Common eiders. Credit: Courtesy of Bob Duchesne

Birding is like hunting, except that I can do it on Sunday. Seriously, many of the skills are the same. It helps to have a keen eye for movement, the ability to recognize habitat and the capacity to stalk quietly without attracting attention. It also helps to have a car.

I dearly love driving on logging roads in search of birds. However, during this time of year, I willingly cede the roads to heater hunters — sportsmen who drive the same roads in search of ruffed grouse, while the vehicle heater is blasting. I figure I get to enjoy my passion 52 weeks a year. Grouse hunters barely get 13 weeks, and then only half the weekend. Enjoy the woods, with my blessing.

There are plenty of upland game birds in the Maine woods. So many, in fact, that I am much more likely to meet grouse hunters along remote logging roads than deer hunters. Grouse thrive in the vast Maine forest. They’re doing well. Pity Pennsylvania, where the grouse population has suffered serious declines. It’s particularly sad because ruffed grouse has been the Pennsylvania state bird since 1931.

Winter is nigh. I recommend that birders do a little heater hunting of their own during the cold months. As winter entertainment goes, birding while driving gets you out of the house, and it’s cheaper than Netflix. You can see a lot with the windows rolled up.

I’ll assert the obvious: Maine’s rugged coast is perfect for cold-weather birding. There are lots of bays and coves that shelter overwintering sea birds. While some birds are comfortable in rough water, most appreciate a little relief from tumultuous seas, and will tuck right in close to a shoreline that might also have an adjacent road.

Some of the best birding is in Acadia National Park. The most popular section of the park road between Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs is open all winter. Even on a frigid day, it’s only momentarily painful to pop out of your car for a better view.

All the harbors on Mount Desert Island are worth visiting on a cold day. The municipal parking lot on the Bar Harbor pier is crowded in summer but almost completely vacant in winter. You can drive right up to the pier for a good view. You can also park close to the piers in Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor for a quick scan. At Seawall in Manset, the road passes so close to the ocean that you can search for birds right out the windshield.

Likewise, good portions of the loop road at Schoodic Point in Winter Harbor run along the water’s edge. The expansive view from the point is one of the hottest cold spots in Maine. As a bonus, there are good parking spots next to Arey Cove just before the point, where there are regularly a good number of wintering waterfowl.

Pro tip: the only open bathroom in winter is at the entrance to Schoodic Education and Research Center. It’s heated. You’ll thank me later.

And so it goes, up and down the coast. Heading Down East, there are good vantage points from Pigeon Hill Road in Steuben en route to Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. The water between the mainland and Bois Bubert Island shelters many wintering sea ducks.

The harbor in Jonesport is entertaining, as is the Beals Island side of the bridge and causeway. Roque Bluffs State Park and the pier at nearby Schoppee Point host many ocean birds. Around Lubec, just about any view of the water justifies a winter birding visit.

If Ellsworth to Lubec is heading Down East, why isn’t the opposite direction Up West? Regardless, there are plenty of heater birding opportunities. The causeway to Sears Island in Searsport is popular, especially at high tide. The municipal pier in Searsport is good. Belfast Harbor is worthwhile. Several places along the Rockland waterfront provide views from the car.

And so it goes, all the way to New Hampshire. Next week: the hottest cold spots in southern Maine. The point is, cold is not a deterrent for us hardy Mainers. The Maine coast is birdable in the most frigid weather. On days when it’s balmy, let’s say 20 degrees, there is a never-ending list of places one can drive to and just pop out of the car for a scan. When the weather gets really toasty, let’s say 30 degrees, a pleasant oceanside walk awaits in many of these places.

The wintering sea birds have arrived. They are waiting for you.

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Bob Duchesne, Good Birding

Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at He can be reached at