News & Notes

The Maine North Woods Through the Eyes of a National Geographic Young Explorer

Friday, January 29th, 2016
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This is the first in a new series of blog posts for Maine Audubon written and photographed by Erika Zambello

Maine birds have always been special to me. I grew up to the sound of laughing Black-capped Chickadees in my backyard, and Common Loons singing me to sleep when I spent the summers in the Rangeley Lakes region. I spotted my first Snowy Owl on the edge of Back Cove near Portland, and woke up early to steal glimpses of warblers as they raised their young near Kennebago Lake. My mother gave me my first Sibley field guide soon after I turned 23, and I’ve been hooked ever since!

Though I left for college, attending Cornell University as an undergraduate and then the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment as a graduate student, my heart has remained in Maine. I am passionate about communicating conservation, and so I applied to National Geographic to undertake four expeditions to the Maine North Woods as a National Geographic Young Explorer.

northwoodsThe North Woods is a geographic region in northern Maine, covering nearly 3.5 million acres and known for its low population, immense woodlands, and amazing recreational opportunities. It is also known for its birds, harboring neotropical migrants during the breeding months, as well as boreal species like the Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, and Spruce Grouse. As part of my grant, I proposed traveling to the Maine North Woods in each of the four seasons, beginning in Fall 2015 and ending in Summer 2016.

Because the Maine North Woods hosts the headwaters of five of our most important rivers, these headwaters and tributaries would be the focal point around which I organized the trips, described in more detail below. As I trace these waterways, I will also explore the conservation status of the region, and what the future could look like for the birds of the North Woods.

Fall: This trip is based on the headwaters of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, beginning above Fourth Lake and continuing down to Third Lake, Lake Matagamon, and the East Branch itself.

Winter: Moosehead Lake is both Maine’s largest lake and the headwaters for the Kennebec River. Exploration here focuses on the inlet and outlet rivers, as well as the land that borders the shore of the lake.

Spring: The Saint John’s River begins with a series of ponds. As part of the spring excursion, I will walk up the river to the very first pond, camping, fishing, and birding as I go along.

Summer: Finally, I will hike and paddle from the headwaters of the Allagash and the Aroostook Rivers downstream, fishing and taking in the local scenery.



IMG_0739Erika Zambello is a writer, birder, and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. She has a master’s degree in environmental management, where she specialized in ecosystem science and conservation. Her love of the outdoors was inspired by a childhood in Maine, where she returned for her National Geographic Young Explorer grant. Erika believes in the power of communicating conservation and exploration, which was the inspiration for founding both One World, Two Feet and TerraCommFollow her adventures on Instagram!