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This stinks, I thought, as my toes stung from the cold and the rest of my body became chilled. But I remained determined, buoyed by the hope that we’d have good sightings to report for this year’s Christmas Bird Count.
And we did – within minutes, we spied a flock of about 40 crows circling over an area of the Penobscot River. They seemed extremely excited about something, cawing and screaming nonstop as they finally settled in several trees lining the icy river. A careful scan of the area with binoculars revealed the object of their interest – an adult bald eagle perched on a rock in the middle of the river. Its back was turned to us, but it was apparent that it had caught something and was enjoying a leisurely meal despite the yelling of the crows.
Downriver from this drama, five common goldeneye ducks were diving for food in the frigid water, along with a male common merganser. Three black ducks stood at the edge of the ice along the bank, heads tucked snugly into their back feathers as they rested.
A more careful search of the river turned up a coveted sighting of three Barrow’s goldeneyes among another group of common goldeneyes.
These two ducks are similar in appearance but do have some distinguishing features to aid in telling them apart. They are both squat, short-billed, black-and-white birds, but the pattern of their markings is the key: The common goldeneye has more white on its body, and its black head sports a small white oval just in front of its bill.
The Barrow’s goldeneye has a larger mantle of black on its back, with distinctive white slotting along its wings; its black head has a long, crescent-shaped patch of white before its bill.
Sightings on land were not meager fare. Along with mourning doves, chickadees and robins, a special treat was a flock of 13 tree sparrows. As they flew from shrub to shrub and foraged on the ground for seeds, we identified them by their rusty red caps, two-toned bills, and the small black spot in the middle of their chests. It was a joy to observe them and to listen to their delicate, musical calls.
The allures of bird-watching are many. They range from learning to identify many different species to observing behavior among flocks. It helps us become interested and aware in the world around us; it fosters the art of observation (and patience!); and it gets us outside. It is the perfect antidote to our stressful lives.
Bangor – Penobscot River
30 common goldeneyes
1 common merganser
2 Bonaparte’s gulls
1 great black-backed gull
2 bald eagles (adult and immature)
Bangor – Mount Hope Cemetery and around city
1 brown creeper
16 pine grosbeaks
6 red-breasted nuthatches
2 white-breasted nuthatches
12 dark-eyed juncos
5 blue jays
4 house finches
6 pine siskins
2 downy woodpeckers
1 red-tailed hawk
8 tufted titmice
If you’ve spotted birds in your neighborhood, e-mail Chris Corio, volunteer, in care of the Fields Pond Nature Center, firstname.lastname@example.org.