by Allison and Jeff Wells
For birders like us, there’s no better way to explore new places than by watching and listening for the birds found there. Add to it another dozen bird enthusiasts and make the setting the breathtaking lands east of Baxter State Park proposed as a National Park and National Recreation Area, and a day of birding is that much more spectacular.
That’s what we found recently when we led a group of NRCM members on a birding trip around the Katahdin Loop Road on the proposed lands. The road loops through a variety of habitats that are great for a variety of birds, including North Woods specialties that folks travel from across Maine and beyond in hopes of finding. How good is the area for birding? The 18-mile road provided five hours of outstanding birding.
Our adventure sort of began the evening before, where Jeff gave a presentation about how important the North Woods region is for birds. His presentation included an overview of the species we might see (some dazzlingly colored “northern” warblers, Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee), but to those in the audience, Jeff’s rousing Common Raven imitation was what nearly shook them out of their seats! Eliza Donoghue, NRCM’s North Woods outreach coordinator, provided a brief overview of the Park lands and process. After a few tips on where to get good coffee at 5:00 a.m. (before our lodging places began serving), off we went for a good night’s rest for a morning of birding.
Our caravan out of Millinocket was a good reminder of the money we had all just put into the local economy—not only for lodging but also for food, snacks, gas, and miscellaneous items—and of the potential economic boost a new National Park and National Recreation Area could give to this region that until recently relied on mills. Between the birding and the natural beauty of the area, as we bumped over the roads leading to our destination, we were already seeing for ourselves the awesome potential.
One of our favorite places was a trail that led to a pristine pond with a mountain back drop. Among the White-throated Sparrows, Blue-headed Vireos, Magnolia Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and other birds we saw and heard here, one participant spied an unexpected Common Nighthawk.
This same trail led up to an esker that provided stunning views, and the lucky members of our birding party saw a Black-backed Woodpecker, one of the region’s northern specialty species. A few others had a look at a Palm Warbler, and in lagging behind to snap a few photos, Allison had a nice, if brief, look at a Boreal Chickadee.
A little farther along, we hiked a short trail into a breathtakingly beautiful bog. Here, a pair of Rusty Blackbirds and their newly hatched young were feeding along the water’s edge and landing in the snags above, allowing everyone opportunity to view them through the telescope. This was a real highlight, since Rusty Blackbird numbers have declined as much as 95% in recent decades.
Our next stop was the scenic overlook of Millinocket Lake and Mt. Katahdin. Looking through the scope, we could see hikers hiking the mountain—though they looked more like ants at that distance. It didn’t take long for us to become distracted by a singing Bay-breasted Warbler and a Fox Sparrow, so off we hiked to try for a look at them.
The last half of our trip around the Katahdin Loop Road went much faster—necessarily so, since the first half took us nearly four hours, as the birding, scenery, and camaraderie was so enjoyable. Even though we didn’t stop for more birds, a few of us spied a Ruffed Grouse with chicks, and all of us were able to take in the beauty of the place, which included some lovely wild flowers.
As we came back to the beginning of the Katahdin Loop Road, we kept a close eye out for the black bear we had seen the previous week during our scouting trip, romping through a patch of unripened raspberries. Although we didn’t see it this time, here’s a video we took of it as a reminder of just how special the area is, no matter what it is about Maine that captures your imagination.
We encourage you learn more about the proposed National Park and National Recreation Area at NRCM’s website. The Katahdin Loop Road is open to the public, and we encourage you to go. Bring your friends, and a pair of binoculars, and prepare to see some of what makes Maine so special.
Bangor Daily News op-ed by Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, Why the Katahdin Region Needs a National Park
—Allison Wells, Senior Director of Public Affairs & Communications