Archive for August, 2013

American Black Duck family 8/30/13


American Black Ducks have bulky dark brown bodies with paler heads and are common to the eastern half of North America from the gulf states north to Hudson Bay. Males have yellow bills and females olive green. In the winter they are most common along the Atlantic seaboard from Nova Scotia to Florida. They breed in salt marshes and other wetlands with enough aquatic insects and other invertebrates to feed a growing brood. I photographed this group of 7 almost grown ducklings and their mom in Rye Harbor.


Great Blue Heron juvenile 8/29/13


August is the month of juveniles and Great Blue Herons are no exception with youngsters fledging from the rookeries and dispersing all over their breeding range and even outside of it. Adult Great Blues have distinct black crown plumes, mauve-colored necks, cinnamon thighs, and in general a cleaner and sharper appearance than the youngsters. They are perhaps the most stealthy of all the herons, wading very slowly or holding perfectly still before making a lightning strike at fish and other prey.


Red-eyed Vireo 8/28/13


Red-eyed Vireos are songbirds of the forest canopy, often heard but rarely seen, singing their question and answer phrases all day long, but they have gone quiet by the end of August before migrating south for the winter. In any case this is a juvenile who won’t start singing until next spring. Juveniles looks much like adults—olive green above and white below with the same blue-gray crown edged in black and a white eyebrow with a darker stripe through the eyes—which are dark brown instead of red in the adult.


Common Tern juve 8/27/13


Common Terns are quite graceful birds in all but their voice which is harsh and obnoxious. Within a week of fledging, juveniles in this area leave the colony on the Isles of Shoals to accompany their parents on fishing expeditions, though the parents help feed the youngsters throughout the breeding season and even during their long migration to South America. The young birds are brown on their backs and wings often with a lacy pattern like this one, and have a gingery forehead that turns white by winter, similar to adults in non-breeding plumage. Most Common Terns in North American breed along the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas to Newfoundland, but there is also a smaller population centered around the Great Lakes. There are also Common Tern populations across Europe and Asia.


Red Knot juvenile 8/26/13


I found this big juvenile shorebird wandering the edges of Seapoint beach with some peeps over the weekend, and was at first stumped as to its ID, a bird I’d never seen at Seapoint before. Red Knots are in trouble, they’re the shorebird whose populations have crashed in recent decades due to the overfishing of horseshoe crabs around the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, which is one of their major refueling stations on their long migration to and from Tierra del Fuego and the Arctic Circle. I chose a shot with an adult Semipalmated Sandpiper (actually a close cousin since  both belong to the same genus) to show off how big it is. Adult knots in breeding plumage are cinnamon colored.



Peeps 8/25/13


“Peeps” is a nonscientific term birders use when referring to the smaller sandpipers seen during migration. In North America there are 5 species fitting the category—Least, Western, Semipalmated, Baird’s, and White-rumped Sandpipers. Westerns aren’t common on the Atlantic flyway and look very similar to Semipalmateds. Baird’s migrate along the Central flyway, but it’s not that unusual to see a few along the east coast. White-rumped Sandpipers are common to the Atlantic flyway but simply aren’t as numerous as the Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. The Semipalmated Sandpiper in the back is our most common peep by far, this one is a juve—note the white-edged scapular feathers on the wings and back which wasn’t as apparent in the adult and juve comparison I showed yesterday. If you saw a thousand mixed shorebirds on a New England beach, the majority of them would likely be these birds. The Least Sandpiper is our next most common peep, and our smallest and darkest sandpiper—this one in front is an adult in worn plumage.


Semipalmated Sandpiper age comparison 8/24/13


Sandpipers can be daunting to identify on the beaches and mudflats, and many are so similar you might think the birds in this photo are two different species, but the one behind is a juvenile and the other in front is an adult. At this time of year adults have worn plumage and a scruffy, almost dirty look to them, while the juvenile’s plumage is much fresher and cleaner looking. The scapular feathers on the back and wings of the adult are all dark and not edged with white like you’ll see in the juve, and the juve also has larger white lores at the base of the bill. Note also the more caramel coloring of the juve, and that rather than a streaky breast, it has more of a blush.


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