Trip Report: Southern and Central New Hampshire, Southern Maine, Northeastern Massachusetts, July 29 - August 4, 2000

Urs Geiser, Woodridge, Illinois, USA;

By leaving a day early and returning late on the last day of a conference, I was able to combine a business trip to New London (west-central New Hampshire) with some birding. Most birders' target bird in that area is Bicknell's Thrush, which it should be for me as well, but I decided against that for this trip for a variety of reasons: It takes a lot of time to find the bird, a visual observation is far from given, especially late in the breeding season, and I don't have a good recording of the song to help me identify a singing bird. Furthermore, the number of species as well as individual birds along the coast was more promising, with at least one other target life bird possible: Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, plus some unlikely out-of-season candidates. I therefore spent most of the first two days (weekend) along the coast between Plum Island, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine.

This wasn't my first trip to New England. A few years ago, I took my family on a summer vacation trip through the area, but since then I have become a much more capable birder, and this time I was able to spend all my spare time birding.

Saturday, July 29: Manchester, NH Coast, Plum Island (MA)

I arrived around lunch time in Manchester (NH) where I rented a car. A quick stop along the airport perimeter road (from the airport access road, turn right at the sign for a fire station) next to a swamp yielded the first nice birds, two of which I never again saw during the trip: Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Pine Warbler.

Then I drove to the coast which I reached at Hampton Beach. The weather being still sunny, there were lots of people around, but I accumulated the typical herons (marsh), gulls, and some shorebirds anyway. The rocky beach ca. two miles north of the end of NH-51 was fairly productive for the latter, although no rare species were found.

I continued north on NH-1A along the coast, stopping wherever it was possible. Near Rye, I found a few White-winged Scoters and an immature Common Loon. The clouds started moving in, and soon the sun disappeared.

My next stop was at the corner of Odiorne St.P., where the road crosses a small river at a boat ramp. Several hiking trails lead into the park from here, and I made a short loop toward the bay. A scolding American Redstart was a new warbler for the day, and Tufted Titmouse is always nice to see. However, while I was on the trail, the thunderstorm moved in, and I got completely drenched in a heavy downpour.

After changing clothes, I now headed south on US-1, which has a lot of traffic and is generally slow. At least the rain stopped for the next couple of hours. I again drove out to Hampton Beach but now turned south. At the south end of town I stopped at the draw bridge and checked out the Piping Plover/Least Tern breeding exclosure on the beach, but none of these were visible. There were shorebirds along the inlet, but nothing new, thus I continued through Salisbury, and Newburyport (Massachusetts) to Plum Island and the Parker River N.W.R. (also visited in 1995).

Purple Martins were near their houses, and I added several shrub (Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Northern Mockingbird) and marsh birds (Canada Goose, Am. Black Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Osprey) to the day list. More remarkable, at least to me, was a Tricolored Heron at Hellcat Swamp. Again, the usual shorebirds (both Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover and Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Willet) were found.

As it started to rain again, and the daylight started to fade, I called it a day and drove on the tollroad to South Portland (Maine), where I had a hotel reservation.

Day total: 60 species (40 in New Hampshire and 48 in Massachusetts).

Sunday, July 30: Maine Southern Coast

I had chosen my overnight location to be near Scarborough Marsh for the Sharp-tailed Sparrows (both species had been reported on the hotline). However, I forgot the instructions to the marsh at home, and it took me a while to find it. In fact, I ended up birding several other places before I reached the marsh. The first place was the tiny resort of Higgins Beach. While it seems impossible to park there, I was still able to pull over at the north end of town and scan the beach and mudflats from the side of the road (the overcast weather kept the people away). Again, I found the expected gulls and shorebirds, but this time two Whimbrels and a Least Tern added some excitement.

I worked my way south on the peninsula and found myself in Prouts Neck (parking at the boat ramp). Common Terns were especially numerous there but not much else. Along the road was an overlook over the north end of Scarborough Marsh which yielded many herons (including the only Green Heron of the trip and the first of several Little Blue Herons) and a possible Glossy Ibis which could not be seen unobstructed. A Red-breasted Nuthatch called from across the road.

Back via US-1 to Pine Point Road (ME-9). Again, I passed by the marsh proper and went all the way to Pine Point, which was a waste of time (one looks at the same inlet as from Prouts Neck). On the way back, I found a brand new community natural area with some freshly cut trails through scrub and forest to the edge of the marsh. This was quite productive, with two Great Crested Flycatchers, Chestnut-sided and Black-and-white Warblers, and the only seen Northern Cardinals of the trip. I also heard probable Fish Crows calling from the marsh.

Finally, I found the Audubon trailer at the marsh and was instructed on where to go to find the sparrows: 1/4 mile east, park at a brick pump house and walk along an old roadbed across the marsh to where there are some shrubs on the side. Along the way, I spotted a distant Willet, several more Little Blue Herons, a Tricolored Heron, an Am. Black Duck, and some Swamp Sparrows. At the indicated place, I started to scan the short grass marsh for Sharp-tailed Sparrows, and soon birds started to pop up briefly, giving glancing views. The majority went unidentified, but at least one Saltmarsh and a couple of subvirgatus Nelson's were obvious. For distinguishing features, see David Sibley's June 1996 article in Birding magazine and Jim Rising's and David Beadle's The Sparrows of the United States and Canada (Academic Press, 1996). The National Geographic field guide (3rd ed.) doesn't seem adequate for this ID problem.

I then drove (again on extremely busy US-1) to the Rachel Carson N.W.R. just north of Wells. Contrary to expectations (especially for a coastal location), the trails of the refuge pass mainly through woodlands, with only occasional, distant views over the tidal marsh. My best birds here were a Hairy Woodpecker, a loudly singing Hermit Thrush, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Wells Harbor was my final stop along the coast. With the low tide, it had a lot of shorebirds (but nothing new), and a few Least Terns. The last bird in Maine was an American Kestrel near South Berwick. The remainder of the afternoon was spent driving in increasing rain to the conference site in New London, NH.

Day total: 66 species, all in Maine.

July 31 - August 3: New London (NH)

Most of these days were spent at a scientific conference at Colby-Sawyer College. It rained at least until the morning of August 2, and it was foggy until the 3rd. I added a few birds on campus, such as Chipping Sparrow and Eastern Bluebird, and the most unusual sighting was a Greater Yellowlegs with Killdeer on a soggy soccer field.

On August 2 I had a few hours in the afternoon, and as the rain had finally stopped, I drove to nearby Winslow St.P. ($2.50/person fee). The main attraction there is the trailhead to Mt. Kearsarge (1100 ft climb), but even in the parking lot there were "good" birds: singing White-winged Crossbill and Purple Finch. I decided to climb the mountain on the longer, less steep trail, which was very muddy. Interesting birds noted along the way were: Hermit Thrush, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Black-throated Blue and Nashville Warblers. Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets were numerous. Along the way up, the sun came through for brief moments, but when I reached the top after much huffing and puffing, I was in the fog again. I took the much faster descent on the steeper trail (less mud but more running water over bare rock) and found a Blue-headed Vireo almost at the trail head.

Day total for August 2: 22 species.

On August 3, I also had a few hours which I spent near the east shore of Lake Sunapee. The first stop was at a forest reserve near Chalk Pond, where I followed a gently sloping logging road up the hill. Here I found again several warblers (Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green etc.) and a family of Scarlet Tanagers. The other stop was at John Hay N.W.R. Again, the trail was mainly through the woods. Not many birds were evident, but there was a profusion of mushrooms. Most of the birds were in the berry shrubs around the historic mansion ("The Fells"), including the only Baltimore Oriole of the trip.

Day total for August 3: 25 species.

Friday, August 4: New London to Manchester "the Long Way Around"

I only had to be in Manchester around 6 pm, and the conference ended soon after breakfast, thus I had most of the day for birding. Furthermore, the weather was picture perfect sunny, around 70°F. I first drove northwest on US-4, with an interesting birding stop (old railroad grade) near Grafton: 5 warbler species (incl. Canada), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Least Flycatcher, two Purple Finches, and a pair of Belted Kingfisher.

My map showed a road connecting Canaan with Newfound Lake to the east through Cardigan St.P., but the road that I found dead-ended at the state park. I birded for a while in the vicinity of the trailhead but except for Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers didn't find much interesting.

Therefore, I continued north on NH-118 and in West Rumney (two Common Raven flying over the road) turned southeast on NH-25. A sign to "Quincy Bog Natural Area" looked inviting, and I found it near the town of Quincy. It turned out to be a very nice Nature Conservancy site with a botanically high quality bog and a 1-mile loop trail. However, the birding wasn't too exciting in the midday lull.

I then drove south on NH-3A (note that contrary to some maps, the Quincy bypass rejoins NH-25 east, not west, of the 3A turnoff!), but drove around Newfound Lake on the west side. There is an Audubon Nature Center with some nice trails at Paradise Point. There I added Blackburnian Warbler to the list. A second Audubon center affords a nice overlook over Hebron Marsh but the birds were scarce.

Heading south, I saw a soaring Osprey while I was stopped at a traffic light in Franklin. My last birding excursion was to follow a hotline report of a Sandhill Crane along Long Road northwest of Boscawen, but I wasn't able to find the bird. A Red-tailed Hawk near Concord was the last addition to the trip list. Manchester, which had seemed so sleepy on the day of my arrival was a madhouse with an enormous traffic jam, and I almost missed my plane back.

Day total: 43 species.

Species List

Species                         Scientific Name              Dates          States
Common Loon                     Gavia immer                  29             NH
Double-crested Cormorant        Phalacrocorax auritus        29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Great Blue Heron                Ardea herodias               29, 30, 3, 4   NH, MA, ME
Great Egret                     Ardea alba                   29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Snowy Egret                     Egretta thula                29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Little Blue Heron               Egretta caerulea             30             ME
Tricolored Heron                Egretta tricolor             29, 30         MA, ME
Green Heron                     Butorides virescens          30             ME
? Glossy Ibis                   Plegadis falcinellus         30             ME
Turkey Vulture                  Cathartes aura               4              NH
Canada Goose                    Branta canadensis            29, 30         MA, ME
Gadwall                         Anas strepera                29             MA
American Black Duck             Anas rubripes                29, 30         MA, ME
Mallard                         Anas platyrhynchos           29, 30, 3      MA, ME, NH
Green-winged Teal               Anas crecca                  29             MA
White-winged Scoter             Melanitta fusca              29             NH
Osprey                          Pandion haliaetus            29, 4          MA, NH
Cooper's Hawk                   Accipiter cooperii           30             ME
Red-tailed Hawk                 Buteo jamaicensis            4              NH
American Kestrel                Falco sparverius             30, 2          ME, NH
Semipalmated Plover             Charadrius semipalmatus      29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Killdeer                        Charadrius vociferus         29, 31 - 4     NH
Greater Yellowlegs              Tringa melanoleuca           29, 30, 31     NH, MA, ME
Lesser Yellowlegs               Tringa flavipes              29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Willet                          Catoptrophorus semipalmatus  29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Spotted Sandpiper               Actitis macularia            29, 30, 3      NH, ME
Whimbrel                        Numenius phaeopus            30             ME
Sanderling                      Calidris alba                29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Semipalmated Sandpiper          Calidris pusilla             29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Least Sandpiper                 Calidris minutilla           29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Short-billed Dowitcher          Limnodromus griseus          29, 30         MA, ME
Bonaparte's Gull                Larus philadelphia           29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Ring-billed Gull                Larus delawarensis           29, 30, 4      NH, MA, ME
Herring Gull                    Larus argentatus             29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Great Black-backed Gull         Larus marinus                29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Common Tern                     Sterna hirundo               29, 30         NH, MA, ME
Least Tern                      Sterna antillarum            30             ME
Rock Dove                       Columba livia                29, 30, 4      NH, MA, ME
Mourning Dove                   Zenaida macroura             29, 30, 2 - 4  NH, MA, ME
Chimney Swift                   Chaetura pelagica            29             MA
Belted Kingfisher               Ceryle alcyon                29, 4          NH
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker        Sphyrapicus varius           2, 4           NH
Hairy Woodpecker                Picoides villosus            30             ME
Northern Flicker                Colaptes auratus             29, 4          NH
Eastern Wood-Pewee              Contopus virens              30, 3, 4       ME, NH
Least Flycatcher                Empidonax minimus            4              NH
Eastern Phoebe                  Sayornis phoebe              30, 3, 4       ME, NH
Great Crested Flycatcher        Myiarchus crinitus           30             ME
Eastern Kingbird                Tyrannus tyrannus            29 - 4         MA, ME, NH
Blue-headed Vireo               Vireo solitarius*            2              NH
Red-eyed Vireo                  Vireo olivaceus              30, 3, 4       ME, NH
Blue Jay                        Cyanocitta cristata          30, 3, 4       ME, NH
American Crow                   Corvus brachyrhynchos        29 - 4         MA, ME, NH
? Fish Crow                     Corvus ossifragus            30             ME
Common Raven                    Corvus corax                 4              NH
Purple Martin                   Progne subis                 29             MA
Tree Swallow                    Tachycineta bicolor          29, 30         MA, ME
Bank Swallow                    Riparia riparia              30             ME
Barn Swallow                    Hirundo rustica              29, 30, 3, 4   MA, ME, NH
Black-capped Chickadee          Poecile atricapillus         29 - 4         MA, ME, NH
Tufted Titmouse                 Baeolophus bicolor           29, 30, 4      NH, ME
Red-breasted Nuthatch           Sitta canadensis             30, 2, 4       ME, NH
White-breasted Nuthatch         Sitta carolinensis           3              NH
Winter Wren                     Troglodytes troglodytes      2              NH
Marsh Wren                      Cistothorus palustris        30             ME
Golden-crowned Kinglet          Regulus satrapa              2              NH
Eastern Bluebird                Sialia sialis                1              NH
Hermit Thrush                   Catharus guttatus            30, 2 - 4      ME, NH
American Robin                  Turdus migratorius           29 - 4         MA, ME, NH
Gray Catbird                    Dumetella carolinensis       29 - 31, 3, 4  MA, ME, NH
Northern Mockingbird            Mimus polyglottos            29             NH, MA
Brown Thrasher                  Toxostoma rufum              29             MA
European Starling               Sturnus vulgaris             29 - 4         MA, ME, NH
Cedar Waxwing                   Bombycilla cedrorum          29 - 31, 3, 4  NH, MA, ME
Nashville Warbler               Vermivora ruficapilla        2, 4           NH
Yellow Warbler                  Dendroica petechia           29, 31         MA, NH
Chestnut-sided Warbler          Dendroica pensylvanica       30, 4          ME, NH
Magnolia Warbler                Dendroica magnolia           3, 4           NH
Black-throated Blue Warbler     Dendroica caerulescens       2 - 4          NH
Yellow-rumped Warbler           Dendroica coronata           30, 2 - 4      NH
Black-throated Green Warbler    Dendroica virens             3, 4           NH
Blackburnian Warbler            Dendroica fusca              4              NH
Pine Warbler                    Dendroica pinus              29             NH
Black-and-white Warbler         Mniotilta varia              30             ME
American Redstart               Setophaga ruticilla          29, 4          NH, MA
Common Yellowthroat             Geothlypis trichas           29, 30, 3, 4   MA, ME, NH
Canada Warbler                  Wilsonia canadensis          4              NH
Scarlet Tanager                 Piranga olivacea             3              NH
Eastern Towhee                  Pipilo erythrophthalmus      29             MA
Chipping Sparrow                Spizella passerina           31 - 4         NH
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow   Ammodramus nelsoni           30             ME
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow  Ammodramus caudacutus        30             ME
Song Sparrow                    Melospiza melodia            29 - 31, 3, 4  NH, MA, ME
Swamp Sparrow                   Melospiza georgiana          30             ME
White-throated Sparrow          Zonotrichia albicollis       2, 3           NH
Dark-eyed Junco                 Junco hyemalis               2              NH
Northern Cardinal               Cardinalis cardinalis        30             ME
Rose-breasted Grosbeak          Pheucticus ludovicianus      29             NH
Red-winged Blackbird            Agelaius phoeniceus          29 - 31        NH, MA, ME
Common Grackle                  Quiscalus quiscula           29, 30, 4      NH, MA, ME
Brown-headed Cowbird            Molothrus ater               29             NH
Baltimore Oriole                Icterus galbula              3              NH
Purple Finch                    Carpodacus purpureus         2, 4           NH
House Finch                     Carpodacus mexicanus         29 - 31        NH, MA, ME
White-winged Crossbill          Loxia leucoptera             2              NH
American Goldfinch              Carduelis tristis            29 - 4         NH, MA, ME
House Sparrow                   Passer domesticus            29 - 31, 4     NH, MA, ME

Trip total: 108 species, of which one life bird (Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow) and two unconfirmed IDs (Glossy Ibis and Fish Crow). In addition to Fish Crow, two species (Marsh Wren and Eastern Towhee) were heard only. I had 14 warbler species, all seemingly on breeding territory.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; August 6, 2000