18 May 2024

Archive for October, 2011

Scientific observations

Monday, October 31st, 2011
Southwest sky, from Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 October 2011.

Southwest sky.

As I was doing last night’s dishes this morning, I watched crows flap about along the sunny roadsides when a slight movement caught my eye low in the trees along the parking lot. A little bird there. Some kind of warbler, looked like. I dried my hands and grabbed my binocs. A ruby-crowned kinglet, just flitting about among the yellow leaves there. Hunting. Picking off little insects or something. So I stepped out back with my camera—in my birthday suit.

Ruby-crowned kinglet, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 31 October 2011.

Ruby-crowned kinglet.

Took photos for as long as I could stand the chill. (Kinglets move around a lot and are hard to photograph.) The ruby-crowned appeared to be stocking up for migration, but it was flitting along on a northerly path. Why? I decided maybe it was bound not north but toward the shore, where perhaps it would take flight. That was my theory anyway. You observe a thing and then you come up with a reason for it. Scientific observation.

Not long after, while at my desk, I heard crows making a racket up the hill. They only act that way when there’s a hawk about—or an owl, or a fox. Again I dashed out back with my camera (warmer this time). The crows were perched in a high pine beyond the still leafy oaks, and I couldn’t see what they were hollering at. But while I was out there, I got a sweet surprise: the sound of a singing Carolina wren coming from the yard next door. First wren on my backyard list, I’m pretty sure.

The rest of the day was wacky busy. I completely forgot about lunch, and Jack had to wait until 5 o’clock—and a rapidly dimming sky—for us to embark on our daily drive to Beech Hill. En route, out in Chickawaukie Lake, I spotted two rafts of coots and miscellaneous small collections of ducks. The only ducks I could ID were a pair of buffleheads.

The sun had already set behind the Rockville Ridge when we arrived. Calling at the parking lot were chickadees, a brown creeper, a hairy woodpecker, and a robin.

Moon over Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 October 2011.

Moon over Beech Hill.

The waxing moon was out, and most of the snow had already melted from the hillsides, and the trails were mostly muddy, here and there covered with patches of crispy snow. Along a couple of particular stretches near the top of the hill—I’ve noticed in scores of cold-weather hikes—the snow stays longer. In deep winter, it drifts in these places. The open trail comes up along the southeastern slope, where the warmth of the sun generally keeps things clearer than the northeastern, wooded trails. But I noticed today that these snowy stretches occur where the trail has higher edges that block the season’s angular sunlight. I.e., they stay in the shade. Well, no wonder. It’s science, after all.

We returned home in twilight, and I hadn’t put any lights on. As I leaned over to untie my hiking shoes, I thought I saw the slow flash of dim lights, like flickering headlights or a flashing sign. Weird. I looked up to investigate—but saw no lights. Leaned down again, and there they were again. After a second or two I realized what was going on: the slow flashing was happening in my eyes, synchronous with my heartbeat. In fact, the dark between the flash matched the beats, and the lightening period came between them. Huh. Never noticed that before. Some recharging of the rods and/or cones, I reckon, where the surge of blood lets me see better in the dark, and the lack of it causes my pupils to dilate. An increase in my apertures.

Just another scientific observation.

My apertures increased again a moment ago when I took dog out to pee. The night air is autumn crisp, the moon has set, and I saw no stars. But I did see the hazy glow of Jupiter. Must be some thin clouds up there, but I’m not sure how to test that hypothesis.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5:15 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
2. Brown creeper (voice)
3. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
4. American robin (voice)
5. Yellow-rumped warbler (voice)
6. Blue jay
7. American coot
8. Northern cardinal (voice)


9. American crow
10. Ruby-crowned kinglet
11. Carolina wren
12. Herring gull
13. Ring-billed gull
14. Bufflehead


Sunday, October 30th, 2011
Jack, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 October 2011.‘t


It didn’t live up to its billing. With the wind high but not hurricane force, I went ahead and slept where I usually do, in a bed in a room that the gigantic oak would crush were it to topple in a storm. It didn’t topple. It hardly even snowed—or at least accumulated. A few sparse, thin patches of slush are all I encountered when Jack and I headed out first thing. Crows about. I noticed. Didn’t notice any other birds.

Little maple, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 October 2011.

Little maple.

Swing and a miss.

Much of the rest of the day I spent working to fix this fidgety computin’ machine. The trackpad keeps thinking I mean to click when I don’t. Annoying.

But I got a little done, too. And after a while the sun came out. So dog and I took a little drive.

It was quite a little snowier just a couple miles inland: a couple or three inches had fallen on Beech Hill. Interestingly, we found a car parked in the lot—and at least a dozen human tracks headed up and down the open trail. Caught sight of a chickadee right away and heard the distinctive chip note of a white-throated sparrow. As we headed up, we beheld slopes white with wet snow. That was a switch, what with fall leaves still poking through. No yellow-rumps for a change. No crows that I could see (or hear). No jays.

But it was a nice, brisk hike. Wintry. I stopped to check for coots at the lake, and there they were again.

The trail, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 October 2011.

The trail.

At the summit we met a couple with a dog named Alice, but we didn’t linger. Headed back down. Briskly, into an insistent westerly wind. No sparrows along the trailsides, just a lovely view of the hills. I moved a few wind-fallen limbs and cleared off the boardwalks.

Turning out of the lot, I spotted a small bird flitting away from the road. Sparrow? Junco? I couldn’t tell. Swing and a miss.

And coming down Route 1 near home, I caught sight of a water bird flapping crazily away in the still-blue sky. Black duck? Cormorant? Too far away to say.

Swing and a miss. Strike three.

Tonight the wind’s still high. The temperature’s in the 30s (F). And the stars are winking brightly in a wintry-seeming sky.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:30 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Black-capped chickadee
2. White-throated sparrow
3. American coot


4. American crow
5. Herring gull

Weather, wind, and warblers

Sunday, October 30th, 2011
Yellow-rumped warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 October 2011.

Yellow-rumped warbler.

I rose early this morning to take advantage of the low tide and the wide expanse at Birch Point Beach State Park, where Jack and I met our friends Boone and Donna. The dogs raced after the tennis ball like a merlin after a sandpiper. Jack’s chases got so urgent that he took a couple dramatic diggers and would up with a few abrasions on his extremities—but he had a blast doing it. Out in the water, I saw what looked to be cormorants, loons, and/or grebes of some kind, but they were too far away to ID for sure. Black ducks in the little estuary.

Yellow rumped-warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 October 2011.

Yellow rumped-warbler.

The sun stayed out for the whole hour or so of play-time, but portentous clouds appeared from the south and east, and the sky soon grew whitish gray. Then darker gray. The morning forecast called for eight to twelve inches of wet snow tonight and tomorrow, along with winds gusting to seventy-five miles an hour. (Say what?) That got me thinking about the gigantic oak tree that overhangs my place.

But never mind that. I did a little work, pulled down all the storm windows, broke out the snow shovels, tied down anything that might blow away, battened down the hatches. Then Jack and I took off for our daily Beech Hill hike.

Interestingly, we were not alone up there. Three or four other parties had decided to hike the chilly, breezy trails. Remembering it was the first day of deer season, I put Jack’s little blaze orange saddle on his back. Plenty of birds were chattering at us as we started up—chickadees, kinglets, a white-throated sparrow, more yellow-rumped warblers. Many yellow-rumped warblers, matter of fact. I got to wondering if they perhaps migrate a bit grudgingly. Two of them traveling together stopped in some trailside shrubbery about half-way up the slope. Several others flew over, chipping. And at the summit we stumbled onto a solitary ‘rump working to choke down an enormous caterpillar of some kind—enormous compared to the bird, at least. First it battered its meal a few times against the rock wall surrounding Beech Nut. Then it flitted down into the clover and nibbled and pecked and stuffed the thing in its mouth and struggled to gag it down. For long minutes it tried to swallow the fat worm. Never managed to while we were watching it.

Tufted titmouse, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 October 2011.

Tufted titmouse.

I saw no coots on Chickie today. But coming up and down, I heard and/or saw crows, jays, and a couple flickers. Then back at the parking lot, some titmice showed up. And a nuthatch.

If the weather people prove foresightful, tomorrow’s will be a different sort of hike.

The wind picked up come evening. After dark, it began to rain and blow. Just now, in the wee hours, there’s sure enough snow flying out there, but it doesn’t seem to be sticking to anything. Yet. It’ll be interesting to see what the world looks like come dawn.

Beech Hill List

Beginning at 2:15 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Black-capped chickadee
2. Golden-crowned kinglet (voice)
3. White-throated sparrow
4. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
5. Yellow-rumped warbler
6. American crow
7. Blue jay
8. Northern flicker (voice)
9. Tufted titmouse
10. White-breasted nuthatch (voice)


11. Herring gull
12. Rock pigeon
13. American goldfinch
14. American black duck

The bay, from Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 October 2011.

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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