Category Archives: Birds

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.

Not Just Any Goose: Ross’s Goose

Photo of Ross's Goose with Canada Geese

Appearing very much like a miniature Snow Goose, Ross's Goose is the only other goose in North America that is all white with black wingtips. In evaluating a white goose in the field, observers should note head shape and bill details, in addition to overall body size. Ross's has a rounder head and a stubbier bill which lacks the obvious grin patch of a Snow Goose*.

Ross's Geese are rarely encountered in New England, with just a few spotted in a typical year. The individual pictured here was found with a flock of Canada Geese in Fort Fairfield, Maine in late September.

To learn more about these small, mostly white (alleged) vegetarians, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

*For a sketch comparison of each, as well as a discussion of hybrids, see David Sibley's Identification of White Geese blog post.

Shorebirds: Black-bellied Plover

Photo of Black-bellied Plovers (November

Even as the white season approaches, Black-bellied Plovers continue to hunt for invertebrates on mud flats and beaches and in flooded fields throughout New England. Recognized at a distance by their stop-and-go foraging style and loud pee-o-wee whistle calls, these Arctic nesters prefer to keep their distance from onlookers.

While some of the time Black-bellied Plovers have black bellies (as adults during the breeding season; juveniles and non-breeding adults have white bellies), they have black armpits (technically axillaries) in all seasons.

To learn more about North America's largest plover, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Life List Bird Game #35

Identify the birds in the following photographs, all of which were taken by me in New England. This gallery of untitled photos is randomly arranged and includes more than one photo of most species. If you get stuck, the 10 possibilities (in my Life List order) are provided below. If you're reading this post via e-mail, visit the blog to view the full-size images.

The Birds of Life List Bird Game #35

341. Great Gray Owl
342. Vermilion Flycatcher (terrible quality photo)
343. Fieldfare (terrible quality photo)
344. Painted Bunting
345. Brown Booby
346. Magnificent Frigatebird
347. Snowy Plover
348. Brown Pelican
349. Black-necked Stilt
350. South Polar Skua

Hint: You can use the photo filename to check your guesses. For example: 008grca.jpg corresponds with my 8th Life Bird: Gray Catbird.

Seabirds: Great Shearwater

Photo of Great Shearwater

Great Shearwaters are common pelagic birds found off the New England coast, roughly from June through October. Frequently spotted from fishing or whale watch boats, these stiff-winged gliders may also be seen from land at select coastal sites if food and weather conditions are right.

Spending nearly all of their life at sea, it's during our white season that Great Shearwaters visit land to nest. Large flocks assemble on a small number of islands in the South Atlantic, where each successful pair raises just one chick, who, if all goes well, will fledge by mid-spring. The adults then head north for their circuit through the North Atlantic, leaving their young to fend for themselves and eventually follow.

Great Shearwaters belong to an order of seabirds known as tubenoses (Procellariiformes), so named for the tube-like structures covering their nostrils. Salt glands allow these seabirds to desalinate ocean water on demand, with excess salt being excreted in solution from their nostrils.

To learn more about these pelagic birds, visit Audubon's Guide to North American Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.