I drove the tree-lined road slowly, looking and listening all the while. I start to see glimpses of open ocean through the trees. Then, I emerge near an inlet and immediately pull off the road. The sound of roaring surf fills my ears. A stiff wind is blowing in off the ocean. I pull my coat together around me and put on my hood and my gloves. There is so much to see and I want to see it all!
A mixed flock of Buffleheads, Red-breasted mergansers and American Black Ducks floats and dives in the inlet. This is looking roughly west so the sun is in front of me and I can not get around to another location to see those two shorebirds across the way.
Wind and salt sting my eyes, but I stare and stare trying to identify these birds. At first I think it is a Yellowlegs and a Spotted Sandpiper, except something wasn’t right. The “spottie isn’t bobbing its tail and the other bird’s beak looks too short and the legs not long enough! What could it be? A closer look at the bird on the right showed me a hint of the developing black belly of a Dunlin, but what of the bird on the left? I shot from the hip and guessed Pectoral Sandpiper, but when get home I did more research I discovered that a Pectoral Sandpiper was the same size or smaller than the Dunlin, so THAT was out. Then, I saw the photo below. That face looks like a plover, but what plover would be that size and color and in this location? Nothing appeared on the eBird checklist or bar chart. I clicked through the “Explore Hotspots” Data and no one else had listed a species that even remotely resembled this bird. I started to think, Black-bellied Plover, but there was no data for them being in this location at this time. So, I posted these photos on Facebook in a couple of locations and soon had confirmation. It IS a Black-bellied Plover, still in its winter plumage!
Here you can see them side by side for a size and shape comparison. Both species are new Maine birds for me! I am ecstatic! But the roar of the sea was calling me and I soon turned to go. Across the street from the inlet I can see the open Atlantic! Up until now most of my shore birding has been in the bays and coves near where I live. this is a whole new world for me!
There is a sign on that rocky island warning people to keep off because it is a tern roosting site! No terns are there yet, but I am excited to know there soon will be! I am so busy looking through my new bins and taking photos that at first I don’t see the little creatures scampering around on the rocks at my feet, but I soon hear them! I look down just in time to see a pair of Red Squirrels!
I am soon down in the sand and walking along the surf.
Believe it or not, I almost didn’t do this. While I was still standing up on the rocks looking down I scanned the shore for peeps but could not see any. I scanned the ocean for birds, but did not see much, and what I did see was too far away, so I thought, maybe I shouldn’t go. But then I could not resist walking on the beach, so I clambered down the rocks and started walking. All the while I scanned the shore and sky for birds. A flash of motion up over the dunes revealed an American Kestrel kiting over the marshland. I watch it hover and flap, then bank and dive and hover again. As it banks I catch a glimpse of its rufous tail as sunlight illuminates the rich color of a male kestrel. Out in the waves I discover I can see more birds down here at beach level than I could from up on the rocks. I see Common Eiders, Common Loons, and Surf Scoters. And then, as I near the rocks at the distant end of One Mile Beach, I see them! Peeps! I’m not sure what they are yet since the sun is behind them and in front of me. I walk slowly, snapping photos and pausing to look through my new binoculars. They behave like Sanderlings, but are they? From this vantage point they look bigger and darker to me.
As I am nearing the birds, all the while creeping slowly along and keeping my distance so as not to scare them off, suddenly I hear a sound and look to see two young teen boys running along the water’s edge in nothing but swim trunks! It is barely 58 degrees with a stiff wind coming in off the ocean, but these two kids run right between the birds and me and clamber up the seaweed covered rocks that frame the south end of the beach. I thought sure the birds would take flight, but I guess they perceived the boys were no threat and they just kept feeding along the surf line! Finally I was getting closer and as I passed the birds the sun was now falling on them and was behind my back. Then I saw this…
I am thrilled! I take so many photos of these adorable little birds. I thought they were Piping Plovers but I know that species is threatened and rare and since I had not seen them in awhile and since one of them had a darker ring around its neck I second guessed myself and submitted them at Semipalmated Plovers, thinking that I would correct the I.D. after I had a chance to offload my photos and study them. I thought I was erring on the side of caution but before I even got home I received an email from the eBird reviewer who informed me that it was too early for Semipalmated Plovers but Piping Plovers were spotted at Reid Park just the day before! I have so much to learn about shore birds! But in this case and the Black-bellied plover seen earlier, my first instinct was right! I guess I just need to trust myself more!
When I reach the edge of the beach I thought I would have to turn back. I did not want to climb up over the rocks as the boys did to get to Half Mile Beach, which is the other beach I can hear on the other side. I think that in spite of how chilly it is, I would like to take my shoes and socks off and run through the sand, but as I search for a dry spot to sit down on I discover a sandy path that leads through to the other parking lot and the other beach! I follow it through. There is no one here! I have the whole place to myself! I walk along the grassy edge of the marsh where I am serenaded by Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows and frogs! I kept looking for Savannah Sparrows but never saw any.
The marsh is so calm and quiet!
I discover a wooded ravine near the edge of the parking lot that is full of woodland birds! Here I found a Downy Woodpecker, a Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and…
Finally I realize the sun is setting and I know I have to get back. The park closes at 7:10 PM and I am still over a mile away from the parking lot where I am parked! Clouds have rolled in, the light is fading and I still have a mile long beach to cross! While the temperature has dropped some, as I step back onto the beach sand I am seized by the same crazy thought I had over an hour ago.
I balance in place and pull off first one shoe and then the other! The ground is cool and damp beneath my feet, but not cold. I stuff my socks into my shoes, pick my shoes up in one hand and run down the beach like a child! I didn’t get far before I had to slow down and walk, but OH! what fun! I feel so alive! I feel so free! With the surf pounding in my ears I lift my arms to the heavens and shout to the waves and world,
“I want to live here forever!”
and in my heart I felt such gratitude for moving to Maine.
On my walk down the beach and back towards the car I find it is easier to walk in the hard packed sand near the water’s edge than up in the dry, but shifting stuff farther up the tide line. Always alert, I see a pair of Bald Eagles fly overhead. As I near the rocks where I first entered the beach I see the little Piping Plovers again. They have moved to this end of the beach. I climb the wooden steps to the boardwalk and sit on a built-in bench to dust the sand from my feet and put my shoes and socks back on. It is now 6:50 PM. The park closes in 20 minutes. A few more people have come to see the ocean before night falls. A car just pulled up and six people got out and walk towards the beach as I walk towards the parking lot. Beyond them in a tidal pool, in the last silvery light of the day a Common Loon floats serenely, a benediction on a perfect afternoon.