Archive for Passerines (perching birds)

Swamp Sparrow 4/26/18

Here’s a medium-sized sparrow of wetland habitats with especially long legs for wading the shallows while foraging for aquatic invertebrates. In winter their diet includes a lot more seeds. They are distinctively marked with a lot of rufous in the cap and wings, a white throat and a gray unstreaked breast and a gray face with a black eyestripe. They’re a fairly common sparrow in New England but not often seen in their swampy habitats, nor do you ever see them in groups. Their song is a simple trill, a little like a Chipping Sparrow but slower and lower pitched. They are closely related to both the Song and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

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Piping Plover male 4/25/18

We have a few shorebirds that breed locally and this threatened and endangered plover is one of them. With constant human pressure on their beachside nesting grounds, Piping Plovers are having a hard time recovering their former numbers along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Great Plains where they breed. In New England they arrive in April to court, mate, and nest in sand dunes right where people congregate in great numbers during the summertime, along with their homes, vehicles, and pets.  On the other hand, if it weren’t for most people respecting their roped off nesting areas and adjusting their habits to tread the dunes a little more lightly, there’s little doubt in my mind these plaintive little shorebirds would be extinct by now. Populations are improving, but progress is glacial. This one’s male, the black visor between the eyes and the necklace are paler and not so bold or complete in the females.

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Eastern Phoebe 4/24/18

Eastern Phoebes are invariably the first of the flycatchers to arrive back in New England after the long winter. You’ll see them perching in shrubs or in the lower branches of trees, flicking their tails and sallying out to catch some bug in the air or on the ground before finding  a new perch. They’re about the same size as a sparrow and have a sleek dusky brown appearance with a dark head. They sing a short and raspy fee bee in which both notes have the same pitch, not to be confused with the Black-capped Chickadee’s song which is also paraphrased fee bee, but is a much longer and sweeter whistle, with the second note falling after the first.

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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 at that. 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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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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Eastern Bluebird male 4/13/18

Every day from my garden now I can hear the twerdling of this male Eastern Bluebird singing to his silvery sweetheart, who is setting up housekeeping in a nest box below him. She builds the nest while he stands guard, and with any luck they’ll raise at least two broods over the summer, maybe even three, with each brood taking about a month to incubate, hatch and fledge. Youngsters are raised entirely on insects and invertebrates. Bluebirds have been around the neighborhood all winter though in a small gregarious flock, but now they’ve paired off and taken up territories for the breeding season. 2018 marks the 5th year in a row we’ve had them nesting somewhere round the yard.

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