Splish-splash, Red-beasted Merganser really getting onto the bathing thing at J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL. Before you call it a female, look closely. This juv./1st yr. bird has a wing pattern of a male with white secondaries and coverts with 2 dark dividing bars. Knowing the age and sex of a bird you are looking at can add valuable information and enjoyment to your birding. For compete information on how to know the age and sex of a species see our new field guides, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region.
This is not NH, where I'm from, it's Captiva, FL with high winds and cold, just for a day.
I am recording the numbers of birds we see today.
So many Ospreys, 69 total, many circling overhead at once, what a treat!
Don, left, and Steve Oresman are the rest of our team, counting the birds on the northern tip of Captiva, FL.
Line ups of Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans.
And these Turkey Vultures posed nicely, adult on left, juvenile on right.
Hiding in mangroves out of the wind was this juvenile Tri-colored Heron.
In a blow-your-hats-off wind sending temps dropping, we did the Sanibel-Captiva Christmas Count yesterday and numbers of birds were way down. Myself, Don and Steve Oresman covered the tip of Captiva. My favorites were the 69 Ospreys, so many constantly circling overhead made counting a challenge. We also had 369 Brown Pelicans, no rarities. We only had 37 species and the whole of the Sanibel-Captiva Count had 88 species (14,494 individuals) whereas last year the count had 102 species (14,154 individuals). Evidently Ding Darling NWR was hopping with Ibis, herons and shorebirds as the high winds made for exposed tidal flats just right for feeding. It has been unseasonably hot and humid here (except yesterday). Not many land birds. What crazy weather, caused by this strong El Nino season.
Recently there's been a Great White Heron in Litchfield, NH, which is way out of range for this bird usually found in south Florida (my photo is from Sanibel Island, FL). It rarely has been seen outside this range. MA has two accepted records of this form, one record is from RI and there is a Wells, ME report in June 2013. It also has shown up as far north as Nova Scotia. Not a separate species, it is considered a white subspecies of the Great Blue Heron. It has a massive bill which is yellowish with a dark culmen, dull yellow or horn colored legs and feet and bluish facial skin.
Do not confuse it with a Great Egret which is smaller, has black legs, yellow bill and yellow facial skin and is much more common in much of the country. Keep on the lookout who knows where a Great White Heron may turn up.
Pileated Woodpecker's are numerous on Sanibel Island.
We followed this female Pileated Woodpecker one morning.
We saw her scaling bark off Mangrove Trees.
Scaled areas near where she was feeding
She landed and began to pound away at the bark,
striking blows beneath it,
and a large piece of bark fell away.
At one point, we saw her long tongue extended out.
She would poke her bill in at the edges of the scaled bark.
You can see her tongue going beneath the edge of the bark, here
and in this close-up.
We had an opportunity one morning at the Sanibel Lighthouse park to follow a Pileated Woodpecker. We watched the female in the above photos work over some Mangrove Trees, partially dead from damage done by Hurricane Charley in 2004. She whacked off chunks of bark and at one point we saw a fairly large chunk fall after she struck repeated blows. Later we went to some of the areas she had scaled and felt the bark and found it was tightly adhered to the tree. It was hard for us to pull any off.
One of the great things about digital photography is that you see amazing things when you blow up your photos. Our photos showed the long tongue of this female Pileated that tapers at the tip. How cool is that. Reminds us of seeing the tongues of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds when we watched through our binos as they perched near our feeders in NH. In the Birds of North America Pileated Woodpecker account written by Evelyn L. Bull and Jerome A. Jackson, it says the Pileated, "uses long, extensible, pointed tongue with barbs and sticky saliva to catch and extract ants from tunnels." This female was using her long tongue to poke into the sides of the scaled areas. Intriguing. At one point, we saw some tiny ants going under the bark and wondered if that was what she was getting. What an unusual opportunity we had to witness up-close-and-personal the feeding techniques of this female Pileated Woodpecker. Thank you digital camera and woodpecker.
These Wild Turkeys are headed in the right direction.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
About Wild Turkeys:
* Wild Turkeys populations were once in decline but turkeys were reintroduced and have recovered and now Wild Turkeys occur in every state (but not Alaska) and in parts of Canada.
* Wild Turkeys live in forests and eat berries, buds, seeds, insects and nuts, especially acorns. They can scratch the ground to find food. They may come to bird seed under feeders.
* Wild Turkeys roam together in flocks in search of food. You may see them along roadsides and in fields and crossing roads.
* In spring, male turkeys perform courtship displays in fields. They fan their tails, puff up and strut and give their familiar gobbling calls. The female raises the young chicks, who can follow the female after hatching and soon can find food on their own. Females and young form into groups and roam together.
Coming through - Hooded Mergansers and Common Mergansers are migrating now. We saw many this weekend on lakes and ponds in NH and MA. On one pond in MA we had 58 Hooded Mergansers, what a beautiful sight! These ducks will winter south of here. Common Mergansers winter mainly across the upper two thirds of the U.S. Hooded Mergansers winter all the way down to the Gulf Coast and FL. We see them in winter at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL. Be on the lookout!
Cave Swallows, who usually breed in TX and NM and winter south of there, have been flooding into some areas of the northeastern quadrant of the U.S. mainly in coastal and Great Lake locations. Cave Swallows have been found in these areas before, but this is a large influx. See the map of recent Cave Swallow sightings on ebird (there was a sighting in NH yesterday, not yet on map.) A beautiful swallow, this Cave Swallow photo is one I took on Sanibel Island, FL 3/28/15. So if you are birding on coastal or Great Lake locations be on the lookout!
Rarity alert! Evidently Franklin's Gulls and Common Ground-Doves are showing up in a number of places way outside their usual ranges. Franklin's Gulls, who breed in western U.S and Canada, now are being reported from SW Florida (this photo is from Sanibel in 2006), Maine, and several are in Massachusetts. Common Ground-Doves live year round in very southern areas in the lower U.S. (they come to our feeders in FL) and they recently have been seen in Massachusetts, Oregon, Ontario and Chicago! So be on the lookout! If you see these unusual birds for your area report it to your local Audubon, bird organization and ebird. Have Fun!
All above photos, Cackling Goose, hutchinsii subspecies
Cackling Geese create excitement for birders when they show up in the East, and this is the time of year they often appear. Look carefully when you see a flock of Canada Geese, and maybe you can find a Cackling Goose! See my other blog post here. These geese, who mainly nest in the arctic, look like very small Canada Geese, but are a different species. There are 4 subspecies of Cackling Goose. It is thought that the subspecies who usually shows up in the East is the nominate subspecies, Brantahutchinsiihutchiinsii, (also sometimes called "Richardson's Goose", "Richardson's Cackling Goose" or "Hutchins's Goose"). The above are photos I took in western Massachusetts on 11/8/09 is of the hutchinsii subspecies (confirmed by experts). ID of Cackling subspecies emphasizes head and bill shape, with hutchinsii having a ratio of bill length to depth of about 3:2. This bird in my photo has a short bill, a short, steeply rising forehead, a rather flattened crown rising to a bit of a peak at the back of the head, all characteristics of the hutchinsii subspecies. Most hutchinsii also have a narrowing of the white of the cheek patch at the level of the eye, also visible on this bird. This bird also has a very pale breast, as have the majority of hutchinsii. The back and sides are also pale, the back does not appear darker than the sides. There's noticeable pale edges to the wing covert feathers, creating pale diagonal lines.
Cackling Goose, unknown subspecies
Cackling Geese cannot always be identified as to subspecies, as with the above and following photos of an individual I photographed in Ohio (east of Toledo) in May 2005. Several experts concur that this might be a hutchinsii subspecies or possibly an intergrade between the taverneri and hutchinsii subspecies, but it cannot be definitively identified. To quote the excellent article on Distribution and Identification of Cackling Goose Subspecies by Mlodinowetal. "though birds breeding on the continental Arctic slope from the Mackenzie River west are thought to be taverneri, the precise border between taverneri and nominate hutchinsii has not been defined, nor has the degree of potential or actual intergradation between the two (J. Leafloor, J. Pearce, D. Derksen, pers. comm.)."
This bird shows a more rounded head than the hutchinsii bird in my top photo, with a more gradual slope from the bill to the head, more characteristic of taverneri. Taverneri subspecies have "stout and somewhat triangular bills". The breast of this bird is pale. Taverneri are "typically medium-gray-breasted, becoming darker on belly/flanks" according to the article. However, sometimes they can have pale breasts.
Here's the neck fully upright in an alert posture of the goose. The head looks faintly flattened and there's white flecking at base of the black neck, suggesting a very thin white neck collar. The article estimated that only 2-5% of taverneri adults have a neck collar and that about 10-20% of hutchinsii can have a neck collar.
Here's another posture with the head looking somewhat flattened. Note that under the chin you can see a thin black line running from bill to the black neck, called a gular stripe. This is sometimes seen in a small percentage of hutchinsii, whereas 40-75% of taverneri have a gular stripe according to the article.
Here's another posture where the neck looks short.
Cackling Geese of the hutchinsii subspecies mainly winter along the Gulf Coast from southeasternLouisiana down into Mexico and also from eastern Colorado to eastern New Mexico through western Texas and into Mexico. Of the Cackling Geese that show up outside of their normal wintering range and stray to the East in small numbers, almost all reports have been of the hutchinsii subspecies. They have been reported from Indiana, Ontario, western New York, southern Quebec and Nova Scotia down to Virginia with a few reports to North Carolina, South Carolina and a few from Florida. Taverneri subspecies winters in mainly Washington and Oregon, although some may winter in the continent's center. There are few reports of taverneri in eastern North America. There's a record from Onondaga county, New York, Sept. 2004, Janesville, Wisconsin, Oct. 2004, Amherst, Mass. Oct. 2007 and maybe the same bird in Middlefield Conn. Nov. to Dec. 2007 for photos of this bird see here.
The other two subspecies of Cackling Geese are leucoparia and minima. Minima (called Ridgway's Goose) is the smallest and darkest of the subspecies and winters mainly in western Oregon and Washington and central California. Only a handful or so of reports for minima exist for east of the Mississippi and are for North Carolina, Illinois, Connecticut, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee. Leucoparia (called Aleutian Goose) a medium-sized Cackling, has a broad, white, complete neck collar on all adults. It winters mainly California and a little in Oregon and there are no winter records for east of the Mississippi River that we know of.
So keep looking at Cackling Geese in the East, there may be other subspecies showing up besides hutchinsii. If you find them, let us know.
It was intriguing when we recently heard a Blue Jay, notorious for imitating calls of others, give a Short-eared Owl call as it flew over our heads in late afternoon. A few days before this, Don may have heard one call of a Short-eared Owl at dusk. Interesting that just about this time (Oct. 27th 2013) we were at our nearby hawk watch site, Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in southwest NH, and saw a Short-eared Owl migrating, a first record for that site. It was migrating during the day and popped up above the mountain in the midst of some ravens. Much excitement at seeing the first one there and it was a thrill. Recently on NH birds list serve, a Short-eared Owl was reported from migrating on the NH coast, a more common place to see this uncommon owl.
Little is known about Short-eared Owl migration according to the authoritative source on bird behavior, The Birds of North America online.
The Short-eared Owl is one of my favorite owls. This medium-sized owl lives in open habitats, such as tundra, grasslands, fields, marshes, prairies and savannas, where it hunts small mammals. It breeds mostly in the far North and parts of the West and can be seen in winter in many parts of the country.
All the photos above, except the small bottom photo which is of the owl over Pack Monadnock, are of a Short-eared Owl I saw on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. This owl mostly hunts at night, sometimes during the day. I was lucky it was out and gave me photo ops. This owl flies erratically, like a moth, and courses low over the ground.
So keep your eye and ears open for Short-eared Owls and you may add to the information on its migration.
Flying high were these Common Ravens and Red-shouldered Hawk acrobatic on the wind as they took turns chasing one another. The Red-shouldered Hawk was a juvenile on migration with energy to spare. Note on the Redshoulder the light crescent shaped window across the outer wing due to the translucent bases to the outer primary feathers (seen in good light at all ages) which is a great identification clue for this species.
We saw these birds recently at Pack Monandnock Raptor Migration Observatory, NH where the hawk watch is still happening until mid-Nov. The day we saw the above birds we also saw a Golden Eagle, very exciting since only about a handful pass this site each year. It was too far for a photo.
Keep looking up, who knows what you may see!