……………………………………………. The Birds and the Bees (and Native Plants) of Maine and Beyond – Part 1

Originally published in The West End News

Heather McCargo of Wild Seed Project at Western Prom Native Plant Garden Tour
Nancy & Kevin Huber -American Gothic members of the Crescent St. Garden

It should be obvious by now that flowers bring me joy. I’m hooked on gardening and my insatiable need to get my hands dirty and learn has led me to new friends I can identify with. This spring I’ve been learning more about the birds and the bees and native plants of Maine. Each needs the other to thrive and survive. 

I’ve met some of Maine’s amazing local ornithologists, apiarists, entomologists, and botanists who have an astonishing combined knowledge base of Maine’s native plants, birds, pollinators, and insects. My mind is buzzing (pardon the pun) with ideas and opportunities to visit gardens near and far.

This summer, right in our backyards, Maine Audubon, Portland Pollinator Partnership, Cultivating Community, Wild Seed Project, Friends of Fort Williams Park, Earth Walkers and others are offering events and working together to spread and share resources.

Resident Yellow Warbler

For starters, the inaugural Rangeley Birding Festival is June 7th to 9th. Get your senses enriched by the remarkable bird life that flourishes in the high peaks of western Maine.

Also on June 7th, Doug Hitchcock from Maine Audubon is leading a walk around Matinicus Rock. With its own lighthouse at the mouth of Penobscot Bay, Matinicus Rock is one of Maine’s most important seabird nesting colonies. It is said that you can spot Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Common Murres, Black Guillemots, Arctic and Common Terns, and Laughing Gulls gathering to nest.

Then on June 17th Doug is leading a walk featuring the grassland birds of Kennebunk Plains. Search for Maine’s rare and uncommon species nesting there such as Grasshopper, Vesper, Field, and Savannah Sparrows, Upland Sandpipers, Brown Thrashers, and Eastern Towhees and others.

Arthur Haines
Expert on native plants

Maine Audubon is also working together with The Wild Seed Project. Their mission is “to increase the use of native plants in all landscape settings in order to conserve biodiversity, encourage plant adaptation in the face of climate change, safeguard wildlife habitat, and create pollination and migration corridors for insects and birds.”  

Maine Audubon & Wild Seed Project working together

Southern Maine is home to over 100 species of edible wild plants, many of which are more nutritious and/or flavorful than their cultivated counterparts. On June 12th Russ Cohen will introduce you to at least two dozen species of edible wild plants. Then join renowned research botanist and Mainer Arthur Haines for an entertaining talk about his experiences tracing and conserving native plants in the wilds of Maine at 7 p.m. Both of these events at Gilsland Farm Audubon Center are co-sponsored by Wild Seed Project and Maine Audubon.

What’s the Buzz?

Portland Pollinator Partnership – Plant. Pollinate. Preserve.

“Wild bees and other insects are as crucial to maintaining our flowers, vegetables, and other plants as honey bees. Planting appropriate pollinator and insect-friendly vegetation has many benefits to Portland’s ecology.” So they say at the Portland Pollinator Partnership, where they work to protect and advocate for pollinator habitat and native species in Portland. They are co-sponsoring the following events with Maine Audubon and Cultivating Community:

·         Native Plants Sale & Festival, June 15th at Gilsland Farm. Last year, over 2,000 native plants, grown from seed and managed organically, were sold.

·         Cultivating Community’s Annual Rooftop Garden Tour, July 16th atop the 309 Cumberland Avenue Avesta Building. For more information visit https://portlandpollinators.org.

Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a beautiful and unique native plant.

Want to learn more about bees? The University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County holds beekeeping classes annually at the beginning of the year. Their beginner beekeeping 5-week course is a great opportunity and good option for new beekeepers (prior to their first year) or as a refresher course. Visit https://extension.umaine.edu.

So why write about native plants, bees and birds of Maine in a travel column? We all move around this same mother earth. Birds migrate, bees forage, and seeds travel in any number of ways. Adventure Marketplace is looking ahead to migrate, forage, and buzz around the world as well, visiting gardens near and far.

Planning future Garden Adventures:

My friend Amy Witt of Earth Walkers leads journeys in nature with horticultural and nature-based experiences. My new friend Andrea Southworth is a botany instructor at Maine College of Art and Southern Maine Community College. Andrea also represents Maine Audubon and Friends of Fort Williams Park. Amy and Andrea are naturalist and botany experts. I organize group tours. We are all passionate about gardens. The three of us are putting our heads together to develop and offer day and weekend Garden Tours from Portland as well as longer Garden and Birding adventures.

Amy Witt – Director of Earth Walkers

Come see me, Andrea and Amy at the Friends of Fort Williams Park 9th Annual Cape Elizabeth Garden Tour on Saturday July 20th.

Contact Friends of Fort Williams or me for more information: Nancy@adventure-marketplace.com. Buy your tickets today!

Happy gardening and birding!

Nancy Dorrans; West End resident is founder, independent travel advisor and group expert at Adventure Marketplace

Cultural Immersion and Hospitality

My love of the African people, cultures and continent began in 1994. At that time, I was a senior at Suffolk University in Boston studying to become a certified social studies teacher.

I applied and had been accepted into a study abroad program called “Inter-Future” (Intercultural Studies for the Future) to conduct an independent research project on a topic of my interest and coursework. I traveled for two semesters that year; first to the Netherlands and then to Zimbabwe.

I had always wanted to go to Africa and was thrilled by the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe and to meet with educators, teachers and students and experience true cultural immersion. Upon arrival, I applied and was accepted into the University of Zimbabwe so that I could accompany the education professor on his rounds to visit his student teachers in the rural areas.

In Harare, I arranged an interview with Mr. Steven Chifunyise, the Deputy Secretary of Education and Culture, the equivalent to our United States Secretary of Education. Mr. Chifunyise was a proud and joyful man and so eager to engage and answer my questions. While he lived in Harare, Mr. Chifunyise was from Bulawayo and part of the Ndebele tribe. He told me I couldn’t leave Zimbabwe without having experienced the hospitality from his side of the country. He called a teacher friend of his and arranged for me to visit her. I took the bus across the country and arrived in Bulawayo, called my host, but there was no one home. 

Daniel, Mavis Mboto and Ollie – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe 1994

I had lunch, walked around town and tried her again but still no answer. I needed to find a place to stay and noticed in my Zimbabwe travel guidebook there was a National Park nearby and found a public bus heading out that way that afternoon. I assumed there would be a hotel or lodge in the park. I bought a ticket and boarded the bus along with many families heading back to the rural areas after doing their weekend shopping.

The driver dropped me where I pointed to on the map and pulled away. The sun had set and the sky was turning a huge beautiful African twilight blue. I saw a shooting star that lit up the entire sky. I looked around for a lodge or hotel and there was none. I was on “National land” but it wasn’t the park I had imagined. I heard two dogs barking and noticed they were running towards me. They were friendly but I was now alone in the dark with two stray dogs. I wasn’t afraid, just wondered how long it might take for the bus to come back. 

It was then I noticed a light flickering on the other side of the road. I walked across the road and heard voices on the other side of a fence. Several men were sitting around a small fire. I said hello and met Sam, a nice man who was quite surprised to see me. I told him my story. He said the bus was probably not returning that night but workers would be coming back from the rural areas to town and I could catch a ride back that way. Turns out, the park was a national wildlife preserve and Sam and his friends were poacher patrolmen, protecting the Rhinoceros.

As I stood waiting by the road with the dogs by my side, Sam called out to me again. “Nancy, are those your dogs?” As it turned out, Sam the poacher patrolman was afraid of dogs… Anyway, as the story goes he came out to the road and waited with me and the dogs until I caught a ride in a white pick-up truck full of workers heading back to town. I sat in front between the driver and his sidekick. They dropped me in town and I called my host again. This time she answered. “Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t home when you arrived…where have you been?” All I could say was “I took the wrong bus”

Photographer: ©Paul Brehem

The story of my bus ride out of Bulawayo may sound familiar and it remains one of my favorite traveling adventure stories to date. It is a true story of cultural immersion and hospitality!  Africa keeps calling me and I have plans to return again in 2019 – If you’ve always dreamed of Africa, Don’t Delay, NOW is someday! 


Tulip Mania

A flower journey though Amsterdam … and beyond.

In 1994 as a non-traditional college undergrad, I spent three months in the Netherlands as an InterFuture scholar, conducting cross-cultural research. As academic as this may sound, it morphed into a color infused floral extravaganza, and one that opened my senses to the wonders of the Netherlands.

I arrived in Amsterdam in late January, and while the Dutch do not have as dramatic snowfalls and drastic dips in temperature that we experience here in Northern New England, it was still quite cold and gray. Towards the middle of March though, the sun began to rise a bit higher and the flower markets had more colors and varieties to choose from, especially tulips – buckets and buckets of tulips, in yellow, violet, orange, purple, red… a full kaleidoscope.

Oh, I just love tulips and the Dutch do tulips right!

One spring Saturday afternoon as I was walking across Amsterdam to my Oosterpark apartment, I wandered through the local flower market, one of many sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods of the city. It was closing time and they wouldn’t be opening again until Monday morning. As I cut through the back of the market I noticed a man loading bundles of tulips into a garbage truck. He wasn’t just tossing them in either, but was carefully arranging them as a florist would do.

I remember, they were all the same color, bright red with yellow tips, and neatly bundled in packs of twelve, each pack containing one dozen tulips.

I stopped to ask him what he was doing. He told me that these flowers were already too far along to be sold on Monday. I then asked him if I could have some. He smiled and handed me as many as I could carry, four or five bundles with each bundle containing a dozen dozen blooms, that’s hundreds and hundreds of tulips!

I scurried home, giving tulips away to strangers, a local pub and restaurant, my neighbors, and still was able to fill my apartment with the rest. Remembering the gift of these discarded tulips brings a smile to my face. It remains one of the most spontaneous and joyous days of my life.

If you love flowers and you’ve never been, spring is when you need to visit the Netherlands. While traveling on the train to conduct my research, I sped past a blur of color, fields and fields of flowering tulips.

One morning I took a tour of the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. It is like the New York Stock Exchange, but instead of stocks and bonds, buyers from around Europe attend and trade around 20 million flowers and decorative plants daily. As a visitor to the Aalsmeer flower auction, I was able to witness the flurry of activity from an elevated walkway above the busy warehouse. Once sold, wagons and containers are sorted and sent to the shops, further distribution centers, or for export. Aalsmeer is said to have run short on supply of flowers after the death of Princess Diana, as up to 60 million flowers were scattered throughout London to honor her.

As I was in Holland through the end of April and my birthday is the 26th, I decided to celebrate and wander through the famous Keukenhof Gardens, an international and independent showcase. As I recall it was one of my most fragrant and colorful birthdays to date.

My travels have taken me to many other world-renowned gardens, including Kew Gardens in London, the Summer Palace Gardens in Beijing, and the Kirstenbosch Gardens near Cape Town, South Africa. And then there are my favorites closer to home, including our own Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Booth Bay, the Montreal Botanical Garden in Quebec, Asticou and Thuyla gardens on Mount Desert Island, and the Crescent Street Garden in Portland.

Should be obvious by now that gardens and flowers bring me joy… I hope this is true for you too. Cheers to you, your garden, and your appreciation of gardens here, there, and everywhere.

Nancy Dorrans is a West End resident and independent travel agent at Adventure Marketplace.

When One Door Closes, Fly To Australia

In 2014, after my traditional travel agent position I had held for twelve years ended, I took a brave step and ventured out as an independent travel counselor, launching Adventure Marketplace.  

I was encouraged by a few colleagues and travel professionals to stay in the travel business and go out on my own.  They said “You have to stay in the travel business, it is in your blood” and “We need you” and “YOU can do it!”   Four years later…I’ve learned a lot and I’m still doing it.

Early that spring, a window opened and I was invited by the rep of one of my preferred tour operators (GAdventures), to join in on their educational journey to the outback of Australia. On the morning of April 24th, I flew from Boston via Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney (a 15+ hour flight) onto Adelaide.

Including all layovers, the journey lasted approximately 35 hours. April 25th disappeared while crossing the time zones and I landed in Adelaide on my birthday, April 26th, making this the longest birthday of my life…close to 36 hours.

Our Awesomestralia experience began in Adelaide, a town originally built as a defense presence; it is now known as the city of churches, a produce mecca and one of the top wine regions in the world!  We enjoyed an amazing welcome dinner and I had a most delicious birthday Paella! 

We headed north the next morning into the “Red Center” of the continent or OUTBACK, traveling through the Clare Valley Wine region enjoying a wine tasting and tour at Seven Hill Winery built by Jesuit priests which is where I spotted my first kangaroo hopping amongst their grape vines. 

Our gallant guide Damian prepared a phenomenal lunch at a public Barbie where he grilled giant prawns, salt/pepper calamari and steamed barramundi which was served along with fresh local fruits and salads.

That evening we arrived at Beltana Ranch; a sheep and cattle ranch run by Laura and Graham!  Travelers are welcome to come and stay for a night or longer and might be put to work if they are willing. We were treated to a feast of roasted lamb, kangaroo, beef, potatoes, veggies, a yummy native peach/coconut dessert and a ranch style bonfire!

As the starting point for expeditions to Western Australia, some of the first camels were imported to S. Australia at Beltana Station which in 1870’s became the largest depot for camels!  Who knew?

Jetlag had me wide awake before dawn and so I took a walk-about the ranch and watched the sunrise. As I breathed in the view of the vast horizon and pastel sky I was surprised by a loud TWANG, then a thump, thump, thump. Again, Twang…thump, thump, thump. I wasn’t afraid, just curious and then it became clear…a kangaroo had jumped over the barbed wire fencing and hit his hind legs on the top wire, creating a sound like that of a base guitar.  He looked at me and then continued along his way, having treated me to this early morning song of the wild Outback. 

From Beltana to Flinders Ranges towards Williams Creek, we worked our way north, stopping for a tromp at Great Salt Lake Eyre and the Bubbler thermal springs. On to Coober Pedy with its underground town, cave hotel and opal mines, a visit to a kangaroo orphanage and rescue/rehab center and then to Uluru or Ayers Rock which is sacred to the Aboriginal Ananu people, is a World Heritage site and home to over 130 bird species and reptiles.  

Leaving the outback, we flew from Uluru to Cairns, the kick off point for adventure tours to the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests and indigenous inland people!

Perhaps I’ll share more details of the rest of my journey from Cairns to Cape Tribulation in another article…for now I’m savoring the memories of this adventure and the song of an Australian Outback kangaroo at dawn that only came my way after one door closed. 

Treasuring Every Moment of 2017

So long 2017. You’ve introduced me some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and taken me to new places only dreamed of. To kick it off, we marched in DC and have since “Marched Forth” for justice and action, locally and beyond. From the winter wonderland of Quebec City’s Carnival to winter fun in Maine and the White Mountains of New Hampshire at Loon Mountain as a volunteer coach for New England Disabled Sports, the crisp winter air and mountains embraced me and my friendships and community grew. In the middle of the long Northern New England winter, Bermuda invited me to experience their colorful, delightful, active tasty island “Beyond the Beach” Back from Bermuda a late season snow storm blanketed Maine as it welcomed and stranded my friend Bill Johnson just back from Cambodia, “a bit too soon” he said after I shoveled him out of his front door in South Portland order to open the front door.

Springtime came early as I headed south for an Easter visit with family and friends at Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. A vast variety of wildflowers were in bloom; Trillium (white and red), Dwarf Iris, Blue Phlox, Pennywort, Showy Orchids, Wild Geraniums, and many others. A late April spring Adventure Marketplace weekend tour to New York City, gave a small group from Southern Maine Health Care the opportunity to kick up their heels for Kinky Boots on Broadway.

If April brings wildflowers and Kinky Boots, May brought birthdays, house music concerts and another small Adventure Marketplace group to Africa to experience the wonder and contrast of Namibia and Botswana. Our journey began in Namibia with stunning desert landscapes, and the towering sand dunes at Sossusvlei. From there heading westward through canyon passes we spent two days along the Namibian Coast. As the road stretched far into the horizon, we drove across the vast lands to Etosha National park and encountered many species of wild animals roaming freely. Entering Botswana offered us the opportunity to interact with the Koi San Bush people and spend two nights camping in the Kalahari bush. More game drives, an Okavango Delta scenic flight, a sunset cruise on the magnificent Chobe River left us longing for more. The journey gave me and my six travel companions an unforgettable experience… from the herds of elephants to the beautiful people, the African country of Botswana offered so much wonder as it celebrated 50 years of proud independence.

I’m sure we all understand the beauty of Maine in June, July and August and much of my summer was spent enjoying the local natural su

rroundings, tending to my community garden on Crescent Street and enjoying the colorful and delicious bounty of our efforts. Mix in some quality outdoor adventure time at friends’ camps, the Tall Ships in Casco Bay, camping at Thomas Point Beach, the new rooftop at Bayside Bowl, The North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, hosting Warmshower biking guests and hearing tales of their rides across continents and a week on Star Island off the coast of Portsmouth all left me feeling blessed.

Autumn began with an Adventure Marketplace small group tour (off the beaten path) Icelandic journey in early September in search of Iceland’s “hidden people”. A seemingly endless vastness of glaciers, mountains, whales and hot springs, the Icelandic land is rich in history, outlaws, mystery, sheep, horses, beauty and intrigue.

Back to New England, I embraced the colors, foliage and flavors of New England with hikes in the Whites, a weekend retreat at Baxter State Park and into Grand Falls hut with a hearty group of MOACers (Maine Outdoor Adventure Club). Guests from away, an invitation to Colombia (see last month’s story for more on the emerging South American country), another jaunt to NYC during the Hap-happiest time of the year to see the high kicking Rockettes, an early Christmas in Ohio and Michigan with my family and extensive family extensions and again I’m blessed.

Now as I reflect, 2017 has been quite a year and did I say I am grateful, and blessed. The year has been full of adventure and also full of emotions… I have cried for those I know and love that are sick and recently departed. I’m praying for peace, strength and like Carole King I’m going to do my best to “wake up every morning, put a smile on my face and show the world…all the love in my heart”

Happy New Year – Take good care of yourselves and Treasure every moment.

Back to Biking Basics

Nancy Dorrans

There’s a sense of freedom and control that wraps around me as I pump up my tires, don my helmet and head out and off the Portland peninsula on my bicycle. I don’t ride to race. I don’t ride in a pack. Sometimes, I ride with friends, but often it is just me and my bike.

My “go-to” ride is from my West End condo on High Street, over the bridge to South Portland, down and off the Eastern Trail through Wainwright Fields to Highland Avenue. Then left on Pleasant Hill Road, and right on Route 77 to Higgins Beach. The total trek is about eighteen miles round trip, or twenty miles if I return via Crescent Beach State Park. This ride never gets old or redundant. As I visit the ocean, I take a deep breath and feel grateful to live here with this ride at my back door! Continue reading…

Nancy did a great job putting together the trip to Winter Carnival in Quebec. We had deluxe accommodations (Frontenac and Val Cartier) hitting all the highlights (parade, ice sculptures, canoe races, Hotel de Glace (the ice hotel) and more, with plenty of free time to do our own things as well. If you haven’t been to Winter Carnival I would highly recommend you go and book the trip with Nancy at Adventure Marketplace, you won’t be disappointed!

- Marc Chadbourne

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