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Wendy Almeida

Wendy Almeida wrote about enjoying the outdoors with kids in her monthly Kid Tracks Outdoors column for the Maine Sunday Telegram for more than 10 years. Her kids have grown up exploring the trails of Maine on foot, skis and bikes as well as through the Geocaching and EarthCache games. The family has found treasures of all sorts while out on the trail and the journey continues to be as much fun now that the kids are teenagers as it was when they were preschoolers. Follower on Twitter @wea1021 and Instagram instagram.com/wea1021

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Posted: September 10, 2015

For the birds: Visit an Audubon sanctuary to witness bird migrations and the changing season

Written by: Wendy Almeida
The Big Woods on Averill’s Island is the site of an Audubon pre-Thanksgiving guided walk to discover what is happening in the world of nature as plants and animals prepare for winter.

The Big Woods on Averill’s Island is the site of an Audubon pre-Thanksgiving guided walk to discover what is happening in the world of nature as plants and animals prepare for winter.

Fall is a great time to take the family to an Audubon sanctuary to witness bird migration and embrace the changing season. Sanctuaries across New England give families the opportunity to explore the natural world through observations of not only birds, but mammals as well. Creatures have a lot to do to prepare for winter – and even when the snow flies, there are still some birds and animals around to track.

Audubon centers schedule a variety of events, but you don’t need a specific date and time to enjoy the grounds. Hiking trails full of interesting sites – including the wonderful fall colors – are open whenever your busy family has time to swing by, from dawn to dusk.

You can see a lot in Audubon sanctuaries from Maine to Massachusetts this fall; but first, let’s talk about the birds.

“Warblers are moving right now,” says Doug Hitchcox, staff naturalist at Gilsland Farm Audubon in Falmouth. “From mid- to late-September warblers are peaking, but sparrows tend to move a bit later.” If you hope to see colorful birds at this time of year, however, you might be a tad disappointed. Some are molting and the feathers might be a bit dull right now. But as the leaves fall, the birds can be seen more easily on their perches in the trees. It’s a bit of give-and-take for birding fans.

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

At the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield, Massachusetts, the waterfowl migration is impressive because of its sheer numbers. “The best place to watch the wonderful natural spectacle is along the Bunkers Meadow Trail. Climb to the top of the observation tower to really take in the meadow,” says Scott Santino, Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary naturalist. “The best time to see them is at dawn when they leave the meadow and at dusk when they fly into it.”

But it’s not just about the fall migration, as impressive as it can be. On the staff naturalist-led bird walks hosted every Thursday at 7 a.m. through November at Gilsland Farm, there are plenty of mammals that offer some fascinating entertainment as well.

Hitchcox explains, “We had a great encounter on one of the weekly bird walks recently. We saw a weasel dart across the trail and a few minutes later we spotted a dead meadow mouse on the path. We stopped to look at it and all of a sudden the weasel came running right up to us and snatched the mouse and ran off with it. The fun thing about walking these trails regularly is that there is always some surprise.”

At most Audubon centers and sanctuaries – there are 8 in Maine and many more all over New England – there are naturalists and trained docents available to help visitors identify birds and wildlife. On Sundays, there are volunteer docents at Ipswich River that lead tours on a drop-in basis. A big thrill for kids and adults at this particular sanctuary is the friendliness of the birds: They are known to land on a visitor’s hand to nibble seeds. But be warned, the center doesn’t sell seeds, so be sure to bring your own. At Gilsland Farm, the 2- to 6-year-old crowd has a few opportunities this fall to visit the center in their pajamas. The Good Night Nature program invites kids and their caretakers to don their pajamas and listen to stories, make a craft and then explore the grounds at night.

Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, Falmouth

Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, Falmouth

A number of interesting Audubon programs this fall welcome the whole family and offer many teachable moments about the natural world. Here’s a sample of a few in Maine and Massachusetts:

Monarch Magic

Sept. 19, 1:30 to 3 p.m.
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield, Massachusetts, massaudubon.org
$10 adults, $8 children; members are $8 adults, $7 children |
Discover the amazing journey of the monarch butterfly to Mexico. Participants will work together as citizen scientists to tag and release several monarchs to start their journey south. Program suitable for children ages 4 to 18. Registration is required; call 978-887-9264.

Full Moon Canoe Tours

Sept. 26 and 27, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Scarborough Marsh, 136 Pine Point Road, Scarborough, maineaudubon.org
$14, $12 for members
Under the full moon, experience the sights and sounds of marsh creatures like the black-crowned night heron or snowy egret, and maybe even spot a harbor seal or a muskrat playing in the water. Arrive no later than 6 p.m. Advance registration required; call 883-5100.

28th Annual Apple Day

Oct. 3, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, 20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth, maineaudubon.org
$7, free for under 2 years old; free for members
This annual event is a celebration of fall that takes place in the historic apple orchards at Gilsland Farm. Participants this year will learn about bees, bats and pollinators and we will have a cider press, live music, food, games, a story walk and more. As part of this year’s event, Maine Audubon will launch “A Little Brown Bat Story,” the second book in the children’s book series Wildlife on the Move, published in partnership with Islandport Press.

The palm warbler can be seen during the fall migration south at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center from late-September to early October. Photo by Doug Hitchcox

The palm warbler can be seen during the fall migration south at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center from late-September to early October. Photo by Doug Hitchcox

The Big Sit! 2015

Oct. 10, starts at noon
Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, 20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth, maineaudubon.org
Free
The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest. Participants sit inside a 17-foot circle in the North Meadow at Gilsland Farm, counting every bird species they see or hear. Join the group for as long as you want during the day; no need to sign up ahead of time. Bring a lawn chair, something warm to drink and a snack/lunch. Everyone is welcome, regardless of birding expertise. Contact: Linda Woodard at 781-2330, ext. 213, or lwoodard@maineaudubon.org with questions.

Women’s Day Retreat

Oct. 17, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fields Pond Audubon Center, 216 Fields Pond Road, Holden, maineaudubon.org
$60; $50 for members
A daylong retreat for women to relax and rejuvenate while discovering the beauty of the natural world with a variety of stress-free activities, including hiking, paddling and meditation. At the end of the day there is a wine and chocolate tasting.

Fall Migrant Birds of Plum Island

Sponsored by Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Nov. 8, 7 to 11 a.m.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport, Massachusetts, massaudubon.org
$19; $16 for members
The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island attracts an amazing variety of migrating birds. The low, shrubby vegetation offers land birds feeding opportunities and a resting place protected from the elements, while the ponds and marshes attract shorebirds, waterfowl, herons and more. Learn to identify species by field marks, behavior, vocalizations, and the habitats they prefer. Program is for adults but all birding skill levels are welcome.

Big Woods Hike

Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield, Massachusetts, massaudubon.org
$8 adults, $7 for children; for members, $7 adults, $6 children
A pre-Thanksgiving guided walk led by naturalists into the “Big Woods” on Averill’s Island in the sanctuary. Stories about the original settlers and cultural history of the sanctuary as well as looking for animal signs through the woodlands and marshes. Walks are about two hours, so dress warmly and wear comfortable footwear. Suitable for children ages 5 to 18.

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