Archive for February, 2013

Snowy Owl 2/28/13



Northern Cardinal male 2/27/13


He’s handsome on a stick, or in this case handsome on a wire, and at this moment on a late February morning, I can hear this very bird singing for his hot-lipped sweetheart. At one time Northern Cardinals were classified as finches but now have their own family called the Cardinalidae which also includes tanagers, American buntings, and grosbeaks (with some exceptions). DNA research has been reclassifying everything, and all in the cardinal family are big-billed seed-eaters. 

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Common Goldeneye drake 2/26/13


Common Goldeneyes are one of our winter-only ducks, arriving late fall, generally after the Buffleheads, and leaving sometime in April for the rivers and lakes bordering the boreal forests of Canada where they’ll build their nests in tree cavities. They winter all across the US and southernmost parts of Canada where there’s open water, either salt or fresh. Females are not nearly as white as the drakes, with chocolate-colored heads and a yellowish tip to their dark bills.


Northern Mockingbird 2/25/13


During winter time most birds become less territorial and more social, gathering in small flocks like Robins or Waxwings do where there’s safety in numbers, or joining a gang of mixed species like chickadees and titmice and kinglets for foraging. But Northern Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial year round. Whether singly or in pairs in winter they claim a patch of fruiting trees, shrubs or brambles, to defend vigorously from marauding flocks and strays alike. Once the weather warms up they shift their winter diet from fruit to insects. I haven’t yet heard any singing their nearly endless songs that mimic a dozen or more other songbirds, but it won’t be long now.


Common Merganser drake 2/22/13


Of the 3 New England sawbills, I find the Common Merganser the hardest to photograph. These are very wary birds, and while they live up to their name in terms of being fairly common, it’s not often you can get close to them. Unlike their Red-breasted cousins, you’ll not typically find them off-shore in salt water, though you may find them in brackish water like on Great Bay or in some of the tidal rivers. In winter, the best place to look for them is ice-free stretches of fresh water such as below a dam in a river, like where I found this one below Salmon Falls in South Berwick. Drakes are mostly all white with green heads and bright red sawbills, females have grayer sides and rusty reddish heads.


Cedar Waxwing 2/21/13


One summer when I was 6 or 7, my family rented a cottage in Sorrento, Maine and I got to watch and obsess on a brood of Cedar Waxwings being raised in the front hedge. That was the year I most remember as having fallen in love with birds and I’ve had a wicked soft spot for the silky waxwing ever since. From any distance they’re not much different from other little brown birds, but when you see them up close they are remarkably handsome—the subtle blends of color, expressive crests, slyly masked faces and the red waxy wing droplets so unique among birds. Even in winter I consider them songbirds with their soft and high-pitched jingly trills calling from the treetops.


Horned Grebe 2/20/13


Since yesterday’s bird was a Red-necked Grebe I’m contrasting it today with its littler cousin the Horned Grebe. The easy thing to remember about these gray and white winter grebes are their bills. Horned Grebe bill is little and gray and its cheeks are white and sharply defined, in contrast to the Red-necks’ grayer cheek and much larger yellow bill. Also check out that brilliant red eye ring with a small yellow iris in the center. Horned Grebes are considerably smaller birds but that can actually be hard to gauge when you just see one by itself at any distance—and it’s not often you’ll see both species side by side.


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