Nature is full of surprises and you never know when you are going to be treated to a wonderful sighting on and off this island. A gyrfalcon was seen this past week in Trenton and this is definitely a special sighting! This large hawk’s home base is in the high Arctic south to Labrador and Quebec. Only in the winter do individuals roam south into the northern United States. On the Acadia National Park checklist it is listed as a rare visitor in the winter months. This falcon is a very large hawk and, as with all falcons, it has long pointed wings and a long pointed tail. They fly with fast wing strokes on wings built for speed. Consider yourself very fortunate if you see one.
The wide open stretches around the airport and near the Kisma Preserve area suit Arctic bird visitors for they like open areas for hunting. Their home areas are barren and wide open. That’s why we can often see snowy owls in that area. I have a wonderful photo taken along the road there of a snowy owl spitting out a pellet (non-edible parts of its food in a oblong shaped package). Scientists learn much from these pellets made up of fur and bones. They are not as disgusting as one might think and so helpful in learning what the owl has been eating. A young scientist we knew years ago once examined a large number of pellets and recorded every creature he could identify from the bones. He reassembled the bones and then recorded exactly what the owl had been feeding on. It was a very scholarly and informational chart.
Another nice sighting from a column reader was that of a sharp-shinned hawk. Hawks can often be difficult to recognize exactly if you only get a quick look in the trees. The picture sent to me was a big help since the body shape and tail were clearly visible. The sharp-shinned hawk is an accipiter, which means it has small head, short wings and a long tail. Adult birds have a barred breast and immature birds have a streaked breast. The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest accipiter we see here. They fly with several quick beats and a sail.
The sharp-shinned hawk is a woodland hawk and one you are quite likely to see grabbing a bird at your feeder. Your feeder birds come to eat seeds. This hawk comes to eat the feeder birds. Your chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, etc. know it is a potential enemy and are always on guard. The hawk waits and plans its attack on the slower birds, ones not paying attention and the old and sick. In the larger picture, this hawk is keeping the neighborhood birds in a healthier state. Don’t begrudge the hawk its meal.
Another column reader saw a white-throated sparrow this past week and wondered if that was normal. According to the official bird records, white-throated sparrows are commonly seen at this time, but their numbers will increase in April and will remain high until November. This sparrow is a beautiful bird and very friendly. Even without a perfect whistle you can usually get into a conversation with one nearby if you imitate its whistle.
Most of the white-throated sparrows winter throughout the eastern United States. They are some here even now, but more will come in April and then leave again in November.
When living on an island you are never far from shore and even in the worst of weather you can drive to the beach to see what is happening. From the comfort of my car I can watch red-breasted mergansers, the size of mallards, swimming about. They look like toy clipper ships. The Latin name for this bird means diver with teeth, although red-breasted mergansers do not really have teeth. Their long narrow bills are serrated so they can nab and hold on to slippery food. Fish is the merganser’s favorite food, but it will also eat various mollusks and aquatic insects. These birds winter here and as far south as Florida and the Gulf Coast, and they breed in the northern states and in the Arctic.
In January the ice fishing usually begins but our weather this winter has not made ice very safe in most places. Fishermen will need to be very cautious. Salmon, trout and pickerel become sought after treasures brought up through the ice. Ice fishing is a cold sport but for many it is irresistible.
Eagles often join in on the fun and grab a fish whenever they see an opportunity. Such close encounters with these beautiful birds are special. A fisherman’s feet may be wet and cold but the sport is worth any discomfort each year for them.
Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.