Archive for February, 2018

Red-tailed Hawk juve 2/23/18

The most common and my most photographed hawk is the Red-tailed.  The undertail is always light in Red-tails but you only see barring in the juvenile plumage, which also coincides with yellow eyes. Only adults have that rich cinnamon tail and only when you’re seeing the topside of it. Red-tailed Hawks are probably the most variably plumed hawk species in North America, with both considerable variation between the 14 subspecies as well as between individuals within a subspecies.When perched like this or soaring, the dark belly band is a fairly reliable field mark for Red-tailed Hawks in the eastern US, but there are birds which are all dark-bellied and others that are all white-bellied, though both are more common farther west.

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White-throated Sparrow (tan-striped morph) 2/22/18

Like Eastern Screech Owls come in both red or gray morphs of either sex, White-throated Sparrows come in white-striped morphs and tan-striped morphs referring to the coloring of their head stripes. Tan-stripers like the bird above, are fairly indistinct and drab and are often misidentified. You can see their white throat, but it isn’t crisply edged in black and the head pattern doesn’t have the boldly contrasting black and white stripes, but fairly indistinct brown and tan ones. The yellow lores between the bill and eye are present but likewise much less distinct than in a white-striper. Tan-stripers aren’t at all rare, they are just as common as the white-stripers. In fact a tan-striper of either sex always mates with a white-striper of the opposite sex.

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Wilson’s Snipe 2/19/18

Even surrounded by snow this sandpiper of wet bogs and fields only needs a bit of exposed earth to completely disappear into it. They forage in wet muck, probing with their long bills which are both sensitive and flexible at the tip and enables them to grasp and slurp underground invertebrates like earthworms and insect grubs.

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Hooded Merganser drake 2/13/18

Naw, not a crab attack but the sawbill playing with his food, breaking it up into more easily swallowed pieces. I had the luck of getting pretty close to this pair of Hoodies alternately diving for crabs and then taking naps in the rain (see yesterday’s female). Shooting from a car helps, except for the raptors and corvids, birds will generally ignore a parked car. There’s nothing like car birding in the rain, it’s the best. Don’t drive up too close, instead have the time and patience for them to come right up to an even better spot and present you with their personalities up close and personal.

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Hooded Merganser female 2/12/18

Hoodies are my favorite of the 3 sawbills, all mergansers being so named for their serrated bills. They pass through tidal marshes and inlets late fall and early spring while their breeding habitats are icebound. But some winter at the coast, waiting for the spring thaw to have first pick of the best freshwater territories farther inland. Females like this one have rusty heads that resemble a thick paintbrush, while male hoods are dress-white and trimmed in black.

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Sandhill Crane 2/7/18

There are 15 crane species worldwide but only 2 in North America—the Whooping Crane and the Sandhill Crane. Something very interesting is going on with the latter. Since 1967 they began showing up in eastern states where they’d never been seen before. A vagrant just showing up somewhere new is hardly unusual, but then these birds would stay for the season, migrate south for the winter, and then surprisingly come back the next season, sometimes with a mate to start breeding. These aren’t vagrants so much as they are pioneers. Pretty soon you get small migrating flocks like we have in Maine now, which started with one bird back in 2001. This bird’s name is Kevin, he arrived in Rollinsford NH earlier in 2017, but for some reason has not migrated south for the winter like northern cranes usually do, instead he’s sticking it out through the winter. Thankfully, Kevin has people looking out for him.

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House Finch male 2/4/18

I like all the birds I find, even the killers and invaders. Like my old friend and mentor Alfred Timmons would say, “Everything just wants to live.” So one of the things I’m often perplexed by is how some birders have an almost violent hatred of certain invasive species, like House Sparrows or European Starlings. Supposedly the hatred is justified on account of them displacing native species like Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Flickers. There are folks who complain or unfollow Birdaday after I’ve posted about about these invasives. But then others not, so it seems something else might be going on. Case in point the House Finch—an invasive species that has devastated the Purple Finch population in the Eastern US (except for its deep forest habitats). Why are they not vilified? Is it because they look so similar to the species they’ve displaced? Is it because they bring color to the feeder, or a pleasant song in spring?

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