The Ayes Have It

I knew I was blessed when I spied a Northern Flicker in the backyard early this morning. This is the one woodpecker that doesn’t behave like a typical family member for it forages on the ground rather than a tree trunk.

e1-northern flicker

From the kitchen window, I watched this guy for a while as he looked for food. I knew it was a male because of the so called black mustache on either side of its bill. But . . . it was the bird’s eyes I was most curious about . . .and their placement on the side of its head.

e2-flicker feeding

Like mammals, birds with eyes on the side are born to hide . . . from predators. His field of vision, therefore, was wide and the ants on the ground were the ones who needed to scurry and hide.

e4-tachinid fly

After dining for a while, the flicker flew off and I stepped out the door–in search of other  sets of eyes to behold–like the red ones of a tachinid fly,

e8-long-legged fly

and metallic green on a long-legged fly. Like the flicker, flies also have a wide field of vision due to the fact that they have compound eyes. Each eye consists of thousands of individual visual receptors, or ommatidia, (singular ommatidium) (om·ma·tid·i·um, äməˈtidēəm.) Each hexagonal-shaped ommatidium (think honeycomb) is a functioning eye in itself. With thousands of eyes on the world, it’s no wonder flies and other insects see us coming–especially when we have a flyswatter in hand.

e7-green and brown stink bug

I kept looking and among the elderberry shrub leaves I found a strikingly beautiful green and brown stink bug, or shield bug, if you’re looking for a more pleasant name. Like all insects, it featured those compound eyes, but I was struck by how tiny they were. Apparently, it was enough to see movement and kept trying to hide from me.

e8-stink bug eyes

Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.

e9a-song sparrow

Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.

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What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.

e11-slug eyes

What about a slug? I suspected the sparrow would enjoy such and today was a decent slug-like kind of day. But, how does a slug see?

A slug has two pairs of retractable tentacles on its head. The upper, optic tentacles, feature light-sensitive eyespots on the ends. And just like a deer can move each ear independent of the other, slugs can do the same with each eye-stalk. Another cool fact: an eye stalk can be re-grown if something attacks it.

e11a-spider eyes

Further along, I found a wolf spider hanging out on last year’s fertile frond of a sensitive fern. Did you know that spiders have eight legs AND eight eyes? Two of them are large and prominent–the better to see you with.

e11-ebony jewelwing

As I continued to look for the sparrow’s prey, I discovered an ebony jewelwing that I determined had just emerged for it posed as I took numerous photographs. Usually, they flit about like woodland fairies. Unlike its larger dragonfly cousins who have eyes in front in order to hunt, the damsels’ are on the sides. Though zoom-and-swoop attacks may not be possible for the damselfly, it can see all-round–including above and behind– giving it control of its airspace.

e12-barred owl

My wander continued and then I heard a sound and saw some action in a tree about thirty feet off trail. And just like that, in what felt like a miracle of miracles, I realized I was in the presence of the wise one.

With his eyes in front, a Barred Owl is born to hunt. For several minutes we starred at each other and I was honored by his presence. Of course, I hoped he might cook for me tonight, but he let me down. Possibly he had others more in need of supper than I was at the time.

In the end my vote was aye in favor of all the peepers I’d met along the way, both in the yard and the forested park, for I knew that the eyes had it.

 

 

 

Counting Birds

In the name of citizen science, Kathy McGreavy and I ventured forth at 8am this morning as the temperature hovered just above zero.

c1-map

Our eyes were on the birds within view along a route outlined in orange. Up and down roads we journeyed, stopping periodically to jump out of the truck and focus our binoculars on our feathered friends and then keep track of them on the list provided. At the same time, other groups traveled different routes within the circle and also tallied their discoveries.

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Together, we saw blue jays, crows, robins, tufted titmice, a female cardinal, brown creeper, some chickadees, and lots of juncos. We also enjoyed driving down roads less traveled and reveled in the ice and snow-coated scenery before us.

c3-robin 1

At noon, Kathy had to depart and so I headed home for a quick lunch before venturing out again to finish up our tour. And at Salmon Point boat launch I was rewarded with more robins.

c4-northern flicker

But my favorite spy of the day, two northern flickers at the outlet where Stevens Brook flows into Long Lake. I first spied one and then two on the trunk of a red maple. After a few minutes they flew below to dine on winterberries. But I wondered–northern flickers in December? They weren’t on the list, nor were they rare; just not typical winter visitors in western Maine.

c7-female downy woodpecker

Seven and a half hours later, back at home, which was out of our part of the quadrant, a female downy woodpecker enjoyed some frozen suet. I couldn’t include it on the final report, but still . . .

c7-white-throated sparrow

The same could be said for the white-throated sparrow that I frequently spot amongst the junco flock that partakes of our feeding station.

Participating in this citizen science project is great fun and I’m thankful it’s a winter tally for I can ID most of the species I see. Were it to occur in summer when all those warblers breed in this northern territory, my bird brain would be more challenged.

c2a-CMP dam

Another benefit of said participation is the opportunity to visit places such as the old dam on Stevens Brook during the winter season.

c2-otter slides

Because I was there, I saw tons of otter sign including numerous slides. A huge grin covered my face.

c5b-ice disk in Stevens Brook

And then, there was a certain rare sighting lower in the brook that drew my awe.

c5-ice disk 1

We had a form to complete for rare finds. But . . . it was for rare bird finds. Would my northern flickers suffice? I wasn’t sure and so filled in the information to be on the safe side. But . . . that which I saw in the brook itself was probably rarer.

An ice disc.

According to Mary Holland’s recent post about such on her Naturally Curious blog: “An ice disc is a large disc of ice spinning in a river. It’s thought that this relatively rare natural phenomenon is likely caused by cold, dense air coming in contact with an eddy in a river, forming discs ranging anywhere from 3 to 650 feet in diameter.

While eddies contribute to the spinning, they are not the only cause. If they were, small discs would spin faster than big discs, and this is not the case. Discs of all sizes rotate at roughly the same rate. One would also expect that discs in still water, where there aren’t any eddies, wouldn’t start spinning, but they do.

The melting of the ice disc contributes to its spinning as well. When an ice disc starts to melt, the melted ice water is denser than the ice, and thus sinks below the disc. This movement causes the water to spin, which in turn spins the disc.”

Common and rare–and another fabulous day spent participating in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count for 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wiser Soul

It all began when I stepped out the back door just before six o’clock this morning. From the treeline I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” I could have returned to bed then, happy for the opportunity to hear such a wise one.

n-Northern Flicker

Not long after that, as I passed by a window in the butler’s pantry (no, we don’t have a butler, just an old farmhouse), a splash of red on the ground drew my focus–a Northern flicker had stopped by to feed. Notice the subtle curve of its bill? The better to dig up ants and beetles, as is the custom of this ground-feeding woodpecker.

n-water coursing 2

An hour or so later, I met my friend, Marita, for a hike up the Bald Peak trail at Pleasant Mountain. Our destination–not the summit as we had a time constraint–but rather, Needles Eye.

n-beside the brook

Our climb included frequent stops at vantage points to take in the sound and beauty of the place.

n-water art 2

The flow of the living water and its ever changing presentation mesmerized us much as leaping flames do.

n-water art

It spiraled over the rocks like a sculpture in fluid motion.

n-ice hiding

And while so much poured forth and wound its way down the mountain stream,

n-ice at Needles Eye

some remained frozen in time.

n-crossing toward Needles Eye

At the sign pointing toward Needles Eye, we crossed a stream and then worked our way across the short spur to the narrow formation of rocks that water threads through.

I should qualify that. Marita sauntered across the ice and snow, seeking the wee bit of dirt and leaves at the edge of the trail. It’s a steep edge and even on a summer day, I pick my way carefully over rocks and tree roots. Today, my brain suggested I call it good and sit still. But, she’s a good friend, and realizing my trepidation (I’d forewarned her), she spoke to me calmly about each foot placement, and even turned back to demonstrate exactly what I should do, waited patiently as my brain shouted, “Don’t do it!” and my heart said, “I think you can, I think you can,” and offered a hand when necessary.

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Together, we did it. This photo is Marita’s as I didn’t want to change my camera lens once we stood in the chasm and watched the water fall.

n-inside the needle

On a summer day, it’s a delightfully damp place to rest before continuing up the mountain. Sometimes, there’s only a hint of a stream. Today, it was equally enchanting–perhaps we should have bowed in respect of the beauty and power before us. And just maybe we did.

n-climbing down 2

Returning on the spur, Marita again came to my aid. And then we hiked a bit further up until time forced us to head down again.

n-morning light

The descent seemed easier as the snow had softened a bit in the two hours we’d spent enjoying each other’s company and filling our senses with the sights and sounds surrounding us.

n-vp visit

Back at home, I was pulled out the door again and made my way to the vernal pool. Ever so gradually, the ice is melting.

n-crack across vp

And across the center, a crack divided it in two from east to west, while a line between the sunshine and shade completed the quadrants from north to south.

n-snowfleas 2

Piles of pepper, aka springtails, floated on melted water atop the ice.

n-snowfleas

Others clustered on the open water at the pool’s edge. Other than that, I could see no action. Every day, however, will bring something new so I know I’ll check back frequently.

n-our house:field

Leaving the pool behind, I headed toward the area where I’d heard the barred owl several hours earlier–and I called. It didn’t respond. But, I reminded myself that this morning’s greeting was enough.

n-crocuses1

Returning home again, I couldn’t resist the crocuses that I first noticed yesterday. In the past few days, the snow has receded quickly and with today’s light, these spring beauties finally opened.

n-first daffy--a double

And then, in the garden beside the house, I found one more surprise–a double daffodil blossoming under some leaves. In this season of watching with wonder, my heart was full.

n-Marita

This day will stick with me for its offerings and I’ll be forever grateful to Marita . . .

n-marita 4 (1)

for without her help, I wouldn’t have had the gumption to stand in the Needles Eye. She is a kind and funny and wise(r) soul. And I am blessed by our friendship.

P.S. Two minutes after posting this blog, a woodchuck ran across the deck–headed toward the barn, of course.