No, I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but I will give you this one: Historic Pittston Farm. I’ve just returned from guiding another three-day tour of the Seboomook Lake area above Moosehead and I was reminded again of why this is such an incredible place.
Birders know that diverse habitat is the key to finding a lot of different birds, so picture this: Pittston Farm sits at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Penobscot River, on the marshy edge of Seboomook Lake. The property contains historic buildings, grassy fields, and wet meadows. It sits in the middle of the northern forest, surrounded by both deciduous and conifer trees. If you’re counting up the different habitats covered by just these few acres of land and water, your total should already exceed seven. And that’s before you go exploring the surrounding woodlands. The gateway to the North Maine Woods lands is around the corner from the driveway and the entire northern forest is at the disposal of adventurous birders.
Being an adventurous birder, I’ve explored the bejeepers out of the region and I keep uncovering surprises at every turn. It’s small wonder that this year’s tour experienced over a hundred different bird species. I get a quarter of those while just sitting on the porch. A Wilson’s snipe is always buzzing about the wet meadow in June. They call comically while sitting atop the fence posts. Bobolinks gurgle from the grasses. Nest boxes are occupied by bluebirds and tree swallows. Barn swallows inhabit the rafters of the old farm buildings. Four species of sparrow are audible from the porch. I can easily check off Blackburnian, pine, black-throated green, northern parula and common yellowthroat warblers from the rocking chair. Red-eyed and blue-headed vireos make the porch list. American bitterns and sora rails call sporadically from the marshy edges. Crows, ravens, blackbirds, eagles, ospreys and hawks are easy pickings. Evening grosbeaks pluck gravel out of the parking lot.
Pittston Farm is undeniably historic. At one time, during the heyday of Great Northern Paper Co., several farms were scattered throughout the north woods to provide food and shelter for loggers and livestock. From 1908 to 1946, a hundred acres of cropland kept the crew busy at Pittston Farm. When the farm ceased operation at the end of World War II, much of the agricultural land was replanted with spruce, but some of the fields and many of the historic buildings remain. Bob and Jenny Mills are the current owners and they take pride in preserving the history of Pittston Farm, including a museum next to the main lodge.
For decades, the farm has been famous for its dining. If I have one criticism to offer, it is that we were wonderfully overfed. At this stage in life, I can’t afford any extra pounds. Campers, paddlers, and anglers enjoy the inn and restaurant in summer, but it is hunting and snowmobiling seasons that pay the bills.
Pittston Farm bustles in the colder months. Ironically, it is in summer that peace and quiet prevails, which is exactly what birders relish.
I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up on the map. Pittston Farm is 20 miles north of Rockwood above the west side of Moosehead Lake. It is just a short distance below the Golden Road, easily reachable from either direction. Say goodbye to pavement; say hello to moose.
Knowing that someday I would want to share this gem with my fellow birders, I created a birding guide for Pittston Farm a couple of years ago. Even if you are not staying overnight, Bob and Jenny would be happy to clue you in to the good birding places, perhaps over a dish of Jenny’s homemade ice cream.
My tour group snagged 21 species of warblers last weekend, including the hard-to-find bay-breasted, Wilson’s, Canada, mourning and blackpoll warblers. Singing fox and Lincoln’s sparrows made the list. For the fourth year in a row, we located a rare black-backed woodpecker during the tour. Olive-sided and yellow-bellied flycatchers are seldom encountered south of Bangor in breeding season, but they announced their presence on multiple occasions near the farm.
Maine’s working forest is a spectacular place for birding, but it’s a bit intimidating for most people. One has to contend with big trucks on a big landscape where every logging road looks the same. I’m on a mission to demystify the woods, no matter how much blood I lose to black flies.
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.