July 9 Arrive in Portland, Maine
July 10 Gilsland Farm AM; Pine Point, Scarborough March and Gilsland Farm again PM
July 11 Saco Heath AM; Kennebunk Plains and drive to Bangor
July 12 County Road, Milford and Sunkhaze Meadows NWR AM; Drive to Baxter State Park
Cranberry Lake Trail PM
July 13 Baxter State Park; Roaring Brook Campground and Sandy Pond Loop AM, Katahdin Campground and Grassy Pond Trail PM;
Drive to Bar Harbor
July 14 Whales and Puffins boat tour out of Bar Harbor AM; Acadia NP: Seawall Bog, Wonderland Trail and Bass Harbor Light PM
July 15 Acadia NP: Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain AM; Great Wass Island hike PM; drive to Machias
July 16 Drive from Machias to Black’s Harbour, NB AM; Ferry to Grand Manan and Dark Harbour hike, Castalia Marsh PM
July 17 Anchorage Park, Castalia Marsh AM; boat trip to Machias Seal Island PM
July 18 White Head Island AM; Ferry from Grand Manan to Black’s Harbour; drive to Bangor July 19 Drive to Portland and home
We all met at the Portland hotel the first evening, with some of us having a quick dinner together and going over the plans for the upcoming trip along the Maine coast. Our first stop in the morning had to be to look for the long-staying Little Egret that had been present for over a month at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm. This beautiful facility has well maintained trails through the woods and along the edge of the marshy wetlands. We did not see the Little Egret amongst the Snowy and Great Egrets this morning, but enjoyed an excellent selection of birds, including Willow and Great Crested Flycatchers, multiple Osprey and our first Bald Eagle of the tour.
A seafood lunch down at Pine Point is a must-do stop as we usually see Roseate Terns as they feed along the channel. This time was no exception as it was lobster #1 for the trip and a single Roseate Tern amongst the Bonaparte’s Gulls on the far shore. Another stop by Gilsland Farm 2 hours before high tide was successful for the Little Egret and we watched it roosting atop a dead tree trunk from across the estuary. Phew! A male Baltimore Oriole was a nice addition to the birdlist on our first day before we had a delicious meal at the yacht club in Falmouth – quite busy and noisy due to a wedding earlier in the day, but they still had a table for 6 scruffy birders!
Saco Heath is a beautiful spot and is one of the southernmost bogs in the state. It was hot when we arrived at 8:30 AM the following morning so bird activity was already slowing down, but White-throated Sparrows sang from the Tamaracks and Prairie and Pine Warblers were active in the open woodland. A passer-by alerted us to a beautiful White-fringed Orchid, as well as several Rose Pogonia Orchids in the vegetation along the boardwalk. Lunch was on the beautiful main street of Kennebunk, where we ate at the historic Kennebunk Inn – surrounded by a sea of flowers. Another one of my favorite spots in this part of Maine is Kennebunk Plains.
Now operated for wildlife, this area of low-bush blueberries and plants of sandy habitats is great for sparrows. With some walking in the hot sun we found Vesper, Field, Savannah, Chipping and Grasshopper, as well as a beautiful pair of Bobolinks – the only ones of the trip. And yes, we had plenty of blueberries for our afternoon dessert! It was then back to the “big city” of Bangor for the night before we birded another great location- Sunkhaze Meadows NWR.
This year was surprisingly bug-free so we hiked the loop trail to the marsh overlook. It was a beautiful area with a male Northern Harrier giving us a fly-by and White-tailed Deer bounding through the long marsh grass. A few insects kept us hiking a little faster than normal on the return trip with few stops for birds; the first of many great hikes on this tour of Maine. Lunch was at a restaurant overlooking the Penobscot River in Old Town. Service was a little slow, but talk of old-time logging and the Bald Eagles kept us entertained until lunch arrived.
It was only an hour drive up to Millinocket and Baxter State Park, so after dropping our gear off at the hotel we hiked the Cranberry Lake Trail. It was not spectacular birding at this time of the day, but the scenery was stunning with Mt. Katahdin looming over us all afternoon. Sometimes on our birding trips, we just have to relax and unwind a little, and tonight found us playing pool at a restaurant on the outskirts of Millinocket. Some of us had not played for years, but some blueberry ice-cream, a beer or 2 and a lot of luck found us having a great time.
It was hike time again the next morning on a great loop from Roaring Brook Campground around Sandy Pond, again with clear skies under the shadow of Katahdin. We were usually by ourselves on most of the hiking trails, but this was not to be this morning. The trailhead was crowded but thankfully there seemed to be enough trails to go around. The narrow trails through the dense spruce forest made for difficult birding, but with some effort we managed Magnolia, Black-throated Blue and Blackpoll Warblers. Sandy Pond was worth the hike and we sat atop a large rock watching a female Moose and her calf munching away on submerged vegetation. The calf seemed a little nervous, but Mama did not look worried at all, despite her excited fan-club not that far away.
A female Common Goldeneye had several well-grown chicks and a family of Common Merganser added to the wildlife experience that morning. We stayed extra quiet as we hiked alongside the pond, not wanting to disturb the Moose and soon we found ourselves challenged by the rocky trail that more resembled a stream bed than a hiking trail. We got back to the trailhead with another good hike under our belt and had our first picnic lunch nearby. The afternoon hike to Grassy Pond was beautiful, steep at times, but not very birdy, so we finished our second hike of the day and drove to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Time for lobster (again!) at a restaurant on the way into town, where we ran into birding friends at dinner – a small world!
The next morning was our Whales and Puffins trip out into the Gulf of Maine, where foggy conditions greeted us offshore. Thankfully we were kitted out with all of our raingear, gloves and wooly hats to prevent us being too uncomfortable as the temperature dropped. Yes, we saw some puffins, but the only whale was a distant tail fluke as a Northern Right Whale dived well ahead of the boat. Despite the fog the birds were cooperative and we had good numbers of Greater Shearwaters on the water, along with single Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters, plus over 100 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels.
It was also fun to bird with Alex and his sister, some keen and enthusiastic young birders from Boston. The afternoon was spent exploring various trails in Acadia National Park. Unfortunately everyone else was doing the same thing and the aptly-named Wonderland Trail was wall-to-wall people. The views around the much-photographed Bass Harbor Lighthouse were still atmospheric despite the fog – thankfully we were heading father down east and away from the crowds. One of my favorite restaurants in the area had closed the previous summer, so we had to explore to find an alternative- lobster again? Why not? This time it was one of the lobster pounds near in nearby Trenton - delicious! It rained overnight and the loop road in Acadia NP was very foggy in the morning.
The view from Cadillac Mountain was less than stellar, so we ended up hiking downhill through the granite boulders and stunted pines and spruces- and yes, the return trip to the car was all uphill. After lunch along Route 1, we found another out-of-the way place and had a beautiful hike down to the rocky coastline along the trails at the Nature Conservancy’s Great Wass Island. We were the only people on the beach so could soak up the quiet beauty of the moment. Because it was the middle of the afternoon the birding was fairly quiet except for the songs of Hermit Thrush and Black-throated Green Warbler. A nice surprise was the Spruce Grouse chick that flushed up into a trailside tree and just sat there for photographs. It was late when we got back to the car, so it was straight to dinner at Helen’s in Machias (which had been rebuilt after a fire last year) before checking into the hotel for a much-needed night of rest.
The next morning is when the fun started as someone who shall remain nameless (!) forgot that New Brunswick was in the Atlantic Time zone. Instead of 2.5 hours to the ferry terminal we now had 1.5 hours, so some speedy driving was in order. We were the only car at the border crossing into Canada and there was little traffic on the highway to Black’s Harbour, but we still arrived at the ferry terminal only to watch our ferry leaving the dock and heading out to sea – ugh! What to do but transfer our reservation to the next sailing, have breakfast and call the boat company as we were bound to miss our scheduled puffin tour to Machias Seal Island. We did. However, I think the birding Gods were smiling on us as the seas were rough on the scheduled day for our boat trip (today), perfect on the following day (when we were rescheduled) and foggy on the third. Hotel rooms were cancelled and remade resulting in two full days to explore the rugged beauty of Grand Manan Island; at last we had time to relax.
All of the development is along the east coast of Grand Manan Island, with only one road crossing to the west coast at Dark Harbour. The island is crisscrossed with hiking trails so we spent the next few hours climbing along the clifftops south of Dark Harbour, enjoying views of the rugged coastline, as well as the distant coast of Maine.
Our base on Grand Manan was the impressive Marathon Inn; a wooden 19th Century Inn with sloping floors and bags of character. The owner and staff could not have been nicer so this rapidly became our favorite accommodation of the tour. After several stops (with no shorebirds again) at Castalia Marsh we birded the pleasant Anchorage Provincial Park and bought lunch supplies for our Puffin tour. Blue skies and calm seas made for perfect conditions and up-close and personal views of Puffins, Razorbills and Murres. Arctic Terns are again nesting on Machias Seal Island and Common Eiders and Black Guillemots bobbed in the surf off the rocky coastline; the sights and sounds of a seabird colony were in our ears for the whole afternoon.
I think there were too many highlights to list, but for me I had to list Captain Peter Wilcox making puffin growls at some nearby birds, only to have them paddle right up alongside the boat, their webbed orange feet making them appear like clockwork ducks! Too cool! Dinner tonight was at the Compass Rose and yes, it was time for more lobster and one of the nicest meals of the tour. We had a 3:30 PM ferry the following day so we took the ferry over to White Head Island. Named for the white quartz outcroppings this island is a favorite for many of the local birders and it was here that we at last got a few migrants shorebirds, as well as the biggest crop of mosquitos throughout our whole trip!
More ferries and it was bound for Bangor where we did not make the mistake of eating at the hotel restaurant again. It was now time to pack for our morning trip back to the Portland Airport and home. A great trip to Maine with a few days on Grand Manan in New Brunswick by mistake. But I think I may just add this to future tours. It was too good to miss.
We finished the tour with 136 species and some great birds. We missed a few, got a few extra we did not count on, and had a great “Maine experience” from start to finish. Thanks to everyone on the tour for making this trip so enjoyable.
Birds seen or heard on our Venture to Maine
July 9 – 19, 2015
Birds seen and heard
(H) = Heard only
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch Brown Creeper
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Butterflies and Moths
Reptiles and Amphibians
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Northern Right Whale
Atlantic Gray Seal