Tuesday, December 28, 2010

World Bird Wednesday: House Finches

House Finches are originally a western species, but have spread rapidly through the east after release of a few individuals on Long Island, NY in 1940. The red color in the males varies greatly from a subdued shade to a brilliant red; the redder the more popular with the females The ones I have seen this year fall mostly in the brilliant category, so much so that at first I thought there was something wrong with my glasses.

They are fond of feeding stations. When I come outside in the morning a flock of them is already waiting on a nearby tree, and once they settle down, make short shrift of it, unless interrupted by a Blue Jay.

It's getting cold and starting to snow...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Redpolls for the New Year

Common Redpolls love birch and spruce seeds. An irruption from Ontario is forecast for this winter. This male, the only Redpoll I saw, traveled with a flock of Goldfinches. They have been arriving later than during irruption in the winter of 2007/2008 because the birch seed crop in the north this year is a little better than back then, but not great. Once that's exhausted they are moving south. So look for them in birch trees and at your feeders.


The adult male and juvenile Goldfinches in the group were strikingly colorful with buffy wing bars and bronze crowns and backs.

A thought for the New Year: can the Redpolls and Goldfinches, living together in harmony, teach us something?

Happy Birding in 2011!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Robins in Winter

In the summer Robins usually appear on our lawns singly or in pairs. However in the spring large flocks of Robins move north. I have seen several hundred of them settle on our lawn or the field next to us on any spot that's bare of snow. They are there for a short time and then, when the food supply is exhausted, move on.  In the winter populations usually shift south and local ones are replaced by those from further north. When the ground is frozen they switch from invertebrates to fruit. Flocks migrate to areas where fruit and berries on the trees are plentiful which can vary from year to year.

I had never actually seen wintering Robins, or at least not been aware of them, until last winter when small flocks appeared in our area in Southern VT. They were feasting on fruit in the trees and on the ground. Once the fruit was gone they moved on.

Thanks for stopping by. I wish you all, dear Readers and Followers, happy holidays and a peaceful and productive new year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This juvenile Common Merganser, its bill lit up in the afternoon sun, was part of a mixed group of juveniles and adults foraging in a small local stream several months ago. Both Common and Red-breasted mergansers use their serrated "saw bill" to catch fish and crustaceans.

Common Mergansers are are found on open inland waters throughout the year. In contrast Red-breasted Mergansers prefer quiet salt-water bays. They usually stick to the coasts during migration from their breeding grounds in the northern boreal forest and tundra. Infrequently do they appear on inland lakes and rivers.

This pair ventured inland. I found them on a quiet backwater of the CT River. In basic winter plumage the male and female look very much alike, except for the male being perhaps a bit darker. The two photos below, taken in Gloucester Harbor in MA, show them in breeding plumage.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snow Goose

Quick note to subscribers of VTBIRD: I saw a single white snow goose among the many Canada Geese on the waters of the Retreat Meadow this morning.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Perpetual Motion Bird

Nuthatches They are always in motion, never stopping... running up a tree, heading down and circling around,  flying back and forth to the feeder grabbing a seed, to eat or cache for later in the winter. They are busy in the fall building up their cache, each spot containing only one or two items. When opening a seed, or nut, the nuthatch pushes it into a crevice in the bark and hacks it open. Presumably their name is derived from this behavior. You usually see only one at a time but there must be at least two of them since they live in pairs in a permanent territory.

Since they won't ever hold still for a photo you have to be quick with your trigger finger. It's fun watching their swift undulating flight. Their rapid nasal call is probably familiar to most of us.Together with the Chickadee and Titmouse they are our favorite backyard birds.

Look at those amazing long claws that grip the tree and allow to run upside down. 


This morning I went to an area on the West River to check on the Hooded Mergansers that I had seen there recently, but the water was frozen solid, and no bird in sight. Here are some photos from a previous trip:

Hooded Merganser pair and Canada Goose

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 Source of information on Nuthatch behavior: Cornell's Birds of North America online

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Manky Mallard " on World Bird Wednesday

A couple of days ago I was driving past an old isolated beaver pond  when I saw what looked like a lone pale pinkish duck on the water. On its head sat a fluffy kind of pom-pom. A new species of duck? A vagrant? A reportable rarity? For a few moments visions of glory floated through my head, the kind of glory that only a birder would comprehend.

I rolled down the window and tried to get a picture but the duck had quickly moved out my field of vision. So I slowly got out of car in order not to alarm it. No to worry however, as soon as I stood up the duck paddled toward me and to my great surprise scrambled up the embankment onto the dirt road.  He quacked a couple of times and stretched his neck toward me, as if expecting a hand-out. Yet as I approached him he flew back into the water.

I am saying "he" because, despite his apricot pink color and poodle-like top knot, he looked like a male mallard. The bill was the same yellow color, the neck and head an iridescent green and his tail coverts curled up just as in a male mallard.

Here is a close-up

It was pretty obvious to me that he was an escapee, but from where? Nobody in the immediate area that I know of had ducks as pets. Was it a leucistic variant perhaps or an hybrid or a special domestic breed?

I did some research and came up with an article by Charlie in the 10,000 Birds, titled "Manky Mallards" (domestic, feral or just plan odd  mallards) It contains many photos of these odd looking ducks which are not hybrids but 100% mallards, the result of selective breeding.

The "crest" gene is a dominant mutation that can be bred into most any duck. It's associated with a deformityy of the skull. The gene is also causing partial infertility.

Quoting  from another website on the history: Crested ducks have a wonderful regal air about them. There are reasonably good layers but mostly kept for pets. Crested ducks have been around for a long time and feature in art dating back over 2,000 years.

Well, this morning I checked the pond: The water had frozen over and I was glad to see that the duck did not sit locked in the ice but had been smart enough to take to the air.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Where are the Birds? with correction

December.  I am desperate for birds. The woods have been quiet and skies empty. I'll soon be going into serious withdrawal. So I drove to Turner's Falls, MA,  to check out the power canal as James Smith of  Pioneer Birding had reported sightings of Cackling Geese and Iceland Gulls.

It was mid afternoon, the sun much lower in the sky than I had foreseen. Several groups of Common Goldeneyes were on the water and I got some photos before they had a chance to turn tails and swim toward the opposite shore as is they are prone to do when seeing anyone approaching them.

Male Common Goldeneye

Male flying

Flock of three females and one male

On the water there were several hundred Canada Geese, but I was lucky: Shortly after my arrival when passing the first group of Canada Geese  I saw a bird near the periphery which was strikingly smaller than the others. I was able to get a shot but the waning light resulted in a picture of poor quality. The petite size and build convinced me that this was a Cackling Goose but I stand corrected:

Thomas Wetmore pointed out that the photo probably shows an Atlantic subspecies of a Canada Goose, not a Cackling Goose. Cackling Geese are small still, show a stubby bill, short neck and blocky head with large cheek patch.

Far off shore were several gulls, mostly Herring Gulls, several Great Black-backed Gulls and a couple of lst cycle Iceland Gulls.

This photo shows an Iceland Gull standing on ice surrounded by Herring Gulls and GBBB juveniles which I took at Turner's Fall this past February. (More photos on my website, bottom of page.)

I am going to give it another shot next week. Timing is always finding the right balance: too early and the light is good, but the birds have not yet flown in to roost; too late and there is too little light.

November morning, Connecticut River, Hinsdale, NH

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Horned Grebe

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