Greater Damariscotta, Maine, has been attracting bird photographers for years. Damariscotta Mills came to the attention of photographers when they restored the fish ladder on the Damariscotta River. The ladder was originally built in 1807 when mills blocked the fish's trip up the river. in 2007 a group took to restoring the ladder which allowed the fish to run again. The fish attracted osprey and eagles. The birds attracted photographers.
When the alewife start running, all sorts of birds and others come to feed on them. I got a couple days up that way last week. The action seemed to be better just to the east in along the Saint George River in Warren, Maine. There were a number of osprey coming and going, the most spotted at one time was six. There was also a pair of adult bald eagles and two immature bald eagles in the area as well as a large supporting cast of cormorants and gulls.
The attraction for the wildlife is the alewife run. Alewife are marine fish that swim up rivers to breed in fresh water. They can grow to about 16", but average about 10". They swim upstream in large schools, with many millions of fish heading up the rivers in greater Damariscotta every year. Alewife apparently don't appeal to humans. There are a few shops in the area advertising smoked alewife, but most of the fish caught become bait in lobster traps.
There were several flocks of herring and ring-billed gulls ranging in size from about 20 to over 50. They moved around on the river mixing then splitting up, making it hard to count. And, every time an eagle went over, the gulls would all take flight and squawk. They seemed to do their fishing around the lowest point of the tide. When a gull managed to catch or scavenge a fish, it would be mobbed by several others attempting to steal it.
Double-crested cormorants travel in gulps, following the schools of fish.
Even a snapping turtle turned up.
A broad-winged hawk came by to check out the scene. The guides say broad-wings will eat fish, but this one just circled overhead briefly before moving on.
A pair of adult eagles and two immature eagles were in the area, visiting the pool I was watching several times each day. Eagles will take gulls occasionally, so the gulls all take flight when one appears. If the eagle lands, the gulls will return to the water.
This immature eagle was my hero, he couldn't go by the gulls without swooping them.
The main attraction was the osprey. They fish at mid tide. The water has to be deep enough for them to dive into - they can go a couple feet down, but it seems they like the water shallow enough to keep the fish near the surface. Osprey glide in a slow circle over the water until they see an opportunity to grab a fish - or two - then dive.
The traffic over the pool I was watching got heavy at times, here's a pair of osprey hunting.
Osprey can pull up and 'hover' more or less in one place while they watch the action below.
The best part of watching them is the dive and climbing back out of the water. Unlike eagles which grab fish from very near the surface, osprey dive much deeper, sometime submerging the entire bird. They make a slash when they hit!
Climbing back out of the water makes for some great pics.
Sometimes they come up with a fish or two, sometimes not.
After a dive, osprey shake like a wet dog to get rid of the water.
After a successful dive, they'll often circle back over the pool to allow photographers one last chance for a photo.
The trip to see the fish ladder and osprey is worth it. The alewife start running in early May and go into June. The Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder is open to the public. They harvest fish a couple times a day and are very used to visitors stopping by to watch. You can usually see osprey and eagles from the road by the fish ladder. Last time I was there, a pair of seals came upstream for a snack.
If the action is slow, head for Warren, just to the east. They have two parks along the river that offer great views of the osprey, et al.