22 August 2006


Bar Harbor - Maine

Back to birds again - well birds do feature in this tale, but so do good meals and some fine wines and some excellent scenery and a grudging acknowledgement that once you take politics out of the equation there are one or two things the southern cousins do tolerably well. So - we took ourselves off for a long weekend in Maine and paid a visit to ßar Harbor which is tucked into the Acadia national park. A very long drive from Montreal - about 8 hours, but easy driving until the last 15 miles when it seemed the entire population of the Usa was trying to get over the access causeway at the same moment.

Cracking good resto this first evening - called Havana : "modern American with a Latin twist" which meant some really inventive things with fresh fish, ginger, coriander and chillies. Not cheap but who cares when the cooking is that good ?

Saturday - plenty of local walking with camera and bins interspersed with rock pools and paddling for J who was suffering from salt water deprivation.

ßirds - a Loon, Guillemot, Waxwing, Herring Gulls, ßß-Gulls, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Cormorants, Black Duck, Cedar Waxwing,Song Sparrow, Guillemot, ßlack Duck and many other very nice basic birds to start the Maine list.

Dinner was very nearby in Maggie's Resto - wonderful fresh ingredients, mostly fish as you would expect but no absence of flavor - sadly they missed getting all the stars as they could not provide espresso coffee .... In fact.the coffee was regular USA-watered down in a thick walled mug. Ah well, its not Quebec.

Sunday we awoke to tremendous rain, a right blatter. ßy noon it had eased off a lot and we visited the rather splendid Acadia National Park. An altogether excellent mixture of sea, sand, rocks and forested mountains. Looking through the scope at a colony of Cormorants J overheard someone musing about the large number of "OTTERS" and could not resist helping their education - luckily they took it well.

Later, while scoping a rather muddy lake while everybody else was facing exactly the opposite direction going gosh at the views (which were fabulous ) we enjoyed a small group of either Laughing or else Bonaparte's Gulls (we wondered long and hard about Black-headed Gulls as did another border we met there but statistically they were probably BGs or LGs) and a splendid hover-and-dive display from a ßelted Kingfisher.

Final dinner in a pub with local beers and “elevated” pub-grubwas well up to standard.

When Americans learn to make coffee they can join the civilized world - but the final opinion is that Maine and Acadia merits repeat visiting.


16 August 2006

Squirrel pathology

The Sparroworks (the garden is full of sparrows making new sparrows) shares its turf with the Squirrelworks (the garden is full of squirrels making new squirrels) and interesting creatures these squirrels are. We have been quite impressed in recent weeks by two - a grey and a black-grey - in particular because of their seeming ability to survive difficulties we expected to see them off.

Stumpy somehow lost most of his tail, whether to owl-attack or a close encounter with a car we don't know but he has merely a short and angrily waved stump in place of what should be a fine bush. Now, in theory squirrels need their tails to steer and balance as they leap and jump through the trees so we rather anticipated that sooner or later he would get it wrong and fall from great height but it hardly seems to hinder him at all as he dashes about and apart from this impediment he appears in fine fettle. Interesting.

Scabby on the other hand appeared with a really nasty suppurating wound in his back with raised edges and clearly evident necrosis. Not long for this world we surmised as we studied him through binoculars - opportunistic infection heading your way, sunshine was the prognosis. squirrel life is fairly germ ridden after all. However, this pathologist was confounded because over the period we have been watching him his would has gradually healed and he has put on weight. This should not happen but all we can think is that he has a cracking immune system - wish our cats had wound healing capacities so efficient, we'd save a fortune at the vets.

The Birds (have to get something about birds in here, after all) have gorged themselves on the bumper crop of berries from the Pagoda Dogwood tree we planted about three years ago and which has been growing remarkably fast. Dogwoods are nice subjects for the garden, not just because they are native and thus hardy and have colourful wood in the winter garden but also because after the birds have stuffed their stomachs the berry-bearing stalks stand upright and glow in the low morning sunlight as you can see here.

This is the "rock border", named after that huge boulder that some earlier owner of the land found and dumped - probably when having the septic tank installed. We have filled it with a dense planting of shrubs and perenniels which are loved by the smaller birds who can find food and shelter in the cover they provide. A good place too to find various stages of Toad development - move a leaf and they often hop away into the shade again.

14 August 2006


Time for a foodie posting ………… a colleague who's family home is just over the border in very upstate New York was telling me her plans for the weekend just past which included dropping south from civilization to take part in the family annual pie bake jamboree and of all the gallons and pails of bluets, blackberries etc etc that were waiting her attention. I mentioned the ultimate fruit combination, one of the British things I still miss (and the list is growing smaller) of blackberry and apple. "What", she said "you mean together - in a pie?". Hard as it is to believe, the great nation of innovators and growers of copious quantities of those two fruits, side by side, for centuries seem not to have thought of combining them.

Suffice it to note that she has returned from the great bake-in, that the combination was tried and that seemingly it better than passed muster, it is to become a standard feature of family pies for Thanksgiving from henceforth. Slowly, slowly, civilization comes to the United States.

On the bird front, a long ramble thorough the thiker and leafier parts of the arboretum yesterday found many, many interesting seasonal birds (a local birder had 57 spp here a few days ago - but he has better ears than mine) and virtually no mosquitoes. Warblers are starting to reappear as migration gets slowly under way.

10 August 2006

Quiet Neighbours

The (rather nice) house next door has been empty and on the market for over a year due to the ambitious price being sought by the ex-pat owners. The agents have had someone keeping the grass more or less mown but the garden is well surrounded by mature trees and hedges so the lack of people has made it a haven for wildlife. Plenty of birds have nested there, making forays over the boundary to snack at our feeders and the raccoon family (see earlier posts) thinks it is wonderful. Sadly, a "Vendu" sign went up yesterday and we must look forward to human rather than wildlife neighbours moving in - we can only hope that they are not the common sort of Canadian neatnicks with a passion for slash and cut in the undergrowth that we see so much of. It has been very nice this last few months and Raccoons and Cardinals and Song Sparrows and Hummingbirds make way better neighbours than do people with their kids and dogs. We shall see.

07 August 2006

Merlin the Wizard

We paid one of our regular trips to Ile Bizard today, after hearing good birds had been seen over the weekend ............ met a birding friend in the car park who told us things were slow (the wind was up) but nothing ventured etc. we went into the park anyway.

As it turned out, there were not a lot of birds, but those that were there were in the excellent category as these pictures will show I hope :

This Merlin was making great sport, harrssing a pair of Belted Kingfishers down in the reed beds beside the passarrelle ..... presumably the nest was of interest. Remarkable just how much noise an angry Kingfisher can make

..... and this was the Kingfisher making all the fuss

Hard to tell which was the best bird of the day ...... but a beautiful Least Bittern flitted across the passarelle and perched on the lower railing just long enough to to be photographed - it then disappeared into the reeds chortling to itself in a Bitternish sort of a way.

We consoled ourselves for the failure to get a picture of the Bittern by spending several minutes admiring this fine Virginia Rail who was preening itself and cared not a jot about our presence.

There's a Great-blue Heron perched in that tree - and there were several Green Herons down below with the turtles.

Other good birds seen included many, many Common Moorhens with tiny balls of fluff masquerading as chicks, a very noisy Catbird near the entry to the park who saw us enter and leave, a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers who gave a spectacular aerial displey amongst the trees (but always managed to settle just where a branch between me and them would fool the autofucus on my lenses, so while I have a record shot it isn't good enough to post here), Eastern Kingbirds, and an American Redstart with youngsters as well as a lovely female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

01 August 2006

Phew, what a scorcher!

Today it's a steamy 35degC outside in this garden we have been talking about all this time ..... according to Environment Canada the humidex is around 48degC and despite the fact that it's evening, should be getting cooler and the martinis are calling there is nothing on earth that will get me away from the air-conditioned comfort in which this computer sits. Meanwhile, here's a picture of the garden so you know what we are both missing. There might be birds out there, there might not. Phew, what a scorcher!