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.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ovenbird Nest

 Every morning and afternoon, I run and hike on the trails in the woods behind our house. The birds are always singing, especially the ovenbirds - teacher, teacher, teaCHER, teACHER, TEACHER!!

 A week ago, an ovenbird flew up from the ground in front of me, and when I looked, I noticed her nest! Gerry and I came back later to take pictures and I couldn't find it again!! It looked so obvious when I first saw it!

  Today, the ovenbird again flew out of the nest and I saw it and put a stone on the trail so we could come back and take pictures! It still wasn't obvious at first, it's amazing how well camouflaged it is!

Thanks to Marv Elliott for the use of his photo!!
Only the female sits on the eggs and broods the chicks, but both male and female feed them. By day 8, the chicks leave the nest one at a time, with several hours between the first and last. As they run and hop away from the nest, the parents split the brood. The male keeps his young within the territory, and the female leads hers to an adjacent area. Females feeding young in neighboring territories are not harassed. The chicks need several more days to begin to fly, and don't become independent until around day 30.

There's 4 eggs inside but a clutch can contain up to 6.

The nest is dome-shaped with a side entrance, it resembles a Dutch oven, which is how the ovenbird got its name.I hope everything goes well and we can update with news of the baby birds!!

Monday, May 26, 2014

American Bittern Courtship

While scanning the marshes at Herrick's Cove in Bellows Falls, I saw a bittern with white feathers!! I realized he was doing a courtship display for the female!!

The pictures were taken through my spotting scope with my Canon PowerShot, so the quality is not good. But I read on the Audubon website that "the bittern has a remarkable, though rarely seen, courtship display" so I decided to share the pictures anyway.

Audubon goes on to say "the male arches his back, exposing whitish plumes, shortens his neck, dips his breast forward, and "booms" at the female."

 He followed her through the grasses and eventually I lost sight of them. Later on, they both flew across the marsh, the male looking noticeably larger.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some Birds in Putney

solitary sandpiper
Gerry and I stopped at Sackett's Brook Wetland area on Sand Hill Road in Putney where this solitary sandpiper has been hanging around.

So named because the solitary usually migrates alone rather than in flocks, this sandpiper will frequently bob his head, whereas the spotted sandpiper, bobs his tail!

spotted sandpiper
This spotted sandpiper was almost perfectly camouflaged against the bank of the Mill Brook, at Dummerston Landing.

American redstart
The American Redstart flashes the bright patches in its tail and wings. This seems to startle insect prey and give the bird an opportunity to catch them.

caught a bug!

warbling vireo
 Easy to locate by his song, the rhythm of the warbling vireo's song goes like this - "if I see you, I will seize you, if I squeeze you, you will squirt"!

warbling vireo
Warbling vireos are always described as being a small, drab bird.
song sparrow
Song sparrow's song consists of 3 short notes followed by a varied trill, sometimes interpreted as "Madge-Madge-Madge, put-on-your-tea-kettle-ettle-ettle".

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers at Their Nest

We happened to see blue-gray gnatcatchers at their nest and Gerry got some great shots. Here's some interesting facts I found on Cornells's site, All About Birds.

Both sexes cooperate in building the neat, open, cuplike nest. They take up to two weeks to build the 2–3-inch wide nest, which is held together and attached to its branch with spider webbing and decorated with lichen.

 The nest's high walls are built in flexible layers. The main structural layer is built of fibrous materials like plant stems, bark strips, and grasses, all held together by spiderweb or caterpillar silk.

Inner layers become progressively finer, and the roughly 1.5-inch-wide cup is lined with plant down, paper, cocoons, hair, or feathers.

The outside is covered with webbing or silk decorated with bits of lichen or bark flakes.

  They often build a series of nests during a summer to counteract the effects of predation, mite infestations, or cowbird parasitism.
 Materials from earlier nests are frequently recycled to build later nests, which may be why they are usually completed more quickly than first nests.

 The male often builds second nests nearly solo, with the female finishing the inside of the first nest with softer materials.

 time for a break!!