On Saturday, January 7th Gus and I arise early and head to Maine. The air is cold, the skies gray as we head north. As usual, Gus is driving and I am counting birds. I count three red-tailed hawks along the way, two in Massachusetts and only one in Maine in York County. After that I do not see any other red-tailed hawks for the rest of our 320 mile round trip. Before we left I had checked out the View and Explore Data tab on the eBird website and saw that very few birds were reported for Androscoggin County, Maine so far this year and zero birds were reported for Franklin County. So, though our destination is Norridgewock, Gus agrees that we can travel through Livermore Falls and Farmington, Maine and stop to count birds along the way.
Our first stop is Lake Auburn just north of town on Route 4. Whenever I come this way I stop here to count birds because it is right on the road. Today the parking lot is snow covered and so is the ice shelf extending out into the lake.
I fear the entire lake is ice covered, but then I notice some open water near a peninsula and some diving ducks bobbing around and diving down, only to reemerge again. I am trying to see what they might be in this dim gray light since they are so far out. I use my binoculars and snap a few photos with my 70-300mm zoom and try to interpret what my eyes are seeing.
We finally leave the parking lot after 10 minutes and Gus continues to drive north and I continue to look out the windows. We are passing farm fields on both sides of the road and I am starting to think to myself that this is perfect wild turkey habitat and weather and so I say out loud, “Alright turkeys, where are you!”
I turn in my seat to see a huge flock of Wild turkeys foraging in the farm field on my left, which is the passenger side of the car. “STOP! I yell, and Gus patiently pulls over and backs up. I am frantically trying to roll down the window and get my camera up so I can snap off a few shots before all the birds flee.
The turkeys are all strung out in a line across the field and heading north towards the woods. Though they scurry a bit at first as we pull over, they soon relax and go back to feeding as if we weren’t even there.
I was hoping there might be some kind of ducks or something in the river but there are none. I even try “pishing” near the hedgerow but no little sparrow heads pop up.
We drive around town and up through the school yard, past our old house and the roads we used to walk on, but I do not see any other birds in town. I enter two bird lists with zero birds counted into eBird, because eBird wants to know where the birds aren’t as well as where they are, and I did follow the protocols of time and distance.
From here we head up through Jay towards Wilton, stopping at the Jay Plaza to use the restrooms at McDonald's and grab a bite to eat. Here in Jay I count birds at the high school where I have seen snow buntings before, but nothing today. At Jay Plaza only the crows are out cawing and flying about. I hear a distant blue jay and see one small house sparrow fly across the parking lot. That is it.
In this picture postcard setting I hear a few birds twittering and find a couple of black-capped chickadees foraging through the treetops. I can also hear the “pik” call of some sort of woodpecker but never find the bird. As I am searching the tree tops a fisherman revs up the engine on his snow machine and comes barreling across the ice to check on one of his fishing holes which happens to be closer to the shore where I am standing. All the birds flee after that and the woods get quiet, so I leave also. Still, with crows, blue jays and chickadees, I have a start on my Franklin County Birds List for eBird.
We drive into Farmington then and Gus parks at the McDonalds near Front Street so I can get out and check out the Front street woods. I was here last year with my friend Beth Maddus as we looked for birds in April. We had great luck at this location then and entered some of the first bird counts of the year for Franklin county into ebird. This year I am not so lucky. Though the little store still has feeders out, it is also busy this year with cars filling the parking lot and people going in and out the front door. As a result, the only birds I see at the feeders are house sparrows. Across the street I spot some goldfinches, and in the woods I hear a nuthatch, but other than some very vocal crows, that is it.
I look longingly at what is left of the tree the pileated woodpecker was feeding on last year when I was here with Beth. I am wishing she was hear with me today and wishing I were seeing more birds! I look with longing down the path into the woods, then turn back to the street and head towards our car where Gus is patiently waiting. He has been a good sport, but we really do have a destination and we have to go. As I climb back in, Gus says he is ready to get on the road, but I make one more plea for a quick drive through town and he agrees. It takes us less than five minutes to turn up onto Main street and down a side street and back, but it pays off when I see a flock of pigeons on the rooftop of one of the downtown buildings, and then find a mourning dove perched in a tree when we stop at a stop sign. The final bonus is a small flock of starlings in the top of a tree as we head east on Route 2 on our way out of town. My final count of birds for Franklin county is only 9 species, but I know there are more out there if I just had more time! Beth…where are you!
We arrive in Norridgewock in time for cake and ice cream, for this is the real reason we drove up here today: It is Gus’ father’s birthday!
Come visit other places at…
Or, read all about Birding Maine with Beth 2011