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....


  1. I am so sorry you had such a negative experience there - some people are just so rude :( Also it is difficult not to worry and feel you should be elsewhere when a member of the family is in hospital. But your photos are really stunning and the birds look wonderful.

    1. It's really ok. Some people just like conflict. I am not one of those people. I'm always polite and friendly. Thankfully, I was able to be home to help out with my Dad. It was such a weird summer!

  2. Oh Chris, such a moving story. Your feelings, or lack there of, weren't about the birding. Hope things were better in Wisconsin.

    1. Hey there stranger:) After having time to reflect, I realized that I needed to get my butt home to help out. Once I got to Wisconsin, it was crazy! So much going on with the family. I was exhausted after I left.


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