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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Maine and New Hampshire

From Bicknell’s Thrush to Atlantic Puffin

June 2023
with Luke Seitz as leader
featured image

Bicknell’s Thrush is one of the prizes on the Maine and New Hampshire tour Photo: Derek Lovitch

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 crossroads, as many species reach their northernmost or southernmost breeding ranges here. We’ll spend time with both of these groups, focusing 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 boat ride around Vinalhaven Seal Island, we’ll see terns and alcids, including Razorbill and Atlantic Puffins. Shearwaters and storm-petrels may be numerous offshore, and several whale species are possible.

In all, we hope to see at least 20 species of warbler, thirteen sparrows, nine flycatchers, seven thrushes including Bicknell’s, five vireos and four alcids. Although the avian spectacle is reason enough to visit New England, the rugged coastline, picturesque lighthouses, quaint fishing towns, classic New England villages, tallest mountains in the Northeast, 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 p.m. in South Portland. Night in South Portland.

Day 2: We’ll begin at Scarborough Marsh, the largest salt marsh 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” (and hybrids thereof) sparrows, we’ll search for other marsh and coastal species, including herons, “Eastern” Willet, Roseate and Least Terns, Piping Plover, and lingering spring or early fall migrants. We’ll have some flexibility today, giving us the opportunity to change course for lingering shorebirds and waterbirds and for possible rarities, while seeking more southern Maine species, from Fish Crows to Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. We’ll probably start our indulgence in lobster at some point today as well. Night in South Portland.

Day 3: Our first stop will be the Kennebunk Plains, the largest remaining area of sand-plain 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.  A visit to Brownfield Bog will offer an opportunity for Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, both cuckoos, and wetland birds as we continue our theme of south meets north.

In the afternoon we’ll head for the hills, likely birding Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge and/or the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire for our first chance at such boreal specialties as Black-backed Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. After an early dinner we’ll head uphill on our special after-hours charter up the Mount Washington Auto Road in order to enter the realm of Bicknell’s Thrush. If time permits, we’ll visit the summit of Mount Washington for breeding American Pipits and take in the sunset from the “windiest place on earth.” Night in Gorham, New Hampshire.

Day 4: 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. We’ll likely take another trip to see Bicknell’s Thrush (unless we had unbeatable views the night before), weather permitting, and likely via another mountain with a short walk once at the summit. Later in the day we’ll return to Maine, making a few birding stops along the way. Night in Rangeley.   

Day 5: Our primary destination in the Rangeley area is the famous “Boy Scout Road,” a flat dirt road that passes through fine boreal and riparian habitat. We’ll look especially for Canada Jay and Yellow-bellied, Olive-sided, and Alder Flycatchers, along with a variety of 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 look for Sandhill Crane and other marsh denizens as well. We’ll then make a sharp turn and head toward Rockland, making birding stops as time allows. Night in Rockland.

Day 6: Our main goal today will be to visit “Vinalhaven” Seal Island, one of the most famous puffin colonies in the state. After a short ferry ride from Rockland to the large island of Vinalhaven, we’ll meet up with our boat captain, John Drury, for the next leg of the journey: a chartered boat ride further offshore to Seal Island. We will likely take a few slow turns around the island, watching for alcids (including Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin), Arctic Terns, Great Cormorants, and other desired seabirds. If we’re very lucky, we might see the famous Red-billed Tropicbird that has returned here for the past 16 years!

We’ll take a short ferry ride back to Rockland and then head to Machias (around a 2.5 hour drive), perhaps with a few birding stops along the way if time permits. Night in Machias.

Day 7: If we haven’t yet encountered a Spruce Grouse, we’ll focus on that this morning. Depending on our other needs, we may return to Quoddy Head State Park or other Bold Coast locales, or possibly the Lubec mudflats—which are extensive, as the tide here is more than 15 feet—for early-returning shorebirds and more Nelson’s Sparrows. We’ll likely then head to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in search of Bay-breasted and perhaps Cape May Warblers. Other short stops around Lubec and Machias will help us find any missing boreal specialties before we head west to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Night in Bar Harbor.

Day 8: After savoring some famous blueberry pancakes, 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 Vinalhaven Seal Island day was not as birdy as we would have liked. After we’ve had our fill, we’ll steam south toward “the Ballpark,” a rich area of upwelling that may contain Minke and Fin Whales, Sooty, Greater, and with luck Manx Shearwaters and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, along with Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and feeding alcids. Afterward, we’ll visit a few local birding patches as well as the summit of Cadillac Mountain, where we’ll take in the stunning landscapes of Mount Desert Island. Night in Bar Harbor.

Day 9: We’ll begin our exploration of Acadia National Park at the gardens of Sieur de Monts, where we’ll brush up on our New England botany and on our deciduous forest warblers. The Park Loop Road takes us through postcard-worthy 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 breeders we might have missed. Night in South Portland.

Day 10: The tour concludes this morning in South Portland.

Updated: 25 March 2021


  • (2023 Price Not Yet Available)


Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size seven with one leader.

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