Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Birding Maine with Beth

For me, part of the fun of birding is finding someone to go birding with. In July I travelled to Maine where I met my new blogging and birding friend, Beth of Beth's Stories.

We met at the Boiler Room restaurant in Wilton, ME, which is near Wilson Lake. The Boiler Room is housed in an old mill which still has the mill creek running alongside.

Beth and I sit inside the brick lined boiler room dining area which still has the remnants of its past hanging about on the walls and ceiling. It was the first time we met but we felt like old friends. It is an easy meeting. Her red hair catches my eye. I always wanted to be a redhead. Her bright eyes sparkle behind her new glasses. We order our meals and chat, but we are eager to finish so we can go out birding together.

After our meal we head out to find birds. A few clouds overhead threaten rain as we stop by the smooth blue lake to take a few photos and see if there were any birds on the water. Wilson Lake, also called Wilson pond, is just one of many with that name in Maine. My grandfather use to camp and fish at another Wilson pond up by Moosehead Lake far to the north. I was born on his birthday and it is because of him that I feel such a connection to this state. However, there are no birds on this lake today, so we drive over to a nearby cemetery I know of to see what we can see.

We park our car in a quiet corner where large eastern white pines ring the edge of the graveyard. We glance up to see the evidence of woodpeckers, but no birds. Then, we hear a ruckus in the trees and watch as a family of blue jays flies into the pines.

The young jays screech and squawk at the parents to feed them. The parents are frantic to oblige. We laugh and enjoy the show. Then, I see some movement across the street. The black and white barring of a hairy woodpecker hanging about flahses by and lands clinging to a tree trunk. Perhaps he is the one who made at least some of the holes we observed earlier. After spotting a red-winged blackbird in a wet meadow beyond the trees, a chickadee and a few mourning doves we head back to the car and decide to try someplace else.

I suddenly remember a place I had seen on the back side of the lake from when I lived here before. We drive west along the lake until we reach Rt. 2. I take a right, which is west, and just a bit further we turn off Rt. 2 onto Pond Rd. We follow the road around a bend to where it opens into farmland and meadows. There on the left I see the gravel parking area just as I remembered it. We pull in and grab our binoculars and cameras. Even before we cross the road to the trail I spot an Eastern Kingbird sitting on the gate. I am thrilled, for Beth and I had been discussing this very species earlier and she had mentioned that she had not seen it. Our first bird at the Foothills Land Conservancy site is not only a Kingbird, but a life bird for Beth!

Then, as we cross the street to the meadow we see a Savannah Sparrow catching insects in the meadow grass. A warm sun shines down on us filtered by the threatening clouds. The air is muggy but a light breeze ruffles our hair now and again. I did not remember to bring bug spray and neither did Beth. I know I will pay for this foray into the meadow, but I will not be deterred by mosquitoes. This is the only day and time that Beth and I have. We forge on.

Soon I hear this strange whistling buzz in the trees overhead. A quick look up reveals a flock of cedar waxwings silhouetted against the patchy blue sky. All my senses are on alert as we walk onward. Someone has mowed a path around the meadow, which is thick with tall grasses and wildflowers.

Beth is much better than I am at tuning into the wildflowers we walk amongst. She points them out to me and I stop to photograph them, all the while listening for birds and watching for winged motion in the trees. Suddenly I grab her arm as my mouth drops open, for I cannot believe what I am seeing in the nearby trees. A bird with a curved bill is clinging almost sideways to a branch. I see it's clear white breast and long chestnut tail. It looks at me through wary eyes rimmed with red and freezes. I'm torn between trying to show the bird to Beth and trying to get a photograph. Beth hears the excitement in my voice as I try to point the bird out to her. I raise my camera to get a shot of the cuckoo and it spooks. Beth watches as the bird flies across the meadow to the trees beyond. I never expected to see a cuckoo. It wasn't even on my radar screen. I know it only as a bird in a book until now. Later, I scour my bird guides for clues as to which cuckoo it was, for there is a yellow-billed and a black-billed cuckoo. I was hoping they had different ranges, but their ranges do overlap. But, since I clearly remember seeing the red skin around the eyes I decide it must have been a black-billed cuckoo. This, too, is one of the pleasures of birding, for birding is a puzzle to be solved.

We continue on our way, but poor Beth endures me repeatedly remarking, "I can't believe I saw a cuckoo. I can't believe I saw a cuckoo" for the rest of our hike. As the trail leads from one meadow to another I'm struck by the beauty of these milkweed blossoms. Though I have grown up with milkweed I am more used to the dry seed pods and the fluffy down that floats on the wind. This is my first time really noticing the blossoms that create the seeds in the first place. The unopened buds appears like tiny purple fruits, but when they open the berries become pink petticoats on a green stem flanked by large shady green leaves. No wonder butterflies like them. What a pretty place to rest and feed.

As we walk along we spot this huge beetle crawling in the grass. I have no idea what it is, but Beth is not afraid to pick it up for better viewing. I'm content to take a picture and let it crawl away. Birding not only provides the opportunity to see birds, it connects me with nature in so many other ways.

As we walk along through the meadow I glance back at the view behind me. These mountains to the west are framed by the trees that ring the meadow and by the tall meadow grasses and weeds.

Farther on I am surprised to find a few maple leaves in the marsh already turning, a reminder that here in Maine, winter is never far away.

Then we find a few ripe raspberries growing along the edge of the meadow. Beth and I pick a few, surprised that the birds have left any at all. We hear the pounding of a woodpecker and find a little downy working on a nearby tree.

As meadow leads to meadow, we cross this plank bridge over a small brook, almost hidden in the dense grass.

Here in this wet meadow we find common yellow throats galore. They pop in and out of the grasses and I snap numerous pictures before I finally get one where the bird is fully exposed. He looks like a mischievous little bandit with his black mask. I'm sure he is having a good laugh at us!

We finally reach the marshy end of the meadow. Beyond Wilson Lake lies to the east. This looks like perfect moose habitat, but we see none. However, the mosquitoes are out in force and I slap away at my legs and arms trying to ignore their bites.

We follow the path back through the meadow to our car. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we walk in companionable silence enjoying the experience for what it is.

Back at the car Beth sits patiently on a rock while I photograph the farm field full of recently baled hay. The slanting light of the setting sun has thrown a cape of gold across the land.

I drive Beth back to where she parked her car and we hug each other good-bye knowing that we have each made a new friend. This is the joy of birding: new friends, new places, new discoveries. But as I get in my car to drive back to the hotel, I experience one of the pains as my welted legs start to itch with over 100 mosquito bites. I'll carry this memento home with me to Arizona where it will linger for many weeks. But it was worth every mosquito bite I got and I would do it all over again. Thank you Beth for meeting me and sharing this experience. To read Beth's account of this day click on Finding Birds in Wilton.

Sign embedded in a rock at the far end of the meadow near the marsh.

Visit Wrenaissance Reflections to see edition # 83 of I and the Bird. Click on the button above to view the main web site.

Birds seen:

Location: Foothills Land Conservancy
Observation date:7/14/08
Notes: This place was alive with birds and mosquitoes. So much to
see. I will definitely go back. Beth and I both took photos.
Number of species: 12

Black-billed Cuckoo 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Phoebe 2
Eastern Kingbird 1
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 2
American Robin 1
Cedar Waxwing 12
Common Yellowthroat 5
Savannah Sparrow 10
Song Sparrow 2
American Goldfinch 9
Photographer's note: All of today's phototgraphy is by Kathie with the Nikon D80 and the 70-300mm lens set in sports mode for the birds and landscape mode for the landscape shots.


Beth said...

Oh Kathie! What fun to re-live that day(without the mosquitos). The pictures are beautiful--I now realize that the camera lens (and the photographer) makes a big difference in bird photographs. I will bookmark this page forever. Stay cool out there--no snow here yet.

kjpweb said...

Wonderful place!
And equally wonderful to share such a day with a fellow blogger!
Cheers, Klaus

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

What fun to meet a new blogging friend face to face! It sounds and loks like you both had a great outing. It's nice to find a friend with whom companionable silence is OK. Kathie, your descriptive writing style makes me feel like a third friend along for the walk!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like and looks like you both had a great time. And you have seen a good share of birds. Most I have never seen here where I live.

my Alien

Kathie Brown said...

Beth, I'm so glad you like this post. It was truly a fun day.

Hi klaus, Lynne and Abe! I'm coming over to visit you right now!

Shelley said...

I so enjoyed reading about your birding adventure w/ a fellow blogging friend. It's nice to know there are so many nice people out there. Loved your yellow throat photo too!

Quiet Paths said...

Sounds like fun was had this day. Great photos of a wonderful outing.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Kathie: Thanks for stopping by and leading back to this wonderful view of Maine through your eyes. A beautiful story of the walk and your birding. I tend to find birds by accident and enjoy them when I find them.

Deborah Godin said...

What a great day of birdwatching and nature communing I just had vicariously through your blog. It's just lovely the way you alternate the journal and photos, kept me in suspense. And a cuckoo too - woo hoo - good for yoo!!

Rambling Woods said...

What a great trip you had. Now I need a birding friend. I wonder who would humor me? LOL..I am sorry that you know someone who raises chukars just to release them. That is sad....

Pappy said...

I knew you two would hit it off. It's hard not to like Beth. I'm glad you were able to get together in the outdoors of Maine and look at the scenery and the birds. I want to make it up that way again before too long. Great journal of your visit. Pappy

Kathie Brown said...

Shellmo, Beth was my first blogging friend I met. It was so much fun.

Quiet paths,thank you and hello.

fishing guy, I find most birds accidently on purpose. I go to places where I hope they will be, but whatever I find is always a happy accident!

Debroah, I was so psyched about that cuckoo and so frustrated that I didn't get a photo! The image is burned into my brain though. To me, it is like a phanthom bird. Does it even really exist?

Ramblings woods, I'd be glad to be your birding friend! As for the chukars, she only did that once. I met her after the fact and figured it out. She doesn't raise birds any more.

Pappy, I hope you make it there before the snow flies or you may be stuck for the winter! Beth is a sweetheart and I wish we lived near each other. I'd love to go hiking with her. She is one tough cookie when it comes to the outdoors. Her gentle demeaner belies that fact.

Kathryn and Ari said...

Re: your comment-
Great state park memory! You're actually thinking of Lake George, not Lake St. George (confusing, eh?). This one is on Rte 3 between Belfast and Augusta. I haven't spent much time at the other, but it looks quite a bit "gunkier" than the sainted lake.

Michele said...

I've never gone birding before... it's sounds like a wonderful adventure. I would be lost all on my own, however. I'm not good at identifying the birds but it would be neat to go with someone experienced. I love hiking and walking the mountains and often come across the feathered critters but never really photograph them... they are often too quick for me!!
Great photos! Beautiful and lots of fun as well.
Mountain Retreat

Kathie Brown said...

Ah, thanks for clearing that up, Kathryn. It amazes me how many places in Maine have the same or similar names!

Rocky Mt. Girl, birding is as simple as getting a bird guide and noticing what you are looking at. Most people start slowly enjoying the birds in their yards, but if the fever catches you, watch out!

Unknown said...

Beautiful blog and photos. Also thanks for swinging by my blog and commenting. I will have to come back later--right now I'm still at work (I'm self employed so it's my dime).
I'm hoping to get in some birding with the fall migration.

bobbie said...

that was a beautiful day and I enjoyed every minute of it with you. Your first picture of the lake, and the one of the path through the meadow are so lovely. Glad you met a new friend and had such fun together.

Margaret Cloud said...

First I have to say this is an awesome blog, and to enjoy it with a blogger friend makes it worth while. Your photos looked great, I love birds and anything that has to do with nature.

Amila Salgado said...

Sounds like a really good trip, Kathie! Lovely countryside and wonderful captures. It feels like I have been on your walk!

Kathie Brown said...

sarala, no worries, thanks for stopping by.

bobbie, I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Margret cloud, welcome! Thanks for the visit!

gallicisssa, nice to see you! Perhaps someday we will walk together!

Mary said...

You birded with Beth! How cool!

I've never met a blogger in person and I'm so looking forward to meeting a whole flock of them next April.

Thanks for sharing beautiful photographs and memories here!



Kathie Brown said...

Mary, it was so much fun and I hope you have a great time with the girls. It will be so much fun to see everyone's different posts about the experience. You do know that we are all waiting to hear about this!

Larry said...

That's fun to meet up with other birders.I've only met a few bloggers so far. I love Maine but havcen't been there since I've really gotten into birding.I wouldn't have expected cuckoos there-never really though about it-good for you!Sounds like the two of you had a nice timn.