Maine and Florida snatch and grabs

5 July Update

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This will be a brief update on my travels for ‘common’ bird species over the first five days of the final semester of 2016 big year birding. I’ve added seven species over this brief period while chocking up some pretty big miles in the process.

First there was Maine and New Hampshire over the Independence Day long weekend, where the ‘maine’ target of course was Bicknell’s Thrush. This species had been looming as one of the scariest of the remaining seasonally present common birds still on my ‘to find’ list. But I also needed to confront a couple of additional stragglers while in the region - Atlantic Puffin and Saltmarsh Sparrow. I got a bit goofed up in my planning due to last minute cancellation of my 1 July flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Portland Maine and rescheduling to the next day, but apart from escalated costs however, in the end everything worked out fine. In fact it gave me the impetus to get out on my ‘stranded’ night and find an Eastern Whip-poor-will south of Grand Rapids, after dipping further north on the previous two nights.

Whip-your-wheels - larger than life, and twice as loud

After arriving in Portland, Maine mid-morning Saturday the 2nd, I spent most of the day at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Reserve south of Portland trying – and eventually succeeding in getting certainty on Saltmarsh Sparrow. There were plenty of singing Nelson’s Sparrows around (more like mosquito zappers zapping), but the Saltmarsh Sparrows were much tougher and I certainly couldn’t hear them above the strong breeze. At mid-afternoon during my second visit to the site I bumped into two birders Mark and Paul, who were much better than I am with picking out a Salt-marsh Sparrow. In the end we had a nice and obliging bird that gave us a nice singing performance - very late for the year. The guys had come to Maine to twitch the ongoing Little Egret that morning and were mainly on the lookout for a Ruff that had been reported from Scarborough.

Saltmarsh Sparrow

It was a beautiful drive up the lobster coast to Boothbay, a marvelously themed tourism-oriented port where I stayed in a maritime-themed hotel (the only room anywhere, and definitely not cheap!) with a giant welcoming lobster fisherman in preparation for the Puffin cruise the next morning. Everywhere in Maine the American flags were waving in front yards, and the the small town ‘Mayberry’ atmosphere with traditional New England building style throughout. It was a beautiful blue sky, puffy cloud day and I regretted that Robyn wasn’t along to enjoy Americana atmosphere at its best.


The cruise to Eastern Egg Island took less than an hour, and with one of the Audubon-funded researchers on board to provide commentary on the island and its birds over the intercom system. Everybody on board – even me, learned plenty about Atlantic Puffins and the good work the Audubon Society has been doing for many decades to bring them back to healthy numbers on the US northern seaboard. We all saw lots of Puffins, along with close looks at Black Guillemots, Common Terns and a few other terns and gulls.

Well organized Cap'n Fish Audubon Puffin Cruise to Eastern Egg Island is popular, and fun.


Getting off the boat I drove up to the bird-famous Mt Washington Auto Road, where a half-hour wait in line was required to get to the toll booth – to pay $29 to drive up the 8-mile narrow winding road to the top. It’s a popular tourism experience, but a bit cheeky on the pricing I thought. At about 5PM I parked on a turnout just below the 4,000ft elevation sign, and up and down the road from that position, dodging cars and listening. The hope was to see and photograph a Bicknell’s Thrush that afternoon, so as to be able to shoot off to Florida the next morning. The best I could do was to hear one bird well (and it was singing, not calling!), weakly hear another, and have a surprise view of a thrush flying right in front of me from one side of the road to the other. At about the 4,000ft elevation mark, it was probably a Bicknell’s and not a Swainson’s - but I guess I’ll never know for sure.

Spectacular views from windy and windy (?) Mt Washington Auto Road

I decided to compromise and accept a ‘heard only’ tick for the thrush and finalised plans to get to Florida between rare hummingbird sightings in Arizona. Its because of the erratic nature of the sightings of White-eared Hummingbird, Berylline Hummingbird and Plain-capped Starthroat in recent weeks that I’ve been keeping my common bird missions compressed into two to three day blasts – trying to stay poised for a hummer-strike. In the mean time, it was off to Florida on half-empty planes on the national holiday.

My 4th of July Florida trip came together so easily and smoothly, that even now barely 24 hours later and mid-air on my flight out, I worry about what’s going to go wrong to rebalance the overtly positive ying/yang score. I drove out of the Orlando rental car centre at 5PM yesterday and before dark had seen two Mississippi Kites and a pair of Florida Scrub-jays in the Ocala area. 

After a rare lengthy sleep, this morning I found my way to the well known haunt at Wekiwa Springs, only to find that the area was closed off with signs indicating that a youth camp was in session, and that nobody besides camp counsellors was allowed beyond the not-welcome signs. Bird’s Eye App showed another site, not far away, but requiring a bit of a hike, that looked promising. It was 8AM and the sauna was already heating up when I set off. But I needn’t have worried – ‘ying’ was still in the house. I got to the ‘red beacon’ in less than a half hour, and true to promise, found a single very vocal (with ticking calls, not singing) Bachman’s Sparrow that responded strongly to my pishing. 

Bachman Turner Over-sparrow

Back to the car, and off to the beach a couple of hours east to see about recent reports of Wilson’s Plovers at a ‘disappearing’ island. I was worried that the tide would be too high, and the sandbar where the plovers are occasionally sighted would be inundated. The good news was the sand bar was still present - it hadn’t yet been inundated by the tide. The bad news was that the place was a circus. Boats and jet skis buzzed everywhere, and one holidaying family had landed their small boat at the tiny sandy island – ensuring that there’d be no chance for me to scope any birds. So instead I walked to the right along the beach, veering around sunbathers and stick-throwers with dogs. Several hundred metres along, I heard shorebird to my right – well up from the beach. Wilson’s Plover! Right behind a rope barrier with attendant signs indicating that the area a no-go zone due to breeding Wilson’s Plovers. I love ying, but gotta learn how to get this sort of info during the planning process.