– By NANCY McCALLUM

Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

This time of year visitors to Maine might think about heading to the hills, to pluck apples and watch as the trees begin their dramatic transformation. Yet there are many beautiful destinations along the coast that capture the changing seasons. Here are several coastal nature areas open to the public that allow you to see Maine’s land, water and wildlife.

Scarborough Marsh

Maine’s palette starts changing from lush green to autumnal hues as early as late August. By September, Mother Nature has definitely begun slipping into something more seasonal. The first signs of this are not just in the trees that are the stars of the foliage show — no, the first signs are often in the sea marshes. Green grasses go to golds, oranges, russets, even red. And the marshes are also a great place to view the migratory birds who may be saying good bye to their summer homes.

Maine’s largest saltwater marsh is the Scarborough Marsh, a 3,100-acre preserve that formed where the Dunstan River meets the sea.

The marsh, on Pine Point Road (Route 9) in Scarborough, is part of the Audubon organization. It has a center, the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, which is open seasonally. This year it closes the weekend of Sept. 11.

The marsh, however, remains open to visitors, with access to trails such as a two-mile leg of the Eastern Trail, which in totality runs from Kittery to Casco Bay. Because the center is closed for the winter, you’ll need to bring your own canoe or kayak to explore the waterways, which include freshwater marshes and saltwater creeks.

It’s a popular place for birdwatchers. “Marshes are important for migratory birds,” says Sandy Gilbreath, a staff member at the Center. “Come at low tides, when they come to the mud flats to feed.”

The water trips start in the Dunstan River; along the way you may be fortunate enough to spot a snowy egret or a mummichog (that’s a fish). Bring a bird book to identify which birds are year-rounders and which are summer visitors. Besides the egret, the Marsh is home to herons, glossy ibis, sparrows and willets, and many others.

FMI: [email protected]

Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm

The Wells Reserve encompasses more than 2,200 acres of diverse coastal habitat that includes woods, fields, orchards, uplands, marshes, an estuary and a sand beach. Walking trails lead to the beach.

The Wells Reserve is also home to the Maine Coastal Ecology Center, a research center and environmental monitoring site. Researchers, using Wells as a base, collect data from Cape Elizabeth to Kittery for studies about the health of saltwater ecosystems.

The reserve also has a mission to provide low-cost educational programs to the community. Educators provide walks, talks, tours and on-site and in the schools.

The reserve is open year-round. To view the fall calendar, visit wellsreserve.org/visit.calendar.

Here are just a few of the upcoming programs that are open to the public: A talk about alewives in the Gulf of Maine, noon Sept. 14; a talk about oystercatchers (they’re birds, not fishermen) 7 p.m. Sept. 20; an end-of-summer star party at 7:30 p.m. Sept, 22.

The reserve will also be holding Punkinfiddle Sept. 24, an annual event now in its ninth year. The day-long event celebrates both harvest time and National Estuaries Day. It includes live music, traditional crafts, farm animals, games, learning activities, and lots of food and cider.

The Reserve is near Routes 1 and 9 in Wells. FMI: www.wellsreserve.org

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

Not far from the Wells Reserve, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge has a series of trails (the longest is just a mile) that are easy to walk , dog-friendly and handicapped accessible. The refuge is just off Route 9 in Wells, not far from Route 1. Trails are open seven days.

The refuge in Wells is the headquarters for 10 coastal sanctuaries that were created in homage to environmentalist, marine biologist and author Rachel Carson. They run from Cape Elizabeth to Kittery and include 5300 acres.

The trails here are self-guided, and wind through pine forest and above a salt marsh. Expect to see wildlife and sea birds (26 species have been recorded here), which flourish in this estuary formed with the Little River. Deer, even moose, can be seen. FMI: 646-9226. fws.gov/northeast/rachelcarson.

Gilsland Farm, Falmouth

Maine Audubon Society headquarters are here at the Gilsland Farm, a 65-acre sanctuary that’s only about five minutes north of Portland, up Route 1.

The farm is on the eastern bank of the Presumpscot River, near where it meets the Atlantic.

Visitors can walk two-and-a half miles of easy self-guided trails that follow along a pond, through woods, meadows, salt marshes and an orchard. Blinds allow a closer look at wildlife; a bluff over the Presumpscot affords a great view of sea birds. The estuary was once inhabited by the Wabanakis, who clammed along the tidal flats and fished and hunted along the waterways.

Today the farm is known for as its many types of birds, including the bobolinks and meadowlarks that nest here, migrating warblers, thrushes, finches, Canadian geese, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks.

Fox and deer thrive here, as do an unusual species of woodchuck, the black woodchuck.

Gilsland Farm is open year-round, except on holidays. It includes an environmental center, a Maine Audubon Nature Store, a children’s Discovery Room and a Teacher’s Resource center.

The farm is especially busy during the summer, with programs offered at the environmental center. One upcoming event of note is Apple Day Oct. 1. Apple Day is especially suited to families, with scavenger hunts, story telling, games and craft-making. It also features cider pressing, an organic market, music and contra dancing. The event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free. FMI: 781-2330. maineaudubon.org.

Nancy McCallum is a freelance writer who lives in Sanford.