17 January 2021

Archive for March, 2011

Pairing up

Monday, March 28th, 2011
Pileated woodpecker (male), Glen Cove, Rockport, 28 March 2011.

Pileated woodpecker (male).

Some of my best birding lately has come while I’ve been washing breakfast dishes. This morning—a brisk, cloudless one much like yesterday’s—I looked out to see a crow grabbing at a long twig beneath one of the big oaks out there. It yanked and yanked, but the twig was still connected to a good-sized branch, and it couldn’t grapple it free, so it hopped a short distance away. Then another crow appeared and began pulling at the same little branch. Again, no dice. Within a minute, both birds had managed to collect less intractable twigs and, one after another, flew toward me and up over the roof. But what interested me most was the third bird—one that’d been hanging back a bit—that pulled up its own scrap of woody material and quickly followed the first two.

Pileated and hairy woodpeckers, Glen Cove, Rockport, 28 March 2011.

Pileated and hairy woodpeckers.

There’s that three-crow mystery again.

And just as the third crow disappeared above me, I spotted a large woodpecker whacking at a dead snag about ten or twelve feet above where the crows had been collecting nesting material. A pileated woodpecker, in full view.

I abandoned my dishes, reached for my camera, and hurried out onto the deck in my robe. A little nippy out, but I must’ve stayed there five or ten minutes waiting for a decent photo op (damn you, intervening branches). At one point, it reared back and called. Thrilling. And what’s more, as I stood out there freezing, I must’ve heard eight, ten, a dozen other species calling: robin, nuthatch, chickadee, house finch, house sparrow, goldfinch, mourning dove, song sparrow, titmouse, cardinal, jay.

Finally the woodpecker scrambled around and out of sight, so I returned to the sink to keep an eye on it. A herring gull flew by. I could barely see the woodpecker’s black back around there—and then, suddenly, I noticed another pileated on the same snag about six or eight feet below the first. I dashed out again to attempt more photos. Couldn’t really get a good shot of the pair together, but as I focused on the first bird—the male—a (male) hairy woodpecker flitted up into my viewfinder. I did manage a photo of the two dissimilar species.

All that early birding made me late to work. A typical Monday, handcuffed to my desk. But finally, about 4 or so, I roused Jack from his nap and we headed out. Did a couple errands in town then drove over to the wooded Beech Hill trail. (Saw a pigeon at the dump on the way.)

Fox sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, 28 March 2011.

Fox sparrow.

Not so many robins right off—but several were poking about farther on, in the sumac grove. These looked to have more faded plumage than the recent large flocks, and I wondered if they could be our resident birds (i.e., not the darker Canadian migrants). Still some fox sparrows up there, too, and I heard a flicker’s cry.

Windy at the summit. No one but us on the hill that I could see—just brown, wind-ruffled fields and a wide blue sky streaked by a scant few wispy clouds. I’d counted four species by then and thought I’d like five, so I cast a glance down over the bay and, sure enough, spotted a dozen or so soaring gulls. Satisfied (and chilled), I convinced Jack to return the way we came.

Took the lower wooded trail, as usual, and realized that we might’ve reached a sort of milestone: more than half the wooded trails were free of snow. Stopped to listen from time to time—robins, chickadees.

Crossing the boardwalk over the little stream, we spooked a bird that’d been foraging in the leaves somewhere. A blackbird. I saw it wasn’t a red-winged and figured it for a grackle—which would’ve been a nice enough sighting—but then it began to call. A call like a squeaky screen door. Chip-chip, squee! Chip, squee! Rusty blackbird, first-of-year.

Rusty blackbird, Beech Hill, Rockport, 28 March 2011.

Rusty blackbird.

And in twilight, from my back deck, I heard a robin singing. Not alarm notes, not a series of calls—out-and-out thrush song.

Seems nesting season is upon us, after all.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. Black-capped chickadee
2. American robin
3. Fox sparrow
4. Northern flicker (voice)
5. Herring gull
6. Rusty blackbird


7. American crow
8. Herring gull
9. Hairy woodpecker
10. Pileated woodpecker
11. White-breasted nuthatch
12. House finch
13. Song sparrow
14. Tufted titmouse
15. House sparrow
16. American goldfinch
17. Mourning dove
18. Northern cardinal
19. Blue jay
20. Rock pigeon

Black-capped chickadee, Beech Hill, Rockport, 28 March 2011.

Black-capped chickadee.

Two excursions

Sunday, March 27th, 2011
House finch, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 27 March 2011.

House finch.

A cloudless morning, again cold, and with a nip of wind. The first bird I saw, while doing breakfast dishes, was a turkey vulture soaring past. I love how they never—or almost never—bother to flap their wings. Took the dog out. Robins around, a house finch calling from somewhere, and I heard house sparrows in the eaves of the place across the road. Since I’ve been seeing so many early birds lately (chickadees, a kinglet once) I thought to bring my camera. And, lo, a male finch flitted up into a nearby branch and began to sing.

Common loon, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 27 March 2011.

Common loon.

Spent much of the day working at my kitchen table. But mid-afternoon seemed a good time to take Jack to the breakwater for a change. I also took my winter jacket, considering the wind and temperature. Glad I did.

Not overly windy right by the shore—buffleheads, a black-backed gull, a few eiders—but not far out the wind came strong from the northwest in great bursts and cascades, roiling the rising Rockland Harbor tide. Saw no birds at all on the harbor side, in fact; but out toward the islands, I spotted more eiders, a couple guillemots (still in winter plumage), a pair of two of red-breasted mergansers, and a solitary loon (in mixed plumage). Only two or three other folks had braved the wind-chill—far fewer than on most sunny Sundays.

Out at the lighthouse end, I saw a pair of long-tailed ducks tossing in the waves. Only a couple herring gulls. Returning, the wind was really whipping, but with the bracing feel of spring. Back at the parking lot, I heard a song sparrow singing off through the riotous air.

Common eiders (female), Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 27 March 2011.

Common eiders (female).

It wasn’t enough. We headed directly to Beech Hill.

En route, I saw a mourning dove on a utility line about where I usually do. We wound up again at the wooded trail, where robins again seemed everywhere. And again, about half-way up, a few fox sparrows. Some chickadees. We met a man and two small boys coming down. The man reported hearing turkeys up by the first field. We didn’t hear the turkeys, but returning down the lower trail, on stopping to listen (which we often do), a grouse suddenly burst off through the afternoon shadows.

Nearing the parking lot, I heard herring gulls off to shoreward. Jack noticed them, as well.

Tonight the wind whips still, and the trees up the hill clatter or whistle, depending on whether they’re hardwoods or pines. It’s going to be a cold one.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

Woodpecker holes, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 March 2011.

Woodpecker holes.

1. American robin
2. Fox sparrow
3. American crow (voice)
4. Black-capped chickadee
5. Ruffed grouse
6. Herring gull (voice)


7. Turkey vulture
8. House finch
9. House sparrow
10. Bufflehead
11. Great black-backed gull
12. Common eider
13. Red-breasted merganser
14. Common loon
15. Black guillemot
16. Long-tailed duck
17. Song sparrow
18. Mourning dove

Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 27 March 2011.

The breakwater.

Cold spring day

Saturday, March 26th, 2011
Initials, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 March 2011.


A cold, clear, windy day. The temperatures started in the 20s (F), rose into the 30s, and ended up in the 20s again.

I awoke to a medley of robin calls out the window at the head of my bed. Notes, chatters, etc. On my first excursion out with dog, I heard house finches and house sparrows and robins and chickadees and a hairy woodpecker drumming on a dead oak limb. And not long after that, Jack—whose senses I’ve come to trust—offered a low bark at the back glass doors. I went to see what he saw, and what he saw were wild turkeys. Probably a dozen or more, scratching around last fall’s leaves on the hill out back. Huge turkeys. I watched one hop up onto a fallen tree trunk and amble along it nonchalantly.

Herring gull, Rockland, Maine, 26 March 2011.

Herring gull.

In afternoon, I took my dog with me to run errands. Herring and ring-billed gulls, as always, around town. And while I was pumping gas, I spied a lone turkey vulture teetering low in the swiftly moving air above me.

We didn’t pull into the Rockville Street parking lot until rather late in the day. A single car there. As we started along the still snowy Beech Hill trail, I noticed some strange tracks—it was as if someone had been purposefully tromping down the snow, step by step, to even it out for future hiking. There was a sideways track of very short steps and a straight-ahead track of connected ones. Odd, I thought. But then I got distracted by several robins poking about in the sugar bush.

Not far in, we met a couple of people returning down the trail. I saw at once it was a young woman leading what appeared to ba a young blind man down—and right away I understood the unusual tracks. We exchanged pleasantries, I mentioned that my dog was friendly, and we wished each other a lovely day. And I got to thinking, what a great experience that must’ve been for a blind fellow. A hike up the wooded Beech Hill trail (can’t get much better than that), along a snow-crusted track not easy to navigate in any event, with a crisp, fresh wind and the sound of hardwood limbs squeaking and rattling against each other. And the subtle calls of robins. And I thought—as often I do—about whether, if I had to lose a my sense of sight or hearing, which I would choose. And I thought again that although the loss of my sight would greatly lessen my freedom of movement, keeping my sense of hearing would let me continue to be a bird listener. And I wished I’d asked if they’d heard the voices of fox sparrows up the hill.

American robin, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 March 2011.

American robin.

And sure enough, soon after, I heard the little guys. Their percussive alarm notes, their sweet songs. The sparrows were flitting about near the sumac and the berry bushes, where I’d seen them a few times before. I also heard crows.

I followed the well-tromped tracks almost all the way to the summit. Impressive. It must’ve taken a while, but they’d gone a long way up and down. As we neared the top, as I watched my footing, I saw that Jack was looking up. I followed his gaze and saw two crows flapping away through the breeze. No one else up there. Just a strong westerly wind that chilled my hands and fingers and caused the branches of the spruce in the little summit grove to roar and sigh. Returning, I saw a cloud of many gulls wheeling around out toward the bay.

Coming down the lower trail, we found protection from the wind—that being the northeast slope. Old snow held fast on that side except  for the mud and flood of snowmelt that persisted even considering the chill temperatures. At one point I looked up to see a fresh carving on a tree trunk alongside a blue trail blaze mark: “SK” and “MT” and a heart.

No creepers or nuthatches, but as we rounded one of the final curves, I heard the distinctive call of a titmouse. And then a chickadee.

Afternoon sun, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 March 2011.

Afternoon sun.

At right about 6:30, from my back deck, I watched the neighborhood crows begin to bed down. They called, flew low and quietly after each other, and ended up in the branches of the big pines near the crest of the hill. So that’s where they spend the night.

And soon after that, I heard the chips of the resident cardinals as they readied for another nighttime.

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

1. American robin
2. Fox sparrow
3. American crow
4. Herring gull
5. Tufted titmouse (voice)
6. Black-capped chickadee (voice)


7. Wild turkey
8. House finch
9. House sparrow
10. Hairy woodpecker
11. Ring-billed gull
12. Turkey vulture
13. Northern cardinal

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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