Book of Days
BOOK OF DAYS: A POET AND NATURALIST TRIES TO FIND POETRY IN EVERY DAY
Filtering by Tag: eagle
I slowly pulled into the lot, hoping that I wouldn't startle the big bird from its perch. I was able to park, open my window, and get my camera from the back seat. For over five minutes I snapped away while the eagle hung out, observing the river, preening its back feathers, looking around. Eventually I had to get to work, but the bird barely seemed to notice as I opened the car door and got out. I was able to get a few more photos before it decided to move on, slowly flapping those huge wings over to the other side of the river and disappearing into the trees. I took a deep breath full of gratitude and headed in to the office. How many people get to start their work day like that? (And most days, I even like my job too!)
Eagle hanging out.
I sit here staring, smiling,
beneath its notice.
So coots are regulars on the lake this time of year. What was remarkable about Don's report yesterday was the number of coots he observed: 615! I think the most I've ever seen at one time was 50 - 60 birds, 100 at most. I had to see this for myself. So on the way to a meeting in Rockland I stopped by the public beach parking lot. Offshore, I could see a dark mass on the water, a dense island of coots. A smaller bird could have walked across their backs. Without binoculars I had no way to really count them for myself, which would've been a challenge anyway because they were really packed together. Taking a moment to survey the scene, their behavior began to make sense to me. Perched in a nearby tree, looking right at the coot pack, was a big adult bald eagle. The coots were huddled up for security--a straggler would be fair game for the eagle.
Raft of coots afloat
till hungry hawks come, or ice
fills their wayside lake.
|Bald Eagle on Megunticook Lake. Photo by Roger Wickenden.|
Look! Sunlit eagle
follows river's winding path,
white feathers aglow.
Late yesterday afternoon we visited my sister and family at their lakeside camp. My brother-in-law, father, and two nieces were out in the little beat-up motorboat that my brother-in-law had somehow coaxed back to life, making the most of the day's dying light with one last ride. When they landed at the dock, my five-year-old niece came running up to see us. "How was the boat ride?" we asked her. "What did you see out there?" "Oh, just some eagles," she replied nonchalantly.
Shortly thereafter, as we shared hors d'oeuvres on the deck, we did indeed see a bald eagle, soaring majestically over the island directly across from us. My niece informed us that she wasn't a fan of eagles because they "look mean." As best we can tell, her only frame of reference for an eagle's facial expression is the wooden eagle sculpture that was hanging near our table at The Waterfront Restaurant when we took her out to dinner there recently. For a child, however, the devil's in the details.
What I love is that seeing "some eagles" is almost a non-event for her. I don't think I saw my first bald eagle here in Maine until I was in high school. And it was years more before I began seeing them on a regular basis. Maine's eagle population has made an incredible comeback from the days of DDT--there are over 500 breeding pairs in the state now, and the species has been federally delisted. Eagles soaring over Maine's lakes are becoming a common sight, one that I hope will remain so for my nieces for many years to come.
A wish for my niece:
may bald eagles always soar
in your summer skies.
What was that dark shape
hunched, brooding, at river's edge?
Looked like an eagle.
Cattle egrets are a small white heron generally seen well south of Maine. Until today, the only ones I'd seen were in Florida and North Carolina. How this one ended up on an island off the Maine coast is one of those mysteries of migration. As I disembarked, I ran into one of the ferry captains who is also a birder--a birder who particularly enjoys chasing rarities. When I explained that I was out there so Kirk could show me a cattle egret, he complained, "Kirk never tells me anything!" An island resident had recently described to him seeing a strange bird, like an "all-white gull with a big yellow bill." It suddenly dawned on him that she'd been describing the cattle egret. He'd have to try to see it on a future trip.
Kirk and I headed off through town to "The Ballfield," where he'd photographed the bird not an hour earlier right next to his car. A woman driving past stopped to tell us that she had recently seen the egret following Wizard. Turns out Wizard is her horse. That made sense to Kirk, because the bird had first been spotted on Greens Island following a small flock of sheep. They got their name because they follow livestock, eating the insects such animals attract. So we went off to see Wizard. Before we got there, however, we spotted the egret hunched over in the middle of a lawn. Kirk set up his scope and we got great looks at this southern visitor.
We were soon joined by a neighbor who knew Kirk and who may or may not have been slightly inebriated. Even though we were clearly already watching the egret, he wanted to be sure we saw the bird, gesticulating wildly at it. "I knew you'd want to see it, because I know you like birds and sh*t," he declared. He had seen the egret earlier standing in a ditch full of minnows, eating. "It looked to me like a f**king big white sandpiper!" he said excitedly. "Is this rare? Because I've never seen a bird like this here before." Kirk assured him that it was very unusual.
You'd think that the rest of the day's birding would have been anticlimactic after that. But although I didn't pick up any more new Maine species, every stop had its highlights. At State Beach, a big flock of pale and lovely snow buntings flew back and forth above the pebbly shore. Horned larks hung out in the road with a single late-migrating semipalmated plover. A great blue heron croaked loudly as it flew in to land on the opposite shore. At Folly Pond, we spotted eight eagles, including a pair of adults perched side by side on a spruce bough, and a couple of brightly plumaged male wood ducks drifted past with a pied-billed grebe. At a culvert called The Boondoggle, a lone yellowlegs stood knee-deep in what must have been freezing cold water while hooded mergansers drifted and bobbed. The Basin offered up hosts of Canada geese and several more duck species.
Even the ferry ride home was not without adventure. My ferry captain friend invited me to ride back to Rockland up on the bridge, which offered great views of flocks of Bonaparte's gulls, a zillion more loons, big rafts of eiders, some surf scoters, and one gannet. He recounted the day last summer when he'd seen an albatross fly across the bow. The passage across the bay was a rough one, with swells rocking the ferry hard enough to knock over a chair at one point. The spray of whitecaps corrugated the surface of the sea. Thanks to turning back the clocks last night, twilight (and a cold rain) were settling in over Rockland Harbor as we pulled into the ferry slip. As we got ready to unload, a seal popped its head out of the water just off the port side, giving us all a long look as if wondering what we were doing out in this weather. Cattle egret, I wanted to tell the seal. And eiders, mergansers, and crossbills. I don't think it would have understood.
Brisk island wind, rain.
Egret and I share a look,
both visitors here.
First cone at Round Top:
two scoops with jimmies. Later,
first peeper chorus!
Friend and fellow poet Carl Little has a great spring poem called "Zones of Peeper," about driving around this time of year with the car window cracked open, passing through literal zones of frog song as you go past each vernal pool or wetland. For a moment, the sound pours over you, your heart thrills to it, and then it's gone. We only passed through one zone this evening, but the first one of the season is always the most exciting. Especially if you do so while finishing off an excellent almond joy and Indian pudding ice cream cone.
Then Brian spotted an adult bald eagle soaring in over the trees. We hoped it would flush the ducks, so we could get a good count on the waterfowl lurking unseen at the back of the marsh. But instead of hunting, the eagle simply perched on a pine bough. I thought the crows, who were still loitering like a bunch of delinquents, might decide to mob the bird, but apparently they couldn't be bothered. So we kind of forgot about the eagle until a few minutes later we noticed two red-tailed hawks aggressively chasing it away. They followed the eagle as it soared higher and higher above the trees, diving on the larger bird quite closely at times. Fellow birder Don Reimer, who visits the marsh almost daily, wondered aloud if this was the same pair of red-tails that had nested near the marsh last year. By the way they were acting, I'd say so. They flanked that eagle like two fighter jets, escorting it out of their air space.
Driving away about ten minutes later, we saw one of the hawks perched above a nearby field. When I pulled over so Brian could try to photograph it, it took flight over the pannes, its red tail shining in the afternoon sun.
Red tails a warning,
two hawks escort an eagle
out of their air space.