Both Mainers and tourists love to see – and sometimes even interact – with wildlife. I’ve probably had more encounters with wildlife than many folks, given the time I spend outdoors, in the woods, and on the waters of our state. Here is the fourth in a series relating some of my more memorable encounters.
Birds in the House
One morning Linda was getting ready for school when she spotted a chickadee on her computer, apparently brought into the house by the cat. Another time, the cat brought in a sparrow. Lin yelled at the cat and he dropped the bird. It promptly lifted off and flew into my office. Lin put on a pair of gloves and chased the bird around the room, finally catching it and setting it outside. Not all wildlife-in-the-home stories have a bad ending.
Bats used to be a particular challenge. In the early years, I’d try to kill them with a fireplace poker. For years there was a hole in our kitchen ceiling where I once missed a bat with the poker. After getting educated to the benefits bats bring to the neighborhood, and worried about their diminishing populations, I started catching them in a long-handled fishing net, gently releasing them outside. Sadly, we haven’t seen a bat in or outside our house in years. I miss them now.
Up to camp, I once caught a bat while fly fishing. I had just cast and the bat swept down and grabbed my fly right in the air, hooking itself. I reeled it in, lifted it into the boat, and carefully released it. Yes, I practice catch and release!
A Saw whet owl got stuck in our garage once and knocked itself out trying to escape. I discovered it, picked it up, held it for a while, and when it came to, released it outside.
Linda and I started bird watching about 12 years ago, after seeing our neighbor Dona Seegers in our front yard with binoculars. The first time I saw a Blackburnian Warbler, I was hooked. We graduated from bird watchers to birders when we started traveling, just to see birds. With four birding trips to Texas, one to Arizona, and one to Costa Rica, I guess you could say we are hooked. We even spend some of our time in Italy birding.
One time, we spotted a beautiful bird along the stream that runs through the Italian village of Greve. It was bright yellow with a red head. We raced back to our apartment to look it up in our bird book, and were surprised to find it was a European Goldfinch. And the first time we saw a Hoophoe – well, Wow! What a magnificent bird!
We spend a weekend in May on Monhegan Island every year, where sometimes the migrating birds are so tired they are all sitting on the ground. Up to camp, we love seeing unusual birds like Spruce Grouse and Borial Chickadees. This May we’ll be enjoying a birding weekend at Claybrook Mountain Lodge in Highland Plantation. Last year with the help of our guides we identified 98 species of birds there in two days.
Every August finds us in Lubec, birding on the South Lubec sandbar within sight of the place my Mom grew up and only a short distance from West Quoddy Head Lighthouse where my grandfather Ephraim Johnson kept the light for three decades.
Maine’s top birding guide and author of the Maine Birding Trail, Bob Duchesne says the sandbar is the best place in Maine to see migrating shorebirds and he does not exaggerate. The Nature Conservancy purchased the sandbar and it is now in the ownership of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. But the birds rent space there, by the thousands, from early August to mid-September, on their way south.
We spot an amazing array of shorebirds there. I wished so much my mother was alive so I could ask her: Did you know what an amazing place this is when you were growing up here? Did you notice all these birds?
Linda and I were working in the garden when we heard a voice hollering from the woods. I thought I heard, “I’ve got a loon and need help.”
That didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but sure enough, when I stepped into the woods, there was Shearon Murphy with a loon cradled under her arm. And here is that loon’s story.
Jane Naliboff photographed the loon the morning of September 7 on Minnehonk Lake. When she got home and loaded the photos into her computer, something looked very wrong. So she emailed the photos to Keel Kemper, a wildlife biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Keele agreed that something was wrong with the loon and recommended a rescue. Jane contacted Avian Haven, and late that afternoon, Shearon Murphy, a volunteer waterfowl rescuer, showed up with her kayak, paddled out to the loon, now in the outlet of the lake right behind our Mount Vernon home, and simply reached down and picked up the loon. Definitely not something that would ever happen with a healthy loon.
Looking into the right eye of that beautiful creature, I too knew that something was very very wrong. The loon’s head and neck languished on Shearon’s hip as I drove her back to her vehicle, where Jane met us, along with Barbara Skapa who had joined in the rescue mission. We loaded the loon into a box, covered it up with a sheet I’d grabbed from our garage, and Shearon took off to deliver the loon to Avian Haven, where a large lead sinker was found in its gizzard.
The next day, Jane published her story and lots of photos in the Daily Bulldog, reporting, “The good news is that after lavage, (pouring water into the gizzard to flush out the sinker) it worked. The sinker came out! It’s now getting chelation therapy to lower the lead level to a normal range. When that happens, it will be released back to its natural environment. It’s a happy ending for what was almost another dead water bird due to human behavior.”
Boy, I was some old happy to read this and pleased with the small role I played in the rescue of this beautiful creature.
Alas, at 9 pm that night, Jane posted this: “It is with great sadness and disappointment that I must tell you: despite a successful lavage procedure, our friend survived only a few more hours before succumbing to lead poisoning. Everyone did all they could, and we are all heartbroken.”
This tragedy led me to help a coalition of groups led by Maine Audubon to ban lead sinkers and fishing lures. We’re not there yet, but we’ve banned the worst of them.
For birds, it’s all about habitat. You might think our front yard is a bit scraggly. I used to keep it neat, cutting all the brush, but then I learned that the brush was great habitat for birds – including the yellow warblers that nest in those bushes to the left of our front door.
Fishing for Birds
I knew I was hooked on birding one year when Harry Vanderweide and I were on a very remote lake in Quebec, fishing for native brook trout, when I asked Harry to reel up his line because I wanted to motor over to a nearby island where I’d spotting a flock of very interesting birds.
Harry should have been prepared for that, because we had been turkey hunting earlier that year when I left our turkey blind to find and identify a bird I’d heard singing in the woods behind us.
If you’d ever sat in a canoe, fishing, and seen an Osprey dive straight down into the pond, creating a big splash, and emerging with a fish – well, you’d never forget it. I especially enjoy our neighborhood Bald Eagles who often sit in a tall pine, on the edge of Hopkins Pond, where I can watch them from my office window.
Bird watching is a wonderful hobby. All you need is an inexpensive pair of binoculars and a bird book. And when you see you first warbler, you’ll be hooked.
Next Monday I will post the final column in this Wildlife Watching series with stories about moose and deer .