Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bob Duchesne, Coordinator of the Maine Birding Trail

Many birders, myself included, have driven long distances in search of a certain bird or spot but been foiled by a lack of precise directions. Local birding information is gold to a traveling birder, but it's hard to find (unfortunately, even the most willing gas station employee will usually not have an answer when you ask him 'Which tree do the crossbills hang out in?').

That's why everyone birding in Maine owes a 'thank you' to Bob Duchesne and the Maine Birding Trail. The site breaks the state into 14 sections and gives precise directions to important birding spots with information on the best times to go the the species to expect.

The MBT contains some of the only information on the web about lesser-birded parts of the state. The "Western Mountains" section has personally saved me lots of time driving backwoods log-roads in search of boreal birds.

I interviewed Bob (who, in addition to being a great birder, is a State Representative and is enshrined in the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame) aboutthe Maine Birding Trail and all that he had to do to complete it.

How did the idea for the Maine Birding Trail come about?

BD: About 8 years ago, the Penobscot Valley Chapter trustee to Maine Audubon had a conversation with the York County trustee. They were intrigued by the
development of a new birding trail in Texas and thought that Maine should do
the same. But, as so often happens, no one had any time to actually commit
to such a project. In 2003, I ended a 31 year career in radio and decided to
devote some of my spare time to getting the project off the ground.
Initially, I thought that I would just pull together some stakeholders and
get the job done collectively as a committee. Wrong. Again, nobody had any
time. So I just did it all myself.

As luck would have it, it was about that same time the state government was
starting to think about developing more nature-based tourism. So the Maine
Birding Trail has been proceeding on much the same track as some of the
state efforts, often intersecting.

Hmm...having to work all by yourself doesn't sound so bad when that work is "traveling all over the state looking for birds," but I'm sure there's much more involved. What kind of things does one have to do to create a state birding trail?

BD: Nope. Doesn't sound bad at all, does it? Unless, you consider that I've put enough miles on my car to drive around the up to $3/gallon for gas. Plus attended zillions of meetings without birding, and spent my own money on printed material and web site development. It's no good having a trail if I'm the only one who knows about it.

About half the states in America have some form of birding trail now, and each one has its own story of how it came together. Only a handful are the result of motivated individuals. Most are done (and funded) by the state, by the federal government, by grants, by state Audubons, or some other source of money.

Creating a trail requires some parameters. Here are mine:
Site offers an abundance, diversity or richness of bird species and other natural attractions.
Site is on publicly accessible property.
Site is safe under normal and reasonable usage.
Site designation is endorsed by its ownership/stewardship authority.
Site designation is endorsed by local Maine Audubon chapter and/or similar local stakeholders.
Site has sufficient parking and access to handle increased visitation.
Site has ample and interested tourism support nearby, including lodging and dining.
Increased visitation will not threaten sensitive habitat or species.
Increased visitation will not cause undue financial burden to ownership/stewardship authority.

Plus, I have these two basic premises:
Don't get anybody lost;
Don't get anybody killed.

Ha Great, I know for a fact that birders appreciate not getting killed. So how did it work? You broke the trail (and the state) into regions, but did you work one region at a time or work some other way?

BD: Yes, I broke it into regions. I started with areas that I knew pretty well,
including Bangor and Acadia. Then I did York County, Portland, and
Washington County. I decided to tackle the Moosehead Lake area early,
because nobody had ever described that region before and there are a ton of
great birding spots around there. Western Maine was the last to be drafted.
I'll have to revisit some areas because I think there are some gaps - places
like Sebago Lake. Over the winter, I'll be reorganizing the regions to match
the state's 8 tourism regions. Some new sites will be added and some
marginal ones will be dropped.

Each region is really different. In southern Maine, there are a lot of
municipal properties and parks. In midcoast, there are more state parks and
land trusts that make the list. As you go up the coast, there are more
federal parks and refuges. When you go inland, it's mostly logging roads,
hiking trails, and secret bogs. I'm still trying to figure out how to handle
the North Maine Woods.

What was it like to describe regions that hadn't been fully birded
yet? Did you find any areas that exceeded your expectations, in both
remote and more frequently-birded areas?

BD: That was the best part, but also the most time consuming. The Moosehead area
and Baxter State Park are just incredible. Some of the land trust trails in
Washington County are amazing. (There is a Spruce Grouse on one particular
trail that seems to be waiting for me to show up. He's always in the same
spot, sometimes with his "significant other.")

It's a blast to go birding in the really remote areas of the working forest, but it is also impossible to describe. There are no easy landmarks. You never know what the roads or the truck traffic conditions are going to be. In some instances, you can write up a description for a site and then on your next visit find out that it has
been clearcut.

Another pleasant surprise was the Kennebec Highlands land trust trails. They are short, easy, scenic, and birdy. In southern areas that are well described, I would say Brownfield Bog, Reid State Park, and Kennebunk Plains never fail to please. In Washington County, Quoddy Head State Park is always a winner. The Orono Bog Walk in Bangor is world class.

OK well now it's time for a lightning round, where the expert in Maine
birding will be put to the test. Tell me where in the state is the best place to find:

Golden Eagle: Flying overhead on your luckiest day. The same answer would
apply to Gyrfalcon.
Least Bittern: First choice: Penjajawoc Marsh in Bangor (but it's currently
off limits). Second choice: Sandy Point (Stowers Meadow) WMA in Stockton
White-winged Crossbill: Burn Road in Topsfield, Baxter State Park, Golden
Road, Long Falls Dam Road.
Cape May Warbler: Evergreen Cemetery in Portland during migration; anywhere in the boreal areas around Moosehead Lake.
Spruce Grouse: The Burn Road in Topsfield; Baxter State Park; Great Wass TNC
trails; Boot Head trail in Lubec.
Leach's Storm Petrel: off the whale watch boat in Bar Harbor in August.
Philadelphia Vireo: unquestionably at the Appalachian Trail parking lot in
Grafton Notch State Park. Second choice: the Roaring Brook campground parking lot in Baxter State Park. Third choice: two miles up the Caribou Pond Road just north of Sugarloaf USA.
Northern Goshawk: Baxter State Park; Moosehorn NWR - Edmunds Unit.
Delicious Truckstop Food: Dysarts in Hermon
Lobster Roll: Two Lights Lobster Shack Restaurant in Cape Elizabeth.

Wow well done and thanks, although I'm going to have to claim Red's in Wiscassett for the lobster roll question.
How much of Maine, if any, remains 'uncharted' to birders?

BD: The upper reaches of the North Maine Woods and the wilder parts of Aroostook County are still mysteries. I don't know why, but almost no birders report their activities around Windham, Bridgton, Fryeburg, etc. Bethel is under explored. Interior Washington County around Grand Lake Stream needs some work. And new land trusts are springing up every day. Consider them uncharted.

The lobster roll in Wiscasset may be better, but you can't beat the ambiance at Two Lights. It's fun to watch for stray alcids and pelagics while chowing down.

What is left to be done on the Maine Birding Trail?

BD: I've recently formed an oversight group with the Maine Office of Tourism,
Maine Department of Conservation, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and
Wildlife, and Maine Audubon. This group must finalize the site selections,
secure landowner permissions, and begin marketing. Signage and
infrastructure improvements should follow. The state will produce a printed
brochure within the next six months and I will have a guide book out in
another year. ΓΈ


briancam said...

Bob Duchesne, Coordinator of the Maine Birding Trail
Is the BEST!!!

Thanks Bob Duchesne, Coordinator of the Maine Birding Trail,

Your Trip to the Maine Hilands - Moosehead Lake - was great!

Thanks Brian Campbell & Paula Wright

briancam said...

Bob Duchesne, Coordinator of the Maine Birding Trail
Is the BEST!!!

Thanks Bob Duchesne, Coordinator of the Maine Birding Trail,

Your Trip to the Maine Highlands - Moosehead Lake - was great!

Thanks Brian Campbell & Paula Wright

career counseling services said...

I can't express enough gratitude for the Maine Birding Trail and Bob Duchesne's tireless efforts. I remember my first trip to the Moosehead Lake area, where I was astounded by the incredible diversity of bird species and the untouched beauty of the surroundings. Exploring the North Maine Woods and Aroostook County remains a dream for me, as these uncharted territories hold the promise of new discoveries and thrilling birding experiences. Bob's dedication to making birding accessible and enjoyable for all is truly inspiring.

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