Archive for January, 2018

American Bittern 1/19/18

This was a bird stalking, and like the ice it moved glacially. What it was stalking on the ice and in the dried grasses we never discovered but it was on the hunt. The more years I spend birdwatching the more it seems to me that just about every species has these intrepid individuals that wind up not migrating to brave the winter, when all their peers are enjoying warmer winter digs. I’ve always thought of these birds as flukes, outliers, when really they are something of a norm. With some species like the Carolina Wren or the Turkey Vulture, there are many who push the boundary and every winter there seem to be a few more, while others like the American Bittern, are few and far between. But all quite possibly participating in the same process, just at different speeds.

Comments

Northern Cardinal male 1/17/18

Can you imagine New England without cardinals? Actually you don’t have to go back very far in history to find that, not even a 100 years. Cardinals, or Redbirds, came from the southeastern US and began spreading north and west, taking advantage of warming temps, the habitat changes that come with suburban development, as well as the popularity of backyard bird feeding in winter. Cardinals don’t migrate, they need year round territories with dense thickets, where they typically rear several broods in a season. It’s no surprise that when people compulsively “tidy up” the brambles and thickets on their property they later wonder what happened to all the songbirds.

Comments

Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper 1/15/18

Occasionally in winter, walking the empty beach out to Seapoint in a bitter northeast wind rewards me with a shorebird treat. In November a small flock of Purple Sandpipers comes down from the Arctic and takes up residence on the surf-beaten point. At sandier points north and south similar-sized flocks of Sanderlings, the “alba” of the Calidrid sandpipers, winter on long sandy beaches such as you find at Hampton or Ogunquit. Neither of these birds are especially rare, but it is a bit unusual to find them together. The Sanderling is just passing through, it forages the wet sand at the seas edge, and isn’t really at home on the rocks, but most traveling shorebirds find safety in numbers.

Comments

Merlin tiercel 1/10/18

Merlins are one of the falcons, now known to be more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. They are designed for speed and agility with long narrow wings to catch and kill smaller birds on the wing. Like most birds of prey they are sexually dimorphic with females being larger than males, an adaptation allowing a pair to better exploit prey sizes within their territory. Male falcons are called tiercels, some sources say for being roughly a third smaller than females. Merlin tiercels are also bluer winged while females are brown. Merlins are found around the Northern Hemisphere in 9 subspecies.

Comments

Dark-eyed Junco male 1/8/18

Dark-eyed Juncos are year round birds in New England but their population increases dramatically in winter with the arrival of migrants from the boreal forests of Canada. We used to call this bird the Slate-colored Junco, but that was when the splitters were in charge of bird taxonomy, today the lumpers hold sway and 5 different Junco species were all renamed “Dark-eyed Junco” since the populations readily hybridized where their ranges overlapped. So today they are all considered subspecies. Juncos are a genus of Sparrows, just not the brown streaky kind. Females are browner.

Comments