This is Down By Law Dan. He is intimately familiar with Down By Law's entire discography and the nuances of their sound. He also knows that iPads make for excellent eBird machines.
After our glory with the small gulls at Pine Point came to a close, it was time to move north. The next morning we went straight to Mr. Bagel, at the edge of Scarborough Marsh, for sharp-tailed sparrows. Knowing that Saltmarsh Sparrow would be a life bird for some, I again sacrificed for the greater good and left the camera in the car. We got both sharp-tailed sparrows and a putative hybrid or two, and rolled north. Sparrow crushes were obtained, but not by me of course. Also, sharp-tailed sparrowing is hard.
Our one and only stop we made after leaving Scarborough was at Higgins Beach, where Down By Law Dan hoped to lifer a Piping Plover, which was done with great ease. Believe it or not, I used to be in the Piping Plover business, and I continue to relish this species more than most.
Common Terns were a common bird at Higgins Beach, which was a surprise to no one. You can call me a robin-stroker if you like, it would not be inaccurate in this case...I have no shame.
Adults are so short-tailed compared to Forster's/Arctic/Roseate.
We eventually found ourselves nestled next to the Canadian border in Lubec, where we had rented a house ("THE EDGE") for four nights, which was perched on top of a cliff overlooking Johnson Bay. It was great. The birding was hit-or-miss in the area, although our trip list grew frighteningly quickly. Some nice pickups in the area included Boreal Chickadee (Lower 48 bird), Black Guillemot (lifer!), Alder and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Palm Warbler, and American Woodcocks doing flight displays, which I've never seen before (it was awesome)...I haven't seen one for so long it was almost like a relifer. We also just picked a random field and hoped they would be there, so that worked out pretty well...even better, earlier in the afternoon Flycatcher Jen made a "peent" sound in the car and Down By Law Dan and This Machine Nate both thought it was actually a woodcock for a considerable amount of time. How embarrassing. In fact, it was even more embarrassing than when I got lost trying to drive home for an absurd period of time just a couple hours later.
Down on the Bold Coast, we had a nice walk out to the ocean hoping for Black-backed Woodpecker (dip), Spruce Grouse (dip) and other boreal specialties. When we got to the coast there were Razorbills flying by close to shore, which I did not expect at all. This one was diving in the surf right below us, like a goddamned scoter. This was a great lifer, and I owe Flycatcher Jen an HJ.
Walking around the boreal forest near the coast, there is no missing the abundant porcupine sign on dead snags everywhere. In some places there is so much of it that you would think that the forest was just littered with porcupines. We found this fine specimen on the ground next to the trail, and it hitched up the nearest tree at an unimpressive speed (but fast for a porcupine, I thought).
The business end of a porcupine. Porcupines are fantastically equipped for defense against predators, not so much with automobiles though.
A bog rimmed by boreal forest at West Quoddy Head. Our first Yellow-bellied Flycatcher of the trip was near this edge.
The Spruce Grouse stress was beginning to build. At some point before the trip, it somehow became my Number 1 target bird, although it took me a long time to realize it. Why that is, I'm not entirely sure, but by the time we were on the ground in Maine I was ready to admit it...I needed Spruce Grouse. My checklist didn't need it, I did.
Spruce Grouse is not a rare bird in Maine. They are relatively widespread, but it's not like you can just show up at a lek and expect to see one, since they don't do that. So we groused here, we groused there, but there was not a grouse anywhere. Fresh-out-of-the-oven eBird reports of Spruce Grouse in the Lubec area were encouraging though. We were hot on the grouse trail, no doubt about it, but it was not an easy bird to get. This Machine Nate thought he saw one right next to the car and got everyone really stoked, but that lead only resulted in confusion and disillusionment...the birding gods were especially sadistic that day.
Eventually we decided to try out Boot Head Preserve, which featured both recent eBird records and fairly specific directions for grouse-finding in the Maine Birding Trail. I was in front of our shameful, socially-challenged group of uber-nerds on the bog boards, when suddenly it was happening.
I was being charged by a Spruce Grouse.
My initial reaction to being charged by a male Spruce Grouse was not to call out "Spruce Grouse!" to the others in my group, but instead at a moderate volume I said, "Grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse" very rapidly, which I thought was an interesting (and unplanned) response to such a bird. This Machine Nate was taking a leak at the time I gave my grouse alert, and promptly got caught in his zipper. He may have become permanently mangled, but that is the kind of risk we take when we are out in grouse country. But take this to heart...when he saw the brave grouse strutting around on the moss, the tears in his eyes were not those of fresh physical disfigurement, no. They were tears of joy.
The vigilant grouse ran towards us on the forest floor, and promptly flew up on a low perch to take a good look at us. The grouse was, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. It completely lived up to its species' rep of not being afraid of people. The courage and heart that this bird displayed that day will live on forever in our memories. It would walk around in a certain patch on the ground, fly up to a certain perch, fly up to another certain perch, fly back to the ground, and repeat the process over and over and over again. It defended the shit out of its territory.
The other ridiculous aspect of this bird was how facemelting it was. The fine detail but vast variation in feather patterning it displayed was hard for me to process all at once, there was almost too much to look at. Truly, it is one of those birds that far exceeds your previous notions of them you may have had before seeing one. The red eye comb was also the single reddest thing I have ever seen on a bird, maybe period. I still can't quite fathom the degree of redness emanating from this bird's face. It makes Scarlet Tanagers seem modest in comparison.
The Maine Birding Trail was almost spot on about their grouse advice for this site, the bird was exactly where they suggested looking, and the eBird assist was clutch as well. With our collective grouse-lust finally sated, we headed back to town for horrible food (delicious bread though, which seems to be abundant in Maine...why?). After 3 days of rough seas and boat cancellations, we would finally be going out to Machias Seal Island the next day, and preparations had to be made. Though more lifers were on deck, this was definitely the bird of the trip for me.
Bogs are not nutrient rich places, and lovely insect-consuming pitcher plants abound in these places. Oh, and in case you were concerned about This Machine, don't worry, he has come out unscarred and vigorous, and with Spruce Grouse on his life list.