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Ask Maine Audubon: Should we expect an early appearance from frogs and salamanders?

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Ask Maine Audubon: Should we expect an early appearance from frogs and salamanders?


A wood frog is spotted on Middle Road in Falmouth on March 31, 2022, which was that spring’s “Big Night,” a statewide scientific study of the annual event when amphibians migrate across roadways to breeding grounds. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

There are many ways to mark and measure when spring begins, perhaps most officially with the vernal equinox coming this week.

From a naturalist perspective, it is most fun to see, and hear, all the signs of spring across the landscapes right now. A warm early spring evening has many signs of the changing season. I’ve found myself standing outside at dusk lately, listening for the nasal ‘peent’ calls of American woodcocks.

Another common noise is the increasing chorus of frogs emerging from their brumation (the amphibian equivalent to hibernation) and finding mates. With the early spring this year, we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about what effects – if any – the warmer-than-usual temperatures and flooding might be having on our amphibians, so we’ll discuss some of the common and thought provoking questions here.

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A good place to start is with a reminder about one of the coolest events of the year for any herper (a fan of herpetology; aka the amphibian and reptile people): the Big Night. The big night typically happens on the first warm and rainy night of the spring (45 degrees or warmer) when the majority of amphibians – frogs and salamanders – emerge from the burrows where they overwintered and journey back to the vernal pools they were born in, to breed. (A vernal pool is a small temporary wetland that fills with water in spring or fall.)

Last week, we had a rainy evening with temperatures in the low 40s, but despite my best efforts walking around with a flashlight and umbrella, I couldn’t find any herps on the move. We did see a handful of reports online, but the ideal conditions will need slightly warmer temperatures.

Conditions for a Big Night may not occur until April, but it is a good idea to be prepared because you often don’t know if the weather conditions will be just right until just before it happens.

One interesting question we’ve received lately is about the impact on our amphibians from the recent flooding events. In general, that impact will be minimal, and that is mostly thanks to the distances between the areas affected by flooding and where amphibians are wintering. Coastal flooding is not a concern for amphibians since most of them avoid the salt water and won’t be near the areas seeing the most increased flooding during these recent storms. Even looking at some of the high flooding along rivers, we don’t need to be too concerned, as most amphibians are going to be high enough up (remember ‘high’ isn’t very far when you are only a few inches long) or far enough from rivers to not be an issue. Very few amphibians will be near these rivers, as many (especially salamanders) are in leaf litter or under logs across the forest floor, and most frogs and turtles are going to be in the muddy bottoms of lakes and ponds. Yes, there will be some unlucky ones that get flooded out or washed away, but I suspect it is a very low percentage of individuals that will be affected.

Another important thing to mention now is that we should limit our impact on them at this sensitive time. A recent post on Facebook from our friends at the Center for Wildlife was a nice reminder that despite these warm temperatures that might feel ideal for getting in early yard work, we need to be careful of the amphibians that are still in the ground, often in our yards. This is especially true if you were helping wildlife last fall by “leaving the leaves” in your yard. Those leaves were a great home for them and other wildlife this winter. So don’t disturb those homes yet! We need consistent warm temperatures before we should start any yard work that would displace wildlife.

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Speaking of Center for Wildlife, I wanted to plug an upcoming webinar Maine Audubon is hosting with them on March 28, called “Herp” Tales: Lessons from Maine’s Reptiles and Amphibians. This will be a fun program to help you prepare for Big Night and beyond, with the chance to learn about reptile and amphibian ecology and human impacts on “herps” this time of year. Center for Wildlife staff and some of the animals in their care will share the screen. On March 25, we’re also hosting a hybrid program (join either in person at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden, or join online) with Greg LeClair, founder of the Maine Big Night project, a community science project to track Maine’s amphibian migration. Check out maineaudubon.org/events for more information and to register for these free programs!

Do you have a nature question for Doug? Email questions to ask@maineaudubon.org and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 8 to 10 a.m., at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.


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Maine Police, Wardens Searching for a Missing 40-Year-Old Man

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Maine Police, Wardens Searching for a Missing 40-Year-Old Man


A ground and air search is underway for a missing Clinton man, age 40.

Clinton Resident Went Missing on Sunday

Damon Bickford, 40, was reported missing on Sunday night at approximately 10:00.

Mr. Bickford Does Not Have His Cellphone

Officials say Bickford, who lives at 1665 Bangor Road in Clinton, notably left his phone at home. Bickford is 5’8″ tall, 205 pounds, with dark hair, a brown and white beard, and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing gray pants, a flannel shirt of unknown color over a t-shirt, and hiking boots.

His disappearance prompted an immediate response from the Clinton Police Department and Maine Warden Service, who have been actively involved in the search since this morning. Their efforts include deploying a plane and K9 teams to Bickford’s home.

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Police Hope to Hear From Anyone Who Has Information About His Whereabouts

Officials urge anyone who may have seen Damon or has any information about his whereabouts to contact the Clinton Police Department, at 207-426-9192.

We’ll update this story as more details become available.

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Gallery Credit: Lizzy Snyder





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Marijuana grow busted in Maine as feds investigate trend in 20 states

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Marijuana grow busted in Maine as feds investigate trend in 20 states


The high electricity consumption of a home, its cardboard-covered windows and odor of marijuana drew law enforcement’s attention to an illicit grow operation off the beaten path in rural Maine.

The bust of the home with a hidden grow operation and seizure of nearly 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of processed marijuana marked the latest example of what authorities describe as a yearslong trend of foreign nationals to exploit U.S. state laws that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use to produce marijuana for the illicit markets in the U.S.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating international criminal organizations that are operating illegal marijuana grows in about 20 states, including Maine, Attorney Garland Merrick Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee this week, in response to a question raised by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Federal law enforcement officials said there currently are about 100 illicit grow operations in Maine, like the one in Passadumkeag, about 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) north of Bangor, and about 40 search warrants have been issued since June.

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In Passadumkeag, Xisen Guo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, has been accused of transforming the house into a high-tech, illicit grow operation, according to court documents unsealed this week.

He was ordered held without bail Friday on federal drug charges, making him the first person to be charged federally in such a case in Maine. A detention hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The Internal Revenue Service and Department of Homeland Security, along with the FBI and DEA and local law enforcement, are working together to get to the bottom of the illicit grow operations in Maine, Garland said.

The state legalized adult consumption of marijuana, but growers must be licensed by the state. The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy said Guo was operating an unlicensed operation, according to court documents.

The illicit grow operations across the U.S. began cropping up several years ago. In 2018, U.S. authorities arrested a Seattle woman, conducted raids and seized thousands of marijuana plants during an investigation of an operation with Chinese ties. Oklahoma officials learned straw owners in China and Mexico were running illegal operations after marijuana was legalized by the state for medical purposes in 2018.

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The legality of marijuana consumption and cultivation in those states tends to provide cover for illegal grow operations, which may draw less attention, officials said. The marijuana is then trafficked in states where it’s illegal.

This photo shows the seizure of 40 pounds of processed marijuana from a hidden grow operation in Maine. (Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

In Maine, U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said thwarting illegal growing operations with international connections is a priority for law enforcement, “and we will continue to marshal every tool at our disposal in this effort as appropriate.”

Law enforcement officials know the tell-tale signs.

Police zeroed in on the Passadumkeag operation in part because of the home’s utility bills reviewed by deputies. After the home was purchased for $125,000 cash, the electricity use went from about $300 a month to as high as nearly $9,000, according to court documents.

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That’s consistent with heat pumps, costly lighting and other gear needed to grow marijuana, investigators said. The home owner, a limited liability company, upgraded the electric capability to double what is found in a typical Maine home, according to documents.

Guo’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press. Two others who were at the home at the time of the police raid in February were released and not charged.

McElwee said law enforcement — from local and county police to the FBI and DEA — are starting to make headway with “dozens of operations” shuttered over the last several months.

“The possible involvement of foreign nationals using Maine properties to profit from unlicensed marijuana operations and interstate distributions makes it clear that there is a need for a strong and sustained federal, state and local effort to shut down these operations,” she said.

Law enforcement officials also continue to investigate who is directing the operations and where the profits are going, she said.

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Feds bust another illegal grow house in Maine as authorities probe foreign-backed drug trade in other states

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Feds bust another illegal grow house in Maine as authorities probe foreign-backed drug trade in other states


The high electricity consumption of a home, its cardboard-covered windows and odor of marijuana drew law enforcement’s attention to an illicit grow operation off the beaten path in rural Maine.

The bust of the home with a hidden grow operation and seizure of nearly 40 pounds of processed marijuana marked the latest example of what authorities describe as a yearslong trend of foreign nationals to exploit U.S. state laws that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use to produce marijuana for the illicit markets in the U.S.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating international criminal organizations that are operating illegal marijuana grows in about 20 states, including Maine, Attorney General Merrick Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, in response to a question raised by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

A bipartisan group of 50 U.S. lawmakers, Collins among them, had written to Garland in February asking for him to answer questions about China’s role in illegal marijuana operations in the country.

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“We are deeply concerned with reports from across the country regarding Chinese nationals and organized crime cultivating marijuana on United States farmland,” they wrote. 

Federal law enforcement officials said there currently are about 100 illicit grow operations in Maine, like the one in Passadumkeag, about 60 miles north of Bangor, and about 40 search warrants have been issued since June.

In Passadumkeag, Xisen Guo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, has been accused of transforming the house into a high-tech, illicit grow operation, according to court documents unsealed this week.

Illicit Marijuana Operations Maine
This photo provided by the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office shows the seizure of 40 pounds of processed marijuana from a hidden grow operation by a Chinese citizen in Maine.

Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office via AP

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He was ordered held without bail Friday on federal drug charges, making him the first person to be charged federally in such a case in Maine. A detention hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The Internal Revenue Service and Department of Homeland Security, along with the FBI and DEA and local law enforcement, are working together to get to the bottom of the illicit grow operations in Maine, Garland said.

The state legalized adult consumption of marijuana, but growers must be licensed by the state. The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy said Guo was operating an unlicensed operation, according to court documents.

The illicit grow operations across the U.S. began cropping up several years ago. In 2018, U.S. authorities arrested a Seattle woman, conducted raids and seized thousands of marijuana plants during an investigation of an operation with Chinese ties. Oklahoma officials learned straw owners in China and Mexico were running illegal operations after marijuana was legalized by the state for medical purposes in 2018.

The legality of marijuana consumption and cultivation in those states tends to provide cover for illegal grow operations, which may draw less attention, officials said. The marijuana is then trafficked in states where it’s illegal.

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In Maine, U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said thwarting illegal growing operations with international connections is a priority for law enforcement, “and we will continue to marshal every tool at our disposal in this effort as appropriate.”

Law enforcement officials know the tell-tale signs.

Police zeroed in on the Passadumkeag operation in part because of the home’s utility bills reviewed by deputies. After the home was purchased for $125,000 cash, the electricity use went from about $300 a month to as high as nearly $9,000, according to court documents.

That’s consistent with heat pumps, costly lighting and other gear needed to grow marijuana, investigators said. The home owner, a limited liability company, upgraded the electric capability to double what is found in a typical Maine home, according to documents.

Marijuana confiscated from a hidden grow operation in Maine
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Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office via AP


Raymond Donovan, the former chief of operations for the DEA, told CBS News earlier in April that unusually high electricity bills are one of the easiest ways to spot an illegal grow operation.

“These locations consume huge amounts of electricity,” he told CBS News. “In order to accommodate that amount of energy, you need to upgrade your electrical infrastructure — and significantly. We’re getting into specialty electrical equipment that is very scarce and hard to come by, especially in the state of Maine.”  

Another illegal growing operation — where authorities found 2,600 plants and 100 pounds of marijuana that had already been processed and packaged — was busted in Machias, Maine, in December of last year. It was spotted by authorities for the same reasons that the Passadumkeag house drew attention.

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Machias Police Chief Keith Mercier said that operation was using about four or five times as much power as a normal residence would.

“Once we subpoenaed the power records from the power company, [it] was pretty hard to explain why somebody anywhere would be using that amount of power,” he told CBS News. The Machias grow house also had shuttered windows and a strong odor.

Guo’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press. Two others who were at the home at the time of the police raid in February were released and not charged.

McElwee said law enforcement — from local and county police to the FBI and DEA — are starting to make headway with “dozens of operations” shuttered over the last several months.

“The possible involvement of foreign nationals using Maine properties to profit from unlicensed marijuana operations and interstate distributions makes it clear that there is a need for a strong and sustained federal, state and local effort to shut down these operations,” she said.

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Law enforcement officials also continue to investigate who is directing the operations and where the profits are going, she said.



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