Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17: Christmas Bird Count

We start our Count at the Rockland Breakwater
Despite heavy morning snow showers and bone-chilling cold, we enjoyed a wonderful day tromping around outside with friends old and new, counting every bird in sight for the annual Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count. 

In our count section, we ended up with 50 total species (47 by our group on land, with 3 more added by a friend coming in to Rockland on the Vinalhaven ferry). Highlights included: long-tailed ducks gobbling in Rockland Harbor, a merlin zipping past the Breakwater, purple sandpipers discovered by Paul on a solo second trip out the length of the Breakwater and back, and a lesser scaup in a pond at the Samoset Resort. A red-bellied woodpecker at a feeder was a first for our Count section, I think. A raft of over 600 coots in Chickawaukie Lake was a definite high count for that species; I'm sure we were underestimating our tally for them. A soaring bald eagle reminded us of a friend no longer with us who used to join us for the Christmas Count--she was always the one to spot an eagle. We watched crows chase a red-tailed hawk. A lingering yellow-rumped warbler chased down in a swamp thicket turned out to be the only warbler seen all day in the entire Count circle. Lots of very pretty tree sparrows turned up, a bird we only see here in winter. And in the mammal department, we came upon a basking harbor seal and a swimming muskrat. The most numerous species (besides coot, of course) was Canada goose, which flocks up in great numbers on the Samoset golf course, followed by mallard and herring gull. No surprises there, but plenty of simple delight.

Yesterday's flowers; today's snow
The best moment of the whole day for me was at the very end, when in the deepening dusk I walked a short distance alone into the woods in a last ditch attempt to find a golden-crowned kinglet. I didn't find a kinglet. Instead, off in the distance, a great horned owl called. Those low, soft notes: hoo-he-hoo hooo hooo, how they carry through the cold air through stands of pines and spruce. You almost feel them as much as hear them. I stood in the trail and just listened, feeling a little shiver run through me that had nothing to do with how cold I was. The owl was beginning its evening, announcing to the creatures of forest and field below: I'm here and soon I'll be hunting. 

One owl calls at dusk.
Alone, I hear its summons,
stand still, and shiver.
Winterberries in the snow


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