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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FLYday - Common Tern In Flight Vocalizing

Common Tern, immature in flight vocalizing. Phippsburg, Maine summer, 2012
FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Friday, July 13, 2012

FLYday- Canada Geese

FLYday - Canada Geese

FLYday - A Foursome of Canada Geese. These geese flew so low that I could hear their feathers whistling.

"Force-'em" is what they do to geese (and ducks) to make  foie gras. Foie gras is made from hypertrophied goose liver. Domestic geese are force-fed by gavage. Their necks are hyper-extended upward. Then, a funnel is shoved down their throats and hideous amounts of food pushed into their bellies. The quantity of food is far more than would be consumed by geese in the wild or in captivity. The diet of corn boiled in oil causes subsequent fattening of the liver and a buttery taste favored by gastronomes. In about fourteen days, the liver grows so large that the goose often can not walk. They are never allowed to fly.

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Eagles Don't Always Come Home - Birds's Nests

Bald eagle on the nest, Phippsburg, Maine spring 2010
Eagles make enormous nests spanning 4-5 feet across. They are messy, clumsy looking nests. They do hold these giant birds and the chicks, along with whatever food they bring home.

This next nest is a Tree swallow nest. It's sitting on a bed of Thyme in my garden. In the top third of the nest in the center is an egg. This nest came from a Bluebird box on our property which is occupied by Tree Swallows. That's why the nest is square in shape. This nest had been recently abandoned, though not long before. There is feces still on the bottom right corner. This is an elegant, inviting nest.

Like eagles, Ospreys build huge nest, too. Also like eagles, they usually return to the same nest year after year. This one is on top of a utility pole. The photo was taken in February. See the snow? Osprey build nests in high places like this and are often seen atop cell phone towers. The Osprey nests are frequently disruptive to whatever the intended purpose was of their commandeered superstructure.  Under certain circumstances, power and cell phone companies have permission to remove nests.
I have a book about nest identification. It's a Petersen Field Guide titled "Eastern Bird's Nest" by Hal H. Harrison. I find bird's nests harder to identify than the birds themselves, which can be very difficult. Nests vary in appearance depending on available materials. A robin may use hay rather than sticks if that is what available. In that case, the nest would look blond and very different from one constructed of twigs. 
I'm guessing that this is the nest of a type of thrush, but I can't say for sure. It's about 4 inches across and had a mud cup consistent with thrush nest building.

This nest is tiny by comparison to the others. It's about 3 inches across. It probably is the nest of a vireo or warbler. Moss was used on the lower half. Then, Pine needles and grass were wound around together to form the interior. It looks dry and cozy.

This nest is that of a North American robin. They use mud to make a cup and then weave other material around in the mud. The nests are about 5-6 inches across. Robins aren't too fussy about where they nest and often construct nests on and around houses. This one was attached to the side of a house in a climbing Hydrangea vine.

This nest is probably that of a flycatcher, perhaps Olive sided. Thought it looks quite whimsical, it's solidly constructed.

Baltimore orioles build nests about 40 feet up in deciduous trees and construct this pouch style nest. I love the pieces of tarpaulins that have been woven into it. On the bottom right are some white lumps of stuffing. They have been pulled from a pillow, mattress or sleeping bag.

A few years ago, I used to go almost daily to a Bald eagle nest to see what the birds were up to. I followed the progress of the two chicks born there through to the day they took their first flight. The next year, I went eagerly to the nest again. I hoped to catch another season of wonder in nest building, courting, mating and growing Bald eagle chicks.
It was early in the Maine spring. Bald eagles start courting and working on their nests in March here. The nest is on the shores of the Kennebec River where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Unrelenting wind blows hard, raw and cold. My fingers froze. Several times, I pulled them back into the sleeves of my jacket, like retreating turtles. I cupped one hand in the other alternately blowing warm breath into the hand cave. I put in my time in my deep desire to see the eagles. But, no eagles.
Days went by. I wondered, "Geez, where are they?” The Bald eagle pair had nested there for several years, so it was not a new place to them. I had seen them in the air a few times, so I knew they were around. But, they were not nesting. There had not been any construction or other disruptions by man in the area. What could it be? Why had they forsaken me? Me? What about me? Of course, whether they nested there or not had nothing to do with me, but somehow it felt personal.
Like a little kid, I wished really hard for them to bring in a stick or even just light on the rim of the nest to investigate. I wished like a child wishing for a certain Christmas present though she knows that Santa Claus doesn't really exist. When I heard them keening from high in the sky or across the river, I pleaded hard. "Please, please, please," as if they could hear me or understand.
But, no eagles. I had time to look around, to ponder what had changed that made this familiar nest no longer appealing to them. A few years before, they had a different nest a couple of hundred feet away. A wind storm snapped off branches from the huge, White pine that held it. That year, they moved to this newer site. Like a bridge inspector I peered at the superstructure, looking for cracks, signs of crumbling, or changes in integrity. Then, I saw it.
Slithering up the side of the tree, sixty feet into the air above me, meandered a green video cable. It crawled from the woods before climbing up the opposite side of the tree from where I had been watching. The anaconda wire was the feed for a nest cam. The BioDiversity Research Institute had positioned a camera in the nest to monitor the Bald eagle population. In the process, they had captured and banded one of the adults. Should that bird be found dead, they could know about its life history.
             I was outraged like someone had stolen my lunch money! Though heartbroken and angry, I tried to be logical. Wasn't it a good thing to monitor the eagles? Most people can't go sit and freeze their fingers to see a nest and then, hopefully, one day the ensuing young. Most people sit in their offices, stealing moments to look at video cams across the planet. They are voyeurs to the lives of puppies, heinous baby sitters, cheating partners, and eagles. Video cams and photography are ways in which the average person gets to see things they otherwise would not. And in that, they become invested in their welfare. Monitoring of eagle populations is how we came to realize that we were killing them off in the first place!
To protect our resources, it's better to know more about them, even when sometimes there are counterproductive outcomes. There’s risks and always good and bad to everything. And, truthfully, there could have been other reasons the eagles did not come back to that nest having nothing to do with the plastic cable and camera. There are normal, natural reasons that eagles do not nest every year; it’s not always pathological. Perhaps they were just bored and wanted a new place with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, like everyone else.           

This past spring, a friend of thirty-five years called. She said she wanted to talk to me about something. 
  "What's up?" I asked.
            "I don't want to talk about it on the phone," she said.
            "Oh, come on! Just tell me!" I said, but no, she wouldn't.
So, we made a date to meet. That gave me a week to think about what she could possibly have on her mind.  
            My first thought was that something was wrong with her husband, or kids, or grandkids. "Oh God, I hope nobody's sick." I agonized. I asked my husband what he thought. "Do you think maybe there's something wrong with Mike?" My husband had no idea, either.
            With nothing to get my teeth into for a possible reason, I began to wonder if I had done something to tick her off. We hadn't talked much for months, actually. Come to think of it. So how could it be anything? It must be something. Like walking with a rock in my shoe, I went over and over every conversation between us for the past six months. I analyzed and worked over all of it, but remained mystified. Nothing. I couldn't come up with anything. Though I was at a complete loss, for the week before we were to meet, my guts were in a knot. She was my oldest, dearest friend. Nothing like this had ever gone on between us before.
            When I got to her house we hugged as we always did. Her dogs barked and jumped on me, scratching my leg through my pants as they always did. She screamed at them to get off, as she always did. She poured us each an oversized glass of red wine, as she always did. Then we, sat down in the living room, and she let me have it. Which she never did. 
            She told me I was an arrogant, social elitist snob. She said that I had totally changed and did not even look the same anymore. She said that since I had lost weight and become a celebrity, I thought I was too good for everybody else. She dredged up some year old, now friendship ancient history events, which had made her angry - things I could barely recall, never mind defend, things she had harboured for a year. She beat me over the head with the details, clear and fresh in her mind. She punched me with the word 'arrogant,' slapped me with 'snob,' screamed 'know it all,' until my ears were ringing. It was a first rate mugging.
            Like most people who are assaulted, I forgot that I ever took martial arts classes. Every kick boxing move I practiced in the gym had forsaken me. I was in disbelief at what was happening. I stared blankly at her, then laughed and blurted just the worst possible, wrong thing.
            "You're such an idiot, a moron! You can't be serious! What the hell...." I trailed off. She had to be joking. My glass of wine suddenly seemed all wrong in my hand. I set it down on the side table, carefully, before I dropped the whole thing or snapped the stem in half.
            "And that's another thing!" My old pal's smoking rant had only just begun, as it turned out. And I had just thrown gasoline on it.
            When it was 'over,' I was crying and feeling sick to my stomach. The room was quiet. Even the dogs had stopped their incessant barking, always the background to our conversations. I was still wearing my jacket, but I was cold. My fancy scarf and earrings I had chosen specifically for her to see now seemed ridiculous. My stomach churned and growled.
            "So," said my pal. "Ya ready to go out to dinner now?"
            "No, no," was my weak response.  "Are you kidding? After that?" 
            When she stood up I think I flinched. She said "I gotta let the dogs out. I'll be right back."
            She came back into the room with the bottle of wine. Still standing, she topped off her own glass. Wine dribbled down the neck of the bottle onto the carpet. She made no move to blot it up. Normally, an overly fastidious person, she would have jumped on it with a sprayer of Resolve.
            I thought, "Okay, I’m going to rise above this tantrum, this tirade, this whatever-the-hell." It had obviously bothered her, too. I said we might as well go to dinner, which we did. It was stiff. It was awkward. I watched every word that came out of my mouth. I edited and checked every joke. The spontaneous, apparently arrogant, elitist snob, know it all was having a time out.
           It's been months since that happened. I've thought about it every day. Reliving that verbal vomit session on her couch is replayed in my head nearly every night as I'm drifting off to sleep. She is my oldest friend. Friends should be able to tell each other what they feel like, right? Friends should clear the air, right? Friends should be honest, right? Friends should forgive each other, stay loyal, and get over it, right? But, I can't. I've lost some golden thread of trust. I've been told I'm a monster, a self serving, hideous beast that has stomped on my friend. And not just once. No! Apparently many times! I've been told I'm oblivious, self absorbed and uncaring!  I've been told I'm not lovable. And I can't get over it.
        There's a crevasse between us now. I see it every time we speak. My off the cuff, slap stick, jokester self dangles over the darkness waiting to die in every conversation. I can't be me anymore. In a friendship, if you can't be who you are, what is there? A friendship is where trust, loyalty and forgiveness are everything. In every other social relationship, we are at known risk. We know we would be fired for certain things, thrown out of an office for certain things, or even arrested. But a friendship is a relationship we choose because of safety in the bond.
         I don't know what to do with this. I don't know where it will end up. I take each day with her, one at a time. Maybe I'll forget. Maybe I’ll forgive. One thing I do know is that sometimes eagles do not come back to the nest.              

To watch a live Osprey nest came, visit this site:!/live-cams/player/live-osprey-cam

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Silence Of The Woods - Royal Ferns

A colony of
Royal ferns, Osmunda regalis on a streamside in the woods, Phippsburg, Maine

The Still Cover

I'm deep in green
where the blue newts move
between wet leaves,
smooth, so cool.
Only sounds of dripping,
circles form on dark pools,
fronds, ferns unfurling, 
moss absorbing,
then the waterthrush's
fluted chortling
amidst the trees
leaves me settled serene
and deep,
deep within the green,
still cover.


    Since I was a little kid, I've loved these wet, secret places in the woods. Some people would find the enveloping stillness unnerving, but I have always been drawn by it. The quiet stirs a notion of promise and magic. When I breathe in the rich, pungent smell of decaying wood, I can conjure a fairy's life. The near absence of sound makes me listen harder for what might be there, rustling under the leaves, moving along the banks of the stream, or tip toeing through the mud. Did I see a deer pause, ears twitching through the leaves, then gone in a flash? Is there a giant, Spotted salamander snorkeling in the gloame? I could wish a golem in the gloom. The quiet seems filled with possibilities.
    My sister and I got lost in such a place when we were young. We followed a path, or so it seemed, until suddenly, there wasn't a path anymore. We looked around us and didn't know where to go. Everything looked the same: trees, bottomless pools of black water, mushrooms and tall ferns. Barely any light filtered through the trees. Looking upward, there were only cracks of sky. And it was silent.
     The greenery seemed to suck up all sound. We listened hoping to hear familiar, distant sounds - our dog barking, a lawnmower, a truck on a road, anything. But there was nothing. Even the sound of our own panicky breathing died around us.
     My father used to tell us that moss grew on the north sides of trees. If you looked for the moss, you’d know which way to go. North? What did north mean to an eight year old? There was moss on the trees; there was moss everywhere, matting every rock and fallen log in velvet green. No moss was going to tell us where to go. The moss did not speak. I thought about my plastic, Cracker Jack compass at home.
     Once, from a place like that, I captured a dozen Red-spotted newts. I put them in an aquarium with pads of moss I had peeled from rocks. I put in some stones and made a little pool in a bottle cap. I put in some tiny, emerald colored ferns and rotted sticks. I put in a Shelf mushroom making an ample roof, a sort of salamander pavilion. It seemed like a perfect home for the newts. I imagined a whole life for them in their microhabitat, or glass prison. It was a veritable village of newts, which I called salamanders.
     Newts and salamanders are basically the same thing. What they each came to be called has more to do with history and language than science. Newts are a subgroup of salamanders. All newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts. A salamander is called a “newt” if it belongs to specific genera (I won’t bore you with the list). Generally, newts spend more of their lives in the water than salamanders; they have more distinctive differences between genders, and they have more complicated aquatic courtships. Now, wasn’t that a visual!
    There are 550 species of salamander in the world. The North American continent has more species of salamanders, including newts, than any other continent on earth. Maine has eight species. For those of you who say “I don’t like lizards,” salamanders are not lizards. On their front feet, they only have four toes; lizards have five.  Though there are no “blue newts” as in my poem, there is a Blue-spotted salamander in Maine. Most salamanders are lungless. They breathe through their skin which requires that their skin stay moist. For this reason, they are usually nocturnal and live under leaves and places where it’s damp. Many of them are vernal pool and wetland dwellers, places such as the photos above.
     After a while, I forgot about my salamanders. My father found my aquarium prison dried up and abandoned, for which he beat the shit out of me. That was fifty years ago and I still carry the guilt. The bulging eyes, tender toes and wide smiles of a newt give me pangs of pain. But, that dark little episode of my history is part of what lead me to become an amateur naturalist and nature photographer. The dark, damp places in the woods always makes me think of the brilliant, orange salamanders I tortured. I have a lot to make up for. Maybe they are what I listen for in the penetrating silence - signs of life.
     When my sister and I couldn’t find our way out of the woods, she started to cry. I was scared. I didn’t want her to know how scared I was too, terrified, in fact. So, I told her to shut up and quit crying. I knew that we had to figure it out on our own, that no one was going to help us. I knew that I had to figure it out, because I was the oldest. I listened hard for some sign, some sound that would guide us, but there was nothing. I smelled the air. Nothing.
    My sister was sitting on a pad of moss, sniffling. She had a trickle of blood oozing from a knee where she had fallen. A Blackfly had left a rude, purple welt in the corner of her eye and more were gathering. “Come on. Get up and get walking,” I ordered. It probably wasn’t long, though it seemed like eternity, when one of our family dogs showed up. Though we felt far, far away, we probably weren’t very far from home. It took some scrambling to keep up, but we followed the dog home.
     Decades later, I would hear on the news that a four year old boy was lost in the Maine woods to the north (August, 1975, Kurt Newton, Coburn Gorge, Maine). The biggest manhunt in the history of the State ensued to search for him. I was one of the searchers. I had to go. I couldn’t get my sister out of my head, her bloody knee, her bug bites, her futile crying. It was brutal, hot, hard hunting. Hundreds of searchers were all fly-bitten and bramble scratched. In the dense, damp woods searchers found bottle caps, cigarette butts and a wallet, all dropped by searchers who had gone before. And I saw a few salamanders, significant to only me. But, no little boy, and to this day, his disappearance has remained a mystery. I think every one of us wanted to be the one to find him and believed he would be found.
     I will remain forever haunted by that search, by the not finding. I’ve since had children of my own, whom I’ve raised safely to adulthood. I know that if I was that little boy’s mother, for the rest of my life, I would listen very closely when in the silent woods. 

Red-striped salamander, Phippsburg, Maine

Spotted Red newt

For more information on salamanders and newts, visit these sites.
OS Readers' Picks
I am please to announce and honored that this post recieved the
OPEN SALON READER'S PICK AWARD ! For more, click on that link or the one below.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heady Day In Heaven - 777 Photos

Lady's Slipper orchids, the largest colony I have ever seen. May, coastal Maine 2012
This is an iris without a name, but none the less for glory, in my coastal Maine garden. Years ago, I received it as a cull from a customer's garden. The name had long been lost to her, and has remained so for me. If any of you know what kind it is, would you please let me know?
 A Flower Crab spider waits on a Tree peony petal to ambush its prey. These spiders are smaller than my tiniest fingernail. I took this with a 60mm macro lens.

This is a male Bobolink in flight. It's the first one I've ever photographed, though I've seen them before. I stood for over an hour in an open field to get this shot. I wasn't wearing a hat and it was HOT out there!

This vintage Chevy with boys in ball caps went by on the country lane where I was standing in the field photographing birds.

There were several pairs of Eastern Bluebirds cruising the field for insects. A farm nearby had Bluebird houses on posts which were all occupied by these fabulous birds.

     On Memorial Day, I went for a ride to see Lady's Slipper orchids in what had been reported to me to be a huge colony. I didn't have to go far from home, only twenty or so miles. They werent' kidding about the enormity of the colony, either. The elderly couple who owned the land said that they had counted 346 blossoms on their single acre.
     I drove through numerous meadows, what we in Maine call "hay fields." Twice a summer, they will be mowed for hay. Before they are mowed the first time, Bobolinks make their nests there. Lots of other birds cruise the fields for food, too. I saw Savannah sparrows, Meadowlarks, Tree swallows, Barn swallows, Brown Headed cowbirds, Red-winged blackbirds, Mourning doves, Blue jays, Eastern Bluebirds, Starlings, Crows, and a Broad-winged hawk, all in one field. They zoomed and zipped from grass tops to utility lines, snatching bugs and seeds and arguing with each other. Shimmering, hot air rose from the grass and buttercups. I stood in the field in the blazing sun for about an hour, long enough that the birds forgot that I was there.
     A dog was let out from a nearby farm. In typical farm dog fashion, it barked incessantly while trotting along the farm's fence line. The chortling and cheeping of birds nearly drowned it out. A vintage, orange Chevy pick up went by, the cab crowded with ball cap stereotyped farm boys. On the breeze the aroma of manure was carried from a barn. I got one good, solid whiff of hot dogs on a grill somewhere. Mixed with the bird songs, girls laughed in the distance.
     Up the road from where I stood is a put in for small boats. When I drove by, headed home, people were putting canoes and kayaks in the water. A woman in cut off shorts, her recently exposed to daylight thighs already sun burned, craned her neck to kiss a man in Teva sandals. Two kids struggled a red canoe from a car roof while swallows swooped across the stream surface.
     At the end of the day, I had taken 777 photographs. I had started in my garden amongst the flowers, up close looking for insects, travelled through woods, fields and streams for more flowers and birds. I was richly rewarded. I saw birds I've not had the pleasure to photograph before and flowers familiar to me but more numerous than I'd ever imagined possible. It was a heady day in heaven.

Friday, May 25, 2012

FLYDAY - Bald eagle, Osprey, Herring gulls, Double-crested Cormorants- Fishing & Fighting

Osprey, also known as a Fish Hawk with a freshly caught Alewife, which is a type of herring. Phippsburg Maine.
 These photos were all taken within five minutes of one another. I was sitting at the mouth of the Kennebec River where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Popham Beach.

Bald eagle, adult chasing an Osprey with a fish, off from Popham Beach, Phippsburg Maine

I felt sorry for the poor fish. That's a long way to fall!

A Double-crested cormorant was flying by. They were also there to catch fish, but they don't steal from others for their dinner.

Herring gulls and Harbor seals, Phippsburg Maine. The gulls had chased an Osprey with a herring, also known as Alewife, until the beleaguered raptor dropped the fish. Then, the gulls fought each other for the purloined catch. One of them was able, miraculously, to snatch it from the drink and take off with it. The Harbor seals watched. They were busy catching their own fish and wondering if someone might drop some fries into the water to go with it. No Grey Poupon served here, only tartar sauce!

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.
(It seems fighting, feeding and filching are high on their lists, too!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Do The Funky Cowbird! "I Got Soul, And I'm Super Bad!"

     I am reposting this because the Dancing Cowbird showed up yesterday for the first time since I originally posted about them in 2010. I'm reposting to honor his dance and his shrill call. His girlfriend is here, too. The Cowbird's impressive display is well worth the re-read and view of these pictures.
     Yesterday was an important day for us for a different reason, too: It was the twelve anniversary of the day my husband and I met. Yes, we recognize that occassion, like high school kids that count the days in their relationships. "Davie and I have been going steady for four thousand three hundred and eighty days!" David gave to me a stunning, silver necklace. It's huge and gaudy and wonderful. Dancing and singing, he presented it to me like a hopped up Cowbird trying to impress his mate. I was Weeding For Dollars and quite filthy looking not unlike the humble female Cowbird. However, I donned the bodacious bobble immediately. I told him,
"You are the stars in my sky,
You are my ultimate high,
In your smiling face so sweet,
You are my life complete"

A new resident at our house this year has been a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds. We've never had them before this year. This male perches on the backs of our patio chairs and does an elaborate dance to his own reflection in the windows. He looks like he's groovin' the the 80's disco tunes of James Brown - "I've got soul and I'm super bad!!!!" But, it's just classic Cowbird courtship behavior.
    Cowbirds are kleptoparasites. That is, they steal from other birds for their own gain. Eagles are kleptoparasites, too. They steal food, such as fish, from other birds. Cowbirds steal nests.     
     In fact, they don't even make nests of their own at all! They lay eggs in the nests of other birds. Then, the host bird raises the Cowbird chicks after they hatch, often at their own loss. Cowbird chicks are often bigger than the host bird's own chicks and shove them out of the nest or simply demand more food than the host bird chicks, which starve.
     Because Cowbirds don't have to take care of their young, they lay a lot of eggs in a season, sometimes as many as thirty. That requires a lot of mating, thus the action on our patio chairs. This guy is also noisy about it. I always know where he is in the yard because of his high pitched, nearly electronic sounding call. Cowbirds are north American natives hailing from the grasslands. However, their numbers have increased dramatically as we've cut down trees and made more open land. They like feeding on the ground, so if you have spilled seed or livestock, you're likely to have Cowbirds. I have neither, so I'm not sure why we've got them now. Because they have threatened some endangered species of birds with their nest hogging, some regard them as nuisance birds. I can't help but admire this guy's antics and wonderful iridescent feathers, even if I know better. Give me a muscled guy on a mechanical bull ride in a bar and I'm a goner.

These patio chairs have seen more action than a hotel mattress.

For more info on Cowbirds and to hear their calls and songs, click on these links:
Brown Headed Cowbird

Thanks to Wikipedia for some of the information, as well.

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