Wildlife

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We did not know what kind of local wildlife to expect in Maine. We were spoiled, animal-wise, having lived in Alaska for many years. Our home in Anchorage was in an area called “Hillside,” a gradual rise to the mountains of Chugach State Park, a vast and wild protected area just a ten-minute drive from our house.

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Powerline Pass trail in the Chugach. If you look carefully you’ll see a moose blocking the trail–a not uncommon occurrence.

Every spring, moose mothers-to-be migrated down the hills into populated areas to have their babies, in an attempt to avoid predation during birth and the newborns’ most helpless first weeks. Moose Babies.jpgOne scarred cow moose chose our neighborhood for her maternity ward several years running, giving us a succession of knobble-kneed moose calves to admire each spring. 129_2947Moose Mom w BabiesIn the fall, the adolescents returned to stock up for the winter on whatever was left in our garden and to strip our delectable lilac bush down to two bare nubs.Moose in the Paddock.jpg

Bears also came down from the mountains, looking for moose babies, garbage, and bird and dog food. Bird feeders, especially, seemed to be bear magnets. As a result, we could only feed birds when the bears were in hibernation–a period that became shorter in recent years with Anchorage’s increasingly warm winters. One year, our next-door neighbor ignored the bird feeder ban and this black bear knocked the food out of the feeder, pressed its paws into the seeds on the ground and then rolled on its back and licked the seed off its paws. He appeared to be relishing the easy feast.Yard Bear
We had an occasional lynx in the neighborhood and wolves nearby. Bald eagles were so common that we called them flying rats. Eagles in Kachemak Bay.jpgEagles
Alaska was a hard act to follow. But Maine is doing a pretty good job. On our first evening in our new house, we were treated to a fox family, running along the edge of the lawn to eat a pile of sunflower seeds left under the big white pine where the previous owners had hung their bird feeder (they emptied out the feeder and took it with them).IMG_0422.jpg Apparently foxes like bird food as much as bears do. IMG_0513.jpgThe three kits wrestled and tore around the lawn while the adults looked on. IMG_0518We continued to see the foxes in the early morning and evening for a few weeks and then they disappeared. IMG_0502
A wild turkey flock comes and goes, we have heard (but not seen) coyotes, and we once saw a deer running across the driveway. We were curious as to what we weren’t seeing and mounted a game camera on a driveway tree a few weeks ago.

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The game camera caught the turkeys strutting down the drive

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Game camera again–I could never have gotten this shot. 

We were thrilled to see that the foxes are still around.

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And not so thrilled to see that we have several deer hanging about.

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We didn’t have any deer in the garden last year and are hoping that these won’t be tempted this year.

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A recent snowfall showed that they have been bedding down in our woods and we have had tracks across our lawn.

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There were seven or eight of these spots in the snow where it looked like deer had bedded down.

So, it looks like a garden fence may be in our future.

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Rabbit (hare, actually) tracks

Of all of our Maine wildlife, the birds have given me the most pleasure. Because we could only feed birds in the dead of winter in Alaska, our feeder birds were mostly chickadees and redpolls. We have a much wider variety at our Maine feeder–chickadees, juncos, goldfinches, purple finches, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, and mourning doves. IMG_5509Unfortunately, aside from the chickadees–nothing fazes them–the birds here are the most camera-shy of any I’ve ever encountered. IMG_5644I have had a terrible time getting any decent photos this winter. IMG_5494I could do a whole post of bird bum photos. IMG_5490
I did manage to capture, however, bluebirds that swooped in last week to eat sumac berries and some suet from our feeder. IMG_5258They took me by surprise. I had no idea that bluebirds overwintered in Maine. Nor had I ever seen so many together. There were at least eight or ten of them, maybe more. They hung around for a few days and were gone. IMG_5267Perhaps we’ll put up some houses for them before spring.

Finally, Zoe is our perpetual wild life. The game camera caught her racing down the driveway with all four paws in the air.

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She thinks she’s a sled dog.

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Zoe can only dream. These are what real Alaskan sprint dogs look like.

She adores the snow-blower and follows it everywhere, occasionally stopping to attack the spumes of blowing snow, trying to capture it in her mouth.IMG_5430IMG_5440

We moved the game camera to deeper woods and will report back on what we find.

Maine Spring

IMG_0254When we set out on our trip, almost a year ago, I had visions of avoiding winter by following warm weather around the country.  I brought lots of hot weather clothes and flip flops, with a smattering of layers for occasional encounters with cold or rain.  I pictured continuously lounging in warm evening sunlight, drink in hand, tanned and relaxed.

We had a little of that.

Last June at Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

Last June at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

But not enough.  We enjoyed some sweet, sunny New England summer weather, but soon after we arrived in Georgia in November—the cold descended.  And it never really let up.  We stayed in Georgia for George’s shoulder surgery, but even if we had moved West as planned, we would have been dogged by unseasonably cold, wet weather.  And we were more susceptible than usual because we were living in a small travel trailer and a poorly insulated beach cottage.  To add insult to injury, while we were cold, shivering, and cold some more, Alaska had record high winter temperatures and little snow fall.  We had traveled to the wrong and ugly end of the polar express.

It did not take me long to break down and buy a variety of pants, long sleeved shirts and coats, while giving the stink eye to my summer clothes taunting me from the little trailer closet.  I needed all of those warm clothes when we left the South in early March and headed to Maine.  We had snow and temperatures in the twenties on our trip north.  Yuck.

It was still pretty cold when we arrived in Maine and we even had snow one night.

Harbor boats in their winter shrink wrap

Harbor boats in their winter shrink wrap

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Seals and gulls--they all look cold.

Seals and gulls–they all look cold.

Then spring—tentatively but surely—started to make its presence known.

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Skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage.

Clumps of frog eggs.

Clumps of frog eggs in a swamp.

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IMG_0018We are back in Massachusetts now for a week and it’s still quite cold, even though it’s late April.

I’m looking forward to summer warmth.  I hope it arrives.  One year it didn’t.  In 1816, after a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia, New England had the “Year Without a Summer,” with killing frosts and snow in June and July.  Summer took a vacation and left old man winter to house sit.  With our crazy current weather, who knows what summer will bring.IMG_9507IMG_0184IMG_0142IMG_9518IMG_0216

 

Fishing Lessons

IMG_8330 - CopyAfter spending a lot of time this winter watching birds, I learned that they have a wide variety of fishing styles, techniques, and skills.  I thought that shorebird fishing consisted simply of a dive or beak stab, followed by a quick swallow.  But no, bird fishing is a sophisticated and fascinating business.

For example, one evening at South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park, this brown pelican fished for about an hour off the causeway.  He patiently harvested tiny fishes through the sieve method—lots of work for not much protein.   IMG_8339 First, he took aim and lunged.

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Then he slowly, slowly pulled his head and bloated throat pouch up, engorged with water and minnows.   It was a gradual process, with the water slowly seeping out his beak until his head was fully up. IMG_8392 - CopyIMG_8394IMG_8395IMG_8397 - Copy

IMG_8336IMG_8327 - Copy (2)He held his head fully upright, beak down, while the remaining water dripped out his beak tip and then abruptly pulled his head back, with great bill chomping, and swallowed the little fishes.IMG_8398

IMG_8399 - CopyAfter attracted a bevy of photographers, he flew off to fish elsewhere.IMG_8378IMG_9199IMG_9200IMG_9203

This egret was after larger prey.  She suddenly went into a frenzy of wing flapping and stomping, all around the edge of marsh tidal pool.

IMG_8435IMG_8436IMG_8437IMG_8439IMG_8440IMG_8441IMG_8442IMG_8443IMG_8444Then she went in for the kill—a good-sized fish that she carried onto the mud bank.  IMG_8447She dropped it and let it slither around in the mud for a bit before picking it up and awkwardly downing that sucker. IMG_8452IMG_8455IMG_8458

One Gator, Two Gator, Three Gators, Four …

IMG_9025Some places are more of a surprise than others.  When we headed south in the fall, we stayed at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina based on rave reviews by several RV bloggers.  Not surprisingly, we loved it.

Six months later, now heading north in the almost-spring, we stayed at another South Carolina coast state park with a similar name–Huntington Beach State Park.  We had no blogger recommendations for this park, and knew little about it, but it looked interesting.  It was … and more–a very nice surprise.

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To start with, it had alligators–huge armored grandfather gators, adorable smiling-like baby gators, and everything in between.  And there were lots of them, very close, swimming and sunning. IMG_8837

This is a "how many gators can you spot in this picture" puzzle.

This is a “How many gators can you spot in this picture?” puzzle.

I count five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground.  Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

I counted five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground to see the babies. Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

It was a gatorpalooza.  Throw in miles of empty beach and more birds than you can throw a stick at and you have one of my favorite campgrounds in our travels.

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IMG_8653The park is right off a main road leading to the highly commercialized Myrtle Beach, which battles with the Panama City, Florida area for the title of Redneck Riviera.  So it was a surprise to find an oasis of alligators and birds, left alone in relative peace.

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There is a causeway leading to the campground, with cars randomly stopped while their occupants take pictures of alligators sunning on a little island a few yards away.

Causeway.

Causeway.

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This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

Birders with spotting scopes lined the road, trying to catch site of the eaglets in a nearby nest or photographing the birds fishing, sparring, and courting in the oyster beds and marshes.IMG_9067IMG_9328IMG_9069

The campground was a mix of wooded and open spots with two pathways directly out to a beautiful dog-friendly beach.  IMG_9058

The park was established as a bird and wildlife preserve by Archer and Anna Huntington, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric couple who first came to the island seeking ease for Anna’s tuberculosis.  She was a successful sculptor and he had various interests, including a love of all things Spanish.  The house they built in the 1930s, Atalaya, is open to the public, but is in pretty bad shape.  IMG_8879The park puts on an interesting tour, but the house itself was ugly, dark, damp, and cold.  I couldn’t wait to emerge into the sun again.  IMG_8880The land around Atalaya, however, is lovely and, thanks to the Huntingtons, isn’t covered in water slides and Ruby Tuesdays.

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I spent a lot of time watching alligators and birds.  Their eyes,

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and wings,IMG_8598IMG_8954IMG_9097

Check out the reflection of the bird in the middle.

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and signs of spring.IMG_9004IMG_9009IMG_8483IMG_8622IMG_8969IMG_8607

Just Birds (Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans, part 2)

IMG_6221This is a second part of the post “Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans,” but it’s just birds. If you don’t like bird photos, you will be yawning big time on this one.

For me, St. Simons meant birds.  They were everywhere—on the beach, in the marsh, in our neighborhood, and in the village.  IMG_6026They fluttered, called, preened, sang, strutted, fished, hammered, and, at times seemed to pose.  IMG_5412Many nights, we were kept awake by two owls calling back and forth from the dense live oaks in the neighborhood (go to sleep, already!!).

Every morning, the tentative bits of bird song signaled that—although it was still dark—the sun was about to rise.  All day long, their calls accompanied us—the cardinals’ rhythmic chip and liquid song, the doves’ oo-oo, IMG_6478the sparrows’ chatter, and the ospreys’ skreeee—eek, causing the marsh birds to scatter—flying up, circling around, and settling back down.    IMG_6705

The trees and bushes were heavy with berries—especially the red cedar—and attracted a wide variety of birds, fussing and gorging, but elusive to catch on film.IMG_6676IMG_6671

The shore birds were more stolid, hunkered down against the cold or pecking at critters in the sand and waves.  IMG_5369IMG_5378IMG_7497They only became skittish if I got close, so we played a cat and mouse game where I would learn how close I could approach before they took off and moved another ten feet down the beach.

The salt inlet at the end of the beach was a feeding mecca for a variety of birds scooping up the little minnows and larger mullet.   IMG_7531 IMG_7539This elegant beauty (I assume it’s a tern or gull, but don’t know what kind … I’ll call it the blackdot cheeky terngull) did a beautiful fluttering hover and dive, over and over again.  IMG_7521IMG_7508IMG_7501During our last week on the island, this oystercatcher couple appeared on the rocks.  One sported multiple bands, the other none.  The banded one must be older or stupider, or both.  IMG_7651IMG_7567

On St. Simons, a quiet road runs along the marsh, so it’s easy to get close to the birds without having to worry about being attacked by snakes, gators, or bugs.    IMG_6311IMG_7576IMG_6757IMG_7583IMG_7694IMG_7682

Just birds–but such a variety–interesting, noisy, colorful, entertaining, awkward, graceful, and beautiful.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

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To the Pier

20141204_125642After being on the road for seven months, we are reveling in the pleasures of being in a house again–the roominess, the dishwasher, the bathtub, the kitchen, and the ability to walk to town.  St. Simons is heaven for walkers and bike riders.  Several times a week, I walk to the north end of the beach and then back through neighborhoods or along the marsh.  It takes about two hours, with time for lingering.

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A walk in the other direction leads to the village, the lighthouse, and the pier.  They are only about a ten minute walk from our cottage, if we take a direct route.

At very low tide we can walk south on the beach to the village.  But there is a small point with rocks that become submerged when the tide rises that prevents access for much of the day.

20141204_120026Approaching the village from the beach, you can see the lighthouse, decorated for the holidays.

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We usually walk to the pier and the village on the inland route through a neighborhood of cottages.  The gardens are full of blooms this time of year.

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The village main street ends at the water and the pier.

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I am always drawn to the pier.

IMG_407020141211_150954One evening, I couldn’t stop watching the boat-tailed grackles, ordinary black birds transformed by the lowering sun into iridescent creatures. This one was off by himself, grooming and preening, with full head contortions.

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These three reminded of me of some preteen boys we saw fishing our first night on the pier, each trying to show the others up.  The bird in middle kept puffing his chest and spreading his tail.

IMG_4114IMG_4115Then the one on the left would give it a go, less successfully.

IMG_4135Then they would act as if they were all cool.  IMG_4132The one on the right did not do any puffing, but just gave an occasional squack, as if to tell the one in the middle to cut it out.

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This serene gull sat nearby.

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Until she had enough, and flew off.

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Wrens were flitting between the rocks at the foot of the pier and the huge live oaks in the park.

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20141211_151508The lighthouse is right next to the pier and, on a walk last night, this magnificent raptor was surveying his (or her?) domain from the lighthouse peak.  I only had my phone for photos, but you can see how beautiful he was perched up there.  It looked like an immature eagle–seemed a little large for an osprey–but I couldn’t determine what it was from the ground.  If any of you can tell from this photo, let me know.

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After I walked around the park and headed home as the sun started to go down and a chill was setting in, the bird was still there.

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I came back with the good camera, but he was gone.  The lighthouse’s faceted Fresnel lens, however, was making brilliant prisms of the setting sun.

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What an exquisite evening.

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