Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Maine Birding Trip is a Great Summer Getaway
July 27, 2019
By Steve Grinley
Last week, I suggested a whale watch to beat the summer heat. Large mammals are always cool, and enjoying some seabirds on the open water can be delightful. Another summer suggestion is to head north to Maine to see puffins and other alcids along the coast, as well viewing (and hearing) the nesting warblers, thrushes, and other songbirds that we might only see during migration here in Massachusetts.
Strickland Wheelock led a Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm trip Down East last weekend and shares with us some of the places he visited and many of the exciting birds that they found during those two days:
“One of the most exciting summer birding trips in New England is heading north to scenic Maine to observe close up breeding Atlantic Puffins off the coast, plus squeeze in some of the other top birding locations to pick up other specialty species. Our trip was only two days [July 18 & 19] starting from Drumlin Farm WS and heading directly up to Kennebunk Plains – a unique grassland habitat in Maine which is protected to support certain rare birds and plants. Once at the Plains, we started walking the dirt roads and quickly started hearing/seeing Grasshopper, Vesper, Field, & Chipping Sparrows – great songs and awesome looks as these sparrows teed up on some of the short shrubs.
“Our main target bird was the Upland Sandpiper which soon flushed and called only to disappear out in the fields. Other highlight birds were several Eastern Meadowlarks singing from shrubs, male & female Purple Finch, Eastern Kingbirds, Mockingbirds, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, etc – great start to the trip.
“After a short birding stop at Gilsland Farm, we headed to our lodging in Wiscasset to prepare for our afternoon Puffin Cruise from New Harbor – one of the most scenic Maine small harbors. As we were standing on the dock waiting for the boat to return, we enjoyed breeding plumage Black Guillemots swimming among the boats in the harbor. Once on the boat heading out to Eastern Egg Rock, a 7 acre island at the head of Muscongus Bay, the home of the world’s first restored seabird colony – now approx 172 pairs of puffins breeding – we started seeing some pelagic birds like the Northern Gannet & Common Loons.
“Once at the island, the boat very slowly circled parts of the island so that we could see Puffins sitting in the water close to the boat or on the rocks along the island’s rocky shoreline – what handsome birds! Meanwhile the area is crazy with bird noise and movement as hundreds of Common, Arctic and Roseate Terns are flying about trying to bring back fish to their chicks while hoards of Laughing Gulls are harassing them to drop their food. All the Black Guillemots suffered the same harassment as they were flying in with their catch.
“The boat slowly toured the edge of the island where we were very close to the puffins & guillemots, observe the Common Eiders and babies on the rocks, watched the non-stop movement of the terns flying by the boat heading to their nests, the Herring Gulls lurking on the rocks to later feast on baby chicks – quite the scene of non-stop commotion & noise.
“Once back to the dock at New Harbor at dinner time, this operation had an awesome lobster/seafood restaurant right there at the dock with the deck overlooking this scenic harbor. This was a no-brainer for dinner eating lobster/clams/scallops on the deck – what a way to end the day.
“Day two was to be an early start as we headed off to the Dresden Bog, walking this old logging road to observe various breeding passerine species. Before the group met, just barely at dawn, I walked back behind the lodge along a trail overlooking a bog and enjoyed hearing several Hermit Thrushes plus a Winter Wren in full song – so beautiful.
“Once we arrived at the logging road, we were greeted with the songs of Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers. As we worked our way down the dirt road, we encountered a Cooper’s Hawk, Wood Pewees, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireos, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, Yellow, and Black & White Warblers, plus more species. The highlight as we left the site, driving this dirt road, were 3 Red Crossbills sitting in the road – an unexpected surprise.
“Once checked out, we headed to Reid State Park, a 770 acre park with coastal woodlands, sandy beaches and tidal saltmarsh – what a combination of great birding habitats. Driving in you could hear all the passerine bird song, stop and view beaver ponds finding kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, Broad-winged Hawks and much more. Once at the beaches and ocean overlooks, we encountered Piping Plovers, Willets, 2 Whimbrels, Common Eiders and White-winged Scoters along with the terns and gulls. Our major challenge was at the tidal saltmarsh where we were trying to separate the Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows that were flying about the marsh grass, tee up once in a while, call some, then drop back into grass – many frustrating moving targets for the group to deal with but finally we had a couple individuals that we could separate.
“Last birding location was Scarborough Marsh WMA that includes 2700 acres of salt marsh – but also the location where the super rare Little Egret has been found mixing in with the similar Snowy Egret plus Great Egrets. We entered the area from Dunstan Landing Rd where we heard the bird had been recently seen – however it was high tide and the marsh grass was fairly high making a challenge. We could see several egret heads sticking out of grass at various spots in the marsh, then the heads would disappear for a short time while they fed.
“You are looking for the lore color between the Snowy [Yellow] and the Little [Grey] as a feature to separate these very similar looking species. Suddenly while scanning the marsh, up popped a head with the grey lores, then disappeared back down in the grass – then back up. Eventually a Snowy Egret came close to the Little Egret for a great comparison. Net result, the whole group had several excellent looks at this rare bird – quite the way to end the trip on.
“Other species seen at the marsh…were Glossy Ibis, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Saltmarsh Sparrows – overall, perfect weather, great birds, incredible scenery for a two day trip to Maine.”
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