February 26, 2010

Maine ruffles snowbird's feathers

EDWARD D

— By . MURPHY

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Courtesy Doug Hitchcock A MacGillivray's Warbler, photographed at Maine Audobon's Gilsland Farm in Falmouth on Tuesday, December 22, 2009. The bird normally breeds in the western U.S. and Canada but has been turning up along the east coast this year.

Doug Hitchcock

Staff Writer

There's something clearly not right with a creature that would swap Mexico or Central America for Maine in the winter.

That's why the appearance of a MacGillivray's warbler in Falmouth last weekend is ''considered accidental,'' said Bill Hancock, who led the Maine Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count in Greater Portland on Saturday.

The bird, spotted by Audubon naturalist Eric Hynes and Nancy Houlihan, had never been recorded in Maine.

Hynes said it's a bird that rarely ventures farther east than Idaho or New Mexico, and spends winters in Mexico and south to Panama.

''They're definitely a Western bird,'' he said, ''so it's not where it wants to be.''

There's no way to know how the bird ended up in Maine, but sometimes storms throw migrating birds off course or their internal compasses go haywire, leading them astray, Hancock and Hynes said.

Hancock noted that a couple of the birds have been spotted in Massachusetts in recent weeks, so even if the appearance in Maine is new, the warblers have been in the general neighborhood.

Hynes said he started looking for the bird after hearing a song that was different from those of the birds that would typically be in the woods at Gilsland Farm in December.

When he flushed the bird, he caught enough of a glimpse to know it wasn't a native Mainer. Hynes and Houlihan worked together to position the bird between them, where they could get a better look and get some photographs.

The songbird has a gray head and neck, a greenish back and wings, and a yellow chest and belly.

Sadly, the warbler isn't likely to make a run for home, Hynes said.

''I'm concerned about its survival once we get a little more snow,'' he said, because the bird eats small insects, which it won't be able to get once the snow deepens and crusts over.

Word of the bird spread after the annual count, and birders flocked to Falmouth on Sunday to get a look.

Hancock said birders in Greater Portland spotted 99 species on the day of the count and five others during the week leading up to it.

He said birders have recorded 187 species over the years of the winter count. That's considered a good number, given the area's sometimes harsh winters.

''The Portland area really has some fantastic birding for the Northeast,'' he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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