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.