Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Snowy, Boreal and Northern Hawk Owls in Northern Maine

Northern owls have been making a great showing in Aroostook county this season. Most everyone has heard the populations of the birds' normal food supplies in the north (lemmings, voles and other small rodents) are apparently in a cyclic low and these predators are roaming south to avoid starvation. Luckily for the owls (and local birders) the rodent populations are doing very well in northern Maine and lots of these owls are showing up.

In their high latitude habitats, some of these birds experience extra long day lengths and are comfortable being out and about in the daylight... and so they are a bit more detectable than our more common locally breeding species which are active in the dark.

Up until last week, Snowy Owls were the story. At least eight have been seen in the central Aroostook area and there are plenty of second-hand accounts and rumors of more in other northern Maine locales. The first of these showed up back in October and new Snowys continue to be found. Recently new birds were discovered by Paul Cyr in Easton and Presque Isle. Above is one of Pauls photos of the Easton owl.

On the Presque Isle Christmas Bird Count last Saturday, Linda Alverson and George McPherson glimpsed a Snowy Owl flying over an unharvested corn field in Washburn. The bird was quick to disappear down into the corn (to catch a rodent attracted by the grain no doubt).

Early last week, the Reynolds family in New Sweden discovered a small owl in their yard as they dug out from the latest blizzard.

They tentatively narrowed the identity of the owl down to either Saw-whet or Boreal Owl (very similar species). The Reynolds were able to get some great pictures and circulated them around and quickly confirmed the bird's ID as a Boreal.

Here's a great shot of the little owl taken by Wanda Reynolds:

A close look revealed a few flecks of blood in the snow and a rodent tail protruding from under the little owl!

The Boreal is one of the most rarely detected species of the northern owls in this neck of the woods. They prefer denser cover and usually do their hunting in night.

Chelsea Reynolds offered this account of the discovery:

"This was the first time we saw this type of owl at our house. My father noticed the owl around 8am on Tuesday. The owl was in the same spot for approximately five hours. It seemed alert and knew we were around but never moved from the spot. My father was snowblowing the driveway and had the tractor on next to him and it didn't seem to phase the owl (that's when he noticed it). Originally he thought it was a Barred Owl but then suggested it might be a Saw-Whet Owl. My mom suggested possibly a Boreal Owl. My parents have observed other types of owls over the years but never one as petite and tame as this one. Another item to point out - my father feeds all types of birds in a tree approximately 10 feet from where the picture was taken."

Unfortunately the bird has not been seen again since the 23rd.

As if the Boreal Owl wasn't enough, Wanda Reynolds went on to discover a Northern Hawk Owl just a couple of miles from their house a few days later. Another rare species of owl in Maine, these birds are much more active during the daylight and not shy about perching out in the open so they are seen a bit more frequently than the Boreal Owl. As is the case with the Snowy and Boreal Owls, the Northern Hawk Owl rarely wanders this far south unless there is a shortage of food in the north.

This owl has been staying around the brushy field where it was first discovered near the intersection of the West Road and Route 161 in Stockholm (DeLorme Atlas Map 68). Paul Cyr visited the field at sun up today and was able to get this great shot of the bird.

Presque Isle ME Christmas Bird Count 2008

The 2008 Presque Isle Christmas Bird Count was held Saturday 27 December despite the usual nasty weather. 13 field observers covered the region despite the intermittently falling snow and cold temperatures. There was about 1 foot of snow on the ground and only the fastest water was not frozen.

The PI CBC is the northern-most count in the eastern US and this was the 51st time the count has been run.

35 species were found during the day, which was right on the 10 year average for this count. Highlights included some count-firsts: the overdue Sharp-shinned Hawk and an unexpected Merlin. Sharp-shins have shown up as Count Week species in the past, but until Saturday, it was not found during an actual count day. We also found our second-ever Cooper's Hawk which is not unexpected considering this species continued expansion in the region.

Notable high counts were record numbers of Bald Eagles, Blue Jays and Bohemian Waxwings. Even with some conservative editing to avoid duplicate observations of the same individuals, the final tally of 11 eagles shattered the previous high of 3. All sightings were 4th year or mature birds. Even through the heavy snowfall, Paul Cyr was able to get a shot of this eagle eyeing the ducks in the Presque Isle waste water treatment plant.

Other noteworthy finds on the count were Common Merganser, Snowy Owl, Song Sparrow and Common Grackle. Among the missing were White-breasted Nuthatch, Purple Finch and any gull species. A Canada Goose seen during the count week was not found during the count.

All observers commented that generally the woods and fields were very quiet and most sightings were made around feeders and in town locations. The cone crop this year is spotty at best and the last of the fruit is being gobbled up by the waxwings.

In addition to the recent and widespread invasion of Bohemian Waxwings, Evening and Pine Grosbeaks both made good showings. Four Northern Shrikes made for the second highest count ever.

Thanks to the field observers, feeder watchers and the Griffiths for hosting the post-count potluck and tally!

Here's the (unofficial) numbers:

Canada Goose
Am. Black Duck
Mallard x Am. Black Duck hyb
Common Merganser
Ruffed Grouse
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Snowy Owl
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
Common Raven
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Bohemian Waxwing
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Common Grackle
Pine Grosbeak
Pine Siskin
Common Redpoll
American Goldfinch
White-winged Crossbill
Evening Grosbeak
House Sparrow

total species
total individuals

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 23 October-6 November 2008

The last days of October brought unusually warm weather as well as a dusting of short-lived snow to Aroostook County and other parts of northern Maine. Patty Jennings shared her view of Mt Katahdin from Stacyville at sun up. Once again the precipitation totals for the month were well above average. A few cold nights early in the period produced a skim of ice on smaller ponds and wetlands but warm weather has kept everything open since. Almost all deciduous trees in Aroostook have shed their foliage. Fruit supplies remain good. Crabapples were mostly consumed by a wave of migrant American Robins but apple varieties with larger fruit as well as Mountain Ash and Highbush Cranberries remain plentiful. As mentioned before, cones are available but spotty.

The freeze up in mid October seemed to push a few birds out of the area but generally there seems to be quite a few lingering half-hardy bird species.

Canada Geese continue to dominate the waterfowl numbers in northern Maine. Large flocks are still being seen through out the area and I estimate numbers at about 8-9,000, down from last month's peak at about 26,000. The yellow collared Canada Geese from Greenland were last seen on the 27th at Collins Pond in Caribou. Paul Cyr found this horde over Presque Isle.

Small numbers of Snow Geese were reported with the last bird being a single juvenile seen at Collins Pond on the 24th

The waterfowl highlight for the period is certainly the lingering drake Redhead at St. Agatha. The duck was one of two originally seen back on 13 October at the tern nesting island on the north end of Long Lake. The Redhead was seen here again on 6 November.
Also noteworthy were Northern Pintails including two drakes at Presque Isle on Oct 23rd and 4 hens at Trafton Lake in Limestone on the 23rd. Nine Greater Scaup were seen on Long Lake and a single drake was also seen at Trafton Lake on November 6th. Lake Josephine hosted a handful of its usual noteworthy species through the end of the month. These included 9 Ruddy Ducks, 4 Buffleheads, 4 Gadwall and 9 Lesser Scaup.

Large numbers of Mallards and Hooded Mergansers have been noted lately. Trafton Lake held over 120 Mallards and 86 Hoodies on the 6th.

Warm weather has encouraged tardiness with other waterbirds. Double-crested Cormorants (2), Great Blue Herons (2) and a Pied-billed Grebe were all seen at St. Agatha on the 6th of November. 12 Common Loons was a barely note-able tally for this date and location.

Its been slim pickings for raptors recently. Northern Harriers have been in steady supply with birds seen in Bridgewater, Caribou, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Limestone, Presque Isle and Woodland. A dark phase Rough-legged Hawk was hunting near Christina Reservoir on the 28th. The Bald Eagle pair in Presque Isle has been sprucing up their nest recently. Ken Lamb got a series of great photos documenting their efforts. The birds were seen lugging sticks and lichens to the nest. Afterward the little male was snuggling up to the big female...

Except for single Wilson's Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs lingering through 25th at Collins Pond, no shorebirds have been reported. The 2+ inch deluge on the 26th brought water levels up across the area and seems to have flooded most shorebirds out.

Gull numbers have just about peaked and large numbers of Herring, Great Black-backed and Ring-billed Gulls are being seen in Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Caribou and St. Agatha. Two juvenile Iceland Gulls on the 5th at Collins Pond were the firsts for me this season.

Several Snowy Owls were spotted around the area already this season. In addition to the previously reported sighting in Woodland on the 19th, Snowy's were seen in two locations in Presque Isle and in Fort Fairfield. A shopper at the Presque Isle reported a white owl dropping from a light pole and taking an American Crow in the mall parking lot on the 25th and this Snowy was photographed by Paul Cyr about a mile or so away on the 27th. A Great-horned Owl was heard in the Woodland Bog Preserve in Woodland on the 25th and a Barred Owl was heard in Caribou. Another screeching owl of unknown identity, was heard in New Sweden.

An American Three-toed Woodpecker was encountered in Haynesville during the first week of November. A check of the Muscovic Road in Stockholm yielded only a Hairy Woodpecker on the 6th.

Large flocks of American Crows (300+) were noted in Presque Isle during the last week of October and Common Ravens have become more noticeable as the crow numbers thinned out. Large numbers of Blue Jays seemed to pass through the area during this period and many birders noted a marked increase of this species at feeders.

A Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee were seen in the woods near Haynesville. Red-breasted Nuthatches are being reported in moderate numbers. Patty Jennings photographed her Black-capped Chickadees cleaning out a few remaining sunflower stalks in Stacyville on the 25th

As previously mentioned, larger flocks of American Robins cleaned up some of the preferred fruit supplies and numbers seemed to thin out by month's end. Handfuls of robins continue to be seen. American Pipits were still being heard through the 6th. A pipit flew over Collins Pond on the 3rd and another was heard at Lake Josephine on the 6th. Mid sized Horned Lark flocks were seen in Fort Fairfield, Limestone, St. Agatha and Presque Isle

Fox Sparrows continued at my feeder in Woodland until at least the 5th. The peak number of 6 was tallied on the 26th of October. A few White-throated Sparrows and a Song Sparrow also stayed behind at my yard through the end of the period. Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows both appeared in numbers on the 26th. The tree sparrows were right on schedule according to my records.

Though I have still yet to see any, arriving Snow Buntings were reported in Bridgewater, Caribou and Presque Isle.

A late Red-winged Blackbird was seen in a yard New Sweden on the 4th and 3 tardy Common Grackles were seen the following day in Woodland.

My first of season Evening Grosbeaks (8) were heard flying over Caribou on the 6th. Other than abundant supplies of Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches the only finch sightings were a few Purple Finches at feeders in Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield and a flock of White-winged Crossbills on November 2nd in Woodland.

Finally I can't help but report this one non-avian flying species: A peanut rustling Northern Flying Squirrel captured mid-glide by Paul Cyr!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sandhill Cranes in Bridgewater and more on the collared Canada Geese and Snowy Owls

Back on in early October, after I'd spent most of a day on the road, a co-worker at the office told me that "some guy had called about some rare birds down in Bridgewater"... I pressed for more info, but, it was not forthcoming... No name, no number, no species....

Then this week I was emailing with Ken Lamb and he inquired if I had seen the pictures of the cranes that local guide, Dave Hentosh had of Sandhill Cranes in Bridgewater (!)

Of course, I followed up and David obligingly sent over these great pictures taken by one of his clients. The photos show four Sandhill Cranes feeding in a field of grain stubble. Mars Hill can be seen in the background of one.

Though this species now breeds in south-central Maine, there are few records of Sandhills for northern Maine. Locally, Great Blue Herons are usually referred to as "cranes" and there are plenty of reports of these in late summer and fall... but the real deals are quite rare. The last one I recall, was a single crane found by Arlen Lovewell in Ashland in the spring in the mid 1990's.

As for the collared Canada Geese from Greenland, Connie Michaud wrote to say that they were still around the area and that her husband had located at least four of them. The marked geese were seen on Sunday the 19th in a field along in Caribou Lake Road just south of Caribou.

David Stroud, one of the goose researchers who originally marked the birds, also sent along some great pictures of "my" geese taken when they were originally captured in Greenland this summer. Since the group was studying head and bill shape in an effort to determine which subspecies of Canada geese they were capturing, they had wonderful mug shots of all the geese we're now seeing in Caribou. Here's one of GNA.

David also sent a picture of "Lake Y" in western Greenland where the geese were caught last July. The Greenland icecap can be seen in the distance... looks chilly.

I've had no luck relocating the Snowy Owl here in Woodland but have heard of a bunch more that have shown up in the region. Brian Dalzell in New Brunswick wrote that he had heard of three Snowy Owls arriving last weekend: one in Cape Race Newfoundland and two in New Brunwick. Louis Bevier noted that one was taken in by a bird rehabber from Jackman on the 14th and yet another has been reported down in Scarborough on Pine Point. Keep a lookout for more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snowy Owl and seven White-fronted Geese

This weekend I've been looking for the collared Canada Geese that I found last Monday in Caribou. The five geese from Greenland had bright yellow neck collars and I figured it would be easy to relocate them with a little effort.

Not so.

Yesterday during the middle of the day, I visited six towns checking the usual day roosts that the Canadas use for hanging out and snoozing between forays out to the fields. I found 11 different flocks totalling over 8,300 geese. Since most of the day roosts are in protected, in-town locations I was able to get good looks at most of the birds and didn't spot a single collar... However there were some great consolation prizes...

At Malabeam Lake in Limestone I found my first Greater Scaup of the season. It was a hen associating with a dozen Ring-necked Ducks in a mass of 600+ Canada Geese.

On the other side of town I stumbled on to two Greater White-fronted Geese in the small impoundment on Limestone Stream in down town Limestone. These were also the first of this species for me this season. They were adult geese of the Greenland variety and had bright orange bills and legs.

Three White-fronts were reported in Caribou about two weeks ago and I wondered if these might not be a couple of that group.

On the West Limestone Road in northern Fort Fairfield, I drove by a huge flock of Canadas feeding a freshly harvested potato field and probably wouldn't have noticed them and stopped, if it hadn't been for a large flock of Horned Larks spilling across the road in front of me. I stopped to check the larks out and then heard the honking of the geese in the field behind me. I counted 769 Canadas. While I was scanning and counting the flock, two young Snow Geese came in and landed with them.

Snow Geese are quite uncommon in northern Maine in the fall. Even though this area is located just south of the big staging areas on the shores of the St Lawrence River in Quebec, we are far enough east and off the preferred travel route. So its usually only young Snows or the occasional weather blown flock that we see this time of year.

Further along my goose-loop I found the biggest goose flock of the day at Puddledock Pond in Fort Fairfield. The little impoundment on Pattee Brook was filled with Canada Geese.
While searching each goose for yellow collars, I caught a glimpse of some color in a dense mass of birds on the far side of the pond. Once I zoomed my scope in, I was treated to the view of another Greenland Greater White-fronted Goose...and another...and another. In all there were FIVE White-fronted Geese in this group. With the two up in Limestone, this was a day total of seven White-fronts... more that I had ever seen in Maine in my life.

Another young Snow Goose sailing into the field a view just before I packed up and left, was just gravy on a great afternoon chasing geese!

Today I did a quick check of the flocks in Caribou including at the location where they were originally spotted still found no collared geese. There was yet another juvenile Snow Goose feeding with about 1400 unmarked Canadas, but not much else in the waterfowl category. A single American Pipit, an immature Northern Harrier and a couple hundred Horned Larks were my apparent best finds of the day...until had almost arrived home.

Just a quarter mile from my house I came upon the earliest arriving Snowy Owl I've ever encountered. The owl was perched on a utility pole beside the Morse Road and seemed to be soaking in the morning sun. The owl didn't seem to be hunting or I think the young house cat that was padding along the road right in front of it might have been enticing to the bird... I was able to get some good photos and the owl remained in place for almost a half hour- until a truck pulling a loud rattley trailer flushed it. The bird flew off across the big field of canola stubble towards the west...and my house.... I watched it till it was out of sight over the hill....and I wondered...

Once I got home I scanned the area around my house with no luck in relocating the owl. I was about to give up when I spotted a distant bump on the horizon in the fields east of my house. The scope showed that it was The Snowy Owl...yard bird 133 and my fifth owl species!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Color marked Canada Geese in Caribou from Greenland

Its no secret that alot of Canada Geese stop in central Aroostook county in the fall. By my most recent unscientific survey, there are currently about 18,000+ Canada Geese taking advantage of the newly harvested grain and potato fields in northern Maine. The origins of all of these geese is something that I've always wondered about.

Recently, some area birders have been reporting a few rarer species among the Canada Goose flocks including three Greater White-fronted Geese, a few Snow Geese and a single Cackling Goose.

On Monday, I was able to spend some time observing one of the bigger flocks in the Caribou area. I used my spotting scope to scan though the geese...looking for a one of these rarer species. Though I didn't turn up any of less common types amongst the hungry horde, I did find five Canada Geese that were sporting bright yellow neck collars with three letter alpha codes on them. The geese were feeding in some barley stubble and with a little bit of work and patience I was finally able to discern the codes on each of the neck collars...GLF, GLJ, GLV, GLZ, GNA.

Yesterday, I called Maine's head waterfowl biologist Brad Allen in Bangor and inquired if he was aware of anyone color marking geese in the region. Brad recalled a message he recieved earlier in the summer from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that alerted biologists in the east to a marking program in Greenland. Brad sent me the information and I contacted the program leader Tony Fox in Denmark. Tony's response this AM confirmed that the geese here in Caribou were part of a small population of Canada Geese that breed in western Greenland! Tony also sent along a link to lots of information about the marking project and the interesting discoveries they have made over the years.
With permission, I'm inserting some of Tony's response here:
"...You cannot imagine how thrilled we are to receive this news! These birds were banded as part of a project to mark Greenland White-fronted and Canada Geese in west Greenland in 2008, and whilst we have had a resighting of one of the White-fronted Geese back in Scotland, I am very pleased to tell you that you are the very first to report Canada Geese from your side of the Atlantic, so we are absolutely delighted at the news. The birds that you have reported were ringed at a Lake simply known as Y to the catching team (very few lakes in this area have Greenlandic names) which is at 67°06’56”N 50°35’17”N in an area known as Isunngua, immediately north of the airport at Kangerlussuaq in west Greenland. This has been a study area for our investigations on and off over many years. Obviously, I cannot provide any more details about the birds as these are the first resightings, but I can tell you that GLJ, GLV and GNA were all males and GLZ and GNA females at capture, and all were at least in their second summer or older. The fact that they are associating may suggest that they are siblings or are related in some other way, but it sounds like they were non-breeders in 2008. Certainly this flock contained no goslings at the time of the drive, and it is usually the case that non-breeders dissociate from the big flocks of families (although this is not always the case). Whilst we have had five Canada Geese from this area of Greenland shot in new Brunswick, yours are the first records from northern Maine of our geese, so this is a very exciting extension to our knowledge of where these birds stage on the way down to the winter quarters. Needless to say, if you have time to keep an eye on these birds, we would be extremely interested to see how long they stay and whether any other collars turn up in this area. ....We have absolutely no objection to all the blog posting imaginable - the more folk are aware of these geese, the more likely we are to be able to monitor their progress! ..."
Exciting stuff! Keep and eye out for these birds!
Check out the links to the Greenland goose project here:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 15-30 August 2008

The second two weeks of August here in northern Maine were substantially drier than the early weeks of the month. Only a little more than half an inch of rain fell and the precipitation was scattered over several days...just enough to keep the dust down. Temperatures have been balmy but ran a bit cooler than normal for the period. Though frosts are a distinct possibility in Aroostook in August, it looks like there'll be none this year.

Red Maples have colored up where new beaver flowages were created this summer and some yellow is already showing here and there on the landscape in drier spots.

Land and shorebird migration continues steadily with little in the way of weather to back things up. The chips and calls of birds passing southward can be heard overhead on almost any clear calm night now. Mixed flocks of migrating warblers are a daily treat now as they work their way along edges and hedgerows. Flying ant swarms have attracted some interesting mixed flocks of aerial feeding birds in central Aroostook.

There are still a few late breeders feeding youngsters.

As usual, there is a great waterfowl show at Lake Josephine in Easton. 700+ ducks and geese are being seen here. Best birds here are 3 newly-arrived Buffleheads and a juvenile Surf Scoter that has replaced the lone Common Eider seen here last month. A dozen Ruddy Ducks, 31 Gadwall (mostly young of the year), 9 young Northern Shovelers and 130 Ring-necked Ducks were other noteworthy finds here on Saturday the 30th.

Over at Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield the Ring-necked horde numbers about 600 birds. A few American Wigeon were feeding on the north shore this week but the large flocks seen in early August have thinned out.

Green and Blue-winged Teal numbers seem to be increasing in the area. Flocks of Blue-winged Teal were seen at Collins Pond in Caribou, Trafton Lake in Limestone and at Christina and Josephine. The Canada Geese have completed their molt and are back in the air and moving from favored roosting sites to harvested grain fields in the area. Mallard and American Black Duck flocks are also taking advantage of the stubble fields.

Big groups of mergansers have been noted on the Aroostook River. On the 30th, 47 Common Mergansers were feeding in formation on the McRae flat section of the Aroostook River near the Canadian border. Just upstream, in Fort Fairfield, 19 Hooded Mergansers were loafing on an exposed gravel bar near the Route 1A bridge.

For the first time in several years, a Common Loon chick has be seen with the pair on Madawaska Lake in T16R4. Pied-billed Grebe numbers are still high at Christina Reservoir. Twenty were tallied without much effort on the 30th. Double-crested Cormorants are roosting in numbers on the powerlines over the Aroostook River in Caribou and Fort Fairfield.

Usually an uncommon wader in northern Maine, another Great Egret was discovered in the county on the 11th. Christine Mockler found the egret on shores of Churchill Lake on the Allagash River near the Jaws campsite and sent along this documentation photo. Great Blue Heron and American Bitterns are being seen regularly in shallow wetlands. Two juvenile bitterns were feeding on exposed mudbars in Collins Pond in Caribou and others were seen in Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Washburn and Easton this week. The young American Bittern skulking in the morning sun in the photo at the top of this post was accompanied by a Great Blue Heron when Paul Cyr took its picture.

Seven species of raptors were spotted by birders in the area during the past week. Northern Harriers were quite numerous with reports from Ashland (26th), Bridgewater (24th), Caribou (24th and 29th), Easton (30th), Fort Fairfield (18th), Limestone (27th) and Washburn (23rd). Some orange-plumaged juveniles are being seen. Broad-winged Hawks were seen over the Woodland Bog in Woodland on the 16th and 17th. Merlins were found in Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield on the 30th. Paul Cyr shares this fine portrait of the young Merlin he photographed in Presque Isle. American Kestrel numbers have dropped from peaks in early August but the little hawks still remain quite common in open areas. Other species seen were Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Red-tailed Hawks. Ken Lamb photographed this juvenile Bald Eagle on the 22nd.

Dropping water levels and exposed shoreline brought some increasing reports of shorebirds in the area. 3 Semipalmated Plovers were uncommon visitors spotted at Collins Pond late this week. They joined 4 Solitary Sandpipers, 6 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Least Sandpipers and a Greater Yellowlegs. Least Sandpipers were well represented across central Aroostook County with other groups seen at Trafton Lake in Limestone, the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield, Lake Josephine and a farm pond in Woodland. A Wilson's Snipe was seen probing a wet lawn in Limestone on the 27th.

Gull numbers also continue to build and large mixed flocks of Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were seen in Presque Isle, Madawaska Lake and around Long Lake near St. Agatha. A group of a dozen Ring-billed Gulls were flycatching winged ant swarms over the fairground and the east end of the airport runway in Presque Isle on the evening of the 26th. Joining the gulls in the feeding flight were European Starlings and 30 or so Cedar Waxwings. A rare juvenile Bonaparte's Gull was feeding alone at Lake Josephine on the 30th

A Great Horned Owl was also observed on the 30th in Woodland. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continue to be seen across the county but numbers have thinned out. A male was still being seen in Mt Chase in northern Penobscot county. Patty Jennings sent up this great shot of a young hummer that apparently has yet to learn that sunflowers don't have much to offer a nectar-loving bird...

Pileated Woodpeckers were vocalizing in the Woodland Bog and in Fort Fairfield on the 30th. Juvenile Yellow-belled Sapsuckers are increasingly being seen.

Small flycatchers were part of the mixed flocks of migrants encountered in Woodland on the 23rd. Species included Yellow-bellied, Least and "Trails" Flycatchers. Since Alder and Willow Flycatchers are unseparable in the field this time of year, I use the "Trails" label as a catchall but odds would have most of these would be Alder Flycatchers this far north. No small flycatchers were found in a morning of birding on the 30th.

A family group of Eastern Kingbirds is still hanging around my yard as of this report. Last week they offered a little Kingbird love to Broad-winged Hawk passing through the area. Maybe I'm not paying attention, but I thought the kingbird's aggressive ways faded as summer progressed and I don't recall seeing this behavior this late in the season.

A small group of Barn and Tree Swallows were clustered on a utility wire along Route 11 in Herseytown in northern Penobscot county on the 29th. These were the only recent observations of swallows from the area. Red-breasted Nuthatches were seen at a feeder in Washburn on the 23rd.

A few Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos are still singing in early AM in Woodland and Caribou. Migrant Blue-heads are a regular component of the mixed flocks of migrant passerines being spotted around the area right now. A Veery was heard at Lake Josephine on the 30th and Hermit Thrushes were seen in Woodland on the same date.

Gray Catbirds were easy to find in almost any hedgerow tangle with available fruit or berries. Likewise, Cedar Waxwings are very commonly encountered across the area. They are dependably seen hawking insects from prominent perches along the rivers and wetland edges right now. They too, are enjoying the burgeoning fruit crop.

Gigantic European Starling flocks are congregating around the grain fields in central and southern Aroostook. A flock of 3000+ starlings was testing the strength of some powerlines in Presque Isle on the 28th.

Warbler migration is steady and increasing. The numbers and species seem to change each morning with new arrivals and departures. Yellow-rumped "Myrtle" Warbler numbers are an increasing percentage of any flock. Good finds this week were a very early migrant Palm Warbler of the eastern "Yellow" subspecies in a wetland in Woodland and a Bay-breasted Warbler in fresh fall plumage in Fort Fairfield. Blackburnian Warblers were found in several locations on the 30th. Other warbler species seen this week in central Aroostook County were Northern Parula, Nashville, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Black-and-White, American Redstart, Ovenbird and Common Yellowthroats. This Common Yellowthroat was part of a larger warbler flock in Presque Isle.

Noteworthy here on the edge of its range, Northern Cardinals have successfully nested and fledged young this year in central Aroostook County. An adult male was seen feeding a fledgling at a feeder in Presque Isle on the 14th. This is only the second confirmation of breeding in the central Aroostook area. A pair with two juveniles was first discovered last year in Caribou. Though it is still uncommon, this species was rare and worthy of note anywhere in the county as recently as ten years ago.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak youngsters are increasing and their loud sharp "eek" call can be heard along forest edges around the area these days.

A Swamp and a Chipping Sparrow were still singing in Fort Fairfield on the 30th. Juvenile Dark-eyed Juncos were still being tended by their parents in Woodland on the 23rd.

Late Bobolink flocks are still being found in grassland areas but the numbers of these also are dwindling quickly. Mid-sized (>50) Red-winged Blackbird flocks were seen in Woodland and Fort Fairfield but only small groups of Common Grackles have been reported.

As late season breeders, American Goldfinches seen feeding young this week were expected finds. However, an Evening Grosbeak feeding a young fledgling in Stacyville on the 16th was quite late for this uncommon breeder. Again, Patty Jennings was ready with her camera to capture the moment at her feeder in northern Penobscot county! Purple Finches have been seen regularly at area feeders but the White-winged Crossbill incursion that started mid summer has waned dramatically and only single birds were reported each week.

Regarding Purple Finches: eye infections and sick and dying birds were reported in northern and eastern New Brunswick, Canada this summer. To date we have yet to hear of any on this side of the border. Area birders and feeder watchers may want to pay attention to any unusual behavior by finches they encounter.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 1-14 August 2008

The wet weather continued in northern Maine over the first two weeks of
August. Rain fell in Aroostook County on nearly every day and added
three and half inches of water to the already-sodden landscape. Lakes
and river remain very high with many of the major watercourses setting
record high flows for the dates during this period.

Temperatures are a tick or two below normal values thanks to the ample cloud cover.

Passerine migration has begun in earnest. On two recent evenings, when it was not raining, a few nocturnal migrants were heard overhead. There are still plenty of family groups and youngsters being seen around the area.

The fruit and berry crop is very heavy. Chokecherry, Mountain Ash and Highbush Cranberry shrubs are lush and loaded. The nut and cone crops look good as well. Wet conditions are threatening the grain and potato crops but have made for an unusually vibrant wild flower show as summer winds down. Ken Lamb captured some of the colors in this gorgeous image of New England(?) Asters and Black-eyed Susans. The Jewelweed (Impatiens) favored by migrating hummingbirds is especially impressive with head-high drifts in most wetlands

High counts of waterfowl continue to be the norm at the usual favored spots in central Aroostook county. Ring-necked Ducks numbered in the mid-hundreds at both Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield and Lake Josephine in Easton.

300+ American Wigeon at Christina on August 8th was new high for me here. Molting drake Wood Ducks have congregated at Lake Jo and a visit on the 13th tallied more than 40 of these.
Mid-sized (100+) Canada Goose assemblages were noted by observers in northern and central areas of the county.

Very rare inland in mid summer, a young White-winged Scoter was associating
with the wigeon crowd on the north shore of Christina Reservoir on the
8th. Most of the usual unusual species were seen at Lake Josephine,
including both species of teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall and Ruddy
Ducks. The family of Redheads discovered in a small wetland near Lake
Josephine last month was not relocated.

A Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage was seen at Christina Reservoir
on the 8th. Mid summer sightings of this species seem more frequent in the past couple years here. The Pied-billed Grebe count at Christina Reservoir was over 30 individuals. 45 Double-crested Cormorants were counted at Long Lake in St. Agatha and a group of 18 were roosting at Lake Josephine.

At least 1 of the Great Egrets, seen late last month in Fort Fairfield, lingered through the first weekend of August.

Raptor migration began with a few early-moving Broad-winged Hawks heading south over Woodland and Presque Isle late last week. American Kestrels are likewise on the move and numbers are building. A couple of observers traveling through the eastern part of the county tallied 20+ kestrels along rural roads here in a single morning. The bumper crop of grasshoppers appear to be the food of choice for foraging kestrels.

A juvenile Northern Goshawk was seen in Mars Hill on the 14th. Bald Eagles were widely seen with reports coming from Haynesville, Caribou, Presque Isle, Island Falls, Fort Fairfield and Portage Lake. The nest along the Mattawamkeag River in Haynesville was reported to have been successful again this year with a single chick raised.

Once a fairly rare sight here in the north, Red-tailed Hawks seem to be increasingly abundant in eastern Aroostook county. Adults as well as several sub-adult (just beginning their second year) Red-tails were seen in Caribou, Fort Fairfield and Presque Isle last week. As you can see in Paul Cyr's piture of one of these birds, wing and tail feathers have begun to be replaced and hint at the plumage to come.

Both Sora and Virginia Rails were found in a small wetland north of Christina Reservoir on the 13th

Spotting migrating shorebirds continues to be a difficult endeavor thanks to the high water levels and inundated shorelines. Rare at any inland location in Maine, an adult White-rumped Sandpiper was a good find at Lake Josephine on the 13th. Least Sandpiper and both species of Yellowlegs were also seen in small numbers. Adult Solitary Sandpipers were observed in Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Woodland and at Collins Pond in Caribou. Paul Cyr found this Solitary Sandpiper adult behind his house in Presque Isle this week.

Gull numbers are increasing and small mixed species flocks of Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull are being seen in central and northern Aroostook sites. 3 Bonaparte's Gulls were feeding at Lake Josephine on the 8th and 13th. Common Terns have mostly departed from the breeding colony on Long Lake and only 4 individuals were seen there on the 14th. Pairs of Common Terns were also seen at Christina Reservoir.

Migrating Common Nighthawks were seen in Wade and Washburn on the 10th and in Caribou and Woodland on the 14th. All observations were of single birds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird numbers seem to have peaked late last week in central Aroostook and now appear to be waning. Patty Jennings captured some great images of the hummers in her Stacyville yard including this apparent juvenile and the long tongued male in the top photo. The last report of a male came in on the 10th.

Eastern Phoebes and Eastern Kingbirds were seen feeding fledged young at many locations in the county this week. Patty Jennings got one last picture of her Eastern Phoebes in Stacyville before they fledged. An Eastern Wood-Pewee was still vocalizing in Presque Isle as of the 14th.

Tree and Bank Swallows have mostly departed from the area. Eastern Bluebirds were seen at breeding locations in Bancroft and Portage Lake. Cedar Waxwings have been dedicated flycatchers lately and are being seen hawking insects from exposed perches, usually near a water body of some sort. Ken Lamb photographed this waxwing on the 13th.

Bobolinks have flocked up and begun to leave northern Maine. Over thirty were seen in a field in Fort Fairfield on the 13th and smaller groups were seen in Castle Hill and Woodland on the 14th. Large mixed flocks of European Starlings, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds have also begun to move out.

5 Evening Grosbeaks were seen in Portage Lake on the 14th. White-winged Crossbills continue to be reported but it appears they have thinned out a bit since last month.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 18-31July 2008

The last two weeks of July continued with the warm and wet weather in northern Maine. Four and a half inches of precipitation was measured for the month at the Caribou Weather Station. This was about 1/2 inch more than average. Streams and rivers remain at bank-full levels.

Fledglings of many species are noisily begging and trying out their wings for the first time. A few species are massing into large flocks.

A waterfowl highlight for period was the presence of a hen Redhead and young found last week at a wetland near Lake Josephine in Easton. Also at Lake Jo, a young drake Common Eider was a great mid summer discovery! The bird was found and photographed by Ken Lamb on the 23rd.

Large numbers of molting Ring-necked Ducks are appearing in central Aroostook locations. 400+ were counted on Lake Josephine and another 350+ (mostly males) were seen on Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield this past week. Arnold Brook Lake in Presque Isle is also hosting a sizable congregation of ratty looking Ring-necks. Other high counts noted at Lake Josephine were 120+ Gadwall, 50+ Green-winged Teal and 20+ Northern Shovelers on the 26th. Most of these birds were juvenile ducks with their mothers.

Pied-billed Grebe broods were spotted at Washburn and Fort Fairfield last weekend.

Wading birds are dispersing after breeding and have become noticeable around the area. A noteworthy find was two Great Egrets discovered along the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfieldon the 31st. The birds were feeding on minnows along the flooded banks.

Two American Bitterns were seen a Christina Reservoir and Great Blue Herons were widely reported in the Aroostook and St John River Valleys.

This has apparently been a great season for nesting hawks in northern Maine. Lots of juvenile raptors are being seen across the county. American Kestrels seen especially abundant in the area right now. 17 kestrels were counted along an 8 mile stretch of road in Caribou in Presque Isle on July 30th and juvie kestrels have been reported in Ashland, Chapman, Caribou, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Portage Lake, Stockholm and Woodland. Kathy Hoppe sent over the top photo of one of her young kestrels as it perched on the railing of her deck.

This juvenile Broad-winged Hawk with a bad leg was photographed by Nadeen Plourde in T16R5 near Square Lake on the 27th. Broad-wings were also seen in Woodland and Stockholm where they were mobbed and scolded by passerines with young.

Other raptors seen include a banded juvenile Bald Eagle in Fort Fairfield, Ospreys in Easton, Island Falls and Presque Isle, a Sharp-shinned Hawk in Caribou on the 29th and Northern Harriers in Washburn and Presque Isle.

Sora and Virginia Rails were still quite vocal on the 26th at Lake Jo.

Southbound shorebirds are about but tough to locate with all the high water. A small collection of shorebirds was found in a normally-dry gravel pit in Washburn on the 26th. These included Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers and 4 Wilson's Snipe.

A Three-toed Woodpecker was feeding quietly off the Muscovic Road in Stockholm on the 30th. There was a bit of a resurgence in thrush song in late July. Hermits, Swainson's and Veeries could be heard singing in the early am at Woodland Bog in Woodland as recently as the 31st. Likewise with Winter Wren. Singing males were heard in Woodland, Washburn, Stockholm and up on Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park over the past two weeks. An adult American Pipit was feeding young on the Tablelands of Mt Katahdin on the 20th. Also on that date, 3 Philadelphia Vireos were singing in and along the trail near Roaring Brook Campground in Baxter State Park.

As Aroostook's grain fields ripen and the harvest approaches, I find it interesting to note that European Starlings have formed some big flocks in the area. In Caribou, a flock of 1200+ was circling over a barley field on one of the few dry days last week.

Small mixed species flock of warblers are being found here in Woodland. On the 30th, I had a family of Yellow-rumpeds, along with Nashville, Magnolia and Black-and-White as well as Northern Parulas working the treetops in my yard. A late singing male Canada Warbler at Lake Josephine on the 26th was my first of this species at this location. Blackpoll Warblers were persistent singers on the Roaring Brook Trail up Mt Katahdin on the 20th. Northern Waterthrushes were still singing at Collins Pond in Caribou on the 31st and at Lake Josephine on the 26th.

Evening Grosbeaks have joined the increasing numbers of White-winged Crossbills in central Aroostook county recently. The grosbeaks were seen/heard in Stockholm and Woodland last week. Pine Siskins were feeding young in my yard in Woodland on the 30th.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Redhead Breeding Confirmed (the DUCKS)

Yesterday 26 July 2008, I was finally able to find and photograph a hen Redhead with young here in Aroostook County! These may be the first confirmed breeding Redheads in Maine and possibly New England...

Since 2004, when a flock of a dozen Redheads appeared in May at Lake Josephine in Easton, I have thought that maybe they might try to nest in the area. A pair lingered for a while in the area that year, but had apparently departed by late June and July when all the other ducks were showing up with nestlings.

In 2005, the Redhead pair lingered in the area longer into the year. I even saw the hen with some young ducklings in one of the nearby wetlands but I couldn't confirm they were hers for sure. They might have belonged to one of the very-similar Ring-necked Ducks that were nearby.

Last year, 2007, Redheads were in the area again and I searched but couldn't find any evidence of breeding other than their presence what appeared to be the right habitat for nesting.

The hen and her 13 young were found in the wetland area south of Lake Josephine-very near the McCain Foods plant. I was actually looking for shorebirds and Ruddy Ducks (which also breed only here) and decided to check this one last (and usually mostly empty) lagoon. Due to all the rain we've gotten recently, the lagoon had plenty of water and quite a few ducks. In addition to the Redhead and brood, there were two broods of Ring-necked Ducks and lots of molting dabbling ducks including Mallards, American Black Ducks and Green-Winged Teal.

Unlike all the molting ducks, which bailed out of the pond as soon as I approached, the hens with broods moved out to the middle of the pond. I think that if there were more cover vegetation on the sides, they would have moved their young into it shortly after I showed up, but there wasn't much available because the pond is usually dry.

Initially I stayed 100+ yards away as I scoped the 40+ juvies and their parents. The adults obviously knew I was there, but they didn't do much and seemed to be watching to see what I was going to do. It was interesting (if not a bit frustrating) that the hens seemed to purposefully drift so that some sprig of vegetation stayed in my line of sight to them. Many of the pictures I took later have a burdock or ragweed stem obscuring some of the ducks.

The ID of a female Redhead is tough one for me and I've spent alot of time studying the females of this species and the Ring-necked Ducks so I could hopefully tell them apart if I ever came upon them. What also makes it difficult is this is the time of year when these diving ducks molt, so they look unlike most reference pictures I could find.

The hen Redhead was slightly larger than the nearby Ring-necked. It had a rounded head rather than the peaked look of the Ring-necked crown. Overall the Redhead seemed to be a lighter more uniform tan color than the Ring-necked hens. There was a whitish band around the Redheads bill that was a bit more pronounced than the light colored band on the other species. I was able to get a decent digiscoped image with both the hens in similar positions. The Ring-necked Duck is in the upper left hand corner.

As for the young birds, the Redhead chicks were a week or two older than the downy Ring-necked ducklings. They were substantially larger and already possessed alot of their juvenal feathers on the sides and tail. I would guess the Redheads were 3 or 4 weeks along. I was able to get a decent shot of the two families beside each other for comparison. The Redhead hen and older brood is in the front and the Ring-necked Duck and her more strongly marked downy young are behind.

After I had taken a bunch of pictures, I approached a bit closer to exit the area along the dike beside the pond. When I did this the hen Redhead swam/splashed and flew towards me and did an excellent distraction display. I guess she was convinced I was after the hatchlings and her show would certainly have grabbed my attention if I hadn't already noticed her! I've never seen a Ring-necked Duck do a distraction display.

Found some online sources about the breeding range of the Redhead. Here's a copy of the USGS Breeding Bird Survey Distribution Map for the duck.

Good stuff.