American Woodcock (Photos by Don Reimer)
American Woodcock (Photos by Don Reimer)
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Well, the Spring Equinox reached the Northern Hemisphere at 5:58 p.m. on March 20. Derived from two Latin words for “equal” and “night,” Equinox is when day and night are of nearly equal length in all parts of the world. After a lapse of 19 years, a full moon traditionally known as the Worm Moon coincided with the vernal occurrence. Subterranean activity of earthworms supposedly activates during this moon phase, but spring lawn mowing and gardening can wait a spell. True spring-like conditions are always elusive in Maine, despite some predictable spring tendencies of humans. The other morning, I observed several teens in T-shirts awaiting the school bus in 18-degree weather.

Bird-wise, I noticed two Song Sparrows that suddenly appeared in my barberry bush on March 21. Each year a sparrow pair nests directly beneath my bedroom window, singing well before dawn each day and raising a brood or two in a small evergreen. The same nesting pair, you ask? Judging by their choice of specific perches within the yard, I suspect they are experienced annual residents.

Next a flurry of dooryard woodpeckers captured my attention as Downy and Hairy woodpecker pairs geared up with drumming episodes, chattered vocalizations and vigorous wing flapping pursuits. A colorful male Red-bellied Woodpecker that had wintered locally was joined by a female. Since Red-bellieds are naturally talkative, I heard whirring commotions among the maples as two competing males sought the female visitor’s focused attention. Twenty-five years ago this southern-based species would have warranted a rare bird posting for Maine; today it’s a regular breeder around these parts.

The brown grassy fields around Warren now hold scores of foraging American robins. Scattered groups of robins typically overwinter along the coast, depending on the depth of snow cover and food availability. With regional berry and crabapple crops now depleted, arriving robins are often drawn to the lingering fruits of staghorn sumac. Eastern Bluebirds are also making the scene.

Blackbirds are early-spring migrants as loose flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles push northward. The initial flocks are composed of males that will settle into potential nesting territories prior to arrivals of females in a couple of weeks. Singing from spikey cattails, single male blackbirds reserve their most elaborate courtship efforts for a female audience.

Some readers may have already heard the nasal “peenting” calls of courting American Woodcocks at field edges and stands of alders. These calls are given from the ground. Once the male “timberdoodle” spirals skyward in courtship flight, he adds melodic chirping notes, combined with twittering sounds produced by air passing through three narrow outer primaries. After about 15 seconds of aerial maneuvers, the woodcock zigzags back to earth to repeat the entire sequence. For anyone who’s not experienced the woodcock’s dawn and dusk sky-dancing rituals, I fully recommend it.

April is prime time for waterfowl movements when certain duck species change seasonal haunts. As wintering sea ducks, such as scoters and Long-tailed Ducks depart for remote northern areas, numbers of dabbling ducks pour into the region. Species like Gadwall, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and American Wigeon will make cameo appearances at Rockland’s Chickawaukie Lake and Weskeag Marsh before resuming their travels to other nesting grounds. Families of Mallards, Black Ducks, Green- and Blue-winged teal, Common and Hooded mergansers and Wood Ducks will remain in the midcoast to nest. And sooner than we might imagine, gaggles of fuzzy gosling geese will be afoot.