Barn Swallows are long-distance migrants pretty much found worldwide. North American populations breed in open country all across Mexico, the US, and subarctic Canada, wintering in the Carbbean, Central America, and much of South America. The birds roosting on this stick in the marsh are all males and juves having recently made landfall (females migrate a bit later), and have been hawking the beaches and salt marshes behind Seapoint for flying insects with their long pointed wings and deeply forked tails. Both sexes of Barn Swallows build their nests of mud inside accessible buildings and under structures like bridges and wharves, as well as the occasional cave or rock ledge.
Willets are closely related to Lesser Yellowlegs, both belonging to the genus Tringa and the clade of shorebirds loosely called the shanks. In winter they have a smooth gray appearance as opposed to the mottled browns of the breeding season but in all plumages they have a bold black and white pattern under the wings which becomes evident in flight. They are large shorebirds with a robust and straight bill and a piercing call you’ll hear around salt marshes, tidal flats, and at this time of year even rocky shores. Willets of the east coast don’t stray far from the sea, nesting in salt marshes while those of the west coast migrate to the freshwater wetlands of the prairies to breed. Fetched at Hampton Beach.
Black-white-warblers have a boldly striped pattern and especially long toes that allow it to forage up and down tree trunks and branches like a nuthatch does, the result being they are often confused with them. They are small warblers of eastern deciduous and mixed wood forests, with particularly long and decurved bills. Their song isalso distinctive, being two thin and highly pitched hissy notes repeated in succession, often paraphrased weesa weesa weesa weesa weesa that I liken to a wind-up toy. They nest on the ground at the base of a tree. This one’s male, females and juves have the same pattern as the males but their facial markings and breast streaks are gray rather than black.
The word I kept thinking of while watching this endangered little shorebird was . . . impatient. Oh she was quiet, dainty even while padding between the ammophila, but the determination with which she moved followed her like a speech balloon exclaiming “Where IS he?” Okay, maybe I can’t really read bird auras and was simply projecting… but I know it’s a she because male Piping Plovers have blacker and thicker collar and forehead markings, where this bird’s marks are brown and delicate. At this time of year, typically there are a couple of pairs setting up shop on these few remaining acres of marram at the mouth of Hampton harbor, but as of the other day no males or pairs that I saw, or piping that I heard.
This was one of a pair of kingbirds I came across behind Wallis Sands the other day, and though the light was nice I was stuck with a difficult angle for photographing. Moving along the shrubs at the edge of the salt marsh they would approach one another with this tremulous fluttering that was such a decidedly gentle and intimate way of interacting, and its delicacy was in such sharp contrast to when they called to each other with their harsh scolds. But lack of vocal quality is characteristic of the Tyrant Flycatchers, all of them songbirds only in name, and these are Tyrannus tyrannus, the taxonomic archetype for the family. That family that happens to be the largest family of birds on Earth with over 400 living species, most of which are found in the other Americas to the south. Some of the tyrannids have erectile crests—the Eastern Kingbird’s is red and almost never seen—and most of the tyrannids are drab-colored, with a few exceptions like the Vermillion Flycatcher.
This Yellow Warbler is singing its sweet whistled “Au, Au, Aujourd’hui!” from a high perch in the thickets behind Seapoint, often paraphrased without the French as “Sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.” These bright little jewels are just now arriving all over North America from Alaska to Newfoundland, excepting only the deep south and southwest of the continent. The males are yellow all over with chestnut streaking on their breasts. Females, immatures, and winter males are a duller yellow than this.
One of my favorite low tide walks starts at the Fort Foster pier and goes upriver on the flats until Chauncey Creek prevents you from walking into Pepperrell Cove. And I was doing just that with an old friend the other day when we came across these Laughing Gulls preening at the river’s edge. There are 5 different hooded gulls you can see in New England (all of which are smaller than your typical Herring Gull) and the differences between them are subtle. But only the Laughing and Franklin’s Gulls have dark gray wings and black legs like these birds, though later in breeding season both legs and bills will get redder. But when you look closely at the black wingtips, you can just make out some tiny white spots in a line there, a Franklin’s Gull would have much bigger white spots in a line. In winter plumage, the hoods of hooded gulls are mostly lost, replaced with whiter heads and various gray patches to distinguish between the species.