Lobster Trap Birding

Dickcissel in Lobster Trap

To quote from my favorite television show . . . “Winter is Coming!”

In Maine – it has dropped into the teens at night,  most leaves are off the trees and there is snow on the ground in some places.

And our iconic lobsters have begun to migrate away from the coast into the deep ocean.  That’s right folks . . . lobsters migrate.  They spend the summer close to shore where lobstermen drop their traps and mark them with colorful buoys.  Conveniently, this is when demand for lobster is at its highest, as our state is filled with tourists.

When the tourist head home, the lobsters head out to sea and become much more difficult (and dangerous) to catch.  There are daring deep sea lobstermen . . . but winter out in the Gulf of Maine is fearsome.

Thus as winter approaches, many lobstermen begin to pull and stack their gear for the winter . . . these rectangular boxes are made from plastic covered wire, often green and yellow, and are a common sight along the Maine coast.

And an ideal home for birds.

A stack of lobster traps can provide shelter for tiny species like House Sparrows or Carolina Wren . . . protecting them against predators and the elements.  The birds can easily exit to forage for food and quickly return for safety.  Thus Maine birders often find a flocks of House Sparrows wintering in a stack of traps.

House Sparrow

Yesterday while birding on Bailey Island, Ingrid saw a Chipping Sparrow among the House Sparrows in a pile of wintering traps.   “Chippers” are a very common summer bird in Maine, but most have moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line by now.

Chipping Sparrow in Lobster Trap

While trying to photograph Ingrid’s bird inside the trap (challenging), I noticed a third species  in the mix . . . and a bird that did not belong in Maine . . . a Dickcissel.

The Dickcissel is a seed eating bird that breeds by the thousands on the prairie grasslands of the American Mid-West, and should be well on the way to its wintering grounds in Venezuela.

On occasion, a Dickcissel has been known to overwinter in Maine . . . hanging with House Sparrows.   Perhaps this one has settled in to a lobster trap winter dacha.

When Ingrid and I got home we looked at the photos of our rarity and we think we have photos of two different Dickcissels.  Of course this sparked controversy . . . some birding friends say “it’s the same bird” while others see “two birds”.

Dickcissel #1
Dickcissel #2

Winter is Coming and Ingrid and I continue to prepare for our 2024 Big Year.  Click here to subscribe to our blog: Join Our Flock

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