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.

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