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.
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.
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…
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.
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.”)
American Black Duck
American Bittern (4!)
Great Blue Heron
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
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.