News & Notes: Conservation Issues


Nature Notes 2017: 06

Posted on: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

“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.

Observations:
In our last post I shared some photos from a few owl pellets we dissected, one of which held bones of a Southern Flying Squirrel. This was pretty exciting because we see so few flying squirrels, despite the fact that they are fairly abundant. Most Mainers (unfortunately) only get to encounter flying squirrels when they hear them scratching on their walls or ceilings in the middle of the winter, or (fortunately) visiting your ‘bird’ feeders in the evening.

My only encounter with flying squirrels at Gilsland Farm, prior to measuring one’s mandible last week, was hearing one in the fall a few years ago (5 Nov 2014). That individual was calling one evening from the edge of our parking lot, giving a high pitched, down slurred screech. You can hear what this sounds like here: ML 105139: Southern Flying Squirrel

Hearing a flying squirrel and pulling a flying squirrel jaw from an owl pellet is fun and all, but I was more than ready to actually see one. Most of our Thursday bird walk participants have seen me tap on dead trees, hoping to get a flying squirrel to emerge from a cavity, with no success. Well, my three-year flying squirrel dry spell finally ended on our bird walk this week! The story can go back to last year when we got to watch a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers excavate and nest in a cavity (see photo below). That particular cavity has been vacant all winter but over the last week or so I’ve noticed the cavity entrance getting larger. So on Thursday we investigated. A soft tap on the trunk and two big eyes were staring down at us! See the video below for a glimpse at this elusive flying squirrel.

Hairy Woodpecker nest from 2016

Southern Flying Squirrel from Doug Hitchcox on Vimeo.

Mamota monax Madness has a winner!
Despite all these warm days we’ve had, the first Groundhog of the year was seen on 6 March, following an extremely cold weekend. Many thanks to everyone that participated in our inaugural “Marmota monax Madness“! We’ll be in touch with the winners shortly. If you find yourself in our Nature Store at Gilsland Farm, you can congratulate Carroll as our in-house winner.

Burrows are easier to photograph than Groundhogs that you accidentally scare into their burrow.

Recent birds sightings:

“Got married in March because March is the worst month for birding. So it was the least likely month in which I would have to postpone the wedding because I was needing to rush off for a bird.”
- Brett Richards, from BBC’s Twitchers: A Very British Obsession

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 in real time, 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

Lets Go Birding Field Trip:
11 Mar 2017: I think this was officially the coldest field trip I have ever led. Wind chill values were reportedly -10ºF but I suspect our extremely windy vantage points around the Scarborough Marsh would have returned lower values could we get accurate measures. We spent more time in the van than I’d like but managed an impressive list of species, including a few spring arrivals. A lone Killdeer at Dunstan Landing looked out of place in the icy marsh while a Carolina Wren sang from a near-by yard — I would classify these as the “most optimistic” birds we saw. Waterfowl diversity was high, though we couldn’t find the Snow Goose that had been reported around the marsh the previous week. Our highlight was a Barred Owl roosting at the end of a road on the eastern side of the marsh (photo below).

Barred Owl – Scarborough, ME – 11 Mar 2017

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
Nature Notes 2017: 05 – Owl Pellets and Signs of Spring

-Doug

Peter Vickery, 1949-2017

Posted on: Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

A dedicated birder – Peter Vickery during the 2013 Monhegan CBC

Last week Maine’s birding and conservation community lost one of its biggest advocates and proponents. Peter Vickery passed away on February 28th following an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer.

Peter had a long and storied history with Maine Audubon that spanned decades. From leading teams during our annual Bird-a-thon, to guiding field trips like the popular Matinicus Rock and Fall Pelagic boat trips, he was always happy to volunteer his expertise and offer assistance. Jan Pierson, who co-led many of these trips with Peter, shared a bit of their history in this tribute on the Maine-birds listserv: groups.google.com/d/msg/maine-birds/PqpGHqemkyk/2mBH9c2dCgAJ

I first met Peter nearly a decade ago aboard the Hardy III en route to Matinicus Rock. I was just out of high school, fairly new to birding, and didn’t know anyone onboard. I had a copy of “A Birder’s Guide to Maine” in my backpack that I hoped to get signed. I spent most of the trip on the top deck but staying near the rear, keeping within earshot to catch all the birds Peter was calling out. There were so many new species for me. Peter could describe them, their behavior, and their precise location so eloquently that it was easy to spot these small, indistinct birds over the vast ocean.

I’ll always remember during the long motor back to harbor when Peter came around the boat and took time to talk to me about birding (I was apparently too awestruck to remember to ask him to sign my book). We talked about identifying young Lesser Black-backed Gulls — specifically, distinguishing them from young Herring Gulls. He went into great detail, using nearby birds to point out key field marks. I must have looked overwhelmed because I remember his tone becoming lighter as he pointed out a Herring Gull flying away from us, shrinking into the distance. “See that one?” he said. “If you wait until…now, then no one can tell those apart.” I’ll always admire Peter’s ability to be as knowledgeable as an encyclopedia, but as entertaining as a comic strip.

Peter’s expert skill level, his willingness to contribute to studies, and his eagerness to help novices was a rare combination. It made him likeable and admired. He always had a big role in Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) in Maine. For example, he took the daunting task of doing the ‘seawatch’ from East Point Sanctuary during the Kennebunk/Biddeford CBC. In the last decade that I’ve been doing the count, one highlight was during the compilation when he would call in and read his numbers from the seawatch over a speakerphone. Peter’s dedication would turn up species like Thick-billed Murre and Black-legged Kittiwake, often the only to be reported on those counts, and the cheers and thanks from the room was a testament to his effort.

The 2013 Monhegan CBC Team – L to R: Doug Hitchcox, Charlie Duncan, William Nichols, Paul Miliotis, and Peter Vickery

More recently, I took over as compiler of the Monhegan CBC from Peter, a count that he started in 1978. The list he and others have amassed during that count is impressive, with vagrants including: Ivory Gull, Black-backed Woodpecker, Sedge Wren, Western Tanager, and Blue Grosbeak. Peter’s last Monhegan count was in 2013 when he and I, with three others, took the long cold cruise out to the remote island. I put in my notes that it was 12ºF but I don’t recall wind-chill values ever above 0. The cold couldn’t stop Peter from trekking out to east-facing Black Head at sunrise, where he spotted a Pomarine Jaeger approaching the island, a rare find in Maine’s winter and the first record for the count. Thirty-five years since his first CBC out there, and Peter still had ‘it’.

My last correspondence with Peter was a week before his passing. I was checking in to see if he and Jan would be willing to lead our Matinicus Rock trip again this spring. Of course Peter was quick to respond: “I’d be thrilled to be on the boat.” He also included a note that I can’t stop reflecting on: “It would be prudent to invite a pair of younger eyes.”

I look forward to another great trip season, dedicated to our lost friend, and working to get more young eyes onboard. We’ll miss you, Peter.

Many of you may be aware of Peter’s immense effort to write an update to Ralph Palmer’s 1949 “Maine Birds,” documenting the changes in Maine’s bird life over the past 60 years. Memorial donations to assist with book design and artwork costs can be made to: Birds of Maine Book Fund, Camden National Bank, 111 Main St., Richmond, ME 04357

Peter’s full obituary can be read here.

-Doug

Nature Notes 2017: 05

Posted on: Friday, March 3rd, 2017

“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.

Observations:
The Barred Owl fun continues this week with pellets! As if we didn’t have enough fun with owl lice and louse flies, now we got to play with things that were inside Barred Owls.

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!)

“Wells” – Biddeford, ME – 2 Feb 2017

“Wells” moving north

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.

Great Gray Owl – Searsmont, ME – 23 Feb 2017

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

immature King Eider – Portland, ME – 23 Feb 2017

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

-Doug

Thoughtful, measured, and science-based

Posted on: Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Happy March, Friends.

As I write, the heavy February snows are melting around Gilsland Farm. Hard to know if this is the end of winter (hopefully not!), but if it is, at least we know we made the most of it.

SONY DSCFebruary saw our best-attended Winter Carnival ever, with hundreds of families tromping around the Farm, playing nature games, and building epic snow villages. Our vacation camp was another highlight, capped off on February 24 with a live wildlife show. If you have school-age kids and haven’t already signed up for our April camp, be sure to do so before it fills up.

The month in politics was notably more troubling. On February 17, Scott Pruitt — someone who has repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for protecting our air, water, and wetlands – was narrowly confirmed as the next Administrator of the EPA . As you know, Maine Audubon actively opposed his confirmation. Along with Maine’s other science-based and conservation-minded organizations, we encouraged our members to contact Maine’s senators and urge them to oppose Mr. Pruitt.

Thanks in large part to those efforts — including calls from many of you — Sen. King and Sen. Collins ultimately voted against Mr. Pruitt. They recognized that he is a dangerous choice who would be bad for our state’s wildlife, natural resources, and economy, which in Maine are inextricably linked. Sen. King and Sen. Collins deserve our sincere gratitude for this. Unfortunately, in the end it wasn’t enough to prevent his confirmation.

Looking ahead, we are facing a challenging political atmosphere filled with many unknowns. If your relationship with Maine Audubon stretches back a ways, as mine does, you know our organization as a source of thoughtful, measured, science-based views about what is best for Maine’s wildlife and habitat, and what you can do to support it. In a moment like this, that role has never been more important.

I want you to know that, amidst all the uncertainty, our commitment to our mission is unwavering. In fact, our team is more motivated than ever to carry out this critical work. As we learn more about potential threats to our clean air, clean water, endangered species, public lands, and efforts to mitigate the effects of a changing climate, Maine Audubon will be here with the facts you need to be an informed and effective steward of Maine’s wildlife and habitat.

They say that hope springs eternal. As I look around at all the buzzing activity in our sanctuaries — kids exploring, groundhogs emerging, birdseed and feeders flying off our Nature Store shelves, engaging speakers and events around the state — that has never been more true for me. Swing by our sanctuaries this spring and see for yourself.

Sincerely,

Andy Beahm

 

Thank you People’s United Community Foundation!

Posted on: Monday, February 27th, 2017
Big Check People's United

From left to right: Linda Woodard, Scarborough Marsh Director & Educator; Eric Topper, Director of Education; Andrew Beahm, Executive Director; Dan Thornton, People’s United Bank Maine President; Bryce Hach, Director of Development; Katie Shorey, People’s United Bank Business and Community Development

This morning, People’s United Community Foundation delivered a grant check of $2,500 to support Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” Portland Youth Stewardship Initiative. This money will allow us to engage urban youth in the restoration of native plants and wildlife habitat in city parks and schoolyards through afterschool and summer work projects, conducted in collaboration with Portland Recreation.

Maine Audubon educators will work alongside teachers and city staff to get students propagating native plants, monitoring plants and wildlife in their communities, managing invasive species, and educating their neighbors and community leaders. Not only will the “Bringing Nature Home” Youth Stewardship Initiative provide meaningful, hands-on education for the city’s children, but new plantings in public spaces will improve the ecological function there and provide visible models as examples for people to replicate at home.

Big Check People's United

Representatives from Maine Audubon and People’s United Bank with third graders from East End Community School, a long-time partner school for Maine Audubon and the site of some significant planting and stewardship work this spring and beyond.

We are grateful for this grant and for the longtime support of People’s United Bank, who have been Maine Audubon Corporate Partners since 2007. Thank you for supporting this project that will bolster children’s nature appreciation, sense of place, and pride of purpose, and also result in actual cityscape improvements via the planting of perennial native vegetation!

Maine Audubon Corporate Partners is a group of 130+ businesses that give back to our beloved state by supporting Maine Audubon’s mission to conserve wildlife and habitat for current and future generations. For more information on the benefits of becoming a Corporate Partner and to see a list of our current partners, please visit http://www.maineaudubon.org/corporatepartners

Marmota monax Madness!

Posted on: Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Groundhog (Marmota monax)

Despite all the snow on the ground, the first groundhogs (aka woodchucks, whistle pigs, Marmota monax) will be emerging from their burrows soon. Groundhogs are one of the few “true” hibernating species that we have in Maine. They slow their metabolic rate and drop their body temperatures to wait out winter in the safety and warmth of their underground burrows. There are several families of groundhogs that call Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm home that are the subject of ongoing research by Dr. Chris Maher at the University of Southern Maine.

In the spirit of friendly competition, the staff at Maine Audubon is having a contest to guess the date of the first signs of emergence — the naturalist equivalent of the guess-the-birthday ‘Baby Pools’. We invite you, our readers, to join in the fun. Below is the calendar/grid we are using. To participate, all you need to do is email your guess (only pick one day) to [email protected]. We’ll have prizes for all the winners!

Pick your date from the calendar below:

marmota

And for your viewing pleasure, here is a photo of the first emergence observed in the spring of 2014 (exact date is being kept a secret) and a photo taken last summer of a baby groundhog about to be tagged for Dr. Maher’s research:

Signs of groundhog emergence from 2014

Baby groundhog – 26 May 2016

-Doug

App Review: Song Sleuth

Posted on: Friday, February 17th, 2017

Song Sleuth for iOS

Since the first time birders used Shazam to learn what song was playing on the radio, they’ve been waiting for an app that can identify what birds they are hearing.

There have been attempts at the technology and we’ve been teased with releases. Princeton, for example, has been dangling the “BirdGenie” app in front of birders for years but has pushed the release date back repeatedly. (It’s currently slated for “Summer 2017.”) But FINALLY we have an app that appears to be up to the test: Song Sleuth.

This app was created by Wildlife Acoustics, the same company that makes the Echo Meter Touch Handheld Bat Detector that Maine Audubon used in its initial monitoring efforts for a pilot project to survey bats in Maine. They teamed with David Allen Sibley (ever heard of him?) to combine great audio analysis with stunning artwork and detailed species accounts. Honestly, just seeing new Sibley artwork — including non-avian species — with new maps and descriptions makes me feel like this app is worth the modest $9.99. Here are my initial thoughts on this new tool:

First impressions…
I’ve only been using the app for about 36 hours and I can safely say I am pretty impressed. I’ve tried testing the app while walking around Portland (lots of ambient noise) and while birding at Gilsland Farm (fairly quiet background noise) and in a controlled situation (my office). The control case, in which I played an American Crow call from a coworker’s phone, worked perfectly. Read below for how the “real world” tests went:

Field Test: Tufted Titmouse at Gilsland Farm
At Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, Maine, I found a situation perfectly suited to demonstrate how I imagine the app should work. I stepped outside and could hear a distant Tufted Titmouse singing. The bird was probably 100 yards out, across the orchard. There was very little background noise. Despite the distance, the app was able to detect the song and correctly identify it as a Tufted Titmouse. PERFECT!

Tufted Titmouse singing from a distance – Falmouth, ME – 16 Feb 2016

Field Test: House Sparrow in the city
In the first recording below you’ll hear an excessive amount of background noise — the many sounds of snow removal in Portland — but the House Sparrow’s call is still distinct. This is what I would consider the worst-case-scenario for recording a bird and the results bear that out. The recommended ID was Red Squirrel, with Rock Pigeon and Blue Jay as other options.

House Sparrow with lots of ambient city noise

As a follow up to this test, I walked further down the road and closer to the calling House Sparrow. You can see that the recording is much clearer (visible calls in the spectrogram on the left) and this time at least House Sparrow was in the “likely matches” after Human.

Recording after approaching House Sparrow

I’m sure that the app developers would be quick to point out an error with my first recording: the recording is too long for the app to select the bird’s call. So, I used the trim feature to narrow down to just the bird’s call and the app did much better — at least House Sparrow showed up in the top three options.

Trimmed recording of House Sparrow call with lots of ambient noise – Portland, ME – 16 Feb 2017

 

Non-avian recordings
Honestly, one of my favorite things about this app is the inclusion of a few non-avian species, including frogs and toads, squirrels, and — to represent the “Great Apes” — Homo sapiens. These categories have limited breadth, with only three amphibians (American Toad, Gray Tree Frog, and Spring Peeper) and three squirrels (Gray Squirrel, Eastern Chipmunk, and Red Squirrel). However, these are the most likely, or most vocal, species that you would expect to encounter.

Shortcomings
The first issue, which I almost hesitate to point out, is the small number of species covered by the app. Two hundred species sounds like a lot until you spread those across the country and narrow them to certain times of the year. But you have to start someplace. Merlin, the great visual identification app, started around 400 species and recently updated to 650+ North American birds.

I also hope to see the app becoming more intuitive in future updates. I definitely recommend watching the (unfortunately fairly long) demonstration video when you first launch the app so that you can learn to navigate your recordings. More “Help” buttons along the way would be nice. Plus the “Species List” is grouped by families but displayed in alphabetic order. There is nothing intuitive about sparrows being at the top of the list under “Buntings and New World Sparrows” especially when none of the Embrizine Buntings are included.

Summary
I highly recommend this app for beginning birders looking to put a name to some of the common songs they hear around their yard. Birders who are already “birding by ear” probably don’t have much to gain from this app, yet. Even if you are a ‘pro’ I recommend downloading this to either: a) prove how much more you know than a dumb computer, b) be able to show and teach it to a budding birder, or c) to support Wildlife Acoustics, Sibley, and birding in general by showing that you ‘want’ more apps like this.

Reminder
Our “Birding with Your Smartphone” evening lecture was rescheduled to the evening of February 21st. In that talk we will cover various field guide apps, do an introduction to “digiscoping,” and now we will certainly be showing off Song Sleuth! More information on that event is at: maineaudubon.org/events/birding-with-your-smartphone/

Nature Notes 2017: 04

Posted on: Friday, February 10th, 2017

“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.

Observations:
Further evidence that this winter has been especially difficult for Barred Owls is mounting. Avian Haven recently shared on their Facebook page that they received 32 Barred Owls into their care in January, bringing their winter total to over 100 individuals since October 1, 2016. Center for Wildlife shared with us that they’ve taken in 10 Barred Owls since December 21, 2016, all of which were noted as “found in road” or “hit by car.” At Maine Audubon we’ve had six deceased Barred Owls brought in — we are NOT wildlife rehabilitators and cannot accept any live wildlife but we do have permits to possess specimens for educational purposes.

While one of those owls was “on the table” we noticed the feathers beginning to move. Suddenly an insect emerged and made repeated flights towards the lady who had brought in the owl. The insect attempted to (and unfortunately succeeded in) going up her shirt. She stayed remarkably calm and we eventually got the fly into a jar. We identified it as one of the Hippoboscids, or Louse Flies. These parasitic flies are flat bodied, making it easy for them to slide in between mammal fur or bird feathers where they use their needle-like mouth part to draw blood. The day this owl was brought in, temperatures were in the low twenties, and while parasites are inherently off-putting, it is hard not to be amazed that a fly is able to survive Maine’s harsh winter by clinging to the feathers (and feeding from) a Barred Owl.

Louse Fly – Falmouth, ME

Large Yellow Underwing larva (Noctua pronuba) – Falmouth, ME – 9 Feb 2017

Speaking of insects in the winter, the weather this past week (a sunny 50º F day stuck between two snow storms) definitely threw off some wintering species. A warm spike like that can fool some overwintering species and encourage them to emerge prematurely, an often fatal error. We saw one example of this on our Thursday morning bird walk in the form of a caterpillar found in the middle of a snowy trail. Many thanks to my young naturalist buddy Fyn Kynd for identifying this as Noctua pronuba, commonly known as the Large Yellow Underwing. These ‘cutworms’ are not native to the new world and were first found in Nova Scotia in 1979 before spreading to Maine by 1985. Their mode of arrival is unknown. They are strong fliers but the possibility of a northern Atlantic crossing seems unlikely. These, like other pests, were likely accidental stowaways in shipments of horticultural plants coming across the pond. As Fyn explained to me, they are one of the few local moths to winter in their larval stage — the showier Ctenucha virginica being the other common species — while others are wintering as eggs or cocoons.

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

Gilsland Farm Bird Walk:
Our weekly bird walks continue at Gilsland Farm on Thursday mornings at 8:00AM. Six intrepid birders joined me for this week’s walk, getting out just before the big snow storm hit. The fresh snow was a little too ‘crusty’ for ideal tracking but we did encounter plenty of fox tracks. These looped all around both meadows, enough to make us wonder if more than one individual was involved. The other interesting tracks belonged to an American Crow that appeared to walk to the base of a few shrubs and dig around them, presumably looking for some food (photo below).

American Crow tracks and dig site.

Avian highlights included a lingering Northern Flicker, half a dozen Eastern Bluebirds, and a great look at in immature (probably two year old) Bald Eagle over the West Meadow. A complete list form the walk is available at: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34257965

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

-Doug

Nature Notes 2017: 03 (Arizona Edition)

Posted on: Monday, February 6th, 2017

“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.
In case you missed it, past Nature Notes can be found here: Nature Notes 2017: 01, Nature Notes 2017: 02

Arizona 2017 birding spots

stars indicate places birded

Arizona Birding Vacation:
While my goal of these “Nature Notes” is to keep them about Maine’s wildlife, I thought you all might be interested in the birding vacation I just took to Arizona. This post will be a summary to point out some of the highlights from the trip, avian and otherwise. The 10 days I was there was basically split with birding north and then south of Phoenix:

North - During the first half of the trip, my father and I birded from Phoenix north, skirting the southern border of Utah, to look for some of the expected resident species in that area. Some of these birds are closely related to those we see in Maine, occupying many of the same niches: Mountain Chickadee and Juniper Titmouse being the common ‘tits’, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Stellar’s Jay filling in for Blue Jays, even the White-breasted Nuthatches out there may be different than those we see in Maine (read about that possible split here). California Condor was our other BIG target for going north thanks to the ABA now ruling that this “Code 6″ (extinct from the wild) species is now considered “countable” under their new “reintroduced indigenous species” recording rule. To see the condor, we drove to Navajo Bridge at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area because several have been known to roost there and offer the closest views. Upon arrival we learned that technicians studying the condors had flushed the roosting birds from the bridge in an attempt to keep the birds from becoming habituated to human presence. We had a great chat with the tech and she let us to listen to the ‘ping’ of one of the radio-transmitter-wearing previously-flushed birds that was soaring “about 10 miles northeast” of the bridge. The wait continued, hopeful that the bird could come back to roost for the evening, but with an hour left before sunset (and no audible ‘ping’ from the transmitter) we changed our plan and took the 45 minute drive east, down some sketchy/muddy road to reach the end of Vermillion Cliffs. At this site, as the sun was dropping behind the mountains, we got to see 31 California Condors settle into their roost sites along the cliffs. This vantage point was much further away from the birds than Navajo Bridge would have been but perhaps that made us appreciate the huge wing spans (nearly 10 feet) of these vultures even more. And since “a picture is worth a thousand words” I’ll let these tell the rest of the story from ‘the north’:

Mountain Chickadee – Mount Elden, Flagstaff, AZ – 16 January 2017

Lewis’s Woodpecker – Flagstaff, AZ – 17 January 2017

Mallard x Northern Pintail (hybrid) – Corneille, AZ – 17 January 2017

Anna’s Hummingbird – Tonopah, AZ – 15 January 2017

Le Conte’s Thrasher (with nesting material) – Tonopah, AZ – 18 January 2017

South – For the second half of the trip I was joined by a couple birding friends to explore areas closer to Tucson and around southeast Arizona. This area of the country is well known for hosting rare Mexican birds in the winter so we had a sizable list of targets, which with a lot of luck and more determination we managed to connect with. If there was one story to tell it was our trip to California Gulch in search of Nutting’s Flycatcher. We knew it would be a long trip in and decided to camp as close as we could; another hour and a half drive from the flycatcher spot. Camping was fantastic – what is better than a few guys with a fire and a few grocery bags of meat and carbs? The next morning we didn’t make it far… by car. The road had been flooded / washed out so we decided to leave the car behind and hike the rest of the way. As simple as this sounds, we didn’t actually know how far the hike was (it was a little over 12 miles) and we didn’t have the foresight to bring enough water or any food with us. Long story short: we found the Nutting’s Flycatcher… eventually. Here are some photos from our rarity round-up:

Rose-throated Becard – Tubac, AZ – 20 January 2017

Black-capped Gnatcatcher (female) – Montosa Canyon, AZ – 20 January 2017

Streak-backed Oriole – Portal, AZ – 21 January 2017

Nutting’s Flycatcher – California Gulch, AZ – 23 January 2017

Mammals – While the trip was all about birds, it is hard not to appreciate new mammal species that we encountered. We saw a total of 12 species, most of which were new to me with the exception of a few: Coyotes and White-tailed Deer occur across the country, so while these were not new species for me, their subspecies were. The Coyotes in Arizona are known as “Mearns Coyote” (C. l. mearnsii) and are smaller bodied but have larger ears than our “Eastern Coyote” (C. l. var) – a great example of both Bergmann’s Rule and Allen’s Rule. Included below for photos are some of the more unique species, like the Pronghorn which is the only remaining species of family Antilocapridae.

Pronghorn – Las Cienegas NCA, AZ – 22 January 2017

Tassel-eared Squirrel – Flagstaff, AZ – 16 January 2017

Antelope Jackrabbit – Amado, AZ – 20 January 2017

Gilsland Farm Bird Walk:
Our weekly bird walks continue at Gilsland Farm on Thursday mornings at 8:00AM. Reports are often posted on the Maine-birds Listserv, like this one from the 26th:

Hey Maine-birds:

During yesterday’s bird walk at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth we managed to tally 32 species, helped in part by the high tide but trails remain a bit icy. Here are a few highlights from the walk:Waterfowl numbers were about average with a surprising lack of goldeneye. The last few years we’ve seen goldeneye disappear off Gilsland during late January and early February despite the river staying free of ice over that period. One drake Gadwall was mixed with the American Black Duck / Mallard flock off the West Meadow; likely one of the four that has been reported from the Mackworth Causeway earlier this month.One very vocal male Red-bellied Woodpecker was found visiting a potential/incomplete nest cavity near the pond. There is a great paper from the Auk on “Pair formation, mutual tapping and nest hole selection of Red-bellied Woodpeckers” by Lawrence Kilham that describes a synchronous mutual tapping behavior I hope we get a chance to see at this site. The paper is worth a skim if you have these birds near you: https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v075n03/p0318-p0329.pdfFrugivores remain in good numbers with 120+ American Robins, 13 Cedar Waxwings, and 4 Eastern Bluebirds around the property.
A complete list form the walk is available at: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33943620

Coming up…

Back to Maine! Look for the next Nature Notes to be coming out very soon (and back to being Maine-focused).

-Doug

February Vacation Camps 2017

Posted on: Monday, February 6th, 2017

Gilsland Farm Audubon Center (Falmouth)

Vacation Camp for Kids in Grades K-5 
February 21-24, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Members: $220/week
Non-members: $280/week

A new theme will be introduced each day through cooperative games, scientific examination, and creative arts exploration. We’ll investigate winter food chains, the sounds of winter, and more! Friday’s session includes a Live Wildlife Show!
Sign up now>>

Look What I Found! - Vacation Camp for Preschoolers
Februry 21-24, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Members: $125/week
Nonmembers: $175/week

Kids ages 3-5 will explore and enjoy nature through free play, stories, songs, movement, games, natural crafts, and hikes. Each day we’ll explore a different topic related to winter adaptations, including snow & ice, predators & prey, tracking, and birds in winter. Friday’s session includes a Live Wildlife Show!
Save your spot>>

For both camps, registration for single day(s) is possible as space permits. Please call Beth Pauls 207-781-2330 x273

Don’t miss our live wildlife show!
Friday, February 24, 10:30 – 11:30am

Our friends at Center for Wildlife will bring furry and feathered guests to Gilsland Farm so that we can get a closer look at some of the wildlife we work to protect.

This program usually sells out, so get your tickets now>> 

Fields Pond Audubon Center (Holden)

Vacation Camp for Kids in Grades K-5
Februry 21-23, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Members: $150.00
Non-members: $225.00

Through outdoor activities, stories, games, and hands-on explorations of the natural world, we’ll learn how humans and other living things survive our wonderful winter months. Each day will focus on a different theme.

Sign up for the whole three-day session or

Register for Tuesday 2/21: Snow Science 
Register for Wednesday 2/22: Travel and Survival in Nature
Register for Thursday 2/23: Winter Birds