Archive for July, 2013

European Starlings 8/1/13


Teenagers are universal.


Cliff Swallow 7/31/13


On the right is the last Cliff Swallow chick yet to fledge at the little colony at Fort Constitution in New Castle, NH. The adult on the left has a reddish throat and ivory forehead, unlike Barn Swallows which have reddish throats and reddish foreheads. Otherwise these are short and stocky swallows with square tails. The gourd-shaped nest  is made of mud  anchored in the rafters of a wooden structure covering a masonry gateway, and there were about a dozen nests in the colony. More natural nest sites are cliffs with an overhang which are more common out west where the nests in a single colony can number into the thousands. These birds hardly have a bill to speak of but use their wide mouths to catch insects on the wing.


Least Terns 7/30/13


The fog was thick on Seapoint Beach yesterday and I spooked these two terns before seeing  them, but they resettled farther down the beach and I was able to approach more carefully. Least Terns don’t nest at Seapoint, and these birds, both adults, seemed tired and determined to rest up quietly, leading me to believe they are early migrants from farther north. Midcoast Maine is the northernmost limit of their breeding range along the Atlantic seaboard, and they are an endangered species in the state.


Grasshopper Sparrow 7/29/13


Like many grassland species, Grasshopper Sparrows are threatened by habitat loss. They are small secretive sparrows distinctive for their big heads, short spiky tails, and their high pitched and buzzy song reminiscent of grasshoppers. I fetched this one near the end of the runways at the Pease Tradeport in Newington, NH.


Fish Crow 7/25/13


If you get close to a crow that seems peculiarly small and you want to know if it’s a Fish Crow, ask it to open its mouth and look for a bit of a hook at the end of the bill. It just might oblige you like this guy did (I asked politely). If its legs are a little shorter or its bill more slender than you think they should be, that’s a good clue but maybe not definitive. Some say they’re more iridescent in the light, or shaggier in the throat but you can’t count on either. The best way know for sure, is ask it to say “caw.” If the hard “c” at the beginning is missing and  you get more of a nasal “awp” well then you’ve definitely got a Fish Crow. They aren’t as rare as you might think, just easy to overlook.


Common Eider creche 7/24/13


All along the New England coast, female Common Eiders and their broods gather together in creches. The young can feed for themselves by diving for invertebrates, and the role of the adult females is primarily that of a guard, keeping a sharp eye out for aerial predators.  Only part of the creche is shown in the pic, I counted 4 adults and 21 young of at least 3 different ages. Adult males don’t participate but nonbreeding females, not just the moms, often do. A number of other bird species practice this kind of social behavior, including other duck species, pelicans, flamingos, and penguins.


Semipalmated Sandpiper 7/23/13


I know it’s still July but the first wave of fall shorebird migration has begun—small and large flocks of shorebirds will be an increasingly regular sight for the next couple of months on beaches, marshes, and other wet margins. While flocks are often mixed species, right now the majority of individual birds stopping to rest and recharge before moving on are adult Semipalmated Sandpipers in worn plumage, much like this one I photographed on Crescent Beach yesterday. Juvenile Semipals, and juvenile shorebirds in general, don’t leave the Arctic tundra until after their parents left, and will be coming through these parts later in August and September.


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