Day to Day

Please treat the images as copyrighted and ask permission to use. Thank you. DEClapp

Winter is ending here; it doesn’t seem too happy about it, but it is ending. We have had a mix of cold and warm, wet and dry, rain and snow, and wind. Sunset is an hour later than a few weeks ago and the sun is much higher in the sky. It isn’t yet a really warm sun but it’s getting there. However, with the virus around and precautions necessary I haven’t been too far from home. And home in the winter means mostly birds. The Right Whales are appearing in the bay and we had a fisher wander through the yard last week. So nature is on the move. But as I say, it is mostly birds for the camera. Oh, part of that is the sun and it’s tendency to make you think that spring is actually here. Some days are simply gorgeous when viewed from the inside looking out. But those days turn on you when you go outside in spring time clothing.

What this all implies is that I will do more posts and continue with current local stuff.

There has been an unusual visitor to the northeast recently; a Steller’s Sea Eagle. The is a bird of Kamchatka and Japan and is rarely seen in the US, even very rare in Alaska. It seems that one has wandered across the Bering Sea through Canada and down into Texas and then north again eventually reaching the Canadian Maritimes and then dropping south into Massachusetts where it hung out on the Taunton River for a week or so. It then headed north and has been around Booth Bay and Bath Maine for the last month or so. This is a birder’s big deal. Sadly at this point I/we have not seen it and have little to report except that coastal Maine is lovely in the winter. There are a few Golden Eagles and lots of Bald Eagles up there and we are told there is a Steller’s Sea Eagle as well. Maybe, some day soon, this blog will have images and personal proof. Until then, we hope it stays and will post a couple more reports from Cape Cod and coastal Massachusetts.

We have had changes in landscape and climate during the past 200 years. There is little doubt of that. Many plants and animals have been introduced for hunting, fishing, and agricultural commerce. At the other end of that are the plants and animals that have been eliminated or reduced in numbers due to habitat changes. We now have earth worms and honey bees. We don’t have Passenger Pigeons or Carolina Parakeets. We have an array of European weeds that have escaped agriculture and now blanket our roadsides and woodlands. We have lost elms and chestnuts and gained alders and various fruit cultivars.

One of the bird groups that has had a great population drop is the game bird populations. For a while Turkeys were rare and non-existent. Shore birds were hunted and ducks taken year round. Pheasants and quail were repopulated mostly by hunting clubs and harvested by hunting club members. The same for ducks and geese. The other day Fran and I were looking at a flurry of birds feeding on seed when three Northern Bobwhite Quail emerged from the shrubbery.

These birds are now uncommon. They are birds that have bred around here over the past fifty years or so and were often the survivors of hunting stocks released each fall. As suburbia spread and hunting declined (fewer hunters and less habitat) the bird population could be replenished only by breeding. Winters and predators are hard on species like this.
The males have a rather bold pattern on the head. But, as they are pretty much ground birds it is important to be as camouflaged as possible. Thus the face is bold but the rest of the bird looks like a pile of dried leaves.
Massachusetts is about the northern limit for this bird now, though it is found to the west through Ohio, South Dakota and Nebraska. They are more common to the south where they are found to the tips of Florida and Texas and everywhere in between.
One of the birds that seems to have boomed in the past few decades is the American Robin. Here on Cape Cod we have a few large winter roosts of 10-15,000 birds and they appear in large numbers all over the place the first week of March. I remember them as a sign of spring but now they winter in our hedges and hollies. The birds from the north are quite dark
The southern breeders are paler. and they are the ones that return here after migrating south for the winter. The Canadian robins are hardier and are what we see most of the winter. American Robins always show a good bit of white, usually under the tail.
We put out meal worms. They are the larval form of a Darkling Beetle and grow very slowly in cold weather. Ours are kept in a plastic storage box in the garage. I buy them 30,000 at a time and they are a big hit in the cold weather. When it warms up the birds seem to favor natural food and the meal worms will be ignored. As you see here Eastern Bluebirds like them as do Pine Warblers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmouses, both Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens and occasionally a Red-bellied Woodpecker and male Northern Cardinal.
The Black-capped Chickadee is a regular visitor and a hungry opportunist at the worm dish.
Pine Warblers are not that common as you walk through the woods, but we get 4-5-6-7 at the worms. When we come downstairs in the morning they often fly at the slider door or kitchen window to remind us to set out the dish filled with worms.
Birds of prey need prey. Many eat birds. Some eat insects and others eat mostly mammals. In the winter the mammal eaters and the insect eaters struggle a bit. If you can adapt and eat both birds and mammals things work out better for you. The bird shown here will take birds and insects and is not really uncommon here in the winter. As a matter off fact there have been a couple breeding reports for this bird around here as well. In most cases it is a forest bird. These two images are of a small falcon called Merlin. It is a very self-confident species and will chase and bully just about any other bird.
Merlin are often seen over a beach where Dunlin or Sanderling might be taken or zipping over a small field or airport where Horned Larks and European Starlings are found.

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