Venture to Maine
July 11-19, 2008
It was roasting in the southern states this summer, so a visit to Maine just seemed like a breath of fresh air. Lobster dinners, cool breezes and boreal birds; all seemed to just be just a few air miles away.
We all met in Portland and as usual, birded the wonderful Scarborough Marsh our first day. This is the best spot in Maine for both Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows and we certainly ended up with great views of these somewhat difficult species. Plus a male Seaside Sparrow was a real bonus, as this is a very uncommon species this far north. Scarborough Marsh is also an excellent place for wading birds with our only sightings of Great and Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron and Glossy Ibis coming from here. A watch down at Pine Point Narrows did produce a couple of well studies Roseate Terns, as well as locally uncommon American Oystercatchers and an early Whimbrel.
A "Lawrence's" Warbler had been seen in Rotary Park, Biddeford this past week, so a trip down there in the evening was a bonus. While we did not find our quest, we did see several "southern" birds, such as Brown Thrasher, Blue-winged Warbler and Indigo Bunting.
Kennebunk Plains and Saco Heath offer an insight into a rather strange boreal window with beautiful tamarack bogs with Purple Finches and Canada Warblers. Pine and Prairie Warblers tend to confuse the issue, as did the Willet that called incessantly from the top of a spruce.
Seafood (aka Ken's) started the gastronomic part of the tour and we certainly sampled more and more of "the best of Maine" as we headed north. Eating down on the river in Bangor was one of the nicest meals of the trip, but we were here to see some birds.
The Sunkhaze loop was not too productive as the wind just howled and howled; the best sighting being 2 pairs of Red Crossbills that managed to hang on in the worsening weather conditions. Birding in the rain is OK, but wind just makes everything hunker down.
The windy weather continued in Acadia National Park resulting in our whale-watching trip being cancelled twice. Thankfully we got offshore on our third attempt with great views of Finback whales surfacing and blowing very close to the boat. The fog parted enough for us to see several Greater and Sooty Shearwaters and one brief fly by of a Northern Fulmar. Several flock of both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes were surprisingly early out on the open ocean. In all of my previous trips to Maine I had never been to the top of Cadillac Mountain, but with the fog vanishing and the sun beginning to appear, the view seemed to go on forever.
Our late boat trip caused a later trip along the beautiful Schoodic Peninsula, but we still found our first Belted Kingfisher of the trip, as well as great views of several Bald Eagles. Moosehorn NWR was not as good as it had been in the past, although the place was alive with Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warblers and Hermit Thrushes sang in many patches of forest. A "twitch" to Eastport did not produce the reported King Eider, but several migrant flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls roosted on the rock in front of us, along with at least 4 Black-legged Kittiwakes - our only ones of the trip. We never made a landing on Machias Seal Island the following morning, but the seas were not bad for good viewing of all the puffins, razorbills and murres.
The Arctic Tern colony seems to be a thing of the past, alas, although there is a chance that some may re-establish the colony soon. Our captain was quite chatty but full of good local information about the area and quite knowledgeable about the local bird life. A real bonus was the adult male Surf Scoter that was over-summering in the beautiful harbor and 2 pairs of White-winged Crossbills feeding in the tops of the spruces- phew, at last. This species is always difficult to track down as they move around from year to year in response to the cone production.
The afternoon gave us a little down time from searching for some of the boreal species, which were very difficult to see this year. Visiting Campobello Island is always interesting, as is going through the US/Canada customs! All went well this year with the only bad point being the car ahead of us wiping out an Alder Flycatcher. Thankfully we did have great views of them later on in the trip.
The fog really rolled in again while we were at Quoddy Head State Park (yes, this is one of the foggiest places on the Maine coast) so we stood little chance of seeing any Great Cormorants out on Sail Rock. A nice hike through the forest did not produce the hoped-for Spruce Grouse, although good views of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher somewhat made up for that. Our only Boreal Chickadees were at the edge of the parking lot and these had to be the most unresponsive individuals I had ever come across. We heard them, and some of us managed a glimpse- but that was all this time.
A gentle drive back to Portland via Bangor was uneventful, but we did manage to get one more bird at Scarborough Marsh, Semipalmated Sandpiper, for 160 species on the tour- our best ever. As for the boreal species, they seem to be getting tougher and tougher every year. Maybe their ranges are shifting farther north due to climate change. It's hard to pin down a reason, but this may indeed be the truth.