Clouds of yellow and red leaves have descended into yards and onto sidewalks these last few weeks such that our several-times-a-day dog walks are filled with the characteristic crunchy sound of dog and person swooshing through drifted leaf piles. Our little black dog, Loki, loves to burrow his face down under the leaves and sniff the pungent earthy scents.
These distinctive scenes have been accompanied by some background acoustics that are equally characteristic of fall—the calls of some of the last of the fall migrants coming down from the Boreal Forest. The high, sweet “seeps” and hard “chinks” of white-throated sparrows are coming from every bush, it seems, while the short rattles of dark-eyed juncos flying up from lawns and yards appear omnipresent.
We are so thankful for these beautiful birds and gorgeous scenery of autumn in Maine. We’re sure most of you are, too. And so are the thousands of people who travel here from great distances to breath in the fresh air and gaze out over the sparkling waters of our lakes, rivers, and ocean with a backdrop of stunning red, gold, and green forest.
It’s easy to take for granted the clean air and water, the beautiful forests, and the amazing birds, but we should remember that many parts of the world are not so lucky. Without the past visionary leadership and tenaciousness of people right here in Maine, our landscape would look very different. Not so many years ago, many of our great rivers were famous for their foul smells and frothy toxic waters. Factories could pour chemicals into the air with no regard to the impacts on people who lived downwind and inhaled whatever pollutants came their way.
Senator Edward Muskie, a Bates College grad and one of Maine’s own, took on the cause of changing the future to make it better. He was instrumental in drafting and passing the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, two pieces of federal legislation that have been historic in making our environmental cleaner and healthier for generations of people, as well as for the animals and plants with which we share this Earth.
Maine continues to be fortunate in having heroes that every day work to make our natural world healthier for us all, and to stop bad ideas from manifesting themselves in our environment. The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) every year celebrates many of those leaders from around the state who make a difference for the environment, including those birds we love. Among the awardees for this year’s NRCM event is someone special to us and to many of you—Dr. Steve Kress. Famous for bringing Atlantic puffins back to Eastern Egg Rock off New Harbor after a hundred-year-absence, Steve has taught and inspired thousands of others who now use his restoration techniques to bring back and protect seabirds around the world. On top of that, Steve directed and instructed (and continues to do so) at the famous Audubon Hog Island camp. He has also written numerous books and opened the eyes of thousands of people to the wonders and joys of birds, including how to garden and manage backyard habitats for them.
We are so thankful for leaders like Steve and others who have made Maine and our world a better place. Thank you!
Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).