Meet moose and cinnamon bears at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray

Posted Sept. 09, 2010, at 12:05 p.m.

Does a porcupine actually throw its quills? Doesn’t a lynx look like a bobcat? Can a Maine black bear be red in color? How big is a bull moose?

Learn the answers to such ques-tions this fall by visiting the Maine Wildlife Park, located on Route 26 in Gray and operated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The park is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., daily through Veterans Day (Nov. 11).

Perhaps Maine’s best-kept wildlife secret, the park shelters birds, mammals, and reptiles that cannot survive in the wild. This year, for example, a young moose calf (age nine weeks in early August) arrived to be raised by park staffers, and at least four Bambi-sized spotted fawns shared an adjacent pen.

Surrounded by a high fence, the visitor-friendly park spreads across a white pine grove and into the adjacent forest. From the gate house, visitors can walk to the immaculately maintained picnic area and visitors’ center, where displays and a video educate people about various Maine denizens.

Nearby are the Fish House with its two large aquariums and the Snack Shack, which sells drinks and snacks. Past this facility, visitors decide which animals they want to see first and then take the appropriate walkway. Other facilities include the Nature Store, the Wardens’ Museum, and handicap-accessible bathrooms.

Among the critters living at Maine Wildlife Park are:

• Two mountain lions not always visible during mid-day, but certainly active as feeding time approaches;

• Canada lynx, identified by their black-tufted ears;

• Foxes. A raised viewing platform lets visitors see red foxes and a gray counterpart living in a natural setting in adjacent enclosures;

• Coyotes, which when not “den-ned up” might be seen patrolling their enclosure’s perimeter fence;

• Three black bears, including two in a rare “cinnamon” or “red” phase. A raised viewing platform lets visitors peer into the bruins’ enclosure, where the smaller cinnamon black bear likes to plunge into the rock-rimmed pool;

• Deer galore, visible from Deer Trail;

• Moose, including an archetypical bull with a gorgeous rack;

• Raccoons (look for the albino);

• Ground hogs, including two liv-ing in a round, open-air display across from the mountain lion enclosure. The “we bite” signs are there for a reason; cute from a distance, ground hogs (or woodchucks) go nuclear when threatened;

• Skunks (usually asleep by day), porcupines, opossums (a wild immigrant recently arrived in Maine), geese (watch out for the aggressive white goose), and this year a fisher, a large relative of the weasel;

• Birds, such as turkeys, a vulture, and peacocks;

• Raptors, including various hawks and owls;

• Eagles, including the American bald eagle and a majestic golden eagle (rare in Maine) injured by striking a spinning wind turbine blade in Cali-fornia. The eagles live in glass-encased aviaries;

• Turtles displayed in a raised wet-land accessed by Turtle Path.

The Dry Mills Fish Hatchery can be reached through a gate near the last display.

The Maine Wildlife Park now features a free audio tour via a visitor’s cell phone.

Visitors can walk along the appropriately named Game Trail and Tree Trail to learn, respectively, about different wildlife species and native Maine trees. These trails connect Deer Trail and the Moose Yard, a large enclosure that garners visitors when the moose are active and moving.

Plan on spending at least two hours at the park, longer if bringing children and a picnic lunch. At several spots in the park, vending machines sell cracked corn that children can feed to deer and geese and the resident chip-munks, which now a hand out when they see one!

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