Earlier this month, the Alaotra grebe—a small species from Madagascar—was declared extinct. On Monhegan this morning, I got a look at the preserved remains of a lovely cedar waxwing that’d run into a window and died. (Note: an estimated 100 million or more birds die in the U.S. each year from running into windows.) Then on a hike through Cathedral Woods this afternoon, my friends Kristen and Paul and I came upon a whimsical memorial to a dead wood-warbler.
This particular trail in the woods is known for its tiny “fairy houses” made of bark and twigs and lichen and spruce cones. And this particular house had a makeshift cross, a snail shell, and a sort of lean-to holding the corpse of a lovely ovenbird. I can hardly express how touching this was to stumble upon on Memorial Day.
A number of house cats—including an exotic breed or two—stalk the yards of Monhegan, and no doubt a few kill birds. In fall, the island gets by peregrine falcons and other raptors, efficient machines for murder. And, sure, every living thing dies. But it sticks with you when you view the dead bodies of more than one recently living bird in one twenty-four-hour period. It sticks with me, at least.
So it’s with somewhat deeper appreciation that I counted forty-five living species this warm, summer-like spring day on Monhegan—including plenty of living waxwings (about a hundred). Also including a white-eyed vireo (a lifer for me), a bird Kristen and I tracked down in a thicket off the Burnt Head trail; obligingly, it hopped up onto a dead branch just as I raised my camera. Three individual birds were most discussed this weekend: Saturday’s western kingbird, the white-eyed vireo, and an olive-sided flycatcher reportedly seen in the same area as the vireo. We tried for what one birder called the “all-excited flycatcher” but saw and heard only a bunch of alders. Oh, well.
One interesting aspect of this trip were two thirteen-year-old Maine birders—long-time friends—who really knew their stuff. One of the boys got nice photos of the white-eyed, and the other ended the day with a sighting of a black-billed cuckoo. I believe they both photographed the wayward western kingbird. And this afternoon, on the boat back inshore, they both stood with me in the bow snapping photos of northern gannets.
The northern gannets, by the way, were very much alive.
(Numbered for full trip; not in order of listing.)
55. White-eyed vireo**
56. Northern flicker (voice)
57. Spotted sandpiper*
58. White-throated sparrow (voice)
Winter wren (voice)
Golden-crowned kinglet (voice)
Great black-backed gull
Ring-necked pheasant (voice)
Purple finch (voice)
Black-throated green warbler (voice)
Blackpoll warbler (voice)
Northern cardinal (voice)
Eastern wood-pewee (voice)
Blue jay (voice)
Tufted titmouse (voice)