Corinth is causing me trouble. I’m in the Maine legislature, representing five towns north of Bangor. As you know, this is political silly season. It’s also a time when many local legislators try to catch up with constituents, preparing for the next legislative session.
Thus, I’ve visited many backyards lately. As I’ve made my rounds, I’ve discovered cardinals and tufted titmice in rural areas, where I didn’t expect them. I even came home to find a titmouse in my own yard in Hudson last week. Both are noisy denizens of suburbia. They don’t frequent rural communities very much.
Yellow-rumped warblers have been abundant lately. These make a unique call note that sounds like “quip.” While most warblers have headed south, the “quips” are coming from trees everywhere in my district. A bunch have been flitting around the Milford treetops all week. At Thomas Farms in Corinth, there was a single tree full of them.
By the way, Thomas Farms is one of the reasons I get distracted in Corinth. This is the exact time of year when farm fields are becoming very attractive to birds. The weedy edges are alive with sparrows at the moment. Pumpkins outcompete weeds, so there’s little need for weed suppression. Once the pumpkins are harvested, the remaining weedy field is a sparrow banquet.
Most are song sparrows, but I’m on the lookout for rarities, too, and even common sparrows. Chipping sparrows are abundant in Maine all summer. They nest around my house. But they disappeared from my backyard in early August, and I thought they headed south early. Chipping sparrows are named after their sweet little call note that sounds like “chip,” and I’ve been hearing that “chip” everywhere I go. It turns out that they simply left my driveway, grouped up into flocks and have been marauding the weedy patches ever since.
There are many farm fields in Corinth bordered by swaths of weedy patches. I want to take the time to comb through each patch in search of migrating white-crowned sparrows and vagrant rarities, such as lark sparrows and dickcissels, but I can’t spare the daylight. Big flocks tease me as I drive by.
As distracting as the weeds are, the cornfields are worse. Over the last week, the stalks have been removed and only the stubble remains. Crows are the first to move in, looking for remnants of corn and any other edibles suddenly exposed to daylight. Perhaps you’ve seen this for yourself. Flocks of crows gather this time of year, feasting in fallow fields by day, roosting together by night. As autumn rumbles on, Bangor residents annually witness the phenomenon of sky-darkening flocks flying in from cornfields west of Bangor to roost along the Kenduskeag River. Even larger flocks forage the fields around Clinton, then head for the trees along Interstate 95 opposite Elm Plaza in Waterville for the evening’s slumber. I’ve estimated 5,000 crows there in recent years.
Next the Canada geese move in, looking for any remaining grain. On rare occasions, an interloper is in their midst. Greater white-fronted geese are prevalent in the middle part of this continent but rare in Maine. When present, they are inevitably in the company of Canada geese. Cackling geese are similar to Canada geese, but they are much smaller. A few are seen in Maine each year. Pink-footed geese are European, with a range that extends to Greenland. A few have popped up in Maine in recent years, always in company with Canada geese.
The last reported barnacle goose was seen in Easton exactly two years ago. It was in a flock of 700 Canada geese. It, too, is a European bird, though with a small breeding population in Greenland. If you see one, call me immediately. I’ll drop everything and go on a wild goose chase.
By the end of this month, other tundra-loving birds will sneak onto these cornfields. Horned larks, Lapland longspurs, American pipits and snow buntings are sometimes spotted in the stubble. Watch for flitting birds in the field, and you’ll likely notice many more on the ground. The cornfield next to the Martin Farm on Black Road in Corinth was alive with birds when I stopped to look a couple of years ago. I enjoy visiting my constituents, but I get easily distracted. You never know what might turn up in a farm field this time of year. My binoculars never leave the front seat.
Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.