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.