The reincarnation of our spring “Warblers and Wort” tour in our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, was quite successful last Sunday. On this “Mother’s Day Special” tour, we decided to stay local, visiting some of Portland’s most famous institutions in both the beer and birding worlds.
We began in the urban greenspace – a classic “migrant trap” – of Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. Spring remains behind schedule this year, and it was a chilly start to the day – but hey, it wasn’t raining for a change! While warbler diversity was lower than expected for the advancing date, we did eek out 10 species of warblers. Almost everything we did see, however, we saw incredibly well. Nashville and Magnolia Warblers performed well, but Ovenbirds stole the warbler show: we had several birds out in the open for prolonged, enjoyable views, about as good as can ever be expected when stomping a large group through the woods.
Only Veeries outshined Ovenbirds today in their cooperation. This often-shy thrush was anything but. We saw at least 6, and all were seen incredibly well, including two strolling out in the lawn like the robin they are related to. Many folks commented that they had never seen Veeries – or most any thrush! – so well. There were several sizable groups of White-throated Sparrows marching through the woods, including one group of 20-30 that we were surrounded by at one point. All of their leaf scratching was loud enough that it sounded like some large mammals were tromping through the understory. The song of a newly-arrived Wood Thrush and the old-timey football helmet sported by a White-crowned Sparrow were among the other highlights.
Our second stop in the birding portion of the tour was another urban oasis, nearby Capisic Pond Park. Again, we were treated to fantastic views of almost every species we encountered, highlighted by a male Orchard Oriole (a “life bird” for many on the trip). A pair breeds here almost every year, but it’s the only known regular breeding location for this southern species in the state, so it was a real treat to find and see so well. We also heard and saw several of the more common Baltimore Orioles, and even saw a nest under construction that was using strips of blue tarp! (How Maine is that?)
A fly-by Green Heron and an ultra-cooperative Least Flycatcher were other highlights, along with common species such as cardinals and Yellow Warblers. The Least Fly was confiding enough to allow us to get into the topic of “tertial step and primary projection,” adding to our toolkit of identification techniques. The genus Empidonax is one of the most challenging in the bird world, but this structural starting point quickly narrows the choices to a very manageable number. And I always take the time to show off one of my favorite colors in nature: the eye of the Double-crested Cormorant.
Perhaps sour beers are the “tertial step and primary projection on Empidonax flycatchers” to many beer drinkers: it’s a more nuanced approach and probably doesn’t appeal to everyone. But our BOT-Roadtrips want introduce our clients to as wide of a range of beer types as bird species, so we had a special experience in store for the group as we rolled into Bissell Brothers Brewing at Thompson’s Point.
First up, each participant got to choose a different beer based on their tastes or what “lifers” they had not yet tried. There were at least five different brews sampled by my quick count, and the whole gamut of styles was represented. Personally, I chose the new Lucent, a Helles Style Lager as it was light and refreshing (and therefore good for a leader who had to articulate – or try to – for the next few hours). Crisp, clean, with a nice lemony bite, this was a great representation of the style.
But then our trusty beer leader for the day, Don, pulled out a surprise: a Magnum bottle of Bissell’s famous Seed. Brewed only once a year featuring “over 2,000 lbs of strawberries and raspberries from Bradbury Mountain Farm in Pownal,” Bissell was doing a special bottle pour event today, and so of course we had to partake. The faces of some folks was predictable when faced with the words “fruited sour beer,” and were equivalent to the deer-in-headlights looks when hearing “primary projection” for the first time. Some even refused. And then we gave them some anyway. And some of those then had some more.
It’s not for everyone, but I was really pleased by how excited people were to try a “rarity” that they would otherwise likely never have a chance at (like Orchard Orioles without going to Capisic). More importantly, the discussion of the beer that continued as we boarded the bus was how eye-opening the beer was for so many. Pleasantly tart, with a nice clean finish and a real depth of strawberry flavor, we every well may have created some sour fans (or at least sour-curious) on this trip.
Next up was Goodfire Brewing, one of Portland’s hottest up-and-comers, and admittedly, one of my personal favorites to visit. In a more traditional visit for our beer tours, we enjoyed four small 4oz pours, which nicely showcased the range of styles offered here. As Chrissy led us on a tour of the brew house, we discussed the differences and similarities of each sample we tried, as well as the history of the names and label art.
We began with the perfectly balanced flagship beer, Prime IPA. The Citra and Amarillo hops really shine through, thanks to the clean and rather light malt bill that still ends without any bitterness.
Having learned that hops don’t necessary equal bitter, we dove into deeper discussion of hops with Goodfire’s latest single-hopped brew in their Minimum series. This incarnation featured Idaho 7 hops – itself an up and comer in the beer world – that has a nice flavor balance of citrus and pine with a hint of tropical fruit. If IPAs were Empidonax flycatchers, hops would be their primary projection. Or something, OK, fine, maybe I am stretching these analogies too far now…
Moving on, we lightened things up a bit with Can’t Stay Long, a classic clean and crisp German Pilsner with a somewhat bready finish. Pilsners are a tried and true style that might not be all that hip and trendy, but should still be appreciated – like a common Northern Cardinal sitting in the sun (OK, last one, I swear).
It was appropriate that after our sour revelations at Bissell, Goodfire would finish us up with a sample of their new fruited sour: Astro 5 – Double Blackberry. This was all the way blackberry, pleasantly tart, but with a clean finish that made you come back for more. In fact, more Astro was purchased to go than all other beers combined today! So I guess sours aren’t all that scary! And neither are Empidonax flycatch.….dammit, I did it again.
As usual, our Roadtrips never have enough time for it all, neither beer nor birds, but today we had a delightful sampling of each. And based on the feedback received, I think there’s a fair chance you’ll see this itinerary return next year, and likely on Mother’s Day, so get it in on your schedule now!
Until then, perhaps we’ll see you on June’s Grassland and Grains – one of our most popular, annual outings that are always a blast, with both great birds and some great beer, and never with a dull moment. See you then!