CAMDEN, Maine — When avid birder Kristen Lindquist goes to Monhegan Island to watch for unusual species during the spring and fall migrations, she knows that something might slow her down: other birders.
“When a rare bird gets recorded out there, the next boat is full of birders,” Lindquist said last week. “My husband jokes that he finds it really exhausting. Not only am I birding all day, but every 10 steps we run into other birders we know.”
So when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently released a report that bird-watching contributed $36 billion to the country’s economy in 2006 — the most recent year for which data are available — she wasn’t surprised.
Nor was the Camden resident and development director at the Coastal Mountains Land Trust stunned to learn that Maine is second only to Montana in terms of birding participation rates: 39 percent of Mainers are birders compared to 40 percent of Montanans.
“A lot of people come up here, and they want to see a moose, they want to see a puffin, they want to have what they think of as a Maine wilderness experience,” Lindquist said.
She and other area birders concur that birding is big business in Maine, and despite the down economy and the torrential downpours of early summer, some guides and birder hot spots report being busier than ever.
Bob Duchesne is a state representative from Hudson, a professional bird guide and the author of the new Maine Birding Trail Map, which was developed with the help of the Maine Office of Tourism, the Maine Department of Conservation, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and Maine Audubon. The guide was one of the first projects by the Maine Nature-based Tourism Initiative, and the investment in birding is well worth-while, Duchesne said.
“It’s been a big hit. We’ve always had a lot of good natural resource assets in the state, but we didn’t tell anybody from away how to use them,” he said. “Now we’re taking all of our good stuff and telling out-of-staters how to spend their money here.”
Duchesne said that his guiding business is doing surprising well right now. So far this summer, he has guided groups from Georgia, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. He’s expecting to guide a group from Britain soon.
“I can’t believe how much it’s picked up this summer,” Duchesne said. “I was expecting a slow year — but I’m never home.”
His clients often want to go Down East for a puffin trip and then on a quest to find boreal or northern forest birds. Birders are passionate in their search for new species, he said — and figures that Maine should highlight its unique position on the Atlantic flyway, on the ocean and on the Canadian border, all of which attract lots of birds and therefore lots of birders.
“Like all hobbyists, they’re all passionate about their own particular hobbies,” Duchesne said.
Rocky Rakoczy appreciates that passion for the hobby of birding. The owner of the Riverside Inn in Machias, he said that birders make up about 15 percent to 20 percent of his business in the spring and summer.
“Birders actually stay longer than the average,” Rakoczy said. “And they’re from all over. It’s not just the local area, and it’s even bigger than regional. They’re from Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania. This whole quadrant of the county has a lot of shore birds. Also the puffins. Also a particular type of grouse that’s in this area only. In fact, there was a birder at the hotel this morning who saw something he’d never seen before over breakfast.”
Linda Woodard, the director of the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center in southern Maine, said that she’s had people from 22 different countries as far-flung as Guatemala, Iran, the Ukraine and Australia just since Memorial Day.
“Birders plan our vacations around birding. You stay in a motel, you go and buy food. You buy paraphernalia, and people drive around to see birds,” Woodard said. “It’s sort of like a whole economy.”
Michael Good of Bar Harbor is the president of Downeast Nature Tours and is the director and founder of the Acadia Birding Festival, which just celebrated its 11th season. He hopes that the national passion for birding will translate to a desire to protect the birds’ natural habitats and food sources, especially including the river fisheries.
“What I’m most concerned about, for the business of birding, is that we take care of our ecological systems,” Good said. “This is really an important place biologically. And protecting the land and sea is going to benefit our economy in the long run.”