Maine Woods #2

Please consider all images to be copyrighted and ask permission to use them in any manner. Thank you. DEClapp

Maine is a treat and a retreat. Traffic into Maine on a summer weekend is steady and seemingly endless. The exiting traffic on a Sunday evening is either slow or very slow. It is the vastness of the state and the low resident population that keep these wooded lands relatively unpopulated. I am sure the coastal spots are more hustle and bustle but, aside from logging trucks, the remote areas are pretty quiet. Much of this post is from a logging road, visited after hours, in eastern central Maine.

By the way, the logging equipment is pretty amazing. The cutting machines clip the trees near the ground and remove the branches by dragging the main trunk through a series of cutter bars. The cleaned stem is then piled like giant pieces of fire wood to be taken to the road edge and loaded onto trucks headed for the mill. The coniferous trees become pulp and the smell of the mills, through pretty local, is memorable. Much of the paper produced in Maine is for kraft (brown) paper. The cutting machines clear a path into the woods as if they were a giant brush hog. It is very efficient but leaves a real mess.

However the forest regenerates quite quickly where harvesting occurs and the open patches created by the harvest are often the places where second growth shrubs can get a life. It is also where birds and small mammals can find sun-supported plants and their seeds and fruits. Remember the spruce forest allows almost no light to reach the forest floor, but after the cut there are swathes of open space. It is a hugely impactful operation; but life is complex and often messy. Giant clear-cuts are a thing of the past.

The warblers depicted in the post are small – weighing about one third of an ounce!! They have migrated thousands of miles from the tropics to reach these northern breeding grounds. It is remarkable! Oh, the young will migrate southward a few thousand miles on their own at about three months old.

I mentioned that the hardwoods are used for clothes pins and dowels. This is true but hardwood is a funny and somewhat inaccurate term. Those of you that have used birch for fire wood know that the wood softens and rots long before the bark. So is this a hardwood or a soft wood? It does not have a sap that is a pitch so it is a hard wood, I guess. The common Gray Birch of the continental US is found up in Maine but so are a few related types of birch. The Paper Birch hybridizes into the Pink Birch and has a fine and delicate exfoliating bark. The Gray Birch is darker and the flaps of bark are stiffer.
In many places there are native patches of wild blueberries and in other place the blueberries are helped along. It has become a huge agricultural crop in Maine. The “barrens” are areas of shallow acidic soil where blueberries grow in profusion. The berries are small and sweet as they are usually not irrigated. The barren lands are so extensive that agricultural workers are imported and housed during the harvest. This image is of one such “farm” and is but a small fraction of the land in berry bush.
The big-eyed Upland Sandpiper is a breeding bird of the blueberry barrens. This sandpiper, close to the curlews, is widespread and extends its breeding range northward into Alaska. They are birds of the short grasses (low bush blueberry will do) and nest in appropriate habitat from coast to coast. The old bird books always said that Upland Sandpipers have “shoe-button” eyes; a dated reference to the big round eyes of the bird. They are an uncommon nesting bird in the northeast and are most frequently found on grassy airfields.
Perhaps the most velveteen bird we have is the Cedar Waxwing. It has a thin bushy crest and a yellow band toward the tip of the tail. Aside from the far northern tundra regions this bird can be found anywhere in North America at some point during the year. But they are a bit of a wandering bird and you can go months without bumping into them and then see them daily for the next several weeks. The undertail is in shadow in this photo but the Cedar Waxwing has a pale undertail; its cousin the Bohemian Waxwing is a bit larger and has a rufous (reddish) undertail.
There are lots and lots of flycatchers around the world and some 44 or so in the USA. The American tropics have dozens. In the northern part of their range these insect-eaters have to migrate southward in the fall as the insects die off or migrate. A few insect eating birds will switch to berries and fruits, but almost all of them eventually leave the colder regions. This is a bird that is quite hardy and often returns north in chilly weather and occasionally stays here in New England until December. It is the Eastern Phoebe, There are several flycatchers that live around here but the Phoebe can be identified by the dark face and cap and the tail-wagging that seems constant. It will nest in door jambs, rafters, or under bridges.
There is a whole class of birds that we call neotropical migrants. Many of them are wood warblers (56 species) and they are the birds that birders chase, seek, find, covet, and awaken early for in May as they return to the north lands from their tropical wintering grounds. This one is called the Chestnut-sided Warbler. It is named for that patch of brown on the body just below the wing. This is a male; the female is similar but the brown is less extensive and the black facial feathering its much reduced. They both have the yellow cap.
This is a Yellow Warbler female carry ia mouthful of insects back to the nest. All but a few doves feed their young protein rich food during the first couple weeks after hatching. The male Yellow Warbler is a brighter yellow and has reddish streaks that seem to drip down from the neck onto the breast and flanks. They are very widespread, again from coast to coast and up into Alaska, and very common. Their preferred habitat is shrub or brush adjacent to wetlands or ponds. Many forms of the Yellow Warbler occur in non-migratory populations. There are a couple morphs that stay in the Caribbean year round.
The American Redstart is a common and widespread nesting warbler in North America as well. This is a male, in its second year at least. A one-year old male will be gray instead of black but usually with a few black feathers scattered in the gray. The female are gray without the scattered black feathers. They will breed as one-year old males but they don’t get the adult male plumage until the second year. They like second growth vegetation and are very common in Maine especially in the areas that were logged a few years earlier.
Maine mammals are always a treat. It is not uncommon to see White-trailed Deer, Moose, Otter, Red and Gray Squirrel, and Black Bear. We had a lean mammal list. This Eastern Chipmunk, with cheeks full of foodstuff, entertained us as we walked an abandoned rail bed near the Canadian border. We were so close to the Canadian birder that we attracted the attention of the US Border Patrol . We had a nice chat with the officer and tried to interest him in the birds of the area.
When in Maine, especially in the spruce forests, we always look for the uncommon and hard to find Spruce Grouse. They are found in dense spruce forest with a mossy understory. That habitat is impossible to wander through so we slowly drive the logging roads or walk trails looking for this big but well camouflaged bird. This trip we found two females, one with six chicks in the road. There may be two species of Spruce Grouse but the white chevrons down the outer left side of this bird are more like what is usually depicted on the western form – so I don’t feel comfortable putting this into either population….it is a Spruce Grouse though.

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