Sunday, January 30, 2011

Snow Buntings galore

Just a note on the word "galore" which means "in abundance". I always thought it was Italian as it rhymes with "amore", but in googling it I find it's of a much more sober provenance, namely Gaelic - "go leor" translates as "enough", meaning, there is such an abundance that you say enough!  Well I guess I finally have seen and photographed enough Snow Buntings.

Thanks to Al Merrit's Bird Notes I located Snow Buntings, mixed in with Horned Larks, on Pond Rd in Vernon, VT, and on Caldwell Rd in Northfield, MA. The only problem is you can't sneak up on them. You see a flock at the roadside and hope by inching the car forward you'll get close enough for a good shot, but no such luck. They see you coming from a distance and the whole flock takes to the air, circles over the field and settles down an equal distance behind you. So all these photos are a fairly large crop.

Most winters Snow Buntings wander in from their arctic breeding grounds and forage in the soil exposed by snow plows along the roadsides.  With their small orange bills and their whimsical plumage you can't help but call them "cute". They wouldn't be out of place in a children's coloring book.

On second thought though: not quite enough. I would love to get a close-up but the only  way I could do it is to disguise myself as a snowbank. 

I actually I went back a second day and this time found a flock of Horned Larks only on Caldwell Rd, no Snow Buntings. They were all sitting alongside each other on a snowbank enjoying the sun and allowed me to drive right up to them. This gave me an opportunity to photograph them from behind and supplement my previous post on the appearance of Horned Larks. This photo shows the difference in plumage between male on the left with his rufous red rump and egg-yellow color on the face and the more neutrally colored female on the right.

Also see my recent posts on Horned Larks and Snow Buntings
Horned Larks along roadsides
Horned Larks and Snow Buntings on snowy field

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

And make sure you click on the World Bird Wednesday image on the upper right panel to see the many other blog postings to this meme hosted by Springman of The Pine River Review.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Singing House Finches and other birds from around my house on World Bird Wednesday

The day before the arctic deep freeze descended again on our region and the temperature was still hovering around 30 F, I heard a cheery chorus of birds singing in the tall pines near the entrance of our driveway. Glancing up I saw what looked like pink puffy ornaments hanging high up in the branches, which on closer inspection tuned out to be a company House Finches, celebrating spring perhaps a little early. 

Male House Finch

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Horned Larks and Snow Buntings on a snowy field

After several days of cold and snow it was  beautiful, balmy (30 degrees) and  windstill this morning. A flock of 20+ Horned Larks appeard to be enjoying the sun on a large snow-covered field off River Rd halfway between Putney and Westminster.  As opposed to my previous post on Horned Larks these were not foraging but sat motionless.

They may have been roosting there all night as quite a few were still burrowed in the snow, with just their heads peeking out, seeking protection from the cold. When I drove back about an hour later though not much had changed. They were still in the same spot, not foraging or moving around.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Horned Larks along the roadsides

I had planned to use the dark winter days for putting my photo archives in order. I had made the mistake of transferring them to an external hard drive by the copy-and-paste method instead of doing it through Lightroom, and thus ended up with those photos having lost their connection to the LR catalog. This has to be corrected. So, much work lies ahead.

Today though the sun was bright, the sky blue, the fresh snow sparkling, and nothing could keep me indoors. Remembering that Horned Larks look for food in the gravel exposed by a plow, I drove to River Rd near Walpole in NH, just across the CT River, where I had seen them in previous years. I also hoped to find  the Snow Buntings reported there last week, especially since HL and SB often associate with each other, but they had moved on.  I  did however find a flock of about 30 HL foraging along the roadside.

Horned Larks are year-round inhabitants of North America, but since they prefer barren ground, shrub land, grassland and coastal dunes, they are absent in the forested mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, except in the winter when deep snow drives them further afield in looking for food.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Oh those Golden Eyes!

In the Northeast one can usually find Common Goldeneyes on local streams and lakes as long as there is open water. The drakes are stunningly handsome with their jewel-like eyes and their finely detailed black-and-white plumage.... 

So, with some imagination can't you see them in the Golden Book of Fairy Tales?

The Barrow's Goldeneye on the other hand is a rare visitor hereThere are several subtle differences, the most obvious one being a crescent patch on the face rather than an oval one.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Northern Shrike!

I was walking my dog this morning along the West River Trail in Brattleboro when I spotted a bird perched high up on the top branch of a tree, motionless, except for occasionally turning his head, watchful .... A Northern Shrike! .. I hurried back to my car to get the camera. When I got back it had not moved and allowed me to take many pictures until it finally flew off. It was a first winter bird to judge by the brownish/silvery scales on its chest.

Although from a distance the bird looks innocuous, it can turn into a fierce predator once it spots a small bird or mammal. Not undeservedly is it also known as Butcherbird

P. Siskins, C. Redpolls, C. Waxwings and ...drum roll please...I am the Featured Blogger of the Week on

Winter is the time for visitors from the north: Pine Siskin who arrive in large flocks, descending, and aggressively defending their place, on our bird feeders until they have had their fill, also Common Redpolls, though less frequently, usually foraging on the catkins on birches, and Cedar Waxwings who arrive en masse on fruit bearing trees... You know they are coming when you hear their thin, clear, trilling voices in the air as they swirl around to pick the most likely tree. They are not very shy and let you come close.


And now about me....

I am proud of having been picked as the Featured Blogger of the Week on, 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Winter Gulls - Lesser Black-backed and Iceland/Kumlien Gulls

There are some birds that only come to New England in the winter, among them the Lesser Black-backed Gull from N.W. Europe and the northern Atlantic, and the Iceland/Kumlien Gull from northern Canada. The Lesser Black-backed Gull  reportedly first bred in Iceland in the late 1920's and has been breeding in Greenland since 1990. There is no record of breeding in N. America, but since 1980 there has been a dramatic increase of nonbreeding individuals in the fall and winter. They have become fairly common along the Atlantic coast and the shores of the Great Lakes, but are uncommon further inland.

They do appear however to be fairly regular winter visitors to the CT River area near Gill and Turner's  Falls in MA. Following a recent report of a sighting I was happy to find the gull there in a mixed group roosting on the ice.

What distinguishes them from other gulls are gray upper parts, yellowish legs, head and neck streaking, and a medium size bill that is slender and often tapered. They are much smaller than the Great Black-backed Gull and also smaller than the Herring Gull, standing behind it in this photo. The two gulls in front are Ring-billed Gulls. 

This photo of a LBBG among a flock of Herring Gulls was taken in the same area in the winter of 2008.

The other fairly uncommon winter visitor is the Kumlien Gull