Birding field trips are an effective and fun way to learn about birds while visiting interesting birding sites. And although the COVID-19 period has thrown us some temporary curveballs, certain environmental organizations have resumed local treks. FOMCI (Friends of Maine Coastal Islands) held a series of popular summer excursions named “Bird Time on the Coast.” And once again, Mid-Coast Audubon offers trips publicized through its website.

Through the decades, I’ve led dozens of field trips to various destinations. And, apart from occasional weather issues, these were low-key, enjoyable events for me and my participants. Trips can vary, though, based on expectations of individual participants and on the nature of the quest itself. As a field leader, I’ve rarely felt pressured to produce rare or “target” species. One minor blip involved the 2006 American Birding Association National Convention held in Bangor, where a majority of birders hoped to see a great cormorant (Maine is the only U.S. state where that species nests or generally occurs). About half of the participants successfully logged the large cormorants during our pelagic boat trip, while the remaining folks expressed their disappointment on the return bus to Bangor. Miraculously, we spotted a great cormorant sunning in a roadside creek, of all places, along Route 1 near Belfast!

In speaking with fellow guides, I’ve heard some fascinating stories, such as a torrent duck sighting in South America. Torrent ducks are diving birds found amidst fast-flowing Andean rivers and streams. This particular situation happened some years ago, before spotting scopes were widely employed by traveling birders. The trip leader had located a pair of the highly sought river ducks, providing the group with clear scope views. Participants formed a short waiting line, but one impatient couple vied with each other for prime views. Nudging a spouse aside, one partner exclaimed, “Wait your turn!” “I was here first!” the other answered. Next, a slight shove escalated to full-scale scuffling as the two grappled on the wet ground. The stunned audience stood silently until the couple regained their composure. Realizing there was little left to say, the guide spoke: “Well, the ducks are still in my scope, if anyone wants to take a peek.”

On a different theme, I once encountered a tour group on a foggy morning at Weskeag Marsh. This was a pricey tour offered by a major, worldwide touring company. With these rather costly tours, led by national- or world-class guides, comes the increased expectation to deliver the goods, since clients frequently have wish-lists of “must-see” species. Billed as a “Maine hotspots” tour, the fogbound birders had seen next to nothing after four tough days of activity. It turned out that I knew the tour leader, who quietly confided: “I’m dying here; can you suggest other places we might find a few shorebirds?” Given the thick, impenetrable visibility,

I couldn’t help. Bright sun emerged the following day as the group proceeded to Monhegan Island. When they approached the lawn at the Monhegan House, the sharp-eared leader detected a faint, squeaky note from behind the building. “Calliope hummingbird!” he exalted. Typically found in the western U.S., this miniscule hummer was totally unexpected on anyone’s Maine species list.

And speaking of Monhegan, where trailside bird reports are commonly exchanged among passersby, one tour leader offered a unique perspective. His orderly field approach was focused on covering specific habitats or portions of the island in a systematic fashion. When his clients heard of “hot” birds being seen at scattered locations, they would hasten him to those spots. The guide viewed this ping-pong approach as distracting and chaotic, favoring a slower, steady pace as a better way to find a variety of birds.