Birds on Tap - Roadtrip: "Shorebirds and Steins!" Tour Report, 8/4/19
A Saltmarsh Sparrow carries food to its young. This bird was photographed the next day in the exact location we studied them during the tour.
This birding itinerary was the original "Birds on Tap - Roadtrip!" way back in in 2015 - it's the one that started it all! And while our breweries constantly rotate, one thing will not change in August: we head to Scarborough Marsh. It's one of the premier birding destinations in the state at this time of year, and every visit is different. And once again, it did not disappoint.
We began at Pine Point, as the tide was rolling in over the productive mudflats, concentrating the last of the feeding shorebirds. Northerly winds over the two previous days ushered many birds to depart to points south, but we still tallied 8 species of shorebirds. The highlight was an American Oystercatcher - one half of one of the 4-6 pairs in the entire state.
Scanning over the river to the last of the mudflats and sandbars, we practiced our shorebird identification based on "general impression of shape and size," behavior, and status and distribution. As some of the birds relocated to Jones Creek, we were able to get close enough to now see the orange bases to the bills of Semipalmated Plovers and the black centers to some feathers on the upperparts of Semipalmated Plovers. An aggressively-hunting Greater Yellowlegs entertained, as well as demonstrated how to separate this species from the similar Lesser Yellowlegs. In all, our tallies were 250+ Semipalmated Sandpipers, 100+ Semipalmated Plovers, ~50 Short-billed Dowitchers, 30+ Black-bellied Plovers, 15 Greater Yellowlegs, 7 "Eastern" Willets, and a few Least Sandpipers. Common Terns and a few Bonaparte's Gulls were among the more common species present.
With the tide filling in, we relocated to the Eastern Road Trail. Recent flood tides rendered the water levels too high in the salt pannes for many shorebirds (8 Lesser Yellowlegs was our only new shorebird species for the day), but we did have some Semipalmated Plovers roosting right next to the trail.
But it was sparrows that stole the show today; perhaps we need to rename this Sharp-tailed Sparrows and Steins? The two species of "sharp-tailed sparrows - Nelson's and Saltmarsh -put on a really incredibly show. Normally these shy and secretive species are done singing by now, but they were both very active and conspicuous on this day. In fact, we had "crippling" scope views of both species, allowing a chance to really study the differences. Ample time was spent discussing the conservation issues facing these two sea-level nesters, especially the Saltmarsh Sparrow that could be one of the first North American casualties of the Climate Crisis.
Shifting gears to the ever-popular second half of these one-of-a-kind tours, Nathan took the lead as we arrived at South Portland's Foulmouthed Brewing. As usual, they put on a great tour for us, as Craig, one of the co-owners, greeted us with open arms and a pitcher of beer. We learned about their company, beers, and the brewing process before stepping inside their comfy and inviting neighborhood brewpub.
I'm always impressed by the diversity of beers on tap here - almost as good as the diversity of shorebirds at this time of year - which makes for great sampling. Today, we were offered a German-style session ale, a saison with green tea, a raspberry kettle sour, and then a taster of our choice. I went with the Bomb Diggity IPA II: Seagull Be Quiet, even though I am offended by the "s-word." But since "seagulls" don't exist, I enjoyed my Gull Be Quiet, a well-rounded, moderately-juicy, and lightly-bitter IPA. Those who selected the Coconut Cream Stout found it to be their favorite beer of the visit, while overall, many folks agreed the Iron Goddess Saison was the most interesting. Not surprisingly, the Frobscottie Raspberry kettle sour was the most divisive: one person discovered a love for sours and someone else re-discovered their disdain for the style. Both opinions are valid, but it was great to get one of these into the mix for discussion and educational purposes.
A quick trip across the bridge landed us at Lone Pine Brewing, one of my favorite of Portland's breweries. As always, we were treated well here too, and Adam made us feel very welcome. As did our first pour: Portland Pale Ale. This beer is so darn clean and "crushable" as the kids say, and it's clear why this beer started them off and running. Hearing about their recent quadrupling of their production as we sipped the perfectly-executed Brightside IPA was really astounding, especially to think about where they were at when we first came here with a Roadtrip back in 2016.
Our third pour before it was time to begrudgingly hit the road was their famous OH-J, arguably their most sought-after beer. This "New England-style IPA" with it's haziness is a massive "juice-bomb" and was rather eye-opening to those unfamiliar with the style. With visitors today from as far away as Kansas, we simply had to show an example of this style that started right here in New England and has now spread around the globe in a few short years.
Alas, our time was ending, and as four-packs were purchased and tucked under arms to head to the bus, plans were made to revisit Scarborough Marsh after the next cold front, and to head back to both breweries to enjoy even more of their delectable offerings.