Bald eagles, ospreys and mountains are among the views on this majestic ride in the Belgrade Lakes chain.

As we wound our way up the Serpentine on East Pond, a whir of wings caught our attention — a rush of air so loud that we instinctively ducked expecting something to hit us. Fifty feet above us, a bald eagle circled with three osprey above it, each taking turns dive-bombing the eagle in vain attempts to drive it away.

As we gazed upward we saw one osprey in full dive mode, wings aerodynamically drawn in. Then, just feet away from the eagle, it veered off with a rush of wings. The eagle finally got the hint and veered off toward the margins of the marsh.

East Pond is the first of the seven lakes that make up the Belgrade Lakes chain. There are a number of summer camps and homes spread along the shoreline, mostly on the southern two-thirds of the pond. This time of year things are quiet, perfect for exploring and enjoying the return of waterfowl and birds.

At 1,800 acres, East Pond is a large pond, subject to wind and building waves. Paddle on a calm day. From the State of Maine boat launch on the southeastern side of the lake in Oakland, it’s a two-mile paddle up into the Serpentine, a three-mile long waterway snaking through a broad marsh connecting East Pond to North Pond.

As you start out, a wall of mountains 40 miles to the northwest coaxes you up the pond. The iconic ridgeline of Saddleback is impressive from any angle, any distance. We paddled along the eastern shoreline and up around the Miller Islands toward the Serpentine. Tree swallows flitted all around us, sometimes a dozen at a time, snatching insects off the tops of the ripples. Their iridescent blue backs flashed brilliantly in the sun. Loon calls echoed from shore to shore.

The tiny bell-like flowers of leatherleaf hung over the edge of the marsh, and a vast carpet of their white flowers covered the fen from the ribbon of blue water to distant forest. Solitary pine, cedar and larch dotted the marsh. Red-winged blackbirds precariously perched on the bursting ends of cattail stalks. A pair of Canadian geese paddled around a bend ahead of us. Was it our imagination or were these geese the largest we had ever seen? Their wings seemed to reach from shoreline to shoreline.

A mile north of the pond the Serpentine splits. The west arm leads to a small dam in Smithfield that controls the water level of East Pond. This arm is lined with many camps. We saw nine painted turtles basking in the sun on a log as osprey cruised back and forth above the channel.

The eastern arm is completely wild, providing solitude and many wildlife sightings. A huge beaver lodge created another “get the binoculars” moment. Oddly enough a female mink was scampering back and forth over the top of the lodge, carrying dried leaves in its mouth on each trip. Were the beavers subletting? In a nearby maple, an immature bald eagle sat a few yards above us peering down through the emerging red leaves, its mottled chest broad and majestic.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 20) for help in getting to East Pond. At the D&L Country Store on Route 137 in Oakland, turn onto the East Pond Road and drive north a third of a mile to the boat launch road on the left. A blue sign is posted. Plan five to six hours for the complete up-and-back 10-mile exploration. There is no public access from the northern end of the Serpentine in Smithfield.

Leave the peanut butter sandwiches at home. If you want one of the biggest sandwiches in Maine, get the Belly Buster at D&L. With your choice of five meats, you are creating a sandwich that will weigh in at three delicious pounds. Yes, a half sandwich is available for mere mortals!

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact: [email protected]

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