The Schoodic Institute’s SeaWatch volunteers, using binoculars and spotting scopes, counted more than 9,000 Northern gannets off Schoodic Point as they migrated south in September, October and November. The Northern gannets are among several species of waterbirds observed and counted at Schoodic Point every fall. Photo by Seth Benz

Schoodic offers a bountiful buffet for birds

WINTER HARBOR — Few would consider the remote and starkly beautiful Schoodic Peninsula a mecca for foodies, but apparently it offers a lush buffet for birds.

A bird banding effort at Acadia National Park on the peninsula, now in its third year, has revealed this and other interesting findings.

“Petit Manaan and the Schoodic Peninsula are important stop-over sites for migratory birds,” said Seth Benz, who directs the Schoodic Bird Ecology Lab for the Schoodic Institute. “They are landing in the general area and feeding for a day or so.”

A black-capped chickadee

Benz and his research partners banded 1,428 birds late last summer and fall and at the same time collected fecal samples from hundreds of them to find out what the birds eat.

“The Downeast coast is rich in insects, blueberries, huckleberries, moth larvae — a strong protein source,” Benz said. “We want to find out what they eat so that we can plant more and essentially make the landscape a smorgasbord for the birds.”

Through November the Atlantic Flyway of North America comes alive with the passage of a variety of migratory birds, among them gulls, sea ducks, gannets, cormorants, loons, mergansers, shorebirds, raptors and occasional songbirds.

The researchers at Acadia capture and release a variety of birds — this year, 58 species — and attach a tag to track their winter migratory voyage as well as other data.

Birds migrate in the winter primarily because their food sources diminish in cold northern climates.

Volunteers with the Schoodic Institute collect stool samples from birds to learn more about their diet. They also band birds with lightweight tags to track the effects of climate change on their migratory patterns.

The birds at Schoodic and nearby are caught in invisible mist nets and banded with a nano tag so lightweight it is also used on dragonflies.

The banding effort at Schoodic Point is focused on songbirds, among them black-capped chickadees; yellow-rumped warblers; white-throated sparrows; golden-crowned kinglets; red-breasted nuthatches; dark-eye Juncos; common yellowthroats; hermit thrushes; blackpoll warblers and black-throated green warblers.

Benz said tracking birds — especially counting them — is important because birds are the ecosystem’s early warning system.

A volunteer bird-watcher

“There has been a 50 percent decline in the number or birds over a 60-year period,” Benz said. “We need to have an ecosystem that supports birds.”

The blackpoll warblers have the longest flight of the songbirds, traveling from the northern boreal forests of Canada and Alaska to Maine.

The warblers spend a few days feeding in the area of Petit Manan — the next peninsula up — and Schoodic before departing on a strenuous five-day crossing of the Atlantic to their winter home in South America.

“It shows how important this fueling stop is,” Benz said.

Northern Gannets in flight

There are two other bird monitoring programs in Acadia National Park.

The all-volunteer SeaWatch at Schoodic Point was initiated five years ago to count water birds such as Canada geese, seaducks, double-crested cormorants and common eiders.

The Hawk Watch, which is a partnership of the Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park’s Interpretive Division, has taken place on MDI for more than 20 years.

Volunteers scan the skies for 12 species of raptors — three classic ones are the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and osprey — as they migrate for the winter.

“We want to find out what they eat so that we can plant more of it and essentially make the landscape a smorgasbord for the birds.” –Seth Benz, director of bird ecology at the Schoodic Institute.

Not all of the raptors winter in the same region.

Benz said the broad-winged hawk migrates to South America while the sharp-shinned hawk travels to the Mid-Atlantic region, then south or continuing on to Central America.

Raptors were decimated by the pesticide DDT in the 1960s and 1970s, but have rebounded since DDT was banned, he said.

Benz said his interest in bird watching was ignited by his encounter as a child with the gray catbird and rough-legged hawk.

He has worked, among other locations, at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania; Hog Island Audubon Camp in Bremen; Project Puffin; Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]

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