Summertime Birds, Landscapes & Whales of New England - Birding Tour
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New England is rightly famed for its lauded landscapes and “leaf peepers” attracted for the spectacle of the fall “leafscapes”. Besides that, the “Pine Tree State” of Maine and “Granite State” of New Hampshire are top-notch birding destinations. While New England is a noted migration hotspot, the best variety of birds can be found there during early summer, when this tour is timed to take full advantage of a season when the woods are full of warbler song, the grasslands provide critical breeding habitat for Upland Sandpipers, and the coastal outcrops are occupied with nesting seabirds. Burrow-nesting Atlantic Puffins occur on the clifftops, while razorbills, murres and guillemots occupy the cliff face, and the local Great Cormorant may feature on one of two pelagic boat trips that feature near the trip end. The region of New England is home to varied forest landscapes. For example Red Crossbills, Cape May and Bay-breasted Warblers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, Spruce Grouse, Canada Jay, and Bicknell’s Thrushes occupy the pine woods of Mount Washington in the picturesque White Mountains of New Hampshire, while mixed woodlands offer a diverse mix of warblers, including Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Mourning, and Canada Warblers at sites like the legendary Acadia National Park, one of Maine’s most revered birding destinations, and one of North America’s most celebrated natural areas. Super summertime forest birding, coupled with New England’s trademark, legendary, rugged panoramas, combined with both grassland birds and specialty seabirds on boat trips along the scenic coastlines sum this tour up neatly, within one, long, sentence!
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 9 Days
Starting City: Portland, Maine
Ending City: Portland, Maine
Physical Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Focus: Birding, Whales
Group size: 7 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Portland (Maine)
An airport shuttle will take you to our local Portland hotel, where the tour will start with a tour meeting on this evening. We will be based for the first two nights of the tour in Portland, Maine.
Day 2: Portland area (Maine)
The city of Portland offers excellent birding at this time of year. Close by areas offer coastal birds due to the city’s location on the Machigonne Peninsula, jutting into Casco Bay, as well as bird-filled marshes too for freshwater wetland species also. Part of the day’s focus will be to find birds only found in southern Maine, such as Fish Crow. While at Scarborough Marsh we can search for Common Loons, Common Eiders, and Roseate and Least Terns around the open waters, and Nelson’s, Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows within the vegetated edges. Another night will be spent in the same Portland hotel close by.
Day 3: Kennebunk Plains to The White Mountains (New Hampshire)
The so-called “Blueberry Plains” are comprised of sandplain grasslands close to the town of Kunnebunk in York County in the south of the state. These plains are considered one of Maine’s premier birding spots during this season, when the native forbs, shrubs and grasses vegetation provide important breeding habitat for Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper, Field and Vesper Sparrows, Bobolink, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark and Prairie Warbler. After feasting on grassland species, we shall move west into the neighboring state of New Hampshire and up, into the White Mountains there, home to boreal forest birds, such as Black-backed Woodpecker, Red Crossbill, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and plentiful breeding warblers, such as Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers.
A single night will be spent within the White Mountains, in the town of Gorham in Coos County, New Hampshire. There will be an option to go out nightbirding in the local forest, on the trail of Barred and Northern Saw-whet Owls, if anyone is keen to do so.
Day 4: Mount Washington (New Hampshire)
On this morning our focus will remain within White Mountain National Forest, this time on the flanks of the highest peak in the northeast United States, Mount Washington. Access is by roads, so this is not taxing, as we bird boreal forests for northern specialties, like Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse, and Canada Jay. Another major target for the morning will be the local and cryptic Bicknell’s Thrush, which are considerably easier to identify here, when on their breeding grounds in full song! At the open areas at summit of the peak-at an altitude of nearly 6300ft (just over 1900m), we might also find American Pipit. At the end of the day we will return to the state of Maine, spending a single night in Rangeley.
Day 5: Rangeley to Machias (Maine)
A long drive east to the coast, beckons today, although it should not without avian incident as we remain in montane forest for much of the first part. This will allow us to look for more mountain forest bird species, like Veery, Mourning and Canada Warblers and Olive-sided and Alder Flycatchers. Once we get to the coast, we will change focus, searching for wetland species at Messalonskee Lake, like Sandhill Crane, Wood Duck, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Bittern, Black Tern, and Swamp Sparrow. American Woodcock is also found in the area too. Time permitting, we may also bird the coastline late in the day also. A single night will be spent in Machias.
Day 6: Machias Seal Island Boat Trip and Quoddy Head (Maine)
A half day boat trip will be taken out to Macias Seal Island, with pelagic wildlife on the agenda; as we cross to the island, we will be seeking Gray and Harbor Seals and perhaps a Humpback Whale, while at the island, we will be looking to observe and photograph charismatic seabirds, like Atlantic Puffin (from a specially built photo blind), Razorbill, Common Murre and Arctic Tern. Following this half day boat trip, we will return to mainland Maine, and visit Quoddy Head State Park in the afternoon, where 3 species of scoter and Common Eiders occur offshore, and the woods on land host a multitude of breeding warblers, as well as Boreal Chickadee. Two nights will be spent in the fishing village of Bar Harbor.
Day 7: Petit Manan Island Boat Trip and Mount Desert Island (Maine)
Another morning, another boat trip! This time though, the boat reaches Petit Manan Island, which sits within the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge, a series of 64 islands that span across the entire length of the Maine coastline. Undoubtedly, we will be hoping to come across a Great Cormorant, a scarce and local marine species in North America. While we travel from Bar Harbor on the Maine mainland to Petit Manan Island, we will keep our eyes out for other pelagic birds too, like Leach’s Storm-Petrel (that breed in the refuge), Northern Fulmar, Great, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, and Northern Gannet. Pelagic birds can often be found alongside giant pelagic animals too, and we will search the surfaces of the North Atlantic Ocean for signs of Minke and Fin Whales too. Comical Atlantic Puffins as well as Black Guillemots and Razorbills breed on the island itself. The islands in the refuge are also home to good numbers of nesting Bald Eagles. Our second isle of the day, Mount Desert Island (oddly, pronounced locally like the word “dessert”), will be visited in the afternoon, although this is accessible by road from the mainland. Mount Desert is the largest island in Maine, and the second largest along the entire coastline of the eastern seaboard of the United States. It is also home to the wonderful and much celebrated Acadia National Park, which will be visited the following day. On this afternoon, we will visit forested areas seeking breeding songbirds such as Winter Wren, Bay-breasted and Canada Warblers, Hermit Thrush, and Purple Finch, among others. After that, we will return to our Bar Harbor hotel for another night.
Note: Petit Manan Island is closed from public landings during this critical seabird breeding season, and so is only accessible by doing this wonderful boat trip.
Day 8: Acadia National Park to Portland (Maine)
The last day of the trip will certainly not be the least, as we visit the much-vaunted Acadia National Park, sometimes referred to as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast”, due to its dramatic landscapes within an area of outstanding natural beauty. Located largely on Mount Desert Island, it is home to tall and jagged rocky uprisings, not least Mount Cadillac, the highest peak on the Atlantic coast of the USA at 1530ft (466m). It is the location where famously the sun rises first in the United States, and also boasts an incredible, clean, night sky, being one of the best places in the region to view the Milky Way. Acadia NP also boasts a bird list topping out at nearly 300 species, due to an extraordinary diversity of habitats within its 47,000 acres, (over 19,000 hectares). Among the birds we will be seeking are, nesting Peregrine Falcons, Ruffed and Sprue Grouse, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Veery, Wood Thrush. We will also have a final shot at Great Cormorant, if needed.
In the afternoon, we will return to Portland for a final night, a journey of some 170 miles or so. This will finish up an amazing tour, littered with awe-inspiring landscapes, beautiful breeding birds, specialty species, the odd pelagic mammal here and there, and a bi-state mosaic of fascinating wildlife habitats.
Day 9: Departure from Portland (Maine)
There is no birding on this final day, and you are free to depart when needed, via the hotel shuttle to the airport.
PACE: Moderate. The sunrises early in Maine during this season (before 5am!), and so early starts (4:30-5:00am) are the norm on this tour. The days are long too, with sunset around 8pm, although dinners will be taken before then! As a result of the early sunrise, most of the breakfasts are going to boxed ones, taken in the field. All dinners will be in local restaurants. Lunches will be taken in the field or at places where these will be not overly rime consuming, to allow us not to lose time in the field.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. We will be walking and birding on all of the birding days, although these will not be long or steep for the most part. However, this will involve walking on uneven ground on trails for small parts of the tour. The tour goes up to high elevation on Mount Washington, reaching around 6200ft (1890m). The birding at this elevation, however, is for a short time only, and is not strenuous, and is accessed by road to the get to the summit area. The longest drives of the tour are around 3-4 hours on the day traveling east to Machias, and on the penultimate day, to return to Portland from Acadia NP. There are also 2 pelagic boat trips, on the mornings of days 6 and 7 in an area that can be chilly and windy, with varying, unpredictable, sea conditions in the North Atlantic Ocean.
CLIMATE: The climate in springtime Maine and New Hampshire is highly variable ranging from pleasantly warm to cold, wet and windy at Mount Washington and on the two boat trips. Good rain gear is essential on this trip, and varied clothing to be ready for temperatures ranges from as low as in the 40sF or as high as more than 80F.
ACCOMODATIONS: Good throughout, with full-time electricity, hot water and en-suite facilities at the widespread chain hotels used everywhere. All places used have Wi-Fi Internet.
PHOTOGRAPHY: While this is a birding tour, the boat trips in particular, and the puffin blinds on Machias Seal Island will offer up some great opportunities to photograph Atlantic Puffins and other seabirds.
WHEN TO GO: Maine can be good in the fall and summertime; this is timed to take advantage of the time when the seabirds, including Atlantic Puffins, are breeding, and the grasslands and forest sites are also occupied with breeding birds in full song, and full breeding refinery.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, no special requirements are necessary to visit Maine or New Hampshire. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan – click here for the full list), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which should be applied for online IN ADVANCE OF THE TOUR. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 8; meals from breakfast on day 2 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 9; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water only between meals (tap water is safe to drink in the US, and you are encouraged to fill your water bottles when able); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 8; ground transport for the group in a suitable modern rental vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 8; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 9; tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees (including any Covid testing fees); other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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