Archive for December, 2011

Eastern Bluebird 12/30/11

So far it’s looking like a bluebird winter since within a mile’s walk of my house I know of at least 2 separate groups. But if it’s an especially cold and snowy year I won’t be surprised to see them disappear until the thaws begin in March. Meanwhile there’s a good berry crop on the bush and the odd warm day that stirs up some insect activity, especially along the neighborhood tidal creeks. Listen for their occasional thrushy “twerdles.” Above’s an adult male, working over a bramble, along the way to Seapoint.

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Surf Scoter 12/29/11

Surf Scoters are common residents along the winter coast now, but will vanish again in the spring. They don’t often come up into the tidal rivers and creeks but you will see them just off the beach or rocks at places like Seapoint, singly or in small groups diving for crabs and other snacks on the sea bottom. This one’s a female, mostly all dark but not exactly black, with a fuzzy patch of white just behind the bill and another patch behind the eye. The drakes, like these 3 in next year’s calendar, are blacker with more distinct white patches giving them their “skunkhead” nickname, and also having elaborately shaped and colored bills. The females have much of the bill’s shape, but not the colors.

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Common Redpoll 12/27/11

These little finchy birds aren’t so common around here. They are birds of the high Arctic and are never seen in the US (excepting Alaska) during the breeding season, but every few winters “irrupt” into the northern tier of states, including New England. Common Redpolls have black throats offset by red foreheads and small yellow bills. Above are females and possibly a juvenile. Adult males stand out more with a bright pink wash on the breast and up into the face, more like male Purple or House Finches. Common Redpolls travel in flocks and are often found in weedy fields and thickets foraging for seeds. Occasionally there’ll be an even less common Hoary Redpoll in the mix, so watch out for particularly pale frosty ones.

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Long-tailed Duck 12/26/11

Handsome birds, Long-tailed Ducks breed in northern tundra marshes and mountain lakes, migrating south to winter along the coasts and Great Lakes. Above is a drake in winter plumage fetched at Pepperrell Cove in Kittery Point. In 2000, the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) changed the traditional name of the Oldsquaw to Long-tailed Duck. Despite claiming otherwise, the real reason was caving into to the pressures of a few politically correct biologists who claimed the name was offensive to Native Americans. Certainly, the ducks themselves weren’t offended by what they were called.

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Horned Lark 12/23/11

On very cold days, which we haven’t had too many of this year, I can often find a few Horned Larks warming themselves on the public washroom roofs at the North Beach end of Hampton Beach. These are sparrow-sized seed eating birds of open country found over most of North America, and also found across much of Europe and Asia, where it’s called the Shore Lark after their change of habitat in winter. The yellower males display their ‘horns” in the summer, but you can see a hint of them above the eyes in this pic. Like other true larks, their thin lilting song is given in flight.

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Black Guillemot 12/22/11

Black Guillemots belong to the Alcid or Auk family, which also includes Puffins, Murres, Dovekies and Razorbills, all diving seabirds completely unrelated to ducks. This one, probably an immature going by the mottled greys on the head, is in winter plumage. Adults in breeding plumage are a soft coal black with striking white wing patches, and bright scarlet feet. I’ve heard oldtime fishermen call them Sea Pigeons, and in Europe they are called Tysties. Fetched in Rye Harbor, NH.

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American Tree Sparrow 12/21/11

In New England, American Tree Sparrows breeding in the northern latitudes of the continent, move south to replace the Chipping Sparrows that have migrated to the southern part of the continent. They have reddish caps, gray faces, light unstreaked breasts with a central dark spot, and a two-toned bill that’s gray on top and yellow on the bottom. They were once called the Winter Sparrow which is a much more apt name since the American Tree Sparrow is only called a tree sparrow because it resembles the European Tree Sparrow, and is much more of a ground sparrow not often seen in trees. But that’s the AOU for you. Fetched at Salisbury Beach State Reservation.

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