It’s chiclet season. It’s that time of year when a walk in the woods yields the sounds of black-capped chickadees, golden-crowned kinglets, and not much else. On a recent Audubon outing, I heard someone use the term “chiclet” to describe the mixed flocks of chickadees and kinglets that forage together through the colder months and I immediately said to myself, “I am so stealing that for a future column.” Larceny is often the source of my inspiration.
November is always a season of anticipation for me. Summers in Maine are the same from year to year, but the birding in winter can differ greatly. Depending on weather and food supplies, we can see a lot of winter birds or very few. This is shaping up to be a particularly quiet season. If it weren’t for chiclets, plus a few nuthatches, blue jays, and woodpeckers, the woods would be depressingly silent. Finches are nowhere to be found. While most chiclets stick around, finches are wanderers, and apparently they’ve wandered somewhere else.
How different that is from a year ago. Canada invaded the United States early last autumn. By November, we were overrun with pine grosbeaks from the north. They swarmed the crab apples and berry bushes, devoured all the food, and skedaddled by Christmas. Then the common redpolls flocked in from the north and mobbed my feeders. If not for a second mortgage, I would have been unable to keep the feeders full.
But this fall has been finchless. Most of the goldfinches and all of the pine siskins have headed south. No redpolls have ventured here from the north. Grosbeaks are absent. Crossbills are missing. In fact, the crossbills have been missing for two years. This decade started with an abundance of red and white-winged crossbills in the Maine forest. Eventually they devoured most of the available food supply. The cone crop hasn’t fully recovered, so I’m not expecting a big year for crossbills.
On the other hand, it’s a great year for the berry crop. Bohemian waxwings should be wandering into Maine any minute and they will find a fruitful paradise in the mountain ash trees. I was in Lubec a couple of weeks ago and the tree branches are hanging low from so many berries. I won’t be surprised if a lot of American robins stay around the coast all winter.
A few snow buntings have been noted around the state, but most are still romping on greener pastures elsewhere. American tree sparrows have begun to arrive over the last week. They spend less time around feeders than white-throated sparrows, so they can be easy to overlook, but they’re out there and you may hear their tiny call notes from the underbrush. Still, on the whole, winter is starting quietly. If it weren’t for the chiclets, a walk in the woods would be featherless. It looks like we’re going to have to make our own fun for awhile. For me, that often involves beer.
I don’t need much of an excuse to visit the Sea Dog Brewing Co. on the waterfront in Bangor, but ever since the Penobscot Chapter of Maine Audubon started doing some occasional programs in the private events room, I find myself going more often. Next Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. should be particularly interesting. The program is titled Bats and Brews. As you may have heard, a mysterious illness is wiping out the bat population.
I never used to like bats very much, but I like mosquitoes even less, so I’ve become fond of the bats that live in the eaves of my cabin. I even put up a bat house. Sadly, I noticed very few bats buzzing around after dark this summer and I’m worried that the calamity has reached my neighborhood. Bats do more than just control insects. They also play a major ecological role in plant pollination and seed dispersal, particularly in the tropics.
Susan Gallo is a Maine Audubon biologist, and at next Friday night’s program she’ll detail how white-nose syndrome has killed off millions of bats in the US and Canada in less than a decade. Susan is also up to speed on current research and efforts to combat the deadly fungus. For those inclined, adult beverages will be available during the program at the Sea Dog. I’ve made it a personal practice to arrive early and have dinner in the restaurant before the program, and I’ve noticed many others doing the same thing. It’s hard to go wrong.
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 www.mainebirdingtrail.com. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.