Perspectives: Drifting and Watching with the National Aviary

The bird zoo’s collaboration with L.L. Bean is a peaceful summer outing.


It’s a very good summer morning if you have only two responsibilities: Gently rowing a kayak and looking for birds.

Those are the imperatives at the Bird Watching Kayak Tour, a partnership of the National Aviary and L.L. Bean. (While best known as a retailer, L.L. Bean also operates a number of outdoor activities in the area, including kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals and lessons.) You turn up, some folks from L.L. Bean explain how to stay safe and upright on a kayak, and some experts from the aviary tell you what to watch for.

Then: two-plus hours of placid relaxation.

The sessions, held at North Park on the long, narrow lake that winds through the hilly, wooded area, avoid the heat of mid-day — after all, most birds do the same. Our tour kicked off bright and early; we were on the water by about 7:10 on a Sunday morning. If the thought of getting up that early, let alone getting somewhere and engaging in physical activity, terrifies you, not to worry; the next session, scheduled for July 25, is a sunset journey, lasting from 6-9 p.m. Another morning session is set for Aug. 29.

We saw plenty of birds, of course. If you keep your vessel close to the Aviary’s representatives — we were guided by Robert Mulvihill, an ornithologist and well-known local birding figure, and Mike Faix, an educator and photographer — you’ll have dozens of species and sights pointed out to you. The highlight of the day was a rookery of great blue herons — massive birds clustered on a dead tree, gently resting like holiday ornaments.

But if you’re in it for the tranquility more than the birdwatching, that’s fine, too. The easy instructions and sturdy equipment make drifting around North Park Lake a breeze. Following the pack from one end to the other, passing folks fishing along the shore or jogging down the park paths, occasionally noticing your compatriots have grabbed their binoculars to spot a particular bird — it’s lovely no matter how interested you are in avian spotting.

In short: You can try hard to look for birds, or you can just see what you see. You can paddle pointedly around the lake, or you can just sort of drift, occasionally steering yourself this way or that. It can be as relaxed or as focused as you like.

That’s the way to spend a summer morning.

We’ve all read about the rise in simple, focused activities over the last year — baking, birdwatching, forest bathing. While these new interests were brought on by a very unusual year, they shouldn’t be confined to it; in fact, they’re more needed now than ever, as we reckon with getting back to our pre-pandemic routines. I spend so much time moving from one thing to the next, bargaining with myself on exactly how much I’ll achieve on a given day, that any activity that gets me to focus and slow down is a gift.

Afterwards, I went home and took a very long nap. Three hours on a lake, first thing in the morning, necessitates a nap. Thus making a good day even better.

Categories: The 412