A spring paddle on the waters of the James Dorso Wildlife Management Area (formerly known as the Ruffingham Meadow WMA) in Searsmont truly validates the proverb “good things come in small packages.” It may not look impressive on the Delorme map, nor wow you from the boat launch area on Route 3, but once you hit the water you will quickly be absorbed into a wondrous haven for wildlife. Allow about two hours to explore the pond in a leisurely manner.
The pond was created in the 1950s by damming up Bartlett Stream at Route 3 and flooding an old existing basin. In the late 1960s a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife technician, James Dorso, pioneered the use of nesting boxes in Maine to bolster and stabilize populations of wood ducks and other waterfowl species. As you paddle around the perimeter of the pond you will see many nesting boxes providing homes for breeding pairs of common goldeneye.
May is a great month to explore the area because water levels are at their highest and allow many more acres of exploration. The pond is shallow and you will note that most of the time you are paddling over a bottom comprised of reeds and grasses. Rotting stumps rise up out of the shallows all around the pond. There are many cattail and reed-lined channels to check out in the northwestern corner of the pond. At the end of each one we sat and listened to the many sounds of spring: peepers chirping, wind rustling through the bleached blond grasses, crows calling, ducks rising up in unison from nearby channels, cormorant wings furiously churning up water trying to get airborne.
We came around a bend and a few feet away a muskrat was swimming across the channel in front of us, and then yards away a large Canada goose lifted off in a powerful sweep of wings. We were impressed by the sound made by the sudden rush of air and the squeak of the wings at full torque.
Three osprey circled high over the middle of the pond as we followed along the northern shoreline. An artistic array of jet contrails crisscrossed the pale blue mid-afternoon sky above us. We stopped to take a picture of a nesting box on a pole out in the water, and as we focused the camera a large duck tumbled out of it and flew away. It amazed us how such a big creature could tuck itself into such a relatively small opening. Add 10-12 eggs on average and each box will soon become a very active place.
We stopped to rest on a large sloping ledge on the eastern shore of the pond, perfect for sunning and snoozing. Diamonds of sun danced on the graying waters as a thin layer of clouds started to move in. A fisherman in a solo canoe patiently cast back and forth out in the middle of the pond. A pair of kingfishers chattered away, and then chased each other across the water in front of us.
As we scanned the shoreline with our binoculars we spotted an osprey perched on a stout branch near the top of a massive dead pine. It appeared to be eating something so we got back in the canoe and paddled closer for a better view. Sure enough, it held a reddish-orange object in its large talons and doggedly pecked away at it, all the while eyeing us down below,
As we neared the launch site we passed three loons cavorting about the cove. A pair of mallards splashed down in the shallows to our left, the male’s satiny green head dazzling in the low light. Just as we hit the shore a loon call echoed across the pond, a true sign that summer is on the way.
There are many other scenic ponds nearby if you want to make a day of paddling in the area. Lake St. George, Quantabacook Lake and Stevens Pond are all located within a few miles of the James Dorso WMA. The hill country east of Augusta and west of the Camden Hills is beautiful so we made a loop trip out of our drive: Up via Route 3 from Augusta, home via Route 220 to Waldoboro and Route 1 south.
The WMA boat launch is about 12 miles west of Belfast on Route 3. Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map #14) for help in getting there.
Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. He can be reached at: