Archive for October, 2009

Great Black-backed Gull 10/30/09

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Not only are these our biggest gulls, but Great Black-backed Gulls are the biggest gulls in all the world. They are positively huge if you ever manage to get close up and personal. Found only along the North Atlantic coasts (including the great lakes) they take 4 years to reach maturity and each of those immature years sport a different plumage before reaching adult plumage like this bird. Adults have the characteristic charcoal black wings and back, yellow bill with red spot, and pink legs. If you spot something similar but smaller with yellow legs, that’s the Lesser Black-backed, an occasional but rare vagrant from Europe. Fetched on Seapoint Beach.

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Turkey Vulture 10/29/09

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Pretty ugly up close with their naked pink heads, but wonderfully graceful in flight, Turkey Vultures are pretty much the only buzzard of the northeast. Soaring high aloft with their long and fingered wings they can be easily misidentified as eagles. You’ll mostly spot them on sunny days when they can catch the rising updrafts since they seldom ever flap their wings if they can help it. They’ll be around for awhile yet and don’t migrate all that far south, so long as there are thermals to catch and carrion to find with their amazing sense of smell. In Central America they are called John Crow and there’s a whole cycle of fables in which they figure with Ha Nancy the spider and Bra Tiger the jaguar, a sort of Road Runner and Wylie Coyote comedy duo.

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Semipalmated Sandpiper 10/28/09

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Semipalmated Sandpipers, not to be confused with Semipalmated Plovers, are one of the smaller and more abundant peeps to migrate through Seapoint, with only the Least Sandpiper being smaller. Last month the mixed shorebird flocks included hundreds of juveniles, but lately Semipals have all but disappeared except for a few molting adult stragglers like this one. Note the new grayer winter plumage just coming in on its back. They breed in the Arctic stopping off in New England before making long nonstop flights to the Caribbean and South America. Semipalmated refers to a bit of webbing between the toes.

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American Crow 10/27/09

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Smart, omnivorous, mischievous, and a never ending source of entertainment, I just love crows. Last winter there was a murder of hundreds of them gathered in the center of the Portsmouth Traffic Circle and I drove round and round and round wondering “who organizes these things?” This one’s lunching on squirrel road pizza, holding a piece against the cables with his toes (for some reason all crows strike me as male) while tearing off morsels with that big beak that were small enough to swallow. Along the south coast of Maine, American Crows are year-round residents. Fetched on Rt 103 in Kittery Point.

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Sandhill Crane 10/26/09

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What a treat! On the spur of the moment Cheryl and I aimed north this afternoon to see if we could find this Sandhill Crane I’d heard about being sighted in Cape Elizabeth for the last few days. After spotting it in a recently turned over corn field, we were able to sneak close enough for a few good shots before a dogwalker came along and spooked it. Bird of the Day rarely gets any fresher than this! Sandhill Cranes aren’t unheard of in Maine, but aren’t at all your everyday New England bird. They breed in the northern Canadian prairies and tundra and winter in the southernmost parts of the US and northern Mexico.

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Northern Harrier 10/23/09

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This immature Northern Harrier or Marsh Hawk is the same bird I posted last week while in it was flight and where you could see the prominent white spot at the base of the tail. This photo shows a couple other distinctive features of harriers, notably the facial disks which, just like for owls, focus soundwaves and allows harriers to hunt by hearing as well as sight, unlike any of our other hawks. Makes sense as they frequently hunt at dusk, and typically don’t soar aloft but cruise low over the marshes for their prey. The other thing to point out is the dark reddish wash across the bird’s frontside, which is what makes it an immature. I watched this youngster hunt unsuccessfully for about half an hour over the marshes behind Seapoint before it settled down to rest up, looking hungry and disappointed.

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Bonaparte’s Gulls 10/22/09

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In the summertime these are one of the black hooded gulls, but in winter they’re recognized by the distinct earspot behind the eye, bright pink feet, and short black bills, as well as being much smaller than the Great Black-backed, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. These two were among a group of about 60 paddling about just behind the breakers crashing on Crescent Beach at high tide, busily pecking the top of the water for the small invertebrates churned up. Every so often a bigger wave would come along and they’d all lift gracefully moments before it crashed upon them, then settle back down to resume lunch.

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