Monday, April 26, 2010

What's For Dinner? - Flounder Fluke!

Osprey with Flounder, May 2009 Totman Cove

The osprey are busy fishing in Totman Cove when the tide is low. Unlike most of the Maine coastal inlets which are rock and mud, our cove bottom is sand. From our house, I can see seven sandy beaches. Try that ten times fast: She surely sees seven sandy shores. We have millions of Sand Dollars here. One of the beaches is suitably called "Sand Dollar Beach." We also have lots of flounder. This makes for great fishing for the osprey and for eagles. They can see the fish moving against the sand. The Eagles fish and they also steal from the osprey. Many of the osprey are immature and not the most adept at catching then holding onto their catch. Sometimes they catch fish that are simply too big to handle and then they drop them. Two mornings ago, an osprey caught this 16" Flounder and then did just that: dropped in the rocks in front of our house. Immediately behind it was a mature Bald eagle. The eagle dove for the purloined fish but was intimidated by the proximity of the pier pilings. It's escape would have been hampered. Then, two Herring gulls that reside on our pier made a run for the Flounder. The fish just flapped helplessly much too far from the water to get back. Still in my morning bathrobe, I scurried down the steps and across the rocks with my camera. The fish had taken a 100' fall, and was bleeding from its mouth, but other than that had nary a scratch. So, this swift scavenger snatched it up and scampered back to the kitchen! David quickly filleted it. I dusted it with a combination of corn starch and cornmeal then into the skillet it went for a quick seer. Uuhhhhhmm, a drizzle of lemon and a salad and lunch was served! Food always tastes better when it's unexpected and fresh, a fluke, as it were.
Flounder are members of the Flatfish family which includes lots of species common to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and European waters. You may have heard of Dover Sole which comes from England. The flounder family is made up of many species of fish. In the United States, East Coast varieties include gray sole or 'Witch Flounder,' winter flounder (also called blackback), American plaice (also called dab or sand dab), yellowtail flounder (also called dab or rusty flounder), summer flounder (also called fluke), and southern flounder. Other members of the Flatfish family include common sole, lemon or English sole, black sole, white sole, halibut, turbot, and brill. Though it's been very warm here lately, I'm not sure if my prize would be a summer flounder or not. I don't know 'witch' flounder it was, but it was delicious.
You can see that the flounder is flat. They lie on the bottom nestling down in the sand or mud so that they can ambush their prey. The top of them is dark gray so they are hard to see from above, unless they are contrasted against sand. Their undersides are pure white. I neglected to photograph that side because I was pre-occupied thinking about recipes and getting dressed. When flounder hatch, they have one eye on each side of the head. As they mature and start lying flat on the bottom, one eye migrates across so that both eyes are on the top. Creepy, huh? They have a tiny mouth with sharp teeth for biting the little fish they like. They can be caught here by rod and reel. You've got to have a sinker so that your live bait is tugged gently along the bottom, hopefully across the path of a flounder. Or, you can wait for one to fall from the sky into your lap. My advice to you is if you catch one, don't kiss it and don't overcook it. It has a very delicate flavor. The Ospreys and I give it a solid ten.

Thanks to Wikipedia for some of this information. Click here for More About Flounder.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Was That A Funky Towhee? Eastern Towhee and Funkia

I took this photograph today of an Eastern Towhee. It's a male. It is not the greatest photograph I've ever taken, but it's the best of a Towhee I've ever shot. Ideally, the bird would have been turned toward me and there would have been more 'eye light,' or highlight in the eye. There wouldn't have been so much background clutter and the bird's exposure would have been lighter. It turns out though, that this bird is hard to capture. It's a rustler in the bushes and underbrush, more often heard than seen and rareley seen without this exsact same type of small twigs and sticks in its midst. So, I should count my blessings and that's why I'm sharing this shot with you at all. I don't usually post photographs unless they are perfect. It's too vulnerable a place for me to be, especially since I know what makes a great photograph versus a snapshot. It would be better to just keep it to myself that I took lousy photographs as to reveal them. I have not seen a Towhee at ALL for at least twenty years. In my exsuberance, I posted this sighting to the Maine Audubon List Serve right away. I hollered in the e mail, "I saw a Rufous Sided Towhee!" The minute I had done it,  I had poster's remorse. I thought, "Oh God! What if it was really an American Redstart?"  That would have been much more likely and I would really have sounded like an idiot, a birding rookie, especially since I pulled the trigger on the 'Perigrine That Wasn't,' per my last post. My credibility is really waning here. As a birder, there's not much worse than egg on the face with an identification. In the eyes of birders, it's hideous to be wrong! So, I carefully examined the two photographs I had and listened over and over to song recordings. I was sure it was an Eastern Towhee. But, I had said "Rufous Sided Towhee," and there is no such thing. It's an Eastern Towhee. Clearly in my mind though, I could hear someone saying, "Rufous Sided Towhee."  Who? Who would have said that? Oh, God -it was my mother! My mother knew nothing about birds but presumed to know and boasted of sightings accordingly. Having repeated her words without thinking, I sounded like her, which made me really queasy. She was always making statements of fact when she didn't know what she was talking about. One of the things she used to say was that hosta plants were called "Funkia." I don't know where she got that. As a professional gardener, I'm into botanical exsactitude; I don't throw plant names and identifications around recklessly any more than I do that of birds. "Funkia" is an old fashioned inexact term, used by Victorian ladies. However, it is what hosta were once upon a time called. And Eastern Towhee were once upon a time called Rufous Sided Towhee.  I guess what really matters is not who's right or exsactly what they call a thing. It doesn't matter who is perfect or who is the best. What matters is the love and larger appreciation that they pass on to another, especially children. Even when they are wrong.
Hosta sieboldiana "Sum And Substance."

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Peregrine In Phippsburg

Two days ago, I was "Weeding For Dollars" at Alliquippa here in The Burg when this Peregrine falcon zipped over my head. As I was bent over pullling dandelions and the like, looking like a Bend-Over-Betty lawn ornamnet, it was a miracle that I saw it. I think I must have birding eyes in the back of my head. Formerly, they were Mom eyes used to catch my children at something they should not have been doing at any given moment. Now, I've cross referenced my skill set to birding. It was even more of a miracle that I got off some shots of it, photographically speaking. I used to be a sniper for the Presidential  Secret Service. Now, I only aim to kill with a camera. Ya. Okay. Maybe I should stand up more often so that the blood rushes back to my limbs and a little oxygen gets to my brain.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 22, 2010

And Another Thing - Tufted Titmouse, Great Blue Heron & Early Saxifrage

When it turns to spring in Maine, it feels as if everything is happening all at once. We went from winter doldrums when the movement of a house fly was big news to suddenly, every bird on the planet seems to be here, every weed is popping out of the ground, and every flower blooming. It's intoxicating if you are an outdoors kind of person. Lawnmowers whine in the distance and the whiskey barrel smell of fresh mulch wafts through the air super-stimulating every one of my senses. It gives me that feeling of eating too much frosting on cake and having my molars sing. I'm not a person good at pacing myself, either. I have to take it all in and I'm afraid I'll miss something if I don't get out the door with the camera. To get some of this out of my system, I'm going to post a spring mini series called "And Another Thing." Nothing says love like sharing an addiction.

Tufted Titmice are one of the sweetest little birds. They have a call that sounds much like a Northern Cardinal's whistle. It's  a big call for such a small bird at about 5 inches. My grandfather was a college professor. He always corrected me if I said "Titmouses." I knew that the plural was actually Titmice, but knowing  he would correct me, I said it incorrectly every time. I don't believe it ever occurred to him that maybe I really did know the difference.
 The Great Blue Herons are back in abundance. They are ungainly in the air and cast a big, slow shadow like a cargo plane. This is the season of the big birds in the air as well as the little ones.
Wildflowers are popping out. I had to look this one up. It's called Early Saxifrage. The botanical name is Saxifraga Virginiensis. The flowers stems stand about 5 inches tall. It's a diminutive plant that does a big job over time. Called 'Stonebreakers,' saxifrages seed in the cracks of boulders and over time, crack them open in a process called bioerosion. In fact, these flowers were right on the edge of the ocean on granite ledges near Alliquippa. Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tweet, Tweet, Warble, Warble! - Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebe

These are the little birds that got my attention initially in the trees yesterday at Center Pond. There were dozens of them. Their combined song was pretty intense.

Eastern Phoebe
Palm Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler, also called a "Butter Butt." This is a myrtle variety because of the white throat.

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Brown Creeper Caper

"Little brown bird?" "What little brown bird, where?" "It's right there, right there on that Oak tree, Officer." This five inch long bird is a Brown Creeper. It's in the same family as Nuthatches. Prior to yesterday, I had only ever seen one dead. I was standing around Center Pond in Phippsburg photographing the abundance of warblers that had suddenly appeared on the pond margin. As it turns out, Brown Creepers often mingle with flocks of other small birds when they aren't breeding. There were a lot of Chickadees, Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-rumped (myrtle) and Palm warblers in the trees singing and flitting everywhere. Brown Creepers are hard to see. They are really well camouflaged against tree bark. I was behind our town hall and down an embankment. The town hall is where our sole police officer has an office. Thankfully, it was Sunday and so no one was there. Had they been, they would have come after me with a big butterfly net for sure! I was wildly pointing my camera, flailing the long lens with the movements I was seeing in the trees and mumbling to myself. There were so many Brown Creepers in the stand of trees where I was lurking that they almost looked like tree lice as they travelled from the ground up the length of the trees before flying off to the next one. You can see from the sharp, curved bill and long toes that they are well adapted to picking bugs out of the bark as they climb.
You can barely see the bird on this tree at all. I saw at least ten of them. We have Brown Creepers here all winter long, or at least, so I'm told. I've never seen nor heard them. There is an influx of them from the north in the the spring. April is when they mate. What I saw yesterday was a full blown invasion, a congregation of creepers!
For more information on Brown Creepers, click on these links. Wikipedia has a video clip from Biddeford, Maine of a Brown Creeper spiralling up a tree as it forages. There are also a couple of audio clips on these links for the birds call if are dying to increase your Creeper I.Q.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Belted Kingfishers And Kookaburras

The Belted Kingfisher has always been a favorite of mine. They evoke strong, childhood memories. My mother was not a singing kind of woman, but one of the few things she did sing was The Kookaburra Song. It went like this:

"Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
"Jolly jolly king of the bush is he!"
"Laugh Kookaburra, laugh kookaburra,
"Gay your life must be!"

We always sang along. Frequently, my father would butt in with his own song and he and my mother would sing together. They would sing:

"Oh, she beat him with a shingle,
"till she made his panties tingle!"
"Then he ran down the lane,
"with his panties full of pain,
"Oh a boy's best friend is his mother!"

(This triptych shows a Belted Kingfisher hitting the water then hauling itself upward and out with its catch.)

But, that's a story for another day. Back to the Belted Kingfishers - Kingfishers, often called just "Fisher" around here, are related to the Kookaburra. Kingfishers live across the United States from Maine to Alaska and Canada while the Kookaburra, or "Australian Jackass",  lives in Australia. Though they are both Kingfishers, the Kookaburra doesn't eat much fish nor does it hang out near water. They live in more arid areas or humid forests and eat snakes and mice. Our Kingfisher will eat small animals, but it's preferred diet is fish and amphibians. Look out little froggies when you hear the rattling call of the Kingfisher. Kingfishers sit on look out posts in trees, utility lines and poles waiting to dive bomb the water for a catch. They chatter in a loud rattle while they wait to strike. The Kookaburra has an even louder call. I think one of the reasons I like Kingfishers so much is that they remind me of the old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller. If you listen to the Kookaburra call, you'll recognize the background sounds of Tarzan movies. Interestingly, Kookaburras don't live in Africa where Tarzan and Jane and Boy did. That was a Hollywood fictionalization of jungle sounds, but it stuck with me. Our Kingfishers are migratory because they need open water to fish. When they come back in the spring, I hear a distant memory of my mother singing and Tarzan in the jungle.

I got this video on Youtube. I've never been to Australia, nor the Cincinnati zoo. If you'd like more information on Kookaburras, click this link:
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

While Fishing For Belted Fisher, I Spied a Fisher Cat!

Two days ago, while stalking a Belted Kingfisher that was fishing on the Lobster Cove Marsh in Phippsburg, this Fisher nearly jumped on me. It is very rare to see one of these elusive creatures. They are solitary and secretive and generally nocturnal. I had been standing stalk still (get it? I was stalking.) using my open car door for cover. I had stood still so long that I was uncomfortable. I was also hot, but did not dare move to remove my jacket. I had been watching the Belted Kingfisher sitting on a branch and once in a while slamming into the water to take little fish. Quite suddenly, this Fisher appeared bounding along the marsh edge and then slipping into the water. The name of the Fisher, sometimes called a Fisher Cat, implies that its diet is of fish though it seldom eats aquatic organisms. Early Dutch settlers noted its similarity to the European polecat (Mustela putorius). Fitchet is a name derived from the Dutch word visse which means 'nasty'. To debunk another misconception, they are not really very nasty. In fact, this largest member of the weasel family is quite timid. They eat mostly rabbits and porcupines and are one of the few animals that will pursue and attack porkies. Contrary to popular myth, they don't toss over the porky and eat its belly like a melon. They repeatedly bite the face of the porky, until they kill it. It takes about 30 minutes. Fishers are generalist predators and will also eat carrion. Perhaps another reason it came so close to me was because I was downwind in a steady breeze (it would be really juvenile to make a rude remark here, don't you think?). Fishers do have a call issued at night from the conifer woods they prefer that is a wild-crazy-person-killing-somebody sound. We hear it frequently at night.  I've often thought that someone was being harmed and have thought of calling the sheriff on more than one occasion. I've got an audio clip below so you can hear it. When I play this, our dogs get all cranked up barking and running around. It's not uncommon for them to start barking in the middle of the night when they hear this shrieking. The pelts of fishers were so popular that by the mid eighteen hundreds they had been nearly wiped out in New England. Fishers reproduce once a year. They don't hang out with each other unless to mate in late March and early April. Then, the female delays embryo implantation until the following February when active pregnancy begins. She gives birth about 50 days later, usually in a hollowed out tree. She'll have 1-6 kits. The adults are about 35-40" long and weigh around 10 pounds. The males are a little bigger than the females. The largest recorded Fisher weighed in at twenty pounds. They will eat cats and attack dogs, but not people. Nonetheless, this one was big enough that I would not have wanted it coming at me and in a bad mood.

Play this with your volume up for a real hair-raising noise. Because we have lots of conifers and lots of Porcupines, we have lots of Fishers, though this is the first one I've ever seen. Are you wondering where the Belted Kingfisher photos are? Hold your horses; I'll put them on the next post.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Un-American - Savannah sparrow, Palm Warbler, Eastern Phoebe

In the pouring rain, on the plain, in Maine today, I stumbled upon these little birds. Actually, it was raining in Phippsburg which doesn't have any plains that I know of technically. I was on a 'recon.' mission just looking for bird action to photograph once the sun comes out. Specifically, I was looking for Killdeer and Snow geese on the local golf course. I didn't plan to take photos as it was raining really hard. I know, I know: I did have my camera. You just never know, even if the conditions are lousy. So, I did have it with me. Luckily, I had a big wad of Dunkin Donuts napkins in the car to sop up the water off the camera and the inside of the car door. I like those napkins because they are recycled material, thus earth friendly and very absorbent. I did not find the geese nor plovers I was looking for. I got a little bored or irritated for lack of birds and so was shooting these maple tree flowers. With the drops of rain dripping from them I thought they were stunning. If I had pollen allergies, I guess I wouldn't think they were so pretty. Suddenly, this Palm warbler almost flew into my face! What a little darling it was. I did some internet research to find out why they are called 'Palm' warblers, but no luck. I'm not sure if it's because they hang out in palm trees, which we don't have here, or if it's because they read palms. Maybe that's it. Maybe they are fortune tellers of some kind. I do know that they are 'Old World' warblers or 'Wood' warblers. To qualify as 'Old World,' each of them must show proof that they have documented descendants that came over on the Mayflower, which I do. My ancestor's name was Oceanus White. He was a baby born on the Mayflower. My mother never had the dough to support that claim, but her mother's sister did. My great-aunt, Carrie Staples Metcalfe died last fall at 103 years old. She was a documented Mayflower Society descendent. That is, she had to have been able to prove that she was directly descended from someone who 'came over' on the good ship Mayflower. She was also a member of the Daughters Of The American Revolution, or D.A.R. She was directly related to somebody who was a soldier in the American Revolution. My husband's initials are D.A.R., also. So if her lineage wasn't sufficient, I'm claiming it by proxy to my husband, even though David is only third generation American. His relatives came from England and Scotland. By my calculations, I'm at least fifteenth generation American. I'm basing this on figuring about twenty years per generation and that the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. However, many years ago, David had a vanity license plate that said that, "D.A.R." He got rid of it because people gave him grief about having been in the revolution.  I don't think that was very nice. He's only ten years older than I am and compared to me, he's not even an American.

This is a Savannah Sparrow. We don't have savannahs in Phippsburg, either. But we've got the birds!
Eastern Pheobe. "Pheobe" is Greek for bird. They are barely 5" long, another little sweetie.

Maple tree flowers
Tree swallow

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Snow Today! - FOY Snowy Egret

This Snowy egret was wading on the clam flats of Phippsburg today. It is my 'FOY' or 'first of year' as we birders like to say. The medium sized herons migrate to South America in the winter. They breed on large inland and coastal wetlands from the lower Great Lakes and southwestern United States to South America. Their breeding range in eastern North America extends along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Maine to Texas, and inland along big rivers and lakes. They nest in colonies, often with other waders. There is even a report of a hybrid Snowy egret and a Little Blue heron in Florida. They make platform type nests of sticks in trees or shrubs. Last summer, in nearly the same spot that this one was fishing, I saw 27 of them in the trees. To me, they look pretty silly in trees but quite elegant otherwise. I'm going to be on the look-out for them now. I want to get some shots of them displaying their breeding plumage, recurved feathers on the head that give them a shaggy look. I guess this would make me a "plume hunter," of sorts. The breeding plumes were so popular for women's hats that Snowy egrets were nearly wiped out by plume hunters by the mid eighteen hundreds. The conservation status of the birds is now on a state by state basis, at risk though not endangered. Snowy egrets can be quite comical to watch feeding. They stalk crustaceans, small small fish in shallow water by moving one foot around in the water flushing the victim into view. Then they skewer it with their bill. Sometimes, they run or shuffle their feet. This one was jiggling its feet ever so slightly. They also "dip-fish" by flying with their feet just over the water. Snowy Egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey, or hunt for insects stirred up by domestic animals in open fields.
In Phippsburg, one is not likely to see an egret in a field, but wherever there is mud there are apt to be egrets. And we have a lot of mud in "The Burg!"
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Sing Like You Mean It! - Northern Cardinal

We have Northern Cardinals here all winter. This was not always true. I remember twenty years ago that had I seen one in the winter, I would have telephoned someone to rave about it. This past winter, I had two pairs. The cardinals nest here. Every fall they bring their fledglings to the feeders. For a couple of weeks, it looks like there are as many as 8 males. But really, it's the youngsters. Cardinals have an endearing habit of feeding one another, beak to beak. It's really cute. This guy is courting a lady. He sits in the trees and whistles. In the top photo, he is relaxed. In the second, his crest raises up. And in the third, his beak is open for the whistle.
There are rain drops on his crest like diamonds studding his crown. To hear the Cardinal sing, click here for a recording.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Birthday Presents - Sparrows and Finches

Song Sparrow
As you may know, Monday was my birthday. Many of you sent to me birthday greetings, each one of which was a thrill. Thank you! My day could not have been more perfect. My darling husband served to me breakfast in bed. Our marriage is in the mature phase where we don't have to give any gifts to one another other than attention and a day of no expectations of the other. Both of my wonderful children called me and gave to me the greatest gifts of their time, thoughtfulness and love. They like me, too. To hear their voices is like seeing flowers open or birds singing in the woods for the first time in spring. Hear how sappy I'm getting with my advancing age? Deal with it. I went to lunch with one of my dearest buddies. She and I have known each other longer than we've known our own children. We've been through marriages and divorces. We've also hurt one another's feelings a couple of times really hard. But, we've patched it up and carried on. That's a bond not unlike having children. We sat on her deck drinking wine with the sun on our backs and talked for a couple hours about absolutely nothing. While we did, these little birds showed up to sing to me "Happy Birthday." I'm sure of it. 

Chipping Sparrow

House finches, female and male. Don't they know? "No line is safe to touch, ev'ah!"

                                   Dave Wright. CMP lineman

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