Murres delight at Schoodic Point

Posted Feb. 11, 2009, at 6:47 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:06 a.m.

Julie Keene and I went to Schoodic Point to see the interesting birds there.

We were not disappointed. On the contrary, we were delighted. At the first stop, we found a bird swimming in the icy waves. Its back was jet black, sides white, with white going up under its throat. It was a thick-billed murre. Most people have never seen that bird, nor heard of it.

Murres live in enormous numbers in the north polar regions. “Murre” comes from the Swedish word for “diving bird.” It is the size of a small duck with the shape of a small loon, but not related to either.

In summer, murres lay their eggs on narrow ledges of cliffs. It’s a spectacular sight to see such a colony. Their eggs have one end rounded, the other end somewhat pointed. That prevents most eggs from falling off the cliff.

In winter, many murres migrate to the Gulf of Maine. They mostly stay well offshore, diving for small fish in deep water. We saw that bird first thing upon arriving, and it made our day!

But there was more. We saw purple sandpipers. They are the hardiest of the sandpipers, spending the winter on the coast of Maine and Canada, finding their food on rocks and in seaweed in the surf. Purple sandpipers eat tiny crustaceans among the seaweed on the rocks where the waves break.

They flew past us at Schoodic Point. What could be more beautiful, seeing all the high surf, the blue skies, the enormous waves, the rocks and the birds.

But there was more. We saw the biggest flock I ever saw of red-neck grebes — about 200 of them. Grebes are aquatic birds that nest in the polar region and spend the winter in the icy water off Maine. Grebes dive underwater for their prey, small fish and crustaceans.

These grebes are red in the neck only in summer to attract the opposite sex; now they are gray and white.

Schoodic Point is a wonderful place to see birds you won’t see in your yard.

Julie Keene and I will lead a birding trip there on Saturday, Feb. 21. Call the Fields Pond Audubon Center well in advance for cost and time —space is limited.

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

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