Back Cove

Back Cove
Back Cove is perhaps the most prominent landmark in Portland since much of the city and its traffic are built around it. In fact, Route 1 (locally named Baxter Boulevard) is forced to circle two-thirds of its circumference. Hiking paths surround this large inland bay, making it readily accessible. Twice a day Back Cove fills and empties with the tide, so twice a day the birding opportunities change. The better birding tends to be at high tide when gulls and waterfowl are present. As tide falls, the revealed flats attract shorebirds in season. At low tide, gulls congregate in large numbers on the elevated portions of the flats, often within close view of the access points. Herring, ring-billed, and great black-backed gulls are abundant. In winter, glaucous and Iceland gulls are occasional. Bonaparte’s gulls are regular before and after their breeding seasons.

Seasonal changes are just as remarkable as tidal changes. Buffleheads, common eiders, common goldeneyes, and red-breasted mergansers are possible throughout the winter months. Mallards and American black ducks are present much of year. Greater and lesser scaup are occasional. In April, any migrating duck might turn up here as it waits for fresh water to open farther north. Ironically, summer is the slow season.

In the fall shorebird migration brings birds through the mudflats at lower tides. Maine’s most common shorebirds – semipalmated and least sandpipers, semipalmated and black-bellied plovers, greater and lesser yellowlegs – are probable. Ruddy turnstones, short-billed dowitchers, and later-arriving dunlin are less common. The athletic fields that stretch between Back Cove and I-295 have produced numerous instances of migrating sparrows and other field-loving birds including American pipits, horned larks, Lapland longspurs and snow buntings.

Directions: The public parking lot lies alongside the cove near a large Hannaford supermarket on the southern edge. From the south on I-295, take Exit 6B onto Forest Avenue North. Look immediately for a right turn onto Baxter Boulevard, then another right at the next light onto Preble Street Extension. The parking lot is just to the left. From the north on I-295, exit onto Baxter Boulevard and follow it around the Cove until reaching the light at Preble Street Extension. Turn left and the parking lot will be ahead on the left.

GPS: 43.66463, -70.26690