Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tender Gestures

The meaning of this photo is unmistakable although we know nothing about the context except that the birds are members of the same flock. It's clear that the lives of these birds are not just of struggle and strife, revolve not just around competition for food, for mates, for nest sites and territory....  but also allow unselfish tenderness.

Among Black-legged Kittiwakes trustful companionship

A featheris being passed like a gift between these two adult gannets, presumably the parents of the chick. Since it's not something edible and not used for lining a nest, does it have a symbolic meaning? Or am I perhaps overreaching? ----  Maybe he is just saying to her, "get rid of this feather" but the next photo seems to put the lie to that. Such tenderness and solicitude... 

These were among a large number of photos I took during a trip in June '09 to Helgoland, a North Sea island off the coast of Germany. It was a rare opportunity to observe the communal lives of Northern Gannets, Common Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes. 

I recommend these books: "The Private Lives of Birds" by Bridget Stutchbury
                                       "The Exultant Ark - A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure" 
                                        by Jonathan Balcombe

I am thankful for having so many online birding friends. Thank you for stopping by. Please leave a comment. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Waterfowl on Plum Island

My trip to Plum Island last Saturday was somewhat marred by a cold wind, sweeping down the beach and swirling up clouds of fine sand, which kept me from walking to Sandy Point, or anywhere else on the beach. In addition I had arrived at  low tide, as high tide occurred too early for me, around 5 AM, and again 12 hours later in the afternoon.

Sanderlings and Dunlins were down on the beach close to the water's edge too far for my camera and lens to get a good shot. I asked a birder with a scope whether he had seen any Red Knots "No, just Sanderlings and Dunlins'' and pointing to a boat not far off shore:,"some scoters there", but since the men in the boat were hunters, I suspect those ducks scattered about the boat were most likely decoys. 

The sheltered ponds and marshes behind the dunes were fairly calm. 

American Coot 

Green-winged Teal

Northern Pintails

Male Gadwall above, female below

The majority of ducks that I saw were American Wigeons, also call "Baldpate" for obvious reasons, or "Poacher" because, not being strong divers, they pilfer plants and roots dragged up from the bottom by other ducks. They have strong beaks which allows them also to graze on dry land like geese. 

Male Wigeon

Three males and one female Wigeon

Male Wigeon

A pair of male and female Wigeons

American  Wigeon summer and winter distribution  (Birds of North America)

I had a quick lunch in my car while watching two American Crows and a Ring-billed Gull squabble over food.

November days are short and before you know it the afternoon light is waning. Time to drive home. A five hour round trip and $50 in gas, was it worth it? I wished I could have timed my visit for high tide, and maybe a little less wind would have been nice. But I got two lifers that made it worth it: the Wigeon and a Barnacle Goose (see previous post)

Cheers! Good Birding.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Thanks for your visit and come by again!

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Barnacle Goose in West Newbury, MA

With few local birds available, and in imminent danger of acute birding withdrawal, I decided to drive to Plum Island yesterday to check on shorebirds and waterfowl and, while there. also check out the Barnacle Goose reported to be on a dairy farm in West Newbury.  

I visited Plum Island first and then drove to the farm. I found one birder already there  who told me the Barnacle Goose had moved to the back over a ridge and out of sight. So all we could see on the meadow were a flock of Canada Geese. The meadow was bordered by a private residence with a lawn stretching down to a pond, right along side the meadow and past the ridge. After waiting for about a half hour and determining that there was nobody at home who I could ask for permission,  I decided to walk down the lawn toward the pond.  About half way down the geese became aware of me and apparently alarmed started moving uphill over the ridge toward the road, the Barnacle Goose among them.  

This rather handsome goose breeds in the arctic north, Greenland and northern Eurasia, and winters in northern Europe and the British Isles. Occasionally a bird shows up in North America; this may be a vagrant, or possibly an escapee since the breed is popular with collectors.

Mixed in with the flock of Canada Geese were several Snow Geese, among them two adult white morphs and a juvenile, distinguished by a dark beak, and an intermediate morph, intermediate that is between a white and a dark morph.

I'll report on my visit to Plum Island in my next post. Thanks for visiting.

Happy Birding!

Anonymous comments will be removed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Old World Sparrows

It's a hard time of the year for birding. The woods, fields and meadows are mostly quiet except for the occasional cawing of crows. The other day walking along the CT River I heard the bright calls of a Winter Wren coming from a dense leafless thicket by the shore I searched for it and saw it suddenly pop out on a branch looking right at me as if to say "Well here I am. Where is your camera?" It was a life bird for me but stupidly I had left my  camera at home. 

Having just returned from Germany I decided to do a post on two species of old world sparrows, the lowly and despised House Sparrow, and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. .

Most of you may be familiar with the misguided introduction into this country of the House Sparrow  by European settlers in the 19th century. Here is a nice summary:  

Only at the insistence of man did the House Sparrow make its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. In 1850, green inch-worms were destroying trees in New York City's Central Park. Many people thought that the House Sparrow's main diet back in England consisted of these same green worms and that if sparrows were brought to New York City they would solve the worm problem in Central Park. Others thought the House Sparrow would eliminate crop pests. While others theorized that the House Sparrow would eat grain out of horse manure (which was becoming a bigger problem as the city grew and the number of horses on the city's streets increased), which would help the manure decompose more rapidly. In addition, the new wave of immigrants who were forced out of Europe in the late 1850's because of economic and agricultural failures, missed the little birds they were accustomed to seeing in their native Europe. Steve Eno (Blue Birds across Nebraska)

A quick look at the bird's beak would convince any birder that its main diet is grains and seeds, not worms or other insect, which it feeds only to its young.  Due to its ubiquitous presence you'd think that the House Sparrow is the most common bird in Europe. Not true. In Great Britain it's in 4th place behind wren, chaffinch, robin and black bird.  Also it has actually been declining by 60% in urban environments,  such as London's city center where now it's almost absent. It's been placed on the red list

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow was less successful after its 19th century introduction in St Louis to enhance the local avifauna. Today it's mostly found in extreme eastern Missouri, west-central Illinois, and southeastern Iowa

I took these photos in the back of my grandfather's farm (now run by my cousin) in northern Germany. There the two species were strictly divided: House Sparrows in the ivy on the gable-side of the house and Tree Sparrows in the trees in back of the farm yard. 

Here is a side view of the old farm. My dad, age five or six,  is sitting on the horse. It's the same type of horse I learned to ride on when vacationing there in the summer. It is sad to think the people in this photo are all gone, my grandfather holding the horse that my father is sitting on, and my grandmother with my aunts, as well as a couple of other relatives that I don't recognize. That window over the door opened to a tiny guest room with two beds and a dresser, my room during my vacation. The thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated metal and the building turned into a stable and barn.

Back then....


I was just reading that John Vanderpoel of BigYear2011 started his search for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow from the Super 8 motel in Coralville, Iowa. I know that area well having spent ten years as student in Iowa City which lies directly on the other side of the Iowa River. But that was long before I did anything more than casual birdwatching.

I am ending this post on a nostalgic note. Tempus fugit. Memento mori. Time flies. Remember we must die.

Thanks for visiting and please leave a comment. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Matter of Laughing Gulls, and "Occupy Hamburg"

Larus iribundus, a name given to the Black-headed Gull by Linnaeus in 1766, means Laughing Gull in Latin -- I saw large numbers of this gull while visiting my family in Hamburg, Germany -- and so in German, French and Spanish they are properly called  "Laughing Gull". I don't know why the English didn't follow suit, naming it Black-headed Gull instead, and to add to the confusion, they stuck the name "Laughing Gull" on another unrelated gull, Larus atricilla, a gull which is common in North America.

Black-headed Gulls are a rarity along the Northeast coast, but are quite common in Europe. They are a bit larger than the Bonaparte's Gulls, but resemble them in many other respects. They are gregarious and quite tame and unlike the stand-offish Bonaparte's they  come in great numbers when offered a hand-out.  I took these photos with my little Canon Powershot at a canal in the city center of Hamburg (except for the two adult gulls below).

For comparison, adult Black-headed Gull above and Bonaparte's Gull below

 First Cycle Black-headed Gull above

The white triangle in the outer wing is characteristic for both Black-headed and Bonaparte's Gulls. An immature Hering Gull has joined the feeding frenzy.

A Mute Swan takes center spot


Mute Swans, Black-headed Gulls and Eurasian Coots


Eurasian Coots look a little like first winter American Coots

My sister and I took a leisurely stroll through Hamburg City. The English have their afternoon tea, the Germans their afternoon coffee, which is usually taken with a piece of pastry of some sort. Stopping for such a coffee break is one of the pleasures of sight-seeing and window shopping. We first stopped at Starbuck's but finding no seats we moved on to the cosy and old-fashioned Wiener Cafe Wirth  where we had had a hard time deciding among all the delectable pastries which one to pick.

Along the way we came across a small and rather puny encampment on one of the city's  squares proclaiming to represent "Occupy Hamburg".

We are the 99%

Germany is a rich country with a broad well-off middle class. There the top 1% controls only about 4% of the nation's wealth, whereas here in the States the top 1% controls 37%. So "Occupy Hamburg" seems to have little appeal. You might call it a wet noodle of a protest.

Thanks for visiting. I would very much appreciate your comment.