Category Archives: Personal

Discover the mysteries just outside your door

Photo of Rock Pigeon
Rock Pigeon (aka Rock Dove)

Flipping through some of my files earlier this month, I came across a piece I wrote for a newspaper almost 12 years ago. The following letter appeared on the Opinion page of the December 24, 2005 edition of The Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, MA):

Discover the mysteries just outside your door

To the editor:

After graduating from college last year, I couldn't tell you the difference between a white or red oak. I had no idea what birds lived near my home, aside from the "seagulls" and "pigeons" (which I now know as ring-billed gulls and rocks doves). And I didn't know there were wild turkeys and coyotes living nearby.

In those days I considered myself an environmentalist. I knew about toxins and teratogens. I knew that "recycled" computers were often dumped on Asian countries where they poisoned the land and people.

I knew about (and lobbied to help address) the realities of environmental racism in poor neighborhoods.

Yet, my knowledge was hardly complete.

I can't speak for your schooling experience, but mine was lacking in the local. It's taken me a year to learn some of the most basic knowledge about the non-human communities around me -- knowledge that should be (and not long ago was) common sense.

Now I can identify most native trees, I can recognize a dozen birds by their song alone, and I pay attention to the tracks and signs left by elusive animals.

Since graduating, I find studying nature to be my most meaningful pastime. Every day I notice something different, uncover a new mystery in my backyard.

Flipping through field guides (or, better yet, spending time with a naturalist) and walking in a forest or along a stream should be part of every child's upbringing.

If we desire to live responsibly on the earth, we must start by knowing and appreciating the little part we can see.

Parents especially must provide these opportunities for their children, for the generations to come.

Joshua M. Fecteau

Late Spring Blogging Schedule

Photo of Prairie Warbler

I've decided to modify my blog posting schedule for the remainder of spring in order to focus my efforts on birding, foraging, and teaching birding and foraging. I'll continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but don't expect regular posts on Wednesdays and Fridays until mid-June.

If you need some inspiration in the meantime, check out my New England Wild Edibles Monthly Guide, or browse my blog's complete index which includes 34 Life List Bird Games and 175 Nature Quizzes. Also, consider attending one of my upcoming walks or talks or hiring me for a private birding outing or foraging lesson!

Enjoy Spring!

Patreon Update #2

Almost 6 months ago, I launched my Patreon campaign and asked readers to pledge financial contributions to support my walks, workshops, and blogging efforts. Since then, a group of generous supporters have given a total of $296!

Patreon logo

If you haven't pledged an amount on Patreon, please consider committing even $1 a month. All patrons receive access to bonus nature quizzes, and contributors of $3 or more per month are eligible for additional rewards in the form of handmade photo cards.

2017: Naturalist Goals

Photo of Snow Goose
Snow Goose | Rockland, ME | 3 Jan 2017

Here are my naturalist goals for the next turn of the seasons. I plan to...

...explore each of the following locations in northern York County, at least once per season:

California Fields Wildlife Area in Hollis
Sawyer Mountain Highlands in Limerick/Limington
Waterboro Barrens Preserve in Waterboro/Shapleigh

...obtain equipment (field recorder and microphone, for starters) to record and share high quality sound recordings of birds, insects, ocean, etc.

...photograph at least 2 of the 5 birds who I've seen but not yet photographed (Dovekie, Tundra Swan, Prothonotary Warbler, Purple Gallinule, and Northern Bobwhite).

...complete 3 or more Moon Challenges.

...consume a diversity of wild foods by focusing on a different plant, seaweed, shellfish, insect, mushroom, or mammal, each week of the year.

...hike 10+ miles along the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

...and continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but on Mondays (instead of Wednesdays), and with a new format; each post will feature one photo (and perhaps an audio clip), three phenology notes, my wild edible of the week report (see above goal), moon challenge updates (when applicable), and finally a nature challenge of the week (for you, the reader).

2016: Maine Big Year Review

Photo of Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite | Sanford, ME | 1 July 2016

2012 was my first year of birds, but 2016 was my first birding Big Year. I've shared some stories from my year already (see Marble's story, Feisty's story, and my Aroostook goose chase posts for starters), and I likely have enough bird tales to assemble a small book, but for today I'd like to share my annotated 2016 Maine Big Year Bird List. Every species on this list was seen (not just heard) at least once.

* Life Bird
♦ Only at Stakeout (rarity found by someone else), location noted
◊ Originally at Stakeout, but later observed a number of times at various locations
¤ Assisted by birding companion, not at Stakeout
† Only seen during off-shore boat trip, often with help of other birders/guides
∴ Originally spotted by another bird

Geese, Swans, and Ducks [35 species]
Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Barnacle Goose*♦ -- Collins Pond, Caribou
Cackling Goose*
Canada Goose
Mute Swan ♦ -- Lords Pond, Biddeford
Wood Duck
Eurasian Wigeon ♦ -- Grondin Pond, Scarborough
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Redhead ♦ -- Mechanic St., Camden
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
King Eider
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow's Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck

Partridges, Grouse, and Turkeys [4 species]
Ring-necked Pheasant ¤
Ruffed Grouse
Spruce Grouse*
Wild Turkey

Loons and Grebes [7 species]
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon ♦ -- Ocean Ave., Biddeford Pool
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Western Grebe*♦ -- Simpson's Point, Brunswick

Shearwaters, Storm-Petrels and Tropicbirds [6 species]
Cory's Shearwater
Great Shearwater †
Sooty Shearwater*†
Manx Shearwater ¤
Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Red-billed Tropicbird*♦† -- Seal Island NWR

Gannets and Cormorants [3 species]
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant

Bitterns, Heron and Allies [12 species]
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Egret ◊
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret ♦ -- Crocker Rd., Pittston
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
White-faced Ibis ♦ -- Capisic Pond, Portland

Vultures and Hawks [14 species]
Black Vulture ♦ -- 1st St., Farmingdale
Turkey Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite*∴
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk ♦ -- Kittredge Brook Forest, Bar Harbor
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Swainson's Hawk*♦ -- Millinocket Municipal Airport
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk

Rails, Gallinules, Coots, and Cranes [6 species]
King Rail*♦ -- Eldridge Rd., Wells
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule*♦ -- Alder Stream Pond, Corinna
American Coot
Sandhill Crane

Shorebirds [34 species]
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Wilson's Plover*♦ -- Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Upland Sandpiper
Marbled Godwit*◊
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Ruff*♦ -- Weskeag Marsh, Thomaston
Stilt Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher*♦ -- Wharton Point, Brunswick
Wilson's Snipe
American Woodcock
Red-necked Phalarope
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs

Skuas and Jaegers [3 species]
Great Skua*†
Pomarine Jaeger*†
Parasitic Jaeger*†

Alcids [4 species]
Common Murre †
Black Guillemot
Atlantic Puffin †

Gulls and Terns [19 species]
Black-legged Kittiwake
Sabine's Gull*♦ -- Sabattus Pond, Sabattus
Bonaparte's Gull
Black-headed Gull ♦ -- Rockland Harbor
Laughing Gull
Mew Gull*♦ -- Owls Head Harbor
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Glaucous Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Least Tern
Caspian Tern
Black Tern
Roseate Tern
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Royal Tern

Pigeons, Doves, and Cuckoos [5 species]
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove ♦ -- Pleasant St., Blue Hill
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo

Owls and Nightjars [8 species]
Eastern Screech-Owl ♦ -- Darcy Rd., York
Great Horned Owl
Snowy Owl
Barred Owl
Short-eared Owl ♦ -- Bowdoin Sand Plain, Brunswick
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Common Nighthawk
Eastern Whip-poor-will

Hummingbirds [1 species]
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Kingfishers [1 species]
Belted Kingfisher

Woodpeckers [8 species]
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker*♦ -- Harvester Rd., T5 R12 WELS
Black-backed Woodpecker*
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker

Falcons [3 species]
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon

Flycatchers [10 species]
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Say's Phoebe*♦ -- White Ledges Rd., New Harbor
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird

Shrikes and Vireos [7 species]
Northern Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo

Jays and Crows [5 species]
Gray Jay*
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Common Raven

Larks [1 species]
Horned Lark

Swifts and Swallows [7 species]
Chimney Swift
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow

Chickadees and Titmice [3 species]
Black-capped Chickadee
Boreal Chickadee*
Tufted Titmouse

Nuthatches and Creepers [3 species]
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper

Wrens [4 species]
House Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren

Gnatcatchers and Kinglets [3 species]
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Thrushes [7 species]
Eastern Bluebird
Bicknell's Thrush*
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin

Mimics, Starlings, and Pipits [5 species]
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit

Waxwings [2 species]
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

Longspurs and Snow Buntings [2 species]
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting

Wood-Warblers [29 species]
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler*
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler*
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler*♦ -- Litchfield Rd., Bowdoin
Prairie Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat

Sparrows [19 species]
Grasshopper Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Saltmarsh Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow ♦ -- Maguire Rd., Kennebunk
Field Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow*♦ -- Barnacle Ln., Winter Harbor
Lark Sparrow ¤
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee

Tanagers, Cardinals and Allies [7 species]
Scarlet Tanager
Western Tanager ♦ -- Front St., Saco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak*♦ -- Dragon Fields, Portland
Indigo Bunting

Blackbirds [9 species]
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Bullock's Oriole*♦ -- Central St., Camden
Baltimore Oriole

Finches [8 species]
Pine Grosbeak
House Finch
Purple Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak

Old World Sparrows [1 species]
House Sparrow

Grand Total [305 species]

Some notable misses included Canvasback, Tricolored Heron, Hudsonian Godwit, Little Gull, Forster's Tern, Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre, Red-headed Woodpecker (seen in MA), Western Kingbird (seen in NH), and Common Redpoll. Also, I observed Northern Fulmar, Leach's Storm-Petrel, and Red Phalarope on a boat trip out of Maine, but I was technically in Canadian waters when I saw them, so they didn't make the official state list.

So many people (eBirders, birdwatchers, and non-birders alike) and so many birds (residents, migrants, and vagrants alike) contributed to my big year, and to all of them I say: Thank you!