Rich MacDonald, with his gear and his bike, goes birding. ISLANDER PHOTO BY NINAH GILE

Town Hill naturalist goes birding by bicycle 



TOWN HILL — Rich MacDonald wants folks to know that they don’t have to drive a car to go birding. In fact, people can see just as much, or more, from a bicycle 

Town Hill’s MacDonald, a naturalist and author of “Little Big Year: Chasing Acadia’s Birds, a book chronicling a year of bird watching in Hancock County in 2018, is currently writing a new book about his adventures birding by bike.  

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Migrant Bird Treaty Act in 2018, MacDonald decided to go birding by car and to write a book about his experiences.  

When he was reflecting on the year, MacDonald said he reviewed records of his daily mileage and discovered that he drove 6,390 miles. “I was a little appalled by how much I drove,” he said.  

When he finished that book at the end of 2020, MacDonald wanted to write a birding book that was specifically propelled towards global warming and climate change. “I’m going to do this [birding] again, but I’m going to do it zero carbon. I’m going to bike, I’m going to walk, I’m going to crosscountry ski, I’m gonna canoe, I’m gonna kayak,” he said 

In making that decision, the outdoorsman rigged his bike to haul skis, canoes or kayaks to begin his birding expedition. “On Dec. 31, I biked to Schoodic to do the Schoodic Christmas Bird Count. From my house, it’s 36 miles and it had been a few months (since October) that I had biked. I spent the night over there; it was cold — it was in the 20s,” he said. On days with low temperatures, the biker is prepared with helmet covers, windproof thermals, food, extra water and waterproof gear.   

“You know, we’re only a little over three months into the year and I’ve already traveled over 500 miles. I’ve seen 93 species of birds for this book, which will be more of an environmental book with birds as a unifying theme.” 

MacDonald was able to identify 268 species in “Little Big Year,” record he hopes to beat in 2021.  

Over the course of one day this past week, MacDonald biked from his house in Town Hill to Northeast Creek, Clark Cove, past the head of the island all the way to Thompson Island and back, adding that the “people who drive by are starting to wave.”  

Next week, if weather allows, he plans to bike to Marlboro Beach in Lamoine. 

More than threequarters of the birds MacDonald identifies are by sound.  

“For me, there’s a lot of ways I go birding. The biggest way is by earI know the alarms and calls, but I always have my binoculars with me,” he said. “I’ve also been carrying my spotting scope, designed for birding, to see farther.”  

Though his published works are not picture books, the naturalist carries his camera at all times to take plenty of photos for his book.  

Later, when the birds migrate for spring, MacDonald plans on peddling up to the northernmost part of the county. “It’s about 60 miles north of here,” he said, adding that he plans to camp up there for at least four days.  

With the new book based on his 2021 birding journey by bicycle, MacDonald not only wants to promote a zerocarbon initiative but also wants to prove that anyone can be venturesome. “Anyone can be adventurous and do these things, you just have to have the desire,” he said. 

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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