By Jeff and Allison Wells
Boothbay Register column
By now you may have heard the good news: Maine has a new 87,500-acre national monument located just to the east of Baxter State Park. Named the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the area is a spectacle of mountains, streams, bogs, ponds, and rivers and, yes, lots and lots of woods. All that great habitat means that the monument is incredibly important for birds. Hundreds of thousands of birds use the area for breeding and as a migratory stop-over location. There are even a few that spend the winter there. We have been fortunate to have visited the area a few times, and we can tell you from experience that it is a fabulous spot for birds.
A number of at-risk bird species breed in the new national monument lands each summer. Birds like the perky olive-sided flycatcher with its famous “quick three beers” song; the wetland-loving rusty blackbird, a species that has declined by more than 90% in the last half century; and the diminutive bright yellow-and-steel-blue Canada warbler.
The Katahdin Woods and Wildlife National Monument lands are full of some of Maine’s high responsibility bird species—those in which a high proportion of their global population breeds right here in our state. That includes birds like the black-throated blue warbler and the blackburnian warbler. Of course the monument lands in summer hum with the songs of so many of our expected species like red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, ovenbirds, American redstarts, magnolia warblers, black-and-white warblers, Nashville warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, eastern wood-pewees, and broad-winged hawks, to name a few.
But for most birders it will be the northern boreal specialty birds that draws them to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Already, birders come to Maine from across the country—and the world—to look for these birds that reach the southern limit of a range that extends across the vast boreal forest region of Canada and into Alaska. Over time, the best places in the national monument to see these species—birds like spruce grouse, boreal chickadee, gray jay, black-backed woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, bay-breasted warbler, and Cape May warbler—will be scoped out and become known to the birding crowd. We can tell you already that the area near the Sandbank Stream crossing hosts boreal chickadee and black-backed woodpecker and probably other species as well.
There is a stunning view of Mt. Katahdin and the lands of Baxter State Park from a scenic overlook and picnic area on the Katahdin Loop Road where we were serenaded by a singing Fox Sparrow a few summers ago. Just that view is worth the visit!
You can reach the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by driving north on I-95 to the Sherman exit. Take Route 11 west for 5 miles to Stacyville where it makes a 90 degree bend to the south. Stay straight here onto Swift Brook Road, which is unpaved and which will lead you into the monument lands. Make sure you look at the map before you go. You can download it here: https://www.nps.gov/kaww/planyourvisit/maps.htm
Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Wells is one of the nation’s leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the book, “Maine’s Favorite Birds.”