I came across my first of year (FOY in birdspeak) Great Blue Heron lurking on the far side of Lindsay Pond in York yesterday when I stopped by to look for Hooded Mergansers. It’s an adult in fresh spring plumage but too far across the pond for close-up. They are the tallest of our herons, often called “cranes” by oldtimers, and typically are also the first to arrive in the spring since the north end of their winter range isn’t all that far south of here. They are expert fishers, stalking their prey in the shallows, but also diet on mice, amphibians, and reptiles.
Archive for March, 2012
The White-throated Sparrow’s plaintive whistle is often paraphrased “Old-Sam-Peabody” or “O-sweet-Canada,” and is one of the loveliest birdsongs you’ll hear in New England. They’re forest sparrows, vigorously scratching and kicking up debris to find snacks in the underbrush. They come in two morphs, one with a tan-striped head and the other with a white-striped head, and both having yellow lores at the base of the bill and a bright white bib that makes them one of the easier sparrows to identify. There’ll be lots of them migrating through woody areas over the next month or so heading for the Canadian forest, but we do have a few that are year-round residents as well,. Sexes are similar for both morphs, though one morph invariably mates with the other. Fetched in my Kittery Point backyard.
Smallest of the dabbling ducks in North America, Green-winged Teal are colorful and widespread but I find them to be quite shy and hard to sneak up on. The cinnamon heads of drakes with a dark green iridescent mask are hard to miss. Females look much like a small mallard female, but both sexes have an iridescent green speculum in the wings which give them their name. You can see just a hint of it above the leg in this photo. They winter as far south as the Yucatan and breed as far north and west as Alaska. In New England we see them as both year-round residents and migrants. This was one of two drakes wintering in a tidal creek along Rt 103 in Kittery.
Robins have been around all winter in flocks which are just now beginning to break up as their diet switches from winter fruits and berries to insects and other invertebrates. This one’s sitting in the shrubs just behind Seapoint Beach, waiting for the dog walkers to pass by so it can get back to the decomposing seaweed piled up at the tideline that’s chock full of fly larvae. I’ve heard some singing already but they haven’t yet settled into territories and given full throat to their elaborate and cheerful songs. This one’s a male, birds with paler bellies and paler heads are females, and if you see a male with a very blackish head, it is likely a migrant belonging to the nigrideus subspecies, making its way to Newfoundland and the northern Maritimes.
Unlike most finches, American Goldfinches molt twice a year. The upper bird in this photo from the other day is a male beginning to molt out of drab winter plumage into his brilliant yellow summer coat punctuated by a crisp black cap, and black and white wings and tail. In-between plumages they are a scruffy patchwork mix. Females are much browner than the males, but also yellow up considerably for the season. They prefer open country all across the US and into parts of Canada and Mexico, anywhere they can forage for weed seeds. In New England they are year round residents and frequent visitors to backyard feeding stations where they favor sunflower and nyjer seeds. I call them Potato Chips, for the song they often give in flight, sometimes paraphrased “per-chik-or-ree,” but they also give a variety of warbling twitters, calls, and songs.
Yesterday afternoon, while showing a friend the male Cape May Warbler that’s still hanging out at Odiorne Point, we spotted a group of 7 or 8 Red-necked Grebes out in Portsmouth Harbor. These two were just close enough to get a snap of, and the one on the right is already taking on its red-necked breeding plumage while the other is still in drab winter plumage. It’s something of a treat to see even partial breeding plumage in New England. Red-necked Grebes are larger and more robust birds than their cousins the Horned Grebe. They winter off of both coasts and migrate to shallow inland lakes, ponds and marshes between the Great Lakes and Alaska to breed, far from New England. Red-necked Grebes are also found in Siberia and Europe.
The flock of Purple Sandpipers at Seapoint this winter was a small one of about 30 birds, while in winters past there’d be anywhere from 40 to 100. I can only guess that with the milder season other areas along the coast were more hospitable, spreading them out. While most of the flock rests up, a few birds stand sentry, keeping an eye to the sky for passing falcons. These rocks, sheltered from the wind and breakers, in the NE corner of the point are their reliable hangout at high tides between November and April. At low and mid tides, they forage in the exposed tidal rocks farther offshore and you may need a scope to find them.