Yikes! Spring is coming so quickly that I fear some people have missed it. I refer to four birding festivals that are now open for registration. The Acadia Birding Festival is the largest. It runs May 30 to June 2, and registration opened a week ago. Typically, 300 birders and guides gather for the annual event. I was shocked to learn that 175 people signed up on the very first day.
As usual, I lead three trips up the coast for this festival. All were full within minutes. I blame Woody.
Woody is a spruce grouse I discovered on a Frenchman’s Bay Conservancy property last spring. Like every male spruce grouse, he had staked out a mating territory, and refused to leave it from late April through early June. This chicken-like species is also remarkably tame, or stupid, or both. You can walk right up to one. Since the spruce grouse is a bird of northern forests, it isn’t often found below Bangor. It’s a coveted bird, and festival-goers were thrilled to meet one.
Then there is the lure of puffins. Maine is the only state where Atlantic puffins can be seen. Many festival-goers attend specifically to view this colorful clown. A puffin trip is one of many adventures offered by this festival. Visit www.acadiabirdingfestival.com.
The Down East Spring Birding Festival takes place the previous week, over Memorial Day weekend. I went on the first walk of the first festival 14 years ago, and I’ve been guiding for it ever since. The Washington County coast is one of the birdiest parts of Maine, because it’s a land of habitat transitions. There are many zones within the state where our hardwood forest yields to softwood. In such places, it’s possible to find birds of each forest type in close proximity. That can really ratchet up the number of birds seen in one day. The maritime forest around Lubec is just such a place.
Naturally, I have a few spruce grouse staked out in Lubec, too. One trail has a pair of rivals I call Bruce and Deuce. Like Woody, they return to the same spots every year. This pair can be particularly entertaining, because they occupy adjacent territories, and they’re competing for the same females. They watch each other with deep suspicion, making sure that neither crosses the imaginary boundary line.
This festival’s puffin trips go out of Cutler, with Captain Andy Patterson of Bold Coast Charters. His visits to Machias Seal Island are insanely popular and they fill fast, a likely reason registration for this festival is also off to a flying start this year. The Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott serves as headquarters, and information can be found at www.thecclc.org/birdfest.
The honor for earliest festival puffin trip of the year goes to the Wings, Waves, and Woods Festival in Stonington. This festival takes place over the third weekend of May each year, and it’s timed to coincide with spring migration. Two boats go out to see the puffins on Seal Island, which is also awash in common and arctic terns.
The Wings, Waves, and Woods Festival is small, homey, and inexpensive. It’s a nice way for local Mainers to kick off the birding season, with short walks and fun talks. Island Heritage Trust serves as coordinator and host, and many of the adventures take place on IHT conserved properties. Connect to info at www.islandheritagetrust.org.
And then there were four. Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust is starting up a new festival this year, partnering with Maine Audubon. The pieces are still being finalized, but information is coming online at www.rlht.org/birding-festival.
Remember what I said about transition zones? The Rangeley area is awesome. There are lots of beeches, birches, maples and oaks around Rangeley, but on the short drive to Oquossoc – bam! – it’s a forest of spruce and balsam fir. One RLHT property is called the Boy Scout Road, and it’s one of my favorite roads to bird in the entire state.
Organizers plan to start small, figuring about 50 attendees. That means that participants can expect a lot of personal attention in one of the most interesting birding regions in the state. Pencil in June 7-9 for the Rangeley Birding Festival. There won’t be a puffin tour, but there will be one trip to search for something much rarer. The Bicknell’s thrush is a mountain bird, and they breed on the summits around Rangeley Lake.
If you misplace this article, relax. Links to all festivals can be found at www.mainebirdingtrail.com.
Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.