Continuing to enjoy non-solo birding for a change, with longtime friend and co-worker Murray Scott still on board. After the Hatteras pelagic birding trip, and layover in DC, we arrived in Portland Maine on June 31st, with enough time left in the day to begin searching for the Code 4 Little Egret that had been reported every few days. Murray was bumped up to First Class, which was good news/bad news. Good because he sure had a good time. Bad, because he enjoyed himself through at least four Bloody Mary’s during the flight, and was little to no help in trying to find the elusive egret in the final hours of the day. We narrowly averted an international incident when Murray ventured beyond a ‘Keep Out’ sign nailed to a tree trunk to relieve himself, as a friendly New Englander loudly advised him from the protection of a backyard fence ‘The sign was there for a reason!’. There was no discernable answer when Murray shouted back, as is his way, ‘And what reason is that?!’. He later admitted considering the option of pulling the sign down and sign and countering with ‘The sign has come down for a reason!’. No way am I letting Murray out of my sight on any future flights.
We didn’t find the egret amongst the nearly-identical Snowy Egrets, and opted to head up into the New Hampshire to score a Bicknell’s Thrush, a species that I never properly saw in 2016, despite four full days of hiking various mountain trails, settling for a couple of ‘heard only’ records. This species migrates annually from the Caribbean to breed in dense stunted conifer forests in high elevation strongholds in New England and southeastern Canada. This species is reputedly easy to find while singing enthusiastically through most of June. But by the end of the month they have found their mates, and have shifted to nesting, during which time they are far less vocal. To make matters worst, the very similar, and much more widely distributed Swainson’s Thrush can easily be confused with Bicknell’s in the abases of accompanying birdsong, and with the typically poor views to be had in the dense brush that they prefer.
After the success in New Hampshire, we drove back to Maine for round two of the Little Egret search. We combed through a huge portion of wetlands in the Scarborough Wetlands before receiving notification via hourly eBird rarities reports that ‘the’ egret was present less than an hour earlier a few miles away.
Spring rush is really over by early July for most US breeding birds, including the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler, that only breeds in short regrowth conifer stands in northern Michigan. Nowhere else. The efforts of conservationists and wildlife agencies to bring this species back from the brink is awe-inspiring, and includes massive landscape management and control of nest-parasitising Brown-headed Cowbirds.
One of my American birding mates, Minnesota birding boy-genius Alex Sundvall joined Murray and for an epic two day sprint across Minnesota and North Dakota. I met Attu a month or so earlier, but before that, had enjoyed lots of information and tips on finding birds in the American north. Having Alex on board was like having a bird-sniffing dog. His ability to single out target birds from dense, and sometimes distant birdsong was game-changing.