Photographic Reflection : The Chickadees of Magalloway River, Maine

What does it mean to have a “long day” of fly fishing? The old adage says : a bad day of fishing is better than a good day in the office. Agreed. However, by the end of our sunny, late April day at the Magalloway River of northern Maine, my friend Kevin Shea and I were doubting that any of the trophy 22″ brook trout we were seeking could ever be caught in a river renowned for them. The brookies were not intrigued by our fly fishing techniques of finessing nymphs or stripping streamers, and drift after drift our lines stayed slack. After hours of the torturous work of standing in the water to fish (sensing the irony?), I turned my eyes to a soft spot on the bank and took a seat. The sun shown overhead, and in my memory not a cloud could be seen in the sky. At least that explained the poor fishing – they never bite on the nice days! The Magalloway River flowed in front of me, and several fisherman were down the bank from me about 25 yards still dredging the rocky bottom with their #18 beadheads.

It was the movement that caught my eye. A bird had flown near my left shoulder and disappeared. Turning my full attention to the area I watched a black-capped chickadee emerge from the end of a rotten alder log and fly off with a face full of sawdust. As it flew off, another of the gregarious birds quickly flew in to take the first’s place in the hollowed log, and seconds later reappeared with a mouthful of sawdust. The bird flew to the nearest branch and pulled apart the sawdust, apparently looking for some type insect or larvae. In its place a train of birds flew into the hollow log and then back out creating a constant stream of entertainment for a curious human.

The fearlessness of chickadees makes them a favorite bird of children and adults alike and is part of the reason chickadees are one of the best-known birds of North American feeders. [As a side note, these tiny birds are able to survive brutal winter (e.g. -40 F in Fairbanks, AK) temperatures by dropping their body temperature as much as 12-15 degrees below their average body temp every night, conserving as much as 25% or their body energy!] However, even though I had seen their antics many times at a bird feeder, this was the first time I had seen them so voraciously ripping apart wild fodder. It was addicting to watch the organized flow of black-caps eagerly looking towards their next meal!

Their consistent pattern of entering the log, and emerging a few seconds later gave me enough time to snag my camera and take some shots. The shots I captured sealed the moment in time and memory of these great birds for me, which is what I offer you today!

This successful black-capped chickadee is headed to shred some sawdust in hopes of a quick meal.
A black-capped chickadee shows off an impressive mouthful of sawdust and food! (?)
A black-capped chickadee waits it turn as a fellow member of the species root for some grub in the hollow alder log.
Full spread! A black-capped chickadee takes flight after digging out some pay-dirt from the log.

So, the old adage is right. However, arguably based on my day, a bad day of fishing is worse than a good bout of bird watching! The images, antics, and thoughts of these birds have stuck with me for the last 18 months. There’s always something to watch in nature, even if the fishing isn’t good!

Kevin works on slinging a cast to the far bank of a pool. A beautiful day to catch no fish!
Kevin works on slinging a cast to the far bank of a pool. A beautiful day to catch no fish!
Posing for a picture Circa April 28, 2013 while fishing the Magalloway
Posing for a picture Circa April 28, 2013 while fishing the Magalloway

For those of you who haven’t read through one of my ‘photographic reflections’ before they are entries from pictures I took before the blog started, but have a story. This one took place in 2013, I hope you enjoyed! I will leave you with this short clip of the Chickadees using the alder-log bonanza

13 thoughts on “Photographic Reflection : The Chickadees of Magalloway River, Maine”

  1. Yup remember that day, and the time and patience that you had to wait for them to return again and again. You were like a kid, you were in a trance.

    I also recall a bunch of PBRs slacking away a “skunk” day.

    1. Hahaha, I also remember the fear of thinking the bartendress was going to yank me over the bar when I tapped that can on the wood asking for another one, and getting a load of crap from the locals for asking for PBR in the first place!

  2. Great story to the photos, even though from the past year, they looked new, again. Even more fun when the subject bird is my favorite one. And, Kevin, although is my kid, Ian has the gift of being an eternal kid. I hope the wonderment and curiosity never “grow old”.

  3. I know that River a little….enough to ride in the car beside it……that is beautiful country and one my husband and two boys spent MANY years, during the summer near. My 2 boys had choices every year, Cupsuptic camping or going somewhere else…..Cupsuptic always won(probably 15 years at least) . Camping,in tents, for weeks and weeks….with and without their father. Fond memories! Cindy

    1. It’s a gorgeous area, you betcha! I never made it onto Cupsuptic though, but I k now there’s loons there! The whole Rangeley region is just so beautiful, you can’t really go wrong by picking a destination up there. Great to hear from you!

      1. I am wiping the tears from my eyes, trying to keep from waking the whole household as i laugh. i wish i could forward this to Crash!!!

  4. You’ve shot quite a few classics. The chickadee photo probably ranks in the top 3. Fun to hear the story behind the photo. And the video of the comings and goings made me literally laugh out loud. What fun, friendly gregarious birds they are. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one of them get bossy/pushy at our feeders.

    1. They’re never bossy, but won’t let other birds push them around either. A perfect model of carrying a big stick, and only using it when you need to. The photo is certainly in my top 3 for bird photography or maybe wildlife photography in general. Picking tops can be hard, though!!

  5. Ian, I so enjoyed your video of the quirky, silly, yet totally chivalrous chickadee. Chickadee is also my favorite, most dear bird. I was so happy & surprised that you chose this bird for a focus. The sawdust on their beaks & faces is just too comical. Once again, thank you, thank you!

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