When paddling at lower water, you’ll see sand bars exposed, and your chances of seeing birds increases. Christine Wolfe photo

With July in the record books as the warmest month ever in Portland, and August nearly as warm, we are sticking close to the coast for our next canoe outing. Sometimes you are paddling to get to a beautiful place, other times your outing is packed with beauty from start to finish.

The Weskeag River offers some of both, with the accent on the end destination – the mouth of the Weskeag where it meets the island-dotted expanse of Muscle Ridge Channel off South Thomaston.

The lower Weskeag is a series of tidal doglegs winding 3 miles to the sea. If you want to maximize shoreline exploration and cover more territory, paddle at high water. There are a few homes scattered along the river. We paddled at lower water where we were more restricted in the area we could cover, but the exposed shell-laden sand bars provided excellent birding opportunities and we were farther removed from civilization.

The steeple of the 1877 Methodist Church casts a perfect reflection on the water. Christine Wolfe photo

It was a calm morning as we set out. The white steeple of the 1877 Methodist church cast a perfect reflection on the water. This modest church has captured the imaginations and hearts of many artists and photographers over the years. Rounding the southern end of a small island a half-mile below our start, we looked up into a tree and saw a bald eagle staring down at us.

As we approached the mouth of the river, we could see out through the channel to the arc of Spruce Head Island filling the horizon 3 miles to the south. Straight ahead sat Spaulding Island, providing protection from the open sea. Off to our left, the curl of Dyer Point was punctuated by a wall of granite cliffs. We paddled over to check them out, admiring their rich coloration and artistic cracks.

We spent two hours meandering in the serene channel between Spaulding and the mainland, stopping often to laze on the smooth, sun-warmed ledges. It was magical. We enjoyed watching a group of Canada geese feeding in the shallows. One by one, they went bottom up, grazing for shellfish with their fluffy white bottoms saluting the sky. As soon as one bottom would flip back down into the water, another would go airborne. It was very entertaining. Osprey calls filled the early afternoon air.

As the tide approached its ebb, a vast mosaic of shell flats emerged out of the channel with ribbons of water curving through them. There was still enough water to guide our canoe through. On the eastern end of the passage, three lobster boats sat moored together, each with colorful names; Relentless, Kryptonite, Cool Breeze.

An immature bald eagle looks down from its perch on an island about a a half mile below the boat launch. Christine Wolfe photo

We had selected the perfect day; the open water of Muscle Ridge Channel was still mirror-calm. We paddled a few strokes out into the deeper water and got the binoculars out to look for seabirds out beyond Spaulding Island. We were delighted to spot a number of guillemots. These compact black-and-white birds, members of the auk family, are one of the signature birds of summer in the Gulf of Maine. A pair of loons called to each other a hundred yards out from where we sat. A gentle sea breeze started to rustle the water. It was time to paddle back into the protective channel behind Spaulding.

On the way back up the river, aided by an incoming tide and a refreshing breeze, we stopped on a sandbar to cool off with a dip. The water was shallow and warm; too shallow for swimming, but perfect for sitting in and basking in the glow of the sun. Yes, August in Maine is just about as fine as it can get.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 8) for help in getting to the public boat launch opposite the Keag Store on Route 73. This area has a serene and timeless vibe to it, and is a world away from the busy tourist pipeline to Acadia. The store has your classic creaky wooden floors and provides hearty food that keeps the locals coming back.

Start your outing with a Keag breakfast or end the day with lobster rolls and pie. The tree-shaded park at the boat launch has four picnic tables looking out over the river.  The bridge just west of the store has an impressive torrent of whitewater passing under it during certain cycles of the tide. A couple fellows were fly fishing for stripers just downstream from the bridge.

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. Contact: [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.