Loss Of Board Chairman, Kerry Hebert

It is with heavy hearts that we at the SCSWCD say goodbye to our friend and board chairman, Kerry Hebert.

Kerry passed away unexpectedly on November 14, 2017.

Kerry volunteered to be on the District board back in 1999. He served as a faithful member for several years and then accepted the position of chairman back in 2002. Throughout the years, Kerry has been a true steward of conservation, both in his own work as a consulting forester and as a representative for the District.

He was a mentor and friend to District staff. As employees, we could not have asked for a better or more supportive supervisor. Though busy with the demands of family life and his own business, Mt. Hunger Forestry, he was always available to listen and advise and ready to pitch in and help when he was needed.

Kerry had a wealth of conservation knowledge and experience which served the board and the District in many endeavors. He truly cared about the land and the people of Somerset County. For so many years, he lead the way for the District to provide assistance to local landowners, helping them work their land using best management practices to sustain and protect our natural resources. He was quick to endorse and facilitate a wide variety of conservation projects undertaken by District staff.

Kerry always brought his all to District activities, and not one meeting went by when we didn’t all share a laugh over one of his humorous stories or comments.

We as District Staff and board members will never forget our friend, mentor and colleague. Kerry will be sadly missed.


Critical Bobolink Fledging Week!

Bobolink nestlings brought to Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom Monday July 3, 2017

These adorable little bobolink nestlings were brought in to Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center  this morning after being found in a field that was being mowed. 




Landowners please take note: This week is a critical week for our bobolink nestlings!  It is very likely that many young bobolinks will be fledging from their ground nests in fields by the end of this week, so for people managing hayfields, if it is possible to leave as yet un-mowed fields standing for the rest of the week, it could make all the difference for bobolink nestling survival! 

Bobolinks are an iconic sight and sound each spring in the fields and meadows of Maine. They are known for their joyous, bubbling song.  Unfortunately, the population of these beautiful and beneficial birds has been in a steady and precipitous decline for decades.  The bobolink appears on the State of the Birds 2014 Watchlist of bird species most in need of conservation action.  Here in Maine, the reason there is habitat for these birds at all is because of our farms and agricultural landscape.  However, to optimize forage quality, most hayfields are cut at least once during the nesting timeframe (June – mid July), which results in total nest failure, a pattern that plays out across the northeast each summer.  This year a wonderful group of farmers across central Maine has been working with The Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District’s  Ag Allies project to delay mowing on some productive bobolink fields from Starks to Damariscotta.  For these farmers to make room in their already complex forage management programs is nothing short of inspirational.  We as a society need to recognize and support these local farmers who are not only providing us with quality food and fiber, but also with conservation and maintenance of critical habitat for our birds and other wildlife.

 Stay tuned for more information on our farmers and landowners that were part of the Ag Allies program this year.  Meantime, you can learn more about the program at our Ag Allies tab of the web page.

It is nesting season! Bobolink Walk and Talk events for June

Photo by Laura Suomi-Lecker, bobolink male

Here are two exciting opportunities to see, hear and learn about one of Maine’s most iconic grassland birds.

Damariscotta – Thursday, June 15th, at 9 A.M.

Come enjoy the birds!  You are invited to take a guided morning walk through a beautiful bobolink habitat that is now being managed for nesting grassland birds at Damariscotta River Association’s (DRA) Great Salt Bay Farm.  Walk will be lead by DRA’s Jesse Ferreria, and Laura Suomi-Lecker, manager of  the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District’s grassland bird Agricultural Allies program on June 15 from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM.  Press Release – Nesting Grassland Bird Walk with DRA.

South Thomaston – Friday, June 16th, at 10 A.M.

The public is invited to take a walk through a thriving bobolink habitat recently protected by Georges River Land Trust! Laura Suomi-Lecker, Technical Director for Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Education and Outreach Coordinator for Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, will join the Land Trust on Friday, June 16 at 10 a.m. in South Thomaston to discuss the needs and issues facing grassland birds and best management practices to help them.  Press Release – GLT Grassland Bird Walk



Local Dairy Farm Conserves Grassland Bird Habitat!

 Gerald and Dean Paine

Gerald and Dean Paine

In a first-time partnership effort, Paine Dairy Farm in Madison collaborated with the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District this summer to conserve approximately 30 acres of active hayland as grassland bird habitat.  Paine farm is run by Dean Paine, his wife, Juanita, and two sons Josh and Jacolby.  Dean worked alongside his farther, Gerald Paine, for many years before taking over the operation.  The farm was started by the widowed and gutsy Elsie Dunlap Stoutamyer as a homestead and sheep/lamb operation in 1920.  Elsie’s granddaughter, Virginia, and her new husband Gerald took over the farm in 1955, running it predominantly as a chicken broiler operation.  It was converted to a dairy farm in 1984.  Today the Paine farm encompasses over 200 acres, milks 100 cows and is steward for an additional 300 acres of land in the surrounding community.

In return for an incentive payment to help offset loss in forage quality, Dean consented to delay mowing on a particularly productive parcel of active bobolink habitat at the end of June.  This was a significant conservation effort, and resulted in the fledging of at least 30 bobolink youngsters. Bobolink family groups were up and about by the weekend of July 9th, gliding over the grassland, hunting for insects and making their joyous calls. In addition to hosting bobolinks, the field was likely nesting grounds for savannah and other sparrows.  Incentive funds were provided by the Davis Conservation Foundation for the Somerset County District’s Agricultural Allies program, an outreach and education project intended to encourage safe nesting habitat for grassland birds.

Recently fledged juvenile bobolink

Recently fledged juvenile bobolink

Bobolinks are a historic sight and sound each spring in the fields and meadows of Maine. In addition to being a delight to see and hear, bobolinks and other grassland birds are true agricultural allies to central Maine farmers as these birds consume large quantities of both insect pests and weed seeds each growing season.  Unfortunately, the population of these beneficial birds has been in a steady and precipitous decline since the 1960s, according to the State of the Birds 2014 (www.stateofthebirds.org) report.  The bobolink appears on their Watchlist of bird species most in need of conservation action.  Here in Maine, the reason there is habitat for these birds at all is because of our agricultural landscape.  Unfortunately, however, most hayfields are cut at least once during the nesting timeframe (end of May – mid July), which results in total nestling mortality, a pattern that plays out across the northeast.

Paine’s delay in mowing was the key to survival for this large group of bobolink nestlings.  The willingness of the Paine family to work with the District on this issue was a tangible and significant benefit for the grassland birds of central Maine.

It is not only farmers who can help grassland birds, however.  “Everyone can have a hand in helping these birds”, says Laura Suomi-Lecker, Technical Director for Somerset County SWCD.  “If we as the general public could leave grass areas un-mowed until August 1st, including letting some lawn area ‘go natural’, we could help create non-competitive grasslands for birds, pollinators and other wildlife.”  Reducing manicured lawn in favor of meadow creation not only benefits wildlife, but it saves time, fuel and money for landowners, making it a true win-win situation.

We encourage people to contact the Somerset County SWCD (at 474-8324 x 3; www.somersetswcd.org ) to find out other ways that they can get involved with this critical conservation effort.

Bird Habitat Walk and Talk on June 17th in Thomaston

What could be better than watching and listening to birds?  How about learning about them at the same time?  If you agree, then here is your chance!

On Friday, June 7th, from 9 AM to 10 AM, in co-operation with the Georges River Land Trust, Laura Suomi-Lecker will be leading a Walk and Talk session in Thomaston.  She will talk about the wonders of bobolinks and other grassland birds.  She will do this while leading a tour through bobolink habitat where there are nesting bobolinks!

The walk will start and end at the parking lot of the Finnish Congregational Church in Thomaston.

For more information and directions, you can follow this link to the Georges River Land Trust page.

We hope to seen you there!


Adult Male BobolinkIt is spring and the bobolinks arriving once again in the fields and meadows of Maine. These birds are most conspicuous from their beautiful bubbling song, punctuated with sharp metallic notes, bringing to mind the character R2-D2 in the movie Star Wars.  If you have fields nearby, go out and have a listen.  Also have a look: The male bobolinks are striking, with their yellow cap contrasting with the black and white of their body.  In the spring, male bobolinks make conspicuous display flights low over grasslands, fluttering their wings while singing.

Bobolinks are long-distance migrants, traveling about 12,500 miles round-trip every year, in one of the longest migrations of any songbird in the New World.  At the end of the breeding season, birds fly in groups through Florida and across the Gulf of Mexico toward their wintering grounds in South America.  Throughout its lifetime, a single bobolink may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth.

And here’s a really cool fact:  A migrating Bobolink can orient itself with the earth’s magnetic field, thanks to iron oxide in bristles of its nasal cavity and in tissues around the olfactory bulb and nerve. Bobolinks also use the starry night sky to guide their travels.

These fascinating birds nest in uncut pastures, overgrown fields and meadows from June until the end of July, needing undisturbed fields in which to raise their young.  If you are lucky enough to have bobolinks on your land and can allow them to have fields uncut through August 1st, you will give them their best chance for a successful nesting season, and you may be rewarded by their return to your fields year after year.  If you have bobolinks in active hay fields, check out some tips for helping nesting bobolinks co-exist with forage production.

Information about bobolinks comes from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – You can see more photos and hear the beautiful bobolink call at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/.

Bees – What have they done for you lately?

Native Bee on Aster Flower

For many people, the word ‘bee’ conjures up images of sweet, golden honey and the occasional painful sting. But in reality these little creatures are a highly diverse and integral part of our environment.

There are about 19,000 described species of bees in the world, with at least 5,000 species in North America. We owe them a large debt of gratitude for their role as plant pollinators. Pollination allows for production of fruit and viable seed. Although there are other insects and mechanical means of pollination, bees are an important pollinator of many plant species. As such, they provide a host of agricultural and ecological benefits to us:

  • Food crop value – About one third of our diet is derived from plants that require or benefit from insect pollinators. Examples include:
    • Alfalfa, clover, and most fruits, vegetables, and nuts
    • Beef, poultry and dairy products (indirect, as animals feed on pollinated hay crops)
    • Fats and oils, such as soybean , sunflower, canola, and olive
  • Aesthetic value of pollination of ornamentals, wildflowers and forest plants
  • Ecological value through the production of seeds, fruits, and nuts which serve as food for wildlife.
  • Nitrogen Value – Insect-pollinated legumes return millions of tons of nitrogen to the soil.
  • In addition, thousands of species of small wasps are parasites of some pest insects. Without these parasites to limit the growth of insect populations, pests would overtake many crops.

Unfortunately, these amazing and valuable creatures are being threatened by several factors, including:

  • Urbanization, causing loss of habitat and destruction of nesting sites.
  • Loss of plant genetic diversity – threatens the assurance of a continual adequate food supply for the pollinators
  • Pesticides – Bees are highly susceptible to a number of pesticides. Most poisonings occur from insecticides applied to cultivated crops when the bee is in the process of collecting nectar and pollen. These chemicals can also be transported back to the hive where they are then fed to other bees.

So what can you do for them now?

All landowners can improve habitat for pollinators in their own yards and gardens. Here’s how:

  • Plant a variety of flowers and flowering trees and shrubs in your garden and around your yard.
  • Try to establish plants that bloom a different times, keeping the blooms going from early spring through late summer.
  • Consider letting parts of your yard go wild, allowing self-established wild flowers to bloom. Remember that some of what you might consider to be weeds are great for bees!
  • Think twice before applying chemicals to your yard and garden. Consider biological, mechanical controls for pests, only using pesticides as a last resort.

If you must apply chemicals:

  • Become informed about bees and about the relative bee toxicity of different pesticides. Choose the least toxic chemical available to do the job, and apply material in form or manner that would cause the least damage.
  • Do not treat plants with pesticides when they are in bloom. Try to arrange for treatment to be made at time of day or period in the plant’s growth when bees are not present.

Information provided by the Carl Hayden Research Cente and the Xerces Society. Check out the the Xerces Society website for great information, fact sheets and books dedicated to this topic.

The SCSWCD Welcomes New Executive Director, Joe Dembeck!

We are excited to have Joe Dembeck as our new Executive Director.  Joe’s skills and experience will be a great asset to the district, and we look forward to working with him on projects new and old!

Joe grew up in Sparrowbush, New York along the Delaware River. He graduated from the State University of New York College at Geneseo, Geneseo, NY with a B.S. in Biology in 1994 and in 1996 received his M.S. in Water Resources Management from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY. He has worked on fisheries and water resource issues throughout the Northeast for 20 years as an environmental consultant and biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Joe serves as the Chair of Skowhegan’s Conservation Commission and is board member of Somerset Woods Trustees. Joe and his partner, Natalie Jones, live in Skowhegan. He enjoys canoeing, fishing, hunting, gardening, snowshoeing, and working in his woodlot.

Be a Bird Hero!

In 2009, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.

However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action.  And we as public citizens can help.  In fact, our help is vital.  National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher, says “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support…vital habitat restoration and protection measures.”  So how, exactly, can we help?

Each of these topics can be covered in a lot more detail, but you can start being a Bird Hero today!

The Top 10 Ways to be a ‘Bird Hero’:

If you have field areas around your house, leave the grass standing until after August 1 or later.Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Meadowlarks and other grassland birds need open hayfields for nesting. Many grassland species are experiencing serious population decline.       These birds nest on the ground, and the babies mature through June and fledge through the end of July.Mowing fields during this timeframe often results in complete nestling mortality. For farmers with active hay fields needed for livestock feed, check out our additional publication for ways to co-exist with the bobolinks.

Try to avoid cutting trees, both live and dead, during spring and summer. White Breasted NuthatchMany woodland birds, such as owls, woodpeckers, nuthatches and warblers nest in trees and dead tree cavities. If you do need to cut, do the minimal amount necessary, and try to scout the area for birds. An active bird nest will have parents back and forth to the nest many times each day.

Leash your dog when you are out walking in fields or woods. Dogs are great walking companions and many of us enjoy letting our dogs run free in the woods and fields. At this time of year, however, it is important to be aware of where your dog is – woodlands as well as grasslands are home to many ground nesting birds that are vulnerable to even a well-meaning dog.

Keep cats inside or in a fenced enclosure, especially during this time of year. Cats pose a great threat to adult birds, busily gathering food for their babies, as well as newly fledged nestlings that need time to condition their flight muscles and learn the ropes. This time of year, both are particularly vulnerable to cat predation, as are birds that nest or feed on or near the ground.

Feed the hummingbirds, but be sure to use nectar that has no coloring dye in it. The nectar does not need to be red to attract the humming birds, and it has been shown that the red dye in many hummingbird nectars can actually cause harm to the birds. It is easy to make your own humming bird nectar – boil 4 cups of water and add one cup of sugar, mix until combined. This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. Also be sure to leave your feeders out at the end of the season until you are sure the hummingbirds have all gone. They’ll need to be well fed to make a successful journey to their winter homes!

Get the lead out – do not use lead when hunting or fishing.       There are alternatives to lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle. Lead ingestion is a death sentence for loons, other waterbirds and predatory birds that feed on lead-contaminated prey. Lead sinkers and jigs are accidentally swallowed by loons when they are foraging for the gravel they need for their digestion or when feeding on fish attached to lead tackle. Birds of prey and scavengers can get lead poisoning when feeding on birds and fish contaminated with lead tackle and also when feeding on carcasses or remains of prey hunted with lead ammunition. Using only non–lead fishing tackle and ammunition saves lives.

Reduce window strikes at your house by applying window decals or film.       If you have windows that birds commonly fly into, check out products on the market to help reduce window strikes. CollidEscape offers a line of products including decals, UV liquid, and a window film that makes your windows visible to birds without obstructing your view of the great outdoors. http://www.collidescape.org Research has shown Collidescape film to be nearly 100% effective at preventing collisions. That is great news for the birds!

If you find a baby bird or an injured or sick bird, call a licensed rehabilitation center for advice and guidance.       First, get the bird out of immediate harm’s way, if necessary. Remember to put your own safety first! Then call the experts for some help. For example, Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center is open 7 days a week, and can be reached at 382-6761. While in your care, try to keep the bird warm, dark, and quiet, away from children and pets. The best way to set up the bird is in a covered cardboard box with air-holes and padding, such as an old towel, on the bottom of the box. Birds have vastly different dietary needs, depending on the species, so do not attempt to feed a bird anything until you have talked with a knowledgeable rehabber.

If you have space, put up bird nesting boxes.       Be sure to research proper location and sizing of the nest box entrance for the species you are trying to attract. Box entrance holes should be sized appropriately to help control nest parasitism and predation. It is also essential to locate boxes in areas that are as safe as possible from predators, and far enough apart to give nesting birds needed space. Specifics vary for each species. Do your homework.

Scan your yard and surrounding area for bird hazards.       Plastic tarps or bags, artificial Halloween spider webs, fly paper and sticky traps, pesticides of all kinds, and other types of chemicals are all things we might have outside that can pose a threat to birds. Look around for things that birds could get entangled in, injured by or accidentally ingest. Remove or cover these items. Try to find alternative ways to handle pest issues, using pesticides only as a last resort. Birds that feed on bugs or rodents that have been poisoned can suffer secondary poisoning themselves.

With a little thought and planning, we can make all make a difference.

Annual Trout Sale

brookieEven though the snow is still on the ground and ice is probably covering your pond, it is time to start thinking about stocking your trout ponds.  Luckily, you can get your Brookies and Rainbows through us.  The annual SWCD Trout Sale runs until May 13th.  Click on the fish or download the order form hereThe pickup is on May 18th at 9:00 AM at the Somerset SWCD parking lot, 70 E Madison Rd (the USDA Office) in Skowhegan.