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Mid-April - Early May bird sightings and an owl book report

May 16, 2016

      Great Horned Owl     Copyright © [2011] [Dick Daniels carolinabirds.org] Wikipedia Commons


  • Great Horned Owl at Evergreen Cemetery

  • Book on owls

  • Peaks Island Community bird sightings from late April to mid-May

  • Appendix - Compilation of 9 lists and 50 species from April 30 to May 12


Great Horned Owl at Evergreen Cemetery:

Spring is really here – new birds, big and small, arrive on PI each day to either raise a family, or to stop and feed on their way further north. Some of our resident birds are fully engaged in nest building, or they already have young to feed. On a field trip off island, Michael and I visited Evergreen Cemetery where a Great Horned Owl pair is raising their owlets within an old Eastern white pine overhanging a pond. Several observers, including a group of small school children, are thrilled as we are to see the female. She perches on a nearby branch, not on the nest, as is typical with the Great Horned Owl. This behavior differs from the Bald Eagles (Bald Eagle cam) - the female will stay with the young in the nest until they are nearly full size.


           Great Horned Owl at Evergreen Cemetery                        Photo © Patty Wainright


Evergreen Cemetery provides many trails with different bird habitats. The owl nest is located on the small middle pond and can be reached by several trailheads including the main entrance at 672 Stevens Avenue or Brentwood Street (shorter trail to nest). If you are in Portland with a car, it is worth the detour from your regular errands in town to see this magnificent bird. Perhaps the young are now out of their nest; they are referred to as “Branchers”. As the owlets mature they move out of the nest onto adjacent branches – moving further away each day. This survival strategy, too, contrasts with the Bald Eagle: The young stay on the nest until they can fly.


Book on owls:

As a field trip homework assignment, Michael put together a bird list (Please see Bird Blog: Bird Sightings Early April; Evergreen Cemetery List). Obvious that I knew little about owls, I was handed a book to read, and then write a report for this month’s blog.


Owls of United States and Canada; A Complete Guide to their Biology and Behavior. Wayne Lynch. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD 2007.


The author Dr. Lynch broke out of his life as a budding young physician to become a professional wildlife photographer and writer. This owl book is delightful to read – a ‘page turner’. He describes all owls and everything interesting about them – including great photographs. The Great Horned Owl is our feature bird on this field trip, so the report on this book focuses on this species. This report is located under Bird Varieties – Great Horned Owl. Take a peek to see how owls differ in so many ways from other birds. Did you know that owls have tubes for eyes? Or, just click on any one of the below selections and it will take you to the page of owl eccentricities (topics).



Peaks Island bird sightings from late April to mid-May:

On April 30 an abundance of Tree Swallows*, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, an Eastern Towhee, a Carolina Wren, and a Turkey Vulture are observed on the island, but no warblers or vireos. However warblers and vireos, our small migrating songsters, are seen in Central Park, NYC in mid-April (16, 19, 21) suggesting that they are on the move toward Maine. The Yellow-rumped Warbler (one of the earliest migrant warbler species - shows a distinct yellow rump) is finally spotted on PI on May 4 – indicating that more are to follow. The Black-crowned Night Heron visits Brackett Pond, before leaving toward the South Shore, and perhaps on its way to Ram Island where they may have nest sites (1). On May 8 the first of the Cedar Waxwings and a second warbler species – the Black and White  – are seen (a striking black and white plumage). May 9 provides the first sighting of the chatty Gray Catbird and 2 more warblers – the Common Yellowthroat (black-bandit mask with yellow throat) and Yellow (all yellow warbler). Where are the vireos?  An unusual sighting of 30 Blue Jays flew over Whitehead Passage from Cushing Island to Peaks Island. (ML)

*(These swallows are the first ones to arrive from their winter hideaways. Most swallows are insectivores, however the Tree Swallows survive on berries (2), if they arrive north before the insects emerge from their winter haunts. By May 11th the Tree Swallows start their nest box housekeeping in the Battery Steele Marsh. These iridescent birds are easily observed from Seashore Avenue.)


On May 11 on Peaks Island Neighbor two bird reports highlight more exciting migrant arrivals:


“Seen today: many Yellow Warblers along back shore; occasional Common Yellowthroats along back shore; Great Egret on Trout Pond; Black-crowned Night Heron on Ice Pond; Northern Waterthrush on Brackett Avenue ponds; two mockingbirds at Monadnock corner, lower back shore every morning early; ten mallard ducklings with Mom...somewhere; Black-and-white warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, on road from back shore to transfer station, just past Pond Sea; Greater Yellowlegs centennial beach by city point at low tide; American Redstart and Eastern Towhee at eastern end of Battery Steele; Lisa has seen Purple Sandpipers and a Solitary Sandpiper (ML).”  


“We had 3 male Baltimore Orioles on the tree by the school on the low road. They were amazing (PR).”


May 12, a sunny day in the low 60s offers perfect sightings of the above migrants, and more: a flycatcher (Willow or Alder) is seen but not heard. These flycatchers belong to the Empidonax group. Their plumages are so similar that their unique songs are usually necessary for species identification. The rare Fish Crow is also difficult to identify (smaller with pointed swept back wing-tips than the American Crow) without hearing their call - a more short and nasal cah call than the typical call of our resident marauding crows (3). The calls of the island’s Common Raven pair include nasal croaks, honks, bongs, and more. (ML)


Peaks Island Community bird sightings and events from earlier in the spring:

The first week of April Robert sees a skua fly over the backshore, noting how dark (with some warm tones) and large it is, and imposing. Even so, the Great-black Backed Gull is larger with a 65-inch wingspan. The Polar Skua has a wingspan of 52 inches while the Great Skua has 55 inches of lift power. Both skuas are larger than the Great Horned Owl (44 inches). However, the Snowy Owl matches the Polar Skua wingspan of 52 inches. These large skuas are related to the gulls but they are primarily oceanic, and they are pirates of the sea - seldom seen close to shore. Skua's complex variation in color morphs makes them difficult to identify to species. This skua sighting is perhaps the first recorded one on the Backshore of PI. Great 'spotting' Robert. (3)


A flock of large birds fly northward over Cushing Island the eve of April 16. As this migrating flock approach PI, 12 Great Blue Herons are identified. Their flight formation falls apart over Whitehead Passage – they halt in mid air, it seems, as they readjust their trajectory – long legs dangling as they do so. Within several minutes of re-shuffling, their flight plan is restored and they fly over PI heading north. Apparently, a change in updrafts will set a flock of migrating birds into turmoil until they can reorganize and ‘find the wind’. Wind drafts over water bodies such as Whitehead Passage differ from what may be over a landmass – i.e. Cushing Island. Did the flock stop for an overnight rest? And, one wonders if this flock of herons will stay together when they reach their destination – and roost as a group? (Great Blue Herons generally nest communally in large trees.)


 Flight formation falls apart;

.... they reshuffle;

.... they find the wind;

 .... and they go north over Peaks Island                                                      Photos © Patty Wainright



The Common Eiders rest on the rocks along the Backshore, Wharf Cove, and South Shore, mostly in couples. The female eiders will come ashore to build a nest using her down feathers for the eggs. She rarely, if at all, feeds or drinks. As the chicks hatch, she leads them to the coastal waters where they immediately learn to feed on small surface invertebrates.


Two Common Eider Pairs (Note coloration variation between two females)      Photo © Patty Wainright




Appendix – Compilation of 9 lists and 51 species from April 30 to May 12 (ML):

(Individual lists for each day were submitted and are available on eBird)


Canada Goose 
American Black Duck 

Wood Duck

Northern Shoveler (passing migrant)

Common Eider

Long-tailed Duck* 


Red-necked Grebe*

Common Loon*
Double-crested Cormorant 

Black Guillemot

Turkey Vulture
Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret 
Black-crowned Night-Heron 

Glossy Ibis
Greater Yellowlegs 

Purple Sandpiper (Lisa)

Solitary Sandpiper (Lisa)
Ring-billed Gull 
Herring Gull 
Great Black-backed Gull 
Mourning Dove

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker 
Downy Woodpecker

Eastern Phoebe

Empidonax sp. (Alder or Willow Flycatcher?) 
Blue Jay 
American Crow

Fish Crow

Common Raven 
Tree Swallow

Carolina Wren

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
Black-capped Chickadee 
American Robin 
Gray Catbird 
Northern Mockingbird 
European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow Warbler 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Black-and-white Warbler

American Redstart 
Northern Waterthrush

Common Yellowthroat 

Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow 
Song Sparrow 
Eastern Towhee 
Northern Cardinal 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Common Grackle 
American Goldfinch 
House Sparrow


*Breed further north.



  1. Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Danielle D’Auria.

  2. Erickson, L. and M. Read. 2015. Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds.

  3. Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. National Audubon Society


Other Information:

Contributors: Michael LaCombe (ML), (Lisa) Lynch, Pamela Richards (PR), and (Robert) Van Der Steenhoven.


By Patty Wainright

Reviewed by Michelle, Marty and Michael


Thank you for your interest in our Peaks Island birds, and if you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to: brownmichh@aol.com.  


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