Weekend time being of the essence, I’m always looking for an outing that’s close to home yet slightly different and interesting. Finding such a place without turning an outing into an expedition has always been one of my goals.
I must admit that I tend to turn simple trips into something more complex, but I’d rather go prepared than to find myself in the middle of the woods, a rare bird or unusual vista at hand, and be without a camera or pair of binoculars. Ditto for having a wicked thirst and only a mud puddle with which to slake it.
I’m not the only one in my small circle of friends who likes to go prepared. As a matter of fact, I think it’s that gaggle of individuals that has made me more aware of being better prepared when I head out than I used to be. I’m getting better at taking along the essentials, but I still manage to leave key items behind – say a bird field guide?
Last weekend my wife and I spent Saturday getting many of the outside chores done to make the house look a little less like a jungle. We trimmed plants, mowed the lawn, cleaned up the leaves (you’d not know that happened come Thursday) and generally tidied up the yard. The goal here was to have Sunday open for an outing of some sort.
The weather cooperated and after a fashion we settled on a visit to Birdsacre in Ellsworth, a wildlife sanctuary just off Route 3. We figured we could stop by the L.L. Bean Outlet, take a stroll through the woods, and then pop on over to Milbridge and visit briefly with my parents.
To tell you the truth, I’ve heard about Birdsacre for years, but I’ve never stopped in and never really thought too much about it. I’m always on my way to other venues. So on Sunday this seemed like a capital idea. I threw binoculars, a camera, a fleece sweater, a water bottle, and a few other goodies in my small backpack and we hit the road. (It turned out that extra clothing was unnecessary in the 70-plus, sunny day.)
Our goal was to do a little walking and we’d heard there were trails on the property. Actually there are all sorts of trails, none a major challenge – perfect for a nice walk in the woods. But there’s so much more, starting right at the parking lot, which is surrounded by buildings housing hawks and owls. After getting out of the car the first thing I did was to peek into a window and found myself eye to eye with a red-tailed hawk.
Across the lot and down a small path was a small pond inhabited by ducks and geese. Across the way was a great blue heron that I thought was part of the sanctuary’s rehabilitation program. Not so! It took off before I could focus my camera. And there in another enclosure were two ravens and beyond that yet another enclosure with mourning doves and pigeons and one with a couple of owls.
Birdsacre is home to numerous permanently injured birds that no longer are able to survive in the wild. But the main focus of the facility is to maintain the home and woodlands of Cordelia J. Stanwood after whom the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary is named.
She was born Aug. 1, 1865, the daughter of a sea captain and a prosperous merchant’s daughter from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
At age 39, Stanwood suffered a nervous breakdown, retiring from teaching after 14 years. She returned for the first time since she was 14 to recuperate in her parents’ home at Birdsacre. She later found “true self-fulfillment and professional recognition as a pioneer, and quite possibly, the first female, ornithologist photographer,” the Birdsacre Web site relates.
In the spring of 1905, the Web site says, Stanwood “emerged from a long, bleak winter of vice-like migraines and deep depressions rejuvenated. The initial observations she penned on the chickadees and bluebirds around her house launched the staggering accumulation of field research notebooks that would stretch nearly half a century.”
According to a brochure for the facility, Stanwood died in November 1958 and Chandler Richmond, a Rotarian at the time, began a campaign to create a sanctuary to her spirit and caring for birds.
Today, the sanctuary encompasses 200 acres of protected wilderness, rolling back from Route 3, surrounding the original 40-acre Stanwood property. It is open year-round from dawn to dusk, “funded by donation, re-establishing our connection with nature, and offering a pleasant balance to the hustle-and-bustle of today’s fast paced world.”
The Stanwood Homestead, built in 1850 on the foundation of another home, stands today as a museum and testament to Cordelia Stanwood. In 1990 the Richmond Nature Center was built on the property to house a collection of bird mounts, birds egg display, and a gift shop. Off the Nature Center is a boardwalk allowing handicapped access to the backyard area.
The sanctuary’s trail system begins at the Nature Center, fanning out in somewhat concentric “circles” to the western end of the property. For example, the red trail (about a half-mile) will hook you up with the blue trail and take you out to Harriet’s Pond (where we saw a downy woodpecker). Along the way you can pick up the white trail.
Around Harriet’s Pond we saw juncos and wood thrush (I’ve heard it referred to as a swamp robin, too) and a mallard pair on the water.
But the day’s prize sighting was a pileated (long or short “i” is acceptable) woodpecker about halfway up a tall pine tree. It was chipping away at the trunk, likely searching for lunch, and pretty oblivious to me down below trying to get close enough to get a picture. This is the largest of the woodpeckers, some 19 inches tall. If its size doesn’t give it away, its distinctive red crest should help you recognize it. It is a powerful excavator and digs characteristic rectangular chambers in search of wood-boring beetle larvae and carpenter ants. It doesn’t migrate, so look for the huge bird all year.
We walked almost all of the blue trail, thankful we had a map in hand as we did. There are all sorts of intersections with cross trails and you could get turned around if you tend not to stay focused. The trail intersections are all numbered and correspond to the map. In addition to the blue trail, we checked out most of the yellow connectors and visited Martinland and the Queen’s Throne, an area of tall pines where Stanwood used to commune with nature. It reminded me a little of the Hermitage at Gulf Hagas.
The trails proved an easy walk. Best of all you couldn’t hear traffic noise on busy Route 3. We decided we’d plan a return trip, maybe this winter when there’s snow on the ground, and snowshoe through the trails to see what winter birds we might see.
If a short outing is on your agenda and you’re in the neighborhood of Ellsworth, stop by Birdsacre and take a hike. Be sure you have a trail map, it’ll help in your exploration. You can print one from the Birdsacre Web site at http://www.birdsacre.com. While you’re there check out more information about Stanwood and the facility. You may find it fascinating and informative. The sanctuary is open year-round from dawn to dusk, funded by donations. Look for the locked box just off the parking lot.
Afterward we headed Down East to stop by my parents’ place in Milbridge for a short visit. They had an early evening social event to attend, so we headed homeward. At Sullivan we took a short detour to tidal falls to watch the rush of the outgoing tide. The restaurant on site is closed for the season, but the park is open until sunset. If you’ve never stopped by to gaze at the whitewater and standing waves formed by the incoming or outgoing tides, do so. I promise you’ll be impressed.
Club schedules auction
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is holding its second annual online auction from Nov. 1 to Dec. 8 in hopes of raising $15,000. All proceeds will go directly to the Trail’s mission programs, which include waterway stewardship, community economic development, and community arts, heritage, and culture.
Here’s your chance to support the trail’s programs while choosing from an assortment of outdoor gear ranging from boats, lodging, paddling gear, books, gifts, and more. Contributors of gear include Kokatat, SealLine, MSR, Thermarest, Petzl, and GoLite. Many national and regional businesses and services donate these items as a way to support the organization’s mission.
To preview items for this year’s auction go to www.TheCanoeTrailAuction.cmarket.com.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail links the watersheds of northern New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine, and is a unique thread tying together the Northern Forest Region. The 740-mile trail traces historic Native American travel routes through the rivers of this region and is a living reminder of our history, where rivers were both highways and routes of communication.
To learn more about the trail, visit www.northernforestcanoetrail.org or write to P.O. Box 565, Waitsfield, VT 05673.
Jeff Strout’s column on outdoor recreation is published each Saturday. He can be reached at 990-8202 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.