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.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Northern Maine Birds 1-17 July 2008

Its been a while... I've been spending lots of time in the field but just haven't had much keyboard time in the past month! Thought I'd pick up with the first couple weeks of July.

It is the peak of breeding season in northern Maine. Many species are busy feeding their young but some are still on nests. Bird song has increased a bit lately and parents are increasingly visible as they frantically seek food for their nestlings. Shorebirds are on the move and crossbills have recently infiltrated the area.

Western Aroostook County has been exceptionally wet over the past two weeks with the National Weather Service reporting as much as 15 inches (!) of precipitation along the Quebec border. The farther south and east you go, the drier it gets. Water levels remain high in most area rivers and streams. Pond levels are above normal as well.

The spruce and fir cone set looks very good and the elderberry crop is exceptional. As Patty Jennings' photo above shows, waxwings were among the species enjoying the berries. There is no shortage of insects.

The waterfowl show at Lake Josephine in Easton continues to be exceptional. In early AM and at dusk 1000+ ducks and ducklings can be seen feeding here on insect hatches. At least one pair of Redheads remain in the area though the female has been hard to find lately. Ken Lamb photographed the drake here on July 7th. A half dozen Ruddy Ducks remain on Lake Josephine and pairs have been seen in some of the wetlands surrounding the pond. Broods of Gadwall, American Wigeon, Blue and Green-winged Teal were seen on Wednesday. Some early hatching Canada Goose and Mallard young are approaching adult size already.

Blue-winged Teal were seen in Mars Hill and at Collins Pond in Caribou on the 14th

Common Goldeneye chicks were seen on Long Lake in St. Agatha on Sunday the 13th and broods of Common Mergansers were seen from Island Falls to Eagle Lake. Ted Roberts got a nice series of photos of the mergs patrolling the waters in front of his camp at Pleasant Lake in Island Falls.

It looks like the raptors have had a good breeding season. Many young are being seen out of the nests.

Ospreys were seen feeding young in Easton and Van Buren.

In Presque Isle at the Winter Sports Center, the Northern Goshawk that thrilled many mountain bikers this spring (by raking its talons over their helmets) has successfully fledged at least two youngsters. The bird was reported to have left the nest with her young by the end of the first week of July and the trail near the nest was reopened after a five week closure.

American Kestrels are increasingly apparent on the wires along county roads. A vocal Merlin was seen in Wade on the 16th. Northern Harriers were seen in St Agatha, Easton, Caribou and Presque Isle this week. Paul Cyr chanced upon this fierce looking nestling harrier in Presque Isle last week. Sharp-shinned, Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks were also reported this week

An American Coot was seen in a wetland in Easton on the 8th. A Sora was heard at Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield on the 7th

Some southbound shorebirds have been seen already. A Greater Yellowlegs was seen at the Town Park Pond in Mars Hill on the 14th and Least Sandpipers were seen at Portage Lake on the 8th and Lake Josephine on the 15th. Wilson's Snipe were still doing some end-of-season winnowing displays over Portage Lake on the 8th.

Once again, a pair of Black Terns is hanging around the Common Tern colony on Long Lake in St. Agatha. Due to the high water levels in the lake this summer the available space on the island is much less this year. Despite the crowded quarters, at least 30 pairs of Common Terns seem to be using the islet. Breeding activity ran the spectrum from copulating pairs to the feeding of nearly fledged chicks. It does not appear that Ring-billed Gulls are nesting here this year. On the 8th, three pairs of Common Terns were feeding young on Portage Lake as well. Here the terns have individual nests on beaver and muskrat houses.

Rare anywhere in northern Maine, a singing Marsh Wren was a good find in the Manuel Wildlife Management Area in Hodgdon of July 4th.

Flycatchers are still vocal. Olive-sided Flycatchers were heard in Connor on the 13th and in T13R5 off of the Beaver Brook Road on the 17th.

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were heard in both locations as well. At least three Alder Flycatchers are calling in the brush around my house in Woodland.

Eastern Phoebes are winding up what appears to be a very successful breeding season. Many nests were reported from around the area. In Presque Isle, Paul Cyrs phoebe nestlings were already crowding the nest on the first when he took their picture.

Patty Jennings got this great image of her adult phoebe on a recent morning in Stacyville.

Boreal Chickadees with broods were spotted in Connor, Hamlin and Nashville Plantation. A young Horned Lark was seen in a potato field in Hamlin on the 15th. Two Philadelphia Vireos were singing in T13R5 on Thursday and another was heard off the Guerrette Road in Connor on the 13th.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens and Veeries, Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes all seem to have increased their song activity as the nesting period winds up. Some mornings its downright noisy in the woods in the Woodland Bog. Likewise warbler song is still being heard for a couple hours each morning. A Tennessee Warbler is singing in my yard here in Woodland and others have been heard in Hamlin, Connor, Perham and T13R5. A late singing Bay-breasted Warbler was heard near Bull Brook in T13R5.

Two different male Fox Sparrows were seen singing several miles apart in T13R5. Both birds were found in thick 10+ year old regenerating logging cuts. Lincoln's Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were singing in Conner on the 13th. One of the lawn and garden stores in Presque Isle was offering a hanging basket of Fuschia for sale with a Chipping Sparrow nest in it! Roberta Griffiths sent along this picture of the hungry nestlings.

White-winged Crossbills have recently returned to northern Maine and flocks of 10+ are being seen in the woods. Two were in my yard in Woodland on Tuesday. Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks are also being encountered.