And then it happened...I was in Maine. On a birding trip. To say that I needed this would be the most severe understatement. The spring birding I've been able to do here at home has mostly sucked, I needed a break from Oakland, and I was ready for the chance to get some sweet sweet life birds. And so four nerds assembled: one Seagull Steve, one Flycatcher Jen, one This Machine Nate (Nate is open to another nickname by the way, if you have any suggestions), and one Dipper Dan. None of us had birded Maine before, and the potential for lifers for all of was alarmingly high.
The first day we arrived, Dipper Dan and I took a cab from Portland down to Pine Point, which sits at the mouth of the Scarborough River and the massive Scarborough Marsh to meet up with Nate. We had rented a house there for three nights, since as a group it was affordable and we were within walking distance of high quality birding. A couple of Nate's friends who were in town had went out to the beach to walk their dog, and so we three nerds decided to follow. "I'm going to leave my camera here so we can see something good", I said, and Nate and Dan decided to do the same. It turned out to be a very wise move.
It took me 15 years of birding before I ever saw a White-rumped Sandpiper...now, of course, I don't go through so much pain to find them so we are able to hang out with some regularity. Because I suffered for so many years in White-rumped Sandpiperless agony, they now hold a special place in my heart and I will always spend some extra time with them. Photographed at Pine Point, ME.
The orange base to the bill is an extremely helpful field mark for birds in alternate plumage, something I don't think field guides emphasize enough. Yet another bird who looks remarkably good while staying within the notorious confines of The Economy of Style.
Although the beach had a number of people walking around, it wasn't long before we started picking up on some birds. A large raft of sea ducks feeding offshore turned out to be a mixed flock of White-winged and Black Scoters, the latter of which was a life bird for Nate, the first of many that our group would be getting. We walked down to a large group of Bonaparte's Gulls feeding in the surf, and I mentioned the distant possibility of a Little Gull being mixed in with them. I have seen one Little Gull ever, and I think that was over ten years ago...seeing another one would be a relifer of sorts, a great birding victory. Despite the fact that I was looking specifically for this bird, I could not believe it when I saw a bird with jet black underwings alight on the water...there it was! A Little Gull in high breeding plumage...what the fuck?! Good thing I didn't bring the camera...ugh.
The bird was both incredibly good-looking and incredibly cooperative, constantly showing off its unique wing pattern and eventually coming up to the beach to preen right in front of us. At such close range, the bird really did stand out from the surrounding Bonaparte's Gulls...the bill was even a deep, dark reddish color, something I did not expect to see on this bird. The light was fantastic. We felt bad for Flycatcher Jen, who was not there and getting gripped off horribly because United Airlines decided to delay her flight over and over again. Had we brought our cameras, we could have absolutely slayed it...these photos were taken the following morning from some distance, but they will have to suffice.
I later found out that the bird had actually been discovered by other birders earlier in the day, so although it was an awesome self-found rarity it wasn't actually a found rarity, oh well. This bird was easily one of the highlights of the trip, and a tremendous way to kick off our spring tour. We celebrated with Nate's friends in Portland that night with tapas, cocktails, and the first of the million beers that would be consumed during the trip.
On Day 2 we kicked off our birding back out at Pine Point, where to everyone's relief Flycatcher Jen lifered the Little Gull and several of us lifered Purple Sandpiper and Roseate Tern. The Purples looked more distinct from Rock Sandpipers than I thought they would, and I was surprised by how much the Roseate stood out from the surrounding Commons...it is a tern that is far more elegant than an Elegant Tern and a tern far less roseate than an Elegant Tern, if you ask me.
One of the most visible birds in Scarborough Marsh were Glossy Ibis, a bird I haven't seen in a few years. We had one flock foraging relatively close while searching for sharp-tailed sparrows, which was a good thing considering how uncooperative the sparrows were that morning.
The last time I thought I saw a Glossy Ibis, the bird turned out to be a hybrid...no doubt about the genetics of these birds though. A blue face is a good face.
Those who live in the east are probably wincing looking at this mediocre Common Grackle photo. Well, I don't get to see many Common Grackles! As you can probably guess, these birds are widespread and common in much of Maine. Photographed at Pine Point, ME.
After birding Pine Point and Scarborough Marsh, we spent the afternoon looking for migrant passerines. One of our stops was Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, which had a few nice birds including some Wood Thrushes. Wood Thrushes are one of my favorite birds...some say that Hermit Thrush is the best singer among the Catharus, but hearing a Wood Thrush always strikes a special chord with me. A couple were foraging out on a lawn and allowed better looks than usual.
Yeah, I know, pretty far from a crush but I'm enthusiastic about these birds, what can I say? We didn't run into any big migrant flocks here or at Capisic Pond, but there was plenty to keep us entertained. Flycatcher Jen was lifering birds at a remarkable pace. Too bad we never got to bird these sites during the morning, but we had our hands full wallowing in other good birds.
Pink Lady's-slipper is wonderful plant to gaze upon, and has a winning name as well.
If this were another blog, this is where I would make some grimace-inducing euphemism about squirrels liking each other. That is not science. What is science? Boning. Boning is science. These squirrels are boning. They were hella into it too, constantly flipping over and changing positions. The best part of it was that that there was another squirrel about 3 feet away watching everything very intently. Maybe it was a cuckold? You may doubt the complexity of squirrel kink, but who are you to doubt an animal that is known to masturbate with great purpose?