24 September 2017 Rockport, Maine, USA 

Archive for January, 2010

Seafood

Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Young herring gull, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 January 2010.

Young herring gull.

This day dawned bright and mild (seasonally speaking) and full of the voices of crows. One of my first actions of the day, in fact, was to sneak out onto the back deck to see what all the fuss was about. Crows hollering, showing up from neighboring territories, shouting at something from the big bare limbs of the oak trees up the hill. I wasn’t exactly dressed for the 30s (F), but I stuck it out as long as I could. Never did see what they were yelling at. I thought maybe a hawk or owl, maybe a fox. They were even dipping and diving. Finally, their cries simply petered out, and they sat around looking at each other. I suspect the first to raise the alarm was seeing things, and the rest just took him at his word.

Lunch, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 January 2010.

Lunch.

Soon after, I heard what sounded at first like a distant blue jay—a single, downward-inflected note. Then it sounded like the love song of a titmouse. And then the titmouse let out three in quick succession, which kind of gave it away.

In early afternoon, the sun abruptly winked out, and the forecast snow showers—I’d found the forecast implausible, I must confess—began in earnest. Gray sky, spitting snow, rising southwest wind. Low tide. Seemed like a good time to walk the breakwater.

Blackbacked gull dining on a large rock. Herring gulls floating on the island side, squawking about something. A ring-billed flying by. Loons, mergansers, buffleheads, and long-tailed ducks diving—a dozen long-tails, in fact, all giving out their magically alluring call—and a pair of great cormorants perching on the edge of the breakwater’s granite stones. The snow intensifying, flakes melting in my eyes.

But this was mostly a day of consumption.

First, a common loon choking down a crab. Then a herring gull at a sushi bar, gulping down urchin roe. Then a cormorant swallowing a good-sized a finfish. And finally, a first- or second-winter herring gull worrying a starfish, shaking it like a ragdoll. I got a photo of it gulping down one of the five limbs, in fact.

Herring gull, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 January 2010.

Herring gull.

Chickadees called from the parking lot. And I nearly forgot: I saw a tiny cluster of black ducks flying fast through snowflakes somewhat earlier in the day.

Today’s List

American crow
Tufted titmouse
Greater black-backed gull
Herring gull
Black duck
Black-capped chickadee
Common loon
Bufflehead
Common eider
Red-breasted merganser
Long-tailed duck
Great cormorant

Winter shore, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 January 2010.

Winter shore.

The shore

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Mid-tide beach, Owls Head, Maine, 27 January 2010.

Mid-tide beach.

It’s easy to forget just how married to the sea we are. We go about our business inshore, along the paved roads, traveling to and from the bank and post office and supermarket. We feel lucky to be able to catch a glimpse of the bay and islands. On foggy nights, we hear the mournful horn. But our history here in coastal Maine is maritime. Lacking sail, or fish, or the winds to carry the timber and lime to the great northeastern cities to the southwest of us, no one would’ve noticed the scenic beauty that brings visitors here in summer, or the “leaf-peepers” in fall.

Bald eagle, Owls Head, Maine, 27 January 2010.

Bald eagle.

Today, our thaw continued. Oh, ice had slickened the parking lot early, as the temperature dipped below freezing overnight, but then the sun shone and the earth warmed and all began to melt again. By afternoon, when I got to feeling footloose, I had a mild, 42-degree (F) day to set out in. By then I’d seen (or heard) only crows, and a solitary herring gull had flown by.

For some reason I headed for the Owls Head Light. Lighthouses get built in exposed places overlooking water, and that’s just the kind of place I felt like visiting. Maybe I’d get a glimpse of a rare winter duck or something.

En route, in town, I spied more herring gulls, ring-billed gulls, rock pigeons, and a few European starlings. Shortly after turning east toward OwlsHead Harbor, I passed a road-killed gray squirrel. As I approached the lighthouse road, a blanket of cloud approaching from the west came between the sun and the landscape—this, after a brilliant sun all day. No matter: the light along a shore contains magic.

The ocean churned at the base of the cliffs as I walked the trail to the light. You could hear the deep-voiced rumbling of the water against rocks below. I heard—then saw—a few black-capped chickadees in the wind-sculpted spruce. I spotted a small group of common eiders in the waves below.

Red-breasted mergansers (pair), Owls Head, Maine, 27 January 2010.

Red-breasted mergansers (pair).

I reached the light. From the high overlook, I scanned with fieldglasses but saw no birds in flight, few ducks—certainly no rare ones. More eiders, a couple red-breasted mergansers. A herring gull floating in the swells nearby. Then I caught a motion toward the southwest, off near a navigation aid, in the direction of the Rockland Breakwater. A bald eagle, a mature adult. I got a long-distance photo.

The hills loomed dramatically in the west. From a height, the water seemed wide and deep and wild. No notable birds, though—no guillemots or dovekies or Bonaparte gulls that I could see.

On the way back I took the little side trail to the protected beach beneath the lighthouse promontory. A wilder-looking vista I can’t imagine. It’s here I thought how married we are to the sea. Red-breasted mergansers took flight. The coastal hills stood blue in the distance. As I walked back to my pickup, from somewhere behind me, an angry red squirrel scolded me.

Late tonight the temperature remains well above freezing. But it’s January still, and I shall not fall for tomfoolery.

Today’s List

American crow
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
European starling
Rock pigeon
Common eider
Black-capped chickadee
Bald eagle (ad.)
Red-breated merganser
Common loon
Bufflehead

Looking south from Owls Head, Maine, 27 January 2010.

Looking south from Owls Head.

Water planet

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
The Rockland breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 26 January 2010.

The Rockland breakwater.

A liquid morning. As light came into the eastern sky, a thaw was underway. I heard the liquid sounds from bed—the drippings and rushings of car tires on wet pavement. All night rain must’ve dribbled from the low-hanging clouds that yet clung to the hillside this morning.

Tidal stones, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 26 January 2010.

Tidal stones.

And I could hardly recognize the hillside: the even whiteness had gone, and in its place spread a mostly brown landscape, with patches of snow widely interspersed. I could hardly fathom so swift and efficient a snowmelt. Five or six crows spent the morning stalking the yard next door, and the fringes of the parking lot, whose fragrant floor lay now uncovered. Old acorns, I imagine, and possibly even earthworms. I’m not sure the temperature dipped below 40 (F) all night.

By early afternoon rays of sunlight began to flash intermittently through the cloud-cover. And suddenly, a wide clearing sky. That’s about when I felt drawn again to the breakwater. I’d heard tell of a king eider being been spotted there—who knows what I might see?

Ring-billed gull, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 26 January 2010.

Ring-billed gull.

The soles of my Merrells hit the great granite blocks at shortly past three. Oddly, the shoreside held the greatest chop; the waves on the island side seemed calm by comparison. Right away I spotted a little raft of eiders. All common eiders—for some reason hanging out with a greater black-backed gull. Nearby, a collection of little buffleheads bobbed in the bouncing waves. The three species got flung together then—eider, black-back, buffleheads—and the little ducks, I noticed, kept an attentive eye on the big, carnivorous gull.

The waxing moon had reached a high point, and the tide was rising. Perhaps because of the warmth, a group of tidal rocks glowed almostl unnaturally green with algae. Though really, of course, the green was entirely natural.

Pair of long-tailed ducks (diving), Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 26 January 2010.

Pair of long-tailed ducks (diving).

I saw a large group of loons, five or six of them, sticking together a hundred yards or so away. I saw three black ducks in the protected cove at the base of the breakwater. Farther out, especially on the harbor side, I first heard, then saw, numerous long-tailed ducks—again marveling at their amazing musical call. (I’ve still, in facxt, got their voices stuck in my head.) Small bunches of red-breasted mergansers. Herring and ring-billed gulls. Another group of eiders to the east—but no kings among them, that I could see.

The semi-clearing sky was inspiringly lovely.

After walking its seven-eighths-mile length, head into a southwesterly wind, I paused in the lee of the lighthouse and listened. The first thing I heard was the voices of long-tails. The second was the high-pitched peeping of black guillemots—and there they were, three of the little birds, floating about a hundred feet away.

On the way back I watched a couple great cormorants watching me. And then long-tails began taking wing. First a group of four or five, then a group of eight or more. The males (I assume it’s the males) call in flight, and the combination of voice and great, wing-flapping speed made me dizzy. Then more long-tails, even a group of twenty or more. They flew from the harbor side around the light to the open water, perhaps taking their instinctive trip at the end of the day to where they’ll spend the night. Whatever their motivation, they fly so fast that I couldn’t help but stand in awe. I counted at least a hundred long-tails making this late-afternoon flight.

Sunset, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 26 January 2010.

Sunset.

The light turned pastel pink and blue as I finished up my circuit. And a series of breaking waves swept in from the southeast, cresting over the tidal rocks where harbor seals sometimes lounge. I watched a half-dozen red-breasted mergansers fly swiftly past. I can’t remember the last time I beheld such varied, lovely light, in so short a time, in the sky.

Today’s List

American crow
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
Rock pigeon
Common eider
Greater black-backed gull
Bufflehead
Red-breasted merganser
Black duck
Common loon
Long-tailed duck
Black guillemot
Great cormorant

Pink light, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 26 January 2010.

Pink light.

 
Bird Report is an intermittent record of what's outside my window in Rockport, Maine, USA (44°08'N latitude, 69°06'W longitude), and vicinity. —Brian Willson



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