Archive for July, 2010

American Goldfinch 7/30/10

Probably the sweetest and friendliest of all the native New England finchy birds. Certainly the brightest! They are always in my summer garden and frequent visitors to the winter feeders, bringing cheerful energy and acrobatics along with their splashes of color. American Goldfinches are unusual in that they molt twice a year and I love watching them change their colors with the seasons. Here’s a couple in winter plumage, and an adult male halfway through his spring molt. They have a variety of calls and twitters, but the one I always remember is the frequent Potato chip! Potato chip! you’ll hear as they fly away or bounce along overhead. Adult male above, fetched at Seapoint in Kittery Point, ME.

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Ovenbird 7/29/10

Ovenbirds get their name from the roofed nest they build on the forest floor that resembles a Dutch oven. They are shy and more often heard than seen, with their Teacher! Teacher! Teacher! song getting louder and more insistent with every repetition. Ovenbirds are actually one of our migrant wood warblers, and breed across much of eastern, and parts of western, North America. If they weren’t warbler-sized, one might confuse them with one of the larger spotted thrushes that also roam the forest floors, but if you look closely the spots of Ovenbirds are actually streaks. Being ground nesters they experience high chick mortality rates. Unfortunately, this pic doesn’t show the orange crown sandwiched between black stripes. Fetched in Kittery Point, Maine.

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American Bittern 7/28/10

Even though they are fairly common you almost never see an American Bittern. When not actively foraging or when spooked they hold perfectly still in the reeds and rushes around swamps and marshes, holding their heads vertically to disappear in the vegetation. This one stood out however in the fine green spartina grasses it was foraging in, and flew off after sensing my presence. You’ll hear American Bitterns far more often than seeing one and they have one of the most peculiar calls of all birds—which sounds something like a stuck pump. Doop da blonk, doop da blonk is how I’d paraphrase it but that doesn’t get across how liquid and loud it sounds. Bitterns are close cousins to the herons and egrets and all belong to the family of wading birds called Ardeidae. Fetched in the salt marshes behind Hampton Beach, NH.

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Northern Mockingbird 7/27/10

Northern Mockingbirds are slender, long-tailed, and mostly light grey with flashy white patches in their darker wings which you’ll see in flight. They are the quintessential mimic of North America, singing loudly once they get revved up and even at night (especially during full moons). They sound like a chorus of a dozen or more songbirds, occasionally with the odd car alarm thrown in! Some people find them obnoxious, but historically many people kept them as pets (Thomas Jefferson had one called Dick). Unmated males are the most vociferous while females sing more quietly and more often during the fall. Except for the most northern part of their range, they are year-round residents all across the US, southern Canada, and northern Mexico, preferring open park-like habitats with plenty of shrubbery, so they’re quite common in urban, suburban, agricultural, scrub and desert areas. In summer their diet is mostly insects but during the colder months they’ll switch to fruits, berries, and seeds. They form monogamous pair bonds and aggressively defend their territories, even in winter you’ll often see them conspicuously guarding the goods against intruders around a berry patch or fruit trees.

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Wood Duck 7/26/10


Wood Ducks typically nest in tree cavities not far from water, and the day after the eggs hatch the young ducklings clamber up to the entrance hole and jump, sometimes hundreds of feet, to where their mother awaits them on the ground calling. They already know how to forage for themselves but will stay with her for protection over the next several weeks. In this pic, the mother is at left with the large white eye-ring and her 5 ducklings are already close to full size. Adult drake Wood Ducks are quite colorful and considered by many to be the most beautiful of all North American waterfowl. Here’s a pic of a pair I photographed back in April, but the above photo was fetched at Batchelder Pond in Hampton, NH.

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Red-tailed Hawk 7/23/10

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks lack the bright rusty tail of adults, but you can still identify them by the band of dark feathers crossing their bellies, as well as the dark leading edge of their forewings. These are classic buteos, the genus of hawks characterized by robust bodies, broad wings, and wide tails that enable them to circle and soar the heights in search of prey. Red-tails are large even for a buteo (in Europe buteos are called buzzards), and females are up to a third larger than males. In New England, they are year-round residents. Fetched at Plum Island.

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Snowy Egrets 7/22/10

These 3 Snowy Egrets were prancing about the shallow marsh flats at Rye Harbor, looking for things to stab. Pure and fluffy, though a little worn now, you can see how it was that Victorian ladies wanted to wear these birds on their heads and almost wiped them out. It’s post breeding season now and these adults are beginning to disperse, many will wander further north before migrating to the West Indies and Central America in the fall. Snowies are about 2 feet tall, and easily told by their black bills in front of yellow lores, and have black legs with bright yellow feet.

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