Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Some strange bird sightings over the past few weeks

By CHERYL KIMBALL September 28. 2018 11:46PM
A loon, bottom right corner, has already left the lake and headed over to the Atlantic Ocean near Whaleback Lighthouse. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)

Lately it seems like interesting bird activity is everywhere. While I always find birds fascinating — even the same-old, same-old — I have seen several things over the past month that are different.

I have written before about my game camera. If you have not gotten a game cam yet, I highly recommend putting it on your wish list. I’ve had two — the first one died after I left it strapped to a tree with the scan card out of it for a few weeks and tiny ants nested in the slot where the scan card goes. It never worked again. I got a new one last Christmas and am back to the fun of collecting the scan card once a week, reviewing what I captured, and deciding whether or not to move it to another spot.

It is very exciting to sit down at the computer, put the scan card in and see what showed up over the week. This week I learned that the porcupine that lives under our barn is likely a female and she brought her youngster with her to the mowed field for some sweet sprouting grass. The doe and her fawn are still hanging together and the fawn still has spots. And there is a fox who runs back and forth in front of the game camera several times a night — his bushy tail is straight out and to the right in one frame and in the next it is straight out and to the left. The camera has yet to get a clear shot of the fox so I cannot tell if it is the one with the white stripe across its rump who I captured on the camera several times over the winter.

One of the coolest shots I got a few weeks ago was of a pileated woodpecker in flight, wings fully outstretched, just a few feet in front of the camera. The woodpecker was facing the camera and flying sideways so I could clearly see the underside of its wings with the white stripes against the black wings like a keyboard separated from its piano. Since pileateds fly in bursts, for the camera to have caught the wings fully extended was very cool.

This bird-in-flight capture is something I hadn’t thought about with the game camera. It happened again this week with what I think is a phoebe. The bird was hovering over the ground cloaking itself with its wings like a mini, flying Dracula. The next time I got a photo of two phoebes hovering searching for bugs. Seeing these birds stopped in mid-flight is also very cool.

Two other unique sightings I had this past couple of weeks happened on the Seacoast. One was a group of sparrows that were foraging in seaweed. A couple dozen of them spread out across seaweed-covered rocks exposed by an outgoing tide. A few were out in front stirring up the little insects that buzz around the seaweed. The others followed in groups of five or six, each group replacing the next as they worked their way along the shore until the front group got to a spot where they lingered while the other groups caught up with them. Then, for no reason apparent to me, they all took flight and headed straight for my face. Not a one touched me but I could practically feel the breeze from their wings.

Another strange sighting (which probably isn’t strange at all except to me) was during a brief Sunday sail. Not far from Whaleback Lighthouse I spotted what looked to be the outline of a loon. Sure enough, as we got closer and my small zoom lens could pick it up, I could confirm that it was in fact a loon. While I know loons go to the Seacoast for open water once the lakes freeze, it seemed early to see a loon on the ocean.

The Mercer, Wisconsin, site’s page All About Loons, reports that satellite tracking has proven that Wisconsin loons migrate off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, congregating on lakes in autumn to fly south as a group. The loon I saw on the Atlantic in September was in full black-and-white regalia. He (?) seemed quite comfortable in his environment, diving and preening himself.

Lastly, a male and female mallard have decided to hang in our little pond with my domestic Khaki Campbell duck, Trois. Trois protects the female mallard and tolerates the male, who I have now named Quatre and Cinq respectively. Some mornings two other first-year mallards join the group. I am going through duck grain quite a bit faster than I was when I was just feeding Trois. I assume the four mallards will finally get the itch to fly south (at least to the coast) and I am going to be faced with the task of somehow gathering Trois for a winter in the barn. I suspect this is going to entail acquiring a female duck to lure him and keep him company. No need to suggest roast duck for Thanksgiving, that just isn’t happening!

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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