A prairie warbler! Really? I was leading a morning bird hike along the Orono Bog Boardwalk last month, silently cursing the palm warblers for not showing themselves, when I suddenly heard a familiar voice.
Prairie warblers are a southern bird. I hear them all over the Florida Everglades. Their range extends into Maine, but I have seldom encountered one north of Augusta. Yet there he was: singing away merrily.
Prairie warblers are misnamed. You won’t find one on a prairie. On the other hand, you won’t find one in a bog, either. At least, that’s what I thought until I heard the little fella in the Orono Bog. This was a bird that I had come to love among Florida mangroves, and to see one in a Maine black spruce was a bit disorienting. The truth is: prairie warblers like scrubby fields and forests from Maine to south Texas, so I suppose the open and stunted growth of a bog might appear hospitable, at least for awhile.
The greater truth is this: Bangor City Forest is an awesome place to bird. Over time, you will see me preach constantly about the reason Maine is one of America’s best birding destinations. This is where land meets ocean. This is where the oaks and maples of the southern hardwood forest meet the spruces and firs of the northern Canadian forest. Overlap zones like ours are rich in variety because we have the best of both worlds. Bangor City Forest is the perfect example.
Here’s the proof. During our bird walk, we were greeted by an energetic spruce grouse strutting his stuff on the boardwalk. This is a bird of the northern spruce forest. For the interior part of the state, we were essentially staring at the southernmost spruce grouse on the east coast of North America. Fifteen minutes later, we were staring at the northernmost prairie warbler.
Bangor City Forest is 650 acres of diversified woodland, managed for recreation, wildlife and selective harvesting. More than four miles of road and more than nine miles of trail are open to the public year round. Trails are clear of rocks and roots, making it particularly accessible for those with difficulty walking. The Orono Bog Boardwalk is wheelchair accessible.
Most folks who want to visit the Orono Bog Boardwalk enter by Tripp Drive off Stillwater Avenue, 1.6 miles north of the junction of Stillwater Avenue and Hogan Road. Don’t be in a hurry to leave the parking lot. This time of year, you can expect to hear at least six species of warbler, red-eyed and blue-headed vireos and two finches named gold and purple before even slamming the car door. The short walk to the boardwalk will pass within earshot of black-throated green and black-throated blue warblers, northern parulas, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and pine warblers. Before long, a secretive Canada warbler and reclusive northern waterthrush may be difficult to see but not hard to hear.
Once onto the boardwalk, yellow-rumped and black-and-white warblers are usually perceptible.
Winter wrens and brown creepers are present but harder to see. Hermit thrushes are frequent singers, sometimes foraging close to the trail. Expect red-breasted nuthatches and golden-crowned kinglets on almost every walk.
Interpretive signs along the boardwalk are uncannily accurate about which birds are likely to be present at each location. I chuckle every time I hear the Canada warbler sing next to his sign. There’s a sign for palm warblers and Lincoln’s sparrows, both northern bog breeders and both apt to pop up where their signs say they should. The palm warblers sing throughout the bog, but especially favor the end of the boardwalk trail loop. They are vocal into mid-August, much later than most warblers. Listen for a flat, buzzy trill. If the song is a rapid series of ascending buzzes, rejoice that the prairie warbler has stuck around for the season. A Nashville warbler has also returned to that same spot every year, just before the trail leaves the bog and re-enters the woods. He, too, is a prolific singer, sounding like “see-bit, see-bit, see-bit tititititi.”
Don’t stop there. The entire Bangor City Forest is diverse and full of birds. Wide roads make for easy viewing. A long walk through the under-traveled portions of the forest can turn up species that are at the limit of their ranges. If you see a black-backed woodpecker and wonder where to find the southernmost black-backed woodpecker on the east coast of America, you’re looking at it.
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.