Saturday, September 26, 2009

Last Call - Geese Going

Since I was a little kid, I've had a one sided love affair with Canada geese. I know a lot of people who hate them because they are prolific poop machines. They quickly foul up small ponds and shore fronts and turn golf courses into land mine fields. Each goose lays a breakfast-link size roll of dark green doo amounting to one to three pounds a day. The droppings carry bacteria harmful to humans, so keep your hands out of your mouth. Additionally, the droppings are very slippery. Stepping on it can result in a broken ankle and you know where you'd be falling if that happened. Things would no doubt, go from bad to worse. Populations of the Canadas are growing enormously, too. They are protected under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), so it's a felony to kill them. If they take a shine to your golf course, you're cooked, not your goose. All you can do is drive your golf cart around and scream and yell. Keep in mind when you do that, that when geese are alarmed, guess what? They poop. Many flocks of them no longer hede the urge to migrate, either. Here in Totman Cove resides a flock that now is about fifty strong, nearly double that of a year ago. There is open water here all winter, so they stay. I still think of them as harbingers of spring, though. I listen, as my father taught me to do when I was young, for their calls and think, "Ah, spring at last!" There is still magic in hearing them far above me, often in spring fog which seems to hold their sound. And in the fall, I feel sad when I see the skiens  rippling across the sky headed south. A V-ribbon undulating away in advance of snow makes me hunch my head into the neck of my jacket and shiver, even if it's not yet cold. These geese weren't flying out of town, though. They were just headed to the local golf course.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Seal Of Approval

Harbor seals are common in Maine. I saw this one on our last boating day. It was in the New Meadows River, which isn't a river at all. The New Meadows is a tidal tributary. I have no idea why it was named as a river. There is seaweed all the way to the northern most reaches, seals, horseshoe crabs and jelly fish, to name but a few of the ocean dwellers. So, no one would ever have confused it with a river. For about eighteen years I lived on the northern end, so I would know. I did see a beaver in the water there  one spring. I would not have thought I'd ever see a beaver in salt water, but I did. It was playing with a cat on the bank. The beaver had a bunch of sticks in the water from which it had stripped the bark. The bare wood was pale in the dark water and the beaver was flipping it  around as it worked off the bark. The cat seemed to think it had tied into the biggest rodent it had ever seen. Several times, it crept to the water's edge and batted at the beaver, then jumped back. The game ended when the beaver circled around in the water so that its tail was toward the cat, which was hunkered down in the mud as if about to pounce. The beaver slapped its tail on the water and doused the cat which took off, humiliated, no doubt. I've never seen a cat try to play with a seal. I'm waiting. I haven't kept count, but it seems to me I've seen more seals this year than ever before. I saw a Gray seal in our cove two days ago, which is highly unusual. They come from up north and aren't usually around here, certainly not in our warm cove. Harbor seals are still seen easily at the mouth of the Kennebec at Popham and generally, they are all but gone at this time of year. This seal has wiskers any cat would admire.

Last Call - Final Boat Day

Our last boating day of the season was Saturday, with our dear friends on their boat. I decided quite a few years ago that much as I love boating, it's best done on other people's boats. Most people who own boats here are either waiting for a good day to go boating or complaining because that day hasn't arrived in Maine. If the weather doesn't get them, the repairs do. Something is always broken on a boat and going to cost a 'boat-load' of money. The talk is often of what the monstrous costs were or anguishing that a particular thing is going to fail momentarily and what that will cost. Just hope you aren't on board when whatever breaks down, because it is guaranteed to be an astronomically expensive nightmare. Next to medical equipment, if the word 'marine' is attached to anything, it will break the bank. The only other thing close to those two things is photography equipment. There is also a lot of hype around getting ready to go out on a boat. There is rushing around to meet tides and anxiety about slipping and falling and need to wear correct footwear. Most of us take enough food and clothing to outfit twenty people for a single afternoon of boating in Maine. Prepare for all contingencies is our motto. Remember what was said about the Minnow, Gilligan's barque of the three hour tour! How many years did that show run? Our friends get more use out of their boat than anyone else I've ever known, though. They even take their dog, a Scottish terrier. He is a good boat dog meaning that he doesn't complain and doesn't expect much for a head. That means toilet in boat talk. Don't ask me why. He also willingly wears a life jacket with a handle, so he can be hoisted on and off the boat like a six pack of beer. We love to go boating with our pals. We are always sad when the season is over. These are some of the photographs I took on our last outing.

Double Crested Cormorants                                                                                                              

This sail boat might be good for anybody's blood pressure. Photo taken in 'The Basin' on the New Meadows River

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Merlin Magic

I was zooming northward on Rt. 209 in Phippsburg, all the while scanning the utility lines for hawks. I often see them on the wires running along the road by Center Pond and Dromore Bay. When I saw this Merlin, I did a U-ie. Of course, my camera was on the passenger's seat and turned on, ready to rock and roll as usual. I was able to get out of the car, leaving the door open and the motor running, slip around the back of the vehicle using it as camo. and get this shot. The wind took the car door and slammed it shut which sent the little falcon zooming up 209, too. The minute I heard the door shut, I thought "Uh oh............" If the door locked, this could be really bad. I might have used up my luck when the ill thought out U-ie didn't get me killed. But, oh! It was a trifecta of good fortune: no car accident, the door didn't lock and the photos came out great! Maine has three falcons that are seen commonly, the Merlin, the Peregrine and the American Kestrel. Gyrfalcons are seen here, but they are a very rare visitor. No birder would jump into their car to see my Merlin, but they sure would if I had photographed a Gyrfalcon. Merlins eat insects and other birds which they capture on a level sprint in mid air. Though they are small (under 10"), they are all that one would imagine in a falcon without the the Arabian shiek

Snow Is Here!

I had you going there for a minute, didn't I? No snow yet, but it's getting cold at night. Doesn't it look like this Snowy Egret is dancing on the water? I took these three days ago on Atkins Bay on the mud flats. It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous bird, even if it is called 'snowy.' BBbbbbrrrrrrrrrr

I Broke My Vow

Have you ever said  "I swear I'll never.............(you fill in the blank)" only to one day find yourself doing that very thing? Not me. Not ever. Okay. That was a lie. I swore to myself and declared my oath to others that I would never  post a photograph of myself. When I made this declaration, I had already posted photos of my children, my cat and two dogs and my husband. Though not exposed, he was naked in some of the photos and he was eating all kinds of raw sea food glop. Thankfully for all, he wasn't naked and eating guts at the same time. Had he been, I would have taken a photo and probably posted it. That's the kind of person I am; I'm willing to exploit just about anyone for my own personal gains. Or so it seems. Interestingly, readers have asked for the photos of my family and of my dogs, as well. They have, however, never asked for photos of me. You might say "Well, that's because most of them know what you look like." True enough. But those same readers also know what the other members of my family look like, especially my husband, though they know him in a fully dressed state. I wasn't asked to show him in a semi-clothed state, but that's the kind of girl I am. I never take just a bite of something. I eat the whole thing. I began to think of this as kind of a cat and mouse game. How long would it take for someone to ask me to post a photo of myself? What would I do; what photo could I use? The simple answer to that is 'none.' I have never seen a photo of myself I liked or  could even stomach. I always study the photos of authors on book jackets and marvel at how great they look. I think, "Geez, they must be great writers or they are just beautiful people or both." Even those depicted as academics at least look smart. So, the writing has got to be either really good or the author has just got to look really good. Bad content can pass for a while if the writer looks good. I'm doomed as neither of those things apply to me. Even my icon on Facebook and other sites is either the ubiquetous, computer assigned, profile head-in-a-box or a sunflower, which I picked (a photo I took). But, I can't hold out any longer waiting for someone to ask me. I've found the perfect photograph of myself, one I love, my book jacket photo of the future. And now, it's out there: I'm really, secretly Dame Edna.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

No Lesser Lesser Yellowlegs

There are two types of Yellowlegs, Lesser and Greater. "How do you tell the difference," you ask? Obviously, one is 'greater' or bigger than the other. So, you sort of have to see them side by side to know which is which, right? Not so. The Lesser Yellowlegs has legs slightly longer in proportion to its total body than the Greater, though the Greater is taller. This gives the Lesser a more graceful overall form, which makes it, in the grace department, greater. Don't you just love birding? I have just enough birding experience to make really big identification mistakes. So, I could be wrong about which bird this is in the photos. I'm going partly on what birder's call the gestault or gut take on it. I once knew a wonderful man, Ed Gamble. Long ago, I was the weekend baby-sitter for his children. He was a fantastic carver of birds, especially Maine coast shore birds. His license plate said "Yellowlegs." Every time I see Yellowlegs, Greater or Lesser, I think of Ed Gamble. Each of the Yellowlegs share the same feeding behavior. In the second photo you can see that the bird has its bill in the water. They swoosh the open bill back and forth, close it, gulp, and do it again. They get so carried away with this that they jump around and chase prey across the mud. They act like chickens with their head cut off! I took these photos at Atkins Bay. It is a small, enclosed bay across from Fort Popham in Phippsburg that is actually part of the end of the Kennebec River, though it's thought of as ocean. It drains almost completely when the tide goes out. I go there regularly to see shore birds feeding like these Yellowlegs. It is a small birding paradise. Almost everyone who goes to Popham heads for the beach or the fort. Few bother with the Atkins Bay clam flats. Look what they have missed!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Heron Haggle

Today, I went to a top secret hidden location to get photographs of a King Fisher. I had seen it the day before landing on a flag pole where I could sit hidden and wait for it. Sit and wait I did, nestled between a Rosa rugosa hedge and junipers. Junipers give me an an instant rash and it was very hot there as well. The roses were prickly. Oh, did I mention the mosquitoes? We've had a mega hatch recently and they are monstrous in numbers and bites. But, I could not swat or flap nor move to the shade. I got a sun burn on one shoulder, in fact. For all of that, the King Fisher only appeared once and fleetingly. So, I didn't get any pictures of it. I'll try again in a day or two. In the mean time, there was a Great Blue Heron feeding on the mud flats. I wasn't very interested in it as I see them often. It also wasn't close enough to get the kind of shots I would want even with my obscene lens. I had given up and was about to leave when I saw a second GBH swoop in. Wow, was it nasty! The second one soared in and bit the first one which tried to get away, but wasn't fast enough. It was able to lift off from the water and fly away, but what a scene! I'm guessing that their wing spans are about five feet tip to tip. That's a lot of wings and legs. They look ricketty and fragile, but they aren't. They were loud, too sounding great, squawking 'ccccraaaaaaaaaaaaaacks!'

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I'm Veery, Veery Sorry! Veery V.S. Gothic Oven Bird

I've made a mistake. I was wrong. Yup. You heard me. I know that sounds preposterous, but it's true. I committed a grievous error in my previous post "Last Call-Final Call." I posted a photograph of a bird I identified as an Oven Bird, but it was a Veery. This was pointed out by an observant and attentive reader whom I would thank if I actually knew who it was! I'm Veery, Veery sorry if my credibility has tanked and for the confusion and consternation I have caused. I know how seriously matters birding are for many people, especially when salient points of identifications are grossly overlooked. There is no margin for error nor forgiveness. I am planning on crawling on my knees all the way to Aspen when we go in October to visit my son. Swear I am. It will be a pilgrimage of penance for my ornithological sin. Side by side, perhaps you can see what my temptation was. The birds are nearly the same size, a close color on the back and chest with speckling about the chest. The Oven Bird, however, has a pronounced eye ring which the Veery does not . The Oven Bird also has an orange cap and stripes the length of its head which the Veery does not. The underside of the Veery is pristine white where the Oven Bird has a distinct yellow cast.   Oven Birds, a type of Warbler are in the photos on the left. A Veery, a type of Thrush is in the photo on right. By the way, the Oven Bird was given that name because its nest, made of grass and lined with hair, is dome shaped with the opening on the side resembling an oven. It is built on the ground, not in trees. I like to imagine the nests lined with the dog hair I put outside and that from my own head. I have a habit of standing on the deck in the cool air of night brushing my hair which gets caught in the breeze and carried away. Other parts of me get carried away often in my enthusiasm, also. I apologize for that, too. The Oven Bird has a two part call that sounds like 'teeeeeeeeeacher, teeeeeeeacher' and is frequently heard coming from the woods all summer. The bird is rarely seen though. Unfortunately, I've seen numerous of them in their Gothic demise, and now, sadly, I have to add another species, the Veery to my window mortality count. I think I'll go beat myself with a stick now.

To hear the song of the Oven bird, copy and paste this link into your browser:                                                                         

Friday, September 11, 2009

Last Call- Just Pretty

The Harvest Moon signaling time to bring in the crops. There have already been frosts in Maine around Calais. Brrrrrrrrr!   Can you see the silhouette of the Gibson Girl in the face of the moon? She's on the right hand side. If you squint, you'll get a more impressionistic view and it may be easier for you to pick her out. Her chin is raised and she's smiling. The large dark areas form the top of her hair in the classic Gibson style.                                                                                                                                                   
This is Rudbeckia Flugida. It has glossy leaves. The Brown or Black Eyed Susans with fuzzy leaves and a floppier, more open habit are Rudbeckia Hirta. Hirta means hairy. Call'a me names like that and I'll have my cousin Vinny hirt'a you!
These are the last fruits of a vibrunum. I don't know which variety it is. There are viburnums which are native to the Maine woods. They are an important food source for birds and rodents. The birds have pretty well picked this one clean. The berries start out brilliant red then turn to black.
This is a Hydrangea bloom. I don't know the variety. The heads are the size of basketballs. Looking at the flowers close up reminds me of snow. BBBbbrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mackerel Mayhem

The Mackerel have been here in Totman Cove so thick these past two days that the water is boiling with them from cove side to cove side. In the second photo, the water to the right of the Osprey is being splashed up by fish. Areas on the water as big as 100 feet across looked and sounded as if handfuls of rocks were being thrown. There have been as many as 10 Osprey at a time. Osprey are common here, but this time of year they are beginning to migrate and it's not so usual to see so many at once. They have been attacking the Bald eagles! There were four Bald eagles this morning when the tide was going out. Two of them were mature adults and fully balded. Neither of them had comb-overs, thankfully. They looked like a mated pair. I could tell because they were wearing wedding rings. The other two were juveniles. They caught mackerel, too but they weren't as good at it as the Herring gulls or the Osprey. The gulls could gulp down a whole, eight inch mackerel while still in flight! There were also three Harbor seals lapping it up. The word got out quickly and the fisherman had a go of it, too. These guys were gang line fishing. Two boats with purse seines got in on the action and this lovely woman wearing the schnauzer sweat shirt. As if this wasn't exciting enough, our dog trapped a mink under the steps that go down the bank to the shore. What a racket! The mink made this loud 'cccccaaaaaaaiiiiiik' noise over and over until we pulled the dog away. The mink got away and the dog went into the house and pouted all day. It was so exciting that I had to go Weed For Dollars because if I stayed home I would have had a nervous breakdown.

Last Call Of The Lone Ranger

The Solitary Sandpiper is seen around here during migration. It's not actually 'solitary,' though it does not migrate in big flocks like most sandpipers do. As this one was doing, it hangs around enclosed ponds and stream edges. In the top photo, the head bobbing that is characteristic can be seen by the outstretched neck. The Solitary Sandpiper has a pronounced eye ring and bright, white spots. Of the eighty-five species of sandpipers, only this one and the Green Sandpiper lay eggs in tree nests. They use the nests of song birds like American robins, Cedar Waxwings and Gray Jays. Maybe that's why they are solitary, no other birds want to hang around slobs like that. I took these photos on the Water Cove Road in Phippsburg in a man made pond that we call Thom's Pond after the guy who has been digging it for twenty years.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Last Call - Final Call, Gothic Oven Bird

The fall migration of birds has barely begun and already, two Oven Birds have committed suicide on my living room windows. I only see them in the fall and only after they've tried flying through a window. I don't know what possesses them. I have tried to prevent this with hanging plants and branches nailed to the house in front of the windows. I also have those tacky decals on the glass meant to deter birds, but to no avail. It breaks my heart to find them broken on the ground like this one. Though dead, they are, nonetheless breathtakingly beautiful. To me, they are no less beautiful than this Yellow warbler, another seasonal migrant here. They make almost biblical subjects to photograph. However, it is against the law to keep them, or even possess them, according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The MBTA was enacted to stop over-hunting of many birds which was resulting in decimation
of their populations. A loop hole closure in the law says that migratory birds on the list can not even be possessed dead. This is intended to stop a perpetrator that claims "Well, geez Officer, I found the Dodo Bird dead on the side of the road. I didn't kill it, honest." Where upon, the Officer says "Ya well, pal, you're the Dodo Bird and you're comin' with me!" Thus, someone such as myself (neither a Dodo nor in possession of one) who does not have some sort of license must either take a bird to someone who does (and hope they don't get busted while transporting said bird) or toss it onto the compost pile. To unceremoniously fling a thing of such gentle beauty as if tainted garbage is sacrilege. I'm not sure it's even legal for me to photograph them, which to me is to honor them. But rest assured, after I do, I get rid of them. Swear on a stack I do.

For more information on the MBTA of 1918, see these links: wiki/Migratory_Bird_Treaty_Act_of_1918

Monday, September 7, 2009


As today is Labor Day, I'm going to run a mini series called Last Call. It will be photographs of things we only usually see here  in the fall. The sun is shining bright and hot right now, but not for long. The nights are pleasantly cool for sleeping. The cool will shortly turn to cold. In a few weeks, one of us will look to the sky, sniffing the air like dogs and say, "Gee, it sure feels like snow tonight." And one day, if not that day, it will indeed snow. Summer doesn't feel like it's over, but technically it is. At this time of year, the reality of that is fed to us in dollops every day. My records show that the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds disappear from here for the year about September 18th, my son's birthday. This little lady was savoring the last of the Bee Balm. The Bee Balm, or Monarda, has almost given up the ghost itself with just a couple of tattered flowers left. The leaves of Bee Balm are intensely aromatic. When the leaves are bruised the essential oils which are used to flavor Earl Grey tea are released into the air and onto your hands. I love working around it all summer long. When I'm cleaning up gardens in the fall I can smell it even though the plants are gone. Monarda is a member of the mint family and has many of its annoying expansion traits. Some would call it in fact, invasive. You can tell it's a mint by the square stems. All mints have that in common. These hummingbirds migrate to Mexico and Central America. They make a remarkable 18-20 hour non-stop flight across the Gulf. With that in mind, I keep the nectar feeders full and sparkling clean. So drink up little hummer - it's the last call.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Don't Blink, It's Another MINK!"

I have noticed an abundance of these American Mink along the shore this year. A few nights ago, I was having cocktails with a neighbor. We were sitting on her porch overlooking the water. Suddenly, a mink bounced onto the lawn, stood on it's hind legs while studying us, then bounced away back down to the rocks. I have seen them numerous times in front of our house while NOT under the influence of Martinis. Our dog yodels wildly when he sees one darting amongst the rocks. I took these photos on Little Wood Island which sits about two miles off the coast of Phippsburg on the west side. This is an American Mink. You can tell it's not a European Mink by its accent. Actually, European Minks are distinguishable by a white mark on their head. They are an introduction to our ecology and do not fare as well as the American Mink. Our mink eats anything. In the wild they eat small fish and other marine life caught in tidal pools and small birds. I've seen them most often at low tide, hunting the stranded amongst the cracks of rocks and sea weed. Rabbits are reported to be their favorite food. I've never seen a rabbit here. Perhaps they've eaten them all. There aren't any Common Eiders' nests on Little Wood Island anymore, reportedly because the mink have consumed them. In captivity on mink farms, where they are raised for fur, they eat expired cheese and dairy products and dog food. A lobster fisherman I know complains that if he leaves sandwiches or chips overnight on his boat the the mink climb aboard and steal his lunch. I'm sure that European Mink eat foi gras, scones and vichyssoise which is why they have not done as well here. Certainly, they would look down their noses at dog food or fouled cheese. Mink are territorial. A single male will defend an area of several miles around a pond edge or a strip of coastline. I've seen more than one here, so I'm guessing they were this year's kits. Mink have one litter a year of about 6 kits. They can retain embryos until it's suitable to give birth, but this usually takes place in the spring. They are about 18" from head to tail end and have rich, chocolaty fur. Lovely as the fur is, my first thought on seeing them has never been "Hey! I think I'll kill a whole lot of them and make a coat!" Who comes up with that stuff anyway?     

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bathrobe Birding - The Wrong Bird

Not only was I wearing a bathrobe when I took these shots, the bathrobe matched the flowers. The robe is also monogrammed, though I confess: not with my initials. Who says I have no sense of personal style? To get these photographs, I sit in my 'computer chair,' camera at the ready while I read e mails. The opportunity to get these shots only happens in the morning when the sun is still rising in the east. I must have the camera in my lap, set and ready to go or by the time I reach for it, the speedy little devils are gone. Before they show up, I take a test shot for exposure. Then, I wait. It takes a lot of bad shots to get a couple of really great ones. Many of the photos are mediocre if there is background clutter, or the bird is turned away, or there is too much wing movement or shadows or blown out feathers. I don't know about you, but I think these are really great ones. Yes, yes, I broke my elbow patting myself on the back there. The photo of the bird perched is not technically as good as the other two, but I like it because it shows character - the hummingbird's, not mine. I'll keep trying for better photographs, though. Better? What could be better? Well, it's the wrong Hummingbird. If it was male and the throat was blazing red, it would be a more spectacular photograph. Maybe I can get the girls to wear tiny, red ascots for me. After all, I'm wearing someone else's robe.