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Recap of Fall Migration Rendezvous

By: Dawn Hewitt

Hog Island Audubon Camp is such a special place, and the Fall Migration Reader Rendezvous there was almost magical. We had sunny days; crisp, cool nights; wonderful camaraderie; delicious food, and great birds! And, we got to spend the week with Scott Weidensaul!

Black-throated green warblers and northern parulas were thick in the trees around the camp; black guillemots were abundant in Muscongus Bay; but the begging fledgling osprey, whose nest was next door to the dining hall, was our nearly constant soundtrack for the week!

Our delightful Rendezvous started inside the Fish House with introductions to the staff and other campers, with Hog Island Bingo as an icebreaker. Happy Birders Hour on the lawn preceded a delicious picnic dinner, and the evening concluded with a fascinating talk about the storied history of the island by program director, Eva Matthews Lark.

Monday morning’s mainland birding adventure to Hidden Valley Nature Center was a bit dreary, but it was a lovely walk in the Maine woods, and we all got satisfying looks at olive-sided flycatcher and a few carnivorous bog plants! Monday afternoon was a Shakedown Cruise around the island aboard the Snowgoose III. We saw lots of common eiders, herring and great black-backed gulls, and several juvenile bald eagles on our boat ride. First mate Megan, a lobsterer, pulled a few of her traps up from the depths and showed us her operation. Her haul included a female lobster carrying thousands of tiny black eggs, which was tossed back into the briny depths to make more lobsters. Monday evening’s program started with the day’s bird checklist by Dawn, followed by Scott’s talk about fall migration in Maine and a preview of Monhegan Island.

Tuesday morning we were up early to board the Snowgoose and head south to the open Atlantic. Seas were calm and the sun was shining, but there were no puffins present on Eastern Egg Rock (it’s a little too late for them in early September). Northern gannets became more numerous as we approached Monhegan Island. We unloaded the boat chain-style and headed to our designated hotels: Island Inn, Monhegan Inn, and the Trailing Yew. Plein-air artists were all over the place!

After settling in to our rooms, we met at an intersection of dirt roads, where birds were thick in the trees. Most of us had close encounters with black-and white warblers, cedar waxwings, and more! We divided into two groups. Scott’s group headed for Lobster Cove, and Eva’s to Ice Pond. After lunch at the Trailing Yew, Eva headed for Lobster Cove, and Scott headed up to the lighthouse and beyond to the Whitehead Cliffs. It was a lovely day for a hike through the Maine woods. And then, the cliffs! Double-crested cormorants were sitting on nests, and three great cormorants were sunning on rocks nearby. Gannets dove into the water right in front of us! A crazy-looking mola swam near the surface just below us—a life fish for most of us! Afterwards, several of us met up at the Monhegan Brewery, enjoying their beers, some regular, some sour, and some ginger. We convened at the Trailing Yew for a charming and delicious candlelight dinner, then departed to our comfortable hotel rooms for the night.

Some of us met at daybreak on Wednesday for a hike up the hill behind the Monhegan Inn. The light was beautiful but the birding was slow. We returned to our hotels for a delicious breakfast, then convened again at the intersection for more birding. Eva’s group was on a quest for Susan Soloyanis’ life Philadelphia vireo (and met with success!). Scott’s group headed for the Burnt Head Cliffs, then downhill to Lobster Cove, where we happened upon a juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron!

The forecast was for rough seas, so we ate our delicious boxed lunch early, then boarded the Snowgoose for Hog Island. We were sad to leave this charming island, but happy to have tasted its delights. Seas really weren’t that bad, so we took a short tour of Muscongus Bay. We learned about the fascinating life history of Leach’s storm petrel, and scored a flock of surf scoters.

Back at Hog Island, after yet another delicious dinner, Scott’s evening presentation was on the MOTUS bird tracking network, for which Hog Island operates a receiving antenna. The website is motus.org.

On Thursday morning, some of us went birding before sunrise—just a short walk to the camp’s septic pond. Most memorable bird: a startled mallard who wrecked into a tree and fell to the ground. After breakfast, we took the pontoon to the mainland, then vans to nearby Meadomak Village, where we split into two groups for a hike through the small town’s wetland. Some of us spotted purple finches and Blackburnian warblers!

It was back to Hog for lunch, and then participant’s choice of activity: Power relaxing with Emily, bird banding with Scott, or a hike to the artist’s cabin across the island with Eva, Dawn, and Angela—and the amazing story of how Emily Dickinson’s poetry saved Hog Island. It was a lovely afternoon for a hike.

Our last evening of the Rendezvous meant another Happy Birder’s Hour, enhanced by Dark and Stormy cocktails (Monhegan ginger beer plus rum) followed by a fresh and local lobster (or steak) feast featuring adorable and delicious cream puffins for dessert! Evening events included prizes, announcements, and shout-outs to the FOHI volunteers who fed us, washed our dishes, and became our friends. They named Kristen Carlson as hopper of the week for her ever-sunny disposition!

Friday morning brought sad good-byes as we boarded the pontoon boat for our journeys home. It was a wonderful week in magical Maine. Maybe we’ll do it again in the spring of 2021, when puffins are promised to be present!

Check out photos of the event!

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