This was a very different Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! While every other tour itinerary includes very specific birding destinations designed to assure us to see seasonally abundant and interesting species, the brand new “Rarity Roundup” edition had no preconceived direction.
After the designated pick-up time, the entire morning was completely free-format, designed to be flexible and mobile…because this is “Rarity Season” - a time of year when we expect the unexpected and almost anything is possible. With a combination of weather, geography, food resources, and microclimates and microhabitats all being considered, the astute birder can be rewarded with vagrants, seasonal rarities, “late/lingering” migrants or simply uncommon birds in unusual places.
The concept of this tour was to “twitch” any previously-discovered rarities, search seasonal prime hotspots, and/or audible at any moment and be off to the chases. Come Sunday morning, there were no “mega” rarities being reported, so we set off to find our own, including a few places I had scouted out two days prior.
We worked hard today – much harder than I usually need to work to find birds on a BoT Roadtrip! But we left no stone unturned, or more precisely, no thicket un-pished. But with a beautiful, calm, and rapidly-warming morning, songbirds were few and far between as sunny edges and food concentrations were less of a necessity.
A Field Sparrow at Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in a church parking lot in Cape were our only “late/lingering” migrants, although the warbler that flew over us at Kettle Cove was likely an Orange-crowned Warbler: one of our primary targets for the day! In fact, because of the warmth, butterflies started to steal the show with 4 species compared to only one (confirmed) species of warbler: Yellow-rumped Warbler.
However, a request for a good look at a Red-throated Loon was fulfilled, and as we shifted focus from passerines to waterbirds, our luck changed. Grondin Pond in Scarborough produced a continuing American Coot that I found there on Friday, but it also now hosted uncommon migrants in the form of two each of American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Good looks at a pair of Lesser Scaup were particularly instructive.
Running into a young birder there, he alerted us to the presence of a dapper drake Gadwall at nearby Prout’s Pond, which we decided to go have a look at. There, the 4 American Coots that I also saw there on Friday offered better views in perfect light.
Keeping an eye on the rare bird alerts and other sightings resources, we just kept birding until we were out of time. Of course, as I handed things over to Nathan for the beverage portion of the tour, we finally got word of a rarity: a Cattle Egret in Sabattus, but that was in the opposite direction of where we headed today. Of course. But, it was not by any means the “mega” that would have had our blood pumping.
But we can’t say we didn’t try! However, this was clearly not North America’s first-ever Wallcreeper!)
Back in Portland, we made our first stop, at Root Wild in Portland. Known for their light and very approachable kombuchas, few people knew they also brewed beer. But first, it was time for a couple of kombuchas – finally a “lifer” for some of the participants! And at least 2 (of the 3 if I remember correctly) of the group who have never had a kombucha, were very pleasantly surprised. One even left with a four-pack. The group was about evenly divided between the Ginger (with a good ginger bite and a little heat from cayenne) and the Grapefruit (good sweet/citrus tart balance) – both of which were very refreshing and welcome after a longer-than-usual morning in the field. We then sampled their Orange Juniper Mosaic IPA that was juicy upfront, but with a finish reminiscent of gin. Several people really liked it.
Making up for the amount of driving in the birding portion this morning, it was a very short commute to our second destination, Goodfire Brewing Co. This rising star in the Maine beer scene, this was a more traditional destination for a Brew Bus, or Birds on Tap, tour. But Goodfire always takes good care of our groups, with a behind the scenes tour and a variety of well-rounded samples for every palate. Today’s lineup started with their superb flagship, Prime – the beer that started it all for them. Raisukerisupi (Japanese for rice krispies!), a super clean, approachable golden table beer with toasted brown rice added late in the process for flavor, and soba wheat used in a malt. There were several folks who didn’t like – or were genetically predisposed to being put off – by hoppy beers, so this was a very popular beer for the group – showing what you can do without only focusing on just adding more hops. Astro 7, a fruited sour with apricot, mango, and blood orange was another non-hop-forward beer and showed how balanced and non-funky sours can be. Finally, Goodfire gave us an option for our fourth taste, with a good split between one of two double IPAs and their brand-new “Dinosauria, We” a chocolate chunk and oatmeal cookie laced double oatmeal stout. All taste preferences were accounted for today!
So while we didn’t have a meg rarity to chase, nor did we find one of our own, the excitement of the “anything is possible” mentality ruled the day’s birding. Checking a few well-known hotspots, a couple of my “secret spots,” and adjusting the game plan based on conditions should at least help participants find their own special sightings…and prepare us for next year’s Rarity Roundup; a tour that I think will become one of our annual favorites.