Ornithologist Michael Good, author of the “Field Guide to the Birds of Mount Desert Island and Hancock County,” and cofounder of the Acadia Birding Festival (May 29-June 1), introduces first-timers and guides experts to the birds, wildlife, and habitats of Mount Desert Island and the Acadia region through his Down East Nature Tours (207-288-8128, www
Q. How did you become interested in birding?
A. I grew up on an apple orchard and fruit farm in Buck’s County, Pa., where I was always conscious of kestrals, red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, and crows. On the farm, I first became aware of birds as pests — shooting blue jays in the cherries was my job. I didn’t kill too many, but those opportunities provided the opportunity to understand the essence of birds. I began taking them apart, learning to discern plumage of males from females (that was important for pheasant hunting, because you can’t shoot a female). My science career began with Pennsylvania Dutch farmer Lloyd Ott teaching me how to dissect birds, squirrels, or the occasional deer. Years later, having had and taught ornithology, I look back on those days thankful for the opportunities that farm life offers to a young boy.
Q. When did you start to focus on the Gulf of Maine?
A. I spent a summer during my undergraduate years on Islesboro in the early 1980s. The fishermen were wondering why fisheries were declining, and I started to learn about the Gulf of Maine. With undergrad and graduate degrees in biology, I spent time as a research assistant at Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab and Oceanographic Institute, where I became scientifically connected to the importance of the Gulf of Maine as a resource and the ecological role of birds. I knew that to understand bird flight and migration, I needed an unequivocal understanding of their mechanism functioning at the cellular level. Now I’m working on both fisheries and birding issues, it’s all come together like an ecological system.
Q. How did you end up on Mount Desert Island?
A. I went to graduate school at Utrecht in the Netherlands and birded all over Europe. One of the sounds that drove me back to the States was missing the call of thrushes, especially wood thrush in the spring. I wanted to be in a wilderness again, and having worked on cancer and cancer cells, the one place I wanted to work was the Jackson Lab [for genetics research in Bar Harbor].
Q. Why did you start Down East Nature Tours?
A. It was time to apply my passion to my work. I noticed there was little or no discussion about our ecology, and I wanted to get into the business world. I started Down East Nature Tours in 1993 hoping to create a conduit for change by focusing on things no one else wanted to talk about, such as clear-cutting, herbicide spraying, and poor forest management in the Northern Forest.
Q. Tell me about Warblers and Wildflowers.
A. I wanted to study how warblers moved around the coastline. This was the impetus for launching Maine’s first bird-watching festival, Warblers and Wildflowers, in 1997. Bird-watching at that point was still the realm of the Audubon Society, but it was a growing demographic. It was a new idea to use a bird-watching festival as an economic development tool. My goal was to help the community better understand the avian community and develop an ecotourism model that others could replicate in other parts of Maine. I worked with the local Chamber of Commerce. We invited speakers, introduced visitors to key birding locations, and I guided tours to see specific birds.
Q. How has the festival evolved?
A. In 2008, we changed the festival’s name to Acadia Birding Festival [ www.acadiabirdingfestival.com ] so that we could focus on other species, habitats, and pelagic birds of the Gulf of Maine. Because of my work as a whale-watch naturalist aboard many boats, we wanted the festival to include a trip to educate about fisheries and pelagic birds. Today the festival has 36 guides spread out around the region recording birds for citizen science. Last year we recorded 144 species in 93 locations and a total of 13,700 individual birds.
Q. What’s birding’s appeal and why the Acadia region?
A. Birding is something a lot of people can do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old; it doesn’t require a lot of equipment, just a good pair of binoculars; and it’s as easy as taking a walk. Acadia has unique watersheds, including a variety of wetland habitat types that mimic the tropical locations of the migrants coming through from South America or Cuba. The movement of birds through the region is uncountable during spring and fall migrations as is the amount of birdlife that utilizes the Down East coast, rivers, streams, and watersheds. Acadia and the Gulf of Maine region is the nesting and breeding destination for neo-tropical migrants: warblers, raptors, nighthawks, flycatchers — everybody’s here. This is a place where warblers are calling, you can hear their greeting calls and territorial calls and hear them changing through the season. What makes Acadia special is the opportunity to be where land meets the sea and see the difference and connection between the two worlds. If we can make people better understand that and connect deeply with how birds function in our ecosystem, we can bring our fisheries back.
Q. What’s the Penobscot Watershed Eco Center?
A. PWEC grew out of my concern that our community lacked an education center focusing on the Gulf of Maine’s ecology. It’s an interactive center located above the In The Woods shop [160 Main St., Bar Harbor]. Its purpose is educating visitors about the importance of this 8,592-square-mile watershed. A mural depicting the 350-mile-long Penobscot River, from its headwaters at the base of Katahdin to its outflow into Penobscot Bay, wraps around the space. We exhibit whales, birds, fish, and mammals for people to understand in the context of the Penobscot River. We want people to understand this historic connection to the sea and that there is hope for thriving ecosystems where birds, fish, and humans can coexist. I’m a cofounder, along with a group of nonprofits including the Acadia Birding Festival, the Penobscot Nation, Penobscot East Resource Center, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, RESTORE: The North Woods, and Craig Brook Fish Hatchery.
Interview was edited and condensed. Hilary Nangle can be reached at hilarynangle.com.