Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

The Maine Coast in Fall

Monhegan Island

2017 Narrative

In Brief There aren’t many tours that have the chance to begin with a Fork-tailed Flycatcher and end with a Northern Fulmar!  In between, a week on the special and truly one-of-a-kind island of Monhegan resulted in an even 100 species (including a few on the mainland only and on the boat en route to the island). Sixteen species of warblers, a few rarities from different directions (such as Red-headed Woodpecker from the south and Clay-colored Sparrows from the west), and an impressive butterfly show were among the week’s highlights. Lovely gardens, stunning views, unseasonably warm weather, and impressive mid-week surf added to the magic of this extraordinary place. Yes, almost anything is possible along the MaineCoast during fall migration!


In Detail  A new and positive wrinkle for the tour in 2017 was half a day on the mainland to start, offering the opportunity to explore some habitats that we won’t see on Monhegan to build our checklist, or perhaps chase some rarity. The appearance of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher a few days before the tour began and its continuation through our introductory dinner clearly dictated where we would be spending the next morning!

 And sure enough, shortly after our arrival at Gisland Farm in Falmouth, the stunning Fork-tailed Flycatcher was spotted and we all reveled in its beauty and its mega-rarity.  We sampled some of the common landbird species of the area on our short walk – a late Marsh Wren was unexpected – before stopping by PophamBeachState Park for a little quality time with shorebirds. A hunting Peregrine Falcon limited our tally, but good looks at fresh juvenile Dunlin and studies of the variation in Semipalmated Sandpipers were instructive.

 Fog socked in our boat ride to the island, although occasionally a Northern Gannet or three would materialize. Before we knew it – and without being able to see it coming – we were in Monhegan’s harbor, disembarking for the real destination of the tour. A short introductory walk produced a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker – a stroke of luck as it wasn’t seen again during our stay until we were packing to depart. 

 While 100 species at this latitude and longitude in the middle of September seems impressive, it was actually a rather slow week on the island of Monhegan. While Hurricane Jose, spinning nearly stationary southeast of Cape Cod produced little more than one afternoon of rain and a morning of gusty winds for us – in addition to high surf photo-ops, of course – its position, and a blocking high pressure system centered to our west yielded day after day of northeast and then northerly winds. Birds were in the air every night, but unfortunately the radar was busier than the island; birds were just riding that tailwind overhead. But each day did produce at least some turnover, and new birds were added to the checklist, and many participants’ life list, with each passing day.

 It’s hard to sugarcoat it – the days were slow, and numbers were paltry. Diversity was pretty good, but it was often a struggle to see fleeting birds as they traveled within small mixed species foraging flocks centered around busy and vocal Black-capped Chickadees. But we plugged away at getting better views, and slowly but surely chewed up the “better views desired” annotations. 

 The exception to this lackluster rule was the morning of our 4th day, when a strong overnight migration produced a solid morning flight on the island, with lots of new birds, and some real “migration in action” observations. The hawk flight was impressive, and produced a quality air show, and as the sun reappeared and the temperatures warmed in the afternoon, the butterflying was about as good as it gets here, including a very rare Common Buckeye. The most valuable aspect of this day is that it provided insight into what migration on Monhegan can truly be like, and was a nice reward for our constant efforts over the preceding, and unfortunately, following days.

 The week ended with beautiful weather – too nice, actually, as birds had no reason to drop into the tiny island – but new birds continued to be turned up, our butterfly list continued to grow, and we even spotted a Minke Whale feeding close to shore on our last morning. Undeterred by the weather, and perhaps even enhanced by it, was our appreciation of the incredibly fine food we continuously enjoyed – with ample amount of lobster never too far away.

A gentle and clear boat ride home afforded the opportunity to actually see the region’s beautiful coastlines, and our plague of northeasterly winds finally produced something of note: a rare nearshore Northern Fulmar that made two close circles around the boat before heading back out to sea. Some feeder-watching at our store in Freeport brought the checklist to a close, but one final meal of great Maine food was still yet to be enjoyed.

Created: 17 October 2017