Monday, April 21, 2008

A Black Bear Ate My Yard

Over the years I've had plenty of non-avian visitors come to my feeders. Red, Gray and Northern Flying Squirrels, Skunks, Raccoons, Red Foxes and even some neighborhood dogs have tried for the suet and seed. Since I live near the woods, an occasional transient Black Bear has also sampled the offerings in the yard. Its annoying to have feeders knocked down and dragged around occasionally but its something anyone who feeds birds in Maine will probably deal with from time to time.

On the past couple nights, I've once again, been visited by a hungry bear looking for a little post hibernation repast. Unfortunately, the beast thoroughly trashed my yard on this go around....

The bruin hit the suet cages and a couple of the tube feeders on the first night. This wasn't the first time my suet cages have been pried open by a bear...I'll have to bend them back into something like a box and put some more zip-ties on them.

The tube feeders were crunched into little bits. They were 4 months old. I used to wail and gnash my teeth when this happened... now I go to my happy place and pretend I'm cheered the bear is helping to relieve me of the burden of these material possessions and the complexities their care creates in my life. Oooom..

Last night, the bear made his rounds right after dark and we watched him snuffling around in the snowbanks under the remaining feeders. I chased him away and brought in everything I could. I also swept the platform feeders off in an attempt to reduce the temptation of those.... It didn't work.

At sunup, I found two of my three platform feeders down and broken. I also found the bear had torn apart my stone fireplace to get to seed that got into crevices after I'd tossed it on for the birds.

The bear left a well packed trail through the snow right up to the feeders near our front door.

The rear track measured about 9 inches long.

To add one final ursine insult, the beast left a gigantic poop in the yard. Being a dutiful scientist, I measured that too. Also about 9 inches.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 10-17 April 2008


The snow cover remains intact and deep across northern Maine though recent warm days (and increasingly nights) have reduced it substantially. Almost 5 inches of new snow fell over the weekend in central and northern parts of Aroostook Co on Saturday. Snow free areas are still very limited in all but southern most areas of the region.

Snow melt and runoff has brought up water levels and most streams and brooks are ice free. Larger rivers are likely to open up in the next day or two. Small areas of open water are appearing on some ponds.

Warm temperatures have allowed a few insects to show but overall this food source remains very limited for arriving insectivores.

Most species are arriving on schedule despite the wintery conditions. A couple species even set new early date records this week! The snow is certainly creating some unusual concentrations of ground feeding species in the few areas that are snow free.

Arriving and new species this week:

Snow Goose 4/16
Wood Duck 4/10
American Wigeon 4/16
Green-winged Teal 4/16
Ring-necked Duck 4/16
Osprey 4/15
Peregrine Falcon 4/16
Great Horned Owl 4/12
Tree Swallow 4/16
Barn Swallow 4/17
Northern Flicker 4/17
Savannah Sparrow 4/17

Arriving waterfowl are crowding into any spot of liquid water to be found. Deep snow around water bodies is making it difficult to see the birds in many spots. Canada Goose numbers have increased to hundreds of birds in the usual spots of concentration in Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle and Caribou. A Snow Goose touched down along the interstate in T2 R8 NWP north of Lincoln on Wednesday and was photographed by Craig Kesselheim.

First arrivals this week include a male Wood Duck in Woodland on the 10th and pairs of American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Ring-necked Ducks seen together at the confluence of the Aroostook River and Presque Isle Stream on the 16th. Wood Ducks had reached Fort Kent by the 17th. Hooded and Common Merganser numbers continued to increase across the area. Other waterfowl seen this week were Mallards, American Black Ducks and Common Goldeneyes.

Gentle southerly breezes brought a big pulse of arriving raptors on 14-16 April. Nine species were reported this week.

Bald Eagles are still on the nests at Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield. An adult was rallying the ducks at the mouth of the Fish River in Fort Kent on the 17th. An arriving pair of Ospreys had reached the nest near I-95 in Island Falls by Tuesday afternoon. Northern Harriers were reported in Monticello, Presque Isle, Stockholm and Westfield. Red-tailed Hawks were spotted in Wade, Hersey, Littleton and Ashland. Light phase Rough-legged Hawks were discovered in Washburn on the 13th and Caribou on the 14th. A Peregrine Falcon chasing Ring-billed Gulls over the ice of the Aroostook River on the 16th was an exciting find. American Kestrels overspread the area from Smyrna (4/14) to Fort Kent (4/16). A Merlin was seen in Wade on the 15th. Northern Goshawks are taking advantage of the ground feeding birds as they concentrate in small open areas. Goshawks were spotted chasing robins and killdeer along the side of Route 1 in Caribou and Presque Isle on the 15th and 16th.

Great Blue Herons worked their way north arriving at Caribou on the 13th, Portage Lake on the 15th and at Frenchville on the northern border by the 17th.

Killdeer were reported from Island Falls to Fort Kent. A peenting American Woodcock was heard at Wade on the 15th. Bohemian Waxwings are cleaning up the last bits of hanging fruit in the county. The waxwings were seen in Caribou (4/17), Presque Isle (4/13) and Houlton (4/15)

A Great Horned Owl was seen on a nest in Presque Isle. Another road killed Barred Owl was found on I-95 in Oakfield.

15 Horned Larks were feeding on the snowbanks in Limestone on the 14th.

Appearing out of place, Tree Swallows flying over snow covered fields and wetlands surprised observers across the area. Though they are right on schedule, these are likely to have a difficult few weeks until insects emerge in significant numbers. The Tree Swallows were reported first in Mt Chase in northern Penobscot Co. on the 15th and Bancroft in southern-most Aroostook County on the 16th. By the 17th, the swallows were seen as far north as Presque Isle, Caribou, Cross Lake and New Canada near Fort Kent and the border. Even more noteworthy, an extremely early Barn Swallow was photographed by Jim Gramlich at Presque Isle on the 17th. Previously, the earliest record I had for Barn Swallow was 27 April. Average arrival date in the past 10 years is 3 May. Jim's photo of arriving Tree and Barn Swallows can be seen above.

The Presque Isle Tufted Titmouse continues to be seen and increasingly heard at the feeder where it has overwintered. The first Belted Kingfisher passed through the county undetected until it arrived at Pickards Fish Hatchery in Frenchville on the 17th. Northern Flickers arrived in Caribou and Stockholm on the 17th. An Eastern Phoebe was heard in Fort Kent on the 17th.

Squeezed into the limited areas of snow free ground in central and northern Aroostook , thousands of American Robins have have concentrated in these small patches of sod as they feed . These concentrations have attracted the attention of migrating raptors.

American Tree Sparrows are still visiting feeders in Presque Isle Caribou and Woodland. Paul Cyr photographed this tree sparrow at his feeding station in Presque Isle. The first report of Savannah Sparrow in the county came from Caribou on the 17th. This was 7 days earlier than my previous early date and nearly two weeks earlier than average. Song Sparrows had reached Fort Kent by mid week and Fox Sparrows were reported at La Pomkeag Lake in T8R7 on the13th and Caribou (17th). This Song Sparrow was photographed in Woodland

A huge influx of Dark-eyed Juncos was reported in central Aroostook on the 16th and 17th. Several birders reported concentrations of 50+ juncos arriving at their feeders overnight. No juncos were found yet at several known breeding locations in central Aroostook. which might indicate these ground feeders are struggling to find natural feed.

Some Snow Buntings continued to be seen in small flocks in Caribou, Limestone, Presque Isle, Washburn and Woodland through at least the 14th. April 27th is the latest date these have lingered in the county by my records.

The overwintering Rusty Blackbird in Presque Isle continued though at least the 11th. Large flocks of Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackle were seen throughout the area. Ken Lamb photographed the inquisitive grackle at the top of this post at his feeder in Chapman last week.

For the first time in almost 6 months, no Pine Grosbeaks were reported in the area. Evening Grosbeaks continue to be seen in Fort Kent, Chapman and Woodland. Common Redpolls continue in large numbers at area feeders. 70+ are currently gobbling niger seed at my feeders in Woodland. A Presque Isle feeding station is hosting more than 40. Rare this spring, a Pine Siskin was photographed by one of Paul Cyr's game cameras amongst the flock. Can you find it?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 27 March-9 April 2008

The past week has brought some long-overdue seasonable weather to northern Maine. Temperatures have been consistently in the 40's during the day and low 20's at night. The sun has put a small dent in the record breaking snowpack but only small bare spots of ground have appeared so far.

Many smaller streams have opened up and significant leads are developing in the river ice. Southerly winds on the 4th and 5th brought a good pulse of migrants but otherwise its been fairly steady rate of arrival for returning birds.

New and arriving species:

Great Blue Heron 4/7
American Kestrel 4/7
Northern Harrier 4/6
Red-tailed hawk 4/6
Rough-legged Hawk 4/6
Killdeer 3/27
American Woodcock 4/4
Wilson's Snipe 4/7
Ring-billed Gull 4/8
Herring Gull 3/31
Lesser Black-backed Gull 4/8
American Robin 4/6
Fox Sparrow 4/1
Common Grackle 3/27
Red-winged Blackbird 3/27
Brown Headed Cowbird 4/2

Waterfowl numbers seem to be increasing proportionally with the area of open water in the county. Small flocks of Canada Geese were seen in Presque Isle, Caribou, Fort Fairfield and Mars Hill. A dozen stood on the very much frozen Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield this weekend. Hooded and Common Mergansers were seen in small groups. Common Goldeneyes increased with 20+ on Presque Isle Stream and on the Aroostook River in Presque Isle . Both Mallard and American Black Duck numbers increased quickly in first few days of the month with flocks of 50+ seen in Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle and Easton... Alice Sheppard photographed this hardy Black Duck wallowing through the snow in Presque Isle. Ring-necked Ducks are overdue but they'll have to wait a few more days till some ponds open a bit.

The first Great Blue Heron of the year was reported in Presque Isle on the 7th.

A good pulse of arriving raptors appeared on the 6th with Presque Isle being the center of the action. The first American Kestrel was seen in Mapleton on the 7th. 2 Red-tailed, a light phase Rough-legged Hawk and 2 Northern Harriers were all newly arrived in Presque Isle. Bald Eagles appear to be tending nests at Fort Fairfield, Portage Lake, Presque Isle (2 locations) and near Mud Lake in Sinclair. Young eagles were seen at deer carcasses in Ashland and Benedicta.

Seen in Mars Hill on March 27th, the first Killdeer of season was a bit early by the calendar and very early judging by the conditions. The bird was circling over completely snow covered fields not far from Mars Hill mountain. At this time, Killdeer have overspread the county and are quite visible in the few patches of bare ground. Wilson's Snipe arrived on the 7th at Presque Isle and the first American Woodcock was flushed from a Chapman road on the 4th. Both were on schedule despite the conditions. Ken Lamb shared these pictures of the snipe and killdeer which he saw in the same waterway in Presque Isle.

Gull numbers have increased quickly in the past two weeks. Herring Gulls returned by the 31st at Caribou and Ring-billeds followed shortly thereafter on the 8th. Best of all, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull seen roosting on the ice at the Caribou Dam on the 8th and 9th. Uncommon inland and very rare in northern Maine, this gull is being seen with 100+ Great Black-backed, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.

The first Eastern Phoebe of the season was seen picking cluster flies off the south side of a house in Mt Chase on the 8th.

Northern Shrikes seemed to be passing through the southern Aroostook area in the first few days of the month. 2 were spotted at Bancroft in southernmost Aroostook on March 30th, another was photographed in Mt Chase on the 1st and yet another shrike was seen in Littleton on the 3rd. Horned Larks were seen in Westfield (3/29) and Mapleton (4/1)

Most Common Ravens in central Aroostook have quieted down and are currently incubating eggs at their nests. Most reports indicate American Crows are still constructing nests.

50 Bohemian Waxwings were seen in Presque Isle on the 8th. The Presque Isle Tufted Titmouse continued through the period. Three Boreal Chickadees were seen with a flock of Black-cappeds in Woodland.

American Robins apparently arrived all at once on the 4th. First of year Robins were reported on that date in Bancroft, Houlton, Smyrna, Westfield, Presque Isle, Caribou and Madawaska. Northern Cardinals have paired in Presque Isle and Caribou. The Presque Isle male is singing.

American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are increasingly seen. Both species are singing now. Numerous small flocks of Snow Buntings are being spotted across northern Maine. The largest flock was 130+ in Chapman. Several males were almost in complete breeding plumage. Singing Song Sparrows reached Collins Pond in Caribou on the 8th and Woodland by the 9th. Two newly arrived Fox Sparrows were foraging beside the road in Caribou on the 1st.

Blackbird species have also quickly overspread the area. The first Red-winged Blackbird was reported at a feeder in Caribou on the 27th and large flocks were being seen by the 4th. The female Rusty Blackbird in Presque Isle has darkened up and is becoming quite vocal. The bird posed for Paul Cyr's camera again last week. Common Grackles were first reported in Littleton on the 27th and had reached Madawaska in northernmost Aroostook by the 28th. Male Brown-headed Cowbirds were at feeders in Woodland and Presque Isle on the 2nd.

Pine Grosbeaks have dwindled to twos and threes but are still being seen in Woodland and Caribou. Common Redpolls continue in small flocks but the consensus of reporters is they are starting to wane. Pine Siskins were seen at New Sweden (2) and Presque Isle (8) and single American Goldfinches were reported at Woodland and Caribou. An Evening Grosbeak flock of 40+ is regular at my feeder in Woodland.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More Bald Eagles in northern Maine

Earlier this week, Ken Lamb sent along this image of a young eagle he photographed near a deer carcass here in northern Maine. Ken noticed the bird was banded and inquired if I knew anything about an eagle banding program in the area.

I didn't.

So I inquired with Charlie Todd, the eagle guru of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife... Charlie responded immediately with the following:

"During a recent study of mercury exposure in Maine eagles, 330 nestling eagles were banded during 2004-2007. All have the same color band scheme so I can't tell you where the bird is from except to say it's from Maine. There is 2-character alphanumeric code on the red color band that would identify it: your photo shows the lower character to be "C" or "O" but the one above it is hidden by feathers ... so there are at least 10 different eagles that it could be. By plumage pattern, it looks like a third-year eagle (= a 2005 nestling) but even then I can't narrow it down to more than a few individuals.

One interesting possibility is the nestling banded at Fourth Debsconeag Lake that year..." (Fourth Debsconeag Lake is located west of Millinocket in Piscataquis county.)

Charlie also sent along a photo of the 2006 eaglet from Portage Lake in Aroostook County that was taken along Lake Erie in western Pennyslvania in that year.

Jimmy Marz's photo clearly shows the alpha code on the color band on the right leg and the aluminum USF&W band on the left.

Checking for bands is something I'll think about the next time I spot a Bald Eagle in the area. Good stuff.