Tiny Songbirds at the Great Salt Bay Farm and Heritage Center

Our next road-trip stop was at a local nature area, the Great Salt Bay Farm &Heritage Center, with trails that wound though a field and led straight to the bay. Mom had to take a business call in the car, so Dad and I re-bundled up and took to the deserted trailways.

palm warbler, nature, maine, birding

kinglet, maine, nature

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The preserve was once a farm, and the old home still stood adjacent to the parking area, tall and white and unequivocally New England. From their perch on the hill, the families who once lived here had a view not only of their own land, but beyond to the salt marsh (see, I told you birders love marshes) and to the salt water of the bay. In this early season the grass waved golden in the wind, actually reminding me of fall instead of spring. Except for the frozen mud: that said April in Maine like you wouldn’t believe.

Staff had built a small raised platform, elevated over a freshwater pond that attracted migrating waterfowl and other birds. Red-winged Blackbirds were the most vocal inhabitants of the pond’s edge, their squawks echoing in the crisp morning air. If you’ve never heard the call of a Red-winged Blackbird, you’re in for a treat… or not. The first notes actually sound pleasant, like you’re about to enjoy a sweet song. But then out of nowhere the poor bird seems to choke on its own esophagus and the last trills are nothing but squawks and shrill ­rheeeees. It’s jarring at best. And they like to sing a lot.


Luckily there were other birds about to take my mind off the blackbirds, who are really quite pretty when they shut up. A small group of Northern Shovelers were slowly paddling back and forth, heading to the opposite end of the pond as we climbed the platform. Other songbirds were hiding in the dense, though un-foliated brush at the water’s edge, and I spied both a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a bright Palm Warbler.

Unlike many other warbler species, Palm Warblers can winter in the Southeastern United States and Florida, so when spring rolls around they have a much shorter distance to migrate to make it back here. As a result, they are some of the first migratory songbirds to return to Maine, and they do it in style: already sporting a gorgeous golden color and rusty cap. With the beige tones of a leafless background, my particular Palm Warbler really popped, and I knew I had some book photo contenders.

The Great Salt Bay Farm was filled with birds, even in a chilly April!

Erika Zambello

About Erika Zambello

Erika Zambello is a writer, birder, and photographer, born and raised in Maine. She has a bachelor’s degree in Government and Anthropology from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Duke University, specializing in ecosystem science and conservation. Her love of the outdoors was inspired by her childhood in Maine, and she returned for her National Geographic Young Explorer grant in 2015-2016.