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Where should you hike this month? Bangor Metro’s Hike ME column by veteran outdoors writer and author Aislinn Sarnacki can help.
Hike Me: Avian Adventures
A mallard duck waddled across the sunlit path, followed by a line of fuzzy ducklings. One by one, they disappeared into the tall grass at the edge of the marsh, where red-winged blackbirds perched on the tips of cattails and phoebes swept through the air, snatching up dragonflies. Spring had arrived at the wetland and with it a host of birds.
Walking along the gravel trail, camera in hand, an amateur birder searched shallow pools and the limbs of waterlogged trees for her next subject to photograph. A flutter of wings, a piercing call, a rustle in the bushes — these things caused her to pause and look closer in hopes of observing another species.
Some birds stood out, like the great blue heron, tall and regal as it waded slowly through the water on stilt-like legs, hunting for fish and frogs. Other birds blended into the landscape, such as the woodcock shuffling through the reeds, its mottled brown plumage causing it to all but disappear.
New to birding, the photographer was excited about all species, from the bright yellow warbler flitting about the trees to the elusive sora hiding in the grass. Many birds she couldn’t identify, but using her guidebook and the photos she captured that day, she was determined to learn their names, one at a time. She’d caught the birding bug, and the wetland — which attracts a wide variety of birds for nesting and hunting — was a perfect place to learn.
Essex Woods in Bangor
In the midst of the bustling city of Bangor, Essex Woods is a 70-acre city-owned property featuring a marsh that attracts a wide variety of birds, spring through fall. Bordering that wetland area is a wide gravel trail that makes wildlife watching easy. Once a local dump site, this property is now one of the most popular birding spots in the area.
Some of the birds that commonly live in the marsh include red-winged blackbirds, grackles, snowy egrets and a wide variety of ducks, including mallards, wood ducks, blue-winged teals and hooded mergansers. Canadian geese, soras, cowbirds, red-belted kingfishers, cedar waxwings and bobolinks are also spotted there. Eagles and a variety of hawks will also visit the marsh to hunt.
Dogs are permitted. For more information, visit bangorparksandrec.com.
Directions: To reach the main entrance, start at the intersection of Stillwater Avenue and Essex Street in Bangor. Drive 0.7 mile on Essex Street and turn right onto Watchmaker Street. Drive to the end of Watchmaker Street to a large parking area for Essex Woods, where there’s a dog park.
The trail network also has trailheads at the ends of Molly Lane and Garden Way.
Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden
Easy to moderate
Fields Pond Audubon Center is one of eight wildlife sanctuaries owned and maintained by the Maine Audubon, a nonprofit organization that connects people to nature. The 192-acre property features a trail network that explores fields, forests and visits the edge of Fields Pond. Bird nesting boxes and bird feeders are scattered throughout the property, attracting some species for easy viewing.
In the spring and early summer, tree swallows raise their young in the nesting boxes that dot the fields, and a variety of ground-nesting birds lay their eggs in the tall grass. Be sure to stay on the mowed path so you don’t disturb them. Some of the birds commonly spotted at the bird feeders include house finches, chickadees, goldfinches, blue jays and nuthatches. And in the property’s mixed upland forest, barred owls are frequently sighted and more often heard.
Dogs are not permitted. For more information, visit maineaudubon.org or call 207-989-2591.
Directions: From Route 1A in Holden, turn onto Copeland Hill Road. If driving east toward Ellsworth, the turn will be on your right near the Myerowitz Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic, which has a yin-yang on its sign. Drive until you reach a stop sign. Turn right on Wiswell Road. You’ll pass Copeland Hill Cemetery. In a little less than a mile, turn left onto Fields Pond Road. Drive about 1 mile. Fields Pond Audubon Center will be on your left. Pick up a map of the trails in the center or from the wooden cubby on the right side of the nature trails kiosk.
Orono Bog Conservation Area
Easy to moderate
The Orono Bog Conservation Area encompasses several parcels of land that have been conserved by the Orono Land Trust and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Altogether, these purchased lands and conservation easements cover 1,000 acres and feature ponds, wetland areas and forested hills. The land also features a trail network that explores these natural features.
You don’t have to walk far from the parking area for a good birding spot. At Boulder Pond, wading birds such as great blue herons and American bitterns are common. A variety of ducks and geese may also be found at the pond, as well as flycatchers, such as the eastern phoebe.
From Boulder Pond, the wide, easy Railroad Bed Trail leads to Black Pond and Beaver Pond, as well as a side trail that leads to Pine Ponds. All of these bodies of water attract a wide variety of water birds and songbirds. And at the far end of the Railroad Bed Trail (about 1 mile from the parking area) is Heron Loop Trail, which circles around a great blue heron rookery and beaver flowage. This route is closed off in the summer so the herons aren’t disturbed while raising their young.
Dogs are permitted. For more information, visit oronolandtrust.org.
Directions: Take I-95 Exit 191 for Kelley Road in Orono. Drive northwest on Kelley Road 0.5 miles then turn right onto Stillwater Avenue. Drive 1.1 miles, then turn left onto Forest Avenue. Drive 1.4 miles, then turn right onto Taylor Road (also known as Dump Road). Drive 0.25 miles, then turn left onto Putnam Road, which leads to the parking area.
Related: Bird romance
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s May 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.