Archive for Maine

Girl’s Weekend (With Puffins, et als)

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica).  It's hard not to anthropomorphize this bird.  Flying football or Clown of the Sea; they are endearing.

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). It’s hard not to anthropomorphize this bird. Flying Football or Clown of the Sea; they are endearing.

I got together with three bird banding friends for a girl’s weekend, leaving husbands, children and pets to fend for themselves while we birded north coastal Maine.  Our ringleader had arranged for us to visit Machias Seal Island, a sanctuary for nesting Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Common Murres, Arctic Terns, Common Eiders and Savannah Sparrows.  This proved to be the very most fun of our very fun weekend.

I loved the Puffins but the Common Murres really fascinated me.  I've  not had many opportunities to see them and they've only been breeding here for a few years.  About 10% of the birds we saw were

I loved the Puffins but the Common Murres really fascinated me. I’ve not had many opportunities to see them and they’ve only been breeding here for a few years. About 10% of the birds we saw were “Bridled” having the white eye ring and streak. The non-bridled birds had a crease there, but no white feathering.

Due to the restrictions on visitors (only 15 people at a time) and the popularity of the trip, she had made our reservations several months earlier.  A little risky, but the day was as calm as our Captain Andy had seen all year and the sky was clear.  We set out from Cutler, Maine for the 10 mile trip to the island.  Its ownership is in dispute between the US and Canada but no one asked for our passports, so not a problem for us.  We had a brief orientation next to nesting Arctic Terns and then were taken to blinds in the midst of all the thousands of birds.  The next hour was heaven.  The birds were so close we could almost touch them.  What a thrill to see them going about their daily interactions, oblivious of us, lurking in the blind.  We saw birds enter burrows from time to time but they spent most of the time just loafing on the rocks, seeming to chat with their neighbors.

Razorbills:  I had a chance to see the lovely white markings at close hand.  What a delight!

Razorbills: I had a chance to see the lovely white markings at close hand. What a delight!

This is a trip every birder should consider.  The birds seemed undisturbed by our presence and it was a rare opportunity for a glimpse into their lives without disrupting them.

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Blackberry Season in East Boothbay

From these...

From these…

Labor Day Weekend is when our favorite woodland path yields its crop of blackberries.  We prepared ourselves before our daily walk by taking bags to hold the expected bounty and we were not disappointed.  After a pleasant hour seeking out the little jewels, we had enough for a pie.

to this...

to this…

For us, the flavor of a wild blackberry pie is unsurpassed but the berries are very seedy, so we strained the seeds out of all but one cup of the largest and juiciest.  A cup of berries would give us plenty of seeds to capture the berry pie experience.  I use tapioca as a thickener and added a little extra because the seedless berry pulp was very liquid.  The pie turned out to be a little juicier than I intended, but oh, so delicious.  We enjoyed that epitome of New England breakfasts; pie!

to the reward!

to the reward!

Is it a blackberry or a black raspberry?  The difference is in the rasp, or core, of the berry.  With raspberries, black or red, the rasp comes off with the stem leaving the berry hollow.  With blackberries, the rasp stays in the berry and the stem comes off clean.

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Double-crested “Conductor”

Double-creasted Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) at the mouth of the Damariscotta River.

This Double-crested Cormorant looked to me as if he were conducting the sea in a musical performance, perhaps the finale to the 1812 Overture?  I had always believed this spread eagle behavior meant he was just drying his wings after a round of diving for fish.  I was told years ago that Cormorants do not have the oil gland (Uropygial Gland) that most birds use when they preen their feathers, but in fact necropsy has shown that Cormorants do have this gland.  Richard King in his book “The Devil’s Cormorant, A Natural History” claims that this behavior is due to the Cormorant’s unique feather structure.  He cites a study by A.M. Rijke of the University of Capetown which says that the Cormorants benefit from their feather structure which allows their feathers to get wet.  Their feathers do not trap air and are less buoyant enabling them to dive deeper and faster.  They face into the wind when they do this, presumably to allow their wings to dry faster.

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Fledgling Ospreys are Everywhere

He seems a little bewildered.

He acts a little bewildered.

Here in Maine we have several Osprey nests around our house and the chicks have fledged.  They are careening in front of the windows, perching on the roof and whistling in anxiety all day long as they attempt to learn fishing skills and perfect their flight abilities.  Landing seems to be a problem for them.  There is a big, relatively flat rock in front of the house and one young birds has chosen it as a safe spot upon which to flop down.  They will be around for several more weeks, learning their craft, before they migrate south.  They return here in Maine right around tax time.  Our African Grey Parrot is quite adept at attracting their attention when he mimics their call.

The Ospreys were brought back from the brink of extinction when DDT was banned in the US in 1972.  So great is the Osprey’s success, the sight of them could become commonplace, but for me the sight of an Osprey is a reminder of how fragile our environment is and how easy it is for us to make a mistake that has devastating consequences.  The nicotiniod based chemical pesticides appear to be the next DDT and recent scientific research links them to the collapse in bee populations.  I only hope the political will exists in this country to do the right thing.

Safe landing accomplished.

Safe landing accomplished.

 

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First Chanterelles of the Season!

Here's the initial haul, unadulterated and ready to be cleaned.

Here’s the initial haul, unadulterated and ready to be cleaned.

Facebook friends will know that we found Chanterelles on our morning walk around Ocean Point, here in East Boothbay.  I just happened to notice them along side the road and then we checked some of our secret spots from previous years and found enough for a lovely mushroom tart, which we had for supper (having gorged ourselves at lunch at a local restaurant with one of our neighbors…shhh!)  I can’t begin to say how satisfying it is to enjoy something foraged from the wild.

 

After cleaning, we had about $20.00 worth, if you could even find them in a store.

After cleaning, we had about $20.00 worth, if you could even find them in a store.

Here's the tart.  I used frozen puff pastry and a simple mixture of the mushrooms, Vidalia onions, Swiis and Parmesan cheese, chopped dill and a dash of vermouth.

Here’s the tart. I used frozen puff pastry and a simple mixture of the mushrooms, Vidalia onions, Swiis and Parmesan cheese, chopped dill and a dash of vermouth.

Yum!!

Yum!!

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Two of our Maine Bird Families

Eider Ducks

Common Eider Ducks (Somateria mollissima)

I know there are lots of bird families underway in the dense mixed conifer/hardwood forest that nestles against our Maine home, but two are very visible.  The Eider Ducklings are seen swimming with their mothers and aunties  in several groups inside our reef.  When we arrived for the week I counted nearly thirty ducklings but that number has been reduced by about ten.  Their main predators here are the great Black-backed Gulls.  Although I haven’t seen it this year, it is a horrifying experience to watch one of these large gulls alight in front of the hapless mother and gobble down a few of her ducklings, almost before I know what’s happening.  One of their defenses is to travel together with the younger un-mated females (known as aunties) in a behavior known as cooperative breeding.   When threats are near the adults will close ranks around the ducklings and try to fend off attacks.  Eiders are our largest Northern Hemisphere ducks, but the ducklings are tiny and extremely vulnerable.

Dark-eyed Junco, feeding her newly hatched chicks.

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis) feeding her newly hatched chicks.

Yes, I realize the window is very dirty!  I hope you can make out the Dark-eyed Junco and the nest.  She built her nest on the base of an old Phoebe nest which had been used for several years.  The nest rests atop the siren for our security system and I certainly hope there is no breach of security while this little family is in residence.  It’s under the eave of the dormer and seems an excellent choice for a nesting spot as it’s out of the sun and wind and hidden from predators by the flare in the siren.  None the less, she takes great care when she approaches the nest, waiting, caterpillar in beak, checking back and forth for several minutes before quickly flying in to feed her chicks.  Here’s hoping for the Junco’s nesting success and for at least a few of our little Eider Ducklings to survive.

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Beautiful Maine Sunrise

IMG_2258This was the view from our Maine deck this morning when I arose early to enjoy the dawn chorus.  I was looking out over a passage called “The Thread of Life” which allows boat traffic to pass from the Boothbay Region to Pemaquid Point.  With the summer solstice just a day or two away, this is the furthest north the sun rises.  In mid-winter it rises just south of Monhegan Island.  Our dawn chorus today began with the Northern Parula’s buzzy notes climbing the scale, followed by a Yellow-rumped Warbler right above my head in a Wild Cherry tree.  Ah, the fresh clean air of a tension-draining new day in Maine!

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