One way to deal with the dregs of winter is to plan summer. May I suggest a birding festival? Festivals have much to offer. Each is invariably scheduled for the ideal birding season in its particular locale. Festivals have experts on hand to guide walks and offer programs. Festivals put scores of birders in the field so that there are a lot of eyes looking simultaneously for rare species.
Local warbler walks are great for beginning birders, who might find festivals a little overwhelming. Expert birders don’t need festivals to help them identify birds, but they do appreciate the aid in finding them. Intermediate birders profit most. It’s a chance to learn tips and techniques. It’s an opportunity to explore different habitats with guides who are familiar with them. The learning curve for birding is not a smooth curve. It’s more like an ascending roller coaster.
Everyone starts slowly. It takes awhile to learn the common birds all around you because: a) there are more than you think, b) they’re up there and you’re down here, and c) they don’t hold still. It takes awhile just to get used to binoculars. But then comes the most wonderful time of your birding life. Suddenly you’re seeing many new birds and learning many new things. You can see a hundred new birds in one year. You can go to new places and see new species.
That thrill continues until you’ve seen about 400 species. From then on, each new bird starts to get tougher to locate. You’ve picked the low hanging fruit. New sightings require work or travel or both. Festivals improve the travel and remove the work. In Maine, we’ve got three good ones.
The Wings, Waves, & Woods Festival occurs first, over the May 17-19 weekend. For the quiet, artistic communities of Deer Isle and Stonington, birds and summer residents migrate back into Maine almost simultaneously. The convergence makes a good excuse to have some fun. Waves of warblers and other songbirds wash over the island during the third weekend of May. I appreciate that this festival is quiet and homey. Most of the participants are local, though last year saw a good influx of accomplished birders from away. The walks are free. Fees only apply to workshops, meals and boat trips. But what I like best is that the wintering sea ducks are still present. Some can be seen from shore and the rest are scattered about the ocean as we make our way out to Seal Island on Maine’s first puffin trip of the year.
For information, look down the events calendar at www.deerisle.com.
The Down East Spring Birding Festival always takes place over Memorial Day Weekend. I lost my heart to this festival 10 years ago. I attended the first one in 2004 and I haven’t missed one since. The festival is centered on two key birding areas. For the first two days, most of the activities are headquartered at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, taking advantage of the impressive birding in the woods and wetlands of the refuge. Then the festival shifts its headquarters to the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott to better focus on the incredible birding in the Lubec area. On one of the festival trips, I take a van-load of birders to many of my secret spots in the area. This festival also features boat trips to Machias Seal Island for puffins. Look down the program list on www.cclc.me.
The Acadia Birding Festival hits its own milestone this year. The 15th year is the biggest and best yet. Indeed, the festival has been busting at the seams for the last several years, extending both space and time. No longer confined to Mount Desert Island, it now reaches farther up the coast and out to sea. For the last couple of years, I’ve been leading all-day van trips into the spruce forests in Washington County.
Since these are always among the first to sell out, the festival added a “Downeast Big Day” before the regular schedule this year and a post festival tour of Baxter State Park, which I’ll also be guiding. Owl prowls have been added, too, extending the daily start time to 3 a.m. for hearty birders. The guides for this festival are drawn from among the best birders across the state, and the keynote speakers are nationally renowned. Learn about it at www.acadiabirdingfestival.com.
Perhaps I’ll see you at a festival this spring. I’m at all three: proof that I have no life.
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. Reach Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.