Archive for November, 2013

White-throated Sparrow 11/28/13


In springtime White-throated Sparrows sing “Old Sam Peabody” in a heartbreakingly sweet and sad whistle. All have white throats but only half of these birds (of either sex), half have white-stripes on their heads and the other half have tan-stripes. Even more peculiar is that a tan-stripe invariably mates with a white-stripe, and not one like itself.


Red-bellied Woodpecker male 11/27/13


You can tell a male Red-bellied by the swath of bright red starting above the bill, and extending over the forehead, cap, and down the nape. Females have a gap between the forehead and nape that’s gray instead. And they definitely lack that wash of color in the face which seems especially flushed in this male. You can barely make out a similar red wash under the tail and between the feet which gives this bird its red-bellied name. I love that these year-round woodpeckers are becoming more common in New England. I can recall when you’d only find them south of Connecticut and even today, most range maps don’t show them as resident in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, much less Maine. But they are here,  even to the point where I can call them common, knowing of at least 3 pairs within a mile of my house. I photographed this one in New Hampshire at the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth.


Red-tailed Hawk 11/26/13



Common Loon 11/25/13


As inland fresh water lakes and ponds seize up, Common Loons head to the coasts for the winter. Here’s one mid-molt. The finely detailed and velvety black and white markings, such as the patch of stripes on its neck and the neatly white spotted wings of the breeding season, are looking scruffy while giving way to a plain two-toned winter plumage of dark gray upper parts and all white lower parts. Note the bill has only started changing to a pale gray. These birds are consummate divers, using their powerful webbed feet which are placed well to the rear for propelling themselves underwater. I found this one fishing for rock crabs in the York River the other day. The name Loon comes from Old English “lumme” meaning clumsy or lame, reflecting how utterly awkward they are on land.


Hermit Thrush 11/24/13


Like their Eastern Bluebird cousins, most Hermit Thrushes migrate south for the winter, but a few regularly winter along the New England coast. They shift their diet from insects and invertebrates to fruits and berries. I found this one in a thicket at the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth the other day while trying to photograph the White-eyed Vireo that’s been hanging out there over the last week.


Merlin female 11/21/13


Merlins are a migratory species, the bulk of the population in North America breeds across the Canadian boreal forest and winters as far south as Venezuela and Peru. But all the range maps in all the field guides, both in print and online, don’t show the Merlins I occasionally see along the coast of New England in the winter months, probably because they stay close to the coastline and the coastline itself is too thin to print. Merlins have 2 ways of hunting along the shore. They are powerful fliers but you’ll not see them on high or soaring, but flying fast and low like a bullet, to flush small flocks of birds like Horned Larks , Purple Sandpipers, or House Sparrows and take one right in the air. Another way they hunt is simply sitting for extended periods in an evergreen perch like this brownish female above, scanning for moving snacks.


Lapland Longspur 11/20/13


These are common and abundant songbirds of the Arctic tundra that migrate through much of southern Canada to winter in the northern two thirds of the US. In winter they are exclusively seed eaters while during the breeding season they raise their young on arthropods. They are also found in Europe and Asia, but are believed to have evolved in North America with the other longspurs and new world sparrows (called buntings in Europe). Longspur refers to the extended claw of their hind toe.


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