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Maine

Top Five Must-See Migrations in Maine

Celebrate this annual pageant of nature and see what’s migrating through the Pine Tree State.

It's spring, and that means the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of the “Top Five Must-See Migrations” in Maine.

“Witnessing an act of migration in-person is a thrilling moment that can inspire a lifetime love for nature,” explains Barbara Vickery, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “We hope to connect a new generation to the wonders of our natural world.”

“Migration also teaches us about the need to protect nature at a global scale” she continues, “When you see animals moving en masse you realize it is not enough to just protect them in your backyard, but all along their long journey.”

The Top Five Must-See Migrations for Maine

1. Shorebirds

Maine’s complex and well-conserved coast combines sandy beaches, rocky shorelines and saltmarsh estuaries to provide a wide range of habitats for shorebirds. On the beaches you may see such species as semi-palmated sandpiper, sanderlings and piping plover, while marshes play host to glossy ibis, great blue herons, snowy egret and more.

Spring shorebird migration is heaviest from late April through a final northward push in June. Favorite locations include Scarborough Marsh/Pine Point, Popham Beach in Phippsburgh, and Biddeford Pool. Birding is part science and part luck — even here in one of North America’s top locations for sighting migrating shorebirds.

Try arriving after a weather front passes through and at mid-to-low tide, and check out www.MaineBirdingTrail.com for more spots and details.


2. Alewives 

One of the species included under the term “river herring,” alewives spend the majority of their life at sea but return to freshwater to spawn. Historians and biologists tell us that before European settlement, there wasn’t a stream or river in Maine without an alewife run. However, man-made barriers such as dams and roads have contributed to a dramatic decline of alewives in the past 200 years. Not so at Damariscotta Mills, where an alewife ladder was built in 1807.

Each year in May, this is hands-down the best place to see an alewife run in Maine: the ladder shimmers with the wriggling bodies of many thousands of fish, and families and photographers line up to witness the swimming throngs, as well as the spectacle of foraging osprey and ald eagles. Visit www.damariscottamills.org for directions and more info.

See what we are doing to support migrating fish.


3. Salamanders and Frogs

Vernal pools — shallow depressions that contain water for only part of the year — offer one of  the Northeast’s most spectacular, yet underappreciated migrations: amphibian mating season. Considering that one pool can involve thousands of animals, this migration is in many ways the foundation of the food chain for the surrounding forest area.

You really have to want to see it, though.

First, confirm the location of a productive vernal pool by finding someone who was kept awake by spring peepers chorusing last year—Maine is full of such spots so there is likely one near you. Then, wait for a cool, rainy night in April after the first wood frog choruses have been heard (listen for a duck-like quacking). Head straight to the pool with a flashlight and point it at the pool’s edge. You may see spotted salamanders and blue-spotted salamanders (whose impressive size and bright-colored dots call to mind tropical creatures), wood frogs and peepers. A lucky visitor may also see congressing (wriggling masses of entangled, mating creatures).

If you want company, find out about “Big Night Out,” Maine Audubon’s vernal pool night outing at www.MaineAudubon.org.


4. Whales

One of the most dramatic of all Maine migrations are humpback whales, whose Latin name (Megaptera novaeangliae) means "big-winged New Englander." Humpbacks may grow to be 50 feet long, and their spectacular leaps from the ocean offer a thrilling experience for seafarers of any age. After giving birth during the winter or early spring in the Caribbean, mother humpbacks bring their calves north, many to the rich feeding grounds of the Gulf of Maine.

From Memorial Day through September (with summer months seeing the highest population), humpbacks concentrate in nutrient-rich locations such as Stellwagen Bank and Jeffries Ledge. The Maine Office of Tourism has a complete list of whale watching tour guides at www.VisitMaine.com.

Discover our strategies to support marine migrations.


5. Waterfowl

34 of the world’s 150 waterfowl species are found in Maine, including dabbling ducks (such as mallards and wood ducks), diving ducks (such as common goldeneyes, mergansers,) and geese (such as snow geese, white-fronted geese, and Canada geese).

Decades of habitat protection by private and public organizations, as well as attentive management by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, have kept Maine an ideal location for waterfowl. Top locations include the wetlands and wild rice beds of Merrymeeting Bay, and any of Maine’s coastal estuaries. Visit www.MaineBirdingTrail.com for more information.

See how we preserve waterfowl habitat in the Kennebec Estuary.

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