It goes without saying that birds are highly mobile creatures, and during migration this is doubly true. One of the biggest thrills for birders is finding a ‘vagrant’ species – a bird found outside of its normal range. For example, some North American species have shown up in places as unlikely as the United Kingdom, wayward travelers disoriented by storms or inexperience.
While perhaps not a true vagrant, this young female Prairie Warbler that was banded yesterday was certainly a surprise for us. Prairie Warblers are not typically found this far north in Maine, though they are known to breed in the southwest portion of the state. They are a bird of early successional habitats, such as pastures and clear-cuts, and this particular individual may have felt at home foraging in the grassy field near our banding station.
This past Thursday (September 13) was an exciting day as well, as we were visited by two Connecticut warblers. These warblers are typically very retiring, and are known to be a hard species for birdwatchers to find. They breed in the boreal region of Canada and portions of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Though their wintering range is not well known, evidence suggests they engage in long transatlantic flights to Amazonian South America, similar to the Blackpoll Warbler we discussed previously. Pictured here is an adult female.
Less surprising, but just as delightful, was this sharp-looking hatch-year Swamp Sparrow. In one of our earlier posts we alluded to the fact that birds can often be aged by the appearance of their various feathers. Normally we look at the wing feathers to garner clues as to an individual’s age, but for this species we can also look at the area between the eye and the upper bill (known as the lore). Hopefully you can see some yellowish or buffy tones on this bird, which is characteristic for a young bird at this time of year. Adult lores exhibit more of a steely-gray appearance.
And of course, feather color can often tell us what gender an individual is. In the Red-breasted Nuthatches below, the black crown of the male is unmistakable when contrasted with the blue of the female below it.
Just as it does for us, color plays a pivotal role in the lives of birds, whether it be for mate attraction, territorial defense or camouflage. There are nearly 10,000 species of birds worldwide, and the myriad plumages found in this incredible group of animals is breathtaking. Pictured below are a Brown Creeper and a Black-throated Green Warbler, representing two extremes in the avian color spectrum. The cryptic plumage of the Brown Creeper helps keep it hidden from potential predators while it creeps along tree trunks in search of food.
Among the many benefits of working along the Maine Coast is having some great views of Bald Eagles. This was a species that up until 1995 was listed as endangered, so it is always a treat to see them – whether they are simply scavenging fish or making off with a Common Eider.