Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bohemian Waxwings

It was four years ago that we had the last big invasion of Bohemian Waxwings from the north. Reports were coming in on eBird of sightings north of here, you could see their movement as the large flocks continued southward in search of food. 

When they find a food source - this time of year it's fruit and berries - they'll stay in that area until the trees and bushes are stripped clean. We found them eating apples, probably slightly fermented, in old apple trees in Grafton.

 Waxwings get their name from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of the feathers. The function is not known, but they may help attract mates.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

An Uncommon Winter Visitor

horned larks and lapland longspur
Every winter, flocks of horned larks and snow buntings show up on cornfields in our area. Our local Agway feed store always puts seeds out behind the store in Walpole, New Hampshire. This winter at least three lapland longspurs have been associated with the flocks of horned larks.

While not a rare bird in our area, they are uncommon and usually associate in flocks of horned larks. They blend in pretty well, so you need to scan carefully to find the prize!

In summer, the lapland's appearance is quite striking. The breeding male has a black face and chest and rufous colored nape. Unlike most birds with different breeding and non-breeding plumages, longspurs molt only once a year. In the fall, they molt into non-breeding plumage. By spring, the outer tips of the feathers have worn off to reveal the breeding plumage underneath.
Horned larks are pretty distinctive with their yellow faces, black masks and tiny horns. Their repeated song, “tsee-ee”, is weak and high, and is usually delivered in flight. In winter the song becomes a faint tinkling sound.

 You can see the tiny horns on the horned lark on the right in this picture.
 Here's a couple shots showing the dark tail on the horned lark.

 This bird is philopatric, or faithful to its birthplace, where it returns after every migration. Consequently, each local population adapts to the color of its habitat; 15 distinct subspecies have been described in the West.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Putney Mountain Hawkwatch

We hiked up Putney Mountain last week to join the hawk watchers for a few hours. The Putney Mountain hawk watch has been going on for 40 years in the fall. There's always someone watching in September and October, unless it's raining. There weren't too many birds flying overhead for good pictures but Gerry managed to catch a few. here's a link to see the hawk watch data.

Cooper's hawk

juvenile broad-winged hawk

Besides the hawk watchers, a flock of sheep have been on the mountain eating the buckthorn and other invasive shrubs that are invading the mountain top.

A sweet looking Maremma watch dog is protecting his flock. Here's a link to see a video of the sheep being herded from the farm in Westminster to Putney Mountain.

hermit thrush

Besides hawks, we found migrating songbirds on the path up to the mountain.

 A good way to identify a hermit thrush, besides the red tail, is their habit of slowly raising their tail.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Turkey Broods

August is the time when states ask the public to report sightings of turkeys. In Vermont, you can report here: Vermont turkey survey
New Hampshire sightings can be reported here: New Hampshire turkey survey

Yesterday morning, 4 adult females and 35 young poults of various sizes nibbled their way through our field.

The adult females acted as look-outs, watching over their young charges. It's quite common for hens and their broods to join with other females. Adult females without young may also join as foster moms.

From the New Hampshire site, I found this information which is probably similar to Vermont turkeys as well:
 The term “brood” refers to a family group of young turkeys accompanied by a hen. New Hampshire hens generally begin laying eggs from mid-April to early May and complete their clutch of about 12 eggs in early to mid-May. Incubation lasts for 28 days, and most nests hatch from late May to mid-June. If incubating turkey eggs are destroyed or consumed by predators, hens often lay a replacement clutch of eggs that hatch late June through late August.

 We all know how Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the symbol of the United States, not the bald eagle. from Wikipedia:
The idea that Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey as the national bird comes from a letter he wrote to his daughter Sarah Bache on January 26, 1784. 
"For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

So if you see turkeys, make a note of the time, place and number and send in a report.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mississippi Kites in Newmarket, NH

According to the Audubon bird site, the Mississippi kite "breeds from Arizona and southern Great Plains east to Carolinas and south to Gulf Coast. Its range has expanded somewhat in recent years; increasingly wanders north to southern New England in spring. Winters in tropics."

A nesting pair was discovered in Newmarket, New Hampshire in 2008, it was New England's first record of a nesting pair! They have come back every year since. 

Gerry and I stopped on Gonet Drive to see an adult soaring around above the tree tops. We located the nest where a white, fuzzy chick was sticking his/her head up.

According to the Global Raptor Information Network site: 
This species has steadily expanded its breeding range over the past century into new regions around the margins of its historical range, as it existed at the time of Audubon and Wilson (Bolen and Flores 1989, 1993), and wanderers now occur almost annually in most of the eastern United States. The first nesting record of Mississippi Kites for Ohio was documented in 2007 (McCormac and Boone 2008), and, remarkably, the first breeding records for both New Hampshire and Connecticut were reported in 2008 (Donsker 2008). By 2010, Mississippi Kites were found nesting in New Hampshire, Connecticut and (successfully) in Rhode Island (Petersen 2011). The reasons for this sudden range expansion are not well understood. The Mississippi Kite is categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Birding Plum Island

hundreds of shorebirds on the mudflats
We recently birded Plum Island, aka Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Newburyport, Massachusetts. There's 4700 acres of diverse habitats, including 3000+ acres of salt marsh. Here's the link to read more about it. 

lesser yellowlegs
There was a phenomenal number of shorebirds on the mudflats. Semipalmated plovers and sandpipers, lesser and greater yellowlegs, short-billed dowitchers, black-bellied plovers and others, along with Hudsonian godwits and 2 American Avocets!!

American avocet

American avocets

When we first arrived at the Bill Forward Pool mudflats, the avocets were way off in the distance, but they came closer and closer and finally took off. Gerry got some great shots. These elegant, long-legged shorebirds are seen mostly out west but they are rare-but-regular visitors to the Atlantic coast, although mostly in the fall.

least tern

Least terns were also quite abundant and we had great views of their flying and diving abilities.

least tern in a dive for dinner

piping plover
  Most of the refuge's ocean beaches are closed to protect nesting piping plovers. We did find four of these baby-faced birds at Sandy Point beach.

great egret

great blue heron
purple martin houses with decoys
Except for the really nasty greenheads (a horsefly worse than the ones we encounter here in Vermont), we had a great time, saw lots of birds and met some really nice fellow birders!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Northampton's Great Blue Heron Rookery

We visited friends in Northampton, Mass, had a great time and did some birding!

There's an amazing rookery at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary where there's at least 50 great blue heron nests and we spotted one huge, but empty, bald eagle nest.

Many of the nests were occupied by adults feeding young! Both the male and female feed their offspring by regurgitating food........yum?

A cool fact - thanks to specially shaped neck vertebrae, great blue herons can curl their neck into an S shape for a more aerodynamic flight profile.

We found one nest with at least 2 babies who were probably half the size of their parents. They won't have adult plumage until they are two or three years old.

The eggs are incubated for almost a month and the chicks will fledge when they are about two months old.

These two chicks look like they're having a friendly conversation about the weather. It was pretty hot that day!

Another cool fact - great blue herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb this “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes, using the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers as they preen.

Despite their impressive size, great blue herons weigh only 5 to 6 pounds thanks in part to their hollow bones—a feature all birds share.