Watch Birds in Maine
A must-have book for birders, eco-tourists, hikers, and beachgoers alike
Bird expert Bob Duchesne’s Maine Birding Trail is a must-have for birders, eco-tourists, hikers, and beachgoers alike. Divided into eight sections based on Maine’s official tourism regions, the book features information about more than 260 bird watching sites — from Biddeford Pool to Aroostook State Park. We’ve culled a great birding site from each of the eight regions so you can be prepared to spot beautiful birds no matter where you’re traveling in Maine.
Excerpted from Maine Birding Trail (Down East Books, Camden; paperback; 256 pages; $15.95) by Bob Duchesne.
Author Bob Duchesne is a Maine State Representative and an avid birder who spearheaded the creation of the Maine Birding Trail. A 1975 graduate of Colby College with an MBA from the University of Maine, Duchesne spent most of his career in radio broadcasting, including eighteen years as manager and radio host at Q106.5 in Bangor. During that time, he was also active as a leader and guide with Maine Audubon, serving many years as a chapter president and now as a member of the Board of Trustees. He lives in Old Town.
The Maine Beaches
Kennebunk Plains is owned and managed in part by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy. The sandplain grassland represents a human-created, early successional stage of pitch pine barrens. Great drainage on these gravel sand plains makes them ideal for development, one reason why they are fairly rare.
This remnant is home to breeding grassland species found almost nowhere else in the state, including Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows, Upland Sand-pipers, Prairie Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Brown Thrashers. Plants are sensitive to foot traffic, many grassland birds nest on the ground, and ticks are present, so stay on the roads and paths. Start from the parking lots on Route 99, but allow ample time to stroll along the edges of the McGuire Road as well. Both ponds can be quite productive, especially the flowage pond of Cold Water Brook, a dependable water source for passerines.
Directions: from Route 1, turn west on Route 9A (High St.), then in 0.3 miles turn right onto Route 99. Follow for 4.2 miles and look for the parking areas on both sides of the road.
Greater Portland and Casco Bay
Scarborough Marsh is one of the top places to bird in Maine. It encompasses more than three thousand acres of estuarine saltmarsh, 15 percent of the state’s total. It produces the most abundant and diverse flocks of waterfowl and wading birds. Canada Geese arrive in large numbers in mid-March, signaling the beginning of northward migration. Snow Geese follow in smaller numbers. By mid-April, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal congregate. Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers nest in boxes along the wooded edges of the marsh. Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows overlap and interbreed here. Seaside Sparrows are rare in Maine but have become annual in recent years here. Flocks of Glossy Ibis forage throughout the marsh. Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets are common. Little Blue Herons are regularly spotted. Great Egrets and Tri-colored Herons are uncommon, but may be seen later in the summer. Black-crowned Night-herons nest offshore a couple miles away and sometimes venture into the marsh. In late summer and fall, migrating shorebirds collect in the marsh. In winter, Rough-legged Hawks turn up regularly and Snowy Owls are possible.
The marsh is very wide and the Spartina grass is thick, hiding many of the pools. This is a good place for a spotting scope. There is a seasonal Maine Audubon Nature Center midway along Pine Point Road. The center can provide trail maps, birding tips, and a bird-sighting register. It also rents canoes for access into the estuary. In season, there are regularly scheduled nature trips available from Maine Audubon.
Just a short drive farther south along Pine Point Road, Eastern Road (now a walk/bike path) provides an opportunity to stroll deeply into the marsh along some of the best salt flats in the refuge. This is the preferred place to see both Sharp-tailed Sparrows and, in some years, a Seaside Sparrow. High tide has a tendency to push sparrows closer to the path for easy viewing. Willets breed here. Red Knots, Hudsonian Godwits, and Stilt Sandpipers are regular in small numbers from August to September. Rarities occur along this path, so don’t rush. Be aware that Harbor Seals swim all the way into the marsh at high tide and may be seen when least expected. Note: Facilities at the Maine Audubon Nature Center are seasonal.
Directions: Route 1 through Scarborough passes through the north edge of Scarborough Marsh. Drive south along Route 1 from Portland, cross the marsh, and turn left onto Pine Point Road (Route 9) at Dunstan Corner. Proceed to the Maine Audubon Nature Center parking lot to begin the adventure. From Saco, drive north on Route 1. Pine Point Road will be a right turn at Dunstan Corner.
Great Salt Bay Farm is one of more than twenty preserves owned by the Damariscotta River Association. The association’s headquarters, an eighteenth-century farm house, sits atop 115 acres of former farmland overlooking the river. A restored marsh has succeeded in luring American Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers as breeders, and numerous other species in migration. Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and American Bitterns are typically observable. Secretive Virginia Rails announce their presence at dawn and dusk, while chattering Marsh Wrens may be heard at any time through early summer. A mowed path around the marsh facilitates viewing from all angles. Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows are common through the fields.
Pine Warblers are audible from the tall pines bordering the right side of the field. Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers and Common Yellowthroats are regularly spotted in the brushy growth along the left side. Ospreys and Bald Eagles are common sights over the nearby river.
The Damariscotta Mills Alewife Fish Ladder can be spectacular when the alewives are running in May and June. Ospreys and Bald Eagles often congregate around the ladder, gorging themselves on the jumping fish. The ladder ascends forty-two feet to Damariscotta Lake and is a remarkable curiosity even when the fish aren’t running. Pick up more information and directions to these three sites at the Great Salt Bay Farm headquarters.
Directions: Great Salt Bay Farm is located on Belvedere Road off Route 1 (the blinking yellow light about 1 mile north of the Damariscotta exit).
Down East and Acadia
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Baring division, is outstanding. In 1934, Congress passed the Federal Duck Stamp Act to raise money for the establishment of national wildlife refuges. Just three years later, Moosehorn NWR became one of the first refuges in the country. Recent acquisitions have expanded the total protection area of the refuge to 28,808 acres.
Moosehorn has many claims to fame. First among these are its American Woodcock study and restoration projects. Large tracts of the refuge are managed primarily for woodcock. Second in priority are the waterfowl, wading bird, and shorebird habitats. Four natural lakes are augmented by more than fifty manmade wetlands. It is an important breeding ground for many species and a stopover point for many more. Its third claim to fame is its forest management practices. The refuge is carefully managed through selective wood-cutting and prescribed burning to yield a diverse woodland habitat. More than 220 species have been identified at Moosehorn, including over twenty warbler species. Approximately one-third of the refuge is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The Baring Division is the larger of the two and provides most of the birding opportunities. On the northern edge, Route 1 runs through the refuge. Magurrewock Marsh, in its various upper and lower sections, teems with waterfowl in the spring. Many species linger to breed. Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Loons, American Coot, and Pied billed Grebes are all confirmed nesters. Snow Goose, Brant, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Widgeon, and Lesser Scaup all pass through. Virginia Rail and Sora breed in Magurrewock Marsh. Marsh Wrens in late May can be heard buzzing all night long.
The most visible Bald Eagle’s nest in Maine is right next to busy Route 1. Bald Eagles have shown sensitivity to human disturbance, but apparently that does not apply to the pair that has taken over a platform originally intended for Ospreys. An observation deck has been erected a discreet distance away, adjacent to the road, and offers excellent views from snowmelt through July when the birds disperse. At least three pairs of eagles nest within Moosehorn. Ospreys, undeterred, nest nearby on other platforms.
Expect some frustration in birding along Route 1. The road is heavily traveled at all times, with many large trucks, and the noise will challenge the best birding ear. It is possible to park near the railroad crossing on Route 1 just south of the Charlotte Road and walk the tracks into the center of the marsh. The tracks divide Lower Barn Meadow from Lower Magurrewock Marsh. Virginia Rails and Sora are present on either side. Marsh Wrens chatter incessantly. Kingbirds, Catbirds, and Yellow Warblers are prominent and Warbling Vireos have been found nesting at the end of this spur near the river. Do not go beyond this spur’s junction with the main track along the river, because this track is still active and trains can appear with little warning.
The Charlotte Road divides the Baring Division from north to south. It also gets heavy traffic. Turning south off Route 1, the Charlotte Road passes by the largest portion of Magurrewock Marsh. Because the marsh is valuable nesting habitat, there are few opportunities for close observation. Resign yourself to good views from the roadside, even at the dam-controlled end of the marsh where Canada Geese abound. It takes no patience to see a Great Blue Heron and only a little patience to become aware of the many American Bitterns that are present. Their odd, thunder-pumping song can be heard for half a mile and they are frequently seen on the wing.
The Moosehorn offices and visitor center are located some three miles south of the Charlotte Road intersection with Route 1. It is often best to go there first, because the kiosk provides bird lists, trails maps, and detailed information about the refuge. Bathroom facilities are available. Also, there are two interpretive trails nearby.
The Habitat Trail loops for 1.2 miles behind the center. It is good for common warblers such as Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Magnolia, and American Redstart. The Woodcock Trail loops for 1/3 mile at the entrance of the access road. Since the primary management species of Moosehorn NWR is woodcock, this interpretive trail offers great insight. Woodcock are abundant throughout the season and vocal from late April through late May. Their lek displays are some of the most famous in the bird kingdom. This trail is handicapped-accessible.
There are fifty miles of dirt roads and trails in Moosehorn. All are good, but a few are best for birding. The Barn Meadow area encompasses an incredible diversity of habitat. At first, the trail leads through thin woods, good for American Redstarts, Magnolia, and Black-throated Green Warblers, as well as Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos. Scarlet Tanagers are regularly heard but seldom seen. After a quarter mile, there is a substantial stand of large white pines on the right side of the trail where Pine Warblers sing as if on cue. Not long after crossing the railroad tracks, a service road circumnavigates a set of ponds regulated for water depth. Blue-winged Teal and American Black Ducks are the most likely nesters but be prepared for anything. Virginia Rail and Sora are often vocal. A dozen different warbler species are likely to be identified while circling the ponds. Stay alert for Wilson’s Snipe, Eastern Bobolink, Northern Harrier, and perhaps an uncommon Willow Flycatcher.
Directions: the trail entrance is obscure. Look for several boulders lined up next to the road just beyond the Magurrewock Impoundment on the Charlotte Road 3/4 mile from Route 1. The trailhead is on the far left side of the small field.
Just beyond the Magurrewock Impoundment, there is a parking lot and a paved path leading through a Bobolink-infested field to a small blind on the marsh. Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, and other dabblers may be present. Swamp Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats are easy to see here. Eastern Phoebes nest under the eaves of the blind and other flycatchers are nearby, including Alder and Yellow-bellied. Virginia Rails are secretive within the reeds. This trail is handicapped-accessible.
Directions: at 1.3 miles on the Charlotte Road, look for a small parking lot on the left.
At three miles along the Charlotte Road, a right turn leads to the refuge head-quarters. Opposite the entrance road to the headquarters, there is an entrance to two roads that can be birded on foot. The gate for the left fork is normally open for vehicle traffic, which allows cars a limited distance to some of the wetlands. Gated trails lead along the Goodall Heath Road to the Vose Pond Road for an excellent loop around several ponds and flowages, plus heath and mixed hardwood stands. Veery is the predominant thrush in this area. The road is good for many species of warblers, Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, Wilson’s Snipe, and a variety of waterfowl. Be on the lookout for moose.
The stretch of Charlotte Road south of refuge headquarters is boreal forest. Saw-whet Owls are thick along this stretch of road and can be heard calling before dawn from late winter to June. They often seem to be in vocal competition with the Whip-poor-wills, which are also common along this road as well as along the refuge’s many dirt roads.
At the southern end of the Baring Division, another nice walking loop takes birders through more good waterfowl flowages. This area is particularly good for moose. A loop using the South Trail, South Ridge Road, and Beaver Trail is just over three miles long. Parts of it pass through enough mixed forest and wetland habitat to provide an unusually high diversity of species.
Directions: look for South Trail on the west side of Charlotte Road approximately six miles from Route 1. Beaver Trail is only 0.3 miles beyond. South Ridge Road connects these two trails for an easy loop, but it’s wise to bring a map, as all trails look alike.
Maine Lakes and Mountains
Bigelow Preserve is remarkable. The Appalachian Trail ascends the highest peaks, while other spurs scale the remaining ridgeline. All are well tended by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Trailheads begin in a hardwood zone dominated by Hermit Thrushes, Least Flycatchers, Scarlet Tanagers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Warblers are primarily Blackburnian, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black throated Blue, and Ovenbirds. The Black-throated Blue Warblers persist as the trail winds upward into a mixed zone with more balsam and yellow birch. Beyond here, Swainson’s Thrushes begin to replace Hermits. One or two hours into the climb, the spruce zone begins, often abruptly. Black Poll Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers become audible. Where stunted birches fight the spruces for control of the slope, American Redstarts, Magnolia and Nashville Warblers find the sparse, sunny exposure they enjoy. Dark-eyed Juncos join the chorus and the chance to hear Bay-breasted Warblers increases. After the birches give up the fight, the remainder of the mountaintop is boreal. Blackpolls and White-throated Sparrows are abundant, Boreal Chickadees and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are common, Gray Jays are present, and Spruce Grouse are possible. There is no logging at these heights, so dead trees remain standing and attractive to Black backed Woodpeckers. At an elevation of three thousand feet, most mountains are in the krummholz zone — an impenetrable zone of short, stunted spruce. In a band that roughly follows the Appalachian Trail from the White Mountains to Katahdin, this is the zone for Bicknell’s Thrush.
Bigelow Mountain is a strenuous hike that will take most of a day to complete. Bicknell’s Thrush habitat at the top of the mountain is extensive, but by the time most hikers have reached it, the quarry is silent save for occasional call notes. Patience scanning from a ledge above the krummholz may be rewarded by the view of a foraging thrush among the spruces. Cranberry Peak offers another possibility. This peak barely surpasses three thousand feet and the zone for Bicknell’s Thrush is small, but the summit may be reached in as little as two hours.
Directions: a major trailhead is located prominently on Route 27 that accesses all trails on both sides of the road. An alternative set of trailheads is located within the Bigelow Preserve on Stratton Pond Brook Road. This entrance is easily overlooked. It passes a few private cottages before entering the preserve. At 0.8 miles the Cranberry Peak trailhead is located just a hundred yards down Public Lands Road. The Appalachian Trail is at 1 mile, with a larger parking area for the Stratton Pond trails at 1.5 miles. There are no facilities.
The Kennebec Valley
The Kennebec Highlands took an already terrific lakes region of the state and made it even better. In 1998, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance began a project to preserve six thousand acres of prime undeveloped habitat, including the highest peaks in Kennebec County, several streams, many wetlands, and five ponds. The area is interwoven with old logging roads, hiking paths, and multi-use trails. The bulk of the Kennebec Highlands is west of Belgrade Lakes Village on the far side of Long Lake. Two mountain trails are located on the near side, just north of town.
The prevailing habitat throughout the Kennebec Highlands is northern hardwood forest. It is relatively dry and mature. As Maine becomes more boreal farther north, Wood Thrushes disappear. But here, they are found in equal numbers with Hermit Thrushes and Veeries. Common warblers include Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, and Ovenbird. Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided, Nashville, and Yellow Warblers are found around open areas. Canada Warblers nest in damp, forested areas, while Pine Warblers inhabit large stands of white pines. Typical flycatchers include Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great-crested, and Least. Red-eyed Vireos are abundant, Blue-headed are common, and Warbling are occasional near water’s edge. Ruffed Grouse are plentiful, as are Pileated, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Northern Flickers. Also expect Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Most of the forested habitat is similar, but each trail has its own characteristics.
Directions: The Official Trail Map and Guide is inexpensive and is available at local markets. Visit the Web site at www.belgradelakes.org
The Maine Highlands
Bangor City Forest and the Orono Bog Walk are included in a 680-acre forest tract owned by the City of Bangor. The property features about nine miles of hiking and biking trails and four miles of access roads. It offers a close-in tract of mature woods with a variety of warblers, thrushes, and other woodland birds, all of which are easy to see because of the width of the trails. The Orono Bog Boardwalk was constructed in 2003. This spectacular 4,200-foot-long boardwalk loops through peat and bog habitats, providing views of specialty breeders such as Lincoln’s Sparrow and Palm Warbler. A host of other common warblers is readily observable, particularly Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, and Nashville Warblers. Interpretive signs along the boardwalk accurately depict where certain species are likely to be found, including the Canada Warbler that is regularly heard singing near its sign. The open horizon of the bog makes it easier to see raptors at a distance, including uncommonly seen species such as Red-shouldered Hawk and Northern Goshawk. The boardwalk is wheelchair-accessible, and is open from May through November.
Directions: from the end of Hogan Road north of the Bangor Mall, turn right onto Stillwater Avenue, then travel about 1.3 miles to Tripp Drive. (Look for small signs to the Bangor City Forest and the Bog Boardwalk.) Drive into the Bangor City Forest parking lot at the end of the road, park, and follow the East Trail about 0.25 miles to the boardwalk.
Lake Josephine and Christina Reservoir are owned by McCain Foods, one of the chief potato processors in Maine and Canada. Both are extraordinary for birding. Signs on McCain property warn against trespassing, but birders are allowed to travel along the town-owned road. Stay on roads and avoid active farming and harvest operations.
Lake Josephine is shown as an Industrial Waste Pond on the DeLorme Maine Atlas. At one time, it was a sewage lagoon for the potato processing plant, but now it is used primarily to impound water for use by the plant. In species quality and quantity, it resembles some of America’s best national wildlife refuges. Look for Mallards, American Black Ducks, American Widgeons, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebes, Wood Ducks, and Ring-necked Ducks throughout summer. Northern Shovelers are rare nesters in Maine, but they breed here. Breeding Redheads and Ruddy Ducks have been recently documented, the first to be confirmed in Maine. Great Blue Herons and American Bitterns lead the list of potential wading birds, while Merlins are among the raptors sighted most often. Look for shorebirds in migration, and Spotted Sandpipers throughout summer.
Directions: from Presque Isle, take Route 10 at Academy Street east toward Easton. At 1.4 miles, bear left onto Conant Road. After about four miles, turn right onto Station Road, then left for access to Lake Josephine just before the wood yard. A perimeter road follows the dike around the south and east side and exits north through a farm field. (Avoid this area during active operations.) Christina Reservoir is on Conant Road two miles beyond the Station Road turnoff. Park at the entrance road, and hike the levee on foot. The road around Lake Josephine is public, but is maintained by McCain. Stay on roadways, obey signs, and avoid private property.