Dark-eyed Juncos sport dark-above, light-below plumage and a light-pink bill, and, even when seen fleetingly as they flush, their flashing white outer tail feathers serve as useful field marks. They breed in forested parts of western and northern New England and during the white season spread throughout our area where they feed in weedy, seed-rich habitats including roadsides, thickets, and fields. Their countershading can make them challenging to spot on dark ground, but a fresh blanket of snow can bring a flock into view.
Soft-shelled Clams (Mya arenaria) are among the best known marine mollusks harvested from mud flats throughout New England. Also known as Long-necked or Steamer Clams, these shellfish are food for many species, including Atlantic Moon Snails, Green Crabs, various gulls and diving ducks, certain fish, Northern Raccoons, and, of course, humans.
The two halves of this bivalve's shell are similarly shaped, with the exception of the hinge area. The left valve has a spoon-like shelf, and the right valve has a corresponding groove to accommodate it.
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Common Interrupted-clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum) is a spore-bearing vascular plant who grows in forests throughout much of New England. This plant creeps by horizontal stems that often hide just below the leaf litter. Upright stems are ~6" tall; often branched near the base; crowded with narrow, bristle-tipped leaves (another common name for this species is Bristly Clubmoss); and have noticeable interruptions that indicate where one year's growth ended and the next began. Each fertile branch is topped with a stalkless, solitary, 1-1.5" long cone-like reproductive structure, called a strobilus.
Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) live along the New England coast where they eat a variety of fish, shellfish, and other marine life. They often bask in small groups on rock ledges or sandbars, especially at low tide, and I've been pleasantly surprised a number of times to see the head of one pop into view while scanning for seabirds in a coastal harbor or off a sandy or rocky beach. Looking into their dark eyes always gives me pause.
Harbor Seals are more common and quite a bit smaller than the longer-nosed Gray Seals. One way to tell the two apart is by looking at their nostrils. Gray Seals have spaced out nostrils, whereas the nostrils of Harbor Seals are close together and form a v-shape. To learn more about Harbor Seals, visit Animal Diversity Web.
American Golden-Plovers are uncommon late-summer and fall migrants in New England. Adults are first to arrive, typically in August and September, as they work their way south from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra. Juveniles follow and may linger in our area into November but, like their parents, have much more flying to do to reach their wintering grounds in southern South America. In the spring, most return to the Arctic by way of central North America.
American Golden-Plovers forage beside Black-bellied Plovers at coastal beaches and mudflats, and beside Pectoral Sandpipers, Killdeer, and less common Buff-breasted and Baird's Sandpipers, at golf courses, grassy airfields, and flooded farm fields.