Anniversary Birding Trip(s):
Next week marks forty years since my wife and I got married (to each other), so we decided to plan a trip in honor of the occasion. When she asked me where I’d like to go, my answer was the customary, “Someplace to look for birds.” As usual, we couldn’t come up with a location we both agreed on, so we decided to take two separate trips (with each other). After all, it’s “our” anniversary. Why should one of us have to settle? I quickly chose the Canadian Maritimes, in particular Prince Edward Island. I wanted to go to P.E.I. because the farms are beautiful in the fall and the migrating birds should be passing through right about now. Also, I want to learn more about living in Canada in case this year’s election doesn’t turn out the way I hope. Here’s a quick rundown of the birds and other things we saw on our short trip north.
From Orleans it’s roughly a twelve-hour drive to Charlottetown, the capital of P.E.I. To break up the drive we made a few stops on the way. Our first stop was in the town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. This picturesque seaport is where my wife and I spent our honeymoon and I thought it would be fun to do a little reminiscing. As we walked through town I pointed out our old hotel, the restaurants we ate in and other locations we hadn’t seen for forty years. Then I turned to my wife and noticed she wasn’t interested in any of it. Instead, she was busy catching Pokémon with her iPhone. Sigh! (So much for strolling down memory lane.) We got back in the car.
Our next stop was Acadia National Park, which is a wonderful place but surprisingly still busy in late September. Instead of fighting the crowds we headed over to Schoodic (pronounced Skood-ick) Point, one of the more obscure sections of the Park. I recently heard the praises of Schoodic Point on Talkin’ Birds, Ray Brown’s weekly radio show, and Ray wasn’t kidding. This area is much quieter and just as gorgeous as the Bar Harbor location. Schoodic Point has recently added hiking and biking trails and a spanking new campground, all thanks to funds from an anonymous donor. (No, it wasn’t me.) But the major attraction is the loop road, which runs along the very edge of Maine’s ultra rocky and ultra beautiful coastline. The birding highlight was seeing several Black Guillemots. Guillemots are occasionally seen on the Cape, but never seen by me, so this was a treat. Guillemots are alcids, small water birds that are related to puffins, except they aren’t as colorful as puffins and their name is much harder to pronounce.
The trip through New Brunswick was direct and uneventful, but we did find one very cool spot in the town of Sackville. Right in the middle of the town, behind a quaint old church, is the Sackville Waterfowl Park. The name makes the preserve sound a bit phony, like a place where families bring white bread to feed white ducks, but this is an impressive urban wetlands. On our walk we got close looks at Pied-billed Grebes, plus American Widgeons and Gadwalls (ducks), and Short-billed dowitchers (sandpipers). But the best part of this day was seeing the yellow-legs (tall sandpipers). Just off the boardwalk, sitting on a lovely mound of mud, were more yellow-legs than I had ever seen in one location. The birds were so close I could actually identify the Greater Yellow-legs from the Lesser Yellow-legs, which was a first for me. As I studied the sandpipers, a number of school groups walked past. Each group was led by an enthusiastic teacher, who was closely followed by a stream of bored students. How could kids not be excited about seeing both Greater and Lesser Yellow-legs? What would they rather be doing…looking for Pokémon with my wife? Probably.
Next it was off to P.E.I. The first thing that impressed me about Prince Edward Island was that everything is super green. The trees are green, the fields are green and even the gables are green. (That last line is for the literary crowd.) Because there are more farms than forests, the woodland birds were hard to find. I only managed to scare up a few migrating warblers, some sapsuckers, several noisy ravens and a handful of Bald Eagles. Part of the problem was I didn’t seem to have much energy and couldn’t force myself to get up early. (I think I had a touch of that pneumonia that has been going around.) Later in the day, however, I felt fine and this is when I made a fun discovery. Each evening, just before sunset, crows would fly from the eastern part of the island, across Charlottetown Harbor and into a stand of trees a few blocks from the waterfront. And I’m not talking about a few crows either, but thousands of them. For about an hour, until it was totally dark, yapping crows poured across the harbor. Night after night I watched this avian spectacle. One evening a group of Japanese tourists walked by, so I quickly went over and pointed out the amazing crow show to them. The startled travelers stared at me for a minute, then politely smiled and slowly backed away. (That happens to me a lot.)
For the most part, the birds we saw in P.E.I. weren’t much different than the birds we see on Cape Cod, but the scenery was spectacular and the people were beyond friendly. Everyone I met genuinely seemed glad to see me (except for maybe those Japanese tourists). In a few weeks I’ll let you know where my wife has decided we should go for her portion of the anniversary trip(s). Any place will be fine with me…as long as there are birds.