Thursday 30 November 2023

New England - May 2023 - Day 1 - Quebec to Maine

My flight to Montreal was totally uneventful and very boring, but it's not a long trip particularly. I never really even watch films on planes, so I just got the map up and read my field guide and the research materials I had printed off. I also listened to a few calls from the Audubon App. It was late by the time I picked up my car, a nice red Chevrolet Blazer, which in the UK would count as a large SUV but in America is merely small. I made it one piece about an hour or so east to the small town of Granby where my motel room key was waiting for me in their post box as arranged due to my late arrival. By staying up all the way (UK equivalent time of 3am or so) I would avoid jetlag which is always my first priority when arriving somewhere. 

I had a good sleep and at 6am local time the following morning I was at my first birding site, Lac Boivin, part of the Yamaska NP. It was great to be back birding in the US again, my first visit since the previous September, which now that I write that isn't actually that long ago. I was the only person there, and dosed up with insect repellent I headed off through the woods towards the lake shore. I was a little rusty for sure, but it wasn't long before I'd worked out Great Crested Flycatcher and Red-winged Blackbird again. Birds came thick and fast, with an excellent spell of ten minutes where a mixed group of Warblers bounced through some low trees by the water - Magnolia, Blackpoll, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, Common Yellowthroat and a bonus Baltimore Oriole. Out along a boardwalk section the boggy margins held Swamp Sparrow, and a Least Bittern was calling from an area I simply couldn't see into for ages before it finally showed itself on one edge. The lake itself was rather disappointing - only a handful of Canada Geese and Wood Duck, and a single Double-crested Cormorant, so I returned to the trees and walked a circular route back to the still-closed visitor centre. Veery, Hermit Thrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were all seen, and a noisy flock of Common Grackle were in a field over which Tree Swallow were flying. Yep, I was back in the saddle again. Nothing special so far, but the list was up and running.

My next stop was further east at another section of the Yamaska called "entre les deux digues", basically the next lake along. I walked west through a campsite to a dam. Red-eyed Vireos and American Redstart were everywhere, along with my first Least Flycatcher and Eastern Phoebe. As it was quite damp in this section of forest it was also good habitat for Northern Waterthrush, and I also found Black-and-White Warbler, several Ovenbird, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The dam had a couple of Killdeer on a small pool at the bottom, and a Great Northern Diver was bobbing about in front of it.

Back west at the Parc Daniel-Johnson Saturday morning was in full swing, lots of people out and about, but the highlight here were two Warbling Vireos and on the lake a Caspian Tern. I would have liked to have continued birding in Canada but I needed to get going, I had something like five hours of driving ahead of me and was only six miles away from where I had stayed the night. Let's get on the road, America is calling!

Welcome to Vermont! This is not what Bernie Sanders would want.

I crossed into Vermont at Stanstead just before after midday and made steady progress in a south-easterly direction along the 111 and 105 to Moose Bog. The target here was Black-backed Woodpecker but it turns out it was an early morning bird. Damn it! Visiting birders who had been there since first light showed me the trees it liked, where it had flown in from, where it had then gone etc, but despite sticking it out for an hour and a half there was no sign. The habitat did look excellent though, loads of dead trees in boggy habitat. Despite this first disappointment all was not lost. Both Kinglets were present as well as Blackburnian Warbler, and best of all a trio of rather tame Canada Jays came to visit me on the viewing platform at the end of a very short boardwalk, clearly expecting peanuts or something! Given how hard I had worked for these at Sax Zim in Minnesota in the depths of winter it felt like cheating! On the mammal front there was very appropriately a large Moose on the far side of the water and a couple of Otters were gliding around. And on the insect front.... well, the less said about the ravenous mosquitos the better. It was kind of tolerable at the water's edge but in the forest it was insane and if you stopped walking you were toast.

Blue Jay

Canada Jay

A Moose in Moose Bog, Vermont

I carried on to my final birding destination of the day, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire. I didn't reach it until after 5pm so not this was not ideal for birding, but I had always known that today would likely pan out like this. I power-marched into the forest, determined to get to some predetermined spot from my research. The paperwork I had is long gone so I cannot now remember what I was looking for but I didn't find it! It might have been Yellow-bellied Flycatcher now that I think about it, but I did get my first ever Alder Flycatcher on US soil, after a bird on Blakeney Point in Norfolk as long ago as 2010! An annoying and embarrassing gap filled! I picked it up on call as well, having learned it on the plane on the way over, most pleasing. Black-throated Green Warbler and Northern Parula were both new for the trip along this long track - 2.4 miles each way, the return leg in increasingly heavy rain as darkness fell. 

It was a further 3 hours and 130 miles onwards to my accomodation near Damariscotta in Maine, and it rained and rained for the whole journey with the final hour being incredibly treacherous. Given how shattered I was I took it really slowly, and I did also have a short power nap just after the halfway point. But nonetheless my next eBird list starts at 6.34am the next day - this is what I call a 'holiday'!


  1. I really enjoy these trip reports. Your energy and enthusiasm are admirable. Looking forward to the rest of this one.

    1. Pleased to hear it. I've used a lot of this crappy and cold Saturday to write up the rest of it, with posts to be released daily until Monday.