Monday, June 30, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: jays and crows

In many ways jays and crows are my favorites. They are extensive in range, and high in intellect. Not surprisingly, they belong to the same family, along with the magpie (of course). They are social birds with loud mouths who are, as Sibley says, "mob predators." When a group of crows sets up their hollering, you can safely bet that some owl or fisher is being harassed. I've witnessed this: several times the congregation has sung in the trees near the house and a couple of minutes later I see a devil of a fox slinking and skulking down the shore, found out again. Sibley heads the pertinent section of his book "Jays, Crows and Their Allies," which seems especially appropriate in their bruising war of words against the flesh-eaters.

The range of the crow covers the entire US except for the deserts of the southwest (very sensible creature). It really should be the national bird. It's intelligent, articulate, sociable, courageous, common and adaptable. It's a democrat. Who cares about some soaring, warlike, endangered and unreachable eagle, however magnificent?

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Osprey

     Of all the bird we regularly see, the most thrilling is the osprey. The cove in front of our house is shallow and by mid-summer it warms enough for the mackerel to school. Hunting time and viewing time happily coincide in that wine-dusky hour between dinner and dark. The water generally calms, making mackerel-seeing and -snapping easier. The humans calm too, with a last glass on the deck. We talk quietly, watching several dots circle high in the sky, then tense as one dot suddenly stoops into a fearsome dive, gravity and those blade-like wings pulling it faster than seems possible, then wince and exclaim as the osprey hits the water with a splash. We don’t keep score but surely ospreys bat well under .300. Even if they do succeed, the flight back to the nest is almost always harassed by a gull, or two, or even a crow, who probably bat over .300.


Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Gulls

In the fall the wind often blows hard and steady out of the north and east, and this gives the gulls a chance to strut their stuff. I use the word “strut” deliberately, not only because what gulls do in the wind is like walking proudly on it but also because they do it with fixed wings, bound to their bodies as if by pieces of metal. I’ve watched the gulls sailing straight into the storm, fast, scores of them all moving north, hardly moving their wings, certainly not flapping them, in what can only be described as the perfect use of a natural body.

I'd like also to use words like “joy” and “pleasure,” and that's fine for me but not for them. Even if a gull could suddenly speak English and describe what he's doing, I still wouldn't understand him. I don't know how a bird weighing a few pounds can glide seemingly without effort into a wind gusting to 40 mph. I don't know why they're all going north this particular morning and none south. I don't know what new marvelous perspective they get on rocks and waves each time they twitch their wings a bit to take advantage of some unknown lift and drag. It's a miracle.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 


Monday, June 9, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Loon

My bird-watching occurs mostly during hours on the deck or walks in the woods. Here’s my literary version of a life-list (don’t worry, it’s short).
The loon is first and foremost. It’s a magical bird. Its body is sleek and painted, its need for pure water and solitude is paramount, it is territorial both fiercely and tenderly, its call is of course eerie, and most of all, those amazing circle dances on the lakes are reminders of the things we're losing. These days I see loons on the ocean or on Lake Megunticook, from the shore or from the kayak. They float and dive, dignified and leisurely, like bankers on holiday. All propriety, no savagery, except in those far-off dances.


Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Birds

Like almost every animal in Maine, birds have been sorely used by humans. Shore birds especially, and in the 19th century especially, suffered from our basic need for eggs and meat and our frivolous need for feathers. The wild turkey was nearly hunted out (but is now making a strong comeback). But there never was a major industry involved, no puffin weirs, no sea gull canneries, no teal trawlers. Birds are neither so delectable nor so numerous. No, Maine birds endured, and continue to endure, a different kind of suffering, nagging and constant, but one that will ultimately be just as destructive if we don’t change our ways.
Out of the 300 or so species of birds found in Maine, a third are in some present danger. As we develop the coasts, the salt marshes fill in, or sink, or silt up, and the ducks and wading birds leave, and we lose stopover habitat. We put in docks and houses on the lake shores, and the loons lose their life-long nesting sites. We use pesticides and the bald eagle eggs won’t hatch. We burn coal, and the mercury byproducts enter the fish that the diving and wading birds depend on. We drive motorboats across swimming fowl, sometimes deliberately for the “sport of it.” We use lead fishing sinkers; the loons mistake them for pebbles and are poisoned. We continue to pump great quantities of carbon dioxide into the air, and the warming climate changes habitat ranges, food supplies and migratory stopovers. Every bird species seems like a canary in a coal mine.
       I’m no serious birder.  My life-list consists of a small piece of paper stuck in Sibley’s Guide to Birds, a list of some twenty shore birds compiled in the first heady months of owning a house on the coast, a list not touched in 15 years.  Yet I can’t imagine the Maine landscape without its birds.


Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook