24 June 2024

Archive for January, 2010

All is not dormant

Sunday, January 31st, 2010
Sunset at Ballyhac Cove, Owls Head, Maine, 31 January 2010.

Sunset at Ballyhac Cove.

Again, the blazing sun. Again cold—but teens (F), not single digits. I heard the friendly voices of black-capped chickadees when first I stepped out on the back deck. Also heard the beep-beep of a white-breasted nuthatch. Then crows, six of them, flapped up into the crown of the big red oak overhanging my place. As I stood below them, snapping photos, they seemed to alternate calls as if playing a game: first one crow, one call; then another crow, another call. I imagine these six individuals were among the dozens at nearby Clam Cove yesterday.

American crow, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 31 January 2010.

American crow.

I was on the phone with my daughter this afternoon when I spotted the shadows of birds out back. A quick glance out the glass doors got me excited—a pair of hairy woodpeckers playing an urgent game keep-away around the trunk of the big shade maple. (No shade this time of year, of course.) I excused myself to attempt photos, and eased open the door to hear their percussive back-and-forth calls, but I must’ve spooked the birds nonetheless and ended up getting only a few remote photos of the male. (The other was a female, I’m pretty sure.) Not sure what the fuss was about.

Later in afternoon, I visited a friend in Owls Head. En route, in Rockland, I saw circling flocks of gulls, multiple tight groups of starlings, and a solitary robin. At Weskeag Marsh in South Thomaston, I saw no sign of the great blue heron that’d been hanging out there earlier this month. Gulls flapped about the distant main channel, where sucked a falling tide.

Hairy woodpecker, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 31 January 2010.

Hairy woodpecker.

At the Keag Store, the water rushed frantically under the bridge and down the estuary and out to sea. A pair of common goldeneys dove off the landing. It’d be easy to miss all the bird activity in this supposedly dormant time of year.

At my friend’s house on Ballyhac Cove, black ducks and other birds were active at low tide. After sunset, I took a photo of her lovely western sky.

Today’s List

American crow
Black-capped chickadee
White-breasted nuthatch
Hairy woodpecker
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
Rock pigeon
European starling
American robin
Common goldeneye
Black duck

Weskeag Marsh, South Thomaston, Maine, 31 January 2010.

Weskeag Marsh.


Saturday, January 30th, 2010
The bay, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 30 January 2010.

The bay.

My temperamental weather station showed things got a bit chilly last night—down at least to 5 degrees (F). Still single digits at first light, but apparently none of the whipping winds of yesterday. Sunny. An achingly blue sky. From the back deck I heard the voices of crows, chickadees, and a downy woodpecker.

On a trip to town, I counted the usual herring and ring-billed gulls and saw a single European starling in flight.

Horned grebe, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 30 January 2010.

Horned grebe.

Then, despite the cold, my birding friend Kristen and I ventured out to the breakwater not long after high tide, where rime ice coated most of it granite surface. Somewhat surprisingly, several other couples and groups hazarded a Saturday walk along the narrow strip of ice-free stone. And there was wind—there’s always wind—but relatively light and northwesterly. The stroll out wasn’t too bad. On either side we saw loons, great cormorants, long-tailed ducks, eiders. We saw buffleheads, goldeneyes, mallards, guillemots. Kristen quickly ID’d a horned grebe in winter plumage. Herring gulls, of course.

On the way back we headed more or less straight into the wind. Despite my hat, hood, and scarf, my ears and forehead grew numb in a hurry. But once we’d covered about three-fourths of a mile, we’d reached the lee of the shore, and my face thawed. In fact, we took a little side trip northeast, to a little cove we visit during our area’s annual Christmas Count, to check on a pair of red-breasted mergansers and a group of black ducks.

Red-breasted merganser, bufflehead, black duck, Rockport, Maine, 30 January 2010.

Red-breasted merganser (♀), bufflehead, black duck.

But the most impressive sight came as we drove back, at Clam Cove—a wide tidal flat just a stone’s throw from my place. The tide was going out, and a dozens of crows stalked the icy mud together, poking around for grub. And if the crow party below caught our attention, so did a similarly large collection of small gulls floating far out in the open water: Bonaparte’s gulls, maybe sixty of them. They were pretty far away, but they appeared to have their heads tucked under their wings, snoozing.

Humans, loons, long-tails, black ducks, crows, gulls—all going about their Saturday business in the company of like-minded individuals. Not that I’d describe cold January as miserable, exactly, but it does seem true that most species do love company. (Ironically, I got one photo that features three wildly different ducks.)

After our walk, as Kristen headed home, I heard the spring warble of a house finch coming from across the road.

Today’s List

American crow
Black-capped chickadee
Downy woodpecker
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
European starling
Common loon
Common goldeneye
Greater black-backed gull
Common eider
Horned grebe
Black guillemot
Long-tailed duck
Great cormorant
Black duck
Red-breasted merganser
Bonaparte’s gull
House finch

Crows and Clam Cove, Rockport, Maine, 30 January 2010.

Crows and Clam Cove.

Winter’s return

Friday, January 29th, 2010
American robin, Camden, Maine, 29 January 2010.

American robin.

More than just a dusting of fine snow had fallen overnight, I saw when I first peered out a window: a good three inches covered everything. Blue sky hung all over the place. Temperatures in the mid-teens (F). I’m not sure it ever got to 20 degrees all day, in fact—a day of fickle but powerful gusts of wind that swept miniature drifts across Route 1, sent fountains of snow off rooftops, chilled bone.

Mallard pair, Camden Harbor, Camden, Maine, 29 January 2010.

Mallard pair.

I didn’t shovel the snow this morning—I took a pushbroom to it. Long-sleeved undershirt, warm overshirt, hooded sweatshirt, and winter parka, and still the icy wind found its way down my collar and threatened to take my hat off. As I swept below them, six crows crows sat clustered together in two pairs of three in the bare limbs of an oak. A jay hollered from the hillside. And the percussive chirps of a house sparrow blared like a string of F-words from across Route 1 somewhere. First member of that species I’d heard around here since summer.

Later I looked up from my desk to see a male cardinal flit into some lilac branches across the parking lot. First cardinal I’d seen this year.

Had a nice lunch with old friends in Camden. The restaurant had good heat. Afterward, I carried my camera down to the public landing to check the waning tide. Schooners hibernated under their tight white shrink-wrap. The wind whipped and whirled. Thanks to our recent rain and thaw, great white churning volumes of water thundered furiously over the ordinarily diaphanous Megunticook River falls. In a pool nearby, a pair of tame mallards dabbled obliviously about.

Megunticook River falls, Camden Harbor, Camden, Maine, 29 January 2010.

Megunticook River falls, Camden Harbor, Camden, Maine, 29 January 2010.

At the head of the harbor, a crow and herring gull dined together on a tidal flat. Out toward Curtis Island, other gulls dropped mussels and urchins onto the wooden surfaces of floats rocking in the chop. The floats were littered with detritus. Then I saw a small bird fly over and into a tangle of stems near the falls: a solitary robin, its tailfeathers fluffed by the wind. I got its photo among a spray of red berries, likely objects of its attention.

I didn’t stay long in the wind and cold and spent most of the rest of the day indoors. But tonight I stepped out onto the creaking deck for a glimpse at the near, full moon. And just inches away hung the red speck of Mars—a dream-provoking pair.

Today’s List

American crow
Blue jay
House sparrow
Northern cardinal
Herring gull
American robin
European starling
Rock pigeon

Outer harbor, Camden, Maine, 29 January 2010.

Outer harbor, Camden, Maine.

Bird Report is a (sometimes intermittent) record of the birds I encounter while hiking, see while driving, or spy outside my window. —Brian Willson

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