Birding Down East by Norman C. Famous
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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.
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
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.