Here’s a followup on the Purple Finch nest photo I posted last month which had a Brown-headed Cowbird egg smuggled in. Only the Cowbird chick remains!
I’ve also been following a Common Grackle nest at Seapoint beach, Here’s the presumed dad keeping his bright eye on things in the neighborhood.
While the mom has her eye on me as I drag a couple of lobster traps up off the beach to stand on so I can see into a nest roughly 8 feet off the ground in a small cedar. In this photo from the 4th of May there are four blue-greenish eggs speckled with brown.
And a week later on the 11th the 4 fuzzball chicks have hatched, looking positively naked and helpless.
But after another week I discovered that the nest had been raided, yanked right out of its moorings and the little chicklets perished.
By mid-May, the main wave of spring migrants is in full force and many shorebirds arriving among them. I took this snap of Semipalmated Sandpipers resting at the edge of the tide by turning myself into a rock and holding still for a half hour while the water came in slowly and brought them closer and closer to me. Plovers differ from sandpipers by having relatively short legs and short bills.
On Goose Rocks beach in Kennebunkport, at least one pair of Piping Plovers have arrived. They share many of the same markings as the Semipals (note the white foreheads, orange bills with black tips, orange-ish legs, and white bellies) but are much paler overall. Note the male in background bird has a thicker unbroken dark band across the breast, while in the foreground the breast band of the female is broken and less prominent. Because they nest right on the beach these birds are endangered along the New England coast, largely due to the recreational activities of us humans.
A much bigger shorebird arriving in May is the Willet with a long straight bill and grey legs. It’s not a plover but actually part of the sandpiper group. You can’t see it in this photo, but when in flight they have a flashy black and white wing pattern, and their calls are quite loud and piercing. This one’s an immature as adults tend to be more grey than brown.
On the other end of the sandpiper size spectrum is the Least Sandpiper, smallest shorebird in the world but quite common.
Greater Yellowlegs are a mid- to large-sized shorebird with a relatively long neck with a white tail and rump. Often you’ll hear their piercing and plaintive calls of 4 or 5 notes near the shore or along creeks and estuaries. Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs are very tricky to tell apart, the best diagnostic is a slight difference in size and a slight upturn to the bill in the Greaters while the Lessers are always straight and proportionally just a mite shorter. Oddly the Greater Yellowlegs is more closely related to the Willet than it is to the Lesser Yellowlegs.
In the backyard I’m being regularly visited by a male Red-bellied Woodpecker, here showing off the subtle splash of red between his legs by which the species gets it’s name. Red-bellies have been moving into Northern New England over the last decade, when I was a kid growing up in NH seeing one would have been something quite rare. Now they’re almost a commonplace, even throughout the winter.
When Baltimore Orioles start arriving in May you can attract them into you backyard with slices of oranges. Another attraction orioles can’t resist is grape jelly! But for me they only seem interested for a short time.
Another brief visitor I to the backyard feeders in May is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The females are drab brown and look like jumbo-sized sparrows or female purple finches on steroids, but they have a patch of gold under the wings if you’re lucky enough to spot it. The chunky males with their red white and black patterns are hard to mistake for anything else.
My friend Laura invited me out to her farm in Eliot as the Bobolinks had arrived in her fields. They’re closely related to orioles and other blackbirds, though their tails and bills are much shorter than their cousins. Once you hear their musical and burbly but strangely mechanical song you won’t forget it. There’s nothing else like it.
Gray Catbirds are one of my favorite songbirds, there seems to always be one around but you’ll hear them more than see. They are quite secretive among dense thickets and tangles and avoid straying out in the open for long. Their songs are full of the notes and paraphrases of other songbirds, and sometimes are mistaken for mockingbirds. But their loud and scratchy meow like call which gives them their name is distinctive.