Sunday, July 28, 2019

Stay On The Path

Common Loon on nest
 A place that I had always wanted to visit was Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. I wanted to give Kathie and Gus some alone time (and a break!) from us birding every day.  Thankfully Magill was around doing some work in Maine.  She had told me over the years that Monhegan Island was a fantastic place to go birding for rarity chasers.  If any rarity was going to show up in this state, it would be on Monhegan Island.  And it's all true.

She didn't have to twist my arm too hard to go.  There were some potential lifer sea birds on this trip.  Unfortunately, we were a little too early for the "main" sea bird event, but it was great doing some exploring in new habitat with Magill.  We always choose new places to bird because they are not birded or are underbirded. So on our way to Monhegan, we did a two night cabin stay along the coast checking area blocks for the Maine Bird Breeding Atlas. 

The trek out to Monhegan Island was beautiful.  There was lots to see.  Our mission?  To find a rare invading Eurasian Collared Dove. We rolled our eyes and laughed, but for Magill and myself, it would be a new state bird.  These doves come to my feeder in Arizona.  In fact, they live around Magill's house in Phoenix. But here we were chasing this silly dove on an island. 

I have this dove memorized.  I know its flight pattern and body shape from quite a distance. Because of that distinct flight pattern glide, I found it right away and of course, it flew down behind a house behind a bunch of trees. Magill didn't see it.  So because it was a rare bird for Maine, we wanted to get photo documentation.  But before I took another step, Magill warned about the people on the island.  According to many Mainiacs, they are assholes. Or at least, most of them were.  So we had to stay on the path. Easy. We're always so good about following the rules.  Or so we thought. 

a bird that is looking to take Maine hostage, the "rare" invasive Eurasian Collared Dove
 For the first time in my life, I used playback for this dove and it worked like a charm.  We, I thought, were safely on a public road until a crabby Lobsterman (are there any other kinds?) came out and tried getting into a verbal fight with us.  We ignored him and walked away.  It seemed like he followed us a little bit from his house, but we just kept walking on the road with him shouting at our backs. 

This sign is a complete lie.  And note it says during bird migrations.  So they really don't want anyone there
After that experience, I was done with the island.  The sign above is a complete lie.  Why would I invest money into this island if many of the people there were jerks? I felt bad because Magill loves this island and I think she was disappointed that I didn't think much of it.  I just thought to myself that if people were that hostile towards visitors, why in the world would anyone want to spend money at this place.  It was a pretty island, but so is Machias Seal Island and the hundred other islands along the coast of Maine. And you don't get hassled at those locations. 

Tree Swallow
 However, we did encounter some nice people watering their yards.  They had bird houses out for Tree Swallows.  We counted birds along the path. And let me add something positive here.  There weren't any bugs:)

And it was scenic.  Sure.  Absolutely beautiful.  I laughed because when Magill and I are together, we always have an adventure.  But something was very different this time around!  And it bothered me a lot. 

I can't put my finger on it but the Common Yellowthroats on the eastern side of the US are different acting and even looking than our yellowthroats we have here in AZ. 
 Magill was doing a great job about marking down breeding codes for the island and I didn't care!  I am going to admit this in writing.  I wasn't into the birding. Maybe it was the experience with that guy, or maybe it was because I had seen the birds a million times and just wanted to hang out by the ocean with a cup of coffee. I had fun with Magill, but it wasn't Arizona nor was it Wisconsin.  I had no personal connection to the common birds found in Maine. And it was a weird thing to feel.  

When we got back onto the mainland, I focused on bird song and recorded vocalizations of Blackburnian Warblers. We also explored a new spot, Islesboro, which was a lot of fun because it was another island of mystery birds.  I understand why people love Maine. It's a beautiful state.  I began to wonder though.  Was my former Cheesehead friend favoring her Maine grounds over her Arizona ones?  I felt like she had become a Mainiac!  I hated the thought of losing Magill to Maine. We have so many more Arizona adventures ahead! But there is something about Maine that gets into a person's psyche.  I get it. But it's more of a love affair for me and not a steady relationship:)

Common Eiders at the port of Monhegan Island
 One of the most memorable experiences we had together didn't happen on the islands, but at a blueberry barren.  There, we heard the fluttering heart drum calls of the Ruffed Grouse!  It was amazing. 

Eastern Towhee
 And there were sparrows! 

Savannah Sparrow
But back to Monhegan.  As we headed back to port to the mainland, we had more sightings of Atlantic Puffins.  I never get sick of observing these birds. 

Atlantic Puffin
 I let this post sit for a little over a month before I wrote it because I had to separate my feelings on this experience.  I wouldn't say Monhegan Island was a negative experience nor a positive one.  Just more of a disappointment. I also had to resolve my feelings about why my attitude was so negative about the bird counts on that day.  It really bothered me. 

We watched this local garden while listening to a territorial Virginia's Rail
 When I eventually arrived in Wisconsin, I had figured out why I had been so frustrated on Monhegan Island. I wanted to be home with my family and doing work for the final year of the Wisconsin Bird Breeding Atlas.  And I felt like I was wasting my time in Maine when I could have been "working" and using my experience for the atlas in my hometown.  It's often underbirded there and I know things about my hometown that others do not. Bernie had passed on his "warbler insights" with me before he died(I'll discuss this in a later post). As a kid, I played in every little nook and cranny possible. And here I was in Maine getting yelled at by a loser while chasing a "rare" dove that I have seen a million times.  So I apologize to Magill for my less-than-stellar attitude during those days.  I was worried about my Dad and wanted to be home helping out on both fronts. 

That's not to say we didn't have fun because we did:) I was just birding with a heavy heart.  So I will say this, birding is therapeutic:) I'll never say never, but it's unlikely I'll go to Monhegan again. Even if you "stay on the path", you'll get yelled at.  If you live in Maine and this is one of the few places a birder can find rarities, I suggest moving to Arizona;)  Until next time....

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Baxter State Park

What is it with people hanging dead animal heads on walls?  I'm grossed out and fascinated by it all at the same time. 
Over the years, Kathie and I had both spoken about going to Baxter State Park in Maine.  Our plans had changed.  Kathie's husband Gus suffered a stroke and was now in recovery. Our plans to drive from Maine to Wisconsin changed.  I knew they'd change when I had heard the news.  Over the years with my friendship to Kathie, I've also grown to include Gus as a friend.  He's a great guy and I am so thankful that we were able to visit longer.  But I'm not going to get all wishy washy emotional.  Neither of us like that emotion stuff:)  I'm just glad he's ok.  Kathie's got enough emotion for ALL of us:)

With my Dad's heart surgery and Gus's stroke, I knew Kathie would want to stay home.  I told Kathie not to stress because Gus was more important. He's an amazing guy. I just didn't want to intrude on their routine.  But in Gus fashion, he told us to get out of the house and have fun.  So like much of the summer, I "rubber banded" it with Kathie and my family in Wisconsin. We'd make it work and have fun with it all. It was a summer of family and friends which meant we birded close or somewhat close to home so that we could "snap" back if there was an emergency. Plus for everyone involved in both Wisconsin and Maine, we had to drive to appointments!  They're still getting their treatments/therapy!

One of the places, we decided to explore was Baxter State Park.  It was one of our splurges. Kathie's mission was to hit 500 lifebirds this summer.  Mine was to add just a few.  Our first lifer together was this beautiful Black-backed Woodpecker!

Black-backed Woodpecker
This woodpecker can be a hard one for many birders across the country.  But not because they are rare; but because they can be rather elusive and prefer dense forest areas. Kathie spotted this one and I was able to get a quick shot before it flew off. Throughout our time there, we heard many more drumming off in the distance. 

Baxter State Park is gorgeous and free to state residents!  We stayed at the Big Moose Inn which was really an iconic piece of Maine history and close to the park.  One of the things I love about Kathie is her knack for finding excellent restaurants and places to stay.  

There were birders coming through the area and had also stayed at the Inn during our stay.  I heard them in the morning but chose to stay in bed.  After they left, we went to get breakfast.  I could have sat there all day and it was Kathie who said, "Come on Rohrer, we've got birds to find."  I was hesitant because I knew it would be another day fighting blackflies and mosquitoes. My body looked like a war zone after my trek to Maine. Surprisingly though, there were NO ticks in this park. So if we had gotten rid of the blackflies, our journeys out into the park would have been even more perfect.

Philadelphia Vireo
Another bird I had to find was the Philadelphia Vireo.  I'll be honest. I'm not into vireos.  They're cool birds, but I wasn't into digging through every vireo call in the forest.  So many vireos sang and many of them were Red-eyed Vireos.  The calls are almost identical and I couldn't distinguish the two species apart. So when we found this one above, I smiled at the accomplishment and just enjoyed the rest of the scenic drive. 

Did we find a moose?  Yes but the moose was on the interstate!  There were moose sightings in the park, but we never did see one there.  We did find this cool looking Eastern Painted Turtle however!

Blackflies kept up the attack.  And human flesh was exposed.  No amount of spray would keep them off my body.  The spray worked with mosquitoes but not the blackflies.  Even writing about this memory makes me itch and cringe again. 

Black-and-white Warbler
However, with great bugs come great warblers.  So many great warblers. Baxter State Park is quite a magical place.  The habitat was just slightly different enough to have a unique sampling of birds that we couldn't find around Kathie and Gus's home outside of migration. 

Ok. I'll admit that there is one vireo I kinda dig more than the others.  The Blue-headed Vireo below is a looker.  Their slightly slower call, yet very similar Red-eyed Vireo call, makes them a tad easier to find. 

Blue-headed Vireo
And then there were eastern warbler calls galore.  Just when I thought I'd get used to a call, I'd second guess myself.  Is that a Pine Warbler or a Chipping Sparrow calling?

Pine Warbler
Who's making that short and loud vocal burst?

Magnolia Warbler
Oh!  It's a singing male Magnolia Warbler setting up a territory! But didn't they have a different call?  Yes but it wasn't making that one:)

In Arizona, visitors always ask me, "What's that hawk?"  My automated response is "Red-tailed Hawk."  Then they respond, "But that doesn't look like our Red-tailed Hawk back home." 
"It won't.  We have several subspecies here." 
Back to Maine.  I'm in the visitor spot now and I ask Kathie, "What's that warbler call?"
"American Redstart"

There are so many vocalizations for this species.  And I think I've nailed the ID on this bird now just by hearing their various calls a million times.  I had A LOT of practice in both Maine and Wisconsin.  I can officially "talk" to this bird and it's part of my bird vocabulary now. 

male American Redstart
Another bird that I've also memorized and can easily ID is the high slurred wind up zzzzzzeeeeeeet of the Northern Parula.  Easy peasy. 

Northern Parula
In short, Maine was incredible.  There are several more posts that I will write which will include birding codes and connections to the birds.  I discovered some weird things about myself there while birding.  I'll explore that during a trek to Monhegan Island with Magill in our next post. My last lifer from Baxter State Park was the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher which I have also memorized now.  It was fun finding this species but it's a birder's bird.  It's one of them flycatcher jobs, but by finding this species, I completed all of my North American flycatchers. 

In many ways, Maine birding was my "dotting the i's and crossing the t's trek" to complete my flycatcher and vireo lists.  I just need Black-whiskered Vireo now to complete all of my vireos for the US. Kathie and I both loved Baxter State Park.  We only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for more.....