This is a test. Let’s see if you’ve been paying attention. Spring birds have been sneaking into Maine for more than a month. Have you noticed?
It started with turkey vultures. In early spring, they began soaring across the New Hampshire border.
Over 200 were tallied at a hawk watch on Bradbury Mountain in Pownal through March. Another 264 crossed the summit on April 1, as winds turned favorable. Within two weeks, all of Maine’s vultures were back.
A series of late-winter nor’easters left fields snow-covered into April, but this did not deter the American woodcocks from returning in March. They undoubtedly struggled to find food in the frozen earth. Yet there they were, on the first still evening, calling for mates.
Despite the long, cold, winter Maine’s migrants have been remarkably punctual. Ospreys began taking up their stations in early April. Great blue herons started showing up. Common grackles and red-winged blackbirds flocked in. Eastern phoebes and tree swallows arrived two weeks ago, right on time.
Ducks are pairing up. Eagles are on nests. Woodpeckers are drumming relentlessly. Owls are hootin’ and hollerin’. In fact, the barred owls at my house won’t shut up. They’ve been going off morning, noon, and night. To be honest, it’s a little distracting.
Crows have gotten ornery. They’ve been passive all winter, but as nesting season approaches, they’re harassing every eagle, hawk, owl and raven they lay eyes on, trying to create a safe zone for their future nestlings.
After decades of observation, I have come to expect song sparrows and robins to show up in my yard on the first day of April. And there they were. Some early returnees don’t make much of a fuss when they first arrive. Hermit thrushes and winter wrens can spend several weeks in the woods before they start getting vocal. They’re back.
The flood gates open this weekend. Three warbler species typically arrive in eastern Maine around the third weekend of April. Palm, pine and yellow-rumped warblers are the first of their kind to arrive.
Ruby-crowned kinglets, blue-headed vireos, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers come with them. The remaining warblers will start arriving next weekend, with the full surge of migration happening in mid-May.
Many of the birds that return to Maine this time of year aren’t traveling very far. Typically, they winter in the southern United States. Broad-winged hawks are the exception. A veritable river of hawks is heading this way, and the vanguard is arriving now. These hawks winter in Central America and South America.
They left those climes a few weeks ago, and they’ve been streaming northward ever since.
Even the birds that spend the winter with us are signaling spring. Perhaps you’ve noticed the goldfinches turning color. They are still wandering in big flocks, and they won’t settle down to nest until mid-summer. But they’re getting ready now, changing from winter’s dull yellow to summer’s vibrant gold, molting the old feathers in splotchy patches.
They’re not alone. Horned and red-necked grebes winter along the Maine coast. Through the cold months, they are a dull gray color. In a few weeks, they’ll head for the subarctic latitudes of Canada to nest. But before they leave, they molt into their tawny brown mating plumages. They are dressed in their finest spring colors, all along the Maine coast.
Northern Canada is still frozen, and most of our wintering sea ducks will linger in Maine until it is safe to go north, usually in May. But they’re getting ready. Buffleheads spend the cold months in Maine’s saltwater bays, but they breed on fresh water in the subarctic. As our ponds and streams melt, I’ve been seeing some buffleheads move inland to take up temporary residence.
Maine Audubon and its chapters have been busily prepping for spring. The Penobscot Valley and Downeast Chapters have scheduled a full slate of morning bird walks that are set to begin in May. See pvc.maineaudubon.org and downeastaudubon.org. The Downeast Chapter is also offering a woodcock walk next weekend. Then, on May 4, I’ll be presenting a chapter program on how to identify birds by ear.
And, if you really want to know the secrets of how to identify birds by ear, join me at one or all of Maine’s birding festivals. I’ll reprise the presentation at the Wings, Waves, Woods Festival in mid-May, followed by the Down East Spring Birding Festival over Memorial Day Weekend, and the Acadia Birding Festival during the first weekend of June. I’ll save you a seat.
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