What it may lack in watery acreage, Shapleigh Pond in North Shapleigh makes up for with an amazing variety of birdlife.

We explored the pond, located off Route 11 about 15 miles north of Sanford, just before the leaves fully emerged, and it was easy to follow boldly marked sparrows and warblers flitting from alder to alder only feet from our canoe.

Brilliant yellow seemed to be the prevalent color. We saw numerous palm warblers, easily distinguished by their constant tail wagging and preference for foraging on the ground. After two hours of precariously handing our binoculars back and forth (without tipping over the canoe), we vowed to buy another pair for our next outing.

The only development on the pond is adjacent to the boat launch area – a few simple summer cottages and modest homes. As you paddle out into the pond a ridge of tall pines towers over the water on the left. At first we heard their distinctive cries, then saw two ospreys glide down out of the trees and slowly circle the cove. Up ahead a blue heron gracefully flew low over the water and landed on the opposite shoreline. It methodically worked the shallows looking for morsels.

With clear blue mid-morning sky, mirror-calm water and 60-degree temperatures, we had somehow managed to paddle into a perfect spring day.

The shoreline of the pond is dominated by evergreens. We stopped to check out a downed tree recently toppled by a beaver. It was the first time we had seen a balsam fir selected by beavers.

The fresh fragrant bows had been dragged down to the water and oddly enough, there were no chips around the five-inch diameter stump. Had they eaten every chip?

My wife shared some amazing beaver trivia – 70 percent of felled beaver trees point in the direction of their lodge. Not sure how long she had been storing that morsel for the proper moment.

The high-pitched squeals of wood ducks accompanied their airborne rush as we entered cove after cove. A few mallards were on the wing as well.

At every turn there appeared to be shiny silver dollars scattered along the shoreline. We quickly discovered they were painted turtles perched on logs, weathered stumps and grassy tussocks, their black shells reflecting the shine of the high midday sun. The painted turtle is the most common of North American turtles, found in 45 states.

The Little Ossipee River can be followed about a mile upstream from the western end of the pond. Just like the pond it is shallow, and we managed to run aground a few times. The flat shoreline is lined with grasses and cattails with mixed forest away from the water.

Leatherleaf, sporting dense rows of dainty white bell-like flowers, lined portions of the shoreline. This member of the heath family also goes by the name of cassandra in some regions.

Soon we encountered riffles, a mild current and even shallower water. We turned around at a bend in the river where a few yards of artistically placed rounded rocks provided the perfect rest spot. A few early afternoon cumulous clouds were appearing. They were perfectly mirrored in the still water as we headed back out toward the pond.

Along the northern shoreline we spied two Canada geese leading a half dozen yellow fluffballs tight along the shore. Mom and dad climbed up onto the banking to watch us pass. Their youngsters had a little trouble following, but certainly were persistent in overcoming the few inches of vertical to join their parents.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 2) for help in getting to the small boat launch area adjacent to the Shapleigh Pond outlet dam on Balch Mill Road just west of Route 11.

It is a scenic ride toward the Maine-New Hampshire border from the Portland area. We took a roundabout route up through Limerick and Newfield. Beautiful old farmhouses mix with rolling hillsides and lush meadows.

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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