The third new Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! itinerary of 2017 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success on Sunday, July 16th. The working title had been “Beach and Brews,” but I think “Terns and Taps” might be the new title. Whatever it ends up getting called, expect to see this outing return next year. It’s a winner!
Timing our visit to Hill’s Beach for the incoming tide, we thanked our friends at Buffleheads restaurant for giving us permission to park the bus in their lot. Nearby, we crossed over to the beach and began our birding adventure.
Shorebirds and birders had to share the sand with many other beachgoers, but at Hill’s, there’s room enough for most everyone. Gulls had assembled along the western end of the beach, so we started with a quick gull identification workshop, sorting out tiny Bonaparte’s Gulls from massive Great Black-backed Gulls, and separating Herring from Ring-billed Gulls in between.
Scattered shorebirds were here and there, but the action really started, as usual, as we crested the Basket Island Sandbar and scanned the rapidly-inundating flats to its east. A growing number of shorebirds – already heading south (yup, it’s fall in the shorebird world!) included at least 50 total Short-billed Dowitchers and about 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
We quickly learned how to pick out Endangered Roseate Terns from the ubiquitous Common Terns – one of the target species of the trip. With practice, we learned it’s not as hard as some field guides suggest to separate these species, using a combination of size, relative tail length, wingbeats, and overall color. Hint: Roseates are the white ones. (Photo from a here on a different day above).
A growing contingent of gulls at this end eventually included a spiffy adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; an unexpected treat in mid-summer, and a nice way to cap our introduction to the gull identification lesson.
(Photo from another time and place)
All too soon, however, it was time to depart, but as we turned around I spottan interesting bird. One lone Willet, a tall but hefty shorebird, was standing on the flats. It struck my eye as very godwit-like, which got my heart racing at first. Tall, lanky, and very long-billed, a godwit-like gestalt is typical of the “Western” Willet, a subspecies that is rare but regular in Maine in fall, but very rare here in mid-summer.
Out of expected season, I was very careful in sorting through the salient features, and I admit to waffling a little about its identification at first. As we got closer, however, details became more apparent, such as the very long and thinner bill that suggested a hint of an upturn. It flew across the sandbar, landing close by, and in much better light, showing the overall grayer plumage, and paler undersides with considerably less markings than the browner and heavily-marked “Eastern” subspecies which breeds around here. It also began to wade in the water to feed, a behavior very typical of “Westerns.”
Although our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series is not necessarily focused on the challenging aspects of serious birding, like nuanced subspecific identification, the group admitted they enjoyed the process (and admittedly, enjoyed seeing me perplexed for a bit!). Having had our fill of the unexpected unseasonable rarity, we crossed the peninsula to the Park in the Pines to view the muddier flats of The Pool. There, at least a hundred “Eastern” Willets were present in their preferred habitat, but unfortunately, they weren’t close enough to really compare plumage details.
Scanning across the flats, we were able to sort through the masses, even though few shorebirds were very close here today, including a few Black-bellied Plovers and a stately Whimbrel – it’s disproportionally long, downcurved bill always nice to see.
And there’s no better way to celebrate a rare bird (or two today, the “Western” Willet and the Lesser Black-backed Gull) than with a beer or two. There’s also no better way to relax after a long walk on the beach on a sultry summer day than with a beer.
Good thing it was time for Don to take over, and guide us to Barreled Souls, our first brewery stop on the day’s itinerary. And they could not have started us off with a better first sample, the salty and refreshing Space Gose – perfect after a hot day on the beach.
Co-owner and operator Matt Mills was a gracious host, and shared with us their operation, methodology, and brewing philosophy. Fermenting 100% of their beer in barrels via a Burton-Union system and also ageing everything in barrels makes for some very unique and interesting flavors (I recommend checking out the “About Us” page of their website, linked here, for more information). They wanted to be different and stand out from an every-growing, crowded field, making big, malty, and high-alcohol beers but now including offerings of almost every variety.
As we learned about the brewing process, Kristi kept us hydrated with additional samples, including the MEmosa, a take on a “beer mimosa” featuring lots of orange zest in a light blonde ale with a lemony hop profile. Next up was Transformer, a new pale ale that features rotating hops (this incarnation used Amarillo and Idaho 7).
Fun (and for some, games)…
..were had by all, especially after changing things up with Dark Matter, a big and bold 10.1% sweet dark ale, similar to a stout or porter, but much sweeter. Their description was simply a quote from NASA: “We are much more certain what dark matter isn’t than what it is.” But what it definitely was today was a favorite for most of the group.
Don and I love to offer special opportunities on our Roadtrips, and today was no different. Just a half-mile away, we were the first tour group to visit the new production facility for Barreled Souls. In a mere three years they have so far outgrown their current space that they are increasing their production space from a mere 700 square feet to an incredible 7800 square feet!
Including a custom-built, climate-controlled “cellar” to house their Burton-Union system.
Back on the bus, we discussed our favorite beers, and Don introduced our next brewery, South Portland’s Fore River Brewing Company – a real neighborhood brewery nestled into the Ligonia section of town.
Don took us on a tour of their brewhouse, as we sampled their Spring Point, a Belgian whit, smooth and lemony, with a distinct biscuit finish.
Next up was their Timberhitch Irish Red, another favorite on the day for this group. It was sweet, with just the right amount of hoppiness, and with a sweet and malty finish. Last but certainly not least was the Lygonia IPA, a clear and crisp IPA with pleasant notes of tropical fruits. This round was enjoyed out on the “patio,” a lush lawn full with picnic tables reclaimed from the site of a former salt barn.
But as we know, all good tours must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye, celebrate our life birds and life beers, and make the short jaunt north to our Portland and then Freeport drop-off sites.
Endangered terns and migrant shorebirds with a couple of rarities mixed in. The only 100% Burton-Union brewery in the country making some really unique brews and a fun and successful neighborhood brewery featuring some of the area’s most popular styles. I think it’s safe to say that we will see you aboard for this tour in 2018!
(By the way, as of the writing of this, we still have one space left for our next Birds on Tap Roadtrip! “Shorebirds and Beer” on Sunday, August 13th.