Olive-sided Flycatchers are scarce but widely distributed in northern New England. Photo: Parker Backstrom
This tour visits one of the most beautiful and sparsely populated areas in North America near the peak of breeding bird activity. Maine and New Hampshire are an avifaunal crossroad as many species reach their northernmost or southernmost breeding ranges here. We’ll spend time with both of these groups with the focus being on the “boreal specialties” that are mostly found farther north.
Off the coast, tiny rock islands teem with life as thousands of seabirds begin their nesting season. During our visit to Machias Seal Island, we’ll see terns and alcids including Razorbill and Atlantic Puffins literally at arm’s length. Shearwaters and storm-petrels may be numerous off shore, and several species of whales are possible.
In all we can hope to see up to 25 species of warbler, nine flycatcher, seven thrushes including Bicknell’s, and four alcids. Although the avian spectacle is reason enough to visit New England, the rugged, rocky coastline, picturesque lighthouses, quaint fishing towns, classic New England villages, the tallest mountains in the northeastern US, and excellent cuisine (the lobster doesn’t get any fresher than this!) are a significant part of the tour.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6:00 pm in South Portland. Night in South Portland.
Day 2: We’ll begin at Scarborough Marsh, the largest saltmarsh north of Massachusetts and well known for its healthy population of both Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows. In addition to studying the differences between the two “sharp-tailed” sparrows, we’ll search for other marsh and coastal species including herons, “Eastern” Willet, Least Tern, Piping Plover, and lingering spring or early fall migrant shorebirds possibly including White-rumped Sandpiper. Later we’ll visit the Kennebunk Plains, the largest remaining area of sandplain grassland in New England and home to sparrows such as Grasshopper, Vesper, Field, and perhaps Clay-colored, as well as Upland Sandpiper and Prairie Warbler.
In the afternoon, we’ll drive to Pondicherry NWR in New Hampshire, and our first chance at such boreal specialties as Black-backed Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. A ride up the Wildcat Mountain Gondola will give us our first chance for the ethereal Bicknell’s Thrush and Blackpoll Warbler, but we may have better luck just below treeline on our special after-hours charter up the Mount Washington Auto Road. If time permits, we’ll visit the summit of Mount Washington for breeding American Pipits and the sunset from the “windiest place on earth.” Night in Gorham, New Hampshire.
Day 3: In the morning we’ll visit a number of locations around the White Mountain National Forest for boreal breeders such as Boreal Chickadee and Swainson’s Thrush. If we had poor luck the previous evening, we’ll make another trip up Mount Washington in search of Bicknell’s Thrushes. Later in the day, we’ll return to Maine with a few birding stops. Night in Rangely.
Day 4: Our primary destination in the Rangely area is the famous “Boy Scout Road,” a flat dirt road that passes through fine boreal and riparian habitat. We’ll look especially for Spruce Grouse, Yellow-bellied, Olive-sided, and Alder Flycatchers, along with Cape May, Bay-breasted, Tennessee and Mourning Warblers.
After we’ve thoroughly covered the Rangeley area, we’ll visit Messalonskee Lake, which hosts a Black Tern colony and one of the few Purple Martin colonies remaining in the state. We’ll then make a sharp turn and head way “Downeast,” making birding stops as time allows. Night in Machias.
Day 5: They don’t call this the “Bold Coast” for nothing, and this marvelous region will provide some of the trip’s biggest prizes. After a stop in search of Spruce Grouse (if needed), we’ll meet up with our captain for a one hour boat ride to the legendary Machias Seal Island. Seas permitting, we’ll land and walk on raised pathways through a boisterous colony of Arctic and Common Terns out to blinds where we’ll find ourselves face to beak with Atlantic Puffins, Common Murres, and Razorbills.
Depending on our return time, we may visit West Quoddy Head State Park, easternmost point in the United States and home to Palm Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and, hopefully, Great Cormorant. Night in Machias.
Day 6: Today’s first stop will find us across the border, on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada where we’ll look for Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees as we savor the magnificent forests and coastline and the impressive summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We may also return to Quoddy Head State Park and check out the Lubec mudflats - extensive as the tide here is more than 15 feet - for early-returning shorebirds. Other short stops around Lubec and Machias will help us “clean up” any missing boreal specialties before we head west to Bar Harbor. Night in Bar Harbor.
Day 7: Today we’ll visit the stunning landscapes of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. The gardens of Sieur de Monts will let us brush up on our New England botany and on our deciduous forest warblers. Later we’ll board a boat for Petit Manan, part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Common Murres, Black Guillemots, and Common, Arctic, and Roseate Terns can all be seen here - a useful backup if our Machias Seal Island day was scrubbed for bad weather - and after we’ve had our fill, we’ll steam south towards “the Ballpark,” a rich area of upwelling that may contain Minke and Fin Whales, Sooty, Greater, and hopefully Manx Shearwaters, and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.
After lunch, we’ll drive to the quaint and quieter southwest part of the island for any boreal birds that we’re still seeking, then make an evening foray up Cadillac Mountain for its breathtaking sunset views. Night in Bar Harbor.
Day 8: The Park Loop Road takes us through Acadia National Park’s postcard-worth scenery, and should also yield Peregrine Falcons and such deciduous-loving passerines as Black-throated Blue Warbler and Wood Thrush. After lunch, we’ll begin the return journey to Portland, with time along to the way to chase any rarities or any breeders we might have missed. Perhaps we’ll seek more southern breeders at the northern limits of their range around Portland, or maybe we’ll just visit the famous LL Bean Flagship Store and the world’s largest rotating globe! Night in South Portland.
Day 9: The tour concludes this morning in South Portland.
Updated: 23 April 2012
- 2013 Tour Price : $2,600
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $370
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size seven with one leader.