Mystery pheasant, other wild visitors keep spring exciting

The hummingbird feeder is out, the grill has been cleaned and the ruts in the road that formed during mud season have been filled in. Spring is in full swing at our home in the woods, even if the weather is still chilly and exceptionally wet.

Located on a wooded hill above a lake, our house has a nice view of the water and the hills beyond during the winter. But each spring, that vista disappears as the beech, oak and maple trees surrounding us leaf out, cocooning our home in vibrant green.

When my husband and I moved into the house about four years ago, it felt like home right away. Tucked in the forest among giant glacial boulders, the cedar-shingled building reminded me of a tree house with its many windows and large second-story porch. The “lawn” was a sea of ferns, beds of moss and patchy weeds. And our only neighbor owned a summer cabin up the road, out of sight.

Somewhat secluded and a bit whimsical, our home wouldn’t suit just anyone. But my husband and I have enjoyed living in the midst of so much nature. It seems that we’ve traded human neighbors for non-human neighbors, including a rather large resident black bear, a herd of white-tailed deer, an abundance of woodpeckers and some absolutely beautiful moths.

A springtime visitor on my road.

With so many summer homes located along the edge of the lake below us, I was a bit surprised at first about the variety of wildlife wandering around our home. So I did a little investigating on Google Maps, and found that across our dirt road, the forest goes on and on, uninterrupted. A perfect wildlife corridor.

With permission from the landowner, we’ve explored this forestland to discover mini waterfalls and mossy stands of tall evergreens, but I’ve yet to find the vernal pool responsible for the many salamanders I find in our yard, hiding under the leaf litter.

We’re still learning about the natural patterns that exist around our house. For example, we’ve come to learn that each spring, porcupines pass through our area, and our dog, Oreo, has a tendency to find them. We’ve brought him to the veterinary clinic three times now to have quills removed from his snout.

Porcupines I found in a tussle right outside my door.

Also in the spring, I bring the bird feeders inside the house to avoid tempting bears into our yard. Having just emerged from hibernation, they’re especially hungry and searching for just about any source of food. A resident bear only had to ransack my feeders once for me to learn my lesson.

Once it warms up enough to plant herbs and tomatoes, snakes emerge from the rock wall that backs our flower beds — milk snakes, ring-necked snakes and the common garter snakes. Black flies hatch from nearby streams and amass to pester us. And my favorite songbird, the hermit thrush, returns to our woods to grace us with its beautiful song.

We’re learning the patterns. But there are always a few unexpected guests.

For example, a few weeks ago, I was driving home when I spotted a strange bird walking along the road not far from our house. Initially, I thought it was a wild turkey, of which there are plenty in our woods.

Close up of wild turkeys.

But upon closer inspection, I noticed a number of small characteristics — red at the corner of its eyes and blue-purple feathers on its neck — that signaled to me that it was some other bird species altogether.

As an amateur birder, I’m always excited when I come upon a bird species that I’ve never seen before. Usually I end up identifying these new-to-me birds by taking photos of them, which I can inspect and compare to other photos later. Unfortunately, this mystery bird caught me by surprise. I only had time to snap a few far-off photos with my phone before it wandered into the woods.

But, as fate would have it, I ran into the bird again the very next day. Ambling along the side of the road, it gave me plenty of time to park, retrieve my camera from the back seat of my car, roll down the window and take a photo using my 100-400mm camera lens. Comparing that detailed photo to bird photos on the internet, my best guess was that the bird was a pheasant — and I turned out to be correct.

A female pheasant. They can be much lighter than this.

I sent the photo, titled “mystery bird,” to local bird expert and BDN columnist Bob Duchesne, and he confirmed that it was a female pheasant, a bird that is not native to Maine.

“It may be an escapee from a breeder,” Bob wrote. “There are wild populations in the state, descended from escapees years ago.”

These populations have faded away for the most part, Bob said, but there’s still quite a few of these birds wandering around Grand Manan, a Canadian island just off the coast of eastern Maine.

Since my back-to-back encounters with the pheasant, I haven’t seen it. But I wonder what wild visitor I’ll encounter next. Will it be a flying squirrel knocking on my bedroom window? A giant moth bursting into our house unannounced? A group of baby owls raising a racket in the trees? I’ll let you know when I find out.

A barred owl I photographed near my home, right by the road.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at