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Baltimore by the Sea

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Back Out to Sea & an Owl Prowl

All at the Dock, ready to board
Was up early today, and loaded onto the Whale watching boat for a morning pelagic trip. Once on board I settled in a row with a nice couple, which I only realized when I was writing this up, were the couple that saved my face from the mosquito attack last week. THANK YOU! Hey, better late, than never. Anyway, this particular pelagic was fun, but no finny folk showed up, and not even that many of the feathered sort, but there was loads of scenery. 

Remains of an old Lighthouse
Petite Manan Island, part of the
Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge

There were some birds to look at, most note worthy was a massive flock of Red-necked Phalaropes bedecked in breeding plumage finery. Love these cross-feathered birdies, whose females are brighter and more colorful than the male birds, and it is the male birds that brood and raise the chicks.

Large flock of Red-necked Phalaropes in breeding plumage - YAY!
Best look I got of the Great Cormorant

I was thrilled to manage a few shots of a Great Cormorant, which was a lifer for me a week or so ago. May not look like much to anyone else, but it was a head turning beaut to me.

Searching an island for Peregrines and Baldies
Not to be jaded, but though it was thoroughly enjoyable, the birds today were not super cooperative and the oceanic mammals stayed away, but the sun was out, the waters were crystalline and I always say the worse day at sea is better than the best day on land (yeah, I'm crazy like that).

After the boat docked, I hit my hotel room briefly, then was off to the Festival Headquarters again for a prepaid festival luncheon.The food was great - again, it was prepared by local birder volunteers - and I enjoyed chatting with some birders from Texan and Michigan on what festivals they've attended that I might enjoy. When that was over, I decided to drive down to a spot in Acadia National Park where I was told I might be able to find some Purple Sandpipers if the birds hadn't decided to migrate int the past 24 hours - and rats, of course they had! Not a sandpiper in sight, but I did get some nice views of Black Scoters and a few other species.

Had nice looks at Black Scoters, ducks, that were actually close enough for shot or two
The day ended with a late night, 9 PM to midnight, Owl Prowl. It was last event for the Acadia Festival - not that it's my last adventure on this vacation. The Owl Prowl was - um... interesting. By birder's luck we only managed to hear a couple of Saw Whet Owls, but the driving around was entertaining and we even saw a Red Fox cub crossing a road at one point and a few White-tailed deer. By night's end I was the one who didn't give a hoot about what we saw or didn't see. I was tired, ready for a good night's sleep.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Arcadia Birding Festival

Sightings Board at Arcadia Birding Festival Center

Yesterday my Maine adventures continued when I arrived in Acadia; believe me, the day was an adventure. For starters, my iPhone insisted the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel where I am staying, was miles from the actual hotel. I ignored it and eventually found the place on my own - imagine - on my own, like I used to in the 'olden days'! Later I took a quick driving tour of Acadia National Park, and later in the day I had a low key adventure - and I swear it was an adventure - doing laundry.

View from Cadillac Mountain, at the top of Acadia National Park

Today's adventure began with the second festival of my Maine vacation, the Acadia Birding Festival. The first event I took part in was on the second day of the festival; the Boreal Van Trip to the north.

The trip leader was Bob Duchesne, the same person leading the post-festival Boreal Big Day this Monday. There were fifteen birders on the tour, traveling in a jeep and the van, and I rode shot gun, hurrah! It was a long haul, including a quick stop for breakfast, before we were were birding, north of Machias, to Rouge Bluffs. Bob found us a few Spruce Grouse.

Weary Spruce Grouse Cock
ALMOST a good shot; if I'd just been a tad quicker

White-throated Sparrow
We were mostly looking for Boreal Chickadees, which have eluded me for ages. Bob told us they were going to be difficult to find because they're currently nesting and we'd have to be lucky to find any outside of their nesting cavities. Overall, as Boreal Chickadees go, today was not my day.

How bad the mosquitoes were at
Moosehorn Refuge is no exaggeration!

Our next stop was where I was attacked by mosquitoes and black flies last week at Moosehorn Refuge, the Edmunds Division. I was a bit worried, but  happily, there were no bug attacks on me today. Whew!

The walk we took at Edmunds was also less of a death march. We also visited a spot called Boot Cove Road, near Lubec, Maine. Lots of little warblers, loons, an Osprey and even some Wood Ducks, but alas, no Boreal Chickadees. 

Nice male Bay-breasted Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Singing Male Cape May Warbler
Rare view and a rare shot for me - female (left) and male (right) Common Yellowthroats
I can not emphasis enough what a huge treat it is to see so many beautiful eastern Warblers. I mean, yes we have warblers, such as the Yellowthroat which are found nationwide, but let's face it - the Eastern part of North America got the lions share of these 'butterflies of the bird world'. It is wonderful being able to see and hear the bright spring songs of warblers. 

Tromping through the boreal forest
Carnivorous Pitcher Plant, denizen of boreal bogs

Robin's nest made of Coconut
and blue M&Ms
The Boreal Van Trip made for a long day, but it wasn't quite over yet. Back at the Acadia Birding Festival Center we were back in time for the evening social, the time for birders to chat and sample volunteer's homemade  h'orderves. This one on the left was a fav of mine, a nifty little dessert that was completely edible & quite yummy.

However yummy the desserts were, the best thing about the social was that afterwards, across the street at a cute little wooden building that may have been a church at some point, was where everyone gathered to hear the Festival's guest speaker: Greg Miller! 
Greg Miller
Birders, and many non-birders know Greg from the book & the movie, The Big Year. Tonight Greg spoke about  how his father had a passion for birding that rubbed off on him. In later years, Greg used his computer skills to puzzle out what spots in North America would net him the most bird species seen, ergo, the biggest bang for his bucks. That lead him to finding himself with 500 species seen by mid year in 1998. Impressed birders egged him into trying for seeing more birds that year than any other birder. He jumped at the chance. He ended up third in the heated competition and had a year any birder would kill for. Subsequently, Greg was approached by Mark Obmascik, who thought the race by three birders would make a great book - and it did. Then, when the smoke cleared, hollywood decided the book would make a great movie so again, Greg found himself in the spotlight. The movie producers asked him to be the movie's birding specialist. He did so, and even got to meet Jack Black, who portrayed him in the movie. Steve Martin and Owen Wilson played the other pair of hard core birders in the movie.

It was a totally blast hearing Greg Miller speak. I sat in the front row, and when it was announced he would autograph the books, I was the first to get a couple of the paperbacks signed; one for me, and one for my birding buddy Don. Don't be too impressed! Don told me he has a copy of Sibley's newest bird guide autographed for me by Sibley so to put it colloquially, 'I ain't impressing no one!'

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Moseying at Moosehorn, Maine

 When I left Baxter State Park earlier today, I bee-lined it straight back to the coast and Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. There, around 4:25, with only seconds to spare before the place closed for the day,  I got my Blue Goose Passbooks stamped. Next I decided to explore the area a bit more, secretly hoping I might run into an American Woodcock in broad daylight I-should-live-so-long.

Mysterious black shadow in the meadow

I drove across the road from the Ranger Station onto a loop auto road. I hadn't gone too far when I spotted a large black lump, where there hadn't been when I traveled the same road some days earlier.

Then the black lump lifted it's head and stared at me. YIKES! It was a little Black Bear. My guess is a biddy baby born last year some time, and on his own now. I think he was eating grass like the Grizzly I saw in Yellowstone some years ago.
Little Bitty Black Bear

I shifted the car a bit so as to get a different shot as the biddy bear crossed over the dirt road, but he hightailed it into the forest where it was too thick to see more than the occasional hint of black fur. I drove the park loop.  When I passed by the same spot again, the bear was back on the road, and just as quickly racing off into the thick trees. I'm sorry it was such a shy bear, but of course, that's best for the bear in the long run.

I went back to Calais where again, I took a room at the International Motel - I like that place. I settled in for the night, but then thought, why? Weren't there nice nocturnal species out there to gawk at? So I was off back to Moosehorn, to the same loop road where I saw the biddy Black Bear.

Driving along the road, at twilight, I heard a Veery, a type of Thrush singing its errie flute-like song. One of them danced onto the road, and I got a horrid blurry shot of it through the windshield - that was going to be the pattern for the night; blurry windshield shots. Still, at least I saw the bird.

Beaver Pond with lodge and a dam- at twilight I watched a beaver swim
by as a chorus of unbelievably noisy frogs serenaded me
Gawdawful, through lower windshield Veery shot

Driving along the road, at twilight, I heard a flute-like, yet somehow eerie song. It was a Veery, a type of Thrush. One of them danced onto the road, and I got a horrid, through the windshield, blurry shot of it. That was my pattern for the night - loads of blurry windshield shots, horrible all, but still invaluable to me, blurry or not.

Then I heard something, live, in the moment, something I've only ever heard on recordings - The monotonous song of an Eastern Whippoorwill; heaven for my ears. The song was weird. Repeated over and over and over, as if the bird were an old, stuck vinyl record; "WhippoorwillWhippoorwillWhippoorwillWhippoorwillWhippoorwillWhippoorwill, and on and on and on! Geez, bird - take a breath why don't you!?

After a few minutes the bird I assume, listened to me; song stopped cold. I was thrilled and yet a tiny bit sad as I heard, but did not see the bird, and therefore I won't count it on my ABA birding list, in the same way I heard, but did not see a Mexican Whippoorwill once in Northern California, and did not count that bird either. Damnitalltohell.

If only I took a clear shot!
I continued to drive slowly - maybe 2 mph on the loop road, stopping to record the LOUD frog calls that filled the night with a nearly annoying cacophony of sound. Then I heard the wonderful, rediculous MEEP, MEEP, MEEP, I'd last heard in Minnesota; an American Woodcock. I head a Woodcock in the air, calling, stopping the car, I listened. I was overcome by naughtiness. I played a Woodcock call on my iPhone, and shortly afterwards I heard and in the dim light, saw the bird calling from behind the car, out of the way of the headlights.  Damn me, but I was rewarded for my wanton ways. I played the call again, and the bird landed in front of the car. I took a series of awful, blurry, through-the-windshield shots before it occurred to me to turn on the video. I got only one parting view of the bold little bird. Listen for the bird's call just before it flies. It sounds like an insect's trill.

The bird had been triffled with enough. I drove away, slowly watching, in hope of running across wildlife on the road. I watched a beaver swim across the moonlit pond. Then, I saw a tiny, but suspicious blot on the road, leap up into the air and disappear. I swore, because I suspected it had been an Eastern Whippoorwill. Then I swore liberally because it dawned on me, that was my LIFER Eastern Whippoorwill! That was it. A glimpse of the new bird and it was all over. Or so it might have been. Then I thought, when I drive by, it'll just land again, right? So I upped my speed, drove around the circular road and came back to the same spot, this time at .000003 mph.  My stealth paid off! I drove up on the bird, headlights blaring, but the little Whippoorwill sat tight.

Brave little Eastern Whippoorwill, for the record, around 6 inches long.
I took dozens of photos of the bird, through the windshield (ergo crap photos) before it dawned on me to try a few pictures while outside the car. I s-l-o-w-l-y exited, but the bird didn't budge. Then I moved to the front headlights and still the bird sat tight. It didn't look frightened - it didn't look brave - frankly, it looked like a stuffed bird. Mind... occasionally it opened it's gape, seeming to split it's entire head in half, because it's mouth extended, I swear, behind it's eye. Somehow the bird seemed to cut the silly human lots of space and I am forever grateful to it.

Here is a bit of video I took from outside the car. Ok, now, not much happens in this clip. The bird sits. The bird bobs its head a bit. The bird - get ready for it... ready... steady.... yawns (starting at 0:59). At least , for most of this clip you can hear the frogs calling, and there is even a Barred Owl call, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" (0:10). Oh, you're quite welcome National Geographic!

I think the time the bird sat in the road with me staring at it was maybe 20 minutes. There was no way in hell I was going to drive towards it, and make it fly from the road, so I did a 33 point turn around on the narrow one way road. I was so happy when I was finally in the opposite direction, and able to drive away, leaving the stalwart little Whippoorwill undisturbed, with its pet twig, on the road.

Baxter State Park, Maine

Cute giant painted rock on the road to Maine's Baxter State Park
Yesterday I drove a lot of hours driving north from the Maine coast to arrive at Baxter State Park.  The photo above is a view as one approaches a southern entrance to the park. When I reached the entry kiosk, I was surprised to find out there is quite a fee for non-Maine dwellers to enter the park $14, which is even more than one pays to enter a California park, though the California fee includes California citizens. Still, I guess someone has to shell out money to support parks so the fee didn't stop me from visiting the park both yesterday and again today for a total of $24 of park enjoyment.

Baxter State Park has beautiful scenic views of waterways
 The park is humongous, and it is largely a boreal forest with loads of wildlife and even wilder rivers. My visit to the park was largely and almost totally in vehicle - I drove for a couple of hours to reach the fartherst northern bit of the park. Along the  way I many interesting things, and of course, enjoyed lots of good birding.
The outcropping of rock makes this hill rather a 'sweet heart' don't you think?
 One reason I didn't walk around much was my growing fear of biting black flies and mosquitos, which I will elaborate on later, and the thickness of plants and moss on the boreal forest floor. Ok, and perhaps my general hatred of hiking had a bit to do with it too. Still, I did get out of the rental car to chase after lots of interesting birds.

Female American Redstart

Showing her tail just before she flits off
Male Black-throated Blue Warbler, serenading some fine young thing
Ms. Fine Young Thing
Least Flycatcher

There was a spot I found in the forest that was filled with the sound of frogs calling "Chee-bek! Chee-bek! Of course, I learned in Manitoba Canada that not all froggies are frogs - some are actually  Least Flycatchers.

The greatest reason I journeyed all the way to north-central Maine was in hopes of locating a Bicknell's Thrush. Alas, no Bicknell's for me. I have a start when earlier today a Thrush jumped out onto the road in front of my car to nab a worm, but alas, a Hermit Thrush which can be found back in California in my own back yard.
Taken through car windshield: a hungry Hermit Thrush
Still, 'no great loss without some small good' I always say. No Bicknell's Thrush, but I certainly lucked out in finding several Spruce Grouse, all on my own. Mind - I'd have had to be blind to miss the things, but I was still pretty impressed with myself.

A handsome, fat Spruce Grouse on a Baxter Park road
I spotted another little Cockerel in the thick undergrowth, and to my amazement, he put on a bit of a show for me. I think there must have been other birds nearby he was either trying to woo or intimidate. The way he kept the little red feathery puffs above his eyes flared is wonderful.

There were a few wildflowers around for me to admire too.

Sessile Bellwort
Painted Trillium
I certainly believe I got my $24 worth out of Baxter State Park, even if I didn't see any Bicknell's Thrushes. And I certain enjoyed the hours of new scenery I saw en route and on my return today back to the coast and Calais, Maine. 

The 'Farewell' side of the boulder on the way out of Baxter State Park.

Monday, May 26, 2014

St. Croix International Historic Site and My Accidental Hike

Looking out towards St. Croix Island - which looks a bit like an emerging submarine
After docking in Eastport early this afternoon,  I was quickly off again, north, to check out St. Croix International Historic Park. I took the turn off the main highway, but no park. So on I drove to Calais, and after checking out the town a bit, and an even quicker visit to the Baring Division of Moosehorn Refuge, I went to the Calais Visitor Center. It was raining – and the two ladies at the center looked bored silly. I told them I wanted to visit St. Croix, and where the heck was it? The ladies marveled I had managed to miss the park. Still, cheered up with someone to talk to other than each other, one gave me a St Croix post card, telling me the St Croix ranger would give me a gift if I presented it. I was again off south, and this time, when I turned of the main Highway, the park was a quick-like-a-bunny right turn. I wasn't surprised I missed it earlier in the day. 

The St. Croix International Park's Visitor Center. Note the clocks that show the US and Canadian times, which disagree by one hour. So just by standing there I was in a time warp of one hour. Where is the Tardis when you need it?
There were Plenty of 'show
& tell' items I enjoyed investigating

The lady Ranger was quite friendly, and though I think I may have been the only guest in the entire park, she gave me a personable tour. I was told the history of the lost French colony that settled in, almost perished in one of the worse winters ever and almost died before another Frenchman came – late – to collect up the colonists and take them away.

When she was done, I showed her the post card I was given in Calais, and she gave me the best possible present - a beautiful cloisonne pin. The pins must be leftovers from the celebration of the four hundred years - now four hundred ten years - when the original French settled on the island.

My Precious...!
I could not be happier with my present! The only souvenirs I bring home from vacations these days are a free ink stamping in my National Park Passbook, and one cloisonne pin. So, as this park is international and it has no stamp, I was able to get a beautiful sky blue pin - gratis! Yes, I am that lucky and easy to please to boot.

The ranger recommended I take the short park hike. Being my usual lazy self, I hemmed. hawed, thanked her and left. It was pouring down rain, and I raced to the car and left, driving along the shore, and in only a scant quarter mile I was on an overlook, that faced St. Croix Island which can only be accessed by the prudent tourist with a boat.  I sat and watched the rain beating down on the rip rap for a while.

A view from where I parked towards St. Croix Island, on the horizon to the right

The rain slowed a bit, and there were stone steps nearby so I climbed them. At the top I saw a gazebo, housing a bronze model of how the lost St. Croix colony may have looked in early 1600s.
Fairly impressive settlement if you ask me
Now, just outside the little brick gezebo I spied the first of several impressive bronze statues.

Pierre Dugua who is the size of a yeti at 8 foot tall. He was looking pretty dapper for a man standing out in the rain.

I picked up from the signage he was the settlement's leader who hoped to make a fortune in animal furs.

I looked further down the little winding trail, and spied a tall metallic settler, his head lowered in reverence. He glistened with raindrops, and if he weren't made of bronze he'd have caught his death.

 Now I was curious. What was with the statues? Interesting!  I meandered down the trail and found the next statue. A man of the continent as there wasn't yet an 'America' or 'Canada' for him to come from. He was an aboriginal whose people had lived on the land since the first grass grew.
He was a Maine Indian acting as a guide for the French.
There was then this guy is shown, 'helping to build a community'
Easy enough to figure out this man's activity
Next up was an Indian mother
with something on her back...
Her baby who was wet - with rain  -and I'm glad
he was bronze because he looked ready to cry
At this point, I realized I had walked the entire trial the lady ranger had suggested I walk. UGH! What can be more annoying than unintended exercising and stretching of the legs? It wasn't much of a hike, as the Wonessonuk Trail really was just a hop, skip and half a jump, but still. I turned back and headed for the car. .
I walked back down the trail
So I walked the trail backwards, but then, I am a bit backwards from time to time. I left the park and drove back north to Calais, where I checked into a cute & tiny International Motel. The Down East Birding Festival ended today, so I'll be on my own to explore this northernmost bit of Maine.