Category Archives: Nature

Sorting Sparrows: Dark-eyed Junco

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco

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.

To learn more about these seed-loving sparrows who'd rather hop than walk, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Washed Ashore: Soft-shelled Clam

Photo of Soft-shelled Clam

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.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Fern Allies: Common Interrupted-clubmoss

Photo of Common Interrupted-clubmoss

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 noticeableĀ 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.

To learn more about this evergreen fern ally, visit Go Botany. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Mammals: Harbor Seal

Photo of Harbor Seals

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.

Photo of Harbor Seal

Shorebirds: American Golden-Plover

Photo of American Golden-Plover

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.

To learn more about these long-distance migrants, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.