Sunday, March 21, 2010

Northern Maine Birds, March 2010

The last three weeks of winter were like most of the rest of the season in northern Maine: warm and dry. Temperatures continued well above average and daily high records were broken on five straight days from the 14th to the 18th. Only traces of precipitation fell until the end of the month and the gradual snowmelt did little to raise water levels. A record breaking rain event on the 28th dropped nearly 1 and 1/2 inches of rain and brought monthly totals to near average. This last storm produced some minor flooding and filled the some of the seasonal wetspots that had threatened to go dry this spring.

By month's end the ice had gone out in most of the rivers and streams in Aroostook County. Most larger ponds and lakes still remain ice-bound. Snow cover has melted from most open areas. A foot or so remains in the woods.

The hardier migrant birds have begun to arrive. Most are setting records with early arrival dates for this region:

First dates for arriving species so far this month are:

Canada Goose 3/10
Green-winged Teal 3/19
Hooded Merganser 3/11
Red-tailed Hawk 3/25
Great Blue Heron mid-month
Killdeer 3/21
American Woodcock 3/28
Great Black-backed Gull 3/15
Herring Gull 3/15
Ring-billed Gull 3/18
Northern Saw-whet Owl 3/14
Cedar Waxwing 3/14
American Robin 3/14
Song Sparrow 3/21
Dark-eyed Junco 3/20
Common Grackle 3/13
Red-winged Blackbird 3/13

Arriving waterfowl this season have been about two weeks early.

As seen here, the first migrant Canada Geese were discovered by Ken Lamb at the pond in Mars Hill on the 10th. These were early by more than two weeks. By the 15th, small groups had been seen in Ashland, Caribou, Houlton and Presque Isle. Flocks of 100+ are now being seen in Easton, Fort Fairfield and Caribou and small numbers have reached up to the northern border at Fort Kent. Paul Cyr photographed the freshly-arrived flock of geese at the top of this post at dawn on the 25th.

Hooded Mergansers were reported at Mars Hill (3/10), Collins Pond in Caribou (3/18) and Fish River in Fort Kent (3/20). March 22nd was my previous early arrival date for central Aroostook county.

A pair of arriving Green-winged Teal at the Mars Hill town pond were nine days early on the 19th. They were accompanied by Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers.

At Robinson Pond in Blaine an arriving flock of 48 Common Mergansers (3/19) was made up mostly of drakes.

Bald Eagles have made a good showing with adults arriving at known nesting spots across the county. Reports of nesting eagles have come in for locations at Ashland, Fort Fairfield, Sinclair, Presque Isle and Van Buren. Paul Cyr found what appears to be a new nest constructed on the east shore of Arnold Brook Lake in Presque Isle. Like many others in northern Maine, the nest is in large poplar tree. The first Red-tailed Hawks were trickling in to the north near the end of the month and were early by just a few days.

An early Great Blue Heron was reported in Island Falls mid-month.

With lots of bare ground available, the early arrival of Killdeer seemed on the minds of several area birders. The first reported bird in Central Aroostook county touched down in Ashland on the 20th. According to my records this was the earliest date by 5 days. Others were seen in Mars Hill, Caribou, Presque Isle and Houlton by the end of the month. An American Woodcock survived a sub-zero night in the north Maine woods when it was seen on the 27th. The bird was flushed from a rare bare spot along a woods road in T8R10 near Big Reed Pond.

The first returning gulls were just about on schedule. A small flock of consisting of 8 Great Black-backed and one Herring Gull appeared on the ice of Collins Pond in Caribou on the 15th. Herring Gulls were seen over the St. John River in Fort Kent on the 20th. Numbers in Caribou increased rapidly through the third week and the flock was joined by Ring-billed Gulls on the 18th. By the 21st, Ring-billed's had re-populated the parking lots of commercial establishments across the area.

My first Northern Saw-whet Owl of the season was giving its tooting call in the Woodland Bog Preserve on the 14th. Barred Owls were reported calling from nearly a dozen localities. A two night owl survey (26-27th) in the woods near Chamberlain Lake and the Allagash River failed to detect an owl of any flavor. Bright moonlight, frigid temperatures and a light breeze were all likely turn-offs for calling owls on those nights... The last report of the Blaine Northern Hawk Owl was 5 March...coincidentally this was about the time when American Crows were reappearing in numbers in the area.

The more common breeding woodpeckers were well reported. Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers caught many area birder's attention this month, thanks, no doubt, to their loud advertising drumming and vocal territorial squabbles at this time of year. A female Black-backed Woodpecker was seen drumming near Fourth Lake in T7R11 on the 27th.

Rarely reported in Aroostook co. this winter, a Northern Shrike was hunting in a brushy field in Woodland on the 28th. Gray Jays were seen in Cross Lake on the 6th and T7R11 on the 28th.

As previously mentioned, numbers of American Crows were arriving in northern Maine in the first week of the month. Though crows have overwintered in higher numbers in northern Maine in past few seasons, it seemed this year their numbers had dropped down to more "normal" levels.

The large mixed-species flocks of chickadees and nuthatches that were so common in woods all winter had all but disbanded by mid-month. Boreal Chickadees were increasingly vocal and easy to find through the month. These were seen in Cross Lake, Garfield, New Sweden, Stockholm, T7R11 and T8 R11. A noticeable uptick in the number of Brown Creepers occurred early in the month, Creepers were heard singing on the 4th in Stockholm and the 6th in Woodland. At least
5 Brown Creepers were heard singing in the Big Reed Preserve in T7R11 on the 27th. The Red-breasted Nuthatch horde continued with high numbers noted across the region. Uncommon in central Aroostook Co. White-breasted Nuthatches were heard in several townships in north Piscatquis Co. on the 27th and 28th. Four were seen in the mature hardwood stand at Big Reed Preserve in T8R10.

On the 14th a flock of 22 Cedar Waxwings was spotted in Presque Isle. 35 Bohemian Waxwings were seen in Caribou on the same day. Both flocks were catching flying insects, a good indicator of the unseasonable warm spell!

Arriving flocks of migrant American Robins were first noted in Wade on the 14th. The birds had reached my yard by the 18th.

More notable, though a bit after the fact, the record of a Varied Thrush in Fort Kent in early December 2009 was confirmed with some nice photographs by Sue Roy. Sue said the bird came to her feeder regularly for a couple weeks.

The sparrow migration left a bit to be desired in March. On the 20th and 21st, a small pulse of migrants brought Dark-eyed Juncos and the years first Song Sparrow to the area but little else notable turned up. A few Snow Buntings continued in the area...most recently 16 were spotted in Garfield on the 26th. Small numbers of American Tree Sparrows continued through the end of the month.

The first Common Grackle landed in my yard in Woodland on the 13th. this too was about about a week earlier than any previous arrival date in my records. An arriving flock Red-winged Blackbirds were also spotted on this date in Stacyville in northern-most Penobscot county.

Flocks of "winter" finches continue in numbers out in the woods. American Goldfinch is still the most commonly reported but numbers dropped significantly by months end. The songs of both White-winged Crossbills and Purple Finches are a feature of most larger softwood stands these days. Though still far from abundant, the numbers of Pine Siskins seemed to tick upward in the last week of March. A small flock was observed foraging on the edge of the melting ice of Big Reed Pond on the 27th. A single Pine Grosbeak was also seen on the 28th at T7R11 and Evening Grobeaks were observed regularly at feeders Castle Hill, Stockholm, Madawaska Lake and Portage Lake.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Northern Maine Birds, February 2010 winter wrap up

February 2010 was one of the mildest in memory in northern Maine. Though the month came in with a few days of sub-zero temperatures, most of the days the thermometer stayed in the thirties. Cloud cover seemed the norm for much of the period yet precipitation in central Aroostook County was 25% below normal. Considering a good portion of our precipitation was in the form of rain, snow packs are quite thin in the area. While precip was detected at the Caribou weather station on 22 of the 28 days, only 10 inches of snow fell here during the entire month! This was a minimal amount compared to the 18 inches that we received last year or the 48(!) in record-breaking 2008.

In comparison, Central Park in New York received almost 37 inches of snow in February...

Snow cover is spotty in the open areas in southern Aroostook and bare spots have appeared in the fields in the central areas as well. Well over a foot of snow remains in the woods in the eastern areas. A deep snow pack (3 feet in places) continues west of Route 11 (the North Maine Woods) where snow fell when it rained in the east and south. Many smaller and mid-sized streams have opened up and an early ice-out has been forecast by those knowledgeable in ice-melt prognostication.

Overall, activity at feeders was reported to increase a bit over the period. A response possibly to dwindling natural food supplies for some species of birds or perhaps some shifting of the population in preparation for spring migration. Plenty of birds could be found in the woods with the conifer stands having the advantage.

More waterfowl overwintered in the north this season than in recent memory. As many as 40 Common Goldeneyes could be found along the reach of open water below the Aroostook River Dam in Caribou and few were seen in Presque Isle as well. Mallards and Black Ducks were seen in numbers in Presque Isle as usual, but Ashland, Caribou, Fort Kent, Fort Fairfield and Houlton also had a few of these dabblers hanging where the open water was available.

Wild Turkeys in Ashland and Castle Hill had a good winter and Ruffed Grouse survival seems to have been excellent at this point. Paul Cyr got the image above of the Ashland turkey flock on the 25th.

With the exception of Bald Eagles, there was little raptor activity reported in February. Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen in Presque Isle (2/11), Woodland (2/12) and Easton (2/13). Dottie Dudley got a shapshot of the Easton accipiter from her window.

Again this month, Bald Eagles were widely reported with the bulk of the observations coming in from along the Aroostook River. Paul Cyr was able to document an early season copulation at the nest in the Stevensville section of Fort Fairfield on the 18th.

A single adult Great Black-backed Gull in Caribou on the 9th was the only gull reported for the month.

Owl activity picked up substantially in February with Barred Owls showing well through the month. Daylight observations of the species were made in Cyr Plantation (2/15), Woodland (2/13) and regularly near Paul Cyr's giant feeding station in Presque Isle. Paul and Ken Lamb have been able to photograph the owl as it hunted for rodents. The photo of the flying Barred Owl at the top and this great action shot were taken by Ken Lamb on the 17th.

The Northern Hawk Owl continued through a second full month at the Pierce Road in Blaine. Most recently the bird was seen on the 24th. Luke Sietz got this sweet image of the bird wallowing in the snow on the 17th.

Woodpeckers are becoming increasingly territorial and noisy. Lots of drumming can be heard in area woodlots on calm mornings. Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers have been widely reported. There has been no sign of the Three-toed Woodpeckers along the Muscovic Road in Stockholm though Luke Seitz found this male Black-backed Woodpecker as it foraged near the bog.

Scarce this year in northern Maine, Northern Shrikes were seen in Blaine on the 5th and Easton on the 12th.

2 Gray Jays were visiting a feeder near madawaska lake in T16R4 on the 18th. Common Ravens have paired up and begun to defend territories. Mid air squabbles are common place these days. American Crow numbers are increasing and these birds have started to disperse from wintering spots and are increasingly appearing out in the countryside.

Good numbers of Boreal Chickadees are being found in the woods now as these birds are vocalizing regularly. Boreal's were seen in mixed flocks with Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees in Caribou, Caswell, Conner, Limestone, Stockholm, T16R4 and Woodland. The banner season for Red-breasted Nuthatches continues with high numbers across the area. Uncommon north of Presque Isle in winter, a White-breasted Nuthatch at a feeder at Madawaska Lake in the 18th was noteworthy.

Uncommon in mid-winter in the northern parts of the county, Golden-crowned Kinglets were spotted in Woodland early in the month.

A few American Robins were reported in the area mid month. One was seen in Presque Isle on the 12th and another in Mt Chase on the 1st but not since then. A late report of a Varied Thrush was tantalizing. The bird apparently spent two weeks visiting a feeding station in Fort Kent in mid-December. Photos of this very rare bird are being sought!

Scattered mid-sized flocks of Bohemian Waxwings were observed across the region through February. Waxwings were reported in Conner (26), Easton (40+), Houlton (8) and Presque Isle (12).

Two Rusty Blackbirds were reported in Masardis on the 17th. Uncommon during the breeding season, any winter record is a noteworthy find.

Sparrow supplies were light again this month with only Snow Buntings and American Tree Sparrows reported. Snow Buntings were able to take advantage of the very open conditions this month and flocks of these were widely reported. Highest count reported was 120+ seen in Fort Fairfield on the 18th.

Unlike the rest of New England, finches were found in good numbers and diversity in northern Maine this winter. Certainly, American Goldfinches have dominated the counts at feeding stations in the region. Patty Jennings sent up this great shot of part of the flock visiting her feeder in Stacyville last month. While not showing well at feeders, daily counts of 50+ Purple Finches were not uncommon for birders venturing out into the woods of northern Maine.

White-winged Crossbills and Evening Grosbeaks
were decidedly less common, but flocks of these were fairly regularly encountered. High counts for Evening Grosbeaks included 60 seen in a days birding in central Aroostook county on the 17th and 25+ that are visiting a feeder in Castle Hill. Not quite like the "good old days" but a noteworthy number, no less. Luke Sietz took this nice shot of a male evening Grosbeak at a feeder near Madawaska Lake on the 18th. A few Pine Siskins were seen at feeders including one at Madawaska Lake on the 18th and two in Woodland on the 19th. Pine Grosbeaks were seen in Stockholm (3) and New Sweden (1) on the 7th and 2 were seen in Masardis on the 17th. No Redpolls were detected thus far this winter.

An uncommon bird this far north, House Sparrows remained in moderate numbers this winter. A pair showed up at my feeders on the 13th and other small groups were seen in Frenchville and Fort Kent in northern-most Maine.