The Great 12-hour Bird-Watching Adventure

It all started with this pretty little American Robin

It all started on our regular morning dog walk, with the picture I took of an American Robin sitting on a fence. Photo time stamp 6:06 a.m.

“I’ll post it on Twitter,” I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband). “The bird group will love it.” (I have a group of bird watching friends on Twitter—we exchange bird photos and stories.)

And that, thought I, was that, for the bird watching of the day. But boy was I wrong. We went about our Sunday business: the video of the beach overlook followed by breakfast out, then a little gardening, a little lawn mowing, a little work on the WIP (I kid you not, I really did!). Everywhere we went we saw birds: at the beach lots of ducks and shorebirds, more robins at home, but nothing out of the ordinary or noteworthy.

But all that changed at (approximately, no time stamp) 3:15 p.m. when we left to mail a Netflix video and go on a Walmart run. As we drove through the post office drive-thru lane, that’s when we saw them: a few birds in the grass—birds that looked totally unfamiliar to me. (I’m a pretty big bird watcher; so it’s rare to see something completely new.) One was a beautiful black and white robin-sized bird. The other two were gray and streaked with gray. We stopped the car to look. The birds obligingly stayed right where we could see them.

“What is it?” I said. “If only we brought the camera!” We both lamented the fact as we drove away; MEH suggested we come back later. Because, we discussed, while laughing, it’s not like a bird couldn’t go anywhere else.

At Walmart, as we entered the store, I glanced over my shoulder. A lone seagull sat on top of a car, not 30 feet from the store entrance! I pointed it out to MEH, we laughed, and went in the store.

An hour and a half later we returned home to pick up the dog for the afternoon dog walk.

The Eastern Kingbird, beautiful!
“Let’s take the camera,” MEH said. “We’ll go look for the bird at the post office first.”

I agreed, thinking there was no possible way we’d see it, but—just in case—I also grabbed the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America(my go to bird book these days) and my binoculars.

We drove around the post office to no avail. No birds at all. We drove to nearby buildings and parking lots, nothing. We spent about 10 minutes looking—until finally we spotted two birds darting through the bushes near the post office. MEH followed in quick pursuit, ending up in the exact spot where we’d seen the birds that morning.

The Mystery Bird…to be continued?
And right in front of us, at 5:18 p.m. (photo time stamp), on a stake in the ground, sat the bird. I quickly took several pictures then opened the bird book and started looking. It was an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). A bird that I really hadn’t ever seen!

Next we spotted the gray streaked bird, sitting on top of a very high light post. We tried to get a good photo—we couldn’t. And because I had to look into the sun, I couldn’t even see it well with the binoculars. This bird will remain a mystery.

The Osprey (click to enlarge)
But while I was trying to get a good look at the mystery bird, MEH spotted another bird.

“Is that an Osprey?” He said, pointing up toward the sky. And sure enough it was. The Ospredy (Pandion haliaetus) is fairly common in Maine now—but I always get a thrill to see this bird that rebounded from near-extinction in the late 1900s.

We left the post office, ecstatic bird-watchers, and we headed for the area we always walk the dog, where we’d seen the robin earlier in the day.

The Killdeer let MEH get pretty close
From the second we arrived we were surrounded by birds! First crows. Then more robins, then Killdeer (Characrius vociferus). As indicated by their Latin name, Killdeer are notorious for being very loud, usually to distract people from their nesting areas or babies. MEH walked as close as he could—pretty close!—to get a photo of the Killdeer who was doing its best to lure us away from a fledgling Killdeer we saw nearby.

(Click to enlarge)
Zoom in to see the burger in this gull’s mouth!
As we got back in the car, we agreed we’d had quite the birding day. But we spoke too soon—a crow swooped down right near the hood of our car, with a large piece of hamburger bun or sandwich in its beak. It was too fast for us to take a picture, but then, just as quickly, a seagull mobbed the crow and they fought briefly mid-air—and the seagull emerged the victor—flying away with the hamburger in its mouth! I got a picture (a little blurry, but still!).
As we drove away, we looked across the street at the herd of cows that lives nearby—just as a large flock of starlings flew around them, creating a cloud of birds. We stopped so I could get a picture, but before I could, the birds all settled down in the field.

As we sat there by the side of the road, I noticed a bright yellow spot in the nearby tall grass—an American Goldfinch (Carduelis trista). And MEH snapped a photo—at  6:06 p.m. (photo time stamp)—exactly 12 hours after I took the photo of the robin! 

The bright yellow spot: an American Goldfinch
We drove home, happily reminiscing about our accidental 12-hour bird-watching adventure!

Do you ever have unexpected adventures as you go about your regular day? Do they inspire your writing and give you new ideas to write about?

Cheers, Julia


  1. Cynthia Robertson says:

    Isn’t it funny how hightened awareness can make us see something all around us?
    I like the Goldfinch best…so pretty. Good eyes catching him, Julia. What a great ‘birder’ day!

  2. Love your birding adventures. I was going to guess kingbird! We have them in AZ, but they’re brown!

    I had one of those unexpected adventures yesterday – in the midst of snooping around for arrowheads after the rains. What I DID find was a lovely baby desert tortoise. And I got to thinking that I’ve taken so many pictures of those nomads (in all sizes) as they cross by our property, that they will become a blog post someday soon! And birds … they’ll always have a special place in my heart. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love birds, too, Julia. My mother always associated Cardinals with my grandmother, who passed away when I was three. Now, I associate Blue Birds with my own mother. I wonder what my own children will associate with me? I think I’d like a Red Tailed Hawk. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos.

  4. CMSmith says:

    You had a great day. I saw a few kildeer at Murphin Ridge when we were there. They’re unique.

    I have also seen on several days, two blue herons flying overhead. I recognize they call now. Hoping one day to catch them landing by our creek.

  5. Ann says:

    Your day just went to the birds! I’m thrilled that you saw something new! I’ve never been a bird or nature watcher. Believe it or not, I look a buildings. Savannah, GA & Charleston, SC are two of my favorite “building” cities…

  6. Susan Okaty says:

    How wonderful to see new birds! Makes you want to carry your camera everywhere. I think blogging makes you mindful of what is going on around you because it just might make a good topic for a blog. I’m not mindful enough, though. My daughter can pull topics out of thin air!

  7. Cynthia, The Goldfinch is my daughter’s favorite bird, so you can guess how I feel about them — glad you picked that one 🙂 As for heightened awareness, it’s wonderful — what’s weird is that the birds are all around us all the time and we often don’t notice them!

    Melissa, How great that you recognized the Kingbird — I’ve never seen one anywhere, here or out west. Isn’t that weird? I LOVED the baby tortoise, adorable, that IS an adventure! I thought of you this morning when I discovered that a deer had eaten the tops off all our bean plants…. wishing I’d taken your advice and gotten the Cudde! Nevertheless, I may write a blog about it anyway 🙂

    Jolina, I love Cardinals, and I associate them with my grandmother, too — I used to watch them out her kitchen window on the birdfeeder! How interesting that you associate Blue Birds with your mom. I associate the Goldfinch with my daughter — which she loves because she studies biology (and loves Darwin) and because she loves To Kill a Mockingbird and relates the Goldfinch to Atticus Finch. I love Red Tail Hawks — a perfect bird for you! I’ll have to ask my daughter what bird she associates with me….

    Christine, It was a wonderfully unexpected day’s adventure. I love the blue herons (GBH I call them!), incredibly magical birds! I’ve never heard their call, though! Hope you’ll get a pic of one by your creek!

    Ann, HAHAHA — I wish I’d thought of that as a headline: My Day Went to the Birds. Much better, you’re funny! I can so relate to your interest in buildings because I’m a building watcher too! I even have a book called the Field Guide to American Houses. I also am thinking of getting an app for my iPhone, they’re supposed to be wonderful! Do you have one? (p.s. I’ve never been to Savannah or Charleston, but would love to go — maybe in Winter 🙂

    Susan, It was wonderful to see the new birds! And it does make us want to take the camera everywhere. In fact, in the first draft of this post, I had the dialog between my husband and me when he asks if we should take the camera (on the original trip)… when I answered no. I of course then totally regretted my decision! I’ve even written blogs about the camera instigating ideas for the blog — I think it’s so much easier to think of ideas when you’re blogging all the time, don’t you?

  8. I’ve never been much of a camera person, so I don’t have many photos, but I do love seeing all our local birds! One of the really fun parts of traveling to the US was, for me, seeing a whole heap of new animals! Apparently, I am very lucky (or a critter-magnet), as I have seen a huge variety of rare animals that most of the people who’d lived there their whole lives hadn’t seen in the wild. 🙂 The cardinals and blue jays are fascinating, with their spiky head feathers! Glad you had such a great day.


  9. Ashlee, I know what you mean about traveling places that allow you to see a whole new heap of animals! I lived in Central America and Africa as a child/teen, and it was so interesting seeing how different everything was from what I was used to. I agree that the jays and cardinals are fascinating with their spiky head feathers — a mini tropical thing going on!

  10. Julia, I wish I knew as much about birds as you do! And so long to visit Maine. I’ve always been fascinated with the migratory species in particular. We get loads of cardinals down here, but have never heard of a king bird. I have a special friend who associates bluebirds with her mum, and another who thinks her mum was reborn as a hummingbird.
    Am starting to wonder if my parents are connected with Canda geese, that fly above our yard two seasons a year.
    Someday, I’d love to read posts about your years in Central America and Africa, too!

  11. reeling, We see a lot of cardinals too, but I have never seen a Kingbird either before this one! (I was surprised because my grandmother taught me so much about birds AND I took ornithology in college!) An earlier commenter associates bluebirds with her mother, too, just like your friend! I love Canada geese; you are so lucky to have them migrate over your yard — beautiful! Thanks so much for your comment; I have an upcoming blog post about a story about when I lived in Belize (when I was very young); thanks for the interest in that and Africa, too!