It’s raining here in Maine this early January morning. After the below-zero (F) temperatures and huge snowfalls of a few weeks ago, it is quite a surprise and not necessarily a welcome one considering the slushy mess that it is causing.
I’ve had a few other surprises over the last week or so. One is a small, very local major milestone in Boreal conservation. I discovered while grocery shopping earlier this week that my local Hannaford supermarket is now carrying forest-friendly, recycled versions of all of the big four disposable paper products – paper towels, paper napkins, toilet paper, and finally, tissues! Even the convenience store at the corner is now carrying Marcal paper towels made from recycled office paper! My little town is moving quickly toward making it easier for those of us who love birds to “buy for birds.” And if you still need some help in remembering the paper products that are good for birds versus bad for birds click here to download NRDC’s Bird-Friendly Shopper’s Guide (pictured above).
I also had a few surprises last Friday (1/4) when I flew out on a little four-seater plane to Matinicus Island off of Rockland, Maine with fellow ornithologist Ian Stenhouse and birder/photographer Kirk Rogers to count birds for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The temperatures had greatly moderated from the below-zero (F) marks of the days before and hovered near the high 20’s or low 30’s (F). The year before when we did the count the temperatures were near 50 and there was no snow. This year there was 12-16 inches of snow in places and all the road and trails were encased in hard, slippery ice.
Seascape – Credit: Kirk Rogers
In contrast to last year’s tally of well over 100 sparrows and juncos, this year we did well to rustle up three Song Sparrows and a couple of American Tree Sparrows. A small flock of five Bohemian Waxwings, perhaps down from a summer in the Northwest Territories, were on the island–a small nod to the Boreal bird invasion happening in the eastern U.S. (click here to read more).
American Tree Sparrow – Credit: Kirk Rogers
For us one of the biggest surprises was not bird that currently has much of its range in the Boreal. After Kirk recovered from a tumble down a bank on the north side of the island (he saved his expensive camera gear and himself!), we all were eating our lunch on the rocks gazing out over the sea towards the neighboring island of Criehaven when I spotted a large dark bird flying towards us along the shore. I assumed it would be another of the several Bald Eagles we had already seen that day but when I put my binoculars on it I was surprised to see the silvery wing linings and red, naked head of a Turkey Vulture! Kirk quickly picked up his camera and snapped some close-ups of the bird as it passed low over us. Ian wondered if the poor thing was so hungry that it had spied my red jacket in the distance and hoped it was a heap of carrion.
Turkey Vulture – Credit: Kirk Rogers
Turkey Vultures only began summering and breeding in Maine over the last 30-40 years and have spread north fairly quickly but only in the last few years have a few been wintering here as well. And to make the sighting even more surprising, Turkey Vultures usually seem to avoid going out over the ocean and, on well-birded islands like nearby Monhegan, are only occasionally seen during migration.