Back in September I had gone for a hike up Great Pond Mountain in Orland with the Bangor Chapter of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club.
The hike was an easy three- mile round trip. The weather could not have been better, nor the company more enjoyable. Topping it all off, some good birds made an appearance.
On the way up the mountain, white-throated sparrows and juncos flushed from the trailside undergrowth. Although they moved quickly, both were easy to identify by voice: the sparrows alternated their sharp, “chink” call notes with their softer, slurred “tseet” notes, the latter often given from within the shrouded privacy of a spruce or pine; and the juncos announced their presence with their bell-like, tinkling calls, their white tail edges flashing as they moved among the trees.
The even higher-pitched call notes of cedar waxwings drew our attention to a trio of birds perched atop a bare spruce, sunning themselves. They were so close and so cooperative we got excellent views of their namesake waxy red tips on the ends of their secondary wing feathers.
We reached the small mountain’s summit (at 1,038 feet) and took a break for lunch. Here we enjoyed expansive views of Mount Desert Island, Blue Hill Mountain, and Frenchman, Blue Hill, and Penobscot bays in the distance. Below us, Craig Pond sparkled and turkey vultures cruised along, probably scanning the shoreline or mountainside for something to scavenge.
“Probably waiting for one of us to fall off,” someone in the group joked.
Despite their ugly, bare, red heads, turkey vultures are beautiful in flight, especially when viewed from above. Their body feathers are the richest, warmest brown, tinged palest gold by the sun. They soar with an awkward grace: their spread wings angle up very slightly from their bodies, making it seem as if they are teetering in the air on the edge of a stall; but this is only an illusion. They are strong fliers.
Soon after that we saw a small falcon zip over the top of the mountain. This feathered missile flew out over Craig Pond, turned abruptly, and flew back toward us, flying parallel to the cliff face below us. This view allowed me to see its rust-colored back, telling me it was an American kestrel we were seeing.
These beautiful little raptors are our most numerous and widespread falcons, breeding throughout the whole of North America. Come fall, those in Maine migrate south, although not very far; they may reside year-round in much of the United States.
The kestrel giving us the air show was probably on migration, for this was nearing peak time for raptor movement. The air was crisp and clear with favorable northwesterly winds; perfect conditions for an easy flight. The small bird of prey slowly circled upward, being lifted by the rising columns of warm air radiating from the cliff face. I saw it snag a dragonfly in midair before it disappeared into the distance.
Finally, what day would be complete without a bald eagle? After eating our lunch, we trekked over to the north face of the mountain. As we admired Mount Katahdin in the distance, someone looked up and noticed the eagle flying overhead, almost at the limit of sight. Even at that distance, its white head and tail contrasted sharply with its dark body, and stood out stunningly against the bright blue sky.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.
BDN bird columnist Chris Corio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org