Archive for April, 2017

Hermit Thrush 4/30/17

Hermit Thrushes are arriving, I came across half a dozen at once the other day, just inside one of Fort Foster’s woodland paths foraging for insects and berries on the forest floor. They are a smaller thrush than a robin but larger than a bluebird, and like its cousins will often droop its wings below the tail. They’re most easily recognized by their brown backs contrasting with reddish tails. They sing in a melancholy minor key with descending flutey trills that many consider the loveliest of birdsongs.

 

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Purple Sandpiper 4/27/17

I photographed this plump little shorebird a couple weeks ago among its 70-80 co-flockers, but when I looked for them last weekend they were gone. They could still be about but being the end of April they have likely begun their journey back to the Arctic. Purple Sandpipers are Maine’s most common winter shorebird, with small flocks congregating around a high tide home base every few miles up and down the rocky coast. Purples are dark for sandpipers, with orange feet and orange bills that droop just a little. When the light is right you can make out the purple-pink iridescence in their feathers that gives them their name. They wont be back in these parts again until November.

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Horned Lark 4/26/17

Horned Larks are occasional winter visitors along New England beaches, and at this time of year spring migrants from farther south are also passing through on their way northwards and inland. They breed in open country—bare ground, agricultural fields, grassland, scrubland, desert, and tundra where they forage on the ground for both seeds and insects. There are 42 recognized subspecies around the northern hemisphere and in Eurasia this same bird is called the Shore Lark. Momentum has been building among taxonomists to split this species into 6 new ones. Populations are in pretty serious decline, one reason being that out west they are the bird mostly frequently killed by wind turbines. They have a weak tinkling call given in flight.

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Common Loon molting 4/16/17

Many Common Loons along the coasts are molting into breeding plumage right now, shedding the dark gray above and white below of winter plumage for a more formal black tuxedo with white spotted wings. This one is only half there but well on its way, see those drab gray feathers just where the spotted black ones are beginning on the back? That’s the old making way for the new. The head and neck will also turn black with a barred white collar. It won’t be long before this one takes to the sky, returning to its inland territory, a freshwater lake or pond where it bred with its mate last year. Sexes are similar.

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American Robins 4/10/17

American Robins are the biggest North American thrush as well as one of the most abundant birds on the continent with a population well over 300 million. Males have darker more saturated colors than females and first year birds. I’d be confident calling this a male and female but there were enough other robins around at the time I’d be hesitant to call them a pair. Overwintering and migrant flocks are just now breaking up into pairs claiming territories and building nests. Robins are one of the earliest songbirds to lay eggs, their first nest is usually built in an evergreen, with 2nd and 3rd nests built in hardwoods.

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Hooded Merganser pair 4/9/17

Hoodies are my favorite and the smallest of our 3 sawbill or Merganser species, so named on account of their thin serrated bills adapted for catching slippery fish. Both sexes have crests that can be raised for display, the male’s appearing as a thick stripe when relaxed but becoming an extravagant white hood when raised. The female’s crest is more like a rusty red fan. Early spring is the best time to see them near the coast in freshwater ponds and rivers, they follow the melting ice inland and northwards during migration. They nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers, and sometimes several females will lay eggs in one nest so that a clutch of ducklings can contain several dozen.

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Black-capped Chickadee 4/8/17

Today I had a spring trifecta—this Black-capped Chickadee was singing a soft and plaintive fee bee for his sweetheart, frogs had begun croaking at Fort Foster, and month late crocuses were blooming in the garden.

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