After checking local haunts of nesting bald eagles in the Bangor area (with no success) on March 10, I decided to head to Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden to continue my birding — or nature observing, rather. While walking outdoors, I tend photograph anything that strikes my fancy, whether it be an eagle, mushroom, sunset or snowshoe hare.
The frozen parking lot was empty when I showed up at around 3 p.m. First, I checked out the perimeter of the Nature Center, where fully-stocked bird feeders attract birds and squirrels year round. There, I came across several chickadees, which were so unconcerned about my presence that a few nearly struck me as they flew to and from the feeders.
Also near the Nature Center, I was joined by a curious red squirrel — not an unusual sight in Maine, but welcome, nonetheless. I imagine this particular
squirrel was accustomed to seeing visitors at the Audubon. I noticed him (or her) as he crawled along the bare branch of a tree, and because he was so close, I decided to take a few photos. After a few clicks of the camera, he turned toward me and froze. I expected him to scurry farther away, but instead, he turned on the branch, climbed to the trunk of the tree, then hopped onto another branch — one that hung directly over my head. He came so close to me (which I admit, startled me a bit) I had to back up in order to continue to take photos of him. Afterward, he seemed to follow me until I took a trail into the forest.
I was then surprised once again upon hearing the loud call of a barred owl, which is described as sounding like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” You can listen to it on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, here.
It seemed early for a barred owl to be hooting, since they’re nocturnal, so I felt rather lucky. The only other time I’ve heard a barred owl is while helping someone in Lincolnville conduct an owl survey during the dead of night. At Fields Pond, the call was so loud and crisp that I suspect it was perched somewhere in the woods nearby, but I knew I’d have little hope of finding such a camouflage bird (with excellent eyesight and hearing, to boot). As I walked farther into the thick shaded evergreen forest, the hooting ceased. (Perhaps the owl heard me. Or maybe he realized he’d woken too early and he’d like to snooze a bit longer.)
The sun was sinking toward the horizon when I emerged from the forest with a cold nose and numb fingertips. It was time to head home. But first, I decided to circle around the Nature Center one more time in hopes of finding something aside from the common chickadee or squirrel.
My extra effort was rewarded. Clinging to the bark of a hardwood near the Nature Center, I spied what at first appeared to be a chickadee but (1) acted differently, pecking on the bark, and (2) was shaped slightly different, with a larger breast and a slightly upturned beak. A nuthatch!
Later, comparing my photos to birding guides, I deduced that it was the white-breasted nuthatch (rather than the red-breasted nuthatch, which I saw earlier in the winter — for a picture, see here). The white-breasted nuthatch only has a hint of a band over the eye — a gray shadow, really — while the red-breasted nuthatch has a black, mask-like band. Also, the white-breasted nuthatch has a white breast (with some rust-colored feathers near the legs and tail), while a red-breasted nuthatch has an orangey-tan colored breast.
I remained there for a while, taking photos of the nuthatch and watching it as it worked its way up the tree by hopping and flying in short bursts. It had probably noticed me and wanted to put some distance between us.
But that wasn’t the end of my birding adventure.
On the way home, I noticed a bird sitting on a telephone wire not far from Fields Pond. The sun was sinking, so I couldn’t see it very well, but I could tell by its silhouette that it wasn’t the typical pigeon or crow. It has a large breast and a tiny head, a shape that reminded me of only one bird — a mourning dove.
I turned Fred the Forester around in a nearby parking lot, got out and approached the bird slowly with my camera. (A few drivers looked at me funny as they passed by.) As it turns out, I was right. It was a mourning dove, with its rose-tinged feathers and delicate face. After taking a few photos, I watched the dove take flight, and just before reaching the woods, it was joined by second dove.
All in all, I’d call it a successful outing, even if I didn’t find the eagles I’d set out for in the first place.