Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Snowy Owl in Cyr Plantation

Snowy Owl by Gary Gendreau/Fotos by Frenchy
I received two separate reports of a Snowy Owl from the Van Buren area early this week.  As it turns out they are probably the same bird!

The Snowy is being seen along Route 1 near the Van Buren/Cyr Plantation town line.  Gary Gendreau got this nice picture of the owl as it sat in a windbreak tree last Saturday.

Snowy Owls will show up in winter in northern Maine when food is limited in the north.  Our last big incursion came during the winter of 2008-2009.  With widespread and early reports around New England already, it seems like this may be a good winter for them too.

Certainly the exceptionally warm weather and NO snowcover makes it much easier for birders to detect them right now.  Go find one!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black-legged Kittiwake, Trafton Lake, Limestone

I avoided the "black Friday" frenzy and did a little birding in the gloom yesterday.  Most of my favorite wetlands and ponds froze up solidly in the past week  and though I checked a lot of my better winter bird spots, there didn't seem to much active to see.    I was about to call it quits but then decided to make a quick run over to Trafton Lake in Limestone.  The Lake is a little deeper and stays open a bit longer than other mid-sized ponds in the area.

I was in luck and found about half the pond was still ice free.  Mallards, Black Ducks and a few mergansers seemed to be all that was on the pond though, and lower skies and a heavy drizzle almost had me packing up in a couple minutes, but then, I spotted a white bird on the water in a distant cove.  The bird was in the opposite (south-eastern) corner of the lake from me and just about at the limit of my scope.  

Though I couldn't see much detail through 3/4 of a mile of precipitation, I could make out that the bird was a gull.  The gull was standing on some ice and preening.  I discerned that it had a dark bar on its side and what appeared to be a dark sided neck-- different from the usual gulls.  After moving a few hundred yards closer to the edge of the park lawn I got a better look and could see a dark bill and a dark bar on the tail.  The gull flew a short distance and the view clinched it, juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

The Kittiwake is a pelagic (ocean loving) gull that can be a bit challenging to spot from land unless you spend time in a boat off shore or seawatching from promontories along the coast.  Once in a while they are found inland along the major waterways in the north east (Hudson River, St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain etc), but I didn't recall any record for one inland in Maine.  I was quite sure the bird was probably an Aroostook County first.  I later checked Maine Birds by Palmer and found three 100+ year old inland records.

I had to hike down the shore about a half mile just to get some across-the-lake documentation pictures.  Breeze and drizzle didn't help the photography session either but I was excited it turned out to be a "good" gull after the long hike!  Coordinates of the gull location were at (46.881230, -67.831459) if you want to check it out on Google Earth.

Here my list for the outing:

Trafton Lake, Aroostook, US-ME
Nov 25, 2011 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.3 mile(s)
8 species

Canada Goose  279     Two large flocks came in from the north.  Lake half frozen
American Black Duck  140
Mallard  210     Scattered flocks in every cove
Lesser Scaup  3
Hooded Merganser  21
Common Merganser  49
Black-legged Kittiwake  1     juvenile.  First for county/inland for me.  Hanging with mergs.  Photos
Blue Jay  1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Iceland Gulls and another Marked Ring-billed Gull, Collins Pond Caribou

On the 20th, Judy Roe emailed that she had seen a gull with green patches on its wing at Collins Pond.  I stopped in the next afternoon to see if I could spot it.

There was a good sized flock (~200) gulls bathing and drinking on the pond and the turnover seemed pretty steady with lots of birds arriving and other departing regularly.  Over half of the crowd was Great Black-backed Gulls with most of the remainder being Herring Gulls.  It didn't take long for a first cycle (hatched this year) Iceland Gull to appear and then a second!  These young gulls were ghostly cream white without a speck of black on them.  They had dark eyes and black bills that were substantially thinner and lighter looking than the bills on the Herring and Black-backed Gulls.   A third Iceland Gull with a bi-colored bill was a second-cycle bird and a bit lighter than the younger gulls.

There were also a dozen or so Ring-billed Gulls in the mix.  Most of these were hanging together in one part of the flock.  Surprisingly, it wasn't long before a green winged gull appeared among them!  A closer look at the bird showed that both wings had plastic tags on them.  The green tags had numbers..."111".  Got a couple passable photos just before the sun set and whole flock departed westward.

We've had a couple other marked Ring-billed Gulls in northern Maine and these were marked as part of  project to monitor gulls that roost on drinking water supplies in Massachusetts.  I wrote to them to inquire about this new bird.   Senior Biologist Ken MacKenzie was quick to confirm the green marked bird was one of his.

Here's the details provided by Ken:

Here is some specific information on K111:
Captured 3/15/11 at Price Chopper Plaza, Rt. 20, Worcester, MA
Capture location (GPS): 42.21324, -71.79617
Captured using a rocket net baited with crackers and bread
Sub-adult ring-billed gull
Green wing-tags: K111
Orange leg band: 48
Federal leg band: 1146-31731
Released on site

04/09/11: Orlando's Farm, Brookfield Road, Charlton, MA

This morning I returned to Collins Pond to find the single digit temperatures had predictably frozen the pond solid.  So much for waterbird watching here for a while!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cattle Egret in Mapleton

The Cattle Egret recently reported by Laura Chase continued at the Chase's Organic Dairy on the Creasey Ridge Road in Mapleton today.  I stopped by the farm early this AM and found the little wader wandering in the barnyard looking a little lost.  The temperatures were in the upper 20's overnight and frost was heavy on the pastures.

Apparently the bird has been around for about a week and continues to forage under the feet of the Chase's cow herd.

Cattle Egrets are a rare find anywhere in Maine and especially so in northern Maine.  I know of only 5 or 6 recent records of Cattle Egret in northern Maine.  Surprisingly a Cattle Egret was reported in southern Maine yesterday as well.  Last year at this time, one appeared on the lawn of the McCain Foods french fry plant in Easton!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Northern Maine Birds: Early November 2011

There have been a lot of gulls moving through the area lately.

Most are the expected Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.  They've been taking advantage of the invertebrates (mostly earthworms)  uncovered by Aroostook farmers' late season plowing.  Paul Cyr sent over this shot of a mass of gulls following a plow in Easton.

I checked out the flock on Sunday and found a juvenile Iceland Gull in the mix.

Lake Josephine and Christina Reservoir each sported a Long-tailed Duck on Sunday too.

Thanks to the daylight freed up by "falling back" I visited Hanson Lake on the Presque Isle/Mapleton town line this AM.  There were 400+ Canada Geese leaving the pond for the day.  Left behind were a handful  of Common and Hooded Mergansers and this White-winged Scoter.   Not a great shot but you can see the white wings...

As I was leaving, a small flock of finches flew over the boat launch.  My first Common Redpolls of the season!