Archive for November, 2017

Swamp Sparrow male 11/30/17

Chunky, gray faced, white-throated, rusty winged, and an unstreaked pale breast are the combination of field marks distinguishing a Swamp Sparrow. Males like this one also have a reddish cap reminiscent of a Chipping Sparrow. They breed in wetlands across the northern US and across boreal Canada, feeding primarily on insects and other invertebrates they can forage at the water’s edge, often wading in shallow water and even sticking its head underwater to find food. In fall and winter their diet depends more on the seeds of grasses and weed species, and is when you’re more likely to spot one away from water. Not one of the commoner sparrows in these parts.

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Snow Bunting 11/28/17

Also called Snowflakes, or more simply Snowbirds, Snow Buntings are one of the northernmost of all songbirds, breeding in the high Arctic around the globe and wintering in more temperate regions. In November they begin arriving in New England, foraging for grass and weed seeds in open areas like beaches and fields, often found with their Longspur cousins and/or Horned Larks. After a late summer molt their fresh plumage is accented with caramel at the tips, but as winter progresses the males deliberately rub and abrade the colored feather tips away, leaving them pure white with black and white wings in time for the Arctic breeding season, making it seem like they molt twice a year when it’s really just once.

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Black Guillemot 11/27/17


You don’t see these little seabirds very often but they do breed as far south as midcoast Maine, and being short distance migrants you’ll occasionally find them coming a little farther south in winter. They are one of the Alcids (Auks) and are closely related to puffins, murres, razorbills and dovekies. In summer breeding plumage they are velvety black all over except for large white wing patches and brilliant red legs and feet. This one is molting into the gray-above and white-below winter colors. In the UK they are called Tysties. Every year I seem to find one at some point at Rye Harbor, where I came across this one over the weekend.

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Peregrine Falcon female 11/25/17

Since 2008, DNA genome studies essentially reclassified all falcons as being more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. That’s just one of the more dramatic examples of how DNA is redrawing the tree of life, such that a lot of modern taxonomy is in disarray as the old relationships and classifications are being rewritten. But despite the close relationship to parrots, falcons still look and act like hawks. Peregrine Falcons have long pointed wings and a streamlined shape built for speed and surprise. They are the largest of the falcons we regularly see in New England and are the fastest animal on the plane—capable of reaching speeds over 240 mph.

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Red-tailed Hawk 11/23/17

This is one of the smaller Red-tailed Hawks I’ve come across lately, and being an adult bird I’m fairly confident calling this one male (females being up to 25% larger). Red-tails come in 14 different subspecies across North and Central America with considerable variety in their plumage, but the characteristic bulky shape, large size, pale underside with a streaked belly-band, and brick-red tail of the adults (when seen from the top) is common to all but the darkest variations. This is the borealis subspecies of northeastern North America—lighter than some of the morphs more commonly seen in the west.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet 11/22/17

Kinglets are the smallest of all songbirds and come with twittering perky personalities. They are difficult to photograph on account they seem to never stop foraging for insects and spiders to keep their metabolism going. How they manage to find enough to eat during the long New England has always been a mystery to me. They come in 7 species around the world, 2 of them found in North America including the Golden-crowned. Males have a reddish streak in the middle of their yellow crests which can be erected. Kinglets are not warblers.

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Dunlin, male 11/20/17

In New England we have a handful of shorebirds that spend the winter and Dunlin are one of them. This one is in gray above and white below winter plumage, while Dunlin in breeding plumage are quite striking with black bellies and quite rusty reddish backs. In all plumages they have black legs and a long decurved black bill. Once you’re familiar with them you’ll know that this one’s bill is actually short for a Dunlin, indicating it’s male. They breed all around the Arctic and winter along temperate and tropical coasts and come in ten subspecies. I found this one by itself but in winter they become quite social forming large flocks, the nearest one I know of can be found in Hampton Beach.

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