Friday, March 20, 2009

Northern Maine Birds- Winter Wrap Up

Despite the arrival of spring on the calendar, it remains very winter-like in northern Maine. The first half of March was colder than average, there were 5 nights last week with subzero temperatures in my valley here in Woodland. That being said, there has been a gradual reduction in the snow pack thanks to a run of sunny and dry days with a stiff breeze. Very little snow has fallen this month.

Only a few sheltered, southward facing stream banks and other protected areas have lost snow cover and even the fields remain blanketed in snow. Some brooks and small streams have dropped their ice but overall there is still little open water to be found.

Migratory movements of birds are becoming evident with pulses of winter resident species apparently starting to move out. The vangard of spring migrants has also begun to show up.

A nice assemblage of Common Goldeneyes is being seen along an open stretch of water on the Aroostook River in Presque Isle. The males of this group of ~20 are jostling and displaying for the females of the flock. Interesting amongt the flock is a young male bird that has the white cheek patch of the males on a brown female-like head. On a recent -10 degree morning, Paul Cyr got a shot of some of the flock with the unusual plumaged male at the top of the picture.

Quite a few big raptors have been reported in the area recently.

Bald Eagles have returned to many of the area nests and are busily sprucing them up. The pair in Fort Fairfield have constructed a new nest in yet another poplar tree on the south end of the island in the Aroostook River. This is at least the fourth nest this pair has constructed here. Though they don't seem to have figured out that poplars are not sturdy enough to support their big nests in a windstorm, this pair should get credit for persistance.... Paul Cyr got this image of the Fort Fairfield couple on their new nest early last week. Other pairs were seen at nests in Crystal, Presque Isle and Van Buren. Immature Bald Eagles were reported in Stockholm and Washburn and others were seen in Caribou (3/3) and Medway (3/17). An adult Peregrine Falcon was seen flying high and steady up the Aroostook River Valley in Caribou on 17 March. This was the earliest record I have for the species in northern Maine. Northern Goshawks were well seen since the last post here. The big accipiter was seen in Bancroft (2/24), New Sweden (3/3) and Caribou (3/7).

Several early arriving Red-tailed Hawks were also seen: Dyer Brook (2/27), Fort Fairfield (3/11) and Presque Isle (3/18). Ken Lamb got a nice shot of the Fort Fairfield bird looking a bit chilly but soaking up the morning sun.

The first returning Ring-billed Gull was seen in Madawaska on 20 March. A small flock of Great Black-backed Gulls showed up in Caribou in late February.

The hardy NORTHERN Flicker that overwintered in Caribou returned to his host's yard again on the 13th. The woodpecker managed to get his tongue barbs tangled in a fraying rope and had to be disintangled and set free. None-the-worse for the man handling it recieved, the bird continues to appear and was seen as recently as the 20th.

Pictured at the top of post, Ken Lamb spotted the silouette of a Great-Horned Owl in Chapman on the evening of the 23rd of February. Northbound Northern Shrikes stopped to harass birds at feeders in Caribou (3/21) and Presque Isle (3/19).

Migrant American Crows began arriving in central Aroostook in the final week of February. The pair that nests in the woods behind my home in Woodland returned on 2/28. After a winter of unusual abundance, the Blue Jays have started to thin out a bit a area feeders. A Gray Jay visited a feeder in Bancroft back on February 24th.

Numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches seemed to climb in the first week of March. 6 are now visiting my suet in Woodland. In contrast, Black-capped Chickadees have started to disperse away from feeders and their singing can now be heard in area woodlots. White-breasted Nuthatches were reported at intown locations in Ashland, Caribou, and Presque Isle.

Like American Crows, European Starlings recently began to show up at rural locations after a winters absence. Bohemian Waxwings are still being seen in small groups. Most recently, 4 were seen in Presque Isle on the 20th.

Both male and female Northern Cardinals have been singing since mid February and several pairs have been reported in Presque Isle. Another is visiting a feeder in Caribou Ted Roberts sent over a shot of his uncommon couple.

The White-throated Sparrow that overwintered at my feeders was last seen on 8 March. Remaining American Tree Sparrows have begun to sing. Overwintering Dark-eyed Juncos continued to be reported but there has been no sign of new arrivals yet. Snow Bunting numbers increased in early March and flocks were increasingly reported through the period but may now be on the wane. A flock of thirty is regular in my yard in Woodland. Receding snow levels are certainly benefitting the birds. No reports of arriving Song Sparrows yet.

Small numbers of arriving blackbird species have already been seen. As usual Common Grackles were the first to arrive. Grackle reports thus far include Ashland (3/12), Caribou (3/17 ), Presque Isle (3/17), Wade (3/18), New Sweden (3/20), Grand Isle (3/20), Madawaska (3/20) St. Agatha (3/20) and Woodland (3/21). Mary Collishaw documented her shiny new arrival in north Caribou.

Red-winged Blackbirds were also trickling in. Three males were seen in Caribou and a flock of 20+ in Wade were the first reported and arrivced on the 18th. Another male was seen at a feeder in Grand Isle on the 20th. The first Brown-headed Cowbird of the season arrived a week early at a feeder in Caribou on the 21st.

Pine Grosbeaks have thinned out recently and only a couple reports (from Caribou and Castle Hill) have been recieved this week. Mary Collishaw snapped a picture of the Pine Grosbeaks in her Caribou yard earlier this month. Evening Grosbeaks continue to show well in yards in Ashland, Caribou, Castle Hill, Mars Hill, New Sweden, PI and Woodland. Uncommon in northern Maine this winter, six White-winged Crossbills were seen at a feeder in Presque Isle on the 3rd and two were seen at a Portage Lake yard the following day. Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins were well represented in early March but several reporters considered them decreasing recently. The season's first Hoary Redpoll was found on the Winding Hill Road in Crystal on March 8th. American Goldfinches are widespread at area feeders. Still no sign of Purple Finches.

I plan to begin weekly(-ish) reports for the rest spring migration season. To facilitate reporting to the Maine Bird Alert, I hope to get the posts up on Wednesday nights. Any one wishing to report arrivals or otherwise update us on avian goings-on please send them by Tuesday night!

Thanks and good birding

Bill Sheehan
Woodland, Aroostook