Great Blue Heron 4/18/18

This isn’t my first of year (FOY in birdspeak) Great Blue Heron, I’ve been spotting a few of them here and there for weeks now, but I saw this one disappear in a marsh channel and drove up to where it might eventually stalk out of, and after a short wait I was rewarded with some close-ups. It’s an adult in full breeding regalia, its spear of a bill so yellow it was singing. Breeding plumes dangling and unfortunately in this pick its 2 black head plumes are obscured behind its neck. They are the tallest of our herons, often called “cranes” by oldtimers, and typically also the first to arrive in the spring since the north end of their winter range isn’t all that far south of here. They are expert fishers, stalking their prey in the shallows, but also snack on mice, amphibians, and reptiles. They belong to the genus Ardea, which contains the world’s dozen or so great heron species.

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Common Grackle 4/17/18

Few blackbirds are as colorful close up as the Common Grackle. Even odder is that the colors they do sport aren’t pigment-based like most birds’ feathers, but iridescent which depends on the fine-tuned microstructure of the feathers to reflect light, and in that way that create those shiny and metallic blue-greens, purples, and bronzes. You’ll often see Common Grackles strutting around a lawn looking for some omnivorous snack, or gathered in groups high in the treetops and making an ungodly racket, or flying along with their tails folded into a v-shaped scoop.

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Great and Snowy Egret 4/16/18

The Snowy is in the back with the dart-like black bill and yellow lores between bill and eyes, and if you could see its legs they’d be black but with bright yellow feet. The Great Egret with the small fish in its thicker and spear-like yellow bill has green lores and if I’m not mistaken that’s breeding color that will have faded by late summer. The Great is over 3 feet tall, not quite as big as a Great Blue Heron, but almost. The Snowy is about 2 feet tall. Despite the “egret” name, the Great Egret is more closely related to the Great Blue Heron (both belong to genus Ardea) than it is to the Snowy Egret.

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Eastern Bluebird male 4/13/18

Every day from my garden now I can hear the twerdling of this male Eastern Bluebird singing to his silvery sweetheart, who is setting up housekeeping in a nest box below him. She builds the nest while he stands guard, and with any luck they’ll raise at least two broods over the summer, maybe even three, with each brood taking about a month to incubate, hatch and fledge. Youngsters are raised entirely on insects and invertebrates. Bluebirds have been around the neighborhood all winter though in a small gregarious flock, but now they’ve paired off and taken up territories for the breeding season. 2018 marks the 5th year in a row we’ve had them nesting somewhere round the yard.

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Downy Woodpecker male 4/12/18

Telling a Downy Woodpecker apart from a Hairy Woodpecker is one of those conundrums that plague beginning birders. In just about every feature they look almost exactly the same, white underneath, and mostly black above with white spots and stripes. There are 3 reliable field marks that tell them apart. Size is the first and most obvious, the Downy is our smallest woodpecker at 6.5 inches, while the Hairy is half again that size at 9.5 inches. But size is often unreliable unless seen up close or with other birds. The second and best feature to tell them apart is their relative bill size. For a woodpecker, the Downy has a proportionately small bill, while the Hairy has a proportionately longer and more robust chisel-like bill. Unfortunately one can only get the feel of this difference with experience. The 3rd thing that tell them apart is that the outer tail feathers of a Downy are white with black spots or bars, while the Hairy’s outer tail feathers are all white. Unfortunately one doesn’t often see tail feathers that closely. The most peculiar thing about these two birds is that despite a nearly identical appearance, they aren’t closely related, not even in the same genus!

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Snowy Owl 4/11/18

It’s been another banner year for Snowy Owls in the US, with sightings especially abundant in the Northeast and Midwest. Even Texas got quite a show this winter. These are mostly younger birds not yet experienced enough to endure an Arctic winter. Already the northward migration has been underway for a couple of weeks. Looking a little ragged in the rain, this one atop a phone pole at Rye Harbor was still around as of last weekend.

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Mute Swan pair 4/5/18

New England has no native swans, though occasionally a handful of Tundra Swans are sighted during the fall migration. Mute Swans however, have been introduced from Europe to decorate parks and posh estates and then have become naturalized, in recent decades becoming fairly common—wintering in the tidal waters of our many creeks and bays. Adults have orange bills with black face masks and snow white plumage, the cob or male of this pair is out front, if you look close you’ll see the black nob at the base of his bill not seen in the smaller female. Juveniles have varying amount of dirty gray and white with either gray, tan, or pink bills.

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