22 July 2024

Flotsam

Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Juvenile herring gull, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 February 2010.

Juvenile herring gull.

Woke up. Lay in bed. Listened to crows.

The nearest crow gave out a common call, in my experience: two caws, a pause, and two more caws—like five caws with the middle one missing. It called this continually, waiting between calls for the reply of another crow at some distance away. The other crow gave out the long, low, guttural caw that everyone’s heard. Usually in pairs. Then I heard a third, calling rapidfire:Cah-cah-cah! Cah-cah-cah-cah-cah!

Herring gull, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 28 February 2010.

Herring gull.

Perhaps most humans think of crows as noisy, scavenging, ominous birds. Maybe curious, or annoying, or just—there. I think of them with perpetual fascination. If you pay attention to crows you’ll notice very quickly how smart they are. Then you’ll start recognizing their many calls and squawks and growls. Crows have a complex language.

But I still can’t decipher it, so I got up, showered, had breakfast, went about my usual morning routine to the sweet strains of the love song of the resident tufted titmouse out back.

The morning turned sunny early, and the air turned warm. I happened to notice that the daffodils lining my stone wall have two- to four-inch shoots already. The day felt positively springlike, in some crazy, out-of-kilter way. If you were somehow plunked down here today with no memory of the past nor expectation of the future, you’d swear it was early spring.

But it’s still February. Late today I chose to walk the breakwater. It’d clouded up again by then and gotten chilly. In fact, when walked out to the truck, some light rain had begun to spatter down. Well, a little rain wouldn’t stop me.

It’s stopped drizzling by the time I reached the breakwater parking lot. The tide was near dead low. I saw pairs of red-breasted mergansers, a raft of eiders, a common loon, a great black-backed gull. Plenty of herring gulls, of course, and at least one ring-billed. The wind was whipping in from the northeast, but not too bad. The most notable part of the walk, to me, were the piles of seaweed and chunks of waterlogged driftwood littering the granite stones. I walked out there the day after the big recent storm and didn’t see anything like that. Perhaps the storm loosened things up, and a following high tide rolled the flotsam over the surface—flotsam that included at least two wayward lobster traps.

About half-way out, I saw a little flock of long-tailed ducks headed out to the islands, as they do at the end of the day. Then it began to rain. I felt the rain on my back at first, then felt the dampness on the backs of my calves. Returning, the rain increased—as did the headwind. I doubted I’d use my binocs or camera in such weather and so decided to count my paces instead. The rain and wind were cold and thrilling. Not comfortable exactly, but they made me feel alive.

From the lighthouse it took me 1,679 paces to reach the shore again.

Today’s List

American crow
Tufted titmouse
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull
Great black-backed gull
Mallard
Red-breasted merganser
Common eider
Common loon
Long-tailed duck

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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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