George

I would love to stay at Shining Sails B&B for the entire month of May, every year. But Linda will have to retire from teaching for my dream to come true.

In the meantime, our annual Mother’s Day weekend bird-watching trip to Monhegan with our friend and neighbor Dona Seegers, is something we look forward to. We had a nice first-floor apartment, looking out toward the ocean, and enjoyed some meals on our outside deck. The inn provides a nice breakfast of fruit, juice, coffee and muffins, but none of the island’s restaurants are open this time of year, so the apartment’s well-supplied kitchen was very helpful.

Hosts John and Winnie Murdock are really nice, and this year we got a chance to introduce Winnie to our birding obsession. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a very colorful Parula warbler in the Murdock’s huge old horse chestnut tree in the front yard. Later, we took Winnie out to show her a whole flock of Parulas, in a bush right across the street. I told John that once we got Winnie hooked on birding, he wouldn’t see much of her in May!

We’ve also come to enjoy our outings with the Barstows on the Monhegan Boat Line. In addition to our annual trip to Monhegan, last year we returned in July for their Puffin cruise. That was fantastic. All their cruises leave from the Port Clyde dock.

New on the island this trip was Matt Weber’s Monhegan Brewing Company. Matt is turning out some really good beers here, for sale on the island and in Rockland. The island’s small grocery store, L. Brackett & Son, had two of Matt’s beers, and I tried the Black Head Russian Imperial Stout. Very, very good.

The island is a great place for walking,with lots of trails, but we didn’t have to go far to find our favorite birds. On Sunday morning, a gloriously sunny day, we saw 16 species of warblers right in back of the inn — before breakfast! In all, we saw 71 bird species that weekend. And you don’t just see birds here — you commune with them. They are often sitting in a bush right in front of your face.

June is a great month to visit Monhegan. The Murdocks offer 25 percent off their room rates for the first two weeks that month. There will still be plenty of birds, and you’ll get there before the busy months of July and August.

 

Linda

Monhegan Island is more than a getaway. It can be a restorative respite. In need of a change of pace? This is the place for you! Chuck away your hectic or rushed routine, traffic and other noise, TV and assorted distractions, and trade it in for luxurious quiet, incredible beauty and the chance to meet people who appreciate all that nature offers.

For the last four years we’ve been visiting the island in early May, when the ferry runs just once a day. Our boat was not nearly full, as it always is at the height of the island’s tourist season. And when we walked the roads and trails on the island in search of birds, we didn’t encounter many people. In fact, while we were birding, we felt like we had the island to ourselves.

We are getting to know the trails well and spent 12 hours birding on Saturday, only taking time out for meals. You might be questioning our sanity at this point, but the chance to experience the array of birds you see here is a thrill for birders. Monhegan Island is located perfectly in a major migration flyway.

We have learned to come prepared for any weather in early May with lots of layers of clothing — gloves, a winter hat and coat and long underwear were all very appreciated on this trip. But through wind, rain and eventually soothing sunshine, we relished Monhegan’s beauty.

Sometimes spotting a particular bird can be a problem. George and I thought we saw a tiny black bird near a building, but it was difficult to see. As we focused in, George got more and more excited. “It’s black. I see its head moving. Oh, I’ve never seen one like this. Do you see it?” Dona finally asks, “George, does it have legs?” He didn’t answer. It turned out to be a piece of black plastic blowing in the wind!

Dona uses Maine Bird List Serve, and I was impressed one evening when she started researching a spectacular bird we had seen that day but couldn’t identify. It might have been a bunting or tanager that doesn’t normally come to Maine, I thought. After not finding our mystery bird in the bird book, Dona got on her computer and noticed on List Serve that someone had posted a picture of the exact same bird we’d seen that afternoon.

“Hey, the photo was taken in Maine,” she exclaimed. “Wait, it was on Monhegan!” The post came from Donna Cundy, in whose yard we’d seen the bird! She welcomed us openly as we walked up to get another glimpse of the immature male summer tanager at 7:30 pm. We continued to visit with her throughout the weekend. The word of this infamous, out-of-range young summer tanager spread through the town quickly.

The other spectacular bird we saw that normally isn’t found in Maine was a young male Orchard Oriole. I’m not sure if the bird was blown off course or simply took a wrong turn, but what a thrill it is to see a bird that is well out of its range.

The most entertaining moment of our weekend was when George thought he heard a bobolink call. The short three whistle call sounded to him like it was saying bob-o-link! And on perfect pitch, he imitated the sound. Soon the bird responded and a conversation ensued. I’m not sure what they were saying to each other but he reported, “She likes me.” Dona and I were in stiches. For the record, the bobolink call is nothing like that.

By Sunday morning, I had trouble finding a coffee pot sitting right in the coffeemaker. When George started laughing at me I stated, “I think I’m over-tired and over-birded.” Ah well, with all the birds we spotted, it was well worth it!

Dona Seegers

Monhegan is a magical place to be during the spring migration. The island is beautiful, shrouded in thick fog with the roar of the waves crashing on the shore and only the tree next to you visible for birding. It is beautiful with the late afternoon sun streaming across a marsh full of actively feeding birds. It is beautiful in soft morning light with warblers streaming from tree to tree.

Friendly islanders with feeding stations provide hotspots and conversation about rarities and the usual suspects alike. Shining Sails is the hub, centrally located with comfortable accommodations for the avid birder.

Conclusion

It was hot and sunny on our Sunday noon 10-mile return ride on the mail boat, the Elizabeth Ann, and we sat up top — comfortable and very satisfied with our weekend. But there was one more treat: a picnic at the Port Clyde lighthouse before we headed home. When we got there, the yard was full of chestnut sided warblers.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.