Archive for February, 2010

Fox Sparrow 2/25/10

One of my all time favorite sparrows, but then I say that about almost all of the sparrows. I like their 2-footed kick-scratching, I like that they’re often mistaken for a thrush, I like their perkitude and their ruddy coats and impressive (for a sparrow) size. But what I like most about the Fox Sparrow are the memories I have associated with learning its song. In New England we only hear it briefly during spring migration, living outdoors for a summer on the coast of Cape Breton I got to know it. In any case, Fox Sparrows are another oddity here during the winter, not unheard of but hardly common. The ones we get on the East Coast are reddish like the pic above, which represents one of the 4 North American subspecies. I didn’t jump fast enough and missed out on the Sooty Fox Sparrow Steve Mirick found and photographed in Barrington NH earlier this winter. Not only was that a Fox Sparrow in New England during winter, but it was a Fox Sparrow from the Pacific Coast in New England during winter. Talk about rare birds! The red guy posted above was one of two fetched at a feeding station in Cape Neddick, Maine and were the subjects for January‘s bird of the month in my 2010 calendar, Phillip’s Fetching Birds.

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Pileated Woodpecker 2/24/10

Whenever I hear a Pileated Woodpecker calling I’m not reminded so much of Woody Woodpecker as I am of some primeval forest of the Jurassic period. Definitely the largest woodpecker in New England, if not all of North America seeing as the rediscovery of the extinct Ivory-billed in the swamps of Arkansas is still hotly disputed. What you can’t see in this pic are the large white wing patches noticeable in flight. Pileateds are crow-sized and need a fairly extensive territory of forest with trees large enough for nesting. One way to see if they’re any in your neighborhood is to check for the large rectangular holes in the trunks of dead trees or logs they dig to find ants and other wood-boring insects. They are non-migratory year round residents throughout their range. Fetched on Tenney Hill Road in Kittery Point, Maine.

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Black Vulture 2/23/10

I fetched this Black Vulture on Clinton Street in Portsmouth the other day, just a few blocks from my studio. As soon as the weather turns mild for a few days we start seeing Turkey Vultures riding the thermals, but the slightly smaller Black Vulture is more of a rarity in New England but by all accounts is becoming more common (another is being sighted at the Nashua, NH landfill), some say because of climate change.  I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to any vulture, much less a Black one! These soaring birds of prey are typically found from the mid-Atlantic and midwestern states down through Central America and the Caribbean all the way to the tip of South America. Black Vultures don’t have the same ability to forage by smell that Turkey Vultures do, but instead will follow them to carrion, and being more aggressive when feeding, chase the finders away.

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Northern Pintail 2/22/10

Sleek, handsome, long-necked and chocolate-headed, Pintails are quite distinctive among the dabbling ducks. I found this one last week foraging in a marsh puddle with a female and 2 Mallards along the Parker River in Newburyport. The females are a light brown mottled color all over with a paler and slightly reddish head but without the white neck stripe, but have the same distinctive shape as the males, though their pointed tails aren’t nearly as long as a drake’s. Northern Pintails are found all across Northern Hemisphere breeding in open wetlands, and are peculiar in that there are no subspecies for a bird with such a wide range. In New England they are mostly migrants though it’s not that unusual to find  few here and there in the winter months.

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Bald Eagle 2/19/10

I’ve been seeing Bald Eagles quite a bit this winter but they’ve either been too distant or my pics have been too blurry to make a good bird of the day entry. Last week Laura Pope emailed to say she saw a Bald Eagle on the NH side of the Rt 101 bridge between Dover and Eliot and I took a drive the other day to check it out. For about half an hour I watched and photographed 2 immatures and 2 adults, all apparently feeding from a deer carcass frozen in the ice. Above are one of each in which you can see a considerable difference in size, where female eagles can be up to a third larger than males. Bald Eagles take 5 years to reach the adult plumage of white head and tail, yellow bill and bright yellow eyes. Until then immatures are mostly dark-billed, dark-eyed, and dark-feathered, but variously speckled with white feathers, particularly in the underwings. If Dover, NH isn’t that far a drive from where you are, you can get some great looks at these majestic birds that have made a successful comeback from the brink of extinction not all that long ago.

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Wilson’s Snipe 2/18/10

Technically a shorebird, Wilson’s Snipe are found in wet meadows, bogs, and tundra where they can use their long straight bills to probe deep in the mud for insects and worms. What this one is doing in New England in the depth of winter is a good question as it belongs much farther south, but I photographed it just this morning foraging along the edge of a small stream. Like its cousin the American Woodcock, it’s a very shy, chunky, and well-camouflaged bird, apt to stay perfectly still until you’re about to step on it when it’ll explode from your feet and disappear in a zig-zag flight. Sexes are similar. Fetched in Hampton, NH, with thanks to Paul Lacourse of the NH Birdlist for the tipoff.

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Snowy Owl 2/11/10


Snowy Owls winter regularly in New England, I look for them most often along the coastal marshes between Plum Island in Massachusetts and Biddeford Maine, but they can be found inland as well. They’re a diurnal owl, not shy of the sunlight, and perch near the ground in open country to hunt for rodents and hares. Norm Smith, a Snowy Owl expert from Massachusetts Audubon, told me that the conventional wisdom of white Snowies being older birds and darker ones immature, is not at all reliable. He’s known Snowies to remain dark their whole lives and youngsters that are nearly pure white. Fetched at Salisbury Beach State Rez.

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