Yes, Yes; Birds Again

Please consider the images to be copyrighted and ask permission to use them in any way. Thank you. DEClapp

I feel a bit apologetic for doing birds birds and more birds. But that pandemic has me/us pretty limited in travel opportunities and so it is local birding and more local birding. I have to finish the Falkland Island blogs and do a few from the Galapagos Islands and Namibia but it is easy to do the local and current birds of the northeastern USA. They are what I see day in and day out. So this post will show some creatures that are not limited by a virus and can travel the globe on their own wing-power. Some are just the usual sort of winter wanderer, a vagrant perhaps but no real surprise, others are migrants that are expected winter visitors, and a couple are surprises.

As I look at these birds you should keep in mind that there are other natural events and organisms in the area. I see Red and Gray Squirrels and until this last cold spell, the occasional Eastern Chipmunk. Yesterday, despite the cold weather, I found several tunnels of Star-nosed Moles. In the unfrozen wetlands, getting to be fewer and fewer, there are still Muskrats and the occasional Otter family. White-tailed Deer are not easily seen at this time of year but they are out there and the widespread browsed shrubbery attests to that. Today I saw a Fisher atop the Pitch Pine trees and it was being verbally abused by a congregation of American Crows (AMCR). Also we see Gray Seals about every day and Harbor Seals in the winter when the young ones visit from the Canadian waters to the north.

One of the unlikely creatures that really show at this time of year are the sea turtles; specifically the Kemp’s Ridley turtle. These are warm water creatures and they swim further and further north in the Gulf Stream each summer as our changing climate warms the ocean waters. This northward movement, and our northeasterly winds, will push the animals toward the continent, and as they swim south they swim into the open arm of Cape Cod. Most of the turtles that get stuck inside Cape Cod are younger animals and they have no sense that they have to swim north again and then east and around the sandy arm. They simply hit the beach. If the water were warm still they might swim out through perseverance, but this beaching syndrome only happens when the cold air from the north chills the ocean water and stuns the turtles. Many die. Many are found by beach walking volunteers and are rehabilitated and eventually flown south to be released. Though most are Kemp’s Ridleys there was a 350 pound Leatherback beached this year as well. So far, mid-December, there have been about 450 beached turtles found.

Let’s start off with a common nesting bird of the US and Canada. The American Robin (AMRO) is a thrush and very widespread in North America, nesting in any area with forest or trees. It is a member of the Genus Turdus, one of 66 species in that large group.
Here in the northeastern part of the US we have always thought the robin to be a harbinger of spring; one of our first nesting birds to return from a southward migration. But things are rarely as simple as we first think. Many of our robins do head south but some stay all winter eating soft seeds and berries. Other robins from further north migrate down to our latitude and winter here as well.
So even on snowy days when you’d think they would be basking in warm southern sunshine we have American Robins in the crabapples and hollies.
The Black-capped Chickadee (BCCH) is tiny and very light. You’d think it could never stay warm through a 14-hour winter night. But they do and they are common. Insulation and metabolism are the keys to the adaptations found in Chickadees, Kinglets, Creepers, Wren, and many other birds with a lot of surface area and not a lot of body mass. But this little guy is pictured here to contrast with the next bird, a rather uncommon winter visitor.
Out here on Cape Cod the Boreal Chickadee is a once in a decade birds. This Black-capped Chickadee is a once every five minute visitor to any bird feeder with sunflower seed.
The Boreal Chickadee (BOCH) is a bird of the boreal forest of Canada. It is found in northern USA and at elevation on some mountains, but it is not a common bird in the US. It has a brown cap and is browner and duskier over-all than the Black-capped Chickadee.
There are 55 members of the Genus Parus. We are familiar with the chickadees (six members of the Genus) and the Titmouses (four members of the Genus) and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere knows the remaining 45 members of the groups as Tits. In Europe and Asia it is a group that has many species and a large number of subspecies. The members of the Genus are common and cute; hence they have been studied a great deal. Geographic populations have been identified and ranges delineated. But recent population separations do not inhibit interbreeding along shared boundaries – thus they are a well studied but still confusing group.
These four Families are closely related, in the Order Aves (birds). These four are the Nuthatches, the Treecreepers, the Penduline and True Tits, and the Long-tailed Tits. Our North American chickadees of all stripes belong too the “True Tit” group.
In the US we have the widespread Black-capped and the more restricted range birds like then Carolina, Mountain, Chestnut-backed, and Mexican Chickadees. In addition we have the Brown Creeper (BRCR), Bridled, Plain, Black-crested, and Tufted Titmouses and five nuthatches (Pygmy, Brown-headed, Red-breasted, and White-breasted.
This greenish bird may look a bit like female, or young, oriole at first glance but it is a Western Tanager (WETA) a rather common bird in the forests in western North America and an annual oddity here in the northeast. We usually see them in the late fall when they are pausing in a wrong-way migration. They should be heading south from the woodland nesting sites into Mexico and central America but every year a few fly east or allow themselves to travel on an eastern wind.
I’ve always wondered what happens to these wrong-way travelers; do they continue east into the Atlantic, do they head south along the coast and then swing back to the west and eventually make it to Mexico, or do they expire here in New England.
When we see them it is usually because they have established at a feeding station and are eating hulled sunflower seeds. During nesting season they eat all stages of bugs and insects.
Here on Cape Cod we enjoy a college-age baseball program every summer. The Cape Cod League consists of ten teams using accomplished college players; it has developed great stars like Aaron Judge, Jason Varitek, Mo Vaughn, Ron Darling and the Hall of Famer Pie Trainer (1919!!).
There are well kept playing fields in all ten communities that sport a team. The bird above, standing on the pitcher’s mound, just to the right of the pitching rubber, is a Pink-footed Goose (PFGO); not an official member of any baseball team although it does seem to enjoy the pitcher’s mound.
This species of goose, small and kind of brown all over, nests in Spitzbergen, Iceland, and Greenland and is a rare but not totally unexpected visitor to northeast North America each year. On its more usual wintering grounds in Europe you may see them in flocks of hundreds and thousands.
The bulky Muscovy Duck (MUDU) is always considered to be an escaped bird or at least a feral bird when seen anywhere in the USA excepting maybe along the Rio Grande on occasion. This bird is up here in Massachusetts, out on Cape Cod, and a long way from any native Muscovy population. Hence it is considered to be a bird with captivity and domestication in its background.
They are non-migratory and most unlikely as a vagrant. That is true – – however – this particular bird is essentially all black excepting for the expected white in the wings. All depictions of domestic birds show varying amounts of white feathering. This bird looks like the image of a real Muscovy in Birds of Costa Rica; no extra white.
I like to think that this might be the Marco Polo or Vasco da Gama or Christopher Columbus of the Muscovy world. But, even the Birds of Costa Rica says that wariness of humans is a good trait to determine domestic birds from wild birds. This bird is pretty docile….but maybe it just wanted its picture taken and a conversation started,
I have displayed a Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG) previously, maybe this same bird. It is a gull of Europe though it is now suspected that there are small numbers of breeding birds in the Canadian Maritimes. In the northeast we see them off and on throughout the year but mostly in non-breeding months and generally along the coast, though certainly not exclusively.
They drift into the US and have been found in the eastern half of the continental states. They are smaller than our Great Black-back Gull (GBBG) and also smaller than the common and widespread, Herring Gull (HEGU). The smudge around the eye is one of the characteristics that is expected in a wintering bird.
We don’t have penguins in the Northern Hemisphere but we have alcids. There are puffins, murres, murrelets, auklets, and razorbills. The bird above is a Razorbill (RAZO). All the alcids are oceanic birds and are happiest (seemingly) when they are on or in the water. The razorbills dive for fish and other schooling creatures of the sea. They are cold water birds of the Atlantic but they do not extend much further north than the Canadian Maritime shores where they nest on ledges and rocky islands. After heavy storms blowing from the northeast we often see thousands of razorbills looping inside Cape Cod Bay and heading back out to sea. From ocean view points like the Race Point Beach at the tip of Cape Cod they are a regular winter bird.

So, it is getting to be winter here; it is cold and we are expecting more than a foot of snow: that’s 30 cm or 300 mm for those of you using the metric system. Hopefully, I will be able to shovel snow and do another blog page over the next few days.

By the way, the header-image is a Red-tailed Hawk, one of our common birds of prey. It has nothing to do with unusual winter visitors, I just thought is was a nice image to include

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