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Archive for October, 2010

Ghost harrier

Thursday, October 28th, 2010
Morning sun, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 October 2010.

Morning sun.

What a day. Although we lay around in bed a while first, dog and I managed to drag ourselves up, grab some clothes and a leash, and head for Beech Hill at a fairly reasonable hour. Here at the shore—despite a forecast of sun—a thick fog cloaked everything. Still air, though, and a warm temperature. Maybe 55 or 60 degrees (F).

Ghost of northern harrier, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 October 2010.

Ghost of northern harrier.

Nearing the hill, I spied blue sky and some patches of sunlight against the ruddy landscape of the inland hills. A wet, damp, luscious trail. A dozen juncos greeted us at the entrance to the parking lot. A jay cried. Two or three golden-crowned kinglets flitted about in some young conifers there, but I couldn’t nab a photo. Chickadees and several robins calling. Also a crow.

Twenty or thirty juncos, at least, dotted the trail as we made the first turn, pecking about for grass seed or somesuch, a couple white-throated and song sparrows among them. A handful of yellow-rump chipped in the branches of trailside trees, along with a solitary palm warbler, flicking its tail.

It was an odd atmosphere: seemed like the sun would emerge, but then a blanket of fog moved across the sun. Puddles, red undergrowth, golden-brown trees. I thought I might catch sight of a harrier, but the fog thickened. Then I heard three woodpeckers in a row—flicker, hairy, and pilated. Juncos at the summit, as well, flitting and tittering about the fringes of Beech Nut.

White-throated sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 October 2010.

White-throated sparrow.

Coming back down, I was photographing a tiny red-leafed plant in the grass when I saw movement in the periphery. Sure enough, a harrier had passed in the fog, looking ghostly. Then I heard the distinctive calls of a titmouse from somewhere nearby.

I learned even more about the behavior of juncos today—and to identify the chip note of palm warblers.

In early afternoon, I rode my bicycle fourteen miles, which brough my year’s total to 2,006. A record. During the course of the ride, I twice heard the voices of starlings.

Right at 5 p.m., I decided to walk with Jack out the breakwater for the first time since, I think, last spring. The prospect excited him, and we had a brisk walk to the end and back. Saw cormorants, eiders, gulls, and a lovely sunset. Crazily, the harbor had a chop in it, and the island side seemed smooth and pink and clean.

Double-crested cormorant, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 October 2010.

Double-crested cormorant.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 8:15 a.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Dark-eyed junco
2. Blue Jay
3. Golden-crowned kinglet
4. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
5. American robin
6. American crow
7. White-throated sparrow
8. Song sparrow
9. Yellow-rumped warbler
10. Palm warbler
11. Northern flicker (voice)
12. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
13. Pileated woodpecker (voice)
14. Northern harrier
15. Tufted titmouse (voice)


16. Herring gull
17. European starling
18. Double-crested cormorant
19. Common eider
20. Northern cardinal

Sunset, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 October 2010.

Sunset over Rockland Harbor.


Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
Birch, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 October 2010.


Rain this morning. Steady rain. Fog horns moaning. Jack and I blew off our morning walk and, instead, worked all morning.

Dark-eyed junco, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 October 2010.

Dark-eyed junco.

The rain got heavy by mid-morning—large drops pelting down, sheets of water sliding down the parking lot. Taking Jack out in it, I heard jays, chickadees and crows. The rain had let up by mid-afternoon, but an antic, heavy wetness hung over everything. A world of wind and fog. In late-afternoon, we hit the hill.

Only us again. The air was warm—easily the low-60s (F)—and the wind, while not overly high, felt large and full. Other than jay and crow, the birds I heard while ascending were using their subtle, quiet voices: yellow-rumps, white-throats, juncos. Many juncos, in fact. Dozens—no, scores of them peppering the open trail. I got perhaps my best look at juncos today. They’d peck around in the gravel of the path, looking for seeds and the like, then flush as Jack and slowly approached. But they wouldn’t flit far—into the brushy edges and low tree branches, waiting. We followed them pretty much the whole way up, their white tailfeathers flashing.

Route 17, from Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 October 2010.

Route 17.

Another loud bird made its presence known: a flicker, down the southern slope. On the way up, the fog hung sparse enough to give us a good look at the ruddy landscape, but on the way back down, the wind had risen and the fog was blowing through low and dense, truly an implausible scene. I learned today that a rather high wind won’t necessarily blow the fog away.

Down the western fields I saw movement—a harrier, floating low, hunting. Although I wanted one badly, I couldn’t get a photo. (Damn.) A few minutes later, the big bird showed up again, in thicker fog, hovering no more than a dozen feet off the ground. Again no photo—but I learned that a little fog won’t stop a harrier from hunting.

I could hardly believe how warm the air in such a damp, thick, overcast world. As we descended, scores of tittering juncos cleared the way.

Beech Nut, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 October 2010.

Beech Nut.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:15 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Yellow-rumped warbler
2. Blue jay (voice)
3. American crow
4. Dark-eyed junco
5. White-throated sparrow
6. Song sparrow
7. Northern flicker (voice)
8. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
9. Northern harrier


10. Herring gull

Muted colors, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 October 2010.

Muted colors.

Our wild world

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
Hillside mist, from Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 October 2010.

Hillside mist.

Woke up. Got out of bed. Slapped my CMLT hat upon my head. Grabbed my dog, camera, and binocs, and headed for Beech Hill.

Warmish—at least mid-50s (F), I’d guess—and still and damp. Sunlight streamed through the yellow-green of the trees on the hill out back first thing. And on the drive up, the roadsides were hopping with birds, including sparrows, juncos, robins, and a bright male cardinal. Then I noticed wisps of fog in the little inland valleys.

Song sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 October 2010.

Song sparrow.

No vehicles in the parking lot. The cry of a jay, the gentle notes of a nuthatch, the squee and tut-tut of a robin. Many robins, in fact—some hanging out in the trees, some cruising overhead in small flocks. Yellow-rumps still, white-throated and song sparrows. Coming up the first rise, I spotted a northern harrier—it’d spotted me first—floating up and around the hill.

Streaks and scraps of fog clung to the sides of the hills around us, Jack and me.

At the summit, ‘rumps and sparrows flitted about the boughs of the spruces. I saw what looked like a kestrel flash by to the north, but I couldn’t be sure.

Many, many robins today—unquestionably the most abundant bird. Chittering groups of juncos. Returning, I heard the voices of chickadee and kinglet and a hairy woodpecker.

Later, while riding my bicycle through the warm air, I saw a mourning dove and a sharp-shinned hawk within a few hundred yards of each other.

Tonight, a little spattering of rain is falling. But the big bird news comes from my young birder friend, Luke, who got a wonderful photo (all his photos are wonderful) of a Maine first: a yellow-billed loon, swimming off Portland.

I learned today, while listening to a Radio Lab podcast, that I’m not nuts—that animals do have very specific language, referring to very specific dangers and wants and urgencies. I knew crows did; I’ve heard and attempted to decipher the subtleties in their calls. Sure enough, in our wild world, the natural sounds that usually blend into humans’ peripheries actually mean important things.

Dark-eyed junco, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 October 2010.

Dark-eyed junco.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 8 a.m., I hiked the open trail

1. Blue jay
2. American robin
3. White-throated sparrow
4. American goldfinch
5. Yellow-rumped warbler
6. White-breasted nuthatch
7. American crow
8. Song sparrow
9. Northern harrier
10. Northern flicker
11. Dark-eyed junco
12. Hairy woodpecker
13. Black-capped chickadee
14. Golden-crowned kinglet


15. Herring gull
16. Northern cardinal
17. Mourning dove
18. Sharp-shinned hawk

The bay, from Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 October 2010.

The bay.

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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