Every year, on the morning of July 4th, in the town of Stonington, Maine, a 10K (6 mile) race commences. It goes all around Deer Isle and around the small town of Stonington. For a very long time, it has been a tradition in my family to run/walk this race yearly. This year however, I decided to do it differently. I decided to bird the course. Confused yet? Let me explain.
The recent blog posts on the ABA Blog (Bare-Naked Big Walk, My Big “Year”, etc.) had me thinking about the way I had been birding and looking for ways to do it differently. This combined with not really wanting to run six miles this particular week, produced the idea to bird the course. My plan was to walk all six miles of the course and attempt to record as many species as possible while walking the course. However, I was also going to try to keep up with the rest of my family who was walking the course, so I would mostly be birding by ear.
At 7:30 the morning of Independence Day, the walkers started to walk and I started to bird. Common yellowthroat and song sparrow were the first birds of the day followed quickly by northern parula and black-throated green warbler. Hairy woodpecker, osprey, and magnolia warbler were seen soon after.
The course soon turned and went into the town of Stonington itself. This was to be an important leg of the race for me because it was my best opportunity for great black-backed gull. Herring gulls flew over as we headed down the hill into the town and towards the water. Then I got my target for the town, a large group of black-backs atop a pilling in the harbor. A little farther along, a couple of common eiders drifted along.
Heading out of the town again, purple finch, grey catbird, and yellow warbler made brief appearances. The catbird and warbler were good birds to pick up because they were birds I was unlikely to get in the spruce forests which compose most of the island.
Returning to the spruce forest, got me some classic Maine spruce woods birds in the form of hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, and winter wren. Despite hearing the beautiful songs of these boreal denizens, I was beginning to get worried. I hadn’t yet seen a guillemot and this was a bird that I needed on my list. I was also running out of time to get one. Only a few places were left on the course that overlooked the ocean. So it was with crossed fingers that I scanned over the sea at the second to last ocean overlook. No guillemots, there were however, good numbers of double-crested cormorants, a new bird for the day. The next view of the ocean was to be my last chance for guillemots and I planned on making the most of it. I stopped and scanned the water looking for that distinctive black and white form. It turned out I needn’t have worried, I was quickly able to pick up Maine’s commonest alcid. With new hope, I continued down the course.
We were now in the finishing stretch. There was only about one and a half miles left of the race so I knew I was running out of time. I actually got quite lucky though. Ovenbird, broad-winged hawk, and yellow-rumped warbler made brief appearances as we passed back towards town and the finish. The hawks actually gave quite good views as a pair circled overhead giving their high whistled notes. The end of the race came too quickly though and it was soon too late to get any more species as I crossed the finish line and was done.
I ended the race with 35 species which is not bad at all for this course at this time of year. I had a few notable misses, including not finding a house sparrow (this may be a good thing) and not seeing or hearing a single red-winged blackbird. All in all though I was pretty pleased and may do the same thing next year to try to beat my number from this year.
I was quite cool to see the reactions of other walkers as I walked down the course carrying binoculars and pointing out birds. Most just kind of looked confused or ignored me, but a few actually got quite into it and started to ask me what bird was singing. All in all, it was a good experience.
A complete bird list follows:
Black-Throated Green Warbler
Great Black-Backed Gull