Friday, March 18, 2011

Winter Wrap up 2011

Its been a long while since I posted on the Northern Maine Birds Blog. ...Just needed a break and figured the depths of winter was the time.

Its now the last days of the season and a good time to summarize the avian going's-on in Northern Maine over the past few months.

To generalize, the winter was a moderate one.

Temperatures were a tad warmer than average overall and snowfall totals lagged behind normal in northern and central portions of the area until early March. There was plenty of open water into January and for the first time in a long time, a New Year's Day polar bear swim was possible at Long Lake in Sinclair! Thanks to some windy conditions that scoured snow from open areas, bare ground was peeking through out in the fields for parts of all months.

The cone and nut crops were mediocre, but catkins and fruit were in good supply. Voles and other small rodents regularly encountered.

Feeders have been busy this year with a couple species of finches making good showings. Warm and open conditions allowed some half hardy species to linger late with some staying into the new year. Fruit eaters showed early and stayed for the duration.

As usual, overwintering waterfowl included Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, American Black Ducks and Mallards. Two Green-winged Teal lingered until Dec 30 near Trafton Lake in Limestone making them the latest ever in my records. The Common Goldeneye flock near the Aroostook River Dam numbered in the low 30's through late January when cold temperatures reduced the open water.

The ME Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's continuing releases of Wild Turkeys in central Aroostook led to a first ever record of this species on the Presque Isle Christmas Bird Count on January 1. The birds were regularly reported in Mapleton, Castle Hill, Ashland, Perham and Presque Isle this winter.

Bald Eagles continue to increase as overwintering birds in northern Maine. Nine were seen at once a the Presque Isle landfill on January 1 and an adult was seen regularly in downtown Presque Isle as it hunted Mallards and Black Ducks near the wastewater treatment plant.
Paul Cyr got this picture of the Presque Isle bird on 23 Feb.

Northern Goshawks were also spotted fairly frequently this season. Adults were seen near Lake Josephine in Easton on 4 December 2010, Presque Isle on 16 December 2010, Ashland on 28 January 2011 and in Woodland on 9 March 2011. A Coopers Hawk was reported from Presque Isle on 5 February 2011.

Sharp-shinned Hawks were also around in numbers with several reported to be taking advantage of the avian crowds at some area feeders. Sharp-shins were reported in Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Caribou as well as this fat and happy accipiter that was photographed by Ernie Easter in New Sweden on January 17th.

Gulls departed the area by mid December and except for 6 Great Black-backed Gulls seen flying over Easton on 19 February, none were seen again until their recent return on 18 and 19 March.

There were no unusual northern owl species found this winter. Barred Owls were well reported and a Great Horned Owl was photographed on the roof of a building in Houlton during the first week of March.

Most notable woodpecker of the winter was a lingering Northern Flicker that was found in Chapman during the Presque Isle Christmas Bird Count on Jan 1st. A highest-ever count of 29 for Hairy Woodpeckers during the PI CBC was likely a result of increased numbers of observers rather than any population change. Northern Shrikes were spotted but in decent numbers with at least a dozen reported in the central Aroostook area since late December. Shrikes were seen in Caribou, Chapman, Presque Isle, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Portage Lake and Woodland.

Many observers reported lower number of Blue Jays around feeders so far this year, but Gray Jays have been well seen in appropriate habitat.

In addition to the expected Snow Buntings, the open conditions favored what seemed to be an unusually high number of wintering Horned Larks. A high count was 27 larks seen on January 23rd with a flock of 120 Snow Buntings and nearly as many Common Redpolls. The flock was feeding on weed seeds in a windswept fallow field.

Brown Creepers are generally a rare sight in most of the county during the coldest months. This year, however one spent the winter in my yard in Woodland, regularly visiting the suet blocks. Golden-crowned Kinglets also seemed to stay north in unusual numbers

Bohemian Waxwings came early (24 Oct 2010) and, thanks to a decent fruit crop, stayed in the area throughout the winter. Paul Cyr photographed this elegant bird on the Fort Fairfield/PI townline on 18 March 2011.
Though they usually vacate northern Maine for a few months in winter, American Robins also overwintered in small numbers with individuals reported in Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent and Houlton.

Numbers of American Tree Sparrows seemed down as these were not reported in the usual numbers. Open conditions allowed Dark-eyed Juncos to linger in Caribou, Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Washburn and Woodland. A White-throated Sparrow lingered until late January at a feeder in Caribou. As noted earlier, Snow Bunting were about the area in numbers through the period. Limited snow in open areas certainly allowed them to forage successfully. No Lapland Longspurs were reported.

As usual, the winter finch scene was a mixed bag. Common Redpolls were the star of the feeders this year. After arriving in early December the birds were seen in moderate numbers through early January and then in increasing numbers of large flocks (200+) after this time. Paul Cyr's redpolls in the picture at the top were photographed in Presque Isle on the 8th of March. 4 different Hoary Redpolls were spotted in the flocks of Commons at my feeders (2 January, 6 February, 13 and 18 March). None seemed to stay long. Other Hoaries were seen in New Sweden and Castle Hill on 19 March.

Pine Grosbeaks were seen but in the lowest numbers in a few years. A flock of 14 flying over the the ski slopes of Mars Hill Mountain on 19 February was the high count for me.
Evening Grosbeaks made their best showing in years with double digit size flocks reported in many locations in central and northern parts of the area. Numbers peaked at ~60 in my yard on 13 March and the bright birds remain in the area to date. this bright male was at a feeder in Stockholm.

Very few White-winged Crossbills were reported. One in Ashland on the 28th of January and a pair occasionally visiting a Castle Hill feeder in mid-March were the only ones that I can recall. Single digit counts of American Goldfinches came in regularly from across the area. The only reported Pine Siskins were one seen in New Sweden on February 19th and a foursome that reached my year the following day. My birds departed four days later. NO Purple Finches were spotted during the Christmas Bird Count and confirm-able reports of these were just as scarce for the duration of the winter.

Now on to spring arrivals!