From the International Space Station 250 miles up, Maine looks like a uniform carpet of green. Fortunately, birds don’t fly that high. They fly low enough to see what Maine really is: a mosaic of different habitats. When it’s time to settle down, each bird picks its favorite.
Finding different species is one of the things that makes birding fun. Sometimes, it may seem like the species are just randomly distributed. They’re not. To find a bird, it helps to think like a bird.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in Bangor City Forest. Its actual name is Rolland F. Perry City Forest, named after the longtime city forester who managed the tract for diversity. There’s a good mix of coniferous and deciduous trees of varying ages. A quarter of it is forested wetland. The Orono Bog Boardwalk is adjacent to the woodlands, and adds another 600 acres of varied habitat to this corner of the universe.
In short, if you’re a bird, there’s something for everyone. You should see how they’ve divided it up. No, seriously, you should. Whenever I visit Bangor City Forest in the spring, I laugh, because the birds are so predictable along its roads and trails. Each species picks its favorite spots, and faithfully returns to those spots. It’s a perfect example of how birds divide up the forest.
For instance, park at the Tripp Drive entrance, and face north toward the Orono Bog Boardwalk. Behind you, expect to hear the loud song of a northern waterthrush. Why? Because it’s particularly wet back there. You will never find a waterthrush away from water. He’s there every year without fail. If you miss him, there’s another one next to the boardwalk entrance. Same reason.
While still in the parking lot, still facing north, you will hear at least one blue-headed vireo on the left. You don’t have to walk far in that direction before you hear a second one on the left, and probably a red-eyed vireo on the right. Why? Both species like the habitat along that short stretch, and they can even be in the same tree together. Nonetheless, there are more balsam firs on the left, which blue-headed vireos favor, and more maples and oaks on the right, which the red-eyed vireos prefer.
Black-throated green warblers and northern parulas also like the mixed forest and taller trees, so they’ll be singing in those spots. Ovenbirds will be singing from the understory beneath them. That’s what they like.
It’s only a 900 foot walk to the outhouses. Stroll there, and continue facing up the road. You will hear one of the many black-and-white warblers present in the forest. They like the sparse, low trees on either side of the parking lot. You will likely find a magnolia warbler on the left, where it enjoys the thicker shrubs. Behind it, expect a Nashville warbler. They like their trees taller, but not too tall. The tallest trees behind the outhouse belong to Blackburnian warblers.
Many large pines loom behind the outhouse and farther up the road. That’s where the pine warblers will be trilling. The dense stands of beech and birch next to the pines are where the black-throated blue warblers tend to hang out.
Upon entering the Orono Bog Boardwalk, the first interpretive sign advises you to find the Canada warblers that favor that spot. Their preferred habitat is exactly the kind of dense, wet understory that proliferates there. Farther ahead, where the trees are taller and the ground becomes a little drier, yellow-rumped warblers are generally easy to find.
Out on the bog, palm warblers are numerous. But they are most concentrated on the far side of the return loop. Why? There are taller spruces there, which they like to perch on.
And so it goes. Now imagine this same pattern repeating across the state, even around your own yard. Birds are not sprinkled randomly across the landscape, like salt on a pork chop. Each species seeks out those tiny spots that perfectly match their needs.
This year, when you identify a bird, take an extra moment to identify the habitat it is in. What kind of trees? How tall? How dense? How wet? Whatever conditions that bird has chosen, this species will likely be in the same conditions elsewhere. One big identification clue overlooked by most people is that you can often identify what a bird is, simply by noticing where it is.
Meanwhile, visit Bangor City Forest and the Orono Bog Boardwalk. Practice.