Monhegan Island, 2023

Last week, Tricia and I spent 7 fabulous days on Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. The weather was spectacular, and while most of the birders on the island (and there are plenty of them) considered the birding to be on the slow side, there was still plenty of birds to be found. I observed a total of 73 species for the week (5 better than last year), and even managed to get a lifer (Philadelphia Vireo). I’ll include a complete species list at the bottom of this post.

~Yellow Warbler, Monhegan Island during the last week of September 2023.~
~Excellent bird. Lark Sparrow on Monhegan Island during the last week of September 2023.~

For me, there are two different birding approaches to take on the island. The first I’ll call birder-birding. It’s a very small island, and as I indicated above, there are loads of birders around. If you are a social birder, this is the style of birding you will excel at. It’s not my forte, but I did my best to stay in touch with the other birders and to hit all the known hotspots each morning to see if anything new came in. Interestingly, most of the hotspots are right in town. It’s definitely the most productive birding you can do on the island. Plus you get to meet some really great people. Some not-so-great people too, but that comes with the birding territory (and life in general, I guess). My best birder-birding species included: Lark Sparrow, Philadelphia Vireo, White-crowned Sparrow, Virginia Rail, Sora, Rusty Blackbird, and Northern Waterthrush.

~Common Yellowthroat on Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Black Guillemot, Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~

The second approach is what I call adventure birding. This is my preferred style – I think I walked every single trail on the island this week. I wish I’d tracked all my hikes, but I estimate that I probably hiked 40-50 miles (and many of the trails are not easy going, especially along Cliff Trail #1). While it’s generally less productive, I really enjoy the sense of adventure and potential in this type of birding. I include doing a seawatch in this style because I get the same feelings while doing one – you never know what you’ll see looking far out over the ocean! Species highlights from this kind of birding included: Great Cormorant, Laughing Gull (Herring and Great Black-backed are the only expected gulls), Broad-winged Hawk (any buteo is considered rare on the island), Surf and Black Scoters, and plenty of Northern Gannetts. Plus, while I was at it, I got to see whales, dolphins, and seals.

~Common Eider, Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~

As always, I took loads of photos. I hope you enjoy them – I’m including a lot in this post, I hope it’s not overkill.

~Tricia and I were out at Pebble Beach, on the north side of the island when we had an excellent experience with a young Bald Eagle. The bird was perched out on a smaller island, but then started to fly. I said, c’mon fly to us. Well, it did! Not only that, it did an acrobatic maneuver right in front of us. It was really cool. Bald Eagle on Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~A not so typical look at a Bald Eagle. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Passing right by us on our left – not much of a crop on this shot. Bald Eagle, Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~I was not expecting to get a lifer on this trip. That said, I really should have gotten a Philadelphia Vireo by now, lol. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Black Guillemots were plentiful on the island this year. Last year I only had them on the ferry ride to and from. I love the plumage on this bird. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Common Eider with a snack. Monhegan Island the last week of September, 2023.
~Seal at Pebble Beach on Monhegan Island during the last week of September 2023. It’s tough to get good photos of these dudes, so we’ll settle for this one with flaring nostrils.~
There is a considerable population of Ring-necked Pheasants on the island. At one point, I was standing on a trail with nearly a dozen young pheasants grazing at my feet. It was pretty awesome. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~This Virginia Rail spent a morning in garden, of all places. I did my best to get a shot of the bird, but it came out a little crazy looking. Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~Great Cormorant, Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~Surf Scoters causing by during one of my seawatches. Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~How awesome is this? Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls on Monhegan Island, the last week of September 2023.~

Monhegan Island 2023 Teaser

Tricia and I spent the week on Monhegan Island, a small island in Lincoln County Maine, approximately 12 nautical miles off the coast. We went to the island last year at this same time; click here to see my blog post from that visit. It’s a perfect vacation for us, as it’s an established artist’s retreat as well as a fabulous birding destination. It was a great week, but I have loads of photos to get through before I’ll be able to post. Here’s a look at one of the many Black Guillemots I saw over the week… stayed tuned for a full report.

~Black Guillemot, Monhegan Island Maine, September 2023.~

Maine 2022

Tricia and I spent last week on vacation in Maine. It’s our third vacation in the state in the last eight years, and we enjoyed this year so much that we had our hotel on Monhegan Island (The Monhegan House) pencil us in for the same week next year.

Monhegan Island is a very small island approximately 10 nautical miles off the coast of Maine, between Portland and Rockland. The entire island is only around one square mile, but it includes 9 miles hiking trails. It has long been a destination of artists seeking inspiration and plein air painting. It also a birding hotspot as it is a famous migrant trap and offers super birding during both spring and fall migrations. My sense is that fall is the best time to visit, but that’s just based on searching the internet and finding more results for fall excursions.

~Black Guillemot in non-breeding plumage on the ferry from Monhegan Island, 09/27/22.~

We spent four days on the island, and next year we will do a full week – there is just that much to explore and enjoy. As for the birding, it’s nonstop. There are birds absolutely everywhere. For the time we were there, while there were not many rarities (Red-headed Woodpecker and Yellow-breasted Chat were seen, but I unfortunately missed both), there were many interesting observations. Red-breasted Nuthatches, which we see relatively few of, were everywhere and arguably the most numerous species of songbird on the island. On the second day, we had an influx of Northern Flickers which was remarkable. For the remainder of the week, while hiking I would flush a flicker just about every five minutes or so. Falcons were also numerous; I saw approximately 5-10 Merlins/Peregrine Falcons every day. I never did positively ID any American Kestrels, but I did have a few zip by which I suspected might have been.

~Nashville Warbler near Lobster Cove on Monhegan Island, 9/24/22.~
~I have this as a Blackpoll Warbler, Monhegan Island 9/24/22.~

In the four days, I had a modest 8 species of wood warblers; I’m sure most folks would do better than I did. I had a few misses with skulking birds, but the birds I did have were typically quite accommodating and provided excellent looks and good photo ops.

~Cape May Warbler near Whitehead on Monhegan Island, 09/24/22.~

The island also is known for its population of very tame Ring-necked Pheasants. I saw many though the days; sometimes seeing up to 10 birds on a lawn.

~Female Ring-necked Pheasant on Monhegan Island, 09/25/22.~

Just after sunrise on Monday morning, 9/26/22, I did a seawatch at Lobster Cove. The wind was up, but I found a nice low wind area and set up my scope. It was a fun and rewarding morning. I added some interesting birds to my island list, including Black Scoter, Surf Scoter, and Black-legged Kittiwake. There was a nice flight of over 20 Northern Gannets, and of course there were plenty of Common Eiders and Double-crested Cormorants. I’d found a single Great Cormorant the evening before too.

~Northern Gannet in flight. This was taken on the ferry to the island, 09/24/22.~
~Great Cormorant, Monhegan Island 09/25/22.~

There are also plenty of seals around. I found seals at four different locations and although each time was a thrill, it was especially exciting when this young seal peaked around a rock to check me out.

~Young seal near Pebble Beach, Monhegan Island 09/25/22.~
~A more expected look at some seals. Monhegan Island 09/25/22.~
~And more seals, Monhegan Island, 09/25/22.~

I had a total of 68 species on the island in four days. I have no idea how that rates, but it was certainly fun seeing them. I’ve included a list of all species at the bottom of this post. You may notice a lack of my favorite type of birds – shorebirds! I asked around, not seeing many shorebirds reported in previous years, and apparently there just isn’t enough good habitat for them. I did not see one shorebird during our stay on the island.

I knew I wanted to make up for that, so at our next stop in Rockland, Maine I sought out a good shorebird spot: Weskeag Marsh. I took one day off to just enjoy the town of Rockland, but was back to it on Thursday and Friday. I found a good spot at the marsh which was somewhat productive and also allowed for some really interesting photo ops. My best bird was Stilt Sandpiper; there was a pair at the marsh on Thursday and one remained through Friday morning.

~Lesser Yellowlegs coming in for a landing. I was pleasantly surprised by these photos, because it was not nearly as clean and remarkable as I took the pics. Note that this is how calm and smooth the water was – other than reducing the camera noise, no alterations have been made. LEYE at Weskeag Marsh 09/28/22.~
~And touchdown. LEYE at Weskeag Marsh 09/28/22.~
~Probably my favorite bird of the trip, Stilt Sandpiper at Weskeag Marsh, 09/28/22.~

It was yet another great vacation in Maine. Inland I added another 23 species, bringing my trip total to 126 birds. The weather cooperated unbelievably. The birds were awesome. We can’t wait to get back.

~Herring Gull in Rockland Maine, 09/27/22.~