Archive for October, 2014

Double-crested Cormorant flock 10/31/14

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For the last week or so loose strings and sloppy V’s of migrating Double-crested Cormorants have been moving down the coastline with amazing regularity. Once one is out of sight, there’s another flock of a couple hundred just coming into view, so that if you were counting it wouldn’t be long at all before you were up in the thousands, and seeing many tens of thousands in a day wouldn’t be unheard of. Canada geese and other waterfowl migrate in tighter and more disciplined V-formations.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker immature male 10/30/14

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Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill small holes in a horizontal row called sapwells, into the trunks of trees—often birch and maple but many other species as well. They lick up the sticky sap that oozes from them and feed their young any insects that get trapped in it. Unlike other woodpeckers in the northeast, they have to migrate south for the winter to find unfrozen trees. Both adult males and females have a red cap, but the males also have a red throat, and aside from the yellow wash on the belly, the rest of the adult plumage is black and white. This scruffy browner bird has molted out of juvenile plumage—which lacks any red—into that of a subadult, immature, or 1st winter male. By the time he returns north in the spring, most of the brown will have disappeared and his red throat and cap ought to be quite solidly brilliant against a more black and white suit.

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Greater Yellowlegs 10/29/14

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Like Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are hard to tell apart on account of being similarly colored and patterned and shaped. But in both cases the bill is the definitive field mark to rely on. Imagine continuing the line of the yellowlegs bill through its head. If the bill is the longer half, then it’s a Greater Yellowlegs. If the bill is the equal or shorter half, then it’s a Lesser Yellowlegs. Of course the Greater Y is also a larger bird, but when you don’t have anything to compare to, size can actually be very difficult to judge. In this pic you can also see that the bill of a Greater Yellowlegs is two-toned, being lighter and bluer at the base, but length is the better fieldmark to remember as you can judge it at greater distances in almost any light, whereas even up close the two-tone bill may not be evident.

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Hermit Thrush 10/28/14

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There are few  songbirds on the planet sweeter than the Hermit Thrush, but at this time of year you’ll mostly only hear a single quick “chuck.” One of the clues to help identify them is the droopy wings characteristic of thrushes, and the rusty rump and reddish tail which is unlike the other spotted thrushes. Hermit Thrushes are migrating now to the southern states and Mexico, but a handful will stick around and brave the New England winter, shifting their diet from bugs and worms to fruits and berries.

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The odd duck, 10/27/14

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I spent a good half hour watching these ducks bathing in the tidal creek and preening on the muddy bank. There’s three of them actually, but in this shot the 3rd was in the blur. These are American Black Ducks, which are one of the most inconspicuous ducks of eastern North America (mallards being much more colorful). The drake is darker bodied than the female, with a brighter yellow-green bill, and red-orange feet in contrast to the pinker-footed female. But this drake also had a surprise when he lifted his wings and showed pure white side feathers and underwing coverts, most unusual! My guess is he’s a hybrid offspring with American Black Duck and domestic white duck parents, which isn’t so far-fetched once you consider American Black Ducks frequently hybridize with Mallard ducks, and Mallards are the ancestral stock for the domestic white duck.

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Canada Geese 10/26/14

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Yellow-rumped Warbler 1st winter female 10/25/14

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Yellow-rumps are migrating through New England in abundance right now. If you come across a small group flitting out from their perches to catch insects on the wing, chances are you can see all 4 of their confusing fall plumages (male and female each of immature and adult non-breeding). Each warbler species has roughly 9 plumages, which makes learning them a real challenge! But it’s more like each species is a spectrum, at one end males in breeding plumage are the boldest and brightest for advertising themselves. At the other end are the streaky and sexless juveniles, the most drab for the opposite purpose of camouflage. Females and the 4 drab fall plumages all fall in-between. In this photo is a 1st winter female, the flashy butterbutt announces her species as Yellow-rumped Warbler. The greenish-brown color rather than the blue gray of adults says she’s a 1st winter bird, and the lack of a yellow cap (the coronata from their latin name) is what says she is female.

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