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Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
Northern Parula
Northern Parula
Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Saving Birdland

By conserving more than 150,000 acres for wildlife and recreation, Maine Coast Heritage Trust helps ensure that Maine remains for the birds (and the birders).

The lush woodlands surrounding Vinalhaven’s tidal embayment (known as “The Basin”) have long been a playground for islanders and visitors. Mossy granite ledges provide idyllic picnic spots, and the surrounding hills block the wind, keeping the water placid for paddlers. Over a period of nearly three decades, from 1990 to 2019, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Vinalhaven Land Trust acquired 795 acres surrounding the Basin, working with conservation-minded landowners to protect the area from overdevelopment and keep it open for the public to enjoy. In the process, the land trusts preserved something else: a birding mecca.

The Basin Preserve’s array of marshes, mudflats, ledges, and spruce-fir forests attracts a motley crew of shorebirds and songbirds. Its location on Vinalhaven — 15 miles off the mainland — offers easy access to fish and refuge from predators. Ospreys nest at the preserve. Sandpipers, Arctic terns, and short-billed dowitchers probe the mudflats for insects and worms. Migratory birds like vireos and warblers stop to rest and refuel before continuing on to South America.

The Basin Preserve is just one spot where MCHT’s efforts to protect public access to Maine’s most beautiful places benefits birds too. The Trust has helped conserve more than 150,000 acres over the past 50 years. And without that work, and the efforts of the state’s 85 land trusts, Maine’s status as an avian haven would be vastly diminished.

“Land trusts are on the front lines,” says Jeff Wells, author of Maine’s Favorite Birds and the National Audubon Society’s vice president of boreal conservation. “They’re protecting big chunks of habitat where millions of birds find food, get protection, nest, and raise their young that would otherwise be lost forever.”

Protecting land is only the beginning of MCHT’s work. The Trust maintains preserves and conservation easements to ensure that human activity doesn’t disrupt habitat. During nesting season, for example, MCHT closes some preserves so hikers don’t flush birds off their nests, exposing chicks to predators. MCHT stewards clear out trash and invasive species, so they don’t choke off native plants that birds rely on for food. “Conserving habitat for birds and wildlife is as essential to our work as protecting the coast for people to enjoy,” says Jane Arbuckle, MCHT’s director of stewardship. “We’re working to maintain a resilient coast, and that means striking the right balance.”

To learn more, visit mcht.org/downeast.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Long-eared owl
Long-Eared Owl

Photographs: The Basin Preserve, by Rich Knox; Birds by Kirk Gentalen

SPONSORED CONTENT

Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
Northern Parula
Northern Parula
Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Saving Birdland

By conserving more than 150,000 acres for wildlife and recreation, Maine Coast Heritage Trust helps ensure that Maine remains for the birds (and the birders).

The lush woodlands surrounding Vinalhaven’s tidal embayment (known as “The Basin”) have long been a playground for islanders and visitors. Mossy granite ledges provide idyllic picnic spots, and the surrounding hills block the wind, keeping the water placid for paddlers. Over a period of nearly three decades, from 1990 to 2019, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Vinalhaven Land Trust acquired 795 acres surrounding the Basin, working with conservation-minded landowners to protect the area from overdevelopment and keep it open for the public to enjoy. In the process, the land trusts preserved something else: a birding mecca.

The Basin Preserve’s array of marshes, mudflats, ledges, and spruce-fir forests attracts a motley crew of shorebirds and songbirds. Its location on Vinalhaven — 15 miles off the mainland — offers easy access to fish and refuge from predators. Ospreys nest at the preserve. Sandpipers, Arctic terns, and short-billed dowitchers probe the mudflats for insects and worms. Migratory birds like vireos and warblers stop to rest and refuel before continuing on to South America.

The Basin Preserve is just one spot where MCHT’s efforts to protect public access to Maine’s most beautiful places benefits birds too. The Trust has helped conserve more than 150,000 acres over the past 50 years. And without that work, and the efforts of the state’s 85 land trusts, Maine’s status as an avian haven would be vastly diminished.

“Land trusts are on the front lines,” says Jeff Wells, author of Maine’s Favorite Birds and the National Audubon Society’s vice president of boreal conservation. “They’re protecting big chunks of habitat where millions of birds find food, get protection, nest, and raise their young that would otherwise be lost forever.”

Protecting land is only the beginning of MCHT’s work. The Trust maintains preserves and conservation easements to ensure that human activity doesn’t disrupt habitat. During nesting season, for example, MCHT closes some preserves so hikers don’t flush birds off their nests, exposing chicks to predators. MCHT stewards clear out trash and invasive species, so they don’t choke off native plants that birds rely on for food. “Conserving habitat for birds and wildlife is as essential to our work as protecting the coast for people to enjoy,” says Jane Arbuckle, MCHT’s director of stewardship. “We’re working to maintain a resilient coast, and that means striking the right balance.”

To learn more, visit mcht.org/downeast.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Long-eared owl
Long-Eared Owl

Photographs: The Basin Preserve, by Rich Knox; Birds by Kirk Gentalen

Back to Nature

A 20-year effort revives a birding paradise Down East.

In 1993, on a remote, undeveloped bird haven in Greater Pleasant Bay, the sound of power tools and all-terrain vehicles filled the air. There, 7 miles off mainland Milbridge, on one of the state’s most important seabird nurseries, the island’s owner was building a boathouse and a 3,000-square-foot home, in the middle of nesting season.

Jordan’s Delight Island was an ideal spot for seabirds to safely fledge their young. On this rocky island, Leach’s storm petrels, eiders and gulls all nested. In winter, purple sandpipers and harlequin ducks flocked to its shores. The island hosted one of the East Coast’s largest colonies of black guillemots.

With construction equipment trampling precious habitat, conservation leaders thought this birding paradise was lost forever.

The lands MCHT protects offer safe havens where songbirds, shorebirds, and seabirds can feed, nest, and raise their young.

“It was a classic example of the worst-case scenario of development of an ecologically valuable place,” notes Jane Arbuckle, director of stewardship for Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

But seven years later, a conservation-minded foundation bought the island, then donated all but 3 acres to MCHT, with the condition that the large house be removed, so that the land might again become a birding haven.

After MCHT removed the house, it transferred the property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for ongoing management as a seabird nesting island.

In 2017, the island’s remaining 3 acres — and the boathouse, by then dilapidated — were conveyed to MCHT, which transferred that parcel to the federal agency, putting the entire island under conservation management as part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

In April of this year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials removed the boat house, officially returning the pristine habitat on Jordan’s Delight to the birds. The refuge is open to visitors, but not between April and September, which is nesting season. Refuge manager Brian Benedict was thrilled at this outcome, made possible by MCHT. “It was the culmination of a long story that I thought was going to be sad,” Benedict says. “And it turned out to be magnificent.”

Jordan's Delight
Jordan's Delight
Birding at Weskeag Marsh, Thomaston
Birding at Weskeag Marsh, Thomaston

WHERE THE BIRDS ARE

Many Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserves are birding hot spots.
MCHT
The birds visitors see at these and other preserves vary with the weather, tides, seasons, and other factors.

FRENCHBORO PRESERVE
Frenchboro


Get there: On the ferry from Bass Harbor, on Mount Desert Island

Watch for: Seabirds and migrating songbirds, which love the rocky ledges and spruce forests on this 1,159-acre preserve. Birders have spotted summer tanagers, scarlet tanagers, willow flycatchers, and some 16 species of warblers.

ERICKSON FIELDS PRESERVE

Rockport


Get there: From the junction of Route 1 and Route 90 in Rockport, follow Route 90 west for a mile. Erickson Fields Preserve will be on your left, across from Cross Street.

Watch for: A wide range of warblers, vireos, thrushes, and sparrows that nest and forage in its fields and forests. The 1.4-mile loop trail is ideal for a family-friendly birding adventure.

WHALEBOAT ISLAND PRESERVE

Harpswell


Get there: On a boat launched from Mere Point in Brunswick, about 5 miles north of the island. There’s also a private boat launch a mile to the east, at Harpswell’s Dolphin Marina.

Watch for: Raptors, songbirds, and shorebirds in spring migration. Casco Bay’s largest undeveloped island, boasts 122 acres of habitat.

BOG BROOK COVE

Cutler and Trescott


Get there: From Route 191 in Cutler or in Trescott

Watch for: Warblers, sandpipers, bald eagles, and seabirds. A diverse cluster of habitats — rocky knolls, meadows, swampy flats, cobble beaches, brooks — hosts a variety of birds, including American Woodcock and upland sandpiper (rarely seen in Down East Maine).

Maine Coast Heritage Trust
For more information about Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserves, efforts to protect wildlife habitat, and how you can help keep the coast Maine, visit mcht.org/downeast.
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Maine Coast Heritage Trust
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