George

It was a birding adventure we will never forget, and not just because we identified 98 species of birds. Claybrook Mountain Lodge in Highland Plantation offers comfort, adventure and fabulous food, but it’s the family atmosphere created by owner/hosts Greg and Pat Drummond that keeps bringing guests back year after year.

The weekend we were there, there was a couple from Litchfield with their two grandchildren, Corey and Elise. The couple has been going there for 25 years. On their first trips, they stayed in Greg and Pat’s home. Everyone there for the birding weekend was from Maine, and judging from the guest book, this is a place cherished by Mainers.

When Greg and Pat Drummond built and opened the lodge next door to their home in 1984, their first guests were deer hunters. And for many years, the November deer season was their busiest. But things have changed.

“The deer herd in our area has declined to such an extent that our (deer) season is the least profitable of the year,” said Greg. So what is their busiest time of the year now, you ask? It’s winter, when the lodge is full of cross-country skiers and the Drummonds serve weekend lunches to traveling snowmobilers.

A few years ago, the Drummonds turned Memorial Day weekend into a birding adventure, attracting so many guests that they added a second birding weekend last year. Greg, along with his friend Ron Joseph, a retired federal wildlife biologist, lead the adventure. We traveled throughout the area, stunning in its beauty, and stopped here and there to hike and identify the amazing array of birds.

After our Friday night dinner, I told Pat — who does everything in the kitchen from cooking to dish washing — that we were changing the column to focus on “Claybrook Mountain Restaurant.” Pat could cook for the finest restaurant in Portland. Her food, much of it made from scratch, is so good. And there is lots of it, including a bottomless cookie jar.

After a vigorous day of birding, I sat outside next to the wood fire on Saturday evening as Greg cooked onions and steaks on the grill. Ron passed by with a basket full of eggs from the chicken coop, reminding me that Pat had said, at breakfast, “You couldn’t have had a fresher egg!”

Highlights of the meals for me were cream of fiddlehead soup (Greg picked the fiddleheads) and gazpacho, three-bean salad, the steaks, French toast (with homemade maple syrup) and Pat’s breads and muffins. I even loved Pat’s homemade yogurt.

At Friday night’s dinner, Corey had told us his sister Elise “is really good at birding. She’s a walking encyclopedia.” And boy, he got that right. Elise was superb at spotting and identifying birds.

The lodge has six comfortable bedrooms, three baths, a lovely living room and a porch where we all hung out. We’re hoping to return for their moose calling weekend in September.

Linda

Ron Joseph, one of Maine’s well-known birders, was at the lodge for a weekend of birding during the spring migration. So when George suggested this for a travel column, I quickly agreed. As we sat down to a gourmet dinner cooked by Pat on Friday night, we started to hear stories of the adventures everyone around the table had already experienced here.

“What was our total of birds last year, Ron?” “106,” he replied. I looked at George and our eyebrows went up. “Well, we want to set a new record,” another guest responded. Competitive birding. I love it. I knew this was going to be a weekend to remember.

Even though the lodge is in Carrabasset Valley, and you can see the beautiful mountains as you travel through the rolling hills, it does not feel like the busy Sugarloaf area. Upon arrival, we found an idyllic country yard complete with chickens running about. Claybrook Mountain is a homey and welcoming place. After we pulled in, Greg and George chatted for a while out on the deck. The car wasn’t unpacked so I grabbed my binoculars and sat in one of the chairs on the deck with another birder. The yard was buzzing with activity where the apple tree is a favorite landing spot for migrating birds.

The meals here are extraordinary. Walking into the kitchen I saw loaves of oatmeal bread, backed fresh by Pat every day. Dinner is a four-course event. On Friday night we enjoyed the fiddlehead soup (so delicious), with a gourmet salad, roasted thyme and lemon chicken, carrots and whipped potatoes. Although each of us was beyond full, we were served my favorite, fresh strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream, for dessert. We ate until we were more than full and were told we’d be walking to look for woodcock.

We were in for a treat as Ron started calling owls. Young Corey joined him. The response from barred owls was amazing, especially when they broke out in their “monkey call.” We all complimented Corey on his calling.

Many got up early each morning to get in an hour of birding with Ron before breakfast. After breakfast we hit the road for a full day of birding. I peppered Ron with questions about certain calls and hope I retained a fraction of what he taught me.

As a collective group, we saw or heard 98 species of birds. I call that an amazing two-day adventure. Great birding, super friendly people, incredible food — all in a magical setting. No wonder Claybrook Lodge has huge numbers of repeat customers!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.