Archive for December, 2009

Dark-eyed Junco 1/1/10

darkeyedjunco

These chubby and sweet little sparrows are a winter favorite. Here we have them year round but in the central part of the country they’re only seen in winter and are commonly called Snowbirds as they seem to come and go with it. There are 5 subspecies, all highly variable in plumage depending on where you are—the slate-colored male junkies of the east are charcoal topside with white bellies and undertails while the females like the one above are similarly marked but browner. Their outer tail feathers are white which you’ll often see them flash as they flit about with their jingley trills. To keep them around your backyard feeders, stock up on a seed mix containing millet, and scatter some about periodically as they much prefer to feed off the ground.

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Belted Kingfisher 12/31/09

beltedkingfisher

Belted Kingfishers may be scarce by the end of December but they all haven’t departed for warmer waters to fish in. I was surprised to find one alongside Chauncey Creek surveying the mudflats at low tide as the light was fading. This one’s a female, told by the rufous flanks and belly band. Belted Kingfishers are one of the few bird species where the females are more colorful than the males. Their chattery laughs always makes me look around and smile.

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Cedar Waxwing 12/30/09

cedarwaxwing

They say the Cardinal is the bird that most turns people into birders, but my experience has been that it’s the Cedar Waxwing. People notice them around, may even recognize their jingly trills and crested heads, but they’re often taken for granted as just another drab brown bird. It’s when someone first sees one up close in a pair of binoculars that they get really excited as the coloring and details are so unexpectedly pleasing. There’s something about that subtle and silky blend from cinnamon to lemon yellow, the masked face, and the red waxy droplets on their wings that captures the imagination and makes some folks say “Whoa, I get it now.” In winter waxwings are usually found in flocks, cruising around for berries and fruit. Keep an eye out for Cedars with orange-tipped tails instead of yellow, they dieted on a particular kind of berry while those feathers were growing in.

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Leucistic (white) Red-tailed Hawk 12/29/09

whiteredteiledhawk

I’ve been casually chasing this most fetching hawk for close to a year since I’d first heard of it in Eliot, Maine, but without much luck until today. Oh, I’ve spotted him a half dozen times, close up once or twice driving in traffic when I’d almost caused a pile-up on the highway, and another few times in the distance. But no photographs to speak of besides fields of blue sky with a tiny white speck in it. Today perseverance furthered. This shot is still from a long ways away, but I’ll be back again looking to do better this winter.

This isn’t an albino bird but what’s called leucistic, a condition caused by a reduction in pigmentation during embryonic development, while albinism comes from the genetic make-up. In any case, he—and it is a male which can be told by his small size—isn’t pure white, just close to it. Before he took off when I tried to get closer, I could just make out the faintest of belly bands through my binoculars, plus a few dark feathers scattered about, and at least 2 red feathers in his tail.

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Canada Goose 12/28/09

canadagoose

Canada Geese, aka “Honkers,” are the quintessential North American Goose, found coast to coast from northern Canada to southern Mexico. A classic large goose with a black neck and head and a distinctive white chinstrap. They come in 11 subspecies that are almost impossible to tell apart, but basically there are smaller variants the farther north you go, and darker variants the more westward. The smallest of them are now recognized as a separate species called the Cackling Goose, and there’s been a few reports of them in Maine this fall. You can find Honkers in large or small flocks in urban, suburban, and rural areas anywhere there’s small or large bodies of open water, or park or agricultural land for grazing. They are long-lived (up to 30 years) and like most geese and swans mate for life. Most, but not all, populations are migratory.

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Northern Cardinal 12/25/09

A very Merry Christmas to birdlovers everywhere!

northerncardinal

We call her Hot Lips, and her boyfriend Handsome, short for “Handsome on a Stick” as he’s frequently perched atop an old Mountain Ash snag in the backyard. But for all his flaming redness, she’s all the prettier as there’s a lot to be said for a bit of subtlety. Northern Cardinals are found east of the Rockies from the Yucatan to Southern Canada, but they’re still expanding their way northwards. When I was a kid growing up in New Hampshire they weren’t anywhere near as common as they are today. Bird feeders play a big part in that success since cardinals don’t migrate and depend on a plentiful supply of seeds for their winter diet.

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Horned Larks 12/24/09

hornedlarks

These little songbirds arrived at Seapoint in small flocks of 3 to a dozen about a month ago, but I’ve found them devilish to photograph. They invariably spot me and take off with their high-pitched twitterings long before I spot them. This time I was lucky when a wandering dog spooked them from somewhere else and they landed near where I’d already settled down to photograph Purple Sandpipers. Despite their yellow and black faces, they remain inconspicuous among the beach wrack. They’re the only true larks of North America and are fairly common in open country, but here along the New England coast we typically only see them in wintertime.

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