December 14, 2017
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Fall bird migration causing a flap

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Judy Kellogg Markowsky

Fall migration is here!
Actually some of the songbirds and sandpipers had already started to migrate. I saw a pair of short-billed dowitchers (species of sandpiper) on a pebble beach on the coast back in July. Those birds likely had already begun their long trip to the coast of Brazil.

The short-billed dowitchers had long bills, and orange-buff necks with spots. They were finding little worms and small mollusks in the sand and mud on the beach. They look like little sewing machines as they walk along the beach — quickly pushing the bill deep in the mud and sand. They do it again and again, two times a second. It’s amazing that these birds can swallow small prey and walk at the same time. When they fly away they show an obvious white rump.

It does seem weird that the short-billed dowitchers have long bills. There is a reason — there is another species of dowitcher called the long-billed dowitcher with an even longer bill. I have not seen a long-billed dowitcher in Maine — only in Florida.

In August I saw a male scarlet tanager in his winter plumage. Not scarlet, but vivid yellow-green. That bird was likely flying south to Texas, Florida, Cuba or Central America on his long trip to South America.

Hawks migrate, too. Broadwing hawks come first. They wait until the sun warms the ground and a current of warm air rises. This upward movement of warm air is called a thermal. On thermals, the hawks soar higher and higher in circles or “kettles,” climbing in the sky without effort. From the height of the thermals, the hawks can then glide down as they migrate south.

Recently I saw an olive- sided flycatcher on the Sunkhaze Meadows Wildlife Refuge as it perched on a tall dead spruce tree. It would fly out and snap a large flying insect such as a dragonfly, bring it to the same perch, and pluck the wings off to eat its prey. It’s quite amazing to think that these birds and many more fly thousands of miles to South America.

Volunteers needed
Have you wanted to be a naturalist or park ranger? Here’s your chance. Volunteers are needed to lead small groups of schoolchildren through the forest, teaching about trees, animals, and ecology.
Training will be provided in September and schoolchildren come in October; for questions, contact the Fields Pond Audubon Center staff at
989-2591 or go to

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.