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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Maine and New Hampshire

From Bicknell's Thrush to Atlantic Puffin

2017 Narrative


 The Maine-New Hampshire Tour is designed to take a comprehensive look at the wide range of breeding birds of northern New England, taking advantage of the interface between north and south: many species reach the northern limits of their breeding range in Maine, while numerous Boreal forest breeders reach the southeastern limits of their range. From Saltmarsh Sparrows and Roseate Terns at sea-level to Bicknell’s Thrushes on the 6200ft Mount Washington in the first two days.  From Upland Sandpipers in the blueberry barrens of the Kennebunk Plains to Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays in the boreal forests, and from Spruce Grouse and Bay-breasted Warblers “Downeast” to Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills on MachiasSealIsland, this tour enjoys them all.

 This is a comprehensive view of the birds of New England. In 2017, for example, 157 species were recorded, including 19 species of warblers, 8 species of flycatchers, 7 thrushes, 5 terns, and 4 alcids. Breathtaking scenery.  Great food, especially lots of fresh lobster.  A couple of Moose, too.  What’s not to like about this all-inclusive experience in the state where our motto is “The Way Life Should Be?” 



 We began Day One in the saltmarshes of Scarborough Marsh, comparing Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows and hybrids there of.  “Eastern” Willets voiced their complaints, while Least Terns foraged nearby as we picked up two lingering White-rumped Sandpipers.  The nearby sandy beaches afforded an opportunity to study Roseate Terns among the flocks of Commons, along with scoring Piping Plover and an unseasonable Black Scoter. All the meanwhile, wading birds (Glossy Ibis, Great Egret, and Little Blue Heron) reaching the northern extreme of their breeding range added to the mix.

 Following a delicious oceanside lobster roll for lunch, we worked our way inland, making a trek up to the incomparable MessalonskeeLake. A colony of Black Terns at the eastern edge of their range and a growing colony of Purple Martins, reaching the northern limits of their range occur here. We also spotted a couple of just-hatched Common Loons while listening to a Willow Flycatcher - another “southern speciality” of this tour. Later. We sampled the mix of species that are found in deciduous-dominated woodlands, such as Wood Thrush and Black-throated Blue Warbler, and added a few species (such as a comparison between House and Purple Finches) at our store, Freeport Wild Bird Supply.

 Day two began with us surrounded by the state’s largest population of Grasshopper Sparrows and Upland Sandpipers at the Kennebunk Plains, along with Vesper Sparrows, Prairie Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and more. We picked up a Louisiana Waterthrush at a small preserve in the foothills – the 25th species of warbler recorded on this tour! Brownfield Bog offered another example of southerly outliers reaching north: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Willow Flycatchers made themselves known, but somehow Yellow-throated Vireo eluded us. After a picnic lunch and some White MountainsNational Forest sight-seeing, we enjoyed a scrumptious early dinner to fuel our late evening of amazing birding: an after-hours private charter up Mount Washington into the realm of Bicknell’s Thrush. While a goodly total of 7 birds were seen and heard, one unusually crippling view was had of a bird singing in a hole into the understory, a mere 10 feet away! It was about the best look I have ever had on this mountain.

 This tour is designed to have two chances at every one of the major target birds, even Bicknell’s Thrush. A morning stroll along Trudeau Road produced our first Boreal species, such as Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers, and at least 22 Red Crossbills. We then took a ride up CannonMountain. In and out of clouds, sometimes with virtually zero visibility, followed by the arrival of multiple bus loads of excited school kids relegated Bicknell’s Thrush to “heard-only” for the day. An unreasonably good view of a Mourning Warbler down below helped make up for it, though.

 Heading back into Maine, we spent the night in Rangeley, including a successful evening drive for Moose. Come morning, Gray Jays checked us out, and several great birds were seen, including a dozen more Red Crossbills, Palm Warbler, and a variety of warblers; not to mention a nest-digging Wood Turtle. As we began our trek eastward, we broke up the long drive with a visit to SebasticookLake followed by Corinna Marsh, where we added Ring-necked Duck to our trip list, but more importantly, enjoyed a lovely afternoon (those were in short supply on this year’s tour, unfortunately) in a pleasantly birdy locale.

 By the beginning of the fifth day, we were far Downeast in Machias. High seas postponed our outing to MachiasSealIsland, so we spent the day birding from Machias to Lubec and back, beginning with none other than a gorgeous male Spruce Grouse – always one of the most wanted species on the tour. Lincoln’s Sparrow soon followed, but we dipped on Wilson’s Warbler. Of course, all was forgiven with the immature Great Cormorant off of Quoddy Head – the easternmost cormorant in the United States!

 Two drake Bufflehead – very rare in summer – almost stole the show from Becky’s Seafood, but the lobster rolls more than held their own. Heat, wind, and approaching thunderstorms once again limited our afternoon success, but a Common Nighthawk during the riverside “checklist cocktail hour” made for a nice way to end the day as the front passed by.

 We really lucked out with both diminishing seas and a special favor from our friends at Bold Coast Charters that permitted us to hop on board the next day. While a residual swell from the recent “weathah” thwarted our landing at MachiasSealIsland, Captain Andy Patterson adeptly navigated us around the shoreline. And thanks to a hunting Peregrine Falcon and likely the first nice day in several out here, there were even more birds loafing in the water than on the rocks today: thousands of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and many hundreds of Common Murres – many within just a few feet of our skiff. And with Arctic Terns attempting to breed once again, and a several pairs of Northern Gannets prospecting to nest, excitement on this busy rock continues.

 A few short stops in the afternoon bought us time to work up an appetite, and the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound once again did not disappoint. In fact, it was the favorite meal for the majority of the group - as usual.

 Our second boat trip of the tour departed Bar Harbor on the morning of Day 7, and we headed towards Petit Manan NWR to enjoy yet more puffins, Razorbills, and a handful of Common Murres. While the Arctic Tern colony on Machias Seal is just starting to rebound, the tern colony here is bustling: thousands of Common and Arctic Terns were wheeling through the air and heading to and from. Heading further offshore, the lack of fish this season continued to be apparent. Harbor Porpoise, Gray and Harbor Seals, and Northern Gannets were scattered about, but our only tubenose was a single Northern Fulmar…and whales are simply missing so far this year.

 The popovers and our sandwiches at the Jordan Pond House were exquisite, which we followed up with a tasty view from CadillacMountain’s summit, as the fog rapidly rolled in. We made a few stops around the less-windy north end of the island, adding species like Bobolink and Hooded Merganser to everyone’s list (previous birds were not seen by everyone).

 Day eight was our last day of birding, and a lot was on the agenda once again. AcadiaNational Park’s Sieur de Monts Springs was fairly birdy, offering good views of species like Eastern Wood-Pewee and Brown Creeper, which not everyone had seen yet. Unfortunately, fog and wind began to roll in, and we couldn’t even see the cliff nest of the Peregrine Falcons at the Precipice along the park’s Loop Road. However, one of the adults was indeed spotted briefly materializing out of the fog. Basically, I decided to cut my losses on MDI and head inland. A quick lunch in Bangor, now under clear skies and light winds, was followed by a pleasant visit to Essex Woods, where Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting was added to the list.  We did some feeder-watching at my home in Pownal, finally seeing Tufted Titmice but also enjoying more views of a number of species, from Ruby-throated Hummingbird to multiple family groups of Downy Woodpeckers. A couple of other short stops picked up a few last species for the tally.

 All that was left to do was to cap off our culinary experience – which for me is always a part of a region’s story - a delicious dinner in Portland: America’s FoodiestSmallCity!

-          Derek Lovitch, 2017

Created: 17 July 2017