Archive for Vagrant or Rare

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.


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.


Snowy Owl 4/11/18

It’s been another banner year for Snowy Owls in the US, with sightings especially abundant in the Northeast and Midwest. Even Texas got quite a show this winter. These are mostly younger birds not yet experienced enough to endure an Arctic winter. Already the northward migration has been underway for a couple of weeks. Looking a little ragged in the rain, this one atop a phone pole at Rye Harbor was still around as of last weekend.


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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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 12/11/17

Every winter has its vagrants, birds who show up that just don’t belong here. This little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher has been around for at least a week or so but really ought to be somewhere in the Caribbean or around the Gulf of Mexico right now. Was it blown off course by a storm? Was it migrating south and something stopped it? No one really knows why it happens. The best explanation I’ve heard is that migrating birds have two separate instincts, one tells them how far to travel, and the other tells them which direction. And just on account of variation or some mutation, one or both of those signals get crossed. The most peculiar thing about this example is that a Spotted Towhee (a bird of the Western US) spent a good chunk of the 2013-14 winter in these very same bushes in Rye, NH.


Baird’s Sandpiper juvenile 8/31/16


My immediate impression of this sandpiper was that it was a Baird’s, really no other peep has the same golden tones, noticeably warmer than the more common Semipalmated Sandpiper. To confirm, check out how the wingtips extend well beyond the tail, the only other long-winged peep is the similarly sized White-rumped Sandpiper, but that’s a much grayer bird than this. Baird’s Sandpipers migrate to the west coast of South America down the Central Flyway, west of the Mississippi, but every year a few strays wind up coming south down the Atlantic coast, and this is one of them. 



Mountain Bluebird female 4/12/16


This little thrush lady is at least 2000 miles off course, having shown up at the end of the runway at Pease in Portsmouth. It’s a female Mountain Bluebird hanging out with 2 male Eastern Bluebirds near the entrance to the golf course. The 3 of them work the fences for insects. She isn’t as sky blue as the male, but you can tell her apart from Eastern Bluebird females by the lack of a white and reddish breast. Discovered by Jason Lambert.


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