Archive for December, 2010

European Starling 12/31/10

Lots of birders revile the European Starling, in part because it is a non-native and invasive species whose aggression has negatively impacted native birds like Northern Flickers and Eastern Bluebirds. But that aside, I like starlings, especially their psychedelic undulating flocks in the fall and winter, their startling plumage in the spring, and their endless repertoire of mimicry.

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Black Guillemot 12/30/10

Like the Dovekie down at Great Boar’s Head, here’s another pelagic bird that’s been hugging the shore for some reason. This Black Guillemot in winter plumage has been hanging out at near the docks inside of Rye Harbor since the 18th. I usually see these in the summer along the rocky cliffs of Cape Breton when they are all black except for the white ovals in their wings and flaming red feet. These same birds are called Trysties in Europe.

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Black-capped Chickadee 12/29/10

Winter songbirds just don’t come more cheerful and curious than these little members of the Tit family. After the breeding season the local neighborhood pairs flock up with immigrant juveniles to scout for little gangs of mixed species making the rounds of the neighborhood feeding stations. You’ll find much the same behavior in a deep forest. Chickadees will usually make up 4 to a dozen members of a winter foraging party which can also include titmice, creepers, woodpeckers, kinglets, nuthatches, even warblers. If you have chickadees around your neighborhood this winter, consider contriving some night roosts for them as they like to fluff themselves up and sleep in a sheltered spot out of the wind and cold, preferably entered by a hole or crevice.

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American Tree Sparrow 12/28/10

American Tree Sparrows migrate south from the high tundra (where there are no trees) and begin showing up in New England in November. They are a winter sparrow here and look similar to the Chipping Sparrow but have a distinctive two-toned bill with dark grey on top and yellow below, a central breast spot, and lack the Chipping Sparrow’s white eyebrows. Fetched at Fort Foster, Kittery Point, Maine.

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Northern Pintail 12/27/10

A few days ago this female Northern Pintail joined the female Northern Shoveler at the South Mill Pond in Portsmouth hanging out with some Mallards and Black Ducks. But she’s more slender, longer necked, and paler with a gingery head and no dark striping through the eye, all of which makes her fairly easy to pick out from the other brown dabblers. For comparison of Pintails here’s a¬†juvenile drake from Hampton Beach State Park beginning to molt into adult plumage that I posted just a week or so ago, and an adult drake from Plum Island last winter.

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Common Eiders 12/24/10

I watched these 3 Common Eider¬†drakes clamber up out of the Hampton River the other day and once more marveled at their formal plumage, peculiar sloping bills and that chartreuse blush on their heads. Females are a solid brown from any distance, but beautifully patterned up close. These are big sea ducks, the biggest duck in the Northern Hemisphere in fact and common all over the northern coasts of North America, Europe and Asia. In New England which is close to their southern limit in the Atlantic, they’re so ubiquitous it’s hard to believe that 100 years ago this population almost became extinct from market hunters. Aside from short breaks like this one, these birds rarely leave the water in winter.

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Northern Shoveler 12/23/10

Northern Shovelers are smallish, almost teal-sized ducks with enormous shoe horn bills they use when dabbling. The bill has an elaborate structure around the inside edges to strain out invertebrates and crustaceans from muddy water. This one’s a female, with much of the coloring female puddle ducks share in common, though it’s hard to miss the bill of a Shoveler. Males have iridescent green heads like a Mallard. If you’d like to see this bird, she’s currently in residence at the South Mill Pond in Portsmouth, NH, where you’ll find her among the Black Ducks and Mallards.

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