Downeast Weekend

Just a few highlights from a two day downeast field trip of the York County Audubon Society that tallied roughly 90 species: We hit Machias at high tide on Saturday morning, August 7. Bonaparte’s Gulls were as far upriver as I’ve ever seen them — all the way to the Bad Little Falls. A roosting flock of Lesser Yellowlegs and a distantly foraging flock of Common Terns slowed our rush to Lubec.

Downeast weekend group at Quoddy Head

Downeast weekend group at Quoddy Head

Although we hit the South Lubec Sand Flats at the ideal time and tide, it was relatively lackluster. A strong northwest breeze the previous evening seems to have sent many southward. We had scores of Least Sandpipers instead of hundreds. We had roughly the same number of Semi-palmated Sandpipers, a smattering of Semi-palmated Plovers, at least one White-rumped Sandpiper, a flyby of 20 Black-bellied Plovers, and little else. We had distant views of several Surf Scoters and at least one White-winged Scoter. We heard many Nelson’s Sparrows and got a quick but good view of one.

At Quoddy Head, a single Razorbill was within a short distance of shore. As usual for this time of year, Sail Rock was covered in Black-legged Kittiwakes and a few Bonaparte’s Gulls. These were flushed by a Bald Eagle that crossed the rock on the way to a feeding frenzy offshore. We could clearly see some porpoises rising, and they were surrounded by kittiwakes, gulls, and Northern Gannets looking to pick the fish off the surface. We watched the eagle do likewise, frequently hovering and grasping at the water. Eventually, he returned to Sail Rock with a meal of at least two fish clasped in his talons.

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse. Photo by Becky Marvil.

We headed off to Boot Head Preserve for our expected rendezvous with Spruce Grouse and instead hit the brakes for a Ruffed Grouse that stepped into the road. He and we froze in place, watching each other at length for several minutes. Continuing on, our grouse luck held and, as we pulled into the Boot Head parking lot, we noted a family of five Spruce Grouse at the trail entrance. (Within a span of just a few minutes, we had scored both grouse without leaving the car.) We got close-up looks at a hen and four adolescents as they lingered near the trail. A couple of Boreal Chickadees sounded off, but we let them be and set off for downtown Lubec. Along the way, we checked another beach and notched a foraging Peregrine Falcon. Another, larger Peregrine was noted later at Mowry Beach.

Water levels in the pond opposite Eastland Motel are low and clogged with lily pads. Thus, we had only Wood Ducks and American Black Ducks for waterfowl, but thrilled at TWO American Bitterns that were in plain view along the shoreline. They both gave us great views and delayed our rush to Calais where dinner awaited. (A good meal at Bernadini’s.)

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher. Photo by Bob Duchesne.

We were out the motel door by 6:00am Sunday morning and spent a half hour adding waterfowl to our trip list at Moosehorn NWR in Baring before streaking for the Burn Road in Topsfield. By now, the Black-backed Woodpeckers have dispersed from their nesting sites and are becoming much harder to locate. We had a nibble but no bites. At Mile 3, a family of three Gray Jays checked us out. Four more at Mile 5.5 made the trip list seven. The weather was really terrific, with lots of sunshine and moderate breezes — enough to make us comfortable and the birds silent. We consoled ourselves with a day total of eight Olive-sided Flycatchers, an adult male Spruce Grouse at Mile 8, a family of four more at Mile 7, and another male back at Mile 3 on the way out. That’s a total of eleven Spruce Grouse for the weekend, all of them within easy view. By 4:00pm, winds and sun had diminished and the woods came alive: too many Palm Warblers to count, along with a smattering of other birds.

Opinions differ on the best bird of the weekend, but I choose the Common Nighthawk roosting on a tree limb. Kudos to Pat Moynahan for first noticing it. It spent all afternoon in the same spot, within easy view. Thanks for letting me guide!

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