Category Archives: Birds

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.

Shorebirds: Stilt Sandpiper

Photo of Stilt Sandpiper (Sept)

Stilt Sandpipers are uncommon, mid-sized shorebirds who nest in the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska. In New England, they're most often observed in July, August, and September, as they stop over to forage in shallow, standing water at both coastal and inland sites.

Stilt Sandpipers often feed by probing their bills into mud in sewing-machine-like fashion, much like dowitchers, or picking food off the surface like Lesser Yellowlegs. But whereas dowitchers have long, straight bills, and Lesser Yellowlegs have short, straight bills, Stilt Sandpipers have medium-length bills with an obvious droop, much like Dunlin.

To learn more about these waders with yellow-green legs, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Quick Guide to Gulls: Black-legged Kittiwake

Photo of Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwakes are gulls of the open ocean. To see them in New England, I recommend sea-watching with a decent spotting scope or birding by boat, especially during the colder months of the year. In summer, they gather in colonies to our north, where they build their nests on cliff faces.

Smaller than a Ring-billed and larger than a Bonaparte's, a Black-legged Kittiwake is about the same length as a Laughing Gull. Adults have an unmarked yellow bill, black wing-tips lacking white windows, and, of course, black legs.

To learn more about these ocean-going gulls, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Shorebirds: Hudsonian Godwit

Photo of Hudsonian Godwit

Hudsonian Godwits are large shorebirds with long, slightly upturned bills that are pink or orange near the base. In flight or when preening, they show a black tail, a white rump, and dark underwing coverts, features not shared by the slightly larger and longer-billed Marbled Godwit.

In late spring and early summer, Hudsonian Godwits breed in parts of Canada and Alaska, timing their efforts with the abundance of invertebrate species available during the green season. By late summer, adults head south (followed later by juvenile birds), with some touching down at select sites in New England, like flooded fields, coastal beaches, marshes, and mud flats, before continuing on to southern South America (many more are thought to fly non-stop for several days from Canada over the Atlantic Ocean to South America). Having experienced part of summer in the far north, those that successfully complete their incredible journey get to experience summer in the southern hemisphere as well.

To learn more about Hudsonian Godwits, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Rare Bird Alert: Little Egret

Photo of Little Egret (25 Jul 2017)
Falmouth, ME | 25 Jul 2017

For the 5th year since 2011 (and the 3rd year in a row), a rare Little Egret has been observed in southern coastal Maine. First reported this year on July 11th, I tried several times over the next two weeks to find the bird, who looks very much like a Snowy Egret, but kept coming up empty. Finally on July 25th, thanks in large part to the reports of other birders, I managed to locate the bird with 9 Snowy Egrets near the north meadow blind at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth.

To learn more about this white wading bird, read How to see a Little Egret by Doug Hitchcox. To view the following images in full-size, click here.