Winter at Popham Beach

maine, beach, coast

Most people think of beaches as summer destination spots. Sun, surf, and sand meet colorful towels and beach blankets as kids belly flop into the waves. However, during the winter months beaches become my favorite go-to destinations for a different reason: the birds.

Popham Beach State Park remains open all year round (though certain days of the week the gates are closed, and visitors must park and walk in). My husband Brian, mother, and I arrived about 90 minutes after low tide, walking the long stretch of exposed tidal beach to reach the water.

When I was a kid, “the island” was undoubtedly the coolest facet of Popham Beach. Rising up out of the sand and made of cold stone, the island was only accessible during low tide. From the top the view of the surrounding Maine coastline is amazing, and I wanted to make sure my husband was able to see it.

maine, beach, coast

The three of us reached the island’s base with no problem. Though waves crashed on either side, the land bridge remained comfortably dry.

That is, until we turned around.

In the very moment we reached the island the tide threatened to cover the sand completely. My mother immediately headed back, but Brian and I decided to make a dash to the top – after all, we had come all this way!

We scrambled as fast as we could up to the island’s peak, careful to avoid the pockets of ice that had formed between the rocks. The view was as breathtaking as I remembered, and I raised my binoculars to take in the sandy shores, the stony cliffs, the dark, tree-trimmed forest edges. From my high vantage point I also spotted a Bufflehead, Horned Grebe, and White-winged Scoter bobbing on the waves far below me. Birding success!

After two or three minutes, the sound of my mother’s shouting drew our attention back to the beach. Already water was lapping across what had moments ago been dry sand, and we were going to have to really run to make it without becoming completely soaked.

Well, we almost made it. After sprinting down and towards the beach we crossed two or three inches of water before making it to dry ground once more. Our boots were (sort of) waterproof, and we were no worse for wear. On the contrary: I had just seen three cool birds in a beautiful setting, what could be better?

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.