Every year, in every season, bird watchers flock to Maine. They come to catch a glimpse of loons on hundreds of lakes, Atlantic puffins on remote sea islands, great cormorants along coastal marshes, and owls, peepers and woodcock in darkened forests. These are but a few of the avian species that populate the Pine Tree State’s vast, often unspoiled natural habitats.
“Our state has a real diversity of habitats, so we have a real variety of species,” says Linda Woodard of Maine Audubon. As the director of that organization’s Scarborough Marsh center, Woodard suggests newcomers to birding start out by participating in one of her location’s Wednesday morning field trips. Visitors who are closer to the Maine Audubon headquarters in Falmouth can meet with others at that location, for weekly, year-round field trips on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
According to Woodard, however, you don’t have to be an early bird to enjoy birding. “I’m not that kind of birder,” she laughs. “There are birds for people like me … You don’t have to get up first thing in the morning.” She says winter bird watching in Maine is especially best done later in the day, when the birds are moving around to keep warm.
She and her colleague, Audubon naturalist Doug Hitchcox, both note that birding is the fastest growing hobby in the U.S. “In Maine, it’s really taken off,” says Woodard. “It’s accessible and you can do it anywhere,” adds Hitchcox, “and there are now a lot of birding festivals that we didn’t have 10 years ago.” These events, in locations that include Aroostook Country, Deer Isle and Mt. Desert Island, bring scores of visitors to the state each year in search of rare birds, and a chance to commune with nature.
Among the rarer species spotted by birders in Maine are several on the endangered species list: grasshopper sparrows, upland sandpipers and whip-poor-wills. All of these are known to reside in the Kennebunk Plains. Farther north at the Scarborough Marsh, birders can see two unusual types of sparrow, the Nelson and salt marsh sharp-tails. “We get birders from all over the world here to see these two birds in one place,” says Woodard.
With so many birds on the official Field Checklist of Maine Birds, it may be hard to decide where to begin. Both Woodard and Hitchcox suggest contacting Maine Audubon for help, either online or by calling 207-781-2330. The group offers Google alerts, and sends Listserv notifications to more than 800 subscribers when a rare bird is in the area.
“One time, a woman got a message on her cell phone about a sighting,” Woodard recalls. “She abruptly told her boss she was leaving, and then drove two hours to Maine to see an unusual egret.”
In addition to accessing help from Maine Aubudon, birders can download The Maine Birding Trail, which suggests 82 prime sites. Its companion, The Maine Birding Trail Guidebook, describes more than 260 sites and features 100 maps and is available at bookstores and online. Woodard suggests another favorite source, 50 Places to Go Birding Before You Die, by Chris Santella. Or, when all else fails, “Just get out there and go birding,” she says.