I fell asleep last night listening to the sound of rain. This morning the deluge continued as I snuggled into my warm bed. When I finally got up the gray day was waiting for me with rain pelting the windows and soaking the already saturated ground. Still, the birds were at my feeder, clinging for dear life as they picked at the seed in the constant rain. By noontime the rain tapered off to a drizzle, then finally stopped all together.
I’ve noticed a change in the yard with the arrival of song sparrows. I was thrilled to see just one last week. Now I am seeing three to four every day! While sitting on the couch watching TV with Gus this afternoon I saw a Great Blue Heron glide overhead towards the bay. I grabbed my binoculars in excitement as I watch the bird disappear over the treetops. It was the first heron I have seen here in Maine since moving back and a nice addition to my yard list. I spent the whole day inside, except for a brief foray earlier to refill a couple feeders. Now I couldn’t take it any longer. I needed to be outside, so I bundled up in my parka, knit headband, hood and gloves. I put my binocular harness over everything and headed out the door.
The first thing I notice is the singing of the birds. Though the skies are still ominously gray and the wind is blowing, the birds are singing! Song Sparrows and finches fill the air with their songs. Even the Mourning Doves are cooing. Gingerly I dodge the wet spots and mud on the saturated lawn as I make my way towards the road and step out onto the pavement. It is a short walk across the street to the boat launch. I hear the roar of wind in the pines as I try to listen for birds. I hear the cry of a blue jay as I start down the road towards the launch. Then the ever present crows sound the alarm. Someone is coming!
I am alert on every level. I am looking and listening and trying to feel this new place. Water is trickling and melting and dripping off everything. Though evergreens of various sorts lend some color to the landscape, all the deciduous trees and bushes are still naked and brown. While a few of them have red twigs, and there are a few white birches for contrast, still, in this gray light, it’s mostly a monochromatic world punctuated with the incessant road of wind in the treetops. As I am scanning the trees and sky, suddenly a chunky bird flies up from the ground at the edge of the road and disappears into the twig-filled woodland. I see the cinnamon rump of the bird and the long bill that only moments before was probing in the mud. My heart skips a beat and my breath catches in my throat. An American woodcock! I just saw an American woodcock! I search the wet and muddy woods to see if I can find the bird again, but it has disappeared into the thicket and gone far beyond my sight. I continue on my way downhill towards the bay, scanning the sky and treetops once again.
Some sparrow-like birds dart across the road now and as I emerge from the tree line and into the open I feel the full force of the wind. Though it buffets me relentlessly, I block it out and focus on my surrounding and my search for birds. To my right there is a vast thicket with a few scattered trees poking out against the sky. It is in this area that I often see the most small birds. I hear the feeble call of a White-throated sparrow. This one must either be a young bird just learning its song, or an adult just warming up to the task, for it is not a full-throated song, but week and uncertain. Still, I can hear that distinctive pattern of, Oh SWEET Canada, Canada, Canada,” as it rings out to compete with the wind. Overhead the white eyes of Common Grackles peer down at me from their blue-black faces as they cling desperately to the branches of the swaying trees. Red-winged blackbirds are singing and calling from deep in the thicket but soon a dozen or more fly up the brush to take a look at me with the grackles! Overhead I see Herring Gulls circling silently and riding the wind without a flap of their wings. Then a cheerful little chickadee darts across my path as if to welcome me with its “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call.
The boat launch is still farther downhill. The wind grows stronger with each step I take. I scan the tossing waves for birds. I spot a black-plumaged Surf Scoter with its orange and white harlequin bill as it rides the waves, then dives below the surface only to emerge once again. Off to the left I scan the little cove for peeps, but there are none here yet and I wonder if there will ever be. The tide is out now and the grass-cover rocks are brightly colored orange for now. I do not know enough about ocean ecology yet to know what kind of grass this is or if this is a winter color or not. Will this grass turn green as the weather warms? I am eager to find out as I watch the changing of the seasons in this new place.
Just beyond the rocky cove I spot a pair of Red-breasted mergansers feeding along the shore. It is not often that I get to see them this close. The male is in full breeding plumage with his spiky crest on his dark head and his handsome black back set off by crisp white flanks. The female floating nearby has a cinnamon brown head, also with a shaggy crest, and a gray body. She quickly slips beneath the waves only to pop up again a few moments later and a bit farther away. Both have the thin serrated bills that give them their other common name of “sawbills.”
Gulls continue to swoop overhead. One lands nearby after it dropped a clam on the rocks to crack it open. A crow looks blacker than black as it probes among the orange sea grass looking for crabs on these same rocks. Farther out in the deeper part of the bay I finally find a Common Loon. I am both freezing cold and invigorated by this wind and weather. I am so amazed by the fact that I live here! As the cold starts to seep into my inner core and I decide I really must go home I turn to see a large black bird out on the mudflats of the cove. At first glance I am wondering if it is a cormorant perched on a rock, but with a quick look through my bins I almost burst out laughing when I realize that I am looking at a wild turkey picking its way through the mud! Who knew turkeys were sea faring birds! Well, at least this one seems to like sea food! I start to walk closer to the edge of the boat ramp hoping to maybe snap a photo with my cell camera, but the turkey spots my movement and bolts for the backyard of a house just beyond the edge of the cove and through the trees.
As I turn to walk back uphill it seems the wind is pushing me along. Though I keep on looking as I walk the short distance up to the main road and cross the street to my little cottage I do not see any new birds to add to the list for today. Still, I am so glad I got out of the house and walked over. Though I know the boat launch does not belong to me, I already feel a sense of possessiveness about it, as if it does belong to me in some small way. I have already observed so many changes here in my short time and I am eager to see what awaits me as the weather warms. I keep shaking my head with how different this is from any other place I have lived. I feel thankful to have this opportunity to learn what life on the coast of Maine is really like! Last night as Gus and I were driving home from dinner with some relatives we encountered White-tailed Deer, a Red Fox and a Raccoon all along the road. We have already learned to drive very slowly on the road at night, for we have seen the deer more than once after dark, and last week a Gray Fox trotted though my own backyard at dusk! I think I am really going to like it here in my new little cottage in Maine.
My eBird Stats as of March 30, 2014:
- Life Birds-468 species
- Year Birds-220 species
- Month of March-122 species
- Maine Life List-122 species
- Maine 2014 Year List-54 species
- Cumberland County Life List-74 species
- Mere Point Patch Life List-43 species
- Mere Point Boat Launch-31 species
- Mere Point Cottage Life List-30 species