Birds, northern writers focus of upcoming courses

15 years ago

    Ornithology class offered
    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Sometime around Christmas, did you happen to notice a car stop suddenly in front of your house, and see a man dressed in green wool pants and binoculars harnessed to his chest apparently stalking something in your backyard?  Then, chances are you own a bird feeder. On the Saturday after Christmas several local volunteers helped conduct the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, organized by Bill Sheehan. Since bird feeders attract the winter birds that brave a Northern Maine winter, they also attract the birdwatchers who take part in this longstanding Christmastime tradition.
The bird feeders around Presque Isle attract many of the common species that live here year-round: black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, woodpeckers and more. However, many of the birds that show up to your feeders in winter have most likely flown south for the winter to balmy Northern Maine. Yes, this isn’t the typical winter escape. But, snow buntings, pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, common redpolls and other winter birds make their way from the frozen boreal and Arctic regions to spend their winters across the northern U.S. Waxwings are another interesting bird that you may be used to seeing in the summer. However, the species you see eating your crabapples in the winter is most likely another Arctic species that winters here: the Bohemian waxwing. It is distinguished from its summer cousin, the cedar waxwing, by its rusty rump (the so-called undertail coverts).
A variety of other interesting, and less common species make their way south to Maine for the winter. If you see them around your feeders, they are probably looking for food, but in the form of small birds or mammals and not seed. Snowy owls, northern shrikes, great grey owls and rough-legged hawks are some of the Arctic predatory birds that birdwatchers scour the winter landscape to find. In fact, this year is turning out numerous Arctic predators, such as a Northern hawk owl that has been seen for the last week in Stockholm. These irruptions of winter birds usually happen when the lemmings they eat in the north cycle to a low annual population size. As winter finally turns to spring the winter migrants head back north and the summer migrants return from their truly balmy retreat to the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean or even South America. A whole different suite of birds finds your feeders and the forests, fields and wetlands around Northern Maine.
Have you ever wanted to know more about the birds that frequent your feeders? Have you ever wondered what kind of bird you often hear while walking through the woods? Do you think it’s really true that birds desert their nests if a human has touched it? Well, for the first time, an ornithology course is being offered at the University of Maine at Presque Isle to answer these and many other questions that you may have about local birds. The course, BIO 310, will focus on the basics of bird biology and identification of about 75 common local species through lectures, lab work and field trips. The course runs Jan. 20-May 14 with Monday, Wednesday and Friday lectures from 8-8:50 a.m., and a weekly lab on Thursdays from 8-11 a.m. The course will be taught by Dr. Jason Johnston, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at UMPI and a 1993 graduate of PIHS.
If you would like to register, please contact Johnston at or 768-9652.

Pelletier to teach course on northern writers
PRESQUE ISLE – Acclaimed writer Cathie Pelletier is returning to her northern Maine roots with a new course that she will teach at the University of Maine at Presque Isle this spring on writers who explore northern life and living.
Pelletier will offer the course Northern Writers: A Sense of Place, which will focus on writers of New England and other northern climes as well as those whose works focus on this unique region and way of life. Open to campus and community members, this 10-week course that begins in February will explore the works of those who capture the essence of New England living and carving out a life “up north.”
Pelletier – who has written nine novels including several that examine life as lived in small Maine towns – will provide opportunities for her class to speak in person and by phone with some of the writers whose works they will be reading. While schedules still are being coordinated, Pelletier is hoping to connect her students with writers such as Suzanne Kingsbury, “The Gospel According to Gracey”; Howard Frank Mosher, “A Stranger in the Kingdom”; Earnest Hebert, (author of the Darby series; Deborah Joy Corey, “Losing Eddie”; and Chris Bojahlian, “Midwives”.
The course will be Cathie Pelletier’s third collaboration with the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Pelletier, an Allagash native, most recently taught a screenwriting class at UMPI that helped to launch the University’s new Film Studies Program. That class introduced students to several professionals in the movie industry, allowing them to talk by phone with producer/director George Stevens, Jr. (“Separate But Equal”), actress Lolita Davidovich (“Blaze”), and writer/director Ron Shelton (“Bull Durham”). The course capped off with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to bring their screenplay to life by working with cinematographer Zoran Popovic (“War,Inc.”) on creating a 20-minute short film, which they hope to present to the campus and community this spring.
Pelletier’s latest course is expected to provide students with similarly unique experiences that will give them a much fuller appreciation for the subject they are studying.
“When a writer teaches writing, or discusses the works of other writers, there is always a tremendous learning experience and exchange that is going on. I can’t imagine a better way for students to fully understand an author’s work than to speak to him or her directly once we’ve finished reading the books. And from these classes, I take new knowledge with me to the next novel I write,” Pelletier said. “I never intended to spend much time in the teaching arena, but the atmosphere at UMPI is so open, so energetic and exciting, that I can’t wait to begin a new class.”
Pelletier wrote her first novel, “The Funeral Makers,” in 1986. That novel was followed by “Once Upon a Time on the Banks,” “The Weight of Winter,” “The Bubble Reputation,” “A Marriage Made at Woodstock” and “Beaming Sonny Home.” She made international literary news in 1998 when Doubleday paid her a $1 million advance for her novel “Candles on Bay Street,” written under her pen name K.C. McKinnon. “Candles” eventually became a Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions film starring Alicia Silverstone. Her other McKinnon novel, “Dancing at the Harvest Moon,” has been translated into 18 languages and, in 2002, became a CBS movie starring Jacqueline Bisset and Valerie Harper. Her latest novel, “Running the Bulls,” won the 2006 Paterson Prize for Fiction. Coming full circle, Pelletier has adapted her first novel into a screenplay for director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”; “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”). She also is working with actor Donald Sutherland, who has optioned her original screenplay, “The Luna Christmas,” with hopes to begin filming this spring.
For more information about Pelletier, visit her Web site at To register for her northern writers class, contact the Office of Student Records at 768-9607 or e-mail