Category Archives: Recreation

Sandhill Cranes Return to the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

– Article and photographs by Logan Parker, MLRC Community Engagement Coordinator

On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh“. – Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy

As the alders and maples begin bud and the cap of lake ice begins to melt, I begin to spend more mornings out in the marshlands. It’s not long after the year-round Black-capped Chickadees and Brown Creepers begin to sing that we hear the virtuoso Song Sparrow rejoin the dawn chorus. Soon after the seasonal blackbirds, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds both, stream in to our wetlands from the south. These birds, all males, are tolerant and downright gregarious in the early spring. When the females arrive just a few weeks behind, however, that tolerance vanishes. While I admire the songs and calls of all the region’s birds, during this time of year I have my ears trained for one species in particular: the Sandhill Crane.

For anyone who has heard the loud, bugling rattle of this charismatic bird or witnessed their spiraling descent into a marsh, it should come has no surprise that any watershed resident would be anxious for their arrival each spring. You do not have to be a “birder” to appreciate the elegance of this tall, red-capped crane from the south. Each winter, these birds flock in truly impressive numbers in Texas, California, Florida, and northern Mexico (Maier). While the cranes have a large migratory range, the breeding range of the Sandhill crane includes the Alaska, northwestern Canada, and some areas within the northwestern United States. In recent decades, however, Sandhill cranes have begun to appear in New England and even in the Belgrade Lakes (eBird, 2016).

22615930575_27f2b6de31_oThe earliest records of Sandhill crane sightings in the Belgrades date back only to the late 20th Century. It wasn’t until the summer of 2000, that a New England crane researcher by the name of Scott Melvin discovered a nesting pair of crane in the Belgrade Lakes Region. Since Melvin’s observations in 2000, breeding cranes have been readily observed nesting in wetlands throughout the watershed (Melvin, 2002). Some locals speculate that the cranes were blown off course and found their way to the Belgrade Lakes by chance. In an article for the Northeastern Naturalist however, Melvin suggested that the Sandhill cranes were not merely expanding their range, but were recolonizing the Northeast after centuries of extirpation. Melvin explored scattered historical accounts of cranes from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries that suggest the birds migrated to (and potentially nested) in New England in centuries past (Melvin, 2002).

16971106800_23deb4f9e4_oToday, the wetlands of the Belgrade Lakes watershed are of vital importance to the Sandhill cranes. Indeed, it is upon lakeside marshes, fens, and other wetlands that cranes build their nests and defend their eggs and young from predators. They are also important food sources across the full range of their migrations. “The Sandhill Crane is not exceptional in its need for wetlands. It may be no surprise that areas with plentiful wetlands host a variety of creatures that have made themselves at home in the marshes, bogs, and fens, that cover much of the landscape” (Maier). Indeed, wildlife such as the state endangered Black Tern and Little Brown Bat also depend on our local wetlands for nesting and/or foraging grounds. We, too, benefit from the critical services wetlands provide such as filtering nutrients, soaking up floodwaters, and preventing erosion.

On a cool morning in late March of this year, I patiently scanned the fog-shrouded marsh for any sign of the slate-colored crane. For a time, all was still. A clamoring rattle sounded from the north breaking the silence. I turned my scope just in time to catch a glimpse of two cranes rising from the floating vegetation before the pair disappeared deeper into the wetlands. A new season has begun on the crane marsh.

For more information on Sandhill Cranes, click here.


eBird. 2016. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. Available: 4/9/16)

Melvin, Scott M. (2002). “First Breeding Records and Historical Status of Sandhill Cranes in Maine and New England. Northeastern Naturalist, Vol. 9: No. 2. Eagle Hill Institute.

Leopold, Aldo. (1949). “Marshland Elegy” A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press. Oxford, United Kingdom.

Maier, Craig. “Sandhill Cranes and Wetlands”. The Backyard Almanac. Also Leopold Foundation.

MLRC Hosts Nature Photography Reception

Written by Logan Parker, MLRC Community Engagement Coordinator

This week the Maine Lakes Resource Center celebrated the opening of its exhibit “Nature Photographers of the Belgrade Lakes” by hosting a public reception. This gathering was attended by town officials, members of the community, and the nature photographers themselves. Stories of where and when magnificent birds or stunning sunsets were captured were shared with a crowd who gathered around a flatscreen displaying an array of nature shots.


Kayaker on Long Pond. Photo by Peter Agnes Jr.

The creation of this photography exhibit is an example of the MLRC’s efforts to raise awareness of the value of the lakes, not just through research, but through various mediums, such as art. Using a multi-pronged approach, the MLRC seeks to reach and engage the widest audience.


Sandhill Cranes with Their Colt. Photo by Dr. Alexander Wall.

To quote MLRC Program Director, Kathi Wall, “this photography show is a the result of several of our citizens documenting some of the “whys” we need to protect what we have. [The Belgrade Lakes] are an eco-destination for frazzled city-dwellers and elderly who wish to come and hike, bird-watch, cross country ski, and generally enjoy the slower pace of life”. In a welcoming address to the reception’s attendees, Kathi (who is a 40-year resident of Belgrade) remarked about the bounty of wildlife, scenic landscapes, and recreation opportunities that are just minutes from her doorstep. The consensus of the night was that these qualities are worth celebrating and protecting for the future.

The exhibit will remain on display at the Maine Lakes Resource Center until March 1st. The MLRC extends our gratitude for all of the participating artists and photographers.


Bald Eagle Flying West. Photo by Logan Parker.

Bumps on the Water: an introduction to the semiaquatic mammals of the Belgrade Lakes

-Written by Logan Parker, MLRC Community Engagement Coordinator

When it comes to wildlife in and on our lakes, it seems the birds and fish get most of the attention. The shelves of many of our watershed’s tourist shops are good evidence of this with their inventory of loon-this and trout-that. While loons are surely majestic and trout are truly a prize catch, there is another class of animal that living in and on the Belgrade Lakes worthy of our fascination: mammals.

While the lakes and surrounding lands support a great diversity of mammals, there exists a group of creatures that have evolved to fit special aquatic niches. These are, of course, the semiaquatic mammals. Notable examples residing in our watershed include the beaver, the mink, the muskrat, and the otter. Each with distinct evolutionary origins, these mammals have developed diverse means of surviving a life spent mostly in freshwater.

American BeaverPerhaps the most well-known member of the bunch is the American beaver (Castor canadensis). The largest rodent in North America, the beaver is easily recognized by its substantial size (35 – 70 lbs), webbed hind feet, and broad, flat, and scaly tail (Reid, 2006). It is famous (or perhaps, infamous) for its ability to fell trees for the purposes of engineering dams and lodges. Given the somewhat static water levels that lakes provide, our resident beaver spend much of their time amassing underwater food stores and constructing the impressive lodges they overwinter within (sometimes inside of boathouses). These animals are active year-round and continue to swim to previously gathered trees and branches below the winter ice (Kricher and Morrison, 1988).

American MinkAn animal I’ve frequently seen bounding along rocky shoreline of Long Pond, the slender American mink (Mustela vison) is stark contrast to the portly beaver. This dark-brown mustelid is an adaptable predator that pursues prey both on land and in the water. “They eat fish, crayfish, rodents, and other small prey”, but have also been observed at times hunting larger prey such as muskrats and ducks. Minks are highly territorial animals and, for that reason, their populations around the lakes remain low (Tobiessen, 2012). During the winter months, these predators move to inland forests to pursue terrestrial prey such as rabbits (Reid, 2006).

Common MuskratLike the beaver, the Common muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is a rodent. Despite what their name might imply, however, these animals are not “true rats”. Also like beavers, the muskrat has a scaled tail. Unlike the beaver’s tail, the muskrat’s tail is laterally compressed and is the main means of propulsion in the water (Reid, 2006). These small mammals are voracious eaters of cattails and sedges, but also prey upon amphibians, mussels, and crayfish. Early each winter, we spot muskrats perched on the edge of newly formed ice in Mill stream feeding on aquatic vegetation collected down in the stream-bed below.


River Otter SwimmingA streamlined mammal with long, powerful tail, short ears, and webbed feet, the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is truly at home in the water. These accomplished predators are equipped with powerful jaws and sharp canine teeth. Don’t let the predator status fool you, however – these are highly gregarious and playful animals. Adult females lead troops of their progeny that hunt, rest, groom, and play together (Lariviere and Walton, 1998). In winter, these animals travel over land and ice to areas of open water in which to hunt. A great place to watch for river otter on the move is in the outlet of Belgrade stream into Messalonskee Lake as the lake begins to freeze over. To reach their hunting grounds, river otter gallop, bound, and even slide on their long, smooth bellies.

River OtterThese profiles are merely introductions of some of fascinating wildlife that thrives in the Belgrade Lakes watershed. If you have questions or comments about our watershed’s wildlife, give us a call or send us an email. We would be glad to support in your wildlife observations! If you have pictures of interesting wildlife spotted in the watershed, consider sharing them to our Facebook page. We would love to see them!




Kricher, John C., and Gordon Morrison. Eastern Forests: A Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Trees, Flowers, and More. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. Print. Peterson Field Guides.

Lariviere, Serge, and Lyle R. Walton. “Lontra Canadensis.” Mammalian Species (1998): 1-8. Print. American Society of Mammalogists.

Reid, Fiona A. Mammals of North America. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. Peterson Field Guide.

Tobiessen, Peter. The Secret Life of a Lake: The Ecology of Northern Lakes and Their Stewardship. Niskayuna, NY: Graphite, 2012. Print.