The only hummingbirds we usually get in The Northeast are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds…but once in a while a Rufous Hummingbird shows up, and this is way out of their normal migration range. When most birds fly south during winter months in order to stay warm, individual hummers like this one randomly decide to move East and brave colder conditions. Some vagrant birds like this are known to do perfectly fine in freezing weather, as long is there is adequate food and shelter…One Rufous Hummingbird recorded in NY a couple years ago stayed all winter and eventually left in March. My neighbor alerted me to this rare visitor at his feeder, and we waited with our cameras until it returned so we could document this rare bird.
I’ve been seeing Pied-billed Grebes on many of the ponds in my area. I see them frequently, but they are always alone. This Grebe and I startled each other when I came through a clearing to find it at the edge of a pond…it was dark and wet out, but it was still a good opportunity to grab a close shot of one of these cool birds. Most people might assume Grebes are ducks, but they are totally unrelated birds, despite their similarities. This Pied-billed Grebe can be distinguished from other Grebes by its stout bill.
Northern Shovelers are an uncommon duck, but a small group of them returns to a Mill Pond nearby every year. They are unmistakable among ducks for their massive bills which they use for scooping and filtering food from the shallows. They don’t usually come very close at this location, but this male came close enough for me to get a pretty good picture.
Mute Swans are so nice to look at that it’s easy to forget their status as an invasive species. Originally brought to the New York area from Europe as decorative birds for ponds and the estates of the wealthy, Mute Swans eventually took over locally, and have now spread to most of the Northeast.
Snow Buntings breed in the Arctic Tundra, and in the winter they migrate to sandy shorelines. It’s around this time of year when we see Snow Buntings on Cape Cod. I watched a flock of about 30 birds the other day and got a few good photos too…this time of year they have lost their breeding plumage, but they are still very nice to look at.
Along with Crows, I like to think of Blue Jays as one of nature’s car alarms…They are always the first birds to respond when there is a predator nearby. Listening to Blue Jays is actually a good way to locate Hawks, Owls, and other raptors…in fact, Blue Jays have even learned to imitate the screaming call of the Red-tailed Hawk…these raptor-like vocalizations, along with their pack mentality make Blue Jays one of the toughest bird species around. Like most blue birds, Blue Jays do not get their color from pigments, but rather from structures in their feathers that refract light in just the right way to produce a Blue hue. I usually have a tough time getting Blue Jays to cooperate for photos, but this one gave me a good opportunity out in the open.
Northern Flickers are one of the birds I can count on seeing every day…their boldly patterned plumage and consistent vocalizations make them an easy target on a birdwatch. Here in the Eastern U.S. we ge get the yellow-shafted variety of Flicker…in the West there is a red-shafted subspecies. I was able to army-crawl my way pretty close for some snaps of this Flicker foraging in the grass near my home.