FIELDS POND AUDUBON NOTEBOOK

Prairie warblers inhabit the marsh

Posted June 20, 2011, at 8:48 p.m.

Jane Rosinki, Gordon Russell and I went to a marsh in Orrington and found two prairie warblers. I was surprised to see them. In most books their range shows it in the eastern half of the United States and farther south than Maine. In the winter, these birds go to Florida and the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea.

Prairie warblers are beautiful with bright yellow on breast and belly and black stripes on the side. One of the birds was a male, and he had rufous streaks on his back. You don’t see the rufous streaks until you are up close. Another characteristic I like is the black semicircle under his eyes.

These birds eat mostly insects and spiders. Like a flycatcher, they chase their prey and catch flies on the wing. They also flit, and sometimes hover, around bushes looking for insects and spiders.

At Penjajawoc Marsh I found another prairie warbler and still another one was seen in Dixmont. Perhaps their range is changing, moving north, as cardinals, mockingbirds and tufted titmice have done.

In the Orrington marsh, we saw three great blue heron nests with young in the nests. One adult was standing, and we could see its long legs and neck.

Great blue herons eat mainly fish. They catch small fish crosswise and gulp them down, but spear larger fish. They also eat crabs, turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes, shrimp, crayfish and large aquatic insects.

Once I found a great blue heron trying to swallow a large snake. The snake wrapped itself around the heron’s neck, and the heron tried to push the snake away. It took a half an hour for the heron to swallow the snake!

Great blues are not always fishing in the water. They also go to wet meadows and fields where they eat large grasshoppers, shrews, mice and voles.

That day in Orrington we also saw a northern harrier soaring over the marsh. It was a male harrier, gray on the back and the top of the wings, white on the underside, and a white rump which is always obvious. Wings were in a dihedral position. Male harriers are gray, and female harriers are brown, but they both have a white rump.

Harriers have a face like an owl. I believe harriers find their prey by sound and sight like owls do.

Marshes are great places to find birds!

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