Category Archives: Birds

Shorebirds: Whimbrel

Photo of Whimbrel

By late July, shorebird migration in New England is in full swing. While some species like Semipalmated Sandpipers drop in to many beaches and mudflats by the hundreds, other species, like Whimbrel, are uncommon outside of their favored coastal stop-over sites (one such spot in Maine where 100+ Whimbrels have been seen during low tide in late July and early August is Flat Bay in Harrington). Here in southern Maine, single-digit counts are typical, and this scarcity contributes to their popularity among birders.

Their large size, compared to most common shorebirds, and their long, decurved bill make them reasonably easy to spot with a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Looking for them on exposed mud flats at low tide tends to be more productive than trying to spot them among marsh grasses at high tide. Rarely, one has landed near me on a sandy beach, and on several occasions the loud flight calls of a Whimbrel have alerted me in time to look up and see the bird's distinctive silhouette speeding past.

To learn more about Whimbrels and to hear a sample of their loud calls, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Woodpeckers: Pileated Woodpecker

Photo of Pileated Woodpecker (male)

Of New England's nine* species of woodpeckers, the Pileated Woodpecker (PIWO) is by far the largest and the only type with a bright red crest. In flight, PIWOs flash white wing-patches. Males and females are largely similar, though only the males have red foreheads and red mustache stripes.

PIWOs feed extensively on carpenter ants and routinely drill deep, rectangular excavations to uncover their prey in tree trunks. Though PIWOs are often blamed for turning healthy trees into piles of wood chips, trees are most often dead (or dying) and thoroughly infested with wood-chewing ants (or other insects) before hole creation begins.

To learn more about these crow-sized forest-dwellers, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

*Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, and Pileated Woodpecker, account for the 6 common species; American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpecker are residents of northern boreal forests; Red-headed Woodpecker occurs annually in New England in small numbers, but is much more common to our south and west.

Rare Bird Alert: Tricolored Heron

Photo of Tricolored Heron

Thanks to an email message from a fellow birder via the Maine Birds listserv, I got news of a Tricolored Heron spotted near Wharton Point in Brunswick around 1pm last Saturday. Tricolored Herons have long been scarce in Maine, but in recent years, sightings have been even fewer and farther between (and not by me since 2014), so I jumped at the chance to see one!

Based on the details of the earlier report and my previous experience birding Wharton Point (where I saw my first Long-billed Dowitcher last fall), I located the white-bellied heron resting on the edge of a marsh pool a short walk east from the parking area. Though it started to drizzle during my viewing, I managed to document this coastal rarity. I hope you enjoy the photos.

To learn more about these striking wading birds, check out this Audubon profile page. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Diving Ducks: Common Eider

Photo of Common Eiders

Common Eiders are the largest ducks in North America. Adult males stand out in their black-and-white breeding plumage (also note their greenish nape), whereas brown-patterned females are easy to miss, especially when resting on seaweed-covered rocks. Immature males are mostly dark with a noticeably white chest.

Common Eiders spend much of their time close to shore, often frequenting coastal harbors, where they dive to feed on various shellfish, like Blue Mussels, and assorted crustaceans, like Green Crabs and Atlantic Rock Crabs. Back in 2014, I filmed a pair at the public beach in Biddeford Pool.

Visit All About Birds to learn more about these familiar saltwater ducks. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Diving Ducks: Hooded Merganser

Photo of Hooded Merganser (male)

Hooded Mergansers are compact diving ducks who specialize in catching and consuming small fish and other aquatic prey. They spend winter in marshes and along rivers, and after ice-out they move to secluded wooded wetlands where they seek out a natural cavity (or nest box put up by people) in which to nest. Females lay about a dozen eggs, but nests may occasionally contain many more eggs, with contributions from several hens. Shortly after hatching, the fluffy ducklings leap from their natal cavity and, if they don't drop straight into the water, follow their mother to a nearby wetland.

To learn more about these cavity-nesting water birds, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.