Acadia National Park

Acadia contains many different ecosystems — from freshwater wetlands and coastal tide pools to alpine forests—and rare or endangered plant and animal species. Threats  to  the  park  include  invasive  plant  and  insect  species—purple  loosestrife  now threatens 20% of the park’s wetlands—and rising sea levels, which harm coastal ecosystems with flooding and saltwater intrusion. There’s a bunch of hackers loose in Acadia National  Park.  But  among  ornithologists, hackers are the good guys—the ones who hand-rear  chicks  and  reintroduce  them into  the  wild.  At  Acadia  National  Park, those  hackers  are  proud  to  say  that  they got  peregrine  falcons  nesting  in  the  wild again for the first time in 35 years.

Acadia  is  a  glacier-chiseled  mound  of rugged cliffs, picturesque coves, and quiet woods  connected  by  causeway  to  the coast   of   Maine—a   perfect   habitat   for these beautiful soaring raptors. But peregrines are endangered these days, due to nest robbing, hunting, and toxic pesticides (even though these are banned in the U.S., peregrines  may  eat  migrant  songbirds from countries where the use of DDT is still common).  By  the  mid-1960s,  researchers said  peregrines  were  no  longer  breeding anywhere in the eastern United States.

In response, in 1984 specialists at Acadia started breeding peregrines in captivity  in  a  strictly  controlled  program  to prepare  them  for  the  wild.  The  first  22 chicks  were  hacked  into  a  cliff  face  overlooking  Jordan  Pond  each  spring  from 1984  to  1986.  In  1991  the  first  hacked birds  finally  bred,  nested,  and  hatched their own chicks, raising them in the cliffs of Champlain Mountain.

Park resource managers monitor peregrines’  comings  and  goings  carefully,  so don’t be surprised if trails are temporarily closed   to   protect   mating   and   nesting spots. Even if the trail’s closed, the Precipice  Trail  parking  area  offers  prime viewing of their nesting cliff on Champlain Mountain (daily from mid-May to mid-Aug, rangers  lead  a  program  describing  peregrine  activity).  During  mating,  the  birds feed  each  other  in  midair  and  show  off with   elaborate   swoops,   tumbles,   and dives.  In  April  and  May,  they  take  turns nest sitting; in June you may spot the tiny white balls of fluff that are baby falcons. In July  and  August,  watch  fledgling  falcons try out their wings with ever-longer forays from the cliffs.

Your  best  introduction  to  Acadia  is  a circuit  on  the  20-mile  (32km)  Park  Loop Road, a spectacular drive that follows the island’s   rocky   shore   past   picturesque coves,  looping  back  inland  along  Jordan Pond  and  Eagle  Lake  with  a  detour  up Cadillac  Mountain,  the  highest  point  on the East Coast north of Rio de Janeiro . But don’t  stop  there.  Go  kayaking  around Frenchman’s Bay, populated by seals and osprey;  bike  around  the  forested  interior on crushed-rock carriageways laid out for Gilded  Age  tycoons;  visit  a  series  of  geological  formations  using  a  GPS  system  to track  down  EarthCache  clues;  or  take  a catamaran  cruise  to  the  offshore  feeding grounds of humpback, finback, minke, and (occasionally) right whales. And never forget to look up in the sky—the peregrines could be there, watching you.