Archive for January, 2010

American Black Duck 1/29/10

About the same size as, and closely related to the Mallard with whom they regularly interbreed, American Black Ducks are dark, chubby, dabbling ducks that will also graze on land. They have a very dark bodies, lighter neck and heads, bright orange feet, and a violet blue speculum (wing patch). The males, like the one in the middle above, have yellow bills while the females on either side have grey-green bills. Females are also slightly lighter. To tell them apart from other drab dabbling ducks, note that the iridescent speculum is not bordered in white like Mallards. Blacks are popular game ducks, and are found in eastern North America. They’re year round residents in New England but in winter their numbers swell with northern migrants as many prefer salt water wetlands during the cold months. I fetched these three yesterday in some large puddles at Fort Foster, mixed in with a small group of Mallards.

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Pine Siskin 1/28/10


Pine Siskins are woodland birds that occasionally “irrupt,” which is a fancy way of saying their migratory patterns are irregular and unpredictable. Some years there’ll be huge flocks showing up all over and other years hardly any at all. Many folks don’t notice them at winter feeding stations (they like thistle seeds) since they’re rather drab streaky little birds, with only buffy wingbars and a splash of yellow in the males’ wing and tail feathers to make them stand out, and often even those field marks are obscured. Like other finches they have an undulating flight and a forked tail, but their bill is a bit more slender than most finches. They’re quite gregarious and in winter often travel and mix with American Goldfinches and Redpolls. The word Siskin refers to the sound of their chirps.

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Purple Sandpipers 1/27/10


Purples are the winter shorebird in southern Maine. You might occasionally spot a small group of Sanderlings, a couple Dunlin, or even a Ruddy Turnstone now and then if you’re lucky, but flocks of Purple Sandpipers are common off of many rocky points along the coast. For a close-up, see this entry I made back in November when they were first arriving from the Arctic. They are larger than most sandpipers and also darker with orange at the base of their bills and orange legs. If you catch them in flight like in the photo above, you might note how little white shows up in the wings compared to other shorebirds. The Purple Sandpiper is also the February bird of the month in my 2010 calendar.

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Red-breasted Merganser 1/26/10

Mergansers are those diving ducks with long thin pointy bills that are serrated like teeth, which gives the group its nickname “sawbills.” Both male and female Red-breasted Mergansers also sport spikey hairdos, the males with dark iridescent green heads contrasting with a reddish patterned breast and white throat, while the females and immatures have reddish punk doos and greyer bodies. Their bills and eyes are reddish, and they commonly cruise with their heads underwater as they swim along looking for fish to dive after. In flight their large white wing patches are easily spotted and a good field mark. RB Mergs are common in the tidal creeks and bays as well as offshore all winter long. Unlike their cousins the Common Mergansers, they prefer salt water to fresh. These 3 fetched up on Chauncey Creek in Kittery Point.

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Eastern Bluebird 1/25/10

These sweet little thrushes are still around the New England coast in small flocks, having shifted over from a diet of insects to fruits and berries for the winter. This one is a male, females and immature birds are grayer with blue highlights and the rusty breast is more subdued. In the winter, you can find them in suburban neighborhoods, old fields, orchards, anywhere there’s open park-like habitat with fruit and berries to forage, but if the winter is a severe one they do seem to disappear for a time, presumably moving farther south. The northernmost summer populations are known to migrate as far south as the Central America, but here in southern Maine we are on the fringe of the year round resident popuation. I fetched this one snagging winterberries in the parking lot at Seapoint Beach.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch 1/22/10

You’ll often hear these busy and rather excitable songbirds, Yank, Yank, Yank-ing from treetops with their nasal accents while they move about with little roving gangs of chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers. They mostly stick to the tree trunks foraging on hidden insects and coniferous seeds, but occasionally will take suet or sunflower seeds from feeding stations. Red-breasted Nuthatches are no-necked, pencil beaked, and boldly striped with relatively short wings and tail. This one I believe is a male—having a richer reddish breast than paler females. Many migrate south in the winter, while others remain year round so long as food’s plentiful enough.

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Gadwall 1/21/10

From a distance, Gadwall are a nondescript dabbling duck. But up close, the drakes have some features that stand out—a delicately patterned grey body and head, black rear ends, and dark bills. Females are a bit smaller and look much like female Mallards except for the bright white speculum common to both sexes, but often obscured when not in flight. Gadwall are puddle ducks of the Great Plains, but are becoming more commonly spotted in the East, especially in winter. I found these three mixed in with a larger group of Mallards in the South Mill Pond of Portsmouth, NH. The white reflection they are swimming through is the North Church steeple from Market Square.

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