Archive for March, 2011

Black-capped Chickadee 3/30/11

Chickadees are members of the Tit family (Paridae) which also includes our Titmice along with the numerous tits found across Eurasia and Southern Africa. Black-capped Chickadees reside all across the northern tier of North America and most are year-round residents, though they flock up into little mixed groups with nuthatches and titmice for the winter. In the spring they pair off and males sing fee-bee in a clear sweet whistle, but they also have a wide variety of other vocalizations to communicate other information, including the chick-a-dee-dee-dee, from which they get their onomatopoetic name. When threatened, they speed up the interval between syllables and add more “dees” to the “chick-a” prefix, depending on the seriousness of the threat.

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Brown-headed Cowbird 3/29/11

Brown-headed Cowbirds are best known for their kleptoparasitic habit of laying their eggs in other birds nests to be fostered by parents not their own. Seen from a distance or in a mixed group, they are smaller than most blackbirds, but can be just as noisy. Females are a dull brown with streaking on the breast while males are a glossy black with a chocolate head. Originally from the midwest grasslands, they’ve spread out across the continent as human residential areas have spread out.

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Hooded Mergansers 3/28/11

A sure sign of spring along the New England coast is the arrival of Hooded Mergansers. They follow behind the ice-free zone as the thaw opens up fresh water farther north and farther inland. You’ll find them in the same kind of habitat that Wood Ducks like—woody swamps and shallow ponds—but rather than dabble for vegetarian fare, Hoodies are fish-eating divers. When he gets excited, the male throws up his black and white crest and transforms into another bird altogether, and quite a dandy one (stay tuned for more Hoodie pics). Females tend to be drabber, more aloof, but she can be a pretty perky redhead and flash her fiery eyes too. I fetched this pair the other day from Lindsay Pond, just below the York Hospital, but you can also see Hoodies right now on Eel Pond at Rye Beach, or on Spinney Creek in South Eliot, and a number of other fresh water ponds just beginning to open up.

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Savannah Sparrow 3/25/11

Sparrows are on the move. Tree Sparrows are leaving, Song Sparrows are singing, and Fox Sparrows are passing through on their way to the northern Maritimes. Savannah Sparrows are also arriving and heading northwards and are highly variable with a number of subspecies found all across North America. They have streaked rather than plain breasts and flanks, darker upper bills, especially along the top ridge, and often some yellow in the face near the bills. Ipswich Sparrows are the lightest Savannah Sparrow subspecies, migrating through New England on their way back and forth to Sable Island off of Nova Scotia—their only known breeding grounds. Fetched at Seapoint.

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Surf Scoter 3/24/11

Also called Skunkheads, most Surf Scoters will be leaving soon for the freshwater lakes across northern Canada and Alaska, though nonbreeding juveniles will linger along the salt water coasts for the summer. Adult male Surf Scoters are a velvety black with bold white patches on both their foreheads and napes, and curiously enlarged and colorful bills. Females are browner with pale patches on their faces, and less colorful but still somewhat bulbous bills. This pair was fetched off the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, which is still a great walk for seeing winter seaducks like Eiders, Harlequins and all three of our wintering Scoter species—Surf, Black, and White-winged.

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Common Mergansers 3/23/11

Mergansers are sleek diving ducks with thin serrated bills responsible for the group’s traditional name of “sawbill.” Commons are the largest of the 3 merganser species we have in the Northeast. The bills of both male and female Commons are bright red, and males are predominantly bright white with dark green heads, while females are grayer with a rusty shag. These 4 were part of a larger distant group I found on a reservoir in West Newbury, Mass last weekend after the ice had thawed the edges. More will be moving through as spring temps open up frozen freshwater habitats farther north and inland.

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Turkey Vulture 3/22/11

So what do you do if you’re a Turkey Vulture on a cold, cloudy day in southern Maine besides pray for sun and a rising thermal? This one of nine I found grounded in a field off of Rt 4 in Berwick, contemplating an egg-like golfball with a doleful look. I kept hoping to see it attack or otherwise try to open it, but perhaps it had already given up on that before I came along. Nevertheless it held the curious scavenger’s attention for some time. TVs are one of our earliest spring arrivals and have already pushed their way through into much of the state.

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