The Star-Herald

Some 231 bird species spotted at Aroostook wildlife refuge

There are 456 species of birds that take to Maine’s skies, with 231 of those avians already identified as taking up residence at the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge or resting here along their migration routes. The refuge has much to offer in the way of both nature and history and we take particular pride in how many birding hobbyists focus on a trip here.

I recall last August when a serious birding couple from downstate made our refuge a destination to fulfill their hobby. They stopped in the center where we have many bird displays. They embarked on a hike of the nearby Lima Trail and when they returned they shared their excitement in identifying 54 different species of birds through sight and sound in just that 1.2 mile, hour-long walk. Let us take a look at what we have to offer.

To wet your feather seeking appetite, when you first enter the nature center you are greeted by a full-mount American bald eagle under glass. To further entice you to go afield here in search of flittering characters, we have a cut out waterfowl cavity nesting box that is retired from a refuge pond. It depicts actual nesting material and unhatched hooded merganser eggs. The most famous cavity nester, the wood duck, looks down from a perch above the box. Nearby is a cut out of a bluebird box. Stuffed partridge are under glass and more displays of nests, eggs and feathers are on view. Looking down on all this bird lover’s action is a great horned owl.

The center’s nature store concentrates on high quality bird feeding and backyard habitat improvement products and literature for and about avians. Multiple kinds of feeders can be purchased. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have even printed a pamphlet titled Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge Birds. It contains a species checklist and is available for free at the refuge center.

Now let’s go outside for one of the attractions that make us famous. Our 5,400 protected acres are a mosaic of biologist arranged habitats of both manmade and naturally occurring marshes, flowages, grasslands, forested uplands, mature forest and secondary growth areas. This diversity of varied habitats provides for waterfowl, neotropical songbirds and resident birds whatever their homebuilding or feeding practice. One of the refuge’s specialty grasslands is home to our signature bird, the upland sandpiper. There are only 200 breeding pairs of uplands in Maine, which is considered a Maine Threatened Species and a Migratory Bird Species of Management Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That large, reclaimed field, which was once covered with buildings and parking lots, is now sporting short grasses interspersed with bare ground that this sandpiper species prefers.  A real success story.

Next to this grassland is a large man made marsh with a water control structure to keep optimal levels of water for nesting migratory waterfowl species. This is full of birds. Bordering that marsh is our biggest lake that is used by thousands of migrating waterfowl during the autumn migration. A couple of raptor platforms have been erected around this area, unfortunately only of passing nesting interest to bald eagles and osprey often seen cruising the thermals above the refuge.

Northern Maine Birding Festival June 9 and 10: Visitors are welcome to satisfy their birding urges here any day. I suggest that you also join us for our shared part of the Northern Maine Birding Festival. The public is invited to the following schedule of events at the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge that weekend.

Saturday, June 9: From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., come build bird boxes with your children. Free precut parts, hardware, tools, and building instruction will be given for your take home project. Our birding/nature gift store will be open (cash or check only).

Sunday, June 10: At 7 a.m. join in a bird walk with two expert birding guides. Bird house construction will start again, 9 a.m.-noon. Our birding/nature gift store will be open (cash or checks only).

Wayne Selfridge is retired from the Air Force, stationed at Loring AFB for 11 of his 23 years of service. He is a member of the Friends of Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, a past president of the group, and volunteers about 80 hours a month at the refuge.

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