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Snowy Owl

Winter Birding

Winter Birding
Eagles on ice
Pine Grosbeak
Great Gray Owl
Reid State Park
Harlequin Duck
Buffleheads
Winter Birding
The boundary between Maine and Canada is one of the longest undefended borders in the world. Every year, avian species take advantage of it by invading the state from the north. These intruders plunder our rich ocean waters. They strip our winter trees of lingering fruit and they devour the sunflower seeds from our feeders. And we love it.

There are three styles of birding in winter.

Feeder-watching:
Blue Jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are constant visitors to any array of feeders. In southern or urban Maine, a Northern Cardinal or Tufted Titmouse is a regular treat. These are joined by native nomads, such as Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins, and by sub arctic breeders like Tree Sparrows and Common Redpolls. In recent years, Hoary Redpolls have been popping up amidst the Commons. Even our closest friends wander widely in search of food. The Black-capped Chickadee at the feeder in January may not be the same one that nested behind the house in July. All this feeding and moving around attracts the attention of predators. A few Cooperís and Sharp-shinned Hawks have learned how to survive Maine winters by taking advantage of feeder birds. Northern Shrikes will also send the flock scrambling once in a while.

Irruptions:
Maine is subject to visits by northern species, though every winter is different. Frugivores (fruit-eaters) are often abundant in these invasions. In recent years, flocks of Bohemian (and Cedar) Waxwings have numbered over a thousand. Much of the time, a large flock seen in the distance consists of either waxwings or starlings. Food scarcity in Canada can also drive flocks of Pine Grosbeaks into Maine. Both waxwings and grosbeaks enjoy orchards, particularly crab apples. Both are regularly found in ornamental gardens. The University of Maine in Orono is a prominent example. Waxwings are also drawn to the orange berries of mountain ash trees and the ornamental plantings found in cities and around highway interchanges.

Seed-eaters
also irrupt. A few Red and White-winged Crossbills are present in all winters, but every 3-4 years they are driven southward by cone crop scarcity in Canada. Although they are adapted primarily to spruce cones, these birds can forage quite far south in the state, subsisting on pinecones and sometimes even coming to feeders. Boreal areas are prone to crossbills in winter. Coastal regions from Acadia National Park north to the border can be good places to look, but their foraging range stretches into southern Maine. They can be common just north of Bangor, around Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and out the Stud Mill Road north of the refuge in Milford. Any of the mountainous regions around Bethel, Rangeley, Kingfield, Greenville, and Millinocket are promising in irruption years.

Hawks and owls
irrupt, especially when the population of lemmings crashes in the north. Snowy, Great Gray, and Northern Hawk-owls that stray south will settle into a feeding territory that suits them. They can be quite reliable in these locations, once birders discover them and spread the word. However, they are never numerous and thus they excite even the most blasť Maine expert. Rough-legged hawks also wander south and can be found hovering over open fields and estuaries in winter. Even Red-tailed Hawks attract attention in winter, due to their preference for perching beside highways. The open median strip makes an attractive site for perch-and-pounce hunters.

Ocean birding:
Maine enjoys abundant seabirds in winter. Throw in some Purple Sandpipers on the rocks and Sanderlings on the beach, and the day is pregnant with possibilities. Although the entire coastline is full of birds, there are two topological features that define some of the best places to visit: rocky capes and half-moon bays. Rocky capes extend into the ocean. These are the places where Harlequin Ducks, Common (and rare King) Eiders, and wandering alcids are more likely to be encountered. They are good vantage points for passing Northern Gannets and Great Cormorants. Pacific Loons stray to such points on rare occasions. The list of good sites from south to north includes: Fort Foster in Kittery, Nubble Light at Sohier Park in York, The Cliff House in Wells, Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Biddeford Pool, and Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth. Major land extensions into the sea in the Mid-coast area are noteworthy at Ocean Point in Boothbay and Pemaquid Point. Half-moon bays and sheltered harbors are more apt to contain any of the scoter species. Grebes and Long-tailed Ducks appreciate the respite from surf. Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes particularly favor the calmer waters that escape the prevailing breeze. Wells Beach in Wells, Fortunes Rocks Beach next to Biddeford Pool, Old Orchard and Scarborough Beaches, Crescent Beach and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Eastern Promenade in Portland, and Sandy Point Beach in Yarmouth are good spots to check in winter. Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg and Reid State Park in Georgetown are two of the best sites in Maine year round. Maquoit Bay in Brunswick, Belfast Harbor, and the coves on both sides of Sears Island in Searsport are productive.

Acadia National Park
on Mount Desert Island is full of capes, bays, and sheltered harbors. Although Schoodic Point, across Frenchmanís Bay, is a major cape, the coves on each side of the point are particularly promising for scoters, goldeneyes, and loons. The capes and coves of downeast Washington County are mostly off the beaten track. Little Machias Bay in Cutler fills with sea ducks in November and the area around Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec is outstanding.

Gulls
are everywhere. Check all flocks in winter for Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are rare but annual visitors. Black-headed Gulls are possible in a few spots, especially Rockland Harbor. Lastly, stay vigilant for Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and American Pipits, especially early in winter. Their preference for open areas means they show up around beaches and dunes in the off season, and also blueberry barrens and hay fields.
Evening Grosbeak
Thick-billed Murre
Barred Owl
Barrow's Goldeneyes
Pine Grosbeak
Winter Group
Glaucous Gull