Tag Archives: boreal

A Weekend Adventure in Search of American Three-toed Woodpecker

I’ve been feeling the gravitational pull into the boreal forest recently. No longer able to resist, and finding a way to make another hole in my schedule, Evan Obercian and I made a rather impromptu trip north this weekend, heading to one of the most incredible areas of the state. It’s been way too long since I have visited Baxter State Park – the “crown jewel of Maine” – and the surrounding boreal-transition habitats.

We definitely had a target bird for this trip: American Three-toed Woodpecker. However, this was really just the excuse to spend a few days birding together, exploring an area Evan hasn’t been too, and enjoying the area that I don’t get to nearly enough. And camping.

We hit the road on Sunday morning, not exactly early, making it to Lincoln in time for the quintessential Maine road trip lunch: Dysart’s. Driving through rain, with more rain in the forecast, we wondered about whether or not this trip was really the best idea. But by the time we arrived at Harvester Road just before 3pm, it was mostly sunny, warm but breezy, but of course rather quiet: it was the afternoon in the middle of July after all.
1. Harvester Rd,7-17-16_edited-1

2. Evan_with_DeerFlies_edited-1
Mostly, we just heard Deer Flies.

We admittedly did only a modicum of research as to where three-toed woodpeckers had been reported from recently, so used that as a guide for our stops, if only for reconnaissance. Olive-sided Flycatchers were particularly vocal and conspicuous, and encountered one Fox Sparrow. Other “boreal specialties” included 3 Palm and 2 Wilson’s Warblers, and 2 each of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

In the heat of the afternoon, we looked at more “bugs” than birds, such as lots of Aphrodite Fritillaries…
3. Aphrodite_Frittilary,HarvesterRd,7-17-16_edited-1

…But at our last stop at a particular prime looking woodpecker spot, we did enjoy great views of a Black-backed Woodpecker – a very good sign.

A thunderstorm kindly missed our campsite…
4. approaching thunderstorm,7-17-16_edited-1

..and we stayed up way too late listening to Common Nighthawks and a lone American Woodcock give way to a chorus of 3-4 Eastern Whip-poor-wills.

Come dawn, dense fog and dueting Common Loons precluded the desire to get out of the sleeping bags. The vociferous “whip” at 4:00am didn’t help, either, as welcome as its song was. As we ate a leisurely breakfast, the fog lifted.
5. view from Campground,7-17-16_edited-1

Once again, however, we realized we were vacationing more than birding, and it was already 9:00 when we entered Baxter State Park. Making a bee-line for the Nesowadnahunk area, we took the Tote Road, and not stopping until we hit the best boreal-transition habitat in the stretch of road north of the Nesowadnahunk Field Campground.
6. ParkToteRoad,7-17-16_edited-1

A couple of Gray Jays made their presence known, we spotted a molting Bay-breasted Warbler or two, but possible woodpecker habitat was in short supply.
7. park_woodpecker_habitat,7-18-19-edited

We continued to explore, and the combination from the recommendations of a friend (thanks, Luke!) and an unrelated tip from a park ranger, led us to unmarked trail that lead us to Nesowadnahunk Lake and the adjacent campground.
8. Kahtadin_from_NesowadnehunkLake,7-17-16_edited-1

Besides the view, a few “trip birds” on the water, and a cold drink, we finally put together vague sightings reports to figure out that some of the summer’s American Three-toed Woodpecker reports were from this road to THIS campground. Of course, it was the mid-afternoon, and it was now the worst time of day at the worst time of the summer to find secretive boreal woodpeckers!

But we had a plan for the morning now, and although we hustled back to the car with an approaching thunderstorm, we had renewed optimism for our search.

We worked our way back south on the Tote Road, spending a couple of hours casually birding in the trails of the Tracey-Elbow-Grassy Pond area. A pair of Boreal Chickadees, a couple of family groups of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and plenty of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were seen and heard, while Grassy Pond hosted 16 Ring-necked Ducks and 5 Common Goldeneyes.
9. Kahtadin_from_Grassy_Pond-edited

Mostly, however, we studied plants, insects, and other general nature observation. Stunning Ebony Jewelwings were everywhere…
10. matingEbony_Jewelwings_edited-1

…and we learned what a gorgeous damselfly the Variable Dancer was.
11. Variable_Dancer_edited-1

12. Boreal_or_NorthernBluet_edited-1
Boreal or Northern Bluet

Of course we continued to look for birds, and Evan tried creatively to get a closer look at a family group of Red-breasted Nuthatches…
13. Evan_closer_look_edited-1

…photographed a confiding Red Squirrel…
13a. Red_Squirrel_edited-1

…but perhaps this is why we haven’t been seeing many woodpeckers!
14. why_we_werent_finding_woodpeckers_edited-1

15. lichen_garden_edited-1

We offered advice to a hiker who was making the rather-tame bug situation much worse for herself, changed a tire from a tourist clearly out of her element, and gave a lift to two guys who might have been off a little more than they can chew on their day hike. As we left the park, we were feeling pretty good about having built up some good karma for the next day’s dedicated (and less lazy!) effort to see a three-toed woodpecker!  When the two guys tried to give us some money for the lift, we of course refused, as I said something like “return the favor someday.”  We had no idea how soon we would need such favors.

Back at our campsite at the Abol Bridge Campground (our last-minute trip precluded any chance of getting a site in the park, plus we wanted to stay between the park and the Telos Road area), we spent some time photographing the pair of loons in the river/pond behind our tent.
16. COLO_pair_edited-117. L1050464_COLO1_edited-118. L1050458_COLO2_edited-1

And then Evan prepared dinner…local (from Lincolnville) Belted Galloway steaks and wild-foraged chanterelles (earlier, Evan yelled for me to “stop” while we were driving. I thought he just saw a woodpecker, or a ghost. Nope, he saw mushrooms).
21. dinner2_edited-1
20. dinner_served_edited-1

Although we were still sans American Three-toed Woodpecker(s), we had a great day, and the sunset was the icing on the cake!
22. sunset1,7-18-16_edited-1

On the morning of our last day, we some how struggled out of the campground before even coffee, focused on seeing the woodpecker. We decided to first try the spot along the entrance road to the Nesowadnahunk Campground (not to be confused with the Nesowadnahunk FIELD Campground in the park) via Telos Road.

Stomping around the edges of a clearcut and bog for a while, it was beginning to feel hopeless, and we decided to stop at the campground for a cup of coffee, before heading further up Telos Road to renew our search in the promising spot off Harvester Road.

However, I noticed a diffuse trail on an old skidder track; almost exactly at the posted milemarker 6 (which was the only specific location given in the handful of vague eBird reports). We walked all of about 30 yards when this happened:
23. L1050571_firstATTW_male,NesowadnahunkRd, 7-19-16_edited-1

I am fairly sure a second bird we saw briefly was a juvenile, being fed by the male. We followed the male for a while, taking hundreds of photos, while basking in the glory of our success (my 372nd bird in Maine and #1 for about the fourth year in a row on my Predictions List of my next personal State Birds) and in the glory that is the enigmatic American Three-toed Woodpecker.
24. L1050633_ATTW_male1,NesowadnahunkRd, 7-19-16_edited-125. L1050644_ATTW_male2,NesowadnahunkRd, 7-19-16_edited-126. L1050597_ATTW_male3,NesowadnahunkRd, 7-19-16_edited-127. L1050579_ATTW_male4,NesowadnahunkRd, 7-19-16_edited-128. L1050645_feedingATTW_male,NesowadnahunkRd, 7-19-16_edited-1

We then found the female, and watched and photographed her for a while.
29. L1050653_ATTW_female1,NesowadnahunkRoad,7-19-16_edited-130. L1050690_ATTW_female2,NesowadnahunkRoad,7-19-16_edited-1

One Red Crossbill – our only non-Purple finch of the trip – passed overhead, but we barely looked up.

Happy that we were successful in our search, we hatched a plan to casually bird and explore for the rest of the day, stopping to photograph bugs and abundant Snowshoe Hares.
31. L1050739_SnowshoeHare,TelosRd,7-19-16_edited-1

Then this happened:
32. tire

So….my car, like a lot of new cars, especially hybrids, comes with a pump and canister of fix-a-flat instead of a spare or a donut. Unfortunately, the canister of goo attached to the pump didn’t work.

The roads up here are notorious for shredding tires, thanks to the underlying flint bedrock that occasionally chips and breaks into upright daggers, aimed perfectly for taking on even the heaviest duty of truck tires.

A couple, heading down from the checkpoint, stopped, and offered a better plug than our impromptu creation, and a fresh can of Fix-a-Flat. The tire inflated, air was not heard, and we thought we were good to go.

We rolled about three feet, and the “giant Nelson’s Sparrow” sound returned.


Good thing we were about 15 miles from a phone (and yes, you can forget about cell service in these parts, as we knew).

Two loggers, their workday cut short by a broken part, happened by, and we hopped in. They generously took us in the opposite direction they were heading to deliver us back to the Abol Bridge Campground. A very insightful conversation about logging, the economy, and the possible National Park/Monument ensued.

“Umm, hi again. Can we use your phone?” I called Ford Roadside Assistance.

We waited for the tow truck confirmation. It didn’t come.

Not wanting to tie up the phone line incase that confirmation came through, I paid for the wifi and texted Jeannette. She called Ford. Apparently, the service was on hold.

I’ll make a long story short: Ford Roadside Assistance sucks. When we finally got a tow truck (thanks to a tip from our very helpful waitress and calls from Jeannette), it turned out that John – really the only option – told them what it would cost and they refused to pay it, even though I had already approved ANY cost overruns beyond their allocated $100 for towing. I knew $100 wasn’t going to get us very far. Of course, I would have liked to have known they refused it.

At least there was beer on tap – we needed it! – and a very good plate of poutine. More great conversation, with hikers just starting on the AT, and another just about finished, and the staff of the campground and restaurant passed the time.

Luckily, John was available, picked me up at the campground and we went up to the car (Ford told me to return to my car – in the middle of nowhere, without any kind of phone service – and wait for their tow truck which was still not arranged), loaded it up, and he entertained us with some really great stories on the long drive to Medway for the new tire.

A $110 tire, a $245 tow (yes, the complaint has already been filed with Ford), and 5 ½ hours later, we departed for the long drive home. It had just become a very expensive state bird!

To be honest, the “adventure” and the quality of the conversation (not to mention the beer and poutine), the clichéd but very real “kindness of strangers,” and the overall experience somehow turned into a highlight, rather than a lowlight.

That being said, as I mentioned to Evan as we stood there staring at the irreparable tire after the plug gave way “Good thing we actually saw the woodpecker!”

Note: All photos taken with a Leica V-Lux (typ 114)…Available at Freeport Wild Bird Supply!

The 2014 “Claybrook Mountain Lodge Birding Weekend” Trip Report

White-throated Sparrows were one of an impressive 87 species of birds recorded in just 2 days of birding on this enjoyable, “Maine Woods Immersion” tour.

The “Claybrook Mountain Lodge Birding Weekend” tour is one of my favorite outings that we offer. Its focus is not about species, but learning about habitats, and immersing ourselves in the birds, plants, and wildlife of the Maine Woods. This is a different style of tour than what usually occupies me in June. Following private tours for “target species” and three trips for Bicknell’s Thrush, this is a welcome change of pace. It’s a nice way to end my June guiding busy-season.

While the goal of the trip is to see a lot of species, and we were all excited to reach – and then eclipse – the 85 species spotted on this trip in 2012, the list is just record-keeping; it is not the primary purpose. Instead, our goal is to spend two days immersed in birds: learning songs, observing behaviors, and simply enjoying the diverse avifauna that summer in Maine has to offer.

We began on Friday afternoon, with the group assembling on the porch and lawn of the Claybrook Mountain Lodge. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest was found, a Great-crested Flycatcher sallied for bugs around the garden, and a various birds foraged in the trees, from Red-eyed Vireos to an American Redstart while Tree and Barn Swallows zoomed around.

After our first scrumptious dinner, we enjoyed some casual birding in the evening light, and then headed out at dusk for a little owling. Of course the Barred Owl – as is often the case at this season – waited for just about everyone to fall asleep before finally calling nearby.

On Saturday, a stroll before breakfast resulted in lots of “awwww’s” when a family group of recently-fledged Eastern Bluebirds were discovered.

Fueled by a hearty breakfast, we boarded the van and Greg Drummond – a master of the Maine Woods – took us around, as we worked our way up and down Long Falls Dam Road. We sampled a variety of habitats, starting in the mostly-deciduous woods around the lodge and working our way in and out of spruce-fir-tamarack dominated bogs.

Some of the bogs we visited hosted some of the species reaching the very southern limits of their breeding range, such as Palm and Wilson’s Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. Meanwhile, species such as Pine Warbler are at their northernmost reaches. Over the course of the day, other avian highlights included two well-seen American Bitterns, at least four different Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest holes, displaying Wilson’s Snipe, Common Merganser chick riding Mom’s back across Flagstaff Lake, and lots of good looks at a wide range of species.

Of course we looked for Boreal “specialties” including the likes of Black-backed Woodpeckers, Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, and “spruce” warblers such as Bay-breasted and Cape May. While it is unfortunate that the boreal forest pockets that we did hit failed to produce any of these birds today, it is the habitat that is the primary focus – I have other tours if the “Boreal Breeders” are primary targets. They would have just been another layer of icing on the cake. The dearth of finches in Maine this summer was also apparent – only Purple and goldfinches were seen this weekend.

In addition to spending time to stop and smell the Twinflower (which at one point resulted in the startling discovery of a Dark-eyed Junco nest), we spent a lot of time studying and discussing habitats. Birds are our priority, but a host of other species was enjoyed, from a variety of butterflies to a range of amphibians. In fact, after adding a Northern Leopard Frog early Sunday morning, we heard – and for the most part, saw –  all of Maine’s frogs and toad: Green, Mink, Bull, Pickerel, Leopard, Spring Peeper, Gray Tree Frog, and American Toad!

The world’s most aggressive young Garter Snake –of the checkered and non-gartered “Maritime” subspecies – put on quite show and we all enjoyed seeing so many Snowshoe Hares on our morning drive…and lots of Moose sign.

Maritime_Garter_Snake,N Maritime_Garter_Snake,K

Plants were not ignored either. In addition to looking at the trees that make up the various habitats here, we checked out a range of wildflowers, and especially marveled at the magnificent plants of the bog, such as the insectivorous Sundew…

…and the surprising flowers of the Pitcher Plant.

Butterflies included numerous Northern Crescents and Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, but also some clusters of the bog-breeding Harris’s Checkerspot.

All the while we learned about life in the Maine Woods from Greg. Whether it was explaining Moose tracks, showing bear scratches, or explaining the good, the bad, and the ugly of timber and wildlife “management,” his wealth of knowledge about so many topics is one of the best aspects of this tour – I for one learn a ton from him every time he points something out.

So this tour benefits from Greg’s knowledge and expertise…and Pat’s home cooking!  Perfectly-simple sandwiches on homemade bread are packed for lunch, and when Greg takes us to a place like this to devour them, well, it’s as good as life can get.

It was hot, and birds were quiet in the afternoon. We checked a few patches on the way back to the lodge – as much for the forest as its birds – but everyone welcomed the designated naptime.  Another delectable dinner fueled our bonus evening tour, when Greg took us out once again to hit some local hotspots, and our list grew, as did our collection of breathtaking views and lovely photos.


We were up and at it again shortly after sunrise on Sunday, but I postponed our planned walk of the Drummond’s 200-acres of carefully-managed property (we compared and contrasted these woods to those ravaged by the likes of Plum Creek). Instead, we set out in pursuit of Mourning Warblers – breaking my rule of not going after “target birds” on this trip!  But after failing to turn one up at several seemingly-promising stops on Saturday, and after hearing how many people had not seen a MOWA for their year, ABA, or even life lists, I decided to bend the rules a little. Besides, we are in one of the best areas for this charismatic species.

Besides, I think Greg likes a challenge!  A loop through some likely spots in the area failed to produce however, but as Greg passed by one last clearcut, he slammed on the breaks. And sure enough, within just a couple of minutes, we all had our binoculars on a most-cooperative Mourning Warbler! I think Greg was as happy as anyone…as usual, I was relieved as much as anything (I’m not supposed to get guide-stress on this trip!).

Returning to the lodge, we took a walk through the woods, adding a couple more species to the list, and checking out the famous “bear pole” where generations of Black Bears have come to sent mark – and take chunks out of the last bear’s efforts.
Bear pole, Me_edited-1

Following lunch on the porch, we began our journey home by caravanning down to Gilman Pond.  Osprey and Common Loon at the lake we added to our list, more Bald Eagles were spotted, and at the farm along the road, Canada Geese, Bobolinks, and Killdeer were our final “new” birds for the trip.

But I was presented with one last challenge. A persistent call from the edge of the pond in the meadow had me at a total loss.  Then, there was a second individual, confusing things further. I wracked my brain and went through every possible species I could think of – from the common to the rare. I was leaning towards Common Gallinule – a rarity in Maine, but not a stretch given the nearby habitat – when somehow I spotted a distant shorebird head poking through the grass.  As I got the scope on what was probably a Wilson’s Snipe, the bird took off, flew closer to us, and called. Then, our mystery sound burst from the grass, and fluttering towards the adult. “Baby snipe!” I exclaimed.  Mystery solved. And with that – and with rapidly rising temperatures – the trip concluded. A learning experience for all was just right to bring a successful Claybrook Mountain Lodge Birding Weekend Tour to a close.

When all was said and done, our 48-hr trip list was 87 species of birds, including 19 species of warblers. While this is not a “listing” trip with focused effort on specific species (well, mostly; see above), our objective is to see a wide range of the breeding species of the Maine woods. That, we most certainly accomplished. Here’s the complete list.

(* indicates juveniles or active nests observed; doesn’t include the array of other breeding behaviors observed, such as “carrying food” or “agitation.”)

Canada Goose*
Wood Duck
American Black Duck
Hooded Merganser*
Common Merganser*
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern (4!)
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Wilson’s Snipe*
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker*
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker*
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker*
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Alder Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe*
Great-crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven*
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee*
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson’s Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling*
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Chipping Sparrow*
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco*
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

I hope you will join us when we return in 2016! (For more information on this, and other Freeport Wild Bird Supply tours, visit the “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page of our website.