Yikes! It’s festival season already. Registration is now open for two birding festivals, and the schedule is nearly finalized for a third. Some of the more popular events fill so quickly that perhaps you should put down this column and go sign up immediately. You can finish the paper later.
The first festival is called Wings, Waves, Woods, which is based in Deer Isle and Stonington over the weekend of May 16-18. This is the eighth year for the festival. The final schedule is not yet published, but I know there will be at least three boat trips, because I’m the designated seabird spotter on all three. The Friday trip will visit Marshall Island, the largest undeveloped island on the eastern seaboard.
The island is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. The local Island Heritage Trust will help to host the trip, and without it, there would be no festival. This group has conserved some outstanding wildlife habitat at multiple sites and many of the bird walks will take place on trust lands.
Two boats serve the festival. Captain Bill Baker of Old Quarry Ocean Adventures will take us out to sea on Friday. The Isle au Haut Ferry handles Saturday and Sunday. Captain Garrett Aldridge has added a new voyage for this year’s festival, a Saturday cruise of The Thoroughfare. The 90-minute excursion will skim past Isle au Haut and several adjacent islands, offering views of birds and spectacular scenery. This festival takes place before most subarctic breeders have headed north, so attendees can expect to enjoy a good variety of lingering sea ducks and purple sandpipers. On Sunday, the ferry will take a boatload to Seal Island for Maine’s first puffin trip of the year.
Seal Island is not to be confused with Machias Seal Island, 90 miles to the northeast. That’s where the Down East Spring Birding Festival will go for its puffin watching. Captain Andy Patterson of Bold Coast Charters will escort the lucky few out to that island for a very close encounter with puffins, razorbills and murres. This is sure to be one of the first events of the festival to sell out.
The Down East Spring Birding Festival happens every Memorial Day Weekend. I can’t believe this is its eleventh year. I attended the very first walk of the very first festival, and I’ve been guiding for it ever since. Readers of this column know that I am addicted to birding Down East. I have as much fun in Lubec as I have anywhere in the state, and I look forward to sharing some of my secrets with attendees. The lure of this region is the outstanding mix of habitats. The spruce maritime forest is home to boreal chickadees and spruce grouse, which are not found south of Acadia. Extensive mudflats and salt marshes are more prevalent in this area. The festival also takes full advantage of nearby Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.
The Acadia Birding Festival is the oldest, biggest and longest of the three festivals, now entering its sixteenth year. The four-day event spans May 29 through June 1 and is truly a festival of national significance. The appeal of Acadia is an obvious reason for its drawing power, but the festival also boasts an elite corps of expert guides. Many of Maine’s best birders offer their time and talents, and even nationally known professionals come join the fun. This year’s keynote speakers are Jeffrey Gordon, executive director of the American Birding Association, and Greg Miller, subject of the book, “The Big Year.” In 1998, Miller crisscrossed the country, trying to see more than 700 birds in one year. His adventure was later turned into a movie starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.
Each festival is unique, but they all share one thing in common: Atlantic puffins. The Acadia Birding Festival will charter the Bar Harbor Whale Watch boat for a morning cruise to Petit Manan, another of Maine’s puffin colonies, and then head seaward to search for birds of the open ocean. Expect a full boat.
For information on Wings, Waves, Woods, check out the Deer Isle Chamber of Commerce website at deerisle.com/calendar-of-events. The Down East Spring Birding Festival is coordinated by the Cobscook Community Learning Center, and information can be found at cclc.me/page/911-1304/birdfest. Learn about the Acadia Birding Festival at acadiabirdingfestival.com. Or, for your convenience, you can find the links for all the festivals at mainebirdingtrail.com. Regardless of which festival you attend, I’ll see you there.
Bob Duchesne serves as a Maine Audubon trustee and vice president of its Penobscot Valley Chapter. Bob developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at www.mainebirdingtrail.com. Bob can be reached at email@example.com.