Text excerpted from the book: BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN: 978-0-7267-8755-5)
The first time I set foot on Monhegan Island, Maine in June of 1988, I was sure I had died and gone to heaven.
Walking up the hill from the ferry into the village is like going back in time 50 years. The roads are all dirt, the signs are all hand-made, the buildings are all wooden, and multi-hued lobstering paraphernalia – buoys, traps, and ropes – is scattered everywhere. It is like a Winslow Homer portrait had suddenly sprung to life before your eyes.
If this wasn’t enough – flocks of colorful songbirds flitted about all over the place, perching on trees, rooftops, fences, anything that was standing upright. I was so excited that I didn’t know which way to turn first, so I froze mid-stride. Debby had to literally grab me by the shoulders and shake me so that I would move out of the street and avoid one of the island’s few pickups that was hauling everyone’s luggage to the village’s three rustic inns.
Mohegan Island looks like a Winslow Homer portrait has suddenly sprung to life before your eyes. (Photo Credit: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
Fortunately, Monhegan is never crowded since there are no honkytonk elements to attract the typical beach-going crowd. The only things for visitors to do on Monhegan are paint (Monhegan supports a summer art colony including many famous artists like Jamie Wyeth), photograph (every well-known bird photographer visits the island from time-to-time), and watch birds – lots and lots of birds!
Monhegan sits about 10 miles offshore in the open Atlantic Ocean. During the spring and fall migrations, the island is like a 1,000-acre oasis in the middle of a watery desert. Exhausted birds of every color and size come fluttering down into Monhegan’s old-growth spruce forests and rocky headlands where they mostly sit around and look at you before regaining their strength until they can take off again.
Exhausted birds of every color and size come fluttering down into Monhegan’s old-growth spruce forests and rocky headlands. (Photo Credit: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
On a good spring weekend, you can see as many as 100 different species of birds on the island. But – without a doubt – warblers are the highlight of any Monhegan birding trip.
Often seen during spring migration on Maine’s Monhegan Island, a Northern Parula Warbler (Parula americana) perches in a shrub thicket. (Photo Credit: Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com)
Glittering in the sun like tiny jewels in canopied crowns, these talented songsters are everywhere you look. Their musical songs reverberate through the forested glens adding audible thrills to the visual delights.
A chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) surveys his surroundings while perched on Monhegan’s ever-present granite rock formations. (Photo Credit: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
Quick look up there in the top of that tree — it’s a black-and-white warbler – wee-zee, wee-zee, wee-zee. Now over here in that shrub, there’s a common yellowthroat – witchity-witchity-witchity. Now turn around and look at the black-throated green in the tree behind you – zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee. Wow, on your left, there’s a chestnut-sided on that fence – pleased, pleased, pleased ta meetcha. And on that roof – that’s a hooded warbler – ah-weeta-weeta- weet-tee-yo.
A yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) sings his sweet spring song from a leafy perch. (Photo Credit: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
On and on it goes. Birds on Monhegan can sometimes be so dense that you have to watch where you walk for fear of crushing one to death.
During the decade I was living in Massachusetts, I took more than 10 more trips to Monhegan. While the birding was not always spectacular, the experience certainly was. How can you go wrong sharing an island with people who value nature and art above all else? If you’re of a like mind, by all means, take a trip to Monhegan. Only once you get there don’t be surprised if someone has to pinch you to convince you that you’re not dreaming!
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest award-winning books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.