Island visit yields rare lark sparrow

Posted Sept. 10, 2008, at 11:17 a.m.

Recently, I went to Islesboro, an island in Penobscot Bay, to visit a college friend and her husband. I do this every year, and it’s a wonderful social event. They give dinners and I get to meet their friends. Additionally, they organize a bird walk, and that is always a pleasure, too.

Wherever I go, I am always looking for birds. From the ferry to Islesboro, I saw a handful of loons and dozens of guillimots, a small relative of the puffin. Guillimots are about the size of a pigeon and sit on the water.

In summer, they are black with a big white spot on their wings. When you see them on their nesting islands, you can see that they have bright red legs and feet. From the cliffs of Mount Desert Island, you can look down and see them in the waves below. From that vantage point, you can even see how they paddle underwater with their bright red feet.

The bird walk on Islesboro always leads to a good sandpiper area — a wide span of mud flat. We try to go an hour past high tide. Sandpipers rest at high tide, and then it’s time to feed again.

Sure enough, they arrived just as scheduled — semi-palmated sandpipers and semi-palmated plovers. “Semi-palmated” means partially webbed. Between two toes, there is a little webbing that helps them walk on top of the deep mud. You and I would sink eight inches down in that muck as the semi-palmated ones ran all around us.

The fall migration is in full swing, and this is the time to find rarities. As the ferry arrived and I said good-bye to my friends, a sparrow with white outer tail feathers flew by.

Oh, nice, I thought. It must be a vesper sparrow. They have white outer tail feathers. That’s not an everyday sparrow for me.

I took another look as I walked towards the ferry. It was not a vesper sparrow. It was a rarity — a lark sparrow from the Midwest. Instead of migrating south, this first-year individual migrated east. Let’s hope it heads south down the coast, eventually to arrive in Mexico. Meanwhile, I got to see this rare little sparrow subdue a large grasshopper and eat it, just as I ran for the ferry.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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