Gulls in the Woods???


Go for a walk in the woods and you won’t expect to see seagulls. Go for a walk in the city of Westbrook and perhaps you won’t expect it to be in the woods. But here’s the surprise: in the foreseeable future you will be able to take a walk in Westbrook woods on seventy acres of PRLT property. In certain times of the year you will be able to encounter flocks of large white birds there, swooping among the trees like mad bombers. Gulls are not accustomed to flying under a canopy with large branches reaching out to impede their flight. Their surprise is audible when they miscalculate and fly into foliage or a branch. I have seen a mature gull fly into a stately oak, lose air speed, and tumble thirty feet straight down before recovering just above the ground. When air traffic is thick and gulls have to contend with each other, they are more entertaining than a celebrity roast.

These gulls don’t inhabit the Westbrook woods. They have reappeared there only since the removal of Smelt Hill Dam on the Presumpscot River. Have you figured it out? These are hungry seagulls along Mill Brook following the spring migration of alewives from Casco Bay to Highland Lake. This procession of gulls following fish becomes frenzied where the fish encounter a step up in the brook and must await higher water. At that point the pool below the falls is black and roiling with impatient alewives; the air is noisy and rife with swooping gulls.

Mill Brook flows from Highland Lake through Westbrook on its way to the Presumpscot River and Casco Bay. Much of Suckfish Bog at the top of the brook has been conserved recently by Falmouth Land Trust with cooperation from the city of Westbrook. A trail system is in place to access this beautiful site. Mill Brook crosses US 302 near Methodist Road and meanders through a deep valley with intersecting forested ravines. The water is crystal clear, even after a major storm. Protected from direct sunlight along most of its flow, it remains cool, prime habitat for cold-water fish. Preservation of this habitat while encouraging low impact public access is at the top of the PRLT agenda.

That is why we were delighted to be approached by the Westbrook Planner, Molly Just, in behalf of a developer who shares our conservation values, asking if PRLT would become the steward of seventy acres encompassing more than a mile of Mill Brook. Our answer: it’s what we do; we’d love to. And so our Lands Committee is proceeding with due diligence to acquire these parcels. Our Finance and Development Committee is seeking the funds to make it happen through an increase in membership. And the Stewardship Committee is planning how best to prepare the land for low impact public access. We are as excited as gulls in the woods. Become a member and share our excitement!

Waters filled with alewives: