Saturday, December 26, 2009

Northern Hawk Owls and a European Goldfinch

A bunch of interesting birds have been seen in northern Maine lately boding well for the Christmas Bird Count in Presque Isle next Saturday.

Always an exciting find, Northern Hawk Owls were seen on the 20th in Littleton and 24th a little further north in Blaine. The first hawk owl was spotted just off of Route 1 by observant birder from Massachusetts as he was returning from a weekend of cross country ski competitions at the Nordic Heritage Center in PI. Though the birder didn't have any binoculars with him, he recognized that this was a rare bird anywhere in New England and managed to use the optics at hand (his digital and video cameras) to document the owl! A link to a map location of the bird is here:,-67.8400612&ll=46.2666469,-67.8400612

After I sent the news of the Littleton owl around to some of Aroostook counties birders, Ken Lamb raised the ante with some gorgeous photos of another Hawk-Owl he found. The bird was hunting from a snag on the Pierce Road in Blaine just south of Mars Hill. The owl shown here is Ken's bird.

Derek Lovitch, owner of the Freeport Wild Bird Supply store, noted that there have been a "buttload" of early Northern Hawk Owl reports from northern states to our west and that this may indeed be winter with unusually high numbers of wintering hawk-owls.... Since these are active during the day and fairly easy to see, we should all be keeping an eye out for these over the next few months.

While these hawk owls were exciting, a Christmas Day visitor to Sue and Bob Pinette's feeder in Presque Isle was even more unusual. Sue discovered a gorgeous male European Goldfinch amongst the common American Goldfinches that are visiting her feeders. She was able to get a couple photos of the strikingly plumaged bird as it fed.

The European Goldfinch is a bonafide rarity, with only dozen or so records in Maine and just one previous record here in the county. However, this species is imported and kept as a cage bird in North American so its just about impossible to tell whether or not the bird is a true vagrant from its natural range in Europe and Asia or an escapee. The fact that this individual is surviving a northern Maine winter on its own would seem to indicate that this bird knows more than the average cage bird.... Cool bird no matter the origin!

Other good stuff recently seen included Paul Cyrs report and photo of Maine's hardiest Wild Turkey flock. The birds were recently spotted feeding on a piece of windswept ground just west of Presque Isle in Castle Hill.

A lingering Common Grackle looks determined to get tallied on the CBC next Saturday. The bird has been visiting Alice Sheppards feeder near Mantle Lake Park in Presque Isle.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Barrow's Goldeneye at Lake Jo

Most of central and northern Aroostook county dodged the snow that blanketed the "south" last night. However temperatures dipped below freezing again and judging by the weather service reports, it looks like our long indian summer is coming to a quick end. Temperatures are predicted to be in the teens at night and barely reach above freezing for the next few days.

While the smaller wetlands have frozen and thawed several times in the past 6 weeks, most of the small lakes and reservoirs frequented by migrating waterfowl have remained open. Now it looks like those too, will be freezing up and liquid water will be restricted the quicker rivers and streams in the area.

This afternoon I took a quick run around the area to check the lakes one last time and see what remained this late in the season...

Lake Jo came through one last time this year.

Though the pond was about 1/2 frozen over, a sizeable flock of diving ducks lingered in the middle of the biggest patch of open water. My spotting scope revealed that most (51) were Common Goldeneyes but among them were a pair of Barrows Goldeneyes and the latest Ring-necked Duck I've ever found in the county. The Barrow's Goldeneyes were my first ever at this location and the 29th species of waterfowl I've had here!

The flock was quite fidgety and the ducks flushed several times in the fifteen minutes I watched them.

I checked Christina Reservoir and it too was partially frozen. Though I admit a biting wind and vicious snow squall didn't encourage me to linger, it appeared the pond was devoid of birdlife.

The Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield offered up a dozen Hooded and two Common Mergansers. Trafton Lake in Limestone was still mostly ice free but birdless.

Collins Pond in Caribou had a few dozen Canada Geese and Black Ducks and Mallards....not much to exclaim about waterfowl-wise. The gull show is still excellent with a rare Lesser Black-backed Gull and at least 3 Iceland Gulls in the 300 Herring and Great Black-backs.

Tomorrow I'll see what remains.