Friday, December 30, 2011

Dabbler Quiz #4

Five more variations on the dabblers who are not handsome drakes ...

Dabbler #16

Dabbler #17
Dabbler #18

Dabbler #19
Dabbler #20
Good Birding!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dabbler ID for #3

#11 - Blue-winged Teal, female - dark eye line, spots of white about the eye, white at base of dark beak. For the quiz, she was cropped out of the next photo. It's clear why attention goes to the male - an elegant bird.
Blue-winged Teal, male and female

 #12 - Mallard, female - Yellow beak with black on top, yellow legs, dark eye stripe, overall brown mottled. Blue speculum.
#13 - Northern Shoveler, young male - yellow eye and dark beak suggest a young male, though the plumage looks a lot like that of a female.
#14 - American Black Duck
 #15 American Widgeon, female - Like the teal above, when the female widgeon is in the presence of a male, he takes the attention away from her, as the next photo shows ...
American Widgeon - male and female
Good Birding!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dabbler Quiz #3

There is not much to go on with the first photo. Drake dabblers are handsome creatures and draw most of the attention. But there is enough ... perhaps ...

Dabbler #11
Coots do have a way of inserting themselves into all manner of photos, but it is the duck in front that asks for ID ...

Dabbler #12
Mixed clues in this one, perhaps? ...

Dabbler #13
Dabbler #14

Dabbler #15
Good Birding!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dabbler ID for #2

 #6 - American Black Duck - probably a female with her dirty green beak. Dark eyeline, head  and body dark - a female Mallard in gothic dress
 #7 - Blue-winged Teal - the give-away head of this preening male is hidden, as is the dark bill, but the blue wing should be all the clue that is needed. Note yellow legs.
#8 - Gadwall, female - She has an orange bill with dark on top, barely a suggestion of an eyeline, a hint of the white speculum, a generally plain brown head and body, and a sweet look.
 #9 - Mottled Duck - prominent eyeline like a female Mallard, but a much lighter, gray head, no black on top of bill. The close relationship to Mallard and black duck is evident in this Florida and southern species.
#10 - Northern Pintail, female - no sinuous neck on this hen, but the rather uniform brown head is the clue to her identity, plus mottled body and dark beak.
Gadwall hen being attended to by two drakes

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dabbler Quiz #2

Can you identify these dabbling ducks (Genus Anas)? Putting together these exercises is a good exercise for me. I hope they are of some help, or interest, to you.

Dabbler #6

Dabbler #7

Dabbler #8

Dabbler #9

Dabbler #10

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dabbler ID for #1

#1 - Northern Pintail - female. I love the pintail's sinuous neck. Add to that the gray beak and gray legs (mud covered in this photo), brown head, mottled body.

#2 - Green Winged Teal - female. When she is by herself, her small size may be hard to judge. A characteristic often sited is a steep forehead, but that is not so apparent in this photo. The green speculum which gives this species its name is visible in this photo, but it is hidden as often as it is visible and is not a dependable field mark. Short dark beak, gray legs, indistinct eye line, and a sort-of brown-gray head.

#3 - American Widgeon, female. Round grayish head, steep forehead (often with dark eye patch), light gray beak with black tip, less mottled, "smoother" sides than other female ducks.

 #4 - Mallard, female. Default female dabbler. Orange legs and orange beak with dark patch on top. Evenly mottled brown body, light brown head and neck. Distinct eye stripe.

#5 - Northern Shoveler, female. In beak size, this is the daffy duck of the duck world. It's not all nose, but if it were, Jimmy Durante and Cyrano deBergerac would eat their hearts out. In spite of the size, the large beak is not always apparent at a distance, although it does give a profile that is different from other dabblers. Orange legs, orange beak with black on top, brown head (no eye stripe).

Often the females can be readily identified by the company they keep - namely, that of a male companion. The problem comes in pulling your attention away from her dashing companion to study her, which is why it can take so long to learn the females. Remember that her drab appearance camouflage's her when she is on the nest and protecting her young.

Dabbler #1, the Northern Pintail female was cropped out of the next photo. I suspect that the eye of the typical viewer will be drawn to her handsome mate nearby, and except for her rather unusual stance in the photo, she will go unnoticed. That's the point ...

Northern Pintail - female (l) and male (r)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dabbler Quiz #1

Most dabbler duck males (also known as the puddle ducks - Genus Anas) are handsome, elegant, and unmistakable. The female - not so much so. They are plain and drab. They carry the incubation responsibility and most of the shepherding of the young responsibility, so being inconspicuous is a distinct advantage for their survival and that of their young.

To say that the hens are confusing is to state the obvious. As I searched my photo files, I found several that were in the wrong species file - misfiled either in haste, inattention, or (I am embarrassed to suggest) mis-identification.

Most of the photos in these quizzes (this is the first of several) will be of hens. For a few species, the males and females are all but indistinguishable. Respond if you would like. I learn by doing this; I hope you do too.

And of course, on the answer post - if you think I have gotten an ID wrong, please let me know. Good Dabbling!

Dabbler ID #1
Dabbler ID #2

Dabbler ID #3

Dabbler ID #4

Dabbler ID #5

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Repost Purple Sandpiper

I am reposting the photos of the Purple Sandpiper. Blake Mathys very graciously asked if there might be Dunlin among the Purple Sandpipers. In an email he identified 2 in the first photo and a couple of other possibles in the second photo. I examined both photos in their original unreduced size. I agree with his IDs, and I think I have found additional Dunlin, as indicated by the numbered bubbles. Dunlin have a dark bill, slight downward curve, lighter about the head and body, lighter head, black legs. Sanderlings (which I have not found in these photos) are overall lighter than Dunlin.

But please weigh in - shorebird identification is an acquired skill, and I still have much to acquire. In flight they are also tough, even when frozen by a camera lens and with shorebird guides at the elbow.

Purple Sandpiper - Ruddy Turnstone (top left),  Dunlin indicated by numbered bubbles.

Part of a 4th Dunlin is at bottom of photo between 2 and 3

Purple Sandpiper with Dunlin (numbered bubbles)

Coastal Interlude

Dabbler series will continue, but an interlude first: a day trip to Cape Ann ...

Bufflehead (Gloucester Harbor)
Harlequin Duck (Granite Pier)
Purple Sandpiper - Ruddy Turnstone (top left)
Purple Sandpiper (Andrew's Point)
Harlequin Duck (Andrew's Point)
Iceland Gull (Niles Pond)
Good Birding!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Owls - Masters of the Night

Athenian tetradrachama, 5th cen. B.C.
Owls are birds of the night. Their nocturnal vigilance was often associated with the studious scholar or the wise elder and made them symbols of wisdom and learning. The Greek goddess of wisdom and learning was Athena; one of her symbols was the owl. The ancient coins of Athens  carried the image of an owl as a sign of the patron goddess who vigilantly watched over the city. The owl was the Little Owl; in an attempt to increase their wisdom, some ancient philosophers ate the Little Owl, hoping to introduce the owl’s attributes of intelligence into their own persons. But they did not know what part of the bird contained the wisdom, so they ate the whole thing.

Athena with Owl, Louvre
The association of the owl with wisdom and learning is still present in a few centers of learning. Temple University in Philadelphia terms itself the “Owls,” while the medieval-style buildings of nearby Bryn Mawr College are decorated with owls. In the corner of Bryn Mawr’s Great Hall, a statue of Athena and her owls receive offerings around exam time.

Owls have large, forward-facing eyes. When we do see a live owl, it appears alert. It surveys its realm with attention and vigilance. It looks intelligent. It looks “wise as an old owl.”

But are owls wise? One writer put it succinctly: “To put it kindly, owls are no wiser than they need to be, i.e., not very.”

Owls are wise enough not to “rotate their heads through 360 degrees as is commonly supposed and which would in the event result in owls heads coming clean off and bouncing about all over the place.” ( ) Owls cannot rotate their eyes in their sockets and have compensated by developing extra vertebrae in their necks which allow them to turn their heads about 270 degrees. However, they rarely turn their heads more than 180 degrees. In other words, an owl can look to its left by turning its head to the right but prefers not to.

Owls are primarily night hunters and are superbly equipped for their task Their eyes and ears are adapted to finding prey in the dark. Their feathers are designed for silence. They are the stealth flyers of the bird world.

Owls cannot “see” in the dark. A dead mouse in a totally darkened room went undiscovered by a Barn Owl. But an owl can see in light levels so low that we would be rendered totally blind. Light is measured in “lux”. The lowest number of lux in which humans can see is 37,000. Experiments on a Tawny Owl revealed that the lowest number of lux at which it was able to see was seven!

Or, consider the ears: The ears are asymmetrically located in the skull. The right ear is higher than the left ear. The ear openings are differing shapes. This means that sound reaches each ear a split second apart, enabling the owl to “triangulate” the location of its prey, pinpointing a sound to within ten millimeters with no aid from sight whatsoever. The flat face of the owl, formed by feathers, acts like a satellite dish to capture and direct sound to the ears. Some owls are capable of finding prey by sound alone. An experiment put live mice in a totally darkened room with a Barn Owl. Using hearing alone, the Barn Owl caught the mice every single time.

Barred Owl
The most common owls in Vermont are both nocturnal hunters: Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl. The call of the Barred Owl can be heard throughout our eastern forests; it prefers heavily wooded swamps, hemlock or pine forests. On many occasions I have kayaked on Sunset Lake on a summer evening. Nearly every time I have heard the distinctive call of the Barred Owl: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you allll?” It is not uncommon to hear a duet from this very vocal owl.

Daytime sightings of the Barred Owl are uncommon, but not unusual. It happens most often in the winter when food may be scarce, or under deep snow cover, or both. A Barred Owl active during the day is a hungry owl. It may also be a young owl which did not have time to hone its hunting and survival skills before winter arrived to make the task of finding food even more difficult.

The Barred Owl is one of the few owls which will reveal itself to humans. In “The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont,” 1985, the Barred Owl is described this way: “A gentle creature with an engaging personality, the Barred Owl can be quite tame and curious even in the wild. One individual raised at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science’s raptor care facility in Woodstock returned there each winter for four years after his release, greeting his former benefactors with hoots, and swooping down to pluck mice from their hands.”

Great Horned Owl
One will often hear expressed something akin to affection for the Barred Owl. Affection is rarely expressed toward the second most common owl in Vermont, the Great Horned Owl. What one hears in relation to the Great Horned Owl is awe. Edward Forbush begins his description of this species this way: “The Great Horned Owl is not only the most formidable in appearance of all our owls, but it is the most powerful. The Great Gray Owl and the Snowy Owl may appear larger, but the Great Horned Owl exceeds them in courage, weight, and strength. Indeed, it little regards the size of its victim, for it strikes down geese and turkeys many times its weight, and has even been said at times to drive the Bald Eagle away from its aery and domicile its own family therein.”

Great Horned Owl - John James Audiubon
The Great Horned Owl (its “horns,” are feather tufts) is the “winged tiger of the woodlands.”Again, Forbush: “The Great Horned Owl is no respecter of persons. It kills weaker owls from the Barred Owl down, most of the hawks and such nocturnal animals as weasels and minks. It is the most deadly enemy of the Eastern Crow, taking old and young from their nests at night and killing many at their winter roosts. Game birds of all kinds, poultry, a few small birds, rabbits, hares, squirrels, gophers, mice, rats, woodchucks, opossums, fish, crawfish and insects are all eaten by this rapacious bird. It is particularly destructive of rats.”

Fishers often get blamed for the disappearance of domestic cats, but it could just as well be the work of a Great Horned Owl. They rule the night, with no natural enemies. Outside of your  home, both of these predators are in their home. Your cat is no match for either. The best way to protect your cat is to keep it indoors.

One early winter morning, I heard through my open window distant hoots: “Who’s awake? Me, too. Who’s awake. Me, too.” The Great Horned Owl was probably calling for its mate, but he also told me that the night belonged to him. I was glad to let him have it. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Good birding!


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