LIMESTONE, Maine — As the birds begin their long migratory trek back north, they’ll find a new face waiting for them at one of their favorite stop-offs. Steve Agius is the new assistant manager of the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Limestone on the former Loring Air Force Base and of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Calais.
While Agius does need to balance his time between the two sites, his presence in Limestone means good things for all the animals (and humans) who visit the refuge.
“This refuge offers a lot of potential,” Agius said, describing the small site’s large importance for neo-tropical migratory birds, whose populations in North America are on the decline. He also mentioned his particular interest in the lynx population and the quirky-by-nature upland sandpipers that take up residence at the refuge.
With an extensive background in biology, Agius has been at the ANWR since February, overseeing the biological work and activities at the site while working to expand the refuge’s public outreach services. One thing that’s already changed drastically are the hours the refuge’s main building is open, with all its intricate educational displays. The main facility is open to visitors from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, but the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge has much more to offer than educational displays.
The real experiences happen out on the trails, which are suitable for individuals of all degrees of physical fitness. Whether one chooses to ski or snowshoe down the trails while the winter holds or wait for spring to walk, volunteer Norman Page has made certain that the trails are travel-ready. Even though the Limestone site is the smallest refuge in the region, it has a lot to offer visitors.
The AWNR, for instance, is the only place in The County where you’ll see the upland sandpiper.
How will one know if they’re looking at an upland sandpiper?
Agius described them as being rather strange-looking shoreland birds, and behavior wise, they like to perch at the top of a tree with their wings held out.
“They sort of look like a kite stuck in a tree,” he said.
But what would bring such an unusual shoreland bird to landlocked Aroostook County? In a sense, it’s the former Air Force Base. When Loring was decommissioned, it left behind ample grasslands that upland sandpipers seek. Managing those grasslands is just one of Aguis’ responsibilities, as he has numerous species with thriving populations whose habitat he’s charged with protecting — even when it means working around permanent historical structures like the bunkers and other thick concrete structures that are part of the land’s history.
While the bunker area of the refuge has been historically closed and will continue to be so, “we have trail systems opening up this summer in areas that have previously been closed,” Agius said.
The assistant manager-biologist is looking forward to working with the community, citing the already exceptional volunteer efforts of the Friends of the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge and the RSVP volunteers whose work goes a long way at the refuge.
Individuals seeking tours, guided groups and groups seeking field trips to the refuge are highly encouraged to give Agius a call at 328-4634. The refuge is located at 97 Refuge Road in Limestone. Additional information can be obtained by visiting www.fws.gov/northeast/Aroostook.