Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sandhill Cranes in Bridgewater and more on the collared Canada Geese and Snowy Owls

Back on in early October, after I'd spent most of a day on the road, a co-worker at the office told me that "some guy had called about some rare birds down in Bridgewater"... I pressed for more info, but, it was not forthcoming... No name, no number, no species....

Then this week I was emailing with Ken Lamb and he inquired if I had seen the pictures of the cranes that local guide, Dave Hentosh had of Sandhill Cranes in Bridgewater (!)

Of course, I followed up and David obligingly sent over these great pictures taken by one of his clients. The photos show four Sandhill Cranes feeding in a field of grain stubble. Mars Hill can be seen in the background of one.

Though this species now breeds in south-central Maine, there are few records of Sandhills for northern Maine. Locally, Great Blue Herons are usually referred to as "cranes" and there are plenty of reports of these in late summer and fall... but the real deals are quite rare. The last one I recall, was a single crane found by Arlen Lovewell in Ashland in the spring in the mid 1990's.

As for the collared Canada Geese from Greenland, Connie Michaud wrote to say that they were still around the area and that her husband had located at least four of them. The marked geese were seen on Sunday the 19th in a field along in Caribou Lake Road just south of Caribou.

David Stroud, one of the goose researchers who originally marked the birds, also sent along some great pictures of "my" geese taken when they were originally captured in Greenland this summer. Since the group was studying head and bill shape in an effort to determine which subspecies of Canada geese they were capturing, they had wonderful mug shots of all the geese we're now seeing in Caribou. Here's one of GNA.

David also sent a picture of "Lake Y" in western Greenland where the geese were caught last July. The Greenland icecap can be seen in the distance... looks chilly.

I've had no luck relocating the Snowy Owl here in Woodland but have heard of a bunch more that have shown up in the region. Brian Dalzell in New Brunswick wrote that he had heard of three Snowy Owls arriving last weekend: one in Cape Race Newfoundland and two in New Brunwick. Louis Bevier noted that one was taken in by a bird rehabber from Jackman on the 14th and yet another has been reported down in Scarborough on Pine Point. Keep a lookout for more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snowy Owl and seven White-fronted Geese

This weekend I've been looking for the collared Canada Geese that I found last Monday in Caribou. The five geese from Greenland had bright yellow neck collars and I figured it would be easy to relocate them with a little effort.

Not so.

Yesterday during the middle of the day, I visited six towns checking the usual day roosts that the Canadas use for hanging out and snoozing between forays out to the fields. I found 11 different flocks totalling over 8,300 geese. Since most of the day roosts are in protected, in-town locations I was able to get good looks at most of the birds and didn't spot a single collar... However there were some great consolation prizes...

At Malabeam Lake in Limestone I found my first Greater Scaup of the season. It was a hen associating with a dozen Ring-necked Ducks in a mass of 600+ Canada Geese.

On the other side of town I stumbled on to two Greater White-fronted Geese in the small impoundment on Limestone Stream in down town Limestone. These were also the first of this species for me this season. They were adult geese of the Greenland variety and had bright orange bills and legs.

Three White-fronts were reported in Caribou about two weeks ago and I wondered if these might not be a couple of that group.

On the West Limestone Road in northern Fort Fairfield, I drove by a huge flock of Canadas feeding a freshly harvested potato field and probably wouldn't have noticed them and stopped, if it hadn't been for a large flock of Horned Larks spilling across the road in front of me. I stopped to check the larks out and then heard the honking of the geese in the field behind me. I counted 769 Canadas. While I was scanning and counting the flock, two young Snow Geese came in and landed with them.

Snow Geese are quite uncommon in northern Maine in the fall. Even though this area is located just south of the big staging areas on the shores of the St Lawrence River in Quebec, we are far enough east and off the preferred travel route. So its usually only young Snows or the occasional weather blown flock that we see this time of year.

Further along my goose-loop I found the biggest goose flock of the day at Puddledock Pond in Fort Fairfield. The little impoundment on Pattee Brook was filled with Canada Geese.
While searching each goose for yellow collars, I caught a glimpse of some color in a dense mass of birds on the far side of the pond. Once I zoomed my scope in, I was treated to the view of another Greenland Greater White-fronted Goose...and another...and another. In all there were FIVE White-fronted Geese in this group. With the two up in Limestone, this was a day total of seven White-fronts... more that I had ever seen in Maine in my life.

Another young Snow Goose sailing into the field a view just before I packed up and left, was just gravy on a great afternoon chasing geese!

Today I did a quick check of the flocks in Caribou including at the location where they were originally spotted still found no collared geese. There was yet another juvenile Snow Goose feeding with about 1400 unmarked Canadas, but not much else in the waterfowl category. A single American Pipit, an immature Northern Harrier and a couple hundred Horned Larks were my apparent best finds of the day...until had almost arrived home.

Just a quarter mile from my house I came upon the earliest arriving Snowy Owl I've ever encountered. The owl was perched on a utility pole beside the Morse Road and seemed to be soaking in the morning sun. The owl didn't seem to be hunting or I think the young house cat that was padding along the road right in front of it might have been enticing to the bird... I was able to get some good photos and the owl remained in place for almost a half hour- until a truck pulling a loud rattley trailer flushed it. The bird flew off across the big field of canola stubble towards the west...and my house.... I watched it till it was out of sight over the hill....and I wondered...

Once I got home I scanned the area around my house with no luck in relocating the owl. I was about to give up when I spotted a distant bump on the horizon in the fields east of my house. The scope showed that it was The Snowy Owl...yard bird 133 and my fifth owl species!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Color marked Canada Geese in Caribou from Greenland

Its no secret that alot of Canada Geese stop in central Aroostook county in the fall. By my most recent unscientific survey, there are currently about 18,000+ Canada Geese taking advantage of the newly harvested grain and potato fields in northern Maine. The origins of all of these geese is something that I've always wondered about.

Recently, some area birders have been reporting a few rarer species among the Canada Goose flocks including three Greater White-fronted Geese, a few Snow Geese and a single Cackling Goose.

On Monday, I was able to spend some time observing one of the bigger flocks in the Caribou area. I used my spotting scope to scan though the geese...looking for a one of these rarer species. Though I didn't turn up any of less common types amongst the hungry horde, I did find five Canada Geese that were sporting bright yellow neck collars with three letter alpha codes on them. The geese were feeding in some barley stubble and with a little bit of work and patience I was finally able to discern the codes on each of the neck collars...GLF, GLJ, GLV, GLZ, GNA.

Yesterday, I called Maine's head waterfowl biologist Brad Allen in Bangor and inquired if he was aware of anyone color marking geese in the region. Brad recalled a message he recieved earlier in the summer from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that alerted biologists in the east to a marking program in Greenland. Brad sent me the information and I contacted the program leader Tony Fox in Denmark. Tony's response this AM confirmed that the geese here in Caribou were part of a small population of Canada Geese that breed in western Greenland! Tony also sent along a link to lots of information about the marking project and the interesting discoveries they have made over the years.
With permission, I'm inserting some of Tony's response here:
"...You cannot imagine how thrilled we are to receive this news! These birds were banded as part of a project to mark Greenland White-fronted and Canada Geese in west Greenland in 2008, and whilst we have had a resighting of one of the White-fronted Geese back in Scotland, I am very pleased to tell you that you are the very first to report Canada Geese from your side of the Atlantic, so we are absolutely delighted at the news. The birds that you have reported were ringed at a Lake simply known as Y to the catching team (very few lakes in this area have Greenlandic names) which is at 67°06’56”N 50°35’17”N in an area known as Isunngua, immediately north of the airport at Kangerlussuaq in west Greenland. This has been a study area for our investigations on and off over many years. Obviously, I cannot provide any more details about the birds as these are the first resightings, but I can tell you that GLJ, GLV and GNA were all males and GLZ and GNA females at capture, and all were at least in their second summer or older. The fact that they are associating may suggest that they are siblings or are related in some other way, but it sounds like they were non-breeders in 2008. Certainly this flock contained no goslings at the time of the drive, and it is usually the case that non-breeders dissociate from the big flocks of families (although this is not always the case). Whilst we have had five Canada Geese from this area of Greenland shot in new Brunswick, yours are the first records from northern Maine of our geese, so this is a very exciting extension to our knowledge of where these birds stage on the way down to the winter quarters. Needless to say, if you have time to keep an eye on these birds, we would be extremely interested to see how long they stay and whether any other collars turn up in this area. ....We have absolutely no objection to all the blog posting imaginable - the more folk are aware of these geese, the more likely we are to be able to monitor their progress! ..."
Exciting stuff! Keep and eye out for these birds!
Check out the links to the Greenland goose project here: