Blind Leading The Blind: Maine Magpies
We recently received a interesting question from Alice of 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera. After buttering us up with compliments, she posed this query:
I am not aware of any magpie that can be found on the Atlantic coast of North America, but my friend says that her (ninety-something-year-old) grandmother speaks of the magpies she remembers from her childhood in Maine. Do you know of any variety of magpie that might have been found at one time in the northeast US?
This is a simple question if you know where to look (Bird Links to the World) so my quick response was that the Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica hudsonia) is not a resident of the Northeastern US, but is an accidental visitor in Maine during spring and fall migration. To the best of my limited knowledge, it’s never been anything but a rare migrant in that area. Black-billed magpies are normally found in the US and Canada from the Midwest out to the Pacific coast and up to Alaska.
This exchange is not remarkable in and of itself, but I’m sharing it for two reasons. The first is so that I can promote Alice’s excellent blog. 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera is a lot of fun, especially if you share the host’s politics.
Her magpie question also stirred up fond remembrances of the Core Team honeymoon. Sara and I visited Alaska after we married in September 2002, merrily traveling from Anchorage to Fairbanks with the mandatory stop in Denali. Of course, we had a sensational time. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Alaska is even more amazing and inspiring an environment than it is purported to be. Although the massive mountains and dark Sitka spruce forests thrilled us to no end, the highlight of the journey was a brief cruise through Prince William Sound.
Our first and favorite place of lodging during our trip was the utterly charming Copper Whale Inn in Anchorage. Situated right off the Cook Inlet, this bed and breakfast offered brilliant views of eagles, ravens, beluga whales, and black-billed magpies. At this point in our careers, Sara and I hadn’t yet realized that we were birders, but we were nonetheless mesmerized by these brash and beautiful corvids. Black-billed magpies have striking black and white plumage and long tails that throw off iridescent flashes of lapis, malachite, and amethyst. Like jays and crows, their cousins, magpies are mischievous and bold. We admired them as they landed within feet of us and were dazzled by them as they effortlessly negotiated the steep cliffs and tangled branches of the mountainous terrain. In a week of wonders, the magpie made a lasting impression.