Some good birding sites in the Augusta area that are publicly accessible
Viles Arboretum (153 Hospital Street, Augusta) is the area’s premier birding spot for spring migration. The 224 acres of woods, wetlands, and fields offer a wide variety of habitats for migrants and residents. Multiple trails traverse the Arboretum.
Species vary day-to-day in May, 30-50 migrating and breeding species can typically be found during a morning walk. Good spots for migratory birds include the Rock Garden, Viles Pond, and the wetland boardwalk (currently under repair, Piggery Road can be used as part of a loop). On very good days up to 20 species of warblers can be found (8-12 on a typical day). Resident birds in June can include (among others) Chestnut-sided and Yellow Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Black-throated Green Warblers, Warbling Vireo, Bobolink, Tree Swallow, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Savannah Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, and Virginia Rail. Please limit bird calls for wetland birds including Virginia Rail and Sora, as many birders seek them out during the spring. An under-birded time is fall migration. Many species stop by the arboretum (and other locations) on their way south. September is a good time for fall migrants though IDs can be trickier in the fall, especially with warblers.
Harrison Avenue Nature Trail, Gardiner (park in the small lot along on the stream side of Harrison Avenue, about 500 ft from the intersection of Harrison Ave. and Rte. 9/126 or in the larger dirt parking area at the intersection). This short trail was discovered as an amazing spring migration location in May 2019 by Cheryl Ring and others, during an Upstream walk. Upstream is promoting the restoration of sea-run fish to the Cobboseecontee watershed (https://sites.google.com/view/upstreamcobbossee/home). During the spring an incredible 100 species of birds were seen on the 1/2 mile trail along Cobboseecontee Stream. This included 24 species of warblers, and extended days of high numbers of boreal warblers such as Cape May, Bay-breasted, and Blackpoll. There was even a Blue-winged Warbler on one morning. We’re hoping that future spring migrations will be similar. This area remains undiscovered for birding in other seasons.
Augusta’s Bond Brook Recreation Area (access parking area at the back of Mt. Hope Cemetery near the airport, on north side of Old Winthrop Street or at the end of the Tall Pines Way access road off Bond Brook Road in the “bowl”) contains 270 acres of woods and open area with multiple biking/skiing trails. Birds unique to Bond Brook are mostly found in the bowl (from the cemetery take the dirt road left from parking area down big hill, along north side of airport grounds) and include Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, and Field Sparrow. The ascending buzzy songs of the Prairie Warbler echo around the bowl. Other resident and migrant birds can be found along the many wooded trails of this area.
The southern end of Messalonskee Lake, including Messalonskee Marsh and nearby areas in Belgrade (parking and access at carry-in boat launch on Rte 27, about 0.3 miles south of Depot Rd. and Hammond Lumber) is frequented by both local birders and visitors from around New England because of the mixed habitats of lake, marsh, gravel pits, and woodlands attracting some unique birds in a relatively small area. Sixteen species of breeding and migratory waterfowl have been seen in the marsh and stream from the boat launch. Target birds include a nesting colony of Black Terns (mid-May through August) and Sandhill Cranes, as well as American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Loon, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, and multiple species of swallows. Warbling Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, migrant warblers, and others can often be found in the parking area. To see well out into the marsh, a spotting scope is helpful from this location, and a canoe or kayak can take a birder even closer, but please do not disturb the nesting birds if you venture out (if Black Terns are diving at you, you’re too close).
To view the nearby Bank Swallow nesting area go about 0.3 miles north on Rte. 27, just over the bridge, take a left onto Depot Road and travel north about 0.7 miles to the Hallowell gravel pit on the left (opposite 110 Depot Road). This pit is private property and is inaccessible to birders except for viewing from the road, but here one can see Bank Swallows overhead and nesting near the top of the pit, and perhaps a Belted Kingfisher coming out of its nest cavity.
To see Purple Martins go about 0.2 miles further north, on the right (62 Depot Rd.) to one of the oldest continuous colonies of Purple Martins in the state, known to exist since 1909. Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows are also often found here. As this is a private residence, please view the Purple Martins from the side of the road.
Surry Hill, Fayette
This Kennebec Land Trust property offers a nice stroll up a dirt road to the fields and shrubs on top of Surry Hill. Several unusual breeding birds nest here, including Eastern Towhees and Prairie Warbler, along with many woodland birds. There is also a network of trails through a variety of habitats and beautiful views from the top. Park on the right in a dirt parking area about 1/2 mile down Tom Surrey Road (across from Fayette Elementary school).
The Cobbosseecontee Causeway at the south end of the lake (Cobbosseecontee Road) often has interesting birds in spring and fall migration. Parking along the road is very limited, be careful of passing cars when birding here. Early spring and mid-late fall can include waterfowl such as Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and can include rare and unusual ducks. After water levels are lowered in the fall, migrating shorebirds including Greater Yellowlegs and others can be found on the extensive mud flats.
Historic Vaughan Woods in Hallowell contains popular hiking trails and stone-arch bridges over Vaughan Stream waterfalls. This 197-acre preserve is owned and maintained by the Vaughan Woods & Historic Homestead with a conservation easement held by the Kennebec Land Trust. Limited parking is available at the intersection of Litchfield Road and Middle Street, Hallowell. More parking is available behind Hall-Dale High School at 97 Maple Street in Farmingdale during non-school hours; the trailhead is on the west side of the tennis courts. Many migrant and resident woodland birds have been seen at the preserve, Pine and Black-throated Green Warblers are particularly abundant. Vaughan Woods is one of the most northerly locations of the Louisiana Waterthrush; please limit bird calls, as many local and regional birders seek it out early in the nesting season.
Adjacent to Cony High School is the 175-acre Augusta Nature Education Center. There are nearly 5 miles of well-marked trails that surround Whitney Brook and pass through forest and meadows and by hillside granite quarries. The Center is bordered to the North by South Belfast Ave (Route 105) and to the South by Cony Street, where a small parking area can be found by the culvert (2 cars only–no parking on the City’s slab); or one can park at Cony High School and enter the trails from that side when school is not in session (can park any time to the left of the CATC building). The area is especially productive during spring migration and many migrant and breeding species have been seen there, including over a dozen warblers, Barred Owls, and many other woodland birds.
The Hallowell Reservoir offers good birding along the dirt Reservoir Road from Town Farm Road (park in the area beside the gate, on Town Farm Road about 0.25 miles south of Winthrop Street) to the small reservoir. The most notable birding is during spring migration with a dozen or more warblers and many other species possible in the trees and bushes along Reservoir Road.
The Kennebec Land Trust’s Hutchinson Pond property in Manchester (parking area on Benson Road 0.9 miles south of Collins Road) can be good for spring migrants and breeding birds, including Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, and Alder Flycatcher. A 1/2-mile trail leads from the parking area, through a field, then back into woods. Birding can be good where the trail crosses a wetland stream and into the next field, which overlooks a wetland pond. The trail ends at Hutchinson Pond and can be muddy and buggy in places in the spring. Ticks are abundant in any long grass.
The Kennebec River in downtown Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardiner is worth a look during open water, particularly when local lakes and ponds are frozen. In March, the river can host hundreds of common mergansers. Bald Eagles and Osprey regularly cruise the river during the summer. In summer, Chimney Swifts are common in and near the downtown areas. In winter in the downtown areas, keep an eye on fruit trees for irruptive birds such as Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks. These birds are common in some winters and absent in others.
Description of selected Maine birding sites:
Descriptions and pictures by Glenn Hodgkins and Margaret Viens