The birding world is on the verge of insanity. Early migrants have arrived for another season of baby-making, and the rest will be rushing in shortly.
For about six weeks, Maine will be awash in bird song. It will delight some people and overwhelm others. In either case, there is help available to navigate the chaos.
Let’s start small and work our way up. The Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon resumes its May tradition of offering free neighborhood bird walks throughout the Greater Bangor area.
However, local Audubon members are also aware of this weekend’s early season walk around Essex Woods in Bangor. Saturday’s walk starts at 8 a.m., and should last about two hours.
In case of rain, it shifts to Sunday morning. Participants will meet at the Garden Way entrance off Drew Lane near the Bangor Mall. No registration is necessary. If too many people show up, trip leader Bob Milardo can blame me for printing this.
The official slate of PVC Audubon bird walks starts Monday, May 9, on Indian Trail in Brewer, meeting at the Penobscot County Conservation Association. Ten more walks follow, including popular sites like Bangor City Forest, Essex Woods, Fields Pond Audubon Center, and Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor. Most walks run from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., so people have time for a little fun before work. The full list is posted at PVC.MaineAudubon.org.
These neighborhood bird walks give beginners the chance to see many birds they might otherwise have overlooked, and identify previously unrecognized species. They’re also fun for experienced birders, who enjoy the chance to explore sites they may not have visited previously. Other Maine Audubon chapters sponsor their own bird walks. For the Hancock County area, the Downeast Chapter has an extensive list of events through June. See DowneastAudubon.org.
Festivals are multi-day events that offer a weekend full of birding trips and activities. They provide even better opportunities to see common birds of the region, and participants also chase rare and unusual species. Typically, festivals include unique excursions to view Atlantic puffins and other rarely seen species. Maine offers four major festivals this year, occurring on consecutive weekends.
Island Heritage Trust organizes the Wings, Waves, Woods Festival May 20-22 in the Deer Isle-Stonington region. Find info at IslandHeritageTrust.org. Cobscook Institute ( CobscookInstitute.org) sponsors the Down East Spring Birding Festival in Washington County over Memorial Day Weekend.
The Acadia Birding Festival ( AcadiaBirdingFestival.com) spans the first weekend in June. Now in its 23rd year, it’s the oldest and biggest festival.
The final festival is also the youngest. This is the fourth year of the Rangeley Lakes Birding Festival ( RangeleyBirdingFestival.com), occurring June 10-12. Fun fact: it’s the only one that I haven’t attended, but I’m sure my time will come. I have a special fondness for the habitats and birds found in that region.
Then there is the total immersion experience. I would list guided tours as some of the birding highlights of my life, both trips where I was the guide, and trips where I was the guided. I’ve been on guided tours as far north as Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, and as far south as Costa Rica.
Some international companies schedule tours to Maine, but many of the best tours originate locally. Every year, Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor adds more tours to its busy summer schedule.
The Schoodic Institute tours are special. They really showcase Maine coastal birding in all seasons. Every tour is different, and the cast of characters changes accordingly.
Puffins and whales are the stars on some tours. Waves of migrating songbirds star in others. Their autumn tour targets Head Harbor Passage between Eastport and Campobello, where unusual gulls and seabirds gather by the tens of thousands. View the full schedule of tours at SchoodicInstitute.org.
Still, there’s no place like home. Even if none of these organized opportunities appeal to you, you can organize a daily mini-festival in your own backyard. Find a bird sound you don’t recognize and go identify it.
The birds will get quieter later in summer. When the kids hatch, they’ll be especially shy. But right now, they are as boisterous and findable as they will ever get. Find that bird!
The next day, try to find that same bird again. It won’t take long before you “own” it. You can try this with several species, but don’t overdo it. Learning too many songs at once is a great way to remember none.