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Browsing posts tagged with: ebird

Maine’s Struggling Bats – Part One

Thursday, October 1st, 2015
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With Halloween coming up in a few weeks, October is a great time to talk about bats. Our furry, flying friends are in trouble. Following is part one of a series on bats we are featuring this month. Please read and share – fostering an appreciation for bats will do wonders to help make their conservation and protection a priority.

- Doug

The following article appears in the fall issue of Habitat, Maine Audubon’s member newsletter. Interested in receiving Habitat in the mail? Join us today!

Maine’s Struggling Bats

A bat with White Nose Syndrome. The fungus has wiped out close to 6 million bats in the northeastern United States alone.

A bat with White Nose Syndrome. The fungus has wiped out close to 6 million bats in the northeastern United States alone.

It’s been a tough few years for bats. While bats have always had a public relations problem (they are not the rabies-infested vampires portrayed in popular culture) they have been struggling lately with much more serious issues. White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by a cold-tolerant fungus was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007 and has since decimated populations of cave bats in Maine and over 5.7 million bats across the Northeast.

There is also increasing evidence that wind turbines kill tree bats during the breeding season and migration. Bats are attracted to slow moving wind turbine blades, but no one is sure why. Three migratory species – the hoary bat, the Eastern red bat and the silver-haired bat – make up the majority of bat species killed each year at wind farms across the country.

Despite these challenges for bats, there is some encouraging news for Maine’s favorite (and only!) flying mammals. The Northern long-eared bat was listed this year as a federally threatened species. The listing triggers new efforts to protect its breeding habitat and roost trees by creating new guidelines for road work and logging, and funding much needed research efforts.

At the state level, the Northern long-eared bat and the little brown bat have been listed as endangered species and the Eastern small footed bat has been added to the threatened list. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is charged with protecting these rare species and is working on education and outreach efforts, as well as guidance for homeowners, contractors and forest professionals who encounter bats and bat habitat.

While adding wildlife to the endangered and threatened list is never good news for the species, it does mean that they (and their habitats) will get additional protection – and a healthy dose of education and outreach that is desperately needed to help increase the bat population.

What bats live in Maine? Find out in our next post! 

Doug Hitchcox Head Shot - please credit  M. Kathleen Kelly (1)Meet Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.

Submit your question for Doug:

 

World Shorebirds Day

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
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It seems like every day has been designated for something lately: National Blueberry Popsicle Day is September 2nd, the 4th is Newspaper Carrier Day and who could forget about National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day coming up on October 19th. But there is one big ‘day’ coming up that I want to encourage you to take part in — but I can’t wait until September 12th for the National Day of Encouragement. This Sunday, September 6th, is the second annual World Shorebirds Day.

WSD logo

As bird (and other nature) lovers, this is a day we should really celebrate. It was started in 2014 with the intention to raise awareness about shorebirds and the perils they face. This year, I want to help!

One of the main events of World Shorebird Day is the “Global Shorebird Counting” where observers submit information about how many of each species of shorebird they see during September 4 – 6. To help you get prepared, I’ll be hosting an evening workshop at Gilsland Farm to teach you how to tell this diverse family apart. More information on that event is here.

Plus, I’ll also be leading a field trip on Saturday morning. You can register for that here.

 

shorebird flock

Whether you can join us or not, I hope you go out and enjoy the marvel that is bird migration this weekend. The vast numbers can be awe inspiring and we certainly don’t want to see these diminish any further. And why not try counting the birds you see (estimates are better than nothing) then submit your numbers to eBird and share your list with the “Global Shorebird Counting” event? Instructions on how to do this can be found here.

-Doug

Doug Hitchcox Head Shot - please credit  M. Kathleen Kelly (1)Meet Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.

Submit your question for Doug:

 

How to see a Little Egret

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
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Birding has many interesting aspects. Birds offer plenty of exciting opportunities for discovery — from learning to the basics of identification to exploring the migratory timing or even just admiring them from your window. One of the most exciting aspects for me, is finding a rare bird. On June 8, I was lucky enough to find a Little Egret at Gilsland Farm and amazingly the bird is still being seen (over a month later). I’ve been compiling a few tips for anyone who may want to try to see it.

lieg 1

First, here is a little background if you’re wondering what a Little Egret even is.

We have a few regularly occurring species of egrets in Maine: the larger Great Egret (with a yellow bill and black feet) and the smaller Snowy Egret (with a black bill and yellow feet). The Little Egret is the Old World counterpart to our Snowy Egret. Superficially they look very similar, and despite being called “little”, the Little Egret is actually just slightly larger than our Snowy Egret.

Tip 1: Know what to look for.
Telling the Little Egret from a Snowy Egret is difficult if you don’t know what to look for. The most obvious difference will be in the head plumes of the two. Little Egrets (typically) show two long, thin, ribbon-like plumes, while the Snowy Egrets’ plumages tend to be shorter and bushier. David Allen Sibley has a great comparison of this on his blog.

There are other differences but they are more subtle: the lores (the skin between the eye and the bill) are gray on a Little Egret while they are yellow on a Snowy Egret — this is surprisingly easy to see at a distance so it is a good thing to look for if you have a less-than-desirable view. A Little Egret’s bill is also slightly longer and more dagger-like than a Snowy’s (more like a Tricolored Heron). The Little Egret has a slightly lankier appearance, mostly being a little longer necked. Also, the feet on this individual are a greenish-yellow color, unlike the bright golden-yellow we see on our Snowy Egrets.

lieg 2

Tip 2: Know where to go.
When the Little Egret was first found, it was often seen somewhere within a 3.5 mile stretch between Tidewater Farm in Falmouth and Back Cove in Portland. In the last couple weeks, almost all sightings have been in the marshes between the North Meadow at Gilsland Farm and Tidewater Farm in Falmouth. Here are more details on these locations:

Gilsland Farm (Audubon Sanctuary) — almost all sightings from here have been in the North Meadow, which is the first large meadow on your right as you drive into the sanctuary. There is a small lot on the edge of the meadow or plenty of parking space further down near the buildings. I recommend walking the loop around the meadow to reach the “blind” near the marsh. Do this by walking towards the barn and community garden then stay on the trail that wraps behind the solar panels. The blind is about ⅓ of a mile from the road.

Providence Ave. — This road dead ends at the edge of the marsh visible from the North Meadow at Gilsland Farm. It is easier to drive up to but this is private property. So far, I haven’t heard of any upset landowners but I would strongly recommend using the free and public Gilsland Farm rather than risk upsetting the locals.

Tidewater Farm — Just north of Gilsland Farm, this demonstration garden provides access to a section of the marshes not visible from Gilsland Farm. Charles Duncan recently gave a good description on Maine-birds of how to access this site: “from US1 in Falmouth, turn onto Clearwater Drive (near Walmart) and take the first right, onto Farm Gate Rd. There is a small sign that says Tidewater Farm. Continue through the expensive housing development until you see another such sign pointing left on a dirt road. Follow that dirt road a short distance to its end and park in the spaces on the left. Walk between the shed and an abandoned house along a mowed path with a Portland Trails sign. Go out to the end of the path to get the best view.”

Back Cove, Portland — Although there haven’t been any sightings of the Little Egret here recently, there is no reason to think that the bird couldn’t still be going here to feed. Accessibility can be difficult but it is fairly easy to drive Baxter Boulevard and look for egrets feeding in Back Cove. If you see any, park near Payson Park or there is a large parking lot near the south end of Back Cove, both of which are within walking distance.

Presumpscot Street Marsh — This small marsh occasionally has herons and egrets feeding in it and sure enough the Little Egret has been found here as well (although has not been seen here recently). It is a really bizarre location but may be worth checking: http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L3718383

lieg map

Tip 3: Know when to go.
I’ve had the most luck by looking for the Little Egret on the incoming tide. At low tide there are extensive mud flats for the bird to be feeding on and therefore a huge area to look. One of the last areas of mud to be covered on the incoming tide is located just off the North Meadow at Gilsland Farm, which is why so many sightings are from there. As the tide comes in, the bird spends most of its time further up in the marsh — beware it can be tough to see amongst the tall grasses. Below is a chart that plots the number of Little Egret sightings (as reported to eBird) from July vs. the stage of the tide at the time of the sighting. As you can see, the majority of sightings are during the low-to-rising tide.

 

lieg tide chart 2

In the chart below, each colored line represents a different sighting and the length of the line represents the duration of the sighting. Again you can see that the majority of sightings are during the low-to-rising tide

lieg tide chart (1)

Put it all together:
My ultimate recommendation for seeing the Little Egret would be to sit at the North Meadow blind shortly after low tide and wait. Be patient. While I’ve watched it, the egret never spends much time in a single location; it is very active and seems to go wherever the most fish are. Just because the egret isn’t off the blind right when you get there, doesn’t mean you should instantly go check all the other locations. Be patient. Let the bird come to you.

-Doug

Doug Hitchcox Head Shot - please credit  M. Kathleen Kelly (1)Meet Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.

Submit your question for Doug:

 

Fall is upon us…

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
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Although the summer solstice — the “first day of summer” — was on June 21st, to some birds that may have been the first day of Fall. All of the shorebirds we see in Maine are migratory. Some of them migrate to Maine for the winter (Purple Sandpipers) while some come here just to breed (Piping Plovers) and then there are dozens that just migrate through the state between their summer and winter destinations. Quite often there are days in late June that we see shorebirds and wonder if they are the last of the spring migrants or the first of the fall migrants.

Using eBird.org we can look at line graphs showing the frequency of reports fora few of these migratory shorebirds to see when ‘spring’ and ‘fall’ is for these birds. Below is a chart comparing Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers — all shorebirds that migrate through Maine.

eBird’s maps and charts can be a very valuable tool for learning about the occurrence of different species in Maine. Here are some easy step-by-step instructions on how to create one of these charts:

Go to eBird.org and click on the ‘Explore Data’ tab. That should get you here: http://ebird.org/ebird/eBirdReports?cmd=Start

  1. We will choose ‘Line Graphs’ for this exercise, which will get you to this page for selecting the species you want to compare: http://ebird.org/ebird/GuideMe?cmd=quickPick
  2. You can choose up to five species. For this lets use a breeding species (Piping Plover), migratory species (Greater Yellowlegs), and a wintering species (Purple Sandpiper). Just type those names into the ‘select species’ and you may have to choose the proper designation from a drop down list. When those three species are under the “Your selected species list”, click “Continue”.
  3. You should be looking at a beautiful line graph (and bar chart actually) for these three species BUT the default is for the region to be set to all of North America. You’ll want to click on the “Change Location” button under the bar charts and then choose “Maine” and “Entire region” before clicking “Continue” at the bottom of the page.
  4. You can refine the location as much as you’d like. It can be fun to compare counties or even hotspots around the state but not that will be looking at a smaller data set which may not be truly representative of that population.
  5. Compare your chart with the one below. You can also compare to this.
  6. Give yourself a pat on the back, grab your binoculars, and go find a shorebird on its ‘fall’ migration.

eBird compared shorebirds

-Doug

 

Doug Hitchcox Head Shot - please credit  M. Kathleen Kelly (1)Meet Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.

Submit your question for Doug: