Maine Tour Brews up Tasty New Way to Watch Birds

Jun 23, 2016

Certain things just seem to go together. Like movies and popcorn. Baseball and hotdogs. But how about birds and...beer?  In southern Maine, tours are being offered that combine the joys of birding with the tastes of Maine beer.  I went along for the ride.

I’m one of 14 people rambling down I-95 in a green bus. For six hours and $65 we're going to be treated to Maine’s top avian hotspots and breweries. This seemingly disparate bird-beer combo tour is called Birds on Tap.

"We’re going to go birding now!" Tour leader Derek Lovitch is a bird expert who leads tours around the world and has published birding books. He tells the group the whole point is to take the pressure out of bird watching and beer tasting. It's a foggy morning and our first stop is Kennebunk Plains, a large grassland that was once dominated by wildfires.  

Kathleen Harger, of Readfield, is here with her friend Connie Hubley, of Winthrop.  Harger says it’s exciting to see birds she doesn’t see in her backyard. She considers herself a novice, and says she appreciates the relaxed feeling of the tour.

"You don’t feel like you've got to know everything, that you have to be some top-notch birder," Harger says. "Being a novice, I feel comfortable. "

Harger wants to catch a glimpse of a prairie warbler, a bright yellow and black bird that spends its winters in Florida and the West Indies.  "Their migration is neat - they come from far away. They’re just these little compact bird that have a brilliant song, and they’re so diverse! "

"They have a pretty bold eye with a white eye ring.  Just sang - it has a series of introductory notes, and then sort of a bubbling warble," Lovitch tells the group.

As Lovitch points out a range of species - prairie warblers, fields sparrows, brown thrashers and an upland sandpiper, members of the group pull out their binoculars to get a better look.

"Ladies, if you think you're being whistled at, don't turn around and slug someone next to you - make sure it's not a sandpiper first," Lovitch says.

Lovitch calls to the birds trying to coax them out along the way.  But because of dense fog and a breeze today, he says bird activity is a little less than usual. And after about three hours of birding, a rain sets in.  But no one in the group seems to mind.  They're already on the bus and geared up for the other half of the tour.

"Welcome to Funky Bow Brewery and Beer company," says Don Littlefield, general manager of the Maine Brew Bus, manages the beer part of the tour. We learn that the Funky Bow Brewery and Beer Company is the only brewery in Lyman Maine. According to co-founder Paul Lorrane, it's the only place on Trip Advisor in the town of Lyman.

After sampling beer and a tour of the brewery operation, we head to the final stop:  Biddeford's Banded Horn Brewing Company.

"This is usually filled with grain," says brewer Bob Bartholomew.  Bartholomew gives a tour and hands samples of 2-row malted barley, chocolate malted barley, and spruce tips, which Banded Horn uses in a spruce tip pale ale.   

Don Littlefield, of Maine Brew Bus, says the Birds on Tap tours are a way to showcase what Maine is all about. "I’ve learned that birding attracts all kinds of species of humans from all walks of life - different age demographics and different interests of their own. They’re drawn to birding."

The tours have become so popular that Littlefield says they've had to offer more of them. Kathi Asquith, of Old Orchard Beach, says that she and her husband were already into beers but had never been birding before today.

"We just thought this was the best combination. Something that we weren’t familiar with, combined with something that we’re really enjoying," she says. "It was just a delight to have these two people be our guides on this - it was charming."  

Sometimes it’s just about getting out and trying something new. And like others on the tour, Asquith says she’s likely to develop more of a taste for birding now - although not to the degree she has for beer.