Monday, April 27, 2009

Northern Maine Birds 21-27 April 2009

Over the weekend the ice went out (melted off) of Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield and Lake Josephine in Easton. The combination of the previous week's warm rain, a hot day on Saturday and the howling wind on Saturday night left only a small floe of ice cube-sized pieces rattling in the southeast corners of the lakes.

These favorite northern Maine birding spots have been locked up in ice for just over 5 months. The waterfowl were quick to move into the area.

New and arriving species this week:

Common Loon (4/23)
Double-crested Cormorant (4/24)
American Bittern (4/25)
Gadwall (4/26)
Northern Shoveler (4/24)
Common Eider (4/26)
Long-tailed Duck (4/24)
Bufflehead (4/27)
Ruddy Duck (4/24)
Greater Yellowlegs (4/24)
Spotted Sandpiper (4/26)
Dunlin (4/27)
Belted Kingfisher (4/23)
Northern Flicker (4/21)
Barn Swallow (4/26)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (4/26)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (4/26)
Hermit Thrush (4/25)
Chipping Sparrow (4/26)
Savannah Sparrow (4/26)

With the reduction in ice cover on marshes and arrival of many species of waterfowl, its been a good week for a duck head like me. Locally breeding Canada Geese have already been seen on nests (Caribou, Fort Fairfield) but migrant flocks as large as 250+ continue to move through the area.

Notable waterfowl arrivals this week include a pair of Gadwall, a single hen Bufflehead, a couple Ruddy Ducks and a dozen Northern Shovelers at Lake Josephine in Easton.

A pair of Redheads has also set up shop in this area. American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck numbers are increasing (20's for the former and 200+ for the latter).

A pair of Long-tailed Ducks were a good find on the edge of the floe on still-ice-covered Trafton Lake in Limestone. Rare this far inland, an attractive drake Common Eider was riding the waves on the Aroostook River in Caribou on Sunday. These ducks are nocturnal migrants and I suspect the wild northwest winds that kicked up Saturday night brought this guy down for a rest.

Only a day or two early, Common Loons returned to whatever open water they could splash down into. Arriving loons were reported in the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield, Trafton Lake in Limestone and T8R7 at LaPomkeag Lake.

The first American Bittern of the season was skulking around the weeds at the access point to Barren Lake off of Route 205 in Caribou.

Hawk migration continued at a steady pace with American Kestrels, Northern Harriers and Sharp-shinned Hawks widely reported. Interestingly, there were was only one new Broad-winged Hawk sighting reported (Easton) despite large pulses noted in the southern parts of the state.

A young Bald Eagle dining on a fish was photographed by Cheryl Hallowell on the ice of Madawaska Lake in T16R4 on the 27th.

Shorebirds began to arrive in numbers over the weekend. A Dunlin at Lake Josephine shown to me by Craig Kesselheim was a first April record for this location. The early bird was very drab and assumed to be a young bird on its first migration northward. Nearly as notable, a Spotted Sandpiper at Nadeau Pond in Fort Fairfield was over two weeks early for northern Maine. A good assemblage of shorebirds behind the funeral home in Fort Fairfield included 5 Wilson's Snipe, 5 arriving Greater Yellowlegs and several Killdeer.

One of the previously noted Lesser Black-backed Gulls was seen in Caribou this weekend (4/25).

The first Belted Kingfishers began trickling in with birds seen along the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield on the 23rd and 24th. Others were reported in Caribou, Easton and Woodland.

Northern Flickers are quickly filing into the area though more reports came from southern parts of the county.

A pulse of passerine migrants on the southern winds that blew on Friday and Saturday brought numbers of arriving Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Some early Barn Swallows also appeared amongst the Tree Swallows. One was seen over Puddledock Pond in Fort Fairfield on the 26th and another was found over Lake Josephine on the 27th.

The first Hermit Thrush was heard singing in the woods near LaPomkeag Lake in T8R7 in northern-most Penobscot county

Sparrow flocks have been dynamic with the vanguard of arriving White-throated Sparrows showing up over the weekend. An up-tick in American Tree Sparrow numbers portends their departure from the area in a short while. The first arriving Savannah and Chipping Sparrows were heard on Sunday.

A few lingering Common Redpolls continue at my feeder in Woodland. Pine Siskin and Purple Finch numbers are increasing rapidly. Evening Grosbeaks continue to be reported in 10 and 20's from several locations around the area.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Northern Maine Birds 10-20 April 2009

The past ten days was a cool dry stretch here in northern Maine. Temperatures averaged a few degrees lower than normal. Slow melting occurred in the afternoons and night time lows in the mid twenties re-formed ice when the sun went down. A three inch snow on the 13th was the only precipitation of significance during the period.

All streams and rivers are open and water levels have remained stable or dropped. Most ponds and lakes remain predominantly ice covered. Snow cover has retreated from most open areas but more than a foot remains in the woods.

A couple small pulses of migrants occurred during the past 10 days but generally migration has been a slow and steady affair so far.

New and arriving species during this period:

Brant (4/10)
Blue-winged Teal (4/18)
Redhead (4/18)
Lesser Scaup (4/18)
Osprey (4/16)
Broad-winged Hawk (4/18)
Iceland Gull (4/13)
Northern Saw-whet Owl (4/14)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (4/12)
Eastern Phoebe (4/14)
Tree Swallow (4/11)
Brown Creeper (4/19)
Fox Sparrow (4/19)
Purple Finch (4/17)

Waterfowl migration hasn't been much to talk about yet this season but what has showed up included some great birds. The highlight of period was certainly a wayward Brant found in association with some Canada Geese in Washburn on the 10th. The little goose remained here through at least the 13th. A flock of about 800-1000 Snow Geese is feeding on the flats along the St. John River in Grand Isle. The group was spotted from the Canadian side of the river by Roy and Charlotte LaPointe. Between 12 and 14 "Blue" Geese were seen in the horde. Canada Goose migrants continue to pass thorugh and some residents are already acting territorial.

A pair of drake Redheads were discovered on the 18th at Puddledock Pond in Fort Fairfield. The handsome males were loafing in the pond with a newly arrived drake Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck. The tall wooden fence that was put up to exclude geese from the park here worked effectively as a blind and allowed Peter Vickery to get good photos of this fine looking pair.

Another good find was a crisp drake Barrow's Goldeneye that remained at Collins Pond from the 12th through the 15th. The bird was courting a hen Common Goldeneye which was clearly not to the liking of a nearby drake Common.

Seen first on the 18th, a newly-arrived Blue-winged Teal on a small pond near Trafton Lake in Limestone was early by a week. Wood Duck, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal numbers are increasing. An apparent Green-winged Teal X Eurasian (Common) Teal hybrid was seen at the same small pond near Trafton Lake. The male possessed both a white vertical stripe on the side and a partial white horizontal scapular stripe along the wing. Unfortunately no photos were possible before the bird flushed and flew away (thanks to an eagle).

Lots of Common and Hooded Mergansers are being seen throughout the area. Paul Cyr captured the great images of drake Hooded Mergansers at the top and bottom of this post.

Great Blue Herons were reported from Caribou, Grand Isle, Presque Isle and Mars Hill. Paul Cyr also sent along the image of the flying heron above.

For the first time since last year, ten species of raptors were encountered in the county this week. Rare in northern Maine, Turkey Vultures were seen in Monticello and Sherman on the 17th. Newly arrived Ospreys went right to work sprucing up their nests in Easton and Island Falls. Other Ospreys were seen in Caribou and Fort Fairfield. Patty Jennings got this great action shot of an Osprey about to add another twig to the nest in Island Falls. The first Broad-winged Hawk of the season was spotted in Easton on the 18th. Following the trend this spring, it was also an early arrival by about a week.

A substantial wave of American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned and Rough-legged Hawks moved into the area over the weekend. On the 18th, Rough-legs were seen in Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Van Buren and Woodland (one each). A pair of Kestrels has set up residence in a nest box in Portage Lake over the weekend. Other raptor species encountered were Merlin, Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk.

American Woodcock have not been reported much yet this season here in the north. A twittering male was heard in Woodland on the 17th. A handful of Wilson's Snipe and Killdeer remain the only other shorebird types mentioned so far.

The two Lesser Black-backed Gulls mentioned earlier this month at Collins Pond in Caribou were joined by a third (!) adult bird on the 11th and all continued through at least the 18th. A first cycle Iceland Gull also joined the flock on the 13th and was spotted several times around Caribou through the week. Migrant Ring-billed Gull numbers are near peak and these now dominate the gull flocks in central Aroostook.

Two nights (4/17-18) of owl surveys in New Sweden, Perham, Stockholm, Westmanland, Woodland and T14 R5 produced 11 Barred and 4 Northern Saw-whet Owls. Other than the owls and an occasional coyote it was still very quiet in the woods.

Several American Crows were seen attacking a Rock Pigeon in Caribou this week. The ultimate fate of the unlucky bird was unknown.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had reached the central Aroostook area (my yard in Woodland) by the 12th. Eastern Phoebes were seen in Linneus on the 14th, Caribou on the 18th and Woodland by the 19th. A mid-spring surge of northbound Bohemian Waxwings was noted this week. 30+ Bohemians were seen at Lake Josephine in Easton and others were encountered in Fort Fairfield and Presque Isle.

Newly returned Tree Swallows also overspread the area quickly this week. A Brown Creeper was heard singing near the Woodland Bog in Woodland on the 19th.

In my yard in Woodland, the first Fox Sparrows (2) and a Rusty Blackbird were right on schedule. Dark-eyed Junco numbers continue to build and American Tree Sparrows show no signs of dwindling through today.

A good assortment of finches continue to show well at central Aroostook feeding stations. The first Purple Finches seen since last fall arrived at area feeders on the 17th. Common Redpoll numbers seemed to surge and wane quickly in a weeks time. My thistle feeder went from hosting a few to 200+ bird and then down to about 40 redpolls in about 8 days. A sickly redpoll, an apparent victim of the recent avian salmonella outbreak, was huddled in a bush in my yard on the 20th. A few Pine Siskins were reported at Ashland, Presque Isle and Woodland. White-winged Crossbills were heard in Woodland on the 19th. Evening Grosbeaks were seen in Caribou (3), Fort Fairfield (12) and Woodland (20).

A House Sparrow male has successfully dodged two Sharp-shinned Hawk assaults thus far this week.

Good Birding


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Northern Maine Birds 1-9 April 2009

The ice on the big rivers went out grudgingly this week. The temperatures were just warm enough to keep the slow melting process going and a steady cold rain finally brought up the stream levels enough to start the ice moving. There were quite a few ice jams along the Aroostook and St. John Rivers. These would temporarily dam the river and as a result some spots were flooded. A few of my favorite duck watching spots in low lying fields and backwaters near the rivers are filled with 5 to 10 feet of ice chunks...

The huge weather system that has kept us in the gloom for a week stretched from Florida and Gulf Coast up to northern Quebec and Labrador. It appears from reports along the downeast coast and the Maritime provinces that the system brought some gifts in the form of early neotropical migrant birds. A couple of these were even found in our area!

So far, its rained every day in April in central Aroostook county. Temperatures have ranged from the thirties to the low fifties. Snow cover is mostly melted from fields and open places in the south and central areas and shouldn't be around much longer in the north. There is still plenty of snow in the woods and most lakes and ponds remain icebound except for spots with some current like the inlets and outlets.

Arriving and new birds this week:
Wood Duck (4/5)
American Wigeon (4/6)
Northern Pintail (4/9)
Green-winged Teal (4/8)
Ring-necked Duck (4/3)
Barrow's Goldeneye* (4/5)
Turkey Vulture (4/8)
Wilson's Snipe (4/8)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (4/5-8)
Indigo Bunting (4/7)

Waterfowl numbers are increasing proportionately with the amount of open water here in northern Maine. New arrivals include very early Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Northern Pintails and Green-winged Teal. A drake Wood Duck was spotted near the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield and this pair was photographed by Ken Lamb on the 9th. The early arrival American Wigeon included a single seen in a large puddle in Stacyville in northern Penobscot Co on the 6th and a pair amongst 400+ Canada Geese in Collins Pond in Caribou on the 8th. Seven Northern Pintails were loafing on the ice on the impoundment in Mars Hill. Three Green winged Teal were sneaking amongst the cattails in a wetland near Trafton Lake in Limestone.

On a more typical schedule, a pair of Ring-necked Ducks arrived in Mars Hill on the third. Two days later 6 were seen in the same location.

*I photographed an unusually plumaged immature Goldeneye on the 5th at the Limestone Stream impoundment in down town Limestone. The bird appeared at first to be a young male Barrows Goldeneye with a white crescent shaped mark on the cheek and a steep forehead. When I reviewed the photos it seemed to possess a few characteristics of a Common as well. May have to go down as indeterminate though I admit I'm leaning towards calling it a Barrow's... Here's one of the cropped photos I took of the distant bird.

Canada Geese, American Black Ducks, Mallards and both Common and Hooded Mergansers were seen in large numbers this week.

Uncommon in most of northern Maine, Turkey Vultures were spotted in Stacyville (4/8) Hersey (4/9) and Weston (4/9). Northern Harriers were seen in Fort Fairfield, Monticello and Smyrna and American Kestrels also made appearances over opening fields in Blaine, Linneus and Oakfield. Red-tailed Hawk reports came in from Winterville to Westfield to Weston.

The first Wilson's Snipe of the year was spotted on the edge of a puddle in a field in Stacyville on the 8th...Killdeer and Woodcock were making noise in many locales in the south and central parts of the region. Its still quiet shorebird-wise in the northern areas.

Probably one of the rarer species on the report this week, TWO Lesser Black-backed Gulls have been roosting on the ice of Collins Pond each night. They are part of a mixed flock of Herring Great Black-backed and Ring-billed Gulls that visit here. A European gull that has increasingly wintered in North America over the past thirty or so years, they are still quite uncommon in these parts. I have only seen a couple of these in the county before. Here is a digiscoped shot of one of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls, just behind a Great Black-backed for comparison. The adult bird appears Herring Gull size with a dark gray back (a shade or so lighter than Great) and bright yellow legs.

Lingering Bohemian Waxwings were seen in Westfield on the 7th.

A significant discovery this week was an extremely early Indigo Bunting spotted along the Tompkins Road near the Westfield/ Presque Isle townline. While Indigo Buntings are very rare in northern Maine, the thing that made this bird significant was that it is part of a region-wide fallout event. The appearance of this wayward bunting coincided with numerous other reports of southern species (including Indigo Buntings) in Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Along the coast of Maine this week, rare species like Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler were discovered. There were numbers of Indigo Buntings found in New Brunswick (including one as close as Arthurette on the Tobique River) and in Nova Scotia they are finding Worm-eating Warblers and Purple Martins. These birds all appear to have been deposited by the huge weather system that stretched from Florida to Labrador and kept us in the gloom for much of the past week. Neat stuff and it makes you wonder what else is out there!

The finches dominating the feeders in central Aroostook this week are Common Redpolls. Several reports of flocks greater than 100 birds were reported. The morning of the 9th, a Hoary Redpoll was in the mix at my feeders here in Woodland. My third bad-picture-offering this week is a documentation shot (taken through a couple layers of glass) of the Hoary Redpoll with a few Commons. The bird is the lighter puffball in the lower center... honest.

Evening Grobeaks continue in good numbers in Limestone, Castle Hill, Presque Isle and Woodland. Ted Roberts sent along this picture of his starling and grosbeak sharing the feeder...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Northern Maine Birds 21-31 March 2009

Things are gradually warming in northern Maine. Last weekend the mercury in the thermometer took its first trip across the 50 degree mark this year. Snow melt has been quite gradual thus far and snow cover remains intact in most places. A surprise snow "shower" left anywhere from an inch to a foot of snow in places on Monday.

Streams have come up a bit and open water is increasing. Some small and mid-sized streams have lost most of their ice. Mile-long stretches are now open on the Aroostook River in several spots.
A few waterways in fields have lost their snow as the runoff melted it from below. Southward facing banks are bare in many spots.

A few emerging moths were seen over the weekend.

New and arriving species this week:

Snow Goose 3/31
Canada Goose 3/27
Great Blue Heron 3/28 (early)
American Kestrel 3/22 (early)
Northern Harrier 3/27
American Woodcock 3/27
Killdeer 3/29
Ring-billed Gull 3/20
Herring Gull 3/26
American Robin 3/27

A single Snow Goose seen in the Aroostook River in Presque Isle on the 31st was an early bird and the waterfowl highlight this week. The first Canada Geese seen were a flock of 8 on the 27th in Caribou, 13 in Easton and 9 in Presque Isle on the 28th. Singles, pairs and small groups of Hooded Mergansers were reported from Bancroft to Limestone. Common Mergansers were seen in Fort Fairfield and Caribou. These divers are squeezing into leads in the ice where other ducks would be releuctant to land. Mallards and American Black Ducks continue to be the only dabbling ducks found in the area to date. Ken Lamb got some nice shots of these Common Goldeneyes courting in Presque Isle>

A very early Great Blue Heron was photographed by Ken Lamb in Presque Isle on the 28th. This was the earliest arrival of this species by more than a week and two weeks ahead of normal arrival dates in my record book.

Good raptors for the area included some early arriving falcons. A male American Kestrel seen at a nest box in Portage Lake on the 22nd was more than a week early and another eager arrival was found in Woodland on the 29th. A Merlin paused for a moment in Hersey on the 28th and then continued northward. An arriving male Northern Harrier was hunting over snow covered fields in Bancroft in southern Aroostook County on the 27th.

Bald Eagles continue to be seen at nests in Fort Fairfield, St Agatha, Van Buren and Presque Isle. The interesting plumaged 3rd? year bird at the end of this post was photographed by Paul Cyr.

The first Killdeer arrived on schedule in central Aroostook County on the 29th. The plovers appeared to regret their ambitious efforts the following day when 6+ inches of new snow made foraging difficult for these birds. By the 31st, Killdeer had been reported from Caribou, Easton, Portage Lake, Mapleton, Presque Isle and Woodland. An American Woodcock was probing the thin margin of bare and unfrozen sod along my driveway on the night of the 27th.

A pair of Barred Owls were vocalizing in Woodland on the 31st. Horned Larks have increased along roadsides in the open country. 2 were seen in Castle Hill and another small group was encountered in Fort Fairfield.

A noticeable pulse of Bohemian Waxwings pushed through the area this week. Flocks were seen in several locations in Caribou and Presque Isle and others were reported in Ashland, Chapman, Portage Lake, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Houlton and Island Falls. Paul Cyr photographed the waxwings as they tossed back the last bits of fruit in his yard.

A trickle of arriving American Robins on the 27th transformed into sizeable wave by the following day. Mentioned by many reporters as a true harbinger of spring, the robins were wallowing in deep snow by Monday. Most robins seen this week appeared to be the dark subspecies from Labrador and Newfoundland. Paul Cyr got the shot at the top of this post...a dark robin squeezing the juice from one last highbush cranberry.

Another Northern Shrike was seen in Danforth on the 24th.

American Crows continue to work on nests and several carrying twigs were reported in central Aroostook county.

American Tree Sparrow reports dropped substantially in late March and it appears this bird is making an early departure. In its place, Dark-eyed Juncos have started to appear in ones and twos under area feeders. A younger male junco was spotted in Caribou with an apparently injured foot. Plenty of Snow Buntings are still being seen. The largest group was 400+ seen in eastern-most Limestone on the 28th. Others were reported from Caribou, Castle Hill, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Washburn and Woodland.

Surprisingly no other migrant sparrow species has been reported in the area yet this year.

Right on schedule, substantial numbers of blackbird species arrived during the period and have been widely reported from throughout the region. Male Red-winged Blackbirds are already defending territories in central Aroostook wetlands, areas that remain frozen solid and covered in several feet of snow and ice. The season's first Brown-headed Cowbirds made timely arrivals in Caribou on the 21st and Woodland on the 28th.

Both Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch numbers increased at area feeders during the period. Several hundred redpolls were seen at a feeder in New Sweden. Males of both species are coloring up nicely. A few White-winged Crossbills made appearances but their numbers remain in the single digits. Crossbills were spotted at feeders in Caribou, Portage Lake, Presque Isle and Woodland. Evening Grosbeaks continue but numbers are dwindling.

Low on most birder's lists but none-the-less rare and noteworthy in northern Maine, House Finches and House Sparrows were reported again this week. The House Finch continues to make appearances at a feeder in Presque Isle and a pair of House Sparrows arrived in my yard in Woodland on the 31st.