Pleasant Surprises (as the weather gets less pleasant)

We had some mild weather through Thanksgiving, but when the weekend arrived it got colder and windier.  The worst thing about the wind is that it makes a lot of noise.  Branches rub against each other, leaves on the ground move and make a lot of noise and they create visual distractions, and to stay warm you wear ear muffs or hats that cover year sensitive lobes.  This makes it harder to hear the songbirds that stick out the winter.

Luckily I was able to spy a few late Yellow-Rumped Warblers, plenty of American Tree Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos and despite its concealment in think brush and thorns I was able to catch a couple of brief glimpses of a Winter Wren.  A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet was also hanging out in the brush and made a brief appearance, as did a Northern Mockingbird.

The American Tree Sparrow (Images 1 and 2) is also called the “Winter Chippy” because it has a brown cap like a chipping sparrow does.  As it foraged on the ground it became difficult to spt, but I was able to get several clear images.  Note that the upper mandible is black and the lower is a shade of yellow.  The Ruby-Crowned Kinglet is a very small bird and rarely sits still long enough to get a good photo.  The wind certainly complicates your ability to hold the lens steady adding another challenge to capturing a clear image.
The Winter Wren is also a very small bird and for a wren it has a pretty small tail.  This bird was working its way through the brush and the bittersweet and at times got so close to me that it was within the minimum focus distance for my lens (6′.)  Not that it would have mattered because the bird keeps moving and was well concealed behind branches and vines.

This morning the weather was even worse.  It was cold and extremely windy.  At Camp Ellis there were many White-Winged Scoters, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Long-Tailed Ducks, Horned and Red-Necked Grebes and a Red-Throated Loon.  But the birds were not in the river, they decided to stay in the open water of the Saco Bay and weren’t close enough to get very good images.

On my way home I  drove passed the partially frozen Long Pond at Ferry Beach State Park and I saw three hen mergansers from the car.  I parked and walked through the woods and then stalked the birds on my stomach to get a clear look and a clear photo.

It paid off!  The birds were Hooded Mergansers.  There were three of them, on adult hen and two juvenile males.  If you look at the two birds in the image you can see three differences, one not as obvious as the other two.

1)  Eye Color:  The female has a darker, reddish eye. The male has a yellow eye.

2)  Bill:  Males have all dark bills, the female has an orange-yellow lower mandible and even part of the upper mandible has that color.

3) The Hood:  In adults, the color diferences are very obvious.  The male has diferent feathers all around and the hood is so striking bordered in black with a large white patch. While the young male lacks the white patch, the shape of the hood is different although not very clear in this photo.

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9 thoughts on “Pleasant Surprises (as the weather gets less pleasant)

  1. I saw a breeding pair of Hooded Mergansers on a farm pond just outside of Frederick, Maryland. They didn’t remain long enough to nest, either because the pond was too close to a road or maybe too many people stopped to see what they were. But it was exciting to see them, if even for a short time.

  2. I miss our Winter Wrens. Some people may think they’re drab, but I think they’re pretty cute, and their songs are really beautiful. I was surprised when I came across a Winter Wren here in Ottawa last January, so maybe I’ll find another one yet.

    Thanks for the tips on distinguishing female and young male Hoodies. I knew about the eye colour, but had forgotten about the bill colour. That will be useful the next time I come across a group too far out to see the eyes!

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