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(http://ebird.org)

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.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bird Festival at Aroostook State Park Tomorrow

Weather looks good... First bird walk starts at 5 AM!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Swimming Eagles in Lakeville, Penobscot Co.

I recently received an apparently well-circulated email message describing a fantastic observation of local wildlife.... a pair of Bald Eagles was reportedly seen swimming in a lake south of here!

I followed up with the originator of the message, Linda Webster, and she put me in touch with Joshua and Meaghan Clapp who gave me permission to post their pictures and story of their strange find.

The Clapps were at their camp on Bottle Lake in Lakeville in Penobscot county back on May 2, 2010 when a kayaker approached them about helping some "tangled' eagles floating in the lake. They checked it out and got the great series of photos seen here.

Josh recounted the following:

"...a guy in a kayak came to the dock and asked if we knew how to get eagles untangled. Apparently 2 bald eagles got tangled together and were just floating down the lake after being exhausted from struggling to get free. We went out in the
boat and they seemed to be too tired to care that we were really close. Eventually we nudged them with the boat and they both flapped and got untangled. After that they swam to shore because they were unable to get airborne from the water. One of
them flew away right after it got up onto a rock. The other one tried flying, but didn't make it more than a few yards. It eventually climbed a tree leaning over the water and took off. I think they're both fine. Probably won't ever get that close
to 2 live eagles again."

Meaghan added:

"... After the man described what he could see, I said "I can't even picture what this looks like!" Apparently they had been at the end of the lake near Susan and Dick's camp and had been screeching and
struggling to break free from one another and then became exhausted and began floating down toward the boat launch. The kayaker had called the game warden, but he was over an hour away, so we wanted to help if possible. They must have been exhausted
because they didn't even try to move when we approached them with the boat. It was amazing to see them "swimming" to shore too. Their wings are so big! I yelled to my mom from the boat and she was able to come out of the camp in time to see the
eagle sitting on a rock about 20 feet away from her. I don't think we'll ever get that close to a bald eagle again in the wild or see such a bizarre situation. Thankfully they both seemed unharmed!"

I wondered about how this could happen and supposed that this was some sort of territorial dispute. The birds in Josh and Meaghan's photos were both adults.

After doing some research, I discovered some information on Bald Eagle breeding behavior and found there is a ritual called the Cartwheel Display in which the pair of courting eagles fly to high altitudes and then lock talons and tumble and cartwheel back to earth! According to the article I read, the eagles are supposed to disengage just before reaching the ground. Apparently these two didn't quite get it right and splashed down in the lake.

Regarding the swimming behavior that they saw, this is apparently not all that unusual and there quite a few reports of eagles catching large fish and "swimming" them into shallow water/ shore.

This was a great report of some rarely seen Bald Eagle behavior. Thanks to Linda, Josh and Meaghan for allowing their experience to be recounted here!