8:00am – 2:30pm
Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach, Kittery (songbird, raptor, and shorebird migrants)
Tributary & Hidden Cover Brewery

Fall Ducks and Draughts
November 13th, 8:30am – 2:30pm
Sabattus Pond and Auburn Riverwalk (migrant waterfowl)
Baxter Brewing & Maine Beer Co.

For more information about each of these tours, see the “Tours, Events, Programs, and Workshops” page our website. And contact us soon (email or call 207-865-6000) as these unique tours fill up fast!

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Yup, We’re Still Against Industrial Wind Development near Monhegan Island


These bedraggled, exhausted, and desperate birds arrived on Monhegan in bad shape, and they didn’t have to contend with a lighted tower or spinning blades. (Clockwise from top: American Redstart, imm male; American Redstart, female; Yellow Warbler, adult male; a vagrant Acadian Flycatcher).

Some bad ideas just never go away. And it seems like the idea of putting industrial wind turbines off of Monhegan Island is one of those.

We have been vehemently opposed to the industrial wind development in the Gulf of Maine off of Monhegan Island from the start, and we have been outspoken in our concern about the impacts of this development. It’s simply the wrong place for such an endeavor. The costs far outweigh the benefits, especially the inordinate risk such structures would pose to migrating birds. And one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds (and birders) is simply not where you put so-called “green” power. There’s nothing “green” about poorly-sited energy development. And this is as poor of a site as you could find in Maine.

After the University of Maine-led consortium, Maine Aqua Ventus, failed to win a bid for Department of Energy funding, it looked like the project was dead. However, the recent announcement that the consortium has received $3.7million in federal funding with the possibility of more to come has us concerned once again.

The wind industry continues to propose locations for new turbines that are poorly sited and do nothing to minimize risks to birds and bats. This is happening across the country from California to Lake Erie to Maine. Monhegan Island is one of the most significant stop-over spots for thousands upon thousands of migrating songbirds in fall and spring – and therefore birders and wildlife tour operators such as ourselves. Most of these birds migrate at night. The size and height of today’s turbines necessitate lighting. Lighted structures disorient birds, especially under cloudy and foggy conditions so common on the Maine coast. Birds are drawn in and then circle the light in an attempt to reorient or simply escape the halo of light. Unfortunately, in the process, many can collide with the structure, each other, or simply drop dead of exhaustion as their flight muscles are metabolized in a last-ditch effort to find safety. New innovations are being developed to harness power from the wind without using massive blades, and this is where government funding and research should be directed – new technologies that maximize efficiency and minimize the risks to birds and bats.

Additionally, the wind industry often uses their own surveys to state that many of their projects pose little threat to wildlife. Such research proves to be woefully incomplete as they are generally based on carcass searches. Scavenging makes this methodology fundamentally flawed and completely irrelevant to offshore development projects. Additionally, much of this information is deemed “proprietary”, so the public rarely knows the full extent of their impacts. In a place as important to birds as Monhegan, a wind farm is not the avenue to pursue for energy generation. While nearshore wind development is much less conspicuous to humans, the risks to Maine’s migrant birds and bats cannot be discounted. The benefits of wind power have been shown to be under-promised again and again and they do not outweigh the potential costs in this case. At the very least, any off-shore turbines should be equipped with lighting that is less hazardous, a simple solution that the industry continues to oppose.

So what’s next for this ill-conceived project? What will throwing more taxpayer money at it prove? We know it won’t go to studying its impacts on migratory birds, and certainly not towards implementing alternative design and lighting. No, instead we’ll simply continue to hear Big Wind deny the problem exists, ignoring facts and reality and having the so-called conservation organizations they sponsor regurgitate the same tired, outdated misinformation.

With another renewal of the Federal subsidies for industrial wind development in the just-passed budget, we must remain vigilant in our fight against dangerously-sited projects. It’s not about being anti-wind power. I am definitely not! But I am most definitely against putting industrial wind development projects smack dab in the middle of some of the densest concentrations of migrant birds in Maine. And Monhegan Island is just one of those places…and there are better, safer, more economical, and more efficient ways of reducing the cost of electricity on Monhegan Island, without putting the birds, and the birder economy that follows them, at risk.

For more information about the threat that poorly-sited wind power development poses to birds, and what can be done to make the industry more ecologically-friendly, please visit the “Wind Energy” page from the American Bird Conservancy.

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And you think this Canada Warbler is mad now?