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Bird Sightings December 2016

The full moon on December 13 is 2016’s brightest and it is the ‘highest-up’ at midnight. Some Native American cultures call this moon the Full Cold Moon – announcing the approach of winter. Others call it the Long Nights Moon because it occurs near winter solstice. (1)

On Peaks Island this full moon provides delicacies for the gulls and ducks. But, how?

The full moon creates higher tides than normal, and they rise from their normal 8-9 feet to nearly 12 feet (11.8 to be exact) on December 14th (2, 3).

And, remember those pesky little flies and other creatures that inhabit the dryish-seaweed mounds along the high tide mark? Decaying seaweed provides a nice warm environment for the larvae of these flies

Seaweed Fly Larvae

and other invertebrates, even in December – until – a nice full moon brings the surf to their haven. Out to sea they go, and guess who are waiting – gulls, along with the dabbling ducks and diving sea ducks.

On April 23, 2015 we reported a ‘feeding frenzy’ in Wharf Cove where several species of gulls and ducks feasted on fly larvae – close to shore (April 2015 Bird Blog). On December 14 the fly larvae and/or other invertebrates are apparently in such great abundance that the currents carry them from Wharf Cove in a long line – as far out as the Coast Guard’s green navigational buoys. Bon appetite - for the gulls and ducks.

Following that line of 'appetizers' are nearly 300 gulls, with a scattering of Common Eiders and Black Ducks. Another ~ 50 gulls perch on rocks - resting after their feast. These gulls represent three species: Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and the Great Black-backed Gull. The delicate Ring-billed Gulls are the most plentiful.

Ring-billed Gulls

We know that obvious clues, such as lobster boats, are magnets for gulls, but how do so many birds know of this abundant, yet subtle-sized food source? On most winter days we see only a scattering of Herring Gulls along the shore. The best answer may come from a seasoned Irish fisherman. And, here is what he said to Michael: “They know things we don’t.” So, that is it.

On December 15, the feeding frenzy is confined to Wharf Cove’s shore

and to our delight we spot one little Bonaparte’s Gull in its winter plumage – no black head but with a characteristic black spot behind its eye. This gull shares the plenty with the Black Ducks and Ring-billed Gulls.

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull and Black Ducks

Red-necked Grebes

The Red-necked Grebe flock of 15-20 favors offshore feeding and sleeping – several hundred yards off Whaleback where currents and ledges meet.

Scoters and eiders appear to be in smaller numbers off Peaks Island shores so far this winter. Although in fewer numbers they can be seen off the Backshore in various locations, sometimes near the Red-necked Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads, Black Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks. The Black Guillemots and Common Loons are scattered along the shore, usually apart from the crowds.

Several Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks are seen off Evergreen Landing near Great Diamond Island. In late November Jill sights the Bald Eagle along Diamond Pass.

Bald Eagle Photo © Jill Thiel

The Great Cormorants are back from their more northern breeding grounds. Nearly a dozen roost on Whitehead Cliffs – perched on those cold stone cliffs for the night. As early as 3:00 PM they arrive from their day of fishing and loafing. With binoculars these rare birds (one of Maine’s Endangered Species) can be observed from the South Shore and Picnic Point.

Loafing Great Cormorant

Please Note:

Michael provides us with detailed lists for bird sightings in December. Please see 2016 Bird Lists under Bird Blog.


Contributors: Michael LaCombe and Jill Thiel

Reviewers: Sam Wainright, Michelle Brown, Michael LaCombe, Marty

By: Patty Wainright

Photographs (except where noted otherwise): Photo © Patty Wainright

If you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to:

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The Backshore Bird Blog


The objective of The Backshore Bird Blog is to share the wonder and diversity of bird species seen along the Peaks Island shore.

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take a look at our list of the 100 varieties of birds that have been spotted around the Island here. How many can you spot?

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