With the completion of the bird walk at Gilsland Farm this morning, we hit a milestone. Beginning in August 2007, Maine Audubon’s past Staff Naturalist, Eric Hynes, began submitting checklists of the birds seen during our weekly bird walks to a then fairly new database run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, called eBird. Since then, we continue to enter our sightings, as well as teach birders to contribute their observations, and today the 3,000th checklist at Gilsland Farm was submitted! Only Monhegan Island has more checklists submitted (currently at 3,581) but Scarborough Marsh would outnumber both if you added up all the various hotspots that fall within the marsh (but that seems unfair at 3,100 acres).
One great feature on eBird is the use of “hotspots” which congregate observations from single locations to make exploring those sightings easier. This allows us to see things like an Illustrated Checklist of all the birds seen at Gilsland Farm, also bar charts showing seasonal distribution of those birds, over 1,200 photographs from Gilsland, and audio recordings from here.
Not only did we hit this checklist milestone, we had a phenomenal bird walk! A couple inches of snow didn’t deter us from hitting the trails and we had just rounded the building when a flock of waxwings flew overhead. As they passed we could see rusty under-tail coverts (UTC), the field mark of BOHEMIAN Waxwings (rather than the more common, white UTC’d, Cedar Waxwings). It only took a couple minutes before we tracked them down at the only crabapple on the property still holding fruit and were treated to up-close views of these northern birds.
After that, we walked counter-clockwise around the North Meadow. The wind was picking up but we found some migrating waterfowl in the river, highlight by a pair of American Wigeons. Using the data we’ve contributed to eBird, we can see that the second week of April has historically been the best time to see them here! Just before getting back to the woods, a Short-eared Owl flushed from the grasses a short distance ahead of us (poorly documented here by taking a photo with my phone through my binoculars):
This was remarkably similar to a Short-eared Owl encounter we had last fall. Interesting to see how these encounters increased in a winter when that section of the meadow was not mowed, thus creating perfect habitat for these rare owls. (We keep the meadows at Gilsland Farm mowed to maintain nesting habitat for grassland birds, especially Bobolinks. We delayed mowing last year until all nesting completed AND migrant sparrows had passed, but foul weather ultimate halted mowing the entire field.)
You can see the complete list from this morning walk here: ebird.org/view/checklist/S54830996. I hope you can join us on an upcoming bird walk! We’ll continue our year-round walks at Gilsland Farm, every Thursday beginning at 7AM, and our (free!) Warbler Walks will begin May 6th, Monday through Thursday at Evergreen Cemetery and Fridays at Capisic Pond, for two weeks, until May 17th.