Where to See Maine Wildlife

With a moose population of more than 75,000, second only to Alaska’s, and a coastline bordered by saltwater that’s home to 20 species of whales and dolphins, Maine is a prime destination for wildlife viewing. From puffin cruises in Acadia and moose tours in Rangely to birding by kayak through the Scarborough Marsh, the entire state is filled with opportunities to see animals in their natural habitat.

Moose sightings in MaineIt seems everyone wants to see a moose when they come to Maine. Northern and western counties are the best place to spot them, especially in the Rangeley and Moosehead Lake regions, Aroostook County, and around Baxter State Park. Chances are best on sparsely settled roads, such as Route 201 from The Forks to the Canadian border (popularly known as Moose Alley) and Route 27 from Carrabassett to Eustis. The best times are mid-May through July and in September, near dawn and dusk. Those are also the times to be most cautious when driving; moose aren’t afraid of automobiles and can appear on the road unexpectedly.

To increase your chances, take a moose tour with a Maine guide. Chris Young, at Wilson Pond Camps (www.wilsonpondcamps.com) leads safaris in search of moose, loons, and eagles in the Greenville area, sharing his vast knowledge of all the local wildlife. Matt Tinker, of Green Farm Guide Service (www.greenfarmguide.com) offers a variety of moose and wildlife experiences, from moose hikes and kayak tours, to photographing moose amid fall foliage and finding “sheds” in the winter.

Registered guides at Fish River Lodge (www.fishriverlodgeeaglelake.com), near Caribou, lead guests in search of moose, deer, bear, fox, coyote, lynx, loons, bald eagles, and song birds. Explore on hiking trails, by boat or canoe on Eagle Lake, or by four-wheel-drive vehicle on timber roads. On wildlife adventures by canoe with Northwoods Outfitters (www.maineoutfitter.com) in the Moosehead Lakes region, guests have seen moose, families of loons and ducks, beaver, otters, deer, and even bobcats and bear.

Next to moose, Maine’s most sought-after wildlife viewing is puffins. These appealing birds have colonies on three Maine islands reached by boat tours. The largest is on Machias Seal Island, and when sea conditions permit, passengers on Bold Coast Charter Company cruises (www.boldcoast.com) can land there to observe and photograph Atlantic puffins at close range. They can also see nesting colonies of razorbills, common murres, and Arctic terns.

Cormorants in flightWhile going ashore is not possible, passengers on a two-hour trip with Acadia Puffin Cruises (www.acadiapuffincruise.com) in Steuben, can watch and photograph puffins on Petit Manan Island. They’re likely to also see razorbills, terns, guillemots, eiders, and bald eagles.

Bird lovers who want to learn about a successful re-establishment project while they observe puffins, can join Cap’n Fish’s Cruises (www.boothbayboattrips.com) in Boothbay Harbor. The National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin successfully re-established the colony on Eastern Egg Rock, and the cruise there is narrated by people involved in the project.

Cap’n Fish’s Cruises also operates whale watch trips from Boothbay Harbor, and combination whale watch and puffin cruises. Passengers may see dolphins, sharks, seals, and sea birds as they sail through Maine’s prime whale feeding grounds.

Guests cruising with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (www.barharborwhales.com) are likely to see humpback, finback, right, and pilot whales, along with dolphins, porpoises, seals, sharks, and sea birds. Morning tours in the summer include a visit to Petit Manan Island to see puffins and other nesting seabirds. Each tour includes whale scientists from Allied Whale.

Seals basking in the sunBalmy Days Cruises (www.balmydayscruises.com) out of Boothbay Harbor, offers Monhegan Island trips, sailing trips, scenic harbor tours, mackerel fishing and private charters. Seals, porpoises, Osprey and other sea birds are common sights on their cruises, with occasional whale sightings on their Mohegan trips. Whale sightings are not always a certainty, and in Kennebunkport, First Chance Whale Watch (www.firstchancewhalewatch.com) will give passengers passes for another cruise if whales don’t show up as hoped. With finbacks, minke whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and right whales busy in their summer feeding grounds, sightings are likely.

Maine’s wide range of habitats and position on the Atlantic Flyway assure that it’s a prime year-round birding destination, with 400+ species regularly reported. Upwards of 20 warbler species appear during the spring migration in late April and May. The long fall migration continues through October into November as waterfowl, shorebirds, grebes, loons and others head for winter homes in coastal saltmarshes.

These marshes are favorite places for birdwatching by kayak or canoe. Maine’s largest is in Scarborough, and the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center (www.maineaudubon.org) offers several guided and self-guided tours, also renting canoes and kayaks for exploring independently.

While you might not see that moose this time around, no matter where you go in Maine, whether you’re hiking in the woods, paddling a kayak. or walking on the beach, you’re bound to see some wildlife.

Bobbie Randolph is a New England travel writer with a special interest in outdoor activities and nature. Her favorite Maine wildlife experience is watching a family of loons as they swim a few feet from her and dive under her kayak.

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