Friday, April 4, 2014

First Arrivals Spring 2014






This past month seemed particularly gruelling, weatherwise, and I was worried that I was starting to get a bit spleeny... The Weather Service guys cheered me up however, when they announced March was indeed the coldest on record for Caribou and Bangor. Thanks to almost no melting and 20+ days when it snowed, northern Maine remains completely and deeply buried in snow. At months end, there was nearly 3 feet of snow out in the open at the Caribou weather station and four + feet are being reported in the woods.

Open water is limited to the few spots where swift water, dams or other warmer water inflow has kept the streams ice-free.  20+ inches of ice was reported on the St. John and Aroostook Rivers just yesterday, leading to some concern for jamming problems when the ice finally lets go.

The change from winter to spring birding has been oh-so-slow thus far, but its clear the door has opened a bit in the first few days of April and reports of new arrivals are coming in. 
The first migrant waterfowl to arrive was a Hooded Merganser that showed up on March 19th at Caribou Dam.  Commmon Mergs appeared in the area by the 31st with pairs seen at the outlet of Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle Stream in downtown Presque Isle and in Caribou.  A pair of Wood Ducks were right on schedule on April 3rd at Caribou Dam.  The first pair of Canada Geese were spotted on April 2nd at PI Stream and a flock of 19 was on the Aroostook River ice in Caribou the next day.  The female Northern Pintail that overwintered at the hospital stormwater pond in Presque Isle continued through April 3rd.


Not much has been reported yet for arriving raptors.  The first Merlin of the year was seen by two different observers around the 26th of March at Fort Fairfield.  This too, seems right on schedule, if not a bit early.  A light phase Rough-legged Hawk was seen off the Tompkins Road in Presque Isle on April 2nd.  A larger accipter has been reported regularly around Mantle Lake in Presque Isle and other has been partaking of the tasty doves at a feeder in Chapman.  Bald Eagles are now on nests across the area and egg incubation has begun at some.
 

A Ruffed Grouse appeared at Mary Collishaw's feeder in Caribou in late March.  Mary sent over this nice portrait.  Ring-necked Pheasants have been regularly reported from Mt. Chase, Patten and Fort Fairfield.

On April 2, I found the thin strip of mud along the front of my south-facing foundation wall riddled with the holes from a feeding American Woodcock.  This was the only bit of thawed, bare ground anywhere in my yard and the thorough probing it gave this little bit of mud was evidence of a desperate bird I thought.  I flushed another (or possibly the same) bird from the shoulder of my road the next night.  Killdeer arrived in numbers on the 2nd with reports from Presque Isle, Chapman, Mars Hill and Houlton. 

As usual, the first returning gulls were Great Black-backed's with a small group arriving on St. Patricks Day in Caribou.   A couple Ring-billeds arrived at Caribou Dam on March 22nd and the first Herring Gull was seen here on the 29th.  On April 1, a fourth year Bald Eagle was feeding on a Herring Gull in this same spot.  

The overwintering Northern Flicker continued at a feeder on the Hardison Road in Caribou through the beginning of April.
Snowy Owls continue to be seen in Presque Isle.  Two darker (probably juvenile) owls were seen along the Brewer Road on the 3rd and another remains at the "PT" Barn just a mile to the north.  Kevin Levesque lent me use of this nice shot of one of the Brewer Road birds.  A Barred Owl has been regular at Paul Cyr's feeders in Presque Isle and the first (and only thus far) Northern Saw-whet Owl was heard on the night of March 27th in Caribou.   Paul Cyr captured the wonderful shot at the top of this post of his Barred Owl being harassed by a foolish and fearless Red Squirrel.


After a season with no over-winterers, arriving American Robins were notable this week.  First birds were reported from Caribou, Presque Isle and Woodland during the storm on the 30th with many more seen subsequently.  Bohemian Waxwings also showed in numbers over the past 10 days.  Sizeable flocks up to 110 birds were reported from Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Mapleton, Patten and Presque Isle.

 I recently commented that I had had few reports of Northern Cardinals this winter.  Several observers let me know that there were overwintering pairs doing well at Presque Isle, Ashland, Caribou and Houlton!  Pairs of Horned Larks were seen in Van Buren, Limestone and Caribou in the first days of April.  

In the past two weeks, many small flocks of Snow Buntings were noted by birders across the area.  More than one commented on the attractive black and white plumage of the males as they reach breeding condition.  American Tree Sparrows continue to be widely reported in good numbers at feeding stations.  Males are singing strongly now.  The first pulse of migrant Dark-eyed Juncos has built into the area in the first days of April and the first Song Sparrow of the year appeared in my yard in Woodland this AM.

The icterid vangard appeared on schedule too.  The first Red-winged Blackbird was reported from a feeder in Presque Isle on the 25th of March with others appearing at Caribou on the 30th and in Chapman by Ap[ril 4th.  The first (and thus far only) Common Grackle was seen flying over the UMPI campus on the 3rd.  Two male Brown-headed Cowbirds in my yard on the 3rd were the first of the season.

With the restrictive, heavy snow cover in northern Maine unlikely to change substantially for at least a couple weeks, it appears its going to be a tough season for early arriving migrants.  With limited open water or ground, many arriving birds will be forced to concentrate in the few available open areas.  Local birders will probably be seeing large to possibly unprecedented numbers if they monitor the right spots.  Scattering seed for ground feeders will certainly be a good attractant for the near future as more sparrows and blackbirds arrive.

Good birding!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Northern Shrike nibbling Kidneys

Bill Hersey sent over a few photos of a Northern Shrike thats been visiting his yard. Interestingly this bird is coming to a kidney Bill had gotten with some suet at a local butcher.  Bill said he'd gotten the organs before, but he'd always thrown the meat on the snow behind his house for the crows and ravens. This time though he secured it on the front porch railing to see what would come to get it.  I'd say his experiment paid off when he found a Northern Shrike had started working on the frozen piece of meat and tearing off bits.  Bill was able to get several nice shots of the bird.






I have never heard of shrikes coming to eat suet or meat scraps before, but both Cornell's Birds of North America online and A.C. Bent's "Life Histories.." makes mention of the behavior.





Other excitement in Bill's yard is a male Northern Flicker that appeared on the first week of March.  This is exceptionally early for a migrant and I suspect the bird may have been one of a unusual number of flickers that wintered in Maine this year.  The only Northern Flicker I have seen in northern Maine in winter was a bird that showed up in February of 2011.    It too was in Bill's yard!!!

Bill sent a good documentation shot of his latest flicker eating spilled seed in the company of a couple of Blue Jays.  The bird was photographed on March 11th.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Great Goosing


What a great fall it has been for rare geese in the central Aroostook area!  Canada Geese are thinning out now, but numbers peaked in mid-October with more than 30,000 geese staging locally to fatten up on waste grain, grass sprouts and potatoes.

In addition to our usual hordes of Canada Geese, we had the pleasure of spotting SIX other species of geese over the past month and a half:

Snow Geese- It’s been a light year with some early reports starting in mid-September and several single Snows reported in Limestone and Caribou in early Oct.  A few small flocks were seen in the middle of the month.  No “Blue” phase Snow Geese were reported this year.


Cackling Goose-  Rare but regular most years…Only a couple of these mini-sized Canada Goose imitators were seen this fall.  One was reported at Long Lake in mid October, another one was photographed in the mill pond at Limestone on the 21st of October and yet another was seen at Christina Reservoir on November 6th.



Greater White-fronted Goose- Bob Carns in Portage Lake reported one in early November on the Fox Hill Road.  Another was reported in October from the Grand Isle area.  The Portage Lake bird was a member of the Greenland subspecies with a bright orange bill and legs.


Barnacle Goose-  Tanya Byrum spotted a Barnacle Goose in the mill pond in downtown Limestone on October 29th.  She was able to snap a couple pictures of the before the bird departed.   It was not seen again.  A European species, Barnacle Geese have only visited northern Maine on two other occasions.


Ross’s Goose-  Aroostook County’s first ever Ross’s Goose spent a week at the mill pond in downtown Limestone from the 29th of September through the 5th of October.  This miniature version of the Snow Goose was easy to observe and many area birders were able to enjoy the bird as it loafed and bathed with the Canada Geese.

Pink-footed Goose-  In a season of standout rare geese, this was the star.  This very rare species has only been ever seen in Maine a handful of times and the adult bird found at Collins Pond by the Aroostook Birders was another first-ever for Aroostook County!  Seen only on October 19th, this one-day wonder apparently moved on quickly.  We were lucky to see it on our Wild Goose Chase outing!



Other odd geese-  there were a few other strange ones seen this season.  “GL9” a Canada Goose banded in Greenland in July 2009 was at the Limestone pond on 3 October.

Also at Limestone, an apparent Canada Goose/Swan Goose hybrid was seen on the 29th of September-the same day as the Ross’s Goose.  

Lastly, also at Limestone, Tanya Byrum photographed a couple hazy gray geese in early November that were apparently leucistic Canada Geese .

 


Definitely a goose watchers season to remember!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Northern Maine Birds: Hoary Redpoll and Rough-legged Hawk


The Hoary Redpoll that has been sporadically visiting my yard for the past month, spent much of day here again today.  It was associating with Common Redpolls but seemed to move quite independently of the flocks.  

Had one sickie Common which shows the symptoms of Salmonellosis.

The American Tree Sparrows have begun singing here in Woodland and were good company while I pruned the apple trees today.

I poked around central Aroostook a bit in the afternoon to see if any more waterfowl had arrived, but ice still predominates the rivers and streams and Blacks and Mallards were the only ducks found today.  

I did spot a first-of-year Rough-legged Hawk along the North Caribou Road in Fort Fairfield.  I believe the light phase bird was my first Rough-leg ever in northern Maine in the month of March.

...A good end to a week that included arriving Red-tailed Hawk (Washburn), Common Grackle (Woodland) and Hooded Mergansers (Caribou).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Northern Hawk Owl in Houlton


Back in late January, Dennis Kerekes reported a Northern Hawk Owl had been seen in Houlton.  As soon as I could, I made the trip down to see the bird for myself and had no problem spotting it right where Dennis said it had been seen.  Since that time I've stopped in to the bird's favored location several times and its never failed to pop and and show itself. 

Like the Snowy Owl, the HawkOwl is a visitor from the north and always an exciting bird to see.  It is active in the daytime and a busy hunter.  As its name suggests, the bird seems like a Kestrel or other falcon with its longer tail and rapid and direct flight style. 


The bird is very conveniently located just north of the intersection of Route 1 and Interstate-95 along the Access Road just behind York's Ford/Toyota dealership.  The owl has been seen most often in the small group of trees directly behind Furniture and Floors North and across the street from the veterinary clinic there.  

Many local birders have been to see the owl and more than  few from southern Maine, New England and beyond have made the trip to see the bird.  This week Paul Cyr was in the neighborhood and stopped in with his camera and sent along these shots of the owl. Enjoy.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

1-14 November 2012: Storms and a Storm-Petrel




The first couple weeks of November provided northern Maine with some diverse weather conditions that certainly were key to the appearance of a bunch of unusual birds.

Temperatures ranged above normal in the beginning and end of the period with a week-long cold snap in the middle.  Precipitation has been about normal and some of it came in the form of our first accumulating snow.  Southern portions of Aroostook county have seen more rain and snow than the St. John valley.  Hyperbole-inducing Hurricane Sandy only nicked northern Maine.  Other than some moderate bluster and several days of gloom as it petered out in the Quebec woods just north of the area, the weather event was quite unremarkable...

What WAS remarkable was some the birds that apparently rode the storm and ended up in northern Maine.

Highlight for the period is most certainly the county-first record of a Leach's Storm-Petrel that was recovered, exhausted, in Mapleton on 10 November.  Seen in the photo above, this little gray seabird was apparently swept up in the superstorm and blown far inland-- away from its preferred haunts far at sea.  Dozens of others of its species were seen across the Great Lakes and in Ontario, upstate New York and Pennsylvania following the hurricane.  This bird has likely been working its way back towards the coast when it finally was too depleted to fly and came down in Mapleton.


The bird was found (in the mouth of a dog!) and nursed for a couple days by a resident until it could be transported to Avian Haven for rehabilitation.  The bird was missing part of its tail and apparently a bit sore from the canine mouthing, but, as of this writing was doing OK at the rehab.



Other likely storm-transported birds were two Cattle Egrets spotted Oct 31 in Bancroft in southern-most Aroostook County.  The birds reportedly appeared just after the storm and remained in the area for a few days.

Sue Szwed got these snapshots of the pair on Friday the 2nd.  They haven't been seen since.

Notable waterfowl in the area included a pair of arriving Buffleheads seen on an Aroostook Birders field trip in St. Agatha on November 3rd and three Barrow's Goldeneyes seen at the wastewater lagoons off the Grimes Mill Road in Caribou on the 4th and 6th.  A female Northern Pintail was also here on the 6th.   An adult White-winged Scoter continued at Lake Josephine in Easton through the 2nd.  A very late Blue-winged teal was seen at the Caribou wastewater ponds on October 28th

Many flocks of Canada Geese remain in the area and one particularly huge group has been congregating in a potato field of the Higgins Road in Presque Isle.  An exceptional high count of 6,200 were tallied here on the 14th.

The American Coot continued at Collins Pond in Caribou through at least the 7th and a late lingering Double -crested Cormorant was seen at Lake Josephine on the 14th.

Rough-legged Hawks continue to be seen regularly and have been reported from St. Agatha, Presque Isle, Easton, Caribou and Limestone.  A lingering juvenile Northern Harrier was seen in Westfield on the 10th

Big numbers of migrating gulls moved into the area in early November.  The flocks seen in Presque Isle, Caribou, St. Agatha and Easton were predominantly Herring, Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls but a juvenile Iceland Gull was seen at Collins Pond through the first week.

A very noteworthy southerner, a Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up at Alice Sheppard's feeder in Presque Isle on October 25th.   Though it is increasingly being found in Maine south of Bangor, there are less than a dozen records of this species for the Aroostook County area.

Alice documented the female as it fed on her black oil sunflower seeds.  The bird has also been spotted in nearby Mantle Lake Park.

Flocks of Bohemian Waxwings first appeared in the middle of October but had overspread the area by the end of the first week of November.  A flock of 280 in Caribou included a leucistic individual.

8 Northern Cardinals were reported to be seen at one time at a Portage Lake feeder on the 4th and another has been seen recently in Caribou.

The first Snow Buntings were reported in northern Maine on the 1st with 130 seen in Woodland on 4th.  American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos have been widely reported in small numbers throughout the area.

Though finch numbers appear low at this point in the season the diversity has been notable.  These birds are finding our poor cone and seed crop wanting and seem to be moving about and through the area.
Pine Grosbeaks are widespread in good numbers and are greedily munching through the remaining fruit supplies.  Paul Cyr photographed the young bird seen above in Presque Isle on the 8th.  Pine Siskins had moved through by early November and a few American Goldfinches and Purple Finches are still visiting feeders but none of these have been reported in big numbers.  Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills are being found (usually as flyovers).  Evening Grosbeaks are also being seen but its my impression that numbers have dropped recently and these birds may be moving on as they look for food.

Rarely seen at a feeder and rarely found in Aroostook county, this Red Crossbill was seen in Sue and Bob Pinette's yard on the 14th.

Good Birding!