Habitat helps birders identify migrants

By Bob Duchesne, Special to the BDN
Posted June 04, 2013, at 11:24 a.m.

There is no better time to go birding than June. The migrants are back, they’re on their breeding territories, and they spend every morning telling you where they are. They sing with the sunrise and continue the tunes through much of the day. Songbirds are easy to find this time of year once you know what you’re hearing. They’re even easier if you know what you’re seeing. This is a good month to become familiar with the habitats that each bird likes. For a quick lesson, let’s start in the parking lot of Bangor’s Roland F. Perry City Forest near the Orono Bog Boardwalk. It’s located at the end of Tripp Drive, off Stillwater Avenue, about a mile and a half north of the Bangor Mall.

 

The City Forest is a perfect example of how to recognize the habitats that birds prefer. I know that the moment I get out of the car, I will encounter a blue-headed vireo foraging behind the parking lot. A redeyed vireo will be audible just down the path. Both species are common and widespread in Maine, and it’s not unusual to find them close to each other. But the red-eyed vireo prefers taller deciduous trees such as those beyond the picnic table, while the blue-headed vireo has a slight penchant for shorter stands of mixed conifer and hardwood like those found around the parking lot.

 

Blackburnian warblers are fond of tall trees, preferably pine or hemlock. That matches the description of trees at the northeast edge of the parking lot, so that’s where you’ll hear one singing in June. Even though the parking lot is small, I’ve never seen the Blackburnian warbler on any other corner but his favorite.  The northern parula is another bird that likes to forage high in the canopy.  He seeks a forest mixed with soft and hardwoods. But within that mixed forest he prefers to feed among the deciduous leaves, so he’ll be singing from where those trees are, about 50 yards closer to the boardwalk.

 

As you walk toward the boardwalk, the northern parula will likely be in the taller trees on the left. A magnolia warbler will be in the trees on the right. Those trees are younger and shorter — just the kind of place a magnolia warbler calls home. Common yellowthroats forage in low bushes near the ground, so you may spy one along this section of path. That’s where the bushes are. Just beyond, there is a wet spot in the woods on the right. It’s not visible from the trail, but it doesn’t have to be. You know it’s there because you can often hear a northern waterthrush singing from that spot. They like it wet.

 

Adjacent to the boardwalk entrance, I take note of the brown creeper and yellow-bellied sapsucker that lurk amid the tall pines and hemlocks. As I turn onto the boardwalk, I anticipate that the Canada warbler will be singing from his usual spot near the first interpretive sign. In fact, the sign alerts passers-by that the bird is present. He always is. They prefer to skulk in wet tangles such as this spot. Not long after I pass the Canada warbler, I expect a black-&-white warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler to turn up. The trees in this section are of medium height and sparsely clustered, just as these warblers prefer.

 

Once I’m out onto the open bog, I will listen for the resident Lincoln’s sparrows. I will probably hear the first palm warbler there, too. Both breed in bogs. The palm warblers become more plentiful on the far side of the loop where the stunted trees provide better perches for singing. The Nashville warbler will also be heard singing here, just as he sings every year from this exact spot. Nashville warblers have a strong preference for spruce and fir of medium height with plenty of sunlight exposure. That description perfectly describes the flora near the completion of the boardwalk loop.

 

By now, you see the pattern, right? Birds are choosy. They like what they like. For predictability, try walking the dirt road into Leonard’s Mills on Route 178 in Bradley. Government Road traverses a portion of the Penobscot Experimental Forest. The forest habitat changes every few hundred yards. You will pass through the following habitats: secondary regrowth, taller regrowth, a coniferous stand, the maintenance buildings on the left surrounded by deciduous trees and good understory, a more mature stand of forest, a thick clump of birch and beech, some open harvested areas, a forest edge, marsh beneath the power lines, a return to mixed forest, and then a very mature forest of oaks, maples, pines

and hemlocks. Test me. Walk this road and tell me which warblers you encounter. I will tell you exactly where you saw them.

 

Bob Duchesne serves as a Maine Audubon trustee and vice president of its Penobscot Valley Chapter. Bob developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. Bob can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/04/outdoors/habitat-helps-birders-identify-migrants/ printed on July 28, 2014