Song Sparrows are found in almost any open areas across North American, the males like this one I fetched in the salt marsh behind Seapoint, typically sing from a low perch. They are chunky and long-tailed for a sparrow but vary considerably in color and song throughout their range with something like 25 subspecies. In the Eastern US, they are a rich streaky russety brown with a boldly streaked breast and central smudged spot, and they have prominent dark mustaches called malar stripes. This one was singing Madge Madge Madge, put on the tea kettle PLEEEASE! to his sweetheart or prospective sweetheat, but Song Sparrows have a whole repertoire of songs with many variations.
Archive for March, 2010
Not the sharpest picture but it’s a dark and dreary day with pouring down rain and I was thrilled to fetch anything today, much less 6 Glossy Ibis foraging for treats in the pasture muck of Great Bay Farm. Farther off I also scored a couple Great Blue Herons, a pair of Wood Ducks, and one very soggy Red-tailed Hawk but the camera dump was pretty disappointing from the rain and this is the best of them. Glossy Ibis seem to arrive earlier and earlier with each year, and just a couple of decades ago were pretty unheard of in this neck of the woods. Their long decurved bills, reddish brown bodies, and glossy green wings (when the sun strikes them right), make them easy to recognize. They’re found scattered in many parts of the world, but in North America only along the East Coast, Gulf States and the Caribbean. They nest in trees, often with herons and egrets. Fetched in Greenland, NH.
I’ve been seeing phoebes around for about a week but only got pics yesterday at Fort Foster in Kittery Point. Their winter range starts not far south of here so along with the blackbirds they are one of our earliest spring migrants. Dark-headed, dusky grey and white, without any eye-ring or wingbars, Eastern Phoebes are probably the most familiar flycatcher east of the Rocky Mountains. They sally out from trees and shrubby perches to catch a snack on the wing or near the ground, are always wagging their tails, and call fee bee in 2 short buzzy notes, unlike the Black-capped Chickadee which sings fee bee in a slow and sweet whistle. As summer residents, they like to nest near or on buildings and bridges.
Barred Owls will vocalize year round but are hooting up a storm these early spring nights as there’s a lot of courting going on. You don’t often see them on a sunny day but occasionally one will get flushed from a roost and wind up spending the day someplace more conspicuous than usual. Their hoots are usually paraphrased Who cooks for YOU, who cooks for YOU all, with a descending and fading trill on the final syllable. Sometimes you’ll just hear a lot of hooo-waaw which is one of the courtship calls. Barreds are mid-sized brown owls (but are mostly all feathers) with dark brown eyes, yellow beaks, barred breasts and streaky bellies. And they are round-headed, lacking the feather tufts of the eared owls. In New England they are our most commonly heard owl and aren’t uncommon in suburban habitats. They primarily hunt voles, mice, and other small rodents from a sitting perch. Sexes are similar, though the voices of the males are deeper pitched.
Few songbirds are as cute or cheerful as the Black-capped Chickadee. They are small, quick, and curious about everything in their domain, including people. They have a bouncy flight, and can be found almost anywhere with deciduous or mixed woods across Canada and the northern US states where they are permanent residents. They flock together in the fall forming small hierarchical groups and their habit of calling whenever they find a food source attracts nutchatches, woodpeckers, titmice, and other small songbirds to join them. They have a variety of vocalizations, notably the chick-a-dee-dee-dee call that gives them their name, but at this time of year they’ve begun to sing their descending 2-noted song, often described as fee bee in a clear whistle, but which I prefer to paraphrase as sweet heart to distinguish it from the short and buzzy fee bee of the Eastern Phoebe. At night individuals sleep in their own cavities that they’ve usually excavated themselves in rotting wood. Females also excavate their own nest cavities but sometimes use natural cavities, nest boxes or abandoned woodpecker nests. They especially like birch and alder habitat for nesting.
What surer sign of spring than a robin singing Cheer up cheerio! Cheer up cheerio! This guy was going at it full force the other day. Already the winter flocks have begun to break up and spread out and with the ground having thawed they’re switching from a winter diet of fruits and berries back to the invertebrate life stirring just under the sod. Robins are thrushes with the characteristic wings that often droop below the tail. Male robins like this one are darker headed, while females are paler. If you look carefully at this time of year you might also find one with an extra dark, blacker head, nape, and upper back, and a redder belly than usual. These are the negridus or Newfoundland subspecies on their way back to the northern Canadian maritimes.
Scaup are medium sized diving ducks much prized by duck hunters and often called “Bluebills.” We have both Greater and Lesser Scaup in New England at this time of year and telling them apart is one of the trickier challenges facing any birder. In this photo the dark and white drake is on the left and the brown hen on the right. Both Greater and Lesser Scaup hens in breeding plumage have prominent white patches at the base of their bills, but note the lighter ear patch on the hen above which signifies a Lesser Scaup. This field mark is not always evident but when it is, it’s a hen Lesser. In the drake on the left, the best clue is that the faint iridescence on the dark head (which would be stronger in more direct light) is purplish, while a Greater Scaup would be a glossy green. As the names suggest there’s also a difference in size, but that’s only helpful when you have both species to compare. There are other clues to help tell the 2 apart involving the width of the bills, head shape, wingstripe length in flight, but these can be quite subtle and hard to tell from any distance without lots of experience. I hope to be able to post some Greater Scaup soon for comparison, meanwhile there happens to be a photo up on my Puzzlebird page that shows both Lesser and Greater Scaup together in flight, but it will only be there for another week until the new puzzle goes up for April. The birds in the photo above were fetched at Exeter WWTP.