Friday, April 4, 2014

First Arrivals Spring 2014

This past month seemed particularly gruelling, weatherwise, and I was worried that I was starting to get a bit spleeny... The Weather Service guys cheered me up however, when they announced March was indeed the coldest on record for Caribou and Bangor. Thanks to almost no melting and 20+ days when it snowed, northern Maine remains completely and deeply buried in snow. At months end, there was nearly 3 feet of snow out in the open at the Caribou weather station and four + feet are being reported in the woods.

Open water is limited to the few spots where swift water, dams or other warmer water inflow has kept the streams ice-free.  20+ inches of ice was reported on the St. John and Aroostook Rivers just yesterday, leading to some concern for jamming problems when the ice finally lets go.

The change from winter to spring birding has been oh-so-slow thus far, but its clear the door has opened a bit in the first few days of April and reports of new arrivals are coming in. 
The first migrant waterfowl to arrive was a Hooded Merganser that showed up on March 19th at Caribou Dam.  Commmon Mergs appeared in the area by the 31st with pairs seen at the outlet of Christina Reservoir in Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle Stream in downtown Presque Isle and in Caribou.  A pair of Wood Ducks were right on schedule on April 3rd at Caribou Dam.  The first pair of Canada Geese were spotted on April 2nd at PI Stream and a flock of 19 was on the Aroostook River ice in Caribou the next day.  The female Northern Pintail that overwintered at the hospital stormwater pond in Presque Isle continued through April 3rd.

Not much has been reported yet for arriving raptors.  The first Merlin of the year was seen by two different observers around the 26th of March at Fort Fairfield.  This too, seems right on schedule, if not a bit early.  A light phase Rough-legged Hawk was seen off the Tompkins Road in Presque Isle on April 2nd.  A larger accipter has been reported regularly around Mantle Lake in Presque Isle and other has been partaking of the tasty doves at a feeder in Chapman.  Bald Eagles are now on nests across the area and egg incubation has begun at some.

A Ruffed Grouse appeared at Mary Collishaw's feeder in Caribou in late March.  Mary sent over this nice portrait.  Ring-necked Pheasants have been regularly reported from Mt. Chase, Patten and Fort Fairfield.

On April 2, I found the thin strip of mud along the front of my south-facing foundation wall riddled with the holes from a feeding American Woodcock.  This was the only bit of thawed, bare ground anywhere in my yard and the thorough probing it gave this little bit of mud was evidence of a desperate bird I thought.  I flushed another (or possibly the same) bird from the shoulder of my road the next night.  Killdeer arrived in numbers on the 2nd with reports from Presque Isle, Chapman, Mars Hill and Houlton. 

As usual, the first returning gulls were Great Black-backed's with a small group arriving on St. Patricks Day in Caribou.   A couple Ring-billeds arrived at Caribou Dam on March 22nd and the first Herring Gull was seen here on the 29th.  On April 1, a fourth year Bald Eagle was feeding on a Herring Gull in this same spot.  

The overwintering Northern Flicker continued at a feeder on the Hardison Road in Caribou through the beginning of April.
Snowy Owls continue to be seen in Presque Isle.  Two darker (probably juvenile) owls were seen along the Brewer Road on the 3rd and another remains at the "PT" Barn just a mile to the north.  Kevin Levesque lent me use of this nice shot of one of the Brewer Road birds.  A Barred Owl has been regular at Paul Cyr's feeders in Presque Isle and the first (and only thus far) Northern Saw-whet Owl was heard on the night of March 27th in Caribou.   Paul Cyr captured the wonderful shot at the top of this post of his Barred Owl being harassed by a foolish and fearless Red Squirrel.

After a season with no over-winterers, arriving American Robins were notable this week.  First birds were reported from Caribou, Presque Isle and Woodland during the storm on the 30th with many more seen subsequently.  Bohemian Waxwings also showed in numbers over the past 10 days.  Sizeable flocks up to 110 birds were reported from Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Mapleton, Patten and Presque Isle.

 I recently commented that I had had few reports of Northern Cardinals this winter.  Several observers let me know that there were overwintering pairs doing well at Presque Isle, Ashland, Caribou and Houlton!  Pairs of Horned Larks were seen in Van Buren, Limestone and Caribou in the first days of April.  

In the past two weeks, many small flocks of Snow Buntings were noted by birders across the area.  More than one commented on the attractive black and white plumage of the males as they reach breeding condition.  American Tree Sparrows continue to be widely reported in good numbers at feeding stations.  Males are singing strongly now.  The first pulse of migrant Dark-eyed Juncos has built into the area in the first days of April and the first Song Sparrow of the year appeared in my yard in Woodland this AM.

The icterid vangard appeared on schedule too.  The first Red-winged Blackbird was reported from a feeder in Presque Isle on the 25th of March with others appearing at Caribou on the 30th and in Chapman by Ap[ril 4th.  The first (and thus far only) Common Grackle was seen flying over the UMPI campus on the 3rd.  Two male Brown-headed Cowbirds in my yard on the 3rd were the first of the season.

With the restrictive, heavy snow cover in northern Maine unlikely to change substantially for at least a couple weeks, it appears its going to be a tough season for early arriving migrants.  With limited open water or ground, many arriving birds will be forced to concentrate in the few available open areas.  Local birders will probably be seeing large to possibly unprecedented numbers if they monitor the right spots.  Scattering seed for ground feeders will certainly be a good attractant for the near future as more sparrows and blackbirds arrive.

Good birding!