Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Those white birds seen on the coast are often just lumped together as "sea gulls" by many people. Actually there isn't a bird called a "sea gull" and many of them live inland, far from the ocean. They can be difficult to tell apart, so I'll share some photos of some of the gulls I saw.

This one is generally the most common gull, the Herring Gull. To recognize gull species takes a lot of patience, and there are some things I always look for. I check the color of the feet ... pink or yellow? I look at the bill size, shape, and color or markings. And, if I can get close enough, I look at the color of the flesh around the eye. In this case we see pink feet, a big yellow bill with a red spot, and yellow around the eye. (Click on the picture to see a larger version.) Herring Gull.

This one is a bit less common, and it is larger with a dark back ... almost black instead of grey like the one above. The feet and bill are about the same color as the Herring Gull, but have a look at the orbital ring (flesh around the eye) on this one ... red, not yellow. It's a Great Black-backed Gull.

Now this one is different, with legs more pale yellow than pink, and though the bill is yellow it does not have the red spot but instead sports a black band. And the orbital ring is black. It is a Ring-billed Gull, one we often see in Idaho as well. They hang around dumps a lot to get free food, but with the closure of open dumps life is getting harder for this scavenger and they're hanging around picnic tables hoping I'll drop my sandwich.

Uh, oh. Sorry about this one. I'll just have to tell you about it. This gull is small, about half the size of the Herring Gull and has a short black bill and pinkish-red feet. I think you can see the red feet of the one in the middle of the rock, closest to us ... or maybe I just remember what I saw and fill in the picture using my imagination. These are Bonaparte's Gulls.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whale Watching

In Maine I went on a whale watching trip with Bar Harbor Whale Watch. I'm not one to advertise, but in case you want to go out with them, here's their website.

As you can imagine, I dreamed of seeing pelagic (sea-going) birds. Some birds rarely come to land, except to nest. This tour boat does a trip with Audubon folks once a year where I imagine they slow the boat and correctly identify birds, but this trip was more oriented toward whales than birds. That boat can really move, and the birds were often fleeing for their very lives, like this Puffin. Sorry little guy. Didn't mean to intrude.

After we left port it wasn't 15 minutes until a Minke Whale surfaced right next to the bow where I was sitting. The boat came to a stop and the whale took another breath of air and then was gone. I have not ever been whale watching before, so it was interesting to see how the boat races from spot to spot at such a high speed, but comes to a complete stop when a whale is located. It didn't slow for birds at all, to my disappointment.

When the fin of a Basking Shark broke the calm surface of the ocean the boat again throttled down for a look.

I saw three lighthouses, including this interesting one, which is the New England lighthouse farthest from shore.

I found a lot of interesting facts about this lighthouse at the website

An excerpt from the web site advises, "Far-flung Mount Desert Rock Light is one of the most dramatically isolated of all American lighthouses. More than 20 miles from the nearest port at Mount Desert Island, the low-lying, wave swept rock is, as historian Edward Rowe Snow put it, like "part of another world." George Putnam, for many years the commissioner of the Bureau of Lighthouses, regarded Mount Desert Rock as the most exposed light station in the United States. The tiny rock is only about 17 feet above sea level at its highest point.

In this closer view you can see that it was *once again* severely damaged by a hurricane this year.

On this small rock you can see Gray Seals, Harbor Seals, and overhead a Greater Shearwater flies. There's a seal in the water at the lower right. Two Peregrine Falcons were on the island as well. It is owned by the College of the Atlantic now, and is a research station for studying whales and birds.

From this vantage point I got to see what Columbus and his crew must have viewed as they left the reassuring world of solid earth. Water all the way to the horizon. No more islands, not even a small rock. Creepy.

Looking back toward our port the mountains were beginning to sink into the sea. Certainly not a flat earth ... or perhaps we were already beginning to slip off the edge. I began to think we should return. The boat throttled up after a brief stop by this rock and headed into an area of cold, nutrient-rich upwelling water that hosted a lot of marine life.

Suddenly a fin broke the surface, then another and another. The boat stopped and we were surrounded by about 45 Pilot Whales. Like dolphins they were playful and curious. My photos are decent, but to get some really excellent images taken by the naturalist from up on the 3rd deck of this huge boat, visit the Bar Harbor Whales site on Flickr.

Their blog is and there you'll experience their excitement at this find. More photos they took are on Flickr Not every whale watch sees whales, and we had a great, extended encounter.

They did really surround the boat so everybody had great views. There were big males and females with young close by their side.

This Pilot Whale seemed to come "people watching" by the side of the boat.

On the way back to port I saw more Shearwaters, and got this photo of one skimming barely above the water. Though I had hoped for more bird sightings, the many seals, porpoise, shark, and whales more than satisfied my curiosity. For sea birds, the best is to take a tour to their breeding islands. Maybe next time.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I just returned from a vacation at my parents' home in Maine, where I was born and raised. I only wish I could have stayed longer!

I suppose most people think of lobster boats when they think of Maine ... I know I do.

These boats ply the waters in the many bays along the rugged coast dotted with islands, and even venture rather far from land in the cold Gulf of Maine.

Maine's granite foundation was first scoured by glaciers and is now worn relentlessly by the actions of the tides and waves, and the rough rock becomes cobblestones in some places.

In other areas, the rock meets the sea and is overgrown by rockweed and barnacles.

The first signs of autumn were evident, but the weather was still full of the warmth of summer.

This is the view of Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, from Sorrento. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the eastern seaboard.

The Black-capped Chickadee is the State Bird for Maine. Their cheerful call is heard everywhere.

I paid to go on a whale watching voyage, and we were rewarded with sightings like this Pilot Whale that came right up to the boat ... along with about 44 others in the pod.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Garden Spider

I took this photo today of a garden spider working on her web. That's a green tomato in the background. I've noticed that if you click on the photo, it shows the photo at the resolution at which it was uploaded. The size varies, but if you want to get a closer look at her pattern, just click on the spider. This one gets larger.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day Celebration

On Saturday Cyndi and I took a drive to the foothills and mountains. I enjoyed seeing this Mountain Hollyhock, a tall wildflower that grows in the mountains.

Many mushrooms were pushing up through the forest floor, perhaps due to a rainstorm last week that watered them.

And, of course, we saw some birds! This warbler was tricky to identify, but the yellow throat and complete eye ring suggest it is a Nashville Warbler.