Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30: Youngsters

The other day a very motley-looking titmouse alit on my feeder. Instead of the smooth, plain gray that most titmice sport, this bird was patchy, with brown streaking on its belly and odd feathers sticking out here and there. It took me a few seconds to realize this was a fledgling, recently out of the nest. Already it has learned what a bird feeder is and how to make good use of it. Young-looking chickadees have been appearing at my feeder, as well.

This morning a catbird fledgling was perched on a post at the end of the driveway, whining to another bird waiting in a nearby tree. While the size of a mature bird, it too was a bit ragged around the edges, its sleek adult plumage not yet fully grown in. I've been hearing a catbird singing fragments of song outside my window the past week or so, and now wonder if that bird was a youngster--this one or a nest-mate--practicing its new singing voice.

Meanwhile, at river's edge, a young crow caws with an insistent, whiny pitch that any parent around the world would recognize as begging. On the river, a flotilla of geese, a few smaller and less distinctly patterned than the rest, heads upstream in a tight bunch.

And earlier this week, my two nieces, age three and six, returned to Maine with my sister and brother-in-law to spend the summer at their camp on a nearby lake.

Encouraged by warmth,
young birds try out new feathers,
children learn to swim

Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29: Scolding

My co-worker has been occasionally bringing her dog Chester to work. This afternoon Chester was tied up outside the office door, where he spent most of his time lying on the porch facing a big bush. A few minutes ago, I heard a loud, repeated chip note from this bush, an unusual sound for this part of the yard. On closer scrutiny, I spied the noisemaker, a male Common Yellowthroat. This tiny bird, smaller than the palm of my hand, was perched on a high branch of the bush and looking right at Chester, scolding the dog with a repeated "alarm" chip. He carried on like that for over five minutes, his fervor diminishing over time, until eventually he gave up trying to warn Chester away from the bush and flew off.

This wasn't a territorial thing, because the bird doesn't live in that bush, which is so close to my office window that I would have heard him singing loudly and often. At least one yellowthroat lives in the shrubs along the edge of the lawn, however. My guess is that the bird noticed the dog and chose to bravely fly up to confront it, or at least to make enough noise that others in the area would be alerted to the dog's presence. 

Chester didn't budge during any of this. I'm not sure he even registered that an assertive little warbler was making a lot of noise right over his head, let alone that he himself was the cause. 

Even I can tell 
the bird's sounding an alarm,
chipping, "Watch out! Dog!"  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28: First Monarch

In a calm between storms, we observed the first Monarch butterfly of the season flitting around the milkweed patch we let grow wild in the office yard. Monarchs depend on milkweed for much of their life cycle. They lay their eggs on the plants, their caterpillars feed almost entirely on milkweed leaves, and their butterflies sip nectar (though not exclusively) from milkweed flowers. 

Because milkweed contains toxic cardenolides in its sap, this diet renders both the caterpillar and the adult insect poisonous. A bird that eats one will throw up. I've seen a merlin catch a Monarch and then immediately spit it out in mid-air, so the bug must have a bitter taste. It's believed that the distinctive orange and black coloring of the adult Monarch, as well as the jaunty black-and-yellow stripes of the caterpillar, are meant to indicate that this creature shouldn't be messed with--along the same lines as the vivid colors of the poison arrow frogs of the Amazon.

The colors also make the Monarch easily recognizable to those of us who might be quickly scanning a yard to see what's blooming and buzzing. We noted a lack of Monarchs at this time last year, when they'd have been laying eggs, and in early fall, when they migrate. The milkweed stands ready. Hopefully it will host a healthy flock (what is a group of butterflies called?) this summer.

Oozing with toxins,
the milkweed awaits visits
from bright butterflies.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27: Purple finch

I'm wearing an elaborate purple finch barrette in my hair today, an accessory that I bought over 20 years ago when I was still in college in Vermont, dressing in tie-dyes and Guatemalan prints like a hippie wannabe. The barrette suited the person I was then, though it's a little much for everyday wear now that I'm older and, sadly, more conservative in my tastes. But as I was putting up my hair this morning, I remembered it was stashed in the bottom of my closet. Yesterday a female purple finch visited my feeders at the office for the first time--usually I get the more urban house finches--so I decided to wear my funky work-of-art barrette in homage of her special visit. 

My creative hair piece seems to have worked some sort of magic of attraction--this morning the male purple finch showed up at my feeder in all his glory. Unlike the plainer, brown-striped female, the male is bright raspberry, as if he were held by his brown tail and dipped headfirst into the berry's pink juice. Very striking and colorful, just like my barrette:
This barrette is probably bigger than an actual purple finch. And yes, the photo's crooked, but do you know how hard it is to photograph the back of your own head?
If my barrette can
summon finches, what shall I
wear in my hair next?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26: The heavens opened

I know I've been mentioning the weather a lot lately, but, well, this is Maine, and we really focus on the weather here--in part, because so many of us like to be outside, in part because the natural landscape and what's happening in it are important to us.

Also, it's sometimes unavoidable. A minute ago it suddenly started raining so loudly and so hard that it sounded like thunder drumming on the roof. A curtain of water gushes off the eaves, and a poor goldfinch perches in the feeder looking out, trying to decide if he wants to fly through that deluge or not. So far, not. Now, real thunder adds to the clamor. Meanwhile, the calm drone of voices continues in the conference room. Even when the heavens open, dumping buckets of rain, life goes on.

Parts of Penobscot County had flood warnings this morning, according to the emergency weather alert that came over public radio this morning. Seems like several mornings' classical music programs have been interrupted by weather alerts lately, thanks to a series of storms moving through. Ah, summer in Maine...

The world's a green room
with water as its ceiling,
water for its floor.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25: Before the rainfall

Was just poised in that moment right before you know rain is imminent, feeling the wind pick up a little and the air pressure shift, when someone called the office from southern Maine and asked if it was raining here yet. Right as he asked that, as if he invoked them, the first drops began to fall and thunder rumbled overhead. And now it's pouring. 

Before the rain falls
four crows fly into the trees,
sheltered now by green.

June 24: Pairs

Our drive down the coast from Camden to South Portland was punctuated by the sight of quite a few pairs of ospreys. Every time we approached a body of water--the St. George River, Sherman Lake, Great Salt Bay in Damariscotta, Back Bay in Portland--we'd see the brown and white fish hawks circling overhead. In Bath, we saw one on the nest in the Route One median strip. We even watched a couple of ospreys flying together over Portland harbor from our outside table at El Rayo, a Mexican restaurant in Portland. (We also noted, roadside, one bald eagle, two red-tails, and two broad-winged hawks.)

The year's young are hatched out and growing fast in the nests, so parent birds are fishing for more than themselves now. The sacrifices of parenthood take on a different perspective when they involve spending all your waking hours flying over the water and catching fish.

Blue sky, blue water--
ospreys best enjoy both realms
fishing together.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23: Breaching the dam

I watched footage taken this morning of excavators breaching the Great Works Dam, sited on the Penobscot River just south of Indian Island, home of the Penobscot tribe. This is the largest ever river restoration project in North America. Veazie Dam will also be demolished starting next year, clearing the last obstacle between young salmon and the sea along the ancient path of the river. I found myself staring at the screen for long minutes, fascinated as any child by the dinosaur-like efforts of the big yellow excavators as they picked their way over to the dam and began shredding it apart--as well as by the widening stream of water pouring through cracks and openings in the old walls. This dam removal is a truly historic occasion, one that will help restore balance to one of Maine's great rivers.

The Penobscot River feeds Penobscot Bay, the western shores of which include my town. If you look at a map of Maine, Penobscot Bay is the big v-shaped divot in the middle of the coastline. This amazing project lengthens our ties by water to interior Maine--soon, you will be able to get there from here once more. And more importantly, fish will, too, without having to be trucked there from the base of these dams. There's something about a free-running river flowing unfettered to the sea that stirs the soul--the freedom of the water and what lives in it, yes, but also the relinquishment of control, the removal of obstructions--the wild nature of water.

We free the water
and remember all that flows
through those wide blue veins.

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22: Morning thunder

Morning thunder: sounds like the name of an herbal tea. I woke a bit disoriented to the rumblings of thunder this morning. It took me a few minutes to figure out what I was hearing behind the higher-pitched whining of juvenile (delinquent) crows--was it something in the house? Was it a truck outside? And why wouldn't it let me just sleep a few minutes more?

By the time I was done with breakfast, the storm had opened its rain gates, wet the streets, and moved on eastward over the mountains.

Morning thunderstorm
washes streets clean, freshens air
to start the day right.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21: Leeches

Some days I really love my job. This afternoon I got to join my director and some volunteers on a site visit by canoe to a property along a pond in Waldo County. We paddled across the pond and up a narrowing, winding inlet, enjoying the birds and other wildlife along the way.

Dragonflies and butterflies dipped in the reeds and cattails. Marsh wrens chattered from shrubs, while swamp sparrows trilled unseen and blackbirds flashed their red epaulettes. A great blue heron flew in and perched on a nearby tree as we paddled past. Along the pond's edges, bullhead lilies and water arum bloomed.
Water Arum
Green frogs croaked like banjos from within the reeds, and in the shallower water, we could see foot-long small-mouth bass lurking in the shadows. Along the inlet, we startled a deer getting a drink, a buck in velvet, and where he'd been, we noticed a beaver trail over which beavers had been dragging trees to enhance their lodge. 
At one point we had to make a short portage over a pile of rocks augmented by beavers--not the hop over sticks pictured above--and it was there I noticed the leeches. They were several inches long, with red bellies, and moved through the water like pieces of ribbon unfurling. I'm not normally a fan of leeches, but today I found them worth watching. Perhaps it was the influence of the landscape around me on this beautiful afternoon. On another day, in another setting, they'd have undoubtedly been creepy--or if one had attached to my foot while I was standing in the shallow water, hauling on the canoe. But today, I found them fascinating. 
See the leech, above the white thing in the lower left?
Even a leech has
its good points: grace in water,
a rouge-red belly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20: Solstice snow

Tonight at 7:09 EDT we officially celebrate Summer Solstice, the longest day, the first day of summer. As if on cue, a heat wave has rolled in, bringing some of the first hot weather we've experienced in months. The air is positively sultry, and you won't hear me complaining. We get too little of this in Maine to whine about it.

Which is why it's ironic that this morning I experienced a snow shower. Maybe "snow" is not quite accurate, but the locust tree's flower petals scattering down upon my parents and me as we stood in their driveway sure looked like snow. The hypnotizing swirl of white "flakes" tossed over our heads by the breeze certainly looked like a snow shower, too, but the blue sky and the 80-degree air caressing our bare arms contradicted what our eyes were telling us. Not snow, flowers raining down on our heads, petals sprinkling over the green grass of summer. Our Solstice blessing from the black locust.

Not lotus: locust.
But its white petals also
convey a blessing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 19: Unripe berries

Over the next day, as this hemisphere officially shifts into summer, a heat wave is supposed to kick the temperature up about 20 degrees, into the 80s. Summer is truly upon us at last, thankfully, and the fruits of the season are getting ready. Outside my office the high-bush blueberries are laden with unripe fruit, funky, pale green globes creating their own clustered galaxies in the universe of our lawn. Within the month we should be enjoying our berries--or at least, those that the crows, jays, squirrels, and random passers-by don't eat first. But right now, on summer's cusp, the eve of Midsummer's Eve, those hard berries in first blush hold pure promise of things to come. 

Already a crow
eyes the unripe blueberries--
it, too, has to wait.

Gratuitous lupine shot, also taken in office yard

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18: New Moon

At an inexplicable low point in the biorhythms cycle today. Maybe I can blame it on tomorrow's new moon. But when I returned home, my day was salvaged by the explosion of fragrant peonies in my garden and the call of a loon in the distance, wending its way upriver back to the nest for the night.

Impending new moon.
If not for these peonies,
I'd own that darkness.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 17: Damselfly

We spent this beautiful almost-summer day with my family at my sister and brother-in-law's camp on Crawford Lake.

Hanging out on the dock, my husband spotted a couple of damselflies that had just emerged, still-damp, from their nymph cases. One flew off by the time I came to look at them, but the other still clung to the boat bumper. Since the boat was about to head out for a cruise, I worried the baby damselfly wouldn't be ready to fly in time. I encouraged it to crawl onto my finger, then moved it to a nearby leaf out of the way of people and dog. The next time I passed the leaf, it was gone. I never even saw it open its wings. By the end of the summer, its life will be over. I wish it many more days like this one before that time comes.
So short a lifespan--
damselfly is blessed to hatch
on this perfect day.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16: Chick

My friend Janet recently incubated some fertile eggs from her own chickens. Two of the chicks--Barred Rock and Brahma crosses--are big enough now to have their own room out in the coop, but one just hatched a few days ago and still resides in a box in the house, under a heat lamp. Janet has become quite attached to this little chick and hopes that it's female so that it can eventually join her flock (which cannot sustain two roosters). Her affection for it is understandable--it's just a warm little ball of fluff with feathery feet (inherited from her Brahma father).

I was at Janet's house today working on a project in the room next to the one where the chick was being kept. Along with food and water, Janet had hung a bunch of dandelion greens in the box to pique the chick's interest in natural food (as opposed to its tiny tray of chick feed). As we worked away nearby, we could hear the chick's occasional quiet peeps.

At one point Janet checked on it and removed the wilting greens. She also put the cover over the chick's box. Shortly thereafter, we could hear the chick peeping loudly in apparent distress. Thinking that the chick didn't like the cover, she rushed in to remove it. But it continued to chirp anxiously. Then Janet thought to dig the wilted bunch of greens out of the trash and hang them back in the box. The chick immediately settled down. It had missed the dandelion greens! Apparently, it had imprinted on the greenery in its box, even if it didn't yet consider it food.

Chick in a box, gazing adoringly at its dandelion greens
All-natural chick--
box-coddled, yet already
comforted by greens.
A woman and her chick

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15: Bird on lupine

This morning I chuckled to see a great-crested flycatcher swoop across the lawn to perch on a tall blue spike of lupine, which of course immediately fell over under the bird's weight. But the flycatcher kept its balance and hung on, swaying atop the flower as if it meant all along to make a pretty perch out of it.
Flycatcher sputters--
a flower isn't the most
secure of perches.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14: Peonies

What better way to enjoy a summer evening after work than to have a drink with a friend on the outside deck at the Waterfront Restaurant, watching the sailboats cruising in for the evening while ospreys cry overhead? And later, back home, it's still light enough to stay outside a little longer to watch a gregarious flock of waxwings fly-catching in an oak tree, and pick the huge, fragrant peonies that had collapsed onto the lawn under their own weight.

Something of the sun
lingers now inside the house--
peony perfume.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13: Oriole

I experienced a strange synchronicity today--speaking on the phone with a friend, she told me that after the last time we talked, she hung up the phone and saw an oriole outside her window. It made her think of me. I couldn't respond right away because I was a bit freaked out. "Had we spoken of orioles last time we talked?" I asked. No, she'd just made a bird connection because of my interest. Then I explained that on the wall in front of my desk I have a big poster, "Sibley's Backyard Birds." When I talk on the phone, the bird I'm staring at, the one right at eye-level, is the Baltimore Oriole. In fact, I was absently looking right at it when she told me this.

From my eyes to yours--
an oriole's quantum leap,
vivid to us both.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12: Morning catbird

Unusual for me, I woke at dawn, the light bright under the bedroom blind. Instead of falling back asleep, I lay there for a while listening to the rush of the river and the early birdsong. It seemed like such a luxury, to know I didn't have to get up for a few hours, to just stay in my warm, comfortable bed and enjoy the natural music outside.
Catbird's song at dawn--
how long can I lie in bed
simply listening?

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11: Nuthatches

The pair of White-breasted Nuthatches have multiplied into three. It's that time of year. The geese graze on the lawn with fuzzy grey goslings. Robins carry bills full of grubs to hidden nests. And the nuthatches spiral the trunk of the ash tree as a trio, teaching their fledgling the secrets of bark, of unseen insects, of how to forage with that tiny, pointed beak while perched downward. The bill of a nuthatch has evolved over the millennia into a tool perfectly suited for the task of picking insects off a tree trunk (as well as eating seeds). If only we humans could so easily determine what we are best suited for in life and make use of it exactly as we should.

Nuthatch is learning
how perfect its bill is for
getting what it wants.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10: Awareness

Our cat has been especially restless today. I don't know if it's the warm weather, the sunny, open windows (she's an indoor cat, so sitting on the sill is as close as she gets to being outside), or the birds and insects that keep buzzing past the windows and glass door. Rather than curling up on her pillow for hours at a time--her usual habit, despite being a young cat--she's been wandering from window to window, or sitting in one spot that gives her a view of the bird feeders, alert to any and every motion outside. Just now, up on my desk, she's spasmodically following the path of a bumblebee on the other side of the screen. Her ears perk up at the sound of a crow whining down by the river. Seems this clear, sunny weather and the movement of air through the house has brought new sights and smells into her world, made her more aware of what's outside.

This morning I finished a great new book about how to start developing a deeper awareness of the world outside: What the Robin Knows by Jon Young (I include a link to the book so you can learn more about it, not to encourage you to purchase it from Amazon. I hope that if the book interests you, you'll get it at your local, independent bookstore.) Young's premise, put very broadly and simply, is that by developing an intense familiarity with the creatures that inhabit our world, especially species like robins that can give us learnable cues about what's happening around us, we can better understand the natural world and how we can become a less intrusive presence within it. The key is developing one's awareness through intimate, repeated observations. 

The book made me realize how much I have to work on in this regard, yet also that I've been following some of its tenets already. The other day, for example, I heard jays and crows making a racket out back that I was certain indicated a strange cat was passing through. I looked out the window and sure enough, there it was--an orange-and-white cat I'd never seen before, scuttling down the riverbank on the "cat trail" that the neighborhood cats all follow through our yard (usually without the corvid fanfare). Apparently I'd been unconsciously absorbing a little bit of bird language just by paying attention to my back yard.

This very afternoon, I heard the chip of a woodpecker in the willow over the driveway. Before I heard its complete call a few seconds later, I knew this was the local downy woodpecker that likes to hang out in that tree on his way to another tree in our back yard. So, I've gotten a little bit of a start on Young's teachings all on my own, but his book has opened my eyes to how much I haven't been paying attention to, focused as I usually am on seeing and hearing all the birds I can when out on the trail. His point is that it's not just a matter of knowing the names and songs of birds and what habitat they each live in, but of learning so much about them that when the robin in your yard makes a particular alarm call, you know to look up for the sharp-shinned hawk flying overhead. And, like learning a language spoken in more than one country, this knowledge then travels with you, enhancing your awareness of the natural world wherever you are and enabling you to interpret the behavior of the "robins" everywhere.

I recognize my
neighbors--robins, crows, sparrow--
but do I know them?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9: Getting grounded

Today was the first day after a full month+ of birding weekends that I could 1) sleep in--which I might have actually done if the cat hadn't been so physically aggressive about getting me out of bed to feed her at an early hour; and 2) work in my garden.

With all the rain we've had and my complete lack of attention, the flower beds were out of control. Thankfully, the sun has finally reappeared. I pruned and trimmed a whole wheelbarrow full of leaves and weeds, and then, after the season's first trip to the local plant nursery, filled in some gaps. Now the sedum can see the light again, out from under the lady's mantle. The lilies aren't hidden under the monster hosta. And my herb garden has another year's round of lavender, cilantro, and catnip. Also, marigolds for color. A new "black" fuschia hangs by the front door, a bright blue verbena on the fence. The clematis is trained with string to begin climbing the porch rail. The lawn is mowed. Blue irises which my dad and I planted several years ago bloom once more against the white walls of the shed. Clumps of ferns burst up here and there in the backyard, which I generally let grow at will for most of the summer except for a path to the shed. My hands are covered with dirt despite wearing gardening gloves, and the soles of my bare feet need a scrub.

And I feel like I've regained some balance, grounded myself, quite literally, once again.

Pregnant peonies
tower over my garden.
I feel an odd pride.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8: Wet Field

This morning I led a small group on a bird walk on the Head of Tide Preserve in Belfast. The pathway through the old farm fields was supposed to have been mowed, but it's been so wet that our Stewardship Director wasn't able to get to it till this afternoon. So we waded through some very wet waist-high grass in the day's early hours, carefully listening and watching for birds, and seeing more than a few trampled patches where deer must have lain the night before. By the time we left, my jeans were entirely soaked through, but when you're really focused on what you're doing, that kind of thing isn't really much of an inconvenience.

At one point I made a side trip to check out an alternative trail--on my own so as not to force the group to get even more wet than they already were. As I started down the other trail, I flushed a ruffed grouse and her chicks. I should say, first I heard the loud wingbeats of a flushed grouse. Then I saw a lot of small, round brown things scatter up into the nearby trees. I got my binoculars on one, and only then realized it was a grouse chick, still spotted and fluffy with down. I had no idea that grouse chicks could fly while so small! With my next step, I flushed another chick; it had opted to hunker down rather than fly. It flew about ten feet up into a nearby tree. Off in the woods, meanwhile, the mother grouse was crashing around and giving a distress call in an attempt to lure me away from the chicks. I didn't want to accidentally step on one or distress her or them any further, and the trail ahead looked quite swampy, so I turned back and rejoined the group waiting in the wet field.

This is what it's like
to be a deer--belly wet
in tall grass, alert.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7: Flock

Driving back roads inland this morning through the verdant Maine countryside, I turned a corner and was surprised by a flock of little goldfinches that flew up like exploding yellow shrapnel--or, to fit the agricultural landscape, bright kernels of corn. 

Handful of tossed corn--
roadside goldfinches scatter
in front of my car.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June 5: Rhododendron

My grandmother's house boasted a huge rhododendron bush out front. When its big purple blooms opened each spring, she'd clip a few, bring them inside, and float them in a glass bowl. It struck me as very exotic presented this way (I had a fairly provincial childhood), so I decided then that it was my favorite flower. I thought that only I fully appreciated the patch of soft brown speckles hidden inside each flower, because most people don't look that closely, and purple was (and still is) my favorite color.
When we bought our house seven years ago, one of the first things I did was plant a rhododendron bush--something I'd been wishing for since my grandmother died 20 years before. Each spring I glory in the days when it's flowering. This lush rainy weekend seems to have been the trigger, as suddenly the bush is in full bloom. I clipped one of the flowers wet with rain. Now it floats in a blue-patterned Chinese bowl. It struck me tonight that those tiny brown spots look just like the freckling on the throat of a veery, a locally common thrush with a truly exotic voice.
Bold purple petals
hide a patch of soft freckles
like a veery's throat.

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4: Female cardinal

During the rain today the female cardinal came chipping her way to my office window feeder several times. Each visit, I paid her the courtesy of stopping whatever I was doing and just watched her. While she doesn't eat her sunflower seeds with any particular grace, her peach-pink-orange bill is stunning, and her brownish, drab feathers are highlighted by rouge-red ones that catch the eye like lipstick transforming a plain face into a pretty one. The male cardinal has many admirers, but while the female might not be as flashy as he is, she deserves praise for the subtle way she wears her beauty.

Take a few moments
to watch the cardinal: beauty
comes in many forms.

June 3: Rain in the spruce forest

This morning I and others led a bird walk for the Acadia Birding Festival on Acadia National Park's Ship Harbor Nature Trail as the rain fell and the tide came in. We could hear waves crashing from beyond the wall of spruce trees, and in the treetops, the tinkling notes of the kinglet's song. Small rafts of eiders rode the swells into the harbor, unbothered by rain, shielded by waterproof feathers. From amid the misty tangle of trees, a white-throated sparrow sang loud and clear. Wet sweet fern, crushed by fingers, seemed particularly pungent. Mosses burgeoned, green sponges massed over the forest floor. Water had formed a small pool at the root base of a fallen spruce, creating a wet cave--what might hide in there? Walking the rain-softened trail, our footsteps were dampened, allowing us to hear well the repeated song of the black-throated green warbler. In the dim light, half-concealed amid wet leaves, the warbler's yellow face shone like a tiny sun.

Raindrops on flat leaves
are easily mistaken
for movements of birds.

June 2: Nesting

We spent all morning on the Friendship V whale-watching boat out of Bar Harbor on a pelagic birding trip as part of the Acadia Birding Festival. We cruised way out into the Gulf of Maine past four different islands with lighthouses on them, including Petit Manan, which is part of the Maine Coastal Islands NWR. The island was a chaotic mass of terns and gulls in the air and on the rocks, screeching and crying shrilly, and in the water, flotillas of puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and murres. How the interns who live on the island don't go insane from that constant noise is a mystery, but the sheer dynamic swirl of life out on these nesting islands is awe-inspiring--especially when you consider that these birds are creating life on virtually bare rock, their nests just tiny hollows along a bleak shore.
Gulls near Egg Rock
After a hot shower and lunch, I had to rush off to guide my afternoon field trip at Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor. While the flowers seemed a little ahead of last year, with many of the azaleas and rhodos gone by, there were still breathtaking patches of blooming beauty--a fire-red azalea that looked like it was flickering, a virtual burning bush; apple trees still laden with white blossoms; these allium poking up amid ferns:
Allium with ferns, Thuya Garden
Rhododendrons, Thuya Garden
What moved me the most, though, were not the stunning flowers and the Japanese aesthetic of Asticou, nor the mix of cultivated and wild at Thuya, which is tucked into a forested hillside, fenced in like the Secret Garden. It was a female redstart on a nest right near a trail, the little warbler startling off it every time someone walked by, chipping nearby with obvious agitation. Why would she choose that spot? Was she drawn to a view of the flowers? Will her eggs survive all the disruptions? Is she any better off than a tern laying her eggs on bare earth, at the mercy of the gulls?
Can you see the redstart nest (sans bird) in the center of this bush?
Startled off her nest,
the redstart chirps in distress--
so precious, each egg.

June 1: Baguette and Brie

Whenever we travel to Mount Desert Island, we always stop in Ellsworth at Rooster Brother for one of their homemade baguettes, a wedge of Brie, and a wedge of mousse truffee. And a few quality chocolate bars for the road, preferably bittersweet chocolate filled with marzipan or dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.  On our way up the coast to the Acadia Birding Festival on Friday afternoon, the sun was shining. It was too glorious a day to spend so many hours in the car, so we took our goodies to a picnic table alongside the Union River and watched cormorants patrol the river while an osprey called nearby. Simple pleasures, enhanced by the adventure of being on the road to a fun weekend together.

Baguette, cheese, pate,
your company, riverside--
the joys of travel.