Personal Account

Birding Down East

By Norman C. Famous

Welcome to Downeast Maine! Visiting eastern Maine and Campobello Island, New Brunswick, is a voyage back in time, both culturally and ornithologically. People still live off the land and sea as did their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. Lobster fishing, weir fishing for herring, purse seining, commercial claming, worming, wood cutting, dragging for invertebrates, and most recently, aquaculture, drive the local economy. Humans and wildlife struggle side by side, sometimes directly competing for the same limited resources.

The eastern Maine region is noted for it's diversity and abundance of wood warblers (23 species), flycatchers (9), sparrows (9), and finches and grosbeaks (9). Migratory shorebird abundance and diversity is among the highest along the eastern U.S. coast. During the fall migration, some of the northeast's highest numbers occur for Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, White-rumped Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper (common in winter with a few individuals summering on headlands and offshore islands), and Upland Sandpiper (a common breeder in commercial blueberry barrens, their preferred habitat).

Surprising, wildlife and natural resource-dependent jobs are somewhat compatible. This balance, however, is in question in light of recent explained and unexplained population declines, or in some cases population crashes, in groundfish, migratory shorebirds, Atlantic salmon, and commercial clams. These declines have occurred during the last couple of decades. Because of their initially high abundance, shorebird declines have gone almost unseen by regulatory agencies. Shrub and grassland nesting species have, likewise, declined significantly.

The birds, habitats and ecosystems in east coastal Maine are a southern extension of more northern boreal forests and bogs. Songbird and seabird diversity is very high and includes boreal specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and Lincoln's Sparrow, and seabird specialties such as Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Common Murre.

Ecologically interesting and regionally unique habitats and ecosystems in eastern Maine include boreal bogs accessible by boardwalks, lichen-clad boreal forests, accessible seabird nesting islands, extensive intertidal flats, and large marine upwelling and convergence areas populated by mixed feeding groups of seabirds, marine mammals, fish, and krill. Eastern Maine contains many good birding areas that are managed by conservation organizations and state and federal agencies. Several excellent birding sites are described below.

Down East Birding Locations:
Quoddy Head State Park
Carrying Place Cove Bog
Campobello Island
Blueberry Barrens

Early Summer Down East:


Norman C. Famous is an avian population ecologist and wetland scientist. Funded by USFWS challenge grants, USFWS non-game bird program, and the Department of Defense's Legacy program, Norm initiated a long-term population monitoring program for breeding and migrating birds in boreal forests and bogs of east coastal Maine and coastal New Brunswick, Canada. Included in this study are migratory shorebird population monitoring, monitoring vegetation changes in bird censusing plots, and monitoring bird and plant populations in mined and unmined bogs. The site descriptions and expected birds presented in this article are based on Norm's ongoing field studies.

Norm teaches a Field Ornithology course in the Wildlife department at the University of Maine in Orono. Taught in May, this course emphasizes various types of censusing methods with a major focus on learning bird song identification and habitat selection of Maine's breeding birds.

Some rudimentary knowledge of bird song identification or access to bird song field guides will make finding most of the more common species a much easier process. Remember, during the breeding season (late May to mid July), most smaller birds have distinctive songs and calls, are highly territorial, are habitat specific, and show site fidelity from year to year.


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Copyright © 1996 Great Blue Productions and Norman C. Famous. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: Sunday, June 15, 1996 6:00pm EDT