Fog shrouded Cutler Harbor as we started the engine and cruised past lobster boats coming in with their morning hauls. Less than an hour later, we arrived on the rocky shores of Machias Seal Island, greeted by plump black-and-white birds whizzing above us, some with small fish in their beaks. When they landed with a splash, you could spot the bands of reddish-orange and a patch of blue on their bills. We’d found one of Maine’s five island nesting spots of that toucan of the North, the Atlantic puffin.
Not surprisingly, the Atlantic puffin is on the cover of the Maine Birding Trail brochure. The trail is a collection of 82 sites across eight different topographical regions, from 239-acre Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, a favorite of warbler watchers in mid-May, to the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park, where you’ll find peregrine falcons nesting on Mount Desert Island’s Precipice Trail in early summer.
Even that great expanse of forest north of Moosehead Lake, known simply as the North Woods, makes an appearance as site 79. It’s hard to reduce this 3.5-million-acre behemoth down to one best locale for spotting birds, but if you paddle the West Branch of the Penobscot, as I did last fall, you might just find the black-backed woodpecker or the white-winged crossbill finch, whose beak is indeed twisted at the tip.
On the last night of that jaunt, I pitched a tent on the shore of Chesuncook Lake, with glimpses of Mount Katahdin in the distance, dipping in and out of the clouds. I jumped when I heard a loud squawk, then looked up into a tall pine to find a barred owl staring down at me. It’s this unexpected surprise that keeps me coming back to Maine.
Someone recently asked whether I’m a birder. Well, I don’t go around carrying a checklist. Yet how can a person with any degree of passion and curiosity not be impressed spotting a puffin’s beak, the yellow chin and throat of a northern parula warbler, the wings of a falcon, the wide eyes of an owl, or the sleek black hood on the razorbill auk? “Yes, I’m a birder,” I replied, and set off to find another spot on the Maine Birding Trail.
For more information and a list of 2011 birding festivals: mainebirdingtrail.com
Slide Show: Birds of Maine