Baltimore Oriole male 5/19/17

As colorful as they are, Orioles belong to the blackbird family Icteridae, which also includes grackles, bobolinks, oropendolas, and caciques. For a time it was thought that Bullocks and Baltimore Orioles were the same species and were together renamed the Northern Oriole, but later it was discovered they didn’t hybridize as much as was previously thought, and the earlier nomenclature was reinstated. When Baltimore Orioles first return in the spring they are still on a winter diet of fruits and nectar, and will come to feeding stations providing oranges and jellies, but then soon switch to a diet of insects and invertebrates.

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Three Willets 5/17/17

Willets are one of the larger shorebirds with a distinctive black and white pattern in their wings when flying. Like their smaller cousins the Greater Yellowlegs, they belong to the genus of sandpipers called Tringa, aka the “shanks,” so named for their long legs which are often colorful but not so much in the Willet. These birds are resting up at high tide before continuing on their journey northeastwards. The eastern subspecies breeds anywhere between Chesapeake Bay and Prince Edward Island in the southern maritimes, so they aren’t Arctic migrants but more local. They like sand and mudflats for foraging and often nest in salt marshes.

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American Crow 5/15/17

Often in spring you’ll see American Crows strutting around the lawn, foraging for worms and other insects. Other times when there are several, they may take turns holding forth with their opinions like at a town meeting. Crows are one of the most intelligent of all birds and mate for life when they are 3 to 5 years old.

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Hermit Thrush 4/30/17

Hermit Thrushes are arriving, I came across half a dozen at once the other day, just inside one of Fort Foster’s woodland paths foraging for insects and berries on the forest floor. They are a smaller thrush than a robin but larger than a bluebird, and like its cousins will often droop its wings below the tail. They’re most easily recognized by their brown backs contrasting with reddish tails. They sing in a melancholy minor key with descending flutey trills that many consider the loveliest of birdsongs.

 

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Purple Sandpiper 4/27/17

I photographed this plump little shorebird a couple weeks ago among its 70-80 co-flockers, but when I looked for them last weekend they were gone. They could still be about but being the end of April they have likely begun their journey back to the Arctic. Purple Sandpipers are Maine’s most common winter shorebird, with small flocks congregating around a high tide home base every few miles up and down the rocky coast. Purples are dark for sandpipers, with orange feet and orange bills that droop just a little. When the light is right you can make out the purple-pink iridescence in their feathers that gives them their name. They wont be back in these parts again until November.

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Horned Lark 4/26/17

Horned Larks are occasional winter visitors along New England beaches, and at this time of year spring migrants from farther south are also passing through on their way northwards and inland. They breed in open country—bare ground, agricultural fields, grassland, scrubland, desert, and tundra where they forage on the ground for both seeds and insects. There are 42 recognized subspecies around the northern hemisphere and in Eurasia this same bird is called the Shore Lark. Momentum has been building among taxonomists to split this species into 6 new ones. Populations are in pretty serious decline, one reason being that out west they are the bird mostly frequently killed by wind turbines. They have a weak tinkling call given in flight.

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Common Loon molting 4/16/17

Many Common Loons along the coasts are molting into breeding plumage right now, shedding the dark gray above and white below of winter plumage for a more formal black tuxedo with white spotted wings. This one is only half there but well on its way, see those drab gray feathers just where the spotted black ones are beginning on the back? That’s the old making way for the new. The head and neck will also turn black with a barred white collar. It won’t be long before this one takes to the sky, returning to its inland territory, a freshwater lake or pond where it bred with its mate last year. Sexes are similar.

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