Popham Beach State Park is remarkable year round, though the park is popular in summer. It is best birded at low tide. (Reid State Park across the Kennebec River is best at high tide.) At low tide, it is possible to walk across the exposed sand bar to Fox Islands. From this vantage point, it is easier to scan the deep waters for diving ducks. This may be the best spot in Maine to see Red-throated Loons. Common Loons and Eiders, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, at least two species of scoter, Black Guillemots, Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads, and Long-tailed Ducks are typical sights in colder months. Be aware that the incoming tide swallows the sand bar very quickly. The inattentive risk a cold, wet return.
Low tide exposes a large amount of sand where sandpipers and plovers stop to feed during migration. Piping Plovers sometimes nest on the beach, though they usually breed in a conservation area separated from the park by the Morse River inlet. Least Terns nest near Piping Plovers and their smaller size helps to distinguish them from the Common, Arctic, and Roseate Terns that fish these waters in summer. The most productive beach area is at the tidal flats of the Morse River inlet, so if the plovers and terns are not on the main beach, look for them across the inlet. Under all circumstances, be careful to avoid disturbance of nesting and roosting shorebirds.
The salt marsh behind the beach and along Route 209 is habitat for Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. American Bitterns, Green Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Great Egrets also turn up regularly. Pine Warblers breed among the pitch pines, while Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats are often seen in the open shrubbery. Song and Swamp Sparrows are common, and when a Sharp-tailed Sparrow is encountered, take care to separate Saltmarsh and Nelson’s. Both species are possible. In migration, a variety of hawks pass the beach.
In cold months, Horned Larks and Snow Buntings may forage on the beach and among the dunes. Northern Shrikes occasionally perch on open snags. Red and White-winged Crossbills have turned up in the pitch pines.
Before leaving the area, continue on Route 209 to the end. Fort Popham is a well-preserved fortress that has guarded the strategically critical entrance to the Kennebec River since the U.S. Civil War. It provides another sheltered spot to scan for Long-tailed Ducks, Buffleheads, and Goldeneyes, and it produces closer tern sightings than the beach area does.
Directions: From Bath, proceed south on Route 209 toward Phippsburg. At 11 miles, turn left and continue following Route 209 to the park entrance at 15 miles.
Popham Beach State Park
10 Perkins Farm Lane
Phippsburg, ME 04562
GPS: 43.735848, -69.798589