Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Things to do in Portland, Maine: Gilsland Farm Audubon Center

Traveling alone is not only liberating in a cripplingly social way, its also sometimes just necessary for me. Who else wants to get up on their "vacation" to hang out with strangers and watch birds? 

Wherever I travel now I'm sure to scout out nature centers and arboretums and I was lucky enough to land upon Gilsland Farm - Portland's Audubon Center and they just happened to be having a birding walk that Thursday morning of my trip. 

As I pulled into the parking lot I spied a tiny gathering of birdies, bundled and swathed against the wind, hugging their binoculars tight. They looked up curiously as I stepped out of the car. 
"Is she lost?" I could feel them thinking. 

I don't know if it's a lack of patience that seems to naturally push youth from the scene. Or perhaps the intimidation of trained eyes and ears that soar to identifications quicker than one's fingers can type out a Google. Or is it just a lost art, like so many others, that has slipped from the forefront as technology took center stage, usurping sticks and stones, in the lives of youth?
Whatever the case, you can't help but feel a little out of your element when you show up to your first birding walk. All the bells and whistles of a bingo game don't even begin to compare to how disorientingly seductive this art they call birding can be to the uninitiated. 

I sidled up to the tiny group and acted nonchalant as I waited for the magic to unfold. 
They noticed.

"Oh just visiting. I go somewhere new every month and this month it's Portland," I explained, smiling weakly back at the surprised stare I received. "No I don't have any binoculars, this is kinda my first time doing this." I stomped my feet for warmth and again cursed my decision to come to Portland over the welcomingly warm arms of the lower laying lands down the coast. 

"Well we've actually got a nice little group out today, this is great," came a voice from behind us. I turned to see another fledgling join the group, his plumage still youthful and vibrant against the peppered whites and grays of the rest of the group. 

"Our fearless leader," one of the gray's quipped, "last week it was just the two of use out here and it was colder than today. Let's see how long we all last today."

Fearless leader? He can't be any older than I am! How did he happen to master this retiree ridden past-time before acquiring achey joints and a walking stick?

Doug led us through the woods and out to the first blind where he panned the scope out over the water.
Mergansers, Buffleheads, Goldeneyes, Double Crested Cormorants - despite the frosted temperatures the count started to climb and more bizarre, outlandish names were called out and the scope swung and trained quickly under Doug's direction.

As with anything, the first time is always a bit harry, a bit awkward. As I looked through the scope I asked questions to help establish some parcel of association for my brain to form a memory around.
"So the mergansers are the ones with the bad hair day?"I asked.
The woman next to me laughed, "I hadn't thought of it that way but yes," she replied. 

"So you're here all alone?" she asked as we followed Doug and the scope to the next spot. 
I imagine she inaccurately but endearingly perceived me as a duckling on my first adventure away from home pond.  We walked and chatted about the benefits of ample free time and hobbies that require that life. 

"Oh look out there in the grass. A Flicker. Didn't expect to see him today!"
The speckled dot flit and fluttered away from the scope before I could see him. 
Patience and acceptance are truly honed virtues in this trade. 
My feeble attempts to photograph a bird through the scope resulted in an artful bum shot. 

Eventually we wound completely around the grounds and back to our cars and my first taste of professional list making and ear bending was at a close. 

Bittersweet - Celastrus orbiculatus 

Judy, my walking companion

Check out the Center and walk the beautiful grounds if you ever make it to the Portland area. 
Doug and his followers walk to trails every Thursday morning from 7 to 9am.

20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth, ME

1 comment:

Tina said...

A well kept secret that has evolved over the years. Just walking? Bird watching? carryin picnic? Education center? Gift shop? All this with water views and rolling hills.