Archive for Miscellaneous passerine

Snow Bunting 11/28/17

Also called Snowflakes, or more simply Snowbirds, Snow Buntings are one of the northernmost of all songbirds, breeding in the high Arctic around the globe and wintering in more temperate regions. In November they begin arriving in New England, foraging for grass and weed seeds in open areas like beaches and fields, often found with their Longspur cousins and/or Horned Larks. After a late summer molt their fresh plumage is accented with caramel at the tips, but as winter progresses the males deliberately rub and abrade the colored feather tips away, leaving them pure white with black and white wings in time for the Arctic breeding season, making it seem like they molt twice a year when it’s really just once.

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Lapland Longspur 10/5/17

Lapland Longspurs are common songbirds breeding around the Arctic tundra regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. In New England we only see them in during the winter months in nonbreeding plumage. Longspur refers to their elongated hind claw. You’ll find them in open areas foraging for seeds, sometimes singly like this one, but also in large flocks of hundreds or even thousands. I often find the along the coast mixed in with flocks of Snow Bunting or Horned Larks.

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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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Snow Bunting 3/2/17

Snow Buntings, also known as Snowflakes or Snowbirds, usually arrive from the Arctic tundra in the second half of November, disappearing again by mid April. In winter plumage the sexes look much the same, except the browns in the fresh plumage of males are only at the very tips of the feathers and as winter progresses they rub their bodies against the snow so that by spring the males are pure white with black wings while a female’s back and wings still have brown in them. Look for them in small flocks, in open areas like fields and beaches where they forage on the ground for seeds. If you find a flock, scan it carefully since they are sometimes joined by Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks, and American Pipits.

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European Starling 2/16/17

Scorned by most birders as rats with wings, European Starlings are stocky, abundant, colorful, aggressive, and raucous. This one is among a group of robins, bluebirds, waxwings and other starlings foraging on staghorn sumac. In fresh winter plumage the white spots on their feathertips will wear away as the year progresses, disappearing entirely by the spring breeding season. They’re a tremendously successful invasive species that covers most of the continent today with a population surpassing 200 million, having started from 100 birds released in Central Park at the end of the 19th century. They’re terrific mimics and are well-known for their beautiful murmurations, flocks of 100s or 1000s of birds forming clouds that stretch, overlap, bunch, and billow in endlessly changing shapes and patterns.

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Horned Lark female 2/6/17

Larks come in many species in the old world, but the Horned Lark is the only species that’s also found in North America. You’ll find them in open country—tundra, desert, grass, shrublands, and beaches foraging for seeds and insects on bare ground. In winter they’re often seen in small to huge flockls, often mixing with Longspurs or Snow Buntings. Sexes are similar except the black markings on the heads of males are bolder and more distinct.

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Lapland Longspur male 1/27/17

In summer, Lapland Longspurs are common songbirds breeding in the wet tundra grasses all around the Arctic Circle. At that time the males looks quite different than in their dapper winter duds, with an all black face and throat, and a bright chestnut nape. In winter they migrate south, often in large flocks of several hundred birds, but I’ve only ever seen them by themselves or in much smaller flocks along the coast, sometimes mixed into a flock of Snow Buntings (with whom they are closely related). Other times Ive found them hanging with Horned Larks. They get their name from their hind toe which sports an unusually long claw.

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