A trip to Maine’s Acadia National Park during the fall should include a visit to Cadillac Mountain where it is possible to see 250 birds of prey in one day during the peak of the migration in mid-September.
Rangers and local volunteers man the site from 9am until 2pm everyday counting the raptors passing through the area. After parking and enjoying the view, look for the signs for the hawk watch. Then find the cluster of people with binoculars all pointed across Frenchmen’s Bay toward the Schoodic Peninsula. A sunny day with winds coming from the north will yield the most birds as they take advantage of the free ride south.
Sharp-shinned hawks, broad-winged hawks and American kestrels are some of the commonly sighted birds. But peregrine falcons, merlins and red-tailed hawks are regularly seen as well. Peregrines nest in the park during the summer and there are resident red-tails, easily identified as they don’t go rushing past but stay in the area, usually flying at lower altitudes than the migrants. Turkey vultures, although not technically a bird of prey, are resident as well.
If less social hawk watching is the goal, or if the winds are from the northwest, Beech Mountain may be a better option. Located more remotely (it isn’t on the Park Loop Road) and requiring a somewhat steep mile long hike it is less likely to be visited by curious spectators. Closer views of the birds of prey are likely here from the ledge overlooking a valley between peaks.
The hawks don’t really get seriously active until the day warms enough to provide thermals for lift. In the meantime exploring the Acadia Wild Gardens, especially in early fall, should reward with lots of warblers – black & white, yellow, black-throated green and common yellow-throat to name a few, along with thrushes and woodpeckers. The Bird Thicket is planted with fruits and seed plants intended to attract them.
For seabirds, Schoodic Point, on the other side of Frenchman’s Bay extends far enough out into the ocean to allow shore-based views of jaegers, gannets and kittiwakes. The road around this peninsula runs closer to shore providing regular views of the water. Serious seabird viewing is best done offshore. Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company offers seabird trips, weather permitting. While seabirds begin to leave the area in August, there are still plenty around through the end of September.