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.