Monday, December 11, 2006

Winterberry and the misfit goose

Winterberry is one of the standouts of the wintry New England coastline, often providing the only splash of bright color amidst the muted browns, greens and tans of dune, scrub and field. I love in particular their contrast against the small dark green juniper shrubs when they grow together in the shallow, stable depressions between windswept dunes. By mid-winter they often seem to be the only berry still available, and an important foodstuff for wintering birds and animals that enjoy berries. Myself, I’ve never tried one. I did notice signs posted at the entrance to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge today to leave the berries alone. I think, however, that they are often collected for holiday decorating, not as a tasty addition to your yogurt.
Birding today was a little quiet, especially once the drizzle began around nine o’clock or so. I missed most of the more exciting birds posted on the chalkboard – the shrike, the owls, the Eurasian wigeon and the kittiwakes. I had to make do with excellent, close views of several other expected but enjoyable species, including Common and Red-throated Loons, Red-necked and Horned Grebes, Common Goldeneyes, all the scoters, the Common Eiders…and a few other things.
Interesting behavioral note: I watched a group of seven female Common Goldeneyes for several minutes. They always dove as a group, either all at once or in quick succession, and surfaced quickly, usually within six or seven seconds, which is shorter than most of the other diving birds, I think. I wonder what sort of group hunting formation they use, collaring schools of small fish and driving them towards each other. What a cold observation project that would be!
Northern Harriers seemed to be everywhere, and I still have yet to have a dull moment watching them hunt and they wobble and drift above the marshes. Most of the individuals seem to be immatures, showing that beautiful reddish wash on their breast. I also had great views of a Cooper’s Hawk along the roadside.
The bird of the day was the Snow Goose, a single individual grazing amidst a large flock of Canada Geese. I included a picture here to demonstrate my great skills at photography. Despite its blurriness, I think you can see the diagnostic black wingtips and maybe the pinkish color of the bill, maybe not. You can see that its white, and clearly not a Canada Goose, can’t you?


Gabriella Marie said...

Hey Brian,

Have enjoyed your posts. On a quasi-birding note. We were down on our beach a couple of weeks ago and we counted at least 10 birds washed up dead on the sand. We later identified them as Western Grebes. There were probably a lot more that we did not see. Any ideas on what could have caused that? It just did not seem right to us.

Sorry I am going to miss you in Cincy this January.


Esme said...

Hello Brian That is one red bush very red bush.Love,Esme

Brian C. Kenney said...

Hey Nick -
Not sure what that might be. Sometimes these things remain a mystery, barring a necroscopy or an obvious cause like fouling from oil. It could be a natural cause, some sort of disease making rounds, but more likely some sort of contaminant. Small oil spills are probably one of the most common ways this might happen; I'm not sure if it would always be obvious. Too bad; Western Grebes are pretty birds.