Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our Frozen Smiles

Kathie freezes near the Hardy Boat dock
The historic sub-zero arctic temps continued to challenge humans and wildlife alike.  Each day we layered ourselves with 4 or 5 outfits.  Some days, we'd drive in -11 to -17 temps. 

We spot a VERY cold Red Fox in South Bristol. 
Our focus continued on the tips of several peninsulas in Maine.  We needed the open ocean water where the waves would crash.  It was the habitat for several important life birds, the Great Cormorant and Purple Sandpiper. We brought the scope and scanned the endless "smoking" ocean. But before we did all of this fun ocean birding, we had to begin our daily routine.  

Blue Jays mob the feeders in great numbers
Kathie filled her feeders and did backyard bird counts.  Because it was so cold, every creature with feathers and fur fed from her feeders.  These backyard birds were otherwise scarce in most places we visited.  By feeding the birds in these historic freezing temps, we gave them a fighting chance to survive.  And yes, there were birds that froze to death.  Most of the birds here are hardy, but I discovered that Mourning Doves do not do well in these temps. 

The Slate colored Dark-eyed Juncos enjoy the cold snap as only juncos can

After we had a little breakfast, fed the birds and put on thousands of layers of clothes, I kissed my buddy Coda good-bye.  This pooch stole my heart. 

My Coda....I mean their Coda.  This dog was my new best buddy
It was out into the wild world away from the safety of the warm house and bird feeders to find ocean birds. Kathie was excited about an area known as Pemaquid Point. Looking back at our adventures, it continues to be one of my favorite places to look for birds. 

Pemaquid Point was an important spot to visit as it has historically had Purple Sandpipers 
We had birded here back in the summer of 2014 so I was somewhat familiar with the area.  In the gray hazy skies, we unloaded our gear and moved to the ocean's edge. I looked down and observed movement along the rocks. Before the trip, I studied the Purple Sandpiper well. For me, understanding the Purple Sandpiper would be like understanding the Rock Sandpiper of the West Coast.  Their habitat is similar. 

Purple Sandpipers reminded me of a cross between American Dippers and Spotted Sandpipers as they bobbed and weaved in and out of the ocean waves
So I watched from the distance and carefully planned my descent to the edge of the ocean.  It was a bit scary but I needed better pics of these birds. I had Kathie spot me from above.  Snow covered ice patches between slippery rocks.  At one point, the snow stopped and the ocean began.  The water was deep and the current was strong so I stayed a safer distance from these birds.  But I was able to see their orange bills and legs well.  

Pemaquid Point is a bit magical.  It's a lovely snapshot of coastal Maine.  

Kathie took me to a local store where they sold Whoopy Pies.  I hung out in the back of the store and listened to the Mainer's accents and it made me smile.  I bought a Blueberry Muffin and Kathie had the Whoopy Pie.  However, we did not purchase any cigarettes for the road:)

Kathie loves creating checklists so we were constantly adding data.  I did not like listing outside and freezing my fingers off. 

So we'd stop for coffee and do our lists inside of a nice warm cafe. 

For days, we continued our ocean adventures counting gulls, guillemots, eagles, ducks, scoters and grebes. We always kept our eyes open for an alcid close to shore.  

A Black Guillemot in winter plumage
I'd scan the shorelines and look for blips on the ocean's horizon. If I saw rafts of ducks, etc, we'd get the scope and count birds. 

Depending on the tide, birds were either close or far.  If the tide was high, we wouldn't move on. Sorry Blondie. We'd stay because the birds were close.  If the tide was far out, we'd have a difficult time spotting birds. So we planned everything around high tide. 

The frost tinged winds challenged many birders.  At one area, I tried getting close to the Harlequin Ducks but it was too dangerous. If we stood on the point, we froze.  If we scoped below off the point, we were warmer but then, we weren't able to see everything on the ocean.  It was a Catch 22. 

Another birder joins us with his dog as he searches for his last US duck of the year, the Harlequin Duck
Sometimes we'd see a large blip in the distance.  It was either a seal or a large cormorant sitting awkwardly on a rock.  I thought I'd have difficulty ID'ing this bird but when I saw how massive this cormorant was, it was a no brainer! Another lifer achieved!

The Great Cormorant is a winter visitor to the coastal waters of Maine.  It's a large bodied cormorant that flies with rapid shallow wing flaps.  When it sits on a rock, it looks like a seal folded over.  

We thought it would get better but little did we know, the worst was yet to come, the Bomb Cyclone.  To top it off, there was a supermoon which would wreck havoc on the coastal towns with the higher than normal tides.  After a week of beautiful birding in horrible conditions, we'd discover just how challenging the birding would get.  

Example of clothing layering.  Under that gray coat, there is a vest, sweater and shirt. The sweater provided a hood that would cover my hat and head from the severe winds.  The scarf would cover my large nose and face. 

My final write explores the last treks of our days in Maine.  Stay tuned for more!


  1. Hello Chris!:) Brrr!! You look cold! I would probably be wearing more layers than you in those temperatures. Lovely shots of Maine, and the wildlife you were able to see. Those backyard birds are beauties, and Coda is a sweetie, what a great photo! Hope this year is a good birding year for you. Take care!:)

  2. I don't know, Maine in January!!?? :-) You got some beautiful photos at great expense to your comfort! That Pemaquid Point photo is so glorious! Cold and beautiful! And what a pretty little art museum. Oh, I loved your Dark eyed Junco...I did a painting of them for our daughter that I will be posting in a couple of days.

  3. Chris, you did a great job of capturing the flavor and feelings of birding in Maine. I love the Guillemot photo. I can't wait to read about the Cyclone bomb. Feel free to use those snow encrusted photos I took of you! Lol. Have you thawed out yet? Seriously, that was one of my favorite things we did.

    BTW, I am glad to hear you fell in love with the Pemaquid Peninsula. Now I wish I had taken you back down it on your last day.

  4. I'm already waiting to hear about your bomb cyclone birding!

  5. Lots of great birds, a cute puppy & some yummy looking treats. Can't say I'd enjoy the cold but I did enjoy your post.

  6. It looks really cold on your pictures but you made it as usual finding the birds you were looking for...

  7. Gorgeous photos - love those beautiful Blue Jays (so colourful). You saw some superb species in what must have been very challenging conditions! Love the cakes :)

  8. I am shivering. And would have been happy to stay behind and play with the adorable Coda.


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