Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cattle Egret in Easton

A Cattle Egret was found feeding on the lawn of the McCain Foods wastewater treatment plant on 9 November. Cattle Egrets are quite rare in Maine and very unexpected in northernmost Maine in November! There are only a handful of records for the county.

Environmental Manager Jeff Saucier got this great documentation of the rare bird.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Great Egret continuing at Collins Pond, Caribou

Great Egrets are a rarity in northern Maine. They appear occasionally in spring and fall, and being big and snowy white they certainly aren't hard to detect once they arrive. I know of at least 7 records involving 9 individuals in the county in the past ten years.

Most recently a Great Egret has been regularly seen wading and feeding in shallow wetland edge of Collins Pond in Caribou. I first found the big wader here on Sept 7 and the bird continues to be seen daily through today, the 20th.

Paul Cyr got these great shots of the egret last week on the 14th and I've been meaning to share them.

The Great Egret can be separated from other large white wading bird by the combination of its large size, yellow bill and black legs and feet. All these are seen well in this great shot of the flying bird!

Another Great Egret was reported in Fort Fairfield about the same time this one arrived early in September. No further reports have been received about this bird.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Yellow-headed Black bird and Red-necked Phalarope

I went afield this morning, to see what was around prior to the arrival of the wrath of Earl. It turned out to be one of the better birding days I've had in a while. Abundant migrants and few rareties made it special. 83 species total.

Highlights were a Yellow-headed Blackbird (a state bird for me) and eleven species of shorebirds including an American Golden Plover and my county/inland-first Red-necked Phalarope.

The blackbird was found in a large flock of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds at Barren Lake in south east Caribou. I believe this is the second county record and the first in fall. Here is a digiscoped documentation shot taken from across the pond... I don't know much about the plumage and molt of this species, but I think this bird was an adult female. I'd love to hear from anyone more knowledgeable regarding the age and sex of this bird.

The rare shorebirds were at Lake Josephine in Easton.

Though numbers here were down a bit from mid August highs, the diversity made up for it. Obviously the Red-necked Phalarope was the highlight here. This species is usually encountered well offshore in Maine and inland records are few. My high-noon digiscoped photos of the phalarope leave something to be desired thanks to the wind and magnification... Lesser Yellowlegs continue to dominate the counts here but eight Pectoral Sandpipers and a flyover American Golden Plover were also treats!

There were quite a few raptors moving with American Kestrels and Merlins dominating the count.

If this is whats around BEFORE the hurricane, I can't wait to see what falls out after the blow....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Black Vulture in Houlton

Yesterday, Eric Hynes at Maine Audubon sent me an eBird alert regarding a Black Vulture that was reported at Houlton on 10 August. The vulture was apparently seen at the Tim Horton's donut shop (a favored re-caffienation spot for road-weary northbound birders) located just off Interstate 95! I followed up with the reporter, Noel Dodge and he obligingly sent along a couple of photos of the bird with these details:

"...The vulture flew down (moving west) across the road and perched on the
light. I saw that it was a black vulture as it flew, since it was only 15-20 meters away and then I drove over there and took some photos from my truck before having to move so as to not block traffic. As I photographed the bird stretched its wings up over its back showing the white wing tips well. A very cooperative bird!"

His attached photos (cropped a bit) are reproduced here. Pertinent features that help make the ID and separate the Black Vulture from the more likely Turkey Vulture include: black head, shorter straight bill, whitish legs, shorter tail and overall black plumage with no brown tones.

The white in the outer primaries is visible in this wing-up shot.

It appears this bird's head skin is relatively smooth and the bill isn't prominently two-toned which suggests this bird is a juvenile. As a youngster, driver inexperience would explain why the bird ended up so far north of its normal range.

By my recollection this is the fourth or fifth Black Vulture reported in Maine this year and only the second ever to be found in northern Maine.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Green Heron, Sora and Virginia Rail juveniles, Easton

Thanks to a busy schedule, I have not had a chance to visit Lake Josephine in Easton in almost two weeks. Luckily several area birders have been keeping me up to date on the development of the Green Heron hatchlings and other birds of the marshes here.

Paul Cyr stopped by and checked the nest on the morning of July 23rd and got this wonderful set of pictures of the Green Heron nestlings. They would be only about 9 to 11 days old at the time these pictures were taken yet they are already up and out of the nest! My sources say these birds fledge and can fly by about three weeks so these birds will probably be leaving their natal bush by the first full weekend of August.

I also read that the juvies are excellent swimmers, which will be a handy skill as they try out their wings from this water-bound nest site!

Both adults continue to feed the young. The hatchlings stick their heads inside the parents bills and the adults regurgitate food for them. Here the male (with some new wing covert feathers) is being prompted by a nestling to offer up some goodness!

Paul also got some great shots of the juvenile Sora and Virginia Rails in the marsh.

This Virginia Rail is now almost adult sized. Hard to believe it was a fuzzy black chick a little more than two weeks ago.

A juvie Sora with a Virginia in the foreground. Two rail species in one shot!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fish River Lake, Nesting larids

Laurie and I took a paddle around Fish River Lake in T13/14R5 on
Sunday, 11 July. Though we started our drive out to the lake early, frequent
side explorations and bird distractions resulted in our lake tour
being a mid-day affair. The lake is located west of Route 11 and
northwest of Portage Lake.

Notable finds were a sizeable Common Tern colony (22 birds) on a small ledge. The agitated birds obviously had nests on the rock and I caught quick glimpses of larger, gray and fuzzy chicks. ( I later found out from Jon Greenlaw that terns have nested at this location for many years.) We gave the terns a wide berth and let the breeze carry us away from the rock.

We pulled in behind a small island nearby, so I could watch the terns without disturbing them. While sneaking through the thick brush on the islet, I discovered an apparent Herring Gull nest on a ledge outcrop under the branches of a spruce tree. The nest was on the highest vantage point of the rock and was really just a shallow depression in the woody duff and moss under the trees. The nest contained only a few gull feathers to hint at the identity of its creator.

Before retreating, I snapped a couple quick photos of the nest ....

and the handsome olive-with-umber spotted egg.

I was surprised I didn't notice the Herring Gull doing any sort of a distraction display or calls when I unknowingly approached its nest. It was, however keeping a close watch of me with its cold yellow eye....

While I'm sure coastal birders would yawn about gull nesting "news", it was the first Herring Gull nest I've found in Aroostook Co.

There were also 40+ Ring-billed Gulls on the lake but these appeared
to be summering non-breeders. These were loafing on a rock bar mid lake well away from the breeding birds on the north end.

Of course, there were the expected Common Loons, Bald Eagle, Common Mergansers as well as a couple of immature Double crested Cormorants loafing on ledge in the south basin. Good birds all, but the larid show was most interesting to this land locked birder

Bird song is beginning to wane in the north as well, but there was a
decent bunch of vocal land birds on the trip to the lake. A singing male Fox Sparrow near the Beaver Brook Bridge was a nice surprise. We heard twelve species of warblers with the best among them being Canada and Blackburnian. Boreal Chickadees, a pair of deep-woods Chimney Swifts and a steady chorus of thrush song were also enjoyed.

Good birding!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

American Robins fledge from nest in Presque Isle

After one of the best nesting seasons in several years, fledgling birds are leaving nests across northern Maine.

Paul Cyr kept a close eye on the progress of the American Robin nest in his shop this summer. He sent over this fantastic photo series showing the rapid development of the hatchlings into fledglings... After two weeks of incubation by the female, the eggs begin to hatch.
And they're hungry.

By day three there are five nestlings. Their eyes are closed and have only a few wisps of natal down on them.

On day six the eyes are still closed but the feather tracts on their head wings and back are starting to develop.

Day nine shows eyes are opening and strong feather growth on all but the runt of the brood. The less developed chick is forced out of the nest bowl by its more fully developed nestmates.

On the eleventh day there were only four nestlings.... eyes are fully open and juvenal plumage is has covered the young birds.

By day twelve the youngsters have grown so big they crowded yet another nestling out of the nest. The fledging begins...

On the morning of the fourth Paul reported the nest was empty and the four fledglings were ungainly making their way around his yard. Both parents will continue to feed these for a couple weeks and then they'll be on their own. The parents will have plenty of time to start the process again.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Juvenile Virginia Rails at Lake Josephine, Easton

Paul Cyr called yesterday to let me know I'd missed a great show at Lake Josephine in Easton on Thursday morning. Paul started his July at the crack of dawn and was photographing wildlife in one of the marshes near the lake when one of the breeding Virginia Rails emerged from the cattails with her brood of 6 fresh and fuzzy young!

Paul said the adult (presumed female) came out to edge of the thick vegetation and began to feed and call to the chicks. One by one they popped out and began to follow their mom around and nibble at her offerings. Paul got some great pictures of these rarely-seen juveniles of a rarely-seen species.

The leggy black young paraded along behind their mother but Paul said they appeared so young and inexperienced that they barely figured out to navigate around the debris or how to forage for bugs.

Paul was able to get a shot of five of the six young in one frame. Click on the image to enlarge it and count them for yourself.

Thanks to Paul for more great bird photos for us to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Black-backed Woodpecker nest in Sinclair

Geoff LeBaron and I found a woodpecker nest in Sinclair midday on 18 June.

We were birding near a midsized wetland in a boreal area and we were alerted to the nest by the incessant and very loud begging calls coming from a snag. The dead spruce stump had several holes in it and though we watched from a distance for quite a while, we were unable to see any activity or even figure out which hole held the youngsters. The snag was surrounded by apparently deep, dark, mucky bog water and we couldn't inspect any closer than ~ 50 feet. Though the begging juvie occasionally gave a rattling squawk among the steady squeaky begging calls, there were few other clues to the identity of the bird(s) and we ended up leaving the area without confirming the ID of the bird.

The following morning Tom Sayers and I returned and spent an hour watching the nest. it didn't take long before the parents showed up and revealed that this was a Black-backed Woodpecker nest! We were able to get great views as the male (predominantly) and the female brought food to the begging youngster. Though there may have been more out of sight in the cavity it sounded and appeared that there was only one juvenile.

The young male looked just about ready to fledge and was already sporting a bit of a yellow crest.

Tom got these fantastic shots of the family that morning and allowed me to share them here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Green Heron update, Ruddy Duck display Lake Josephine, Easton

Russell Mount, Paul Cyr and I checked on the Green Heron nest at one of the marshes near Lake Josephine in Easton on Friday morning. A single adult was in the nest and, unlike my last visit on the 21st, there was no activity by the birds. The nest appears to be fully constructed and little heron now appears to incubating eggs. There was no sign of the male, but he easily could have been out of sight nearby.

The Sora and Virginia Rails are still calling in this area and seem quite numerous here.

By luck, we were able to watch a couple Virginia's square off in an apparent territorial squabble. The birds were feeding and calling about 10 yards apart at the edge of the floating mats of cattails with no problem until one came into view of the other. One of the two flew over to the second bird and they immediately engaged in some wing-slapping, clawing and pecking. They were both making a squeaky, raspy "keek" call while fighting. This went on for a second or two and then they settled down, bill tip to bill tip, and pumped their heads up and down, each matching the others movements. After about 10 seconds of these head pumps, things again broke down into another tussle, though I'm not sure what happened this round since they were partially obscured during this part. They again went nose to nose and then one of the two (the bird who initially flew over to engage the other, I think) decided he'd had enough. He turned and disappeared into the cattails. The other shook and preened for a moment and then headed into the cattails in the other direction. Paul was able to get a quick shot of the two in action.

The whole engagement of these two rails reminded me a lot of the fights I would see young roosters have on my parents farm when I was growing up.

We were also treated to another testosterone fueled display, this one, by a male Ruddy Duck that patrols the marsh near the Green Heron nest. The male has been in this area for several weeks and I assume there is a hen Ruddy on a nest nearby. The male has generally been skulky and allowed only quick glimpses before, diving or swimming out of sight.

Yesterday was a different story and the gorgeous male dove under the thick layer of duck weed and came quite close to us on a couple occasions. It was interesting that the duck would make hardly a ripple when it emerged from the dive and seemed to just appear.

The male began to do its Bubble display when it was at its closest and I got the best view I have ever had of this display.

Though I could try to describe the show, Ralph Palmer in the Handbook of North American Birds provides a succinct summary of the routine: "...the drake sits high on the water, neck swollen (tracheal air sac inflated), head held as high as possible, tail angled forward so that its tip is near his nape. Then the head is drawn down 6-12 times in increasing tempo and, each time, the bill is slapped against the breast. Each jerk is shorter, until the head is merely bobbed against the breast, the bill striking the feathers near waterline (forces air from among the feathers into water and bubbles form around breast; bill does not touch water), producing a hollow tapping sound. Then the neck is stretched forward as the tail is lowered, the bill angled slightly upward, then opened, and a 2 syllabled raa-anh uttered. During this display the body feathering is raised slightly , also 2 crests, one on each side of crown, are prominent."

Paul was able to get lots of great photos of the drake Ruddy as it displayed. With this point-blank image, Paul froze the head bobbing/breast beating action in mid display. Head crests and tail are erect and you can see the bubbles boiling out from the the breast feathers. Though Palmer didn't mention it, at close range these bubbles being expelled from the breast feathers adds a sizzling sound to the display!

Here Paul captured the end of the display where the little duck gives his raa-anh call. I love that this duck seems to almost have lips...

A couple of otters made a patrol through the marsh while the Ruddy Duck was displaying and it was hard not to be distracted by their loud calls. The birds were definitely concerned about the presence of these marauders and all the duck broods scattered into the thick cattails as soon as the otters arrived. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds mobbled the pair whenever they emerged from the water. It appeared that one of the otters found a nest of one of the blackbirds and appeared to make short work of the contents...

As we were getting ready to leave the area we discovered a Yellow Warbler had been busy constructing a nest in some Red Osier bushes, essentially right under our noses. I had noted the yellow bird flitting back and forth while we were watching the heron, rails and ducks but it took until it almost landed on my binoculars that I really took notice. The female was carrying in small dry strands of what appeared to be sedge and other marsh grass and quickly worked it into the bowl. Paul was able to get this nice shot from his vehicle as the warbler shaped the nest bowl.

Not a bad 90 minutes in the marsh! Here's the full list for Lake Jo area yesterday AM:

Location: Lake Josephine
Observation date: 6/25/10
Number of species: 45

Canada Goose 55 Larger flock of apparent nonbreeders on Lake Jo plus 25+ young with parents
Wood Duck 12 Many males now in full eclipse plumage
American Wigeon 20 first hen with chicks (5), most of others were males
American Black Duck 15 brood of older juvies (4) plus molting adults
Mallard 80 At least 8 broods of Mallards 40+ (adult size to fresh fuzzies). Molting drakes
Ring-necked Duck 30 Males mostly
Ruddy Duck 7 6 in Lake Jo One male in marsh, displaying near assumed nest. Photos
Pied-billed Grebe 1 stayed in same area in marsh for two hours Nest nearby?
Double-crested Cormorant 4
American Bittern 1 in lower ponds
Green Heron 1 presumed female sitting on nest incubation has begun
Osprey 1
Virginia Rail 3
Sora 2
Killdeer 1 heard only
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Rock Pigeon 10
Mourning Dove 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker 1
Alder Flycatcher 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
American Crow 1
Common Raven 2
Tree Swallow 1
Veery 1
American Robin 3
Gray Catbird 1
European Starling 8
Cedar Waxwing 6
Northern Parula 1
Yellow Warbler 8 nest near green heron observation spot
American Redstart 1
Common Yellowthroat 3
Savannah Sparrow 4 north side of Lake Jo
Song Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 5 singing on territories
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2 singing
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Common Grackle 20
Baltimore Oriole 2 singing males
American Goldfinch 6

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Northern Maine Birds, 1-21 June 2010

The last 3 weeks of spring were just as fabulous (weatherwise) as the earlier months of the season here in Northern Maine. Though the first week of the month was a soggy one, the nearly 3" of rain was needed and the developing greenery sucked up much of the precipitation. Temperatures have been nearly normal for this time of the year.

The breeding season is in full swing and nesting and fledgling birds are everywhere. It appears thus far, that nesting success, for both land and water birds, is as good as its been in four or five years in northern Maine.

Waterfowl highlights in the County this month include the "usual" breeding Redheads (2 pairs), Ruddy Ducks (at least 2 pairs nesting with as many as 12 other probable non-breeders), American Wigeon, Gadwall and Northern Shovelers at Lake Josephine in Easton. Though none of these species have yet to appear with young, the first broods should be leaving the nests here any day. A Eurasian Wigeon drake found here back on 26 May lingered through at least 13 June. Jonathan Mays caught this drake Gadwall on the wing at Easton on the 12th.

A Green-winged Teal hen with 10 just-hatched ducklings was seen on the 19th in a small ponded area just off the Burnt Landing Road in Square Lake Township. The hen put on an impressive distraction display which included flying into a rank stand of tamarack and cedar and landing on the mossy forest floor. I would have liked to watch more but we left the area quickly so she could return to her little fuzzballs.

Also at Lake Josephine a hen Common Goldeneye whose initial clutch numbered 8 on the 10th was tending only four big-but-fuzzy youngsters on the 20th...

A Spruce Grouse hen was seen with chicks in Square Lake Township on the 13th. Jonathan Mays got this nice shot of the little one. Ruffed Grouse too, are showing with chicks in the area.

A rare find this far north, a pair of Green Herons discovered constructing a nest near Lake Josephine on the 20th, was one of the best finds of the month. Thanks to Paul Cyr's photos, this was the northernmost documented nest for the state. American Bitterns are being seen regularly now at Lake Josephine and Christina Reservoir.

Many of the breeding raptors in northern Maine are nearing time to fledge. The Bald eaglet at the Aroostook River nest in Fort Fairfield has been seen exercising its wings and has actually lifted off the nest a few times! This will be first eaglet produced from this nest in many years. Other area eagle nests are also having a productive spring. Paul Cyr also got this shot of the eagles at a nest in Presque Isle.

The young Northern Goshawk at the Nordic Heritage Ski Centre in Presque Isle is ready to fledge as well. I know several mountain bikers who have been eagerly following the progress of this nest, mostly because they are looking forward to the re-opening of the bike trails on this side of the ridge. Merlins nesting in Caribou and Presque Isle were reported to have fledged their young in early June- early dates.

The Common Moorhens have once again returned to Lake Josephine and are apparently settling in to the same pond where they nested last year. First heard on the 6th, the birds have offered some fleeting glimpses since then. Soras and Virginia Rails are very vocal lately. Paul Cyr recently captured these fine portraits of the hard-to-see species.

Though some local Killdeer have produced young already, Wilson's Snipe continue to perform their winnowing displays over swamps in Sinclair and Square Lake. Ken Lamb photographed this leggy Killdeer youngster recently.

25+ Common Terns appear to have begun nesting at the colony on the north end of Long Lake in St. Agatha. There has been no sign of the Black Terns that were seen here in past years.

A species that I completely missed in northern Maine last year, a Black-billed Cuckoo was calling in the Woodland Bog on the afternoon of the 22nd.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers have been showing exceptionally well this month. Pairs have been seen regularly at the Burnt Landing Road in Square Lake and along the Moscovic Road in Stockholm. Others were spotted near Beardsley Brook in New Sweden and off of the Square Lake Road in Cross Lake Township. Black-backed Woodpeckers have also been seen at the Square Lake and Stockholm locations. A Black-backed hatchling's incessant begging gave away its nest location on the edge of a wetland off the McLean Brook Road in Sinclair (T17R4). The little woodpecker(s)? were peering from the nest hole by the 19th and appeared ready to fledge any day. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are busy now and easy to find. Patty Jennings sent along this photo of a pair in her yard

The flycatchers have been well reported this month. Two Olive-side Flycatchers and 5+ Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were heard at the Moscovic Road on the 19th. The young left a Boreal Chickadee nest in Square Lake Township sometime in the afternoon of the 18th or the early morning of the 19th. Though lately it hasn't been unusual to encounter (hear) 15 or 20 of these in a morning in the field, they get significantly quieter once their young have fledged. Rare in northern Maine at any time, 3 or 4 calling Willow Flycatchers have taken up residence on the river flat just across the Aroostook River from the town of Fort Fairfield.

Family groups of Gray Jays are commonly encountered in most of the deep, dark conifer swamps lately. A tally of 16 was made in the morning of the 19th in north-central Aroostook Co.

Though Winter Wrens have begun to sing a bit more lately, a pair of nesting House Wrens in Fort Fairfield is far more noteworthy. At the northern extreme of the breeding range, there have been a few reports of House Wrens nesting in the county, but Kathy Hunter's photo provided the first documentation of the event in this region.

The warblers continue in full song in the wooods of northern Maine. 21 species were tallied here over the weekend. Notables among the list were a pair of Cape May Warblers seen and four singing Mourning Warblers at Loring in Limestone, three male Bay-breasted Warblers at Beardsley brook in New Sweden, 4+ singing Wilson's Warblers along the Moscovic Road and a very vocal Tennessee Warbler on territory along the Burnt Landing Road in Square Lake Twp. Other singing Mourning Warblers were seen along a woods road off of Route 11 south of Masardis on the 12th.

Quite uncommon in the north, an Indigo Bunting seen in the Sherman Station area of Stacyville on the 12th was a noteworthy find

Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated, Savannah, Song, Swamp, Chipping, Lincoln's and Vesper Sparrows were heard singing at Aroostook NWR on the 20th.

With the exception of American Goldfinch and Purple Finch, the finches have been a tough group of birds to find this month. Flyover White-winged Crossbills, an Evening Grosbeak and Pine Siskin were heard at Stockholm on the 19th.