Eiders, bluebirds, hawks fulfill day

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 6:33 p.m.

A recent visit to Spurwink Farm in Cape Elizabeth produced a few delightful surprises. I had gone there to try out a horse, and ended up doing a bit of birding as well.

The day had started out cold, with a chilling wind cutting over any elevated, exposed ground. I walked along a trail headed toward the Spurwink River; it meandered down a hill surrounded by thick brush, which effectively blocked the wind.

Here, the warmth of the sun was undiluted, making the temperature feel spring-like. Another drop from a raised sand dune provided further shelter as I stared, entranced, at the incredibly clear, sparkling blue-green water creating rippled reflections on the sand beneath. The bottom dropped off abruptly toward the middle of the channel, the water turning to a deep, dark green.

Across this river, which empties out into Casco Bay, was Higgins Beach. Beneath the remnants of an old dock nearby, two female common eiders floated serenely on the surface of the water. In the distance, the ocean’s waves crashed onto the shore and began their journey up the tidal inlet.

After the eiders had gone, I retraced my steps back along the path I had come. I heard a call that was vaguely familiar; it was one I hadn’t heard in quite awhile. Ahead of me, a flash of startling blue caught my eye as a bird flew away from me. I saw another as it alighted on a thin branch and paused to face me. The chestnut-hued upper chest and white underbody told me I had just stumbled upon a flock of eastern bluebirds.

I would have been surprised had it not been for others’ reports of bluebird sightings on the Maine Birding e-mail list. According to “The Birds of North America,” species account, bluebird migration is tied to weather conditions and food availability. It seems the bluebirds are taking advantage of the mild fall weather we’ve had so far.

These beautiful thrushes with the electric-blue feathers imparted a sense of warmer months past to the sheltered trail with its protective ring of shrubs and small trees. As they disappeared from view, I was sorry to see them go.

However, the appearance of another bird made up for it.

I was on my way toward the barn with a horse, talking to its owner, when a sound caught my attention. It was a drawn-out, high-pitched scream —- teeeeeeaar” — which was repeated twice more. I looked into the blue sky above the expansive, rolling land and saw two soaring red-tailed hawks.

Regrettably, I could not stand still and observe them for any length of time. Glancing over while walking, I noticed the birds seemed to be interacting by circling in the air, one bird above the other.

Red-tailed hawks seem to be a common sight in southern Maine throughout the fall and winter months. Although northern birds will migrate, some southern birds will remain on or near their breeding grounds all winter, as long as they can find adequate food. Spurwink Farm, with its rolling fields and wooded land, must be a smorgasbord for them.

Reading about their behavior afterward in the delightful “Stokes Nature Guides” to bird behavior, I learned one of the hawks could have been a year-round resident that was defending its territory against a migrant from farther north.

I was delighted to have seen the raptors. A day filled with birds and horses—it can’t get any better than that.

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