According to the American Birding Association (ABA), 15.23 million people in America regularly spend time birdwatching. For many birders it is an extremely important hobby combining a love of nature, getting outdoors and contributing to wildlife conservation. You can spot birds in your backyard, but if you want to have a chance of seeing some of the rare and more elusive species in America, you will need to get out into the national parks and wilderness areas. Combining birdwatching and hiking will keep you fit and give you the opportunity to add to your bird life list. Maine is a great place to go for this – the state has 464 species of birds, 290 of which are native. From pristine wetlands to dense forests, there are plenty of places to start your journey – just don’t forget your walking boots.
Acadia National Park
The Acadia National park covers 47,000 acres, primarily on Mount Desert Island. The landscape includes rocky beaches, woodland, and granite peaks such as the impressive Cadillac Mountain. Every year 3.5 million people visit the park – it is in the top 10 most popular parks in America. There are 158 different hiking trails for you to choose from, or you can go off-track and explore the coastland and forest areas under your own steam. Before you visit Acadia, make sure that you purchase a park entrance pass – this can be done online. The pass is valid for seven days, and you will need to display it in your vehicle when parked in the park.
Birding through the seasons
Acadia National Park is one of the most prized areas in America for birding due to the diverse landscape and variety of habitats. According to birdsphere.com, there are 700 species of birds in the USA ranging from the tiny Bee Hummingbird measuring only 2.25 inches, to the California Condor that has a 9 feet wingspan. At the Acadia National Park you will find 338 species of bird – that’s 48% of all the birds in America. In the forest areas you can spot woodpeckers and songbirds including chickadees and warblers, and along the shore there are guillemots, cormorants and eiders. In the mountain areas, the birds of prey fly high above, riding on the air currents.
If you want a more challenging hike and you’re hoping to see some of the large birds of prey including the osprey, take the Cadillac Summit Trail – you can get some amazing views of Frenchman Bay. Beehive trail is an adventurous hike (not for those with a fear of heights). The loop takes between 2 and 4 hours, and the views of Sand Beach are worth the climb.
Popham Beach State Park
Popham Beach State Park covers 605 acres and is popular with birdwatchers and hikers alike. It is one of the best places in Maine to spot coastal and migratory birds including the Snow Goose. Down by the water’s edge and in the dunes you will be lucky to see Razorbills, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Egrets and Sandhill Cranes. Common shorebirds include Sandpipers, Plovers and Yellowlegs.
When you are down near the beach you don’t have to follow a specific trail if you are hiking, do be mindful of nesting birds in the dunes however, particularly in the spring, and keep all dogs on a leash during this time. Throughout the state park there are some great hiking trails that you can follow, taking you into the forest and marshland areas. The Spirit Pond Trail takes you alongside the beautiful Morse River, where if you’re lucky, you can see the elegant Night Heron. Moving away from the beach, the Perkins Farm Trail will take you through the woodland to the historic site of Fort Baldwin. The fort was built for coastal defense in the early 1900s.
Scarborough Marsh, which covers over 3,000 acres is one of the largest saltwater marshes in Maine. The area is home to a broad array of bird species, especially during the migratory season. It is a breeding and feeding ground for the Glossy Ibis, Egret, Great Blue Heron and many different types of waterfowl. If you are new to Scarborough, it is worth heading to the Maine Audubon Nature Center, which is located on Pine Point Road. Here you can pick up trail maps for routes taking you safely through the marshes, there are also booklets with bird watching tips and a bird register for you to record your sightings. At the nature center you can rent a canoe, so you can get out onto the waters and get closer to some of the waterfowl species found in the marshes.
One of the best hiking trails at Scarborough Marsh takes you straight from the nature center into the marshes, parallel to an abandoned road. This road takes you to what would have been a canal that was dug during the American Revolution. The canal was originally constructed to help conceal American ships from the British. It started at the west end of Scarborough Marsh and took you all the way to the Dunstan River. Along the water’s edge of the trail you will not only see plenty of birds, but also keep a look out for frogs, turtles, muskrats and mink. Endangered cottontail rabbits were also recently re-introduced to the area.The marshes are a thriving habitat too for a vast array of insect life. If you are thinking of hiking away from the mapped trails while you are at Scarborough, you need to be aware that the whole area is tidal – you will need to plan your route carefully so as not to get caught out by the high tides which can very quickly transform the landscape.
The beautiful state of Maine is a birders paradise, and the diverse landscape means that you can spot hundreds of species from tiny garden birds to majestic eagles. Combining birding with your love of hiking is a wonderful way to explore the landscape and enjoy the great American outdoors.