DVOC Main Page > Field Trips > Maine Weekend
DVOC Field Trip Report
by Vincent Nichnadowicz
September 24 - 28 (Friday to Tuesday)
Shearwaters, Kittiwakes and Spruce Grouse: Maine
Covering primarily parts of Lincoln, Knox, Hancock and Washington Counties, Maine.
Route of the pelagic trip from Bar Harbor, Maine
Day 1 (Friday) – NJ/PA to Bar Harbor, Maine
Full of anticipation, nine adventurous DVOC members began our Maine odyssey today using two vans. Two more members would meet us in the evening at Bar Harbor having driven from Boston.
I had been checking Birding-on-the-net for any special birds that might be located along our drive to Maine. A White-tailed Kite was still in Connecticut since its discovery many weeks prior at Stratford Point/Milford Point. By chance or bad directions one van went to each of the spots.
My van went to Stratford Point. There was a lot of activity in preparation for an upcoming bird festival at the point but, alas, no Kite, We did see some gulls but the important find was some insider information about the kite that could help us in the future.
The second van, kindly driven by Bert Filemyr, did not have any luck either with the kite at Milford Point, but they did discover the resident Monk Parakeets which my van was eager to see. We drove to Milford and indeed found the noisy birds. There is Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point that we visited and viewed an assortment of shorebirds and land birds while lunching on our picnic sandwiches.
With good weather and minimal traffic delays we made it to Ellsworth, Maine for diner and then a quick drive to our motel in Bar Harbor for a good night’s rest.
Day 2 (Saturday) – Maine Audubon Pelagic Trip
Early morning fog greeted us at 5:30am at the Bay Harbor Whale Watch Company’s dock.
This is the boat chartered by Maine Audubon for their annual fall pelagic trip.
The weather was not looking the best and the captain made the unusual offer of a full refund to anyone not wishing to go. However, almost everyone of the roughly one hundred passengers did elect to go. Braving 4 to 8 foot seas made for an adventure that included a route from Frenchman’s Bay east to Grand Manan Banks and then over Southwest Bank, Northeast Bank passing close to Gannet Rock. Our return trip headed closer to land motoring close to Machias Seal Island and Petit Manan Island.
Our trip had very good numbers of pelagic species. Almost six hundred Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were seen with about forty Leach’s Storm-Petrels. Other birds of note included sixty Northern Gannet, fifty+ Northern Fulmars, several hundred Great Shearwaters (formerly Greater Shearwater), three hundred+ Red-necked Phalaropes with about forty Red Phalaropes, about twenty Pomarine Jaegers, many Atlantic Puffins, a few Razorbills and the bird of the day – a South Polar Skua (a Maine Bird Records Committee review species). Many gulls rounded out the avian life. Atlantic White-sided Dolphins were the only cetaceans spotted.
We arrived back in Bar Harbor after 2:00pm and a quick reload of the vehicles set us off north for Lubec on the Canadian border. Our next challenge was the Spruce Grouse. Throughout the summer there were reports of the bird on a remote trail just north of Cutler in the Boot Head Preserve. We arrived there with waning light and a new drizzle. The grouse is an odd bird in that once you find it, it tends not to flush but just sits there staring. We hiked the moss-laden trail scaning all the spruce trees for birds. Unfortunately, the light failed quick (dusk this far north was at about 6:30) and we dipped on this bird.
The group made a hasty exit and had diner in Lubec. Fresh lobster at reasonable prices was the highlight of this meal. In fact, lobster could be a sub-theme for this trip as it was almost always available: steamed lobsters, lobster stews, lobster rolls and even Mac and lobster!
Settling into our Lubec Motel for the night we set the alarms for an early departure into the boreal forests.
Day 3 (Sunday) – Topsfield. Maine and Campobello Island, Canada
After an early breakfast at 6:00 we were off for the northern interior of Maine. Dennis Brennan, did some pre-dawn birding and heard a Great Horned Owl as well as a Ring-necked Pheasant. I had done some research on Ebird and with information from local birders set off for a site called Burn Road near Topsfield, Maine. Using my GPS (essential for this kind of trip) we drove the hour and forty-five minutes to our destination – a gravel road barely marked.
The landscape here was predominately evergreen trees with mixed deciduous trees as well. As our convoy proceeded down the road YY Huang alerted me to a movement in a nearby tree. Stopping, I speedily exited the car and there not ten feet away was a male Spruce Grouse perched in a larch tree about eight feet from the ground. As everyone quietly approached the tree another grouse appeared and then a third! The bird gods were kind – three beautifully plumed male Spruce Grouses for all to see and photograph. The birds were amazingly tolerate of us, allowing the photographers among us to approach very close for pictures. When we were all satiated we left the birds still peacefully perched.
Photo by Colin Campbell
After such an auspicious moment we expected more boreal species but luck had changed and we dipped on Boreal Chickdee, gray Jay and Black-backed Woodpecker. We did have several Ruffed Grouse and an assortment of songbirds greet us along with one Broad-winged Hawk before a Spruce Grouse (number four) flew in front of the van.
Leaving the forest we headed back to Lubec and then over the bridge to Campobello Island, Canada. The border crossing was quick and easy and we made a bee-line for the Roosevelt Cottage. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s family owned a home in Campobello. As far as I know he was the only US President to have a home outside of the United States. It was at this home where he fell sick with polio. The governments of the United States and Canada operate the home as an international historic site free to the public. We spent a short visit there appreciating the home and its spectacular site.
Leaving the cottage we headed north on the island stopping at Schooner Cove. The road here was right up against the water. A small flock of Bonaparte’s Gull was mostly near shore and then Colin Campbell spotted a suspicious gull in the distance. Using my scope I got a quick view of a Little Gull before it disappeared behind some rocks.
We continued up the island to East Quoddy Lighthouse otherwise known as Head Harbor. This spit of land is at the entrance to the Bay of Fundy and its incredible tides. On this day low tide was at 1:16pm so we were witnessing the incredible receding seas starting at about 2:00pm.
With improving light and our spotting scopes we started to see a lot of birds. First there were the Black Guillemots swimming in the surf in their winter plumage. Then, among the Bonaparte’s Gull was our last trip target bird, the Black-legged Kittiwake. The number of Kittiwakes kept increasing as the tide receded. Soon we were viewing 80 to 150 Kittiwakes. The first Jaeger to appear was a Parasitic Jaeger followed by a view of a Long-tailed Jaeger and then several Pomarine Jaegers – all seen from land! Interspersed among the jaegers were also Great Shearwaters and Sooty Shearwaters, a life bird for Jim Deasey. In a distant harbor, Bert Filemyr spotted a cluster of Razorbills which were dwarfed by the hundreds of Common Eider floating in the water. At least one Fin Whale also made several appearances.
With all this excitement I did not realize that the tide had
receeded so much that a land bridge to the lighthouse had appeared. Traversing
a series of very rusty ladders and boulder strewn paths we were able to venture
to the tip of the island for more spectacular views.
Another lobster diner awaited us.
Day 4 (Monday) – Lubec to Freeport
Today, after a leisurely 7:30 breakfast, we explored Lubec. At our motel we viewed Wood Duck in the adjoining pond before heading towards the water. The Lubec Flats had been host to thousands of shorebirds earlier in the month. Most were gone now but good views of some shorebirds, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and a hunting Peregrine Falcon were enjoyed.
Our next stop was West Quoddy Head Light located in Quoddy Head State Park.
The park has some interesting boreal forest and bogs bordering the spectacular coastline of rock cliffs. We hiked the “Inland Trail” and the “Bog Trail” hoping to find some boreal species. We had to be content with several warbler species, more Black-legged Kittiwakes as well as Bald Eagles, a Merlin and hundreds of Common Eider. In the wet areas were insectivorous Pitcher Plants.
By noon we were on the road headed for Freeport, Maine. About midway in the drive I spotted a local a local eatery where I had once sampled the best lobster rolls in Maine. Hitting the breaks hard we made a quick turn into the Riverside Seafood trailer. Located just north of Machias, on Route 1, we not only enjoyed the food but were able to do some great birding of the tidal river which yielded our first Yellowlegs.
Arriving in Freeport, Maine at about dusk we took a tour through the Patagonia Clothing Outlet and the flagship L.L. Bean store. We were scheduled to view some Northern Saw-whet Owl banding but for the first time on the trip rain kept us inside.
Day 5 (Tuesday) – Freeport to NJ/PA
Freshly-made waffles started our last day. Outside was still wet and foggy but we made the short trip south to Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Sanctuary. This place is the home to Maine Audubon and has an incredible diversity of habitat. Almost within minutes of birding we came upon a Lincoln’s Sparrow in a compost/brush pile. Hiking among the fields down to the river we were treated to views of Eastern Phoebes, various warblers, vireos and sparrows. At the river two Snowy Egrets remained along with Northern Cardinal, both Nuthatches and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. At least ten Blue-winged Teal were also spotted as well as our first-for-the-trip Red-tailed Hawk.
Leaving Gilsland our last Maine stop was the Sanford Sewage Treatment Ponds (no birding trip is complete without a stop a some sewage plant). There had been some interesting reports from this place and as soon as we were registered and walked to the ponds we saw an American Avocet. We walked around the ponds for about an hour adding Northern Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-shouldered Hawk and Killdeer to our trip list.
At this point in the day I remembered the advice given me on Friday about the White-tailed Kite – it always showed up at about 5:00pm for a short flight before roosting for the night. With only about five hours to drive to Stratford Point, Ct. we put the vans in cruise-control mode and headed to Connecticut. During this ride we experienced the only truly bad weather of the trip – torrential rains. The whole time as we motored through Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut, I was not sure the weather would ever clear for the kite. With some GPS hiccups we did finally make it to the point, but, the access gates were closed. Slightly dispirited we searched for any access to the site and just when we were ready to throw in the towel, Bob Horton espied his lifebird White-tailed Kite. The bird performed true to its name in the blusterly winds. A few more hours and we were home having traveled 1,235 miles.
All birds and animals seen in Maine unless denoted with Connecticut (CT) or Canada. The trip total was 126 species with 113 seen in Maine, 3 only seen in Canada and 10 only seen in Connecticut.
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret (CT)
American Black Duck
White-tailed Kite (CT)
Semipalmated Plover (CT)
Killdeer (heard only)
Short-billed Dowitcher (CT)
Little Gull (CANADA)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Parasitic Jaeger (CANADA)
Long-tailed Jaeger (CANADA)
South Polar Skua
Monk Parakeet (CT)
Common Nighthawk (CT)
Great Horned Owl (heard only)
Tree Swallow (CT)
Northern Mockingbird (CT)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Rusty Blackbird (CT)
Red-winged Blackbird (CT)
Fish and Animals
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin