Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"AUK! It's Raining Dovekies!" - Darling Dovekie

Whenever we have a big weather event, there are those of us who look forward to the aftermath, as long as our properties have not been smashed to bits. Interesting things get blown to the ground from the trees and in from the ocean onto the shores. Big seas can turn over rubble and debris on the beaches revealing things that were previously buried. I found this pristine arrow head on Popham Beach in February 2009 after a brutal storm. It was on the sand just as you see it here, looking like a little Christmas tree. That storm produced devastating coastal erosion. Vast chunks of beach were lost when the ocean carved it's way into the land clawing sand away from the roots of trees. Near where I found this artifact is an ancient Pitch Pine Maritime Forest. I imagine that centuries ago, an Abanaki Indian pulled back his bow, then let his arrow fly at a rabbit, missing the rabbit, and losing his bow. This arrow head had probably been buried ever since, until that storm revealed it. 
    Though there was a lot of junk scattered on the sand, my eye caught the shape of the arrow head right away. I have developed a good eye for picking out shapes that are out of sync from their surroundings - birds sitting in trees or in the sky, foxes in the bushes, or deer dancing on a distant beach. "How do you see this stuff?!" My husband and friends often remark. "She doesn't miss anything," my husband likes to brag. The truth is, I miss plenty. But, apparently, I also see much more than most of the people I know. I see layers and details in the same scene that my friends completely miss. This talent can be annoying. My visual world is akin to looking at a painting and seeing all the pointillist's dots rather than the impressionistic scene, Seurat surreal. Sometimes, I'm rewarded though, as in this pointed find.

"Little Auk" is another name for Dovekie         

     A week ago, we had an enormous storm with sixty mile an hour wind gusts. For two days afterward, the seas were eight feet high in front of our pier. On the horizon line, we could see waves twenty to thirty feet high, towering like buildings. This Dovekie was blown in to our cove from off shore. Dovekies are the smallest of the Auks, or Puffin type birds. It's about 7 1/2 inches long, smaller than a Mourning Dove. It's hard for me to fathom a being this small living out on the Atlantic Ocean riding on those immense waves, but they do. Dovekies are chubby, adorable little birds with stumpy, Sparrow-like bills. I especially liked its feet which reminded me of a duckling. There was something very innocent and endearing about this bird, though it was dead.
     Dovekies breed and nest in Greenland. There are huge colonies there estimated at 30 million birds. In the winter, they come slightly south, sometimes along the New England coast. That's their idea of southern migration. They float in giant rafts out to sea feeding on small fish by diving. Storms that last for days, like the one we just had with sustained easterly winds, make feeding conditions unsuitable. Massive wrecks of starving birds can be driven landward. In the winter of 1932-33, the largest wreck recorded in North America saw Dovekies raining down on the streets of New York city. Large numbers washed up on the eastern seaboard from Florida to Nova Scotia. The visual of hundreds of the darling, diminutive Dovekies falling from the sky is a thing of nightmares! It has changed things for me forever. From now on, when we have torrential rains, I will declare "It's raining dogs and Dovekies out there!" Unlike "It's raining cats and dogs," raining Dovekies makes sense.
Thanks to, and for some of the information.
•Montevecchi, W. A., and I. J. Stenhouse. 2002. Dovekie (Alle alle). In The Birds of North America, No. 701 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

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  1. Awww the Dovekie looks like an adorable bird... Interesting info on their history too. Can't imagine it raining Dovekies in NYC! Crazy and sad at the same time.

  2. I agree, Jen. The imagery of that sounds like something from a horror film. Thanks for reading!

  3. Oh, Robin, poor little thing! I occasionally see dovekies off the coast of Cape Breton. Great information. The arrowhead is a great find! Lucky, lucky you! ~karen

  4. The photo of the dead dovekie makes me sad. Thanks for the info on these birds; I didn't know any of it. Would love to see one some day but I doubt I will.

  5. Kaholly,
    Thank you for reading. It is sad. I"ve never seen one alive on the water. This is as close as I may get. And, I did feel really lucky with the arrow head. My lucky penny..........

  6. Hilke,
    Ya never know. Just keep looking to skyward, but keep your mouth closed. :)

  7. I've never heard of a dovekies.!

    Arrowheads there are a lot of them around if you know were to look. Pretty cool you found it.
    There were a lot of Macmic around Penaquid at one time until the white man drove them out of there summer fishing grounds. I don't think there were Abanaki in the area .. they might have been. Not from what I have read that I can remember.. but I could be lieing.
    Betty B.

  8. Betty B, thanks for reading. I have quite a collection of info on Native Americans from right here. I've used those references or I would never have known WHO was here before! I'll check again though. Thanks for that. Do you suppose whomever was here ate Dovekies?

  9. I love your blog -- just wanted to say that. It cheers me, even when it horrifies me (such as the "hunters" story).

    I grew up in Monson, Maine, on Lake Hebron, a tiny and distant water-body relative to Moosehead Lake, farther north. My hubby and I try to go home with our now-teenage girls every summer, and visit the Rockport area to boot. We live in the Chicago area, and I often wonder how I ever ended up here.


  10. Here's a down and dirty reference to the subject of Abenaki people in the area of Popham Beach, Phippsburg, Maine for anyone interested in more.

  11. So sad. I have never had a chance to see one. Did you give him a
    > proper burial?

  12. Merry Christmas Robin. I enjoyed the blog as always :)


    11:00 AM

  13. Wendy, I'm very pleased that my work has relevance to anyone, especially from as far away as The Windy City! Thank you for reading.

  14. Chuck, the Dovekie is going to Harvard tomorrow to be skun and examined. As if you didn't feel bad enough, huh? All in the name of science.

  15. Thank you, Valerie. How lovely that you are reading and viewing the pics!

  16. I found what you said about observing things was very interesting.

    I think birding is wonderful training for this and carries over into non-birding activities.

    or perhaps it is the other way around. Due to having these skills of observation, we are naturally attracted to birding.

  17. Harold, I have thought about that 'seeing' business quite a bit. I'm not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg. Ha ha, couldn't resist that! Seriously, though, I have had that kind of eye for detail since I was a little kid, as far back as I can remember. So, in my case, I think that the other interests followed partly because some of them, like birding, came to me readily. I also think that some people's brains work better with what I'll call "systems analysis." Birding, medicine (I'm a nurse), languages (I speak 2.5) or scanning a forest or skyline are all types of systems. Does this make sense?

  18. Sweet little dovekie--I'm sorry you died from that nasty storm. But you, Robin, DO see things others miss. I'm just glad you choose to share with us your amazing and insightful perceptions of the world that surrounds you. I love your pieces! Happy holidays! Rated. D
    Yarn Over
    December 23, 2010 10:49

  19. Love your opening blog photos! Even though winter has just begun I feel your photos are an inspiration for springtime being just around the corner...or at least hopeful it will arrive sooner than later. Your arrowhead find looks like a flawless specimen that is a lucky find. Never heard of a Dovekie... cute little birds. Sorry this one didn't make it. Saw a real partridge for the first time on the Sunday morning Today Show and they were cute, too!
    Wishing you a partridge in your pear tree!(I know, it's too cold in Maine for pear trees!)

  20. YarnOver,
    Thank you for reading. We can only hope that any of us have that much life after death as the Dovekie did in my telling about it. I'd pleased for that.

  21. HG,
    We DO have pears in Maine. Both Bosc and Bartletts survive here that I know of and there may be others. I'm glad you like the banner. It's a collage of various bird shots I've taken here.

  22. This is a wonderful and thoughtful post - looking, yes, but also not missing what is there that is somehow different. And dovekies are fascinating creatures, as you summarized so ably. The storms that bring pelagics toward the shore are the very time when I stay hunkered down, prudently not traveling the 3 hours to the coast. Thanks for your superb photography. Happy New Year!

  23. Another great post- I'm trying to catch up on my work- but missed reading your blog. It's only been a week since I saw you- but it seems like a month! Love,
    Ms. Boo