In the past 14 years, Maine’s spring birding season has grown from having one festival to five. And birders from Maine and beyond say there is plenty of room for growth.

Peter Dunne, director of the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May Point, N.J., sees it happening.

“Oh, Lord, yes. Why would anyone question that?” said Dunne, a speaker at the upcoming Acadia Birding Festival on Mount Desert Island.

Dunne said while Maine’s five birding festivals each draw only a few hundred, compared to the hundreds who flock (so to speak) to festivals in Florida, Texas and New Jersey, Maine has what it takes to grow this tourist draw.

“You have three key ingredients. First, you’ve got the infrastructure. Much of Maine is geared toward people enjoying the natural history. Then you’ve got the birds, because of the coast and also the northern forest. And you’ve got a wealth of breeding birds,” Dunne said.

This last is what makes Maine so special, Dunne said.

Sure we’ve got the ridiculously charismatic puffin and the magnificent bald eagle, but better than that, we’ve got breeding grounds.

“Spring migration wraps up in June. Then the rest of the country is in the doldrums,” Dunne said.

“You’ve got a wealth of breeding birds in the offseason, and there is something very evocative about seeing a bird breeding and vocalizing. Until you see it nesting, you haven’t seen it.”

As it turns out, Maine’s birding festival directors are all thinking about ways to bring more attention to Maine’s birding scene.

The Acadia Festival is the oldest among Maine’s current birding festivals. And since Becky Marvil took over as director a few years ago, she’s worked to grow it.

“Last year we more than doubled,” she said. “We had 150 participants and 25 guides. This year already, we have 136 signed up.”

The issue now is that the charming community center where the birders gather in Somesville is too small. But Marvil said by shuffling birding trips, she thinks she can put more birders on the island next year and still offer them a quality experience. She’s already working toward it.

“This year we chartered a whale-watching boat that can fit 300 people. We already have 100 signed up. That will be a boat full of all birders. And there will be 15 or 20 guides. It’s exciting,” Marvil said.

Last year the festival had birders from California, Texas, and even Israel, she said.

Just a week earlier and farther up the coast, the Down East Birding Festival has expanded in nine years with more guides and more birding walks. It now draws birders from Oregon, California and Texas, in part for the unique boat trips.

“There is a lot of water activity and multiple places to see birds from the water,” said the festival director, Jeanne Guisinger.

There are family programs as well, with live birds from the Chewonki Foundation.

“We’d like to grow it. We are already building events toward next year’s 10th anniversary,” Guisinger said.

Two earlier festivals also show promise for growth.

The year’s first birding festival is designed to be just that. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands created the Freeport festival last year to introduce new birders to the activity as Maine heads into the spring birding season.

This year’s event has two days packed with how-to programs, as well as the promise of seeing great birds that even an expert birder would appreciate.

“For a lot of folks, they want to get into birding but they need to learn some skills. This is what state parks do best, to break down the barriers that keep people from going outside,” said Gary Best, a planner with the bureau.

At another state park farther north, the fourth annual Aroostook State Park Birding Festival hasn’t grown much, with just 120 participants last year for the daylong event.

But what the festival does, it does well, and park manager Scott Thompson wants to make sure that continues when it grows into a two-day event.

With a licensed bird bander and almost guaranteed encounters with hummingbirds and woodpeckers, the northern Maine festival has bird fun you won’t find along the coast.

Finally, the Deer Isle festival, “Wings, Waves and Woods,” is small but with a big draw: a boat trip to the Acadia National Park island Isle au Haut.

But this may be the only Maine birding festival that may never draw big crowds. The folks in Deer Isle like it that way.

“Those other festivals are bigger. We’re more down-home and more low-key,” said Mike Little of the Island Heritage Trust.

“If you want a high-pressure birding festival with all kinds of excitement, we’re not the place to come.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.