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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Maine and New Hampshire

From Bicknell's Thrush to Atlantic Puffin

2019 Narrative

Covering over 1300 miles in 8 full days of birding (all in Maine except for about 20 hours in New Hampshire), this comprehensive biennial tour tallied 158 species of birds. While this was a few species below our long-term average – mostly due to an afternoon limited by high winds and a morning lost to heavy rain – none of our priority species were missed this year. 23 species of warblers (including Mourning and Bay-breasted), 13 species of sparrows (including Nelson’s and Saltmarsh), 7 species of thrushes (yes, including Bicknell’s), 6 species of flycatchers, 5 species of tern (including lots of Roseate and Arctic), 5 species of vireo, and 4 species of alcid were recorded. All of the major resident boreal species (e.g. Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, and Canada Jay) were exceptionally well-seen, we caught up with a Little Egret – a species that has become a fixture in summer in southern Maine for the last 5 years.

With many species reaching the northern limits of their breeding range in southern Maine, and many species reaching the southern or southeastern limits of their breeding range in Western and Eastern Maine, this wide-ranging trip covers a remarkable diversity of habitats in order to record as many of them as possible.  We start in the saltmarshes and dunes of Maine’s southwestern Coast, surrounded by Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows (and hybrids there of), Roseate Terns, Piping Plovers, and a variety of wading birds reaching the absolute northernmost limit of their breeding range.  By the end of the second day, we are almost 6000 feet higher, being serenaded by Bicknell’s Thrushes and Blackpoll Warblers near the top of Mount Washington on an exclusive after-hours tour. Then, we work our way across the state – through Boreal forests and lowland lakes and marshes – to arrive “Downeast” where we saw Spruce Grouse and Bay-breasted Warblers after our visit to an offshore island to get up close and personal with the region’s famous breeding seabirds.

And on a near-glass-calm day with just enough fog to create soft lighting for photography, we landed on MachiasSealIsland where we spent time in blinds nestled amongst a bustling seabird colony for unrivaled photographic opportunities. Surrounded by Atlantic Puffins (literally: they were often scurrying under the blinds or heard thumping to a landing or pattering around on the roof), Razorbills, Common Murres, and Arctic Terns. The highlight of any trip, this was certainly the piece de resisitance of this wildly successful tour.

Weather is always an issue in Maine in June, and this year was no different. However, we really lucked out on when the weather affected us.  A warm and windy afternoon slowed down our birding in the western Maine mountains, and we lost one morning due to unseasonably heavy rains: with our whale watch out of Bar Harbor cancelled, our attempts to bird the land was thwarted by unbirdable rains. At the point in an exhausting tour, the break was welcome, and instead of forcing the issue, we settled for a morning in the hotel or at the AbbeMuseum.  We even got back out on the water the next morning, enjoying yet more puffins, murres, Razorbills, loads of Black Guillemots, and Arctic and Common Terns. Alas, our only tubenose was Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and our only whale were Harbor Porpoises.  But with a cold and wet spring, this was not surprising; the water just has not yet warmed up enough. The rescheduling of the boat trip did prevent us from filling some holes in the tours checklist, but another unexpectedly smooth day on the water made us feel completely satisifed with the decision.

We looked at mammals, too – including a special dusk Moose watch, but butterflies were very few and far between, again, due to the slow progression of this year’s season. However, there was plenty of botanizing to fill the gaps between birds and meals.

And yeah, we ate well: my tours always eat well!  Lots of lobster (Maine’s famous lobster rolls as well as an authentic, and the way-it-should-be - boiled lobster dinner), fresh seafood, and several farm-to-table restaurants added to the story of the region, and our thorough enjoyment of the tour. We have to eat, so we might as well enjoy what we are eating and experience new foods, preparations, and locations. No one went hungry, and everyone got just about all of the life birds they could have hoped for. What more could we ask for?  

- Derek Lovitch, 2019

Created: 16 July 2019