Author Archives: Rosemary

About Rosemary

Who: Naturalist and salamander enthusiast from Canada.
Likes: Learning new ferns.
Favorite part of the job: Hanging out with other people who like nature!

Last Month in Birding: January 2016

Every month we share five amazing bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are a few interesting observations from January.

Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus)

Like other longspurs, Smith’s longspur has a long claw (“spur”) on its hind toe. This bird breeds across parts of the western subarctic tundra. Its romantic life is complex. It’s polygynandrous: each male and female pairs with several others during the breeding season. Typically, all Smith’s longspurs spend the winter in a relatively confined region of the central US, so an individual spotted last month in Saugus was a special find—and only the second record ever for the state!

Smith's longspur © Oliver Burton

Smith’s longspur in Saugus © Oliver Burton

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

The male Painted Bunting is one of our country’s most colorful birds. This finch is primarily a southern species, breeding in the southern and central US and Mexico, and generally overwintering farther south. This range, combined with its splash of bright colors, makes the painted bunting a birders’ favorite whenever it appears in the north. It’s usually a shy bird; however, it becomes conspicuous when it visits a feeder. Last month, a male was sighted at a bird feeder in Nantucket.

PaintedBunting

Painted bunting in Houston (CC BY 2.0) Ralph Arvesen

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

This is another bird with striking colors. The varied thrush has a complex pattern of rusty orange, black, and stormy grey-blue. It’s about the same size and shape as the American robin, and the two species are related. It lives in parts of the western US and Canada, preferring dense old-growth coniferous forests. It eats insects in the warm months and seeds and berries in the winter. A varied thrush appeared last month in Rutland.

VariedThrush

Varied thrush (CC BY-NC 2.0) Sylvia Wright

Hammond’s Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)

This little flycatcher breeds in the western US and Canada and overwinters in Mexico and Central America. Flycatchers of the genus Empidonax are notoriously difficult to tell apart, but voice is a useful clue. A Hammond’s flycatcher was observed last month in Fairhaven, and luckily observers were able to gather both pictures and audio recordings to confirm its identity. It was only the second-ever record for Massachusetts.

Hammond's flycatcher in © Jeremiah Trimble

Hammond’s flycatcher in Fairhaven © Jeremiah Trimble

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)

This bird is slightly smaller than our familiar Canada goose, and true to its name, it has bubblegum-pink feet and legs. It breeds in Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard, and winters in parts of Europe. Rarely, a few individuals head in the wrong direction and wind up in Canada and the US. A pink-footed goose was observed last month on the Connecticut River at Agawam in the company of Canada geese.

Pink footed goose

Pink-footed goose in Sweden (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Magnus Larsson

Take 5: Love Birds

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Have you thought of getting your loved one a nice fish—or perhaps a pretty stick? Get into the romantic spirit with these five portraits of bird pairs from past editions of our Photo Contest.

2014 Photo Contest Entry © David Peller

Red-breasted mergansers, 2014 Photo Contest Entry © David Peller

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Ronald Reynolds

Great blue herons, 2012 Photo Contest Entry © Ronald Reynolds

Northern cardinals, 2015 Photo Contest Entry © Janet MacCausland

Northern cardinals, 2015 Photo Contest Entry © Janet MacCausland

Northern pintails, 2012 Photo Contest Entry © Ken DiBiccari

Northern pintails, 2012 Photo Contest Entry © Ken DiBiccari

Belted kingfishers, 2015 Photo Contest Entry © Susan Wellington

Belted kingfishers, 2015 Photo Contest Entry © Susan Wellington

Take 5: Porcupine Portraits

The name “porcupine” comes from the Latin words for “pig” and “spiny,” but these unusual animals belong to the rodent family. Their famous spines are special modified hairs that are barbed and hollow. While these quills may scare off most predators, the fisher—our largest weasel—isn’t deterred: it’s one of the few mammals that preys on the porcupine. The North American porcupine is the only species of porcupine that makes its home in the U.S. Here are five photos captured by past participants in our Photo Contest.

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Kim McNeil

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Kim McNeil

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Chris Ruggiero

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Chris Ruggiero

2010 Photo Contest Entry © Flickr user foothills732

2010 Photo Contest Entry © Flickr user foothills732

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Lisa Strout

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Lisa Strout

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Daniel Finnerty

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Daniel Finnerty

Take 5: Seeing Things?

People tend to be so good at spotting faces that we’ll see them even in trees, rocks, and other things that definitely don’t have eyes, noses, and mouths. Do you see personalities in these pictures? Here are five funny faces from past editions of our Photo Contest.

2013 Photo Contest Entry © David Black

2013 Photo Contest Entry © David Black

Photo Contest Entry © Richard Brown

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Richard Brown

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Emily Swartz

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Emily Swartz

Photo Contest Entry © Rory Dexter

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Rory Dexter

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Peter Hall

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Peter Hall

Last Month in Birding: December 2015

December brought another month of amazing bird sightings to Massachusetts. Here are a few interesting observations as suggested by our experts.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

This is a bird of wide open spaces in the west, where it breeds at higher elevations but overwinters on the grasslands and plains. It often forages by hovering above a field and looking down for insect prey. Whereas our familiar eastern bluebird has a rusty breast, the mountain bluebird is blue-grey to powdery blue, almost like a pair of faded old jeans. An individual seen at the Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth was one of only a few records for Massachusetts.

Mountain bluebird in Falmouth © Tom Murray

Mountain bluebird in Falmouth © Tom Murray

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

A relative of the Canada goose, the barnacle goose has silvery-grey wings and a largely white face. It’s found in north-western Europe and Asia. Because this bird “disappears” to remote parts of the Arctic during the warm months, some Europeans developed a folk belief that it spent the summer developing underwater in the form of a barnacle. Various religious groups held that the barnacle goose’s supposed unusual life cycle meant that it wasn’t made of real animal meat—so it was O.K. to eat during fasts. Two barnacle geese (in goose form!) were seen in Agawam among a flock of Canada geese.

Barnacle goose in Longmeadow © Justin Lawson

Barnacle goose in a flock of Canada Geese, Longmeadow © Justin Lawson

Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva)

In recent years, birders have increasingly observed an odd avian phenomenon along our coast. Swallows have been spotted flying over the chilly landscape long after our local swallow species have migrated south. Even more remarkable is the fact that they belong to a species that is normally found as far away as Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. These are cave swallows, and it’s not yet clear why they now visit us every year! Cave swallows were spotted last month in Lynn and Salisbury.

Cave swallow in Salisbury back in 2010 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) nebirdsplus

Cave swallow in Salisbury in 2010 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) nebirdsplus

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

An adaptable species, the black-chinned hummingbird can be found in both remote wild lands and urban areas in the west. Its breeding range encompasses much of the western US, dipping into northern Mexico and north as far as western Canada. Most black-chinned hummingbirds spend the winter in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. The male has a dark chin with iridescent purple at the base; the female is often difficult to identify in the field, but the task is made is easier when the bird is in handas was the case with an individual that was banded last month in Harwich. There have only been about five recorded occurrences of this species in Massachusetts!

Black-chinned hummingbird © Sean Williams

Black-chinned hummingbird in Harwich © Sean Williams

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)

The Swainson’s hawk is a bird of the Great Plains. While it’s raising young, it eats the typical hawk diet of small mammals, birds, and reptiles, but outside of the breeding season this species is mainly an insect eater; it’s adept at catching insects stirred up by agricultural activities. A Swainson’s hawk was seen at Bear Creek Park in Saugus. This was one of very few winter occurrences for this species in our region.

Swainson's hawk © Andrew Hrycyna

Swainson’s hawk in Saugus © Andrew Hrycyna

Take 5: Bobcats

Named for its short (“bobbed”) tail, the bobcat is a shy predator that mostly eats rabbits. About twice the size of a house cat, it is found across much of Massachusetts. Observing a bobcat is a rare experience, and capturing one on camera requires a great deal of skill and luck. Here are five photos of these elusive cats from past editions of our Photo Contest.

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Scott Lewis

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Scott Lewis

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Rachel Bellenoit

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Rachel Bellenoit

2012 Photo Contest Entry © George Brehm

2012 Photo Contest Entry © George Brehm

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Mark Thorne

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Mark Thorne

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Karin Beebe

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Karin Beebe

 

Take 5: Snowy Owls

Snowy owls are special winter visitors to our state. These enormous birds may appear in high numbers when food is plentiful at their arctic nesting grounds and they raise lots of young. Learn more about Mass Audubon’s efforts to rescue and track their movements and enjoy these five remarkable images from past editions of our Photo Contest.

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Bill Wakeham

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Bill Wakeham

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Diane Robertson

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Diane Robertson

2015 Photo Contest Entry © David Morris

2015 Photo Contest Entry © David Morris

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Gary McPhee

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Gary McPhee

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Nathan Goshgarian

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Nathan Goshgarian

View the winners of the 2015 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Take 5: Winterberry Holly

When the leaves have fallen and the landscape looks drab, winterberry holly provides a splash of color. Unlike the familiar American holly, this plant loses its leaves in the fall, which makes the berries stand out even more. Only the female plants make fruit, and they’re much-needed winter fuel for mammals and birds. Enjoy these festive winterberry holly photos from past editions of our Photo Contest.

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Andy Eckerson

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Andy Eckerson

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Michael Neufeld

2011 Photo Contest Entry © Michael Neufeld

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Elizabeth Page Purington

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Elizabeth Page Purington

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Amber Murphy

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Amber Murphy

Liz Pichette 2012

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Liz Pichette

View the winners of the 2015 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest here.

Last Month in Birding: November 2015

Every month we feature some the past month’s bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are five remarkable observations from November.

MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei)

If you’re a fan of warblers, you probably know the mourning warbler, an uncommon bird of the eastern US that looks like it’s wearing a gray and black veil of mourning. There’s a closely related species in the western US: the MacGillivray’s warbler. It has a similar appearance but has bold white crescents above and below its eyes. The ranges of these two species don’t typically overlap; nonetheless, a wandering MacGillivray’s warbler was seen last month in Lexington.

MacGillivray's warbler in Lexington © James P. Smith

MacGillivray’s warbler in Lexington © James P. Smith

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

With a wingspan of nine feet, the American white pelican is one of North America’s largest birds. It breeds in central and western parts of North America and winters in the southern US and Mexico. If you’ve visited to the southern coastal US you’ve probably seen the brown pelican, a species known for making spectacular aerial dives to catch fish. The American white pelican doesn’t take such plunges; instead, it feeds by floating on the surface of the water and scooping up fish into its enormous bill. Last month, at least one white pelican was observed on a pond in Gloucester and later at Plum Island.

American white pelican in Michigan (CC BY 2.0) Andrew C

American white pelican in Michigan (CC BY 2.0) Andrew C

Common Ground-dove (Columbina passerina)

This is a tiny dove—it’s just 1/4 the weight of a mourning dove. Native to southern North America and northern South America, the common ground-dove does not typically migrate, so it’s not clear why a bird made its way to Lexington last month. This species feeds and typically nests in dense vegetation close to the ground, which tends to make it vulnerable to many predators. Fortunately its feather pattern keeps it well-camouflaged against the dusty ground. When startled into flight, it flashes bright chestnut wing patches and its wings make a soft whirring sound.

Common ground-dove in Lexington © Ryan Schain

Common ground-dove in Lexington © Ryan Schain

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)

A true northern bird and a rarity in North America, the pink-footed goose breeds in chilly places: Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard. It overwinters in northwestern Europe. Pink-footed goose populations are increasing, partly because of greater protection from hunting in areas where they breed. Accordingly, it seems, individuals are showing up on the eastern coast of North America with increased frequency. The species is gregarious, and in Massachusetts it’s usually seen in the company of Canada geese. A single pink-footed goose was observed last month in a flock of Canada geese at Turner’s Falls along the Connecticut River.

Pink-footed goose © James Smith

Pink-footed goose (left) at Turner’s Falls © James Smith

Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)

This uncommonly seen species nests in western mountain forests and usually winters at lower elevations. In winter, this bird eats berries, especially juniper berries, and fiercely defends food-rich territories. The Townsend’s solitaire looks a little like a miniature mockingbird, though it has a striking white eye ring and it’s actually a member of the thrush family. A Townsend’s solitaire seen last month at Halibut Point State park in Rockport was actually one of several reported this fall.

Townsend's solitaire at Halibut Point State Park © Ted Bardford

Townsend’s solitaire at Halibut Point State Park © Ted Bardford

Take 5: Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed hawks are found across most of Massachusetts, even during the cold months, which makes them ideal photography subjects. They’re so commonly seen that it’s hard to believe they once nearly disappeared from the state due to shooting and pesticides. Read more about these tenacious birds in our Breeding Bird Atlas 2, and enjoy these five incredible portraits of red-tailed hawks from past editions of our Photo Contest.

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Christopher Ciccone

2015 Photo Contest Entry © Christopher Ciccone

2015 Photo Contest Entry © David Seibel

2015 Photo Contest Entry © David Seibel

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Doug Lyon

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Doug Lyon

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Greg Saulmon

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Greg Saulmon

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Jasmin Kee

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Jasmin Kee

The winners of the 2015 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest have been announced! See the winning photographs here.