Purple sandpipers PHOTO COURTESY OF HAWK HENRIES

Ruby-crowned kinglet fights own reflection



Birds may very well be “tucking their heads under their wings” to keep warm these winter days and nights, as the old poem says. Two tiny ruby-crowned kinglets seemed oblivious to the cold temp and vigorously searched for tiny insects hidden from sight on bark and twigs. These tiny feathered mites are with us all winter. These little birds are often overlooked because of their size even though they frequent our dense spruce woods.

Sometimes you get good looks at them when one sees its reflection in a window pane or car mirror and proceeds to try and chase “that other male bird” out of its territory. One ruby-crowned kinglet spent many days at a window on our house one winter as it fought its own reflection. The kinglet’s stubbier tail distinguishes it from warblers.

Kinglets are insectivores, which would seem to be a problem for any bird in the winter woods in Maine. Their nests are placed high in the spruce branches, from eight to 40 feet high. Kinglets may sometimes be very tame and allow you to get quite close. Watch for them now traveling about with chickadees and other small birds. They’re very nice birds to see.

On the recent bird count day in this area, an Iceland gull was seen off one of our outer islands. This is one of those special northern visitors coming here in the winter. This gull is very pale all over its body. They are generally quiet when you see them in the winter. You have to be very observant and good at noticing small features and subtle variations to identify these northern visitors.

If you spend any time along the shore or out on the water, you should be able to see the three types of ducks called scoters here now. The three scoters are black scoters, surf scoters and white-winged scoters, often called coots, by hunters. You’ll need binoculars to see them nicely, but they’re well worth looking at. The white-winged scoters are here all year, but at this time, they are here in great numbers. From September until April, they are around in considerable numbers. The white wing patch on the all-black male is easy to see and helps identify this sea duck.

The male surf scoter looks as if it is hunching its shoulders and showing off its handsome colorful head. Its bill is quite colorful, containing orange, yellow and white. Look up this bird to see what I mean. The female is mostly brown and appears smaller and not “hunched up.” You’ll need your binoculars or scope to get the best looks at them.

The third scoter is the black scoter, with its bright orange bill. Females are mostly brown. Know these females by the company they keep. They summer on tundra lakes. They are here in great numbers in March and April and can be seen in large numbers, called rafts, floating off shore. If you go looking at scoters, take a good bird identification book with you and your binoculars or scope. It’s the kind of birding you can actually do on a very cold day from the comfort of your car. Pick any location on or off island that gets you close to the shore. One of my favorite spots is Marlboro Beach off island.

This small beach is often a place where I see horned larks, and with my car as my blind, the birds are very close. The distinctive facial markings are special to see on this northern visitor. They especially like this beach, for it is open like the beaches in Newfoundland and farther north where they nest. I was surprised last summer as I stepped out of my car in preparation to hike to a gannet colony on the southern tip of Newfoundland when I startled a horned lark just a few feet from me. The parking area was on top of a cliff with nothing but an open pasture where sheep lived. After a 20-minute walk up and over the pastureland, we came to the edge of a very high cliff, and right across from our cliff, not many feet away, was an enormous gannet colony filled with nesting gannets. It was like being in a National Geographic special and was a never-to-be-forgotten view and experience.

A couple of green-winged teals were observed on the bird count, and they are definitely a bird to keep in mind wherever ducks are seen, places like the Bass Harbor Bridge where there is open water and spots like the pond next to the Somesville Library. The bits of open water attract such birds and are always good places to check for odd bird visitors.

Green-winged teals are conspicuous because of their small size as compared to other local ducks. The male green-winged teal has a gorgeous reddish-brown head with a contrasting iridescent green band extending behind the eye. It truly is a beautiful bird. The female is more apt to be recognized for her small size and the company she keeps. With a few exceptions, male birds are more beautifully colored.

Since snow has recently fallen, this is a good time to look for tracks and signs of wildlife you may have missed. A friend sent me some stunning photos of purple sandpipers recently, so I know they are around.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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