KINGFIELD — With the help of wildlife biologist Bill Hancock, Maine Huts & Trails has defined two unique self-guided bird walks at each of the three Maine Hut sites.
Birding at Poplar Stream Hut
Surrounded by spruce, fir, cedar, and scattered northern hardwoods, the Poplar Stream Hut provides a good base for stalking and finding birds of the forest interior, particularly such sought-after boreal species as spruce grouse, gray jay, boreal chickadee, and host of colorful wood warblers. (Poplar self-guided walks)
Birding at Flagstaff Lake Hut
As a base for birding Maine’s Northern Forest, few places are better situated than the Flagstaff Lake Hut. From here, it is possible to access most of the region’s habitat types over the course of several days and stand a good chance of finding many sought-after birds.
Around the hut itself, miles of foot trails pass through various-aged stands of deciduous and coniferous forest, skirt lakeshores, and probe into ponds and beaver flowages where you can find a wide variety of forest species. Paddling the lake by canoe or kayak also provides great opportunities to see water birds at close range. ( Flagstaff self-guided walks)
Birding at the Grand Falls Hut
Birding here is focused on two very different habitat types: riparian floodplain forest with scattered large hardwoods, white pine, and alder thickets along the route to the hut; and northern forest dominated by spruce and fir in which the hut is situated. As would be expected of such different habitats, the bird communities in each are dissimilar as well, providing good opportunities to compile a diverse species list over a period of several days. (Grand Falls self-guided walks)
Poplar Stream hut has a couple of suggested walks for birders.
Walk 1 is a good morning walk for both birding and scenery follows the main trail down the hill from the hut, turning right toward Flagstaff. In spring and through mid-summer, listen here for the ethereal, flute-like song of hermit thrushes and the emphatic and unmistakable song of
the ovenbird. As the trail descends to join with the service road, listen and look for parula, blackburnian, and magnolia warblers. Though very active and brightly colored, these small birds may require some patience and perseverance to see as they forage through the branches.
Probably the best area for seeing birds is to continue along the service road just below the trail turnoff to Flagstaff. Here the road descends alongside Poplar Stream, and the view opens up to the edge of the spruce-fir forest on the opposite bank. Catching the sunlight as it
first strikes, these far trees can be rewarding as birds forage for insects
newly activated by the warmth.
Look for black-throated green, yellowrumped, black-throated blue, and Nashville warblers in addition to those already mentioned, plus a host of other forest birds that are drawn to this edge habitat.
After you have thoroughly birded the 100-yard stretch along the stream, continue on to the foot trail that drops left off the road just before the bridge. This trail traverses the slope through a rocky spruce forest offering plenty of cover for birds. Though birds can be hard to
hear above the sound of the stream far below, listen for the impossibly long and complex song of the Winter Wren carrying above the din. With patience you should be able to spot one of these tiny birds as they dart low among the forest tangle.
Further along is the trail down to Poplar Falls, which if not for birds, is still well worth the descent for the spectacular setting. Then climb back up and continue along the original trail to its junction with the Maine Huts Trail returning to Poplar Stream Hut. Along the way, look for dark-eyed junco, red-breasted nuthatch, yellow-bellied sapsucker, purple finch.
Walk 2 is for any birder intent on finding northern forest specialties. It’s hard to imagine better boreal habitat for prospecting than the mile-long section of the Maine Huts Trail leading north toward Flagstaff. Boreal chickadee and gray jay have both been found along this section, and it is likely that spruce grouse will be found here too. Spruce grouse are typically so tame that they will not flush on close human approach, thus often making them difficult to spot.
Start this out-and-back walk down the main trail, bearing right at the next two junctions toward Flagstaff. For the next three-quarters of a mile out to the bridge over the beaver-flowage, the trail passes through spruce and fir stands of various ages.
Looking in many places like the forest primeval with its thick carpet of mosses and Usnea, or “old-man’s beard,” hanging from the branches, these woods are breeding habitat for an array of northern birds, including yellow-bellied flycatcher, blueheaded vireo, rRed-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, winter wren, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, Swainson’s and hermit thrushes, an array of warblers, including Nashville, parula, magnolia,
yellow-rumped, black-throated green, blackburnian, ovenbird, and Canada, and white-throated sparrow. Both Black-capped and boreal chickadees are here as well; the latter sings a raspier and slower version of the familiar call.
Stopping for a snack along the trail just past the bridge may provide an incentive for an approach by a curious gray jay or two. Out in the beaver flowage listen and look for olive-sided and alder flycatchers, common yellowthroat, swamp sparrow, and perhaps a hooded merganser.
Return the way you came, stopping often to look for movement and to listen for the thin calls of black-capped chickadees or goldencrowned kinglets. Many times other species will be moving through the forest with these birds in a mixed flock, especially after the nesting