Birding Down East by Norman C. Famous
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Blueberry Barrens

Blueberries The blueberry barrens are a regionally unique human-controlled shrub dominated ecosystem characterized by many grassland nesting species including the state threatened Grasshopper Sparrow as well as the soon to be listed Upland Sandpiper and Vesper Sparrow. The barrens are maintained by mowing or burning every other year plus regular herbicide applications. Many nesting species that are declining regionally in New England due to habitat loss and habitat degradation can be found here. These include Bobolink, Vesper Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Meadowlark, Field Sparrow, and Rufous-sided Towhee.

Poorly maintained blueberry fields structurally resemble the stunted shrub heath vegetation of bogs. Many of the plant species are similar as are bird species such as Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Lincoln's, White-throated, and Savannah Sparrows.

Upland Sandpiper When visiting any of the blueberry fields, do not walk in the fields. There are many small roads and fire lanes to traverse. Trampling destroys part of the crop and excessive trampling may force growers to restrict future access to this exciting ecosystem type. The blueberry barrens are best birded in the morning. In the evening, song activity is often high with birdsong extending until after dark. The blueberry barrens located near the Columbia Falls Air Force Base have supported populations of Upland Sandpipers for the last several decades. Their distinctive wolf whistle announces their presence. Once broods hatch, the birds are more conspicuous, giving frequent sharp alarm notes.

Maine blueberry barrens are now being intensively managed using an extremely effective herbicide that eliminates most woody and herbaceous weeds which unfortunately, are necessary components of the nesting ecology of most barren-nesting species.

Geologically, the blueberry barrens are comprised of a series of very well drained sand and gravel glacial deposits formed from deltas deposited where under-glacial rivers discharged into the sea. These glacial deposits are highly important to the region for agriculture production and as large sand and gravel aquifers. Typically a delta complex is comprised of the deltas, old raised streambed deposits under the glacier (called eskers), kettlehole bogs and ponds formed from icebergs and stagnate ice buried in the deltas, end moraines and lateral moraines (poorly sorted deposits), and raised, zigzagged shaped deposits on the delta surface formed from sand and gravel that collected in crevasses in the receding glacier surface. By contrast, the inter-delta marine deposits are comprised of poorly-drained marine silt, sand and clay deposits over which bogs and various wetland complexes have formed due to poor or impeded drainage. Great Heath, the largest bog in the eastern U.S., is tucked in against the large Pineo Ridge delta complex located north of Route 1 in the nearby towns of Columbia, Addison, and Cherryfield.

For more information on the distribution of the blueberry barrens and Great Heath, check the Cherryfield, Deblois, and Columbia USGS maps and the Delorme Atlas.

Birding Down East [ Top ]

Down East Birding Locations:
Quoddy Head State Park
Carrying Place Cove Bog
Campobello Island

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Last Updated: Sunday, June 15, 1996 6:00pm EDT