Northern Flicker 4/23/18

Northern Flickers are already returning with this first wave of spring migrants. Notice the distinct black bib and spotted belly, and the gilded yellow shafts of the underfeathers give it its more common oldtime name—Yellowhammer. There’s also an unmistakeable white rump you can’t miss when you see its bouncy flight pattern. Males have black mustaches, females have none. Flickers often excavate new nest cavities every year, making other cavity nesters somewhat dependent on them to recycle their housing. Northern Flickers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are the only 2 New England woodpeckers that migrate, the others are all resident.

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Fish Crow 4/22/18

One doesn’t really see a Fish Crow as much as hear it, at least that’s how it works for me. While driving through Hampton Beach I heard “Aw, Aw, Aw,” and perked up, it was not the expected “Caw, Caw, Caw,” you associate with the American Crow, which I traced to this bird and then chased it a few blocks for a portrait. Most folks don’t realize we have two crow species. Fish Crows are smaller than American Crows, are usually found along the coast and waterways, and we are close to the northern limit of their range. They often have more blue iridescence in their backs which isn’t evident here being a cloudy day, there’s a sharp hook on the tip of its closed beak but you can’t see that in this head-on shot (but in others I have), and they have some different behaviors. But unless you happen have both species sitting side by side, they are pretty indistinguishable except for their call.

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Savannah (Ipswich) Sparrow 4/20/18

Previously its own species, the Ipswich Sparrow is now classified as one of the many subspecies of Savannah Sparrow, and the palest. These birds breed on Sable Island in the Atlantic off eastern Nova Scotia, but migrate up and down the east coast during the early spring and late fall. They are quite a rare bird inland, but along the coast at places like Fort Foster and Seapoint it’s not that unusual to see one or a small handful anytime between October and May. Like other eastern Savannah Sparrows, they have yellow lores and a barely streaked breast with a pale central spot.

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Cooper’s Hawk, immature male 4/19/18

We have 3 Accipiter hawks in New England, relatively slender birds compared to the bulkier soaring hawks. Accipiters have short rounded wings and long rudder-like tails designed for maximum maneuverability for chasing littler birds through the woods. The 3 species are basically different sizes of the same design, with the Cooper’s Hawk being the mid-sized model. This one’s a juvenile, revealed by the yellow iris which turns red as the bird ages. Juve Coops also have a finely streaked breast, like raindrops, unlike the smaller Sharp-shinned which has a more barred breast or the larger Northern Goshawk which has a more heavily streaked breast. Another definitive clue to it being a Cooper’s Hawk are the outer tail feathers being shorter, resulting in a rounded tail. Tail feathers all the same length produce a more squared-off look.

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Great Blue Heron 4/18/18

This isn’t my first of year (FOY in birdspeak) Great Blue Heron, I’ve been spotting a few of them here and there for weeks now, but I saw this one disappear in a marsh channel and drove up to where it might eventually stalk out of, and after a short wait I was rewarded with some close-ups. It’s an adult in full breeding regalia, its spear of a bill so yellow it was singing. Breeding plumes dangling and unfortunately in this pick its 2 black head plumes are obscured behind its neck. They are the tallest of our herons, often called “cranes” by oldtimers, and typically also the first to arrive in the spring since the north end of their winter range isn’t all that far south of here. They are expert fishers, stalking their prey in the shallows, but also snack on mice, amphibians, and reptiles. They belong to the genus Ardea, which contains the world’s dozen or so great heron species.

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Common Grackle 4/17/18

Few blackbirds are as colorful close up as the Common Grackle. Even odder is that the colors they do sport aren’t pigment-based like most birds’ feathers, but iridescent which depends on the fine-tuned microstructure of the feathers to reflect light, and in that way that create those shiny and metallic blue-greens, purples, and bronzes. You’ll often see Common Grackles strutting around a lawn looking for some omnivorous snack, or gathered in groups high in the treetops and making an ungodly racket, or flying along with their tails folded into a v-shaped scoop.

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Great and Snowy Egret 4/16/18

The Snowy is in the back with the dart-like black bill and yellow lores between bill and eyes, and if you could see its legs they’d be black but with bright yellow feet. The Great Egret with the small fish in its thicker and spear-like yellow bill has green lores and if I’m not mistaken that’s breeding color that will have faded by late summer. The Great is over 3 feet tall, not quite as big as a Great Blue Heron, but almost. The Snowy is about 2 feet tall. Despite the “egret” name, the Great Egret is more closely related to the Great Blue Heron (both belong to genus Ardea) than it is to the Snowy Egret.

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