Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Whispers of Wind

Wait.  Watch.  Listen.  Whisper.

American Kestrel
The secrets of the grassland eventually reveals itself.

Eastern Meadowlark, Lillian's
In a trance.  Cautiously, we watch each other.

Trust. Peace. Serenity. My world. Their world.  Our existence.

This moment of perfection and balance lasts only for a moment. Then the wind, as it moves the grasses, forces into motion the flocks of birds. They quickly take flight and then vanish into the golden haze. 

In the blink of an eye, everything disappears around us as if they had never been there.  Ghosts. 

It is here where I find peace and a spiritual connection to the universe.

Chestnut-collared Longspurs
I can travel the world and explore all of the amazing places, but it is here, in the grasslands, that I feel at home.

The cool wind forces the stagnant heat off of my shoulders. 

Say's Phoebe
I marvel at the sun and how it brings me joy.  My home. It's so good to be back.

Burrowing Owls
The thrill of coming home has never changed. My travels only reaffirm my love for Arizona. 

The thrill of finding longspurs!  In these photos, we discover the Chestnut-collared, McCown's and Lapland Longspurs
Until next time.......

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Cyclone Bomb

An Eastern Gray Squirrel takes a sip from a warm bird bath to stay warm

At first, it was a snowflake. Then two. And three. Followed by a billion. The forecasted cyclone bomb finally hit. 

Every time Gus heard the words "Cyclone Bomb", he would moan. Why does everything have to be sensationalized?  It was just a good ol' blizzard!

Kathie searches for that elusive Barred Owl on a branch.....somewhere
It was a beautiful disaster.  I watched in fascination as the world came to a screeching halt. The silence of a blizzard is rather spiritual. 

A Blue Jay is one of many birds that use the heated bird bath for a sip
The steam rose from the heated bird bath and kept the wildlife from freezing. We sat with tea watching this historical event unravel before our eyes. 

Coda watches the birds in her first blizzard
I looked down and found Coda watching the winter wonderland outside.  That's when I knew I had fallen in love with her.  It's amazing how quickly I had become attached to this pooch. As she looked out the sliding door, I knew I would miss my little Coda burger.  But there was a bigger question brewing in the back of my mind. Would I ever get home? I was only a couple days away from flying out of the state.

Dark-eyed Junco
Thousands of passengers were stranded along the East Coast in airports as all of their flights were cancelled.  Could Maine get their roads cleaned up in time for my flight back home?  I wish I hadn't worried about such silly things, but I needed to get back in time for work.  So I just threw those thoughts away and enjoyed the views. 

The night before the storm, Mainers hit the grocery stores pretty heavily.  They purchased all of the bread, tomatoes and milk from the shelves.  What a weird combination!  We, on the other hand, purchased lobster meat and other seafood things. 

Gus prepares lobster rolls
A very excellent man by the name of Gus made us lobster rolls.  So we had wine and lobster rolls.  Ok.  What I'm about to admit is embarrassing. 

The magic that is a lobster roll
Gus remembered that I had eaten three of these Maine delights the last time I came to visit. No way!  He was right!  It took three of these lobstah rolls once AGAIN to fill me up.  I was such a pig!  I do not eat fish or seafood in most places, but in Maine, it all tastes SO good!  And like with my visits in Wisconsin, I left Maine 10 pounds heavier.  My doctor had a nice conversation with me.  Now why in the world would I schedule a doctor's visit right after the holidays?   

A Wild Turkey is like a dinosaur
The Wild Turkeys were wild.  They often chased the smaller birds away. It was Coda's job to keep the feeders open for all birds as she chased the turkeys back into the woods.  

Kathie purchased beef suet for the woodpeckers.  This is a really cheap option that you can purchase in the meat department for a couple bucks.  I know it looks gross but it helps the woodpeckers(and other birds) stay warm in these cold temps.  We had 3 species of woodpeckers visit this station, the Hairy, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were regulars.  

A male Downy Woodpecker feeds from the frozen beef suet to keep warm
That night I put on my pajamas.  I snuggled with Coda until she had to go to bed. Kathie assured me the roads would be clear the next day. How on earth was that possible?  I lost consciousness that night and woke up to plowed roads!  My gods, she was right!

A juvenile Bald Eagle swoops low to catch a gull
That next bipolar day, the sun blared down upon us as if there had never been a blizzard.  We went to my first landfill in Bath to count gulls.  It was amazing. 

There were thousands of gulls flying all around us.  As many as 10 Bald Eagles flew around the trash to grab a gull for dinner.  I was in awe.  I could've sat there for hours. However, the smell from the trash after awhile made me a little nauseous. In fact, if I lived there, I'd bring the lady at the visitor's drive thru window some lunch.  There she peered down upon us from that trailer window with a smile probably thinking to herself, These people must be crazy.  We visited this epic landfill twice.  There was trash EVERYWHERE! And birds!

But no Glaucous Gulls. I documented every quadrant with gulls in flight and on trash.  I spent several hours scanning photos at home searching and searching for the gull but no luck. Kathie will have to come visit me in Wisconsin during the winter to get her lifer gull. 

Bald Eagles are epic. Two years ago, I had a hard time getting a decent shot of one.  However, 2017 and the start of 2018 have been good to me in the Eagle department. 

As we left the landfill, a snowflake fell.  Then two. And three. Followed by a billion.  I thought it wasn't supposed to snow again.  Then it did. This is the way of Maine. 

During our final days, we'd freeze again as the temps went below zero.  The gray skies were weighing on me heavily and I began to miss Arizona. I love Maine but I could never live there. The magical thing about home is that it feels good to leave, but it feels even better to come back. 

We had such a great time birding in the challenging conditions. It was even better spending time with Kathie, Gus and their kids. 

the beautiful drake Common Eider
The ocean birding was pretty epic.  

We'd stop in wooded areas looking for berries and marvel at flocks of Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins feeding from the bushes. 

An Eastern Bluebird grabs a berry or two to survive the temps
Our last lifer for the trip was a Black-legged Kittiwake.  It's almost embarrassing to admit that it has taken me this long to find one!  We stood along the frigid rocks of the Acadia National Park Peninsula and watched a smaller looking "gull" fly with several Ring-billed Gulls. 

Black-legged Kittiwake

As the sun set, we were still able to get nice views of the bird in flight.  I couldn't feel my fingers. I thought I was pushing my shutter button but nothing was happening.  So I took off my gloves and forced my finger down on the button again.  The camera made painful, almost drawn out, clicks letting me know that the cold was getting to her. It was -12 and the wind was acting quite angry. 

Another snowflake fell. Then two. And three. Followed by a billion.  

This poor man was frozen solid. There was no saving him from the brutal freezing temps.
Thankfully, my flight left on time but I watched as those travelers stranded on Thursday night(night of the Cyclone Bomb) were still trying to re-book their flights home.  The trip seemed to all happen in a blink of an eye.  I guess that's what happens when you bird with a dear friend.  There are still several more adventures in store for Maine.  So Kathie, get ready to grow a pair of sea legs for several islands as we will explore alcids breeding on their home turf:) It's time to get back to sunny Arizona birding. Until next time.......

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our Frozen Smiles

Kathie freezes near the Hardy Boat dock
The historic sub-zero arctic temps continued to challenge humans and wildlife alike.  Each day we layered ourselves with 4 or 5 outfits.  Some days, we'd drive in -11 to -17 temps. 

We spot a VERY cold Red Fox in South Bristol. 
Our focus continued on the tips of several peninsulas in Maine.  We needed the open ocean water where the waves would crash.  It was the habitat for several important life birds, the Great Cormorant and Purple Sandpiper. We brought the scope and scanned the endless "smoking" ocean. But before we did all of this fun ocean birding, we had to begin our daily routine.  

Blue Jays mob the feeders in great numbers
Kathie filled her feeders and did backyard bird counts.  Because it was so cold, every creature with feathers and fur fed from her feeders.  These backyard birds were otherwise scarce in most places we visited.  By feeding the birds in these historic freezing temps, we gave them a fighting chance to survive.  And yes, there were birds that froze to death.  Most of the birds here are hardy, but I discovered that Mourning Doves do not do well in these temps. 

The Slate colored Dark-eyed Juncos enjoy the cold snap as only juncos can

After we had a little breakfast, fed the birds and put on thousands of layers of clothes, I kissed my buddy Coda good-bye.  This pooch stole my heart. 

My Coda....I mean their Coda.  This dog was my new best buddy
It was out into the wild world away from the safety of the warm house and bird feeders to find ocean birds. Kathie was excited about an area known as Pemaquid Point. Looking back at our adventures, it continues to be one of my favorite places to look for birds. 

Pemaquid Point was an important spot to visit as it has historically had Purple Sandpipers 
We had birded here back in the summer of 2014 so I was somewhat familiar with the area.  In the gray hazy skies, we unloaded our gear and moved to the ocean's edge. I looked down and observed movement along the rocks. Before the trip, I studied the Purple Sandpiper well. For me, understanding the Purple Sandpiper would be like understanding the Rock Sandpiper of the West Coast.  Their habitat is similar. 

Purple Sandpipers reminded me of a cross between American Dippers and Spotted Sandpipers as they bobbed and weaved in and out of the ocean waves
So I watched from the distance and carefully planned my descent to the edge of the ocean.  It was a bit scary but I needed better pics of these birds. I had Kathie spot me from above.  Snow covered ice patches between slippery rocks.  At one point, the snow stopped and the ocean began.  The water was deep and the current was strong so I stayed a safer distance from these birds.  But I was able to see their orange bills and legs well.  

Pemaquid Point is a bit magical.  It's a lovely snapshot of coastal Maine.  

Kathie took me to a local store where they sold Whoopy Pies.  I hung out in the back of the store and listened to the Mainer's accents and it made me smile.  I bought a Blueberry Muffin and Kathie had the Whoopy Pie.  However, we did not purchase any cigarettes for the road:)

Kathie loves creating checklists so we were constantly adding data.  I did not like listing outside and freezing my fingers off. 

So we'd stop for coffee and do our lists inside of a nice warm cafe. 

For days, we continued our ocean adventures counting gulls, guillemots, eagles, ducks, scoters and grebes. We always kept our eyes open for an alcid close to shore.  

A Black Guillemot in winter plumage
I'd scan the shorelines and look for blips on the ocean's horizon. If I saw rafts of ducks, etc, we'd get the scope and count birds. 

Depending on the tide, birds were either close or far.  If the tide was high, we wouldn't move on. Sorry Blondie. We'd stay because the birds were close.  If the tide was far out, we'd have a difficult time spotting birds. So we planned everything around high tide. 

The frost tinged winds challenged many birders.  At one area, I tried getting close to the Harlequin Ducks but it was too dangerous. If we stood on the point, we froze.  If we scoped below off the point, we were warmer but then, we weren't able to see everything on the ocean.  It was a Catch 22. 

Another birder joins us with his dog as he searches for his last US duck of the year, the Harlequin Duck
Sometimes we'd see a large blip in the distance.  It was either a seal or a large cormorant sitting awkwardly on a rock.  I thought I'd have difficulty ID'ing this bird but when I saw how massive this cormorant was, it was a no brainer! Another lifer achieved!

The Great Cormorant is a winter visitor to the coastal waters of Maine.  It's a large bodied cormorant that flies with rapid shallow wing flaps.  When it sits on a rock, it looks like a seal folded over.  

We thought it would get better but little did we know, the worst was yet to come, the Bomb Cyclone.  To top it off, there was a supermoon which would wreck havoc on the coastal towns with the higher than normal tides.  After a week of beautiful birding in horrible conditions, we'd discover just how challenging the birding would get.  

Example of clothing layering.  Under that gray coat, there is a vest, sweater and shirt. The sweater provided a hood that would cover my hat and head from the severe winds.  The scarf would cover my large nose and face. 

My final write explores the last treks of our days in Maine.  Stay tuned for more!