This 27-acre property, near Highland Lake in northwest Falmouth, is now owned by the Falmouth Land Trust, which will use it mainly as a bird sanctuary. Courtesy / Falmouth Land Trust

FALMOUTH — Just as studies are beginning to show that birds in Maine are at high risk due to the impact of climate change on their preferred habitats, the Falmouth Land Trust announced it is permanently protecting 27 acres near Highland Lake that will function as a bird sanctuary.

The new Morrill-Stillings Preserve off Babbidge Road is already home to several bird species already being affected, according to a new report by the National Audubon Society, including the bobolink and several types of swallows.

The land trust will hold a ribbon-cutting and guided tour of the property at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct 19. The event will feature Maine naturalists who will give a presentation on the property’s natural science and history. Parking is available near 20 Babbidge Road and overflow parking can be found at the nearby Blackstrap Community Forest.

Samantha Wolf is the stewardship coordinator for the Falmouth Land Trust. She’s spent time recently building a trail at the trust’s new Morrill-Stillings Preserve. Courtesy / Falmouth Land Trust

“The entire preserve has been planned as a sanctuary for wildlife and a buffer area for the Highland Lake watershed,” said Samantha Wolf, stewardship coordinator for the land trust.

The land was donated by Bruce and Suzanne Stillings, who have lived on the property since the 1990s. “We’re really excited about this (new preserve),” Wolf said. “It’s very close to Highland Lake and has a complex profile of ecosystems.”

She said the land trust will manage the property specifically to support bobolink, bluebird and tree swallow populations.

“Bobolinks require grasslands for nesting and breeding in Maine, and the population has been in decline due to vanishing habitat,” Wolf said this week. In addition, “Bluebirds and tree swallows compete for similar nest sites and a lack of proper sites increases stress on both species.”

To better assist the bird population, Wolf said the trust will install nest boxes for both species and practice a “bobolink-sensitive mowing regime” for the large meadow on the property.

The property is also home to abundant wildlife, including red and gray fox, deer and coyotes. There are also several historic apple trees on site.

There’s a loop trail on the property as well that’s about three-quarters of a mile long that “meanders over wetlands, through second-growth forest, across a meadow, and along a stone wall,” Wolf said.

She said the trail was specially designed “to help visitors slow down and practice mindfulness … .” It will feature a self-guided tour with suggestions for meditations and a book for visitors to record what wildlife and birds they see.

Wolf said the new preserve is named after the land’s first and last owners. Deeds indicate the property was purchased in 1798 by John Morrill Jr. From the 1800s to the 1900s, she said, the farm featured livestock, apple and pear trees, and peonies that were sold in Boston and New York.

The recently released National Audubon report on the health of birds indicates “the projections for Maine are sobering (with) more than 106 species listed as being highly or moderately vulnerable to climate change if trends continue,” Eliza Donaghue, director of advocacy at Maine Audubon, said in a press release.

“Birds that breed in Maine’s boreal forests – northern Maine forests with cold-loving trees like spruces and firs – are projected to be hit the hardest,” the release states.

“Of the 187 Maine species National Audubon studied for this report, 106 are considered climate-vulnerable in a 3 degrees C warming scenario, meaning their ranges in Maine will shrink,” the release said.

According to the National Audubon report, Maine has warmed 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, twice as much as the rest of the nation, which substantially increases the risk of floods and droughts, as well as threats to vulnerable populations of both wildlife and people.

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