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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

The Maine Coast in Fall

Monhegan Island

2018 Narrative

MonheganIsland is truly a special place, and not just for the birding. Great food, great people, awesome scenery, and a one-in-a-kind atmosphere. It doesn’t hurt when the birding is great, too!  Thanks to multiple weather changes during the one-week tour, a nice diversity of species was tallied, and a good sampling of migration – both visible migration during the day and unseen nocturnal movements – were experienced.  Our total of 104 species – 88 on the island, including 18 species of warblers – reflects that, including some quality birds. Our two best “island birds” were Broad-winged Hawk and Snow Goose, but regionally-rare species like Lark Sparrow, Dickcissel, and on the mainland on our first day, “Western” Willet along with a very early juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake, were recorded. More importantly, we had very good numbers of our regular migrants, including Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers, Philadelphia Vireos, Northern Gannets, along with other sought-after species like Mourning Warbler and Great Cormorants.

We began our trip with a visit to the always-birdy CapisicPondPark in Portland to begin our studies of eastern birds, with migrants including a Philadelphia Vireo among common resident species such as “Eastern” White-breasted Nuthatch. We then stopped at Pine Point, where a nice late-season assemblage of shorebirds including 150 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and hanging out with 4 truant “Eastern” Willets – a rare-but-regular “Western” Willet. Studies of these two distinctive subspecies – and future “armchair lifers” were thoroughly enjoyed.

Following a stop for Maine’s world-famous lobster rolls at a place where we locals eat, we hopped on the Hardy Boat out of New Harbor for the 1-hour ferry trip to Monhegan Island. Although dense fog precluded enjoyment of the scenery, we kept an eye out for Northern Gannets as they materialized and dissolved into the fog. One of our best birds for the trip was a very early, and very spiffy, juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake that appeared and disappeared suddenly. We arrived in the serenity of the island just in time for a short walk before the first of many exquisite meals.

A little “weathah” is a good thing for observing migration, and we had some of that this week. One our first morning on the island, we were happy to get our pre-breakfast walk in (and a Pomarine Jaeger while sipping our morning coffee!) before rain began to fall in earnest.  While relaxing is often a rarity on birding tours, we took advantage of the heavy, un-bird-able rainfall to relax, read, and linger over lunch.  Then, the rain cleared, and we once again hit the trails, finding relatively few birds, but enjoying getting oriented and beginning our cultural and historical education of the island.

Each of the next four days was unique in character, with the ebbs and flows of migration readily apparent. While the 19th and 20th (especially) were rather slow days by Monhegan standards, both featured pockets of migrants here and there that kept us entertained. Sorting through them, we found some “good” island birds, including 2 Pine Warblers, a Warbling Vireo, 2 Dickcissels, an “Eastern” White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Mourning Warbler (or 2). Northern Gannets were common offshore, and our checklist slowly grew. The bird of the two days was an immature Broad-winged Hawk that glided in from off the water at dusk on the 20th, as we enjoyed the sunset while doing our checklist outside before dinner – Broad-wings are very rare this far offshore.

We were finally treated to a good “Morning Flight” at dawn on the 21st, thanks to a clear and calm night, with an impulse of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a couple of flocks of Blue Jays demonstrating visible migration. Back on the trail, we were treated to at least 20 Cape May Warblers – normally uncommon but for the next two days, it would be our most common warbler. Apparently, they are on the resurgence as Spruce Budworms march eastward across the Boreal forest once again. This was also the day we caught up with a Lark Sparrow that was attracted to my stash of birdseed – rare in Maine but annual in the fall on Monhegan. Like the Dickcissels, likely a “drift vagrant” that found itself just a little further East than normal. 

A cold front passed very early on our last morning, but too late to produce a significant flight. Nonetheless, there were quite a few “new” birds on the island, as turnover was apparent: fewer warblers, a few more sparrows, more Great Cormorants, and a procession of migrant raptors.  Another Dickcissel, only our second Bay-breasted Warbler, our first Pine Siskins, and my personal “bird of the trip:” a flock of 10 Snow Geese that passed low overhead, returning into the northwesterly wind. These were my first for the island; one of my dearest patch lists.  You really just don’t know what to expect out here – except for the unexpected!

The Island Inn’s breakfast buffet is worth the price of admission, with everything from fresh fruit to lobster scrambled eggs. Lunches varied from sandwiches to the best pizza in Maine to fresh garden salads, and dinners were exquisite, feature fine dining options – despite being 12 miles out to sea!

Some of the sunsets were just as delicious, and our tour ended with a celebratory meal in Bon Appetite Magazines 2018 “Food City of the Year” as we reflected on island life, a very diverse trip list (104 total species, including 88 on Monhegan with 18 species of warblers), and life-long memories and friendships.

Created: 04 October 2018