Archive for April, 2015

Sharp-shinned Hawk immature female 4/29/15


See how her pins are like toothpicks? Sharp-shinned is a poetic way of saying skinny legged! This one was terrorizing juncos at my neighbor Hol’s backyard feeders. Came swooping in out of nowhere between the posts as the juncos exploded but for all her agility, she missed, to settle here, then noticed me raising my camera and was gone. Fifteen minutes later the juncos were back, again the Sharpie attacked from nowhere and missed, but 3rd time she connected and flew off over the garden flying heavier than usual. Take-out from Hollis’s Restaurant.


Common Grackle 5/25/15



Butterbutt male 4/24/15


I’ve known this bird by many names, Yellow-rumped Warbler is the current official AOU name, but I grew up calling it the Myrtle Warbler, before the taxonomists conspired to lump it together with Audubon’s Warbler—much the same bird except for a yellow throat and living in the western part of the continent. When I was in my 20s, an old lady birder I knew affectionately referred to it as “the butterbutt,” and ever since that’s the name that stuck for me. So while the AOU can change Myrtle to Yellow-rumped, and change Dendroica to Setophaga, there’s nobody says I can’t call him a butterbutt. Females are duller and paler with less black and blue, but she too sports the butterbutt.


Greater Yellowlegs 4/23/15


Yellowlegs are among the first migrant shorebirds to pass through New England on the way to their Arctic breeding grounds. The Greater Yellowlegs is told from the Lesser by overall size and the length of the bill. This one’s bill length is longer than the width of its head, indicating that it’s a Greater Yellowlegs. Both yellowlegs belong to the genus Tringa, a group of sandpipers called the “shanks,” so called for their long and colorful legs.


Great Egret 4/22/15


Heron names are tricky. First it helps to know that all egrets are herons, but all herons aren’t egrets. Egret is just a term that means whitish heron, deriving from the French word aigrette for white plume. So the Great Egret is really the Great Whitish Heron, and that’s precisely how the Latin name translates. “Ardea” is the genus encompassing the Great Herons (like the Great Blue Heron—about a dozen species of large herons found all around the world—and of course the species name “alba” means white. So why don’t we call this bird the Great White Heron? That’s a whole nuther story, even more confusing than this one.


Cooper’s Hawk male 4/21/15



Smithsonian Gulls 4/19/15


Smithsonian Gulls? What? Well, sometime in the near future that’s what we’ll be calling our common Herring Gulls. Molecular DNA studies in recent years have shaken up a lot of traditional taxonomic classifications, and it’s now pretty well established that American Herring Gulls are not a subspecies of the European Herring Gull as has long been thought. The Europeans, in particular the British Ornithological Union, now officially classify this bird as “Larus smithsonianus,” and call it the Smithsonian Gull.  However, the American Ornithological Union does not yet recognize the bird as a separate species, and is hanging onto the Herring Gull subspecies classification—but the writing is on the wall.


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