ArrayJanuary 16, 2020 at 1:22 pm
By Doug Hitchox
Earlier this week, I joined a group of birders with the goal of surveying some remote blocks for the Maine Bird Atlas, specifically ones that didnt have any winter observations yet. This sent us to a beautiful patch of wilderness in Piscataquis County, near the town of Shirley. Winter has fully set in there as access would not have been possibly without four-wheel drive and decent clearance. Despite the austere landscape, there were birds to be counted!
Well, not a ton of birds, but for the Winter Atlas, every bird counts. In two days of birding, we were able to survey four blocks by breaking up into groups, with each spending at least three hours in various habitats of the blocks. Remember, for a Winter Atlas block to be complete, there needs to be three hours of effort in the early winter period (Dec 14th Jan 31st) and the late winter period (Feb 1st Mar 15th).
Over those four blocks, we managed to find 14 species, highlighted by a Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees in most blocks, and Canada Jays curiously looking for handouts. It was nice to encounter Purple Finches, which have been absent from the southern parts of the state this winter, and interesting to see them primarily feeding on birch catkins. It is this abundance of food that allows these birds to survive in northern forests without needing to come further south every winter.
Breeding in winter!
One of the major highlights of atlasing in these spruce-dominated forests was the White-winged Crossbill activity. There is a bumper crop of spruce cones, and crossbills are known to nest almost anytime of the year when food is especially abundant. We observed manymales singingand doing aerial courtship flight displays, chasing females through the forest. It may be a little early yet to confirm any breeding, but these early interactions can be coded as C-Courtship, Display, or Copulation, a probable code (Note: A code this high supersedes the Apr 24th safe date).
Early Winter Challenge
For the Winter Atlas to be successful, we need your help! Weve decided to incentivize winter atlasing by offering up some free items from the Maine Bird Atlas shop. To qualify to win, you need to spend three hours in any block that doesnt have data (or isnt already complete in the first period) between now and the end of the first period (Jan 31st). Use the Maine Wintering Bird Atlas Dashboard to find blocks that have no data (no shading), are incomplete with some data (yellow), or only complete in period 2 (pink). These certainly dont need to be as remote as those mentioned in the article above! There are nearly 4,000 blocks around the state that still need effort. Submit your name, email, and the name(s) of the blocks you survey in the form below and we will randomly pick three winners in early February.