BIRDER'S GUIDE TO MATINICUS ISLAND.
Liz and Jan Pierson, authors of A Birder's Guide to the Maine Coast.
"Situated twenty miles southeast of Rockland and well beyond the fringes of Penobscot bay is the most seaward island an the Maine Coast - Matinicus Island. By virtue of its location alone, Matinicus is a fine place to bird. Like other Maine Islands it is likely to be at its best during spring and fall migration, but anytime from mid-May through at least September is a good time to visit. You will want to spend two or three days here to see all the island has to offer.
"Matinicus is the largest of the eight islands that comprise the Matinicus Archipelago. An 800-acre oval island, it measures approximately one and three-quarter miles by three-quarters of a mile, with its long axis running north south. The highest point on the island rises 103 feet above sea level. Considering its small size, the island has a variety of habitats. It is bounded on the north, east and west by low-lying ricks and on the south by a large meadow that slopes down to a sand beach. Tall spruces and firs are distributed across the island in dense though relatively small stands, especially on the east and west sides, while the interior is more open. Here, grassy fields and low deciduous shrubs - particularly shadbush, elderberry, and alder - are the dominant vegetation. There is a sizable marsh on the northeast shore and a small freshwater marsh and alder stand in the interior near the village store. A dirt road (the north end of which is a runway) extends the length of the island and over the village center on the eastern shore and it is along the road that most of the island's houses are located.
"Since it was settled in the mid-eighteenth century, Matinicus has been home to a tenacious and notoriously tight-knit community of fishing families. Although the permanent population currently numbers about fifty, summer residents triple or even quadruple that number.
"Birding can be good just about anywhere on Matinicus. But a few consistently good areas merit special mention. These include the airstrip on the northern end of the island (low-lying shrubs and taller edge habitat; look for Horned Larks on the runway itself), the pond and alder stand near the village store (especially good for warblers and a good place to look for Lincoln's Sparrow on migration; also look for nesting Green Herons here), Harbor Point ( a good early morning stop during migration) on the eastern shore, and the cemetery and meadow at the south end. Check the catttail marsh on the northeast shore for freshwater species such as swamp Sparrow. A good place to scan for pelagic species is the south end.
"Because of its offshore location, Matinicus is a particularly exciting place to be during migration. Although its larger size and proximity to seven other islands make it less of a migrant trap than Monhegan, Matinicus offers similar birding. Spring migration usually peaks about the third week in May, and on a good day it is not uncommon to see 75 or more species. The highlight is the great variety of breeding-plumage warblers. Fall Migration, which is far more protracted, is good from the end of August through at least September. It offers an excellent opportunity to study immature aand fall-plumaged passer lines and the best chance of seeing rarities and routine vagrants such as southern and western strays. In late summer and fall look for such unusual offshore island species as Western kingbird, Yellow-throated vireo, Yellow-breaasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Dickcissel, and Lark Sparrow.
"In the spring on Matinicus look for such regular species, some of which stay to breed on the island, as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Alder, Least, and Olivesided Flycatcher, Northern Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Hermit and Swainson's Thrushes, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned warblers including Tennessee, Nashville, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Blackpoll, Bay-breasted and Morning Warblers, Bobolinks, Scarlet tanager, Rose breasted Grosbeaks, Purple Finch, Savannah and White-throated Sparrow and Northern Junco. Look for Red and White-winged Crossbills, which are notoriously erratic, at any time of the year.
"In summer Matinicus is a good place to look for sea birds. Double-crested Cormorants, Common Elders, Greater Black-backed, Herring and laughing gulls, Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots all nest on nearby islands, as do Osprey. Look also for common Loons, Scoters, Northern Gannet, Northern and Red Phalaropes (primarily late summer and fall), Northern Fulmar, Greater Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm-petrel, and for an occasional Jaeger, Kittiwake, Atlantic Puffin or Razorbill.
"If possible, by all means arrange a trip to Matinicus Rock, five miles southeast, with Albert Bunker, a Matinicus Island lobsterman. Matinicus Rock is probably the most famous seabird colony on the Maine coast and boasts nesting populations of Leach's Storm-petrels, Greater Black-backed, Herring, and Laughing Gulls, Artic Terns, Razorbills, Black Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins. Although you cannot land on the rock, you can get excellent looks at the birds from the boat. The best time to go is between mid-June and mid-July when nesting activity is at its peak.
Liz and Jan Pierson
A Typical Bird List
Birds Seen and Heard On Matinicus July 20-27
by Ed and Joyce Gardner, Nashua, NH
Cormorant, Double Crested
Heron, Great Blue
E eider, Common
Gull, Great Blackbacked
chickadee, black capped
warbler, black-throated green
warbler yellow rumped
warbler chestnut sided
cardinal, northern (h)
Note: gulls soaring over cottage at Young Point were actually out catching insects on the fly. Look for a shimmy as they align themselves and extend head to catch insect.