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

17.45 | Nature Notes (Nov 5-11)

Photo of frost-edged Fucus
Frosty Seaweed | Biddeford, ME | 11 Nov 2017

Highlights of the Week

A hard freeze Wednesday into Thursday marked the start of the white season here in southern Maine.

Strong northwest winds on Friday stripped many leaves from Oak trees.

On Saturday afternoon in Biddeford Pool, I spotted a Snowy Owl at South Point and an Eastern Coyote crossing Mile Stretch Road.

Wild Edible of the Week

I foraged Ocean Quahogs -- sold as Mahogany Clams -- from a local seafood counter.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

Find an evergreen fern (e.g., Christmas Fern, Evergreen Wood Fern, Rock Polypody).


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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.