The Best Places to Watch Wildlife in New England
Few experiences are more awe-inspiring than watching a whale launch its body next to your boat, or seeing an eagle pirouette overhead. See our picks for the best places to watch wildlife in New England.
With experiences like these, it’s no wonder that wildlife watching is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the country. Diane Bair and Pamela Wright are co-authors of Wild Encounters: The Best Animal-Watching Adventures in the U.S. (Willow Creek Press) as well as a 16-book series of wildlife guides for children. They shared their picks for the best places to watch wildlife in New England with us. (For guided tours, remember to reserve early.)
Moose in Maine
Lobsters? Sure. But the state of Maine is also home to about 76,000 moose. One of the moosiest zones in the state is the aptly named Moose-head Lake. This place is Moose-Watch Central: You can do it on foot, by boat, via seaplane, or on a guided moose safari. Closest we’ve come to a sure thing when it comes to spotting a moose is a moose-watch cruise with The Birches Resort in Rockwood. The boat captain knows all the secret, pine-shrouded coves where the moose tend to hang out.
Best time to go: Summer
Whales in Massachusetts
One of the best places in the world to see whales—typically, humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes—is Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Just a few miles out to sea, this underwater plateau is a smorgasbord for these gentle giants. Whale watching is so reliable here that local tour companies claim a sighting record of 99 percent. Narration by on-board naturalists adds to the experience. Boston’s New England Aquarium Whale Watch is a popular option.
Best time to go: Mid-April to late October
Eagles in Connecticut
From January through March, the picturesque towns of the lower Connecticut River play host to more than 100 wintering bald eagles, the largest concentration in New England. Bare branches make it easy to see these majestic birds when they gather along the water, looking for open areas to feed from when many northern waters are frozen solid. The Audubon Society out of Haddam and the Connecticut River Museum in Essex offer naturalist-led eagle-watch boat tours on the river (boats are heated). Reservations required.
Best time to go: Winter
Black Bears in New Hampshire
Surprise: The outlet-shopping mecca of North Conway is home to New England’s top spot for seeing black bears, The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve. Bears feast on ripening blueberry and huckleberry bushes on the preserve’s low-range mountainsides, starting in July. When fall comes, they roam the woods, fattening up on acorns and beechnuts. Watch for bears as you walk the trails in the 4,000-plus-acre preserve; hike to the top of Peaked Mountain for a great vantage point. (Remember, keep your distance from bears. Check out the safety information at: wildnh.com/wildlife/faqs_black_bears.htm)
Best times to go: Summer and fall
Great Blue Herons in Vermont
Paddle down the Missisquoi River from Louie’s Landing in Swanton toward the northeastern shores of Lake Champlain, and you’ll encounter Shad Island, home to the largest colony of great blue herons in Vermont, and one of the largest in the East. Of course you’ve seen these stately birds before, but never like this. The herons make stick nests in trees along the shore—sometimes high up—and raise their young in a boisterous flock. (Watch quietly, as the birds are easily disturbed during nesting season.) Head down along the shore of Gander and Goose bays and return to the river via Dead Creek, for an 11-mile loop. The island is part of the 6,729-acre Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, near the Canadian border, about an hour north of Burlington.
Best time to go: Summer