Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 23-30 Jan 2008

The achy-cold, sinus freezing weather northern Maine felt this week has got to be hard on birds. Taking in enough calories to sustain their bodies for another frigid night is serious business for the small passerines these days.

It was barely light enough to see, on another -20 morning this week, and the American Tree Sparrows were already hunched in the gloom, scratching under my feeders. Likewise, the ever-growing Black-capped Chickadee flock here in Woodland starts its sunflower seed-shuttle early and runs late. Feeding looks like desperate business for these birds and they’re singularly focused on the process of grabbing a seed, flying to a perch, shelling and eating it and getting back to the feeder for another…If the feeders run low, few will even flit in and grab a seed before I’m finished pouring the refill.

I noticed that, early in day, some of the chickadees tail feathers are bent in a curve, I assume from a night of roosting in a tight cavity somewhere.

The Pine and Evening Grosbeaks use a different tactic on really cold mornings. The birds arrive in small groups from their roosting spots down in the bog and assemble in the top of the tallest tree in my yard. Here they wait for the sun to crest the hill to the east and provide some solar heating prior to feeding. Once they warm up a bit, they’ll start to descend down to the platforms a few at a time.

My last remaining Mourning Dove just sits in the sun and looks miserable. Not much of a cold weather survival strategy for these late-comers to northern Maine... Though the dove population has seemed to build in the area in the past few years, the reports would indicate they are taking a hit this year.

Most water remains frozen. This should be no surprise, when you look at the map of low temperatures for the 24th and 25th prepared by the NOAA weather guys in Caribou.

Snow levels remained about the same as last report (prior to the current rainy weather we had today). There is about 2 to 2.5 feet in the woods and around a foot in the open areas.

The Common Goldeneyes haven’t been reported in Caribou this week, but a few Common Mergansers continue there. The regular crowd of Mallards and Black Ducks continue on Presque Isle Stream An adult Bald Eagle was seen on Sunday near the nest east of Presque Isle.

This apparent Sharp-shinned Hawk was puffed up against the cold in a yard in Presque Isle when Alice Sheppard photographed it. The dark red iris indicates the little hawk is an adult.

Unusual in January, 17 Great Black-backed Gulls were spotted on the ice of the Aroostook River in Presque Isle on the 28th.

As previously mentioned, Mourning Dove numbers have been thinning out in January’s cold weather.

10 Bohemian Waxwings were seen in Caribou on the 28th. Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches are frequenting feeders in Caribou and Presque Isle. The Tufted Titmouse continues to over winter in Presque Isle and was visiting as recently as the 26th.

Northern Cardinals are still being spotted at two locations in Presque Isle. No reports of this species were received this week from other locales. Snow Bunting flocks were seen in Cross Lake (T17R5), Van Buren and Easton. A White-throated Sparrow lingers on in a yard in Presque Isle.

The Sherman Eastern Towhee was photographed again this week by Patty Jennings. The bird obligingly showed off its diagnostic wing pattern that separates this species from its western counterpart, the Spotted Towhee. A sparrow authority looked at Patty’s pictures of the Sherman bird and noted the white on the bases of the primary wing feathers. The degree of white varies geographically and he indicated this bird appeared typical of northern populations of the Eastern Towhee.

Pine Grosbeaks continue to be so common and widespread that they are barely noteworthy. An unusually bright yellow Evening Grosbeak showed up in the flock at my feeder in Woodland this week. The bird didn’t have the usual “sooty” look to the yellow of the upper parts. Pine Siskins are increasing but still only showing in single digit flock sizes. No new Hoary Redpolls were reported but some bright male Common Redpolls are being seen. Ken Lamb photographed this guy at his feeder in Chapman.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Mid-Winter Report

The days are noticeably longer and small hints of things to come are evident from local bird behavior. I’ve heard male Black-capped Chickadees doing some tentative singing and the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers have been drumming a bit as the sun rises. I’ve also noted the Common Ravens are starting to get a little territorial and crabby about trespass by others. Optimistic observations, yes…, but I know there’s still plenty of winter left.

So far, January weather has been quite varied. A record breaking warm spell in the second week brought steady rain and dropped snow levels by about half. The ice cover on some area streams opened up and wintering waterfowl took advantage and moved around a bit. Some icing at the tail end of the warm spell probably made it difficult for the birds that make a living picking cocoons and pupae out of crevices on trees... Recently, its been bitterly cold and snow depths have resurged back to their early January depths.

A notable observation this month, is the dramatic lack of birds out in the woods. Several northern Maine birders, who spend significant time outdoors, have noted the dearth of birdlife in most woodlots in eastern Aroostook County. The near complete cone failure coupled with an early winter onslaught of frugivores and finches have left little in the forest for passerines to eat. I’m sure the ice cover didn’t help the few gleaning species like chickadees, nuthatches and Brown Creepers.

The good news is, that things are busy at area feeders. Some county birders are reporting a fairly dynamic feeder population with regular changes in species and overall numbers. Seed sales have been brisk at the Presque Isle seed store.

The Mallard and American Black Duck flock has held steady in Presque Isle. Black Ducks were seen in Fort Fairfield and Mars Hill during the thaw. The Common Goldeneye flock at Caribou Dam on the Aroostook River grew to over 50 birds following the warm spell. A few Common Mergansers continued here as well. Some Common Goldeneyes were seen on the open water on the St. John River in Madawaska.

Bald Eagles continue to be seen in Ashland, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Island Falls and near Oxbow. An adult was eyeing the aforementioned Goldeneyes at the Caribou Dam on the 15th. The Coopers Hawk was reported in Presque Isle in the first week of January but not since.

A Ruffed Grouse was seen sunning itself in Westmanland on the 20th. Barred Owls were heard in Fort Fairfield in early January.

The Three-toed Woodpecker was seen on the 5th at the usual spot along the Muscovic Road in Stockholm. A group of three Gray Jays were also seen here. Pileated Woodpeckers were seen in Presque Isle, New Sweden and Woodland.

Blue Jays were one of the most widely reported bird species in Aroostook County this month. Ken Lamb photographed this jay at his feeder in Chapman. A few American Crows continue to winter all they way up to Madawaska and Fort Kent. The only waxwing reported so far this month was a window-killed Bohemian Waxwing found in Caribou on the 9th. Northern Cardinals were reported in Caribou and Presque Isle.

Several observers reported declining Mourning Dove flocks recently.

Large numbers of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches have been reported at feeders across the area. White-breasted Nuthatches are being seen at feeders in Caribou and Presque Isle. An uncommon Brown Creeper was a one-day visitor to my yard in Woodland on the 6th.

An adult Northern Shrike was chasing redpolls at a feeder in Mt Chase.

Sparrow species seem well represented so far this winter. This is surprising considering the duration and depth of the snow cover we’ve experienced so far.

A sharp looking male Eastern Towhee over-wintering at a feeder in Sherman is only the fifth winter record/report for this species in Aroostook County. The bird was first seen in early fall and continues to show at this time. Patty Jennings got this great image on the 11th.

A White-throated Sparrow was reported in Presque Isle and American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were seen in several locations in the past week. Reports of Snow Bunting flocks have declined a bit but single birds were seen over last weekend in Caribou and Woodland.

Large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks continue to be reported from across the area. High counts included 35 in Mt Chase, 30+ in Castle Hill, 20+ in Portage Lake and 45+ in Woodland. Smaller counts were reported from Ashland, Caribou, Presque Isle and Stacyville, St. Agatha and Sherman. 62 Evening Grosbeaks were counted at my feeder in Woodland on the 17th.

Common Redpolls have been frequently reported in northern Maine this month, but the distribution has been spotty. One observer complained that he’d yet to refill his nyger feeder this winter and others, nearby, reported good numbers of the finches in their yards. A few American Goldfinches are visiting feeders in Presque Isle and Caribou. Purple Finches remain unseen.

Its not often that there are as many Hoary Redpolls to report as Pine Siskins but this was the case this week. Usually rare, Hoarys have been seen recently at feeders in New Sweden, Castle Hill and Mt Chase. Russell Mount got this good shot of "his" Hoary holding its own against the Pine Grosbeaks at his feeder in Castle Hill on the 22nd.

(The Siskins were visiting in Caribou, New Sweden and Woodland.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Presque Isle, Maine Christmas Bird Count 29 December 2007

Despite the snow that fell for most of the day on Saturday, the 2007 Presque Isle Christmas Bird Count broke a couple of records and produced some noteworthy finds.

As expected on a day of less-than-ideal weather, the number of individual birds found in the count circle was lower than the past few years totals. However we managed to tally 35 species which wasn’t too shabby for this northern count. (The average species count for the past eight years is exactly 35 species).

The conditions this year were tough for the birds and the birders. The snow was nearly two feet deep in fields and woods and most water was frozen. Natural food sources were very limited with almost no cones, seeds buried in deep snow and very few berries or small fruit left after the waxwing onslaught earlier this fall. Field observers noted that the woods and fields were very quiet and most of the birds were found around yards with feeders.

New high tallys were made for Mallard and Rock Pigeon this year…ugh. The pigeon’s numbers were almost twice the previous high count. Despite some bold predictions, the Pine Grosbeak numbers were just a bit shy of the record set back in 1987.

The big news of the day was THREE species seen for the first time ever this count. Two staked-out birds: a Rusty Blackbird and a Tufted Titmouse, obligingly lingered long enough to be counted. In addition, a count-first Hoary Redpoll serendipitously showed up at the same feeder as the Titmouse. This was a nice surprise indeed.

If that wasn’t enough, this yard also produced the Presque Isle count’s second-ever Cooper’s Hawk. The hawk buzzed through the yard, as if on cue, while the local television crew was filming the titmouse for news piece on the Christmas Bird Count. The camera man did an impressive job of quickly getting the camera on the streaking accipiter and, it too, made the evening news!

Other notables included the rare Aroostook winterers: Brown Creeper, American Robin and Hooded Merganser. Two Northern Shrikes and three Bald Eagles were also nice finds.

Remarkable in their absence were waxwings of any sort, Purple Finches and Pine Siskins. Common Redpoll numbers were surprisingly low for an “on” year and nowhere near the numbers being tallied on counts to the south. Only a single American Goldfinch was found.

The preliminary numbers:

Mallard 39

American Black Duck 46

Hooded Merganser 1

Ruffed Grouse 3

Bald Eagle 3

Cooper’s Hawk 1

Great Black-backed Gull 1

Mourning Dove 90

Rock Pigeon 617

Downy Woodpecker 4

Hairy Woodpecker 18

Pileated Woodpecker 3

Northern Shrike 2

Blue Jay 40

Common Raven 139

American Crow 138

Black-capped Chickadee 333

Tufted Titmouse 1

Red-breasted Nuthatch 9

White-breasted Nuthatch 2

Brown Creeper 1

European Starling 292

American Robin 1

Northern Cardinal 1

American Tree Sparrow 3

White-throated Sparrow 2

Dark-eyed Junco 6

Snow Bunting 223

Rusty Blackbird 1

Pine Grosbeak 148

Hoary Redpoll 1

Common Redpoll 79

American Goldfinch 1

Evening Grosbeak 25

House Sparrow 19

Total Species 35

Total Individuals 2264