At daybreak with a light snow falling, the waters off the South Shore bubbled to life – a plethora of birds arrived from their sleeping quarters at sea.
Small groups of scoter-sized birds flew past PI through Whitehead Passage into the inner bay. Birds in one flock sported white necks (goldeneyes?), however, poor visibility made it impossible to identify them.
Great numbers of Common Eiders, singly, in pairs, or in small groups, approached the shoreline – flying low over the water’s surface. The geometric black and white plumage patterns of the males were easily identified, even in the falling snow. The females’ feather covering – burnt sienna mixed with splashes of other browns – is so remarkably different from the male that one might mistake the two for different species. Eiders are known for their abundant down feather that contribute to their puffy appearance. They appear on the horizon as flying footballs with wings. They land with a thump, skimming to a halt on the water. The eiders segregated this morning into three groups: one off Alder Brook Road, a second one off the Bicycle House, and the third one off Whaleback. Several juvenile male eiders were seen, more than were seen earlier this fall or last year. The number of eiders has increased from a small flock of ~ 50 (40 females: 8 males) in the fall to over 200 (33% males) currently.
Common Loon. Photo © Butch Sullins
Common Loons were in greater numbers (15-20) than seen on November 18. They were scattered off the shore - further out from the eider contingencies. They routinely appear isolated or, on rare occasions, in small groups. The loon appearance and behavior contrast with the more comical plumpish looks of eiders. With their long necks, sharp and pointed beaks, and long streamlined bodies the loons appear as regal sentinels. Their dives are graceful, slipping below the water in one smooth motion. On one occasion today, a loon rose up out of the water before its descent below the surface, perhaps in preparation for an especially deep dive.
A scattering of other species was observed along the shore: the Long-tailed Duck, several mergansers (Common or Red-breasted?), a large cormorant, and a small grebe (Horned or Eared?).
Common Goldeneye. Photo © Butch Sullins
At midday, my husband Sam joined me for bird observations. Similar numbers of eiders were seen along the shore in search of their favorite crunchy invertebrates. Identification of some species was improved with the clear and sunny conditions. But more importantly, we had assistance from the experts. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count (references below) was underway on Peaks Island. With their trusty high powered spotting-scopes, the three counters verified what we saw off Battery Steele: ten or more Long-tailed Ducks feeding near a flock of eiders, Red-necked Grebes (large grebe), and a Common Goldeneye (round white patch behind the eye). They also observed a Barrow’s Goldeneye (a relatively uncommon sea duck with a crescent white patch behind the eye) off the South Shore (near Great Pond Road). Another observer this weekend, Kathy identified, Common Loons and Buffleheads off the Backshore.
As the crew of the lobster boat Bucko cleaned their pots drawing a crowd of ~40 gulls (mostly Herring Gulls). Once this bonanza of food disappeared the seagulls retired to the shore to bathe in their favorite tide pools, and to preen, tidy, and clean their feathers.
Herring Gulls Photo © Patty Wainright
Greater Portland organizer: William Hancock
Maine Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Bangor Daily New Christmas Bird Count 2014
Christmas Bird Count Locator
Thank you for your interest in our Peaks Island birds, and if you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Patty Wainright
Reviewers: Michelle Brown and Sam Wainright