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Saturday, August 29, 2015
Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker (Photos by Don Reimer)
Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker (Photos by Don Reimer)
Thursday, August 06, 2015 3:11 PM
It is not uncommon for adventurous birders to trek to remote destinations in search of interesting and exotic birds. Sticking closer to the home front . . .
  • Birding with Don Reimer: A Day at Sea—
    Boarding the 7 a.m. ferry out of Rockland, our group was headed for Vinalhaven to link up with Captain John Drury for a side trip to Seal Island National . . . 
  • Beach Birds-
    Reaching the outer dunes at Popham Beach, I heard shrill kip-kip-kip vocalizations up ahead as Least Terns darted in from the ocean. A mere 8 to 9 inches in length, the exquisite Least Tern is the smallest of the North American terns. Its black-tipped, straw-yellow bill, black cap and nape and distinctive . . . 
  • Tundra Travelers-
    Although I would never wish to hasten the passage of summer, mid-July is a time of year I anticipate - the period when southbound shorebird migration begins. The vanguard of bird movement is now apparent at Weskeag Marsh and along our coastal beaches and inlets. Extending from July through September . . . 
  • Care and Feeding-
    Seen any baby birds in your neighborhood? For some species, the nesting season has reached the halfway point as fledgling birds are leaving the nest to trail their parents through the woodlands. Many ducks, geese and Pied-Billed Grebes have produced their yearly . . . 
  • Island View-
    We spent the final days of May on Monhegan Island. Birding on an island provides some observational and geographical advantages. The land mass of islands is finite and precisely defined by boundaries of ocean and sky, in Monhegan's case corralling birds into a mile-and-a-half-long strip. Islands offer . . . 
  • A River Runs Through It-
    For much of the year, Warren village is a sleepy little community tucked away between Routes 1 and 90. But each May the scene along the Georges riverfront is energized by the annual alewife spawning run. Interested local folks and a growing contingent of photographers from across New England assemble to . . . 
  • City Birds-
    It is no small wonder that Maine bird watchers celebrate the spectacle of spring bird migration, a period of anticipated arrivals with a few surprises tossed in for good measure. For example, a wayward Cattle Egret strode across a Monhegan Island lawn last week. A majority of Maine's nesting warbler species are now . . . 
  • Sap Days-
    The sapsucker couple that nests in my neighborhood is active again. I hear their characteristic dragged-out ratta-tat-tat-tat territorial drumming sounds on the maple trees and other resonant surfaces, such as metal street signs. Although several species of sapsuckers span the continent, our Eastern representatives . . . 
  • Scheduled Arrivals-
    Neighbor #1: "According to my calendar, the Phoebe that nests on my porch each spring should return tomorrow morning." Neighbor #2: "It's amazing that you could possibly know that." Neighbor #1: "Not really; I just check my calendar. The Phoebe has no calendar, but still arrives right on schedule." . . . 
  • On the Road-
    In late March, I motored south for the Connecticut Ornithological Association's annual bird conference. In general, conferences can be boring or stimulating, depending on your interest level in the subject. Birds? Well yes, I was definitely interested. Prior to the day's three birding talks, 215 registrants milled through . . . 
  • A Farewell to Winter -
    Following our long, snowy winter, we now peer eagerly into March and the prospects of the vernal equinox. Winter birding conditions were challenging this year, leading many folks to stay home and monitor their feeding stations. Feeder watching can pay deep dividends by providing extended opportunities to . . . 
  • Personal Ads-
    "Refined, healthy, well-educated man, 35 years old, blue eyes, brown hair, weight 160, 5 feet, 9 inches, wishes to correspond with lady able to finance good business proposition. I am a construction engineer and know the business thoroughly; object, wedding bells and business success for both parties. . . . 
  • Black Beauty-
    It's 11 degrees outside and snowing lightly as I step into my backyard. Sitting in a state of calm watchfulness, a huge Raven occupies a weathered stub 200 feet away. It is his sentry post. For two weeks the solitary Raven had held vigil over a partially buried frozen Turkey carcass. Recently I added some beef neck bones . . . 
  • Bird on a Rope-
    Back around Thanksgiving, sections of the midcoast lost electrical power for several days. When our power was restored, we evaluated the "edibility" of remaining food stocks from the fridge and freezer. Unfortunately, a 10-pound frozen turkey that appeared to be slightly . . . 
  • Close Encounters-
    Years ago I led a group of youth birders from Bremen's National Audubon Camp on a late-summer field trip to Weskeag Marsh, where shorebird and falcon activity was high. The enthusiastic group watched with awe as an adult Peregrine Falcon chased after maneuvering shorebirds. Some kids were clearly rooting for . . . 
  • Inside the Christmas Bird Count-
    Occasionally I'm asked about the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) process and how it works: "How can you count all the birds in your area in one day?" or "How do you know you're not counting the same birds more than once?" These are great questions, but first some background. The initial CBC event occurred in 1900 . . . 
  • Christmas Bird Count - Results from Thomaston-Rockland count
    As part of National Audubon Society's 115th Christmas Bird Count, the annual Thomaston-Rockland Bird Count was conducted this past Saturday, on December 20. Currently there are 32 Christmas Bird Counts held across the state. The count period extends from December 14 through January 5 and is . . . 
  • Staying Late-
    Birds and birders possess a strong sense of seasonal timing. By late April, our wall calendars foretell of arriving American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds and the spring nesting season. In fall, we watch with wonder as skeins of Canada Geese and Double-Crested Cormorants ramble southward. . . . 
  • The Winter Finch Forecast-
    As December approaches, birders and feeder watchers anticipate the arrival of "winter finches," that diverse group of nomadic feathered wanderers that vacates the northern boreal forest and heads southward in certain winters. Successfully forecasting the movements of anything wearing feathers is a sketchy blend of . . . 
  • Binos and Cameras-
    With years of persistent bird watching, it is often possible to identify bird species in a ready fashion. This isn't a magical feat, but actually a matter of visual practice that is possible for most everyone. Size and shape of a given bird are good starting points with identification. Behavior and color patterns are also very . . . 
  • Shades of Yellow-
    One recent morning near Popham Beach I witnessed several hundred chirping Yellow-Rumped Warblers as they flitted throughout stands of bayberry and winterberry bushes or launched headlong, in twisting fly-catching aeronautics. The horde's springtime vestments of vivid yellow, charcoal gray and black . . . 
  • Birds and Buildings-
    For probably thousands of years, certain avian species have adapted to perching and nesting on man-made structures. Buildings are either a boon or a bane to birds, depending on the circumstances. Bright city lights can confuse and disorient neo-tropical migrants at nighttime . . . 
  • Summer Beach-
    Last week I explored Popham Beach State Park to take in the sights. Anecdotally speaking, there seemed to be fewer bikinis and striped beach balls than in summers past, but that's not why I actually went there. In avian terms though, the summer beach scene indicated that the month of July had arrived . . . 
  • Long Journey Home -
    Unlike earthbound beings, birds possess considerable powers of flight and navigational ability to travel vast spans of our planet. This is especially true during peak migration periods, when about three-quarters of Maine's breeding birds rotate between breeding and wintering destinations. . . . 
  • Great Egg-spectations -
    Mid-June is an opportune time to take stock of the current nesting season, as over 200 species nest across Maine landscapes. In recent decades about 25 southern nesting species have pushed northward into New England as indicated by an influx of Carolina Wrens, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and Cardinals . . . 
  • Mob Scene -
    Two fundamental aspects of birding, species identification and behavior watching, can lead to challenging and enjoyable field experiences. While birding the perimeter of Monhegan Island's wet meadow in late May, I heard animated vocalizations coming from aloft. . . . 
  • An Eye on the Spring River -
    During February, I often pondered the half-frozen Georges River that passes through Warren village beneath the Main Street Bridge. The channel opening would constrict at night, becoming a narrow slot carved out by the currents. Common goldeneyes and mergansers loafed along the ice floes . . . 
  • Merit Badges-
    In human terms, a badge is described as "a distinctive emblem worn as a mark of office, membership, achievement, licensed employment, etc." For the avian population, badges constitute a variety of distinctive plumage patterns that contrast with the surrounding body feathers. . . . 
  • Pretty in White-
    For delicate beauty and elegance, it's hard to match members of the heron/egret family. Snowy Egrets have returned to Weskeag Marsh for the summer season, and a roaming pair of Cattle Egrets recently passed through Rockland. Although superficially similar in appearance . . . 
  • Spring Waterfowl-
    April is a peak period for waterfowl migration across the Northeast, as winging flocks of Canada Geese and ducks push northward. Equipped with narrow, pointed wings, waterfowl definitely do not have soaring as an option; for them, trans-regional movement is all about powered flight. . . . 
  • Late Winter's Larder-
    Of the roughly 220 bird species that nest in Maine, about 75 percent of them retreat southward during the winter months. Cold winter weather is one driving force behind such movements, but lack of access to seasonal food is the primary influence at work here. . . . 
  • Birds as Logos-
    From avian depictions on ancient cave walls, we know that birds have influenced man's thinking and given expression to cultural themes down through the ages. In the modern period, birds continue to exert an active cultural role. These days, birds are widely featured in art and photography, sports team logos . . . 
  • Hoots-Who?-
    Given the amazing abundance of Snowy Owls visiting our region this year, it is easy to neglect other owls that winter or nest here in Maine. Ten species have been documented in the state, falling into several broad categories. Snowy Owls are the only tundra-nester in this group. . . . 
  • Camera Birds -
    Keeping a camera at the ready when possible, I am always on the prowl for good bird photo opportunities. This week's column features two species that have passed through my camera's viewfinder. Last December I spied a lone Canada Goose nestled near a grassy cove in Cushing. . . . 
  • Snow Job-
    With our winter bonanza of Snowy Owls here in the Northeast region, owl encounters are a pleasant reality for coastal birders these days. To illustrate, since mid-December I have recorded six separate Snowy Owls within a 10-mile radius of Rockland. . . . 
  • January Hawks -
    The winter season can be a tough time for hawks in Maine as snow and cold weather systems complicate the food situation. Occupying the upper end of nature's food chain, overwintering hawks rely heavily on capturing birds or small mammals to sustain them throughout those long frigid nights. . . . 
  • 2013 Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count
    As part of the longest-running citizen science survey in the world, the annual Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count was held on December 21. Seesaw weather systems prior to count day played a role in this year's outcomes as back-to-back snowfalls blanketed the region . . . 
  • Winter Wanderers-
    My frequent column readers will recognize a familiar birding maxim: the winter season delivers different sets of birds each year. It is now mid-December and, as forecast, winter finches are quite scarce in these parts. We can trace that situation to widespread abundance of seed . . . 
  • Thanksgiving-
    The Thanksgiving holiday is an opportune time to consider turkeys. I am not talking about those top-heavy, farm-raised birds that are pardoned and spared from the dinner table each Thanksgiving by the President of the United States. I'm talking about wild stock, the primogenitors of all turkeydom. . . . 
  • Watching Birds Being Birds-
    Birding field guides provide the framework of identification through two-dimensional depictions that highlight general shape, size and distinctive feather patterns of a bird. And, of course, species identification is an essential step in learning to enjoy birds. Sometimes I strive to sharpen my personal birding skills while driving by identifying road-killed birds . . . 
  • The Winter Finch Season-
    We have reached that time of year when birders contemplate the arrival of winter finches. This is an equally good time to consider Ontario biologist Ron Pittaway's annual winter finch forecast. Sandwiched between southern Hudson Bay and the five Great Lakes, Ontario's vast boreal tracts produce a high percentage of Maine's wintering finches. . . . 
  • Bird on a Rock-
    I admit it - a streaky brown bird perched on a barren rock may not elate most bird-watchers. Frequently the "LBJ" (little brown job) factor causes us to pass by a drab-looking bird in pursuit of more colorful or more easily identifiable species. Often the small brown bird in question is a member of the sparrow family. But not always. . . . 
  • Trap Days-
    In terms of worthwhile bird watching experiences, I heartily recommend Monhegan Island in late September. The active filming of a new movie there based on an island community, "Catatonk Blues," added to the existing fascination this time around. Monhegan's current eight lobstermen were busily focusing on October 1, known to islanders as Trap Day. . . . 
  • A Visit from Big Bird-
    From years of birding and amateur photography, I have accumulated an adequate catalogue of photos to draw upon for my bi-monthly birding articles. Nevertheless, I always prefer to write about recent scenarios and timely photos whenever possible. The present article actually began on September 9 when I received some online photos of a huge white bird taken . . . 
  • Raptors & Young Shorebirds Drawn Together During Migration Season-
    The September migration period brings together two amazing groups of birds: raptors and shorebirds. Throughout their summer nesting season, these two distinct groups lead relatively separate lives. Most of our September shorebirds travel down from remote tundra nesting regions, while the majority of hawks and falcons are products of the vast Northern Boreal Forest . . . 
  • Some New Gulls in Town-
    Some folks seek out rainbows in pursuit of beauty and inspiration. Me, I have an odd practice of scanning parking lots to see what forms of bird life might occupy such vast open spaces. Like finding the proverbial pot of gold at rainbow's end, I have been richly rewarded on a few occasions. Around 6 a.m. on August 3, I pulled into the paved parking lot behind Thomaston Grocery . . . 
  • The Martin Season-
    As a quality birding destination, there is much to recommend the stretch of highway along Route 27 that borders the west side of Messalonskee Lake in Belgrade Village. A variety of interesting land and water birds, including several species of flycatchers, Yellow-Throated and Warbling Vireos, Marsh Wrens, grebes and herons, reside in the mix of marsh, lake and hardwood . . . 
  • Summer Songs-
    On July 3rd at 4:10 a.m. a male cardinal awakened me with his first burst of morning song - a piercing, clear-throated "whoit!, whoit!, purty!-purty! -purty!" A few minutes later, an American Robin launched his throbbing "cheeralup-cheeralee" carol. In midsummer, the early-dawn bird chorus is somewhat diminished. Many of Maine's breeding songsters have abandoned . . . 
  • Spiders and Inchworms and Moths, Oh My!-
    July is a good month to learn more about bird behavior by watching adult birds feeding their young. Sometimes fledgling birds even alert us to their presence through cheeping and begging sounds and quivering motions to solicit the parent's attention. Recently I witnessed two very different species pairs, Great Crested Flycatchers and Black-Capped Chickadees, as parents . . . 
  • Life on the Beach -
    Fledgling birds are appearing in lots of places. Baby woodpeckers, titmice and sparrows now join their parents at my feeders. Juvenile Chickadees and American Robins are close to gaining their independence. By June 18, the occupants of the Ovenbird nest I wrote about earlier in the month had vacated their temporary dwelling place to seek a summer livelihood in the woods. . . . 
  • Hiding in the Woods-
    The summer nesting season holds its secrets and wonders. Most songbirds seek out hidden woodland locations to construct a nest and attempt to raise a brood; some birds, such as Eastern Phoebes and American Robins are often comfortable nesting in close proximity to humans. By sheer chance, I encountered a ground-built nest last week during a brief early morning . . . 
  • Window Watching-
    Learning to identify the common birds at a glance is certainly fun and challenging at times. Once we have made an accurate identification, though, then what? The other side of this fascinating equation involves watching bird behavior and observing their natural habits. In mid-May, I placed a double shepherd's hook on my front lawn area, suspending an oriole feeder and a . . . 
  • Signs of Spring-
    If you didn't own a calendar, how would you know when spring had arrived? Of course, the blooming flowers and greening lawns are always reliable clues. For me, I often look to the presence of birds to describe each new season. Around 5:45 a.m. the other morning, a little birdy informed me that spring was most certainly here. Well, actually, it was a male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker . . . 
  • Sherm's Worms-
    Several times my friend Sherm Hoyt had mentioned the congregations of gulls converging on mudflats below his home on Upper Long Cove in St. George. He explained that sandworms were spawning there as they do each spring, and that hundreds of gulls were exploiting the wriggling bonanza. The best time to view this chaotic scene was about an hour before low tide, he said. . . . 
  • Waiting for Warblers-
    By mid-April many bird-watchers live in a state of anticipation. We were teased by a trickle of early-arriving migrants - tail-bobbing Eastern Phoebes and scores of American Robins sprawled across lawns and fields - but we await the month of May and hordes of lively, varicolored warblers. The suite of Eastern warblers is truly diverse in terms of color patterns, songs and habitat choices. 
  • Looking at Ducks-
    Perched in tall treetops above my driveway, two male cardinals engage in a morning singing session: "Cheeeer! cheeeer! Tu, tu, tu, tu." They are preparing for spring. Chickadees and House Finches also vocalize nearby. Male Woodcocks have arrived to "sky dance" above our alder-edged fields, and territorial Red-Wing Blackbirds are staking out partially frozen cattail patches. . . . 
  • Pigeon Fanciers: Cooper's Hawk & Peregrines-
    If you spend time in downtown Rockland, you may notice pigeons clustered on shingled rooftops, huddled along utility lines or wheeling in tight, graceful formations above the city streets. Other sets of eyes, far sharper and keener than ours, notice them as well. I am talking about two large aerial predators that base their winter survival on capturing Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves . . . 
  • Small Goose; Bigger Story-
    On January 31, I followed a typical early-morning routine of checking sundry Rockland bird sites before heading off to work. A powerful, low-pressure weather system, with lashing south winds, horizontal rain and 52-degree temperatures, had pounded the region for over 24 hours and visibility was greatly restricted. . . . 
  • Dump Pickin'-
    Although 40 years or more have passed, I recall an experience at the former Bristol Town Dump, a genuine garbage dump in those times, with a proud tradition of dump picking. I had parked next to a smartly dressed lady who drove a gleaming, open-topped convertible. As I exited my rusting pickup truck, the lady and I focused on an item lying between us in the gravel. . . . 
  • A Trio of Winter Gulls -
    Gulls are some of the most highly mobile of birds, often shifting their regional locations with the seasons. As we might expect, there is a general southbound parade of gulls during the winter months. And while a few adult individuals arrive here in mid-winter when food grows scarce farther north, a larger share of our winter visitors are immature gulls. . . . 
  • Evening Grosbeaks-
    Throughout my early childhood, we always maintained a couple of bird feeders outside the kitchen window. Chickadees would rush in to snatch sunflower seeds and then quickly retreat to a thick stand of lilacs. Woodpeckers fed on suet placed in a hanging onion bag. My favorite season was winter, when the nomadic flocks from boreal regions stormed our feeders. 
  • Rare Open-Water Conditions May Account for This Year's Record Count
    As part of the National Audubon Society's 113th Christmas Bird Count, the Thomaston-Rockland Count was conducted on December 22. The two dozen volunteer birders who canvassed the 15-mile count circle tallied 80 species and 8,571 individual birds, a record high species total for this count area. 
  • Coastal Bluebirds -
    You may have heard the old expression "a blue bird day." Well, when I researched its origins, I discovered that it is quite unrelated to bluebirds. The term came from downhill skiers to describe a perfectly sunny beautiful day following an overnight storm of powdery snow. Go figure. Last week I photographed several Eastern Bluebirds feeding on staghorn sumac fruits in Rockport. . . . 
  • Seen any good birds?-
    Encountering fellow birders in the field, a typical greeting is "Seen anything good?" That, of course, depends on your personal definition of what constitutes a "good" bird and your own expectations for the day. A Blue Jay is a common sight here in Maine, but would be a hotline bird in California. 
  • Pine Grosbeaks -
    True to earlier prognostications, this fall season is shaping up as an irruptive finch winter. Watchers are already encountering troupes of Evening Grosbeaks, Redpolls, White-winged and Red Crossbills and scattered Bohemian Waxwings at feeders and especially around fruit bearing trees. Large vocal flocks of squabbling Pine Siskins are present at thistle feeders. 
  • Red-tailed Hawk -
    If you have ever driven past a large, bulky hawk perched on a roadside utility line or field fencepost, you may have spotted a Red-tailed. As the fall calendar advances, the odds increase that the hawk in question is a Red-tailed. During the summer, smaller but similar Buteo hawks, such as Broad-winged or Red-shouldered, might occupy these same hunting perches. 
  • Another Annual Finch Forecast -
    Long-range forecasting is risky business, especially when birds are involved. Each fall Ontario biologist Ron Pittaway issues a winter finch forecast for eastern Canada and, by extension, the nearby tier of northern states. To survive the harsh winter season, roving finch flocks must search out regions with ample stores of cones, fruits and berries. . . . 
  • Maine's sparrow -
    Pulling out of my driveway at dawn, I notice dozens of small birds flitting low through my headlight beams; they are all sparrows. Fall is a good time to watch for migrating sparrows around edges of fields and weedy roadways. Decked out in their intricate patterns of browns, grays and whites, sparrows present a marked contrast to our colorful spring warblers. 
  • Phalaropes -
    It's no secret that I enjoy shorebirds. In the past 15 years or so, I have observed 30 different species feeding or roosting at Weskeag Marsh in South Thomaston. The "rarest" discovery was probably a second-year male Ruff, a Eurasian species that somehow wandered off course during its fall journey to Australia. 
  • September's Shorebirds -
    The span of fall bird migration extends across several months. Migration is predictable in many ways but is often an untidy process that provides some unexpected bird sightings along the way. Warbler and sparrow movements are now well under way, as a mix of adult and juvenile birds file southward. Raptors, seabirds and waterfowl will rule the skies in coming weeks. 
  • Headin' offshore -
    After several false starts (prohibitive heavy fog or high seas on previous tries) I took a whale watch cruise out of Bar Harbor in late July. The prospect of seeing bus-sized leviathans was appealing enough, but I was equally interested in the birds lurking offshore. In ecological terms, the deepwater pelagic zones might as well be a separate planet from inshore waters. 
  • An Osprey Walks into a Bar, Sits Down and Orders a Drink -
    I get occasional phone calls about birds. On August 5 around 7:30 p.m., Katie Syrett phoned from Owls Head. "This is going to sound strange," she said, "but I have an osprey sitting on my porch. It's just standing here staring at me." She had heard a thud outside, apparently produced when the bird made contact with her porch.