The frilly heads of Queen Anne’s lace danced in the morning breeze, joined by sunny spears of goldenrod and fiery wheels of black-eyed Susan. As I walked along a mowed path at Fields Pond Audubon Center, I drank in the sights and scents of summer.
Dragonflies, bumble bees and tiny orange butterflies moved through the wildflowers and tall grasses of the meadow. High-pitched birdsong drew my attention to the edge of the nearby forest, where three goldfinches darted through the treetops.
Straddling the border of Orrington and Holden, Fields Pond Audubon Center is a 229-acre wildlife sanctuary that’s home to a network of nature trails, as well as a nature center where public programs are regularly held. It’s one of eight sanctuaries owned and managed by Maine Audubon, the state’s oldest wildlife conservation organization.
I’ve been visiting Fields Pond Audubon Center for years, during all seasons. For me, it’s a place where I can always find plenty of birds to photograph. Even in the winter, birds flock to the bird feeders and berry bushes around the nature center.
Dogs aren’t permitted on the property. That’s just fine with me. I love dogs. I hike with my dog all the time. But I also enjoy outdoor destinations where dogs aren’t permitted. They give me the opportunity to wander the wilderness without worrying about keeping my pet under control. And I tend to see more wildlife because I’m able to walk slower and be more quiet.
For example, in spring 2020, I visited Fields Pond and spent nearly an hour sitting by the small frog pond that’s on the property. If my dog had been with me, she would have been splashing about in the shallows. Instead, I was able to better enjoy the tranquility of the spot, and in the process, I discovered the wonderful world of caddisfly larvae. Prior to that trip, I had no idea that caddisfly larvae construct mobile homes out of wood, pebbles and other natural materials. I spotted them walking around in the pond, toting around their homes like hermit crabs.
Once while walking along the edge of a field at the sanctuary, I came within a few feet a white-tailed deer. The grass was so high that we didn’t see each other until we were standing eye to eye. I don’t know who was more surprised.
At least 130 bird species have been spotted on the property. In the spring of 2021, I joined expert birder and Bangor Daily News columnist Bob Duchesne there for a bird walk. That was my first time seeing a scarlet tanager, a bird with feathers so bright red that it’s known as “the flame of spring.”
The sanctuary is named after Fields Pond, a 191-acre pond that borders the west side of the property. Maine Audubon maintains a boat launch on the pond, which I’ve used a few times. I’ve also visited in the winter to ice fish and ice skate.
During my most recent trip to Fields Pond, which was in late July, I started my walk on a mowed path that travels through fields from the nature center to the pond. I then crossed a boardwalk through a wetland area to hop onto the Lake Shore Trail, which traces the edge of Fields Pond. I returned on the Brook Trail, which led me through a shaded forest as it traced a small brook.
Other trails in the network explore a ravine, thread through an upland forest and trace the edge of a marsh. In terms of habitats, there’s quite a variety, which explains why so many different types of birds have been seen on the property.
As I slowly walked, I identified a few birds by sight. Little brown winter wrens hopped around on the forest floor. A brown creeper crept up a tree trunk. Song sparrows perched on branches at the edge of the fields. A black-capped chickadee landed in a branch just above my head, then swung upside down to look at me.
Left to right: A boardwalk leads through a forested wetland at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. It’s one of the many trails in the wildlife sanctuary’s trail network. A northern pearly-eye butterfly clings to the bark of a tree trunk on July 26, 2022, at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. Several of them were seen fluttering about in the forest that day. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
Near the edge of Fields Pond, I spotted a large orange and black butterfly that I initially thought was a monarch. It reminded me of the recent news of monarchs being listed as endangered. Alas, when I looked closer, I realized it was a viceroy butterfly, not a monarch. The two species look very similar.
Moving through the woods, I saw another type of butterfly: the northern pearly-eye. It’s a fairly large, brown butterfly that tends to blend into the forest. But if you look closely, its wings have beautiful markings that include rows of circles.
By the end of my visit, I was rushing to return to my vehicle so I wouldn’t be late for a hair appointment. Nevertheless, a family of bluebirds derailed me. They were perching on a sign by the sanctuary entrance. I don’t see bluebirds very often, so I had to stop and watch them for just a few minutes. To me, it looked like the male bluebird was teaching the fledgling something very important.
With a few more photos on my camera, I hurried back to my vehicle and hit the road. It’s a comfort to know that I can always return there to listen to birds and search for butterflies.