Purple Sandpipers are regular winter residents along the rockier parts of the New England coast. At Seapoint, a small flock of 30 to 100 of them take up residence each year late in the fall and stay the winter until heading back to the Arctic come early spring. They aren’t especially shy, and one can get fairly close to them at high tide when they rest up on the larger rocks at the North side of the point. If you’re lucky, you might occasionally spot a Sanderling, Dunlin or Ruddy Turnstone mixed in with the flock.
Archive for January, 2012
The Song Sparrow is one of the most common American sparrows, in winter you don’t see as many in New England as in other seasons but many remain as year-round residents. Richly colored in the eastern states (coloration and song varies widely depending on geography) note the gray face with a brown eye streak, gray bill, thickly streaked breast with a central smudge, and dark stripes flanking either side of the throat. Never too far from a thicket, sexes are similar, but males often sing or lookout from low perches. Fetched from my garden steps in Kittery Point, Maine.
One of my all time favorite birds, Cedar Waxwings flock up in wintertime and roam widely in search of fruits and berries which compose the bulk of their diet. Their high-pitched jingly trills always bring a smile to my face, even when I can’t see them. From a distance they look much like a lot of what birders call LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) but close up they are strikingly beautiful with their crested heads, black face masks, silky blend of brown to yellow breast feathers, yellow (sometimes orange) tail bands, and the small beads of scarlet wax on the wings of mature adults which you can’t see in this photo. In winter flocks, keep an eye out for the larger Bohemian Waxwing which often mixes in with Cedars. They are larger and stockier, have distinctive cinnamon under-rumps, and more extensive red waxy droplets on their wings. Fetched in Portsmouth, NH.
Common Goldeneyes are another northern duck found all around the Northern Hemisphere, breeding on lakes and ponds of the boreal forest, but wintering farther south in protected bays and inlets. Above is an adult pair, the male dark and white with a round patch behind the bill and an iridescent gloss on the head in direct light, and the female mostly dark with a chocolate head. Both have the bright yellow eyes that earn their name. They show up in New England waters in the fall—diving for small fish, crustaceans and molluscs—just offshore or in tidal inlets. Their closest relatives are the more rare Barrow’s Goldeneye, which look much the same except the round white patch behind the males’ bill is a crescent and the females’ bill is yellow. Not long ago the smaller Buffleheads were recognized as close relatives and moved into the same genus. I find Goldeneyes to be quite shy and much more difficult to get close to than Buffleheads. Fetched at Spinney Creek in Kittery.
Even though Chipping Sparrows are pretty common around here, I didn’t recognize this bird at first. But adult Chipping Sparrows have 2 plumages, the familiar red-capped clean-breasted breeding plumage which we see from spring through the fall, and a winter or non-breeding plumage which we don’t see as they migrate south in the fall. So this bird is pretty uncommon to see during New England winters. Sparrows are a challenge in any season, but one of the first things to look for are whether or not there are streaks or spots on the breast, as that will help narrow things down. Chipping Sparrows are one of the few that have neither.
Northern Pintails are found worldwide in the Northern Hemisphere. In New England we see them during the spring and fall migrations and occasionally during the winter, but not in the summertime as they breed much farther north and west. They are dabbling ducks, much like a Mallard, but are so much more elegant with their long sleek necks and slender heads. Males have the chocolate head and throat, with long central tail feathers that earn them their name, while the plainer females can be told from mallard femaless by their more delicate brown patterning, gingery-orange blushed heads and lack of an eyestripe. Anytime you see a group of puddle ducks in winter it’s worth looking them over for Pintails, Teals, Gadwall, Wigeon, and Shovelers. I found this drake Pintail by his lonesome at Plum Island.
Last summer, the last clutch of a pair of Northern Cardinals have stuck around with their parents so that there are 7 of them hanging together in the thickets behind my backyard. This one’s one of the immature females, not as brightly colored as her mom, and likewise the boys aren’t yet quite as flamboyant as their dad. A few years ago there was a similar sitch here and I recall a photo I wasn’t quick enough to get of the whole bunch sitting in the lilacs during a snowfall, waiting their turn to come into the feeders. Maybe I’ll be luckier this winter.