22 July 2024

Archive for August, 2011

Standing still

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Jack on the trail, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 August 2011.

Jack on the trail.

I’ve mentioned this before, but some of my best birding happens when I just stop and stand still.

Today was another lovely one—mostly sunny, slight northwesterly wind, warmish. I spent a fruitful morning at my desk, then my bandwidth conked out for some reason. It’s frustrating when you count on it as much as I suppose I must, but it did get me thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t be counting on it so much. I took it as a sign that it was time for a bike ride.

Chestnut-sided warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 August 2011.

Chestnut-sided warbler.

Another nice ride. Not many birds to speak of—roadside crows, gulls in the blue, a cardinal in Rockport Village—but fragrant air, full lungs, deep breathing, sweat. I love riding my bike.

On my return, the bandwidth was still out, and I had a message reporting a server crash. Which I would’ve noticed a lot earlier, had I bandwidth. And which I could’ve fixed remotely, had I bandwidth. Instead, I high-tailed it to the datacenter and fixed things there. Then I drove home, grabbed Jack, and we headed for Beech Hill.

No one else there when we arrived. Heard chickadees, crows, and a goldfinch. A thin layer of wondrous clouds had moved over, though the sun still glowed brightly and blue still showed through. Just as we started up the steep slope, I heard a peep! and we stopped. In some tall brush to the left of us, sparrows were darting about. White-throats, keeping well hidden. As we stood there, I heard a raven from somewhere in the northwest (where I believe they keep a nest). Suddenly, a towhee flitted between two bushes and disappeared—I saw its white-edged tailfeathers. And just then a little bird appeared, a female chestnut-sided warbler, eyeing us. Tried for some photos, but the bird didn’t stay. As I was looking for where the chestnut-sided got off to, another warbler, a male yellowthroat, poked its head out. And I heard the call of a waxwing.

Crows and harrier, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 August 2011.

Crows and harrier

Within just a minute or two, I’d added six birds to my list. They were being secretive, sneaky, furtive—or calling from a distance. All it took was a moment of standing still and paying attention.

Nearing the summit, I heard a wood-pewee singing from down the southern slope. First one of those in a while. And at the berry patch (about a dozen each of black- and blueberries), I heard the note of a hairy woodpecker. New total: eleven species.

But since I eschew prime numbers when it comes to my bird lists (crazy, I know), I felt a need to ID one more species. No new birds until we got close to the parking lot. I had a feeling, and so we stopped. Stood still. Sure enough, I heard the mew! of a catbird. Granted, I had a feeling I might hear one down there in the thicket of small trees, where I know they’ve nested. But still.

So if you’re birding and having little luck, just find a nice spot and stand there. Chances are, if you pay close enough attention, you’ll discover something cool.

Beech Nut, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 August 2011.

Beech Nut.

Tonight, the air has a fragrant smell, with a hint of salt air. I could breathe air like this for the rest of my life without complaining.

Addendum: As I processed my photos for this entry, I realized that the image I thought would show three crows in flight actually shows two crows and a northern harrier. Guess that explains why they (there were about a half-dozen crows in all) seemed to be kind of ganging up on that one bird. (And it also leaves me with the lucky prime number thirteen.)

Beech Hill List

Beginning at 6 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
2. American crow
3. American goldfinch
4. White-throated sparrow
5. Common raven (voice)
6. Eastern towhee
7. Cedar waxwing
8. Chestnut-sided warbler
9. Common yellowthroat
10. Northern harrier
11. Eastern wood-pewee (voice)
12. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
13. Gray catbird


14. Herring gull
15. Northern cardinal

Cool and cloudless

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Tufted titmouse, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 August 2011.

Tufted titmouse.

On this cool, dry, sunny day, I heard the calling of a jay. An uncommon first bird of the day, but there it was, hollering from across the road when I took Jack out first thing. Crows about also. Gulls in the cloudless sky. A whole series of dry, cloudless days are forecast for the week. Nice week for bike-rides.

Cedar waxwing, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 August 2011.

Cedar waxwing.

One of which I took this afternoon. Not many roadside birds—other than crows. I can veer way over to the grass-side of the shoulder, and they’ll hardly pay me any attention at all.

Had some end-of-the-day errands in town, so Jack and I didn’t make to Beech Hill until about 6 p.m. En route, along Chickawaukie Lake, I saw a flicker, some mallards, and a few cormorants perched on a float. I also noticed that photoperiod is shortening noticeably: the sun hung much lower in the west as we started up the trail. Right away I heard titmice. Young birds offering their high-pitched squee! and adults emitting their usual scolding call. (An uncommon first bird on the hill.) As we stood listening—or at least I was listening—a pair flitted very near us, no more than a dozen feet away. Snapped some photos of one curious fellow.

On up the hill. No other hikers at that hour, though they would’ve had a lovely hike had they ventured up. Cool, a nip of breeze, a cloudless sky. Heard waxwings, crows, a goldfinch, a towhee—but not much else.

Io moth caterpillar, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 August 2011.

Io moth caterpillar.

Down in the berry patch, I found about a dozen ripe blackberries and a calling waxwing. Actually, the waxwing was sitting at the tip of a small tree with a few berries of its own, soaking up the last orange rays of the sun. I watched it pluck three berries and swallow them. Looked like it might’ve been the same berries the vireos were dining on yesterday down by the road.

Returning, I heard the single chip note of a song sparrow and some chickadees in the trees. And I happened to notice a large green caterpillar crawling smack in the middle of the trail. Got some shots of it and looked it up later: the larva of an io moth. (Even took a close-up video that I might post here at some point.)

Tonight seems chillier than last night, which I suppose isn’t unusual for the waning days of August on the 44th parallel. Kids are starting school, Halloween candy is showing up in the supermarkets (already?), and in just a few short weeks will come the equinox. And fall migration.

Sweet, busy days ahead.

Rose hips, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 August 2011.

Rose hips.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 6 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Tufted titmouse
2. American crow (voice)
3. Cedar waxwing
4. Eastern towhee (voice)
5. American goldfinch (voice)
6. Song sparrow (voice)
7. Black-capped chickadee


8. Blue jay
9. Herring gull
10. Rock pigeon
11. Northern cardinal
12. House sparrow
13. Northern flicker
14. Mallard
15. Double-crested cormorant

Sun-drenched landscape

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Red-eyed vireo, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 August 2011.

Red-eyed vireo.

If I were asked to concoct a perfect day, weather-wise, it might look something like this one. Sun drenched the morning landscape. Very few clouds, light wind. Quite a contrast to conditions not very many hours ago.

Red-eyed vireo, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 August 2011.

Red-eyed vireo.

The usual birds were out carousing—crows, chickadees, gulls, cardinals. I spent a typically busy Monday at my desk but, by mid-afternoon, couldn’t fight off my hankering for my first bike ride since the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene raked the coast with moderate rain and fairly blustery winds. (Considering the forecast, we were pretty damn lucky.) And it was a nice ride. Plus, a number of birds were out, especially in Rockport Village. Sparrow, nuthatch, cardinal. Wrapped up work after my ride then hurried with Jack up to Beech Hill.

Sun drenched the afternoon landscape. A little gang of chickadees greeted us as we turned into the lot. Heard goldfinches, waxwings. and, coming up the rise, a distant flicker. A few frogs chirped, no doubt encouraged by the recent rain. Scraps of loose clouds hung in the west, just this side of the sun. Hardly any wind at all.

We met a couple hikers, one of them a Texan with a dog. (We even talked Longhorns football for a little while—a Beech Hill first for me.) The tall mast of a visiting super yacht towered over the bay just beyond the tree line up Camden way. Heard crows, towhees, and two more flickers bantering back and forth. Then, down at the berry patch (ate eight or ten blackberries, eight or ten blueberries), a yellowthroat sang and a catbird chattered.

Landscape, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 August 2011.


Returning, I caught sight of a couple song sparrows flitting in the brush near Beech Nut. In fact, most birds were still behaving secretively—that is, until we got back near the road, when I heard a minor commotion of chickadees in the trees. We stopped so I could scan for other birds, and sure enough I got a glimpse of a warbler of some kind. I couldn’t ID its chip. (Maybe a yellow?) While working to focus in on the little bird, I saw two larger ones up there—vireos. We moved a bit closer and stood there a moment. Suddenly the vireos swooped down into a berry bush not ten feet from us. Got a blurry photo of both together, then some decent shots of one eating berries. In fact, I believe it’s the best photos I’ve yet managed of any kind of vireo.

Tonight is cool and still. Stars everywhere. A starlit landscape, you might say.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Black-capped chickadee
2. American goldfinch (voice)
3. Cedar waxwing (voice)
4. Northern flicker (voice)
5. American crow (voice)
6. Eastern towhee (voice)
7. Northern raven
8. Common yellowthroat (voice)
9. Gray catbird (voice)
10. Song sparrow
11. Red-eyed vireo


12. Herring gull
13. Rock pigeon
14. House sparrow
15. White-breasted nuthatch
16. Northern cardinal

Beech Nut, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 August 2011.

Beech Nut.

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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