Gone Birding and Foraging…

Neotropical migrants are returning, spring edibles are emerging, and I'm taking time to celebrate. I'm suspending my normal blog schedule through the end of May. (I'll continue to share some of my photos on Flickr.)

While I'm enjoying spring, check out my New England Wild Edibles Monthly Guide or browse my blog's complete index. If you'd like to sharpen your naturalist skills, consider attending one of my walks or inquiring about a customized workshop.

I'll leave you with this photo of a Palm Warbler and some words on warblers.

Photo of Palm Warbler

"What wood warblers lack in size they more than compensate for with the diversity of their plumage, feeding techniques, and song patterns and pitches.  To many birders, spring -- when both the songs and bright plumage of male warblers are very much in evidence -- is synonymous with the arrival of these 'butterflies of the bird world.'"

--Mary Holland, Naturally Curious (2010), p. 99

Diving Ducks: Ring-necked Duck

Photo of Ring-necked Ducks

Unlike Mallards and American Black Ducks, who largely dabble for food, Ring-necked Ducks primarily dive to feed on aquatic vegetation and invertebrates. Males are recognized by their ringed-bill (their maroon neck-ring is difficult to discern) and the white "spur" separating their black chest from their gray sides. Females are warm brown, and have a light eye-ring which separates them from Lesser and Greater Scaup females.

Ring-necked Ducks can be found in northern New England during nesting season, and throughout New England during spring and fall migration, as open water allows. Aside from the photo of the molting female, taken in late summer in Bridgton, ME, these photos were taken this spring in coastal southern Maine.

Learn more about Ring-necked Ducks at All About Birds. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Not Just Any Goose: Brant

Photo of Brant

Brant are small geese (closer in size to Mallards than Canada Geese) who breed on the arctic tundra. Some Brant winter along the eastern seaboard, primarily south of Maine. Birders in Maine typically see them in small numbers in late winter or spring as they migrate north to their breeding grounds. Notice the white neck patch or "collar" on the Brant's otherwise black head and neck.

Photo of Brant

Fern ID: Sensitive Fern

Photo of Sensitive Fern sterile frond

Once you've stored a few search images in your mind's eye, Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) can be spotted nearly year-round, the exception being if there is deep snow pack, like we had the winter of 2014-15. During the green season, look for this fern's distinctly lobed blades. After a frost kills back these sterile fronds, looks for the thin, brown-topped fertile fronds, which stand as convenient flags for fern observers. The fertile fronds persist throughout the white season to release their spores in spring. Sensitive Fern is often found in wetlands, like swamps, and on the edges of ponds and streams. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Quiz #149: Plant

Before this week's quiz, I have two announcements:

1. I'm leading a free nature walk in Wells on May 1st. Check the events page for details.

2. Deb Soule, a Maine herbalist and founder of Avena Botanicals is in need of help. Check out Herbal Medicine Matters on Kickstarter.


Name the plant species who produced these brown-topped stalks. (Photographed on April 15, 2015 in Kennebunkport, ME.)

Photo of Quiz #149: Plant

Click here for the answer.

Shorebirds: Wilson’s Snipe

Photo of Wilson's Snipe

April showers bring Wilson's Snipe, or so it seems to me. A grassy flooded field near my home has proven a reliable spot for these secretive shorebirds. Their plumage allows them to hide in plain sight (except when a spring snowfall coats the ground, see above) while they use their sizable bill to probe soft ground for edibles.

Photo of Wilson's Snipe in flight

Wilson's Snipe give a distinctive alarm call, which can be useful for identifying birds in flight. Listen to this a audio sample:

The following photo (click for a larger version) shows eight birds foraging together in a wet field. To learn more about Wilson's Snipe, visit All About Birds.

Photo of Wilson's Snipe flock

Washed Ashore: Horse Mussel

Photo of Horse Mussel close-up

Empty shells of Horse Mussels (Modiolus modiolus) are commonly found on southern Maine beaches, often attached to washed ashore seaweeds (including Irish Moss and Atlantic Kombu). Shells are typically black on the outside and white on the inside, but wear and staining result in a diversity of appearances. Technical terms aside, notice the characteristic double-bump at the narrow end of a Horse Mussel shell -- Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis) lack this feature.

Considered inedible to humans, Horse Mussels are eaten by many other coastal creatures, including Herring Gulls who can be seen dropping them repeatedly from the air in an effort to crack the mussels open. I recently watched a Herring Gull crack one open in this way and consume the flesh in short order. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)