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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Maine and New Hampshire

From Bicknell's Thrush to Atlantic Puffin

2021 Narrative

Our tour to Maine and New Hampshire in mid-June was delightfully birdy, relatively bug-free, and nearly rain-free. More importantly, it was full of delicious seafood, from full-on lobster dinners to fried clams, scallops, and fish. Bird highlights included an unseasonal Snowy Owl, repeated point-blank views of Bicknell’s Thrush, a snazzy male Spruce Grouse, lots of warblers (including several eye-shattering Blackburnians, Canada, Palm, Blackpoll, and more…) and of course, breeding seabirds like Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Arctic Tern. We took full advantage of the breadth of habitats in the state, from saltmarshes to blueberry barrens to stunted mountaintop spruces to coastal headlands. It was delightful to spend a week exploring and enjoying the breeding diversity of the region!

We started on the coast of southern Maine, where a combination of spots around Portland produced highlights like Bobolink, Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows, Roseate (distant!) and Least Terns, and Green Heron. We had our first taste of Maine lobster for lunch, and then couldn’t be resist the allure of a drive further south to look for…a Snowy Owl?! Completely unexpected in June, and always a stunning bird to see (especially up close!). This individual had been hanging out on rooftops in Wells for a couple weeks, and it didn’t take us long to find it and soak up amazing scope views.

We then made our way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, via the Kennebunk Plains and Brownfield Bog. A single Clay-colored Sparrow, a rare breeder in Maine, played rather hard-to-get on Maguire Road, along with more expected species like Grasshopper Sparrow and Prairie Warbler. A male Scarlet Tanager performed beautifully, perched atop an oak tree and singing his heart out. When we arrived at Brownfield Bog, it was far less buggy than it normally is, allowing us to enjoy a nice picnic lunch with Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Vireo (at a nest!), and quite a few flycatchers (Willow, Alder, Least).

I can’t overstate how incredible our experience was atop Mount Washington. Looking up from the base parking lot, we could tell it was clear and pleasant, but I did not expect such perfectly calm conditions, relatively few bugs, and such a perfect show from Bicknell’s Thrush! Wow. Repeated views of Bicknell’s filling the scope, singing, calling, close enough for amazing photos by the group…that just doesn’t happen very often! We even had time to go all the way to the summit, check out the alpine flowers and enjoy the sunset, and learn some history of the mountain from our local guide Kevin. What a perfect night!

From Gorham we worked our way north and east towards Rangeley, picking up various boreal species along the way (including a Moose!). We took the tram up to the top of Cannon Mountain, which gave us a taste of typical mountain weather around here…in sharp contrast to Mount Washington the night before. Hey, we could still hear more Bicknell’s singing through the pouring rain and wind! Rangeley was particularly good for a bunch of warblers: species like Nashville, Magnolia, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, and Black-throated Green are all quite common around here.

We then traveled from Rangeley to Rockland, with a stop for Black Terns, Purple Martins, and Sandhill Cranes on the way (all rare and local breeders in Maine). The next morning was a special one, first taking the ferry to Vinalhaven and then meeting Captain John Drury for our ride out to Seal Island. As expected, our views of Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Black Guillemot were nothing short of stunning, with flocks sitting on the water and flying around us. Common Murre was a little more difficult, with just one individual sitting among a flock of Razorbills. We had some practice separating Common and Arctic Terns and enjoyed the southernmost breeding Great Cormorants in the country. On our way back to shore, we swung by Brimstone Island, where a Harlequin Duck had been summering—not a bird we normally see past April in the state. A little bit of stress in the form of rescuing an exhausted kayaker was unexpected, but all ended well, and we made it back to Vinalhaven with some good karma in our pockets—special kudos to Captain John for a job well done!

Our route then took us far Downeast, where we enjoyed the gorgeous cliffs, spruce forests, and peat bogs, and all of their accompanying birds. Certainly the highlight was a male Spruce Grouse at Boot Head, perched up for lengthy scope views and photos—an amazing spot by Keith! The common birds here are delightful, as well. By now we were familiar with the sounds and sights of Black-throated Green and Blackburnian Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Winter Wren, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. We particularly appreciated stunning views of Palm Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow in their breeding habitat (along with the fascinating pitcher plants and azaleas), and just being at Quoddy Head, the easternmost point in the continental U.S., was a treat.

The remainder of the tour was spent around Bar Harbor and the rest of Mount Desert Island, with another boat trip (more puffins!) and delicious lobster dinner to highlight what makes Maine such a special place. An adult Peregrine Falcon was perched up on the cliffs at the Precipice Trail, so high that it required some imagination to figure out which end was which; we also enjoyed a suite of forest birds at Sieur de Monts including a stunning male Scarlet Tanager. The local Barred Owls performed brilliantly, with one adult hunting just a few yards off the path and a youngster screeching from the hemlocks nearby.

On our way back to Portland, despite needing to dodge some heavy rain showers, we decided to make a stop at the Orono Bog. It was brilliant: the rain cleared just as we arrived, and we cleaned up Canada Warbler and Northern Waterthrush, saw a couple more Lincoln’s Sparrows, and had to kick all the Palm Warblers out of the way. Even just around the parking lot produced an amazing Blackburnian Warbler and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, among others. The gorgeous bog plants were icing on the cake!

We had a great time exploring the nooks and crannies of Maine (and a bit of New Hampshire!), and I’m so grateful for everyone’s good humor, flexibility, and patience. I’m looking forward to crossing paths in the future!

-          Luke Seitz

Created: 24 August 2021