“Nature Notes” will be a near-weekly blog post to keep you updated on some things going on with Maine’s wildlife. This will include incidental observations (many of which are shared on our Instagram page), recent unusual bird sightings, and notes on our bird walks or other field trips.
Throughout this winter we’ve had a fairly reliable Barred Owl around Gilsland Farm — it is possible there have been several owls moving through, but this bird uses a fairly restricted area for roosting and seems likely to be a single bird setting up residence.
Last weekend a young visitor spotted the Barred Owl roosting just off our trails, and in the following days I found six pellets under the tree it was using. Curious to know what these local owls were eating, we dissected a couple of the pellets (photos below) and found bones belonging to a White-footed Mouse in one, and a flying squirrel (presumably Southern Flying Squirrel because the mandible’s “coronoid process” were so long) in the other pellet.
Signs of Spring:
The end of February was unseasonably warm, which can be a trigger to birds wintering just south of us that it is time to come north. (Neotropic migrants, like most warblers, tanagers, and vireos that we see in the summer rely on different cues, like photoperiod, to signal when to migrate north.) Red-winged Blackbirds, Turkey Vultures, and American Woodcocks are being reported around southern Maine and moving north quickly. At Gilsland Farm, we spotted a muskrat on the edge of our thawing pond on Thursday (2 March) and the first snow drops and crocuses came up this week, on the 28th and 2nd, respectively. Still no signs of groundhogs yet!
Red-winged Blackbirds moved north with force in the end of February — a bit early for this species, but on par with 2016 and 2012, which were both fairly mild. What’s interesting this year is how abruptly large numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds moved in and are being reported all over coastal Maine. Below is a chart created using eBird data to show the frequency (percentage of total checklists) of Red-winged Blackbirds reported each year since 2007. The light blue [incomplete] line shows how early this year’s blackbirds are.
With ‘summer birds’ beginning to arrive, we are also seeing departures of our ‘winter birds.’ One local celebrity we saw depart was “Wells” an adult female Snowy Owl that has been lingering around Saco Bay this winter. This owl was relocated from the Portland Jetport and fitted with a transmitter to track its movements as a part of Project Snowstorm. You can read more about Wells, from her capture to her movements north, on the Project Snowstorm website (and consider supporting their research while you’re there!)
Recent birds sightings:
We stopped producing the weekly “RBA” last year because of the more useful and automatically produced Rare Bird Alert from eBird.org. eBird’s RBA is updated as soon as reports are submitted, includes media (photo/video/audio), and links directly to Google Maps for directions. Maine’s eBird RBA can be accessed here: ebird.org/ebird/alert/summary?sid=SN35688
The biggest excitement lately has been around Great Gray Owls in Maine this winter. There is an irruption of Great Grays in the northeast this year with up to 5 or 6 being reported in Maine (with most on private property.) On 22 February, Fyn Kynd found one at Lassell Cemetery in Searsmont where it continues (as of 2 Mar) to please onlookers. Locals reported that the bird has been seen around that area as early as Super Bowl Sunday (5 Feb)! The latest updates on this bird can be found using the eBird link above or on the Maine-birds listserv.
Gilsland Farm Bird Walk:
23 Feb 2017: Last Thursday morning was unseasonably warm which produced abundant fog over the snow covered fields at Gilsland Farm. The low visibility combined with poor trail conditions (uneven slushy snow) convinced us to go offsite for the walk. We carpooled down to the Portland waterfront to look for a few unusual birds that have been lingering in the area. The big highlights were the two continuing King Eiders (female and immature male), three ‘Kumlien’s’ Iceland Gull (including one adult), and one of the local nesting Peregrine Falcons. A complete list from 23 Feb’s walk is at: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34665718
2 March 2017: Back at Gilsland this week we saw a few of the early spring migrants despite the high winds (30+ mph). A pair of Peregrine Falcons flew right over the parking lot, upsetting our local Red-tailed Hawk, which started an aerial dogfight between the hawk and one of the falcons. The other major raptor highlight was a young Red-shouldered Hawk that flew over us in the North Meadow. There have been a few adult Red-shouldered Hawks wintering in Maine this year but it seems likely this was an early migrant returning. It was particularly exciting for me because it was my first time seeing this species at Gilsland Farm – #201 for my patch list! Here is a complete list from that walk: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34913980
Past Nature Notes:
Nature Notes 2017: 01 - Barred Owls struggling this winter
Nature Notes 2017: 02 - Deer, Owl lice, and the Fort Williams Seawatch
Nature Notes 2017: 03 - Doug’s Arizona vacation
Nature Notes 2017: 04 - Louse Fly and Cutworm in February