Weekly Notes, February 17, 2013


Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl in Houlton Dma&g map 53 courtesy of Paul Cyr

In this week’s Rare Bird Alert, a Northern Hawk Owl was reported in Houlton.  The above picture gives us a chance to see this rare visitor in classic form.  It’s tail and habit of perching at the tip of a branch can easily fool an observer into believing this bird is a member of the Falcon Family but a closer look reveals an owl’s face looking down at the camera.  Usually when identifying a bird, details are compared with other birds in the same family but not with the NHOwl, even its vocal call is more like a Falcon than an Owl.  A daytime hunter, these owls prefer the Boreal Forest found in more northern latitudes but will occasionally fly south when weather conditions prove challenging in their home territory.

Mother Nature isn’t always kind and winter survival requires adaptations to meet the challenge of finding shelter and food.  An excellent article was published in the Portland Press Herald this week on animal survival during severe weather conditions.  To read the article click here…..   In the picture below, this Blue Jay has fluffed up its feathers to trap the warm air, creating an insulting layer against the cold.

Blue Jay fluffed feathers

Blue Jay keeping warm by fluffing its feathers for insulation.

On Monday morning I snapped a few quick pictures just as the rain started blowing in from the ocean.  A day had passed since the big storm of 2013 left 24 inches of fresh powder and I was out surveying for New England Cottontails at Fort Foster on the very edges of Gerrish Island Dma&g Map 1.  I did find one track that left behind a bit of soft fur as a NEC jumped over a ragged branch that hung low.  The brush was thick, making perfect hiding spots for these vulnerable animals to escape predators such as fisher, fox and weasels.

However as the storm picked up and my fingers turned to icicles, I noticed the Robins feeding in the thickets.  They were not pleased to have me plowing through the underbrush disturbing them and persisted to fly into the most unattainable areas to feed on Japanese Barberry.  The pictures show the sharp thorns on this non-native shrub that inhabits unused pasture and open land causing one Robin to get hung-up as it moved about.  The red berries linger through the cold season providing almost exclusive sustenance for the birds as shown in the bright red bird droppings in the snow.

In the next picture, a fox has found a warm place to den under the winter snow cover.

Fox Den

Fox Den

While humans celebrated Valentines Day, the birds began their spring calls.  Most notably I heard the Male Cardinal as he sat atop a shrub showing off his red coat.  Has anyone else heard the birds announcing the arrival of warmer days ahead?

In this week’s Almanac there is a Waxing Gibbous Moon. It’s fun to watch each evening as it grows into a Full Moon next week on the 25th.

In the snow storms last weekend and this weekend are many reports of thunder and lightening.  There was even a rainbow as the clouds cleared Monday afternoon.

Rainbow in Winter

Rainbow in Winter Seapoint Beach Dma&g map 1

Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed Earth on Friday, February 15th.  Only 17,150 miles away from its closest approach over Antarctica, this Asteroid was closer than many satellites that can be seen orbiting the expanse of the celestial heavens over Maine each night.  The Asteroid passed during the daylight hours not giving us an opportunity to view this event.

February 19th is the Birthday of Nicholas Copernicus, born in 1473.  He was the first to introduce the Heliocentric Model of the Sun as the center of the Universe.  Referred to as the Copernican Theory, this created a major shift not only in scientific thinking but also in philosophical and theological beliefs.  Until that time, Aristotle and Ptolemy teachings were the accepted thought with the Earth as the center of the Universe.  This change brought about the beginning of the Scientific Revolution impacting the cultural relationship humans held with the natural world.  This period of time is a interesting study for anyone curious about the history of human dominance over nature.