How to get there: Several entrances to Hirundo Wildlife Refuge are located on Route 43 (or Hudson Road) in Alton. Gate 1, the main entrance, is located just east of where Route 43 intersects with Kirkland Road. If you’re driving from the south, take I-95 N to ME-43 exit 197 to Old Town/Hudson. Turn left (west) onto Route 43 and drive 5.2 miles. Look for large red signs on your right. Gate 1 leads to Pine Tree parking lot, Wabanaki and Pushaw Stream interpretive nature trails, and the Parker Reed Shelter at Lac D’Or. Gate 2 leads to parking and multiple walking trails. Gate 3 has parking for the canoe trails and Pushaw Stream Trail. And Gate 6, located across from Gate 1, offers 5 additional trails.
Information: Hirundo Wildlife Refuge spans Pushaw and Dead Streams, Lac D’Or, wetlands and mixed hardwood and evergreen forests, including a stand of tall white pines, in Old Town and Alton. Founded by Oliver Larouche from his family’s 3-acre camp in 1976, the nature preserve has expanded to its present size of 2,402 acres. In 1982, the preserve was donated as a trust to the University of Maine. Today, there is a clearly marked trail system on 300 acres.
Hirundo is the Latin word for swallow, and the preserve is filled with red tree swallow nest boxes that attract flocks, breeding in the spring. Programs on bird watching are frequently held at the preserve, which is variety of birds, including Virginia rail, pileated woodpecker, northern goshawk, northern harrier, blackburnian and Nashville warblers, common snipe, woodcock, barred owl, belted kingfisher, great blue heron, northern waterthrush and flycatchers.
And according to the Hirundo’s website, www.hirundomaine.org, the property is also home to otters, wood ducks, bald eagles, ospreys, moose, deer, red and grey foxes, muskrats, beavers, black bears, bobcats, pine martens, fishers and ermines.
Admission is free year round, but donations are strongly encouraged. The land is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to dusk. People should sign the logbook available at the parking lot areas. Call ahead for canoe rental, which is also free.
Personal note: I hiked almost all of the trails on the north side of Route 43 in less than 2.5 hours, traveling slowly and taking photos and video. Several benches are located beside the trail along Pushaw Stream and Lac D’Or. Consider wearing waterproof shoes, especially in the spring, as some of the trails traverse through or near wetlands. I saw a lot of birds, including chickadees, robins, woodpeckers and ducks (and I’m no experienced bird watcher).