September has been a month of transitions. Not only are families sorting out the routines of a new (and more complex) school year, but, with the changing weather, the day-to-day routines of wildlife are undergoing remarkable shifts as well.
This fall it feels like the weather can’t make up its mind. Last week, I had set out on an early morning paddle on Casco Bay. Three days earlier, on a pre-work bike ride, I watched the sun glisten off the frost crystals on blades of grass in meadows that lined my route. However, on this morning, the air was already warm, despite the fact that the sun would not rise until I was nearly a mile away from my launch point. The bay was teeming with life. Beneath me, pogies and stripers were chasing baitfish to the surface, causing them to leap into the air like popcorn popping. A Short-nosed Sturgeon leapt into the air toward Little Diamond Island, landing flat on its belly, making a splash that could be seen and heard a quarter of a mile away. The sun rose as I approached Halfway Ledge. A young seal joyfully greeted the dawn with gusto, porpoising out of the water several times with glee on a track parallel to my kayak. The ledge was covered with less enthusiastic seals and groggy cormorants, stirring and beginning to vocalize about where they might go for breakfast.
I was halfway to the Brothers Islands when a V of Canada Geese passed directly overhead. As their honks receded into the distance, I became aware of two loons, each almost a mile apart, giving tremolo calls on either side of me. More followed. I counted six loons in all. Once on the water, they greeted each other with gentle hoots. The cold snap had triggered their migration from northern lakes, and they were preparing to spend their winter in the bay. Male loons migrate first and recent studies have shown that they have 85% fidelity to their winter waters. The females leave lakes last, and typically migrate farther south.
Most people think of loons in the context of their summer lake experience, but loons spend more than half of their lives on salt water. It’s here that I will hear them calling on cold February mornings, as I run on a snowy path around Mackworth Island. Seasons come and seasons go; each with vastly different wildlife vignettes playing out. I love them all and embrace each season with equal curiosity and joy.
Spending time in the good company of nature is restorative for our minds, bodies, and souls. Early this spring, we made the commitment to keep our sanctuaries open and you responded by visiting for quiet exploration, or by bringing your children and grandchildren so that they could experience life outside of the virtual realm. Our traffic counts have shown a wonderful increase in your visitation to our sanctuaries compared to 2019. We appreciate your kind notes of appreciation because they validate our commitment to enable your engagement with wildlife.
Wildlife is not experiencing the pandemic, racial justice conversations, or election discourse in the way that we are. While attending to these issues is an absolutely essential use of our time and energy, it is important that we recharge our batteries, too. Being mindful that there is a realm way beyond the bounds of our human species gives us important context as we develop our point of view on key issues of the day.
As the weather cools, I hope that you’ll continue your habit of spending time in nature. Use all of your senses: feel the refreshingly crisp air, hear the remarkable increase in bird chatter due to the migrating flocks, watch an eagle soar majestically above your head, and inhale that intoxicating aroma of the fall woods. There is so much to observe and enjoy. We’ve enjoyed your company through the photos and stories that you have shared with us, and look forward to hearing about your continuing adventures.
Thank you for all of your engagement with Maine Audubon this spring and summer. We miss interacting with you in person. We missed the joy of children at our camps, the shared joy of morning bird walks, the energy of fun events, and interacting with you at our Nature Stores. At the same time, we felt your love. While our earned income from the in-person activities took a big hit this year, we benefited by your generous donations and membership renewals.
We thank you for your ongoing support in these complicated times and hope that you’ll be generous during our important fall annual fund campaign. As noted above, despite the complexity of 2020, (wild)life goes on and we must continue to work hard to protect that wildlife and its habitat. Our priorities remain the same and we have worked hard not to let nature take a backseat to the pandemic—in fact, we’re proud of some of the innovative ways that we have adapted our good work. With your help we fledged a record number of Piping Plovers, we had even more people helping us with the 37th Annual Loon Count (with an improved digital tabulation tool), we delivered countless hours of virtual education and conservation workshops all across Maine (and well beyond), and we created a renewable energy siting toolkit that is being enthusiastically utilized by municipalities, regulatory organizations, and solar developers. Your generous support helped ensure that we didn’t skip a beat!
Please stay close. The best is yet to come!