March 18, 2018
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It’s time to start planning for spring birding festivals

Bob Duchesne | BDN
Bob Duchesne | BDN
Birders scan the skies along the coast.
By Bob Duchesne, Special to the BDN

I have superpowers. No, not the useful kind, like flying or invisibility. I hear things that others don’t. More specifically, I hear bird sounds that others don’t.

I cannot turn off my superpowers. They’re hard-wired. I hear bird sounds in movies and TV shows. I hear birds singing behind other birds. I didn’t intentionally train myself to do this. It just happened, the result of a lifetime of habitual listening. It’s not a particularly useful superpower, but it does make me handy to have along at birding festivals. I’ll be guiding for three this spring.

Birding festivals have become very popular. There are so many bird species in Maine, each hidden in its own little niche. A warbler walk with an expert on a nice spring morning will reveal some of these birds, while exploring one or two habitats. Festivals explore much more, with leaders who know the area and the birds in it. Festivals present a smorgasbord of choices, giving participants the chance to chase birds they don’t normally find around home.

Over the weekend of May 18-20, Deer Isle and Stonington host the Wings, Waves, & Woods Festival. This event is timed to catch migrating birds just as they are returning for the summer, and it takes place before many of our winter birds have left for Hudson Bay. It’s the best of both worlds. Furthermore, there are so many islands off Stonington that the abundant coves and bays shelter a lot of seabirds. More boat trips occur during this festival than any other, including the earliest puffin trips of the year.

Wings, Waves, & Woods is a relatively small, local festival that also highlights the island’s arts-&-crafts heritage. It’s inexpensive. It’s relaxed. It’s fun. This will be its 12th year, and I’ve never missed one. Find the schedule at

The Downeast Spring Birding Festival takes place over Memorial Day Weekend. I was on the very first walk of the very first festival 14 years ago, and I’ve never missed this one either. Most of the activities are centered in the Cobscook Bay area. A few of the trips wander all over Washington County, visiting secret spots that are among the best in the state for finding unusual species. There are two boat trips out to the Granddaddy of puffin colonies, Machias Seal Island. Another boat trip explores the extraordinarily productive waters of Head Harbor Passage, off Eastport.

The Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott serves as the headquarters for this festival, and I’ll help kick things off on Friday, May 25, with a presentation on Birding By Ear. I modestly admit that it’s become a signature event for the festival – so popular that they make me repeat it every year. After my talk, we’ll go out and wander a portion of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in the Edmunds division to practice listening identification skills.

The Downeast Spring Birding Festival is especially worthwhile because there is so much habitat diversity in this part of the state. The spruce-fir maritime forest contains nesting birds that are not easily found south of Washington County. The waters around Lubec are particularly productive for seabirds. The extensive blueberry barrens are home to birds that are hard to find anywhere else. Go bonkers. I typically count about 120 bird species over just three days. Register at

Good lord, the Acadia Birding Festival is 20 years old this year! Time flies when you’re having fun. It’s the biggest festival, attracting the most birders and the most expert leaders. Nationally known speakers come every year. The event began as the Warblers and Wildflowers festival two decades ago, and was later reorganized under the current name. It customarily takes place on the weekend after Memorial Day, which is May 31-June 3 this year.

In recent years, this festival has spread beyond Acadia National Park. Most field trips takes place on Mount Desert Island, but others explore some of the downeast coast, and one excursion even reaches the western mountains of Maine to search for the rare Bicknell’s thrush. A boat trip aboard the Bar Harbor Whale Watch catamaran visits the puffins on Petit Manan Island, then heads out to sea to look for pelagic birds that are just migrating in from the South Atlantic. See

For anyone who wants to see and learn a lot about birding Maine in just a few days, nothing beats a festival. We’re lucky to have three nearby. And I get to use my superpowers.

Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at He can be reached at

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