A Bird’s Tale

Rejoice in the Return of Spring Migrant Birds

Tue, 04/05/2022 - 7:30am

It may still be rather chilly and windy most days so that it may not feel so much like spring, but birds are returning. We were rather surprised to see the distinctive wing shape of an osprey already a week ago floating in the wind over the south end of Cobbosseecontee Lake. This weekend we saw two more including one sitting atop the nest next to the Middle School in Bath while a girls high school lacrosse game was going on a few hundred yards away.

It will not be long before those familiar high-pitched osprey calls will be heard over many a Maine community as the pairs get reacquainted after a winter perhaps as far south as South America. We can’t wait!

We saw our first tree swallows just a few days ago in the place that we usually see our first ones every spring—over the Cobbosseecontee Stream in Gardiner near where it flows into the Kennebec River. There they were darting over the busy people coming and going to area businesses. We hope we were not the only ones to notice them and feel grateful for their return. Many others in southern Maine saw their first tree swallows just in the last few days as well. There must have been a major push of them into the state over the weekend.

The cheerful “fwee-bee” of an eastern phoebe echoed out across the partially still frozen Pleasant Pond in Richmond the other day as we watched groups of striking ring-necked ducks courting and chasing from the causeway. We have yet to hear or see another one but several were found by others over the weekend in and around Boothbay.

Dark-eyed juncos, a winter bird in our neighborhood despite the fact that they do nest commonly in many areas of the state, have still not left. Some though, have started singing regularly, giving their rather subdued and musical trills. The trilling singer that will take their place in our yard is the chipping sparrow with its reddish cap looking quite unlike a junco even if they sound similar. A few have arrived in some parts of southern Maine but we have not yet been blessed. It will be any day now when we’ll be hearing both trilling songs of both juncos and chipping sparrows for a brief period of confusing overlap.

Another bird with a trilling song is one that we have been listening for on our walks with our little dog, Loki—the pine warbler. According to eBird, a scattered few of these earliest-to-arrive warblers have already been found this spring including in Edgecomb. Listen for their much more liquid trills emanating almost exclusively from stands of pines, especially white pines. With some careful scanning you may get a glimpse of their yellow upper breast and throat.

The new arrivals should be coming fast and furious from now through May. Another glance at eBird showed that palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers have made it to Massachusetts and Connecticut so will be popping up here any day. Already a few hermit thrushes have been spotted along the Maine coast. In a few short weeks we’ll be hearing their haunting songs echoing around each evening throughout the region.

Forget the chilly wind and get out and enjoy these amazing returning spring migrant birds!

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).