The great naturalist, biologist and writer Bernd Heinrich made a startling discovery this week while walking in the woods near his cabin in western Maine. Here's a Naturalist's Notebook video explaining the mystery in Bernd's words:
As Pamelia and I prepare to head off to South Georgia Island and Antarctica, we're enjoying the dozens of common mergansers that have gathered right here on the Maine bay in front of our house. They're heading south too. These photos, shot by Pamelia, show some of the funky-crested ducks flying in front of Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park. In some photos the distant water looks like an impressionist painting.
Yesterday wildlife biologist Linda Welch told the stunning story of seabird decline in the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod and is one of the most rapidly warming bodies of water on Earth.
In an informal lunch talk at Acadia National Park HQ, Linda laid out facts that should jolt anyone who cares about birds, fish, oceans, lobsters, Maine or the potentially devastating effects of climate change on the global web of life and the ecosystem of which humans are part. She and her researchers have tracked a 57% drop in the Gulf over the last 10 years in the number of Arctic terns, a 27% decline in roseate terns, a 47% reduction in cormorants in 15 years, a 31% decline of great black-backed gulls, a fall of 22% in herring gulls, a drop of 30% in eiders, and so on. These birds are struggling to find adequate food in the Gulf, whose temperature began dramatically spiking upward in 2004, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
Linda knows her stuff; she has done seabird research at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge since 1998. When she says that birds like terns, razorbills and puffins could be gone from the Gulf of Maine within a decade and notes how desperately the changes in the Gulf ecosystem need to be further studied—right now—we need to listen. Please spread the word. The Naturalist’s Notebook will be telling and showing you a lot more about this subject in the months and years ahead.
Thank you, Linda and Acadia and also Schoodic Institute, where Seth Benz, director of the bird ecology program, is doing vitally important work.
Attention bird lovers! On Saturday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m., top ornithologist Jeff Wells will lead a short bird walk at The Naturalist's Notebook. He will give a talk at 4 p.m. based on the new book he and his wife, Allison, have written, Maine's Favorite Birds. It will be a fun and relaxed afternoon—come for the walk, the talk or both, and enjoy refreshments on the Notebook's lovely deck afterward. Learn more about Maine's birds!
Here's some background on the two authors, from the publisher's biography:
"Jeffrey V. Wells and Allison Childs Wells are native Mainers whose families in Maine go back hundreds of years. Both lifelong birders, they began birding together when they met in college. After graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington, they went on to graduate programs at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where Jeff received his M.S. and Ph.D. and Allison, her M.F.A. Both stayed on at Cornell, Allison as communications director for the world-renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Jeff, also at the Lab, as director of bird conservation for National Audubon (first for New York State, then for the U.S.)
"They returned to Maine in 2004 to raise their child among family and Maine's spectacular environment. They have published hundreds of bird-related articles and have collaborated on many projects, including as co-contributors to the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior and as creators and webmasters of the websites arubabirds.com and bonairebirds.com, which provide field identification and bird-finding information about the birds of those popular vacation islands.
"Jeff is also the author of Birder's Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk, published in October 2007 by Princeton University Press, and editor of Boreal Birds of North America, published in 2011 by University of California Press. Allison was coeditor of Birder's Life List and Diary (third edition) and contributed many bird family accounts to Scholastic's New Book of Knowledge.
"Jeff is now senior scientist for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign and is a visiting fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Allison is senior director of public affairs for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. They live in Gardiner with their son and two bird-watching indoor cats."
I should add that Jeff and Allison's new book is superbly illustrated by Evan Barbour (whose work you can see at http://evanbarbour.com/
Don't Forget... Naturalist and writer Bernd Heinrich will be giving a Notebook-sponsored talk at the Schoodic Education and Research (SERC) Institute at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 20, and will be appearing and doing a 4 p.m. talk at The Naturalist's Notebook on Tuesday, Aug. 21. That same day—we're calling it Big Bang Day—Olympic runner Lynn Jennings will be talking with Sports Illustrated's Craig Neff about running and Olympics at an 11:30 picnic on the Seal Harbor green. Bring lunch if you'd like!
That rat-a-tat-tat on the side of our house is a hairy woodpecker. He's getting back at the house for nearly killing him.
But before I get to that tale (and we all fly into outer space with TV's 1960s Robinson family), here's a highly original one-minute video I came across today. It's a woodpecker animation done with some sort of masking or duct tape, and it's from the Worcester Art Museum. Click and watch:
Pretty cool animation, eh? Anyway, back to the Revenge of the Woodpecker. Last week he flew into a picture window in front of me. He dropped to a shrub, his head bent back, limp. His eyes were shut. I thought he'd broken his neck. I felt sick.
I should note that this woodpecker is sort of a friend of ours. He's around all the time and greets us with his "cheep" chirps (go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/hairy_woodpecker/id and click on SOUND to hear a sample) and his tree-rattling percussion—up to 20 beats per second. Basically, we think woodpeckers are about the coolest of bird species.
I left the room because I couldn't watch our friend die. A few minutes later, I returned, hoping he'd miraculously flown off, but he was still there, clinging to the shrub with one talon. At least his chest was moving and he had an eye open. For the next 15 minutes I watched him slowly improve. I felt he was looking back at me through the window. Finally, after turning his head a few times to make sure it still worked, he abruptly flew off to a spruce tree.
Pamelia taped white fluttering strips of paper to the window to prevent any future bird crashes. And then Hairy came back to the edge of the window yesterday and started pounding the house. Who could blame him? When I went out to shovel snow this morning, I heard one voice: Cheep! Pause. Cheep! I looked up and there was Hairy again, looking at me from a tree. He seemed totally back to normal. He won't find many bugs (I hope!) in the shingles of our house, but for now, I'm content to let him look.
The Notebook sendshappy 212th birthday greetings today (12/28) to Thomas Henderson, the Scottish astronomer who in the 1830s figured out the distance to Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. He wasn't exactly right—he calculated 3.25 light years (about 19 trillion miles) when in fact Alpha Centauri is 4.24 light years (about 25 trillion miles) away—but hey, cut him some slack. He may have been the first person to use the parallax method to determine distances in space.
Two bits of Henderson-related trivia: Those of you old enough to remember the Lost in Space TV series (danger, Will Robinson!) might recall that the Robinson family was bound for a planet that orbited Alpha Centauri. And, for the record, if you were to try to fly to Alpha Centauri at the speed of a commercial airliner, the trip would take just under 29 million years. Your baggage, perhaps longer. And remember, that's the closest star.