Hooded Merganser drake 2/13/18

Naw, not a crab attack but the sawbill playing with his food, breaking it up into more easily swallowed pieces. I had the luck of getting pretty close to this pair of Hoodies alternately diving for crabs and then taking naps in the rain (see yesterday’s female). Shooting from a car helps, except for the raptors and corvids, birds will generally ignore a parked car. There’s nothing like car birding in the rain, it’s the best. Don’t drive up too close, instead have the time and patience for them to come right up to an even better spot and present you with their personalities up close and personal.

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Hooded Merganser female 2/12/18

Hoodies are my favorite of the 3 sawbills, all mergansers being so named for their serrated bills. They pass through tidal marshes and inlets late fall and early spring while their breeding habitats are icebound. But some winter at the coast, waiting for the spring thaw to have first pick of the best freshwater territories farther inland. Females like this one have rusty heads that resemble a thick paintbrush, while male hoods are dress-white and trimmed in black.

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Sandhill Crane 2/7/18

There are 15 crane species worldwide but only 2 in North America—the Whooping Crane and the Sandhill Crane. Something very interesting is going on with the latter. Since 1967 they began showing up in eastern states where they’d never been seen before. A vagrant just showing up somewhere new is hardly unusual, but then these birds would stay for the season, migrate south for the winter, and then surprisingly come back the next season, sometimes with a mate to start breeding. These aren’t vagrants so much as they are pioneers. Pretty soon you get small migrating flocks like we have in Maine now, which started with one bird back in 2001. This bird’s name is Kevin, he arrived in Rollinsford NH earlier in 2017, but for some reason has not migrated south for the winter like northern cranes usually do, instead he’s sticking it out through the winter. Thankfully, Kevin has people looking out for him.

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House Finch male 2/4/18

I like all the birds I find, even the killers and invaders. Like my old friend and mentor Alfred Timmons would say, “Everything just wants to live.” So one of the things I’m often perplexed by is how some birders have an almost violent hatred of certain invasive species, like House Sparrows or European Starlings. Supposedly the hatred is justified on account of them displacing native species like Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Flickers. There are folks who complain or unfollow Birdaday after I’ve posted about about these invasives. But then others not, so it seems something else might be going on. Case in point the House Finch—an invasive species that has devastated the Purple Finch population in the Eastern US (except for its deep forest habitats). Why are they not vilified? Is it because they look so similar to the species they’ve displaced? Is it because they bring color to the feeder, or a pleasant song in spring?

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Horned Lark 2/3/18

Horned Larks are found all across the northern hemisphere in 42 subspecies. They are North America’s only lark, and breed in open country—prairies, deserts, tundra, mountains above the tree line, agricultural fields, and shorelines. They are year round residents in much of the US, but there are migratory populations that breed in the Arctic and winter much farther south in places like New England and the Gulf Coast. I often see them in small flocks of a half to several dozen on local beaches during the winter, occasionally mixed in with other Arctic birds like Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. They’re hard to see until they’ve been spooked into the air with weak tinkling calls. Many of the North American subspecies are in decline, one reason being they are especially susceptible to being killed by wind turbines.

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Gray Catbird 1/30/18


Gray Catbirds are another species you have to be careful about when checking your field guide’s range map. It will tell you that there are none around in the winter months, but every winter there are always a number of them who didn’t get the memo.

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Pileated Woodpecker male 1/28/18

You need to be around a sizable patch of woodland to regularly see these largest of the New England woodpeckers. The flaming red crests found in both sexes and even juveniles are what give them their name—pileated means crested or capped. On tree trunks they appear mostly black except for some white in the face and throat, though in flight you’ll see more of their white wing patches and underwings, which helps differentiate them from similarly sized crows. Mated pairs stick to their territories year round. They hammer away at tree trunks leaving rectangular holes in their search for ants and other insects but in winter they’ll also take fruits and berries, and if food is scarce or the winter particularly difficult, they’ll come to backyard feeding stations for suet. They have a stripe from the opening of the bill back to the throat which is black in the females, but red in the males.

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