Tag: Black-and-white Warbler

Birding Maine & Canada – July 2022

You couldn’t get more east in the lower 48 than we did

Maine in July is Fantastic

July once again meant a family vacation to Maine (last’s year trip report is here). And Maine in July means endless green as far as the eye can see. For a resident of Los Angeles, where it basically never rains and concrete and buildings cover the landscape, Maine is an impossibly lush environment. The roads are lined by all manner of green trees. The hikes wander through forests of green trees and fields of green bushes and green grasses. The rocks are covered in green mosses. This green bounty creates a curious dilemma. For an urban birder like me, life can be easy because the birds are usually concentrated in the small patches of available bird-friendly habitat.  But when you get to a place like Maine, it’s all habitat. In every direction. The birds could be anywhere. Looking for a Northern Parula? Just walk a few feet in any direction and look in the trees. No spot is all that much better than another. Birding in a place like Maine defies the (increasingly, in my view, noxious) eBird idea of birding hotspots. 

Greens trees around Sargent Mountain Pond, Acadia National Park

Another joy of Maine is the chance to see species that don’t regular come to the West Coast. There is a certain set of birds that I associate with being in Maine. There’s the Bobolink, who sound like R2-D2 and emerge from tall grass fields in surprising numbers as you walk by. There’s the unbelievable fiery face of the Blackburnian Warbler that makes the bird look like a tiny meteor entering the atmosphere. There’s the Bald Eagle majestically perched in pine trees at the water’s edge. There’s the impossibly long and intricate song of the tiny Winter Wren emanating from somewhere deep in the forest.

Of course, a trip to Maine is also good for unexpected sightings. This year, I added a half dozen birds to my Maine life list. An Indigo Bunting popped out of some bushes one day, and left before I could snap a photo. A Bonaparte’s Gull was hanging out at low tide in a cove while some Common Mergansers swam past. One evening, a Common Nighthawk danced high above a grassy field. On our drive back to Boston airport, we stopped at a Henslow’s Sparrow stakeout. And a lunch break in Portland got me a Northern Mockingbird at almost the northeastern edge of its range. In addition, I got great looks at birds I don’t see every time I come. They included Black-and-white Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Red Crossbill, and Pileated Woodpecker, who I tracked down thanks to its impressively loud drumming.

One day during the trip, my oldest son and I took a drive to Canada. The border was just over two hours from where we were staying. Since he’d never been to Canada, and I hadn’t been there since I became a birder, we both were looking to check some boxes on our to-do list. There wasn’t much in the way of cities nearby. Since it was just going to be a day trip, we decided to visit Campobello Island in the province of New Brunswick. Despite being Canadian land, it’s the home of a U.S. National Park–Roosevelt Campobello International Park (it’s actually jointly managed by the U.S. and Canada). Apparently, Franklin Roosevelt had a summer home there, and some buildings are preserved.

We skipped the home tours and headed straight for East Quoddy (Head Harbour) Light at the northeastern tip of the island. The lighthouse is on a rocky islet. It is an island at high tide, and accessible by foot at low tide (the tides here shift some 15 feet from low to high, and can rise 5 feet an hour). It’s picturesque. Our timing was almost perfect – we had to wait about 15 minutes until the tide was low enough to walk over. It’s a fun, short adventure – there’s some slippery rocks to manage, mysterious fish heads decaying, and some rusty, off-kilter stairs to ascend and descend. The lighthouse itself was closed, but it was a nice spot to chill and see some whales (no Great Cormorants, which would’ve been a lifer, but the only Black Guillemot of the trip). We checked out a couple of other spots on Campobello Island, including a cool little cove with 5 old shipwrecks, and then stopped for lunch. All told, we got 10 species of bird, and were able to turn all of Canada light yellow on our eBird profiles.

Head Harbor Lighthouse, not quite at low enough tide to access

After lunch, we went back to the United States and out to West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. It is the easternmost point of land in the lower 48 states (apparently the U.S. Virgin Islands is farther east). We checked the rocks for Great Cormorant (none), and took a short hike along the coast. Now we’ll need to go to Washington, Florida, and Minnesota is we want to hit the westernmost, southernmost, and northernmost points in the contiguous 48 states.

Before we drove back to Boston for our flight home, I checked eBird to see if there were any possible lifers along the way. It turned out that a guy had recently found a Henslow’s Sparrow in a field along the side of the road (he was apparently driving by with his windows down, and heard the bird. Notably, Henslow’s Sparrows have the shortest song of any North American songbird, so this is quite a ridiculous find). It was only the 4th record ever for Maine of this declining grassland sparrow, and the spot was just 5 minutes off the highway. It promised to be a short stop: either the bird was there when we pulled up, or we’d stand in place for 5-10 minutes and strike out. If we were lucky, there’d be some birders already present with their scopes pointed at the bird. We were lucky. As we drove up to the location, two other car loads of birders pulled up almost simultaneously with us. At least three different birders were present, peering through binoculars out into the field. We walked up, they pointed to the bush where it was perched singing, and I had a lifer. The bird was a bit far out in the hot field for me to get good photos (see below).

I snuck in one last birding excursion before we boarded the plane. Near our airport hotel was a place called the Belle Isle Marsh Preservation. It offered a chance to catch a glimpse of a Saltmarsh Sparrow, and maybe some other birds that would bump up my year list. To my delight, there were Saltmarsh Sparrows moving around. They never stood still out in the open, but darted from one patch of marshy cover to another. You never knew where one would pop out, so you had to be quick on the trigger if you wanted to good photo. I totally failed to get an identifiable picture of one (see above), but it was fun to try. 

As usual, it was great to get to the northeast.


Birding San Antonio in June

Northern Cardinal Guadalupe River State Park

While they’re everywhere in San Antonio (everywhere!), cardinals are a welcome sight for a California birder

Birding San Antonio in June

More than two years after the pandemic began. I finally made it to San Antonio to visit relatives. June isn’t an ideal month to visit — migration has come and gone, and it’s 100 degrees every day — but it was long overdue and great to be around family.  The birding part of the trip started with an evening walk in Stone Oak Park, a big open space with scattered oak trees not far from my parents house. It’s my Dad’s regular haunt. We saw the familiar species like Northern Cardinal and Mockingbird, and Black Vultures and Black-crested Titmouse. I managed to pick a couple of Cave Swallows out from the swirling Barn Swallows. A Crested Caracara was on its usual snag perch. One delight of San Antonio in June is the presence of Painted Bunting. There were at least two vocal pairs in the park, and it is impossible to tire of seeing those insane rainbow males. On the way back to the parking lot, a trio of nighthawks appeared in the sky. I have little experience with these birds, so I couldn’t ID them as Common (more common) or Lesser (possible). A review of photos afterwards showed them to be the less common Lesser Nighthawk (Texas lifer!). Besides location of the white wing stripe, the number of primaries with white is a key “field” mark – here, you see the bird has white on 4 primaries, not 5, indicating Lesser Nighthawk.

The next day we took a trip north to Guadalupe River State Park, in the Texas Hill Country. Besides pleasant rolling hills and picturesque rivers, it’s  notable amongst birders as a breeding location for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. Our visit didn’t disappoint, as we got point blank views of multiple Golden-cheeked Warblers at the birding blind nearest the river.  The blind area was full of action. Painted Buntings, an Indigo Bunting, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Carolina Wrens, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds moved about alongside an endless supply of Northern Cardinal. A walk along the river found more birds, including Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler (Texas lifer!), Eastern Phoebe, Lark Sparrow, and Summer Tanager. 

An interlude on birding blinds. We don’t have them in California. But in Texas, they love themselves some birding blinds. Maybe it’s the oppressive heat that motivates the construction of a shelter. Or maybe the birding crowd skews older in Texas, leading to spots to sit. Whatever the reason, many state parks have birding blinds (it’s throughout the state: there was a great one at Franklin Mountains State Park outside El Paso, and blinds are everywhere in the Rio Grande Valley). And these aren’t half-assed jobs, or tiny hunting blinds. They’re big, sturdy, and elaborate. The birding blind at Guadalupe River State Park (below, left) has windows that you can flip open or closed.  Guides to common species are hanging from the wall. The blinds are full of feeders and water features, enticing hungry and thirsty birds. When you’re traveling with non-birder, or a budding birder, or just want to do some easy birding and get some wicked photos, bird blinds are fantastic. The birds are so many, and so close. You don’t even need binoculars to make out the birds. There’s a limit to what the blinds attract – some birds just don’t come to feeders (though they will come to water). And they don’t get the birder much exercise. But it would be great to see a few pop up at some California birding spots.

Our next birding adventure was to Crescent Bend Nature Park, on Cibolo Creek in the northeast part of San Antonio. The park was once a residential neighborhood, but frequent flooding from the creek led to the decision to tear down the homes and turn it into a park. The remains of a street grid, and a few out-of-place palm trees are remnants of the former community. It’s become a pretty good spot for birding. My Dad and I got in 90 minutes of birding before the heat caused both birds and birders to wilt. Green Herons and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons lurked along the creek. There were Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Western Kingbirds moving about. The bird blind (of course there was one) was oddly quiet, except for (of course) Northern Cardinal. Our best find was a flushed Green Kingfisher that we were unable to track down after it flew away from us. But it’s tiny size and dark back made me confident in the ID.

Painted Bunting Guadalupe River State Park

Female Painted Buntings remind me of lime otter pops

Before we drove back home, we stopped at Converse North Park, a vast flat area next to a lake. We added a couple more trip birds here, including Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Bronzed Cowbird, and a pair of Mute Swans (Texas lifer!) that have apparently set up shop on the lake. This isn’t great habitat or pleasant scenery. But I’ll take a sighting of the big-cheeked Bronzed Cowbird any chance I can get. 

Black-and-white Warbler and Northern Cardinal combo


It was a short trip, but a delightful one.