BARING, Maine — Jim Healey of Las Vegas said he “drove like an insane man” from Colorado to Maine this week to get to the Down East Spring Birding Festival by Friday morning.
“I got into Bangor last night at 6:30,” he said Friday, as he waited for the first birding events to get under way at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.
“There are a couple of species in this area that I have never seen,” he said, “including the Atlantic puffin, razorbills and, in New Hampshire, the Bicknell’s thrush.”
Starting Wednesday, Healey, 71, will spend four days in Maine then head to a birding festival in southwestern New York.
Nationally, as well as in Maine, birding has become so popular that more Americans bird-watched in 2000 than participated in all outdoor team sports, according to the Cobscook Community Learning Center, one of the festival’s sponsors. In Maine, one-third of the state’s residents bird-watched in 2001, getting a look at or listening to the state’s more than 300 varieties of local birds.
Those bird-watchers contribute significantly to the local economy — an estimated $345.9 million in Maine. Trip-related expenses such as transportation, lodging and food in Maine totaled about $147 million, according to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment.
Helen and Allen Winter arrived at Bangor International Airport last week from Leaburg, Ore.
They rented a car, stayed in a hotel, ate, shopped, drove to Freeport, spent a day in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, stayed in another hotel, signed up for an Exploritas, formerly Elderhostel, program, came to the birding festival Friday, and on the final leg of their trip they were headed to Lubec and Eastport.
“We love it,” Helen Winter said. “Maine is gorgeous.”
Fred Hartman, a Whiting artist who specializes in local birds, said the real effect to the area reaches far beyond just the Winters’ spending when it is multiplied by the more than 100 people attracted to the four-day Down East Birding Festival.
“Not a day goes by that someone interested in birding doesn’t stop by my studio,” he said. “I’m better than a chamber of commerce.”
Hartman’s sign on Route 189 in and out of Lubec offers “birding info” and bird-watchers from all over the country come Down East for the scenery and wildlife, he said.
“They all say that this is such a special place to see birds they don’t see at home,” Hartman said. He said they fill up local bed and breakfasts and eat at the area restaurants.
“Bird-watching has a tremendous economic impact Down East,” Hartman said.
William Kolodnicki, supervisor of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, said 60,000 visitors toured the park last year.
The 7-year-old birding festival has become very popular, according to Kolodnicki.
“This is really pretty significant for Maine at this time of year,” he said.
People from Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Maryland, California and Arizona are attending this year’s festival, which takes place throughout the Down East area through Monday.
Friday’s events included a “Birding By Ear” presentation by Maine bird expert Bob Duchesne, hikes at various locations to watch and identify birds, bird woodcarving demonstrations, and a puffin-sighting trip from Cutler to Machias Seal Island.
Visitors heading to the Moosehorn refuge on Friday morning were treated to a nesting pair of eagles at the entrance to the park.
Andy Slater, a Moosehorn volunteer, has watched and photographed the refuge’s eagles for 20 years. He said the male at the park is likely the same eagle that has been there all along, but he believes the female is new, and this year’s chick may be her first.
“This egg was three weeks early,” he said, adding that it hatched around April 9 and already the chick’s wingspan reaches across the nest’s 3-foot width.
The festival continues throughout the weekend and into Monday, with a wide range of hikes, birding, nature journaling, workshops and lectures, eagle and osprey viewing, raptor programs and puffin trips.
Several of the events, including the Saturday night hikes, already are filled.
Kara McCrimmon of the CCLC said anyone seeking information about the remainder of the birding activities can call Moosehorn at 454-7419 on Saturday, or CCLC on Sunday and Monday at 733-2224.
A full schedule of events can be found at www.downeastbirdfest.org.