cedar waxwing
A cedar waxwing spotted in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. (Portland Phoenix/Nick Lund)
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As an inveterate birder, I followed the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument closely.

“Thousands of acres of protected bird habitat,” I drooled, “in the middle of prime breeding habitat?” I knew that the Monument would support all kinds of other recreation – hiking, canoeing and kayaking, snowmobiling, stargazing, hunting, cross-country skiing, photography, and others – but I was only interested in the birds.

Nick LundDespite my excitement, I wasn’t able to visit very often. I did make one trip in the dead of winter in 2021 on assignment for a magazine. The place was gorgeous and surprisingly crowded with skiers and snowmobilers, but while we got close looks at cool birds like Pine Grosbeak and Ruffed Grouse, most of the birds had gone south for the winter. I needed to get there in the summer.

I finally got the chance in June, and the place delivered. I led a bird walk for some members of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and we spent the whole day touring the Loop Road through the southern part of the park. The road – unpaved but smooth and driveable for all cars – took us through the varied habitats protected by the park.

These northern woods are important to birds because they protect so many different habitats. There are natural lakes and ponds where loons, mergansers, and ducks can safely raise their young, while swamp sparrows, yellow warblers, and common yellowthroats flit among the reedy edges. Beaver dams created flooded forests, and woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, great crested flycatchers, tree swallows, and other species nest in cavities in the resulting dead trees. Areas of dense boreal spruce habitat are home to rare and sought-after boreal chickadees, spruce grouse, and Canada jays.

Large areas of the park are, for now, second-growth forest. Clearcut at some point in the past and now rapidly regenerating, these woods are home to dozens of different bird species. American redstarts, black-throated blue warblers, hermit and Swainson’s thrushes, scarlet tanagers, and lots more make their homes in thousands of acres of deciduous forests.

It’s wonderful to visit these parts because what’s there now is just a hint of what’s to come. Part of the beauty of national park sites is that they’re reliable, and have time to grow and improve. Just as the Loop Road and many of the other roads in other areas of the park have improved in six years, the forests will continue to grow and improve for centuries without the threat of the ax. Birds, birders, and others will be visiting Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument for a long time.

We saw 89 different species of birds during our walk and on another day exploring other areas of the park. These were in addition to moose, red fox, snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, black bear, American beavers, voles, and a coyote. We spotted rare insects, butterflies, and plants. The place is a naturalist’s dream.

“Seriously, I fell in love with it while I was there,” one participant wrote after the walk, “and hope to make it an annual trip.”

In the wake of my visit, Maine Audubon (where I work) collaborated with Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters to develop a birding hotspot map for the park. The area is underbirded, meaning that there is a lot to explore and discover and that some orientation is helpful. We made a list of the eight best places – that we know of so far – to explore for birds.

The map is online at MaineAudubon.org, and I hope it serves as a guide for future adventures in this incredible landscape.

Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.