24 June 2024

Archive for February, 2010


Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Juvenile herring gull, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 February 2010.

Juvenile herring gull.

Woke up. Lay in bed. Listened to crows.

The nearest crow gave out a common call, in my experience: two caws, a pause, and two more caws—like five caws with the middle one missing. It called this continually, waiting between calls for the reply of another crow at some distance away. The other crow gave out the long, low, guttural caw that everyone’s heard. Usually in pairs. Then I heard a third, calling rapidfire:Cah-cah-cah! Cah-cah-cah-cah-cah!

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

Herring gull.

Perhaps most humans think of crows as noisy, scavenging, ominous birds. Maybe curious, or annoying, or just—there. I think of them with perpetual fascination. If you pay attention to crows you’ll notice very quickly how smart they are. Then you’ll start recognizing their many calls and squawks and growls. Crows have a complex language.

But I still can’t decipher it, so I got up, showered, had breakfast, went about my usual morning routine to the sweet strains of the love song of the resident tufted titmouse out back.

The morning turned sunny early, and the air turned warm. I happened to notice that the daffodils lining my stone wall have two- to four-inch shoots already. The day felt positively springlike, in some crazy, out-of-kilter way. If you were somehow plunked down here today with no memory of the past nor expectation of the future, you’d swear it was early spring.

But it’s still February. Late today I chose to walk the breakwater. It’d clouded up again by then and gotten chilly. In fact, when walked out to the truck, some light rain had begun to spatter down. Well, a little rain wouldn’t stop me.

It’s stopped drizzling by the time I reached the breakwater parking lot. The tide was near dead low. I saw pairs of red-breasted mergansers, a raft of eiders, a common loon, a great black-backed gull. Plenty of herring gulls, of course, and at least one ring-billed. The wind was whipping in from the northeast, but not too bad. The most notable part of the walk, to me, were the piles of seaweed and chunks of waterlogged driftwood littering the granite stones. I walked out there the day after the big recent storm and didn’t see anything like that. Perhaps the storm loosened things up, and a following high tide rolled the flotsam over the surface—flotsam that included at least two wayward lobster traps.

About half-way out, I saw a little flock of long-tailed ducks headed out to the islands, as they do at the end of the day. Then it began to rain. I felt the rain on my back at first, then felt the dampness on the backs of my calves. Returning, the rain increased—as did the headwind. I doubted I’d use my binocs or camera in such weather and so decided to count my paces instead. The rain and wind were cold and thrilling. Not comfortable exactly, but they made me feel alive.

From the lighthouse it took me 1,679 paces to reach the shore again.

Today’s List

American crow
Tufted titmouse
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
Great black-backed gull
Red-breasted merganser
Common eider
Common loon
Long-tailed duck

Tick check

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Following an intensely satisfying walk along the Beech Hill trails today, I hopped into my pickup and noticed a couple small mud spatters on the front of my jeans. I flicked at them with my fingers, but they didn’t smudge or vanish or change in any way. So I plucked at them—and still they didn’t come off.

That’s when I realized they were ticks.

Ordinarily—during spring and summer and fall—I would’ve identified them at once. But all winter I’ve been traipsing willy-nilly up and down the hill, mindless of any chance that I might pick up ticks at this season. Well, I did. I hopped back out of the truck, in fact, inspected my pants legs closely, and found three or four more ticks there. Small dog ticks, perhaps, but just as likely deer ticks, the ones that carry Lyme Disease. (I didn’t inspect them closely, but there are plenty on Beech Hill—and a good half of them carry the disease.)

So I figured I should make mention of this. A sort of cautionary note to confirm that these unseasonably warm last few weeks have awakened a summer complaint.

Life sublime

Saturday, February 27th, 2010
Hooded merganser, Weskeag Marsh, South Thomaston, Maine, 27 February 2010.

Hooded merganser.

Before bed last night, I looked out and saw a trace of snow on the deck. This morning, I saw no trace of snow. In fact, before I knew it the temperature had risen well into the 40s (F) and the sky was about half blue. Quite a little wind, though. Out back were crows, a singing titmouse, and a little gang of chickadees.

Black duck, Weskeag Marsh, South Thomaston, Maine, 27 February 2010.

Black duck.

Truly, there’s no snow. We’re snowless. Oh, you can find a few dwindling, slushy piles of it where the plow drifts were, and in the woods are slushy scraps in the shady areas. Still, February’s been crazy. Each winter’s different at the 44th parallel, I’ve learned in my thirty years at this latitude.

In early afternoon I decided to check out the Weskeag Marsh, no doubt clear of ice already. Heck, cars and snowmobiles have been sinking to the bottoms of ponds all up and down the coast—luckily, with little or no loss of life—as residents just can’t get their brains around this kind of crazy thaw. And sure enough, the Weskeag had no ice that I could see. Just soggy, watery channels divided by lovely bronze marsh grass.

Weskeag Marsh, South Thomaston, Maine, 27 February 2010.

Weskeag Marsh.

Right away I heard the geese. Scanned the wide expanse for ducks and saw mostly black ducks—but also a solitary male hooded merganser. Mallards also. A handful of crows. I walked down into the marsh a hundred hards or so, about as far as I could go and stay dry. A large group of dabblers took wing against the blue billowing clouds that had by then gathered in the south.

From Weskeag, I drove to Beech Hill under what were now overcast skies. Still in the 40s, not much breeze. The wooded trails were snow-free for the most part—but hardly water-free. In fact, runoff from the big storm was following the lower trail and had already caused quite a bit of erosion. It felt like Mud Season already, and in fact I spooked a chipmunk. Heading up, I passed a casualty of the storm: a medium-sized spruce had toppled over, its shallow roots having lost their grip. Oddly, the crown of the tree had snapped clean off and folded over against the trunk.

Eastern chipmunk, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 February 2010.

Eastern chipmunk.

Unlike on recent trips, I heard birds on the hill today—chickadee, downy woodpecker, robin. I mostly kept to the soggy grass on either side of the muddy trail. And I lost myself. As I often do, I lost myself in the there and the now of the woods. My feet on the trail, the smell of last fall’s leaves, the sound of bird wings—a couple of robins in the sumac. At the summit I spooked a mourning dove, whose whistling wingbeats headed downhill. Descending, I heard the dove sing its poignant song. And I stood there, listening, soaking up the moment—the chill, the moistness, the fragrance of last fall, the dove—lost for I don’t know how long in a sense of life sublime.

Farther down the trail, I came upon a pair of chickadees. I pished them close, and they got within six feet of me, and I managed a single photo.

Black-capped chickadee, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 February 2010.

Black-capped chickadee.

I love it on Beech Hill.

Today’s List

American crow
Tufted timouse
Black-capped chickadee
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
Rock pigeon
Canada goose
Black duck
Hooded merganser
Downy woodpecker
American robin
Mourning dove

Penobscot Bay, from Beech Hill, Rockport, 27 February 2010.

Penobscot Bay from Beech Hill.

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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