Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is tucked away in the town of Milford, Maine, between Orono/Old Town and the remote Downeast Lakes area. This 11,485 acre refuge protects the Sunkhaze Meadows peat bog, and is unique for its concentration of birds, including a large population of neotropical migratory warblers, which typically arrive in May and June. The Carter Meadow Trail, marked by a small brown rectangular sign and a gate, is the first of three volunteer-maintained trails you will come to if accessing the NWR from the west (direction of Old Town and Milford). Parking is limited – there is one small spot in a clearing next to the gate, but space on the shoulder of Old County Road, which is a dirt road at this point. The best map and description is available from the Friends of Sunkhaze Meadows site. Blaze orange is suggested, as hunting is permitted here. The trailhead is right next to Little Birch Stream, which on this September day was overflowing with recent (and current) rain.
The Carter Meadow trail is a flat lollipop loop of about 2.5 miles, and can be completed in about an hour or so. Birds were always on the periphery of the trail, usually taking flight into the thick trees before I could identify them. The beginning of the hike is a woods road, Carter Meadow Road. At .4 miles in, the loop trail began, at a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) cabin with a small map. I chose to walk clockwise on the trail, marked with an FWS yellow diamond, as well as brown and white hiker decals. The Sunkhaze Meadows NWR site drily observes “Sunkhaze Meadows NWR is wet and has a healthy population of biting insects. You may want to wear boots and bring insect repellent.” This is an understatement. From late spring through mid-summer, the black flies and mosquitoes can be oppressive. Remember, though, that the trail is open year-round, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also possible (and bug-free). The trail was flooded due to recent rains, with some upheaval on some of the walkways over the swampy parts. The closer I got to the observation platform, the muddier the trail became.
Chickadees and thrushes circled the observation platform, which overlooks Little Birch Stream, Sunkhaze Stream, and the expanse of Sunkhaze and Spencer Meadows, comprised of five domed bogs, each containing a buildup of peat. You can see how, on a sunny day with a pair of binoculars, this could be a birdwatcher’s delight. Heading back on the loop was a bit mucky and wet. To go back to understatement, even waterproof boots can be insufficient after rain or storms, as the eastern side of the loop was essentially a tributary of the Little Birch Stream on the way back. In these conditions, it would be advisable to choose the western half of the loop as an out-and-back trail to the observation platform, adding .4 total miles, but possibly keeping dry boots/socks.