Tag Archives: Red-billed Tropicbird

The Search for Troppy Tour Report, 7/10.

A tropical storm in Maine? Interfering with our first tour since early March? Of course! Because 2020!

But thanks to the flexibility of our partners, the Isle au Haut Boat Services, and the registered participants, we moved up our “Search for Troppy” tour by 24 hours. Not the easiest thing to do within 48 hours of the new departure, but for those who were unable to make the switch, we had an overwhelming response to the few extra spaces we offered up (more on that later).

While we can plan around a tropical storm, you can’t plan around fog in the Gulf of Maine – especially this summer.  With 23 particpants, all of which – along with the guides and crew – wearing masks the whole time (no exceptions) and social distancing as much as possible, we set off from Stonington into the very, very dense fog.
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IMG_6469_masked_birders_on_boat

There wasn’t much to see on the way out, except for the common nearshore species,like Common Eiders.
COEI

And, visibility was close to zero the whole ride out…until Seal Island miraculously appeared. Not clearly, mind you, but it was there.
IMG_6471_Seal_in_Fog

But thanks to the fog, many of the island’s seabirds, especially the Atlantic Puffins, were loafing in the water. And with glass-calm conditions, they were all around us and easy to observe.
ATPU_water

Arctic and Common Terns continuously zipped by as we motored about the island, hoping for Troppy in his usual place, but contenting ourselves with lots of puffins, and the island’s record number of Razorbills this year.
Razorbills

We cruised around the island’s south end, taking in the last remaining Great Cormorant colony in the state…
GRCOs

…And after much searching, finally found a couple of Common Murres including this one (L) standing tall among the puffins and a Razorbill.
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Considering the trials and tribulations of getting this tour running, we were pretty happy with seeing all of the breeding birds of the island, and the puffins were putting on a particularly good show today.

Of course, however, the star of the show was missing, and my hopes were fading – unlike the fog, which was definitely not at all fading. But then, as visibility lifted just enough to see a little more of the island, the distinctive cackling rattle display call of the world’s most famous Red-billed Tropicbird rang out as he materialized out of the fog and made a close pass of the boat. People were spinning, there was shouting, and there was celebration. But then he disappeared. Was that it? Well, it was good enough to count, but come on, he could do better. So we cut the engine, drifted, and waited.

And several minutes later he was back. Heading right towards us, calling aggressively, seemingly displeased with our intrusion and/or my color commentary over the loudspeakers. He made several passes, some very close, a few right overhead, and he did not stop. We watched him circling around, as per his usual routine, for a good 45 minutes in all. Every time we thought the show was over, and I would start talking about something else, he would reappear. It was truly incredible – one of my top two best performance from him, and definitely my longest duration of observation. He only briefly landed once, but without sun, apparently bathing wasn’t in his plans.
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In fact, he was still being spotted now and again as we had to depart to head back to the dock. It deal feel weird turning away from one of the most sought-after individual birds in North America, but we did so knowing he had more than earned his peace and quiet today.

This was my 8th visit with Troppy in 9 attempts (third in a row with “The Otter” of the Isle au Haut Boat Services) and my first observation in dense fog. He must have known I was expecting him. I owe him some squid, or whatever it is that he eats (since no one knows!).

Needless to say, there was quite a bit of jubilation on the way back, even if we couldn’t see much (and very little birdlife) until we returned to port.
Stonington

So the spacing worked. Mask use was respected. And Troppy more than cooperated.

And therefore, by popular demand, what do you say we try again?

That’s right, we’re going to make a second run on Saturday, July 25th.  Same time, same price, same social distancing.  Details can be found here.

UPDATE: Despite insanely beautiful weather on the 25th, we did not see Troppy. He just wasn’t home today. It was perfectly calm, warm, and abundantly sunny, so if he was on the island, we would have seen him. Alas. However, it was a most enjoyable day, with great looks at Razorbills, Common Murres, and plenty of Atlantic Puffins. Arctic and Common Terns remain busy, and we had scattered migrant shorebirds. Highlights including 4 Mola Mola and a Cory’s Shearwater just off the eastern shore of Seal.

It was definitely a more photogenic day than our first trip!

Freeport Wild Bird Supply (and partners!) Tours for 2020

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Our trip offerings continue to grow. Our collaboration with The Maine Brew Bus continues with our increasingly popular Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrips! (see listing below). And, this year, we are excited to announce a new partnership with DownEast Adventures as their exclusive provider of birdwatching tours! Whether you are interested in something local for a few hours, or a multi-day tour, we have something for everyone. Some of these trips fill up fast, so act quickly if any pique your interest! For more details on each of these events, including registration information please visit the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of our website. We hope to see you soon!

Woodcocks Gone Wild!
April 4th (Weather date, 4/11)

Our most popular annual tour, join us for an evening witnessing the aerial ballet of displaying American Woodcocks on a special outing at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.  No registration necessary.

Migratory Songbird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
May 17th 

This half-day workshop will focus on the migrant songbirds, especially warblers, that are passing through Maine’s most famous migrant trap, Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. At the peak of warbler migration, we’ll learn how to identify these charismatic birds and we’ll discuss their mind-boggling migration and what they’re up to in Maine.
BTNW

Monhegan Spring Migration Weekend
May 22nd – 25th

Join Derek on Monhegan during the height of spring migration for 1-4 days searching the island for regular visitors, rarities, and vagrants.  Warblers in their summer finery are pouring through the Northeast, and many will drift over the Gulf of Maine on their nocturnal flights. Rapidly changing weather conditions can result in massive “fallouts” of tired migrants, many of which will forage in the rocks on the shoreline. The possibility of overshoots from the south and vagrants from almost any direction adds icing to the cake.
BLBW

Bicknell’s Thrush Tour
June TBA

Stay tuned to our website for details on this tour.

Seal Island Charter: The Search for Troppy
July 11th

This special 5-hour charter aboard Isle au Haut Ferry Service’s Otter will allow us to travel out to Seal Island specifically to look for “Troppy”, Maine’s famous Red-billed Tropicbird. And, we will also enjoy looks at the puffins, guillemots, terns, and Razorbills that call this island home in summer.
RBTR

Ladona Island Birding Cruise (Birding by Schooner II) with DownEast Adventures
July 13th – 17th

Join Derek aboard the Schooner Ladona for a truly unique and exclusive birding and culinary experience. Enjoy peace, quiet, and tranquility as we spend four days aboard the Ladona enjoying unbelievable food and drink, lots of rest and relaxation, and some great birding! Weather permitting, we’ll have the chance to visit the waters around a seabird breeding colony (likely the famous Eastern Egg Rock) to place us among thousands of breeding seabirds, including Atlantic Puffins, three species of tern, and likely a few Razorbills.

Shorebird Workshop with DownEast Adventures
August 12th

In this full-day workshop, we will hit some of the marshes, beaches, and rocky roosts that shorebirds prefer at the peak of their migration. The ebbs and flows of the season, daily and recent weather, and other factors could produce more than 20 species of shorebirds in our time together. Our focus will be in comparative experience, learning how to recognize each species both near and far.
SEPL

Maine Coast in Fall with Derek and WINGS
September 13th – 20th

Join Derek on this all-inclusive tour to enjoy Monhegan Island at its finest.

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend
September 25th – 28th

Join Derek on Monhegan during the height of migration for 1-4 days searching the island for regular visitors, rarities, and vagrants. This is a casual outing, with boat and hotel reservations, as well as meals, on your own, allowing for more flexibility (and more time at the brewery if you so desire).
BLGR

Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrip!

Our Birds On Tap ℠ – Roadtrip! series is entering its sixth year and features 10 tours! Traveling in the Maine Brew Bus, the first half of each 6-hour tour is spent in the field with Derek as your guide to learn about the birds and their habitats. This is followed by two brewery (and one “kombuchery”) tours led by the Brew Bus guides. The locations were chosen to enjoy the peak of birding at a particular locale at certain times of year. One does not need to be a “birder” to enjoy these outings. People of all skill levels are encouraged to join us!
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The 2020 schedule is as follows:

Gulls and Growlers
January 18th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
Hatch Hill Landfill, Augusta
(gulls, eagles)
Bateau & Black Pug Brewing

Seaducks and Suds
February 16th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
York County coast
(seaducks, alcids, gulls)
York Beach Beer & TBA
PUSA

Spring Ducks and Draughts                                       
April 5th, 12:00pm – 6:30pm
Merrymeeting Bay
(migrant waterfowl, eagles)
Oxbow & Bath Brewing

Warblers and Wort
May 10th, 8:00am – 2:00pm
Portland sites
(warblers, other songbird migrants)
Bissell Brothers & Brewery Extrava

Grassland and Grains
June 14th, 8:00am – 2:30pm
Kennebunk Plains
(Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow)
Funky Bow & Banded Brewing
VESP

Terns and Taps
July 26th, 9:00am – 3:00pm
Biddeford Pool
(terns, Piping Plover)
Nuts and Bolts & Island Dog Brewing
LETE

Shorebirds and Steins                                                 
August 23rd, 10:00am – 4:00pm
Scarborough Marsh
(migrant shorebirds)
Foulmouthed & Lone Pine Brewing

“Sod-pipers” and Sips
September 6th, 8:00am – 4:00pm
Fryeburg
(grassland sandpipers, Sandhill Cranes)
Ebenezer’s Pub & Saco River Brewing

Fall Ducks and Draughts
October 25th, 9:00am – 3:30pm
Sabattus Pond                                                             (migrant waterfowl, eagles)
Side by Each Brewing & Maine Beer Co.

“Rarity Roundup”
November 8th, 8:00am – 3:00pm
Portland to Wells
(potential vagrants, general birding)
Root Wild Kombucha & Goodfire Brewing
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2016 Birding By Schooner Trip Report

My 7th (now annual) Birding By Schooner aboard the Lewis R. French tour got underway on Monday morning from Camden Harbor with sunny skies and a light breeze perfect for a little sailing. Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, and Laughing, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls escorted us out of the harbor, as Ospreys kept a close eye on the proceedings.
1. Camden Harbor Departure_edited-1
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Out in the bay, Harbor Porpoise were soon spotted (they were very plentiful on this trip) and plenty of Harbor Seals. Merlin, Bonaparte’s Gulls, and Common Loons were quickly added to the list. Sailing towards the Fox Islands Thorofare, we picked up an unexpected inshore Great Cormorant, an immature hanging out with Double-cresteds on Scraggy Island. Burnt Cove Harbor on Swan’s Island was our destination for the evening.
2. Entering Fox Islands Thorofare_edited-1

In the morning, we took a walk onshore, birding and naturalizing our way to the lighthouse. A Red Crossbill flew over calling as we landed at the dock, my 132nd all time Birding-by-Schooner species! The walk sampled the common denizens of the Red Spruce-dominated Acadian habitat of the region, with numerous Black-throated Green Warblers and many others. A White-tailed Deer crossed our path, and we spent some time learning the local trees.
5. Burnt Coat Harbor 2_edited-1
As we checked out the feeding station at this house, we couldn’t help but feel as if we were being watched…and we were!  I remember being creeped out by this doll when we last landed here a few years ago.
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Back on board, the fog had lifted, and we sailed through Blue Hill Bay, arriving at tiny Babson Island for the evening. Usually, the famous lobster bake is the finale of the trip, but this tour’s focus is having the chance to get out to Seal Island – far offshore and needing a narrow suite of conditions to make it possible (or, at least comfortable). Therefore, Captain Garth decided to mix things up a bit and take advantage of a pleasant evening and a lovely little beach. Much food was consumed. Several more Bald Eagles were noted.
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Tobias, visiting us from Sweden, shares the story – and flavors – of Skane aquavit, while Dan shares stories of Garth as a young mate.
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15. Lobster Bake 3_edited-1
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The crew.

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Once again, Garth nailed the window, and conditions were absolutely perfect for a trip out to Seal Island, part of the Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge.  We passed between Stonington and Isle Au Haut, and cruised by Saddleback Ledge and into open water. I became more vigilant.
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20. Saddleback Ledge_edited-1
Saddleback Ledge

One of the reasons I most look forward to the annual trip is for the chance to visit Seal Island. Our goal is to head out there every year and spend a night anchored offshore. It’s a very unique and special opportunity, and of course a chance at some great birding. Not the least of which is the chance to see “Troppy,” the Red-billed Tropicbird that has come to the island for the past 10 summers (and 11th year in the area overall). But this year, my anticipation about a visit was stoked even more with a spate of other rarities recently, including a Royal Tern, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and – two days prior to our departure, an inconceivable 1st Western Atlantic seaboard record of a Great Knot! A bird that breeds in Siberia and winters mostly in Southeast Asia and Australia, this is truly an incredible record.  Needless to say, it was not on my annual list of Next 25 Birds for Maine! I was showing symptoms of rarity fever.

Also, needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get out there!  But, at the mercy of the wind (or often, lack thereof), I had little say in whether or not we’d have a chance to look for it (although I really had zero expectations of it sticking around), Troppy, other rarities, or simply enjoy puffins, Common Murres, Razorbills, and calling Leach’s Storm-Petrels through the night.

With Seal Island on the horizon, we scanned the open waters, which we found to be unusually quiet. Commuting Common Terns and several Arctic Terns (who recently regained the crown of longest-distance migrants in the world: up to 55,000 miles a year!) began to appear, a sign that we were getting close. Under full sail (we often have to motor-sail to get this far out on a nice enough day), we spotted a lone Northern Gannet, and as we neared the island, numerous Atlantic Puffins became visible.
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Juvenile Arctic Tern
22. Seal Island approach_edited-1

We slowly plied the waters off the islands southwest side, enjoying close up puffins, practicing our tern identification, watching Great Cormorants, and keeping an eye out for…

Troppy!  Just a few minutes ahead of schedule at 4:17pm, the famous Red-billed Tropicbird appeared. I was able to spot him as he was flying low, and dropped in for his usual (as long as it is sunny!) afternoon bath. Captain Garth and 1st mate/co-Captain Dan adeptly positioned the boat to slowly approach him on the water, without flushing him. We got incredibly close and cameras clicked away (my photos are a little distant as I decided to try for video this year when we were making our closest approach). Soon, he relocated to his more-usual bathing location closer to the island.
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24. Troppy8_edited-1

Success!  And with happy birders and a Captain basking in his glory of once again perfectly timing our arrival to once again put us in perfect position for an enjoyable view, we sailed over to the Eastern Bight and dropped anchor for the evening. Besides our incredible success rate of seeing Troppy (5 out of 6 visits to Seal now, a great batting average), this tour also – again, conditions permitting – affords the unique opportunity to spend a night off of this incredible and remote island.

As per tradition, we invited the Seal Island crew of Puffin Project biologists aboard for dinner (thanks to the talents and perfect planning of our cook, Carla and her Mess Mate, Genevieve) and a visit, giving the crew and participants a chance to pepper them with all sorts of questions. We all kept an eye out for shorebirds passing or rounding the island, and Keenan and crew took the opportunity to survey the growing contingent of Laughing Gulls that have been congregating on the island. The sunset was particularly spectacular this evening as well.
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26. Seal Sunset 2_edited-1

But we weren’t done with the “unique experiences” yet!  In addition to the remoteness of our anchorage, spending the night at Seal also gives us a chance to listen (and perhaps even see) Leach’s Storm-Petrels, vocalizing as they return to their nesting burrows under the cover of darkness.

While staying up a little later, or getting up a little earlier, would likely yield some calling birds, I don’t want to just hear them; I want to experience the cacophony to its fullest extent. Therefore, I suggest people wake up in the middle of the night for a listen. This year, I proposed waking up at 3:00am, and since several folks wanted to also see them, staying up through the twilight until sunrise.

As I stumbled to the deck at 3, I was pleasantly surprised to see seven people had joined me in the insanity. And, with a light fog rolling in (perfect!), the birds were calling a lot – and some giving their almost-sinister, cackling chatter very close to the boat.  Five of us stayed up right through daybreak, and although we didn’t actual spot a Leach’s (although Dan glimpsed a shadow of what was undoubtedly one), we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Adding to the mystique was the low fog, and the low, deep moans and groans of baying Gray Seals.
27. Seal sunrise_edited-1

We were, however, anxiously anticipating the arrival of morning coffee and muffins!

A Savannah Sparrow briefly alighted on the boat before returning to the island, puffins and guillemots were abundant, and terns were busy, heading to and fro. We only saw one Razorbill on the water, and no Common Murres on this visit, and sorted through the handfuls of shorebirds that were around (migrants, mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers and a smattering of others, along with local and vocal family groups of Spotted Sandpipers).

The skies cleared after breakfast and with a light south-southwest wind, we decided to head out for a little offshore sailing. We passed along Seal, hoping for another visit from Troppy, but then turn around the north end of the island and tacked our way offshore. Dan, Garth, and the sailing fans were having fun, while the birding fans enjoyed the numerous commuting puffins. We also spotted a few good pelagics: led by a Cory’s Shearwater, my first ever from the windjammer, soon followed by a second sighting. A single Great Shearwater passed close by, shortly before encountering a more-distant raft of 36.  There were painfully few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, but we did have a Minke Whale, and moments after I said we “could use a Manx Shearwater now” a Manx Shearwater passed by!
28. Seal Day 2_edited-1<

We had hopes of sailing around Matinicus Rock, but time and wind suggested it was time to head inshore. We rounded Wooden Ball Island, still under full sail, but then the wind ran out. Drifting mostly with the incoming tide, and soon into dense fog our progress was slow. But napping was in order, and this was the perfect opportunity.

We needed our yawl boat to push our way past Vinalhaven and into the Fox Island Thorofare where the fog finally lifted. Anchoring between the village on North Haven and a dock on Vinalhaven, our day came to a close. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day for an evening walk.
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Look? We saw “the green flash” at sunset!

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Tobias’s breakfast of champions.
It was a lovely, albeit humid and rapidly warming, morning, which began with a pair of vocal Merlins from the boat. Making up for lost time, we hopped to shore, and I lead a walk in the North Perry Creek Preserve on Vinalhaven. Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and many others were added to our triplist, but most birds were Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-throated Green Warblers, or Red-breasted Nuthatches. Twelve-spotted Skimmer (a dragonfly), Smooth Green Snake, Wood Frog, and a spiffy diurnal moth, the Virginia Ctenucha were also observed.
51. North Perry Creek Preserve_edited-1
52. North Perry Creek Preserve 2_edited-1

We extended our loop a bit, but our selected return trail turned out to be more rugged than expected, so we made it back just in time for lunch. After another scrumptious, and this time well-earned, meal, we pushed to the east, then set sail and turned north into East Penobscot Bay.

While the occasional Razorbill is regular in the bay, small groups are often found after storms, and at this time of year fathers leading flightless juveniles are regularly encountered. But earlier in the season, Garth had started noticing 30-40 regularly in a particular area, roughly between Eagle, Butter, and Bradbury Islands. Seeing them often enough, it was more than a random occurrence.

Needless to say, I was intrigued (and a little bit proud, I must say!), and since we only had one distant Razorbill out at Seal, it seemed like a good plan to check it out today. As we approached the area, I spotted one Razorbill in flight, then a group of 5 passed by. Black Guillemots were even more numerous than usual, and gulls (including several Bonaparte’s) were more common than elsewhere in the bay. But no rafts of Razorbills.
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I kept scanning, but noticed Garth was looking a little disappointed. Then I asked Dan to check out what appeared to be a large raft of birds. I immediately thought Razorbills, but the group was so big, I doubted myself. It was way more than 30-40. Were they just eiders distorted by distance and heat shimmer, or were we about to see something really, really exceptional?

We’re going to go with the latter. But no, there were not 30-40 Razorbills anymore. There were now 252. And while there were a few fathers escorting kiddos, the majority of the group were adults. I need to do some research, but this is probably an unprecedented number for inshore waters, and perhaps even a summertime record for Maine? Regardless of the statistics, it was amazing, and as we simply drifted among them, many photographs were taken, and we were even able to hear many of them growling, and one of the juveniles piping.
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I also spotted a spec in the distance, which I photographed for later analysis. Blowing it up on the computer, I can confirm the 134th species to be seen from the Lewis R. French during the Birding By Schooner Tour: Red-throated Loon (a rare but regular summertime lingerer that I have been expecting to spot at some point).

But, did I mention all the Razorbills!?

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With another extraordinary experience under our belts, we pulled into Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro for the night.
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Carla at work. 
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I was up early the final morning, hoping to add a few more singing birds from the mainland to what was a paltry total triplist. But once again, the dawn chorus was nearly non-existent, and for the first time, species such as Swainson’s Thrush and Winter Wren went undetected during our tour. Was it just because of our few-days-later-than-usual outing? Did the drought lower productivity and birds have already cleared out? Or, was it an early and successful breeding season and birds have already finished doing everything other than secretively undergo molt?
33. last morning1_edited-1

While we did have 1 or 2 fewer walks than usual, we had a better seabird tally than in most years. But no migrant swallows? And a low diversity of migrant shorebirds.  So our total checklist was well below average, so I was working hard to pad the list: American Black Duck and Belted Kingfisher in the harbor, and as we slowly sailed back to Camden: Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk over the Camden Hills.

Of course, no one would have traded Troppy, three shearwaters, countless calling Leach’s Storm-Petrels, or an unprecedented aggregation of Razorbills for a few more total ticks!

As Ospreys called around us as we entered Camden Harbor – the same ones that announced our departure, and the trip came to a close, another successful, unique, and bird-tastic Birding By Schooner tour was in the books.
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One of the first birds we saw was also the last, this Common Loon, apparently with a broken lower mandible, sneaking away from our docking boat.

Here’s our complete list from the trip:

  1. Mallard
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Osprey
  4. American Goldfinch
  5. Yellow Warbler
  6. Rock Pigeon
  7. European Starling
  8. Cedar Waxwing
  9. American Robin
  10. Song Sparrow
  11. Chimney Swift
  12. Double-crested Cormorant
  13. Herring Gull
  14. Great Black-backed Gull
  15. Black Guillemot
  16. Laughing Gull
  17. Common Loon
  18. Ring-billed Gull
  19. Bonaparte’s Gull
  20. Merlin
  21. GREAT CORMORANT
  22. Bald Eagle
  23. American Crow
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Killdeer
  26. RED CROSSBILL
  27. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  28. Purple Finch
  29. White-throated Sparrow
  30. Black-capped Chickadee
  31. Gray Catbird
  32. Dark-eyed Junco
  33. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  34. Black-throated Green Warbler
  35. Common Yellowthroat
  36. Savannah Sparrow
  37. Broad-winged Hawk
  38. Hermit Thrush
  39. Eastern Phoebe
  40. Great Blue Heron
  41. Spotted Sandpiper
  42. ARCTIC TERN
  43. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  44. Northern Gannet
  45. ATLANTIC PUFFIN
  46. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD
  47. Greater Yellowlegs
  48. Semipalmated Plover
  49. Ruddy Turnstone
  50. LEACH’S STORM-PETREL
  51. RAZORBILL
  52. CORY’S SHEARWATER
  53. Great Shearwater
  54. Wilson’s Storm-petrel
  55. MANX SHEARWATER
  56. Common Raven
  57. Blue Jay
  58. Downy Woodpecker
  59. Northern Parula
  60. Black-and-white Warbler
  61. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  62. Northern Flicker
  63. Chipping Sparrow
  64. RED-THROATED LOON
  65. American Black Duck
  66. Belted Kingfisher
  67. Turkey Vulture
  68. Red-tailed Hawk

And the list of mammals, and a selection of other critters:

  1. Harbor Seal
  2. Harbor Porpoise
  3. Red Squirrel
  4. White-tailed Deer
  5. Orange Sulphur
  6. Gray Seal
  7. Minke Whale
  8. Wood Frog
  9. Twelve-spotted Skimmer
  10. Smooth Green Snake
  11. Virginia Ctenucha
  12. Great Spangled Fritillary
  13. Red Admiral

Since every year’s tour is so different, if you would like to look back on previous trips and their respective birdlists, please click on the links below. Furthermore, for more (and better!) photographs of the birds we see, check out the tours (2015 + 2013) that Jeannette was on!

2015

2014

2013

Hope to see you aboard next year!

 

Birding By Schooner Trip Report, 2015

It’s hard for me to pick my “favorite” tour, but if pressed, I would probably answer our annual “Birding by Schooner” aboard the Lewis R. French tour. It just offers such a unique way to bird, and such unique birding experiences. The scenery, the food, and the good conversation can also not be beat.

Last week was my 6th tour aboard the French. And one of the aspects of the tour that I so very much enjoy is that every tour is different. We often don’t know where we are going even as we depart Camden Harbor on our first morning! Weather (especially wind, or lack there of) dictates the plan. And I must say, it’s a nice bit of respite to not have any control over where we go! All I have to do is point out birds wherever our captain takes us.

Of course, this is a birding-themed trip, so we make our best efforts to get into position for some great birding, especially to visit one or more islands with breeding seabirds. But when I boarded the vessel on Sunday night, I could only guess what a plan might be.

We awoke to fog and calm on Monday morning, departed the harbor on the very lightest of breezes, and pushed our way across a bay with only the minimum of ripples. We found a whole in the fog bank as we rounded Owl’s Head Light…
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(click on photos for larger images)

…but soon we were back in the murk.
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Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to show up, with at least 50 noted by the time we pulled into Port Clyde. Bald Eagles were conspicuous, as were the common bay denizens such as Black Guillemot…
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…and Common Eider.
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A stroll to Marshall Point Light added to our landbird list, while a Greater Yellowlegs in the harbor was the first migrant shorebird of the trip.

Overnighting in Port Clyde set us up nicely for a short trip to Eastern Egg Rock, which we rounded slowly to enjoy Roseate Terns among the Arctic and Commons, lots of Black Guillemots, and over 100 Atlantic Puffins. The fog lifted enough for us to have great visibility when near the island, but the offshore fog bank and cloudy skies meant a lot of puffins were on the water, and many loafed close to our boat or zipped right by.
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Back into the fog as we trudged offshore, seabirds were few and far between. Or, I should say, we saw few seabirds…I am sure plenty were out there. We encountered some more puffins, and this one Northern Gannet.
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Our destination this afternoon was none other than Monhegan Island…one of my favorite places in the world. It was pretty foggy, so the views were limited…
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…But few complained. Especially those of us who ended up at the Monhegan Brewing Company (Wait, how do so many of my tours end up at breweries?).
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Several common breeding birds were added to our trip list, but no mid-summer vagrants were detected. We had hoped to overnight in the harbor and take a birdwalk in the morning, but a tenuous anchorage and an approaching cold front led Captain Garth to err on the side of caution, and head for the shelter of the mainland, so we said an early farewell to Monhegan.
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We sought shelter up the St. George River, first in Turkey Cove, but then Garth made a last minute decision to anchor on the river’s other bank, in the Pleasant Point Gut. Overnight, the storm cleared, and so did the fog.
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We didn’t have much wind, but what we did have facilitated a trip out to remote Seal Island. We had to motor-sail most of the way, but we had an afternoon date with a punctual local.

On the way, we enjoyed some great birding. While we didn’t have enough wind to take the long way out to Matinicus Rock and deeper water, cutting a straight line around the north end of Metinic produced a whole lot of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (450+ on the day), 6 Red Phalaropes (along with another 20 phalaropes that were just a little too far to ID), and a Mola Mola that gave us the slip. Most surprising, however, was a pair of American Oystercatchers that were flying around Little Green Island. Whether this is a previously-unknown pair of this slowly-increasing species in Maine, southbound migrants, or Maine breeders undergoing post-breeding dispersal is impossible to know, but it was a new “Schooner Bird” for me: my 116th species seen during our “Birding by Schooner” tours!

It was a bit of work, but we made it to Seal Island on a sunny, fairly calm day at the perfect time. And “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird that has returned to Seal Island for its 9th straight summer (10th overall in the area), made his afternoon appearance for a little bath. This was my fourth visit to Seal aboard the French, and we have seen Troppy three times (the only miss was on a cloudy day with fog the next morning).
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And despite that sign, we dropped anchor for a special evening. One of the unique experiences for participants on this most unique tour is an evening with the Seal Island’s biologists. Not only do the passengers get a break from hearing me talk, the biologists get a break from cooking and their usual routine.
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Yet another unique experience afforded by spending a night out at Seal is to get up and listen for Leach’s Storm-Petrels returning to the island from foraging trips in the middle of the night. While clear skies and a light westerly wind reduced the cacophony, the eerie, sinister chuckling of the petrels rang through the night.

And if a sunrise over Seal isn’t enough…
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…there was what seemed to be the entire tern colony in the air…
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… more puffins, a couple of dozen Razorbills and 1 Common Murre, Great Cormorants, and more Black Guillemots than you could count.
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Migrant shorebirds included a Whimbrel, a flock of small shorebirds that totaled 20 Semipalmated and 2 Least Sandpipers along with 4 Semipalmated Plovers, and unexpectedly, a fly-by Wood Duck! Not to mention another view of the Red-billed Tropicbird!

If your head wasn’t already on a swivel from looking at all of that, looking down offered a mesmerizing ballet of traveling jellies, both Moon and White-cross Jellies(here)…
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…and painful Lion’s Mane Jellies.
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For me, it is always too soon to depart, but we had other fish to fry, or to be exact, lobsters to boil. So we set a course towards Stonington, keeping our eyes open along the way. Two male Razorbills with their chick in tow were nice to see, as was a Minke Whale. A handful of Northern Gannets and about 10 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were our only other seabirds, however.

As we entered nearshore waters, we kept an eye out on islands, both big and small. You never know what you might see, and while I am on the lookout for something “mega” like a Brown Booby, we did spot a Great Cormorant on tiny Saddleback Ledge.
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Back in the usual domain of the Schooner fleet, we passed The Heritage…
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…and while the water boiled on Russ Island, the Angelique cruised passed us.
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A little bird, plant, and ecology walk further swelled our appetites. Which was good, because we had a few lobsters to eat tonight. Swainson’s Thrushes offered the evening’s musical performance.
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A Sharp-shinned Hawk carrying breakfast over Russ Island was another addition to my Schooner List, and our morning walk around Stonington added several new species to our triplist.
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Rounding North Haven Island, we kept tallying Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (we don’t always see these birds inshore on this tour), spotted a few small groups of southbound swallows and a few shorebirds, and watched the storm clouds build.
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Um, should we have been worried?
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Nah, this crew has got it covered!
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Although we had some good sailing winds ahead of the storm, and some moderate rain during the storm, the skies looked much worse than what we weathered. In fact, by the time we motored into Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro, the rain was ending and the skies showed a few hints of blue. And once again, we ate. Ate real well.
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It’s amazing how fast a week aboard the Schooner French flies by – even without the birds – but it was now time to crank the anchor one last time. A Greater Yellowlegs sounded off and Ospreys circled overhead as we departed the quiet harbor for the bustle of Camden.

Crossing West Penobscot Bay, we encountered yet more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, and surprisingly (for this far up the bay) another Razorbill father and kid.

Chimney Swifts twittering over Camden were our 79th and final species of the tour – two over our average. Emails were exchanged, bunks were cleared, and one last photo-op capped off yet another stellar “Birding By Schooner” tour.
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Here’s the complete, annotated checklist for this year’s trip, in order of appearance:

  1. American Crow
  2. House Sparrow
  3. Rock Pigeon
  4. Canada Goose (a couple of family groups in Camden Harbor)
  5. Mallard
  6. Song Sparrow
  7. Double-crested Cormorant
  8. Laughing Gull (common; all days)
  9. Osprey (common, just about every day)
  10. House Finch
  11. Herring Gull
  12. Great Black-backed Gull
  13. Cedar Waxwing
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Mourning Dove (all of the above from the boat within Camden Harbor)
  16. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (daily; high day count of 450+ on 7/22, with 400+ between Little Green Island and Seal Island. Unusually common within Penobscot Bay).
  17. Black Guillemot (Abundant daily; several hundred on multiple days).
  18. Common Eider (very common; all days)
  19. Common Tern (abundant, including thousands at Eastern Egg Rock and Seal Island, but also scattered throughout inshore waters)
  20. Bald Eagle (common and seen daily; high count of 7 on 7/20).
  21. Bonaparte’s Gull (scattered few)
  22. Common Loon (scattered few on several days)
  23. Great Blue Heron
  24. Northern Parula
  25. European Starling
  26. Black-capped Chickadee
  27. Common Grackle
  28. American Robin
  29. Common Yellowthroat
  30. Black-throated Green Warbler
  31. Purple Finch
  32. Common Raven
  33. White-throated Sparrow
  34. Blue Jay
  35. Greater Yellowlegs (scattered singletons)
  36. Least Sandpiper (scattered few)
  37. Northern Flicker
  38. Gray Catbird
  39. Semipalmated Sandpiper (scattered small groups; high of 30 at Seal Island on 7/23)
  40. White-rumped Sandpiper (1 each at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and Seal Island, 7/22)
  41. Spotted Sandpiper
  42. ATLANTIC PUFFIN (100+ at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and hundreds at Seal Island 7/22-23)
  43. ROSEATE TERN (dozens at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22)
  44. ARCTIC TERN (many hundreds at Eastern Egg Rock, 7/22 and Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  45. Northern Gannet (1 between Eastern Egg and Seal, 7/22; 5 between Seal and Stonington, 7/23)
  46. Tree Swallow (several southbound groups seen offshore and around islands)
  47. Brown-headed Cowbird
  48. Red-winged Blackbird
  49. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  50. Winter Wren
  51. Black-throated Green Warbler
  52. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  53. Barn Swallow (scattered small numbers, many southbound over water)
  54. Blue-headed Vireo
  55. Killdeer
  56. AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (pair at Little Green Island, 7/22)
  57. RED PHALAROPE (6 between Little Green Island and Seal Island, 7/22, plus 20 unidentified phalaropes)
  58. GREAT CORMORANT (35+ including juveniles at Seal Island, 7/22-23, plus 1 at Saddleback Ledge light, 7/23).
  59. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (Troppy! Seal Island, 7/22-23).
  60. RAZORBILL (20+ Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  61. Bank Swallow (6 off of Seal Island, 7/22)
  62. COMMON MURRE (1 at Seal Island, 7/22)
  63. LEACH’S STORM-PETREL (many heard overnight at Seal Island, 7/22-23)
  64. Savannah Sparrow
  65. Whimbrel (one at Seal Island, 7/23)
  66. WOOD DUCK (one unexpected fly-by at Seal Island, 7/23)
  67. Semipalmated Plover (4 at Seal Island, 7/23 and 4 off North Haven, 7/24)
  68. Turkey Vulture
  69. Dark-eyed Junco
  70. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  71. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  72. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  73. Chipping Sparrow
  74. Black-and-white Warbler
  75. Yellow Warbler
  76. Hermit Thrush
  77. Belted Kingfisher
  78. Ring-billed Gull (just a few in and around Camden Harbor)
  79. Chimney Swift

Since every trip is unique, here are links to the trip reports from the previous two tours.

August, 2014.
And July 2013.

And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be posting dates and information for our 2016 adventure. This trip fills up fast, so don’t dally…sign up soon and we’ll see you aboard next year!

Birding By Schooner 2014!

There are no promises when you lead birding trips by sailboats, but the 2014 Birding By Schooner Aboard the Lewis R. French Tour once again delivered!  This is a very unique trip – not just unique in terms of the tours I lead, but unique for Maine, and as far as we know, everywhere else.

While last week found us plagued by beautiful weather – yup, plagued, we need wind! – great birding, great food, and good company were thoroughly enjoyed.  While our total trip list of 78 species of birds (plus 5 mammals: Harbor Porpoise, Harbor Seal, Gray Seal, Minke Whale, Red Squirrel, one amphibian: Red-backed Salamander, several dragonflies, and 6 species of butterflies) was below our average, we had a few real treats…one in particular.

The wind direction and intensity (or, as in this week, lack there of) dictates where we can and cannot go over the course of our 6 days at sea. Luckily, the first day found conditions acceptable for heading to our number one goal: Seal Island.  Departing Camden Harbor, we set sail directly to this remote seabird island.

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Perhaps our only true “schedule” of the week, our goal was to arrive at a very specific time, for a very specific bird. Captain Garth Wells adeptly navigated our way to arrive about 10 minutes before show time.

“Troppy,” the famous Red-billed Tropicbird that has called Seal Island and vicinity its home for the past 10 summers arrived right on queue. I first spotted it flying around the island in the distance.

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Then, he made a sharp turn towards us…

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…and proceeded to circle our boat several times at an increasingly close proximity…

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…Before turning away and heading back to the island, often escorted by Arctic Terns.

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Oh yeah, there were several hundred Atlantic Puffins in the water too, and later, as we hosted the Seal Island biologist crew aboard for dinner and conversation, a Parasitic Jaeger.

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As the sun set, fog rolled in, and by 10:30, we began to hear the cackles and chatters of Leach’s Storm-Petrels as they commuted to and from the island in the cover of darkness. Several of us awoke in the middle of the night to listen, and we were rewarded with a constant cacophony of this intriguing, and a bit disconcerting, sound. Since we have the luxury of anchoring off of Seal – weather permitting of course – we not only have a great success rate with Troppy, but we also have the rare opportunity to listen to the nocturnal chorus of this pelagic specialty.

Come sunrise…

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…we enjoyed countless puffins, Black Guillemots, and Arctic Terns, along with at least a dozen Great Cormorants from the local breeding colony, a couple of re-orienting migrant Yellow Warblers at dawn, and several singing Song and Savannah Sparrows.  Surprisingly, we tallied 9 species of shorebirds (plus Sanderling the day before): the locally-breeding Spotted Sandpipers, but also 40+ Semipalmated Sandpipers (plus another 50 unidentified peeps), 9 Ruddy Turnstones, 9 Short-billed Dowitchers,  3 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 Semipalmated Plovers, 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Least Sandpipers, and my first White-rumped Sandpiper of the fall (and a pretty good bird out here).  A single Red-winged Blackbird dropped in from high above, and we spotted another Parasitic Jaeger.

Shorebirds – a continued theme throughout the trip – were one of the benefits of conducting this tour two weeks later than usual. We also had high hopes for pelagic shearwaters, but our doldrums had set in. Little wind was present as we traveled from Seal to Matinicus Island, and therefore any shearwaters in the vicinity were likely sitting tight, conserving their energy. Two unidentified jaegers, 5 Red Phalaropes, and 28 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, along with several more Atlantic Puffins and a few Northern Gannets kept our interest however.

Arriving at Matinicus Rock…

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…we saw plenty of puffins and more Arctic and Common Terns, but our late departure date cost us: Common Murres and Razorbills were nowhere to be found (don’t worry; we resume our usual third week of July itinerary next year!). But, we did have a treat with a single cooperative Manx Shearwater!

As we made a pass around Matinicus Rock, it was time to read the winds (or once again, the lack there of) and make a choice. We had hoped to turn towards Monhegan Island for birds (and the brewery!), but that would have been a very long, perhaps even uncomfortable slog. So instead, we turned inland, and set a course of Port Clyde.

We traveled through some relatively deep and open waters, but shearwaters were nowhere to be found. Another Parasitic Jaeger, 100+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, 21 Northern Gannets, 4 migrant Short-billed Dowitchers, a Minke Whale, and two Mola Molas were enjoyed, as were the numerous Harbor Porpoise that were constant companions throughout the tour, easily seen in the often glass-calm waters.

Rounding Metinic Green and passed Marshall Point Light, we dropped anchor in the quintessential mid-coast harbor of Port Clyde.  In the morning, we hopped ashore, and took a bird/plant/sightseeing walk to the lighthouse, slowly but steadily building our trip list. A Broad-winged Hawk being mobbed by a half-dozen or so American Robins was the avian highlight.

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Once again, our goal was Monhegan, but once again, barely a puff of breeze was available. Even if we pushed our way out there with our yawl boat, we would have had a hard time making it back the next day – no wind was forecasted, and we only carry so much fuel!  We also have to plan one step in advance, and set ourselves up for where we needed to be the next day. Mutiny was considered, but the difficult decision to turn east was made.

Heading towards North Haven, another 16 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were added to the tally, but our chumming attempt in these inshore waters was expectedly futile (but we had to try as we had picked up bait in the morning.  Unfortunately, the deepest water that we were to pass through was traversed in the middle of a rather heavy thunderstorm, which we were not able to outrun sailing at a mere 3 knots (well, until the storm itself was upon us!).

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We entered the Fox Island Thoroughfare and dropped anchor in a little bay off of Amesbury Point on North Haven Island. Another delectable dinner was then served by Chef Scott – who is not your average schooner cook!

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The storm clouds cleared by dusk…

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…and we heard several shorebirds calling from up the bay, and two Snowy Egrets passed by overhead.  Therefore, we decided to mix things up a little with a pre-breakfast row to check things out.

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I took the helm, and somehow guided us successfully to and from the boat.

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I was just happy to not run into anything, but a nice mix of shorebirds included 8 Least and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, and one each of Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs.

A short sail (again, little wind) through the Thoroughfare yielded the first Bonaparte’s Gulls of the trip, some Common Loons, and plentiful Ospreys.  Dropping anchor off of the Calderwood Island Preserve, much of the boat hit the water, including our Captain.

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Then, it was time to row ashore for one of everyone’s trip highlights: the lobster bake!  While things got cooking, I led a walk around the preserve, adding a few landbirds to the list. Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats were especially conspicuous, but I couldn’t help but wonder what migrants the extensive raspberry-gooseberry-juniper thickets that covered much of the island would hold…and rarities?

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Storm clouds built up once again…

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…But the lobster bake went off without a hitch…

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…perhaps with the exception of Nihls, who bit off a little more than he could chew.

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Returning to the boat, we adjusted our position for the night, and scoped a small rocky islet that as the tide rolled in, amassed 64 Bonaparte’s Gulls and several families of Common Terns – adults were commuting to and from the island with fish for their hungry fledglings.

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It was clear and calm once again at sunrise (we joined the Mary Day at anchorage last night), but a Winter Wren serenaded us from the island. We rounded the southeast corner of North Haven Island, and headed for Islesboro.

The waters of Penobscot Bay are not overly birdy at this time of year – other than plentiful Black Guillemots, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, gulls (mostly Herring and Great Black-backed with smaller numbers of Laughing, Bonaparte’s, and scattered Ring-billed), Common Eiders, scattered Common Loons, Double-crested Cormorants, and so on. But as we passed various little islands, our triplist slowly grew with the likes of a migrant group of Tree Swallows, a single Barn Swallow, a hunting American Kestrel, and plenty of Harbor Seals. Ruddy Turnstones were also scattered about.

But once again, the day’s calm conditions gave way to building thunderstorms…

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…but we managed to make it to the shelter of Gilkey Harbor off Islesboro before things got too hairy today.

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And as it had for the last three days, the storms cleared for lovely sunsets…

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…more delectable food, and evening entertainment from the crew.

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Several flight calls early in the night overhead suggested that the front had finally cleared, and fall migrants were once again on the move.

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Another lovely morning greeted us on our final day aboard the French, but not before we raced ashore for one last birdwalk. This time, we checked out Warren Island State Park.

We added several species to our list in one single Paper Birch just off the pier (Brown Creeper, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Black-and-white Warbler) while a delightfully birdy stroll added Hermit Thrush and Gray Catbird, plus great views of a variety of other species as we also spent time looking at plants and discussing the ecology of the Maine islands once again (and ranting about invasive plants).

But alas, all good Birding By Schooner tours must come to an end, so sails were set and we headed for home.

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Turkey Vultures over the Camden Hills and Chimney Swifts over the harbor were our final 77th and 78th species of the journey and we pulled into the dock. Goodbyes were said, belongings were gathered, and Captain Garth and I immediately began to plot for next year’s trip.

A special thanks go to Jenny and Garth Wells, and the crew of the Schooner Lewis R. French for making this special trip a reality, and as always, making it a resounding success.  I hope you will consider joining us next year.  For more information, check out The “Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs” page of our website, or visit the the Lewis R. French

Here’s our birdlist of 79 species from this year’s tour, listed in order of appearance:
Mallard
Canada Goose
House Sparrow
Herring Gull
American Crow
Rock Pigeon
Song Sparrow
Cedar Waxwing
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Osprey
Great Blue Heron
Black Guillemot
Double-crested Cormorant
Common Eider
Ring-billed Gull
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Gannet
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
Atlantic Puffin
Arctic Tern
Common Tern
RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD
Savannah Sparrow
GREAT CORMORANT
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Short-billed Dowitcher
Sanderling
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Plover
PARASITIC JAEGER
LEACH’S STORM-PETREL
Yellow Warbler
Black-bellied Plover
White-rumped Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Red-winged Blackbird
RED PHALAROPE
MANX SHEARWATER
American Goldfinch
Bald Eagle
Mourning Dove
American Black Duck
Blue Jay
European Starling
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Yellowthroat
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Chipping Sparrow
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-throated Green Warbler
Broad-winged Hawk
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Cardinal
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Greater Yellowlegs
House Finch
Killdeer
Snowy Egret
Swainson’s Thrush
Northern Flicker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Bonaparte’s Gull
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Winter Wren
American Kestrel
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Brown Creeper
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Turkey Vulture
Chimney Swift

Trinidad and Tobago!

Ten years ago, Jeannette and I traveled to Trinidad   and Tobago, our first international trip together.  In fact, it was our honeymoon!

We first went to T&T because it offers a wealth of birding opportunities.  English-speaking, with a good infrastructure, reasonable costs, and with a couple of places that really cater to birders, T&T is a rather easy tropical birding destination.  Geologically part of South America, its avifauna is more closely related to “The Bird Continent” than the rest of the West Indies.  While it has representatives of many South American bird families, it has fewer representatives of each, making it a great introduction to the avifauna of the Neotropics.

With so many places to visit on this planet, it’s hard for us to go back to somewhere for the second time, but we had some “unfinished birding business” in T&T. For one, we were on a tight budget, so could not spend enough time at the famous Asa Wright Nature Center on Trinidad.  And, while we were there, we were limited in how many field trips we could take; there were a lot more places and birds for us to see on the island.  On Tobago, we just rented a beachside cottage, which was great, but we went a day without food when we found everything in the village closed for the day and had limited time for birding.

On one of the field trips that we did take while staying at Asa Wright was the legendary trip to CaroniSwamp to see the evening flight of Scarlet Ibis.  Unfortunately, we ended up on the boat with some wahoos were more interested in being obnoxious drunks than enjoying a natural spectacle – definitely needed to do that one again!  And finally, we wanted to see the endemic Trinidad Piping-guan, a bird that takes a very early start and a lot of driving to see (we decided it was too costly too take the trip the last time for one target bird).

Therefore, some years ago, it was decided that we would celebrate our Tenth Anniversary with a return trip.  I have no plans of leading a tour here, so this was pure vacation.  I didn’t even take that many notes.  Even with a relaxed pace – including Tobago afternoons spent on the beach – we tallied 182 species, including 20 lifers for each of us (surpassing our expectations).  And we did take plenty of photos (neither of us owned a good camera ten years ago, so photos – especially of birds – were more than a little lacking, another reason to return).

Instead of my usual detailed trip reporting, I’ll keep up the relaxed nature of our journey by simply sharing a little bit about each day, especially the highlights, and a “Photo of the Day” award.

Day 1, 1/11.
After landing at 5:30am, we made our way through customs and immigration, and after a little stressful waiting, retrieved our bags.  We were whisked off to Asa Wright and arrived just in time for breakfast.  After a hearty meal and a short guided orientation walk, we finally took a seat at the veranda, overlooking the lush valley and surrounded bay swarms of hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and tanagers at the Centre’s world famous feeding station.

It was hard to not call a return (after 10 years) to the veranda the highlight of the day, but we’ll give them first award to the great show of Red-bellied Macaws at the Waller airfield – our first lifer of the trip, and only our first stop on the “Night Tour” that culminated with Common Paraques, White-tailed Nightjars, Barn Owls, and a Common Potoo.
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Day 2, 1/12:
Getting back late the first night only to have to have a 3:30 am departure the next morning was not our choice, but thanks to Stupid United’s itinerary change, our first couple of days was condensed into one sleep-deprived blur.  When that alarm went off at 3, this did not seem like a good idea, but a few hours later we were rewarded with our #1 target species of the trip.  12 of them, in fact.

On the Birdlife International Critically Endangered list, with a population estimated at only — individuals, the Trinidad Piping-Guan has become much rarer over the last ten years, primarily due to hunting.  It was no guarantee; even with this long, dedicated trip too look for them, so the pre-sunrise silhouette of one bird was actually satisfactory.  Then, the sun came out, at the guans decided to do some tree-top sun bathing.  And here, where they are apparently protected by the locals, they were not as shy and were quite active in trees around us.  Yeah, this was definitely worth the trip.
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Day 3, 1/13:
The day began with a trip to the famous Oilbird cave on the property.  “The Devil Birds” were unusually active today, with lots of calling and flying around. The world’s only nocturnal frugivorous bird, this awesome and unique creature is about as easy to see here at Asa Wright as anywhere else, and seeing them is a highlight of any trip to Trinidad.  However, Jeannette left her short lens in the room, and my point-and-shoot performed terribly, so we don’t have a great photo to share.

And speaking of highlights of any visit to Trinidad, our tour today was the evening boat trip into Caroni Swamp for the roosting Scarlet Ibis.  Each night, over 3,000 brilliant Scarlet Ibis, many hundreds of Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons, and plenty of Little Blue Herons, Neotropic Cormorants, and Great Egrets come into roost, and boats take tourists of all sorts out to see them.

On our last trip, our Caroni Swamp experience was less than stellar.  We were put on a boat with general tourists from another hotel, who were most definitely not birders.  Two were loud, obnoxious drunks.  The boat operator did not point out other birds, and as truly amazing as the Scarlet Ibis flight was, our experience was a little disappointing.  This time, we were with our two new friends John and Gill from England whom we have been touring with these past two days, and an outstanding, exceptionally bird-knowledgeable boatsman.

The ibis arrive as dusk approaches, and with cloudy skies (somehow, despite all of the rain of the day, we only had to deal with a couple of brief showers while on the boat trip), lighting conditions were a little tough for Jeannette to score top-notch shots of the ibis.  Therefore, today’s Photo of the Day will capture the essences of the Asa Wright birding experience.  Great birds…and rum punch at 6:00pm, no matter where you are!  Also, Jeannette’s smile suggests that we were having a much more enjoyable experience this time.
J-Mo in Caroni

Day 4, 1/14:
Our full-day tour to the Nariva Swamp area produced quite a few new birds for the trip, and even a half-dozen lifers.  An Aplomado Falcon was a treat, as was a really good show of Savannah Hawks.  Roti for lunch, and a night walk including Chevron Tarantulas and land crabs were other highlights of the day.

However, today’s Photo of the Day credit will go my White-necked Jacobin photos on the veranda of Asa Wright.  Jeannette’s excellent Savannah Hawks and a Striped Cuckoo were contenders, but this photo represents the trip a little better.  Taken with my phone and nothing more, it’s hard to beat the proximity of the activity at the veranda.
Jacobin

Day 5, 1/15:
There’s no question as to today’s selection.  Ten years ago, Tufted Coquette was our most-wanted bird, so getting a photo was of high priority for Jeannette on this trip.  After a couple of days of chasing the stunning and gaudy male around, Jeannette scored this busy male feeding on their favored verbena flowers.
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Day 6, 1/16:
We arrived on Tobago yesterday evening, and this morning we took the boat trip over to Little Tobago Island to view breeding seabirds.  Not unlike our visit to Caroni Swamp ten years ago, this tour was not as memorable for the right reasons as it should have been, so we most definitely wanted to do it again.  This time, a better guide and a very small group produced a much better experience.  One-half of the pair of White-tailed Tropicbirds that nest here made an appearance, as did a Scaly-naped Pigeon – a species that may have only colonized here after Hurricane Ivan smacked Grenada in 2005.

While “the” Red-billed Tropicbird on Seal Island in Maine is simply astounding, so is the view of dozens upon dozens wheeling around the sky, avoiding marauding Magnificent Frigatebirds as they head to and from the island.  Jeannette and I agreed that we tied for Photo of the Day honors today. First is her photo of a Red-billed Tropicbird chick, and second is my iPhone photo of an adult on the nest – far too close for Jeannette’s telephoto.
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RBTR-adult

Day 7, 1/17:
Today was our primary birding day on Tobago, but let’s just say we did not choose our plan well.  We did make it up into the rainforest, and saw some good birds on the Gilpin Trail, including White-tailed Sabrewings and our lifer Yellow-legged Thrushes.  Jeannette also picked up Purple Honeycreeper, but only heard two other targets: Venezuelan Flycatcher and Olivaceous Woodcreeper.  We spent less time in the forest and saw fewer birds that we wanted – and spent more money than we expected doing so – but hey, this was our only “mistake day” of the trip, and so we couldn’t complain too much.

And besides, while having lunch (the local restaurants were a third the price and 10x better than the Inn, as is often the case) in Speyside, a Great Black-Hawk (one of our dips in our forest visit) came diving down from high elevation to take a run at a teed-up White-tipped Dove.  It was then joined by a second bird as they rapidly rose in altitude back up into the hills.

The dark forest precluded much photography, and our walk down the roadside edge was shorter than we expected, so we’ll head back to the grounds of the Blue Waters for the photo of the day: This Trinidad Motmot that was regularly stationed at the start of the short trail on the property.
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Day 8, 1/18:
Preparing to depart back to Trinidad in the afternoon, we stayed close to the Inn, including a photo session with the locals that we have been thoroughly enjoying over the past few days here.  Hand-feeding Ruddy Turnstones was only topped by this photo session with Rufous-vented Chacalacas.
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Day 9, 1/19:
Arriving after dark last night to our hotel near the airport, we took their shuttle to the mall for dinner (it was either that or take-out from the likes of KFC and Pizza Slut), which was actually rather interesting.  The “largest mall in the English-speaking Caribbean” provided two food courts of eating options…of course, no matter where in the world you are, mall food is pretty much mall food.  However, while waiting for the shuttle to pick us up, we did have a Barn Owl flying around the lights of the parking lot.

We departed for the airport before sunrise, but had a chance to walk outside for a handful of minutes at the airport:  Palm Tanager, Great Kiskadee, Carib Grackle, Tropical Mockingbird, Gray-breasted Martin, and Cattle Egret (and Great Egret from the runway) were our last birds for the trip.  Interestingly, if you include this morning there were only three species that we saw every day of this trip (9 if you exclude this morning): Palm Tanager, the mockingbird, and the grackle.

As anyone who has visited the Caribbean region, Bananaquits are one of the constant features of birding.  On islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, they are everywhere, in every habitat and at every elevation, and at least here, it is considered the most abundant bird on the island.  They are vocal, inquisitive, and full of character.  I absolutely love Richard ffrench’s (the author of the Trinidad   and Tobago field guide) evocative description: “the energetic busy-body.”  While we didn’t have one at the airport in our short walk, we did see it on the other 8 days of the trip, and this bird that sang just off of our porch at the Blue Waters Inn seemed like a fitting final “Photo of the Day.”
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