Migrating birds are arriving early

Posted March 12, 2010, at 7:51 p.m.

Although this year seems to be proving the exception to the rule, the arrival of spring in Maine is often not marked by warm weather but by the arrival of migrant birds.

Many people I’ve talked to have a favorite bird that for them signifies the true heralding of the season. For some it’s the robin; for others, bluebirds. Or it may be the arrival of the beautiful, melodic wood warblers that truly convinces people that yes, spring is here.

One friend of mine marks the true birth of the season by the arrival of the osprey. As there are five observable nests in the South Portland area (that I know of), it is easy to tell when they are back. There is one nest in particular that offers National Geographic-quality views. We visited the site often all last spring and summer, and we watched the raptors raise a pair of young. It was easy to grow attached to the birds, and we were both sad when, last fall, the nest finally stood empty after the last fledgling had departed.

Due to my friend’s enthusiasm over the osprey, and the closely linked long, warm days of spring and summer, I also have been looking forward to their arrival. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been having a series of weird dreams in which I suddenly see ospreys everywhere. The dreams always end with me jumping up and down excitedly, yelling, “The ospreys! The ospreys are back!”

So it was with a feeling of unreality when I saw, on the Maine-Birding e-mail list, reports of osprey sightings in Turner and in Cape Elizabeth near the beginning of this month.

According to the MaineBirding.net’s Maine Bird Alert, this is unusually early for ospreys to be seen in Maine. April is the more likely time for their return (in fact, years ago when I lived in Blue Hill, a birder once said the only good thing about April 15th — Tax Day — was the return of the osprey. She said they showed up on that exact date almost every year).

The compilers of the Alert speculated this early sighting could be a result of the recent big storm. Such weather events often blow birds far off course or beyond their ranges more typical for certain times of the year.

Usual arrivals for this time period in southern Maine have recently included red-winged blackbirds, common grackles (saw my first small flock in my neighborhood the other day), and turkey vultures (nicknamed “TVs” by birders), which have made it as far north as Hampden as of the March 5 Bird Alert.

I saw my first “TVs” of the season earlier this week as I was taking a lunchtime walk at work. These majestic (in flight, anyway) birds were soaring over an electrical pole clearing. The first thing I noticed — other than size — was the telltale airborne see-sawing that is characteristic of this bird, as it has a pronounced dihedral (the upward angle of the outstretched wings). At this, I was delighted to realize the birds I was seeing were something other than crows.

Sighting these FOY (birder shorthand for “first of year”) birds brings a special thrill. Not because they are rare or unusual, but because they are the harbingers of a new beginning. Early or right on time, they are always welcome.

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