Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blaine Hawk Owl

Presque Isle photographer Paul Cyr checked in on the Blaine Northern Hawk Owl late last week. The owl is very active and hunts busily in the morning and late afternoon. Paul sent over some great photos of the bird as it gobbled up a vole and took a snooze. You definitely want to click on the pics to enjoy the detail that Paul captured in the larger images.

The bird has favored the dead stubs in this small "island" of trees in an overgrown field. Its been seen here since it was first discovered by Ken Lamb back before Christmas.

The dark brown color and shorter tail of the owl's prey looks like those of a Microtus (vole) species. I'd love to hear from a small mammal expert on this...The meadow vole is a common rodent in these parts and favorite prey of the smaller predators.

My favorite picture of Pauls recent suite!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owl in Presque Isle: Rare in winter

As reported earlier, a small owl showed up in a Presque Isle resident's garage recently. Homeowner Kurt Bates sent over a couple pictures he snapped of the little bird and the images revealed that it was a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Discovered on January 3rd, following a strong storm that hit the area the previous day, this individual is a rare documented winter record of this species in northern Maine.

Features that help distinguish it from the similar (and nearly as likely) Boreal Owl are the dark bill, reddish (rather than chocolate brown) streaks on the breast, streaking on the forehead (rather than spots) and the lack of a dark border around the face.

For comparison, here's a photo of a Boreal Owl taken last winter in New Sweden by Chelsea Reynolds.

Saw-whet Owls aren't all that uncommon in northern Maine in spring and summer. These birds breed in this area, utilizing cavities excavated by Northern Flickers primarily. In April and May their tooting calls advertise their true abundance.

Though its not entirely figured out at this point, its pretty clear a large portion of the northern population of these owls migrates southward in autumn. Saw-whet Owl banding stations in southern Maine have captured hundreds of these little birds as they move out in fall.

Apparently some hang out and try to tough out the northern Maine winter with the rest of us!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Northern Maine Birds 1-21 January 2010, NHOW Yes

So far January 2010 has been warmer and drier than usual in northern Maine.

By "warmer" I mean that outdoor activities can be conducted comfortably by a properly clothed participant and without danger of loss of extremities.

The first week of the month high temps were running in the 30's F, the second week saw chillier highs in the teens and now we are again running up into the high 20's. Lowest temps for my thermometer in Woodland was -11F on the 14th...Last year at this time, we were setting the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in Maine (-50F)!

While southern Maine and the rest of New England has been getting steady bouts of snow, northern Maine has sat out the last few storms. Only 11 inches of snow has fallen at Caribou this month and about 9 of that fell on the Jan 2 storm. This is well below half of the expected snowfall for this period. About 6 to 12 inches is on the ground.

There are quite a few spots of open water on the swifter sections of streams and rivers.

With ample food supplies and favorable weather, the birds are doing well out in the North Maine Woods this winter. Finch numbers appear to be gradually increasing. Action at feeders varies depending on the reporter.

A large congregation of Common Goldeneyes is being seen in the open water below the Caribou Dam on the Aroostook River in Caribou. My last best count was 42 birds on the 14th. Six Common Mergansers have been seen here sporadically. The large flock of Mallards and American Black Ducks that is wintering at the Presque Isle wastewater plant continues to be harrassed daily by an apparent female Bald Eagle. The flock numbered over 70 ducks during the Christmas Bird Count on the 2nd but recent counts put the number below 55...

Ruffed Grouse have been well reported. Thanks to scanty snow cover, it appears that the Wild Turkeys in the Ashland/Castle Hill area are doing well. This northern-most flock for New England was released by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in 2008 and 2009. Some Ring-necked Pheasants in Fort Fairfield are likewise enjoying the "open" conditions. Though certainly released birds, these pheasants are noteworthy when encountered this far north. Paul Cyr snapped a pic of two cocks as they made their way through the snowy stubble field on the 7th.

Wintering Bald Eagles have been widely observed in January. In addition to the bird fabulously depicted here in Paul Cyrs recent image, adults have been seen this month in Ashland, Benedicta, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Frenchville, Island Falls, near Madawaska Lake in T16R4. Three were visiting ice fisherman at Arnold Brook Lake in Presque Isle and another was seen at Long Lake in St. Agatha. Several observers say they have seen more Bald Eagles than usual. Perhaps the abundance of open water (and overwintering ducks?) has allowed more of these birds to spend the winter this year.

A Northern Goshawk was hunting over a feeder in Wade on the 14th.

No gulls have been reported in this area since December.

The Blaine Northern Hawk Owl continues to be seen at the same location it was first found back before Christmas. Most recently, Paul Cyr photographed the bird on the 17th. There has been no further information on the Littleton and Chapman Hawk Owls since the initial reports. A report of a "cute little owl" found recently in a garage in Presque Isle was intriguing... The bird may have been photographed so more info may be forthcoming. A Barred Owl was also seen in Presque Isle on the 20th.

Woodpeckers have begun drumming. As expected Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers's have made up the majority of sightings, Pileated Woodpeckers have made a good showing recently as well.

In the hard-to-find category this winter, a Northern Shrike seen in Houlton on the 9th was noteworthy.

Large flocks of Black-capped Chickadees with smaller numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches are being encountered in the woods this winter. An apparent abundance of easily foraged natural food has kept these birds from making much of an appearance at feeding stations region wide. Seen above, Tom Johnson was able to tempt at least one nuthatch into his Caribou yard with a handful of peanuts

Yet another aberrant-plumaged Black-capped Chickadee was seen early this month in Mount Chase. Unlike the previously reported melanistic chickadees in Presque Isle, this bird was on the lighter side of things. This leucistic Black-capped was photographed by Tom Sheehan on January 4th.

Rarely found in mid winter most years, Golden-crowned Kinglets have been regularly encountered in small numbers in the woods in central Aroostook county.

The fruit supply has held up well as the roving flocks of Bohemian Waxwings continue to pop up around the area. 60+ were seen on the 20th in Presque Isle.

The only noteworthy sparrow among the scattered sightings of American Tree Sparrows and hordes of Snow Buntings was a White-throated Sparrow visiting a feeder in Wade on the 19th. The dearth of snow cover has allowed large numbers of Snow Buntings to continue foraging weed seeds across the area. As many as 1000+ were seen in single flocks in Mapleton and Presque Isle recently. Paul Cyr photographed a few of the regular flock at his feeding station in Presque Isle

A Common Grackle continues to be seen at a feeder in Presque Isle.

After a slow start, finch numbers are increasing recently.

American Goldfinches are abundant with flocks numbering over one hundred reported at some feeders. Over 90 are regular at my feeders in Woodland. Purple Finches are present in small numbers, being seen in conifer forests with few visiting feeders. There have only been a handful of Pine Siskins reported and NO Redpoll reports thus far this winter.

Increasing numbers of Pine Grosbeaks and White-winged Crossbills are being spotted. Pine Grosbeaks were reported in Caswell, Ashland, Nashville Plantation and Stockholm this week. Small to medium sized flocks (less than 20) White-winged Crossbills were seen along the Beaver Brook Road in T14R5 on the 18th. Evening Grobeaks remain hard to find. Several of the bright yellow birds are visiting a feeder regularly in Castle Hill and one has been seen sporadically at others in Caribou and Portage Lake.

No additional reports have been received regarding the European Goldfinch that was seen in Presque Isle early in the month.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pileated Woodpeckers in Northern Maine

There have been a bunch of recent reports of Pileated Woodpeckers in central Aroostook County. These big birds are increasingly active and vocal now that days have started getting longer and their (early) breeding season is approaching. Paul Cyr found a female feeding in the woods behind his home in Presque Isle on the 19th and sent over this great sequence of photos of the attractive bird.

The bird was feeding a dead standing hardwood tree. In the winter these woodpeckers spend alot of time excavating the big rectangular feeding holes as they search for their favorite food- Carpenter Ants. You can see the dark ant galleries in the side of the
lower excavation in this picture.

Paul got a perfectly timed shot of the bird as it chiseled away at the side of the hole. You can also see the nictitating membrane (a second clear eyelid) that these birds deploy as a kind of safety goggle when they are chipping out wood.

We can tell this is a female since the red on the crest doesn't extend down to the bill and the lower cheek (malar) stripe is black rather than bright red as in males.

Nesting holes are usually round and are typically hard to spot. To help conceal these, the holes usually have no scaling of the bark around them (like here) and there never any other feeding holes on the trunk of the nesting tree. The nest cavities are also in larger diameter trees that can accommodate the incubating adults or several growing youngsters. This tree is probably a tad too small for a nest cavity.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Presque Isle Christmas Bird Count results

Though the forecast predicted nasty weather, the Presque Isle
Christmas Bird count was successfully conducted last Saturday, 2
January 2010. A near-record 19 field observers thoroughly covered the
count circle and tallied a good number and variety of birds before
blizzard-like conditions drove them from the field. There was about
one foot of snow on the ground and only the swift water remained

The PI CBC is the northern-most count in the eastern US and this was
the 52nd time this particular count has been run.

A total of 35 species were found which is exactly the 10 year average
for this count. However this included six Count Week species that
were not seen on the actual count day. No new species were found on
count day but a European Goldfinch was seen during the count week
period just before the count. This species has not been seen on the count before. An
American Robin and Golden-crowned Kinglet were good finds and notable
count week species included Canada Goose, Tufted Titmouse and Common
Grackle. Notable in their absence were Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. The Northern Hawk Owls that were found all around the area in the weeks before the count managed to stay undetected for the entire count period.

A total of 4375 birds were found on the count day. This is the highest
total since 1993 and the second highest tally ever. This was a bit of
a surprise considering the apparent low numbers of birds seen prior to
the count. A record setting count of 2342 Snow Buntings comprised well
over half of the individuals tallied for the whole count. A total of
412 Bohemian Waxwings also broke the previous record set just last
year at 270!

Canada Goose CW
Mallard 23
Am. Black Duck 55
Ruffed Grouse 1
Bald Eagle 4
Northern Goshawk 1
Mourning Dove 92
Rock Pigeon 401
Downy Woodpecker 7
Hairy Woodpecker 13
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Northern Shrike CW
Blue Jay 122
Gray Jay 2
Common Raven 180
American Crow 54
Black-capped Chickadee 311
Tufted Titmouse CW
Red-breasted Nuthatch 20
White-breasted Nuthatch 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Bohemian Waxwing 412
American Robin 1
European Starling 35
Northern Cardinal CW
American Tree Sparrow 6
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 4
Snow Bunting 2342
Common Grackle CW
Purple Finch 39
Pine Siskin 14
American Goldfinch 327
European Goldfinch CW
House Sparrow 11

total species 35
total individuals 4474