June 23, 2014: There’s an old saying about getting all your ducks in a row. Well, I thought I had all of mine in a row on the morning of June 23rd. It was Chris and Micheal’s first full day in Maine and we had Big Plans to go to Acadia National Park today before the tourist season go into full swing. But, Chris woke up that morning saying he “wasn’t feeling it!” He felt like a Black Tern adventure instead! So, we shifted gears and headed first for Brunswick Landing, a nearby eBird Hotspot that I have recently come to love. It is a place where Upland Sandpipers have been spotted, yet I had not found one yet. It would be a Life Bird for both of us, so off we went. We entered from the south entrance and parked on the knoll overlooking the end of the airfield, which is where they have been spotted before, but though we looked and listened, we could not find the birds. Not to worry, there we more birds to see and find as we drove farther into the property.
I drove to all the spots I knew where we would find birds. There are at least two pairs of nesting ospreys on the property and we saw them. I knew where to find the Eastern Phoebes and we found them. We saw and heard sparrows and starlings, grackles and robins, then I took Chris to the warbler spot where we not only found the Black-throated Green warblers, but also an Indigo bunting, a bird whose song we heard and were trying to identify and finally found perched high in tree. Micheal (yes, that is the way he spells his name) is really good at spotting birds and I think he is the one who saw the bird first high in a poplar tree. It was a Life Bird for both of them and though they would have liked a closer look, at least they got to see the bird!Around the corner from the Indigo Bunting we were delighted to have a family of Pileated Woodpeckers fly out of the woods and into the open. There were three of them and one landed near the road on a pine tree, while another flew to the top of a roadside utility pole.
Launched itself into the air!
It was late morning by the time we left Brunswick Landing where we had counted 28 species of birds. Now our we all felt a “rumbly in our tumblys” so we headed to a local restaurant in Topsham for breakfast, then I just had to take the guys into Reny’s for “A Maine Adventure!” (That’s the store’s slogan.) Reny’s is a Maine Department store full of Maine themed stuff, plus bargains on shoes and clothing and other outdoor gear. You never know what you will find there, and Chris and Micheal found a couple of hats to wear! As we checked out we also bought some citronella insect bands which we ended up using quite a bit for the rest of their time here. While they don’t keep ticks away, they do work well for keeping mosquitoes and black flies away, insects which Maine has in abundance at this time of year!
Route 295 was right nearby and we got on the entrance ramp to head north to Augusta and the Belgrade Lakes Region. Though I have lived in Maine twice before, it was before I was a birder. Being a birder now has led me to new areas and the place we were going to this morning would be new territory for me. We had done our research beforehand and I envisioned this big public boat ramp with signs and a paved parking lot and boats galore, so it was quite surprising to me when we drove up Route 27 from Augusta and the GPS told me we had arrived at our destination.
All I saw was a wide dirt spot alongside the road and a flimsy looking wooded dock floating in a lily-covered lake! Nonetheless, we pulled over and got out. A small channel of clear water led out to the more open water of the lake. we stood on some rocks by the shore and scanned the water and then we spotted them!
Yes, I know this photo is horrible, but the birds were so far out and with midday lighting it was very glaring. I don’t think Chris’s photos are much better than mine, but at least we got to see the birds! And, Oh MY! How elegantly they flew over the water. I could see them much better through my bins as they buoyantly flew and elegantly dove into the water, coming up time and again with small fish in their beaks. I loved to watch them fly!
Micheal was learning to use my compact binoculars while Chris examined his photos of the tern at the boat ramp. Beside the tern, there were other birds to be seen:
It was my first Swamp Sparrow in Maine! A Maine Life Bird! Meanwhile, we watched the terns off and on for several minutes at a time before another birder pulled in and asked if we had seen the Caspian Tern that had reportedly been seen at this location around 10 a.m. We had been there for 30 minutes already and had not seen any other terns than the black ones. He had heard about it on the Maine Rare Bird Alert and come over with his spotting scope, which he promptly set up and started scanning.
A Red-winged Blackbird chases a Great Blue Heron away from its nest on Messalonskee Lake at the boat ramp!
We joined him in the search but told him we had not seen anything like a Caspian Tern. (please read update below) After about 10 minutes, he left, but not before telling us about a Purple Martin Colony just a few miles up the road on Route 27. By now we had exhausted all the birds at this location, so we got back into the car and drove about 3 miles farther north and easily spotted the birds since someone had set up Purple Martin houses in their backyard and the birds were swooping over the lawn! All of these species we new additions to the guys’ trip list, but we wanted more. After a brief discussion the decision was made to drive to Popham Beach State Park for some gulls and shore birds. So, we bundled into the car again for the 65 mile drive to the ocean! While that might seem a long ways, it was actually back in the direction of home, so we set off.
I have never been to Popham Beach State Park so I had no idea what to expect when we arrived. Since it was a hot and humid day there we beach goes there lounging and swimming. the beach itself is a wide expanse of sand with long, low waves rolling in. In the middle lies a large rocky island of sorts and with the tide being out we were able to climb the rocks. However, being new to the area, I had no idea where to find all the birds we saw listed on the eBird Hotspot site. We saw scoters and eiders in the water. Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls swarmed the beach. A few common terns dove into the water, and Double-crested cormorants rested on the rocks, or flew by low over the tossing sea.
We slowly worked our way out to the rocks where we scanned the waves for more birds. We did find a pair of Savannah Sparrows in the grasses on the rocks, though Chris was hopping for Seaside Sparrows, but it was not to be. When we walked back toward the parking area we found some nesting Piping Plovers in a fenced off area, and then as we started down the path towards the parking lot a hermit thrush and then a Swainson’s popped up on the fence right in front of us! Just as we both raised our cameras for what would have been a perfect shot a non-birder came walking from the other direction and scared the birds off! We searched and searched the area where they flew into but were not able to locate the birds again!
While we were pleased with the birds we saw at Popham Beach State Park, I was a bit frustrated at the birds we did not see. Popham Beach is quite long and extensive and though we asked one of the park rangers, he did not know of anything other than the piping plovers. It was much later that we learned from someone that we needed to walk to the southwest end of the beach where the marshy area was to fid more species.
While Chris and Micheal were here I had a great time, but you will notice that I did not take many photos during their stay. I did not even fill one photo card! I think this is because I get so focused on finding the birds for them, plus I did most of the driving and, it was also hot and humid much of the time which just saps my energy. Or, perhaps, I am just getting lazy! However, I did get to see all the birds. I tend to rely on my binoculars first, while Chris relies on his camera. He is also quicker on the trigger and often gets the shot before me, so I encourage you to read his blog and see the wonderful photos he took. He has also given me permission to post any of his photos here. Thank you, Chris Rohrer!
So, on this our first full day of birding, here is what we counted:
- Mere Point Cottage: 5:45 AM, 15 species
- Rossmore and Mere Point Roads: 7:28 AM, 9 species
- Simpson Point Landing: 7:44 AM, 9 species
- Brunswick Landing: 8:08 AM, 33 species
- Messalonskee Lake Boat Ramp: 12:09 PM, 22 species
- Purple Martin Colony: 1:10 PM, 1 species
- Hayden Park: 1:16 PM, 12 species
- North End Launch Facility-Bath: 3:16 PM, 6 species
- Popham Beach State Park: 3:59 PM, 20 species
- Brunswick Landing: 8:17 PM, 11 species
(Note: in the list above if there is no link it is because it is a personal location.)
Highlights of the day:
- Mere Point Cottage: Purple Finch
- Rossmore and Mere Point Roads: Eastern Bluebird
- Simpson Point Landing: Red-throated Loon
- Brunswick Landing: Wild Turkey, Eastern Meadowlark, Indigo Bunting
- Messalonskee Lake Boat Ramp: Black Tern, Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird, Swamp sparrow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow
- Purple Martin Colony: Purple Martins
- North End Launch Facility-Bath: Great Black-backed Gull, Turkey Vulture
- Popham Beach: Black Scoters, Piping Plover, Least Tern, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush
- Brunswick Landing (evening count): Wood Thrush
Update! 12:15 PM EDT: After writing and posting this story I realized that there was something amiss on our Messalonskee Lake Bird Count when I was doing the research on the numbers and entering the data. It seems that Chris, Micheal and I did see the Caspian Tern at the boat ramp after all and had mistakenly identified it as a Common Tern! After messageing Chris back and forth a few times to be sure we have now corrected that data on eBird and I have changed the info on this blogpost!