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Birds of Casco Bay Tour with Seacoast Tours: Shorebird Special, 8/6/23

We confirmed American Oystercatchers breeding on Upper Green Island when we saw a downy chick (which ducked out of view in the vegetation behind this adult) with a pair of adults.

Forget straining through a scope, how about shorebirds up close and personal from the water’s edge? Last summer, a private charter that traveled up and down the Royal River found us face to face with shorebirds feeding on the extensive mudflats. The narrow, dredged boat channel of the Royal put our boat in close proximity to shorebirds foraging along the water’s edge, affording close-up views – instead of straining through a scope through heat shimmer!

Captain Peter and I attempted to repeat last year’s success with this year’s summer outing of our Birds of Casco Bay with Seacoast Tours of Freeport. Departing from the South Freeport Town Landing, we motored past Common Eider families off Winslow Park, and rounded Mosier Island. Ospreys were abundant (20+) throughout the trip, and the first of 6 Bald Eagles on the day made an appearance. At least a dozen Great Blue Herons were scattered about, as were Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Terns, and Double-crested Cormorants.

We learned a little about oyster farming before we headed up the Royal River. Between the river’s mouth and Lower Falls Landing, we tallied a respectable 7 species of shorebirds. The totals of 150 Semipalmated and 50 Least Sandpipers, 48 Semipalmated Plovers, 71 Lesser and 12 Greater Yellowlegs, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, and 2 Short-billed Dowitchers were decent, but it was the close views and direct comparisons which made the trip rewarding. Unconcerned with the boat, the birds went about their business, so we were able to contrast feeding styles and practiced our identification skills. A handful of Snowy Egrets, one Great Egret, some shoreline Eastern Phoebes, and a Broad-winged Hawk were also noted.

After leaving the river, we headed over to Upper Green Island. Fresh juvenile Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls from the small colony here were compared, but then we spotted the island’s stars: a pair of American Oystercatchers! Then, a still-downy chick scurried into the weeds. Confirmed breeding!

Last year, we had a family group of oystercatchers here, but by the time we saw them in August, the juvenile was already able to fly. Although we suspected they had bred here and not another island that they then relocated from, this year’s flightless chick confirmed our suspicions that a pair is now breeding on tiny Upper Green, way up the bay from the closest known pair on Ram Island off of Portland Head Light. This adds to the growing number of breeding pairs of oystercatchers in the state (maybe a dozen or 15 now?) and would be the smallest island by far that I have seen them breeding on. How cool is that?

While looking for the oystercatchers, we also checked out the basking Harbor Seals and briefly had a young Gray Seal emerge for a look. But before we knew it, it was time to head back up the Harraseekett and back to dry land, begrdugingly.

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