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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

7/8/2010 10:33:00 AM
River Surveys -
An Eastern Kingbird  Photos by Don Reimer
An Eastern Kingbird Photos by Don Reimer
A Spotted Sandpiper (left)) and a Black-billed Cuckoo  Photos by Don Reimer
A Spotted Sandpiper (left)) and a Black-billed Cuckoo Photos by Don Reimer
by Don Reimer

Along with about 50 other volunteers, I am beginning a second year of bi-monthly river surveys that canvass 10 rivers from Saco to Machias. The purpose of this work is to determine the status and distribution of 19 different bird species that inhabit various river habitats. In simple terms, the study will establish some baseline bird data and track future changes that may result from dam removals from certain rivers, such as the Penobscot. The seasonal surveys cease during winter freeze-up.

Volunteers spend 20 minutes at each study site, logging any of the 19 target species seen or heard during five-minute intervals. All of my study sites are located along sections of the Georges River between Hope and South Warren. Varying from tidal salt flats to narrower wooded sections, each study site is unique in its habitat and water-flow characteristics. The birds being studied include Double-crested Cormorant; Great Blue Heron; Canada Goose; Wood Duck; Mallard and Black duck; Common Goldeneye; Hooded and Common merganser; Bald Eagle; Osprey; Spotted Sandpiper; Ring-billed and Herring gull; Belted Kingfisher; Eastern Kingbird; Tree Swallow; Cedar Waxwing and American Crow.

My June 21 survey stop in Hope illustrates a productive river survey at the height of the nesting season. Shortly after my arrival, a hen Common Merganser scurried past with eight downy ducklings in tow. With rapid, synchronized swimming motions, the group quickly made its way upstream, where they soon resumed normal diving and foraging activities. Too young to fly, these ducklings are definitely products of the local river scene. From the thick green cover, a Black-billed Cuckoo piped rhythmical "cu-cu; cu-cu-cu" notes. Although the cuckoo was rather close, its song sounded muffled and distant. Each summer, two species of neo-tropical cuckoos thrive on a customized diet of juicy Maine caterpillars. Perhaps a dozen other nesting species were also within earshot.

A pair of Belted Kingfishers flew past, giving their distinctive rattling calls. This pair is likely to be utilizing a chambered nesting cavity excavated in a nearby riverbank or gravel pit. The noisy pair was actively hunting for small fish or other aquatic prey.

Huddled in a bulky nest on a horizontal white birch, a female Eastern Kingbird incubated her clutch of eggs just a few feet above the river surface. Often located along shrubby stream banks, the flycatcher's unkempt nest of weedy stalks, grasses and mosses was also adorned with several strands of blue plastic material. While most species attempt to conceal their nest, the kingbirds often nest in the open. The pugnacious pair will vigorously attack and repel most invaders around their nest site.

The busy male kingbird shuttled between treetops, catching assorted flying insects in acrobatic fashion. The kingbird vocalization is a complex, high-pitched, sputtering sound that is compared to sparks jumping across electrical wires.

Minutes later a Great Blue Heron landed temporarily on a rock at mid-stream, and a peeping Spotted Sandpiper flittered past. The sights and sounds of this active river make survey work interesting and worthwhile. The project's director, Erynn Call, is currently seeking new volunteers in Richmond and Saco. Located at UMaine Orono, she can be reached at

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