Archive for February, 2015

Glaucous Gull 2/28/15


Just another seagull? Gray wings, pink legs, yellow bill with a red spot? But look closer, what color are the wingtips? Not the usual black primaries with white spots, but a white-winged gull. Not only that, it’s a big white-winged gull, almost as big as a Great Black-backed Gull, which is the biggest gull of all. And that makes this an adult Glaucous Gull.


Pine Siskin 2/27/15


Close cousin of the American Goldfinch, Pine Siskins are drabber and streakier but have bright yellow highlights in the base of their primaries and tail feathers. They’re quite gregarious and noisy with a near-constant finchy twitter. Like other finches their winter wanderings are unpredictable, but if you come across a flock take a few moments to scan for the uncommon green morph. These will have a yellow wash on the nape, flanks and undertail, and more than the usual helping of yellow in the wings and tail. Green morphs are always male, but less than 1% of males are green morphs.


Long-tailed Duck female 2/26/15


aka Oldsquaw.


Eastern Screech Owl red morph 2/25/15


Eastern Screech Owls are woodland birds that come in either red or gray morphs as well as some intermediary brownish plumages, and mixed pairs do occur. They are stocky ear-tufted owls with yellow eyes that are only about 8″ tall. Like most raptors, males are smaller and the size difference between the sexes allows a pair to hunt a wider range of prey. Their diet is quite flexible and varied including earthworms, insects, frogs, songbirds, rodents, and snakes. They don’t exactly hoot but have a high-pitched call that descends in a tremolo, often compared to a horse’s whinny. Both sexes sing, especially to each other.


Common Redpoll female 2/24/15


Redpolls are Arctic finches that wander erratically in winter. They follow food supplies, so you never know when or even whether they’ll show up. This female was one of 8 I found feeding on catkins. Females have red caps, black faces 2 wingbars, a forked tail and bright yellow bills, and males are the same except they add a bright raspberry wash on their breast and flanks. Juveniles show no red at all and even lack the black face, but do have the yellow conical bill and forked tail. They do occasionally show up at nyjer feeders along with other winter finches.


Eastern Bluebird male 2/21/15


Hardly a winter goes by where some otherwise knowledgable birder tells me we don’t have Eastern Bluebirds in New England during the winter months, and I can’t help but roll my eyes and sigh. These aren’t vagrants—lone birds like last week’s Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who for some inexplicable reason don’t migrate with the rest of its species—this male bluebird is part of a flock of 7 that makes the rounds in my neighborhood. In the winter you’ll find them feeding on fruit and berries like, and sometimes with, robins and waxwings, but they take protein whenever and wherever they can—brine fly larvae at the beach, little crustaceans exposed in the salt marshes after an especially high tide, or the mealy worms bluebird lovers put out for them in the snow. There are many small flocks of these little thrushy birds in southern Maine, twerdling their softsongs and bringing joy when all the snow and cold have worn us down with impatience for spring.

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Red-breasted Merganser female 2/20/15


Red-breasted Mergansers breeding habitat is inland lakes and rivers all across North America from Alaska to Newfoundland, as well as Asia, Europe, and Greenland. In winter they migrate to the coasts to dive for small fish and crustaceans just offshore and in tidal waterways. You can often see them snorkeling for prey, swimming along with their head underwater, and then slipping under when they spot something promising. Males have the red-mottled breasts and punk hairdos similar to the females only dark green. Both sexes show large white wing patches in flight.


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