Field Trip! It was actually planned for yesterday, when more would have joined us, but Greater Lovell Land Trust’s docent Joe knew that it was best to postpone given yesterday’s weather–a blustery rainy day. Today, however, dawned sunny and bright and so five of us drove over an hour to reach the coast.
By 9:00am, we had scopes and binoculars in play, each looking in a different direction until one among the group made a discovery and then all focused on the same. Behind the scopes, Dawn, Joe — our leader, Lisa — Joe’s co-leader, and Izzy.
We came in search of Common Loons because we spend summers listening to their musical tremolo laughter and blood-curdling yodels, the latter being the most primordial of calls that echo across the lakes and ponds of western Maine. We watch them fish and preen and raise their young. Occasionally, they surface beside our kayaks as we paddle. And then, in late summer/fall, they gather socially in what’s known as a raft, as they prepare for migration. By the time ice forms, they’ve flown the coop, or rather our freshwater bodies. But where do they go? That was the question we wanted to answer.
And did so within minutes of arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. Our loons actually don’t have far to go, That said, the loons that winter here may also be from points North and West. What surprised our leaders today was that the birds we spotted were already molting from their drab winter plumage to the dapper summer attire.
But there were so many more to spy through our lenses, including these Brant Geese. This was a new species for me, and one of the clues I need to remember for future ID is the white necklace it donned, plus the pale belly as compared the dark back and neck.
Another first, and I never would have seen these birds if Joe and Lisa hadn’t spotted them, Purple Sandpipers roosting on a rock, which apparently was a gift to us, for we were told they are often quite active as they search for mussels and crustaceans. I have never actually heard of a Purple Sandpiper before, so named for a violet-colored sheen of some feathers.
Common Eiders were . . . rather common on today’s quest, given that in the four spots we visited over the course of 5 hours, 97 were counted. I was not one of the counters as I spent the time trying to get my bird eyes on and just plain recognize what made an eider an eider and not a loon. Long beak–yes, but not as long or pointed from my point of view. Head shape a bit different, much more mottled head, and a completely different pattern of feathers. Just for starters.
In one of the locations we visited, there were Scoters, and Harlequins, and some of those 97 Common Eiders. It was here that we learned to watch the surf rise and fall closer to the rocks and the Harlequins dive and pop up over and over again. Pop. Pop. Goes the Weasel. I mean Harlequin.
In a third spot, another Common Loon, this one preening.
Our eyes were at once drawn skyward where we watched in wonder as a Broad-winged Hawk soared and then back to the brackish estuary water where a female Common Goldeneye with its brilliant amber eye glistening in the midday sun. Like so many of today’s birds, we had to keep looking to spot this one for it did what its species does and dove for food before resurfacing nearby.
Seals were also part of the scenery, but I do apologize for the photo not being clear. If you care to look, they are the light-colored blobs atop the rocks.
At 2:00pm, our time together came to an end, but we gave great thanks that we’d had a chance to do what the loons do and go for a deep dive into the winter lives of so many feathered friends.
Joe reported on eBird that we spotted 26 species in all.
- 9 Brant
- 3 Canada Goose
- 4 Mallard
- 4 American Black Duck
- 97 Common Eider
- 4 Harlequin Duck
- 5 Surf Scoter
- 3 White-winged Scoter
- 65 Black Scoter
- 15 Long-tailed Duck
- 7 Bufflehead
- 10 Common Goldeneye
- 3 Red-breasted Merganser
- 2 Horned Grebe
- 1 Red-necked Grebe
- 5 Purple Sandpiper
- 1 Razorbill
- 1 Black Guillemot
- 13 Ring-billed Gull
- 12 Herring Gull
- 4 Great Black-backed Gull
- 4 Common Loon
- 1 Great Cormorant
- 1 Broad-winged Hawk
- 1 Downy Woodpecker
- 19 American Crow
What amazed me most is that as we approached each of today’s four locations, Joe said, “We should see ____, and ____, and ____ here,” and indeed we did.
We took our leave, a bit richer because we’d had the opportunity to see and learn together, to follow the loons and meet so many others along the way.
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