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...

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