Archive for September, 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker juvenile 9/30/13

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Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers like this one begin developing their red crown in their first fall. An adult female will have have a brighter and more solid crown and with well defined black and white facial markings and an all white throat, while adult males have a bright red crown and bright red throat. Like the name implies, their primary food source is the sap of trees. They drill sapwells in neat rows and then lap up the sap along with any insects attracted to the ooze. In commercial forest plantations they are considered pests because their intensive drilling often kills trees. In North America there are 4 sapsucker species but the Yellow-bellied is the only one in the Northeast.

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Wood Duck drake 9/29/13

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This was a frustrating shot as I’d found a whole group of Wood Ducks gathered together but could barely glimpse them through the woods and marsh where they remained just out of sight—splashing about in what sounded like a party. As you can see this drake I did catch briefly has already molted from the eclipse plumage of late summer into next years breeding duds. Smaller than Mallards, Wood Ducks are classified as perching ducks, with feet arranged near the center of the body for balance in trees and specially adapted toes and claws for grasping branches. They nest in tree cavities but also take to nest boxes, often raising 2 broods in a season.

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Wild Turkey 9/28/13

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Some great anatomical words are associated with Wild Turkeys: the longitudinal flap of flesh under the chin is a dewlap, or more technically a wattle that grows from the neck. In other birds (eg: roosters), wattles can be much more elaborate. The little nob growing just above the bill is called a snood and will grow to several inches hanging to one side of the bill of an adult Tom. Among Toms, snood size definitely matters while for hens the snood remains a small bump. All of the smaller fleshy excrescences around the head and neck are called caruncles, and technically snoods, wattles, and dewlaps are all modified caruncles. When a turkey gets excited all of these protuberances swell up and turn red, becoming engorged with blood.

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Dunlin 9/27/13

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For some reason it’s rare to see Dunlin in breeding plumage at Seapoint with their characteristic black bellies and colorful wings and back, but not so juves or fall adults already in winter plumage like this one. I also tend to find them singly, noodling around the beach or resting up in the rocks, occasionally with a few other shorebirds like Sanderlings or Semipalmated Plovers, but rarely in the big mixed flocks of late August and early September. Whenever you see them in whatever plumage, their long and dark drooping bills are hard to mistake for anyone else and even stand out in flight.

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Double-crested Cormorant, juveniles, 9/26/13

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Double-crested Cormorants are often seen drying their wings on account of their feathers not being waterproof like ducks and other waterbirds, which at first seems a disadvantage but on the other hand significantly reduces their buoyancy and is quite valuable when cruising the underwater bottom for prey. Very soon we’ll be seeing long lines and ragged V’s of them migrating south. Juveniles are pale-fronted and lack the all black plumage of adults. The collective noun for a group of cormorants is a “gulp.”

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Merlin, adult male 9/25/13

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This picture required a bit of stealth on my part, covering about 150 feet of open ground to get this close and the only circumstances in my favor were the sun in my direction and his back to me most of the time. I never moved except when he was looking elsewhere. Eventually a couple and their dog coming from the other direction spooked it along with his bigger and browner partner who was perched a few hundred feet away—though I never got to photograph her. A pair of Merlins migrating south. These raptors are found all around the Northern Hemisphere, and recent DNA studies have shown they are more parrot than hawk.

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Eastern Bluebird, female, 9/24/13

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I’ve not seen many bluebirds this summer but came across a whole family of them hanging out by the refuge headquarters building at Great Bay NWR. Only the female with her grayish upperparts held still long enough for me to get a snap. Some, maybe most, Eastern Bluebirds in this area of New England migrate south in October, but other families gather in small flocks and shift their insect diet to fruits and berries, and manage to stay through the winter.

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