Archive for April, 2010

Purple Sandpipers 4/30/10

I’m still counting 40-80 Purple Sandpipers in the winter flock here at Seapoint, but any day now they’ll be leaving for their Arctic breeding grounds. I’ll miss their noodling about and funny twittering but at the same time I can’t wait for the flood of shorebird migrants that should start pouring through about the same time they leave. Purples are more of a rock sandpiper than a beach bird, and I often find them right at the tideline. At low tide they’ll be off in the distance on one of the many exposed rocky ledges up to a half mile out, but at high tide they’re usually found right at the edge of the point where I can creep up close for shots like this one. A little farther south in New Hampshire where the beaches are larger, I’ve been seeing Dunlin and Sanderlings mixing in with other flocks of Purples on the jetties and breakwaters at high tide, many of them molting getting ready for their big push north.

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Great Blue Heron 4/29/10

You’ve gotta love the fresh spring plumage of any egret or heron, but the Great Blue Heron is the most stately of all. Roughly 4 feet tall they are both the largest and most widespread heron in North America. Great Blues from the northern part of their breeding range, like here in New England, migrate from Mexico, Central America, and northern South America where they spend the winter, while Great Blues from the southern states are year round residents. You’ll find them wading along both fresh or salt water shores where they stalk and spear fish, crustaceans, herps, and occasionally even small birds and mammals. This one fetched up at a roadside pond in North Hampton, NH.

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Tree Swallows 4/28/10

Iridescent blue-green with white underparts and tiny bills, Tree Swallows are often seen lined up on high wires when not swooping and skimming through the air in pursuit of flying insects. Yearling females, like the one atop the nest box above, can be quite brown, but older females are nearly as colorful as the males. Their chirpy song is made of repeated whistles and twitters and has a liquid quality to it. Tree Swallows have been in decline for much of the last century due to competition for cavity nesting sites from house sparrows and starlings, but they readily take to nest boxes and have recovered in some areas. They winter farther north than other American swallows making them the first swallows to arrive back in New England.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler 4/27/10

I still call these Myrtle Warblers to distinguish them from the Audubon’s Warbler (with a yellow throat) which is such a rarity in the eastern US, even though they are officially both the same species now. Whatever you call them they are a blast to watch. I look for a wooded slope to climb so I can watch them in the middle canopy where they catch insects on the wing in amazingly acrobatic flutterings, before returning briefly to an always-changing perch. This one’s a male, females are a little duller and browner and lack the yellow crown, but do have the bright yellow-rump and flanks. Yellow-rumps are versatile foragers and in the fall can switch their diet to berries, and typically in Maine they are the last of the warblers to migrate south. Here’s one in fall plumage fetched along Seapoint beach late last October.

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Fish Crow 4/26/10

Fish Crows get no respect. I mean who even knows they exist? It’s true they are difficult to tell apart from American Crows, but not impossible. Here’s one of a pair nesting at Hampton Harbor (thanks to Steve Mirick for the tip). They are both smaller and a bit shorter legged than American Crows, and have browner eyes and a more slender bill, often with a bit of a hook at the end of the upper bill like in the photo above. Most of these differences are really only apparent when you have the birds side by each, but how often is that? Probably the most reliable way to tell them apart is by their calls, with the American Crow giving a raspy and relatively drawn out “caw” while the Fish Crow’s call is a short and nasal “awp.” Fish Crows are common in the Southeastern states along the coast and around wetland habitats, while here in New England we’re at the northern limit of their range where they’re much less common.

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Double-crested Cormorants 4/23/10

Look up in the sky these days and you’ll often spot ragged Vs or strings of dark birds passing by overhead as the Double-crested Cormorants return to their summer breeding grounds along the shores of the ocean, lakes, and rivers across North America. There are 5 subspecies, a few of which sport white instead of dark crests like these along the East Coast. For a bird that spends much of its time fishing and diving underwater, their feathers aren’t very waterproof and they are often seen roosting with their wings held out to dry. Cormorants are commonly called “shags” around the globe for their nuptial crests, and get the name cormorant from the latin “corvus marinus” or sea raven, reflecting the belief at one time that they belonged to the corvid or crow family. You can just make out the wispy double crests, a bit like tiny horns, being caught by the wind in the photo above. Fetched at Ragged Neck, Rye Harbor.

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Pine Warbler 4/22/10

Pine Warblers are one of the first of the wood warblers to arrive in New England as well as one of the first to breed. As their name suggests you’ll find them in pine woods where they sing a short and quick musical trill of repeating notes. The primarily forage for insects but also supplement their diet with seeds from pine cones. Males, like the one above, have white bars in their greyish wings, diagnostic yellow spectacles around the eyes, and yellow throats and breasts with darker and greener backs, heads, and cheeks. Females and juveniles are similar only not so bright or yellow. Compared to other warblers they are longer-billed and longer-tailed than most. Fetched at Fort Foster in Kittery Point.

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