Tag Archives: Tours

The “Coastal Quick Hit” Van Tour report

I think it is safe to say that the inaugural “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour was a resounding success! We not only found all of the target species that we were after, but also a few surprises, and we saw all of our target species incredibly well! And we really lucked out with the weather, as the only rain we encountered was a brief downpour while we were driving. I have “no” doubt that all future tours will be this successful.

We receive numerous requests for guiding for several local breeding species that can be hard, if not impossible, to see elsewhere. While Bicknell’s Thrush is my number one request, there are a number of coastal species that are also sought. Folks travel from far and wide for our annual “Bicknell’s Thrushes of the White Mountains” van trip, and often I get requests for private guiding for many of the other species before and after that tour. Therefore, for efficiency and economy, we introduced the “Coastal Quick Hit” tour.

We had four visitors from California on board who were here to take part in the weekend’s thrush tour, plus three local birders out for the day. The eight of us met here at the store on Friday morning, and worked our way south.

Beginning in Scarborough Marsh, we had the opportunity to study Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows side-by-side, and ponder over some hybrids as well. We compared their songs and subtleties of identification – and learned how to simply leave many, likely hybrids and intergrades, as unidentified. Meanwhile, “Eastern” Willets and many other marsh denizens were numerous, and several sparrows and Willets posed for photos.
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Walking the Eastern Road Trail, a Fish Crow was unexpected, and we enjoyed Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and more. We then found this wading bird, which immediately brought to mind one of the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret (and now, possible a backcross there of) that calls Scarborough Marsh home.
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However, it soon became clear that this was a “pure” Little Blue Heron – nothing about its shape, size, structure, or behavior (a regular adult was nearby, and sometimes in the same field of view) was suggestive of anything else (or partly anything else), and so I hypothesized about a leucistic Little Blue Heron. Immature (1st through 2nd summer) little blues are piebald, but this was much, much paler than what I usually see, with more of a uniform “wash” of the purple-blue on the body and wings. What threw me off a bit were the essentially fully-developed head and back plumes (the “aigrettes”) that I did not think were present on a bird who’s plumage was this early in development. A little research showed those plumes were just fine for a 1st-summer bird, even one in which so little adult-like plumage had been obtained. Therefore, unless this bird looks exactly the same come fall, I think it’s just a paler-than-average 1st summer Little Blue Heron. Nevertheless, it was a fun bird to study and ponder – offering a lesson in comparing shape, structure, and behavior in two birds that didn’t look the same.

Also off Eastern Road, we noted Glossy Ibis, American Black Ducks, and a White-rumped Sandpiper in spiffy breeding plumage – a treat for folks from the West Coast, and not a bird we see many of in spring here in the Northeast. It was hanging out with 4 tardy Semipalmated Sandpipers.
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A drake Gadwall at the Pelreco marsh was a nice sight as well.

Four unseasonable Brant greeted us at Pine Point, where we soon spotted one of our most sought-after species, Roseate Tern. At least 8, and likely many times that, as birds were coming and going, were quickly picked out from the crowds of Common Terns, with plenty of Least Terns zipping around.
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Common Tern

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Least Tern

This tour was designed to have at least two chances at all of our target species, but we “cleaned up” in Scarborough, so we elected to brake up our upcoming drive with a stop in Webhannet Marsh near Moody Point for a visit with the King Rail that, for the second summer in a row, has occupied a small corner of the marsh. While waiting for it, we spotted more Willets, and had another great view of a Saltmarsh Sparrow or too.

The rail never called, but about 2/3rds of the group, myself NOT included, were able to spot the rail as it crossed two successive small openings in the marsh grass. The rest of us were just a little too far up the road, and it never made it to the third clearing we were stationed at. But still, a King Rail in the middle of the afternoon! A loafing Surf Scoter with Common Eiders offshore was also unexpected.

A delicious lunch fueled the rest of our drive south and the timing of the rainfall could not have been better. Traffic was relatively minimal as we fought our way through the outskirts of Boston, arriving at Revere Beach just as a thunderstorm passed to our south.
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While this is not exactly the most aesthetically-pleasing stop of the tour…
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…it was incredibly rewarding, as in short order, we picked up our last two target species, Piping Plover…
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…and, believe it or not, Manx Shearwater…
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…from land, in a city, and not very far offshore!

This incredible phenomena (they are clearly nesting locally, but where!? One of the Boston Harbor Islands?) was the icing on the cake to a most-successful trip. Based on these results, you can expect to see the “Coastal Quick Hit” van tour again in 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned to the Tours, Events, and Workshops Page of www.freeportwildbirdsupply.com for more information about this and all of our tours.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Warblers and Wort.

Whether from a guide’s perspective or a participant, one of the great benefits of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series of tours with The Maine Brew Bus is that no matter what the weather, no matter what the season, the breweries WILL be there. The same, obviously, cannot always be said for the birds, especially when rain and wind is forecast. Well, they will be there, but whether or not we get to see them is an entirely different thing.

And the forecast for Mother’s Day was not good. One of the local forecaster’s simply called it a “complete wash-out.” But rescheduling these events, outside of winter, is a real challenge, and like I said, we can at least guarantee that the breweries will be dry and open! Certainly, the radar, as we departed Portland, did not offer much in the way of optimism.
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But despite the forecast, the May 14th “Warblers and Wort” Roadtrip was anything but a washout. In fact, half of the birding was done without a drop of rain and even a little filtered sun. But yeah, the first stop was rather damp.

We began at the Waterboro Barrens Preserve in Shapleigh, where we enjoyed numerous and conspicuous Eastern Towhees. Several people commented that they had never seen so many towhees, and seen them so well. But with light rainfall falling steadily, the birding was rather slow. We only heard one Prairie Warbler, did not locate a single Field Sparrow, but we were quite pleased to have a singing Red Crossbill fly over. We did get to see a rather rare habitat for Maine – managed Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak barrens – and we compared the forest composition within the reserve to the degraded woods outside the property. We didn’t see all of the denizens of this specialized habitat, but plans were made for return visits on drier days.
Waterboro Habitat
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Female Red Crossbill and a Chipping Sparrow, from a different time and place.

Our second stop conveniently took place in the midst of a break in the precipitation. Unfortunately, wet, winding roads slowed down our transit, I spent a few more minutes than I should have at Waterboro, and a little communication error led to us falling well behind schedule. Therefore, we were on a mission as we marched into the Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington.
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This beautiful little spot, which was one of my favorite discoveries while writing my new book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide is home to several territories of the localized Louisiana Waterthrush – a bird that today’s group was really hoping to see. As soon as we reached the river, we heard one singing, and then, in my favorite viewing spot, got one to immediately pop out of cover and provide unusually long and unimpeded views as he was clearly challenging the bird singing across the river.
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Meanwhile, a rather confiding Veery competed for our attention. We would have worked harder for more of the breeding warblers here – this was “Warblers and Wort” afterall – but we celebrated our Louie success – the primary “target” of this visit.

The mixed woodlands here, and the deciduous-dominated riparian corridor on the banks of the Saco River were in marked contrast to the rather homogeneous pine barrens. A larger sample of the birdlife would show some significant differences in resultant avian species composition.
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If “Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat” was listed in the dictionary, this picture would be it definition.

All too soon Andy, our driver and beer guide for the day, had to crack the whip and get us on our way. Back in the bus, we shed layers, and Andy took over on the microphone as we weaved our way back around Sawyer Mountain and over to Limerick’s Gneiss Brewing Company, fueled by our kale and feta hand pies for lunch.

Not only had they opened just for us, they fired up the woodstove, and we rapidly dried out the remnants of that rain in Waterboro. Concentrating on classic German styles, we learned about Gneiss’s brewing philosophy and operation. Having produced 400 barrels last year, plans are in the works for future expansion and canning. We glimpsed a Wild Turkey strutting through the backyard as we toured the facility and sampled four of their beers.
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Beginning with their flagship Gneiss Weiss, a full-bodied wheat beer with low bitterness and a subtle hint of banana, we moved on to Sonnenschein, a crisp and well-balanced Kolsch. I really liked this beer; crisp, clean, and easy-drinking but with really good balance and flavor. Next up was Obsius, a stout brewed with roasted wheat and fermented with their house hefeweizen yeast, making for a subtle banana note to go along with the traditional roasty and nutty stout flavors.
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Last but not least, we were offered a sample of any one of their ten beers on tap at the moment, and on recommendation, I sampled Pyroclast, a collaboration with Orono Brewing Company. Starting with a potent golden ale, it was aged for 13 months in various barrels, including those of both red and white wines, with several rounds of various wild yeasts. The result was an ultra-complex brew with lots of fruity and tart flavors. And, with the Brettanomyces, just a little bit of funk.
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The second brewery on today’s itinerary was the production facility of Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham. It was fascinating to compare the size of the facility and equipment, and learning how craft beer is scaled up to accommodate growing demand. Ahead of the curve, opening their first brewpub way back (in the world of modern craft brewing, downright ancient) in 1998, Sebago now operates four brewpubs, and supplies cans and bottles around New England.
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A generous helping of seven samples of a wide range of their offerings helped guide us through the tour and the discussion, starting with Yellow on Friday, their Czech Pilsner. Light in body, crisp, and mellow, this was a rare lager from Sebago. Next up was the Red X, a pale ale recipe using red malt. This one-time brew was surprising – the palette is expecting a sweet amber from the color, but this is an illusion – it was light and dry like a typical pale. It was definitely unique, and I quite liked it.
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A single hopped pale ale featuring a new New Zealand hop variety offered some tangerine and bitter blood orange flavor, before we relaxed with a new stand-by, the light and refreshing session, Simmer Down. One of their new top-sellers, this was already the fourth release this year of what will likely be a new summer go-to, featuring lots of tropical fruit notes and low alcohol.
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Sebago’s number one seller is their Frye’s Leap IPA, which may be up to 60% of what they produce in a month these days. Citrus and a touch of pine are featured in this classic IPA. Next up was one of my favorites from Sebago, the Whistlepunk DIPA, which has lots of citrus and other hop flavors, and although it’s a goodly 8% is not boozy to me. We then finished up with their Hop Yard Porter, with local hops, and a fairly light body for a porter.

Needless to say, we had all fully warmed up by now! The short trip to Portland and then on to Freeport, discussion revolved around the wide variety of beers that were sampled, and for many, life birds – especially the Louisiana Waterthrush – that were spotted. And the fact that it wasn’t even raining for the whole day; that is most definitely a win!

2017 Birds on Tap – Roadtrips!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2017 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” (sm) series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

Who would have thought that, when I made that first call a year and a half ago to pitch the idea, we would not only be expanding to ten tours, but we would also featured in the Portland Press Herald (in the Food section no less) and Maine Public Radio. And then we went national via the Associated Press! (And for a little more about the history of our tour partnership, check out this blog entry from last year).

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For 2017, we have added several new itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Some of our most exciting new tours include March’s “Gulls and Growlers” where we’ll see dozens of eagles and look for rare gulls, and in July, we’ll spend a day at the beach looking at terns and shorebirds. In between, we’ll revisit all of our successful tours from 2016, including both Spring and Fall editions of Ducks and Draughts.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 12th – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: Sunday, Feb 19)
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: SoMe Brewing Co. in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, March 4 – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: SATURDAY, Mar 11)
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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles.  Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.  After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks if they are around.

Breweries: Lost Orchard/Crooked Halo Cidery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 2 – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling, both in Newcastle.

“Warbler and Wort”
Sunday, May 14 – 8:00am to 2:00pm.
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We’ll be taking two easy hikes on this outing to enjoy breeding birds and migrants in the inland forests. Our first stop will be in pine barren habitat. Although not all breeding birds will be present in full force, some of our targets, such as Prairie and Pine Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees will be. We’ll also look for a Clay-colored Sparrow should a territorial bird return, and there’s always the chance that Red Crossbills could be around. Our next stop will be a location in search of Louisiana Waterthrushes. Once thought to be rare in Maine, they are actually a locally common breeding bird in very specific habitat. We’ll visit one of two locales for this species taking another walk in search of this shy bird. Hearing them is likely, but we’ll accept the challenge of getting to see one!  A variety of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and many others may also be encountered.

Breweries: Gneiss Brewing Co. in Limerick and Sebago Brewing Co. in Gorham.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 4th – 8:00am to 2:30pm.
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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow  in Lyman and Banded Horn in Biddeford.

“Beach and Brews”
Sunday, July 16th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds.  Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barrelled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Beer”
Sunday, August 13th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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The original BoT Roadtrip!  in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 8th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.
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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two.  This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Tributary Brewing Co. and Woodland Farms Breweries in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 12th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation”
Sunday, December 10th – 9:00am to 3:30pm.
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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.  And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including online sign-ups with a credit card), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website:

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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2016 Fall MonhegZen Migration Weekend

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Our annual “MonhegZen” Fall Birding Weekend visited Monhegan Island over the weekend. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to find nearly as few birds as when I departed four days prior, as my week on the island with my WINGS tour concluded. However, there was a noticeable increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Swamp and White-throated Sparrows; clearly, the transition to October had been underway. No rarities to catch up with or track down for my tour group, either. So I enjoyed some time with friends, and that evening’s sunset (here, from the Island Inn) more than made it worth the early arrival.
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Thanks to a strong flight overnight on a light to moderate northeasterly wind, there were, however, a lot of birds to kick off the tour as I met the group of nine at the dock at 8:00am. Yellow-rumped Warblers (over 90% of the flight, apparently), were swirling overhead and we ran into large groups and scattered small, reorienting flocks all morning. It was nice and birdy through lunch, even if almost everything was a Yellow-rump! However, the homogeny was punctuated by good looks at things like a cooperative Northern Waterthrush at the Ice Pond.

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…and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows in gardens.
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We had a fun day, with a nice diversity of birds, including one Dickcissel, several Cory’s Shearwaters, lots of Northern Gannets, and a respectable 11 species of warblers.
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We awoke to light showers and continuing northeasterly winds on Saturday morning, with the radar indicating merely a light flight overnight. There was virtually no morning flight over the Trailing Yew after sunrise, and it was exceptionally slow after breakfast. Five species of sparrows on one of my seed piles was decent, and again we had a single Dickcissel.

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Some thought I was worshiping this Brown Thrasher, perhaps praying to the bird gods for more migrants. But really, I was just conducting an experiment on how many mealworms a thrasher can eat. For the record: 9, with one taken to go.

But it was hard to sugar-coat things, especially for the three new arrivals that came mid-morning! This was as slow as Monhegan gets, but I can say this: the weather was much better than expected. We only had a little spitting rain after the early morning showers, and light east winds. Expecting a possible wash-out, I would take it, and I would definitely take the results of our afternoon seawatching from Whitehead: 30+ Cory’s Shearwaters (just a few years ago, they were genuinely rare here), 50+ Northern Gannets, a Pomarine Jaeger, and 6 newly-arrived Surf Scoters landing with hundreds of Common Eiders.
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And on our way back into town, we hit a couple of nice birdy spots which helped to end on a high note, including the Clay-colored Sparrow that we had been trying to catch up with.
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Several Monarch butterfly chrysalises were noted behind the Trailing Yew. They better hurry!

Northeasterly winds continued for a 4th or 5th straight night, and a little light rain was once again falling at sunrise. With virtually no visible migration on the radar with diminishing northeasterly winds and scattered showers after midnight, there was yet another nearly-bird-less morning flight over the Yew at dawn. Well, there were the TWO Yellow-rumped Warblers to be exact!

It was another wicked slow morning – I found myself apologizing profusely to those members of the group who were new to the island; I swear this is not what Monhegan is usually about! But at least the rain ended by the time we were done with breakfast, and with the ceiling lifting, we finished strong with birds coming out into the open. There was the Clay-colored Sparrow once again in the Peace Garden by the church comparing itself perfectly to nearby Chipping Sparrows…
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…the two Dickcissels together in town (here’s one of them)…
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And several really good looks at Cape May Warblers, including this male.
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Blue-headed Vireos seemed to have arrived overnight, as did a smashing drake Wood Duck that was feeding in the bushes at the Ice Pond’s wide muddy edge. In fact, the 61 species we recorded on the day (with a 4:30 departure) was our best total of the three days.
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Most of the group departed, and those who took the late boat back to Port Clyde with me saw a Razorbill and a few more Cory’s Shearwaters, including one rather close to the boat. The two couples that stayed on the island dreamed of sunshine and a fallout for the next morning (sunshine and more birds, but no fallout, alas).

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“Yellow” Palm Warbler catching flies emerging from a compost bin

So while “tour guide spin” suggests I should just talk about the Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissels, Cape May Warblers, and all of the Cory’s Shearwaters, it’s hard to not see through that. It was slow…and weekends like this happen in the fall. Unlike my week-long WINGS tour that saw multiple changes in the weather, we were stuck in a dreary, northeasterly pattern that doesn’t produce a whole lot of birds for Monhegan. And, as true of the entire fall, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the continued lack of cold fronts continues to minimize numbers and concentrations along the coast and offshore. A mere 71 species were recorded in our three days together; our average for the weekend is 99 species (with an average of 20 species of warblers)! Or should I say, was.

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So now comes the “spin:” If I would have to spend a weekend anywhere else in a “slow” fall, it sure has heck would be Monhegan! The best pizza in the state and other great meals, fantastic beer, good company, and the unique and truly special sense of place that Monhegan offers (including Trap Day, which we enjoyed from afar on Saturday). And yeah, Dickcissels, Clay-colored Sparrows, Cory’s Shearwaters, and 11 species of warblers in three days in early October really isn’t too shabby.
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Of course, there are always things like Fringed Gentian to look at as well!

We’ll just make up for it in spring!

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The daily lists:
Species: Fri 9/30, Sat 10/1, Sun 10/2.

Canada Goose: 0,5,0
Wood Duck: 0,0,1
American Black Duck: 1.5,1.5,1.5
Mallard: 8,12,12
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,6,0
Common Loon: 3,1,0
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 5,30,5
Northern Gannet: 100,50,20
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 6,10,10
Great Blue Heron: 1,1,1
Bald Eagle: 2,1,0
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,4,2
American Kestrel: 1,1,1
Merlin: 6,5,3
Peregrine Falcon: 1,2,2
POMARINE JAEGER: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 0,1,0
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Black Guillemot: 6,2,4
Mourning Dove: 4,4,8
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 4,5,6
Downy Woodpecker: 3,3,2
Northern Flicker: 30,10,4
Eastern Phoebe: 3,3,1
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,0,2
Red-eyed Vireo: 6,4,3
Blue Jay: 28,24,16
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 1,3,2
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 30,20,10
White-breasted Nuthatch: 2,2,2
Brown Creeper: 2,6,1
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 25,25,20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 5,4,3
American Robin: 4,1,0
Gray Catbird: 6,6,4
Brown Thrasher: 1,1,1
European Starling: 11,11,11
Cedar Waxwing: 75,50,40
Yellow Warbler: 1,0,1
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,2
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,2,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 200,30,30
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1,0,0
Palm Warbler: 20,6,4
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,4,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,0
American Redstart: 1,0,0
Northern Waterthrush: 1,0,0
Common Yellowthroat: 10,4,2
Chipping Sparrow: 4,6,4
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW: 0,1,1
Savannah Sparrow: 6,5,8
Song Sparrow: 20,20,20
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,2,1
Swamp Sparrow: 3,0,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,25
White-crowned Sparrow: 5,6,6
Dark-eyed Junco: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 4,12,10
Rusty Blackbird: 1,0,0
Common Grackle: 2,2,2
Brown-headed Cowbird: 0,0,2
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,2
Purple Finch: 1,0,1
American Goldfinch: 4,4,2\

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White-throated Sparrow

The Two “Shorebirds and Beer” Birds on Tap – Roadtrips of 2016

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“Shorebirds and Beer” was our first-ever “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” in partnership with our friends at The Maine Brew Bus last August. Now our 6th trip together, combining casual yet instructive birding in some of the state’s best seasonal hotspots with visits to two of our fantastic local breweries, we planned a return to Scarborough Marsh – where it all began!

And by popular demand, we added a second date. So this year, we had two “Shorebirds and Beer” departures, on August 7th and again on August 14th.  Both visited Scarborough Marsh, focusing our efforts on migratory shorebirds, but combined pairs of very different breweries.

We began the August 7th visit to Scarborough Marsh at the Eastern Road Trail.  A nice variety of birds were observed, including a couple of very cooperative singing Nelson’s Sparrows. Unfortunately, we found our destination, the salt pannes on the northern side of the marsh to be completely bone-dry due to this year’s drought. Needless to say, the numbers of shorebirds were not what we were hoping for. In fact, other than a few small groups of Least Sandpipers popping in and out of the grass, the pannes – often the most productive place in the entire marsh at this season – were completely devoid of shorebirds!
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However, along the road, we had some good instructive lessons, including ultra-cooperative Least Sandpipers than began our introduction into shorebird identification. We learned how breaking shorebirds down into family by shape and size first narrows the choices, and allows you to focus on just a few species to identify. We even had a perfect example of this, when three members of the genus Tringa were standing side-by-side as a dainty Lesser Yellowlegs joined a couple of Greater Yellowlegs while a bulky Tringa-on-steroids, Willet (of the Eastern subspecies, for the record) looked on.

Heading over to Pine Point as the tide rapidly rolled in, various human disturbances in Jones Creek limited shorebird diversity, but we could not have asked for more cooperative Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers (about 200 and 100, respectively) that really allowed us to practice our plover vs. sandpiper feeding shape and style dichotomy.
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We then moved on to work on specific identification.
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The remainder of our birding time was spent scanning the last of the distance sandbars (adding Black-bellied Plover to the shorebird checklist), before one of the members of the group called me over to check out an odd bird she found in her scope. It was an American Avocet!

While distance and heat shimmer precluded documentation photos, everyone was treated to a look or two in the scope of this very rare-in-Maine bird that isn’t seen every year anywhere in the state. While the long, fine bill was barely discernable at the distance, the very long legs and overall tall size (compared to nearby gulls) coupled with the distinctive tri-colored appearance (buffy head and neck, white underparts, and black wing with a broad white stripe) looks like no other.

And then it was time for a celebratory beer!  After a celebratory hand-pie for lunch, of course.
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First up was Barreled Souls in Saco, the only brewery in the country that is producing 100% barrel fermented beer in their Burton-Union system. Producing a mere 400 barrels a year – yet still offering 10-12 brews on tap at all times! – this time-consuming process which included two stages of fermentation, allows for the creation of some very complex beers.

Our samples today began with Half-Shilling, a very-light-bodied and low-ABV Scotch Ale as an introduction. Rosalita followed, using agave nectar in the primary fermentation and then steeped with hibiscus flowers during secondary fermentation, making for a very floral and subtly-sweet brew.  Space Gose was next, a summer refresher made with Maine sea salt, lemon zest, and coriander. By request, we then did a complete beer-wise-180 and shifted over to a heavy Barrel-aged MCAM – a very unique breakfast porter made with cinnamon, French toast, and bacon!  The spice, sweet, and smokiness were evident, as were the hints of bourbon from the bourbon barrels it was aged in. It was a potent, and very tasty, beer and a good representation of Barreled Souls’ creativity.

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Kristi shows off her very-appropriate for a birding/beer tour tattoo.

Our final destination of the day was Lone Pine Brewing in Portland. We began with their flagship Portland Pale Ale, using 90% Aroostook County-grown malts. This is a really great pale, with lots of flavor but incredibly smooth and lacking bitterness. Pale ales are occasionally “boring” to those who like a lot of hops, but this exceedingly well-balanced beer could be a new go-to for quite a few of us on the tour.

Their new Brightside IPA was next on our agenda, and I would put this right up there with the best IPAs in the state. Bright and citrusy, yet without that overwhelming bitterness that often pervades stronger IPAs (this one clocks in at a potent 7% alcohol), it may be way too easy-drinking. It was also a very “accessible” IPA for the non-hopheads. One member of group in particular, who normally doesn’t like IPAs at all, was actually quite a fan of this also well-balanced beer. For me, a sign of a truly great beer is one that is so good is that it appeals to those who normally don’t like that particular style.
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The following weekend, we once again began our birding at Eastern Road. Despite some rain in the past few days, however, the salt pannes were still dry. But to and fro, we encountered a nice mix of shorebirds, including some unbelievable cooperative Least Sandpipers once again.
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This one was phone-binned (a photo taken with an iPhone through my binoculars)!

Three Spotted Sandpipers – our first shorebirds of the day, actually – were encountered as we began our walk, and a decent number of Semipalmated Sandpipers were in the dried pannes. Both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs were seen together for instructive studies. A distant hunting Northern Harrier, more singing (but this week, not seen) Nelson’s Sparrows, and lots of Cedar Waxwings and Song Sparrows foraging in the trailside scrub were among the highlights. We also took the time to watch Common Wood-Nymph butterflies, Great and Snowy Egrets, and stopped to enjoy the magnificently beautiful color of the eyes of Double-crested Cormorants.
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Great Egret posing.

On the walk back, with the tide just starting to recede, we had the opportunity to check out a few Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a Least Sandpiper all side-by-side, just about 20 feet away.
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A quick stop at the Pelreco marsh produced yet more Least Sandpipers, a better view of the details of Greater Yellowlegs, two spiffy adult Little Blue Herons, and most importantly: Patches! Arguably one of the rarest birds in the world, this Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrid that has been frequenting the marsh for the past 3 years put on quite a show for us. It could – hypothetically – be the only one of its kind!
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Thanks to a change in brewery itinerary for this second run of “Shorebirds and Beer,” I was able to stall at the marsh long enough to allow enough water to flow out that mud was rapidly being exposed at Pine Point. And with it, excellent numbers of all of the expected shorebirds began to appear: 400+ Semipalmated Sandpipers, 300+ Semipalmated Plovers, 150+ Black-bellied Plovers, 22 Short-billed Dowitchers, 8 “Eastern” Willets, 6 White-rumped Sandpipers, 4 Ruddy Turnstones, a few Least Sandpipers, and 2 Greater Yellowlegs.

No American Avocet though, but a hunting Peregrine Falcon zipped through, causing quite the ruckus.

And then it was once again beer o’clock, and today we began our beer-ing tour with a visit to South Portland’s Foulmouthed Brewing. Only open for 7 weeks, it was a new destination for everyone on today’s tour – myself included – and we learned all about the owners, the fledgling (see what I did there?) brewpub (yup, they opened a restaurant too), and their wide range of beers.  We even enjoyed a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time sample of their new “Blue Balls,” a Belgian dark, strong beer with blueberries. Still a week or two from being finished, it was a great introduction to their creative brewing side.
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Inside at the brewpub, we sat at the big kids’ table and sampled four of their current offerings. Beginning with Brat, a German-style session with its bright and clean Noble hop finish, we moved onto Half Wit, a “hybrid” (not of heron and egret, mind you) of a Belgian Wit and an American Pale. A favorite of many on today’s visit, it was smooth and accessible, with enough body and flavor to hold its own. Kaizen Saison was up next, with its rotating hops producing a different flavor and aroma profile with each batch. We finished up with Rhubarb de Garde, a strong amber aged on rhubarb. I found a little extra sweetness and especially just the hint of tart from the rhubarb complimented each other nicely.
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Our final beer stop of the day was a return trip to Lone Pine Brewing. Tom once again took us through their methods and philosophy, and shared with us their Portland Pale Ale and Brightside IPA. The more I drink the Portland Pale, the more I love this perfectly balanced beer.
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And Abby was dressed in our honor today.

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While Don, always attentive, looked like he had just spotted a Blue-footed Booby.

With our final sips of Brightside, the second installment of Shorebirds and Beer came to a close and it was time to head back home. Every day is different during the window of shorebird migration, and these two visits to Scarborough Marsh exemplified that. A wide range of shorebirds were studied, as we started to expand our identification – and appreciation – toolbox. And between Barreled Souls, Lone Pine, and Foulmouthed, we were exposed to a wide range of beer styles and methodologies.
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And both are the goals of our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series: exposure to some of our seasonal birding highlights and our vast array of fantastic local breweries. We hope you’ll join us for our next roadtrip, on October 9th, when we head to the deep south to visit Kittery’s Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach for our birding, and Tributary and Hidden Cove Brewing for our beering. Hope to see you then!

2015 MonhegZen Fall Migration Birding Weekend

As always, the last weekend in September finds me at one of my favorite birding locales in the world, Monhegan Island. My annual “MonhegZen Fall Migration Weekend” tour takes place then, and with it, a wealth of birds and good times are to be had.

Well, usually a wealth of birds are to be had! But yeah, this year was slow. As slow as I have ever seen it. But my goodness, was it nice out! Of course, this same pleasant, unseasonable warm and benign weather was exactly why there were so few (relatively speaking) birds out there. It seems that with night after night of great flying conditions, birds are proceeding unimpeded, with no fallouts, or even concentrations near the coast or offshore.

So in writing this blog, I was trying to figure out how to sugarcoat the weekend. Perhaps this will do it:
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Or this?
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Beautiful sunsets, and wonderous moonrises:
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Or maybe this will help:
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So yeah, it was gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. And the Novelty Pizza was just as good, and Monhegan Brewing Company’s beer was just as great.

The butterflying was good, and the wildflowers were a nice distraction, especially the Fringed Gentian as always.
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And don’t worry, there were still plenty of birds – just not as many as usual. We enjoyed some great studies of Great and Double-crested Cormorants…
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…and of course a few rarities were around. The two headliners were the two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that would spend dawn at the Ice Pond. They would fly in just before 6 (presumably from feeding around the rocky shoreline), drink and preen a bit, and then shortly after sunrise, take off to roost in the trees. You needed to be here dark and early to get them, and on Sunday morning, the group made the lovely twilight walk (fly-by American Woodcock!) to reach the pond, and we arrived just a few minutes after the night-herons did. One lingered until it was just light enough to grab a snapshot.
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A Great Blue Heron kept watch as well.
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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Monhegan weekend if I didn’t attempt to string one Empidonax flycatcher. Of course, this one was a Least Flycatcher – as expected, and as usual. It did offer a very nice, prolonged study, however.
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One of the other significant birding highlights was the seawatching from the tall cliffs. In the afternoon each day, we strolled over to White Head to enjoy Northern Gannets, study Great Cormorants, and do a little seawatching.
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With northeasterly winds picking up Sunday afternoon, gannets were breathtakingly close. A little trickle of shearwaters, which included 2 Cory’s Shearwaters among a handful of Greats, were anything but near.

Here’s the three-day checklist of all birds seen:
American Black Duck: 0,1,0
Mallard: 6,6,6
American Black Duck x Mallard: 1,1,1
Green-winged Teal: 1,1,1
Common Eider: x,x,x
Surf Scoter: 0,1,8
Common Loon: 0,1,2
CORY’S SHEARWATER: 0,0,2
GREAT SHEARWATER: 0,0,6
Ring-necked Pheasant: 3,3,1
Northern Gannet: #,#,##
Double-crested Cormorant: x,x,x
Great Cormorant: 2,13,3
Great Blue Heron: 1,0,2,
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON: 0,0,2 (present all three days, but we only made it to the Ice Pond at dawn on the last day).
Osprey: 1,2,2
Bald Eagle: 1,2,1
Northern Harrier: 0,0,1
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 4,6,1
American Kestrel: 0,3,9
Merlin: ??,4,3
Peregrine Falcon: 0,2,1
Semipalmated Plover: 0,1,0
Laughing Gull: 1,1,0
Herring Gull: x,x,x
Great Black-backed Gull: x,x,x
Ring-billed Gull: 0,0,1
Black Guillemot: x,x,x
Mourning Dove: 6,4,6
Belted Kingfisher: 1,1,2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: 8,4,4
Downy Woodpecker: 0,2,2
Northern Flicker: 0,6,8
Least Flycatcher: 0,1,1
Eastern Phoebe: 0,3,3
Blue-headed Vireo: 0,1,0
Philadelphia Vireo: 0,1,0
Red-eyed Vireo: 0,6,3
Blue Jay: 4,8,15
American Crow: x,x,x
Common Raven: 3,2,2
Horned Lark: 0,1,0
Black-capped Chickadee: x,x,x
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 6,8,12
Brown Creeper: 0,1,2
Winter Wren: 0,1,0
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15,20,40
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 20,6,5
Swainson’s Thrush: 1,0,0
American Robin: 2,1,1
Gray Catbird: x,x,x
European Starling: 8,8,8
American Pipit: 3,1,0
Cedar Waxwing: 30,25,30
Nashville Warbler: 1,1,1
Northern Parula: 10,4,4
Yellow Warbler: 2,1,1
Magnolia Warbler: 1,0,0
Cape May Warbler: 1,2,1
Black-throated Blue Warbler: 1,0,0
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 150,75,75
Black-throated Green Warbler: 6,2,2
PINE WARBLER: 1,0,0
Prairie Warbler: 1,0,1
Palm Warbler: 4,2,2
Blackpoll Warbler: 15,10,10
American Redstart: 0,1,1
Black-and-white Warbler: 1,0,1
Common Yellowthroat: 4,x,x
Chipping Sparrow: 1,4,4
Song Sparrow: x,x,x
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2,1,1
Swamp Sparrow: 4,2,2
White-throated Sparrow: 10,10,10
White-crowned Sparrow: 0,1,1
Northern Cardinal: 10,8,8
DICKCISSEL: 1,1,1
Common Grackle: 10,29,29
Baltimore Oriole: 2,2,2
American Goldfinch: 2,4,4

Total species = 80
Total warbler species = 15

Although this year’s tour was one day shorter than usual (since Jeannette and I had to leave for a tradeshow on Monday), the 80 total species was a whopping 22% below the average of 102 species for my usual 4-day tour, and 16% below my average of 95 species for a three-day fall tour.

But the “MonhegZen Migration Weekend” isn’t called that for some existential reason – no meditation required. Instead, it’s a suggestion of the mindset of going with the flow, taking what the island gives us, and enjoying a truly unique and remarkable place that superlatives fail to completely describe.

So yeah, it was pretty slow. But it’s not just cliché: a slow day on Monhegan is better than a “good” day almost anywhere else. And not just for the birds! Don’t believe me? Well, how about joining us next fall to see for yourself? I mean, did you see those sunsets?

P.S. To get a better idea of what it’s usually like out there, check out my blog from last fall’s weekend tour.

“Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Shorebirds and Beers!” Trip report, 8/2/15

It’s pretty clear that I am not the only birder who loves beer. And based on the success of the “Birds, Books, and Beers” series at Maine Beer Company, the first of hopefully many “Birds on Tap!” lectures at Rising Tide Brewing, and the fact that many of my tours finish the day at a brewery (e.g. Monhegan Brewing), I was looking for a way to build on these events.

Enter the “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series with our friends at the Maine Brew Bus. And the first of what we hope will be a regular schedule of unique birding and beer-ing outings took place on Sunday.

Combining three hours of birding with visits to two of our great local breweries, we strive to showcase some of Maine’s best birding, and best craft brewers. Beginning in August, there’s no better place to bird in southern Maine than Scarborough Marsh.
on the bus

After two convenient pick-ups, one at the store and one in Portland, it was down the marsh, starting at Pine Point on the incoming tide. Common Terns were feeding in the channel, and we took a moment to check out the truly beautiful turquoise eye of a nearby Double-crested Cormorant.
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Out on the mudflats, 150+ Semipalmated Plovers were joined by at least 75 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 30 or so Short-billed Dowitchers, 15 “Eastern” Willets, and a few Black-bellied Plovers. As the ride rolled in, many of these birds flew closer, landing on the last strip of mud and sand right in front of us, offering detailed study of plumage details to complement the “general impression of size and shape” methodology of identifying birds afar.
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Some birds, like this Semipalmated Plover, were incredibly close and offered great studies of plumage detail.

Our next stop, with the tide approaching high, was the Eastern Road Trail. The wide, raised trail crossing the marsh provided convenient access and easy viewing of the many hundreds of shorebirds out in the salt pannes. 300+ Semipalmated Sandpipers, 100-150 Semipalmated Plovers, 100+ Short-billed Dowitchers, 50+ Least Sandpipers, 20+ Greater and 6 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 “Eastern” Willets, 2 White-rumped Sandpipers, and a single Spotted Sandpiper.

Joining the shorebirds in the pannes were a variety of wading birds, with 40+ Snowy and 25 Great Egrets, 8 Glossy Ibis, 4 Great Blue Herons, 3 Little Blue Herons, and “Patches:” the ultra-rare Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrid that has been frequenting the marsh for at least three summers now.
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There were a lot of birds in the pannes today, with shorebirds covering all of the exposed mud and wading birds standing guard at the edges.

Several singing Nelson’s Sparrows, including a couple of birds that offered unusually prolonged scope-views, a soaring Bald Eagle, and a hunting Northern Harrier added to the diversity of the day.

As we enjoyed some scrumptious vegetable hand-pies, Josh took over the show, and escorted us down to Saco’s Barreled Souls. While several birders got a life bird or two today, everyone in the group had their “life beers” from Barreled Souls. All of Barreled Souls’ beers are fermented in oak barrels using a version of the Burton Union system, a method developed in England in the 1800’s. Unique ingredients coupled with this system that offer subtle flavor additions and changes to the beer, provides a healthy growing environment for the yeast that does the dirty work of making the sugar into alcohol, and allows for the capture the healthiest yeast crops for the next batch of brew.
Barreled_souls

We received a tour of the facility, before being invited in the cozy tasting room. All the while, four unique and very flavorful beers, all very different in taste and body, were sampled, including Half-Nelson, an IPA with 100% Nelson Sauvin hops and Space Gose, a tart German style beer with coriander, Maine sea salt, and lemon zest. Mixing things up a bit, the fruity Eat a Peach and the finale, the malty and nutty – and potent – Quaker State Heavyweight.

Conversations about birds during the first half of the tour rapidly turned to conversations about beer, often spurred on by discussions about the samples, and several people remarked how these beers were outside of their usual comfort zone, broadening their horizons and challenging their pallets. One could say there is a parallel to our discussions about the finer point of “peep” identification while out in the marsh!
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It seemed most appropriate that our second brewery of the tour would be Rising Tide Brewing in Portland – our partner in the Birds on Tap! lecture series. Refreshing Daymark, a clean and classic APA; Ishmael, the rich and malty American copper ale; Zephyr, Rising Tide’s hoppy but incredibly well-balanced IPA; and of course, the venerable Maine Island Trail Ale the citrusy, hoppy, and summertime-perfect American Ale that is one of the favorite beers of many a Maine beer drinker, myself included.
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MITA

While many of the Maine residents in the group – we also had guests from Kansas and folks who share Maine with another home state – were more familiar with the offerings of this favorite brewery, Alex did a great job explaining the philosophy of the brewery and the methods they use to produce so many quality, unique, – and in many cases, exceedingly approachable – brews.

As we wrapped things up and Josh transported us back to our respective drop-offs, the bus was filled with chatter about birds, beers, and more than one question for when the next Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! from Freeport Wild Bird Supply and the Maine Brew Bus will be taking place…stay tuned!

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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20. L1020658_Seal_Island_sunset,7-22_edited-1

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!

June 2015 Month in Review

I guide nearly full-time in the month of June, and this year was no different. Add a few days at the store here and there and three days for working on writing projects, it was, needless to say, a very busy month. Please excuse my lack of blogging. I’ll try and make up for it here with a summary of the birds and my birding for the month as I try to catch up here and everywhere else.

After a troublingly-dry spring, rain began to fall in early June, with three inches in the first few days of the month, temporarily alleviating our drought conditions. But unseasonably cool temperatures continued to dominate through much of the month, but at least we started to see rain on a regular basis (but we could still use more) with a more active weather pattern. Unfortunately, it sometime fell at inopportune time for me and my clients!

Early June is often a time for rarities, especially of southern “overshoots” that are often found prospecting for territories – things like Hooded or Worm-eating Warblers, Summer Tanagers, etc. It was rather surprising, actually, that these southern strays weren’t found, considering May ended with several days of southwesterly winds – perfect for facilitating the arrival of late migrants (and kites)!
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It’s also a great time for even more exceptional vagrants.  But this year, rarities in early June were limited to a short-staying Franklin’s Gull on Stratton Island on 6/3, and a 1st-summer Little Gull that was hanging out with Bonparte’s Gulls on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough through the first week of the month (following an adult in late May).
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But on June 8th, a Little Egret was found in Falmouth, and was followed into Portland. On the 9th, I spent the afternoon chasing it around with Luke Seitz, eventually relocating it several times and eventually getting some good photos.  Hanging out some of the time with Snowy Egrets, this summertime occurrence is most intriguing. This was the third record for Maine, all of which have occurred in the summer, and all since 2011 – could they all be of the same bird?
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I’m a full-time guide in June, and this summer my private guiding (following a postponement due to the heavy, steady rain on the 1st) kicked of on June 3rd with a two-day tour for a couple who currently reside in Nicaragua. After amazing experiences with Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows in Scarborough Marsh – with the aforementioned Little Gull as a welcomed treat – we headed for the hills for my first of three visits to the mountaintop realm of the Bicknell’s Thrush. Despite a private, after-hours charter up Mount Washington one evening, and an exhaustive search on another mountain the next morning, for the first time in over 30 attempts, I failed to produce satisfactory views of the enigmatic thrush for my clients. No small part of me was frustrated and disappointed that I could no longer claim a perfect score!  I knew it would happen eventually, however.

Was it too early? Especially during such a cold start to the season? Or was it just too nice out both days? Warm temperatures in the low 50’s and very light winds just don’t seem to be as useful for seeing these birds!

We had a great birdwalk outing on 6/6, and local guiding for a visitor from Alabama on the 7th was fruitful: some of our local breeders here in Freeport, followed by a visit to Pine Point Beach (no Little Gull this day, but the continuing raft of “winter” diving ducks: ~40 White-winged, ~30 Black, and 4 Surf Scoters, along with a single Long-tailed Duck) made for a nice morning.

My next overnight trip was on June 8-9, taking me to Rangeley with a client from Massachussetts. We managed all 6 of our target birds, including finding a Black-backed Woodpecker and with the help of a friend, a new spot for Mourning Warbler.

The weekend of the 13-14th was my annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” tour. Licking my chops from my first whiff earlier in the month, I was excited to get back on the horse and see some Bicknell’s Thrushes. Of course, even more pressure is on when you’re running a two-day trip solely dedicated to one species!  While we do bird our way to and from the mountain thrush locations, this is an all-or-nothing trip for a lot of people. Let’s just say, a new streak has begun – and wow, what a way to do it!

With rare days off, I squeezed in some relaxed birding with Jeannette and Sasha. We didn’t see the Portland area Little Egret on the 15th, but did enjoy a birdy visit to Capisic Pond Park to walk Sasha, including a nice view of the male Orchard Oriole. A Red Crossbill in the afternoon in our Pownal yard was a surprise. The next day, we did our annual march around all of the Kennebunk Plains. At least five Upland Sandpipers (all very well-seen), 10 Grasshopper Sparrows (low), 18 Vesper Sparrows, 38 Prairie Warblers, and all of the other expected barrens denizens. A visit to Peak’s Island on the 18th yielded a very late migrant Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a sampling of the breeding birds of this lovely island. Willow Flycatchers and Black-crowned Night-Herons were in the marsh by Battery Steele but I did not hear or see a single Carolina Wren – wow, did this bird get hammered by our winter this year. Of course, there were a few morning dogwalks to local patches as well mixed in

The grand finale of my June this year was my 10-day Maine-New Hampshire Tour for WINGS. This biennial tour is exhaustive, and exhausting.  But 5 hotels, 1300 miles, and 159 species later, we all knew it was well worth it: 20 species of warbler (including Bay-breasted), all 9 species of Maine’s flycatchers (including Olive-sided), 7 species of thrush (including Bicknell’s in New Hampshire), 5 species of tern, 5 species of vireo, 4 species of alcids, and so much more.

After seeing Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate Tern, American Oystercatchers, etc at Scarborough Marsh, we successfully searched for the Little Egret – a life or ABA-area bird for everyone.  Bicknell’s Thrush played hard to get on Mount Washington, but my secret spot produced crippling views the next day.  It rained – a lot – in Rangeley, but we still managed to get several sought-after species, including Gray Jays and Moose. Messalonskee Lake was its usual awesomeness, and then we headed east, way east, arriving in Machias.
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Machias Seal Island needs no explanation; although landed was thwarted by swells, we couldn’t have asked for more birds up close and personal from the boat.
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Spruce Grouse eluded my group for the first time, but we picked up lifers for many, especially as we rode the whale/puffin watch trip out of Bar Harbor (2 Manx and 14 Great Shearwaters, 3 Leach’s and 350+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Northern Fulmars, and another view of puffins, Razorbills, and Common Murres.  And we finally turned up some Great Cormorants – 7 actually – in Acadia National Park.
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The Great Shearwaters we encountered today had some serious molt going on!

Besides the Little Egret, which obviously stole the show, unexpected treats included an immature male Purple Martin at Pine Point exploring nesting/roosting cavities with 6 White-winged Scoters off the beach and 2 Black-bellied Plovers off the point. A pair of Black Scoters was off of Quoddy Head State Park was another unseasonable addition to the checklist.

We filled in a few holes on the checklist on the tour’s last day, including Barred Owl, and some feeder watching in our backyard. And like all of my tours, we ate well- very, very well; food is always an important part of my tours as it is so important to tell an area’s story.
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With rain falling and clients departing on Sunday the 28th, I slept. A lot. I also slept a lot the next two days, although of course, but I made some time for some casual birding with Jeannette and Sasha, including another chase of the Little Egret – this time resulting in Jeannette’s 600th ABA-area bird!  Then, on Tuesday, we visited Simpson’s Point and spotted the remarkably-unseasonable Pacific Loon that was found there the day before. Joining almost-as-amazing summer records of two Red-throated Loons, a drake Bufflehead, and three Long-tailed Ducks, this amazing bay that has become a real summer oddity hotspot delivers once again.

And with that, my June comes to a close. I have a few tours and private guiding outings coming up, but I look forward to a slightly more relaxed schedule, with perhaps a few minutes on the recliner and wading out to sandbars to enjoy shorebirds!

The 2015 “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” Van Trip

Our annual “Bicknell’s Thrush and the White Mountains” van trip to New Hampshire took place on the weekend of June 13-14 this year. Still licking my wounds from failing to provide satisfactory views for clients (on a private trip earlier in the week) for the first time in over 30 tours to look for this enigmatic, secretive, and range-restricted Northeastern breeding endemic earlier in the week, I was ready to get back in the game and start a new streak.

We departed the store on Saturday morning, and began our drive to the mountains. I always stop somewhere on the way to the Whites, and this year I mixed it up a bit with an easy walk at the pleasantly birdy Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington. Good views of Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were highlights.

It was already 11am when we arrived at the Caps Ridge Trail in Jefferson Notch, where we casually birded the road, parking area, and the beginning of the trail. It was not the best time of day, of course, but we heard quite a few Blackpoll Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, along with spotted a variety of warblers, including a couple of the Blackpolls, Black-throated Greens, and Magnolias.

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After a little r&r, we had a fantastic early dinner at Saalt Pub, a lovely little gastropub run by a James Beard Award semifinalist who worked for the legend, Julia Child. It’s not what one expects to find in little Gorham. Luckily, with our regular, casual eatery now open only for breakfast and lunch, they were able to squeeze us in. Rest assured this will likely be a regular feature of this tour from now on.
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Fueled up and ready to go, we made the short trip to the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road for our private, after-hours charter up to the realm of the thrush.
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The view from the summit was magnificent, with amazingly clear views in all directions…thanks to winds now gusting over 60mph!  It was a challenge to walk around, and especially to open the doors of our van!

Escaping the gale before any of were blown away, we dropped down to the Cow Pasture to enjoy some flowers, like this glowing Lapland Rosebay and dainty white Diapensia.
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With dusk finally approaching, we dropped down into the krummholz to get to work.
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Unfortunately, the winds were increasing, and they were whipping around the mountain. My favorite spots were just too windy to hear or see the thrush, or much of anything else. One sheltered stretch of road did host several thrushes, and we did glimpse a few birds crossing the road, and especially one that flew overhead providing unusually decent looks in flight.  We had one close bird that seemed to be having a negative interaction with a Swainson’s Thrush – was the Swainson’s chasing it?  Swainson’s are marching up the mountain, residing higher and higher each year – are they displacing Bicknell’s?  It was a really interesting auditory show, but we couldn’t get a good look at either bird.

Unfortunately, a thrush that froze in our headlights as it was time to go was a Swainson’s, not our quarry.  Another miss – was I entering a slump?

But this tour gives us two chances to see the bird, and the next morning – another lovely day – we went to a different mountain to try our luck there.
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We worked hard for the bird, and although some were close, and some quick glimpses were to be had, we were running out of time, and running out of chances to really see the bird.  Then, this happened:
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These are arguably my best photos ever of this reclusive bird, and we were all ecstatic. With everyone happy now, and with these new photos, I even took a moment to enjoy the view.
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