One of our most instructive “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” is our annual favorite, “Fall Ducks and Draughts.” It provides ample opportunity for studying a lot of ducks, including the chance to really get to know Greater vs. Lesser Scaup – one of the bigger challenges in the bird identification world. This year, we also had ample opportunity to study malt-forward beers vs. hop-forward beers, adding to the educational experience of the tour.
It was an absolutely perfect day for birding the famous Sabattus Pond – glass-calm and with just enough clouds to reduce glare and heat shimmer. While the total of 11 species of waterfowl was right around average for this hotspot, the highlight was having the time to study enjoy virtually all of them. A pair of American Wigeons was the least expected sighting, and the estimate 500 Ruddy Ducks was a real treat: there are more of this cute little stiff-tail on this pond in the fall then everywhere else in the state combined throughout the year! Stunning Hooded Mergansers, 6 newly-arrived Common Mergansers, and 8 spiffy Bufflehead (a real crowd pleaser today!) added to the tally, and among the 400+ Mallards and 100+ American Black Ducks, we spotted two dainty Green-winged Teal.
Besides diversity, Sabattus Pond has lots of scaup mixed together at this time of year, a species-pair that offers much consternation to many birders, especially if we focus solely on the classic “field mark system.” About 300 Lesser Scaup and about 100 Greater Scaup were joined by 7 Ring-necked Ducks, all side-by-side for direct comparison and practice. More importantly, we learned about the process of bird identification, from “big” (ducks) to family (Aythya) to species – a lesson that applies to all birds we are attempting to identify for the first time. And how looking at the whole bird (and more) and not just straining to see minutiae that may or may not be present gets us to an accurate ID a whole lot quicker!
After enjoying the ducks and making a quick check for the Lewiston Peregrine Falcons, we made our first Birds on Tap! visit to Side By Each Brewing Co in Auburn which also yielded our first all-malt-forward flight. Four samples, including some specials from their Fall Flannel Fest, focused on seasonal tastes, starting with Flannel Pajamas, a classic Oktoberfest Marzen. Boo Box, a brown, and Wicked Cunnin, an American Red were traditional styles that were familiar to most, unlike the unique Rydin’ Worty, a Roggenbier with 100% rye malt and brewed in collaboration with Norway Brewing Co.
In contrast to the malt-forward beers at Side By Each, we were all about the hops at the world-renowned Maine Beer Co. We started with their clean and refreshing flagship, Peeper, and then tried their Session IPA, Post Ride Snack. Bringing up the malt just a little bit more was Zoe, a hoppy amber, and then a “lifer” for many: Fall, their seasonal coffee stout that was a reminder of what malt can do…and cold brew coffee! Spencer told us a lot about the company, especially their sustainability and environmental and social mission. He then treated the group to a little bonus sampling of their famous double IPA, Dinner and its close relative, Second Dinner as we learned that “lots of hops” does not inherently make for a “bitter” beer.