Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23: The Birds

I woke early with a whole beautiful sunny winter's day before me to do whatever I wanted. So I started off by going on a run to my parents' house, about 2.5 miles away. I felt warm enough because I was moving, and safe enough because the shoulder was well plowed, but hadn't anticipated how that cold air would feel hitting my lungs. On my run, despite by belabored breathing, I heard enough birds that I made an effort to keep track: blue jay, robin, cardinal, downy woodpecker, crow, white-breasted nuthatch.

So a good run, but my breathing needed a little recovery time. While hanging out "recovering" with my parents, we had front row seats as a bird drama played out on the Megunticook River: two young eagles repeatedly dove on an injured Canada goose in the open water just below the bridge. At one point, an eagle landed in a pine tree right in the backyard, causing my mother to unexpectedly curse very loudly in her excitement. The goose lived to see another day; perhaps the eagles were just toying with it, or testing its strengths and weaknesses for a future tandem attack.

Later, my friend Brian picked me up for a bird outing in Belfast, with a brief stop at Chase's Daily, of course, for one of their amazing pear almond muffins. We walked down to the Footbridge, from which we quickly picked out several groups of goldeneyes bobbing and preening on the Passagassawakeag River. As far as I could tell, every goldeneye we could see was a Barrow's, an unusual winter visitor but one regularly found at that spot on the river. We got good looks, close enough to see their golden eyes, the crescent-shaped facial marking on the males, and the orange bills of the females.

Photo by John Good - NPS Photos

On the roof of a nearby industrial building, hundreds of gulls (and a handful of black ducks) hung out, presumably resting and warming themselves in the sun. Suddenly, they all lifted off and flew over our heads in a swirling mass--just like the flocks in "The Birds." I kept looking for what might have scared them up--an eagle, perhaps--but no luck, even though this happened twice while we were there. The cool thing was that the second time, I was able to pick out an Iceland gull amid the milling hordes of herring gulls. Like the Barrow's goldeneye, this white-winged species is another winter visitor from that Arctic that's uncommon enough that I was particularly excited to see it. Especially amid the craziness of the massive gull lift-off.

Photo by Brian Willson.

Before heading back to Camden, we made another stop at a new preserve upriver, acquired by Coastal Mountains Land Trust in December. We followed a snowmobile trail to some old farm fields, only spotting three chickadees and a meandering line of tiny rodent tracks. But as we were leaving, a red-tailed hawk soared overhead in the blue sky, its tail bright red in the sun. Seemed a good omen on which to end our outing.

Knowing winter's long,
humans and birds soak up sun
on a day like this.

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