Good news: The month of May has been all planned out for you. The Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon has scheduled 15 neighborhood bird walks during the month. Each 90-minute walk begins at 7 a.m. The walks will finish in time for most people to get to work afterward. They’re free. Bring binoculars but don’t bring a dog.
Warbler season is now upon us. Three species return in April: yellow-rumped, pine and palm. They return early in spring because they didn’t go very far in the fall. Many yellow-rumped warblers winter in the middle-Atlantic states. The eastern shore of Maryland is full of them. Pine warblers are abundant in the south through the cold months. Palm warblers will forage under your Florida picnic table in January.
I usually count on their arrival in the Bangor area right around the weekend of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Any bird that doesn’t leave the country for the winter is likely to return early. That’s why hermit thrushes, winter wrens and tree swallows are April migrants. Most other birds arrive in May.
Because these neighborhood walks are designed to be fun for beginning birders, you might suppose that experts wouldn’t enjoy them. You’d be wrong. I’ll be leading two of them. I love walks with people who have recently discovered the joys of local birding. Frankly, I plead guilty to taking our common birds for granted. Sharing the experience with fledgling birders lets me appreciate them again through new eyes.
I relive the wonder of my own past discoveries. Furthermore, it makes me work for the appreciation. If I’m walking by myself, I know what I’m hearing, what it looks like and where it is hiding. I get wicked lazy. Even though a northern parula is one of the prettiest warblers in Maine, I rarely even break stride to look at it. But when I’m guiding others, it’s not enough for me to see or hear it; I’ve got to help others see it, too. I’ve got to form a relationship with that bird, teasing it into view, following its movements without scaring it off.
Of course, being me, I can still find a way to be lazy. For instance, on Monday, May 21, I’ll lead a walk along the access road to Leonard’s Mills in Bradley. The Government Road bisects the Penobscot Experimental Forest on the way to the mill. The vegetation and habitat change every few hundred yards.
The birding along this stretch is ridiculously predictable. I can usually count on chestnut-sided warblers and American redstarts over the first hundred yards. Blue-headed vireos pop up as soon as the trees get a little taller.
By the time we reach the buildings, ovenbirds should be in full voice. The next stretch of forest is more mature, so black-throated green warblers and northern parulas are typical. Red-eyed vireos will be near. When we reach the power lines, common yellowthroats and swamp sparrows are guaranteed. A Nashville warbler will be lurking around the next corner.
As we approach the tall trees of Leonard’s Mills, pine, blackburnian and black-throated blue warblers will be waiting for us. It’s easy to find birds when you already know where they are.
Many of the walks are similar. I’ll guide one walk in Essex Woods in Bangor that should produce warbling vireos. I even know exactly what trees they will be in. Baltimore orioles and a bunch of warblers should be easy to get, and I hope the indigo bunting is right where he usually is. With luck, we will get a peek at a sora or a Virginia rail scuttling through the cattails.
Other morning walks are scheduled for Bangor city forest, Saxl Park, Mount Hope Cemetery and the University of Maine campus. The Audubon walks will visit three preserves of the Bangor Land Trust and one Orono Land Trust site. See the full schedule on the chapter website at www.pvcaudubon.org.
Another day to mark on your calendar is Saturday, May 12. That’s Spring Fest at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. It’s the local celebration of International Migratory Bird Day. The day starts with a morning bird walk at 7 a.m., followed by a bird banding exhibition behind the center. A Birding By Ear walk happens at 9 a.m. and there will be a live turtle program at noon. This will be a kid-friendly day.
Let’s recap: the neighborhood bird walks are free, nearby and conveniently timed. So, what’s your excuse? Pick one.
Bob Duchesne serves in the Maine Legislature, is president of the Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon, created the Maine Birding Trail and is the author of the trail guidebook of the same name. He can be reached at email@example.com.