14 April 2024

Archive for March, 2011

Snow impending

Thursday, March 31st, 2011
Bud, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 March 2011.


The morning was kind of chilly, kind of sunny. Maybe something of a hazy sun. A slight breeze. Crows out there, of course, and the resident house finches. House sparrows, too, hanging around the little food court next door. Robins. Chickadees. There seemed to be a bit of nervousness in the air—or maybe that was just my own recognition of the forecasts of impending rain and/or snow.

I spent the day duck-taped to my desk, pretty much. In fact, I didn’t get out of the place until nearly 5. Finally took a quick trip to town. Gulls about, and, at the post office, I heard my first eastern phoebe of the year—at least it sounded exactly like a phoebe, but subsequent calls told me the phoebe sounds actually came from the throat of a European starling. (Impressive!) Then dog and I, both of us craving exercise, headed up to Beech Hill.

Lichen, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 March 2011.


We hit the wooded trail again. Three cars in the parking lot (one of them with a guy sitting in it). We headed into the woods. Clouds had moved over by then, but the air remained relatively calm. Heard crows right away. Then gulls from over at the cow farm. Then chickadees. The snowy track is slowly leaving the trail, I noticed, leaving behind a mostly brown landscape marked with tiny, secret leaves of green. About half-way up, I heard—then saw—fox sparrows. (Interesting that this is the first year I’ve seen them up there.) And the voice of a hairy woodpecker. And a blue jay.

Near the summit, the setting sun glowed brightly behind a veil of clouds. Over the bay, clouds seemed to be hanging back, waiting for the call to charge.

It was a pretty quick trip. Descending the lower wooded trail, we paused to listen occasionally, as usual, but heard nothing outlandish. More robins and crows. I noticed buds on the tangled berry branches alongside the trail. And wood chips at the bases of the woodpecker snags. And new lichen on the trunks of trees. After a string of dry days, the runoff mud had hardened a bit, although a good swath of it remained through the big oak grove.

No hawk today. No nuthatch or creeper or kinglet. Just the fresh, wet air. Air that held a vague promise of—something.

Beech Hill summit, Rockport, Maine, 31 March 2011.

Beech Hill summit.

Back home, from the deck, I heard the chips cardinal in the conifers at the edge of the yard. And then, in gloaming, the peent! of a woodcock from across the road.

No one can seem to agree on whether we’ll be getting a foot of snow tomorrow or merely a big rain. I’m sort of expecting at least a little snow.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5:15 p.m.,  I hiked the wooded trails.

1. American crow (voice)
2. Herring gull (voice)
3. American robin
4. Black-capped chickadee
5. Fox sparrow
6. Hairy woodpecker
7. Blue jay (voice)


8. House finch
9. House sparrow
10. European starling
11. Mourning dove
12. Northern cardinal
13. American woodcock

A day in late March

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
American robin, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 March 2011.

American robin in sumac.

Crows woke me up. Soon after, I heard a singing house finch. The morning was another bright one, with hardly any clouds.

A little nippy first thing, but the temperature warmed, slowly but surely, to the point that I didn’t even wear a jacket to my midday dental appointment. At which, I might add, I increased my net worth (another gold crown). Returning, I spotted a couple of turkey vultures soaring over the big cement plant quarry in Thomaston.

The upper wooded trail, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 March 2011.

The upper wooded trail.

When the temperature approached 50 degrees (F), I couldn’t resist—I stripped and donned my biking attire and took off on a 14-mile ride. (Not lost on me was the forecast for a possible April Fool’s Day snowstorm upcoming.) Robins, song sparrows, gulls, crows. It was a great ride.

Then I got out of my bike clothes, finished up some work, put on my hiking shoes, grabbed Jack, and we drove over to the wooded Beech Hill trail.

Oddly, the first species on today’s list was herring gull: I heard a few crying over at the nearby cow farm (I gather). Then the usual robins. Chickadees. Fox sparrows still—singing sweetly—and the whistling wings of a mourning dove. We also passed a couple of teenaged kids hiking up. They were playfully, joyfully loud, which kind of took me aback, as we heard their voices off in the woods pretty much the whole way up the hill. At the summit, a bright-sounding bird flew over. Flutey notes. It landed in the top of a tree, I trained my binoculars on it, then snapped a couple photos. Very orange in the afternoon sun. I thought it might even be an oriole—but so soon?

Later, when I looked at my (distant)  photos, I recognized it as a robin.

Green emerging, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 March 2011.

Green emerging.

Coming down, I heard a brown creeper’s note. Than a distant cardinal singing. Then, suddenly, the rapid flap-flap-flap of wings—a grouse? We stopped and both looked toward the sound. And I saw a large bird swooping quickly through the trees. At once it dropped down, and the woods erupted in a loud crashing and clattering. An owl? A hawk. We waited. (Jack was interested, too.) Finally, the big bird ascended again and lit on a tree branch maybe a hundred feet away. It was hidden by a trunk, but I trained my binocs on it and could see its head. A hawk. I think a red-tailed. It had nothing in its talons, that I could see. Had it gone after a rising grouse? One of the many robins up there? Who knows. But as I took a few steps to get a better look, it rose and flew handsomely away to the northeast.

Nearing the parking lot, I heard the faint notes of a nuthatch.

Returning home, we drove past some doves on the roadway. And then a flock of small birds scattered away ahead of us, showing white-edged tailfeathers. Juncos.

Tonight, out on the back deck, I heard the occasional peent! of a woodcock, its call fading in and out. On a particular twilight years ago, soon after I moved to Maine, I snuck up on a woodcock (not knowing what the heck it was) and got a good look at it calling. It would open its long bill, send out a peent!, turn a little, call again, turn a little more, call again. Counter-clockwise, as I recall, I guess just making sure it covered all directions. That’s what would explain the in-and-out fading.

I really love those funny-looking little guys.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. Herring gull (voice)
2. American robin
3. Black-capped chickadee
4. Fox sparrow
5. Mourning dove
6. Brown creeper (voice)
7. Northern cardinal (voice)
8. Red-tailed hawk
9. White-breasted nuthatch (voice)


10. American crow
11. House finch
12. House sparrow
13. Turkey vulture
14. Dark-eyed junco
15. American woodcock

The miracle of clouds

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
High clouds, Camden, Maine, 29 March 2011.

High clouds.

While washing my breakfast dishes this morning, I watched crows poking about under the oaks again. And I wondered—how long does it take them to build a nest? I also saw robins flitting about, along with some smaller birds that I couldn’t easily identify at a distance through a window.

Took the dog out and heard the usual singing house finch. Also a singing cardinal. Didn’t hear the titmouse, though, oddly.

Had a big work project that occupied most of my time today, but I also had a meeting in Camden at 4. (As it happens, a Beech Hill–related meeting.) So dog and I scrambled around doing errands, then I left him to guard the house while I attended the meeting. All this time, I could hardly take my eyes off the sky.

The day was sunny again but not nearly so cool. In fact, I saw several bike riders out (and felt a little envious). Something about the flow of air, and the time of year, and the latitude—some meteorological something filled the sky today with high, wispy, cirrus-looking clouds. They were delicate, they curled, the changed shapes in motion. Among the most amazing miracles we adult humans tend to overlook (underlook?), it seems to me, are clouds.

En route to my meeting, I saw a few mallards flying fast and low over the Megunticook River. The meeting went well. And then I dashed home to grab Jack for a quick hike up the wooded Beech Hill trails.

Right away I heard the faint notes of a nuthatch. Looked up. There were a pair of them up there in the big, ancient maple near the trailhead—white-breasted nuthatches, softly talking to each other. A nesting pair, clearly. I watched them flit about for a while.

A pair of crows flew over. On up a ways, the robins made their appearance. A chickadee called. Then another. One came very close, checking us out. (I worry a bit, though, because Jack appears to know the word “chickadee” and tends to watch them suspiciously.) Then the note of a hairy woodpecker. The call of a fox sparrow. The cry of a flicker.

About half-way up, I heard human voices coming from somewhere in the southwest. Hollering, laughing voices. Was someone running around in one of the blueberry fields? I couldn’t fathom what that was all about and wondered if maybe the wind was carrying sounds at a particularly great distance today. At the top of the trail, dog and I took a brief side trip to check the fields—and right away we both noticed a pair of  (apparently) teenagers playing and shrieking and shouting up around Beech Nut. Sound was definitely blowing around today.

Returning, we saw more robins, another chickadee or two. Not much else. Snow still covers nearly half the wooded trails, but today’s temperature was warm enough (despite the breeze) that I worked up a big sweat under my hooded sweatshirt. I guess maybe that’s why they call them “sweatshirts.”

Driving home, I saw a mourning dove on a utility line.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. White-breasted nuthatch
2. American crow
3. Black-capped chickadee
4. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
5. American robin
6. Fox sparrow (voice)
7. Northern flicker (voice)
8. Herring gull (voice)


9. House finch
10. Blue jay
11. Northern cardinal
12. Mallard
13. Mourning dove

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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