News & Events

Isles of Shoals Birding and Exploring with NH Audubon and the Shoals Marine Lab

(by Pam Hunt)

In early September, I was joined by trip co-leaders Becky Suomala (Trip 1) and Mark Suomala (Trip 2) and the wonderful crew at the Shoals Marine Lab led by Executive Director Jennifer Seavey, for a small-group birding experience at Appledore Island. Here are just a few of the highlights!

After a hot summer, we were all relieved that our trip to Appledore came when it did, since island residents reported that recent heatwaves had even reached them seven miles out into the Gulf of Maine. So while it was warm, it wasn’t oppressive, and a nice breeze was generally present. And just like the weather, one never knows what the birding will be like out on the islands, but all can agree there was enough to keep us busy.

Among the obvious bird highlights were the evening and morning flights of Snowy Egrets (and the occasional Glossy Ibis) to or from their roost at the north end of the island. Trip 1 had the added bonus of an adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that perched in view long enough for everyone to get a good – if distant – look at it in the scopes. Another rarity was a Lark Sparrow seen by the banding station and again in the path to Broad Cove. This bird had been present for a few days but not seen recently, and was also not seen by Trip 2.

For a trip ostensibly focused on songbird migration, another highlight for Trip 1 was the perennial selection of shorebirds in the pool in the swale. We actually tallied six species here, and it was a great place to compare Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. If we count Spotted Sandpipers from Broad Cove, and turnstones, sanderlings, and oystercatchers from various boat trips, we tallied ten species. That’s more than the number of warbler species (nine) seen in the wild!

If you add in the banding station however, the number of warbler species rose to 15, and these and the other species captured in the nets were a big draw to many participants. Some of you even got to hold and release a bird after it had been processed! The Monarchs roosting in the White Poplar outside the banding station were another treat enjoyed by those lucky enough to be there Friday morning.

For both groups, when not birding, participants took in some of the educational options offered by the Shoals Marine Lab staff, including island history, sustainability, and a visit to Celia Thaxter’s garden with the official garden steward. And of course there were our evening programs on seabird restoration and bird migration. We certainly didn’t go hungry, and especially enjoyed our lobster bake on the Kiggins deck just before a nice sunset.

If there’s a bird to remember from Trip 2 it might just be the Barred Owl that most of us ventured to see at the now-famous “Sneaker Tree” on Saturday. What’s particularly amusing from my perspective (having been on both trips) was that we DIDN’T see it on the first one, despite recent intelligence from Jenn Seavey that she’d heard it the previous weekend. If a couple of you hadn’t heard it from the dorms on Friday night we probably wouldn’t have gone looking for it. Kudos to the initial search team of Mark, Peter, and Sue for finding the critter.

This trip enjoyed the sight of 240 egrets coming in against the darkening sky – an image we’ll not soon forget. Another highlight came on our boat trip around the islands, where in addition to excellent looks at seals, cormorants, and an adult Northern Gannet, we found a couple of banded American Oystercatchers on White Island. It turns out these were banded as chicks on nearby Lunging Island this summer, and the person who banded them was glad to hear they were still around.

The Appledore birding experience seems to be becoming an annual opportunity, so keep your eyes out for registration announcements for late summer 2023!

Full highlight report from Trip 1

Full highlight report from Trip 2