Tag Archives: food

St. Vincent and St. Lucia (with a quick stop in Barbados), Feb 2016!

St. Lucia Parrot.

Awoken by the light and warmth of the sun, I could muster little more than to roll over, push the curtains aside, and look at the tiny brown bird sitting on the fence. My lifer Barbados Bullfinch! Jeannette staggered to the window to glimpse it as well. We then went back to sleep for a couple more hours.

Those extra two hours did little to alleviate our exhaustion, but hey, at least we saw our bullfinch! The only endemic landbird on Barbados (as well as an endemic subspecies of Carib Grackle, which we also saw out the window), this was the reason for our layover here. A layover that was supposed to be 24 hours, including some time to explore and a get a full night’s rest. Instead, we had 10 hours on the island. And by the time we finally got out of bed for real, it was only about 5 hours – and that included getting to and waiting at the airport.

See, our trip from Maine was anything but smooth. During the second half of the Super Bowl, our early am flight from Portland to JFK in New York was cancelled, and everything was re-booked for two full days later. That was not going to work. So Jeannette spent the better part of the half on hold, and eventually getting us on a flight the next afternoon, and rebooking our JFK-Barbados flight.

Jet Blue ostensibly cancelled that early am flight due to weather, but that was complete B.S. There was nothing more than some wet snow at JFK that next morning, and snow didn’t reach Maine until after noon. There would not have been any interference with that 5:20am flight.

But there was a storm coming, so we were worried about our 3:10pm flight out of Portland. Instead of chancing it, we took the 6:30am Concord Trailways bus from New York City (a newer service, under better circumstances, this was actually a very pleasant experience and one we would consider again…especially at only $69 per person each way). 6 hours later, we walked a mile to a subway station for the E train, and took the E to the Airtrain. While on the Airtrain, a text message alerted us to the arrival of our original flight to Barbados. Salt in the wounds. Moments later, the Airtrain was evacuated when someone left a bag on board.

Finally arriving at the airport, we had 8 hours to explore. 8 hours is a lot in an airport terminal. Anyway, at least we were there, and our 9:30 pm flight out of JFK left with only a minor delay, and we were on our way.

We arrived on Barbados at 3:30am, cleared customs, and then got a cab to our Christ Church guesthouse where we were supposed to spend the night. We had alerted them to our delay, but when our cab dropped us off and sped away, no one was to be found. We knocked, and knocked some more, and finally got someone to pick up the phone. We crawled into our room at about 5:00am.

It was about 7:30 when I looked out the window, and by the time we made it outside (sans coffee, so it was really a struggle! And thank goodness we travel with Cliff Bars) we had just little more than an hour to wander. But Barbados Bullfinch was as common and conspicuous as promised, and so were the grackles.  And Bananaquits – one of our favorite birds in the world.

A short walk fueled by a Coca-Cola from a little shop provided just a glimpse into the island’s town avifauna, such as zippy Black-faced Grassquits, stunning Green-throated Caribs, and ubiquitous Gray Kingbirds.
1_edited-1Our Barbados guest house.

1a_edited-1With bullfinch habitat right out the door.

2a_edited-2Caribbean Elaenia


Barbados Bullfinch.

2c_edited-2Green-throated Carib.

2d_edited-2Carib Grackle

3_edited-1View of Kingstown from Grenadine Hotel.

But before we knew it, we were back at the airport. 40 minutes after departure we were back on the ground – and back on schedule – in St. Vincent, the first of our two primary destinations of our trip. We were kinda awake on the cab ride to our hotel, the Grenadine House, on the outskirts of Kingstown. An early dinner, and then early to bed. It was a much needed night of rest.

Unfortunately, we had another snafu, as our birding guide for the day had to postpone because the truck she was going to be using for the day broke down. Luckily, we had two full days on the island, so we just rescheduled for the next day.

This turned out to work to our advantage, as we awoke to pouring rain in the morning. Once again, we went back to bed.

Finally revived, we took a walk to the nearby botanical gardens. We were finally birding for real (read: awake), and enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with some of the common birds of the region, including Grenada Flycatcher, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, and Scaly-naped Pigeons. And the spiffy all-black St. Vincent race of the Bananaquit – one of our favorite birds just got even better!

The afternoon was spent wandering the markets and shops of Kingstown, adding a few species to our fledgling island list along the waterfront, such as migrant Barn Swallows and resident Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
5_edited-1Cannonball Tree flower.

6_edited-2St. Vincent Bananaquit.

6a_edited-2Gray Kingbird

7_edited-1St. Vincent Parrot captive breeding program.


Day 3, 2/11:
Lystra Culzac-Wilson (one of the island’s two birding guides) picked us up early in the morning, and by 6:00 we were already on the trail. Shortly after sunrise, from an overlook, we had spotted our quarry: St. Vincent Parrots! At least 15 in all, with pairs and family groups (pairs plus a youngster from the previous year) squawking from nearby hillsides, flying from ridge to ridge, and feeding in trees across the valley. It was cloudy, and the light was still low, and most of the birds were far, so photography was a challenge.

However, Jeannette managed a couple of shots of a close fly-over, and we did enjoy great views as the birds flew around.  Wow. What a bird!  (Yeah, I know, our pictures don’t do it justice.)

Moseying along the nearby Vermont Nature Trail, Purple-throated Caribs were our next lifer – big, gorgeous, stunning hummers.  The endemic subspecies of House Wren finally showed itself, and we saw regional endemics like Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Lesser Antillean Tanager for the first time since we visited Grenada 7 years ago.

But the endemic and Endangered Whistling Warbler eluded us, so we were off to the other side of the island to search for it. On some seemingly-random trail (accessed by crossing some farm fields and cattle pasture) in the Montreal area (yes, we traveled from Vermont to Montreal, but had to pass through Mesopotamia to do it!), we hiked up yet more stairs (there are a lot of stairs on trails in St. Vincent, we found) and after quite some effort, Lystra whistled a Whistling Warbler into our vicinity, and after a couple of glimpses, I was treated to a stunning view as this shy little bird popped out in the open for a moment just where I happened to be looking. Unfortunately, Jeannette wasn’t looking in the same exact place, so she only caught a fleeting glimpse. Lystra worked hard for us though.

Our lifer Brown Tremblers a’ trembling were anything but fleeting, as near the bottom of the trail three birds put on quite a show. The “chocolate thrasher-wren” was one of our most-wanted non-endemics (but limited to the Lesser Antilles) of the trip, so it was nice to get a good show.
9_edited-19a_edited-2St. Vincent Parrots!


Day 4, 2/12.
Since Jeannette wasn’t completely satisfied with her Whistling Warbler, we decided to try again at the Vermont Nature Trail. We glimpsed a few more parrots, had some better looks at Purple-throated Carib, but unfortunately only heard a single Whistling Warbler. We knew it was time to give up when several busloads of cruise ship passengers arrived on the trail, quite a few clearly out of their element and voicing their displeasure about things like steps, mud, and the pleasantly few mosquitoes.

Back in Kingstown, we finally twitched some delectable curried goat at Stoplight 2 restaurant, on Lystra’s recommendation. As you know, food is second only to birds when we travel, and it’s a local place off the tourist route (well, what there was for a tourist route here) that we love to find.

Also, unlike most tourists, we prefer mass transit, and although we did need a cab to get to the Vermont Trail in the morning, the afternoon was spent traveling strictly by mini-bus. Cheap, easy, a great way to see the towns, meet the people, and especially here (as in Grenada), listen to some local beats.

A short trip to Villa Beach was a change of scenery from the rainforest, and added several birds to our paltry island list, including Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, Osprey, and Belted Kingfisher. A walk into the village of Villa Flat added Tropical Mockingbird, and since we were on the island’s dry side, most of the Bananaquits had yellow-bellies. Undoubtedly, the extra melanin was a benefit in the wet environs, where it likely helps protect the feathers from mold or lice or something.

The Friday afternoon-evening streets of Kingstown were hopping, so after a couple more Harouns (the local endemic lager), we foraged for dinner, finding a great little barbeque stand near the harbor, where we enjoyed a little local flavor – both food wise and conversation. Actually, talking with the grillmaster was a lot of fun and provided that view into local life that you don’t get at a sterilized resort. I do think we were officially “liming,” which is an art form of relaxation and conversation that is practiced like a religion in the Caribbean. Oh yeah, and the BBQ pork was outstanding – perfectly succulent, tender, and the sauce hit every note.
12_edited-112a_edited-214_edited-1Curried Goat at Stoplight2 Restaurant.

15_edited-1 Villa Beach

16_edited-117_edited-1Kingstown BBQ

Day 5, 2/13.
We felt our return to the Vermont Nature Trail the prior day in the hopes of improving Jeannette’s view of the Whistling Warbler precluded exploration of more of the island and its habitats. However, despite the temptation to go further afield, we decided to take it easy (despite having also missed the endemic subspecies of Brown-throated Solitaire which apparently had not yet begun to sing; we never heard a peep from a single one while in the forest), and just return to the Botanical Gardens, a short walk away, for some relaxed birding and photography.

A single Little Blue Heron was the only “new” bird for us (our 38th species on the island), but we had great looks at all of the local flycatchers, including Yellow-bellied Eleanias and Grenada Flycatcher. We were also very surprised to spot a Lesser Antillean Tanager so low, and at the back of the gardens, we flushed a hunting Common Black-hawk, which also came as a surprise to us at the outskirts of the city.

We then went into town for lunch once again (the food at the Grenadine House was quite good, but as usual, we prefer to be even more local in our dining). Our disappointment that our new BBQ friend wasn’t open yet was alleviated when I turned on my “food-dar” and found a fried chicken stand down a waterfront alley, which turned out to be the best piece of fried chicken we have ever had. It was thoroughly coated with what tasted like more spices than flour, and each bite was packed with flavor.

We really could have used another day on the island, but once again, we were back at an airport, and this time, we were heading to St. Lucia. Rich (for its size) in endemics, and with an impressive conservation ethic (compared to most of the region), this island has always been very high on my list.  And it did not disappoint.

Our hour-long taxi ride crossed through the middle of the island, and deposited us at our quaint and quiet little guesthouse, Peace of Paradise (aka “Lorraine’s’). Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, and Bananaquits (100% yellow-bellied on this island) greeted us, which were more welcome than whom we shared our bedroom with(The next day we learned that Sun Spiders were completely harmless. Nonetheless, we were thankful for the bug netting over the bed at night…even if I may have become a bit ensnared in it as I stumbled to the restroom in the middle of the night).

19_edited-219a_edited-2Black-faced Grassquit

19b_edited-2Grenada Flycatcher.

20_edited-1Best fried chicken ever!

21_edited-122_edited-1“Lorraine’s” Peace of Paradise, St. Lucia.

23_edited-1Our bedroom Sun Spider.

Day 6, 2/14:
With a larger roster of endemics, and with two sides of the island to seek them on, we hired local birding guides for two days to hedge the bet. While we can’t really afford to hire a guide for every day of a trip, we also wouldn’t really want to as we like to also learn and explore on our own. However, we ALWAYS hire local guides for a day or two, for several reasons.

Obviously, they are LOCAL and therefore know the spots better than reading someone’s trip report <ahem>. We certainly could have gotten to the Vermont Nature Trail on St. Vincent without Lystra, but we could never have known the best places to stop and the prime patches to search. We also never would have found that back-up trail near Montreal (nor did I have any interest in renting a car and taking on those roads!). We want to see these endemics, and we never want to leave feeling we “need” to come back (wanting to come back is another story) because we missed something. We also want to learn more about the birds, the habitat, the plants and animals, the places to eat lunch, and what life is really like in the places we visit. Some of our best experiences with guides haven’t even been about the birds, such as eating street food in Port of Spain, Trinidad or getting a tour of our guide’s mother’s garden in Grenada.

Most importantly, however, after we leave, these guides are the ones who will make sure these birds exist for the next visitor. Protecting the birds and places they love, and that provide the income for them and their families, are how these special places and special species will have a chance to survive. Without supporting the local economy, too many of the remaining natural areas we want to protect will fall to development, agriculture, and other ways for an economy to be developed or sustained.

St. Lucia has a great infrastructure (much wider and safer-seeming roads than we saw on St. Vincent, for example) to get around, and it wasn’t hard to discover online that the Des Cartier Rainforest Trail was the place to go. Nonetheless, we looked forward to our time there with our local guide and dark and early (checking clothes and footwear for snoozing Sun Spiders), we met our guide, Vision, who, along with Adams (who we would spend time with the next day), make up Wildlife Ambassadors, the upstart nature tour company of the island.

Our first stop was in fact the Des Cartier trail, and it wasn’t long before Vision pointed out our first St. Lucian endemic (and one of the more challenging and endangered ones), the St. Lucia Black Finch.

And that’s when our life list really began to blossom (at least from an island), as in rapid succession, we added St. Lucia Oriole, Antillean Euphonia, St. Lucia Parrot, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, and St. Lucia Pewee (split by most everyone except the AOU). And unlike on St. Vincent, we lucked into some great views and photo opportunities of the local parrot.

Our luck continued with great views of two more lifers, Rufous-throated Solitaire and St. Lucia Warbler. The song of the solitaire was other-worldly, and the charismatic (and common) little warbler would become one of our favorite birds of the trip.

Earlier, I mentioned how local guides are so important for conservation, and after we exited the forest, our next stop was a perfect example of this. The Aupicot Wetlands was an old coconut estate that the local guides have gained access to and are working to protect. With future plans for an ecotourism destination of some sort, for now, they have got the local landowners to reduce the impact of local fisherman and protect the habitat. And because of this effort, it was teeming with birdlife, even though a very dry season was quickly drying out the shallow pond. Migrant Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plovers were joined by migrant Blue-winged Teal and American Wigeons. Great and Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons were joined by single Green and Great Blue Herons, and we identified a spiffy Little Egret among the flock. A couple of Common Gallinules joined a little “cover” of coots – both resident the-species-formerly-known-until-very-recently-as-Carribean-Coots and presumed migrant, small-shielded “American” American Coots.

After a check of some of the environs around the Hewanorra International Airport (migrant Solitary Sandpipers and some of the only Eared Doves on the island), we dined on chicken curry and chicken pelau among Carib Grackles on the beach at The Reef Beach Café.

Next up was the southern tip of the island, with the second highest lighthouse in the world. More importantly, however, there were Red-billed Tropicbirds below.

Back in Prasline, Vision had one more trick up his sleeve, eventually pulling out our lifer Endangered White-breasted Thrasher from some roadside scrub, along with a couple of Lesser Antillean Saltators – our 12th lifer of the day!

23b_edited-2St. Lucia Parrot pair.

24_edited-124a_edited-2Little Egret, Aupicot Wetlands.



Day 7, 2/15:
We really cleaned up the day before, but we had a few more birds to search for – and more of “someone else doing the work” – as Vision picked us up dark and early for a drive to the island’s northeastern side. There, we met up with his colleague, Adams, and three other visiting birders from the States to pile into one high-clearance, 4WD vehicle for the rough and treacherous road to dry native forest in Grand Anse.

A most fruitful Mango tree (pun intended!) yielded our next lifer, the Gray Trembler, plus better looks at St. Lucia Oriole and several Lesser Antillean Saltators. The forest yielded oodles of St. Lucia Warblers, at least two pairs of St. Lucia Black Finches, a whopping 7+ White-breasted Thrashers, and a pair of ultra-cooperative Lesser Antillean Flycatchers.

Bridled Quail-Doves were giving us fits though, as this shy and reclusive bird was not making it easy for us. Adams worked hard, and we stalked at least 5 different birds. Mostly, they were glimpsed by one or two people as they flew across a gully or flushed straight away. Eventually, I saw one (in flight) well enough to count, but Jeannette was still looking for more than a shadow. I had a decent look at one on the ground as we returned to the vehicle and Vision (rejoining us after a quick vehicle repair) spotted one, but Jeannette is still waiting for her satisfactory view.

Back up the hill and in Vision’s roomy van, the group headed towards the water, arriving at Pigeon Island National Landmark. We ate chicken rotis as we watched Royal Terns and Brown Boobies.

At Gros Islet Bay, Vision was excited to point out the first island record of Great Black-backed Gull, a 1st winter bird that he found here in December. While there was some disagreement over its identification, he and Adams had become convinced by a visiting birder that it was in fact a Great Black-backed Gull. Just on a quick impression of overall shape and size, I thought otherwise, so we pulled around for a closer view.

And as I suspected, it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and an impromptu gull workshop explained why. I felt bad, however, as I was afraid I had burst the bubble of a rarity, and I took a lifer off my guide’s list. But then Vision assured me it was quite alright – Lesser Black-backed Gull was also a first record for the island and a life bird for himself!  (I’ll be submitting a write-up to Vision, Adams, and the regional editor for North American Birds, so feel free to shoot me an email if you too would like a copy of the report)

Sandwich Terns and a handful of Ruddy Turnstones were new for our triplist, and we finished up with yet another high-note: an urban Cattle Egret rookery teaming with adults, juveniles, and sprinkled with Snowy Egrets, a family of Common Gallinules, and a confiding Green Heron (hmm… I think I know which hotel, and which rooms, we want to stay at next time!).

Vision dropped us off at our final lodging of the trip (speaking of ending on a high note), Fond Doux Plantation and Resort. A heavily-vegetated eco-lodge with its own cocoa plantation (and fruit trees, and garden that provided much of the food for the restaurant), we were surrounded by Scaly-breasted Thrashers and hummingbirds in our little cottage. Yup, we were definitely on vacation now!
27_edited-127a_edited-2St. Lucia Oriole

27b_edited-2St. Lucia Warbler.

27c_edited-2White-breasted Thrasher

27d_edited-2Lesser Antillean Flycatcher

28_edited-2Adams and Vision.


Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1st St. Lucia Record!

29b_edited-230_edited-130a_edited-2Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron.

30b_edited-2Green Heron.

30c_edited-2Cattle Egrets.

Day 8, 2/16.
Jeannette out did herself finding this place, as it was a real birder’s paradise (without trying). A St. Lucia Oriole surprised us on a pre-breakfast walk, and at breakfast, we were joined by dining Lesser Antillean Bullfinches. Two bold pairs not only picked up scraps, but they also foraged on the table while we were eating. One even landed on Jeannette’s water glass and took a sip!

This was pretty awesome, and the biologists in us had to have some fun, too, so we conducted a little “food preference study,” a video of which we posted to our store’s Facebook page.

After a long and educational breakfast full of lots of fresh fruit and good coffee (finally!), we decided to explore the island by mini-bus. We took the bus from Fond Doux into the town of Soufriere, then got a connection to the big city of Castries.

Small city parks hosted Zenaida Doves, Carib Grackles, Rock Pigeons, Gray Kingbirds, Shiny Cowbirds, Black-faced Grassquits, Bananaquits, and American Kestrels, while walking the path along the harbor yielded Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and a couple more Green-throated Caribs. But after lunch, some shopping for spices, hot sauce, and a couple of souvenirs, we had enough of city life (and crowds of cruise ship passengers) and took the bus back to the quieter town of Soufriere.

Laughing Gulls (our first of the trip) were right where Vision told us they would be, and bacon-wrapped fried plantains at Petit Peak restaurant which we enjoyed with a couple of afternoon Pitons (the endemic beer) need to become “a thing.”  Also, you couldn’t beat the view of Petit Piton for the enjoyment of your Piton beer.

After a little walk, we decided to have dinner at Water Front De Belle View because I wanted some more curried goat and I was desperate for a good callaloo soup (the one at Fond Doux was just too salty). I wholeheartedly recommend both here.

We grabbed one of the last mini-buses back to Fond Doux, and called it a night.
31a.31b. Bullfinch maleFemale (top) and Male (bottom) Lesser Antillean Bullfinches joining us for breakfast.

30e_edited-2Scaly-breasted Pigeon.


Day 9, 2/17.
We squeezed in a little more birding by hopping on the bus and taking it uphill from Soufriere to the Bouton Gap. A short, but steep and muddy hike brought us to a series of small overlooks and passed through some productive edge habitat.

We were out in search of our last likely lifer of the trip, Lesser Antillean Swift, but with frequent downpours and low clouds, we were not holding out much hope for high-flying aerial insectivores. So we were forced to content ourselves with a couple of looks at fly-by St. Lucia Parrots, lots of St. Lucia Warblers, cooperative St. Lucia Pewees, and our best view yet of a Pearly-eyed Thrasher.  And then, between a break in the rain, several dozen swifts were on the move, heading into the valley below, affording us very good views from above and below. It was my 20th lifer of the trip (19 for Jeannette and she remained unsatisfied with her quail-dove shadows).

We found some great vegetarian Jamaican-style patties from a food truck on the streets of Soufriere, before we hopped on a bus once again for the short ride back to Fond Doux. There, we finally took the plantation tour that we have been trying to find time (or lack of heavy rain) for, enjoyed some good views and nice looks at Purple-throated Caribs, St. Lucia Warblers, and another Pearly-eyed Thrasher. The grounds turned out to be more extensive, and with more less-disturbed forest than we thought, so had we a little more time, no doubt we could have picked up a few more “yard birds” of note.

Our last night of vacation, it was time for our splurge dinner, and so we headed over to Boucan Resort – “the chocolate hotel” – where everything on the menu of their fine restaurant had cacao incorporated in it some way. Sometimes themes like this come across as gimmicky and forced, but that was most definitely not the case here. From the cocktails to the amuse bouche to each entrée – and of course, dessert! – were incredibly well-conceived and perfectly executed. In fact, when all was said and done, Jeannette and I both agreed it was one of the top 3 or 5 meals we have ever had. Anywhere.  So yeah, good way to finish a trip!

39_edited-139a_edited-2Antillean Crested Hummingbird

39b_edited-2St. Lucia Pewee.

39c_edited-2Antillean Crested Hummingbird

40_edited-141_edited-1.1Our cottage at Fond Doux.

41a_edited-2Purple-throated Carib

42_edited-1.2Dinner at Boucan.44_edited-2

Day 10, 2/18.
We awoke to heavy rain, and rain that didn’t quite let up as quickly as we would have liked. Therefore, we dallied a bit, fed more bullfinches at breakfast, and eventually had a break in the rain to walk up a nearby side road towards a Nature Trail that was recommended for its birding, and especially its views of the two Pitons.  A Gray Trembler, lots of St. Lucia Warblers, and a couple of good looks at Mangrove Cuckoos suggested we probably should have done this sooner as well. In fact, the birding was good enough, and combined with waiting out a few downpours under trees, we made it to the entrance of the trail just as we had to turn around.

Jeannette worked on photographing Antillean Crested Hummingbirds and both Green-throated and Purple-throated Caribs from the porch of the office at Fond Doux as we waited for Adams, who surprised us with an offer of a ride to the airport in exchange for a discussion about developing their ecotourism business. With the third employee now on board, Wildlife Ambassadors has the potential to become a force in birding and nature tourism on the island, and this could be a very good thing for birds and bird conservation here. The Aupicot Wetlands and their protection is a perfect example, as both resident and migratory birds (including some of “our” birds from North America) are rapidly losing safe refugia in the Lesser Antilles. Even better, unlike some islands, they don’t shoot everything that lands here.

We were happy to add our limited travel dollars to the cause – money will talk; when these places are financially worth protecting, they are much, much easier to protect – but also happy to offer some advice and suggestions on everything from websites and Facebook, to tour amenities. We certainly wish Adams and Vision well, and look forward to keeping in touch and seeing what they accomplish in the future.

We also made a quick stop to see if any Grassland Yellow-finches were present near the airport, squeezing in a few more minutes of birding before we began the long trip home.  But alas, it was smooth and easy, and nothing like our trip south!
44a_edited-2Scaly-breasted Thrasher.

45_edited-1Fond Doux. At least I finally looked at the pool!

45a_edited-2Green-throated Carib

45b_edited-2Purple-throated Carib.

Trip/Island List (* life bird).


  1. Barbados Bullfinch*
  2. Zenaida Dove
  3. Carib Grackle
  4. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  5. Black-faced Grassquit
  6. Cattle Egret
  7. Caribbean Elaenia
  8. Bananaquit
  9. Shiny Cowbird
  10. Gray Kingbird
  11. Green-throated Carib
  12. Common Ground-Dove
  13. Rock Pigeon
  14. Scaly-naped Pigeon
  15. Antillean Crested Hummingbird

St. Vincent:

  1. Cattle Egret
  2. Magnificent Frigatebird
  3. Bananaquit
  4. Black-faced Grassquit
  5. Rock Pigeon
  6. House Sparrow
  7. Shiny Cowbird
  8. Gray Kingbird
  9. Common Ground-Dove
  10. Antillean Crested Hummingbird
  11. Broad-winged Hawk
  12. Yellow-bellied Elaenia
  13. Grenada Flycatcher
  14. Scaly-naped Pigeon
  15. Green-throated Carib
  16. Eared Dove
  17. Great Egret
  18. Barn Swallow
  19. Carib Grackle
  20. Brown Booby
  21. Spotted Sandpiper
  22. Common Black-Hawk
  23. St. Vincent Parrot*
  24. House Wren
  25. Black-whiskered Vireo
  26. Lesser Antillean Bullfinch
  27. Lesser Antillean Tanager
  28. Purple-throated Carib*
  29. Smooth-billed Ani
  30. Whistling Warbler*
  31. Brown Trembler*
  32. Green Heron
  33. Royal Tern
  34. Brown Pelican
  35. Osprey
  36. Belted Kingfisher
  37. Tropical Mockingbird
  38. Little Blue Heron

St. Lucia:

  1. Royal Tern
  2. Cattle Egret
  3. Zenaida Dove
  4. Rock Pigeon
  5. Carib Grackle
  6. Gray Kingbird
  7. Common Ground-Dove
  8. Lesser Antillean Bullfinch
  9. Bananaquit
  10. Antillean Crested Hummingbird
  11. Green-throated Carib
  12. Spectacled Thrush
  13. Scaly-naped Pigeon
  14. Mangrove Cuckoo
  15. St. Lucia Black Finch*
  16. St. Lucia Oriole*
  17. Purple-throated Carib
  18. Antillean Euphonia*
  19. Pearly-eyed Thrasher*
  20. St. Lucia Parrot*
  21. Broad-winged Hawk
  22. Scaly-breasted Thrasher*
  23. Lesser Antillean Flycatcher*
  24. St. Lucia Pewee*
  25. Rufous-throated Solitaire*
  26. St. Lucia Warbler*
  27. American Kestrel
  28. Greater Yellowlegs
  29. Great Blue Heron
  30. Little Blue Heron
  31. Snowy Egret
  32. Great Egret
  33. Green Heron
  34. American + Caribbean Coots
  35. Little Egret
  36. American Wigeon
  37. Blue-winged Teal
  38. Common Gallinule
  39. Yellow Warbler
  40. Lesser Yellowlegs
  41. Semipalmated Plover
  42. Osprey
  43. Eared Dove
  44. Solitary Sandpiper
  45. Shiny Cowbird
  46. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  47. Red-billed Tropicbird
  48. Caribbean Eleania
  49. Lesser Antillean Saltator*
  50. White-breasted Thrasher*
  51. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  52. Spotted Sandpiper
  53. Tropical Mockingbird
  54. House Wren
  55. Gray Trembler*
  56. Black-whiskered Vireo
  57. Bridled Quail-Dove*
  58. Brown Booby
  59. Magnificent Frigatebird
  60. Barn Swallow
  61. Sandwich Tern
  62. Ruddy Turnstone
  63. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  64. Laughing Gull
  65. Lesser Antillean Swift*

36_edited-1Enjoying a Piton in Soufriere, overlooking Petit Piton.

Where to Eat Lunch when Birding York County


Whether it’s here on this blog (especially in trip reports), on our store’s Facebook page in posts recounting a birding outing, or elsewhere, people seem to enjoy hearing about where Jeannette and I eat lunch while out birding. In addition to finding “good birds,” we do enjoying finding new places to eat. It’s part of the adventure, and especially when we are out of town, it helps us to explore and appreciate a place for more than just the birding. And apparently, feedback suggests that you have an interest in hearing about these places. Or does it just say something about what you think of my writing about birds!?

In fact, I have often been asked to write some sort of “eating while birding” book, website, or article. Maybe someday the idea will develop, but for now, I thought I would hash out a little list of my favorite places to eat while birding in Maine. And I thought I would start with York County.

Perhaps if you find this of interest, other counties will follow. If not, well, then I know what my next project won’t be!

Let’s start with a little background about the food choices we make. We don’t eat fast food unless we’re desperate, and we avoid chains as much as possible. We’d rather eat at a local establishment – for all of the reasons from economic impact to healthier food (sometimes) to the simple idea that food should not be the exact same thing anywhere you go. We love “fine dining,” but for lunch, we’d rather have a good meal, have it reasonably quickly, and get back to birding. We’ll relax at dinnertime. We also very much believe that “great food” and “inexpensive” do not have to be mutually exclusive!

We bird York County regularly, and we often spend at least half the day doing it. Therefore, we tend to find lots of places to enjoy lunch. They tend to be clustered, however, around where we go birding, and where we end up around lunchtime during our birding routes. There are lots of places we haven’t tried, such as in Kennebunkport, that we just don’t tend to bird near. In other words, this list is by no means a comprehensive review of the “best” places to eat lunch in the county – it’s just our favorite places to have lunch when we are birding our favorite spots to bird.

With that in mind, I present to you, for your reading pleasure and/or future reference, our favorite places to eat lunch when birding in York County, Maine (listed roughly from south to north, no other particular order).

1) Loco Coco’s Taco, Kittery
36 Walker St
Sun-Tues: 11am to 8am
Wed-Sat: 11am to 9am

If Kittery is our only birding destination of the morning, then there’s no question where we go for lunch. We’ve hit fallouts at Fort Foster so amazing that we spend all morning there alone. Or perhaps we end up studying or photographing shorebirds at nearby Seapoint Beach. It’s also a tradition for dinner as we head back from a whale watch out of Rye, NH or a NH Audubon pelagic.

While the carne asada tacos are the best around, neither of us can resist the chili rellenos burrito. Also, a tamale or two to go is the perfect mid-afternoon snack to fuel the rest of your birding day. And we always get a piece of Tres Leches cake for when we get home!

2) Flo’s Steamed Hot Dogs, Cape Neddick
1359 US Route One
Thurs-Tues: 11am-3pm
Closed Wed.

For people who eat so little processed food, it might come as a surprise to those who know us well to find out that this is our most-frequent lunch destination in York County! In fact, we’re here often enough that Kimmie somehow remembers exactly what we order. Once a month, we spend a day birding from Kittery through Wells, and this is our lunch destination most of the time. It didn’t hurt that on our first visit when we first moved to the state and we were birding the area, we popped into the unassuming, but so-crowded-you-know-it-has-to-be-great little building and found the Travel Channel filming!

There isn’t much on the menu. In fact, it’s just one item: steamed hot dogs. While the House Special and the Loaded are popular, for Jeannette and I, we stay simple: just Flo’s famous relish, nothing else. It just works. And if we’re going to eat hot dogs, it’s once a month, and it’s here! (Note: no bathrooms!)

3) Jamaican Jerk Center, Cape Neddick
1400 US Route One

Once or twice each summer, we skip out on Flo’s and head here for a little Caribbean fix. While we have yet to visit Jamaica, we do love the food and flavors of the region, and this little roadside shack serves it up well. The jerk chicken is great, and we always get a couple of patties for lunch the next day. The place doesn’t look like much, but the food is fantastic!

4) Village Food Market, Ogunquit
230 Main Street
Sun-Thurs: 6:30am to 8pm
Fri-Sat: 6:30 am to 9pm

When we don’t make it as far south as Flo’s while birding the Ogunquit shoreline and productive neighborhoods and thickets, then we head here. It’s also the traditional stop for us during the Southern Maine Christmas Bird Count, our territory of which includes the center of town.

I’m sure there are plenty of good things on the menu, but I never order anything other than the grilled veggie Panini. Lots of veggies, lots of cheese, and just enough grease to make this one of the more gut-busting (in all the good ways!) vegetarian sandwiches around.

5) Congdon’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, Wells
1090 Post Road (US Route One)
Winter – Thurs-Sun: 6am to 3pm.
Summer – Open 7 days.

Most of our birding in the Wells area is done in the winter, and on days that this local institution is closed. But if we’re looking for shorebirds in Webhannet Marsh in the summer, or looking at Least Terns and Piping Plovers at Laudholm Farms in the midst of the breeding season, then Congdon’s for “second breakfast” it is. And donuts to go…which, come to think of it, it’s probably best for our health that it’s not always open. Also, during the warmer months, we often follow up a lunch at Flo’s or the JJC with a little mid-afternoon snack here, just because, well, donuts! And forget the cool, trendy places in Portland, these are the real deal – nothing too fancy, just sweet, tasty, and wicked good!

6) Custom Deluxe, Biddeford
1040 Main St.
Tues-Fri, 11am to 2pm.

This is the newest addition to the list, having opened just last fall. Most of our birding lunch stops are quick and cheap, but when we want something just a little “finer,” then this is where we now go. Don’t be surprised to see me here with a tour group or private guiding client sometime this summer. I’m still desperate for another option for a Sunday lunch in the area, unfortunately!

The first visit a couple of weeks ago culminated in the yeast donut with frozen maple mousse, applesauce, and smoked cheddar that a friend and I split for desert (see photo above). Thank goodness we split it, or we would still be in a food coma. It was fantastic, but I was already sold on the place after devouring the house-made noodles.

7) Saco Island Deli, Saco
110 Main St
Mon-Fri, 8am to 4pm.

There are now so many options in the Saco-Biddeford area, that I don’t get here – my favorite sandwich shop in Maine – nearly as often as I used to. Unfortunately, they are closed on weekends, including Sunday, which for whatever reason, I usually when I find myself birding Biddeford Pool or the Saco Riverwalk (in the fall).

However, during the week, and especially when out with clients, there are few better sandwiches anywhere in Maine. You see, the owner, Mark is from New Jersey. That’s what makes the sandwiches so good. Say what you want about my home state, but we know sandwiches. I have not yet had a sandwich here I didn’t like, but in the summer, I always go Primo Veggie – a massive sandwich layered with razor-thin sliced veggies, piled high – nearly too big to get your mouth around: “Double portion of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and fresh basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette on a rustic roll.” This is no lame, afterthought vegetarian option, this is a beastly vegetable meal. But if you want to be really cool, ask for the off-menu Jersey Joe (and expect to have lunch for the next day) to fully understand just how seriously New Jersey takes its sandwiches.

7a) The Run of the Mill, Saco
100 Main St
Sun-Thurs: 11:30am to 9pm.
Fri-Sat: 11:30am to 10pm.

If I am in the Biddeford area on a weekend (when the Saco Island Deli and Luis’s Arepera is closed), especially when it’s cold, I head over to Run of the Mill. After a frigid bout of seawatching at East Point, nothing is better than a piping hot bowl of their Mac & Cheese. The beer cheese soup is another good option, although for me it depends on which cheeses are used.

8) Luis’s Arepera and Grill, Saco
213 North St.
Mon-Thurs: 11am to 8pm.
Fri: 11am to 9pm.

Like the Saco Island Deli, I long for this place to be open on weekends. However, it’s a short enough run south from Scarborough Marsh, or close enough off of the highway (via I-195 to Industrial Way) that I can swing in while heading north from a hotspot like the Kennebunk Plains. And since Jeannette and I discovered their authentic Venezualean cuisine only this summer, it is now a regular stop on our birding agenda, and is definitely deserved as a destination on its own.

An “arepera” is a place that makes the quintessential Venezualean dish, the “arepa.” Luis’s website describes it as “Similar to both a traditional Gordita and Pupusa, it consists of a thick corn tortilla that is fried until golden brown before being filled with a variety of different ingredients, ranging from tangy shredded chicken to meltingly tender braised beef. “ We usually get the “Pabellon Criollo” (traditional with shredded beef and plantains) or one of the veggie options. But no matter what, we simply have to split a side of fried yucca.

Honorable Mention:
(Dinner) Funky Bow Brewery’s “Growler Night” (Lyman)

It’s funny, there seems to be a pattern developing of heading to the Kennebunk Plains at dusk for Whip-poor-wills on a Friday or Saturday night…which just so happens to be when this off-the-beaten path brewery opens up, fires up the brick oven, and serves pizza to go with their hop-a-licious brews.

So let me know what you think, and definitely let me know if there are places I need to try!

A Vermont and Montreal Roadtrip In Photos

Jeannette and I made a run for the border in our annual pre-hawkwatch roadtrip getaway.  We’ll be covering Katrina’s days off at the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch through the end of the season.  Then, my guiding season kicks off in full force through early July.  In other words, it’s a good time for us to get a little break.

This year’s destination was a visit with family in Vermont, followed by a few days in Montreal.  I had not been to Montreal before – no excuse for that, really – so this was a good incentive to head (mostly) west.  Sure, the weather could have been a little more seasonable, but we enjoyed a really great trip nonetheless.

While this trip wasn’t necessarily a “birding trip,” we obviously were going to do some birding.  And there were a few “goodies” around that, if nothing else helped guide us in fruitful directions.  First up was the Northern Hawk Owl that has been spending the winter in Waterbury, Vermont.  Since we had to pass through the intersection that the bird has been frequenting on the way to see the fam, I don’t think this counts as a chase, does it?

Although most hawk owls are notoriously tolerant of people, this bird was ridiculous!   People were walking back and forth on a trail right below it, and it didn’t care.
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Then, spotting something of interest, it dove through the line of admirers, and landed in the snow.  It scuffled around for a bit, and then came up with a White-footed/Deer Mouse, which is proceeded to devour on a nearby snag…in clear view of everyone.  Returning to its original perch, it flew between two photographers, right at head-level!
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The lighting and the proximity were so good that I believe these are the best phone-scoped photos that I have ever taken!

After visiting friends and family, we departed the next day.  Of course, we couldn’t help but stop at the hawk-owl once again.  “Let’s just drive past this Northern Hawk Owl,” said no one, ever.
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After lunch in Burlington…
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…we dipped down to Charlotte to board the ferry over to Essex, NY.  With such extensive ice on the lake, the only open water is limited to the ferry channels.  Ducks have concentrated in this narrow band of open water, including some very good birds.  The Tufted Duck being seen here was nothing more than an excuse to take the ferry, and we are very glad we did.
5. NHOW-phonescoped1a,3-9-14 (24)This was a great little “mini-pelagic!”  In fact, after we took the car across to NY, we hopped back on as round-trip passengers to have another look.  Good thing we did, because as we began the half-hour journey back to Vermont, the Tufted Duck was right in front of the bow!  And Jeannette “nailed” it, I think it’s safe to say.
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In addition to the Tufted, impressive numbers of Common Goldeneyes and both Greater and Lesser scaup were enjoyed and extensively photographed.  Mallards, American Black Ducks, a small number of Common Mergansers and Buffleheads, 3 Ring-necked Ducks, 2 female Long-tailed Ducks, and 1 White-winged Scoter (the latter three only in New York, and the final two being good birds for the season here) were also present, and early in the third leg, we spotted a female Barrow’s Goldeneye among the masses for a nice addition to my paltry Vermont state list. Jeannette very nicely augmented here library of waterfowl –especially flight – photos, and this fun little ride turned out to be a real highlight of the entire trip.
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How many species can you identify in this photo?

A quick stop to look for coffee in Plattsburgh, NY resulted in what was perhaps the best cupcake we have ever had (a butter cream-iced tres leches cupcake at Delish), and eventually we made our way across the border and arrived in Montreal in the evening.

The next morning, we walked from our downtown hotel to Parc du Mont Royal, the expansive park in the heart of the city.  There’s been a Black-backed Woodpecker here all winter, but we did not know exactly where.  We did find a grove of Scotch Pine that had the classic sign of foraging Black-backs, but we didn’t see it…or much else, really.  Just like at home, deciduous-dominated forests are awfully quiet right now.
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After lunch, we visited the Botanical Gardens, including their impressive Insectarium and extensive greenhouse biomes.  Stealing the show, however, was the free-flying butterfly (and some moths) exhibit.
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A stroll around Olympic Park…
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…Was followed by dinner, at a place with 30 kinds of poutine on the menu: Poutine la Banquisse!
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The next day, another walk at Parc du Mont Royal (which was actually less birdy than our first visit) …
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…was followed by exploration of Old Montreal and the OldPort.  Unfortunately, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.
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The storm was fully upon us…
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…as we ventured out for our “splurge” dinner of the trip at the famous Au Pied de Cochon.  Because we didn’t have enough poutine the night before, we shared the intriguing and tasty fusion of a poutine temaki, and the duck carpaccio.  Entrees were outstanding as well, with Jeannette getting primal with a Bison rib as I went all in with what may have been the best sandwich I have ever eaten – and by far the most expensive!  With 10 grams of truffles and an apparent three pounds of butter, this was not your everyday grilled cheese!
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The snow was piling up as we departed the restaurant…
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…and about 8 inches had accumulated by morning.  Now that we actually knew where to look for the Black-backed Woodpecker at Mont Royal, it turned out it was rather east to find after all!

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Before hitting the road, we took a walk around Ile Sainte-Helene, which was actually quite birdy; the birdiest place in the city during this short visit.  In addition to the usual woodland residents, goodly numbers of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins were present.  Waterbirds in the fast-moving river were limited to four Common Mergansers and a single Common Loon, however.
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It was a long and slow drive home, in large part due to the heavy snow in the mountains.  With about two feet in some places, a few of the passes in northern New Hampshire and Maine were a little interesting.  I think it’s safe to say it was a good idea to have taken our Subaru on this road trip!
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Back to work early in the morning on Friday, we were very pleased to be greeted at the store by some Red-winged Blackbirds.  The hawkwatch is underway, with a goodly 38 birds on the first day (6 Red-shouldered Hawk!), spring is definitely here…even if, once again, it doesn’t feel like it!

A Very Jersey Christmas

A whirlwind Christmas trip to my homeland of New Jersey was filled with fun and festivities with friends and family.  Birding time was limited in this visit, but Jeannette and I simply had to spend at least one day birding in the “deep south.”

Arriving on Christmas morning, we took Sasha for a stroll around my Mom’s neighborhood, enjoying Carolina Chickadees and goodly numbers of things like Carolina Wrens and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  A similar suite of species greeted us the next morning at nearby Turkey Swamp Park.  In the afternoon, a big vulture roost a couple of blocks away from a friend’s house gave us the chance to enjoy Black Vultures, along with bunches of Turkey Vultures.

Friday the 27th was our big birding day however, and we elected for the “North Shore Tour,” one of my favorite NJ winter birding tours.  Covering ponds, inlets, and ocean from Point Pleasant Beach north through Monmouth Beach, we tallied a respectable 22 species of waterfowl, and found a few goodies.

LittleSilverMany of the ponds remain open in the winter nowadays, and concentrate nice numbers of waterfowl.  Since they are surrounded by development and activity, the birds are often fairly confiding and approachable, affording great opportunities for photographs, such as this shoveling Northern Shoveler…

NSHO1…and these Ruddy Ducks…

RUDU…and other waterbirds such as this Great Blue Heron.


The goal of this tour is for 25 species of waterfowl.  (A very long day that begins at Barnegat Lighthouse and ends at Sandy Hook has the potential for 30 species of waterfowl).  I later learned that siltation – augmented by flooding from Hurricane Sandy – has limited the number of diving ducks, and less emergent non-phragmite vegetation has limited lingering dabbling ducks.  Twenty-five seems like a lofty goal, but we were off to a good start.  Two American Wigeons in Lake Louise – our only wigeons of the day – were our tenth species, after only four stops.

Arriving at the Manasquan Jetty at the north end of Point PleasantBeach, we began to add seaducks to the list, but then I spotted a Pacific Loon!  A rarity and “review-list” bird in New Jersey (like most of the East), we set off to document it.  It soon disappeared behind the jetty to the north, and we raced around the inlet to look for it from ManasquanBeach.  It took a while, but we finally found it, and I set about attempting to phone-scope it – a distinct challenge on a distant, actively-feeding loon.  Then we lost it.

A text-blast resulted in a birder being on the seen in a matter of minutes, soon followed by our good friend Scott who joined us for most of the rest of the afternoon.  The bird finally reappeared, and I did manage a series of “documentation” shots.  This was the “best” of the lot:

PALO1Purple Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Sanderlings were on the jetties, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull was at Fisherman’s Cove.  We had stalled at 15 species of waterfowl however (including many hundreds of Brant in the ManasaquanRiver), but we had more important things on the agenda – like lunch, and our first “slices” of the trip.  Even average pizza in NJ is better than 98% of the cardboard and ketchup served in Maine, so this was definitely a priority.

Refueled, we returned to the coast, and worked our way north with Scott.  An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at SylvanLake and 8 Snow Buntings at the mouth of the SharkRiver were other highlights, but waterfowl were the stars of the show, such as these Hooded Mergansers.

Scanning the ocean again from the end of Roosevelt Avenue in Deal, Scott spotted ANOTHER Pacific Loon – 2 ½ hours after the first bird (although only 10-15 miles or so apart) we believed this to be a bona fide second bird, which is exceptional in NJ.  I’ve certainly never seen two PALO in the same day in the state.  This time, the bird was much closer, so Jeannette took over the documentation.

PALO-2aIncluding this nice comparison shot with a Red-throated Loon.

PALO-2bA pair of Wood Ducks on Lake Tackanassee put us at 21 species of waterfowl on the day, with the hopes for one more up the road. Scott had to depart, but gave us instructions on how to look for a massive aggregation of scoters that had been building off of MonmouthBeach.

damageAlthough this section of the coast was not as badly devastated by Hurricane Sandy, plenty of evidence of her destruction was readily apparent.

We saw plenty of Black Scoters from various locales, but the big group of 3-4000 birds alone (80-90% Black, a few White-wings, and the rest Surf) were across the street from the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center.  The sun was getting low, and many of the birds were quite distant in the outgoing tide, but we still managed to tease our two immature male King Eiders – our 22nd and final waterbirds species of this most productive and enjoyable day of birding the JerseyShore.

Saturday was the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, so Jeannette and I joined a bunch of friends for a train ride to and from the game.  An unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny day made for a very enjoyable bowl experience, at least until the last seven minutes of the game when Notre Dame pulled away from my beloved Rutgers.  During TV timeouts, Jeannette and I kept an eye open overhead, yielded a stadium list of 7 species: Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, and House Sparrow. No bird lists were kept for the pre- and post-game bars.

We had plans to bird in Connecticut with a friend on our way home on Sunday, but with the next storm rapidly approaching, we hit the road early and somehow stayed just ahead of the storm – nothing more than light rain or sprinkles from southern Connecticut all of the way to Freeport. Although light rain caught up with us as we had lunch in Meriden, CT, it was worth it as we visited the famous Ted’s for the local specialty, steamed cheeseburgers.



We also tallied raptors on our drive home, including a goodly count of 47 Red-tailed Hawks.  Three Turkey Vultures (NJ), 1 American Kestrel (NJ), and 1 Cooper’s Hawk (NY) were added to the road list.

Rain began to fall in earnest soon after we returned, and a couple of hours later snow began to fall heavily. Another 6 ¼ inches accumulated by morning as Sasha and I broke trail at The Hog.  Yup, we’re back in the north…and quite happy about it.  It was a great trip, but it’s always good to be home.

Happy New Year everyone!