Friday, April 29, 2011

FLYday - Mute Swan

Mute Swan In Flight

Mute swan in flight, March 2010, Brigantine, New Jersey

An homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

FLYday - Turkey Vulture Chimney Top Take Off

Turkey Vulture, Chimney Top Take Off

Turkey Vulture Taking Off From Chimney Top, Phippsburg, Maine April 18, 2011

An homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

So Many Birds, So Little Time - Bald Eagles Like The Beach

Young Bald eagles, Atkin's Bay, Phippsburg, Maine April 18, 2011
The eagle on the left is older than the one on the right. Bald eagles like the beach!
"Hey! Give me back my iPod!" Bald eagles like listening to music.

"Watch me nail this landing!"

Bald eagles, two youngsters, probably 3rd and 4th year and an adult, Phippsburg, Maine April 19, 2011
Remember that you can click on any of these pictures to see them larger. In the photo to the top right of the bottom collage, there are two eagles mixing it up so closely that they look like one.

     This is the time of year when I start gardening for other people, or "Weeding For Dollars." From now until July fourth, it's exhilarating! The brown months have folded seamlessly into the newness of the green months. The whole planet is coming on full force with blooming flowers, fresh air and signing birds. Over the winter I had become somewhat starved for birds. Our part of the earth, muffled in snow, didn't hold much for bird song. I'm a listener, too. I was so wanting for the sounds of birds that a few times, I imagined I heard birds when cracking, frozen branches and keening wind were the sources. Now, the trees and sky are alive! From every quarter, someone is singing, even me! I've been thinking when my back finally gives out, perhaps I 'll start a career in opera. I'm sure my children will be pleased that I have goals.
     I love the work, but like all things, sometimes it can be a real drag. There are the days when it's hot, buggy, or wet. This first part of the season, it's cold which will only give way to Black flies, mosquitoes, ticks and Brown Tail moth rashes. Have I mentioned Poison Ivy? But, for all of that, I am out of doors in gorgeous places. The gardens are beautiful, this I know because otherwise I'd have some explaining to do to myself. And I usually don't start talking to myself until the middle of August.
     I do get resentful though when I feel like I'm being taken away from photography. I often remind myself that toiling in other people's yards like a Bend-Over-Betty lawn ornament does give me opportunities to see amazing things. I almost always get a few photographs out of it, too. So many birds does make it hard to concentrate on weeds, though. I have to stop looking up for every tweet, chip and chur to pull, hack and tease. And rake. Then rake some more and rake again. And haul. There's so much to be done and so many distractions, yet so little time.
     I may be  jumping the gun by saying this, but I am finding the gardening work easier this year. Having  spent the winter working out and controlling my consumption, I've lost thirty seven pounds. At just five feet tall, so that's a load o' lard, over twenty four percent of myself, to be exact. So, I'm moving with comparative facility and energy this year. I was recently asked if I had some medical emergency that prompted the weight loss. "Yes," I said. "Oh dear! Are you alright? What was it?" the inquirer pried. "When bending over to tie my shoes meant holding my breath and suffering the spins, that was the medical emergency," I explained. They thought I was joking, but I wasn't. I've even given up red wine, which anyone who knows me would never have predicted possible. So, when I nonetheless had a full blown hallucination this morning, I was taken by complete surprise.
     I've slimmed down enough that I no longer dread looking in the mirror. I don't even avoid it. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's true. It's been a decade since I've been able to stomach my own stomach. But today, I caught my reflection and saw that I have the beginnings of an abdominal six pack! Well, maybe only a four pack, and possibly merely better definition of a couple of rolls, but something different from what has ever jiggled hello to me from the mirror before. I have a  beach body! And I don't mean one of those human potato people that unabashedly parades themselves on the Volga River, either. I have always admired their guts, or perhaps I should say courage. Those portly women looking like half cooked dumplings in bikinis seemed to like themselves well enough nor have cared what anyone else thought. Their junk in the trunk wasn't enviable, but I have held their bravery in high regard.
   Now, I feel like a super hero with abs of steel and I'm shedding my bathrobe! I'm going to celebrate my newly remodelled temple with a belly piercing! About 1970, when I was fifteen, my mother wore a navel jewel. That was before body piercings unless one had come from the Congo or some other exotic place, but my mother came from Topsham, Maine. She was a mill worker with five children to feed, but she managed to have belly jewels!
     She wore several colored jewels which she interchanged to titillate my father. Revelling in her own outrageousness, she revealed  the jewels to us children when she swapped out the colors. "Look! I've found an emerald green jewel!" She would squeal with delight, lifting her shirt up for us to see. I was at once, horrified and captivated by her belly flesh which looked to me like cottage cheese. "How does she keep them in there?" I wondered to myself. "Glue? Suction?" I never dared ask. On what little TV programming there was then, men and women were not even shown in the same beds! Yet, my mother pranced around our tiny, gundgy kitchen flaunting a navel jewel. She staunchly believed she was doing us a favor by being a living example of not giving a damn what anyone thought of her body. Her parenting skills were way ahead of the curve in that regard. So, to honor her, and myself, I'm going for the gold: belly piercing it is. My deflated middle doesn't look like cottage cheese, though. It's more like a slumped Brie. Vive la France! I don't want a timid stud nor jewel for my navel novelty, either. I've commissioned my husband to find something unique from the dump. I'm thinking a chrome hub cap might do just the trick. The glinting disk should be visible from space. Be looking for me on the beach this summer with my new, shimmering field mark.   
     Bald eagles do like the beach. They are usually found near water and in large numbers when there is enough food, like ducks and scavenged fish. The numbers of eagles in Phippsburg has increased tremendously in the past decade. I see 3-5 of them every day without trying and know of two active nests close by. I frequently see them when I'm gardening, though how I do this bent over to the ground is an as yet, undiscovered talent.  I have yet to see a Bald eagle sporting a navel jewel or belly piercing, but will report promptly if I do. The top series of photographs of the eagles on the beach was a lucky find after a long day of spring garden clean up. The two eagles are about a year apart. The eagle with the whiter head is the older one. Bald eagles are sexually dimorphic; males and females have the same plumage and only vary slightly in size. The second set of images was captured the day afterward, also while I was gardening. The two young eagles in the bottom collage are the same two that were on the beach. They could be siblings, but not nest mates. The mature Bald eagle flying with them is probably one of their parents.
     Golden eagles are seen in Maine on rare occasions. Though they are often confused with Bald eagles in various stages of plumage, they are not even closely related. Plentiful in the western Rockies, Golden eagles are birds of mountainous areas that hunt mammals and other birds. Though Golden eagles have a different body shape than Bald eagles, both birds as juveniles have longer tails, broader wings and stouter bills than the adults. A young Bald eagle may look to the inexperienced eye like an adult Golden eagle.
     Bald eagles have brown feathers speckled with white usually until they are five years old. They are sexually mature when they have white heads. They may develop fully balded heads as early as three years, but that's very rare. A significant field mark is leg covering. Golden eagles' legs are completely feather covered, while a young Bald eagles' legs are bare, like little boys wearing nickers before big boy pants. Golden eagles are most easily confused with Bald eagles as first year juveniles when they have a white rump. In flight, as juveniles, they also show white under their wings. Bald eagles also have white under their wings as juveniles through their second year. This is the plumage phase when less experienced birders are apt to erroneously report having seen a Golden eagle. I've done it myself. Zut alors! In birding as in medicine, we say "If you hear hoof beats, think horse, not zebra." In Maine, if you see a funky looking eagle, it could be a Golden, but it's more likely to be a Bald eagle that hasn't come into its star spangled, balded glory. It's simply not mature enough to flaunt its navel jewel.

Thanks for some of the information to:

Sibley, D.A., The Sibley Guide To The Birds (2001), Knopf: New York (2000), pp. 126-127

Friday, April 22, 2011

FLYday - Red-tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk Take Off

Red-tailed Hawk Lift Off
Red-tailed hawk lifting off, then taking off from tree branch, Randolph, Maine April, 16, 2011

An homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

(This post is an Editor's Pick on Open Salon )

Friday, April 15, 2011

"KIWI!!!!" Or Maybe a Woodcock

American Woodcock April 7, 2011 Phippsburg, Maine
This wasn't a rush, because it was  lone woodcock. One is a woodcock, two or more are still woodcock, like deer are still deer.  A group of woodcock is called a "rush," "fall", "flight", "plump," or "cord." Don't let anyone cheat you; a cord of woodcock measures 4 by 4 by eight feet.

Look closely at the back end of this bird. Naughty, naughty, naughty!

      My sainted husband is not a birder, but he does know what makes his little wifey happy - BIRDS!  Though he isn't good at identifying birds, he has developed a pretty good eye for the weird, odd, curious and standouts. That is why he is married to me, after all. He recently called me at home from his cell phone yelling "KIWI! There's a kiwi on Popham Road, come quick!" I didn't ask questions because that would slow me down. I jumped into the car and sped in pursuit. On the way, I pondered, "Kiwi?" What the hell was he talking about?
     The American Woodcock and the kiwi don't even reside on the same continents, so I was pretty sure that he was looking at a woodcock. But, an exciting thing about birding is, as the saying goes, "You just never know!" Distributions of species of birds changes as the environment changes (I'm trying not to say "global warming"), birds get blown around by weather events, and people obtain and release foreign species. So, most anything could be possible and is at least worth consideration. Birding allows every one of us to morph from the tweedy Professor Henry Jones, Jr. into Indiana Jones. That is, if you're willing to drop everything and take off in the pursuit of the living artifacts.
This is me hot on the hunt for the Phippsburg kiwi

      Of course, when I got there, the kiwi was gone. But, I could hear two of them in the woods. Body snatched by the spirit of Indiana Jones, I raced silently through the forest. My heart pounding, with breath quick, I could almost feel the coveted golden idol in my hands! My ancient Temple Of Trees was filled with booby traps entangling my feet. I stepped  unwittingly into a snare and was lurched by my ankles high into the canopy. But! From my boot tops, I grabbed my Bowie knife and cut the line, swinging from the end to the ground. Now, camouflaged in leaves and mud, I continued. "I must retrieve the golden idol before my arch rival, French ornithologist, Michuad Fahaydue!" Twice, I flushed them but was left with a ghostly whirring of wings through the branches. Light failing me, I would have to return to my University in Indiana, to search another day.
   Of course, I went back the very next day. Sure enough, it was an American woodcock. I do understand why my husband thought "kiwi."  The birds are not dissimilar in appearance to the untrained eye, the eye of one whose birding knowledge does not go beyond a can of shoe polish and his wife's undying gratitude for the effort. The kiwi and the woodcock have vaguely similar morphology, but that's where all similarities end.

Kiwis lay the largest eggs relative to body size of all living bird species on earth.

    Kiwis, are from New Zealand and not even remotely related to woodcocks. The kiwi is flightless, while the woodcock is not and the kiwi is endangered. American woodcock, sometimes called "Timberdoodles,"  are not endangered. However, their numbers have been steadily decreasing by about one percent a year since the 1960s. When young forest was plentiful, woodcock were abundant. But many brushy areas have grown into mature forest, where woodcock do not live. And human development has destroyed much of the birds' former habitat. In true action movie form, The National Fish And Wildlife Foundation has a "Woodcock Task Force" which targets woodcock populations for conservation. "Save the woodcock!" Do you suppose they wear camo. to their meetings?
     Like the snipes they are related to, the woodcock are a popular game bird. They present a particular challenge to hunters because they are so hard to see on the ground. They are elusive targets; when startled into flight, they bely their portly shape, quickly zigzagging through the trees. Some species, especially those endemic to islands,  have been hunted to near extinction. Artists value the woodcocks' pin feathers used for fine painting work. The woodcock are a group of seven or eight very similar living species. But, there are only two woodcock that are widespread, most of them found in the Northern Hemisphere. Indiana Jones would groove on the notion that eight species of woodcock are known only from their fossil records.
     As the name implies, woodcock are woodland birds that live near wetlands, streams and rivers. Oddly, they are actually a sandpiper, and a wading bird! They are unusual in this group (sandpipers, dunlins, curlews, etc.) of birds as the only members that live, nest and breed in the woods. They are one of the few shorebirds widely hunted for sport.
     Like all wading birds, they have a very long middle toe. For wading birds, the middle toe acts like a snow shoe, distributing the bird's weight over a greater area so they don't sink into the mud. They have eyes set wide apart on their heads which gives them 360 degree vision. With their long, slender bill they poke around in the dirt for worms. Unlike most birds, the top of their bill is flexible at the tip. The guess is that they actually feel the worms underground with their tongue and bill tip. But, no one really knows what's going on under the earth. A woodcock rocks its body back and forth without moving its head as it slowly walks around, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, making them easier to detect. The woodcock in these photographs was doing just that while maintaining a sideways eye on me.
     I waited a long time, hoping that the bird would do something a little more interesting than humping along the ground, walking like an Egyptian in search of supper. Suddenly, it hunched up, extended its neck, then ruffled its feathers. Camera trained and ready, I squealed, "Oh yeah!, It's gonna do something and I'm ready!" It arched its back slightly then shot out a load of poo, as you can see in the second photo. Oh, well, action is action in the wildlife world. Be careful what you ask for. Woodcock are mostly nocturnal wandering around in the wooded dark looking for food. In the day time, they rest like the one you see here.
     Though they are a common bird, they are often hard to find because of their cryptic plumage. They blend into their surroundings of usually fallen leaves. You may actually nearly step on one in the woods or, as is the case, on the grass and never know they are there. Had I not been on a quest for this particular bird, I would have  missed it entirely.
     Woodcocks in North America are migratory. In Maine, they start appearing in mid March.

A spring freshet, Phippsburg, Maine April 2011
This is the very sort of habitat woodcocks love!

     My earliest sighting was February 12th here in Phippsburg a couple of years ago, but that's early. They become conspicuous when they begin to mate. In the spring, they often begin mating on lingering patches of snow. Where the woodcock displays is called a "singing ground." In the elaborate display called "roding," the males begin to call on the ground, "peent! peent! peent!" It's a high, nasal sound with a slight buzz that you might have heard and mistaken for spring frogs or insects. One of my gardening customers has a solar powered gizmo for warding rodents from his stone walls. It emits an electronic peenting buzz every fifteen seconds which sounds exactly like a woodcock. I've been foiled more than once skulking around his property looking for the hiding bird.
     Once peenting, the bird  flies upward in an ever widening spiral for two to three hundred feet! As he rises, his wings begin to twitter. Once descending, he chirps and starts a zigzagging, diving pattern to the ground. Nearing the ground he silently lands near a female if there is one. On the ground, he starts peenting again. The displays are usually at dawn and dusk and can go on all summer, long after mating is finished, but they're most common in spring. 
     Having completed this doctoral disertation, I must be be off in search of an emu reported to be near, or was that the fog horn on Seguin I heard? Now, if only I can find my bullwhip..........

For some of the information, thanks to:
allaboutbirds. org

Elphick, J. in The Golden Age Of Lithography: 1850-1890, BIRDS - The Art Of Ornithology 2008, Scriptum: London (2004), pp 241


Sibley, D.A., The Sibley Guide To Birds, 2000, Knopf: New York (2001), pp 192

Keppie, D. M., and R. M. Whiting, Jr. 1994. American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). In The Birds of North America, No. 100 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

FLYday - Osprey With Flounder

Osprey With Flounder, Phippsburg, Maine

An homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

FLYday - Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret, Phippsburg, Maine
An homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reincarnation And The Science Of Connection Or Just Another Harp Seal

Harp Seal, Phippsburg, Maine
Harp or "Saddle" seal, male April 9, 2011 Phippsburg, MaineHarp Seal, Phippsburg, Mainen Soaking up the sun on the Kennebec River, Phippsburg, Maine

Harp seal basking in the spring sun, April 9, 2011 Phippsburg, Maine
     I went to the supermarket a few days ago. That's always a big deal because I wait until there is literally nothing left in the house to eat. I only go shopping about once a month to really restock my pantry. It's amazing how far I can stretch it, too. I can come up with very tasty dishes from a few cans of whatever, a lone onion sprouting a green tendril and a dehydrated sausage in the back of the freezer. The cue for when I must go shopping is when I get to the dead birds in my freezer, and I don't mean chicken.
   I have a collection of dead birds that have hit my windows or otherwise met their demise carefully wrapped and stored in a freezer, known as "the mausoleum,"  in my basement. I've lost count, but there must be a dozen. Though it is against the law to possess them, when I find these birds, I just don't have the heart to throw them onto the compost or into the bushes. Most of them are as perfect as the moment before they died when flight was still their friend. It feels unfair that they died suddenly, sometimes inexplicably at thier most beautiful. They are so lovely, even the plain-Janes of the bird world. It seems disrespectful to the dead to just fling them. So, I wrap them in a paper towel shroud and double bag them. Into the mausoleum they go. God bless whomever invented the zipper lock bag, commonly known as "Zip Locks," for they maintain a tight seal for years. So I've discovered.
     Once I have rummaged in the freezer depths and pillaged the food contents, when I get to those birds, I know I must get to the supermarket. The process fills me with dread. When I get to the birds, a bubble of anxiety the size of the Hindenburg balloons inside my chest. For one thing, each time I'm reminded that I'm committing a crime by keeping my entombed feathered friends. Akin to knowing that one has cheated on one's income tax (something I would never do), one lives with the fear of getting caught. The other thing is that I know it will take me hours to go shopping and cost me a sheik's ransom before I'm done. I am a package reader and examiner of ethnic foods, much like I examine the feathers, eyes and feet of dead birds. It takes me ages to get through the market. If you go with me and are in a hurry, forget it. But, I can tell you what's in Hoisin sauce and how many calories there are in a tablespoon.
     After one of my mega shop expeditions, I employ measures to correct the physical effects of the attendant panic attack. To calm the chest pain, palpitations and hyperventilations I reward myself. Some might resort to a handful of Xanax in cases like this, but I take photographs. This time, I took the longer, scenic route home in the hopes of finding photographic subjects and was handsomely remunerated by nature, the greatest recompenser.
     With a full load of perishables and frozen foods, I was whizzing homeward when I saw what looked at first glance like a human body on the shore. The day before, tragically a local man had fallen out of his boat and was missing, so this wasn't a ridiculous notion. A massive search by the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol and hundreds of  neighbors was still underway. "Oh, God, it's Dick," I thought. I pulled the car over.
     Dick was a clammer who spent his life on the banks of the Kennebec River. A well known character about town, he was a man of opinions and yarns. Better than most, he knew the shores, the mud flats, marshes and waters where the river meets the Atlantic. But something went terribly wrong. His boat was found running in circles and nearly out of gas without him. It's been days now, and he hasn't been found. No declarations have been made, but in our hearts we all know he's not coming back. His body will probably never be found.  Dick's story will be told without a real ending. As much as it would have been awful to be the one who found him, it would have been okay to give closure to the family he left behind. They will probably always live without explanation which we humans rarely suffer well.

Harp seals live where it's colored purple.

     Harp seals live in the  Arctic circle on the Labrador front. They are pagofilic, or "ice loving." They spend most of their lives on pack ice where they give birth to their young. Prior to 1994, they were virtually unknown on the coast of Maine. Since 1990, their range has been inching southward. Harp seals summer in the Arctic and winter in Newfoundland, but increasingly are seen as far south as North Carolina. It's not rare to see them between December and April in Maine. They are usually seen on shore ledges in coves and harbors. This year, from Maine to North Carolina, a hundred sightings have been reported, three times the number of previous years. In Maine, there have been forty reported, which is double that of last year.
     The Harp seal in these photographs is an adult (I'm guessing male) called a "white-coat" at this phase of its life. Adults are not seen as often as juveniles. From birth to about 14 months, they are called "beaters," for the erratic way that they swim. They do not develop the distinctive, lyre harp pattern on the back until after they are a year old. The first Harp seal I ever saw was on April 6, 2009, a "beater," here in Phippsburg.
     Why these seals are showing up here more frequently is not known. There is speculation that diminishing habitat - melting pack ice, may be a factor. They might be looking for more places to ice out to whelp pups. Reduced populations of the fish they eat may be another reason. Harp seals are common in their normal range, so less ice for them to occupy results in too many of them for the habitat. There have been fluctuations in pack ice before, but never as dramatically as seen in the past two decades. These factors are only speculative to date, as none of these possible causes have been proved. Scientists continue to gather data toward answering this question. But, for now, what goes on in the minds and hearts of a these animals can only be guessed.     
      I for one, have another idea. In our need for closures and explanations of events without real answers, it serves as well as any. I think Harp seals on the coast of Maine may be reincarnations. My sister, who adored seals, died the first week in April thirteen years ago. Her's also remains an unexplained death. I associate seals not only with her, but in particular, the Harp seal with her death. And again, there is another Harp seal, a great strapping bull, just like Dick who was a strapping, rugged man who loved the sea.

This post is in memory of my sister, Piper Lee Riley, and  Richard, "Dickey" Lemont.

Thanks for some of the information to:
Maine College Of The Atlantic
University Of New England
Marine Mammal Rescue, Maine Department Of Marine Resources

Increase In Extralimital Records Of Harp Seals In Maine, Stevick, P.J. and Fernald, T.W., Northeastern Naturalist 5(1): 75-82

Saturday, April 9, 2011

SCENIC SUNDAY - Harp Seal And Squirrel Point Lighthouse

Harp Seal And Squirrel Point Lighthouse on the Kennebec River. Photograph taken from Phippsburg looking across to Arrowsic.

Friday, April 8, 2011

FLYday - Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture, Phippsburg, Maine 2010

An homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

(This blog post was Editor's Pick for Open Salon , April 10, 2011)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Oxymoron Of The Northern Shrike - Death Of A Songbird

Northern Shrike, Phippsburg, Maine March 2, 2011
Two Northern Shrikes photographed in Pembroke, Maine March 31, 2011. Note that each is on a different type of utility wire.

Northern Shrike in Pembroke, Maine with a caterpillar capture. I was photographing this bird on the wire above when it swooped to the ground in front of me and whisked up this delicacy.
     Now here's an oxymoron for you, the Northern Shrike is a predatory songbird. In my  ideal world, birds would be one or the other, either precious little singers, chortling and warbling in the trees telling us all is well with the world, or killers, but not both. Like most humans, I need a certain amount of order and logic. I like to compartmentalize things and when they don't wrap up in tidy packages the way my mind wants them to, I'm left confused and agitated.  My brain gloms onto discrepancies between sometimes glaring realities and what I want to be true. I want to believe in the tidiness of good and evil, right and wrong. The truth is, birds, no matter how lovely, must eat and some of them eat other birds, as does the Northern Shrike.
   Shrikes sit on wires or prominent elevations like this weather vane to hunt. They tail dip if alerted or courting, as do mockingbirds. Shrikes miss very little of what moves below them, suddenly launching in a tight tuck to the ground to snatch a catch. Like some hawks, they do a little hover flying when scanning fields. The Latin species name of the Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, means "Butcher watchman." The shrike has a hooked, sharp bill for tearing flesh and killing prey. They don't have talons, like other predators, so they can't grasp onto food. Instead, they impale their kills onto thorns or sometimes, the barbs of barbed wire. Early observers thought this to be wanton killing, but it allows the shrike to then pull bits of flesh away from the large insects which make up the bulk of their diet, or rodents and sometimes other birds. Food items that are too big to consume in one sitting are also stored by hanging on thorns or in the crotches of branches to be consumed later. This adaptation helps shrikes to survive periods of food scarcity. These food caches are also part of courtship displays by males seeking to impress females with their hunting skills. Usually, the caches are found about three feet off the ground and in the vicinity of nest sites. When I was younger I was often attracted to guys that had a "bad boy" streak. A guy that would hang a dead rat on a fence to woo me would have been right up my alley, too.
     At just under ten inches from bill to tail tip, the shrike is a powerful bird that will kill birds bigger than itself. The shrike comes up underneath and behind a flying victim then grabs the feet or tail snatching the unsuspecting bird from mid air or stunning it with it's strong bill.  The Northern Shrike is also a talented songster with an appealing,  melodic warble. They have been known to mimic the songs of smaller songbirds to lure them to their deaths. They are also easily confused in the field with Northern Mockingbirds, known too for their splendid ability to mimic and sing.
     In North America, there are two kinds of shrikes, the Loggerhead and the Northern. Their ranges overlap slightly during the winter. In Maine the most commonly seen is the Northern Shrike, also called the Great Grey Shrike in Britain. Shrikes are boreal birds of the taiga and northern forests. They migrate slightly south of their summering range for the winter. In southern Maine, Northern shrikes are usually seen as migrating birds. This year, there have been higher than usual numbers of them reported. They are territorial birds most often seen singly, though they do form monogamous mating pairs for the breeding season. Males and females look very much alike. Both build the nest, incubate and care for young. Shrikes are not endangered, though habitat destruction has likely resulted in reduced numbers. Pollutants, especially heavy metals, find their way into shrikes by way of the rodents they consume.
     Long ago I was suddenly fired from a job I desperately needed and truly loved. The event so devastated me that it  was the last job I had in health care as a registered nurse. I still have a Maine nursing license and will probably take it to my grave, though I no longer practice. I maintain my license, not because I think I might one day want to return to work in health care, but because for over half of my life, being a nurse was my identity. People often said to me "Wow, a registered nurse, huh? I could never do that kind of work. It takes a special person to deal with all that stuff. Blood? Yuk! Not me! Thank God there are people like you; I couldn't do it." I had a lot of pride wound up in being that special person they talked about.     
     And, in nursing, I wasn't just any nurse, either; I was the cream that rose to the top. I had a career with a capital 'C.' As a supervisor in a rural community hospital where there weren't doctors after supper time, I ran from one crisis to another. We nurses handled everything, the strokes, the heart attacks, the respiratory failures, car accidents, overdoses, all of it, until a doc could get out of bed and get there. It wasn't uncommon for the nurses to manage a case even when a doctor did show up because they weren't always as experienced as we were, or even sober. I took care of sick, terrified and often dying people, their families and my staff. As the interface between nurses, doctors, patients and families; I was the problem solver; and frequently, the hero. I thrived on the adrenalin rush coursing through my super star veins. I loved what I did for work and it was me. For decades, I lived and loved the crises and stories and glory.
     Then one day, all of a sudden it was over. Without warning, I was called into an office and fired. Flimsy reasons were given, thin excuses to cover the human resource depatment's decision. I hadn't done anything wrong! Outraged, I forced them to try to explain to me what was happening, but they said their decision was not performance based. "The patients and your co workers love you. You are an accomplished clinician, but it's just not working out. We need a comfort level," is what I was left with to make sense of the catastrophe that became my life.
    I was at first, filled with rage and wanting vengeance. In the hours when sleep was impossible, I plotted and planned how I would get back at them. I fantasized my vindication. I'd tear them down as they had torn me down! I wallowed deep in humiliation, confusion, anger and helplessness. Terrified  about money, I was scared for my children's welfare. I saw my whole life and future collapsing before  my eyes. The whys spun around in my tortured head night after night.  "It's just not fair! It's not right! Why? Why!!!????" I cried, howled, and ranted. I couldn't make sense of any of it. There wasn't a pigeon hole big enough or the right shape to stuff this bird into. I had done and been everything I knew how to be and yet, for some reason in the end, I was not good enough. That empty fact left me with nothing to hold onto and I slid deep into depression.
     I spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what had happened. Needing to make sense of it, to see the logic, I tried to find someone to blame. "Who did this," seemed a question with an answer that would restore order. A few faces and names linked to ordinary work place dust ups came to mind. Paranoia reigned my brain swamped by waves of rage from which I'd crash into grief. In the end, I never did know what was behind my being fired.  Eventually, it was just the passage of time that loosened my grip on the need to know. I had to get on with my life. But, I did conclude that at the heart of it was an error in my thinking, not my doing; I had forgotten that songbirds can also be killers. Most of the time, there's no right or wrong, just the need to survive.
    My employers were people just trying to do their jobs. They probably weren't the evil incarnate I was at one point sure of. Most likely, they don't even remember what for me remains one of the most painful events of my life. To this day, I don't know why I was fired, but I am pretty sure somebody simply did what they thought they had to do to survive. I was merely the one that wound up impaled on a barb.

Northern Mockingbird, Phippsburg, Maine May 27, 2010
Mockingbirds are easily confused with Northern shrikes. They have a pointed, not hooked bill, are a little larger and have a longer tail.

For some of the information, thanks to:

Sibley, David A., The Sibley Guide To Birds (2000)  Knopf: New York (2001) pp 340-341
Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B. & Zim, H., A Guide To Field Identification - Birds Of North America (1966),Golden Press: New York ((1966) pp242-243

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Lubec, Maine March 31, 2011

(remember that to see this image full screen, all you have to do is click on the image)  

Friday, April 1, 2011

FLYday - "Go Goosey, Go!"

A weekly homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.
Canada goose, Phippsburg, Maine

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