Raymond Community Forest and Pismire Bluff

The Raymond Community Forest is a network of four trails over 356 acres between Crescent Lake and Pismire Mountain (833 ft), protected by the Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT). I decided to combine all four into a modified loop (approximately 4 miles/1.5 hrs) to try and see as much of the Forest as possible. The lower trails (Spiller Homestead and Grape Expectations) are open to pedestrians and mountain bikes, while the trails to the east of Conesca Road (Pismire Bluff and Highlands Loop) are pedestrian-only. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Wildflowers, Raymond Community Forest

The clearly marked trailhead, with parking, is located off Conesca Road in Raymond, and has a large kiosk with a map of the Forest and Raymond Community Forest trail maps available. On the warm July morning I visited, the field by the kiosk was bright with wildflowers.

Grape Expectations Trail, Raymond Community Forest

I started by moving left, onto from the central Spiller Homestead Loop to the Grape Expectations Trail, marked with a yellow diamond with a black dot in the center. This pleasant narrow and winding trail was lined with more wildflowers and sweet fern, and has plank bridges to traverse the small streams that criss-cross the Forest. Open areas have patches of wild raspberry and strawberry. I saw a large swallowtail butterfly in the center of the trail, and a juvenile chickadee flew onto a nearby branch to check me out.

Swallowtail Butterfly, Raymond Community Forest

After about a mile, the trail connected back with the Spiller Homestead Loop, marked with pink diamonds, and I continued left on the loop towards Crescent Lake. This trail contains interpretive signs, which identify tree species, geologic facts (look for “glacial erratics”) and natural history, and winds through old stone walls. The sounds of powerboats on Crescent Lake could be faintly heard, but the predominant noise was birdsong and the chattering of chipmunks and squirrels.

Spiller Homestead Loop, Raymond Community Forest

I continued back across Conesca Road on the Pismire Bluff trail (blue diamond with white dot in the center), stopping to eat wild raspberries in the clearing before being swallowed by the woods. The trail climbs steeply and turns sharply, and a large open rockslide area can be seen through the trees to the east. A short (.1 mi) spur leads to a viewpoint on Pismire Bluff, overlooking Crescent Lake and Rattlesnake Mountain to the west.

Pismire Bluff Trail, Raymond Community Forest

Co-located with this spur is the .7 mile Highlands Loop trail (red diamond with white dot in the center), which descends through new forest, ascending again to return to Pismire Bluff. A short downhill walk down the Pismire Bluff Trail and a left turn (after crossing Conesca Road) leads back to the Spiller Homestead Loop and the parking area.

Highlands Loop, Raymond Community Forest
View from Pismire Mountain, Raymond, Maine

Raymond Community Forest is a well-maintained wild oasis with great views of the Lakes Region, and its four varied trails allow for hikers of all abilities to enjoy it in different ways. In Raymond, the best place to stop for a pre- or post-hike lunch or a snack is The Good Life Market, at the corner of ME-85 and 302.

Rattlesnake Mountain (Raymond, ME)

Bri-Mar trailhead at ME-85 in Raymond, Maine

Rattlesnake Mountain (1,035 ft) is an approximately 2.6 mile moderately difficult (but family-friendly) out-and-back hike in Raymond, Maine, with two good viewpoints overlooking the Lakes Region. Allow about an hour or two for this adventure, depending on the abilities of those in your group. The small, well-marked parking area for the Bri-Mar trailhead is off Webbs Mills Road (ME-85), and open from sunrise to sunset. No dogs are allowed on this trail.

Wildflowers on Bri-Mar Trail, Rattlesnake Mountain, Raymond, Maine

We had completed this hike several years ago as a family during the fall, and the early July day I chose for this attempt was much warmer, with the field at the beginning of the hike full of wildflowers and bees. The field gives way to a wide, pine-covered road through a swampy area, then progresses upward on a narrower path.

Bri-Mar Trail, Rattlesnake Mountain, Raymond, ME

The forest itself was alive with birdsong, from chickadees, woodpeckers, and mourning doves, as well as the chattering and rustling of squirrels and chipmunks. Deerflies were a problem at the beginning of the hike, but thinned as I climbed. The trail was mostly empty in the morning, as I only saw two other trail users, both trail runners, but can be fairly busy on summer afternoons.

Bri-Mar Trail, Rattlesnake Mountain

The Bri-Mar trail, named in memory of Brian and Marlene Huntress, is maintained by the Huntress family. This trail is easily followed, with red arrows spray-painted on rocks and trees in areas of uncertainty. The trail is steep in places, but becomes more of a ridge hike at the viewpoints and summit. Logs over the trail provide fun obstacles for kids to climb over, and several wild blueberry bushes cover the margins of the trail towards the summit.

Viewpoint, Rattlesnake Mountain

Rattlesnake Mountain is a great Lakes Region hike for families. Enjoy the vistas provided by the two viewpoints on ledges, as the summit itself is wooded, and leads to other trails sloping downward. After the hike, a great place to stop for lunch or a snack in Raymond is The Good Life Market, at the corner of ME-85 and 302, with all kinds of fresh options for every diet. In the fall, we have also picked apples down the road at Meadow Brook Farm.

Shaker Woods Reserve (Alfred, ME)

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Shaker Woods Reserve, Alfred, ME

Shaker Woods Reserve is a short lollipop loop hike in Alfred, Maine, about 1.9 miles in total length (appx 45 minutes). The 34-acre Reserve, accessible from a small parking lot on Stone Road, is owned by the Town of Alfred, and is open from dawn to dusk, for foot traffic only (dogs must be leashed). A detailed map is available from Three Rivers Land Trust.

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Shaker Woods Reserve trails, Alfred, ME

On a cool June morning (read: before mosquitoes woke up), I hiked this quiet, wooded trail, which winds through land bounded on the east by the Middle Branch of the Mousam River and on the south by Hay Brook. Deer tracks covered the trail, and throughout my walk, I could hear them bounding away from me intermittently, but never saw them. The trail was lined with ferns and the bright white flowers of berry bushes.

Shaker Woods Reserve, Alfred, ME

The immersion in nature was not total, as the trail’s beginning skirts the edge of private yards, and vehicle sounds, including a train horn, punctuated the quiet morning. But the songbirds, red squirrels and chipmunks continued their chorus throughout. This short hike is perfect for families, and provides many opportunities for bird and wildlife viewing. 

Shaker Woods Reserve, Alfred, ME

5 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcast Episodes of May 2020

The best podcasts we listened to in May 2020 showed us different viewpoints, or new ways to look at familiar topics. How does vulnerability make us more powerful, how can positivity and the ability to make people laugh benefit us in the outdoors, how can we meditatively appreciate the changing seasons, and what does American wildlife management look like to a visitor from abroad?

Below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in May 2020, with a brief description of each podcast.

A warning – playing podcasts or music on external speakers while hiking is basically a capital offense.  Playing podcasts or music through headphones/earbuds while hiking is somewhere in the spectrum of inadvisable to mortally dangerous.  Just from a common sense standpoint, why would you want to have your hearing and attention somewhere else if you want to maximize the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors (or, more basically, fail to hear the bear you just startled)?  All that being said, hike your own hike.

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Rich Roll Podcast1. For Colin O’Brady, Infinite Love Fuels Human Potential (May 18, 2020) from The Rich Roll Podcast

Rich Roll’s podcast always digs deep, and this interview with elite adventure athlete Colin O’Brady covers O’Brady’s December 2019 human-powered ocean row with an intrepid crew of rowers 600 nautical miles across the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica. This incredible feat was timed with the release of O’Brady’s memoir, The Impossible First, covering O’Brady’s journey into adventure sports, culminating in his solo crossing of Antarctica.

O’Brady is a skilled storyteller, and his rapport with Roll yields many nuggets from the experiences of both men. O’Brady talks about the difficult process of writing his book, finding inspiration, and the valuable practice of embracing vulnerability, which O’Brady has honed through a unique twelve year written correspondence with a group of twelve friends called “the fellas.” All this experience helped O’Brady through the book and the rowing journey, which included governmental roadblocks, freezing water, and massive waves.

At the end of the interview, Roll plays a later follow-up interview with O’Brady, in which Roll gives O’Brady a chance to respond to a February National Geographic article critical of O’Brady’s accomplishments. The segment is interesting and fair, but may be a little too “inside baseball” for most. What lingers is O’Brady’s gratitude, and the compelling story of his ascent to the highest levels of adventure racing (2 hrs 42 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: For Colin O’Brady, Infinite Love Fuels Human Potential


Backpacker_Radio_new_art2. Sean “Shug” Emery on Hammock Camping and Life as a Circus Clown (May 13, 2020) from Backpacker Radio

The Backpacker Radio interviews tend to be wide-ranging, but few are as broadly interesting as the story of Sean “Shug” Emery, a former circus clown for Ringling Brothers and currently a YouTuber, providing information and funny videos about hammock camping. Emery, an outstanding raconteur discusses how he became a clown, with wild stories from the dog-eat-dog world of Clown College, and his years traveling with the circus via train. This even includes a breakdown of the vaunted “clown car” trick.

Eventually, Emery transitions to his current life in Minnesota, where he backpacks (and still performs). Emery talks about the Boundary Waters, hammocks, art, and practical advice for new or older backpackers. As pointed out by hosts Chaunce and Badger, Emery’s antics are reminiscent (in a good way) of Robin Williams. The podcast closes with the obligatory Backpacker Radio poop story, a mailbag, and some backcountry matchmaking (3 hrs 1 minute).

Apple Podcast link: Sean “Shug” Emery on Hammock Camping and Life as a Circus Clown


Wild Ideas Worth Living

3. Finding Humor with Brendan Leonard (May 11, 2020) from Wild Ideas Worth Living Podcast

Shelby Stanger’s podcast is about turning ideas into reality, and in this episode, she talks to author/illustrator/adventurer Brendan Leonard about his comedic work and inspiration. Leonard’s website, Semi-Rad, contains his humorous drawings, essays, and adventure writing (try clicking through “100 Favorite Things” and not smiling or going down an internet rabbit hole). His comedic drawings mostly consist of charts and graphs, like a pro-con list of adopting a dog or a grizzly bear, or greeting other people on the trail.

Leonard talks about cooking during a pandemic, Instagram recommendations, cultivating humor, how his life informs his drawings and writings, and trying to meet the needs of his audience. This episode highlights Leonard’s uplifting outlook, which is relentlessly positive and humorous, with observations through the lens of the outdoors (32 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Finding Humor with Brendan Leonard


logo-cropped-square4. Episode 123: Hobblebush (May 16, 2020) from The Nature of Phenology

Phenology is the study of the life cycles of plants and animals through the seasons. The delightful Nature of Phenology podcast, hosted by Hazel Stark, is a production of WERU, a community radio station serving Midcoast, Downeast, and Central Maine. This mid-May episode focuses on hobblebush, a flowering shrub whose white flowers are familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Maine woods.

The hobblebush’s large, flat leaves are sometimes known as “Boy Scout’s toilet paper,” and its name comes from its low-lying branches, which can easily ensnare a foot or an ankle. This episode is excellent, and anyone (particularly those in Northern New England) interested in learning more about the seasonal changes around them should subscribe to this easily digestible (5 minutes) weekly podcast filled with nature sounds and insights.

Apple Podcast link: Episode 123: Hobblebush


Scotland Outdoors

5. Wolves in Wyoming from Scotland Outdoors

To a New Englander, Euan McIlwraith and Mark Stephen’s excellent Scotland Outdoors podcast, produced by BBC Radio, often seems like a fascinating alternate natural history. What are the similarities we hold with an English-speaking area with a similar climate, populated by comparable or analogous plants and animals, but managed differently over time? Fitting, then, that this episode turns its gaze toward Wyoming, and the Scotland Outdoors crew explores the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park with British ecologist and writer Philippa Forrester.

One of the best ways to evaluate our own surroundings is to see it through someone else’s eyes, in this case, a view of American wolves from the United Kingdom. Forrester discusses her book about the twenty-five year impact of wolves in the ecosystem, including the wolf archetype over time, and the reaction of humans to the re-introduction process. This episode, including an eloquent reading by Forrester from her book, blends anecdotes and science in a fascinating overview of man’s relationship to large predators (33 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Wolves in Wyoming


Back in 2018, we ranked our top ten hiking and outdoors podcasts of 2018.  In 2019, we changed the format, listing our five favorite hiking and outdoors individual podcast episodes of 2019.  We consume a lot of podcasts, and those focused on being outdoors seem to have proliferated exponentially since we started listening.  That’s why, in 2020, we are trying something new.  This year, we will attempt to pick out the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes each month (or at least our favorites).

Disagree?  Have suggestions?  Leave a comment or Contact us.

Presumpscot River Preserve (Portland, ME)

Calmer water and a cormorant, past Presumpscot Falls, Portland, ME
Calmer water and a cormorant, past Presumpscot Falls, Portland, ME

The Presumpscot River Preserve, with trails maintained by Portland Trails, consists of 48 acres along the Presumpscot River, which flows from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, owned collaboratively between the City of Portland, City of Falmouth, Portland Trails and private landowners. This Preserve is accessible from trailheads at Oat Nuts Park on Summit, Hope Lane, Overset Rd, and the west side of Rte 100 at the bridge over the Presumpscot (Portland/Falmouth line).

Presumpscot River Preserve, Portland, ME

From the Route 100 Trailhead, it is approximately 2.2 miles one-way to the Oat Nuts trailhead on Summit, and 1.6 miles to Presumpscot Falls. This makes for a 4.4 mile or 3.2 mile total out and back. A lollipop loop is possible, using the Sebago To The Sea Trail, but requires travel on roads (Garsoe Drive and Route 100). For comprehensive maps, see Portland Trails’ site.

This small riverside preserve is an excellent place to bike, to run trails, to see birds and wildflowers, to fish, and even (for the bold) to swim. Spring wildflowers cycle through their peak here, including trillium, trout lilies, and lady slippers, and every week can include a new bloom.

Presumpscot River Preserve, Portland, ME

On recent trips, we saw cormorants, herons, ospreys, nuthatches, gulls, and sparrows. Some of these birds are drawn by late spring’s alewife run. In mid-summer, there are blackberries along the Oat Nuts trail, and in open areas near power lines, closer to the Overset entrance.

Presumpscot River near Oat Nuts Trail intersection, Portland, ME

Portions of the Oat Nuts trail have poison ivy close to (but not on) the trail, so be cautious about small children wandering and grabbing. Additionally, you will find mosquitoes aplenty during the wetter months, which are not terrible if you keep moving.

Presumpscot Falls, Portland, ME

The falls are loud, rushing, and impressive, particularly in the spring melt, and the trail continues alongside, showing the former dam site, which was removed in 2002. The trail ends at private land prior to the Allen Ave/Falmouth bridge, so please respect private property.

Oat Nuts Trail, Portland, Maine

The Presumpscot River Preserve is a family-friendly destination, with shaded trails and loops of wildflowers to explore, close to Maine’s largest downtown, but far from a city. We have a particular affinity for this place, having visited as a family, and have smelled wildflowers, picked berries, and inspected salamanders and bugs underneath logs there for years.

Tumbledown Mountain (Weld, ME)

View of Tumbledown from Tumbledown Pond, Weld, Maine
View of Tumbledown peaks from Tumbledown Pond, Weld, ME

Tumbledown Mountain (3,068 ft) in Weld, Maine, is a beloved hike to many Mainers, due to its accessibility and the unique nature of Tumbledown Pond near the summit (this pond is a geological feature called a “tarn”).  Normally, taking a break to swim or fly fish at the top of a mountain is just a daydream.  We first hiked this in April 2017 during our 100-Mile Wilderness training, and again more recently in May 2020, so neither of these warm weather activities were available at elevation.

Ascending the Loop Trail on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.
Ascending the Loop Trail on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.

The Loop Trail ascends to the Tumbledown Ridge Trail from a trailhead on Byron Road, and by descending on the Brook Trail you can make a loop with Byron Road that is about 5.6 miles.  In good conditions, this is a moderate to difficult hike, but winter/spring trail conditions can push the meter toward or past strenuous.  Do not attempt to summit Tumbledown before June without checking trail conditions, unless you have gear (and the experience) to deal with snow and ice.

Spring melt waterfall on Brook Trail, Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.
Spring melt waterfall on Brook Trail, Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.

An easier out-and-back ascent (4.7 miles) can be accomplished from the Brook Trail trailhead on Byron Road, the route we took more recently. Trail maps and info are available via the Tumbledown Conservation Alliance and our go-to guide, the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, which has a detailed trail map inside.

The Loop Trail ascends through a lovely pine forest, then a steady uphill climb past some truly massive boulders.  At the time of year we went, the beginning of the trail was very boggy.  We started to see signs of winter’s staying power as we gained elevation, with large slabs of ice under rocks, and snow in shaded areas.  The snow became deeper as we moved up, and the trail was difficult to follow.

View from Tumbledown Mountain, West Peak, Weld, Maine.
View from Tumbledown Mountain, West Peak, Weld, ME.

We crossed and re-crossed a torrent of ice and water as we climbed, until we couldn’t find a way around it, and puzzled over the trail for a few minutes.  Thankfully, daughter located the small opening in the boulders we needed to climb through, complete with iron rungs to hold on to.  Daughter made it through with her pack, but dad had to remove his, as it was a tight fit through a frozen waterfall (aptly named “Fat Man’s Misery”).  The Maine Mountain Guide notes that this part of the trail makes it unsuitable for dogs, and we would definitely agree (the aforementioned Brook Trail is an alternative ascent for those with canine companions). It was a short scramble from there to the west peak, with breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

View of Tumbledown Pond, a tarn on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, Maine.
View of Tumbledown Pond, a tarn on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.

The Tumbledown Ridge trail, a pleasant downhill ridge hike with more views of the valley, brought us to Tumbledown Pond, which was frozen on both occasions.  The tarn is a great place to stop and enjoy a meal and a break. In May 2020, the wind was too powerful to allow much of a stay, but we found a spot in the lee of a large boulder to crouch and have a snack.

Tumbledown Pond outlet, a waterfall cascading down over the Brook Trail, Weld, ME.
Tumbledown Pond outlet, a waterfall cascading down over the Brook Trail, Weld, ME.

The descent is down the Brook Trail to Byron Road.  Humans and animals use the same trails, and there can be a surprisingly high amount (read: tonnage) of moose droppings on the Brook Trail, but we did not see any moose on the way down.  We agreed that we would have to come back to Tumbledown in the summer, as this was one of our favorite hikes.

Oh, and one bonus feature…

Funny billboard in Canton on the way to Tumbledown
Funny billboard in Canton, ME, on the way to Tumbledown.

We saw this billboard on the way through Canton, Maine, in 2017 and could not resist taking a picture.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Center Hill Nature Trail (Weld, ME)

The Center Hill Nature Trail is a short (half-mile) loop located on Center Hill (1,658 ft), inside Mount Blue State Park, off Center Hill Road (unpaved) in Weld, Maine. This trail begins and ends at the parking area for the Center Hill picnic area, and includes excellent views of Mount Blue, Tumbledown Mountain, Webb Lake, and the surrounding lakes and mountains.

Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine
Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine
The steep, winding access road from Center Hill Road to the summit is paved, but not plowed in winter. There are snowshoe trails accessible to hikers from the base of the hill, or from the winter trailhead at park headquarters at 299 Center Hill Road, Weld, Maine. The best guide is Mount Blue State Park’s map and brochure.
View of (right to left) West, Old Blue, Tumbledown, Little Jackson, and Jackson Mountains from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine.
View of (right to left) West, Old Blue, Tumbledown, Little Jackson, and Jackson Mountains from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine.
We visited in May, before the summit road was open, and navigated the icy road to the summit on foot, then walked the Center Hill Nature Trail counter-clockwise, stopping at each viewpoint.  The trail was wet, but easily navigable, and snow was only present in shaded areas.
Viewpoint from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine
Viewpoint from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine
This short trail is perfect for families, with picturesque spots to take photos and picnic tables with beautiful views, and brochures are available (in summer) for a self-guided natural history hike through numbered stations.  In the summer, swimming is available a short drive away at Mount Blue State Park’s Webb Beach and Campground on the opposite side of Webb Lake.
View of Mount Blue's trademark conical summit from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine
View of Mount Blue’s trademark conical summit from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine
For those doing more challenging hikes in the area of Tumbledown, Mount Blue, or other peaks, this ring is a nice break, and the viewpoints and benches are an easy way to get the lay of the land of the Mount Blue area.
View through the trees of Tumbledown, Little Jackson, and Jackson Mountains from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine.
View through the trees of Tumbledown, Little Jackson, and Jackson Mountains from Center Hill Nature Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Weld, Maine.

5 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcast Episodes of April 2020

If March was a time to process, April 2020 was hopefully a time for solutions.  Last month’s list included thoughts and feelings on the pandemic, and while the podcasts we listened to in April 2020 were indelibly influenced by the world around them, the podcasts we selected this month as our top five were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful.  These episodes and stories from around the world focus more on using the limitations we are under as bumpers or guardrails, and finding a way forward.  They are filled with video links, birdsong, and hopeful human stories that transcend separation. Below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in April 2020, with a brief description of each podcast.

A warning – playing podcasts or music on external speakers while hiking is basically a capital offense.  Playing podcasts or music through headphones/earbuds while hiking is somewhere in the spectrum of inadvisable to mortally dangerous.  Just from a common sense standpoint, why would you want to have your hearing and attention somewhere else if you want to maximize the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors (or, more basically, fail to hear the bear you just startled)?  All that being said, hike your own hike.

Portland (Maine) Trails, April 2020
Forest City Trail at sunset, Portland Trails, April 2020


Shenanigans_TC_3-1536x15361. Shenanigans (April 24, 2020) from the Dirtbag Diaries

Mike Flanigan is the “most optimistic person” Scott Guinn knows.  The two men met several years ago in San Diego, and quickly became friends and climbing partners.  Through descriptions and interviews, Dirtbag Diaries hosts Fitz Cahall and Cordelia Zars recount the growth of Mike and Scott’s friendship, and the mischievous fun and connection they find in climbing and outdoor adventure. While their relationship was lighthearted, and built on shared “shenanigans,” vulnerability and trust created a layered friendship that survived the distance between San Diego and Colorado.

After Scott left climbing gear at Mike’s place, Mike mailed these items back to Scott, along with a written challenge. While the stakes were low (pride and a six-pack of beer), this ignited a series of counter-challenges and accompanying trash-talking correspondence.  The story is full of relatable details like unanticipated obstacles, productive suffering, and the unexpected difficulty of catching a thrown beer can from atop a rock face.

The challenges gave both men “an excuse” to get outdoors and accomplish things they would not have attempted otherwise.  The Dirtbag Diaries consistently finds the human element in nature, and provides topical, insightful stories of ordinary people finding extraordinary adventures and truths in the outdoors.  This simple story of friendship provides relatable lessons on connection and vulnerability, despite the challenges of separation and time (38 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Shenanigans


Outside In2. Inside/In: How to be a Backyard Birber (April 16, 2020) from Outside/In

This short episode featuring Taylor Quimby (and his young son) and Sam Evans-Brown explores the possibilities of watching birds from a window or a backyard with suggestions from Bridget Butler (Vermont, “The Bird Diva” ), J. Drew Lanham, Ph.D (Clemson ornithologist), and Karen Purcell (Cornell, Project Director, “Celebrate Urban Birds”) on how to enjoy the spaces that are available to us.

Rather than a worldwide scavenger hunt to fill a notebook with birds seen, this episode looks at backyard birding as a mindfulness practice.  “Birding by ear” is prominently featured, and birdsong records are present throughout the podcast.  The Merlin application, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a citizen science project that allows backyard birders to contribute to our understanding of birds, and Celebrate Urban Birds, another Cornell project, salutes the more common birds that survive alongside us. As spring arrives in the Northeast, this simple activity allows us to recognize what we have.  As Dr. Lanham says, a “warbler that ends up in your yard is your link to a tropical rainforest,” and “stitches the world together with feathers.” (25 mins).

Apple Podcast link: How to be a Backyard Birber


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

3. Episode 23 GOOD VIBES ONLY (April 4, 2020) from Hike or Die Outdoor Adventure Podcast

Broadcast from lockdown, after a hiatus due to Australian bushfires and the pandemic, this brilliant comeback from the Hike or Die podcast wasn’t recorded in the outdoors, but remotely by Tom Griffin and Craig Brinin from a studio (and a desk underneath a bunk bed). Unlike the others on this list, this is not a standalone audio experience.  This is a multi-media presentation from Down Under, best enjoyed by listening to the podcast while following along on the show page with links to videos and photos.

After an acknowledgement of the serious of the situation, and the need to be safe and responsible, Tom and Craig curate and comment on lighthearted and positive news stories touching on the outdoors – 4×4’s in lakes, feeding animals, dinosaur trees, helicopter evacuations, walking sharks, insane races caught on video, and amazing trail cam videos. The wide-ranging discussions include gear talk about K-Bar tactical sporks, using bush stoves vs. outdoor fire danger, irreverent listener emails, bushcraft, and great book recommendations.  This is a two-hour great escape outdoors for a rainy day  (1 hr 59 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Episode 23 – GOOD VIBES ONLY


Out Alive Backpacker4. Mystery on the Mountain (April 6, 2020) from Out Alive Podcast from Backpacker

In October 2010, Pam Bales, a volunteer member of the Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue Team, was on a hike up the Jewell Trail, headed for New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, thinking about turning around due to deteriorating conditions, when she found a barely unconscious man (“John”) off a side trail.  Pam was confused about “John’s” situation, as he was so clearly unequipped for a fall hike in the treacherous Presidential Range, would not provide his name, and seemed completely unmotivated to rescue himself. Pam tried to get “John” warm with the food, gear, and clothing she had brought with her.

Pam pushed, motivated, and cajoled “John” during the descent down the mountain. “John” departed in his car after thawing out, and Pam was left wondering, “What the F just happened?”  We won’t spoil the ending, but an anonymous letter postmarked from Portland, Maine, shed a shocking light on the circumstances in which Pam found “John.” This is a great story about reaching out and helping others, even if they seem unwilling to help themselves (27 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Mystery on the Mountain


Off Track - ABC Radio National

5. Whip it good [Earworms from Planet Earth xii] from Off Track

Off Track is always full of high-quality sounds of nature, and never more so than in this episode that begins with Australian whipbirds (“whippys”).  The Earworms from Planet Earth series are crowd-sourced, composed of sounds submitted from the podcast’s audience. Host Ann Jones introduces the whipbird sounds, and with the assistance of experts, provides background and explanation, including pulling individual calls from whipbirds (and many other birds) from a cacophony of rainforest sounds.

The curated audio then transitions to other wild sounds, including the growling and pecking of the crane-like brolga, and a mystery sound/call from the Sidney area.  You can hear the sounds of an island off Tasmania, seabirds from another Australian island, and many other places, animals, and birds (25 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Whip It Good [Earworms from Planet Earth xii]


Back in 2018, we ranked our top ten hiking and outdoors podcasts of 2018.  In 2019, we changed the format, listing our five favorite hiking and outdoors individual podcast episodes of 2019.  We consume a lot of podcasts, and those focused on being outdoors seem to have proliferated exponentially since we started listening.  That’s why, in 2020, we are trying something new.  This year, we will attempt to pick out the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes each month (or at least our favorites).

Disagree?  Have suggestions?  Leave a comment or Contact us.

Sprague Pond Loop Trail, Basin Preserve (Phippsburg, ME)

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Seam of green moss surrounding stream, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
The Sprague Pond Loop Trail through the Basin Preserve in Phippsburg, ME, is a quiet hike through diverse coastal woodland.  The Basin Preserve consists of over 1800 acres in Phippsburg, Maine, from land donated anonymously to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2006, and adjoins the Sprague Pond Preserve, maintained by the Phippsburg Land Trust. Trail maps of this rolling hike, featuring ridges, mixed hardwood, coastal pitch pine woodland, shrub marsh, and a 10-acre spring-fed pond, are available for download on the TNC website.
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Ridge covered in sunlight and blueberry plants, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
On a warm spring day, we took the Loop Trail, from the Burnt Ledge Loop trailhead on Basin Road and a portion of the Meditation Trail along Sprague Pond for a 5.8 mile loop (appx 2.5 hrs). Basin Road is closed for winter maintenance until April 15th, and trails (open sunrise to sunset) can also be accessed from the Sprague Pond Preserve trailhead on Route 209.
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Spring runoff in wooded stream, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
Take time at the Basin Road trailhead to read the sign next to the fenced-in area opposite the trail, where TNC and the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation maintain a seed orchard, where they are attempting to a produce a blight-resistant chestnut adapted to Maine’s climate. The Sprague Pond Loop Trail is a lollipop loop that divides at Burnt Ledge, and we chose the counter-clockwise loop, heading first down the western side of the trail.
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Rocky terrain and mixed vegetation, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
This well-marked path, covered in pine needles, winds up and down small ridges, which are covered in blueberry plants.  Despite the recent rains and swollen streams due to snow melt, the trails were dry and well-maintained.  A few fallen trees made for brief scrambles/detours, but this was the exception, rather than the rule.
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Canada geese, south end of Sprague Pond, Phippsburg, ME
We saw and heard songbirds and squirrels throughout the hike, but the animal life peaked at Sprague Pond, where we saw mallard ducks, a great blue heron, Canada geese, a circling bird of prey (unidentified), and a garter snake enjoying the sunny Meditation Trail. Shortly after the pond, a beaver dam and lodge were visible, and a spring torrent fed a rocky waterfall next to the trail.
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Waterfall near Sprague Pond, Phippsburg, ME
After the waterfall, the eastern side of the loop was primarily a mixed hardwood forest, open and light-filled, with desiccated beech leaves rattling in the wind, chattering squirrels and silent birches awaiting spring.  This serene coastal woodland preserve offers a nearly six mile uninterrupted walk through pines, moss, blueberries, and birdsong.  

(Note: no pets or bikes are allowed on the trail)

Rumford Whitecap (Rumford, ME)

View west from the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap
View west from the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap

Rumford Whitecap Mountain (2,214 ft) in Rumford is accessible through trails maintained by the Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT), for a 5.4 mile out/back to the summit on the Orange Trail (or slightly longer using the Starr and Orange Trails), or a longer traverse over Black Mountain via the Black/White Trail (requires spotting a car).  MLT’s website advertises Rumford Whitecap as a four-season destination for hiking, snowshoeing, and back country skiing, with blueberries in the summer.

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Forest “gateway” descending the Orange Trail, Rumford Whitecap Mountain, Maine.

I have ascended via the Connector to the Starr Trail (marked with yellow blazes and flagging tape), and returned via the Orange Trail, and would suggest this route (or its reverse) for the views, rather than just the Orange Trail.  I used the guidebooks Maine Mountain Guide and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path for detailed trail maps and descriptions.  You can also find a map on the AllTrails app or Maine Trailfinder (link at the MLT website above).

(COVID-19 note: the Mahoousuc Land Trust advises on its website: “Our trails and preserves remain open, and are a great way to get fresh air and exercise. . . Please carefully adhere to these State restrictions and guidelines, and note that parking lot and trail closures will result if crowding occurs or the required distancing is not maintained.)

Spring waterfalls on the Connector between the Starr and Red/Orange Trails, Rumford Whitecap
Spring waterfalls on the Connector between the Starr and Red/Orange Trails, Rumford Whitecap

Both trails, divided by a pleasantly running brook in a valley between them, were muddy, but well-maintained.  The Connector crossed the brook, with spring runoff created small waterfalls along the way.  Rains can create a morning fog, but also spur the growth of a variety of May wildflowers from the trailhead to the summit.

Spring wildflowers, Rumford Whitecap, Rumford, Maine
Spring wildflowers, Rumford Whitecap, Rumford, Maine

The Starr Trail transitions from a grassy woods road to a winding climb, becoming more strenuous as the deciduous forest changes to a more sparse, rocky pine forest, and opens up on ledges with spectacular views of the Mahoosucs and White Mountains.

Descent out of the woods into the clouds on the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap
Descent out of the woods into the clouds on the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap

After the junction with the Orange Trail, the summit is only about another .5 miles, hopping over small cool rivulets of water running down the exposed rock face.  Close to the summit last May, there was what appeared to be a large deposit of bear poop, but a quick look around didn’t disclose any prints.  The summit itself is open in all directions, and a great spot for a picnic.

The long summit ridge of Rumford Whitecap
The long summit ridge of Rumford Whitecap

After a brief rest at the summit to enjoy the view and chew on some jerky, I headed back down the Orange Trail.  The trail ran like a creek in places, with the spring rains, and remains diverted for a section.  The hike can take about two to two and-a-half hours, with plenty of stops to listen to birdsong, inspect wildflowers, watch bumblebees at work, and pick up and inspect pieces of quartz.