One of the most memorable bird moments of my life happened on Bubble Pond.
It was 20 years ago at Acadia National Park. My husband and I had hiked up Cadillac Mountain and were returning on the carriage path when we paused to look at the pond through a gap in the trees. There, only a few yards away from us, was a female common merganser. Alone.
I was very excited to see her, but in those days I could not identify ducks without my field guide and it was in the car. I told my husband, “This could take a while” and rushed back to the car to get it. He understood and waited near the parking lot, reading a book.
Back at the pond the merganser was still there, dipping her face in the water to watch for fish. Sometimes she raised her head and looked at me unafraid. I figured out her name but I didn’t want to leave.
It was very quiet, only the sound of small waves lapping at the shore. The sun sparkled on the water. The merganser swam near me. Peace.
(photo by Kippy Spilker from Shutterstock)
Last evening before Tropical Storm Earl reached Maine, I checked on what the birds were doing:
- Surf was high at the outer islands by late afternoon so rafts of common eiders came into the sheltered coves of Mt Desert. I’ve never seen so many so close.
- Another ocean bird came in too. By dusk, northern gannets were hunting fish within sight of shore.
- An hour after sunset the air was calm and almost foggy when I heard large numbers of Swainson’s thrushes migrating in the dark, heading west along the coast. It seemed to me they were flying toward the bad weather. I wished them luck.
The wind and rain did not begin until 4:00am. At dawn the crows & osprey were up and out as usual. Maybe the birds are better informed than the Weather Channel.
UPDATE, 11:00am: No wind, and now no rain. Earl was more hype than storm.
The sky was red-pink at sunrise this morning.
After five days of absolutely clear, hot weather the clouds are here in advance of Hurricane Earl. By the time Earl gets here he’ll be downgraded to a tropical storm. The wind out there in the Gulf of Maine will be 50-65 knots (57-74 mph) with waves 18-28 feet.
(p.s. Here on land it will rain from midnight Fri to noon Sat with wind gusting to 50 mph. Not bad.)
Today in coastal Maine we have a Heat Advisory and a Tropical Storm Warning. Heat today will feel like 100 degrees and then tomorrow, wind, waves and rain. So far all is calm.
We’re on Day Three of four days in a row of incredibly hot weather for Maine. At this time of year the normal high we’re used to is 75. Today it will be 90 and the air quality will be bad because the air is moving up from PA, NYC, and the east coast. It’s too hot to hike.
Some of you asked if Hurricane Earl will affect us. Yes, but my husband and I are looking forward to the rain & cooler temperatures. We might regret that attitude at dawn on Saturday when Earl will have been here for 6 hours, but for now Earl is welcome to arrive ASAP!
When you enter Maine on I-95 you are greeted with this motto: The Way Life Should Be.
I agree. That’s why I come here.
Life should always be On Vacation, surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Bring on the birds!
(photo of sunrise at Acadia National Park by Moses Martin)
If you watch birds in Pennsylvania a glance at this one suggests it’s a red-tailed or rough-legged hawk.
Nope. It’s an upland buzzard (Buteo hemilasius), native to Central Asia.
Todd Katzner is on a field expedition in Mongolia and emailed me this picture yesterday, a sample of the stunning raptors he’s seeing there.
A lot of my scientist friends do field work in the summer, something I’ve never done. To get a sense of what their trips are like I’ve been reading Tingay & Katzner’s The Eagle Watchers.
Ghostly New Guinea harpy eagles, wary and comical Steller’s sea eagles.
The birds they see on field expeditions are out of this world.
(photo by Dr. Todd Katzner of the National Aviary)
The cool thing about going to Maine is that I get to see birds I would never see at home. This northern gannet is a perfect example. There’s no way this huge sea bird with a six and a half foot wingspan would be found taking a nose dive in the Monongahela River. He needs deep saltwater for his livelihood.
I’ve seen northern gannets from the shores of Virginia and Florida in the winter but they’re far away and look like tiny arrowheads. To get a closeup like this and to see a host of birds who never come near shore, I have to travel far off the coast on a pelagic tour.
Maine Audubon has an annual pelagic tour in October that goes 40 miles off the coast of Bar Harbor, but I’ll be in Pittsburgh then. What to do? A Maine birder gave me a tip: You can see pelagic birds on the Whale Watch. The goals of these two boat trips are different but the whale watch looks for whales up to 20 miles offshore and pelagic birds are often in the vicinity of whales because both are looking for food-filled patches of ocean. He also said that if you can pick any day to make the trip, go when the wind is light – otherwise the wave action hides the loafing birds.
So I went on the whale watch Wednesday morning when the waves were less than a foot high. The weather was great and I met another birder, Andy Block, who leads birding tours to Costa Rica for Tico Tours. For a landlubber like me sea birds are often confusing so I was really glad Andy was there to tell me what they were:
I do enjoy these trips! And now you see why I was thinking about waves this week.
p.s. I nearly forgot to mention we did see a whale – one finback – plus harbor seals and harbor porpoises.
(photo by Kim Steininger. Click on the photo to read Kim’s blog describing how she captured it.)
This is no news to people who live by the sea but to those who are landlocked or work indoors the ocean looks powerful but benign when you’re standing on high ground.
Though it’s been 10 days since it happened, all the talk among the tourists at Acadia National Park is about the killer wave from Hurricane Bill on August 23 which swept over spectators near Thunder Hole, injuring more than a dozen people, dragging three into the sea and killing one of them, a seven-year-old girl.
This picture, linked from Bangor Daily News‘ Maineville, shows the people who survived the wave crouching and trying to get back to dry land. More spectators had been sitting on the rocks where you see foam churning – but they’re gone. (Click on the picture to see the original photo and article.)
Tropical Storm Danny was threatening the coast with similar weather when we arrived in New England on Saturday. We spent a very wet, windy, gray day in New Hampshire and have had beautiful weather ever since. We’ve had no desire to look at waves. We hear they’re 1-2 feet high today. Good!
(photo by Paul Colby linked from Bangor Daily News’ Maineville)
Hello from Maine. We’re at Acadia National Park as usual at this time of year.
I’m hoping to see some new birds and new places. Will it be a good year for a warbler “fallout?” Will the crossbills be at Acadia this fall? What new sea birds will I see on the Whale Watch? Will I finally see a moose? (Can you believe I’ve never seen one in 26 years of going to Maine?)
We plan to hike some new trails and visit some new-to-us towns. I’ll still be blogging while I’m here but less frequently. After all, it’s a vacation!
(photo by Doug Lemke via Shutterstock)