American Bittern 1/19/18

This was a bird stalking, and like the ice it moved glacially. What it was stalking on the ice and in the dried grasses we never discovered but it was on the hunt. The more years I spend birdwatching the more it seems to me that just about every species has these intrepid individuals that wind up not migrating to brave the winter, when all their peers are enjoying warmer winter digs. I’ve always thought of these birds as flukes, outliers, when really they are something of a norm. With some species like the Carolina Wren or the Turkey Vulture, there are many who push the boundary and every winter there seem to be a few more, while others like the American Bittern, are few and far between. But all quite possibly participating in the same process, just at different speeds.

Comments

Northern Cardinal male 1/17/18

Can you imagine New England without cardinals? Actually you don’t have to go back very far in history to find that, not even a 100 years. Cardinals, or Redbirds, came from the southeastern US and began spreading north and west, taking advantage of warming temps, the habitat changes that come with suburban development, as well as the popularity of backyard bird feeding in winter. Cardinals don’t migrate, they need year round territories with dense thickets, where they typically rear several broods in a season. It’s no surprise that when people compulsively “tidy up” the brambles and thickets on their property they later wonder what happened to all the songbirds.

Comments

Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper 1/15/18

Occasionally in winter, walking the empty beach out to Seapoint in a bitter northeast wind rewards me with a shorebird treat. In November a small flock of Purple Sandpipers comes down from the Arctic and takes up residence on the surf-beaten point. At sandier points north and south similar-sized flocks of Sanderlings, the “alba” of the Calidrid sandpipers, winter on long sandy beaches such as you find at Hampton or Ogunquit. Neither of these birds are especially rare, but it is a bit unusual to find them together. The Sanderling is just passing through, it forages the wet sand at the seas edge, and isn’t really at home on the rocks, but most traveling shorebirds find safety in numbers.

Comments

Merlin tiercel 1/10/18

Merlins are one of the falcons, now known to be more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. They are designed for speed and agility with long narrow wings to catch and kill smaller birds on the wing. Like most birds of prey they are sexually dimorphic with females being larger than males, an adaptation allowing a pair to better exploit prey sizes within their territory. Male falcons are called tiercels, some sources say for being roughly a third smaller than females. Merlin tiercels are also bluer winged while females are brown. Merlins are found around the Northern Hemisphere in 9 subspecies.

Comments

Dark-eyed Junco male 1/8/18

Dark-eyed Juncos are year round birds in New England but their population increases dramatically in winter with the arrival of migrants from the boreal forests of Canada. We used to call this bird the Slate-colored Junco, but that was when the splitters were in charge of bird taxonomy, today the lumpers hold sway and 5 different Junco species were all renamed “Dark-eyed Junco” since the populations readily hybridized where their ranges overlapped. So today they are all considered subspecies. Juncos are a genus of Sparrows, just not the brown streaky kind. Females are browner.

Comments

Common Loon 12/27/17

Common Loons are heavy birds with large spear-shaped bills, able to dive up to 200 feet underwater. They prey mostly on fish but also catch mollusks and crustaceans, usually swallowing them whole on the way back to the surface. Their legs are positioned so far back on their body for underwater swimming that they are ungainly, almost helpless on land having to slide on their bellies pushed by their hind feet, and they need considerable runway on water for take-off. They breed across the northern boreal forest lakes and tundra ponds and winter on the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well as the Great Lakes.

Comments

Sharp-shinned Hawk, female, Christmas Puzzlebird 12/25/17

Last week’s Christmas Puzzle bird was looking to ID this bird, in particular whether it was a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The tricky part of this photo was that none of the usual signs were especially definitive or obvious in this photo. The nape coloration wasn’t prominent so you couldn’t really tell whether the bird appeared “hooded” or “capped,” nor was proportional head size obvious, and even what appears to be a rounded tail was a bit misleading. The one thing that could be said for sure about this bird was that it was an Accipiter and with a yellow eye, that made it a juvenile Accipiter. When you see a juvenile accipiter that is either Sharpie or Coop, it’s very easy to tell them apart from their front sides. The immature Coop has finely drawn  dark streaks on a white background, while the Sharpie has brown barring. both give way to reddish barring in the adults of either. But this example here is clearly a Sharp-shinned Hawk. So what about that rounded tail? Well what makes a Sharpie tail look square is that all the tail feathers are the same length, while the outer 2 feathers in a Cooper’s Hawk are always shorter than the rest, which creates the pronounced rounding. Looking carefully at the bird above to see the tail feathers are indeed all one length, and that alone is enough to definitivel;y call this bird a Sharp-shinned Hawk. It also turns out that the outermost tails feathers of female Sharpies are a little rounder than males, while the tail feathers of male Sharpies sometimes shows a notch in the middle.

Comments

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »